Atlanta II: Johnson, Earnhardt Jr post-race transcript

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS, FINISHED 2ND: DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS, FINISHED 3RD Q: ON THE RACE: DALE EARNHARDT JR.: "We had a real good car at the start of the race. It was really fast on new...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS, FINISHED 2ND:
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS, FINISHED 3RD

Q: ON THE RACE:

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: "We had a real good car at the start of the race. It was really fast on new tires and really slow on old tires. But we could get a big enough lead there that at the end of the run we could kind of siphon back to third and be okay once the caution came out and the pit stops were ready to be made.

"We tried to adjust on the car in the middle of the race to try to fix the long run set-up and we took away the speed that the car had at the start of the run, but we were able to kind of maintain better. There at the end, Tony (Stewart) and the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) were just really, really good and we weren't quite as good. Me and Matt (Kenseth) had a great battle and me and him had really competitive cars with each other and that's where we kind of ended up."

JIMMIE JOHNSON: "It was a good race for us. We struggled at the beginning of the race. We ran decent on track position, but I wasn't a threat for the win. I ran with the No. 8 (Earnhardt Jr.,) and the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the No. 20 (Tony Stewart). We kept working on the car all day long. When the sun went down I think it helped me out a little bit and I became a little more competitive and was able to race with Tony and race him for the win. So it was a great night for us."

Q: WAS THE SUNSET A PROBLEM AT THE END OF THE DAY?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: "Yeah, the sun sets down over in Turn 2 so it's kind of cool. Like at California it sets at the end of the straightaway, which is a mother."

Q: CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOU MOOD RELATIVE TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP? ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC NOW BECAUSE YOU'RE CLOSER THAN YOU'VE BEEN THE LAST 2 YEARS?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I'm certainly optimistic. I'm closer than I've eve been, number-wise, to the lead in the Chase. So I'm very excited about that. There is still a lot of racing left and the points are so close that you can't afford to have a problem or anything. So I'm excited. I'm optimistic. I'm looking forward to the tracks we have coming up. I think all three of them are good for us. We'll just race hard and see what happens."

Q: DO YOU THINK THIS IS GOING TO BE A TREND WHERE ONE OR MORE OF THE MOST POPULAR DRIVERS IS GOING TO BE OUT OF THE CHASE?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: "Well, obviously you're not going to see the same 10 in the Chase every year. So that means somebody's got to sit out. Tony was in the Chase without much of a worry at one point in the season and then he had a couple of bad runs and it just took him out of the Chase. I was in that situation at one point. It's tough to get in the Chase. It's tough to get in there. It's unfortunate for Tony, but they're making the best of it. Obviously have the bragging rights with all the points and wins that they've gotten during the Chase races they love kind of making their points. So I'm sure they're having a good time with this."

JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I'll just add to that and say the sport is really tough and there are more than 10 teams that are capable of winning the championship. Last year Junior didn't make it and Jeff (Gordon) wasn't in it. This year it's Tony (Stewart). I think it says a lot for our sport and the competition that's out there. It's what we've all wanted is to have 15 or 20 cars that are capable of winning a race in the championship and we have it."

Q: WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU SAW THE LEADERS DIVE ONTO PIT ROAD AND YOU WERE STUCK OUT THERE. HAD YOU DECIDED TO STAY OUT? WHAT WAS GOING ON THERE?

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: "Well I was thinking surely we weren't going to pit. But everybody's looking like they were going to pit so I pulled way up the track trying to be like, 'Yo, everybody, no. Up here. Don't pit.' (laughter). And they just went on. And I wasn't in any position to go to pit road. I'd have tore the left front off the car if I had drove off the race track at that angle.

"So I was sitting there thinking I guess I'm going to have to do this by myself. I wish I had got tires. I wanted to get tires if the leaders had gotten tires. It was a long race and maybe I just, you know, the duration of the race kind of got to my decision-making process a little bit. I wasn't in any position to get to pit road. So I started thinking too, you know, during practice if you come in and make a change and go back out, you can run pretty close to what you ran on new tires for a lap or two.

"So I obviously wasn't as good as Tony or Jimmie and didn't think we would be able to hold them off and hadn't anticipated holding them off. I just wanted to at least finish fourth or better where I was when I was thinking about pitting in the first place."

Q: YOU APPEARED TO MAKE A HARD LEFT TURN AND FOLLOW THE NO. 20 DOWN PIT ROAD. WERE YOU GOING TO DO WHAT THE NO. 20 DID, OR WERE YOU GOING TO COME IN ANYWAY?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I think we were all trying to look around and see who was going to pit and who wasn't going to pit. I got confused and thought the No. 31 was still on the lead lap so I saw the No. 8 and the No 31 up; Tony wasn't all the way committed to the bottom and I could see the guys behind me thinking and wondering what was going to go on. And then when I saw Tony hit pit road, the rest of the guys in my mirror behind me were moving in that direction as well. And I barely got on pit road. Luckily I didn't clip the end of the cone that's parked down there in the end. I almost hit that thing and I almost hit the back of the No. 20. So luckily I got on. I just about threw it away getting to pit road because it was such a last minute decision."

Q: WHAT IS YOUR GUT TELLING YOU RIGHT NOW?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I feel great about it. But I'm sure every team feels that way though. I'm sure Junior feels he's got a great shot. He's close, mathematically. Matt (Kenseth) is coming up to some good tracks. I think that everybody is in a good spot. I don't think anybody is really worried about not performing. It's just going to come down to luck and maybe who can outscore one another on the track."

Q: YOU SEEM TO HAVE THREE SEASONS THIS YEAR WITH 17 TOP-10'S IN THE FIRST 21 RACES AND THEN YOU WON A BUNCH OF RACES WITHOUT A TOP FIVE AND THEN IN THE LAST FIVES WEEKS YOU'VE REALLY PICKED IT UP. WHAT'S BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR THE TURNAROUND?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: "We typically are slow in August for whatever reason and this year we were able to win the Brickyard. I felt like we were more competitive in that month or two in the summer than in other years. I don't know why. Maybe it's just tracks that don't fit me, or the team. As we get into the final 10 races, these area all good tracks for me. That would have more to do with it than anything. We as a team, don't pick certain parts of the season to try to perform better. Obviously, if we can hold onto anything we want to save it for the final 10. But making the final 10 is a challenge all it's own. I think it's more about the tracks and our style than anything."

Q: SHOULD THERE BE AN EXEMPTION FOR A GUY WHO IS DOING REALLY WELL BUT DIDN'T MAKE THE CHASE, BE ELEVATED TO THE CHASE? RIGHT NOW, TONY STEWART WOULD BE 2ND:

JIMMIE JOHNSON: "There's got to be a number. There's got to be an ending point. It's top 10. It's what it is. If you ask Tony, he wouldn't have been in a position to win the championship anyway - even on the old point system. I've been lucky enough to be in the Chase, so it's easy for me to sit here and say there should only be 10 cars. But I feel there's got to be a cutoff somewhere. I think 10 cars is more than fair and more than enough to give the fans a shot to watch a good Chase for the Championship. It's kind of how it is. If you're in 11th and didn't make the Chase, you wouldn't have been able to win the championship anyway. It stinks that you can't advance up to the top five. That argument has been battled for years. But it's just how it is."

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: "I have to agree. If those are the type of things that are going on, I'd have a hard time getting up and going to work on Sunday. If they was half-way through the Chase and they said oh hey, we're going to let this guy in and kick this guy out. Making the Chase is not only an opportunity to go for the championship, but it's an opportunity to stand on stage at the end of the season at the Waldorf Astoria and I think that's something that Kyle Busch is really looking forward to. To take that away from him or from anybody for that matter and hand it to someone else over a span of what they've done for five races would be ludicrous."

Q: ON THE SUN SETTING, WAS IT A PROBLEM?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I think the glare was better in this race than what we have in the spring race with the sun's position. This was easier. In the spring race, it's not as bad as California as Junior pointed. The sun sets far enough around the corner that the billboards pick it up, but in California you're staring right at it."

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: "I had a close call. The No. 24 blew the right front I guess going into Turn 1 or hit the wall or whatever. I saw it happen and we were on old tires so I just couldn't really just drive down the race track because I barely missed him and the guy behind me didn't see him. So it was like I pulled out and was going down the interstate and there was a parked car in front him and he ran right into the back of Jeff. It looked like a hell of a wreck but I guess Jeff was able to repair his car.

"It was Jaime McMurray who plowed right into the back of him. So that was a close call."

Q: ON GOING TO TEXAS NEXT WEEK:

JIMMIE JOHNSON: "It's been a decent track for us. We've been learning some things on the 1.5-miles lately and have been a lot more competitive. So, I'm excited going there. Hopefully we can get up there and race for the win. But of the three tracks remaining, I guess I'm not really sure on Phoenix and Texas. But I feel really strong about Homestead. Coming into Martinsville and Atlanta, I felt like we were going to be competitive for the win. Going into Phoenix and Texas, I feel like we'll be competitive for a top five."

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: "I'm looking forward to going to Texas, obviously. We've had a lot of success there with wins. But if I could have a moment to point out an issue with that race track in the center of Turns 1 and 2, the tunnel that goes under the race track - the earth that goes over the top of the tunnel is eroded a little due to rain and compacted a little bit. And there's a huge massive bump up the track in Turn 1 and 2. And we'll never be able to run two and three wide through there as that bump gets worse every year. If they could repair that, that would be awesome. But it's a fun race track. It's starting to age a little bit. In Turns 3 and 4 you can run three wide move around a little bit and it's a lot of fun. But with the springs we're running in these cars now, you're basically forced to run at the bottom in Turns 1 and 2 with the bump you have."

Q: ON GOING TO HOMESTEAD:

DALE EARNHARDT JR.: "I don't know how many of you covered the test, but if I could have Martin's car (Truex Jr.), I'd be feeling pretty good about it. It was really fast. We just have to look at what they did. My car was okay, but his was really fast and very comfortable. I'd like to get up underneath his car and look around and see what he's got in there so I can compare it to what I have and we'll probably be able to do that. I ran okay in the test, but we need to do a little bit more work to be able to compete."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Kyle Busch