Indianapolis, Ind. -- Practice for the 10th running of the Brickyard 400 took place on Friday, and John Andretti was the fastest driver after the opening two-hour round. In fact, Chevrolets swept the top three spots in the final practice before ...
Indianapolis, Ind. -- Practice for the 10th running of the Brickyard 400 took place on Friday, and John Andretti was the fastest driver after the opening two-hour round. In fact, Chevrolets swept the top three spots in the final practice before qualifying Saturday morning.
Andretti, driving the No. 81 Kraft 100th Anniversary Chevrolet Monte Carlo from the Chance 2 Motorsports stable, is one of only four drivers to have competed in both the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400. His lap of 49.259 seconds was good for a speed of 182.708 miles per hour, just short of the track record set last year by Tony Stewart in the Home Depot Pontiac of 182.960 mph.
Jimmie Johnson was second fastest in the Lowe's Chevrolet at 182.645 mph, and Joe Nemechek was third quick in the UAW-Delphi Monte Carlo at 181.389 mph. Michael Waltrip was fifth quick at 181.105 mph in the NAPA Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick was sixth at 181.068. Robby Gordon was eighth in the Cingular Chevrolet (180.959), and defending pole winner Stewart was ninth in the Home Depot Monte Carlo (180.930), giving Chevrolet seven of the top 10 speeds in practice, and 10 of the top 15.
Qualifying is scheduled for 10:05 a.m. Saturday morning.
JOE NEMECHEK, NO. 25 UAW-DELPHI CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: CAN WE EXPECT YOU TO BE ON THE FRONT ROW ON SUNDAY? "Well, hopefully I'm the guy that's the sleeper here this week. We're quick right now. Peter Sospenzo and the whole group, especially in the engine shop, we've got awesome power. We were just trying a few things in practice and got the old UAW-Delphi Chevy to run pretty decent. We had an excellent test and that's about the same as we ran here in the test when it was cool out. To run that in the heat of the day, I think if we can reach that speed tomorrow it will be pretty phenomenal."
WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE CHEVROLETS UP FRONT? "I think, yea for Chevrolet. I don't know what the deal is. I think what's neat about this year is when they made everything more 'equal,' a lot of the better teams were going to shine. At Hendrick Motorsports, since I've been there, they leave no rock unturned. These crew chiefs all work together. If they have ideas, these guys are working trying to find extra speed. Downforce, power, it doesn't matter. Any area, they work on it, and you have to take advantage of all the areas. As close as the competition is out there, if you don't do that, you're going to run 30th every week."
HOW GOOD WAS YOUR LAP? "We drew No. 1 for qualifying, so that was the perfect draw. Going out early...a lot depends on the weather. If it rains tomorrow early and we qualify in the afternoon, then I'm in trouble. You never know how that's going to go. When the track is cooler, and we saw this in testing, the first thing in the morning is when you run the fastest. As the track heats up, every degree it goes up, it starts slowing down a little bit. Hopefully track conditions will be down, and if it's cloudy tomorrow, it's going to be great. I believe the pole will be in the 48s tomorrow."
HOW SURPRISED ARE YOU THAT JOHN ANDRETTI IS FASTEST TODAY? "What's neat about that is, that was his first lap, he ran that fast. He was fast in testing here a couple of weeks ago. Putting that lap down, I think he scared himself, because he never ran that fast again. He's going to drive that 0 car the rest of the year, so heck, what does he have to lose? Just as fast as you can go, and if it happens it happens. That's the attitude a lot of these teams that don't run every week have to have. He's here to prove a point. John Andretti can still drive a race car. Mike Skinner can still drive a race car. We're all good race car drivers and you have to have the right people in the right equipment in order to go fast."
HOW IMPORTANT IS TRACK POSITION AND PIT POSITION HERE? "Maybe that's something we can ask Tony George for next year, to let us use the Formula One pit road! Pit road is very tight here. I've had fenders knocked in three or four times. There's not enough room. Pit pick is important. Last year a lot of people were doing two tires. Pit road is so narrow, you have to be careful. If you're in the back and you do two tires, you're trying to come out and there's 15 guys still trying to get on pit road. You have to be careful. It doesn't mean you can't win from the back, because Jeff Gordon won from like 27th. You can do it."
