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NASCAR ELIMINATOR ROUND MEDIA DAY
October 21, 2014
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Thank you so much for the warm welcome and welcome to this wonderful event as we kickoff the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.¬† NASCAR, as all of you here know, is phenomenal.¬† I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if it wasn't for this sport.¬† George Michael was my old boss and he found me because I was pit reporting on the SPEED Channel.¬† I was able to work with TNT to host their NASCAR on the weekends.
I can tell you, and I still maintain, that the people, the teams, the drivers, the organization in itself, it simply does not get better.¬† And how exciting to be a part of this for this season.¬† The fact that this is such a new format, we have seen so far how exciting this can be.
We thank you all for making the trek and being here today, and for those of you tuning in on NASCAR.com.
I think the question is, has everybody caught their breath from Sunday's race?¬† Really, okay.¬† It was incredible.¬† I've been around this sport, as I've said, for quite a long time.¬† I don't remember a race that has been quite as intense as that.
Brad Keselowski obviously needed the win.¬† He got it.¬† Others not so lucky.¬† That race defined this unpredictable Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
I want to give you a statistic here.¬† Entering this contender round, only 6% of the Chase grids on NASCAR.com remained perfect.¬† After Talladega, guess how many?¬† Zero.¬† Can you believe it?¬† So this just goes to show how unpredictable, how exciting this new format can really be.
We move now to the Eliminator Round, as I said.¬† We visit NASCAR's shortest venue next, Martinsville Speedway, the only short track in the Chase.¬† Then it's on to Texas Motor Speedway, a grand stage that offers its share of surprises.¬† Then the one‑mile jewel in the desert, Phoenix International Raceway.
Before that, are you ready, are you really ready, it is time to meet the eliminator eight.¬† Right now here we go.
Our first driver needs for introduction.¬† Do you see the fog coming from underneath here.¬† He defined clutch Sunday at Talladega.¬† He is seeking his Sprint Cup Series championship number two while driving the No. 2. ¬†He locked up a spot with a walk‑off win at NASCAR's biggest oval.¬† On the Christmas card list of every other driver in the circuit, let's welcome Mr. Brad Keselowski.
Next up, he has got shoes that are older than Mr. Keselowski, but they are well‑worn.¬† He is the most accomplished driver in this field, keeping his drive for five alive.¬† He is seeking to bring Hendrick Motorsports a 12th title.¬† This upcoming round sets him perfectly.¬† Please welcome four‑time series champion, Jeff Gordon.
The next driver trying to give his current employer the best parting gift a team could ask for, a Sprint Cup championship, it is his last season with Roush Fenway.¬† He wants to go out with a bang.¬† So far he has.¬† Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Carl Edwards.
He is the most mild‑mannered of the group, until he's not.¬† His pushiness on Sundays certainly paid off on the racetrack.¬† Former Rookie of the Year, Sprint Cup champion, Mr. Matt Kenseth.
Watch out for our next eliminator.¬† He said he would be dangerous if he got past the Contender Round.¬† He got past it.¬† Now he's got to prove himself.¬† We know he's one that can do it.¬† He lip syncs to Taylor Swift in his downtime.¬† You know who it is, Denny Hamlin.
Only one driver scored top‑10 finishes in all three of the Contender Round races.¬† He has gone to rocket man to eliminator, doing another step closer to the championship, we welcome now Mr. Ryan Newman.
The next eliminator, eloquently described the new playoff format said that it might make you kind of queazy because it's so intense.¬† His dramatic win at Charlotte locked him into this round.¬† A three‑track swing that suits him nicely.¬† He dominated earlier at Phoenix this year.¬† Mr. Kevin Harvick.
Last but not least, the youngest of the bunch.¬† His age matches number on the side of Jeff Gordon's racecar.¬† He's the last in years but first to lock up a spot in this round.¬† His win at Kansas clinched his spot on this stage, please welcome Joey Logano.
Before we get started, guys, a quick primer on the Eliminator Round.¬† In case you need a quick brush‑up, all eight drivers that you see on this stage, they have had their points reset to 4,000.¬† If any of them win the next three races, they'll automatically lock up a spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at Homestead‑Miami Speedway.¬† The remainder of the championship field will be set by points earned in the three races.
In Miami, the driver of course who finishes the highest among the championship four will win the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
We are ready now to chat with the drivers.¬† These questions, by the way, have come from you, the fans.¬† We want to thank you very much for submitting all the questions and as well for your continued passion for this sport that we all love.
This first question is for Denny Hamlin.¬† On a scale from 1 to 10, what is your confidence level right now considering the tracks that make up the remainder of the season?
DENNY HAMLIN:¬† 11 (laughter).
