NASCAR held its annual Daytona Media Day Thursday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. With over 300 media in attendance, the event annual kicks off the start of speedweeks, leading up to the Daytona 500 February 22.

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT CHASE ELLIOTT AND THE PRESSURE HE WILL FACE JUMPING INTO THE 24 CAR NEXT YEAR? “The pressure is you are jumping in with a team that has proven itself and a car you know can go fast. That doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to just jump in and what worked for Jeff is going to work for Chase. Most likely it is two different things. Chase might want something different or communicate different. Crew chiefs and drivers might not mesh. There isn’t a 100% chance that will work. What he has going for him is he has a great group around him. He has his dad, who has been through all of this before, he has a great group around him at Hendrick. I think he is going to be fine for sure. He is going to have more experience than I did going into it. I had a half season of Nationwide. He will have a better idea of what he needs when he gets to that point. For me, it took a couple years to figure out what I needed before I could start making changes to get what I want. I think he will have a better idea of what he needs to he can start making the changes he needs. He has a good support group, a lot of experience and has been in this racing world his whole life, I am sure he will do fine.”

HOW MANY DIFFERENT GUYS DO YOU THINK CAN WIN THE 500? “I believe there are 43 different ones. Did we change that rule this year too? Nobody told me if we did. To me, anyone can with the Daytona 500. That doesn’t mean it isn’t the same guys up there every year that are racing for this thing. It is not an accident that you see guys like Harvick or Jimmie or Jeff and Junior and Brad who is pretty good at it. It isn’t an accident that Matt Kenseth and those guys are the ones I look at as the best speedway racers and they are up there challenging for the win. Denny Hamlin. Those guys are up there running for wins every time. There are some guys that get there by chance or luck and can hang for a little bit but the guys that are good are the ones that when they fall back work their way back up. This pack drafting is so different than what we did a few years back when we were tandem and it was a different strategy. The whole team goes into that, it isn’t just the driver. The spotter is equally as good and it matches up perfectly to go out there and make moves and have the right information. You need to see it happening a half a straightaway or a straightaway before it happens. That is a challenge for both the spotter and driver. Communicating that is tough. There are some guys better at it than others. To me, I feel like it is an area my team and I need to work on together to become better. I am not saying we don’t have a shot at it, I feel we have a great shot at it, but we have talked about it a lot over the off season getting ready for the Daytona 500 and last year we didn’t get a top-10 at a speedway. That isn’t a secret. We will try to get better at it this season.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT IT IS LIKE WHEN YOU HAVE CHANGES TO KEY TEAM MEMBERS OR A CREW CHIEF CHANGE COMING INTO A SEASON? “If you are coming off a good year you want to keep the team together. For me it is great. I don’t want to change anything. Todd and I work great together. A lot of time when there is a crew chief change it is because it was needed. It means something wasn’t meshing right. Those changes, most of the time bring a lot of excitement and new energy. You feel like you have changed something and hopefully it is the right thing. Change just to change is never the right move. Change for a reason is what you have to do. Most of these teams are smart enough to know that. It does make you feel better that you aren’t doing the same old thing. There is always a learning curve that comes with working with a new crew chief, building the chemistry and notebook and understanding the lingo and what certain things mean and how loose is loose when you say that. That is all stuff you have to figure out and always a challenge when you have a new team or crew chief.”

DO YOU HAVE A GAME PLAN FOR QUALIFYING? “I am going to go really, really fast. Here it is a different ball game. Everyone knows that. We don’t know who is in our group yet until we draw so when that happens is when you talk to the guys that are around you and if there is a Ford we are going to work with a Ford. That is the game plan there. If there isn’t, we are going to make some new friends. We have to figure out a little bit more about how long it is going to take us to get to the start finish line, what speed, all of that stuff. There is data we have to collect throughout practice and try to understand what is the cut off point so we don’t get in trouble like Talladega. We need to take all that into consideration while we put our group together and talk about it and try to go out there and lay down a good one.”

LAST YEAR YOU WERE SO CLOSE AND WERE MAKING THE FINAL GROUP ALL THE TIME. DID YOU EVER LOOK AT IT AND FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WERE DOING THAT WAS FAST ENOUGH TO ADVANCE BUT NOT ENOUGH TO GET THE POLE? “We looked at a lot of different things. For some reason our best round was always the first round. Most of the time. We got a lot of fastest cars in the first round award which doesn’t pay anything. For some reason we go from first to third to fifth and it was like, ‘where did the speed go?’ Whether that is drivers getting into a rhythm or what. There are drivers who got very small amount of poles in their whole career and guys that got more in one year than their whole career. That is something that I look at as a driver as getting in a rhythm. The first round is about figuring out where you are going and I look at other things. Some of the adjustments you make to your car – it is hard to adjust your car in qualifying. It isn’t like in the race where you are putting tires on. You are going back out on scuffs and there is a definite balance change from stickers to scuffs. You lose some grip. When you are making adjustments you have to think of what the Delta is between having the first and second round by itself. Is it going to be a number tighter? Is it going to be a number looser? Then you have to make your adjustments on top of that. Each track is different. Then you need a different adjustment every time. Figuring all that out and hitting that nail on the head every time was a challenge for us and something we need to work on.”

YOU SEEM TO BE HAVING A LOT OF FUN LATELY. HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT FOR YOUR TEAM? “For sure it is important. This is a dream job. They are working on race cars and love it, I am driving race cars and love it. We have fun as a team and have a great group of guys and work really hard. This is the hardest working team I have been with and it is something I am proud to be a part of. Everyone is always picking up the slack. If the interior guy needs to help underneath the car, he is there. If it is vice-versa they are there. It is key to have a team that is like that. You can’t have thick headed people and that is now what we have. I think that is great. I think they have fun out there and we raced for a championship. We have won a lot of races together and do a lot of stuff together after the race track and I think that is important.”

HOW HARD IS IT TO GET THAT CHEMISTRY AND GET TEAM MEMBERS TO GEL? “It is something that I personally take a lot of pride in. I think when you enjoy your job you do a better job at it. If you dread going to work you probably aren’t going to do a good job. I try to spend a lot of time with them and build relationships with them and have some fun and I think that is a good thing for our team. I also make sure they know how hard I am going to work at this and appreciate how hard they are working at it and I make sure they are working hard at it. As a driver, I feel like that is part of the role I take on and I feel like it is one of the strong points of the 22 team so far.”

WHAT KIND OF DAD DO YOU THINK BRAD IS GOING TO BE? DID HE CALL YOU BEFORE THE NEWS BROKE? “I knew for a while because Paige and Brittney have become friends over the last year. I knew through that stuff – so I can keep a secret. I think he will be a fine dad. I think that is a bigger game changer than getting married. For me, not much changed. Brad is not a traditional person and we know that but I think he will do fine. I don’t know. I have never had a kid so I don’t know what it will be like. I think it is a big game changer on what everything is and what you do and not sleeping. We heard about Bowyer going to sleep at eight o’clock now. If it does that to him I can only imagine. I am sure he will do a good job. He has a good support group behind him and they can help him and Paige seems excited about it and is doing a good job with whatever happens when a girl is pregnant. I don’t know anything about that stuff. You are asking the wrong question to me. Ask me when I have one.”

WHEN YOU LOOK BACK ON JEFF GORDON’S LEGACY, DO YOU THINK ONE OF THE THINGS HE WILL BE MOST REMEMBERED FOR IS PAVING THE WAY FOR A YOUNGER GENERATION OF DRIVERS? “I think he paved the way for a lot of things. That is one of them. I think there are a lot of other things he has done that he will be remembered for. Obviously the four championships and all the race wins. I think it is really cool I got to race against him. For me, I never got to race against Bobby Allison or Richard Petty but I got to race against Jeff Gordon and that is just as cool. For me personally, I watched him when I was six years old, that is when he first started and I was a big Jeff Gordon fan. Why? Because he was the young guy out there. I rooted for him. You never think then that you are going to race against him someday or race against him for wins like we did in Texas or for a championship like we did last year. That is really cool. When you are a kid watching whatever your favorite sport is, you typically don’t get to play with or against that guy because they are usually retired by then. Racing is cool because you get to race against your childhood heroes. Hopefully there is some kid out there racing quarter midgets right now looking at me that someday will kick my butt. It is funny because when I was seven, the Hartford Current interviewed me about racing up there and it was a small little thing but I said in that interview I was going to be Jeff Gordon’s worst nightmare. It is hilarious. I don’t think I am his worst nightmare by any means but it is so cool to race against him now. As a kid you say stuff like that and you are seven and don’t know what is going on but I got to race against him and that is really cool.”

