Homestead: Pole winner interview

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS -- POLE WINNER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT THIS IS YOUR FOURTH POLE IN 2009 AND YOUR SECOND POLE AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY AND YOUR 23RD POLE OVERALL. YOU MENTIONED YOU WANTED TO START UP FRONT AND...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS -- POLE WINNER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS YOUR FOURTH POLE IN 2009 AND YOUR SECOND POLE AT HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY AND YOUR 23RD POLE OVERALL. YOU MENTIONED YOU WANTED TO START UP FRONT AND YOU'VE CERTAINLY ACCOMPLISHED THAT.

"Yeah I'm definitely excited for the track position and having that first pit stall. One thing that a lot of you (media) might know is how difficult pit road is here when the sun is setting to find your pit box and even see the parameters of your pit box. So there are a lot of reasons to qualify well and I'm very happy that we did. From practice to qualifying I was thinking long and hard about my lap. We didn't have the lap we were hoping for in practice. We got off to a slow start in practice but in practice on the last sticker run that we made, I just tried way too hard; and I'm glad that I did because I really pushed myself and the car and I found the limit of where traction was down in (Turns) 3 and 4. And with Mark's (Martin) great 3 and 4, it was really important for me to not give any time away down there. I'm proud of the focus I had. A lot of the laps I drove in my mind and went out there and put in a good one."

GIVEN THE DRIVERS WHO WILL START AROUND YOU, ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE START OF THE RACE?

"Man, I typically wouldn't be but having lived through the Texas experience, I'm not taking anything for granted. And I just need to make sure I get through the gears good and strong and judging by what Scott (Speed, qualified second) said, he doesn't like the outside so I'll take the inside and hope that all those things together slow him up and I can clear him off of (Turn) 2 and lead a lap. Regardless of how the start goes if he ends up leading a lap, just the fact of being in the top five, the air is so much better on the cars. I'm not going to worry too much about it. We did an awesome job today and I feel that the start will go smoothly. I'm happy to hear that both Marcos (Ambrose, qualified 3rd) and Scott recognize what's going on. Those guys have both raced for championships and they know what it's like to get to the final race and you want that halo and you want some space. So I don't have any big issues."

THIS IS NOT YOUR BEST TRACK. WHAT WAS IT TODAY, THE WEATHER OR YOU ON THAT FAST LAP?

"I struggled at the start of practice. A lot like Mark, we were both kind of committed to the lower side of the race track. A lot of guys were in race trim and quickly found that the top was the place to be. And I think I had two or three runs in qualifying trim where I tried the top. I'm typically not the first one up to the top and I'm not always the fastest up there so it was outside of my comfort zone. I felt good about it. I thankfully tried too hard on my last sticker run and crossed the line and thought long and hard about my lap and got a good lap. So the draw definitely helped, but I really god the lap well. I'm very proud of the line I drove and the commitment I had because going into (Turn) 1, it's pretty blind and I think with Juan's (Montoya) lap, I think his lap would have been a lot faster except the fact that in (Turn) 1 it looked like he washed up the track and kind of got in the dirty stuff and I think that was because of the sun.

So you kind of go into (Turn) 1 blind and hope that you let off at the right spot and the car is going to stop sliding in time and I did all that just right."

YOU'VE BEEN SAYING ALL WEEK YOU WANT TO QUALIFY UP FRONT. IS THIS A BIG SENSE OF RELIEF OR IS IT MORE LIKE CHECK THE BOX, BUSINESS AS USUAL?

"It's both, for sure. I always hope for a pole but leaving practice and going into qualifying I didn't have that feeling that this was a good shot for a pole today. And then Mark (Martin) ran his lap early and I'm like oh, we've got to get going. I knew I had committed to the top with the set-up of the race car and started questioning where I was going to run on the track. So there is some relief. At the same time I'm trying to keep it simple and say yup, today's behind us. Sleep well tonight but treat tomorrow like a whole new day; first day at the track and start all over again."

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT CROSS THE LINE FELT LIKE?

"Yeah, in practice I went out on scuffs and ran the top and ran my fastest lap. Knowing when I put the stickers on, the grip level goes up a lot more and you kind of take it as you go. So I went through (Turns) 3 and 4 and the car felt great coming to the green. In Turns 1 and 2 I really got through there well. I thought that there may be more grip for (Turns) 3 and 4. I went into (Turn) 3 with too much speed and what I meant by crossing the line was I just got in too fast and the car started moving up the track and I crossed the line of where the maximum grip was. I guess, looking back, what I did in (Turns) 1 and 2 was right and I asked for too much at the other end. And when that happened, I slid out of the groove and into the dirty stuff and almost got into the wall. So I remembered my braking point. We have shift lights in the car to tell you what the rpm is and came up with a good idea of where I needed to be and where I needed to let off; the arc going into the corner, there's a bump or two that I think also hurt me on that lap when I got in there too deep. I just hoped I would do it right and I got through there and did it."

IS THAT LIKE AN 'OH SHOOT MOMENT'? OR IS THAT OKAY, I KNOW WHERE THIS IS (laughter)

"And you guys call me vanilla? (laughs....more laughter). In practice it was that 'Oh sh*t moment'. I got in too deep, got on the brakes and the splitter touched, and then as I got off the brakes I had used up all of the groove and was into the dirty stuff. And I really thought I was hitting the wall. It was one of those moments when I thought, 'Oh, man, this is the last thing we need to do before qualifying at the last race of the year, is right-side the car.' So it was one of those moments. I thought about it for a long time and changed my brake technique and a couple of small things to keep the splitter off the ground and it worked. But it sucks when you cross that line that I was talking about. Johnny Benson told me this year's ago. He said when you leave a corner and you're on the straightaway and you think man, there may have been a little bit more, that's usually when you've got everything because you always go to the next turn and you're like, dang it, I got in here too hard and blah-blah-blah; so that was one of those moments. I just didn't recognize it at the time."

WHAT DO YOU REALLY EXPECT FROM ANOTHER DRIVER AS FAR AS A HALO; AND ARE THERE DRIVERS OUT THERE THAT HAVE THE POTENTIAL OF AN 'OH SHOOT' MOMENT?

"Our cars are so aero-sensitive that the biggest concern I have is guys just leaving an extra foot around the car. Earlier in the year, especially when the race is winding down and you only have a few laps left, you can drive in and really put a lot of air under the back of someone and make them loose. You can sit on the right-rear quarter panel and take the air off the side of their car and make them loose and put them in a situation where they have to lay off the gas. On top of the fact that it's nice to have a little extra room out there in case somebody does slip a little bit, you don't have contact. But really, the side-by-side running is one of the most difficult things. And at the start, I would just hope that Scott leaves me a couple of feet so that it doesn't suck the car around; that's all I'm asking. Everybody needs to race well here for a reason. Everybody is trying to finish as strong as they can. So it's not let's not race, it's lets race but let's just give each other a little bit more room.

"There certainly are situations and it changes and there are personalities for equipment reasons they're not the best equipment; other times, guys that you wouldn't expect are just having a bad day and their car isn't driving well. So there really is no safe approach. Sometimes it seems obvious but other times you just don't know. We've seen the best spin out and lose it. I've don't it plenty of times and (Tony) Stewart has and you look at (Dale Earnhardt) Junior last week and his situation. If we were in that pack where he was, we would have just been tore up like the No. 14 was or a bunch of those cars were. So it can happen anywhere and that's why track position is so important and why I was so focused on today and so happy to have today behind us because it just lessens the odds."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt