Indianapolis: Brickyard 400 qualifying press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Do you feel like even if Kyle remains kind of a dominant figure going into the Chase, your experience at winning Chase races, winning 11 of them in the four years, offsets that and gives you the same kind of confidence...

Continued from part 1

Q: Do you feel like even if Kyle remains kind of a dominant figure going into the Chase, your experience at winning Chase races, winning 11 of them in the four years, offsets that and gives you the same kind of confidence you had going into it last year?

JOHNSON: I think that even last year and in '06 when I was asked who I would favor for winning the Chase, I would instantly turn to guys that won championships. I rank them first.

So, with that in mind, I would look at Jeff as the top seed. I guess, Tony and I both have two now, and work your way down from there.

Not saying that you can't overcome that, but there is something about it. I experienced it last year. There was something about the fact that you've been through it that brings you a lot of peace, and you start worrying about the right things. I can only imagine as more championships are under a driver's belt, how much more relaxed and focused you can be on the right things through those 10 races.

It's not impossible. Everybody has to win their first, and it certainly could be Kyle's year, and he's shown he's figured out how to win races and win them consistently. I think he's always been fast but has had trouble getting to the end of the races. But now he's grasping that and doing a great job at it.

I hope my experience, I hope I make the Chase. I know that sounds crazy. But you've got to cover that first goal and cross it off the list. After that, I think that with the momentum we have as a team and the experience we have over the last, really, all seven years we've been in the championship hunt, at some point that experience is very important.

Q: How would you describe the learning curve at this track with this particular car in light of what you've been able to put on the board these last two days?

JOHNSON: It's pretty tough. I'm thankful that I figured out how to drive this track with the old car. I feel for the new guys that are coming in, especially someone like Patrick Carpentier. Juan did a great job adapting last year, which was really impressive. But those guys are used to going around here flat out at 225 or whatever, and there is no way you can even think about driving this car like that. Even from last year's car to this year's car, the cars are slower and don't react as well.

It's a track that's extremely inviting and make you want to drive in the corners steep. But you get penalized if you don't hit the corner right. The straightaways are so long that if you miss the center of the turn or get in too hard, you can't get off the corner.

I'm thankful that I figured that out and brought that approach over here. I know my marks, know my reference points. It's tough as a rookie. Tough as a guy that doesn't have a lot of experience in these cars to come and run well here. Probably one of the more difficult tracks to run at.

Q: You seemed pretty relieved when Jeff didn't bump you from the pole. Had Mark gone earlier in the day, would we talk about him winning the pole?

JOHNSON: I don't know. We were watching the temperature and things. It seemed like the track stayed pretty consistent throughout the day. Knowing that I made the mistakes that I did on my lap had me really nervous about the 24, about the 8.

There was the 19 that was still left to go that was really strong, so I was definitely worried. I felt like I could have gone .2 or .3 faster if I didn't make the mistakes that I made. Not often you leave something on the table and end up on the pole. So I was pretty nervous for all the guys going.

Even the 10 car, I was nervous about the go-or-go-homers. Because Patrick, you know, is known for his qualifying. He's doing a great job at that, and I was even worried about him.

Q: I wasn't in Chicago, so I apologize if I do not know what I'm talking about. But when Marty was on TV he was talking about the closing laps and he said Kyle stole your will when he passed you. I took that to mean that you were maybe demoralized after the race. What were your emotions the last race after you did not win?

JOHNSON: I was really mad at myself. There was no one to blame but myself for losing that race. I ran Kyle down, passed him, drove away, had a restart at the end, and made two mistakes. For days after that, I kicked myself.

Then as I knew I was coming to Indy and getting my mind ready to come race here, I started kicking myself again. So that was my fault. I apologized to my team over and over. They're tired of hearing it, but we should have had that trophy. That was our race.

I didn't get the restart right. And Kyle timed it just perfect. He got into the back of me just as I went on the gas, which was a great move on his behalf. I couldn't hook up the rear tires, he got a run on me and got to be outside.

One, I needed a better restart, and two if he had a run on me, I knew better than letting him have the outside. I should have given him the bottom. I would have been the one side drafting around for a lap or two. Things would have been different. I wasn't demoralized, just pissed. I was mad at myself for doing it.

Q: (Asking about will today's pole win help him get over the loss to Kyle.)

JOHNSON: It does help. I mean, every time you're on track kind of erases what went on before. But, God, I hope roles are reversed at the end of this thing. I want to get back the same way, and that is out of respect for him. He got me. And Carl Edwards got me in Atlanta.

