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Transcript: Championship 4 drivers meet with the media Saturday

The four NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers met with the media following Saturday practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  Here’s what they said.

DENNY HAMLIN, MARTIN TRUEX JR., KYLE BUSCH, KEVIN HARVICK

THE MODERATOR:  We’re joined by Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford for Stewart?Haas Racing.

We’ll take questions for Kevin.

I don’t know how you think practice went for you, but it looks on the board as if of the four guys, you have the most work to do.

KEVIN HARVICK:  It went good.  We missed our travels a little bit the first run, got our car a lot better.

In ’14 you said this format, this championship, was shortening careers, predicted it would shorten careers.  You’re battling it out again five years later.  Do you still feel that way?

KEVIN HARVICK:  It’s a lot easier now, understand it (laughter).

It’s not as stressful any more?

KEVIN HARVICK:  No, it’s still as stressful, you just learn how to deal with it better.

Last night’s practice was supposed to be at night.  No practice session at night now.  Is that a big deal?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Half the race is in the day, so there’s definitely something that applies, for sure.

There was talk about with this package that it might change the lines.  Is the bottom line a better line or is it still important to run the top?  How does that change for starts and restarts?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I think the line is probably not that much difference.  It’s just following behind cars is way worse than what it has been before.  You’re going to have to be versatile in where you can run on the racetrack, be able to run bottom, middle and top because you can’t run behind another car.

(No microphone.)

KEVIN HARVICK:  Typically the bottom doesn’t go as well with the traction.  We’ll see how that goes with the higher downforce and the less power.

Kevin, obviously the schedule changes kind of jumbled everything a little bit.  What is the emotion around the crew?  You seem largely upbeat about everything.  Are you really pumped up going into this having a shot at it?

KEVIN HARVICK:  It’s just business as usual.

Amongst your team, they always say do what you do.  When you go into Sunday’s race, is there anything else you think of differently or do you try to stay on the same path you always do and just do what you do?

KEVIN HARVICK:  Well, you can’t really stay on the same path for all the things they force you to do.  You can’t really be in your normal routine, and you have to know that coming into the week with all the things that are just way out of normal from what you would do on a weekend where you have the choices of things you could do and how you would schedule them.

You have to know that coming into the week and just deal with all the extra things and the extra people and things that come with the week.

What about the race itself?

KEVIN HARVICK:  As soon as that starts, you’re like, Thank God.  I can do what I normally do (laughter).

Yeah, once the race starts, it’s a little bit different because you don’t have the stages that you have to work on, worrying about stage points.

The strategy is really pretty straightforward as to what you’re trying to do:  that’s just be around to have a chance at the end of the race.

What did you think of the decision to have a practice instead of qualifying?  What implications are there not having qualifying?

KEVIN HARVICK:  I don’t have any input on those, so I don’t even worry about things like that.

THE MODERATOR:  Kevin, thanks for taking the time.  Good luck tomorrow.

KEVIN HARVICK:  Thank you.

THE MODERATOR:  We’ll continue with our Championship 4.  We have Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota.

We’ll start with questions.

You seemed pretty good on long runs in particular.  All three Gibbs cars are 1?2?3.  How do you feel?  What happens next?  Do you debrief together, share?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Yeah, I felt pretty good for a lot of new things here at Homestead.  Definitely a lot different than what we’ve done here in the past, fuel?wise, the way you’re driving the car.

I felt pretty close.  Good we were able to make three long runs.  Typically for me personally, if the car is pretty close, I’ll run a bunch of laps right away.  That’s definitely a good sign.  The guys did a good job being prepared, making a lot of good assumptions.

I feel pretty good.  I definitely feel like we can get better.  Just like every other weekend, how do you get better, can you do the right things, make the right changes tonight for tomorrow, then you go race and see how it plays out.  Feeling pretty good about things.  Hopefully we can get a little bit better.

But, yeah, we have a meeting scheduled.  We’ll debrief just like normal, all four of us.  Like I said, we talked about it during the week, you got to keep doing what got you here, right?

It’s a big race, but the best chance for one of us to win is to do the same thing we do every week as a team, as group.  We’re going to go do that.  Look forward to hearing what the other guys say.

Like I said, we’re all a little bit different driving styles, crew chief, setup styles, things like that.  We’re all a little bit different.  It’s really just about getting information to help us make the best decisions we can for ourselves.

