@NASCAR • #TheChase • Homestead-Miami Speedway (November 20, 2015) – Transcript of the NASCAR Championship4 Media Day press conference.
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is David Higdon, and I’m with NASCAR’s Integrated Marketing Communications team. Welcome to Championship 4 Media Day here at the beautiful Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood, Florida. Before we hear from our Championship 4 drivers, I’d like to welcome our many fans watching live on NASCAR.com and listening on Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. Thanks for tuning in, and I hope you enjoy the program.
In less than 24 hours, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars will hit the track at Homestead‑Miami Speedway, preparing for another thrilling championship race, the Ford EcoBoost 400, live on NBC, MRN, and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. In addition to these viewing and listening options, NBC announced this week the launch of NBCSN Hot Pass, a multiwindow display and track map that gives fans an in‑depth look at our Championship 4 drivers during Sunday’s race. This option is another in a long line of innovations that NBC has offered in their return to NASCAR coverage. We certainly thank them and congratulate them on an incredible 2015 season.
Our Championship 4 drivers survived another challenging Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and have earned the right to compete for one of the toughest titles in all of sports, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Today we hear from them each. Our drivers are indeed here, and they are ready.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Championship 4 drivers:
To my left, he’s the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Jimmy John’s Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick; the four‑time series champion who will compete in his final race on Sunday, the driver of the No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Jeff Gordon; after returning from injury, he reeled off four wins in five races, the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota, Kyle Busch; and hailing from New Jersey while driving for a team headquartered in Denver, the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Denver Mattress Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr.
We’ll get right to your questions from the media for our championship contenders. If you have a question, please raise your hand and state your name and affiliation when called upon.
Q. Kevin, being the defending champion, does that do a thing for you coming into this weekend? Does anything translate?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think so. I think, you know, for me personally, I think that just the management of the week and just all the logistics of everything that happens and knowing what to expect is definitely a good thing because in the end, it’s not just another week, it’s championship week, and there’s a lot on the line, and I feel like managing those emotions and logistics from everybody at Stewart‑Haas who’s had experience winning a championship and everybody in our office that got to go through that last year, there can be a lot of distractions. So managing your time and doing the things that you need to do are definitely a positive in keeping the right frame of mind and staying focused on the things that you need to stay focused on. For me that’s pretty simple this week, and that’s to drive the car and try to get the most out of it. I think it’s definitely good that we got to go through that last year.
Q. Jeff, has it sunk in yet that this is going to be your last race, and what are your emotions going into the weekend?
JEFF GORDON: No, not quite yet. I mean, my emotions right now are just focused on the race. We’ve been doing so much pre‑planning for this weekend, having friends and family here, just because we expected it, knew it was going to be my final race, but certainly things have ramped up a bit since Martinsville, and it was nice being able to win that first race of that round because it did give you a little bit more time to make some plans around here, to stay focused, and I had to make some adjustments, you know, because of some of the things that we did have planned.
But I’m just excited. The team is extremely fired up, being in the shop this week with them. Yesterday was really, really exciting. Yeah, I think still, the focus is on that, but there’s times when I get on Twitter or I see something like the ESPN thing that Jimmie did, and it starts to definitely get you a little choked up, and that’s only a good thing.
I’m excited about this season winding down the way it has and the career, and it makes you feel good when you hear some of those things that are out there.
Q. We’ve heard a lot about driver codes and racing hard and what’s the right thing to do this year, especially in the Chase. If there’s a late restart or battle for the lead amongst you guys, where is the line, and does anything go at that point?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I think for me, honestly, it doesn’t really change from the way I’ve raced my whole career and the way I’ve raced every week. You know, if it comes down to a little bit of pushing and shoving at the end for the win, then it just depends on what I feel like the other guys are willing to put on the line.
I think that ‑‑ I don’t think anyone is just going to go out there and wreck someone to try to get the championship, at least that’s not the way I would do it. For me, it really doesn’t change from the way I race every week. We’re going to put our best effort out there on the racetrack. We’re going to race as hard as we can, and hopefully we don’t have to worry about crossing that line.
JEFF GORDON: I don’t have to worry about racing these guys next year. (Laughter.)
Yeah, I think you have to be in a competitive environment like we are. I think it also depends on your interaction with those drivers. I mean, I don’t think that any of us currently have any beefs among one another, and we have a lot of respect for one another, and you want to go out there ‑‑ the ultimate is that you’re running second and you have to pass one of these guys on the final lap, and it’s some bold and exciting move but a clean move, maybe just a little fender rub or something like that, that gets you the win. To me that’s the ultimate. That’s how everybody wishes and hopes that they could do it.
