|Is Daytona still a special racetrack for you?
“Daytona is cool – a lot more in February than in the summer just because it is the Daytona 500 versus the Coke Zero 400. For us, you still want to win everywhere you go, every single week. To win at Daytona is always cool. It’s definitely special. It’s the birthplace of NASCAR – the superspeedway aspect of it. I definitely love going there. It’s hot, it’s slick, and you can make the most out of yourself as a driver and what you’ve got in the car. We won there in 2008 and I’m hoping we can get a win with our Interstate Batteries Camry this weekend. Interstate Batteries has quite the legacy with JGR and I’m always proud to represent those guys and we hope to get a win for Norm (Miller, Interstate Chairman) and get them a win during their 65th anniversary year.”
As you head to the third restrictor-plate race of the year this weekend, how do you assess your performances on those tracks?
“On the plus side, we’ve qualified better on the plate tracks the last couple of years, and that’s because of a lot of hard work by everyone at JGR and by TRD (Toyota Racing Development) in getting us the stuff we need to do better in qualifying at plate tracks. Our plate stuff in the draft has always been good, and we’ve had good cars both races this year. We were able to run up front at Daytona in February until we had the issue there. And, at Talladega in May, we almost had a win, so that’s encouraging for this season so far on the plate tracks. There is so much that you just aren’t in control of and you have to find good fortune, somehow.”
What are some of the better safety improvements you’ve seen in the last couple of years?
“I think, of course, the things Daytona has done with the SAFER Barrier along the whole outside and inside of the racetrack. There are too many different areas on these racing surfaces where we can get out of control and crash into things. We’ve seen that over the years – I think most notably maybe Mark Martin at Michigan several years ago, getting caught on that inside pit wall. We tend to find about anywhere to hit, so it’s just a matter of trying to protect ourselves as well as the race fans and our crew members as best as possible.”
It’s taken a number of years to earn your stripes. How have you changed with you now in the midst of your 13th full season in th NASCAR Cup Series?
“It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long in my career at all. Yet, when you look back at life outside of racing, you think, ‘OK, I was 18 when I came in here – holy crap a lot of things have gone on and changed over 13 years.’ It certainly seems like a whole different world, not only for me in it, but just a whole different world in general. So much has changed since then with not only social media, but just in my career. The past year has been eventful, to say the least, but I feel like I’m stronger because of it. It’s been neat to win one of the crown jewel races at Indy the last two years and also the All-Star race this year, and then also be able to win my first Cup Series championship. Hopefully I can cross a few more goals off the list in the coming years and be fortunate enough to win more championships. I know I have the team and people around me that are capable of helping us do that.”