Want your assessment of how the lower horsepower, high downforce affects things in terms of outside lane on restarts.  Kevin Harvick said he thinks drivers will have to be more versatile because you can’t run behind another car with this package.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  No question, that’s been the key to this whole season on these big tracks.  How can you move around, who can move around the best?  You can get a big run on someone down the straightaway, but if you have to follow them through the corner, you’re done.

Being able to move around is something we focused on.  I ran on every inch of that racetrack getting a feel for what I need for each lane.

I feel like a lot of the guys that are struggling, a lot of the mid?pack cars, everybody is going to migrate towards the top because there’s the most grip right against the wall.  If you get to those guys, you got to be able to go somewhere.  That’s been a key with this package, something we’ve been working on.

Yeah, we’ll see how it plays out.  It’s definitely a lot different than the past years, just the way you have to drive the place.  A lot of times you come off the corner, you’re like, Okay, I could have two cars on my outside.  You don’t use up all the track because you don’t have that speed, that momentum.

If you get a little bit messed up getting into the corner, you lose that momentum, I mean, the track is way wider than it has to be on exit.  Crazy how much the entry speed and momentum of what we’re doing here is critical to lap time.

We don’t have any horsepower to reaccelerate.  This place is all about slipping and sliding.  If you can’t, as soon as you slide, you lose time.  It’s going to be a big challenge to do all the little things right.

As you look into tomorrow and what you guys just did in practice, I saw you around your two teammates a couple times, were you able to get a feel where you were similar?  Was there a feel of how you compare?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  It’s kind of hard to tell.  I ran eight or 10 laps there with the 11 early on first run.  Felt like we were a little bit screwed up there.  Feel like we made some good changes to get better, but still there’s more to gain.

Like I said, we’ll just have to make the right adjustments from there for tomorrow.  I feel like our team is really good at that usually.  We’ll just have to see.

I felt like it was a decent practice.  To unload pretty close, like I mentioned earlier, was really a key.  To be able to go out there and make a long run, see how things played out, go from there.

It was a good place to start from, I guess.  Hopefully we can get better from there.

Martin, you mentioned being fast on a long run.  You can never forecast when a caution is going to come out.  Obviously the history of this event is a caution late.  How do you feel about your short run speed?  And Denny, you missed the pit entrance there.  Can you explain what happened in that situation.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised by our takeoff speed, I would say.  The three of us going 1?2?3 there in practice.  That first lap, I was leading the line.  Typically you’re a little slower doing that.  I was surprised that we were kind of firing off as quick as we were, still able to hang on.

It’s really about a balance.  You got to have both.  If you’re slow in the long run, you won’t be in position to win at the end of the race.  You have to have enough to hang on and be in a decent position if you’re just going to worry about the short run.  It’s not as clear?cut or as easy as we all talk about it being to choose those things.

You got to have a great racecar to have either one.  Sometimes you just trend slightly either direction.  We’re going to go all out.  For here, it’s so slick, traction limited, you can’t go all out one way or the other.

What happened with pit road?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, this is the first year really kind of just gone by marks on the racetrack for pit entry.  I hadn’t had a mark here.  Obviously a different package slows down differently and whatnot.  Just went too far.

(No microphone.)

DENNY HAMLIN:  I’m just a feel and visual.  I don’t have a specific spot where I stop.  I just kind of do it off of feel.  But just had a different process.

You were okay canceling qualifying?

DENNY HAMLIN:  I was.  It’s that good karma for giving up that pit box last year (smiling).  It all comes back around.

Denny, I want to clarify something from last week with Phoenix.  It seemed like you didn’t get information on the last caution if the 18 was going to take two or four tires.  Was that the frenzy of late race or something you aren’t going to be sharing as much any more?  What is the plan for strategy Sunday?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Four tires, four tires, four tires (laughter).

DENNY HAMLIN:  I think it’s a little bit easier here.  In 2014 we stayed out.  It didn’t work.

I don’t know.  I think confirmation from the 19.  Again, it’s so different, right?  The 18 wasn’t locked in.  The 19 was.  Crew chief chat, he may have got a signal, I’m not sure.

Really the reason he told me, kind of audibled right there at the end, he was watching the 12 the entire time.  When he saw him take off, that’s when he said, Go.

He wasn’t looking at the 18, he was looking at the 12.  That tells me somewhat he knew what the 18 was going to do.

Have you done anything this weekend to keep your mind off of racing?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Lost a bet.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Just doing my normal thing.  I mean, poor Austin is trying to corral all the crowd.  Tough guy there.  I don’t envy him.

