Impala SS Drivers Sweep Top Three for Chevy Rock & Roll 400 On the heels of announcing their partnership with Chevrolet for 2008 and beyond, Hendrick Motorsports drivers swept the top three qualifying positions for tomorrow night's Chevy Rock &...
Impala SS Drivers Sweep Top Three for Chevy Rock & Roll 400
On the heels of announcing their partnership with Chevrolet for 2008 and beyond, Hendrick Motorsports drivers swept the top three qualifying positions for tomorrow night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, circled the 3/4-mile Richmond track with a time of 21.378 seconds at a speed of 126.298 miles an hour to score his second pole position of the season and 10th Bud Pole of his career. Starting alongside Johnson on the front row is his teammate Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 DuPont/Nicorette Impala SS. Kyle Busch, No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Impala SS, qualified third giving Team Chevy the first three starting spots for it's fifth annual rock-and-roll entitled event.
"I'm excited," said Johnson. "I've figured out how to drive this track when we were here in the spring and was able to win the race. So I think we've expanded on that. We've improved the car some. And we felt like today we would be in the top five for qualifying. I've been slow with qualifying this year. We've had a couple of second place qualifying efforts where we've missed it by a thousandth, but in general it's not our strong suit. We felt like we had a good car and I just got really aggressive in there driving in and the car stuck and did all the things I needed it to do."
Chesterfield, Va. native Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Express Impala SS, will start fifth on the grid also giving the bowtie brand four of the top five starting positions. Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Impala SS, will start seventh while another Virginia native, Jeff Burton, No. 31 AT&T Impala SS, of South Boston, Va. will start 11th.
Eighteen Impala SS drivers will take the green flag for the Chevy Rock & Roll 400, the final race before the Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship. Race coverage will begin on ABC starting at 7 p.m.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS
HOW MUCH DOES PHYSICAL FITNESS PLAY INTO WINNING RACES? "I'm in good health. For the heat, I'm in good shape. You teach your system how to store water and how to cool itself on top of being strong there are other things that go with it. What I really feel, when my training really helps me the most, it at the end of the season. It's such a long season, as we all know, being on the road, you probably don't eat the meals that you should or get enough rest and sleep. The more I train, the better I feel throughout the season. I think that's really the most important thing, especially with the Chase format. You've got ten at the end when you've got to be spot on and you can't have the weight of the season wearing you down. I think that's where it helps me the most."
HOW DO YOU PREPARE? "It's mainly cardio for me. Genetically, my body just doesn't respond and do the things that I would hope that it would do with all the work that I put into it, but I can tell I'm always getting stronger. I do mess with some weights from time to time, but it's really being on a bicycle or on foot logging in miles."
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE AN ADVANTAGE OVER SOME OF THE OTHER COMPETITORS? "There might be an advantage there. And I think that the way our sport is going and how hard you have to drive the cars, I think the car of tomorrow and how it doesn't handle that well and how you have to muscle it around, it helps. But it's not as important as maybe motocross or other sports. But it can't hurt. I'm an athlete and I need to act like one and train like one and hopefully see the benefits."
ON HIS LAP: "I was really happy with that lap. I was a little bit faster than what Jeff (Gordon) won for the pole here in the spring. I think that the track's got more speed in it right now. It's cooling off quite a bit, so I'm not sure it'll stay up there. For those types of conditions and for what we were expecting, I was very impressed with that lap."
MARK MARKIN, NO. 01 U.S. ARMY IMPALA SS
"I'm excited about being back with the Army. And that No. 8 has huge tradition. It means a lot to Dale Earnhardt Inc. and I'll do my very best to work hard and drive it with integrity."
ON THE LAP: "I should have done better job maybe getting the team dialed in. I'm not real satisfied. I feel that we have a better car than that. But I got all out of it right there. You don't get many chances in q-trim when it's an impound race and I really feel like I didn't get us where we needed to be. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the guys. This has been an incredibly difficult time for Ryan and all the guys on the O1 car these past two months trying to merge the engines and the cars and trying to get toward common cars with these guys has been pretty tough on these guys and I really appreciate them sticking in and giving me a good, competitive car even though there have been a lot of distractions."
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER IMPALA SS
ON HIS LAP: "We didn't know what to expect. We didn't make a qualifying run in practice. We had to change the right front spindle and it took a lot of time. So we didn't take the time. But that's still not really very good. We'll see where that puts us; I have no idea."
HOW MUCH OF A DISADVANTAGE WAS IT TO GO OUT FIRST? "You obviously want to go late when it's cool and there is a lot of grip. That's definitely an advantage. We got our pole this year at Pocono with the same advantage."
