Friday's qualifying at Michigan International Speedway for the GFS Marketplace 400 was cancelled due to rain. For the second weekend in a row, drivers will line up based on NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's...
Friday's qualifying at Michigan International Speedway for the GFS Marketplace 400 was cancelled due to rain. For the second weekend in a row, drivers will line up based on NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet (Starting on the pole)
(COMMENT ON BRIEF PRACTICE SESSION) "Rain this week and trouble last weekend with weather has allowed us to start on the front row. This obviously helps with track position and we like to have the first choice in pit stalls and we'll just take it from there."
(COMMENT OF CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP) "It's something that has been put into effect to really bring the entertainment value back to the end of the year. Deep down in the bottom of my heart, I've not fully agreed with the new points system, but it's how it is and worrying about it further is not going to change our strategy. We've changed our strategy around this year with how we test and how we race, the chances we're taking to try to be the best we can for the final 10. We'll just play it out. I know there's been a lot of positive feedback on different levels for different teams especially people eighth through 15th that are getting exposure and having a chance which they may not have had in the past. Maybe next year I'll be in that situation and be happy to have it. So, right now we just have to worry about this final 10 and get to work."
(YOU'VE HAD A GREAT KNACK FOR ERASING A BAD WEEKEND FROM YOUR MIND. THE LAST TWO WEEKENDS - ONE WAS BEYOND YOUR CONTROL AND THE NEXT YOU FEEL LIKE YOU MAKE A MISTAKE - DO THESE TWO WEEKENDS SHAKE YOUR CONFIDENCE?) "No it doesn't really change things for a couple of reasons. One, you go to a different style track every weekend, so it's hard to have any carryover to any other track. The mistake I made at Watkins Glen, we know that we don't have another road course. It really doesn't affect me too much. We're confident. We're solid in points. The No. 24 and the No. 48 have been trading off wins here over the last month and have been very strong. Our confidence is high. We had a great finish here earlier in the year so we look forward to building off that."
(COMMENT ON THE SPOILER REDUCTION RULE CHANGE) 'I'm not sure about the reasons behind the spoiler change but if you look at last year, we had an inch taller spoiler and we probably ran a 500-pound rear spoiler in the back of the car to get the balance right. So this year, teams now have 800-1,000 pound rear springs in the back of the car to get the blade propped up and have the spoiler in the air. Now you take another inch away and I think we'll have 1,500-pound springs in the back of the car to get to where we are now. So it's kind of a cat and mouse game. The gear rule that's taking place, there's millions and millions of dollars through every team - doesn't matter what level they are - that is going to advance and develop high-RPM engines, and now that inventory and that money is gone and we have to redirect it to a lower RPM band. So I see more money now having to be raised to look into a new area to find more speed. I feel great being a part of Hendrick Motorsports knowing that we have the most dedicated engine shop in the business and we'll find a way to make sure that we're the best with that new package. It's a cat and mouse game that we all know where the sanctioning body makes a change and then it's the crew chiefs jobs and the engineers jobs to try to find an advantage within that."
(HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO START UP FRONT HERE AT MICHIGAN) "It's always important. But Michigan is such a great race track for racing where you can use multiple lanes that we all know about. On a road course, it's a huge disadvantage to start back in the pack and not have a chance to qualify."
(STARTING ON THE FRONT ROW - WHAT WILL YOU WORK ON IN PRACTICE TOMORROW? CLEAR AIR SET UP?) "Yeah, that's true. Especially here when you're in traffic, the speeds are very high and you're at a big disadvantage when you're in traffic. We'll get it driving good and have the balance good and take it from there. This track tightens up quite a bit on its own even if you're not in traffic. So you can get away with a lot freer set up and have it apply in all situations more so than at a track without as much banking or as many grooves to work with. We'll be good. We'll work on a good balanced car. In the race here earlier in the year, the racing on the bottom has moved from the bottom lane to the middle, so we'll start practicing middle up and not really worry about making the car turn on the bottom like we used to."
