Andrew, it’s only 9 A.M. and I hope I didn’t wake you up. In any event, thanks for picking up the phone. What are you up to this abnormally warm morning in sunny Southern California?
(Laughter) I’m just chilling out and playing with my little girl, which is a treat right now. I’m pretty excited to have a long week of riding and doing some press stuff for Honda and Red Bull. I’m just looking to this weekend and trying to rest up for it.
To my way of seeing things, your season has gotten off to a pretty strong start. How do you feel about things two rounds in?
Yeah, I’m really excited. A few things haven gone my way, but to finish second and fifth in the first two rounds is great. It’s a big step from where I finished last year and I know that once the season gets rolling, that’s when I kind of come into my own. I’ve changed a lot of things this year and I feel really good. You know to be sitting third in points shows how consistent I’ve been compared to the other guys and I’m excited. It’s funny because I read stuff on the Internet about how Honda is having such a rough start and it cracks me up. I mean Ivan and I are sitting third and fourth in standings. There have only been four people to stand on the podium and I’ve been one of them in first two rounds. It’s funny that some people think Honda’s been a disappointment when there are still 15 rounds to go.
To that point, and I don’t mean this disrespectfully, you have not received that much media attention yourself thus far in ‘09…
Yeah, and that’s fine. You know James and Chad are riding really great and there are a lot of great rookies that have come up and they’ve surprised a lot of people, so the attention has kind of went there. I also kind of look at it as kind of a compliment because people expect me to be up front and they’re not surprised of how I’ve finished. I look at it as a blessing and I think I have a lot to build on for the next 15 rounds. I’m fine with how much attention I’ve been getting.
You talked about making changes for your program for 2009. What kind of changes did you make?
The biggest one was just finding a different mindset with Jeff Spencer. He’s an amazing person. I never realized that and what he had to offer. I never really knew him that much from the past. I know he’s worked with some really great riders and has been associated with some great champions inside motocross and outside of motocross. He had a lot to offer me and he showed me way more than I ever expected to see from his experience. You know it’s really great for me and one of the areas that I kind of needed some help with was some strategy and the mental aspect of it. I also needed to structure some things in my life and he just kind of opened my eyes to a new way of approaching things and I think it’s really helping my outlook and is going to definitely improve my racing as the year goes on and as my career progresses.
I’ve always kind of had a theory that guys at your level — the best guys in the world — all know how to ride the bike as fast as it can go, but maybe what makes the difference is the mental or psychological aspect of the sport. Does that make any sort of sense?
Yeah, that makes sense. That’s just one of the elements that it takes and there are so many of them. That’s what’s cool about our sport: A lot of different aspects go into it, whether it’s the machine or the athlete or all the other stuff that goes along with it, and if one of those little elements is missing it throws the whole puzzle off. I kind of looked at where I was last year and I thought that Jeff could improve my program and I’ve been surprised with how much more he showed me to improve everything around me. It’s been a blessing and it’s been a lot of fun and it makes me really excited to go race and see the improvements that I’ve made. I mean even in just talking to Jeff, he’s improved a lot of areas of my life, as well. He’s changed my outlook and my attitude.
You came from behind in Phoenix to finish fifth. Can you tell me about that race?
Yeah, Phoenix was really difficult for me because I put myself in a bad position by not getting good starts. Man, I passed a lot of guys that first lap and to come around in eighth was a victory in itself. I started really far back. Once I got into eighth, I had some pretty heavy hitters in front of me to pass. I’m excited because I got around Kevin [Windham], which I’ve never been able to do. Last year I never passed him once. I passed some fast guys. I reeled in Ivan at the end. Ivan rode great. He started great and held his own at the end. The fifth place result was a great way to recover from a bad start, so I think I have really good speed, but I definitely need to get the start figured out. Once I do that I think I’ll be able to battle for the podium.
And you were second at the Anaheim opener…
Anaheim is full of emotion and everything else that comes with that first round. To get through it and to get my best finish ever in the 450 class was pretty special. I didn’t start well there either. You know I started really far back and I passed even more guys that I don’t normally pass so I was really excited about that. I got a couple gifts with James and Chad going down. I realized that you have to be in the race t finish it. I rode really solid and was excited. I kind of put it in my head that I can do it and I can belong up there. It was a great way to start for me because typically I start really slow.
If the gate drops and you come out of the first turn with Reed and Stewart on Saturday night, can you run with those guys?
They’re on another level than me right now. It’s not going to come overnight. Obviously, I’d like to bring that gap down. Josh Grant is riding really well. I’d like to close the gaps on those guys. I think I can by the end of the year. I’d be foolish to set my goals too short or too small. I think it’s a possibility and that’s what’s giving me the motivation to go out and race. And that what makes it fun — to go out and try and learn from what those guys are doing and that’s different from me. I don’t think it’s anything huge, but over 20 laps, it’s a difference. This weekend my goal is to get on the podium and to beat Josh Grant who has been on there the last two weekends. And from there I want to work on getting to that next level. Those top two guys were hauling last week. They were on another level from everybody, maybe even a couple of levels. Realistically, it’s not going to happen overnight, but as the season progresses, I would really like to close that gap and be able to battle with those guys.
So if all goes to plan, do you feel like you have a good Saturday night in you?
Yeah, definitely. I think so.
Okay, cool, Andrew. Thanks for your time and we’ll see you tomorrow at Angel Stadium.
Cool, thanks, Eric. I appreciate it.