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THIS WEEKEND? "Everybody knows the deal. We'll just have to go run hard and leave it to chance and see what happens to the rest of them guys and watch it and not hit the wall and not blow motors. We just have to run hard and win and try to be in the top five.
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 20 SHELL-PENNZOIL IMPALA SS
ON THE LAP: "The second lap was a lot faster. I just got up the hill a little bit there getting into (Turn) 3. I was so good coming off of (Turn) 4 the lap before and getting into (Turn) 3 the lap before, I just got a little overanxious. But all in all it was a good lap for our Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet. That'll be okay and we'll go race from there.
"Our Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet is really good in race trim. The driver kind of screwed that one up in the middle of (Turn) 3 and (Turn) 4 down there. I just got in a little bit too hot and got up and then I couldn't get it back down. But still, it should be okay. For whatever reason we don't seem to always qualify very well here. But we always have really good race cars and the car was really good in practice. So we're excited."
KNOWING HE IS 12TH IN THE STANDINGS, BUT WITH A SIZABLE LEAD OVER DALE EARNHARDT "That's my job to go out and race as fast as I can. And as a team, we've had a lot of things go wrong and been able to keep ourselves in a position to race for a championship. So I'm just proud of the team for doing that and that's what we do is go out and perform."
THIS IS ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE RACE TRACKS "Yeah, this place has been really good to us. We always seem to run really well here and we race well. We raced well here at the first race and led a bunch of laps. So we're looking forward to it every time we come here."
IF THERE WAS EVER A TRACK WHERE YOU HAD TO DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO, THIS IS A GOOD ONE "Yeah, this is definitely a good track for us. We've had good success here in the past and been able to finish well and race well and lead a bunch of laps. It's just one of those places that fits what we do and we've been fortunate with both cars to do that, in the Busch car and Truck, and everything so it's just a fun place for us to race."
WHAT DO NUMBERS MEAN? "I don't listen to a whole lot of what you guys (media) say."
WILL THE BUSCH RACE BE A WAY TO RELAX AND HAVE FUN? "That's just what I do. I race every week in the Busch cars. If the Busch cars are at the track, I'm in the car 99% of the time. This is the way I go about the things that I do. I like to be in the race car. I like to race. And that's how I have fun."
ON HIS TRUCK TEAM COMING TO THE TOP: "Yeah, they're fun to watch. (Ron) Hornaday has obviously been in the middle of championship races before and it's fun to watch those guys progress. You try not to get in the way and be in the middle of something that you shouldn't be. They just do their thing and make it a lot of fun."
JEFF BURTON, NO. 31 AT&T IMPALA SS
ON THE LAP: "I thought the car was good. I probably just didn't hit it. I thought I did a good job, but I guess I didn't. The first lap, I know I didn't hit them (marks) and the second lap I just don't think I hit them. The car was a little better than I was tonight. I don't know. Maybe it was just the long break between practice and qualifying. I just didn't hit it like I needed to. It was a good run for us. We didn't work hardly any on qualifying and practice. We spent a lot of time on race trim. And I feel like we were pretty good in race trim. We layed down a reasonable lap."
ON THE AT&T AND NASCAR SETTLEMENT: "It's certainly better for us to have it behind us. It's good to have AT&T back on the car and to have all that behind us. One of the things that I fear the most is the fans getting discontented with all that and I'm glad to get that behind us. Now we can move forward and just concentrate on the racing.
"I knew there was a lot of effort being put forth by a lot of people and these things typically are more complex than they appear to be on the surface, as this was. In the end I think that everybody was probably happy with what we came to. It's one of those situations where probably nobody was completely happy, but everybody is somewhat happy.
ON A SPONSOR REPLACEMENT: "That has yet to be figured out, but I feel good about where we are. We can concentrate on racing and that's what I care about."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT / NICORETTE IMPALA SS
'I was really happy with all the improvements we made. We only got one qualifying run. It felt really good. I knew it was going to take a heck of a lot. Jimmie (Johnson) really put a great lap down. I hope he gets the pole (he did). He's been really close this year. I knew it was going to take a near perfect lap to beat him. We just didn't have everything there with the DuPont / Nicorette Chevrolet. I think we've got a good race car. We were pretty good here last time. We'll work to try to make it better."
WHAT'S YOUR STRATEGY? "Well, we already got 10 points behind last week. We don't want to get 20 points behind. We'd like to close that gap and be even leaving here. Every point is going to count in the Chase. We've got to push hard. We also have not really put some great races together so it's important for us as a team. I know how good we are and what we are capable of and it's important for us to put a good, solid effort out here whether to win it or not.
"It's hard to get yourself really psyched and pumped up even though you know there 10 bonus points out there, to push as hard as what we're going to be pushing in the Chase. You don't want to wear yourselves down. We're very focused on getting rest to the road crew and getting ourselves really geared up for the final 10 but you can't lose sight of those bonus points either. It's a tough balance. It's been a pretty exciting year for NASCAR Nextel Cup and the way the points are structured. And we're going to bring our a-game to those final 10 races, I can guarantee that. Hopefully we can bring it this weekend as well in Richmond."
DENNY HAMLIN, NO. 11 FEDEX EXPRESS IMPALA SS
"We didn't have anything for the 48 but I think we had something for the 12, but kind of room for error right there. I kind of gave up on the second lap. I didn't know it was going to be better. I was all up out of the groove. Still it's a great run. It's better than what we were in practice but our car really was a lot better in race trim than what it was in qualifying. We always seem to pick it up here in qualifying though so I'm kind of getting excited for tomorrow's race."
JEFF GREEN, NO. 66 BEST BUY "HD DONE RIGHT" IMPALA SS
"The car felt pretty good. It was about the same as it has been in all of the 'COT' races - loose in, and tight center and off. I think it will race well, but we're going to have a lot of ground to make up from where we'll be starting. If we can stay out of trouble and be patient, I think we can make a good night out of it."
TONY STEWART, NO. 20 HOME DEPOT IMPALA SS
WILL THIS RACE BE ALL ABOUT HAVING FUN? "At least for those of us locked in (to the Chase) probably. We've got the flexibility to just race and just go for the win so if it doesn't happen then we got to worry about every position next week."
WITH THOSE BEING LOCKED INTO THE CHASE HAVING FUN WITH THIS RACE, DOES THAT SEND A MESSAGE TO NASCAR THAT THERE SHOULD BE MORE EMPHASIS ON WINNING IN THE FUTURE? "I don't think you're going to get that. I don't think there's a way of doing that and running for a championship. The reason we're in this position is because we got ourselves enough points to lock ourselves in so that's the only way you're going to get a situation like this and this is the only format that creates that."
HAVE YOU GOTTEN ANY REACTION FROM FANS TODAY ABOUT TOYOTA? "I haven't been walking around much. The good thing is I'm still part of the Chevrolet family. We are through the rest of this year and we're going to do the best we can to win races and a championship for them and even the next two years I'm still with Chevrolet with the World of Outlaw teams and my USAC teams. So just because I'm not going to be there with the Cup side doesn't mean that I'm not still part of that family."
GIVEN THAT ASSOCIATION WITH YOUR PERSONAL TEAMS, WAS THERE AN APPREHENSION FOR YOU? "No, same as the other day. I've always trusted Joe and J.D. If I didn't believe in that I wouldn't be in contract negotiations extending my contract. We wouldn't be working toward that goal if I didn't believe in them."
ON WHERE HIS TEAM IS THIS YEAR VS. LAST YEAR COMING INTO THIS RACE: "Like I said, it's a total opposite set of emotions this year versus last year. There's no stress on us at all this weekend. Even though we're locked in we went and tested Tuesday just to make ourselves better for here and it doesn't mean that we're just going to go out and ride around tomorrow night. Our goal is to go out and win the race and that's why we went and tested was to go out and try to win the race this weekend. The emphasis and the desire hasn't changed, just the pressure behind it has."
HOW CLOSE ARE YOU WITH YOUR CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS? DO YOU THINK YOU'LL HAVE IT DONE BEFORE THE END OF THE SEASON? "That's for us to know and you guys to wonder about. You guys don't have to know everything that we do. It's really not that important for you guys to know every detail about what we're doing all the time. When we got something to tell you on that we'll let you know."
ON WHAT A FAN MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO SEE THAT HE SEES AT PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY: "It was a lot different obviously when it still had the Goodyear bridge over there and the way that turn two was so tight coming off because that's how you used to get the trucks in and out was off of turn two there so it made the two ends totally different but now it's kind of changed a little bit. The neat thing is guys can run the top and the bottom but it's one of those tracks that you would think that by looking at it it would look like it has a lot of grip but it's not a high grip track. It gets slippery at night there because of the heat of the desert like that especially at this time of year. This race coming up is a very, very slippery race to get around so getting your cars to handle good there is much tougher than it is when it's cooler."
IS IT CONDUCIVE TO YOUR STYLE? "I like it that way. The slicker they get the better when it comes to track conditions so I like it because of that and it's a place that I've been around a lot. I've had the opportunity to run USAC Midgets, Silver Crown cars there. I've run Super Modifieds. I've the run Busch car there, the Cup car there. In all five of those divisions our best finish is no worse than second in all five cars so we've been fairly successful in everything that we've driven there."
-credit: gm racing