YOU AND BRAD AND RYAN REALLY GET ALONG TOGETHER. WHEN AND HOW DID THAT CHEMESTRY COME ABOUT? “I think the three of us have a lot in common and we just naturally get along. I think we all really get the big picture and I think that is hard to find a lot of times. When you get teammates that all can see the big picture together and understand what we are there to do. Yes, we all want to win. Each one of us wants to win the race and have the trophies and all that but we also realize if we don’t work together none of us are going to raise the trophy up. I think everyone at Team Penske sees that, drivers included. You might see some of that throughout teams but then drivers don’t see it that way, but I think we have showed it a lot, especially superspeedway racing and the way we are able to work together and get ourselves up front and ultimately win races. It is important that Brad and I have grown into having a great friendship at this point. We talk about a lot of things outside of racing. I think that is valuable. I do the same thing with my crew chief Todd (Gordon) and I think those relationships are very valuable when they become more than a business relationship. It makes it easy to talk things out. I think it is hard to have that but I think it is very important.”

YOU HAVE RECEIVED YOUR FAIR SHARE OF BOO’S DURING DRIVER INTROS. DOES THAT BOTHER YOU? “I secretly love it. Don’t tell anybody. In all honesty, yeah I would rather be loved than hated but I would rather them say something than nothing. In all honesty, Martinsville is the race track that I think they dislike me the most. I can tell usually by the pick-up truck ride and counting the number of birds I get. All I can think of is how cool it would be to win there and do a big burnout. That would be the coolest. That is motivation to me. I do like that people like me and my fans that support me as a person and as a race car driver. I feel like they have gotten to know me, my personality and what I stand for. I also respect that some people don’t and that is okay. I am who I am and I am not going to change anything. Also I appreciate the passion that our fans have. Love it or hate it, love or hate me, they have passion and I think that is very important in sports. You see that in football, you see that in baseball and basketball. You have a team you like and you have a few teams you really dislike. That is part of it. I think that is good. I think that is healthy for our sport. As long as they are making noise.”

HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY DIFFERENCE AT ALL NOW THAT STEWART-HAAS RACING IS UNDER THE FORD BANNER? WHAT CAN THEY BRING TO FORD THAT WILL ULTIMATELY BENEFIT TEAM PENSKE? “There are definitely a lot of different avenues where we can work together. It is always an interesting relationship because we still have to race each other but we want to see how we can both grow and make Ford a powerhouse manufacturer and get them a manufacturer’s championship and have both of our organizations win more races. That is the ultimate goal. Teaming with SHR is a smart move and impressive move by Ford. It shows their commitment to what they are trying to do and their investment in our sport. I think there are a lot of different avenues we can work together with. There has already been communication and some things are already underway. It will be interesting to see how that relationship grows over the next few years and how it works out. So far so good. I think as far as the drivers over there, I get along with them. Kevin (Harvick) and I usually see each other on superspeedways quite a bit and end up helping each other randomly. I think that relationship has grown a lot. I really think it is a good move and an impressive move for Ford to do that and I look forward to seeing what it can bring this year.”

THE FORMAT CHANGES, WE KNOW BRAD WAS HEAVILY INVOLVED, WHERE DID YOU FALL INTO THOSE DISCUSSIONS? ALSO, CAN YOU COMMENT ON NIGHT RACING AT MARTINSVILLE THIS YEAR? “I was involved in the meetings and it was pretty cool to be a part of that. The first one was in Las Vegas when we were out there for the banquet and it was a very impressive group. A select number of drivers and folks from NBC and FOX with commentators and NASCAR with very open ears to hear any options. We all threw it out there in the open for discussion and then you had team principles there as well. It was quite the conversation to get things going and ideas were all over the place. You kind of leave there with a knowledge that there were ideas but no real direction. As the meetings kept moving forward we started honing in on what it was going to be and I got more and more excited about it. I know it is the right thing for the sport. It is what the sport needs. Every lap just became way more important. Every race became way more important. That is good for the whole sport. If you are a race fan going to the Martinsville spring race and your driver already won a race before that, he isn’t really racing for anything. He is thinking about the Chase in the fall there. But now there is something to watch that race for and something for him to race for. I think the way this whole format is structured is for a reason. It is for a reason for everyone to race hard and put on a great race for our fans. It makes us feel like we are racing for something as drivers and as teams. I don’t see anything but good things coming out of this. I am thoroughly, really excited about what is coming up for the sport with this change along with the aero changes for this year which I think have been lost in the shuffle of all this. That will be a big deal. There are a lot of stories going into the season.”

“Your second part of the question, Martinsville night races. Sweet. That sounds like fun. Short track night races are tough to beat. I don’t know if that is what we are doing. Are we doing that? I haven’t heard that. I know they have lights now. They are racing something under the lights there but I don’t know what it is. Late model races? Cool.”

GOING INTO THIS YEAR, DOES THIS NEW FORMAT PLAY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE? “It plays to the person’s advantage who takes the opportunity to get ahead. There is a lot of opportunity when there is change. Brad says that is the best. When there is change like this the first person who figures it out is going to have a huge advantage. Right now, the way the new format is, if you can get some bonus points at the beginning of the year it will help you get all the way to Homestead and the Championship 4. Figuring it out early is key. For me, I have one gear and it is wide-open. It doesn’t really change the way I race as a driver but as a team and how Todd will call these races is obviously going to be different. That is going to be interesting to see how that evolves throughout all the races and the season and what everyone is trying to do. That will be very interesting. It will affect some drivers as well where they will be racing with more intensity and taking more risks and I think that all makes a better race, in my opinion.”