Saturday, May 23, 2009

Elliott Is Top Qualifying Ford For Sunday's Coca-Cola 600


BOBBY LABONTE – No. 96 Ford Fusion (Qualified 20th) – “That was OK. It wasn’t anything spectacular. We’re still just fighting a little bit of overall grip and trying to figure out why, but I’m sure we’ll have a day to think on it tomorrow and see where everybody lands here. But our lap wasn’t that bad. It was a pickup from last weekend’s fast lap on the track. We just talked amongst ourselves about how we’re making little baby steps.” WHAT HAS MADE THE DIFFERENCE THE LAST FEW WEEKS? “It’s a lot of little things. Ben coming on board and getting that going and up-and-running a little bit and understanding how he is in comparison to Todd, and last week I didn’t hit anything. That was pretty amazing. I had a couple chances, but I missed them. I was like, ‘Dang, what happened here?’ So I was pretty excited about that and so far this weekend we unloaded in race trim and I think we found a little bit for Sunday night that we’ll learn some more about Saturday, so that was a positive step. But you just get paper thin stuff. It’s not like you get a whole book. You just get a nibble of something and that’s about all we’re grabbing right now. We can’t grab something big.”

CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion (Qualified 19th) – “We picked up half-a-second. That was a good pickup. It’s not screaming fast, but it sure is a lot better than I thought it was gonna be. I think that’ll be good for about 15th or better and if that’s the case, that’s a good effort coming from where we came in practice. That’s good.”

GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 American Red Cross Ford Fusion (Qualified 16th) – “I never had any clue that it was gonna be that tight. The track had a lot of grip. When you hear drivers say, ‘It’s got a ton of grip,’ you know you can run pretty hard and I drove it down in there hard. I had a ton of grip, but my car just shoved the nose up the track and I had to wait forever. It just makes me angry because knowing I was gonna be that tight, I could have gone two-tenths faster easy and been probably fifth, or I could have taken a pound or two of air out and had a chance at the top of the board. So it’s frustrating when you’ve got that opportunity and conditions are perfect and I didn’t have the car quite right for that. Still, we’ll be 12th or 13th and that will be good enough.”

BILL ELLIOTT – No. 21 Motorcraft Ford Fusion (Qualified 10th) – “Wherever we end up I’m just proud it’s over with. I’m so glad we came here and ran last week. They weren’t planning on doing it and I sat down and talked to Len, Eddie and Hyder at Texas and I said, ‘Look guys, if there’s anyway, we need to try to run the All-Star weekend. We can learn so much,’ and we came over here and made some changes and that was good. We came with kind of a whole different deal than we had last week and it really paid off. I’ve been out of the car for awhile and you need to do this stuff every week and it just makes you better, and what we changed from last week to tonight really helped a lot.” HOW WAS YOUR LAP? “The lap was one of them deals where you kind of hold your breath and go for it, but it was good. The track had a lot of grip when we went and things were good. That’s what we’ve got to continue to work on. This is a tough race track to get around and I’m glad for the guys because they need this bad.”

Greg Biffle, driver of the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion, is ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings heading into this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600. Biffle held a Q&A session on Thursday at Lowe’s Motor Speedway to discuss Sunday’s race.

GREG BIFFLE – No. 16 3M Ford Fusion – HOW DO YOU PHYSICALLY PREPARE FOR THIS RACE? “There are only a limited amount of things we can do. One, we can try to get as hydrated as we can on Saturday for Sunday’s race, and that’s still really important because that’s where most of the fatigue comes from is being dehydrated. You get a headache and you’re low on energy and all those things when you get dehydrated, so the most important thing is to stay hydrated. Second, leading up to that, you have to be in the best shape you can and those kinds of things to be ready to go 600 miles. There are a lot of things you need to do ahead of time to get ready for this.”

WHAT ABOUT MENTALLY? “Mentally, you try not to psych yourself out too much about being 600 miles instead of 500. You almost think of it as just a race. We know it’s a little bit longer, so it’s more like pacing yourself. Instead of jogging around the block one time, I’m gonna jog around the block two or three – so maybe the first couple take it easy – and that’s part of the mental process. It’s a long event, pace ourselves and don’t burn up too much energy or concentration in the first part of that thing.”

WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT THE DOUBLE-FILE RESTARTS IN THE ALL-STAR RACE? “There’s been a lot made of that double-file restart and the thing about it is there was a million dollars on the line, no points and nobody cared, and there was 10 laps to go. We put a lot into that double-file restart, that particular one that we saw, because people were going crazy. That’s gonna happen when there are no points on the line and it’s a million bucks. For the most part, I don’t know that it’ll make it a whole bunch more exciting on a regular race, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m either way. I like the way the restarts are now. If they elect to go to the double-file restart, I’m great with that, too.”

IS THIS RACE TOO LONG? “I don’t think so. We need a 600-mile race in our schedule, one time a year. Just like we have the Daytona 500, we have the Brickyard, we have a 600-mile race and I think it’s important to keep that history in our sport.”

WHAT IF THE FANS FEEL THAT IT’S TOO LONG OR HAVE A SHORT ATTENTION SPAN FOR A RACE LIKE THIS? “All of our attention spans are too short, I can tell you that – mine is. The thing about it is you’ve got to be prepared for 600 miles, you really do, and that’s part of it. I think fans know when they’re buying the ticket it says Coca-Cola 600 on it for a reason and they elect to come and see this event because it’s 600 miles.”

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN TAKE FROM LAST WEEK? “I think you can learn a lot from last week. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to run the whole race, but there are things we can learn from last week that will definitely apply to this week.”

WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH ON GOING FROM DAY TO NIGHT? “That is the hardest thing about this race is going from during the day to night. This track changes dramatically. The setup – even the bump stops and shocks and things we want to use during the day are different than at night – so we have to set the car up for what we feel it’s gonna be like at night and suffer a little bit through the daytime and the heat. If it’s cooler outside, then it doesn’t matter as much, but if it’s hot and sunny, and then it starts cooling into the night, that’s a big transition for us.”

SO IS THE GOAL TO STAY ON THE LEAD LAP DURING THE DAY? “Yeah. The goal in the daytime is A, stay on the lead lap and B, we hope to run better than that, but position yourself for having a fast car at the end of the night.”

WHY IS THE 99 NOT AS STRONG? “We wonder that as well within the organization. I don’t think it’s just the 99, I think it’s all of us – we’re not quite as strong as we were last year. We said, ‘Oh well, it’s just the short tracks,’ and then at Darlington I was OK, but everybody else was mediocre. In the All-Star Race, we were all sort of mediocre. Matt was up there, but he had track position. I don’t think any of us were really stellar and it’s starting to concern me that we’re off a little bit and we need to close that gap on our competition. We need to keep working hard on these cars and that’s what it’s about. We’re always working hard and trying to learn and that’s all it is, it’s a revolving door. One week it’s this team, one week it’s that team, one week it’s that team, so we just want to try and stay in the loop.”

ARE YOU SURPRISED JEREMY MAYFIELD HIRED AN ATTORNEY AND THIS HAS TURNED INTO SUCH A SOAP OPERA? “Well, I suppose so. The harsh reality of it is when a test comes back positive, there’s not a lot of bickering about it. It’s black and white. If you get a speeding ticket and you were going 75, you can get an attorney, but I don’t know. I don’t know all the details. I trust NASCAR and the medical people and the testing agency that they have backup tests that they truly verify – that they’ve made the right decision. I really stand by that. I trust them in the fact that they’ve made the right decisions. I’m sure they’ve done everything in their power to make sure that the tests are accurate and what they found was a not-approved substance, and I don’t know what else there is to fight about.”

