JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: (finished 1st) "We had a great race car today. We started sixth and right away moved up to second and ran behind Jeff Gordon for a long time. We led some after that just based on how all the...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: (finished 1st)
"We had a great race car today. We started sixth and right away moved up to second and ran behind Jeff Gordon for a long time. We led some after that just based on how all the pit strategies played out. Throughout the day, we would fall back to fifth or sixth based on pit strategy that other teams were playing out and we would still find ourselves in second or first after it all just because we had such a great race car."
"I was able to stay patient and not hurt my race car and not wear the brakes out and not cause problems. It's taken me a few years of running here to get used to it and a few years of running in these bigger cars from the Busch Series to Winston Cup. I'm very excited and proud to win on such a technical race track and such a flat race track and a short track. I'm very pleased and very happy."
"Some strategy played into it at the end with us pitting at the last minute and being able to stay out and go the rest of the way. But I still had to pass the No. 29 (Harvick) and I knew that was going to probably be the pass for the win and it looks like it turned out that way because he finished second."
"But I had to run down Ryan (Newman) and he had a straightaway on me. We were able to run him down. After we took the lead from him, I started to drive in the mirror and conserve fuel and keep a safe distance between whoever was in second and myself so that if I caught lapped traffic I wouldn't have somebody too close to me where I'd get in trouble and have a chance of losing the lead. I was able to ride around and save fuel and pull into victory lane. It was just an awesome day for us."
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU PASS KEVIN HARVICK AND WHAT WERE THE CIRCUMSTANCES ON THE TRACK THERE?
"I got underneath him and cleared him right before the last caution came out I think. I was just passing him when the caution came out and I remember being relieved that I got it done because that was probably the pass for the win."
DID YOU THINK HARVICK WAS GOING TO BE ABLE TO PASS YOU BACK AFTER THAT PASS?
"I wasn't really too worried about him. The biggest thing I was worried about was making a mistake myself. You don't understand how easy it is to blow the entry of the turn. If you get in too hard and use too much brake, you'll spin the car out getting in a corner or move up a lane. Someone like Kevin Harvick won't miss that opportunity. He'll dive in there and take it back from you. So I was more worried about myself making mistakes. Once I could get a couple of laps under my belt and get a rhythm, I was in good shape. But I was surprised that I have four or five cars in front of me that were trying to stretch it even further then we were. I thought when it cycled around and I passed Kevin, I would be the first car on the track. But I still had to pass several cars."
ON HOW THE TRACK HELPED EVERYONE RACE SIDE-BY-SIDE THIS TIME COMPARED TO LAST YEAR?
"What happened last year was that it seemed like little stones were pulled up out of the racing groove and were sitting in the second and third groove. You would have to run below those so that you could run on clean race track. And before we knew it, our racing groove went from two or three lanes down to one lane and using the apron. Today, that didn't happen. We were able to really dive into the corners. Guys could go in and slide up to probably the third or fourth groove in the center of the turn, rotate the car, and drive off."
"I know last year, when you got inside someone, you just leaned on them a little bit and got their right-side tires out in the marbles and that was the end of them. There was no competition and you could not run side-by-side. You had to be careful who you put yourself in that situation with because just one little nudge from them and you were in big trouble."
"I think the track held together and it's still one of the toughest tracks we come to. It's one of the hardest places to run side-by-side without running over each other and one of the hardest places to pass. So it's hard work for us, but I imagine it puts on a great show for the fans."
HOW SLICK WAS THE RACE TRACK TODAY?
"It wasn't too bad on new tires. But it's always been a characteristic here -- from my experience -- that the first three or four laps takes a few hard laps to get the tires up to pressure and temperatures so you have grip. After that, everything was fine."
DO YOU SENSE THAT A LOT OF THE OTHER DRIVERS WERE HAPPY WITH THE TRACK EVEN THOUGH THEY DIDN'T WIN?
"I think so. I know when we pitted and I was back in the traffic and had to come through, you'd get two cars that would run side-by-side and you'd be stuck behind them and be losing time. So I think there might be frustrations. As drivers, we're going to complain if we're not the winner everybody else has a problem. It's just the nature of us. When I finish second there was something wrong that didn't work out for me (laughs). But we're competitors and that's how we are. But here, I think it equates a lot to Martinsville. You've got side-by-side racing and you can maybe pick up a car length a lap on someone. You've got to patient and you've got to work hard to be smooth and to clear somebody because it's tough. Just the competitiveness of the race track reminds me a lot of Martinsville."
