NASCAR Sprint Cup Series press conference
Series post race press conference Atlanta Motor Speedway
An interview with: Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot Mobil 1 Chevrolet, who finished third in today's race. We also welcome Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet who finished second in today's race.
Jimmie, we'll start with you. Talk a little bit about the race today. You took over the points lead. You're leading by 21 points over Kyle Busch. Could you talk about your run out there.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're just having a terrible lead out there. Glad to be leading in the points. Haha, nobody? All of our regulars are gone already. (Laughter) there's a laughter. Perfect.
We had a great day today. The first two runs the car was pretty bad. And Chad made some great adjustments on pit road to get the car in the track to where I could carry any speed in and through the center and then use the throttle off. Before that I was on ice and couldn't drive the car.
At that point we worked our way through traffic which was very difficult to do and raced the top four, top six off and on. Had the lead a little bit. And at the end Jeff caught me and passed me at the run before and I felt I ran the tires off the car.
So I took my time and knew we had a 38-lap run or something like that, Chad mentioned to me once we got rolling after that last caution. And I just felt like I should take care of my stuff until the end. And sure enough I started catching them.
But I just didn't have enough to get by. I got inside of him a couple times. Got to the outside once. And just didn't have enough regroup to kind of get there and stay there. And the time I got to be outside of him, I felt I was going to be in good shape. But I think we had a lap car get in the way there and use me as a pick a little bit, couldn't complete the pass.
Awesome day. Happy to see a Hendrick car in Victory Lane and a great day for the Lowe's team.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, finishing third. Could you talk about Atlanta and going into Richmond in a few days.
TONY STEWART: Really happy. I will say this: If Ed Clark decides to repave this racetrack, I'll personally shoot him myself.
This place is so racy, so much fun. Like Jimmie said, you could -- here more so than anywhere we go to, you actually have to take care of your tires and budget them for your run. And that's what makes it fun here because guys overdrive run their cars, run too hard on the front and then they fall off the last half.
But, man, we had an awesome car at the end, especially, gaining eight and a half seconds on the leader there was definitely an awesome run. And we had a lot of guys we got back in those last ten laps.
So helped us out going into next week, obviously. And like Jimmie said, just I'm really proud of everybody at Stewart Haas Racing for their dedication. They keep persevering and pushing it to make it better each week. It's been a tough last couple of months. But I appreciate everybody in our shop, the road crews. And Ryan making The Chase, getting locked in today, and just all of our partners and sponsors.
And like Jimmie said, we are really glad to have three Hendrick cars in the top three in engine. So really appreciative of that.
THE MODERATOR: Questions here in the media center.
Q. Tony, is it better that you kind of gain points and maybe solidified more your position as far as The Chase goes, or the fact that you ran well and maybe things look a little brighter as far as The Chase goes in a couple of weeks?
TONY STEWART: I would say probably the first more so than the second. I mean, once we leave here, what we get here doesn't mean anything next week as far as performance. But those points are big going into next week for sure.
So I wish what we did here transferred over to Richmond next week, but it doesn't. But I'm really proud of the effort that everybody gave this week. And I don't know whether we're 23 or 24 points ahead of the 2 car now. But we definitely gained a couple on him today. And it may come down to one point.
So having the strong finish that we had may be the difference of making it or not making it next week.
Q. Jimmie, you joked about you've done terrible this year. But does this have any feel like last year, last year all the talk was about Benny, and this year maybe there's not as much talk about you. Again, you have to feel good, I assume, about where you are right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I do. And truthfully, from a driver's perspective, a team's perspective, we're involved with our -- our viewpoint is just the reality inside of our race team. And very little outside discussion or talk influences what's going on in our minds.
I mean, we know the reality of our race team and if we're a contender or not. And I feel we're building in that direction and we're getting stronger each week. We still have weak points. We still are not qualifying like we need to.
And at some point in the race we seem to have the car pretty far off. But the good side of that is Chad and Greg find a way to fix it.
They did today within two pit stops. Got the car -- I was going to go a lap down, the first car in front of the 24 going a lap down and drove away from them. I was able to race my way back up there and actually fight them for the win. So there is a lot of, in the reality inside, is we know we've got a very good chance of winning the championship.
It comes along -- that's what I was trying to get you guys to laugh a little bit about, the bad year and all that -- as time goes on and I have more experience and go through this more, certainly having more fun along the way, too.
Q. Jimmie, it seemed pretty clear the last several years that you've been more willing and able to drive a loose race car than Jeff has. How long has it been since you've seen him win when his car was that loose, and did it kind of surprise you that he was so willing and able and that you actually lost a battle of sideways to Jeff?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I hadn't put a ton of thought into it. His car didn't look -- I mean, every car around here, and I know what the setup was, and it was much tighter than mine. But through it all, I mean to race that hard for a win is what we all wake up and are excited to do each and every time we get in a race car.
I wish I could have won, but I have a lot of satisfaction in racing my friend and teammate. And it's Jeff Gordon that hard for a win.
May not have had the dominance that we'd seen before in recent years, but it's still Jeff Gordon. And it's so cool to race that hard with him. And even if I did come in second, it's okay. I'd much rather have won. But we left it all out there on the track. And he got it done today.
Q. Jimmie, was the rain going on on Sunday, how was the grip at the beginning of the race? Was the speedway very green or --
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah the track was definitely green. And I know the way that we anticipated the track to start was far different than the reality.
We worked on our cars and submitted them for inspection on Sunday and obviously didn't have a chance to work on them coming in today's race. And the balance and grip level changed dramatically on the track.
It would take our car, after the delay, everybody picking up rubber, especially the start of the race, it took a couple of runs for our car's balance to get close to where we set the vehicle up to be and what we expected.
So it was a different racetrack today and the temperatures being low put a lot of grip in the racetrack.