CHEVY NSCS AT TALLADEGA ONE: Gordon on Pole, Johnson & Martin 2nd & 3rd, Post Qualifying Press Conf. Transcript

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES

AARON’S 499

TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY

CarParts.com
American Muscle

TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT

APRIL 16, 2011

Jeff Gordon Wins the Pole at Talladega Superspeedway; Team Chevy Collects Top-Six Starting Positions and Seven of Top-10 for Aaron’s 499

Talladega, Ala – (April 16, 2011) – For the 70th time in his career, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion will lead the field to the green flag. Gordon put his No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet on the pole for the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Gordon’s pole-winning run puts him in sole position of third on the all-time pole winner’s list.

Starting positions two through four were all claimed by Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates making Rick Hendrick just the third team owner in NASCAR history to qualify four cars in the first four starting position (Pete DePaolo – 1956; Jack Roush – 2005 at Auto Club Speedway).

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, will start second on the outside of the front row. Mark Martin put his No. 5 CARQUEST/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet in the third starting position and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, will roll off fourth.

Row three is also all Chevrolet. Paul Menard, No. 27 Schrock/Menards Chevrolet, will start fifth and Landon Cassill, No. 09 Security Benefits/Thank a Teacher Chevrolet is the sixth-place starter.

Clint Bowyer, No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet, was the 10th fastest qualifier to give Team Chevy seven of the top-10 starters in the 43-car field.

A total of 17 Chevrolet drivers will take the green flag for the 188-lap/500-mile race.

The eighth race of the season is scheduled to start at 1:00 p.m. ET with live coverage on FOX TV, MRN Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio Channel 128.

JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DRIVE TO END HUNGER CHEVROLET, POLE SITTER, POST QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:

TALK ABOUT STARTING ON THE POLE FOR THE AARON’S 499: “It is awesome. In Daytona, we sort of expected it. We were good in testing. We were good in practice, we made qualifying runs. We expected to have a shot at the pole there. But, this weekend, it being an impound and everything, I just had no idea what to expect and neither did the team. Certainly didn’t expect to go out and be one, two, three, four with Hendrick like that. A little bit of redemption I guess for being second at Daytona and not on the pole. This feels great. I knew the car felt strong yesterday in practice and it was hard to tell out there today during the run what kind of a run we had. But, obviously it was a good one and another great day and start to the weekend for the Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet and those folks and that great cause. I know that $10,000 has already been donated to a local food bank here in Alabama. More great efforts come in results, not just from qualifying but for our sponsors.”

COULD YOU IMAGINE A BETTER SCENARIO WITH THE GUY YOU WANT TO WORK WITH RIGHT BEHIND YOU AND THE GUY THAT JIMMIE PLANS TO WORK WITH RIGHT BEHIND HIM? “It is funny how a plan comes together when you least expect. I was in the truck after I made my run, Mark (Martin) was sitting second and Jimmie (Johnson) was coming up and we were tracking his run and knew it was a good one, I said ‘Come on. Second. Second. Second’ because if he was second it just made it all perfect for us with the plan that we have in place so far. He was second and put Mark right behind us and the No. 88 behind him so it is as good as we could possibly ask for. If we could write the script, we couldn’t have written it any better. It is going to be interesting how it alters our plan for the race because our plan coming in here was not to ride up front. So, we’ll kind of see how it plays out. Obviously we would love to lead the lap and we’d love to lead the most laps if that is possible. With this two-car draft, you don’t know how long you can stay up there. Mark and I have a long ride to Batesville (Arkansas) and back so we’ll have plenty of time to talk about our plan.”

