NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
JEFF BYRD 500 PRESENTED BY FOOD CITY
BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
March 20, 2011
JOHNSON LEADS THE WAY FOR TEAM CHEVY WITH 3RD PLACE FINISH AT BRISTOL
Bristol, Tenn. (March 20, 2011) – After leading the most laps in the race, four times for a total of 164 of the 500 laps, five-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion Jimmie Johnson brought his No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet to the finish line in third place. The solid performance in race four of the 2011 season jumped him five places in the point standings to seventh in the order.
Paul Menard, No. 27 CertainTeed/Menards Chevrolet, continued his outstanding start to the season with a fifth place finish. He moved up one point position to fifth in the standings.
Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet, recovered from a spin on lap 438 to charge his way back through the field and finish sixth. He now sits 15th in the point standings.
Ryan Newman, No. 39 Tornados Chevrolet, also off to a great start of the season, was 10th at the line and moved to fourth in points.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, finished 11th and remained ninth in the standings after working his way back through the field following a pit road speeding penalty late in the race.
With his 12th place finish, Mark Martin, No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, remains 11th in the standings.
Two-time NSCS champion Tony Stewart, No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil Chevrolet, now sits third in the standings after battling handling issues created by incidental contact early in the race. He was scored 19th at the finish.
Juan Pablo Montoya, No. 42 Target Chevrolet, dropped to eighth in points after a very solid run was nullified when he was involved in a multi-car accident on lap 437.
Kyle Busch (Toyota) was the race winner. Carl Edwards (Ford) and Matt Kenseth (Ford) completed the top five finishers.
The Series moves back to the West Coast on March 27, 2011 to Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, California.
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET – FINISHED 3RD:
KERRY THARP: We’re going to roll into our post-race for today’s race here at Bristol Motor Speedway. Joining us is our third place finisher Jimmie Johnson. Third place finish, leading the most laps, 164. Your thoughts about today’s performance?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Certainly a solid performance for us. I felt like coming off pit road in fourth with only 40, 50 to go, the guys I was racing with, I knew it was going to be tough to get back to the front. I think we had a slip on the rear tire changer coming around the back of the car. Amazing, one little slip on pit road what it equals on the racetrack.
Great performance, qualified well, raced well. Very proud of the team. Glad to be climbing up in the points.
KERRY THARP: Questions now.
Q. Jimmie, were you taking it all easy the last laps where Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were really fighting for position?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: To a certain degree. I mean, we were all running really hard. There were a couple moments where I thought I might be given a big gift here. It’s not like I was really riding. There was nowhere for me to go if I got up in there and raced with these guys. I left myself a little bit of room. I was still running awfully hard to keep pace.
One neat thing about this track, you can run good lap times side by side. There’s just enough room to do that. These guys were digging up front and I was just waiting to see what was going to happen.
Q. I know it’s really early in the season. I know y’all will say, Anything can happen. Is it pretty much down to the 48, the 99 and the 18 this year? Three of you seem to be noticeably better than everybody else.
CARL EDWARDS: Are you seriously asking that question right now (smiling)?
I hope. It would be nice to have two guys to race. That would be great.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: If you’re going to go on short term results, you look who has done the best, it’s the 99. You look at us at Vegas last week, we just about killed each other during the race.
We’re still looking for some speed. I think on the short track stuff, we’re in good shape. Our research and development program on the mile and a half and two mile is still underway.
Q. Jimmie, when you were leading, how was it getting through some of the lap traffic for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s always challenging. I mean, I’ve been here with a torn up racecar. You just go to the bottom or the top, pick a lane and sit there. You can still run fast lap times around here. So there’s always issues with torn up cars that you catch at the wrong time, maybe you’re alongside of a car for position, it gets frustrating.
Then there were some other guys racing hard to stay on the lead lap. You try to give them two or three laps, understand what they’re doing. But at that point when somebody starts catching when the leaders started catching me, I just had to start moving people, bumping people out of the way. Nothing major, but put pressure on them, lean on them, they would point you by and let you go. It’s kind of short track stuff. When you’re the leader, when you watch the lead you built up disappear, that’s frustrating. Those guys have every right to race for their lead lap position as well.
Q. On the short track racing, short oval racing, how big is the issue with brake cooling and engine cooling? Is this always a problem?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: A little contact with some guys when I was leading trying to push them out of the way. Did some damage to the radiator. My water temp was high at the end. It was 250 the last 40, 50 laps. I was a little concerned about that, but it survived.
Q. Jimmie, we talked to Jeff Gordon a few weeks back when Kyle was having a pretty decent run. He compared the young Kyle Busch to Kyle Busch now. How have you seen Kyle mature over the last year to 18 months?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, you can definitely see him bite his tongue at times and not say what is the first thought that comes through his mind. From being teammates with him and racing with him, I’ve been able to get to know him years back. I’ve always raced well with him on track. He’s always been patient, hasn’t roughed me up. So I haven’t had any issues on track with him over the years.