WHAT IS YOUR HISTORY OF FLAT TRACK RACING BEFORE WINNING HERE?
"I think we finished ninth here. At Phoenix, we had a good run but had a broken engine. I've been okay. I've been good at times but not as competitive as we were all day today."
ON THAT LAST STOP WHEN YOU TOOK FOUR TIRES THAT YOU JUST WALKED AWAY?
"You keep doing two tires repetitively so you don't lose any track position and can stay up front. But sooner or later you've got to put the four on. You need the new left sides. Chad worked his strategy a couple of times and put four on. We had such good (pit) stops that we'd come out still inside the top 10. At the end, at the last stop, we knew we did not need to put four tires on that car -- let alone two. All we needed was enough fuel to go the distance. And that was our plan. That last stop is the most important one for track position."
ON RUNNING SIDE-BY-SIDE WITH KEVIN HARVICK
"It's just as exciting for us as it is for the fans -- probably more so. At that point in time, I was a little curious as to why we were racing so hard. Kevin is going to race you hard. I respect him for that and I enjoy racing with him because you can have trust in him and you know he's not going to drive in over his head and run into you. He's not going to give you an inch, which is good. But he knows how to not cross the line. On the situation we were in, he probably had to put more trust in me."
HOW MUCH OF JEFF GORDON'S DATA DID YOU PUT IN YOUR CAR AFTER HIS TEST HERE?
"Our set-ups are a little bit different based on styles, but him coming here and testing and Chad (Knaus) having data to look at and understand what he wanted to do with the race car really helped. The No. 24 (Gordon) has normally been one of the best cars here every time. The last few times it hasn't been in that situation. So I think it helped all of Hendrick Motorsports to come here and test. All the crew chiefs were able to look at the information. But I think something happened to his car there at the end. I think he had a shock issue. Chad was telling me there in victory lane that it just made the car really, really tight because he should have been up there in the top five when it was all said and done."
WHEN YOU CAUGHT RYAN NEWMAN LATE IN THE RACE, YOU MADE A REFERENCE TO MIRROR DRIVING. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT?
"Mirror driving is basically when you are the lead car and you roll into the turn and you have one eye in the mirror and one eye out the windshield and you're blocking where the guy is trying to set you up. You do it and it's part of the game."
"I was getting frustrated because one lap I'd try the bottom and he'd almost knock the car out of control trying to yank the wheel and get down to block me on the bottom. I'd try the top and he would commit to the bottom and try to move to the top and block it. But that's racing. It's part of it. It puts me in a bad situation because I'm in a bad aero situation and I struggled to get by him. He was doing his job. At tracks like this you wouldn't think that defensive driving would pay off as much but it does when the cars are this competitive."
WHAT CAN YOU TAKE FROM HERE TO POCONO IN TERMS OF SET-UP?
"Nothing really. There's not much. The place is so long and so different. There's probably not much that we'd take."
HOW DICEY WAS IT AT THE END AS FAR AS FUEL WAS CONCERNED?
"I'm interested to see how much is in the cell when they pump it out. Once I got in front of the No. 12 (Newman) I did everything I could to save fuel. I don't know if I really made a difference or if we had enough to go the distance. Kevin (Harvick) slowed down and the No. 12 (Newman) slowed down and everyone was worried about fuel. I did the best job I could in the mirror and listen to Chad at the same time on the splits and try to keep that distance the same and conserve fuel at the same time. There were a lot of times where I was lifting really early and just coasting into the corner and changing my braking points to still run quick times but save fuel in the process."
WHICH WAS MORE IMPORTANT TODAY -- PASSING OR PIT STRATEGY?
"At Chicago last week, strategy was very important. And it's becoming more important every week. With the tires that Goodyear brings today, they're great tires. They don't give up. You come in and you get tires as soon as you can and you get as much fuel as you can in the car and hope you can go the distance. In a way, that's what we structured our day for. But, we were still able to pass cars. If I didn't have a good enough car to pass the No. 12 (Newman) or the No. 29 (Harvick), I would probably be on an airplane now. It took a blend of both."
WHAT WAS YOUR FUEL WINDOW AT THE BEGINNING OF THE RACE COMPARED TO THE END?
"Chad said the first stop would be at lap 85. We made it to lap 97. So we definitely picked up a few laps by changing my driving style."