Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo: "I'm just glad I was able to run a clean day today and not make any mistakes and win. On the judgment calls: "When that last caution flag came out I was bummed out because I saw Mark ...
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo:
"I'm just glad I was able to run a clean day today and not make any mistakes and win.
On the judgment calls:
"When that last caution flag came out I was bummed out because I saw Mark (Martin) smoking. I thought the caution was for him, but it looked like it ended up being for Kenny Schrader and he did oil down the track. But Mark's right front was smoking real bad. I did not want to see that caution. I knew it was going to come down to a two-tire stop. And I knew that two tires at the end weren't going to help. We decided on the radio to stay out. I'm not exactly sure what the No. 9 (Elliott) did, but if the race was much longer, he was coming hard and was going to beat us on fresh tires. So I'm glad it was a short sprint and we were able to let our strong run show up. On one of those pit stops, we came out and relined up in 10th because a lot of guys stayed out. I was able to drive to the lead and take the lead from Ricky Rudd. When that caution came out I thought, 'Great - here we have the dominant car and it's not going to pull through for us today.' But luckily we stayed out and it did."
Any close calls today?
"There was a couple. Trying to come through the pack there at the end, I got into the No. 7 (Casey Atwood) there a little bit and got underneath him. I was close and I thought his spotter might have said something. But late in the race, he came down and we touched a little bit. I'm glad he didn't hit the wall or anything.
"I do feel bad for Mark Martin. I missed the accident. But when everything started happening off of (turn) 2, the hole he was heading for closed up in an instant and he ran into the side of somebody and there was an opening for me to go through. You never know until it's over."
On the points race and moving into 2nd place
"I'm not going to pay too much attention to it. Our goals are to try to win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. If we're able to accomplish that, I think we'll be in the top 10 or 15 in points. We do have a shot, but my inexperience in these cars and around this stuff I guess we might be a darkhorse if we were to be anything. But if we just keep finishing races, it will take care of itself."
Do you dare to think how many wins this team could have this year?
"I hope a lot more. We've been close to four in a row. If you put yourself in position, you can have them."
On the last caution:
"We drove all the way from 10th up to the lead and had a nice cushion over Ricky Rudd. When that last caution came out, I knew something wacky was going to happen with two tires or four tires. Track position was very important. That was our fastest run and the car was pretty balanced and we didn't want to take a chance of something happening on pit road or somebody taking two tires and putting us back a couple of positions. So we decided to stay out and we brought the Lowe's Monte Carlo home for its second win."
On conquering the Monster Mile:
"I ran two years here in the Busch Series and that really prepared me well and taught me a lot about the racetrack. Qualifying here, you're on the edge of your seat. But race-wise, the car can't take a beating like that all day long and you have to slow down and be nice to the right front (tire) and take your time. I just picked a good pace and the car stayed underneath me all day long. They gave me a great car."
On being the second Winston Cup rookie to win at Dover - Davey Allison was the first in 1987
"He was one of my heroes when I watched Winston Cup racing on television when I was growing up. It's neat to be a part of those statistics. It's just incredible to have three poles, two wins, and be second in points here in just our rookie season.
"Obviously we had a great car today. We ran in the top five throughout the majority of the race. We get bad fuel mileage. I'm partly responsible for it. On top of that, we're building a lot of power and you end up burning a lot of fuel. We had to pit and Rudd stayed out. A bunch of stuff was playing out then and we ended up 10th on the restart. At that point, I was just trying to get a top five. But before I knew it, we ran out of cars and the No. 28 was right there in front of me. We were able to get by him and when that last caution came out, I knew it was going to shake the bag up a bunch. We discussed whether to take two tires or four or to just stay out. Mr. Hendrick came on the radio and said, 'I think you boys need to stay out.' We laughed a little bit and decided to stay out.
"Lowe's and Chad Knaus give us everything we need. Hendrick Motorsports gives us everything we need. Right now, it's clicking. I just wish we could bottle it up store it for 100 years and just keep doing this forever. But we're going to enjoy the wave while it's here."
On learning about the Dover from Jeff Gordon's success
"Jeff had a dominant run here last year and we came with that set-up package in the car. Chad has been pushing the envelope with set-ups and technology with some of the engineers at Hendrick Motorsports and we've been finding a lot of speed in the cars. So we come with that standard package and work from there. We've been able to improve on it at a lot of these racetracks.
