WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK ON RACING HERE AT NEW HAMPSHIRE THIS WEEKEND? “We come back this week after a road-course run and get back into the swing of things at an oval. It helps when you won the race the year before and that’s obvious the goal here this weekend — to try and back up what we did last year and bring our Miller Lite Dodge to Victory Lane. So far in practice, things have gone well.
“The reality for me is that I was actually on a bear hunting trip this weekend. It was quite a bit of fun to go out into the wilderness. I didn’t kill anything; it felt more like a camping trip than anything. That helps get your mind clear and recharged and it definitely feels different coming back seeing the crew and seeing the guys. I’m ready to hit the race track.”
WITH NEW HAMPSHIRE BEING THE FIRST RACE IN THE CHASE, DO YOU GIVE ANYTHING UP SET-UP WISE THIS WEEKEND TO TEST FOR THE SECOND NEW HAMPSHIRE RACE HERE IN THE FALL? “I think this is a very important race. This starts the Chase when we come back here in September. That’s how I looked at it in 2004 and that helped, at the time, give the team a big jump. We moved from seventh all the way up to second in points by starting off strong. It’s always important when you go around to the race tracks for the second time. Even though California is the second race of the year, you know in the back of your mind that it’s a Chase race when you go back there in October. So it fits with all the other tracks that we’ve been to thus far that fit into the Chase. Today, we knew that it was going to rain this afternoon and it might wash out qualifying. That was our thought process. We stayed in race trim extra to get those things ironed out. I thought that it was important for us to at least get one qualifying run in. That way when we come back here in September, we know where that’s going to shake out for us. You always have to plan ahead when it’s a Chase race.”
CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE QUALITY OF THE NASCAR DRIVERS THAT YOU’LL RACE AGAINST ON SUNDAY? “This is a top-notch series. I think this is where all the drivers worldwide want to come and try their luck against the best-of-the-best. The different disciplines and different backgrounds that you see are amazing that we have in NASCAR these days. A Formula One champion all the way to a rookie that’s 19-years-old out there trying to cut his teeth. It’s real diverse. It’s amazing (that all the drivers) are from all different parts of the country. We’ve got a guy like (Juan Pablo) Montoya from Columbia and (Marcos) Ambrose from Tasmania. It’s the best-of-the-best when you really look around and look at who’s racing in this top series. That’s why it makes it so tough to win.”
HAVE YOU NOTICED DRIVERS GOING OUT OF THEIR WAY MORE TO ACCOMMODATE FANS BECAUSE OF THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY? “Like tonight, I’ll be down at that lobster house that you see right when you turn onto (Route) 106. We’ll be down there signing autographs and taking pictures with the race fans there. Miller Lite does a lot of different appearances to engage our fans and get them more worth for their buck during a race weekend. We do some out-of-market appearances as well, but it’s really about our fans that come out and see us race each weekend that we want to take care of.”
TALK ABOUT RACING AT CHICAGOLAND IN A FEW WEEKS? “Chicago is just a great city and it’s really where my family is from. My Mom and Dad were born and raised there. With my ties to the Chicago Cubs, I love chances to go to Chicago. To me it’s a New York City with a Midwestern feel. The race track, yeah, it’s a little ways from town, but when you do commute back in (to Chicago) there’s plenty of things to do and see and the fact that we race there now at night opens up that Sunday. I plan on going to the Cubs game that Sunday after the race; it’s actually a double-header against the (St. Louis) Cardinals. It will be fun. Big cities in general when NASCAR (racing) goes to them seem that much more exciting. We put on a good show (at Chicagoland). Miller Lite is moving their corporate headquarters to the city of Chicago; they’ll still have the brewery in Milwaukee. Chicago will definitely be a big homecoming for us.”
ANY THOUGHTS ON WHY THERE HAS BEEN EIGHT DIFFERENT WINNERS IN THE LAST EIGHT RACES HERE? “You can say that the new car has added a different twist because we continually come back to the race tracks that we’ve seen before with completely different setups and that will create different winners and a trend such as that. This race track has a lot to do with pit strategy. Once you get towards the end (of the race), you want to pit and stay out as long as you can and sometimes guys who haven’t been running well all day will stay out and try to stretch their fuel and they end up having track position. Timely yellows come out, and so it creates a road-course-type atmosphere where you pit as soon as you can make it to the end and then stay out and hang on.