(DOES IT CHANGE STRATEGY THAT YOU'LL START THE RACE BASED ON SEASON POINTS? IS THERE ANY CONCERN THAT GUYS SCRAMBLING FOR THE 10TH SPOT MIGHT BE TAKING MORE CHANCES) "I'm not really worried about over-aggression by people. You need to always remember who you're racing and what situation they may be in and approach them and race them with that in mind. And I think that all of us just naturally get used to that. With that in mind, that is what this points system is designed to do - create better racing action and more things to talk about. So from one aspect, I think that is what this was designed for and what some people are hoping for. As far as us lining up on points - I think that everybody that I'm around where I will be will be pretty calm and relaxed getting started. That's the way I felt at Watkins Glen as well. We all know that it's a long race and there is nothing to gain right away because we're all starting towards the front so I think it will be a lot like Watkins Glen where we'll all race hard but I think everybody's starts will be done and we can get going and not have to worry about anything."
(STOCKPILING TESTS LIKE MOST OF THE GUYS - HOW BIG OF AN ADVANTAGE WILL IT BE?) "I think it will be a really big advantage. We've been lucky this year to be able to come out and win races without doing a lot of testing. Chad (Knaus) is very aggressive during our race practices and tries to use a good portion of that as a test session to try to find an advantage. We're definitely hoping that having a chance to test at a lot of tracks in the final 10 will give us an advantage - it technically should. You would naturally think that it would make you stronger and faster. So that's been our game plan all along and fortunately we've had the speed from the beginning of the season to the cutoff to preserve our test sessions. We've got our fingers crossed hoping that it plays out. So far on paper it all looks good but Sunday afternoons are a whole new world."
(COMMENT ON BRIAN VICKERS RECENT ISSUES AS A ROOKIE) "It's pretty hard to go out there and have your rookie moments. With the new points system the way it is, Brian looks like he's almost crashing the points leader at times because he's had things go wrong around people right at the cutoff. So, he's getting the pressure as if he has been crashing the point's leader when that's really not the case. He's taking it well. He respects everyone that he is racing with and he's been caught up with some of his heroes and guys that he idolizes, so I know that he feels really bad about that and has been taking some heat. It comes with being in this sport. I've made mistakes too. I had the No. 40 car upset with me at Rockingham early in my rookie year and had Ward Burton upset at me last year. You don't like having that situation but it's something that you have to work through. And I think Brian's character and the way that he'll work through it with these guys, he'll gain some respect from them back his way and it will all work itself out."
(COMMENT ON RIVALRY WITH THE NO. 24 TEAM) "I give Jeff (Gordon) and Robbie Loomis a lot of credit for the way our teams interact, for the respect the teams have for one another, the drivers have for each other. All of us came in new. Chad didn't have a lot of experience in Cup and I had zero experience in Cup. We brought in new guys. They have set the pace and have really shown us how we should interact. How we need to be leaders and how we need to respect one another. I see that continuing forward. I think that Chad and I, and our team are on our own feet and have our own foundation below us. But we still look at the way the No. 24 through all their success, through who they are and the way they've treated us and how that relationship has started. And we're just going to continue to grow that and have that continue to move forward. This is the best situation that you could ever hope for as a car owner in Rick's (Hendrick) shoes - having two teams competing for a championship. We each want the championship for our own reasons. Jeff wants to chase (Dale) Earnhardt's mark at seven and I want my first one. There's a lot of competition there but the most important thing is that we respect each other through all the competition. And regardless of how it turns out, we're still going to be teammates at the end of it. We're still going to be friends and we'll still have the relationships that our teams have now. And that's the most important thing. At the end of this year, it's got to be a Hendrick car - that's it - bottom line. That's what we're shooting for."