WASN'T THE TIGHTENING OF THE RULES SUPPOSED TO HELP THE TEAMS THAT WEREN'T NECESSARILY AT THE TOP? "The box has been tightened up. I think originally it was, but they took the box and instead of it being 10 feet by 10 feet, it's now 4 feet by 4 feet. You definitely have to use your imagination to take advantage of all the gray areas. Some of the lower teams have some pretty good race cars, but the resources that some of the bigger teams have...we have a full engineering department, we have guys that work specifically on aero. You have to have that to be competitive. These guys, they're beating that stuff every day. If you leave that rock unturned, you don't know if it's ever there. You have to stay on top of it."
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: BOBBY ALLISON SAID TODAY THAT THIS WAS THE GREATEST ASSEMBLAGE OF YOUNG TALENT HE HAD EVER SEEN. SINCE YOU'RE PART OF THAT, WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS? "I think, obviously, you see Roush and Hendrick Motorsports and DEI, you look around and team owners are taking a chance with young guys. They're pulling them out of the Busch Series and putting them in the right equipment and the right situation. The guys have been doing well with it. It started with Tony Stewart, and back even further to Jeff Gordon, but there are enough guys that have come along now that multi-car teams can look at that and say, 'OK, we've got our lead horse. Let's develop a new guy.' Look at Ganassi. They have Sterling Marlin that they're counting on for the championship and they have two young guys that they're grooming. That's the mindset and us young guys are very, very lucky to be in top-notch equipment and that's really what has shown more than anything. If Bobby Allison was in the best equipment when he stepped in, he would have been in the top five immediately."
THE SPEEDS HAVE REALLY COME UP HERE. IS IT ALL AERODYNAMICS, AND IS AERODYNAMICS A DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD HERE? "I think it's a combination of a few things. We're learning more and more, making the car slicker with more downforce. That's working for us, and every single time I crawl through the window of that race car on qualifying day or race day, our engine guy tells us he's got us 10 more (horsepower). I hear this every single weekend, and I keep joking with him, saying 'what do we have, 1,000 horsepower now?' I never come to the track and hear, 'well, we're a little down this week.' We're learning a lot on the aero and that's very important, but the engines are getting bigger and better every day."
HOW GOOD WAS YOUR LAP? "It was good. I was a little loose so I think we could have been a .10 or an .00 or somewhere in there, so I think it might be in the 48s tomorrow, especially with an early draw."
HOW SHOULD WE LOOK AT THIS PRACTICE? SHOULD WE LOOK AT TOP THREE OR WHAT? "I think it's like any other practice session. The fact that I'm second doesn't guarantee me I'll be there tomorrow, but I feel I've got a shot at the pole. I'd much rather be where I am than be Ricky Rudd in 45th, waiting for tomorrow. I was in that position last year. We were in the high 30s after practice and I came back and took a provisional. The toughest thing about qualifying here is we finish, and we sit all night long. Tomorrow, right after your cup of coffee and your bagel, you're going to climb back in that race car and enter Turn 3 at 210 miles per hour. No warm-up laps, nothing, it's time to go. That's the toughest thing to be mentally prepared tomorrow to find that half a tenth that's left out there."
HOW IMPORTANT IS QUALIFYING GIVEN THAT TRACK POSITION IS SO IMPORTANT? "It's huge. It's big everywhere. You have another element here that plays in and that's your pit road pick. It's so narrow and so long. Last year, with our poor qualifying effort, we were at the end of pit road. We would have a great stop, and I was running toward the front. First of all, there were guys still coming into the pits when I was leaving that I had to dodge, and then as they're turning into their pits, I was hung up a few times. I slid to a stop, stalled the car and had to refire and take off. All those guys with good qualifying efforts can just sneak right on out. The normal game of on-track is very important with a one-groove, flat race track, and then pit road is more important here than anywhere."