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT IMPROVEMENTS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE FROM DAYTONA TO HERE BECAUSE HENDRICK DID HAVE TWO CARS QUALIFY WELL THERE BUT THE OTHER TWO WERE JUST OK. WAS IT ENGINE? WAS IT AERO? WAS IT COOLING? COMBINATION? AND THEN HOW DO YOU EXPECT IT TO TRANSFER INTO TOMORROW’S RACE? “Gosh, I wish I knew because honestly if you listen on the radio after we made our run and Alan told me I was first, I was surprised. I didn’t expect after Mark…the No. 88 put up a good lap up and then Mark put a good lap up. We were good in Daytona but we got beat by the No. 88 so, I expected that if the No. 88 ran that good, probably that would be the range we would probably be in just based on Daytona. Then, we were able to go out there and even knock Mark off the pole. All I know is that our team, when we leave Daytona, we don’t stop there. They immediately, while we are focused on other tracks, they are also focused on coming to the next restrictor plate track. We knew there was going to be a smaller restrictor plate here. I don’t know if that played a factor. Maybe that smaller restrictor plate played into our hands a little bit better from the power standpoint. Obviously, we are making pretty good power. From an aero standpoint, we damaged out car at Daytona and we had to go and repair and we took it in the wind tunnel. Alan told me it came back about like it was for Daytona. So, we felt like we had a good car. But, to be one, two, three, four, I’m not really sure where all that came from other than just great teamwork and note sharing from what we did do in Daytona that worked. I’m guessing that maybe the two guys that didn’t qualify so well. I felt like Mark should have been right up there with us in Daytona. They felt like something, and you’d have to ask them, something happened for them when they went to make their qualifying run and they didn’t get the results they were expecting. I think that they just did their homework for this weekend.”

I KNOW YOU HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO WORK WITH TREVOR BAYNE IN THE DAYTONA 500 AND CALLED HIM AFTERWARDS TO GIVE HIM SOME ADVICE; NO. 1 HAVE YOU WORKED WITH HIM THIS WEEKEND AND NO. 2 JUST PUT IN PERSPECTIVE WHAT IT MUST BE LIKE FOR HIM FROM A PRESSURE STANDPOINT TO COME BACK TO THE FIRST RESTRICTOR PLATE TRACK AFTER THAT PERFORMANCE: “Trevor is a great race car driver. A great kid. Obviously with what he did at Daytona, it is going to build his confidence up for this race as well as well as others in him. So I think that the likelihood of other people working with him this weekend are pretty good. We learned a lot from Daytona. Going into Daytona, we didn’t really set a plan up with our teammates the way we probably should have. Now, looking back on how this two-car draft worked and worked so well, I think we really kind of regrouped and said ‘All right, this is how we need to approach this for the next restrictor plate race’. So working with Trevor in Daytona was just more of a coincidence more than anything else. I was on my own in my own 150, I didn’t have a teammate so even if I wanted to work with them, I couldn’t. So Trevor and I were kind of there on our own and it worked really well. If that scenario pops up again tomorrow, I will be thrilled to work with him. Whether I am pushing him or being pushed. Because he did a great job in Daytona, I look for him to do a great job here and have a fast race car as well. Right now our plan is to work with our teammates.

“To me, the most pressure I felt as a race car driver was my rookie year. Even more so than going through some of the championship battles that I’ve gone through just because it is so new. So much is being thrown at you. You are wanting to do so well, you just put so much added pressure on you that is probably not necessary, but it is just sort of what happens as a rookie; as a newcomer in the sport. Especially when you go out there and you win the Daytona 500. That only adds to the pressure. But, also, because he won Daytona, it gives him confidence that kind of helps balance that pressure out.”