"Jeff helps me out in more ways than he realizes. I spend a lot of time studying his data and looking at what he does in the car and his habits of driving the car and compare them to mine. I've been able to understand his versions of driving in the corner too hard are, and what he thinks picking the gas up early means. So I can adjust my style accordingly so that when I go ask him a question, we're talking the same stuff. It's really kept me in check. They're just simple one-liners. He doesn't realize how much these one-liners mean and what I'm learning from him."
On having such an incredible rookie season so far:
"Six months ago, I was shaking a little about what this season was going to hold for me. I ran three races last year. At LMS, I showed some promise, but I was just out there getting experience. Nothing flashy. After Rockingham, when we were racing up front, that's when this little dream started. It's kept up. I never ever would have thought we'd have this kind of success."
On sitting on the pole at Dover while in ASA:
"When we came here in the ASA car ('99), the largest track I'd been on was a mile at Milwaukee. It's a very flat racecar. For an ASA car, when I sat on the pole here, I ran flat out all the way around this track. And an ASA car doesn't have the horsepower, but it's very light and has a lot of left-side weight. There's a very small rollcage around you. We were all petrified about hitting the wall. I sat on the pole by three or four-tenths and when it was over, I was shaking. I wondered if I'd ever get comfortable on a track this fast and this big. It's amazing what four or five years of experience will do for you."
Do you feel pressure with all this success?
"I felt a lot of pressure coming into this season and driving for Hendrick Motorsports. Jeff Gordon had just won the championship. There was a lot of pressure that I tried to hide. I tried to approach it just like I have every other racing opportunity I've ever had. My parents didn't have the means to put me in racecars growing up. I knew a lot of people and through my dad's connections at the racetrack I was able to get a ride. And then I had to make the most of it. There was a lot of pressure on me then, so I've been used to a lot of pressure.
"With Lowe's and Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon being laid back as they have, it took some pressure off. But there still was pressure. I think the hurdle for us and the pressure for us is going to be to continue to run up front. We're setting some high expectations now. And when that doesn't happen and when we hit a slump, that's when the pressure's going to hit. We're all preparing for it as a team and talking about enjoying the highs while they're here. When the lows come, it'll be a character building opportunity and we'll try to make the most of it. The true test will be when it happens, and that could be the next six races or six years down the road. Everyone hits it through their career."
Was this your first time on this track in a Winston Cup car?
Did Jeff Gordon's magic at Dover rub off on you?
"It seems like it has. Last night we talked about the rhythm of the race and how to run the top groove here. (For example), I used the top groove to save my tires during different parts of the run."
On pit strategy leading to the wins at both California and Dover
"Ultimately, it's Chad's decision. In California, he made the decision at the last minute on pit road for fuel only and it worked out. When you take this risk, you've got to have the speed in the car. In both situations, we had the speed in the car and were able to deliver when the pressure was put on us. There were other situations late in the races where we could have gambled, but we just knew it wouldn't pay off. So you just wait until you see that situation develop and take your best shot at it. Chad's nailed two of them now."
Does this seem easier than you thought it would be?
"I've been driving my entire career to get to this point and I'm very amazed that it's come this early. There's nothing easy about it. I had two opportunities - one at Richmond and one at Lowe's - and I blew it. Can't blame anyone but myself. I wrecked at Richmond and slid through the pits at Charlotte. It's just as easy to win as it is to lose them. I found out late in both of those events."
Did not winning at Charlotte last week fire you up to run better at Dover this week?
"Well, I won't slide through my pits again and I won't race Jimmy Spencer late in the race as hard as I did at Richmond. We had a team meeting before the race and talked about those expectations. We know that if we think we've got to win at every track, we're going to make mistakes. Yeah, I was fired-up. I've had a week to sit on the mistake I made at Lowe's. I looked like a baby coming in the pits today, but I didn't slide through and it worked out. I guess it does add a little fire but it doesn't set us on a mission."
Do you thrive on pressure?
"There have been certain times during my career that I've faced pressure but I've gotten used to it. I've learned ways to not let it distract me. There are lots of pressures as a Winston Cup driver that I'm facing and that I'm trying to learn about and get used to. I don't really thrive on pressure. You lose sleep and you don't eat. And it makes you cranky. But I've found a way to deal with it relatively well I think."
Now that you're 2nd in points, is first place within reach?
"We've got a shot at it. Is it realistic? I don't think so. But crazy things happen. If we're at the head table in New York, that would be unreal."