NASCAR Media Conference
Sam Hornish, Jr.
November 14, 2013
KERRY THARP: We welcome Sam Hornish, Jr. and Austin Dillon.
A question for each one of you. Sam, you've won championships in other series, you've won races in NASCAR, you know the kind of pressure you're under right now. Talk about what it's like facing an eight‑point deficit going into the last race of the year.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It's not the way we would have liked to come into the race. We feel like we've had a good year at Penske Racing. We've been strong a lot of races this year. Capitalizing on the days we were strong is one of the things we need to continue to work on.
At the end of the day we feel real proud to be in the position that we are and to have the opportunity to win the championship. There's a lot of things that need to happen. We'd like to go out there and lead the most laps, win the race, do all that good stuff. If Austin finishes third, that's all for not. We'll try to be smart, figuring out the best way to do this.
One of the things that gives me confidence going into this weekend is our performance on the mile‑and‑a‑half's this weekend and the fact we got to come here and test. It's a big gamble to look at Miami and say that we need to be the best that we can possibly be when we get there, but we had a feeling that we were going to need to be strong here.
Saving that test day for here hopefully will be a real good thing for us.
KERRY THARP: Austin, you're in the driver's seat right now, no doubt about that. You have one NASCAR national series trophy already. What would it mean to win the second?
AUSTIN DILLON: It would mean a lot. God blessed us with a good season. We were consistent. That paid off for us at the end of the year. Love coming to the mile‑and‑a‑half's. We were strong there all year long. Homestead was a place where we led a lot of laps last year.
I'm glad this is the last race of the year. Feel like we need to approach it with a win. We don't have any wins this year. To finish off the year with a win in the championship would be great.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Austin or Sam.
Q. Austin, you're entered in the Trucks this weekend. Why are you playing around with Trucks with so much at stake in Nationwide? Won't that hurt you in a way?
AUSTIN DILLON: No, I think the best thing about it is I can have more practice time on the track. I can do things as far as saving tires, not have to use as much getting on pit road, practicing simple stuff. You have only so much time in each of the Nationwide practices. We schedule it out where we use every bit of it for the core setup of the car.
For me the Trucks is something to go out there, mess around, try different lines, hit pit road a few times, also have some fun. Get away and have a little racing the night before our big day.
Q. Sam, you mentioned how you were at the test here a couple weeks ago. From your perspective, how integral is that going to be to maybe getting an advantage over guys who weren't here?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: What you're doing basically is putting your eggs in one basket. We knew we were strong on a lot of the mile‑and‑a‑half's. But saving a test day, when we only have two of them throughout the entire year, saving one for late in the season at a racetrack that is basically one of a kind, you're saying you're going to be in the championship hunt and it's going to be close enough that you can win.
My call was to go to Chicago or one of the other places where you can use it for a multitude of different racetracks. But the team felt this would be the best. With Penske Racing, looking at a driver's championship and an owner's championship, they might have had the crystal ball on that one.
I think it's going to be a big thing because this is a little bit different tire, the track configuration is different than a lot of the ones we run at. What this track does to tires, how quickly it wears them, I think Austin is really right, to get an opportunity to get out there and run the Truck race, get a good feeling about how fast the tires are falling off, how quickly you need to move up, how much you need to save them for the end of a long run, are all good things.
Q. Austin, if you're running second, maybe could take a chance to get the win, would you do it because you haven't won this year? Would you be conservative?
AUSTIN DILLON: Well, it's all based on, I feel like you want as big of a points lead as you can have coming into this race. We've been dealt a good points lead. The thing about it not being super huge, you don't have to be as conservative. He's got to race hard; I've got to race hard to stay up front. You can't lay back and try to give any because there's not much there. We got to go for it.
Calculated risks are what you got to take most of the time. If we're there at the end with a shot to win, we're going to try to take it.
Q. Sam, obviously you have won multiple championships. You learned something that a lot of people don't get the opportunity to learn. Share that with others out there that have the drive but haven't gotten there yet.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, having the opportunity to be in this position on a whole different level than what I was at seven years ago on the IndyCar side of it, I felt like winning championships when I was 22, 23, 26 years old, you feel like there's a lot more to win out there, especially when you won pretty much 50% of the ones that you're in.
