Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart qualified third in his No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet, which will mark the 18th time he has started in the top-10 at NHMS. Fellow driver and defending NHMS winner, Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet qualified sixth.
Other Team Chevy drivers starting in the top 12 are Paul Menard, No. 27 Sylvania/Menards Chevrolet (starts seventh), Ryan Newman, No. 39 Aspen Dental Chevrolet (starts eighth) and Jeff Burton, No. 31 Wheaties Chevrolet (starts 11th).
Among the six Chevy Chasers in the lineup, three will start outside the top 12: Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet starts 14th, Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet will starts 16th and Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet will start the race from the 20th position.
Kyle Busch (Toyota) will start second, Brian Vickers (Toyota) starts fourth, and Carl Edwards (Ford) will start fifth to round out the top five qualifiers.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET, POLE WINNER:
ON HIS QUALIFYING EFFORT AND LOOKING FORWARD TO SUNDAY’S RACE: "Very much so. That was a great lap. Started out as kind of a tough day for us in race trim. We were trying some things that weren’t working to well for us. We switched over to qualifying trim, and immediately went to second on the board. But even at that, we were quite a ways behind the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin). It looked like everybody really was in race trim, and qualifying trim. Wasn’t sure what to expect qualifying. You always hope you can back that up. Then you see somebody like see somebody like Kyle (Busch) put up a really solid lap. Knowing that you have Denny behind you, you don’t know what to expect. But, the car really did everything that I asked for it to do in that run. The first lap was sort of a warm-up lap, which is pretty typical for me. That second lap, I got off (turn) four good, and the car stuck and got deep into turn one. I was really able to roll the center and get back on the gas really strong. I knew that I got through one and two really good. So then the next part of it was getting through three and four. Got in there and nice and deep, and got on the chip which was what my goal was-to get on the rev chip. I did that. Got it slowed down and got back to the gas pretty early. It got a little bit tight when I got back to the gas, but it still rotated for me late off there. I even said on the radio that I thought it was pretty good. But, I didn’t know if it was enough. Obviously being that close, you don’t know. When I heard I was first, I was just waiting to see what the No. 11 did. Really great run for us.”
YOU AND TONY (STEWART) WERE BOTH KIND OF OUTSPOKEN THIS WEEK ABOUT WHEN THEY CHANGED THE TIRE HERE IN JULY. DID HAVING THE CONSISTENCY IN THE TIRE FROM THEN TO NOW DID IT MAYBE BRING YOU BACK INTO THE GAME AND KIND OF EVEN THINGS OUT? “I hope so. When the day started, we were still struggling with the same things we were struggling with last time when we were here. In order to get the car to turn in the middle, you get so loose in and off. And, even then you are still tight. To be honest, I don’t agree with the tire they have here. I don’t think the balance is right, and I am kind of questioning some things about it, but it’s here. We have to deal with it. And, I think when we went over into qualifying trim; we didn’t seem to have an issue with those things in the tire. It just seems to be our race setup. So, some of it’s in what we can do, and need to do to make the performance better. We plan on doing that tomorrow. But, if tomorrow doesn’t go well, and we are still fighting the same things, you kind of get to that point of what more can we do? We’ll see how it goes. Certainly in qualifying trim, the car did all the things I needed it to do.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS TRACK POSITION TO YOU? "Track position is big here. There’s a couple of different factors I look at with this track. This track it is hard to get heat in the tires in the short run, so, you really slide around a lot and you can really lose positions on restarts if you are not careful. Maintaining that track position on those cold tires is hard to do. Obviously qualifying up front, we’ll have the track position there early. We’re going to fight hard to keep it. We have a great pit stall now, and that will certainly help as well. But, as you say, if you have long runs and you pit under green here, that number one pit stall really doesn’t do you any good. It is all about pitting under caution, and you don’t want to have to come in here, so you always stretch the fuel. We know it is tough to pass here, so track position is very, very important.”
