|Kansas has been a frustrating place for you during your career, but have you and your team turned the corner there with two top-five finishes the last two races you’ve run there?
“I think so. We ran third there in the fall of 2014. I wasn’t there last year in the spring since that was the last race I was recovering from my injury, but (Erik) Jones ran up front until he ended up wrecking. Last fall, Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the M&M’S guys did an awesome job and we ran top-five again. We tested there before the October race and I think we learned a lot that we were able to use during the race weekend. The last few races there, the track really has started to change and the groove is starting to spread out, and it makes me more comfortable when a track gets worn in. Kansas is one of the few places I haven’t won in Sprint Cup, but I feel like we keep getting closer and closer each time we go back. Adam and the guys have been bringing really good racecars to the track every weekend and, when you have great cars and run up front, good things are going to happen. I feel like, at least heading into the weekend, we have our best chance yet to win there with our M&M’S and Red Nose Day initiative on our car this weekend. We have a good shot to cross Kansas off the list, for sure.”
You’ve had some tough runs at Kansas, but how much does your finish there last year help your confidence?
“I’m not sure what it is, but (Erik) Jones was doing a fabulous job there in the spring. He was really fast and looked good and then got caught up in a crash in the late going. I’m looking forward to getting back, especially the way we ran there in the fall with another top-five finish. I felt like that was a positive for how Adam Stevens is and what he does with his racecars.”
Are you doing anything different in the racecar now, compared to earlier in your career?
“I wouldn’t say necessarily that I’m doing anything different. Certainly, I think that circumstances are going our way maybe a little bit more. Why? I’m not sure. I’ve just had some really fast racecars. The guys have been doing a great job at Joe Gibbs Racing, both on the Xfinity side and the Sprint Cup side. We’ve had a good taste of success here recently and it feels good and, when times are good, things seem easy, of course, so we’d like to keep it that way. Overall, I think there are some things still for me to learn over the years that maybe I’m not quite as good at that I could be better at. Just different racetracks and being able to run well at different times or different aspects. Charlotte for instance – haven’t won there – Kansas and places like that. I feel like we can go each and every week and have a legitimate chance to win each and every week, which is probably the first time in my career that I’ve had that, so it’s pretty good.”
How does this momentum differ from what you went through last year?
“I think momentum is momentum. What we did last year with me coming back and sort of struggling the first five races a little bit and not getting what we wanted out of it, and then sort of taking off in the summer months and having some good results and keeping that together through the end of the season and winning the championship – I think that just sort of solidified our team’s ability and what we were all about and that we weren’t some fluke that ended up in the Chase. It gives us great pride and strength to know that we’ve come out this year and, besides a tire failure at California, that we’ve had top-fives at every race. We’ve been really, really strong. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys again have done a great job for me, to give me cars that are good to drive and that keep us up front. I don’t think it’s anything short of what we’re all about and I think what we should be able to do from here on out.”