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet (Starting 2nd)
(ON HIS PLANS FOR THIS WEEKEND) "The little bit that we did get on the track, I was real happy with the car. It's a brand new car that we brought here. Just to get at least a lap on the track was good for us. I thought we were pretty fast. We fell back to 10th before we could go back out and get another lap on it. Everything felt great. It's unfortunate that the rain came. It's fortunate in some cases because of where we are at in the points. We'll see what ends up happening here. We'll be ready to practice for race tomorrow."
(ON THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP) "For us it's not a huge build up. We're just trying to carry momentum and have good runs and put wins under our belt before we go into those last ten. We got a lot of heavy testing scheduled to really be prepared for those last ten races and will try not to burn the guys out at the same time. Things are going well for us. We're very happy. We sat on the pole here last time. We were running really strong and had an engine failure which is very rare for us at Hendrick Motorsports. We're going to try and do what we felt like we were capable of the last time we were here which was either win the race or a solid top five."
(DO YOU LIKE THE IDEA OF THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?) "I'm still evaluating it all as we go. When we get down to the last ten races, it's really going to show a lot. I still think it's a little bit drastic that we work to this point in the season and work as hard as we can to get that points lead or get in the top of the points and it all gets taken away. I think they're taking a little bit too much away. I think it's going to be very exciting and very entertaining. I think if we continue to do our job the way we have the rest of the season we've got a heck of a shot of winning the championship."
(ON WHAT HAPPENED HERE IN JUNE) "I feel very confident. I had a conversation with Randy Dorton right after that race. He was able to diagnose the problem right away and felt confident those things and those times were behind us."
(HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE YOUR TEAMMATE WHEN YOU ARE THE GUY TRYING TO OVERTAKE HIM?) "Because I'm an equity owner in that team and a teammate to him, I treat it just like I would any other teammate and then to another level. I genuinely do care about that team and how they perform. I want one of us to win that championship. If I can't win it, I certainly want him to win it. It's important for both of us to be on track right now and do all we can to maintain the momentum we've had to this point in the season. They still have the points lead even having the problems they've had. Having that 200 plus point lead he had didn't mean anything anyway. It's really only a five point lead. As long as they maintain that, I think that's what is important. They'll get back on track."
(WITH THE RAIN THE CHASE CONTENDERS ARE STARTING UP FRONT. WILL THERE BE ANY KIND OF CHANGE IN STRATEGIES?) "It does usually change the strategy for those guys. If some of us were going to qualify up front and some of us weren't, for the guys that were going to qualify up front, it doesn't really change for them. The guys that maybe had trouble qualifying here last time or were a little bit further down the list in practice and maybe didn't have a solid qualifying effort, those guys are going to benefit from this. The guys that we're typically racing with week in and week out are those guys that are in the top ten. Say we start on the front row and you take off and you're running and think your race is going along great, you don't realize there are guys that have been coming all day long from 30th and 35th and 26th and where ever they are in the field and working there way to the front. They may be quite a bit better than you. That's why a lot of times when I'm running, I always ask 'how are we compared to the rest of the field?' I don't mean just the guys we are running with. I mean the guys that are further back. You don't want to over adjust if you are very good. If somebody else is better than you and they get to you and you don't adjust it enough to keep up with it, then you're going to lose the race. Those things all factor in it. When you start by points, a lot of that will change how you approach that race. It's not really going to change things for us other than we know who is going to be running up front when they drop the green and who should be there most of the day."
(ON THE NEW GEAR RULE) "I'm not 100 percent sold on it yet. Obviously Hendrick Motorsports is one of the engine builders that has capitalized from it. I hate to give a totally biased opinion on it. I'm concerned with what it's going to do to the racing. I think most of the passes that happen, happen through acceleration from the middle of the corner to the start finish line or before that. When you drop rpms, you're dropping power. It could hurt us in making some passes. I think it's going to be really important in the aero package and tire package next year to match what we are going to do with the rear end gear. I don't think it's a money saving thing. That to me is just going to make us go to work that much harder to find areas that we can increase power even at lower rpm ranges. To me there are other areas that we can focus on besides that. I'm not exactly sure what has brought it on and where it is coming from. I know they're set on it and we're going to try and give our opinion as much as we can to them until the end of the season so that they when they do introduce it, it's in favor of all the teams and the best racing possible."
