Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday's Driver Quotes from Atlanta

Earnhardt Jr signed a new 5-year deal with HMS (Getty)
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS WEEKEND’S EVENT. “Well we’re just going to come in here and try to run as good as we can. We really like racing at Atlanta, it’s a fun race track. We’ll just see how practice goes – see how the car’s driving and see how much work we’re going to have to do to get where we want to be on speed and drivability and go from there. Hopefully it will be a pretty productive weekend for us. It’s not just to help us along in the Chase but we need to improve on performance as a whole. We’re looking to try to do that this weekend.”

CONGRATULATIONS ON SIGNING THE DEAL WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT IT? “I’m happy that it happened. Me and Rick talked on the phone about probably five months ago. I just told him if we were gonna do another deal that I wanted to start on it now because I didn’t want to talk about it next year and it be any kind of distraction for me, but if he wanted to wait we could wait. He’s the boss and he can do whatever he wants. I just wanted to put that out there and he was ready to go so we just went ahead and shook hands and let Marshal and Kelley handle the heavy lifting. I’m excited about it and happy that I’ve got a place to work. I’m happy to have Rick’s commitment and hopefully me and Steve can continue to grow and start to do what we want to do on the race track. I’m looking forward to it man, it kind of puts it at ease there a little bit.”

WE KNOW YOU ARE FOCUSED ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP; WILL MAKING THE CHASE GIVE YOU A FEELING OF RELIEF? “Yeah, relief is probably the right word. Everyone expects you to make the chase. If you don’t make the chase you get that tag on you. You get labeled when you don’t make the chase and I want to avoid being in that situation. There are only a few drivers that get to make it, it is a pretty competitive sport but if you can be consistent and be smart, I made a few mistakes and a few driver errors that I really wish I could have back now, that I tried to tell myself not to make all year. I did pretty good, then we got along in the middle of the summer there and I started making a couple of mistakes. Blowing the left front tire coming onto pit road in Kentucky, and a couple of other places like that, that took away finishes that we needed. I know that if you can just be smart in the kind of equipment and the kind of team I have I should make the chase. We are plenty good enough to do that, but we put ourselves in a tough position going into these last two races over the summer time with a couple mistakes that I made and I’m sure Steve might stand up here and tell you he made a couple himself too. We just have to learn from those and not do them again. I think I will just be relieved if I make the chase. I want to win this championship and be a champion one day. I think that is what everybody out there drivin strives to do. Making is just something that is expected of everybody.”

SOCIAL MEDIA, SUCH AS FACEBOOK AND TWITTER, HAS REALLY CHANGED THE COMMUNICATION OF LANDSCAPE GLOBALLY. SOME DRIVERS LIKE IT, SOME DON’T WHAT’S YOUR OPINION AND WHAT DO YOU THINK THE FUTURE WILL BE LIKE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA? “Well, it’s a big player I think and the easiest way to get your information. It is awesome that the drivers that are physically on there, like Harvick and those guys, I think it is great that the fans have the opportunity to connect and walk side by side with them through their day, whatever they are doing or whatever they happen to be talking about. I don’t have a personal twitter account, and I don’t have a personal account on any online or any social network, but we use it a lot at JR Motor Sports to keep people updated, give people the opportunity to know what we are doing, and interact with us, get involved with our programs. It has made things a lot easier for the media to get information out, you guys are in here trying to battle to get information out. It has definitely made things a lot better for everyone involved. Like everything, you have to use it in moderation. I think it is a good thing.

Stewart still 21 points up on Chase (Getty)
ON THIS WEEKEND’S RACE. “The good thing is we are on the same tire that we won on here last year so as much as I would like to say we can put the same set up on and have the same result unfortunately technology changes between when we won here last year and now so what we had won’t be good enough we’ll have to try to make it better. It’s at least somewhat comforting knowing we have a package that worked last year and we have an idea of what we need to compete with.”

IS THIS KIND OF A LAST DITCH RACE FOR YOU CONSIDERING THE SEASON YOU’VE BEEN HAVING? “I don’t think so. We’re still 21 points to the good of where we need to be so we are in the spot we need to be in we just need to maintain it. So, obviously if we had a win this weekend we wouldn’t have to worry about it next week so it would be a luxury to win the race this week but it’s not a necessity. It could work against us too. It may not work out after Richmond but at least going into this weekend we are where we need to be. Everybody keeps saying last ditch and we have to make something happen, we don’t have to make anything happen we’re in the spot we’re supposed to be in and need to be in to be in the Chase so we just have to not have a disaster happen. We just need two solid weeks.”

YOU SEEM PRETTY CALM, HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS THE OVER ALL PROGRAM? “I can’t say that I’m ecstatic where we’re at. I think we have a lot of room to be better than where we are but as a competitor Jimmie Johnson can probably tell you after each of the last five years there was room for improvement too to make their program better so you’re always looking as a competitor to make your program and your system better than what it is. Definitely not happy with where we are at but I don’t think anybody really is, I think everybody feels like there are things they can do better and some of those organizations are questioning what they have to do to get better than what they are. We’re one of those teams right now.”

HOW HARD IS IT TO FIGURE OUT WHAT IT IS? “It just shows how sensitive I think these cars are. The window of getting them right is very, very small verses what we’ve had in the past but that’s what makes it also fun. That’s what makes when you have a good day and you do get it in that window that’s what makes it gratifying knowing you were able to accomplish that goal. It’s the hard part of trying to figure out what you’re missing when you’re off. That’s the frustrating part is when you go week in and week out and you can’t figure out what that missing piece of the equation is. You see guys that have not been good in the past but all of the sudden are good, they’ve found something so its proof that it’s there it’s just our job to go out and find it and capitalize on it.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RECENT RUN THAT YOU’RE TEAM HAS BEEN ON? “It’s been an amazing run and I feel awful privileged to have as fast of race cars that I’ve had over the last few weeks. When you run through a point in time that you don’t have fast race cars, it certainly feels good to get into some good equipment and get going. It’s certainly an honor. I wish I could pinpoint what it is. I have a hard time believing that having a broken foot makes you a better race car driver. I think that it’s the team coming together and clicking as one and I’m proud to be a part of that.”