HOW BLACK AND WHITE CAN IT BE IF DRIVERS DON’T SPECIFICALLY KNOW WHAT KIND OF CHEMICALS MIGHT FAIL THEM? “We know that all recreational drugs are out. We all know that and we all know that we can’t go drive an over-the-road tractor. We can’t have a CDL. A guy can’t drive this transporter right here with any recreational drugs in his system whatsoever. Now, I’m sure NASCAR is reasonable in the fact – and they’ve said this all along – the reason why they don’t want to put out a list is because anytime there’s a rule, we try and figure out a way around it – in the race car. If there was a listed thing that people may try and figure out a way around it. I think that they’re very fair about if you have a true medical condition and you go to them and ask for approval it’s either yes or no. Yes, you can take the pain medication they’ve prescribed you for your ribs. No, you can’t. It’s that simple. So I don’t expect to get out the list and go, ‘OK, I can take this. Go ahead and prescribe me that.’ The doctor prescribed me this and I went and said, ‘Is this OK to take?’ That’s not an unreasonable process. I mean, do they need to make a list – ‘No marijuana. No cocaine.’ We don’t need to make a list like that. I don’t feel it’s necessary. It pretty much goes without saying. I went and asked permission to take a pain medication and they encouraged me not to take it, and I didn’t take it. It’s that simple. I’ve been through the process. I truly have. I took ibuprofen, which was the second recommendation, and that’s what I took.”

Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 R&L Carriers Ford Fusion, comes into this weekend’s 10th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings after a 10th-place finish at Darlington two weeks ago. Kenseth came into the Lowe’s Motor Speedway infield media center to discuss the issues of the day.

MATT KENSETH – No. 17 R&L Carriers Ford Fusion – HOW DO YOU APPROACH THE EXTRA 100 MILES IN SUNDAY’S RACE? “You try to stay on the lead lap and survive. It’s a long race that starts during the day and the track is gonna change a lot from when we start to finish as we all know since we start so early. It’s really my favorite event of the year, probably. It’s usually a challenge to start during the day and end at night, although a lot of tracks have kind of copied that and there are now several races, I guess, that do that. But it used to be the only one that did that, so there are a lot of challenges that go with it and it’s always interesting to be halfway decent at the beginning and still have a car that will handle right at the end.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BECOME A FATHER FOR THE SECOND TIME AND WHAT KATIE IS GOING THROUGH RIGHT NOW? “I don’t know. I haven’t really gone through much yet. She’s been the one doing all the work and carrying the baby and doing all that, so, I don’t know. It’ll probably be a good time to ask me in a couple months once we start going through all that again, but it’s been an exciting time in our life. Obviously, it’s gonna be a lot different. Ross is gonna be 16 on Monday, and then we’ll have a baby in a month-and-a-half, so that’s gonna be interesting.”

DO YOU KNOW IF IT’S A BOY OR GIRL? “I don’t know yet.”

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT MAKES THIS RACE SPECIAL? “We won our first race here at the 600, so that makes it kind of special for us, and that used to be the only race of the year when you’d start and it was usually hot and sunny, and you’d end at night in such a long marathon. Like I said, there are some other races that do that now, too, but it used to be the only event like that, so it was unique and 600 miles also makes it unique. It’s the longest event of the year, too, so it’s just one I always look forward to. It was always a real challenge, especially before they re-paved the track and it was real bumpy and stuff. It was a real challenge to hang onto your car early in the day and still have it adjusted right where it would run fast at night. To be any good at night, you had to be super-loose and sideways during the day and it was just always such a big challenge.”

DO YOU THINK THIS RACE IS TOO LONG? “It depends what you’re looking for. I think you could get the same amount of action in a shorter race, but I think having one race that’s 600 miles and unique and special and having one race long like that, I think, is all right. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’ve been around a while, but I think a lot of races could be shorter and you’d get the same results and they might even be more entertaining. Like Darlington, I’m not sure we have to race four-and-a-half hours to have the same effect. I don’t mind them being long, don’t get me wrong, the longer they are the better I usually like them. Like at Darlington, for instance, it took us that long to get our car back to being halfway decent and we still needed more time to get it better, so I enjoy the long races, but I think you could have just as good or better of a show if most races were a little shorter.”

DO YOU EAT DURING THIS RACE OR DO ANYTHING TO KEEP YOUR ENERGY UP? “No, I haven’t yet. I do everything pretty much the same as normal. If it’s forecasted to be hot, I’ll probably make sure I’m even more hydrated than normal. I’ll drink a lot of Gatorade the days upcoming to the race and during the race I’ll take in more fluids than I usually do. That’s about it. I always try to get a lot of sleep and try to eat good the day before the race and be hydrated and that’s about it.”