HOW ABOUT THOSE CHEVROLETS? "I think the aero rules have balanced things out and it's helped us out. We've picked up a lot of fuel mileage in the process. There were a lot of races last year we were sweating it on fuel mileage, and this year it hasn't been a concern, so I think it's equalized it. You're looking at more of the teams and what teams are doing well. Joe and I represent Hendrick Motorsports and we're at the top. If you look down through the field, I think you'll see that at all race tracks/ Roush has had a headlock on Las Vegas. We went back to Las Vegas and they did it again. I think it's more of a team effort. At a restrictor-plate track, DEI has to be the team to beat. If you can look at it from a team perspective, I think that's more important than anything. The rules are so similar now, we do not have a lot of freedom. It's gone."
THIS IS A TOUGH TRACK TO QUALIFY ON. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IMS? "This is one of the most challenging places we run. First of all, it's extremely weather-sensitive and we have a few tracks that are like that, but you have banking and multiple grooves to work on. For our cars here, it is so flat and maybe a groove and a half wide, so you don't have three or four options to move around and make a pass. Qualifying is very difficult, and the race is too. Last year we started 37th and ended up seventh, so I'm really excited for us for the race. Everything about this format is tough. It's a tough track to race on, and then you practice one day and come back and qualify the next. It makes qualifying so much more difficult. We have that rhythm and we're used to a two-hour time break and we go do it. Now we're going to go home, eat dinner and fall asleep and forget about it, and then you have to turn it back on in the morning. It's going to be tough."
JOHN ANDRETTI, NO. 81 KRAFT 100TH ANNIVERSARY CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: TELL US ABOUT THE DAY. "We had a good test here and that played a big part in it. The weather was pretty similar. It was actually sunnier, and tomorrow we believe the weather is going to be more overcast and so we didn't mess with the car much. We were going to go off a little experience to figure out where we need to be and not try to go out and stomp them in the ground and just try to get into the race. Hopefully we can do that."
YOU SET YOUR FAST LAP ON YOUR FIRST OF THE DAY. WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THAT? "Stickers are by far quicker. We made three more runs, we sat and waited and watched what other guys did on their second runs. We kind of looked at that and then made another run and were kind of in the thick of things at the front. Obviously, we were nowhere near where we were the first time, but nobody was. We made our next run and tried a couple of different things on old tires, and then we went and made a sticker run and I tried a little too hard. I just brushed the wall coming off Turn 2. Earnhardt Jr. asked me what I was doing. He said, 'you only did four laps. How can you hit the wall?' I said I'd hit it twice already. It's just been really light. I'm taking the decals off. I think we got Oscar Mayer off and something else, so we'll have to get some new decals. Oh, and Junior wanted me to make sure everyone knew he's the car owner."
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN FASTEST OF THE DAY HERE? "I don't know. Maybe not. That's a lot of Indy car stuff. Probably not."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FASTEST HERE? "Right now it means something. We're going to go into qualifying, so everyone is throwing most of what they have at it. I think overall it makes you think you have a good, fast car. Even when I brushed the wall on that lap I would have been 15th or something. It means we have a really fast car and that we should have a good qualifying effort. It's good to be fast every day. It's good to be fast in the first practice on Saturday before the race, and it's good to be fastest in the second. I don't have any stretch of the imagination to think that we're going to stomp them for the pole because Winston Cup is too tough. But if we're fortunate enough and everything works out, then at least we have a shot at them."
ON TOP OF THE FACT THAT THIS IS YOUR HOMETOWN AND THAT THIS IS THE BRICKYARD 400, HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS WEEKEND TO YOU? "It's because it's the Brickyard 400 and all that, not because of any other circumstances. I feel like I've got a great opportunity with the team I'm driving for, and I have had really good opportunities the last couple of weeks. I'm not going to lay pressure on myself that's just going to make it more difficult. I'm going to do the best that I can do. One race doesn't tell you how a guy stands, but if we keep coming out and keep running fast, that's only going to help things. I have been welcomed in the garage since Day 1 after my world turned upside down. That's always been what's important to me, that you have the respect of your peers, not just other drivers but owners elsewhere. I think that's carried on. There's a lot of things going on right now and I think I'll land on my feet pretty well. I think I already have."