But you can see, especially now that he is a car owner, has sponsors to worry about, you can just tell in his interviews the way he speaks. He’s very aware of series sponsor, track sponsor, his sponsors. We’ve also probably seen that same transformation with Stewart over the years. Once you’re an owner, I haven’t been in that role, you understand how fragile this environment and sport is. It certainly matured him a lot.
I can’t say a ton in the car because I don’t think he was doing much wrong there to start with. I think outside the car, he’s handling himself better.
Q. Between you and Carl Edwards and Kyle, you have pretty much won all the short track races over the last two or three years. Even though these tracks are all different, what is the similarity? Why are the same guys winning? When you look particularly at Bristol with Kyle winning four of the last five year, do you feel the gap is widening or you’re closing on him here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’m just happy to be in the hunt here at Bristol. It’s been such a long time for me to figure this place out finally, two years of Nationwide, then probably eight or nine years of Cup. I can say through all of that for me, if you don’t have the right rhythm at this track and know how to drive it, you can drive it a lot of different ways, I’d go out there and search for three or four different rhythms or lines, have Chad set the car up for one of those, it just wasn’t right. I would change my line in the race, see what I should be doing. Now I have the car set up to run differently.
I think now that we’re on the same page, I know the line we need to run, we can tune to it and improve the car in the right areas. It’s been helpful for me. It just took a while to get it.
This track, a lot like the other short tracks, technology doesn’t affect the cars as much, so your setup should last longer on a short track over the years. Then also the driving style, the technique for each track. That stuff doesn’t really change all that much.
The reason Kyle continues to run well, he started off strong well here and has done nothing but make small improvements and stay ahead of it.
Q. Jimmie, you mentioned you really started to figure out Bristol. Your result in August when you had the wreck, was there anything you learned from that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Last year, the last race in August, I learned that you need to leave Juan Pablo a little bit more room. Thought he was getting crowded, turned down from being kept from running into the wall. Had plenty of room, but maybe couldn’t see over the dashboard. He’s kind of short, you know.
(Also in the room was CARL EDWARDS: That’s a low blow, buddy (laughter).
Q. There’s been a lot of talk since this track was reconfigured a couple years ago. Has it taken some of the contact out in these late race finishes? The old layout, would we have seen some pushing and shoving in order to get to the finish?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There’s no doubt the old track lent itself to more contact. There was no outside lane. You would just go in and move the guy off the bottom and take the lane from him.
I don’t know what would have happened. It’s so far removed from that rhythm of the race. You’d have to think if you’re in second with one or two to go, that guy is within arm’s reach, you’re going to take a shot at it. The way it panned out today with two to go, Kyle had a big enough margin, even if the throttle was hung, that Carl could have got a him.
Some of the fans like the old track. From a racer’s standpoint, we can race finally. This place is fun to race at.
Q. Kyle’s second consecutive weekend sweep at Bristol, how do you put that in perspective, what it means?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Happy to talk about it (smiling).
Q. Jimmie, which one of your crew members fell on that last stop? Even though there is more room to race here, was losing that track position really that difficult to get back up there or was it the high side that Kyle had that was the difference?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Definitely track position is a lot. Kyle and I traded the lead back and forth at different points today. Whoever had the clean air in the lead would get a nice margin. We’d pit, it would change around, we’d end up with the lead, we could stretch it out on him. I think there was a 10th or so being the leader that you had in your back pocket. It’s all a compounding event. If you can control the race on the restarts, that outside lane has a big advantage, there’s a big advantage going up through the gears. There’s something with the banking, the transition off the corner onto the straight where you can really launch on that outside lane.
I was impressed with Carl staying alongside of him on the restarts. That’s a tough job to do on its own there. The inside car being trapped down usually gets loose, then you don’t have the room on exit to stay on the throttle to stay alongside of someone.
With Kyle, really any of these guys, if Carl was leading the race, the guy off pit road on the last pit stop has a strong control of the event here. Other tracks maybe not so much. Here you can really control the short run. That’s really what we had, we had a couple quick cautions, then a 30 lap sprint at the end which is pretty much a short run.
Q. Jimmie, anything from last weekend give you much pause going forward either at California or the one and a half mile tracks? Was it more of a one race particular to Vegas?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There’s plenty of concern. Once the dust settled, we came home, we started the race, we were really bad. Made some good adjustments, worked our way up inside the top 10, then had some things kind of go wrong with two tire strategy at the end, we tried four, everybody else did two. We came in early for four. Some guys waited and took two. We lost a bunch more spots there. Then we had a problem or pit road.
If we look at where we were running and how we recovered during the race, I think we’re on to something. I’m not saying that California is going to be real easy on us. But I think we found a direction. We certainly got smarter through the course of two weeks ago in Vegas. I look at where we evolved in the Phoenix race weekend, all four Hendrick cars unloaded pretty far off and by the end of the race, we were there. One or more mile and a half, two mile tracks, I think we’ll be where we need to.
KERRY THARP: Thank you. Congratulations today. We’ll see you at Fontana.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports
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