|You’ve come close to winning at Pocono the last several years. Have you improved there over the years?
“I think I’ve been a bit inconsistent or streaky there over the years. Started off early in my career with some top-five finishes and then went through a stretch where we weren’t very good. Lately, we’ve certainly been better there and I’ve had some second-place finishes and third-place finishes, so I feel like I’ve figured it out better there lately. With the way our cars at JGR have been overall, I’m very optimistic that we could score a victory there this weekend or, if not, when we come back later in the summer with our M&M’S 75th Anniversary Camry.”
Pocono is the most unique track on the circuit with three distinct corners. What’s the most difficult part of the track for you?
“The hardest part of the track, for me, is probably turn one, and then turn two is the second-hardest, and then turn three is the third-hardest – turn three, last year, because of the patch they laid down. We couldn’t go down low and get underneath somebody and get a run on them because, when you come off the corner, you’re 8 to 10 mph slower than the guy on your outside and they’re just going to blow right by you going down the straightaway.”
With you running out of fuel during your most recent trip there, does that enter your mind as you head back to Pocono?
“I think when you run well there and have a shot to win and you run out of fuel, when you head back there you still have the same mindset that you have a shot to win there just like we had a shot to win there last summer. I would definitely like to win a race there, and last year having such a good car I certainly have figured out how to drive the track, so eventually I think we’ll get that win there when you keep bringing back good cars like Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the M&M’S guys have.”
Did the repaving of the track at Pocono change the racing at all there?
“I thought the racing there was kind of the same, not much different. It was a little bit harder to pass because, it seems like, when you’re out front in clean air, you have so much more of an advantage than being back in traffic than what it used to be – slightly, not much. To me, it was always a hard, tricky place, but it’s actually finally started becoming a two-lane racetrack in turn three. You could run the bottom and you could run the top with what we call ‘the grip strip.’ Now, it’s all grip, so it’s all back to the bottom again and you can’t really make much time up on the outside anymore. I know they had a pretty tough winter up there, so hopefully it weathered the surface even more and it widened the groove and we can put on some good racing there.”
Since the track is unique, where is the best place to make a pass at Pocono?
“Most of your passing is going to be done probably through turn one and off of turn one and getting into turn two, and if somebody can get a good run off of turn two, get back up high and get in line to get on that patch, getting into turn three. Besides that, in turn one, we just can’t get the cars to turn down there because there’s so much load on the bump stops from going 210 mph down the front straightaway and then trying to slow it down to about a ‘buck-40’ (140 mph). Turn two is kind of bumpy and kind of rough. There are different areas where you’ve got to maneuver through the tunnel turn to get your car right. If you miss it just by a little bit, you tend to knock the wall down off the corner, so it’s tight.”