When you take on the opportunity to try something different, you see how much you can struggle, you go through a lot of things in your life, it means a lot to be in this position.
This is all part of making it worthwhile and why I wanted to do it. I wanted to be challenged. This has been every bit of that challenge and more. This is just one more step or checkmark to getting to what my final goal is.
I want to win the championship really badly. I feel like we're going to go out there and we're going to race hard for it. But we also know that doing it the right way and trying to do it the way a champion would do it is necessary. That's part of winning it.
It's not about doing something that you feel like you're going to have to think about every time you look at a ring or a trophy or anything like that.
Q. Sam, how far have you come from where you were when you got into the 77 car to here? Is it far enough that you feel you've proved you belong in the Cup Series next year?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I definitely feel I belong in the Cup Series. A lot of even taking the step back was to prove what I've known for a long time: given the equipment, the right people around me, what I would be capable of.
Each one of those experiences was learning. At one point in time, because I'd been so successful on the IndyCar side, I was going to pick up the car and carry it on my back if it wasn't good enough.
By having a little bit different perspective of it, I really sat down one day and said, If the car is terrible, and I wreck, that looks bad on me. If the car is terrible, we run 15th, that looks bad on the crew chief.
I think, given a couple years ago, I would have taken what we had last weekend, probably would have ended up 15th or wrecked. By the things I've learned, forced myself to do, by saying I can't pick it up and carry it, I can try to get the best finish out of it that certain day, I ended up fifth and we ended up in position to be able to run for the championship.
I'm glad that I've had the opportunity, the longevity, to be able to come out here and be in it long enough to prove what I've known for a long time. That was probably one of the hardest things for me to overcome, was how important the people are around you.
This is more of a people's sport than just about anything I've ever been involved in because you have to have the right crew chief, you have to have a great pit crew. There are so many things involved. The spotter. There are a lot of things you can learn from your spotter, that he can help you out with.
I feel like between pacing myself back and doing what I'm capable of, not trying to carry the car, also getting the right people around me, are the biggest things that have helped me out.
Q. Austin, not to really dwell on the Martinsville stuff, Kevin's comments, but your Facebook post addressed I think how you felt about what Kevin said in relation to the relationship that you had. What you do on track, do you feel you need to validate the position you're in? A Nationwide championship, you would be able to say, Hey, I earned this, I perform every week, I've not been given anything?
AUSTIN DILLON: Yeah, it's definitely nice. I feel like for me personally I've done a good job getting to where I'm at today. Things happen for a reason. You can't control certain things.
I've enjoyed this year, everything about it. But winning a Nationwide title would mean a lot, have it in your back pocket. Gives you extra confidence.
I don't lack any confidence. For lack of better words, I'm comfortable in my own skin and happy with where I'm at right now. Just focused on going out and having a solid run. I think that would mean more to me than anything, is putting together a final finishing run this year. It would be great, just keeping it solid all weekend long.
We're going to have some fun and our cars have been solid this year. Just trying to approach it with everything we can, you know. My crew chief, Danny Stockman, has done a good job of keeping my head on straight.
I've always approached races where you take a car, you work on it, you get it better, you race it. If you can bring it home in one piece, the next week we're going to take it back and be faster.
That's one thing, I've always been consistent, trying not to wreck too many cars. My grandfather and dad both have told me, If we come back, we can make the car faster the next time if you take care of your equipment.
Q. Austin, with an eight‑point lead, how much will you want to know where Sam is on the track on Sunday?
AUSTIN DILLON: Hopefully we're up front and we can do the math easy, if you're up front leading and running well. I know how tight it is; it's not a big gap. I feel like we need to keep ourselves up front.
It doesn't help anybody on the team to worry about that, me bringing it up, keeping my pit crew stressed out. It's more about staying even‑keeled the whole time. Can't worry about pit stops. You're given the hand you're dealt and you have to go play with it.
We're going to stay focused and keep that in our mind. If I run top five, we'll bring home the championship title.
KERRY THARP: Thanks to Sam and Austin. Certainly good luck this weekend to both of you.
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