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOUR CONFIDENCE GIVEN HOW IT WENT IN CHICAGO? “My confidence wasn’t the issue, nor the team’s. We were running fourth when we wrecked last week. Your confidence gets broken when you are running 25th. That is the thing that has really gotten us through this season, is that we’ve had a lot of problems that have been frustrating, and we’ve had to battle through them. But our cars have been really, really fast. So, that keeps your confidence as a driver in knowing that you can rebound. That you can get to the next track. And, if you don’t have these problems, you are going to have a solid finish, or a chance to win. On Tuesday, I did my normal debrief with the team, and immediately we were…yes, we wanted to dissect the issues that happened at Chicago, and make sure they don’t happen again. But, it was immediately shifted over to focusing on New Hampshire, and what we have to do to come in here and win. I think we surprised ourselves a little bit with this pole. This is something we didn’t expect. Think we expected to be strong in the race here, but for qualifying, we haven’t sat on the pole at a non-restricted track in quite some times. So, this was a big one. And, certainly good timing.”
AT THIS TRACK, HOW DOES QUALIFYING RELATE TO THE RACE AS FAR AS IF THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THOSE SETUPS? “For us today there was. I’m hoping we can find something in this qualifying setup that works more for the race setup. But, we were quite a bit different in our race setup earlier that we were trying. The setups have gotten complicated. You see these cars running sideways down the straightaways. Some cars are low in the back. Some cars are high in the back. You have a splitter to deal with, bump stops. You have so many things that are going on in the back of the car, they are complicated. Trying to find what works good at some tracks, and what works better at other tracks; the downforce tracks that it is obvious that you want as much skew in the car. But, you get to a track like this and you go ‘well, maybe this skew is not a bad thing, let’s try it’. We struggled with it today. This was more of a pretty typical setup for us, and we qualified decent last time we were here, so we went back more of that type of setup. We just had to tighten it up. Maybe we can look at doing some of that for our race setup here tomorrow. I briefly talked to Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) about it there. They’re coming up with a plan. But, I can’t specifically tell you if it is going to be really far off, or very close to qualifying. But, typically what you have to do here for one lap, or two laps, the car would never turn the corner if you did that for the race. A lot of nose weight, pressures up high. So while the car sticks and feels so great for one or two laps, you can’t do that in the race, or 10 laps into it, you will be dropping.”
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC ABOUT FINDING THE RIGHT RACE SETUP TOMORROW? “Yes, I am optimistic just because this one of those tracks, I feel like, on the circuit that I have a good feel for what I need. Like going to Martinsville. I go to Martinsville with confidence because I feel like I really know what to tell the team I am missing, or what I need, or when it is right of dissecting it because you have to drive it. I drive the track a certain way that has worked for me. And, I haven’t stopped driving it that way for 15 years. It’s just that cars have gotten faster. Tires, setups, all these things. It is about driving the car the same way and giving good feedback. I’m confident that we can find. But, we didn’t find it this morning.”
THE 11 WENT FROM FASTEST IN PRACTICE, TO 32ND IN QUALIFYING. HOW DIFFICULT IS IT GOING TO BE FOR DENNY? “It is not going to be difficult. He drove from 16th or something like that to second the last time we were here after the last stop. Those guys are good. Their car looked really strong. I don’t think it is going to be an issue.”
WAS IT A BOOST TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED TO DENNY AND JIMMIE (JOHNSON) IN QUALIFYING TODAY, AND HOW CRUICIAL IS IT GOING TO BE IN CHASING A RACE WIN FOR YOU? “Qualifying is important. But, there is no points for the pole. Doesn’t guarantee anything for the race. Certainly it is a nice boost and something to build on. We come out of here, and I’m sitting here on Sunday as a winner, and those guys have a bad run, and give us a chance, I might be saying something different. But, at this point, we have a lot of work to do, and it’s not going to happen all in one race. It’s going to happen over nine races. We’re certainly not going to quit. We’re going to go out and fight, and we’re going be aggressive. We’re going to do everything we’ve got to do to try to win races, and we’ll see where we end up.”