HAVE YOU EVER EATEN DURING A RACE? “I never have eaten during a race that I can recall. I can’t ever remember eating during a race. I was hungry at Darlington, though, now that you bring it up. I’ve been hungry before, but I’ve never eaten during a race.”

DO YOU AGREE THAT ROUSH FENWAY HAS NOT BEEN AS CONSISTENT THIS YEAR? “Yeah, I think for sure we haven’t been near as consistent. The year obviously couldn’t have started off any better with those two wins, but then we went the next week and finished dead last. We didn’t even make a lap before we broke, which is really uncharacteristic of the motor guys, and then the hard thing has been there hasn’t been one issue to fix. It hasn’t been a person or a problem or whatever. There have been days where it’s just been really inconsistent on pit road and our cars have been OK, and there have been days our cars have been way off and we’ve been excellent on pit road. There have been days I’ve messed up on the race track. It’s just been a little bit of everything. At Talladega, we were running second with six to go and got a flat tire when the caution came out. It’s just been a lot of different things that have been wrong, but, certainly, at the end of the day all that really matters are your finishes and we’ve been too inconsistent, so, really, we’ve just been looking at all aspects of the program and just trying to improve every part of it and make it better.”

ARE YOU SURPRISED AT HOW WELL MARK MARTIN HAS DONE THIS YEAR? “I’m honestly not surprised. I know you said everybody says that, but I’m really not surprised. Now, would I be surprised if it was with Ginn or with the 8 car with DEI last year and he was running the whole season? Then I would be a little bit surprised, but going over to Hendrick and having that equipment – if you look at what all the Hendrick cars have done, including the 14 and those guys that are affiliated and how good they’ve been running, the 39, all of those cars have been just extremely fast all year long, so that doesn’t honestly surprise me at all. I think Mark, I don’t know if he would admit it or not, but I think he probably has a little more pressure on himself right now than he probably thought he would going over there and everything, so I’m really happy he’s doing that well, but, no, honestly, it doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s always been really fast in anything that he’s driven and, for whatever reason, especially when Mark gets either a new crew chief or a new team, it seems like he’d run really good for the first part of that, and a lot of times a lot longer, too, but especially when he changed things around it seems like he’d run really good, so it seems like him and Alan have really been able to click and get the cars running fast and I think everybody in the garage knows Mark can go fast if his cars are fast.”


WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT WITH LEAD LAP CARS ONLY? “No, not really. I think that the main thing is Goodyear helped us out with the tire this year and I really think the main thing that creates side-by-side racing is when the tracks are good for it and they either help us out with the rules package – what we can do with our cars – or with the tires. For some reason, this track was really wide. The restart didn’t really have anything to do with Ryan and Jeff and Kyle racing three-wide all the way through three and four. That was a few laps after the restart, so it certainly mixes things up. Obviously, if you start single-file or you start side-by-side you’re gonna be side-by-side a little longer, but I think that in a 500 or 600-mile race, where you race all day long, I don’t know if lining them up double-file, especially when you get to some of the single-file race tracks, is necessarily fair for guys who have raced for four hours to get to second or third and then because he drew the short straw and got in the wrong lane on the last restart and gets shuffled back to seventh or eighth, I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do when you’ve been racing that long.”

DO YOU PACE YOURSELF IN THIS RACE? “I don’t really race it any different. It used to be when I started that if you had a really good car, back in the day the competition wasn’t quite as tight. I shouldn’t say back in the day because it hasn’t been that long, but it seemed like you used to have a period where you could sort of ride. You could run 80 percent. You could find a spot five car lengths in front of you and have five car lengths behind you and find a nice spot and log some miles and put a nice, consistent pace on the car where you weren’t pushing anything, but, honestly, it’s so competitive now that you run the whole race hard. You run it about as hard as you can run without going over the top of the edge and crashing, obviously, but you get pretty much everything you can get out of it all day. The pace doesn’t really change like it used to. It might not seem like it at times when you guys are watching it that maybe everybody is racing as hard, but it really is. It’s so competitive and everybody is so close to the same speed with these cars that everybody is pretty much hammer down from start to finish.”

IS THERE A FAVORITE ON SUNDAY? “I think the All-Star Race is a lot different than the 600, although last year I know Kasey won both of them, but I think it’s still pretty wide open. You’ve got to get everybody out there and it’s a little different of a race. You run a lot different setup for your last 10 laps at the end of that thing than you would if you had to probably run 600 miles, so I think that the normal guys are probably still the favorites. Jimmie and Jeff are really strong and Tony, again, has been strong most of the year, so, in a way, it’s probably the same guys. It’s not like there was really a surprise winner there. There were surprise guys that ran good and bad, so I think it’s probably the same guys you see every week are probably gonna be the main guys to beat if you’re gonna have a shot at it.”

IS IT BEYOND THE TIME FOR TEAMS TO MAKE CHANGES AND MAKE THE CHASE? “I think it depends on the situation and the team and everything. Really, the only one I can speak on is really my own and my team, and we’ve never really honestly been in that position. There have been years where we started off slower than we wished or maybe started off strong and maybe things weren’t going as well, but I’ve always felt good about the people that we’ve had on our team, and I never really thought it was a matter of changing people out, it was maybe all trying to do our jobs better, including myself, and looking at the whole thing and everybody trying to do better. I feel good about the mix of people that we had and that we still have. I think we’ve got a championship contending team, we just have to dot our I’s and cross our T’s just right because it’s that competitive. We always are evaluating and re-evaluating and trying to make things better, but I don’t think it’s a personnel issue.”

YOU MADE A RUN A FEW YEARS AGO TO MAKE THE CHASE WHEN YOU WERE 16TH-18TH, BUT WHEN IS IT TOO LATE? “It all starts with the race car performance, so I guess you could look at your car performance. No matter how good your team is and the rest of your stuff, if you cars don’t run, you’re not gonna get good finishes, unless you’re just extremely, extremely lucky. So that’s the first thing I would look at, and if our cars were absolutely running terrible and we were all fighting and weren’t getting along, I think you’d look at making some changes, but I think as a group at Roush Fenway we haven’t been as strong as we need to be. I think we realize that as a company and we’re working on that to make that better, and my past experience is you can’t force it. That year we were so far behind and caught up we didn’t force anything. We quit having flat tires and I maybe quit driving through the pit box, or didn’t hit the wall, or have bad pit stops, or the cautions wouldn’t fall when you needed them to fall. That type of thing, so sometimes you can obviously create your own luck a lot, but you’ll also go through those runs where things just don’t go right and it just doesn’t matter. Like at Vegas, we broke on the first lap, and, like I mentioned before, at Talladega we had a flat tire with six laps to go. Sometimes there are things that are just out of your control and you can’t do anything about. It aggravated you, but you also have to be able to look at it at the end of the day and just say, ‘That’s the way things are gonna go sometimes,’ and hope things go better next week.”

CAN YOU EVER REMEMBER WHEN HAVING A MEDIOCRE CAR BECOMES A RACE-WINNING CAR WHEN YOU GET THE LEAD? “There are a couple of things, and I’ve said this before, but racing is about the fastest car winning. When you put the fastest car in front of all the rest of the cars that aren’t as fast, the fastest car is gonna drive away from the pack. That just makes sense and that’s just how it works. Certainly, right now, if you get out front and your balance is pretty close, it is a bigger advantage to be out front than you’d like, but I also remember that year – and not to take anything away from all those wins – but I remember that year Ryan Newman won all those races and we were on that really hard tire with the old car and the old aero package, and the tire was just incredibly hard. The tire was so hard that when you got into dirty air you couldn’t pass and they had that figured out and they would pit early and stay out on fuel mileage, stay out and run half-throttle, and when they’d get in front, their car seemed like it was a half-second faster and nobody could beat them. So there are a lot of factors that go into it. To me, I’ve been encouraged the last few weeks. I think at Darlington they had the other left-side tire that seemed to make it better to pass. I know at Dover last fall they brought that other tire and it was a great race for the win up front. I thought the races here this week were pretty good with the other tire that they brought here, and I thought the track was a lot wider. I thought that three-wide crazy pass for the lead, I don’t think I’ve ever seen three cars run three-wide through the corner at Charlotte – ever that I can remember – going that fast. So I think that has a lot to do with it, too. No matter what you put on the cars or trucks for bodies, the front car is always gonna have the most air and that’s always gonna be an advantage no matter what we do. Certainly, it seems there are times where it seems like it’s bigger than we wish it was and you could pass a little easier. Like I said, I think they’ve helped us with the tires a little bit and it seems like it’s maybe getting a little bit better.”