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Do you care to expand?¬† Why?
DENNY HAMLIN:¬† 'Cause we're still here.¬† You got as good a shot as anyone.¬† I doubt anyone had these exact eight in this position right now.¬† But we're going to three very different racetracks than what we race most of the year.¬† We all have the same amount of points.¬† Really there's 30 restarts, 30 pit stops that are going to happen between now and Homestead.¬† One could define, to the good or the bad, of you racing for a championship at Homestead or not.
There's so many variables in this, you just never know who is going to be in what position.¬† You try to capitalize each and every time.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† For Brad Keselowski.¬† I was looking at the stats on NASCAR.com and couldn't believe this one.¬† You're the only one of the top eight drivers without a win at any of the next three tracks.¬† Does that worry you?¬† You were just called out.
BRAD KESELOWSKI:¬† I feel like we've had great runs at all of the next three tracks.¬† We've led laps.¬† Texas, ran second to Joey the majority of the race.¬† Ran second at Texas three or four times. ¬†Martinsville, I think we have four top 10s in the last five races.¬† A lot of fifths and sixths.¬† We have the potential to win at any of the next four races.¬† We've tested at three of the four.
I feel really good about it.¬† I'm not racing the stat book.¬† We have a great opportunity with a great team to get it done.¬† Ready to go.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Kevin Harvick, which track would you say is the wild card track of the Eliminator Round and why?
KEVIN HARVICK:¬† I think any of them can be the wild card at this point.¬† It can be Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, there has been a lot happening.¬† I'd say Martinsville just for the fact that it always seems like you see some added contact at that particular racetrack.¬† The radiator can get knocked out in a heartbeat from somebody else's trouble.
I would say probably Martinsville, for sure.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Carl Edwards, which track in this round do you think sets up the best for you?
CARL EDWARDS:¬† I think statistically Phoenix is probably the best for our team.¬† But Martinsville, we ran really well at Martinsville earlier this year.
I guess for us, we look at it as an opportunity.¬† We're tied for the points lead with a team that has not been really dominant this year.¬† We look forward to these three races because they're not all mile‑and‑a‑half's on which we've struggled.¬† We feel like Martinsville and Phoenix are probably our best opportunities to get a win and advance to Homestead.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Ryan Newman, you're probably the hottest driver right now.¬† How will that momentum help you in this round?
RYAN NEWMAN:¬† Is that a fat joke or what (laughter)?
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† I think he's serious.
RYAN NEWMAN:¬† Big‑boned (laughter)?
We had three good races, don't get me wrong.¬† Sixth, seventh, a fifth.¬† That's been the strength of our season.¬† Consistency‑wise we've been consistent, but this is the highest and most performing consistency we've had.
Really look forward to the next three races.¬† Just have some fun with it.¬† It's an opportunity for all of us.¬† I never thought and looked at it to know that we're four races to go tied for the lead.¬† First time in my career, hope I can make the best of it.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Joey Logano, has your strategy changed at all as you move from each round to the next?¬† If so, how?
JOEY LOGANO:¬† It's really stayed the same.¬† Really from the beginning of the year, our goal is to go out there and win, and if not finish the best you can.¬† I think it's probably the same goal as everybody else.¬† Pretty simple.
When the Chase started, we didn't change what we were doing.¬† We tried to pick it up a notch on every level.¬† We've been able to do that.¬† Obviously as we get closer here to hopefully getting to Homestead, the pressure keeps picking up, but at the same time we have to remember what's gotten us here and keep pushing it the same way we've been, keep doing what we've been doing and we'll be there.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Jeff Gordon, Texas always seems to have drama.¬† You were famously part of the highlight reels with Jeff Burton.¬† What challenges does it pose?
JEFF GORDON:¬† It's a tough racetrack.¬† It's a fast racetrack.¬† I think I can avoid drama there as long as the caution doesn't come out, because that's when Jeff wrecked me, was under caution.
I think this next round is definitely a round that suits us very well.¬† Texas is one of those tracks that we've run strong at.¬† I think any of the tracks can create drama because there's so much pressure, there's so much more intensity with this format, each race, each lap, each position means that much more.
That means guys are going to be pushing hard, being aggressive, and that's going to put them in a position to take more risks, make more mistakes, cause a little more contact.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† How much more intense do you feel it?
JEFF GORDON:¬† I felt it last weekend at Talladega.¬† Glad that's over.
JOEY LOGANO:¬† Sure, it sounds great.
JEFF GORDON:¬† I think Phoenix, again, is going to ramp it up even more as we get to that final race at Homestead.¬† It's going to be crazy.¬† Almost like Talladega, but in a different way.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:¬† You look at it say and with this format Chase versus years past, it's harder to get a foothold.¬† If you lead laps and win your bracket, any of the brackets, except for the last one, you're still back to zero.¬† Keep resetting back to zero.¬† It's hard to build any momentum.
On the other side, if things aren't going your way, you always have the opportunity to win and kind of get a hall pass.
It's a completely different feeling for me personally.¬† That always adds a little bit more anxiety when you feel you can't get ahold of something and really kind of own it by success.
It's a whole different style.¬† I think you're going to continue to see that play out.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Matt, how different is Phoenix as they repaved it?
MATT KENSETH:¬† Well, it's a lot different than before it was paved.¬† It's starting to age a little bit finally.¬† Hopefully starting to take a little bit of rubber, get back to the old Phoenix.¬† Kevin seems to have Phoenix figured out better than everybody else.¬† It's a fun racetrack.¬† It is configured a little bit differently.¬† It's always made passing just a little bit more difficult.
But it is definitely aging and definitely getting wider.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† For those of you that don't have a teammate in the Chase, if you and your teammate are going for the win, would you expect them to give you the win?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER:¬† Yes, absolutely.¬† I for sure would (laughter).
JEFF GORDON:¬† We might expect it, but I doubt whether it's going to happen.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† To Brad's point earlier about never feeling you can let yourself get comfortable, are there things you guys have to do away from the track to get your focus right?¬† Carl?
CARL EDWARDS:¬† I spent last night in the tractor.¬† We've been harvesting our soybeans.¬† That was nice to get away.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Are you serious?
CARL EDWARDS:¬† It's scary, I might actually have a part what you guys might be eating at home.
I was thinking about what Ryan said.¬† All of us, we didn't become racecar drivers because we're realistic.¬† We're optimists.¬† We build racecars and try to beat people with them.¬† To have a chance for the championship at this time of the year, that's what we all want.
To go into Homestead, I can tell you going in there with Tony in 2011, it was such an amazing opportunity to know all my dreams as a racecar driver were right there in front of me.¬† I believe having four guys being able to do that at Homestead is going to be interesting, to say the least.¬† There will be a lot of guys at Phoenix that really want a piece of that.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Back to the soybeans for a second.¬† That's what?
CARL EDWARDS:¬† We've been farming a little bit, which is really fun.¬† The New Holland people love me now, I'm a great customer.¬† We grow soybeans on some farmland in Missouri.¬† It's really neat.¬† It's different than racing by far.¬† You asked what we do outside to get our mind off of things.¬† That's what I do.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Jeff, what about you and the focus?¬† Are there things you have had to do to approach things differently now?
JEFF GORDON:¬† Don't sit me next to Kenseth next time.¬† He's in my ear all day long.¬† What's up with that?
For me, it's spending time with the kids.¬† That's the greatest way to get away.¬† As a matter of fact, I'm late to pick my daughter up for school right now.
No, you know, they don't care about what happened on Sunday, whether you won, whether you didn't.¬† They just want you to be dad and hang out with them.¬† That certainly for me during the week is the best way to get my mind off of the anxiety and the pressure of everything that's building right now.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Kenseth, do you think you will have to win at Homestead in order to win it all?
MATT KENSETH:¬† I don't know if you'll have to.¬† I think with whichever four guys make it there, I think anybody sitting in on this stage is capable of going there and winning.¬† I'm sure they're going to run up in the front.¬† If you want to make sure you're going to have to win a championship, you'll have to win.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Denny, when will we see another lip sync selfie uploaded to your YouTube page?
CARL EDWARDS:¬† I was busy in my tractor.¬† I don't have YouTube.
DENNY HAMLIN:¬† It's 2014.
CARL EDWARDS:¬† What did you do for real?
DENNY HAMLIN:¬† I lip synced Taylor Swift.
CARL EDWARDS:¬† Was it good, guys?¬† Did he do a good job?
DENNY HAMLIN:¬† Well, yeah (laughter).
CARL EDWARDS:¬† What outfit did you choose for your performance?
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Hey now.
DENNY HAMLIN:¬† I don't know.¬† I guess whenever the mood strikes me I'll do another one.¬† So subscribe to my YouTube channel.¬† I think I had to start one to post that.¬† That's what makes it even sicker, is I spent the time to do that.¬† It wasn't just like, Oh, hey, do this.¬† No, we have to subscribe.¬† Okay, let's do that.
CARL EDWARDS:¬† Were you drinking?¬† Alcohol was not involved?
DENNY HAMLIN:¬† None, zero. Might be involved next time, though.
LINDSAY CZARNIAK:¬† Let's give a round of applause to the eliminator eight.¬† Thanks, guys.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports