JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS - Pole Sitter: MARK MARTIN, NO. 8 U.S. ARMY IMPALA SS -- Qualified 2nd: ON HIS LAP JOHNSON: "It was a very, very good effort for us. Unfortunately we were just a couple hundredths off what we needed to...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS - Pole Sitter:
MARK MARTIN, NO. 8 U.S. ARMY IMPALA SS -- Qualified 2nd:
ON HIS LAP
JOHNSON: "It was a very, very good effort for us. Unfortunately we were just a couple hundredths off what we needed to do to get the pole. It was a strong day and a strong effort and it's a great starting spot. A lot of the Chasers seem to have difficulty qualifying today and hopefully we can take advantage of the good track position and get a good pit stall pick and turn that into getting some momentum going on Sunday."
WHY IS THAT? WHERE ARE ALL THE CHASERS? DO YOU FEEL LONELY?
JOHNSON: "I get that way (laughs). The track was slick all day long. I was shocked to see some of the guys where they ended up qualifying because they looked better than that in practice. But I think qualifying was challenging today. The sun is out on the track and if you didn't get your stuff just right, it wasn't the best qualifying lap."
ON HIS LAP
MARTIN: "Well once again, it was just a great day at the races with our No. 8 U.S. Army Chevy team. They've just given me such great cars to work with. It's so much fun to go to work everyday and I look forward to it everyday. Once again, they gave me a very strong race car and we look forward tomorrow and Sunday."
DO YOU THINK THE CHASERS ARE SETTING THEIR CARS UP FOR SUNDAY AND THE NON-CHASERS SETTING THEIRS UP FOR QUALIFYING?
JOHNSON: "It's tough to speculate what people's strategies are. But everybody knows how important track position is and qualifying is. I thought that the No. 18 and the No. 99 and the No. 31 were much stronger than where they posted today. I thought they were better than that in practice. I was shocked to see some of them on the right side of the board on the computer screen, and then toward the bottom of it.
"There is no telling and this is just one day of three and the important day is Sunday. We qualified poorly at one of the races recently and before we knew it we were right up in the thick of things. So it doesn't mean that it's lay-up weekend where we're going to pick up points on the other Chase competitors, but every little bit helps. The clean air that we will have starting up on the front row is something you can't emphasize enough as drivers how important that is and how helpful that is. And if we can stay up there all day long and make the fine adjustments to the car to race for the win, we'll be in great shape. What's tough is when you start that deep in the pack, the balance of the car changes a lot and what you need as far as your set-up, is the closer you get to the front the more it changes. And if you get to the front with 100 (laps) to go or 50 (laps) to go, I have found I'm usually two or three changes behind the fast guys. And it takes us a while to close that gap. So if you can start up front and run there all day long, you're fine-tuning. If you start in the back, once you get up there you've got to readjust your car and find the balance and then close that gap."
YOU COME HERE ONCE A YEAR AND THIS TRACK HAS SOME STRANGE MOJO GOING. HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR THE UNEXPECTED HERE?
JOHNSON: "Anymore that's just racing; especially in our sport. We have so many good teams and good strategies that come together, it's rare that it just runs on and the strongest car wins the race. Even the guy that leads the most laps typically doesn't win anymore. It's a good track. I think that I've forgotten about the weather issues we've had and the fuel mileage stuff. When I think of this race track, I think of great racing; I think of a slick surface, which I enjoy; and I also get encouraged because we can race up by the wall and down by the white line. And for a relatively new track, it's nice to see the asphalt age like it has and the options we have out on the race track. I really enjoy coming here."
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR THE GUYS WHO ARE MIRED DOWN IN THE CHASE ISN'T SO MUCH THE POINTS THAT THEY ARE BACK, BUT THE FACT THAT THEY'VE GOT 10 OR 11 GUYS AHEAD OF THEM. HAS THAT BECOME A BIGGER CHALLENGE THAN THE ACTUAL DEFECIT?
JOHNSON: "It does. I've heard that reference over the years and maybe it's more difficult than I give it credit for, but I've always looked at my distance to the guy that's leading the thing, and haven't really worried about the guys in between. But when you get down to the end of it, I guess your odds change a lot when you're racing four, five, or six guys that are equal gap or whatever from the leader. But I haven't focused too much on that side of it. I just look at how far I'm down."
THERE ARE A LOT OF STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE WHO AREN'T IN THE CHASE. WE ALL KNOW HOW MUCH YOU WANT TO WIN FOR YOUR TEAM, RIGHT?
MARTIN: "Well, it's just how it's covered today. I, obviously was in the Chase every year that they had it and I'm not really used to qualifying second or third and not having anybody ask me any questions, or finishing in the top five two weeks in a row and not even being interviewed after the race. It seems different than the way I remembered it.