THE POLE SPEED WAS MORE THAN SIX MILES AN HOUR SLOWER THAN THE PREVIOUS SLOW POLE SPEED HERE AT TALLADEGA, COULD YOU TELL THAT FROM THE SEAT OF THE CAR? “It felt like I could walk faster than I was going out there. The one thing that I mentioned to NASCAR when we were talking about it. It is the proper restrictor plate to be on the car for the race. I don’t see, and I know that I am throwing out some things that our engine builders probably will not like, but I just don’t see why we’re not running a different restrictor plate for qualifying or a different spoiler. Something that NASCAR hands us that is the same for everybody to make it more interesting. To me, that qualifying session was just a snoozer. It is because we are doing two laps by ourselves doing 177 mph. That had nothing to do with me. Anybody could drive that car at that speed. So let’s make it a little more interesting. I don’t see why we can’t get up there into the 200 mile-per-hour range qualifying. I think they have done an excellent job with these cars making them safer; finding out what they do in the wind tunnel to stay on the ground when they turn around sideways say if a tire were to blow at that speed for whatever reason…you ran over something. I would like to see us qualify faster just to make it more entertaining for the fans as well as for us the drivers. We’re not doing anything out there right now. It would be fun to go to Talladega or Daytona and the driver plays a little bit more of a role.”

JUST TO CLARIFY, YOU AREN’T SUGGESTING THAT THEY RUN ONE RESTRICTOR PLATE DURING QUALIFYING AND ONE RESTRICTOR PLATE DURING THE RACE? “Yes, I am.”

OK, YOUR ENGINE BUILDERS ARE GOING TO KILL YOU: “Exactly. I’m not the engine builder. They can figure it out. (LAUGHS). Maybe it’s not the restrictor plate. Maybe it is a spoiler. It could just something…now the aero guys are going to kill me (LAUGHS). I think that this day and age, to have the slowest qualifying lap we’ve ever had since this place opened in the 50s or 60s. I mean, come on. It is crazy that we’re not able to run faster than that. I know the reason. It is because that is what they want to run for the race. So, I understand why they are doing it that way. But, I think if we come together and we talk about it. Get the engine builders, get the aero guys together with NASCAR, I think they could come up with something that is a little exciting for qualifying. That is all I’m saying. Please, don’t mistake and think that I’m an engineer or an engine builder or anybody that can make that kind of call. I’m just throwing some ideas out there that hopefully that somebody who actually knows what they are talking about can run with.”

BESIDE YOUR OWN TEAMMATES, WHO DO YOU THINK IS YOUR COMPETITION FOR TOMORROW? “Everybody else out there. Anybody can win this race. We saw in Daytona. Look at the top-five. There are guys that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to be up there so anybody can win this race. I look at the competition as being…first of all the biggest competition is ourselves to make sure we survive and get to the finish. You have to watch for overheating. You’ve got to stay out of the wrecks. You have got to have kind of a flawless day to get yourself there. Even if you are there with five to go doesn’t guarantee you are going to make it to the finish line because of all the madness and craziness that is going to go on the last few laps. Beyond that, it could come down to a restart and two guys get connected and take off and get a good restart. It could be anybody. Just two guys that work well together and are up front at the end.”

IF IT IS THAT BORING WHY NOT DO A DUEL, WHY NOT RACE ON SATURDAY, IS THERE TOO MUCH POTENTIAL TO TEAR STUFF UP? “Well, there is, but, I think that we all have to understand why we are here. Why the media is in here. It is because of the fans at home watching as well as in the grandstands. So we’ve got to compromise what we look at as racers at times and as engineers and engine builders and things that would make things maybe challenging. Sometimes it wouldn’t make it as much fun inside the car that might be a little bit more white-knuckled of an experience. But, at the same time, we have to keep it entertaining. Whether it is heat races, duels, taking the restrictor plates off, I don’t know, doing something because to me today, I’m happy to be on the pole, but that’s a long process to get our qualifying position.”

LET’S EXPAND ON THIS A LITTLE BIT MORE: “Oh gosh, now I’m in trouble.”

YEAH, NOW YOU ARE IN TROUBLE: “I sure am glad I’m getting on a plane going to Batesville, Arkansas (LAUGHTER).”