No, everyone is kind of coming in today for the most part.  Just doing kind of normal things.  Trying to have fun, enjoy everything that surrounds us.  You never know.

How many celebrities you got?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Johnny Morris.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Doubtful.

Any rappers?

DENNY HAMLIN:  No.

THE MODERATOR:  Gentlemen, good luck tomorrow.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.:  Thank you.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Thank you.

THE MODERATOR:  We’re joined by Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Questions for Kyle.

KYLE BUSCH:  Can’t be much more to talk about.  See y’all every day (smiling).

What did you think of the decision to have practice instead of qualifying?  Do you feel like there’s any implications to not just having qualifying?

KYLE BUSCH:  Yeah, I mean, I thought with the way the schedule was, the way it was laid out for compromise, it was the best way, best thing to do.

I think practice over qualifying was for sure a good idea just for the field.  Kind of the unknown with everything that’s coming into this weekend to have a shot to work on your racecar instead of just going out there blind and trying to run as fast as you can for a qualifying lap.

Overall it’s kind of what I would have done, I guess.

(Question about starting position.)

KYLE BUSCH:  I mean, could we qualify later, then swap back over?  It would be a mess, I guess, I’m sure for the crew chiefs, the garage, everything that they’ve got going on to qualify after the Xfinity race or something like that.  There’s a big championship celebration and everything that’s going to be happening.  Just time limited, I guess.

We’ll start the way it starts.  I guess it’s good the way that it all laid out.  Denny got his pole from last year back for this year, so I think he’s back even.

Last night the team won the owners championship.  Do you feel that kind of gives you any momentum in your mind that, We won a championship already this weekend, we can do it again?

KYLE BUSCH:  Man, I wish it worked that way.  People could say that it kind of did in 2015 when Erik Jones won the truck championship for us.  We were able to go out there and win a championship.

I think I remember Christopher Bell winning a championship in ’16 for us, and that didn’t bode so well, didn’t work.  Didn’t matter.

I don’t think there’s any consolation there.

After being out there with the lower horsepower, high downforce for the first time, what is your assessment?  Kevin and Martin both said it’s like mile?and?a?half tracks this year, hard to trail other cars, you might not be able to slide the car, lose momentum.

KYLE BUSCH:  Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of what we all expected.  It’s got some similarities to other characteristics of vehicles that I’ve driven here over the course of my career.  Kind of think back to some of how that worked out.

There were definitely times in practice that I kind of tried to get behind people, feel that out, see what was going to happen.

I’d say it’s as close to the characteristics of traffic that we’ve had the rest of the year.

Do you feel there’s any disadvantage momentum?wise for you coming in here because it’s one race to win a championship?  Does it really matter all that much what you did before now?

KYLE BUSCH:  I don’t know.  I’ll let you know in probably 30 hours.

I guess the way I look at it is we kind of came in here as the underdog in ’15, wasn’t necessarily favored.  Many thought we shouldn’t even have been eligible.  We went out there and stomped their ass and won the deal, so…

What can you do for me now is the way it goes.

Typically the restarts, starts, bottom lane doesn’t wind up as well.  With this package, does the bottom line have a better chance or if you’re in the top lane you’re going to be able to control and dictate?

KYLE BUSCH:  I think it depends on where the leader restarts.  If the leader chooses the bottom, takes the bottom, I think the bottom will roll.  If the leader chooses the outside, takes the outside, I think the top will roll a spot.  Too hard to predict right now.

If you’re third, the guy goes off in the corner in front of you, hugs the line, doesn’t give you any air, you’re screwed.  If the guy on the outside kind of hugs the guy on the inside, if you’re in fourth, you’re screwed.  There’s no air.  You got to have a middle ground.  There’s got to be separation for air to be able to get to the front of your car.

Looking at this race today isn’t going to tell you anything about what our race is going to look like tomorrow.

Does it change your thought process on what lane you might take?

KYLE BUSCH:  It does, yeah.

I am Colby Covington.  Getting ready for a UFC title fight.  I wanted to hear some advice from you, what your mindset is going into a championship race?

KYLE BUSCH:  Don’t give a shit about who you’re fighting, go kick their ass.  Feelings aside (smiling).

THE MODERATOR:  On that note, Kyle, thanks for joining us.  Good luck tomorrow night.

KYLE BUSCH:  Hope it works for you (laughter).

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