For the 28th time in his career, and the second time at Martinsville (VA) Speedway, Jimmie Johnson will lead the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) field to the green flag.
A total of seven Team Chevy drivers posted top-15 qualifying efforts for Sunday's running of the TUMS Fast Relief 500. Jeff Burton, No. 31 Odyssey Battery/EnerSys Chevrolet - fourth; Tony Stewart, No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet-seventh; Paul Menard, No. 27 Zecol/Menards Chevrolet-ninth; Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Pepsi MAX Chevrolet-11th; Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Rheem Chasing the Cure Chevrolet-13th and Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet-15th.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET – POLE WINNER
YOU’VE GOT A LOT OF THOSE CLOCKS OVER THERE JUST TALK ABOUT STARTING UP FRONT OBVIOUSLY A GREAT PLACE TO BE WITH ALL THE CHAOS THAT COULD HAPPEN BEHIND YOU: “Yeah it is I mean the thing that I’m really happy about is my qualifying average here the last two or three attempts that we have had if not maybe four or five attempts has been pretty low or pretty high I guess I’ve been low in the field. I haven’t been able to really get the speed out of the car on one lap for qualifying. Today we noticed when we switched into qualifying trim that we were in the upper percentile of the fast guys which was nice then fine-tuned from there and adjusted the car and had a lot of speed in q-trim which was nice to have because track position is important and then that pit road is so important. We have been lucky in years past to get away with I think in the spring I qualified 22nd and we still fortunately got a decent pit stall where guys around us we were ahead of all day long and I can get in the pit right and get pointed out. You take a lot more risk starting back there on the track and on pit road. Very pleased about the effort, very fast race car and we will hopefully be competitive come Sunday which I feel really good about too.”
THE GUY YOU ARE CHASING HAS DONE WELL RECENTLY AT TURNING BAD QUALIFYING DAYS INTO GOOD FINISHES OR ACCEPTABLE FINISHES ANYWAY THIS PLACE PROBABLY HARDER TO DO THAT FROM BACK IN THE PACK DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOUR CHANCES OF CATCHING HIM SUNDAY OR DOES IT MATTER? “My crew chief lives by qualifying, lives and dies by it in most cases. I don’t seem to get as worried about it, certainly want to start up front it makes things so much easier, but I started 22nd here in the spring and ended up racing for the win and had a great shot for it. I don’t want to count them out. I think it would be foolish for me to sit here and think that they’re going to be in harm’s way back there and not be able to race their way through. Brad (Keselowski) is doing a great job and learning and becoming faster every track he goes to. Then with strategy here if there is an opportunity Paul (Wolfe) is not going to let that opportunity slide by. I’m not counting them out they are going to have a tough time on pit road with that pick. Initial track position is going to be a problem, but I as a competitor have to expect the most out of these guys I’m racing for the championship with. We see it regardless of sport. When it gets playoff time things happen. I don’t want to put my guard down. Certainly, very happy about today’s performance and where we have ended up and we are ahead of our competitors, but it is playoff time and everybody brings their best stuff.”
OBVIOUSLY YOU WANT TO QUALIFY AS WELL AS YOU CAN AND YOU GUYS WORK ON THAT EVERY WEEK, BUT BEING THAT YOU HADN’T BEEN QUALIFYING AS WELL AS YOU THOUGHT THE TEAM WAS CAPABLE HAVE YOU GUYS FOCUSED ON THAT ANYMORE THAN YOU NORMALLY WOULD DURING THE COURSE OF THE SEASON? “Well I think some schedules help us out. The 1.5-mile qualifying has been really good. Short-track stuff has been fair. Martinsville has been poor, and there is nowhere to test to prepare for this track. You can go to Little Rock, but it’s so rough and the shape is different enough that you can’t go there and be happy with your car and run it the set-up is pretty different. We just hit it today. From a car stand point, from my stand point in driving the race track we just got it right today and that is what is so tough about this track. In some way it’s an easy place to stay on top of because it doesn’t change, but at the same time a few thousandths of a second can drop you five, eight spots in the qualifying results. So getting the perfect lap in when it counts is really tough to do.”
HOW DIFFERENT WILL IT BE SUNDAY GOING FROM A QUALIFYING SET-UP TO RACE SET-UP? “Race set-up is different, then the rhythm of driving the car and how you use the brakes, the importance of drive off the priorities kind of shift around. Right now in qualifying trim you just drive the car as hard as you can and try to get the car secure underneath you where you can charge the braking zone hard, not lock a tire, let the brake loose and fly through the center and then mat it off. When you get into race trim you can’t run the brakes that hard so you need to be efficient through the center of the corner and then at the same time if you are turning the car too much with the back and with the throttle you will beat your tires up off the corner. It’s really a tough compromise. I’ve always rested well on Saturday nights even with poor qualifying efforts knowing that the race rhythm and pace is so different and it suits me far better than qualifying here.”
WITH BRAD (KESELOWSKI) STARTING 32ND IN THAT SORT OF SITUATION WHAT WOULD YOU DO? HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY TURN THAT INTO SOMETHING DECENT AND GET TO THE FRONT GIVEN THE FACT THAT GUYS THAT START THAT DEEP RARELY FINISH WELL? “The tough position there is once you get single file and get about 10 laps into the show the leaders are to the 43rd- place car. You have got to go. Everybody around you has that same mentality too so it can be pretty cut throat back there. The priority is to get going. You have got to get up into the 20’s and get a buffer of cars between you and the leader so that things can kind of spread out and get into a rhythm.”
YOU SAID YOUR CREW CHIEF LIVES AND DIES BY QUALIFYING, BUT SITTING THERE ON PIT ROAD WITH YOU IN THE CAR THE LOOK ON YOUR FACE YOU LOOKED LIKE YOU WERE LIVING AND DYING BY THAT LAP. IS THERE ANYMORE INTENSITY THAT YOU FELT OUT THERE TODAY THAN YOU HAVE IN MOST QUALIFYING RUNS? “Once it was over I mean I know how important pit road pick is and I wanted that first stall. After qualifying as poorly as I did here in the spring my mind I focused on these two laps pretty heavily and wanted to make sure I did my job. Then on a lighter note which was probably the majority of the reason why I stayed in the car and I’m going to star this by saying I’m not superstitious. How many times have we watch a driver being interviewed after they set the fastest time and they get knocked off? I’m like I’m just not letting anything in the cosmic world affect me. I’m staying in the car. I’m not doing any interviews. I’m going to wait until it’s over because it always happens. You get out; you talk on a mic (microphone) ‘Oh sorry you’ve just been knocked down to second’. I wasn’t going to have that today (laughs).”
SINCE YOU WILL BE THE LEADER STARTING THE RACE, IS THERE GOING TO BE ANY PARTICULAR EMPHASIS ON YOUR PART TO TRY TO GET BRAD KESELOWSKI LAPPED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE BEFORE HE CAN PLAY ANY STRATEGY? WILL YOU BE FOCUSED ON THAT OR WILL YOU JUST BE RUNNING YOUR RACE THE WHOLE TIME? “I haven’t had time to think about it from that angle. Of course if you can get any Chaser a lap down, and then put them in the situation where they’re not the Lucky Dog, would be fantastic. So that will definitely be a priority but I’m not going to do anything stupid, lap 5, that would affect the outcome of the race to try to make that happen. But if we can, I’ll definitely be smiling in the race car if that is the situation. But they looked pretty good in race trim today, so I wouldn’t expect them to be waiting for us by any means.”
IF YOU’RE GOING TO MAKE A TWO-TIRE STOP HERE AT MARTINSVILLE, WHAT WOULD YOU TAKE….LEFTS OR RIGHTS? “In ASA (laughing) they used to both rears. I saw that happen a couple of times. Mike Miller won doing that at Nashville one year. I would assume rights. It just depends. I’d have to look at tire wear. The way the tire wear this morning was, you’d probably want rights, but the track’s on the green side, so we’ll have to see as things go on. But if you don’t have many laps, you’d probably take rights. And then I think if you get too far, you’re going to want four. The tire falloff is pretty good.”
