Chevy Championship Contending Drivers NASCAR Press Conference Transcript Ford 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway AN INTERVIEW WITH NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES CHEVY CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS KEVIN HARVICK, NO....
Chevy Championship Contending Drivers NASCAR Press Conference Transcript
Ford 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway
AN INTERVIEW WITH NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES CHEVY CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 29 GM GOODWRENCH MONTE CARLO SS
DENNY HAMLIN, NO. 11 FEDEX MONTE CARLO SS
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER MONTE CARLO SS
THE MODERATOR: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup Championship Contenders Press Conference. In merely three years, it is obvious that the NASCAR Chase for the NEXTEL Cup has transformed our sport, attracting new fans while reenergizing old ones. The Chase is the reason the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series is more exciting than ever. It is the reason why NASCAR has its rightful place in the heart and minds of sports fans, not just during the season but year round.
And of course, it is the reason we are here today in this great city leading up to what is promising to be a great race on Sunday, the Ford 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway. NASCAR's playoff system, so controversial when first introduced in 2004, not only now is accepted and acclaimed. That acceptance and acclamation are easy to understand when you come to your season finale with five drivers still in contention for the series championship. An exciting situation that has happened only twice before in the history of NASCAR's premiere series, and one of those times occurring the year the Chase format began in 2004.
We'd like to start the question portion of our press conference by getting a brief opening statement from each of our championship contenders. So guys, question is for each of you. In general what is the confidence level of and you your team heading into Sunday's Ford 400?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We feel good. We feel like on the mile and a half, two mile tracks, you know, we've been up front and competing for wins in each of them. This track has shown some similarities to other tracks we've been so, so we feel confident with the package we're bringing and the car that we're bringing and hopefully we can have a clean race on Sunday.
KEVIN HARVICK: You know, obviously we feel really good coming into this weekend. After last week, we ran really good. We had a really good test down here and it's just one of the racetracks I enjoy coming to. Just looking forward to being a part of it and racing to the end and seeing what happens.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, for myself, you know, we're kind of the unknown. We haven't really run a full race here yet, so we don't know exactly yet what we're going to have here. In testing, Gibbs whole organization usually if we're 40th fastest, we're pretty happy. We usually come back with a lot better stuff. I think we're somewhere in the 30's in testing. So hopefully it should be pretty fast.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We tested pretty decent. We haven't really run that good here in a long time, so we tested really, really hard. Martin's (Truex, Jr.) car was really, really fast, so hopefully we learned a little bit from that, and we'll see what happens.
Q: Jimmie, you've run really well coming in to this weekend, what would it mean to win the race and clinch the championship that way?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think our goal is to come down and try to keep this weekend as similar to other weekends in the Chase or other weekends in the season and focus on being the best car in practice, being a contender for the pole and contender for the win. We're going to try really hard to keep that mind-set. Where that puts us, I'm not sure. I have a lot of confidence in the package we've been bringing to the mile and a half, two-mile tracks lately.
If we're in a position to win, great. If not, the goal is to be the champion and we want to do the right things to be the champion. I don't think it would be smart to take unneeded risks if I don't need to.
So it's just one of those things we're going to have to play it by ear and see what's going on during the race, how the race develops and what we need it do during the race. If it means (inaudible) and it wouldn't mean that we need to win the race to be the champion, but there's no telling what spot I might have to get into to be the champion. I'll do everything I can at that point.
Q: You talked about pretty much since the middle of the season that you had a different feeling about the season and you said to us a couple of weeks ago, you go to sleep with a smile on your face, etc.; does that feeling continue now, or because the hour draws near, does anxiety start to creep back in?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The anxiety and butterflies I think always will be there. I have a very good outlook on the way our cars are going to drive (inaudible) the tracks, I should say, in the Chase that are coming to us. As a team we are a lot stronger this year and have a better mind-set than we have the four years we've been in the sport. There's just a lot of things going in the right direction. I'm excited to go to the track. I'm excited to drive these race cars. So I'm just keeping that momentum and that mind-set going and definitely carrying into this weekend, there's no doubt as the race draws near or even in parts of the race, that my mind and probably all of our minds at some point will start playing games on each driver.
It's just one of those things that takes place. It's just the pressure that comes with it. I think that's what makes everybody special different up here is you're able to deal with those pressures and deal with those things and be excited about it and perform when you're in that moment.
