|How special was your 2015 Sonoma win, and what do you remember about it?
“That weekend was certainly a good start to our championship run. To go out there and win the race after where we were after Michigan the previous week, it all gave us the confidence that we still had a shot to win the Chase. We thought getting the win would be the hardest part, but it was really not expected at Sonoma. My feet and legs were still recovering and there was a lot of shifting and it was hard on them. With 30 laps to go, it was hurting pretty bad but, when you realize you have a chance to win, it doesn’t hurt as bad. We’ve had times at Sonoma where we’ve been up front and haven’t been able to hold onto it, and other times when we had the right strategy and we were in the right place at the right time. We’ve had some bad luck recently, so we’re hoping we can get a good run with our M&M’S Caramel Camry at Sonoma and maybe finally get that win we’ve been looking for.”
Is road-course racing something that comes naturally to you, or is it something you had to work on?
“It’s definitely something you have to work on. With rule changes and tire changes, it’s something you work on every year. There’s always change that you have to work on to be competitive. When I was a kid back in Las Vegas in Legends cars, that’s where I was able to learn about shifting and turning left and turning right. I had the natural instincts for it and won a couple of championships in the winter series we had out there. We actually went to Sonoma back then and ran the national championship races two years in a row and finished third both times, so I had a little bit of experience on road courses as I came up through the ranks.”
Last year’s race was hot and it looks like there is more warm weather in the forecast this week. How do you handle the heat inside the cars?
“Sonoma is a place where you can’t necessarily run 100 percent every lap. You’ve got to hold yourself back a little because the tire just won’t withstand running on it as hard as you can every single lap with the fall-off. The better you can take care of those tires and the more you take care of yourself, then the more you take care of your car. I’m sure there will be some hot tempers there when it’s hot, too, like there typically is at a short track. And this, to me, is like a road-course, short-track race where there’s going to be some beating and banging and moving some people out of the way, for sure.”
Describe what it’s like to race at Sonoma and what challenges you face there?
“Sonoma is a neat place. It’s a cool area to go to up into Wine Country. I’ve always enjoyed road-course racing. Even when I was in Legends cars, I would enjoy going up there during the days that I raced there. Now that I’m on the Sprint Cup tour, it’s cool to go there every June. It’s a fun racetrack. The cars get grouped a lot closer together there than at Watkins Glen, so braking there is a lot tougher getting into turn four, turn seven, and especially turn 11. There are some opportunities in those corners to pass people. Forward bite seems to have become an issue as you get going there during the run. And you need to make sure you keep the rear tires underneath you because it’s really easy to burn them babies off when you try and pass somebody. You go to pass somebody and hit the gas and all your rear tires want to do is spin and you can’t get alongside that guy. So, from that respect, Sonoma can be frustrating at times, as well. We just want to get in a position to win with our M&M’S Caramel Camry, then see how the strategy plays out.”
How challenging is it to race against road-course specialists who you might not race against on a regular basis?
“It’s different, for sure. There are a lot of guys out there who have the road-racing background, who know a heck of a lot more about road racing and technique than we do. The neat thing about road racing is just being able to have – it’s like – a vacation weekend. You just go out there and have fun and do the best you can and you’ll either do really well or you’ll do really badly and you just go on to the next one. We do have some testing for it and you try to pick up on it but, with respect to who you’re racing, you can expect to race a little bit of a different crowd.”