What are your thoughts heading back to Fontana this weekend for the first time in a couple of years?
“I really enjoy the 2-mile track. I love going out to California. It’s a driver’s track and it’s aged over time. The surface has been ground, but I do not think it’s been paved since it was first built back in 1997 or 1998. It’s been a long time with the place being aged, and it’s aged well. You can run all over it. Typically, recently you run up around the wall in the turns but you can still move around a bit. I hope the NextGen car will also allow us to move around and be pretty racy. We’ll go there this weekend with our Interstate Batteries Camry and try and get another win there. They are celebrating their 70th anniversary as a company this year and we would love to be a part of the celebration there with those guys. ”
How has Auto Club Speedway changed over the years, going from a new track to a place that has a lot more character and racing grooves?
“That place is tough. It’s really a hard racetrack to get ahold of, now, especially when it’s hot and the sun is out. Obviously going back there for the first time in a couple of years and with the new car, there are going to be a lot of unknowns. But in the past, there were two completely different types of racing when you run the top versus the bottom groove. You can run from the top to the bottom but, when you run the bottom, you really feel like you’re puttingtering around the racetrack. You feel like you aren’t making up any time on the bottom. But when you are running the top groove, you feel like you’re getting the job done. The guys who run the bottom have a little bit more patience and handle it better than the guys who are on the gas on top. ”
The decision still has to be made whether they keep the two-mile oval or turn Auto Club Speedway into a short track in the near future. What would you prefer they do?
“I’m a proponent of short tracks and have the most wins on short tracks, so bring it if they end up changing it. What they do with it is not in my control. Wherever we are told to go, we’ll go and race and run hard and try to run well. I think a short track would be exciting for the fans and, if they keep the bigger track, I think it has its positives, too. ”
What do you remember about that night in 2005 when you captured your first Cup Series win at Fontana?
“We ran in the top-five all day long but we really did not think we had a winning car. When we got the lead a few times throughout the race, we just pulled away and led by quite a bit. It was really cool to have a really dominant racecar. I remember having to drive the car really loose. That was the loosest I think I’ve ever driven a racecar that was still moving forward. It was crazy because I came over the radio and told the guys I could not believe how loose I have to drive the car. But it was fast. All of my wins there have been a little different, but memorable at the same time. ”
What do you anticipate it being like to get your feet under you with the new car?
“I think the biggest thing about getting familiar with the new car is just understanding its little things that it likes and it does not like, whether it’s setup-wise or even driving-wise. Just how far can you push the limit of the new car? Where are the breaks going to let you go into a corner, or how much grip is the bigger, wider tire going to have? How long does that grip hang on for and when does it fall off? You have to see if it was more or less than before. So, all of those things, there are so many more things to learn. The car being heavier and the driving dynamics of the car and the differential is all way different than anything we’ve ever seen. ”