"But maybe next year will be different, you know? It's okay. It is what it is you know. I'm a fan too. I'm watching the Chase too. We all are racers. All of us are competitors and when Jimmie was saying about how important starting up front helps; it's not everything, but at the end of the day you've got to remember we're all competitors and if I qualified in the back today, I'd say I didn't work on qualifying either. But to be real honest with you, the guys who qualified in the back tried just as hard as all the rest of us. So it's a real competitive game and obviously I love it and I have passion for it."
IS TONY STEWART STILL A FACTOR IN THE CHASE?
JOHNSON: "Yeah, my line of thought is to keep everybody in that danger column and fear everyone. It keeps me on my toes and keeps my team on its toes. We all know what Tony is capable of and what Joe Gibbs Racing is capable of. If you look at their performance here, the No. 18 has been ahead of the No. 11 and the No. 20 throughout the season and now the No. 18 has been having some troubles from time to time. Those guys have all the tools, it's just the communication that takes place and putting it together and putting it on the race track. I feel that all three of those race cars are a threat and Tony certainly is. There is obviously a lot on his plate and a lot going on at Gibbs right now. They could be a distraction; I'm not saying it is, only Tony knows what's really going on there. But those guys can get it together and I'm fearing them all."
WHEN YOU WERE ON TRACK TODAY, DID YOU NOTICE ANY ISSUES WITH THE SEAMS?
JOHNSON: "I did, but it is not any more than tracks we run on. Some tracks seem to be a little worse. I think California Speedway; those seams really upset the car. The ones at Michigan do. These do, but I wouldn't say it is a big problem. We have to recognize at the majority of the tracks we go to. I stayed on the bottom all day long. In crossing over that last paving seam in turn three to get to the bottom has been challenging. Juan (Pablo Montoya) did a great job of just getting above it. His car still looked it wiggled a little bit. I think it is more the banking, the transition from the straightaway and the banking and the way the car loads, it makes it over rotate there. But, I do remember Clint (Bowyer) spinning out down here in one and two. It is something we have to pay attention to week after week where those seams are and how we run on them."
WHAT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF DRIVERS THAT AREN'T IN THE CHASE DURING THE RACE REGARDING THE DRIVERS IN THE CHASE?
JOHNSON: "The respect word is exactly what I was thinking when you asked the question and Juan starting speaking about it. All I ask is that people respect what is going on out there. You look what happened last week with the No. 7 car and the No. 26 car. Jamie (McMurray) was having a race that could turn around a season and that team needs it and he needs it and somebody is driving really hard and doesn't really need to at the time, and wipes him out. That is where you cross the line in respect. Jamie could have pissed him off earlier and those two had a problem and there is more to the story than I realize, but it boils down to respect.
"All you ask is people that aren't in the Chase race you with respect and if you disrespect them, then you have got it coming like Juan was saying. At the end of the day, you just want guys to recognize that you don't have to beat 11/10 to run side-by-side with me. Let's play that give and take game. Pulling out of the way is unacceptable. I would never ask or accept anybody outside of the Chase to pull over and get out of the way. Just racing with respect is what you are looking for."
HOW APPREHENSIVE IS IT GOING IN TO TALLADEGA?
JOHNSON: "I keep trying to forget about it. I don't want stress out about that race coming up. Before qualifying I was going over some scheduling stuff and I looked at my calendar and it said Talladega and damnit it is coming. There is so much to lose. I absolutely love the spring race, it is a blast. Not a lot to worry about and you go race. Come back in the fall, and it is a miserable three-days just worrying about when that wreck is going to take place and where you are on the track when it does. We'll roll the dice and see. When we get out of here, we will have a better understanding of what our strategy needs to be. It is still so early in the Chase, I think we need to go there, be smart and protect what we have. Question becomes if you are leading are you safest or if you are dead last are you safest? We have seen both areas have their ups and downs. I haven't put a lot in to it yet. I will stress enough about it next week so I am trying not to think about it."
WHAT IS IT GOING TO BE LIKE NEXT YEAR WITH THE ELDER STATESMAN MARK MARTIN AT HENDRICK?
JOHNSON: "I guess I haven't thought about age much. I did at the Charlotte test with Brad (Keselowski) there and in the past with Kyle (Busch). You see different things that show their age in comments and in music and small things. Then, Mark loves his rap! It is weird to look at Mark and his age and the fact the guy loves rap music like most kids would. I am extremely excited to work with him and get inside of his head. He has an amazing feel for the car and looking at data from the test, it has been nice having Junior, because Junior drives the car a lot like I do so we have been able to expand on some things. From the naked eye, I have always respected Mark's techniques and thought we drove in a similar fashion. I look forward to understanding more about how he thinks about driving the car, he is going to be a great asset to Hendrick Motorsports. Hopefully we can get that No. 5 car running like it needs to. I think Casey (Mears) has stayed committed to the program and has done a great job and you are seeing that car get better and better each week. Unfortunately, they hit bottom mid to late summer and decisions had been made and Casey is moving on, but that team is coming in the right direction and it is good to see it. Mark is going to run with that next year."
-credit: gm racing