(ON TESTING) "I know we have about five or six tests left. Some of them we're just going to do one day tests. Some of them we'll focus a little bit harder on like Phoenix. That's a long haul so you might as well take advantage of the two days. Charlotte, I'm not sure if we are doing one or two days but we struggled there earlier in the year so that's something we're going to focus on. Martinsville is repaved so that's an important track. We'll probably only do one day there. We've fortunate that we're solidly in the top ten in points so we can gamble a little bit more on putting our tests later in the season. That was a gamble we chose to take earlier in the season hoping we'd be in the top ten. So far it's working out. We hope it will continue to work out. I think there are two sides to it. You want to go test at these tracks, especially the ones that you think you need a little more help with. You don't want to burn the team out. We're on a hectic schedule right now - 20 straight weeks in a row. Testing in between can really wear these guys out. I think that's why we're doing a little bit more one day tests than all of them being two day tests."
(ON SHARING TESTING DATA) "One thing that we've have learned even if it's Jimmie (Johnson), Brian (Vickers) or Terry (Labonte), we all have enough differences in what we like under the car and driving styles that those tests can come in handy for mapping the track. Every bump, crack, the transitions of the corners, the travels that the cars go through, those we can relay to all the teams. Where a driver gets off the gas, where he gets on the gas, how hard he gets on the brake and off the brake, that varies between every driver so you can't always carry all the information. Let's say if Jimmie goes somewhere, we'll certainly get all the information back from them and vice versa for us. Then we try to take advantage of the 5, 25 and even the 84 team with Kyle Busch and the testing that they need to be doing. We're not testing at Talladega and I think they may be. I'm hoping somebody tests in Atlanta. I don't think we're planning to test at Atlanta. I do think we have a Homestead test we'll do as well. We're definitely going to try and take advantage not only of teams that are Hendrick Motorsports but also teams we have a good relationship with."
(IS THERE A LEGITIMATE GRIPE WITH DRIVERS ON THE SPONSORSHIP SITUATION?) "I don't really think there is a big issue. We deal with conflicts with sponsors all the time, every race we go to or Victory Lane we go to. For me personally and our race team, we had Pepsi sign before Powerade was ever introduced and signed. I still feel adamant we should have been grandfathered in some way somehow into that agreement. When that agreement was put in place, I questioned it and was asked how I should handle it. I've been handling it the last couple of years the way I was told too which is take those bottles off the roof. Now the bottle went from being about six inches tall to two feet. That's when the knocking of the bottle came about. I believe we do have to work with NASCAR, with the race tracks, as well as them working with us in trying to get rid of the differences and working together. It is important to have all these sponsors and I understand that. We have to take care of our sponsors and they have to take care of theirs. We're going to try and do the best job of that as we can going forward. Right now I don't see any big issues with that."
(IS THERE CONCERN THAT DRIVERS WILL TAKE EXTRA CHANCES SCRAMBLING FOR THAT 10th SPOT?) "All of us have a race we're after. Some of us are out there just racing to win. Some of us are out there trying to win and focused on points and other cars that we're racing. That's the thing I think I like about the points right now that really has it very exciting is that it makes six or seventh through 15th very interesting. That's something we never really focused this much on before. Now there is that focus. It's taking some of the focus off the guys in the top four or five but those are usually the guys that are battling for the wins so they still get some focus on them as well. Depending on how far out of 10th that you are, the more risks you're going to take to get there. Those guys that are in the 9th, 10th, 11th place, those are the guys that have to be solid week in and week out. I don't think they can take too big of risks. I think they know that first you got to finish, then you got to worry about where you're going to finish and get the best solid finish that you can and think about those guys you are racing. I don't think it's time yet. I think the last race leading into the top ten or the last two is when you're going to see guys get riskier and riskier."
