Can you talk about your first race car?

“Do go-karts count or an actual race car? My first race car -- I raced a modified at Las Vegas. It was modified, 10 inch tires, two-barrel carburetors, steal head motor, 450-horsepower and tons and tons of grip on a high-banked track.”

What are your expectations for your first season with Michael Waltrip Racing?

“The transition for me has been fun. It’s been easy -- seamless. A lot easier and a lot smoother than I thought it would go. I’ve been with the same team a long time and it’s hard to imagine going somewhere else. When you’re getting ready to make the move, it’s like you have all these questions, ‘How’s this going to go? How’s that going to go? What’s this going to be like? Is it going to be difficult?’ It went really well, it was smooth, easy. The folks at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) have done a great job of putting people in places that they need to be in making decisions and making things run smoothly. I’ve been impressed with every aspect of the organization so far. The expectations are high. I’m excited, I feel like we’re going to come out of the box strong and it should be a lot of fun.”

Do you feel like you’re stepping into a championship-contending organization?

“Honestly, yeah I do. I feel really good about it. I have a lot of confidence in what they’re (Michael Waltrip Racing) doing and how they’re doing it. The support they get from Toyota, the people they have leading their company -- their team, with the team that Pat (Tryson, crew chief) has assembled and all the things we’ve done or they’ve done to put together and put in place for me this year have been really impressive to me to be a part of. I think the sky is the limit for the team and the amount of effort they put in and how hard they work. It’s hard to say you won’t win a championship, everybody here says they want to -- that's what we’re all here for. I really think in the near future they’re going to be capable of it or they are already.”

How has your relationship been with new crew chief Pat Tryson?

“The relationship with Pat (Tryson, crew chief) has been really easy. There was no forcing it, there was no, ‘Well we need to go hang out to get to know each other.’ We just kind of started talking and hanging out in the shop, walking around and going wind testing. I was blown away with how well everything went. I’ve been doing this for I guess five years now and we’ve done a whole lot of testing over the years, and of all the testing I’ve ever done -- the two tests I’ve done this winter have been the most productive two tests I’ve ever been a part of. That’s been impressive for me. Going and getting a new car, with a new crew and a new crew chief, and to come out and be able to accomplish all the things we wanted to -- we have a list of things we wanted to try -- we got through them all. Both times our cars were just okay off the trailer and by the end of the day I left there wishing we had a race there the next day. Things just went really well. It’s been so easy for me to just go in there and be myself, do what I do and they just take the ball and run with it. It’s been fun.”

Did you get any ‘cobwebs’ during the off-season?

“The off-season is too short for cobwebs anymore. It’s like riding a bike. We went to Atlanta -- that tire test was our first test this year and the second lap off the trailer was the fastest we ran in two days. It’s kind of how it goes.”

What is the biggest difference for you compared to a year ago?

“Stability within a company and with the teams -- I think the whole team (Michael Waltrip Racing), whole company is just solid as a rock. The foundation is solid. All the people, with Ty (Norris, VP & general manager), with Michael (Waltrip) obviously, and Rob Kauffman being the owners -- they do a great job. With the sponsorship they have and the renewal rate they’ve had with their sponsorship, it’s a place people want to come to. The workers there enjoy their jobs, they’re not there for a paycheck, and they’re passionate about what they do. They feel like it’s the best place -- it's where they want to be. It’s where they think their best place is to work. Everything about it -- Ty (Norris) and Cal Wells (executive vice president), Steve Hallam (VP & director of competition) and all these people who are at the top and the leaders of their part of the company. They are just so good and they understand each other and how to work together, how to get different departments pulling in the same direction. Everything seems to be really smooth and really easy there. Everything flows through there and people get their jobs done and you’re like, ‘Wow, that was easy.’  It’s a lot of fun, it’s cool.”

What was it like to win the pole at Daytona last year?

“Last year seemed to start off okay and then it took a sudden turn down the second or third week of the season. The pole at Daytona was like, ‘This is great but now what?’ For the next few weeks it was very disappointing and our whole season was really up and down just like that. We’d go from having a high or a pole or a good run, a lot of times we’d have good runs going and it was like someone ripped the cloth off the table. Like that, it’s gone. That’s how it is in this sport. We had a tough up and down season. I think as a driver and a competitor, all those tough times and hard days make you better. There’s things you can take out of all those days that went wrong and put up in the memory bank for later.”

Is it difficult to maintain an identity of your own when you change everything like you have this year?

“It’s really not difficult. You just be yourself. Fortunately for me, working with them (Michael Waltrip Racing) for the first time they’ve really encouraged that. They said, ‘We want you to be our driver and we want you to be you.’ That’s kind of how it goes. You are yourself and that’s how it’s always been anyways so it was really easy.”

What do you think about the rule changes?

“I don’t think any of the rule changes are really, really significant. Obviously, the spoiler is exciting for all of us because it gives the car a different look. The spoiler is kind of what we’re accustomed to in NASCAR, I don’t think cars had a wing on it since Richard Petty’s Superbird back in the 1970’s. I think the fans, the drivers and the crews -- everybody around the sport has grown up around it -- that spoiler is what we know. It’s what we’re comfortable with. I think that’s a good step in the right direction, mostly from the fan perspective and from the driver perspective thinking you understand it more. I think it’s great they’re going to pull back the reigns a little bit on the bump-drafting and kind of letting us go out there and do our thing. I think it will be great.”

Where will you be able to bump draft at Daytona?

“You’re going to be able to do it (bump draft) all the way around the track, really wherever you want without being wild. You can do it in the corners. You know, 90 percent of the drivers out there are smart enough to know how to do it without spinning the guy out. There will be instances where guys get spun out, it’s just the way it goes. You can only do it if you’re already real close to a guy and you’re on new tires and you have a lot of grip. You’re sure that the guy in front of you has enough grip that you can give him a little nudge. You can’t slam him, you can’t run into him, you can’t push him down in the corner, especially on old tires you won’t be able to get near a guy to do it. You have to be gentle and smart about it. If you’re fifth car in line and they’re all bumper-to-bumper and you start pushing the car in front of you, you’re not going to do anything to wreck the whole field. You need to be smart about it. If you’re out front, two guys out front, you can probably get away with doing it a little bit but you have to be careful about it.”.