If you put the bumper to them and they spin, they crash, even if you crossed the line first, that’s going to weigh on you a little bit. Yeah, you might be the champion, but it’s still going to be ‑‑ have sort of a shadow over it.
I think if you ask us right now what we’d be willing to do, it’s we want to go do it in a clean way, but you don’t know how you’re going to react on that last lap when you’ve had it in sight, and you don’t know what’s going to go on throughout the whole race that may create an opportunity.
KEVIN HARVICK: I think going through this last year, all four of us raced against each other pretty much the whole race, and everybody raced hard and did everything that they wanted to do as far as pass each other and race, because in the end, I mean, if it’s the last lap, I mean, what are the odds of it coming down to that? You have to get to that point, and how you race each other all day ‑‑ we raced hard, but in the end, it was clean, and everybody did what they had to do. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same way this year where you have to race up front and race for a win and do all the things that happened last year. But that already happened last year, and you saw how it went.
Q. Threat of rain on Sunday; are you okay with the rules as they are that you could have a rain‑shortened championship race, or do you feel like the championship race should be run to the finish, even if you had to come back another day?
JEFF GORDON: Depends on where I’m at when the rain comes. (Laughter.)
I mean, it’s South Florida. The weather changes so quick here that you have to be really careful not to put too much into the forecast. I mean, I know my approach has always been when the track is dry and you take the green flag, you go and you race. When the rain comes ‑‑ you can’t predict it. You can’t plan for it. Sure, there are some times where it’s worth taking a little more risk, like last weekend, for instance, at Phoenix we were leading the race when the caution came out and we knew rain was coming at any second, but we were also going to run out of fuel. And so was that worth the risk? Not that there was a championship on the line, but we were still thinking about it and thinking about a win, thinking about points, and those things will weigh out on Sunday if the weather comes. But right now I’m certainly not going to be worried and thinking about weather. I’m going to be thinking about getting on track Friday and seeing how we qualify. Hopefully the weather is good.
Q. How informed do you want to be where the other three drivers are throughout the race? Is there a certain point where you want to know what you have to do or do you just want to focus on getting the best finish possible and going for the win?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, if you’re in front of them, you’ll know, and that’s the only spot that matters. I mean, at that point you’re going to notice a driver, where you’re at with only three guys.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, I totally agree with Harvick. You feel like to win the championship, you’re probably going to have to win this race. If you’re doing what you need to do, you’re pretty much going to know where they’re at. I could see a lot of scenarios in my head where the four of us are running in the top 5 a lot of that race. You’ll know if you’re ahead of them, and that’s where you’ll want to be.
Q. There are very distinct stories coming into this race. All four of you have a very distinct story. In your opinion how does your story stack up against the other three?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I’m not even close to the story. I know for this one for sure and that one for sure. We’ll just ‑‑ it’s between those three.
JEFF GORDON: He’s the favorite. We’re the sentimentals. That’s all there is. (Laughter.)
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: The way I see it, these three next to me are supposed to win the championship, and I’m probably not, so that’s a pretty cool story in itself.
KYLE BUSCH: I think it’s just a great opportunity for myself to come back in this format and have the opportunity to race in the way that NASCAR presents the rules and the way the Chase format is. Like Martin said, a lot of people would say that I don’t deserve the chance to be here, but you know what, we are, and we’re going to give it all we’ve got just to go out there and have some fun and race against these guys.
I’m pretty sure, to the previous question, it’s going to be all four of us right around each other all day long, and we’re going to know where each other are at and we’re going to know what we need to do in order to win this championship. It’s going to be most likely to win the race. You’ve just got to put all those things in your mind and just go out there and perform.
Q. Martin, is it past time for people to stop looking at you as an underdog and realize in a few hours you could be a champion and beat all these guys up here?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I don’t know. I think that certainly with my record in the Sprint Cup Series, there’s been a lot of ups and downs throughout my career, I’ve never really been in a position like this before. For a lot of reasons, and I’ve said it since the Chase started, for a lot of reasons, we are the underdog. One‑car team from Denver, rookie crew chief, I’ve never raced for a championship in this series, so for a lot of reasons, we are the underdog.
But I think, again, what we’ve done this season has proven that we belong here. We’ve done it week in and week out. You know, we can get the job done on any given day, and this Sunday is no different than that. So we’re going to just do our best and go race hard and hopefully put our best on the racetrack and feel like we’re in a position to do something special. You never know when you’re going to get this opportunity again, so we’re really just 100 percent focused on what we’re doing. We’re not really worried about what people think, what people are saying. We’re just going out there to do our jobs to the best of our ability, and that’s what we’ve done all year. Hopefully that will pay dividends in the end.
