|What makes Texas such a unique track among the Chase races?
“Texas is unique because its asphalt is starting to age and get older, but it’s not like Atlanta. Atlanta is, like, you run one lap and you’re done, you want a fresh set of tires. Texas, you can go a few laps and you can run a little bit before you kind of want to have that fresh set of tires. But, at Charlotte, you can run the same lap time for 25 laps. All those racetracks are really, really different, but Texas has kind of come into its own where it’s really a different place. The transitions in and out of the corners, and then of course the bump in the center of (turns) one and two, and then there are some more bumps that are developing at kind of the exit off two right in the middle lane. It’s kind of hard to run there, sometimes. And then, where the grooves have kind of been the last few times through three and four, right in the middle with left sides on that first seam, that has been a really good groove. Really, it’s got a lot of options for drivers and that’s what we all enjoy. I know our M&M’S Camry team will be ready for the challenge this weekend.”
Are you getting more comfortable at Texas each time you go back?
“It used to not be so much. I had some wild races there early on in my career and it wasn’t one of my favorite places, for whatever reason. Things have gone well, recently. The spring was a dream weekend for me, getting my second Sprint Cup win there. Obviously, the Xfinity Series wins I had there all in a row, and the Truck Series wins, have been real confidence boosters. I’ve sort of learned how to drive it a little bit better and I know what I need in my racecar to make it easier. The cars JGR has given me since I joined the team have also been a confidence booster there.”
How do you approach this final stretch of the Chase as the defending champion?
“I would say just trying to stay pretty even. Don’t get too excited, don’t get too down. We certainly had a good first round – that went really well for us. We had a solid second round, as well – much better than we did in 2015. Anything can happen so we just have to make sure we can take what’s given to us like we did last year. There were some times we didn’t get the finishes we wanted, but we were still able to transfer through. This year, we will try to get the finish we do want and make our way through the rounds if possible and get to the end. Certainly, you’re on the highest of highs at the checkered flag at Homestead last year, but it just continues to diminish all through this year because, you know, you try to repeat and, if you can repeat, you’ll be at the highest of highs again. But eventually, in about three more weeks, your reign is over so you try to repeat if you can.”
Do you approach Texas differently than other mile-and-a-half racetracks?
“Texas is a really fast mile-and-a-half racetrack. Charlotte has been fast the last few years and Texas has always kind of been that way. The asphalt is getting a little bit older. But, for as old as the asphalt is, it’s still really fast for a few laps and it’s still kind of a pain, sometimes, because it is so aero-dependent that, when you do run the bottom, it’s hard to pass. You’ve got to be able to move around a little bit and run the middle, run the top and show some ability to go all over the racetrack. We’re getting closer each and every time, it feels like. Sometimes not so much – you kind of go forward and then you go backward and then you kind of come back forward some.”