IS THIS GOING TO BE A FUEL MILEAGE RACE? “We’ve been geared up for some time to come to this track for fuel mileage. We weren’t able to incorporate all the things we wanted to for fuel mileage, but this is a big one. This is a big one, because track position is so important here. You want to risk your fuel mileage, your tires by maintaining track position. That means you have to find a way to stretch that fuel. You just never know when it is going to go green for long periods of time. This race historically you get long runs at the end, and you better have good fuel mileage.”
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 MOBIL 1/OFFICE DEPOT CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 3RD:
YOU ARE THE DEFENDING RACE WINNER HERE AND YOU COME IN THIRD IN POINTS. LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE SET FOR ANOTHER GOOD PERFORMANCE ON SUNDAY "I hope so. It was definitely a good lap for us. We had a good practice this morning and it was just really nice to be able to back it up for qualifying and it’s definitely the perfect way to start the weekend off for sure. It’s a nice length race; it’s not 500 laps here, which it doesn’t need to be and the hard thing it that it’s hard to pass at times here but it seems like after you get about 15 or 20 laps on the tires and everybody can pretty much get where they need to go. But we’ll have a good pit spot and hopefully we can keep that track position all day and not have to beat our car up trying to get up there.”
IN JULY WE HAD TWO LONG GREEN-FLAG RUNS THAT WERE 90 LAPS. HOW IMPORTANT IS TRACK POSITION HERE? “Yeah, it’s pretty important. It just depends on what your car is doing. If you’ve got a good car, a long run can be an asset as much as it seems like some people think it could be a determent. But having a long run, and if your car is good; every time you get to put tires on, you’re kind of reset for 15 or 20 laps. So, it’s nice to get some long runs here and nice to be able to get things sorted out to where you can race guys one on one versus having to sit there and worry about two behind you and two guys in front of you. It makes the racing a little bit easier, really.”
DOES THE FACT THAT THERE WAS CONSISTENCY THIS TIME REGARDING THE TIRE, AND THE WAY YOU AND JEFF GORDON QUALIFIED, DOES THAT INDICATE THAT MAYBE THE MORE CONSISTENT TIRE HAS BROUGHT YOU GUYS MORE INTO THE GAME? “Well, we’ve got another chance to work with it. The more opportunities you’ve got to work with something, the better you’re going to get with it. It seems like every time we go good at a track, the next time when we come back they change the tires (laughs); but hopefully we’ll get caught up like we did here. Last year, we had really good cars here, both races. Today we’re much better than we were in the spring here. So, I’m really proud of Steve Addington (crew chief) and our organization with Ryan (Newman) qualifying eighth. We’ve got two really good cars in this race. It’s proof that the work they are doing is paying off.”
DO YOU WANT TO RACE IN A MODIFIED HERE LIKE RYAN NEWMAN HAS? “Is it the fact that I’ve been staring at the monitor since qualifying has been on that made you ask that? (laughter)
I THINK THE LAST TIME YOU WERE IN ONE YOU WERE JUMPING THROUGH THE INFIELD, WEREN’T YOU? “Yeah. We definitely needed to work on the shock package. It cleared the double; it just cased it on the triples, the hard parts (more laughter). Yeah, but they’re fun. They’re really fun here. With the draft the way it is and everything; I don’t know about Bristol. I haven’t had the chance to watch Bristol, but I know Loudon, I still think the Modified race is probably the best race of the weekend here. It just always has been; and it’s just fun to watch those cars and it’s fun to drive them. There’s a cool group of guys that run those things. It’s definitely a chess match. You’ve really got to think about how hard you’re running your tires and that pit strategy is a big key to it. So, yeah, I’m sitting here thinking, yeah, I’d like to do that again for sure.”
Source: Team Chevy Racing