Q. Martin, about the underdog status, as far as when you put that helmet on like everybody else up there when they put that helmet on, don’t those things just kind of go away?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, they totally do. You don’t think about anything in the outside world when that helmet goes on other than what’s about to happen in front of you on the racetrack. It’s real easy to focus for me on what we have to do and what it’s going to take. It’s definitely not going to be easy. We have three great competitors here to race against this weekend, but every other weekend we’re racing against 42. The odds are definitely a lot better this weekend than they’ve been the rest of the year, and again, if we can just go out and do our job, hopefully we’ll be good enough to get it done. There’s no telling right now. But I’m excited about the opportunity, feel like we’re going to have a really good shot at it, and I’m looking forward to this weekend. It’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s really no pressure. It feels good to be here. This whole season has been just a ton of fun for me, and to see the progress of my race team, hopefully we can finish off the final chapter here.
Q. Jeff, there’s a school of thought that because Kevin, Kyle and Martin are going to have other opportunities to win championships, you have the most pressure of the four on Sunday. What’s your reaction to that, and how much pressure do you feel in this race to the other 796 you’ve had in your career?
JEFF GORDON: I mean, I look at it as more exciting. I mean, if I could have scripted this thing in January or February, I don’t think I could have scripted it quite the way it’s going. You know, I never dreamed that we could have an opportunity to be battling for the championship in my final race.
Is there pressure? I mean, I feel like there’s always pressure. You know, I think that more the way I’m looking at it is just going out in an awesome, fun way, and by winning that race in Martinsville and putting us in this elite group, I mean, that right there just was an incredible moment and something I’ll never forget, and knowing that we were just going to come down here and be a part of that four, that right there in itself is a win.
But if you don’t think that our team is working extremely hard and very focused and determined to be a real factor in this thing on Sunday, then you’re mistaken, and so that part certainly puts pressure on. I mean, I think, yeah, there’s a ton of pressure taken off all of us because we’re just a part of it and we know that we can’t be worse than fourth when this thing is all over. But at the same time there’s definitely pressure because we all want it. We all want it really badly. We all know that it’s not going to come easily. To me that’s the same pressure that we have very often in big races and big events and big moments in certain points of the race, and I don’t think that that really is any different.
Q. We took a fan question, and Chris asks: If you can’t win, who would you be rooting for to win the title?
KEVIN HARVICK: I don’t think that’s an approved question. They don’t have an affiliation.
See, you guys are missing the whole goal. The whole goal is to not piss anybody off to the point where they just absolutely want to go home and you motivate them. I think they’re all great stories. (Laughter.)
JEFF GORDON: I’m going with Harvick. I’m saying I agree with Harvick. I’m not saying I’m going with him. I want all three of you guys to come across the line in a photo finish if I can’t be in front of you.
KYLE BUSCH: I’ll go with my childhood hero, Jeff Gordon.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: This is a total setup. (Laughter.)
That’s all I’ve got.
Q. Kyle, I know this weekend, right now you’re entered in the XFINITY race. Seeing that from your viewpoint, does that help you that you get more track time, or does it hurt you in the sense that it serves as more of a distraction with the championship here on the line?
KYLE BUSCH: I think it is a distraction, and to me it’s always been sort of a good distraction, to get your mind off of things a little bit, and you get to go out there and have some fun and just try to focus on the other part you mentioned of getting out there and getting some extra track time and being able to have that opportunity to race at Homestead. Obviously it’s been 360‑whatever days since we’ve been here. You know, to get out there and to run the XFINITY race and to try to play with the lines and kind of see how all that goes, I feel like it’s always a positive for me, so I look forward to that.
And also, the way that you have to run this racetrack, right up against the wall, within inches of the wall, it just fine‑tunes those things that you’ve got to do for Sunday and being able to run up there like that and having the confidence to do that. My crew chief would also probably tell you that it’s a good thing that I get to go away for a while so he can work on the car and not having me putting things in his mind that don’t need to be there and he can just make some smart adjustments.
Q. Jeff, speaking of going out on top, I know 15 years ago you won the Busch race at Homestead‑Miami; that was your final start. Could you just recall that day and maybe some similarities that you can draw to come Sunday?
JEFF GORDON: Wow, you’re making me go back to the memory bank on that one. You’ve got to understand, that was a different racetrack. That was a flat Homestead, so there’s not a whole lot you can take out of it. I don’t know if I actually knew that was going to be my final Busch Grand National race, so there was not a lot of planning. I was kind of hoping it was going to be my last one. I was like, God, I’ve got to do another one of these things? We struggled for five ‑‑ I think I did three seasons or two seasons, and we’d struggled for five of them and said, we should do another one, and then we’d win the last one, and so there’s no comparisons. It’s not even close. Our preparation, our thought process, the ‑‑ what was on the line, the planning, all that, nowhere close, other than I hope the results are the same.
Q. Kevin, everybody is painting you as the favorite, so do you expect to win on Sunday? Are you the favorite?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, there’s just so many things that happen throughout these races. I have the confidence in my team and the things that we’ve done this year that I believe that our car will be competitive. But as we’ve proven throughout the Chase, even though your car is competitive, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong in our sport, just whether it’s mistakes from me or parts failures or whatever goes on. In the end we’re going to try to control the things that we can control. I think our guys have kind of lived in this type of situation where everybody expects the car to go out and perform well, and I think you have to be very careful of how you react to those things and how you balance those things and how you talk about those things.
You know, you’re confident in what you have, but you can’t be confident in the results just for the fact that you just never know what can reach out and grab you. We’re going to control the things that we can control, and hopefully it goes well.
Q. For each of you except for Kevin, have you guys ever been in a one‑race‑for‑all‑the‑marbles type situation before? I know you have the elimination races and you need to win to advance, but for the championship as you came up, are there any similarities to races that you guys had to win?
KYLE BUSCH: I was going to take it first because your memory bank is a lot longer than ours. You’ve got to go back a few years. I haven’t, actually, no, so this is, I guess, a first for me, but one that I’m looking forward to for sure. What’s funny is I just thought about it as we were sitting up here, it was my first XFINITY Series, Busch Series championship that I was racing for years ago was actually against Truex.
We’ve been in that situation before, although it wasn’t the last race that it came down to.
You know, I think that that could be said for something that some guys don’t have that experience in that, but yet maybe not having that experience and taking a loss in one of those situations, you kind of don’t really know what to expect, so you just let circumstances take care of themselves, and you don’t focus on anything or don’t think about anything, you just try to let your skill take over and take over for the results in itself.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, for me, I think the only thing I can really relate it to is when I first got my big break to run in the Busch Series for Chance 2 back in 2003, and I knew that I was going to run one race for him. I didn’t know if I was ever going to get any more, and that was kind of my big chance to make a career out of it, and it seems a similar feel, just the pressure and the expectations and how’s it going to go, and you’re really thinking about it all in your mind, so that’s really the only thing I can ever really relate it to.
JEFF GORDON: For me, I mean, if I go way, way back to ’97 when I battled with Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett, it came down to the final race at Atlanta between the three of us. But in that situation, I think we had a fairly decent lead. We had to finish 17th or better, and we ran 17th or 18th all day long, and so it was miserable. But luckily we still pulled it off. I love this scenario far better where you’re all on the even points; you’ve got to perform at a high level and just go out there to win the race, and you know there’s a good chance you’re going to have to win the race.
Then the only other one I can compare it to is, whatever your current one ‑‑ I think it was ’04 me, when me, Kurt, and Jimmie were here at Homestead, all with a chance at winning it. Kurt had the lead. It wasn’t even, but we all raced our guts out, and we had to basically race for the win, and I remember that, that final restart I was second I think to Biffle, and then Jimmie was third, and I tried to go for the win, and ended up not getting by Biffle and Jimmie got by me, and neither one of us won the championship but he passed me in points and he finished second, I finished third, but just that mentality of knowing how hard you had to push to have a shot at winning that championship was ‑‑ that would be the only comparison I have.
Q. Kevin, a few of us were struck by you saying that the goal was not to piss anybody off because it seems like that’s been your goal at many of these events in the past. Some of us are also struck by the affable collegiality up here. Why no mind games today from any of you guys? Do you like each other too much? We’re used to people needling each other and taking shots.
KEVIN HARVICK: I think it’s his fault. We’re going to blame it on him. It’s a little bit different, I think, just for the fact that I know we all want to win. We all want to have a championship.
But in the end, you don’t want to be the guy that was disrespectful at Jeff Gordon’s last press conference or say something that’s just a total jackass move.
JEFF GORDON: God, I hope he’s thinking like that on Sunday, too.
KEVIN HARVICK: It’s Thursday, Jeff, it’s Thursday. But I don’t know, yeah, I just don’t think it’s ‑‑ I think there’s a lot of respect for where everybody is at, and I think when you look at Martin and everything that those guys have done with what they’ve gotten in Colorado and here they are, and you look at Kyle breaking his leg and fighting back, and Jeff who’s going to retire and run the last race, there’s really no reason to create a story. There’s no reason to create a moment. If you guys can’t find something to write about on this stage, y’all need to be fired, so make some good stories and make sure there’s enough people watching. We’re depending on you.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll end on that note with the defending champion, so that concludes our formal question‑and‑answer portion.