Fontana: Top-three starters interview

QUALIFYING FOR SUNDAY'S AUTO CLUB 500, WAS CANCELLED DUE TO RAIN. THE STARTING LINE UP FOR ROUND 2 OF THE 2008 NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES IS SET PER THE RULE BOOK. TOP THREE STARTERS, JOHNSON (1st), GORDON (2nd), AND BOWYER (3rd) MET WITH MEDIA TO...

QUALIFYING FOR SUNDAY'S AUTO CLUB 500, WAS CANCELLED DUE TO RAIN. THE STARTING LINE UP FOR ROUND 2 OF THE 2008 NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES IS SET PER THE RULE BOOK. TOP THREE STARTERS, JOHNSON (1st), GORDON (2nd), AND BOWYER (3rd) MET WITH MEDIA TO DISCUSS TRACK CONDITIONS, LACK OF PRACTICE, THE DAYTONA 500, AND MORE.

ON THE RAIN

JOHNSON: "I just hope the weather works with us where we can get everything done tomorrow. Tomorrow is obviously a busy day for the track. Getting into Sunday I think we have a little bit more freedom. In fact, this track has lights and hopefully we can get the race in Sunday. I don't know what the weather forecast is, but tomorrow is a big day for everyone."

WILL YOU RACE WITHOUT PRACTICING?

JOHNSON: "I don't think we'll race if we don't have practice. Nobody has been on track yet, so we at least have to have one practice session. So if we don't get anything in tomorrow, I'm not sure what happens at that point. Do we practice Sunday morning and race Sunday afternoon? I have just not seen anything like that. We'll have a practice session at some point and I'm sure it will be a condensed practice and we'll have to maximize everything we can then."

IF HE COULD, HOW WOULD HE CHANGE THE SCHEDULE?

JOHNSON: "I think over the years that we've been, being a west coast guy, I say 'we' that we've been able to show NASCAR and the sport and motorsports that we embrace all forms of racing and are big race fans out here. So, I'm excited to see the races that we do have here. When I look at what's good for the sport, I think we need to race, in my own personal opinion, at 38 different tracks or 36 different tracks and make that 36 different states so that we can hit every fan and every market and reach as many people as possible. I know that will never take place. But the more we spread it out, the better. I think we need a race in the northwest even though we'd probably have rain issues to deal with up there. The more we can spread out, the better it is for our sport and the sponsors we have."

ON THE ROAD COURSE RACES

JOHNSON: "There are two road course races. I would like to see a few more. Granted, Sonoma is not all that good for me. Watkins Glen works out. We run fair there. But it seems as we just leave Watkins Glen, things are coming to most drivers and we're back on pace and doing the right things on the road courses. And if we had a few more, you could look at it a couple of ways. One, it would kind of get away from the roots of the sport, or two, it would make us all better road course drivers and we'd put on a better show. But I enjoy road course racing and that's why I've run a couple of extra races a year with the Rolex Series. It's really a lot of fun."

HOW DOES DAYTONA DIFFER FROM CALIFORNIA?

JOHNSON: "They are two totally different worlds. One is the restrictor plate that we run at Daytona and then the configuration of the tracks are much, much different."

ARE YOU NERVOUS ABOUT RUNNING HERE WITHOUT PRACTICING?

JOHNSON: "We tested out here. I guess you get used to it. We have things rained out from time to time. I'd like to be out there and I think there is probably more pressure on the crew chiefs than the drivers at this point. I'm sure a lot of guys are coming out here different then where we tested and would love to be on track to see how that was going to work out. I think the crew chiefs will lose a little sleep. I think the drivers will be fine."

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO APPROACH THE RACE ON SUNDAY, AND WHAT HAS CHANGED BECAUSE OF THE RAIN?

BOWYER: "It's pretty good for me. I'm good with (starting) third. I'll take it (laughs). Tomorrow will be crucial. It'll be a busy day for us; for me personally running the Nationwide car too, so there will be a lot going on tomorrow. But we'll be ready for it. I think a good starting spot goes a long way in these races and staying up front in clean air I think is going to be big with this car in particular. So, I'm looking forward to it."

GORDON: "We came out of Daytona with a very disappointing finish. So I'm pretty thankful with what we accomplished last year being in second in the points and being able to capitalize on that here today with the weather. That really does pay off and we certainly could use that starting position to be able to get ourselves a good finish coming out of here. That will certainly help. Obviously right now our goal is to get out of Daytona and get things turned around and come here and start focusing on our intermediate program. We're excited about the way things went testing here. We're looking forward to getting on the track tomorrow to see what we've really got."

ON THE TRACK CONDITIONS

GORDON: "It just was wet. They would go through there with the jet dryer and it just would continue to seep up through there. The way I've always approached it over the years looking at tracks like what we had today, is if you put your hand on it and you get no moisture back on your hand, then it'll dry up fast or you can go ahead and work around that. The tires will still grip to the track. But when you put your hand on it and you come back and it's wet with moisture then you've got a problem. It was more the location of the spots that I saw. It was right in the entry of (Turn) 3, which is already a tricky spot here. And it was just a couple of feet above the groove that we run. So if you went down into the corner and you went across that and you hit one of those little spots, because there was a long streak of it but they were just little spots, you could get into some issues. Or, if you went down in the corner and you drifted up just a little bit, you're going to get into it as well. I thought NASCAR made the right call and of course, the weather kind of made the decision a little easier for them."

ON RUNNING THE NATIONWIDE SERIES WITHOUT PRACTICING FIRST

BOWYER: "It's the same for everybody. We've been fortunate to be around this track and know what's going on, but with the new rules that they have engine-wise, they've cut a lot of horsepower out of the car. So going through a corner a lot faster and things are going to be a lot different for everybody. Like I say, tomorrow is going to be a big day for all of us running both (series). But those guys that haven't been in those cars and haven't been here much are going to be behind the eight ball a little bit, but they'll catch up."

WHY FOR THE PAST 10 YEARS HAD THE DAYTONA 500 WINNER FINISHED 10TH OR WORSE IN THE POINTS? IS THE WIN SO OVERPOWERING?

GORDON: "When you win the 500 there is definitely a hangover (laughter). Maybe that's why I haven't won it since '05. This year is a little bit unique and different because of the new car. It brings a different element to it. But I would say that in the past, you're talking about restrictor plates. If we were racing on restrictor plate tracks, then the guy who wins the Daytona 500 might have a real good shot at the championship. But the fact of the matter is, the championship is won on intermediates and short tracks. And so, if you're strong at Daytona and if you win that race, even though it is our biggest race, it really doesn't give you a clear indication of what your car and your team is capable of doing throughout the whole year. If anything, I think it adds momentum to your team by winning it more so than giving you a hangover. It's exciting to win that race. It fires you up. But the true teams that are capable of running for the championship always rise to the top over time. It doesn't matter what happens at Daytona."

ON HIS POST-RACE CONVERSATION WITH JEFF BURTON AFTER THE DAYTONA 500

BOWYER: "Yeah, well I mean it's not much fun when you get wrecked leading the 500. That's the race you want to win. But it just wasn't meant to be. I probably shouldn't have been in that situation and the deal at the end of the race with me and Jeff, I mean, you're ticked off. When you're leading the biggest race of the year and the one you want to win more than anything and things don't go your way, you're ticked off. I was mad. He was mad. And you just get over it. He called me at 8:30 the next morning and kissed and made up and went on about our day. But that's part of the sport. You can't always put a smile on your face and be happy all the time."

SINCE THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR FIRST TIME FOR PRACTICE FOR A RACE IN THE NEW CAR, DO YOU HAVE ANY ANXIETIES?

GORDON: "We tested here. If we hadn't have tested here it would probably be a little bit different. It would probably be more anxious. The fact that we tested here, and a lot of us did get laps, I think most of us are just anxious to see where we stack up against the competition. And then the other thing is, and the reason we're raw here, is that the race is on Sunday so tomorrow's practice is more important about being in traffic and maneuvering around cars and getting your car working good on a long run. I'm looking forward to getting out there for that. Today, with the position we're at in the points, all it was, was making one or two lap runs for qualifying. So for us, today we didn't really lose much."

ON THE NEW RACE CAR

GORDON: "Those cars are completely different than what we've been running. It's kind of like the Trucks, but without as much downforce. I think the trucks have quite a bit of downforce. And some of the side drafting on the trucks looks to be a little bit hairier, but the draft is incredible. It's quite a balance because I really thought we were going to see more bigger packs and more lead changes and I was one of the three cars there at one time early in the race where we were able to break away from the pack. I was quite surprised by that. I didn't expect that. But we still saw three wide, excitement and an awesome finish. I think these cars are definitely different. We're still going through the learning stages of trying to figure out the draft. I'm more anxious to see how it works here. I felt like a couple of time here while we were testing, I was around a couple of cars and got a huge draft down the straightaway, which is not what we typically have here. And I'm anxious to se how it works at this track. We've already seen what they can do at Daytona. I thought the racing at Daytona was really good. It wasn't exactly what I was anticipating. I really thought we'd see much bigger packs. But that's Daytona. Other than that, I was pretty excited about how it all went

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup