MICHAEL WALTRIP, NO. 15 NAPA CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Note Crashed during first Happy Hour session and will go to a backup car. "I just got into the marbles up there in Turn 4 and blew the right front tire." JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT ...
MICHAEL WALTRIP, NO. 15 NAPA CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - Note Crashed during first Happy Hour session and will go to a backup car.
"I just got into the marbles up there in Turn 4 and blew the right front tire."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
(DO YOU RACE DIFFERENTLY NOW BECAUSE OF THE CHASE POINTS STRUCTURE?) "We still have a shot at the championship with the current point structure. That's good to know that we'd be leading right now with the old one but that still doesn't really mean much. I've always said that the way you race are how the points are structured. Because of the Chase, there needs to be a little bit more of a change in the points system, but you're still not having to race that much different than you used to. I would like to see some restructuring - just some minor changes in the points system. But it doesn't upset me. We know what the conditions are and we have our mindset on that."
(WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON'S PROGRESS, WE'VE SEEN THAT A LOT CAN HAPPEN WITH THREE RACES TO GO) "Yeah, if you get behind, that's what you're going to have to do. You're going to have to charge. You're going to have to win. They did that and they made gains. He wasn't really gaining on a lot of the guys because they were running in top fives until they all had problems. And all of a sudden, there was a huge. That team did their job and the rest of us didn't. That's what's really tightening this thing up. It should make it interesting all the way to the end."
(ARE YOU PRETTY COOL WITH YOUR PREPARATION FOR THE FINAL THREE RACES?) "I feel really good - especially for these last three because we tested here and things are going well for us so far this weekend. We're testing at Homestead next week and Darlington has always been a great track for us. We ran well there earlier in the season and got caught up in a wreck. Hopefully things this time around will go better for us. I think they will. We have three great tracks coming. All you can do is your best and see where the other guys finish."
(WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO ACCOMPLISH IN YOUR TEST AT HOMESTEAD?) "To go as fast as possible. We were decent there last year. It's just all about handling and getting the car to go through the corners. It's a fast race track. There are things we can experiment with now because there are a lot of teams that are doing a lot with big springs and sway bars and shocks and things. Some of them maybe have done a better job than we have. We're going to try some things and hopefully learn some things."
(ON RICK HENDRICK MAKING A VISIT TO THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS FACILITY THIS WEEK) "It was an amazing experience. I just cannot believe the strength that he and that family have. Nobody expected them to come over there. They did that on their own. It was so amazing and inspiring that I can't even describe it. There wasn't a dry eye in the place. For Rick to get up there and say the things that he did to really just make everybody feel like family - which we already felt that - but just to take it to a another level, was really great. And then Linda got up there and then Lynn and Marshall said some words."
(RICK ALWAYS SEEMS TO LOOK OUT FOR YOU GUYS AND NOT SO MUCH FOR HIMSELF) "Yeah, he's always so concerned with other people and that's what makes him such a great individual and family man. We look up to him in many ways."
(DO YOU LIKE THE PHOENIX TRACK?) "We've had opportunities to have good enough cars to win here. We've actually been close. But we haven't been close enough times. We keep working at it and testing here and making gains and hope that this time around we'll get us one. We're going to start coming here twice. I'd like to get a win before that."
(FROM A HANDLING PERSPECTIVE, HAVE YOU BEEN CHASING THE CAR A LITTLE BIT MORE THAN USUAL LATELY?) "Yeah, definitely in the race. In practice, we feel pretty good about it. And then they drop the green and the car takes off and everything is good and then boom - it just goes away. I don't know if it's the way I'm driving it or the way we're setting it up or what, but it is certainly not what we're looking for."
(WHEN DID THIS START?) "Oh, I don't know. It happens every once in a while. It just does. Unfortunately, it's been happening a little too often here in these last ten races."
(DO YOU LIKE THE CAR A LITTLE TIGHTER THAN JIMMIE JOHNSON?) "When he first came on board, yes. I think one of the big differences is how we get in the corner. He seems to let off the gas a little bit slower but uses a lot more brake. I seem to get out of the gas faster and don't use as much brake. That will definitely change how you set up a car. So we don't always have the same set-up or the same feel. "
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
(HOW IS YOUR CAR?) "The car is good. I've been excited these last couple of weeks. The race track has been slick. Atlanta was as slick a race track as I've been on in a long time. Obviously Charlotte is always a handful. Here it's that way as well. I think there are four or five drivers who love those conditions and I'm in that category. I'm very excited about the race. The car's driving good. You can't run qualifying laps. You've got to be smart and take care of your equipment and I'm looking forward to a good race tomorrow."
(IN TERMS OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP CHASE, HOW MUCH OF A BOOST WAS LAST WEEK'S WIN?) "I didn't even know we were racing for points (smile). Is there a championship out there? (laughs). I'm just going to keep the mentality that we've had for the past three weeks. These guys have made some mistakes and allowed us to catch back up. We were racing without even thinking about the championship and had great things happen. So I don't even want to think about the championship. On our team, that's a 'C' word that could cost you 25 points and $25,000 so we're not paying any attention to it."
(WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THE PEOPLE WHO ASK WHERE JIMMIE JOHNSON CAME FROM IN THIS DEAL FROM THREE RACES AGO?) "I think those people were asking where did Jimmie Johnson go about 10 races ago. We're back. I think people have been in this sport long enough to know that you have your ups and downs. The timing of our downs wasn't the best for us in the championship battle. We got it back and we're now in the middle of it."
(ARE YOU TOTALLY PREPARED FOR THESE LAST THREE RACES?) "We've got everything lined up. We'll be in Homestead next week working on our stuff down there. We've got some good cars slated for those races. We've got a car here that we really like. So, we feel very good about the cars and packages we're taking."
(ON RETURNING TO DARLINGTON AFTER WINNING THERE) "Darlington is such a weird track. The way that one ended up finishing out for us earlier this year was really down to a sprint race at the end. When you think of Darlington, you think of the long haul and how brutal it is. It was an interesting race last time. I don't anticipate that being the way this race unfolds. I'm looking forward to a good slick and challenging race track and being mad at everybody and the car and the tires and asking for tires every 20 laps."
(YOU ARE SMILING AND JOKING WITH EVERYBODY NOW, BUT YOU WEREN'T DOING THAT AT KANSAS CITY. WHAT IS YOUR STATE OF MIND RIGHT NOW?) "Victory can change a lot of things. When you run well, it changes the morale and environment of the race team. At Kansas City when I made a mistake and ended up bending the car up on my own, it was my own fault. I'm pretty hard on myself when I make mistakes. It was my own fault. The emotions that everybody saw there was just me being hard on myself. Right now it's easy to be happy about myself and happy about the team. But we have our lows, we're human and it hurts. But we always bounce back. We come back stronger than we were before."
(ON HAVING A SECOND CHANCE) "Mathematically, we have a second chance. You can't argue with it but I never thought we'd be in this position in three races. I never thought we could make up that much ground. We can make up that much more or we can lose that much in three races. I hope it's positive rather than negative."
(ON THE LAST THREE TRACKS) "They're all good tracks for us. The think that I like about them is that they're all slick. It should be warm in two out of three of them."
(WOULD THERE BE ADDED EMOTIONAL VALUE TO WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP AT THIS POINT?) "I don't think that it's going to change the work ethics or anything along those lines. I think you get numb and get into a routine. When something like the tragedy that happens, I think it just wakes everybody up. Does that crop over into your day-to-day work stuff? I don't think so. We've got a great work ethic at Hendrick Motorsports. Maybe it's just jarred our guys emotionally and inspired us to try to honor our friends we lost on the plane. But I don't think it changed the work ethic of our organization."
(HAVE YOU GOTTEN INTO KURT BUSCH'S HEAD?) "I hope so. Kurt is a great driver. He's strong mentally. I hope I've been able to get in everyone's head. You never know how that works out. But this sport is humbling. As soon as you get cocky, the sport will saw you off at the knees. So I'm just worrying about my game and doing all that I can do. We're just going to go race to race and see what happens."
(HOW DO YOU BEAT YOUR TEAMMATE, A FOUR-TIME CHAMPION?) "That's a good question. If I do it, I'll give you the answer. There's a lot of work to be done between now and then."
(IN OTHER SPORTS, THERE IS A 'WIN OR GO HOME' MENTALITY. DOES YOUR TEAM HAVE THAT RIGHT NOW BECAUSE YOU'VE HAD TO FIGHT YOUR WAY BACK?) "That's the way we do things after we got started and got all the troubles. It's like let's finish up strong and let's try to win as many races as we can and try to get prepared for next year and finish up on a strong note and try to get into the top five. There's a burden that comes with being a championship leader. It's just the pressure and stress that's put on you that you can never explain to anyone until you're in it and you feel that weight on your shoulders. I'm happy to not be leading right now. And if we're lucky enough to lead the points again, I hope it's after the last race. I don't want any of that pressure again this year."
(DO THE DRIVERS PLAY MIND GAMES?) "I don't really worry about that. Jeff (Gordon) and I were talking about that on the way out here. Neither of us really worry about it or read the papers and follow what's being written or said about any of us our about ourselves. When you turn on the TV one day, everyone says nice things about you and you want to believe that. And then on another day, somebody says something you don't like. And then you're mad. To avoid all of that emotion, I just don't read anything or pay attention to what's going on. So somebody could be heckling me pretty good right now and I wouldn't even know it."
(YOU HAVE THE NO. 24 TEAM'S PLAYBOOK. WILL THAT CHANGE IF THERE IS A TIGHT RACE BETWEEN YOU AS WE GO INTO HOMESTEAD?) "Obviously there is an issue there with the championship at stake and only one guy to get it. If it does come down to the Hendrick cars, we do have each other's playbook. But Jeff and Robbie's style is different from ours. I can't drive Jeff's set-up exactly. He can't drive mine. But we can look and see some things that may work for both of us. We can't put in the same stuff. On race day, we're all on our own agenda as far as what you do on tire pressure and pit stops and two tires or four tires and so many different variables. That really makes them our own independent races. Maybe we start the same but we don't end up the same."