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion, is 12th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings and still looking for his first win of the 2009 season. He spoke about his hopes for this weekend following practice on Friday at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion – HOW IS YOUR CAR? “Right now, I’m having a little trouble getting my car to go fast. I think the track has the potential to change quite a bit in the night time, so I’m not gonna worry about it too much. We’re kind of just going over all the notes and making sure we don’t panic here, but the best we could muster there was like a 16th or 17th-place fun, so, hopefully, we’ll get it right for qualifying. In general, I just can’t get the balance of the car like I want it in turns three and four. The track in the day time, it seems there’s a lot of variation in that corner so we’re working on it.”

HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR THIS RACE? “I have a great trainer in Dean Golich from Carmichael Training Systems and we work real hard to make sure that I don’t get tired in these long races, but it’s still grueling. I always tell everybody that this is the one when they yell, ‘Coming to halfway,’ that you just can’t believe you’ve got another 300 miles to go. So it’s a long race and it looks like it’s gonna be pretty warm and if your car is not right, it’ll be excruciating. If your car is right, it’ll be fun.”

DO YOU FEEL PEOPLE ARE LISTENING ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE BEEN SAYING ABOUT SAFETY AFTER TALLADEGA? “If you look around at what we’ve got here in this sport right now and all the safety advances, I think NASCAR has come a long way since I was sitting at home watching on television. But Talladega and wrecks like that, and Matt Kenseth’s wreck the day before, I think it shows there are still things to do and I thought it was really cool of NASCAR to listen to me and Jack Roush and the other folks that spoke with him about that stuff. I have a feeling by the time we get back to Talladega there will be new things there that make it even safer, so that’s good.”

HOW HAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED SINCE THAT WRECK? “My life hasn’t really changed since that wreck. We wreck all the time in NASCAR. There are always wrecks and I’ve had wrecks that were way worse than that one, for me, in the car. But I think that wreck did make me realize the responsibility we all have towards the fans, and I think NASCAR and everyone recognizes that now more than ever.”

DO YOU FEEL AT ANY TRACK WHEN YOU’RE GOING THAT FAST AN ACCIDENT LIKE TALLADEGA CAN HAPPEN? “I don’t know what can happen. All I can do is look back and say what has happened and I don’t think we’ve had any sort of problems like we had at Talladega at any of the other tracks, other than Talladega and Daytona. I’m not certain, but it doesn’t seem like that’s a problem at other places.”

DID YOU LIKE THE DOUBLE-FILE RESTARTS LAST WEEK? “I feel like the next evolution or the next thing in restarts is to get rid of the lapped cars on the inside. When I’m a lapped car I don’t want to be down there. I don’t want to be in the way. We’ve got the lucky dog rule. I think it would be cool for everyone involved if we started the whole field either in one single line or double-file like we did at the All-Star Race. I thought that was pretty fun.”

TWO TIRES HAVE BEEN A BIG STRATEGY OF LATE. HOW MUCH ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION TO THAT? “Goodyear has been doing an unreal job of making tires that hold up and you can take two tires. We watched too many times at Darlington and I didn’t take advantage of it and get two tires, we kept getting four. We’ve been watching. There is some strategy right now with taking two tires.”

IS ROUSH FENWAY DOWN A PIT FROM WHERE IT WAS A YEAR AGO? “Right now, Roush Fenway – relative to the rest of the field – we’re not performing as well as we should be and we all know that. We’ve been working really hard and not just on the race track – on pit road, us as drivers. We can all do better. We all know that and we’re working hard. The good thing is that even though we aren’t as great as we were at this point last season, we’re still really competitive and we’ve just got a couple little things to fix. So we’re not in panic mode, but we’re definitely aware that we can be better.”

HAVE YOU IDENTIFIED AREAS WHERE YOU’RE STRUGGLING? “There are a couple of things we need to do. We need to be just a little bit faster on the race track. That makes everything easier, and we need to be just a little bit better on pit road, and then as teammates we can always race better together and work better together. That’s something we can do as drivers. It’s so competitive right now that a couple hundredths of a second here or there makes all the difference in the world, so we’re aware of that too. We’re not scrambling and we’re not changing our format, we’re just gonna work smarter.”

WHAT’S YOUR THEORY ON ALL OF THE PIT ROAD ISSUES WE’VE SEEN THIS YEAR? “I think they changed the stud length rule and that’s caused some trouble with the guys who carry the tires, getting them put on and making sure all the lugnuts are in the right spot. And then for us, we’ve had some new guys working together and had a couple of injuries. I don’t know. I’ve heard people telling me after the race that guys were driving through their pit stalls and I think it’s just more competitive now than ever and pit road is a place where you can typically gain an advantage or lose, and it shows up now more than ever.”

IS THERE A SENSE OF DESPERATION ON PIT ROAD NOW BECAUSE IT’S SO HARD TO PASS ON THE TRACK? “Right now, I’m looking at all these cars out here and they’re all so close that, yeah, that could be a part of it. We all know when we come on pit road that if you lose four spots, you might never get those four spots back, so that’s a lot of pressure on those guys and that’s something we’ve been working really hard at is not putting anymore pressure on them because it’s right there. I don’t know what that’s a function of exactly, but it’s possible that’s what’s going on.”

DO YOU EAT DURING THIS RACE? “I probably won’t eat anything in the car. I used to carry like granola bars. They had a little thing for me and I quit eating in the car. Richard Petty told me that’s a safety thing. You don’t want to have food in your stomach in case you wreck, so I try not to eat anymore right before I get in the race car.”

IS THERE CONCERN YOU COULD MISS THE CHASE BEING 12TH IN POINTS NOW? “Yes, there’s a concern I’ll miss the chase. It can happen. We’ve got to run well enough and keep that bad luck away from us, so that we can go into Richmond with a cushion because if you have one blown tire or an engine or whatever, you can’t get those points back. Trust me, I know exactly where we are in points and I’m working hard to change it in a good way.”

HAVE YOU EVER BROUGHT MORE CONFIDENCE INTO A SEASON THIS YEAR? “You can bring confidence and, yeah, I was really confident going into this year, but it really changes week to week. You can’t build on anything you’ve done on this sport, really. You have to go prove yourself every week and every lap, really. Let’s say we go out here and dominate this Coke 600 on Sunday. That means nothing for Dover. You’ve got to do it every week and that’s what’s amazing about some of these guys when they’re running well week-in and week-out like Mark Martin. It’s like a whole different set of problems every week.”

ANY CONCERN THAT CLARITIN HAS BEEN BROUGHT UP IN THIS JEREMY MAYFIELD ISSUE? “I’m proud to represent Claritin and Claritin works for me. As far as the way the brand perceives anything that’s been said in the media, you have to ask them about it.”

HAVE YOU GUYS HAD ANY DISCUSSION ABOUT IT? “You’ll just have to ask them.”

WHY DON’T YOU THINK YOU’VE BEEN AS STRONG HERE AT CHARLOTTE AS YOU HAVE BEEN AT ATLANTA AND TEXAS? “I don’t think we’ve had the results at Charlotte, but we’ve been really strong. If you look at the fall race here, we were screaming fast and I just had that ignition problem. I felt like we had the car to beat. It was faster than any of the other cars. We’ve run well in the 600, but we haven’t gotten the multiple wins like we’ve got on some of the tracks that look a lot like this. I don’t know what it is. If you figure it out, let me know.”

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