Q: Has this week been any different personally as far as what's on the line going in? Have you done anything different?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Not really. Same stuff. Took Monday for myself. Tuesday I went to the shop. Shot my XM radio show. Visited with the crew guys. Yesterday I shot a spot for a sponsor and been here. So it's really been just a normal, typical week. And by design, my wife and our staff, everyone around HMS (Hendrick Motorsports), we've tried to keep everything the same, just business as usual.
Q: On team's recovery from Daytona issues.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That was so early in the season, I didn't think that it would derail our championship hopes. You know, looking back on it, I think it's helped our race team. It's made Chad Knaus a smarter, stronger crew chief. Same for me as a driver; team is stronger and smarter and we've matured a lot through it all.
Looking back on it, I hated going through that experience. It was attention that we didn't want for the 48 team and for the Chad and for the whole organization. But we've learned a lot from it, and I think we're stronger today because of it?
Q: If Jimmie has a problem, how do you guys go into the race, what's your preparation knowing you can't control what the 48 team does (inaudible) in case the opportunity to win the championship presents itself?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think it's the same, you just go out and you do everything that you've been doing, and really, nothing else that you can do. 48's been good week-in and week-out. If smog happens, you guys are going to be in trouble because you won't have anything else to write about.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, for us, we're in a situation where we really don't have anything to prove anything else for this whole season.
You know, it's been a great season for us, and whether Jimmie has problems or not, you know, we're going into this weekend thinking that based on performance, we can finish second or we can end up fifth in points. So we've just got to continue doing the things we have done all year, and the biggest thing for us is not putting ourselves in a hole like we have for the past few weeks, other than Phoenix. We've been a lap down or something and had to battle back at the end of the race for the last four or five weeks in a row. We don't need to put ourselves in a hole at the beginning of the race if we are going to be contenders by the end of the day.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We're just going to go in there and try to lead on laps and win the race and whatever happens with the points happens with the points. I think it's pretty safe to say that odds are not in our favour, but we have a great shot to run well, so we'll do the best we can.
DENNY HAMLIN: Me and Junior have in this case named this table the Slim Chance Table. (Laughter).
Q: Kevin, you've had one of the best seasons anyone has ever had, winning the Busch championship and now a chance to win the NEXTEL Cup championship, too, can you talk about what the season has meant for you, doing what you've done for Richard Childers racing this year?
KEVIN HARVICK: Obviously going into this year, we didn't know whether everything was going to go. That was one of the reasons why I raced the Busch car, just to give me something to fall back on, you can get away from a lot of things running the Busch car and getting away from a lot of things at the racetrack while you're in the car.
You know, to go out and win a championship, and we won as many races this year as I've won in my whole career on the Cup side, we've won 14 races between the two cars. That's a pretty good year regardless of whether we win this championship or not.
It's been great to be a part of. I know from our standpoint, our teammates have run good and everybody is communicating well together and the organization has taken a 180?-degree turn from where it was last year at this time.
It's hard to not get greedy at this point and say, you know, we want to win the championship. But if we don't, it's been a great year for us and a great turnaround.
Q: There is a lot of money out there to be won, is there a mentality of running second for your sponsor and for your team and for the money?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think for us, it's the same thing. We just want to go out and do the best you can. Obviously we know that we need to go out and be aggressive this week to try to lead laps and try to win the race.
So you know, if that works against us in the end, fine. It's okay. As long as we go down trying to do what we need to do.
DENNY HAMLIN: For myself, within the team, kind of have a little bet going on. Stewart finished fourth his rookie year and I'd like to better that. Yeah, there's always a little rivalry, competition with the teammates.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I think we've got a third-place finish I think a couple years back, so we'd like to at least equal or better that.
Q: For the Slim Chance Table, how aggressive can you be knowing where you are in the points, can you just kind of go for it knowing you don't have anything to lose?
DENNY HAMLIN: For myself, we're looking back and I think sixth place is 160?-some back. So performance-wise, we shouldn't fall back to sixth. If something bad happens, we could.
But, you know, we're looking at we're tied for third or fourth in points and you know, we can move forward but the way we look at it, we can only move back one, based on performance, so we're just going to go all out with it and pretty much run every lap like the last.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I think we're going to have the 2000 in the right rear, so I'd be going for it for us. (Laughter)
Continued in part 2