(YOUR ROOKIE TEAMMATE HAS RECENTLY CAUSED SOME WRECKS. IS THERE MORE PRESSURE ON ROOKIES THIS YEAR WITH THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?) "My toughest year I've ever had in this series is my rookie year. Even if there isn't a lot of focus on you, you feel like there is. You're a rookie. You're trying to make a good impression. You want to come in and turn heads. You want to do everything right. You don't want to make anybody mad. You don't want to make mistakes. By having all those things on your mind is when you make mistakes and when you feel the pressure. It's just intensified as a rookie. You feel like everything is riding on that first year. It's like first impressions are so important. I made a lot of mistakes. I tore up a lot of race cars. I felt extreme pressure. The following year was such a relief to me to get that rookie season out of the way. I felt like I could really start focusing on what I needed to focus on which is running solid races week in and week out. Brian (Vickers) and I are definitely friends and teammates. I've certainly talked to him. I feel like he's pushing a little bit harder than he needs to at times. He's aggressive. He's a great race car driver. He qualifies very well. He's just trying to get into his rhythm in the races. He's made some mistakes. Nobody is taking the heat more than he is. It's been unfortunate of who he has gotten in these wrecks with. I think he recognizes that and feels awful about it. That's a team that is not only trying to bring a rookie driver in, it's a team that's really trying to get their own rhythm going. These things have only continued to disrupt that for them as well as disrupt some of these other runs that some of these other guys have had going on. They're definitely feeling the heat, feeling the pressure. Hopefully they'll get back on track and get some of those things behind him."
(WILL DO YOU DO THINGS DIFFERENT ON SATURDAY WHEN YOU DON'T GET TRACK TIME ON FRIDAY?) "Only if we qualified poorly. If you qualify good or if we're starting up front because of points, then the approach we're going to take is more of a clean air approach meaning that we're not stuck in the middle of a pack where we have to set the car up a lot freer because we're going to get the aero push and have to try to pass cars and things like that. I think we could really just put our car out there in less traffic in tomorrow's practice and really work on the balance and the feel I'm looking for. If I was not starting up front, I'd get in the middle of more cars and work on how I could pass cars, how I am behind cars or in front of cars."
(IS IT GETTING MORE COMPETITIVE WITH JIMMIE THE CLOSER YOU TWO GET IN POINTS? HAS THE DYNAMIC CHANGED?) "It's probably a better question for Robbie (Loomis) and for Chad (Knaus) because those guys are in the shop day in and day out. I know the intensity is building in that shop. Those guys love the fact that both teams are where they're at. At the same time, if they a wear a 48 shirt or a 24 shirt on the weekends, then that's the team they're with and who they want to be on top. Right now it's early enough in the season. If it continues like this down the closing few races, then it's definitely going to get interesting. All I can really compare it too was me and Terry (Labonte). We weren't under the same roof."
(DOES BEING UNDER THE SAME ROOF CHANGE IT?) "Definitely. I wasn't as close to Terry as I am with Jimmie. The 24 car had just come off of a championship the year before. There was definitely some heavy rivalry going on within the organization. It got very intense. Rick Hendrick will be the first to tell you it was a great kind of intensity. It's the kind of intensity he really likes. I don't think we'll ever stop sharing information or stop being teammates. It will be interesting to see how that goes along. I feel comfortable because I feel like I know Jimmie and he knows me. We're generally going to be happy for one another no matter the results are. We're both very competitive people. That competitiveness just comes out. It's not something you have think about or work on. It's just the way it is whether we're racing for a win this weekend or that championship at the end of the season."