DID YOU WATCH THE DAYTONA 500 AFTERWARDS? DO YOU THINK THAT IS WHAT THE FANS WANT TO SEE? “Now this is where I will stop and say, there is nothing we can do to change that. What we do for qualifying or qualifying races or something like that, that is one thing. We can’t change this two-car draft. You cannot take something that you’ve learned and take technology, engineering and just experience and throw it in the trash. You even saw in the ARCA race today, those guys were bump-drafting to try and win that race. That’s the evolution of aerodynamics of our sport and what we’ve learned. So that is here to stay. What I did say earlier this weekend, is let’s get through a Talladega weekend with the two-car draft because this place is wide and there is lot’s of room to race on this track and I think you might be surprised how exciting this two-car will be this weekend. Don’t get me wrong, while tomorrow was not very exciting, tomorrow I think is going to be filled with plenty of excitement. Is it different? Is it unique? Yes. But, it is here to stay. Like it or not, it isn’t going anywhere.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 2ND

MARK MARTIN, NO. 5 CARQUEST/GO.DADDY CHEVROLET – QUALIFIED 3RD

POST QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:

MODERATOR:

“Qualifying is over for the 42nd Annual Aaron’s 499 that will be run here tomorrow at Talladega Superspeedway. Hendrick Motorsports becomes only the third team in NASCAR Sprint Cup history to qualify four cars in the top four starting positions. The other two times were done by Pete DePaolo in 1965 at Charlotte, Jack Roush in 2004 at Auto Club Speedway. Congratulations to Hendrick Motorsports. We have two of the top four (4) drivers on the podium right now. Third fastest is Mark Martin, No. 5 CARQUEST/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet and second fastest is Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.

TALK ABOUT YOUR QUALIFYING EFFORT AND THE FACT THAT ALL FOUR HENDRICK CARS QUALIFIED IN THE TOP 4 POSITIONS FOR SUNDAY’S RACE

MARTIN: “Well, restrictor plate qualifying is kind of fickle. You have what appears to be the fastest car and then do your qualifying run and be greatly disappointed, which we were at Daytona. We thought at Daytona we had a shot at the pole and expected to and should have by every indication, but qualified 17th. I don’t think you ever know until you get the lap in what it’s going to be. But we’re certainly pleased with that. Honestly. Once again, humbled to be a part of Hendrick Motorsports. That is such an awesome accomplishment. Kudos to that tremendous engine department always. Always the engines are just amazing at Hendrick Motorsports. Obviously they build nice race cars as well and Lance (McGrew) in the No. 5 car team did a great job in preparing this car to make this race. We felt real good about it in race trim and didn’t have any idea how qualifying would be, on one hand. On the other hand, we had felt like that we should be a contender for the pole based on the history of this particular race car, even though it did disappoint us qualifying at Daytona. So, it was nice to be a part of all this.”

JOHNSON: “I really have to echo what Mark was saying. You never know what your lap time is going to be and where you’re going to fall in the ranking until you go out and run the lap. We experienced something very similar to Mark in Daytona. We had high hopes and were sorely disappointed. So to see my three teammates at the top of the board, I know that I was unsure about what would happen and then looking at my engine tuner once the lap was over, I know that it was a tough session for him to sit and watch. As soon as we came off the track and came over to the holding area, he mentioned he was going to go pass out because he had been so stressed out and knew that the weight of the world was on his shoulders and that fourth Hendrick car needed to be up there with the other three. So, happy to have it work out and I’m very happy for Rick (Hendrick). I know today was a very special day for him to have all four cars where they are. It was a great team effort, regardless of the shop that these cars came out of to run that close in speed, just shows the commitment of all four teams and the company and the engine shop. So we’re happy to have fast Chevys.”

ARE YOU CONVINCED THAT YOU’VE MADE THE NECESSARY CHANGES WHATEVER THOSE ARE, WHETHER IT’S COOLING OR WHATEVER HAS TO BE DONE, SO YOU ARE EQUALLY AS COMPETITIVE DURING THE RACE?

MARTIN: “I think I can speak for all of us. There has been a lot of effort put into this and we have made significant improvements in many areas and we don’t know what the competition has done. We only know what we have done. I would much rather be lucky tomorrow than good. But you have to do everything you can to be good. We had a shot to win the Daytona 500 with a wrecked race car (laughs). So, I don’t think you can plan all this out. You have to make your best race cars and then hope things go your way.”