DID HE EVER COME TO YOU AND WELCOME YOU ABOARD OR OPEN HIS ARMS TO YOU? “I have had a few discussions with him and talked to him. I remember going to his bus in Phoenix one time and talking to him about going through things and this was when I was struggling. I was trying to figure it all out and I asked him. He started at a young age and had seen what I was doing and I asked him what I was doing wrong. He was very helpful on just giving me some very good advice to help me turn the corner. I thought that was very big of him to do that. He is the type of guy that I learned that is not going to come to you with advice unless you ask – at least with me. Every time I asked he had something for me. That is cool. As a competitor you are always skeptical about helping your other competitors because you have to race against them but as long as you ask he was always there to help. I think that is neat.”

“I was able to relate to him quite a bit and we talked about how he got to this point and what he did and I shared what I was struggling with. We talked about it for about a hour and a half or more. That was really cool.”

HOW DO YOU HOPE TO PROFIT FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF HAVING BEEN IN LAST YEARS CHASE AND MAKING IT TO THE FINAL FOUR? “There is a lot of silver lining to take from that. We didn’t finish where we wanted to and didn’t have the championship trophy like we wanted to have going in there but we learned a lot about the whole week leading into it and how to prepare at the track and how to handle practice and do all that stuff to hopefully be in the same position again and do a better job. That is the biggest thing we took away. There were a lot of positives last year and it is something I am proud of. Unfortunately it isn’t what we wanted but we learned a lot about how to mentally prepare for a championship race like that.”

DID YOU LEARN HOW TO MENTALLY HANDLE IT, ESPECIALLY WITH A GUY LIKE HARVICK NEEDLING YOU? “Actually that helped me. Leading into that, after Phoenix, everyone was excited about the Final Four and I thought it was great but I knew it was going to be big. There was no excitement about getting into the Final Four for me. We had to keep our heads down and do everything we could to win the championship. I did everything I could. I was looking for something. I didn’t sleep. I was looking for something I could get better at. There was no joking around that week. I was very serious and probably not myself. When we got down to Florida and did that press conference and he started poking I kind of relaxed because it was obvious that he was just as nervous as me. At that point I relaxed a lot. That was a good thing for me and I tried to carry that through my team. I remember when I left there I called Todd and was joking with him about it and told him we were going to do alright. I think that conversation helped him also. I think as a team we did an okay job.”

DO YOU THINK HE SINGLED YOU OUT AS THE GUY? “That is how I took it. Whether he meant it that way or not that is how I took it, as a compliment. That means that you are the guy he is thinking about and that helped a lot.”

COMING FROM THAT LOW POINT WHERE YOU LEFT GIBBS AND GOING TO PENSKE AND THEN TO LAST YEAR, DID YOU THINK YOUR LIFE COULD BE THAT MUCH MORE OF A 180 IN SUCH A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME? “I am very positive so I always think that, yes. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring but I still felt I could be a very good race car driver and race for championships. My goal every year was to win a championship, even when we were having struggling years. I was still positive and thought we could turn things around. Yes, I thought I could do it. I thought as a team we could do it but it gets harder and harder throughout the year. If you aren’t running well you just get beat up. You are taking punches one after another. You aren’t running the way you want to and everything is down. That is when a team has to be a team and you have to find ways to battle out of it. It is easy to be up top. Everyone gets along great then, it is easy. Your whole life is easy. When you start getting beat up, it goes back to everything. It goes back to the shop and your personal life and everything that you are trying somehow to dig out of a hole and you get frustrated and are not yourself and it is a lot that happens. That is when it becomes hard. Those were the harder times. I remember racing that last year at Gibbs and I didn’t know where I was going to race the next year, if I was going to have a job, if I was going full time Nationwide or if I would have a Cup ride. To me, that Pocono win I got when I raced Mark Martin was a ton of weight lifted off my shoulders. That was the, ‘I can still do this’ moment. That is the most emotional win I have ever had. There was so much bad leading up into something so great. That meant a lot.”

THEY SAY THE XFINITY CARS WILL BE A CLOSER FEEL TO THE CUP CARS. DOES THAT GIVE YOU AN ITCH TO GET IN THOSE MORE AND FEEL WHAT THEY CAN DO AND HOW IT CAN HELP YOU? “Yes and no. There are still going to be differences. They are going to be closer, yes, but at the same time there are still pros and cons to running the XFINITY car. You are on the track more. You are on the same tire, at the same time of day. The cons are you are taking away from time on the Cup side, talking with your team, communication. You are running form car to car and your thoughts can get jumbled up. Those are the not as good parts. I look at it as a positive either way. It is a positive if I don’t race and it is positive if I do race.”

YOU ARE GOING TO RUN SOME TRUCK RACES THIS YEAR. YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THAT? “Yeah, I am running a couple of them. I am not really sure which ones yet. I am not sure if they are all verified yet.”