Darlington II: Raybestos Rookie pre-race interviews

RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE CONTENDER JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET. JOHNSON IS THE LEADING RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE IN WINSTON CUP. HE ENTERS SUNDAY'S RACE AT DARLINGTON WITH A THREE POINT LEAD (297-294) IN THE CHASE FOR TOP ROOKIE HONORS. JOHNSON...

RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE CONTENDER JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET. JOHNSON IS THE LEADING RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE IN WINSTON CUP. HE ENTERS SUNDAY'S RACE AT DARLINGTON WITH A THREE POINT LEAD (297-294) IN THE CHASE FOR TOP ROOKIE HONORS. JOHNSON IS FIFTH IN WINSTON CUP POINTS, 145 BEHIND LEADER STERLING MARLIN. ENTERING THE MOUNTAIN DEW SOUTHERN 500, JOHNSON HAS THREE POLES, TWO WINS, FIVE TOP-FIVE AND 14 TOP-10 FINISHES. JOHNSON FINISHED SIXTH IN THE CAROLINA DODGE DEALERS 400 THIS PAST MARCH AT DARLINGTON.

"I think the veterans have an upper hand on the Raybestos® Rookies at Darlington and Rockingham. They've been there enough times to know how to budget their tires at the beginning of a run and how much they can slide them around and beat up on them and still be fast at the end of a run. I've been there for three years now and in the spring there in the Winston Cup car I had a great run. I finally understood how hard I could push it at the beginning and still have something left at the end of run. I think it will actually favor a veteran especially with how many quirks that Darlington has and the ways to get around there. I think it plays into the veterans hands."

HOW HARD IS IT TO LEARN TO RACE AND RACE WELL AT DARLINGTON?

"It's hard because your margin for error is real small. There's not a lot of room. The groove is real narrow and there are some really tight spots, especially off of turn two if you do something wrong you run out of racetrack in a hurry and you end up in a wreck. It's a very challenging racetrack."

HOW MUCH WILL HEAT BE A FACTOR AT DARLINGTON?

"I thought Indy was warm but I still felt fine at the end of the race. At Darlington, you have a lot more going on inside the car plus with the heat, I'm sure it will be a tough day."

RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE CONTENDER RYAN NEWMAN, NO. 12 ALLTEL FORD. NEWMAN WAS THE RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE OF THE RACE IN MARCH AT DARLINGTON, CLAIMING A FIFTH PLACE FINISH AND WAS ALSO THE TOP QUALIFYING ROOKIE IN MARCH, TAKING THE THIRD STARTING POSITION IN TIME TRIALS. NEWMAN HAS RACKED UP TWO POLES, 10 TOP-FIVE AND 13 TOP-10 FINISHES THIS SEASON ENTERING SUNDAY'S RACE.

DO YOU LIKE RACING AT DARLINGTON?

"I like it a lot. It's a fun track to drive on. It's got a lot of grip for about one lap (laughs). It's a driver's race track. You have to be really smooth and you have to take care of your tires. It's kind of tough to pass on sometimes so you have to be strategic when it comes to offense and passing."

HOW HARD IS IT TO MAKE A QUALIFYING RUN AT DARLINGTON?

"That's the thing. It's good for everybody for one lap so to beat everybody you have to be just a little bit better. You've got to carry all the speed you can. Then the hard part is that if you qualify well you abuse those tires and you've got to start the race with them so it makes it difficult. It's definitely a fun place to qualify at because you can really carry a lot of speed on a track that loses grip right away."

WHY DO YOU LIKE DARLINGTON?

"Because it's a driver's race track. It's not a cookie-cutter race track. One and two is different from three and four and you have to be a driver to get around it and it's proven to be that way in the past 50 years, I guess."

HOW HARD IS IT TO STAY OUT OF TROUBLE AT DARLINGTON?

"It's tough. You saw what happened, the big crash that we had in the spring race. You've got to be in the right spot at the right time. It's a tough place to pass on but it's a great racetrack and there is plenty of passing that happens there. You've got to be a little more calculated and I think that's what makes it a driver's race track."

DO YOU THINK THE TIRE WEAR EVENS THE PLAYING FIELD BETWEEN THE RAYBESTOS® ROOKIES AND THE VETERANS?

"That doesn't make any difference, that's just something for somebody to talk about. It doesn't change a thing. It doesn't matter what race track you're on there's going to be old drivers, young drivers, drivers who are 35 years old. It doesn't matter. The tire wear doesn't change anything. It's the same for everybody, it's just who can manage it the best is going to be the best car."

RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE SCOTT RIGGS, NO. 10 NESTLE NESQUICK FORD. RIGGS LEADS THE RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE CONTENDER STANDINGS BY 63 POINTS (277-214) OVER JOHNNY SAUTER. HE WAS THE TOP QUALIFYING ROOKIE AT THE DARLINGTON RACEWAY.COM 200 IN MARCH, TAKING FOURTH STARTING POSITION. RIGGS FINISHED 20TH IN THE RACE. IN 2002, RIGGS HAS TWO POLES, TWO WINS, SEVEN TOP-FIVE AND 11 TOP-10 FINISHES. HE IS FIFTH IN BUSCH SERIES POINTS, 45 BEHIND FOURTH PLACE SCOTT WIMMER.

"If you have a good car it's fun. We went there the first time and sort of struggled; couldn't quite get the car comfortable to me, even tested there and still couldn't quite get comfortable like we needed. I hit the wall about six times and knocked the exhaust pipes out from under the car so we didn't have a very good experience the last time that we were there. I feel like we've learned a lot since we've been there and I look forward to going back and try to redeem ourselves. I hope we don't have to put any wood on the right side of our car to keep from rubbing against the wall too hard. I look forward to going back. Jason (Keller, Riggs' teammate) has always been good there. I tried to learn as much as I could from him. I just didn't quite have the car that I needed the last time."

DOES THE TIRE WEAR EQUALIZE THINGS BETWEEN THE ROOKIES AND THE VETERANS AT DARLINGTON?

"I think where the experience really comes into play is where the experienced guys can set their cars up knowing what it needs to feel like to have a good car there. Guys like myself that don't have that much experience there we have to keep trying different things and see what's going to be faster but it's still a guessing game to know what's going to be fast on a long run, what's going to feel comfortable on 50 lap tires because the tires change so much. Your car can feel so good on new tires, even 20 lap tires feel pretty good, but that 50 lap, that's when it really hairy. That's when you really get to a sliding stage. The veterans, the people with more experience, have a better idea of what the car needs to feel like on those new tires to still feel good and comfortable on old tires."

DOES TESTING MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE AT DARLINGTON? RIGGS TESTED PRIOR TO THE MARCH RACE AT DARLINGTON BUT THE TEAM DID NOT TEST PRIOR TO THE SOUTH CAROLINA 200.

"I thought it would. I finished third there in the trucks and I thought we'd be pretty good going back there in the Busch car. When the car is not really comfortable and not working well, it's a handful because the track is so fast and so narrow. I wouldn't mind going back and testing again just to try and get a little better balance on the race car and a better feel for what the car is going to be like on long runs."

RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE JOHNNY SAUTER, NO. 2 ACDELCO CHEVROLET. SAUTER TOOK RAYBESTOS® ROOKIE OF THE RACE HONORS AT THE DARLINGTONRACEWAY.COM 200 IN MARCH WITH AN 11TH PLACE FINISH.

"I love it .That's a run racetrack to me. It's two different corners, it's slick; it's more of a racy racetrack. It's not so aerodynamically dependant. The guy slips a little bit, you get a run, and you can get him. It's a fun driver's racetrack, if that's what you like."

ONCE THE TIRES WEAR OUT, ARE THE ROOKIES AND THE VETERANS BOTH ON EQUAL GROUND?

"Whoever can manage their tires the longest, obviously, and be consistent and be smooth on the throttle and baby those tires for the long haul. You're not going to see it in 20 laps but you'll see it in 30 and 40 laps. Sometimes you get good, long runs there. I'm looking forward to going back there. I'm excited."

IS IT HARD TO STAY OUT OF TROUBLE AT DARLINGTON?

"It is. Everybody else is slipping and sliding around and it's easy to make contact there. The big thing about Darlington for me is going back a second time to a race track that I have been to, getting to go back to someplace I know. Maybe everybody will lay off me a little bit about running the racetracks wrong and stuff like that."

-raybestos-

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Series NASCAR Cup