ARE YOU TIED IN WITH THE 0 CAR FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR? "I don't know. You'd have to ask them. Any race, they can hire me or not hire me, as long as I'm available. We'll see how the end of the season goes. If I sit on the pole and win the Brickyard 400, I guarantee you it will be more than race-by-race deals. There already are things that are happening. It doesn't have to be a pole and a win. We just have to go out and do the best we can do and have a good day. The fact that Junior came over to my garage made me feel good. He owns the car and everything, but still he didn't have to come over. There's people I have driven for that I never saw."
PUT IN PERSPECTIVE YOUR FEELINGS TODAY ABOUT LANDING ON YOUR FEET AND YOUR EMOTIONS A FEW WEEKS AGO WHEN YOUR WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN? "Professionally, because of what we do there's so much out in the open. Obviously, being in the public eye, you feel like you've been hit with a pretty hard baseball bat and you didn't see it coming. You're a little bit tail-between-the-legs, because you feel like you disappointed where you were at. On the other hand, personally and every other way possible, Jeff Burton told me I'd better go to Michigan. He told me don't go into hiding, because that's not what you need to do. You have a lot of people out there to support you. I went there thinking that I was going to walk in the garage area dn have people think I had SARS. It was anything but that. They treated me with open arms, and came along and people have been talking to me ever since then. It was just bad timing to get released in June. People aren't ready to make moves, they have drivers under contract and other things going on. Even though it's happened to me, I feel a little funny going into someplace. One good thing about the 81 car is I didn't have to take anybody else's job. I know what that feeling is like and it's not good. In the overall scheme of things, I want to be in Winston Cup too and I hope I can earn my place back in it."
IS IT SORT OF NEAT BEING THE HIRED GUN? "In a way, I love it. In one way, I'd like to be settled down because it would help my family to know what the heck I'm doing. I really do enjoy it, from the other standpoint. I'm learning from really good organizations. I've come out of one and now I've gone into two others that are well-organized, well-run with excellent equipment. I've learned a tremendous amount in a couple of weeks from them. I've been saying next week is somebody else so that I can learn from them too. If I hit every team out there, pretty soon I'll be the smartest guy out there. I just feel like I've learned so much. It's bee back to school, but in a good way. The way people approach things is totally different, and I'm learning that. The hard part is to keep the trust and what I learn at one, I don't carry around and give to the other. I don't do that. When I'm for you, I'm 100 percent for you and that's the way I am. These people have given me great opportunities and it would be hard to betray that trust. Even in this sport, in any sport. As ruthless as they get, sometimes it's no fun, and that's the part I don't like. I'll go back and race sprint cars where you just fight somebody and be done with it, or run from them in my case."
NO. 20 HOME DEPOT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: "We took the first hour of practice and ran race runs since we didn't test here and since there's the threat of weather tomorrow. We took half the session to work on race setup. It took about half an hour to switch it over to qualifying trim. We made a run on old tires and picked up speed, and then we made our sticker run and that put us in the top 10. I feel like there's more speed in it yet and I'll be able to get that out of it tomorrow. We'll make a couple of little changes to get it riding just a little bit better, but all in all I'm really happy with the car right now."
DO YOU HAVE TO ALTER YOUR STRATEGY ANY WITH QUALIFYING BEING FIRST THING ON SATURDAY? "Nah, if your car is balanced, it is going to go good here so it shouldn't matter."
JOHNNY BENSON, NO. 10 VALVOLINE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: "You know we aren't as good as we want to be but we aren't terrible, We are midpack about right now. We have some changes we have planned for tomorrow. So all in all it wasn't too bad of a day. I wish we could practice in the morning before, but nobody will so we will all be in the same boat. We keep getting better and that is what you like to see. The Valvoline Pontiac we tested here is the one we raced in Pocono last weekend. It ran a lot better here than it did at Pocono. I think we are pretty decent for Sunday. Happy Hour will will us a lot tomorrow afternoon."