IF YOU CAN LAP KESELOWSKI FAIRLY EARLY, WILL THAT JUST SUCK THE LIFE OUT OF THAT TEAM? HAS IT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU LIKE THAT WHERE YOU GOT LAPPED IN A RACE AND IT BASICALLY RUINED YOUR WHOLE OUTLOOK? OR, IS 500 LAPS TOO MANY TO GIVE UP AFTER ONE? “It really depends on the track. If you’re at a plate track and you go down a lap, it’s tough to get a lap back. You get cautions, but running in the back you might be in it or the cautions don’t come until the end of the race, and plate racing is probably one of the hardest ways to get a lap back. Road courses are in a similar mindset. But on a short track, you can get a lot of cautions. So, if you go down a lap and you position yourself correctly, you can take the wave by, you can fight for Lucky Dog; especially early in a race at Martinsville, you’re going to get a chance to get your lap back. So, one isn’t the death sentence by any means. One with a lot of damage to your car like if you’re torn-up and in something, you start evaluating things from that point. But if you had a straight race car and you’re one lap down early at Martinsville, I think you’re going to have some opportunities.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET – POLE WINNER
IS THIS THE PLACE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO SCORE THOSE POINTS? “You know, on paper it kind of looks that way. But you just never know. When the playoffs hit, it doesn’t matter what sport it is, crazy things happen. And with that being said, yeah, we come here thinking that we should be able to get some points on the 2 (Brad Keselowski), but you never know. It’s going to be a long race. We’ve helped ourselves out dramatically today by qualifying on the pole, we’ve got the safest pit stall, and starting with track position is very important. So, stats show one thing, but you’ve still got to go run the race and I feel really good about my Lowe’s Chevrolet and I think we’ll be in strong, championship-form leaving here.”
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 ODYSSEY BATTERY / ENERSYS CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED FOURTH
ON HIS LAP “We were tighter than we wanted to be. But in practice we struggled; on one run we were tight and the next one we were too loose and we actually went a little quicker when we were tight. So we actually tightened it up more than I wanted to. That isn’t going to be a pole or anything, but it’s better than we were in practice. Making a gain is real important and that was about a tenth-and-a-half gain from practice. So that was a good pick-up.”
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 OFFICE DEPOT/MOBIL 1 CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED SIXTH
HOW WAS YOUR QUALIFYING RUN? “We’ll have to see. I think it’s supposed to get cooler the rest of the weekend. But we had a decent practice. I think we made gains right at the end of our race runs before we switched over to qualifying. So we’ll see. I think we’ll definitely get a lot of use out of the two practices tomorrow.”
ON HOW IMPORTANT QUALIFYING IS HERE: "It really is. We'll just take what we've got, which is somewhat decent. Hopefully we can stay ahead of the melee."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 PEPSI MAX CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 11TH
ON HIS QUALIFYING RUN: “It was pretty disappointing. We were really good in practice and it was just a little bit too free there.”
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 15TH
ON HIS QUALIFYING RUN: “It was pretty good actually. The car was pretty good I was just a little bit tight, just didn’t turn the center of the corner quite as strong as I would have liked. The car still felt really good.”
RYAN NEWMAN, NO. 39 QUICKEN LOANS CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 17TH
YOUR FIRST WEEK BACK WITH MATT BORLAND AS YOUR CREW CHIEF HOW HAS YOUR WEEKEND BEEN THUS FAR AND HOW WAS YOUR QUALIFYING LAP? “The Quicken Loans Chevrolet, our first change we got off on the race car and we played catch up all the way through qualifying. We’ve got a better race car than we showed today and we will prove that tomorrow and Sunday.”
AJ ALLMENDINGER, NO. 51 PHOENIX CONSTRUCTION CHEVROLET, QUALIFIED 26th
ON HIS QUALIFYING RUN: "We struggled today a little bit. The whole day has been kind of messed up. We have really been struggling with some brake trouble. The guys are working hard. I think in race trim, it's not as bad as the outright speed in qualifying trim. We'll just keep working hard. We've got two practices tomorrow. I started 29th here in the first race here and finished second so we will be alright and good to go."
Source: Team Chevy Racing