Why isn't Busch running close to his teammate? (Getty)
WE’VE ALL TAKEN NOTICE OF WHAT YOUR TEAMMATE BRAD KESELOWSKI HAS DONE OVER THE LAST FOUR WEEKS AND ONE THING THAT STANDS OUT IS IN THE LAST FOUR WEEKS HE HAS NOT RUN ANY NATIONWIDE RACES. YOU OCCASIONALLY RUN IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES. IS THERE A CORRELATION BETWEEN HIS SUCCESS AND THE ABILITY TO FOCUS MORE ON THAT CUP CAR? “That’s where all along I thought he could do better once he focused more on the Cup car. It’s tough as a new driver coming in to gain the experience that you need on track and yes, he needed to do that for the first step. The second step, win that Nationwide championship. He did that. Third step, now we’ve got to get the Cup car as the primary focus and gel with his new crew chief Paul Wolfe. He’s done that now. Is it a coincidence that it happened here in these last few weeks? Personal injury to anybody makes everybody evaluate where they are. They have a lot of time to sit at home for rehab and he’s done that but it’s just clicked. It’s been great to watch and it’s been inspiring for myself and Steve Addington to know hey, the stuff’s right there. We just need to be on the front side of the eight-ball and not on the backside of the eight-ball with some of the things that we’ve positioned ourselves with on the 22 car. But for him not to run Nationwide I think the Cup focus is there and it’s great to see. I guess he’s locked in the Chase. Now he’s got to do that. He’s got to run hard in this Chase to be a championship contender.”

WILL YOU PLAY DIRTY LATE TO WIN THE BONUS? “I don’t know. Hopefully, if it’s against another guy who’s not eligible, they can put themselves in our shoes for a minute and think about the rewards of a fan and of the charity that certainly are going to be able to achieve that. I think you do what you got to do to win. If it’s a scenario where you come off turn four like Jeff Gordon and (Kevin) Harvick or Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards — certainly we’ve seen those types of races end that way here in Atlanta. I think you do all you can to try to win the race. Maybe look a little bit like Logano and myself last week at Bristol — try to use the guy up a little bit.”

Clint Bowyer had a great practice Friday (Getty)
WHAT IS YOUR BEST CHANCE TO GET INTO THE CHASE? IS IT TO GET TO 10TH, OR IS IT TO WIN A RACE? “Hail, Mary. You drop back, you go for it. I think we’re just going to have to race hard. We’re going to have to get things turned around. We’re going to have to have another opportunity like we did last week, but this time we’re going to have to capitalize on it. I mean that was the most frustrating thing I’ve ever had in my life is we literally had an opportunity right there in front of us for the taking and couldn’t take advantage of it. We were as bad as he was if not worse. And it’s just so frustrating as a racer and a competitor to have that opportunity right there in front of you and not be able to capitalize. It’s very, very frustrating.”

AS A FOLLOW-UP TO THAT, DOES THE PRESSURE INCREASE AS WE GET CLOSER TO RICHMOND? ALSO, TALK ABOUT THE PINK CAMARO PACE CAR RIDES FOR THE BREAST CANCER SURVIVORS THIS MORNING? “Obviously the pressure cooker is heating up bigtime. There are two races left to get ourselves in. The weird thing is that we ran terrible; one of the worst races we’ve had and we didn’t lose anything. We actually gained a point. But we did, if you look, at it because we’ve lost a race. You know, there’s only two races to go. Richmond is a really good track for us. I’m looking forward to Richmond. I’m looking forward to rolling in there with a chance and a decent chance. If I can narrow the gap and cut it in half, I feel like we can go into Richmond and get the job done.

“As far as the press conference this morning; well it wasn’t really a press conference. It was just a fun, neat deal around the American Cancer Society and breast cancer awareness. We just gave those ladies rides around in the car. What a fun morning to wake up to, those ladies celebrating life. They’ve all survived breast cancer and are all full of energy and full of excitement. They couldn’t wait to get out on the race track. It was just a great morning to wake up to that excitement. So, it’s cool that they’re doing the car for breast cancer awareness in pink; everybody knows what that’s all about. And those ladies were all having a lot of fun out there. I had one of them get pretty scared on me. She said to slow down and I thought she was joking and I looked over and she wasn’t joking (laughs). So we pulled in and took a pit stop.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE SCHEDULE THIS WEEKEND? YOU DON’T HAVE PRACTICE AFTER QUALIFYING. “First of all, I don’t know who in the world came up with these track schedules this year, but they are just the goofiest thing I’ve ever seen. This place especially it’s gonna make it a little more difficult because today when practice gets over it gonna be as close as you get to race conditions, but that’ll be the fastest the track is and they line up qualifying order by how fast your lap is the first practice, so you’re gonna want to think about qualifying, and it’s a track we haven’t been to in a year or tested at, so it’s really unique. If I had it my way, and I was talking to Jimmy about it, we’d probably just work on race practice the whole time and just forget about qualifying. Get the best lap you can on qualifying day and wherever you start you start. It’s a four-hour race and the track is real wide. There are a lot of passing grooves out there, so qualifying is probably less important here than it is in a lot of places we go to. I think trying to hit that race setup that feels good is gonna be difficult to do, but it’s gonna be really important.”

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