HAVING ALL FOUR CARS IN FRONT TWO ROWS, YOU GET TO PARTNER WITH YOUR TEAMMATES. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN IN WORKING WITH SOMEBODY YOU KNOW? MARK, YOU WORKED WITH JEFF (GORDON) IN PRACTICE AND JIMMIE, CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY YOU PAIRED UP IN PRACTICE WITH KYLE BUSCH INSTEAD OF A TEAMMATE?

JOHNSON: “Yeah, for us, in working with Kyle yesterday, it boiled down to how we left the garage area and Kyle was right there behind us based on points going out of the garage. He didn’t have a teammate close by to work with either, so we just rolled off. The plan was for us to wait and let the first wave of cars go and then the No. 88 (Earnhardt Jr.,) and the No. 48 were going to go out and work together. But with the shortened practice session we felt was coming because of the rain, it was just one of those things where we just had to go and get our laps in. But the No. 24 and the No. 5 have worked together and the No. 88 and No. 48 plan on working together. We couldn’t have done this any better in the way we qualified and I think Junior had a funny quote. He told (crew chief) Stevie (Letarte) to send a text over to (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) that we’d better qualify second so we don’t mess this thing up. So the cars are all lined up in the order in which we’d hoped they’d be. It worked out and it’s nice to work with teammates. We’d prefer to work with one another and this at least ensures that first run that we’ll have a chance to work together. And we’ll try to do it more from there if the opportunities present themselves.”

I’M GOING TO ASSUME THAT BECAUSE HANDLING IS NOT SUCH A BIG ISSUE HERE THAT YOU ARE ABLE TO USE VERY SIMILAR SET-UPS DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOU LIKE DIFFERENT THINGS WITH YOUR CARS. IS QUALIFYING AND SWEEPING THE TOP FOUR SPOTS A REFLECTION OF THE KIND OF TRACK WE’RE AT OR WHAT’S THE MOJO BEHIND THIS?

MARTIN: “I haven’t looked at any of my teammates. I’ll bet you that we’re very similar. But because it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter (laughs). It doesn’t even matter enough for me to be curious of what someone else is doing. But I’ll be you that if you looked and compared notes, they were all in the same area and range and zip code, so to speak.”

JOHNSON: “That’s all based on the rules that NASCAR has in place. So I would assume that pretty much every car out there is very, very similar. In my opinion, the small little details from the finish fab shop, engine department tuning, and just the small details separate the field at every restrictor plate track.”

THERE IS A LOT OF TALK ABOUT THE FORD ENGINE BEING POWERFUL, DOES HAVING THE CHEVROLETS OUT IN FRONT GIVE YOU A PRIDE FACTOR?

MARTIN: “It’s a huge engineering feat. It’s bigger than you guys (media) realize. And it’s bigger than we realize. And I’ll tell you why. It’s because we’re sitting here doing it and it doesn’t seem like it’s that big of deal. You try to be one of those guys that’s got a 30th fastest car. You try. And then come to qualify in the top four. And I’ve been there many, many, many years. And it is huge. It is an incredible engineering feat to be able to put the speed together (with) every single component: horsepower, aero, chassis, and the whole thing. And it’s largely controlled by all those people and very little influenced by the drivers where it’s hugely influenced by the drivers at the next race track. It’s a huge feat by an organization to be able to pull that off.”

JOHNSON: “Just one more thing to add to that. With the smaller plate, maybe we found something a little faster or better that works with our combination. With the plates on the cars in general the power is so different here than what we tune with and have to adjust and work with. But maybe the smaller plate fits our combination here better. The competition is tough out there, regardless of manufacturer. All teams seem to have plenty of power. And those Fords at the last race weren’t slouches at all. I think on the bigger track stuff, the unrestricted stuff, they’ve got plenty. We’ve got plenty but we always want to have more.”

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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