I still think about that, especially when I see the clips with me coming to the checkered. I've won a couple like that, and I'm sure I passed Matt (Kenseth) and Bobby Labonte, I'm sure it drives them crazy when they see it. It's just the competitive nature of us.

Q: Speaking of that race and that restart, is what Kyle did there with that second-place guy sort of driving the train, has that been going on all along and we just realized it? Or has he sort of changed the way guys are going to approach a restart with a couple laps to go?

JOHNSON: Well, timing couldn't have been perfect. If he would have gotten into me much harder, I think he probably would have crashed me or he would have needed to checkup and both of our runs would have been messed up and maybe Harvick could have gotten up there and challenged us. I did the absolute wrong thing; he did the absolute right thing and took advantage of it. From short-track racing to all types of racing, and that restart and how you get the run, that is just a normal thing that takes place, and he timed it right.

Q: But the second place guy actually pushes?

JOHNSON: Yeah, if you can get to the guy's bumper in front of you. Normally you wait till you get bumped and then you go. I waited for the bump, and I got the bump, and I hit the gas. And he expected that and just stayed on me and kept me from hooking up my rear tires.

MARTIN: Chad wanted me to ask you if you could tell me what springs are in your car? They seem to be working better than mine (laughing).

JOHNSON: You'll know in December (laughing).

MARTIN: Expect me to mess up. It's Mark Martin, and I'm with the U.S. Army 8 car. What springs are in your car?

JOHNSON: You'll know in December (laughing).

MARTIN: Thank you.

MODERATOR: If you have questions for the second-fastest qualifier, driver of the No. 8 Army Chevrolet has graciously agreed to come back.

Q: Mark, you said at Pocono with Jimmie sitting right there that you planned on winning the Brickyard. Why did you think that then, and I guess your strong qualifying efforts shows that you knew something was coming?

MARTIN: After the first practice yesterday, I was feeling a little bit like a heel. But I've been a heel many times before, but not for this reason though, I haven't.

I felt like we had a really incredible car at Phoenix, and a pretty doggone good car at Richmond, too. We parked this car. It was new at Phoenix, and we parked it after Richmond and earmarked it for Indy.

I felt like the same setup, geometry and all that stuff would work well here in these flat corners. Based on not having any testing here or anything else, I felt like that was the best place to start setup wise. It was, you know.

We fought some issues coming out of the gate yesterday. I'm sure a lot of people did. But we got the car some better in race trim, switched to qualifying trim, made four qualifying runs and improved the car each time. And some of that will translate back to race trim.

So with these next two hours, I believe and I hope, I have great hopes that we can get the car in race trim as good as we did in qualifying trim or as good as it was in Phoenix. If we do that, why shouldn't I think we can win?

Q: Why is it so difficult for athletes and not just in your sport but all sports, to step away and stay away?

MARTIN: Well, because it's hard to describe to anyone that hasn't done that and been there. You know, it's their life's work. It's their passion. For me, I don't have the same kind of passion toward anything else. That is going to be a tremendous void for me unless I find something.

I have a couple of ideas, you know, but they certainly don't fill the passion completely. I have a couple ideas. It's something everyone has to face, just as I saw my grandfather, my dad take the car keys away from my grandfather. That was a really hard day, you know.

At some point in time you have to meet those kinds of things all through life. I think for a professional athlete that is pretty good at what he does, that comes earlier in life than maybe, you know, the example I gave you with my grandfather.

It's just I'm not any good at anything else. Never was, that's why I liked racing, that's why I liked racing.

Q: How old was your grandfather?

MARTIN: He was 100 when he died. But he got the car taken away from him around 90, 88 or 90. Yeah. He lived by himself until he was like 97. He was in very good shape, but he didn't see well. When he hit somebody on a bicycle, I think they finally decided to take the keys away from him. It was kind of a tough time in his life.

Q: What was his name?

MARTIN: Clyde Martin. My dad's dad.

Q: Jimmie, you mentioned these win that's got away. How much more emphasis do you put on that? Because Kyle's not a guy you want to give a head start going into the Chase, and that is 10 points right there when you don't get the win.

JOHNSON: I can't really change what took place then, so I just try to learn from my mistakes. I really have over my career have learned a lot more from the mistakes that I made than the positive things that have gone on.

So it's been in my head that I won't let that happen again. I just take each day as it comes. We have a great race team. The Chase itself is an entirely different world than we're living in now. The pressure to show up that you didn't think existed, your mind goes to places you didn't think it would. That Chase is a different world. I'd like to close the gap, get some wins and not be so far behind when it starts. But I'm not too worried, because the Chase it its own animal.

Continued in part 3

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Patrick Carpentier , Carl Edwards , Mark Martin