|Do you feel like you’re in a stronger position this year?
“Yes, I do actually. I feel maybe a little bit better, but I also feel our biggest threat is within our own house, so with the Toyota guys all being very strong right now – with JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Furniture Row (Racing) – we’ve had a lot of good success this year. We’ve won a lot of races, yet we’re all going to be going there and competing against each other. And I think it’s just going to be probably the process of natural elimination that happens, where one or however many of us will be eliminated throughout the process just due to unforeseen circumstances. How many of us will be there at the end? Obviously, Joe (Gibbs, Joe Gibbs Racing team owner) would hope that it’s all four of us and whether or not that happens is yet to be seen.”
How does it feel to kick off the Chase with a top-10 finish?
“There’s no doubt, certainly you’d rather win one and we had a good car all day and circumstances didn’t play in our favor at the end with my mistake speeding on pit road. I’m happy that we were able to recover, but it should have been third or fourth instead of eighth. There are still nine more weeks – nine long weeks – to go, but I know this team is focused and we’ll try to have another good race at New Hampshire with our M&M’S Camry and keep up some positive momentum from the last several weeks.”
Is the key to the Chase consistency, or winning?
“You’ve got to have one or the other. If you haven’t got consistency, then you better be winning. If you’re having consistency, then you don’t have to be winning. But, there’s nothing better than being able to win and move yourself automatically.”
The New Hampshire race is one of the shortest on the circuit. How do you approach that race, knowing you might have a little less time to get to the front at the end if you’re not there, already?
“Essentially, at Loudon, you’re looking at how good your fuel mileage is and you have to look at when you have to make your last pit stop, since that’s what everyone looks at. You end up running it almost like a road-course race because you do want to be the first guy on the last round of pit stops to pit. You want to get in there, get your tires and fuel, and then stay out the rest of the race and keep your track position since it’s so important there. It’s just a challenging race because it’s so hard to pass there. You can be two-tenths faster than a guy and not be able to pass him because everyone typically runs the same speed. You’ll have it where the leader might be a tenth (of a second) better than the second-place guy, but everyone is separated by so little that it takes a mistake on someone’s part in order to pass them there.”
When you make a mistake at Loudon, do you have much of a chance to recover?
“You don’t because you’re always on edge there. You’re trying to go as fast as you can into the corners, as deep as you can into the corners while rolling as much speed, or just a bit higher than everyone else so you are able to get back to the gas sooner. You’re going harder than everyone else in order to make the straightaway a little bit longer and get your momentum built back up. It’s definitely a challenging racetrack. I have won there in the past so, if we get a good car, then we might have a shot to win there.”