(DO YOU HAVE THE ADVANTAGE AFTER WINNING SEVERAL TIMES?) "I think it does help that by winning championships. When you haven't won a championship you want it so bad. You want to feel what it's like to be a champion. When you've been the champion you don't want anything else but the championship. Second, third, fourth of fifth really doesn't matter to you. They both have their advantages. I just know that those guys want it bad. We want it bad. The advantages that we have is that right now Hendrick Motorsports and those two teams are really strong and still continue to work together. Our philosophy - this is the way Rick leads us - is let's decide it between the two of us. In order to that we've got to work together all the way to the end to make sure that the two of us are in that hunt or at least one of us are in that hunt for the championship. The best way for us to make that happen is to work very closely together and not give that up."
(HOW WOULD YOU TWEAK THE NEW CHAMPIONSHIP TO MAKE IT MORE LIKE THE OLD SCHOOL?) "I don't know if it's really about old school. I've always said that I think we pay the same points from 30th on back every weekend. I think there should be a bigger gap between the positions. If we want to keep these things exciting and keep winning being a premium, we need to pay more points to the winners. We've seen a little bit of that this year but I think it could go even further. I think this Chase for the Championship is something that I'm gradually becoming more comfortable with or liking a little bit more. I think it's great for the sport. What I don't like is that if you have two, three or four guys that really have a hold on the season and then you narrow it down to 10 people and the gap you have is 45 to 50 points, which is nothing. You can have a guy that sneaks in the top ten at the end season and all of the sudden some guys have some bad luck and he wins the championship. I don't think that's right. I don't think that that is fair to the guys who have been up there all year long. I would just change where those top guys are. They talk about 400 points. I think if you're not within 400 points of the lead, you don't even race for the championship. Maybe it's not a top ten, maybe it's top five or top six. I have a lot of theories on it. I still think we can win this championship and when we do it's still going to be very special."
(DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON WINNING AS AN OWNER?) "Not as good as a driver, but the next best thing. As long as I'm behind the wheel of that race car, I'm always going to want my team that I'm driving for to be the number one car. If we can't win it with the 24 car then I want the 48 (to win it) for sure. I think it would be very special. I think it would awesome. I don't even know if I've thought about it because I've put so much focus on our program. That's why it works for me. The position that Rick Hendrick has put me into as an owner, I don't really focus on it right now as a driver. For me that's something that's really more for my future which I'm very proud to be a part of that and look forward to that. I think all the years I've had at Hendrick, the success I've had, the role I've played in pushing for Jimmie to be and the role I've played trying to get the sponsors to get on board, he's graced me in being a partner in that position. I still think of myself as a driver. I really don't think of myself as an owner. I'd still be very proud if it happened. Someday when I'm not driving, that will be my number one priority is to put that the team that I'm an owner with to be number one."
(IS THERE A POINT WHERE A TEAM IS TRYING TOO MANY NEW THINGS?) "I don't think anything ever changes for us. We push to the limits going into each race with feeling secure and feeling good with what's under the hood, whether it be the engine or the spring shocks or transmission. If the points system was different, we may have done what we did last weekend with the transmission. We did do that based on where we are in the points and the way this point system is working. That's probably something that would have happened. Even Randy Dorton will tell you that as far as engines are concerned, we really don't take risks and chances with that like we did with that transmission. It's a totally different situation. Those guys make sure that whatever is under the hood goes into the car with the intent to finish the race and be strong and be in one piece all the way through the end. That approach won't be any different. As a team, I can tell you we are going to rethink some of those decisions if that comes up again like it did for the Glen and make sure that we do continue to carry momentum, running up front, solid finishes and winning races all the way through the season."
Bobby Labonte, No. 18 Wellbutrin XL Chevrolet (Starting 9th)
"We got on track and were in the top-10 in practice in our Wellbutrin XL Monte Carlo. It's disappointing we didn't get a chance to go for the pole, but we've still got a really good race car for Sunday. We'll work on it tomorrow during Happy Hour and try to get it even better."
(ABOUT NOT GETTING TO COMPETE IN THE CABELA'S 250) "I really wanted to race in the Busch race, and I feel bad for Banquet and ConAgra. But, there is nothing we can do about it and those are the rules. It's tough, but for now we'll just concentrate on the Cup race and try to get a win there."