JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Qualified 3rd: "We wish we could have backed up what ran what we did in practice. I'm a little disappointed. You just come through the room on that last try and NASCAR brings out a new comb...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: Qualified 3rd:
"We wish we could have backed up what ran what we did in practice. I'm a little disappointed. You just come through the room on that last try and NASCAR brings out a new comb with a finer tooth on it. When I walked up to the race car, Chad (Knaus, crew chief) didn't have a big smile on his face like he usually does. I think they didn't like a couple of things in the gray areas and we had to move some stuff around. It slowed the car down a little bit. I think we lost a little bit there and then it was a lot windier this afternoon than any of us anticipated. We thought the late draw was really going to help us. But the wind seems to still be pretty gusty out there and it looked like going early was the way to go."
CAN YOU TELL BY YOUR FIRST PRACTICE LAP WHETHER OR NOT YOU HAVE A CHANCE AT A GOOD QUALIFYING LAP? "When you unload and make that first run, that's kind of how it's going to shake out. There are some guys playing some games and maybe not showing their full hands. It seems like the Childress cars pick up a tremendous amount every time we go to qualify. There are a couple guys who can get away with that. When we try to hold back, our car it at a different attitude when it's going faster and we end up hurting ourselves. So we pretty much unload with all that we've got. The main thing that drives that is how long it takes to get through the line and onto the race track. Today, we only made four or six laps. So you really don't have a chance to work on the car and try anything major. You're just trying to go out and warm everything up and get a baseline and maybe you'll change a gear or a spring. But there really isn't much we can do because of the way the rules are. All of your magic is in the car when you unload."
HOW MANY THINGS DID YOU HAVE TO CHANGE ON THE CAR? "I don't know. As the driver, when you walk up to the crew chief after the 'Room of Doom' (inspection), he's either smiling or he's got a frown. I don't know what it was, but there are little gray areas where you might have been borderline when you come through for qualifying that aren't accepted anymore. In practice, we might have had a few things that were borderline, and when it came time for qualifying they make sure you're not in the gray area."
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE NEW RULES WILL DO TO THE RACING AND TO SAFETY FOR SUNDAY? "I'm real curious to see how it plays out. We put smaller fuel cells in the cars to bring the pit stops into play and separate everyone. Now when you bring in the high drag and a big restrictor plate, it's harder to shake people loose in the draft. So now you're going to have us all back in groups. How that works out and if we have pockets of cars spread out around the track but they are able to pass among those pockets, I guess that's the main goal. Hopefully that will work out. If we have caution flag stops on the first run, it's going to be so easy to stay in the pack. The bigger the hole the car in front of you punches, the easier it is to keep up. On top of that, now we've got more horsepower to run up in that pocket. So I would anticipate a very good race for the fans. There's going to be a lot of passing. The follow-the-leader stuff won't be taking place like it did earlier in the year. It's kind of a trade-off. I know it's a hard job to thin us out while keeping us racing. I think we'll get a better feel for it in practice tomorrow."
CAN YOU HAVE A SAFE RACE AND AN EXCITING RACE AT THE SAME TIME? "I think all of them are exciting. Nobody wants anybody injured. Nobody wants crashes. Nobody wants big pile-ups. I climb in that race car every time knowing I can be injured or killed. Something can happen. But I think we've made huge strides in the drivers' compartments, in the gear that we wear, and the SAFER walls. I think we've made the sport so much safer than it was a year ago, or two years ago. But it's not of concern to me. It seems to be a very popular question. But we all entered into this knowing how dangerous this sport is. It's the same with the pit crew guys going over the wall. We don't want anybody struck on pit road. But they all climb over that wall knowing that they're doing a dangerous job."
ARE THE CREW CHIEFS SURPRISED THAT NASCAR TIGHTENED THE RULES DURING INSPECTION OR THAT THEY DID WHAT THEY SAID THEY WOULD DO? "Typically, if you make it through a couple of times pretty easily, you get the sensation that you're going to be golden. We went through tech a couple of times with no issues or problems.
"We came through for qualifying and it seemed like they took a little bit closer look at things. And that's their job and that's what they're supposed to do. Of course I'm disappointed because it seemed like it affected us. But if it would have slowed everybody else down and not affected us, I'd be smiling and thinking everything is how it needs to be."
ARE YOU LOOKING FOR ANOTHER TOP PERFORMANCE LIKE YOU HAD HERE IN THE SPRING? "I'm really excited to come back and plate race. I know a lot of people don't like to come. We've been very fortunate and have not been caught up in big wrecks and lost race cars or points. So, I've had a great experience. One thing I'm excited to see is what the high drag with the big restrictor plate is going to do. The Busch Series rules and past Winston Cup rules are very similar. That package with the plate and the drag is very similar. I haven't been in that configuration before and I'm looking forward to seeing what that does. I think it will mix the race up some and there will be more passing and maybe a little different strategy that plays out. I'm just going to have to be on my game to understand where to put myself with these new rules so I don't get left out."