NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
JEFF BYRD 500 PRESENTED BY FOOD CITY
BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
March 18, 2011
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed racing at Bristol, Auto Club Speedway, different kinds of tracks, the points system and other topics. Full transcript.
IS THERE BEGINNING TO BE CONCERN THAT A REALLY BAD DAY CAN REALLY HURT YOU IN THE POINTS? “Yes, but I really haven’t worried more than I normally would. We’ve had one good finish, one bad one and one fair finish so I still as of now have the same opinion. I do know the lower you go in the finishing order, the bigger the deficit. But, we just need to start running well, consistently I should say. We have had fast moments during races, but we just have to finish a little bit better and make sure we don’t fall too far. So, yes there is a concern that if you get too far behind early and we don’t want that to happen.”
DO YOU THINK THIS CAN REALLY HAVE AN EFFECT WHEN IT COMES DOWN TO THE LAST FIVE OR SIX RACES IN THE REGULAR SEASON? “In my heart I believe the guys that you expect to be in the Chase will be. There’s just a lot of racing, a lot of race tracks. I know it feels a little out of sorts right now, but I feel like in time it will come back to what you would expect.”
WOULD A DALE, JR. WIN STEAL AWAY THE THUNDER FROM THE NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT AND SECOND DO YOU NOTICE HIM WEARING HIS HAT BACKWARDS MORE? “I didn’t know there was a basketball tournament going on (LAUGHS) so I would have to think it would be a big deal if Junior did win. As far as the hat, I wasn’t even aware of it to be honest with you (LAUGHS). I don’t know, I don’t even know what to say. I just don’t pay attention enough I guess. I haven’t even noticed (LAUGHS).”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DALE JUNIOR’S AND STEVE LETARTE’S RELATIONSHIP, WATCHING THEM WORK TOGETHER SO FAR? “I think they are great for one another. Steve does a very good job of building confidence in him. That’s something that Junior needs. He has the ability and just getting the confidence up. Junior is not going to let somebody just cheerlead him to get his confidence up, Steve has done that but at the same time they’ve been running good. Both teams going together worked well for them.”
THE NEXT FIVE TRACKS ARE ALL DIFFERENT, HOW TOUGH IS IT TO PREPARE FOR THAT?
“One thing as a Cup driver you really have to develop the ability to switch tracks. Different size, different speeds, braking points, there’s a lot of things going on that makes it so hard on a driver or team coming in and it’s a discipline that builds up over time. It is a challenge for sure.”
ON HIS THOUGHTS OF FONTANA GOING DOWN TO 400 MILES AND TO ONE DATE: “In a lot of ways I think one race at each track would be really good. It would make each even a must see. There are some venues that can really host two races. I think it would be great to spread out and have one race in a variety of different new areas. If you bring it down to one race it opens up some other race dates that you can spread around. That’s probably very easy for me to say because I don’t have the financial commitment like these owners do. The more we can spread out and the more we can get into these new areas the better it is for our sport.”
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE SUCCESSFUL THERE? “The track has changed so much. The grove now is from the white line to the wall, even below the line down in three and four. Even though it’s a very fast race track, you have to be smart and not take away too much mechanical grip in the race car because the asphalt is very old now and low on grip.”
ARE YOU AND CHAD HOPING TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW THERE THAT YOU HAVEN’T LEARNED SO FAR THIS YEAR? “On big track stuff, we’re working through some new ideas right now. We are getting smarter each week. The race we had in Las Vegas was our first big track so I think we will go much closer and start much closer in our first couple of practice sessions at Fontana and looking forward to a great weekend out there in my home state.”
ON TREVOR BAYNE: “I’m very proud of what Trevor has done. Obviously the 500 is the ultimate for him. I’ve known him for a lot of years and I’ve seen him grow as a man and mature as a driver. He’s done a really good job at carrying himself. I’m proud of him and he’s getting to be a household name. As time goes on he’s going to develop more.”
ON THE EFFECTS OF THE NEW POINTS SYSTEM: “I’ve had one good race, one fair race and one bad race and I’m 12th in points. So it kind of feels the same for now. I do recognize the lower you finish the bigger the gap. I think we are all learning as we go here. I want to believe when we get to Richmond where the Chase starts that after the 26th race we will kind of average out the guys that you expect to be in the top-10 or top-12 however you look at it will still be there. We’ve got a lot of racing left.”
WHAT ARE THE KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE WAY IT USED TO BE AND THE WAY IT IS NOW? “This track now, you can move around some and maybe drive in a little too hard and wash up the track. Getting around the corners at a good speed its more forgiving I guess you can say. The old Bristol there was a very small area of grip that you had to hit and had to do it right. It was very line-specific. You can take an average running car and get on the track and make the car turn and give it the grip needed to produce a lap. It’s less line-sensitive now.”
DOES THE DRIVER MATTER MORE NOW OR DID IT MATTER MORE BACK MORE BACK THEN? GORDON SAID A LITTLE WHILE AGO, AND IT WAS INTERESTING, THAT HE THOUGHT THE DRIVER MATTERED MORE BACK THEN BECAUSE YOU COULD FIND THOSE LITTLE SPOTS TO GAIN AN ADVANTAGE: “I don’t disagree with that. It is a lot more forgiving now and a lot easier. I know I couldn’t get it right with the old track (LAUGHS). I tried and tried and finally got it right with this new track. I do believe that Jeff’s comments are right, it was more of a driver’s track then than it is now.”
ANY EXPECTATIONS FOR THE WEEKEND? “We’ve qualified really well the last two races here and have run great in the race. We’re hoping for more of the same. Qualifying results are so important for the pit road pick and I am really really focused on qualifying well today so that we can start up front and have a good spot on pit road and try to maintain that track position.”
WAS THERE A “CAN-DO” MOMENT FOR YOU AT BRISTOL WHERE YOU REALIZED YOU FINALLY KNEW WHAT IT TOOK TO GET AROUND HERE FAST? “I would say 2009, I had some good runs and I think we finished, I don’t know where we finished, but I want to say we had a couple of top-fives and raced with the leaders some. It felt like things were going the right way. So we knew we were getting better, then we came here last year and finally won. It was a slow, steady climb, but I would say ’09. Maybe end of ’08-’09, we started to see the progression and the results.”
DID YOU FEEL LIKE IT WAS SOMETHING YOU NEEDED TO DO BETTER OR WAS IT A PERFORMANCE OF THE CAR? “Truthfully, it kind of starts with me. There are so many different ways to drive this track and as a driver if you are searching to find the rhythm that is best suited for you, a crew chief can’t set the car up. So, I finally figured out what was the right way, how to drive the track the right way. Ran that line consistently enough to where Chad (Knaus, crew chief) could adjust the car to it. At the end of the day, I think it really falls in the driver’s hands to find the right rhythm around this track. I raced on a lot of tracks like this in ASA, I don’t know why it took me so long to figure it out. Maybe it was the radial tire, heavier car, whatever it is, it took awhile for me to figure it out.”
CAN YOU COPY WHAT ANOTHER GUY IS DOING OR WILL THAT ONLY WORK WHEN YOU FIND YOUR RHYTHM? “I tried. Back when we could test, we came here with the No. 24 car (Jeff Gordon). Switched cars, had data to overlay. I did everything I could to drive like Jeff did here and I still was like a tenth-and-a-half, two-tenths off of him after two days of trying to mimic what he did. I’ve always been a slow learner but once I get it, I’ve got it. So, I’m glad I finally have it now.”
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