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May 20, 2017

Jimmie Johnson

Kyle Larson

Concord, North Carolina

THE MODERATOR: We're going to go ahead and start with our post‑race media availability for the Monster Energy All‑Star Race.
We've been joined by our third‑place finisher, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No.48 Lowe's Chevrolet.
Jimmie, give us a quick recap of your night, those last final 10 laps.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Competitive night for us. When the race first started, seemed like there was a little less grip. As the sun continued to go down, the track picked up some grip. We never really ran long enough to try the high lane and make up any time on it.
I feel like the racing got better as the night went on. Our car was performing well. It was fun with the strategy, in putting those softs on, knowing I could drive like a maniac for a handful of laps. That put us in a good position in segment two, then we won segment three.
I really felt like we were in a great situation, even though I didn't have control of that final restart. I thought Brad would really be able to hold back that inside lane, and I would be able to at least clear him through the center of one on two on newer tires.
One further expansion on that restart environment. You either want to be the leader or in the second row. The second‑place guy can't jump, usually is in one of the most vulnerable positions. But the second row can roll up and have a few miles an hour behind them before they hit the gas, usually make something happen.
So, again, I was nervous when I saw that, saw that the 2 stayed out. Then I knew he would take the inside on old tires. I honestly felt like I was going to have it under control, but the 18 somehow got inside of the 2. That was kind of it for us on the win.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and take questions for Jimmie.

Q. Jimmie, did any of it matter? Whoever got the lead was going to win the race with the clean air?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: On equal tires, yeah. I think the green tire gave a large enough advantage for a short period of time to make something happen.

Q. Is there a future, a practical future, for different optional tire compounds?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: In my opinion, yes. We see it work in Formula One. We see it work in IndyCar. I think the garage area, obviously it's pretty new, but has a favorable opinion of how this went tonight.
Personally I don't have a problem with trying it. Really don't. I mean, it's better than having a button that makes the wing go down or a button that gives you more horsepower. I think it's, you know, a good way, a competitive way, not in a gaming sense, just a competitive way to create different pace cars in the field.

Q. Jimmie, so much has been tried to make this event a special event. Is there still a future here with this? This sport looking at making bigger and bolder decisions, does it start to be a time to look at a venue change, or are there more things that can be done here to further enhance the race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there's no doubt that mile‑and‑a‑half racing puts on a certain type of show. There's some that argue line us up at Bristol for an All‑Star Race and we'll have the wildest night of racing you've ever had in your life, or Richard, something like that.
I've had so much success here. I love being at home. I'm really torn on where to go with it. I think Charlotte Motor Speedway works as hard as they possibly can put on a great show. They're open‑minded to any and every idea.
But mile‑and‑a‑half’s do put on a certain style of racing. So I don't mind whichever direction it goes. I think I'd be sad to see it go because I've won so many All‑Star Races here, and I would naturally want to pick one of my best tracks to have it go to. I think the All‑Star Race should move to Dover. It would be a great night (smiling).

Q. We knew the tires were good on short runs, six to eight laps, but how they were on a long run, 10 to 15 laps?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: They weren't bad. I mean, the trend of handling from my car was the same on the yellows versus the greens. I didn't see a huge shift in trends over the run and balance change. So it just had a bit more grip and went faster for a short period of time. I think it ended up in the same spot as the yellows did.

Q. Did you go with the optional tires in the second stage with the idea that you could catch Larson or were you trying to set yourself up in a better spot for the third stage?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: All of our discussions before the race were to put them on in the third stage. Then I left pit road. About a lap after riding around Chad said I was on my greens in the second stage. Okay.
I don't know what the thought process was. I think knowing a few cars started on greens, Chad just wanted to strike first and get some track position, get some finishing positions in the bank, in a sense, just to increase our chances at a top‑10 average and get us up front.
So it worked out well. I was able to hold off a couple guys on greens in the third segment to win that stage, so it played out just right.

Q. Going back to the tires a little bit, kind of following up from what you said about saying you felt like there could be a future. Tonight it seemed like there was a difference where you could get that few laps of the extra speed, but that the prime tires, it didn't seem like there was enough of a difference between the two to really make it racy for a longer period. Is that something you think Goodyear could look into, especially in a night race situation where there is so much more grip already in the track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think so. I mean, for their first attempt, I would just have to imagine that they were trying to be very smart and intentional with what they did and how they went about it. To not have any failures or big issues tonight I think is a‑‑ they deserve to be commended on that.
Sure, if they had another shot at it, I'm confident they would have ideas to do more.
But the one thing I don't want to overshadow, we're always looking to make things exciting. We all run the same speed. The rule book is so thick, and the cars are so equal, we run the same speed. You can't pass running the same speed. It's just the bottom line.
Pit road is so important. The short run when the tires are cool, how the car acts and behaves, two to three laps, it's where the race is won or lost now. It's just the environment we're in.
It's a credit to the garage area being smart, not in a negative sense, but the damn rule book is too thick. There's too much going on. We're all running the same speed.

Q. Jimmie, part of the hype leading up to this race was that NASCAR was hoping a lot of drivers would take those option tires in the last segment, start in the back, work their way up to the front. No one took option tires in the last segment. Was there no advantage at all to taking them in the last segment? Everyone was as equal with the prime tires as they were with the option tires in the final 10 laps?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's really a numbers game. I think all the crew chiefs, especially Chad, noticed, this is all just speculation, but there were three cars that started on the greens. If they marched their way up to the front, it would have been real easy for everybody to wait.
Because starting in the back on greens for a 10‑lap shootout, there's no way. So they watched the progression of that. Then I think we were on the aggressive side and put ours on. We went from fourth to second. We made up two spots.
So as everybody looked at that and that you could only get a couple spots out of it, I think it was pretty easy for teams to decide to put them on in the third and worry about track position for that fourth segment.

Q. Obviously Dale Jr. didn't have a good night. He said he was concerned. What do you do concerning you both are in the same shop to either pick them up or help them out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I don't have a clue how they did or what even went on, so I don't know yet. But we'll do anything we can obviously to help those guys. Yeah, we'll do anything we can.
I know we were trying some stuff. I'm not sure I'm in love with everything we did this weekend. But we're definitely trying some stuff.

Q. You made the reference about the rule book being so thick. A lot of people talk about run with what you brung. That's too extreme. Is there something else that can be done in light of that for this event as opposed to the venue change? Is it loosening up the rule book? How might that be done in a reasonable way where there's still some balance and fairness for everybody involved?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, I'm like everybody else that is involved in this sport: I have an opinion, but I don't have the answer (laughter).
I just know when you look at qualifying and you look at the cars on the track, we want parity, we want the manufacturers to all have the same opportunity to go fast. These teams all build the same stuff. We all sit there and run the same speed. I mean, it makes sense. We all have access to the same stuff.
I don't have the answer. I guess I say that in trying to not say that it's the track's fault or something that's going on here. Mile‑and‑a‑half racing is mile‑and‑a‑half racing. It's kind of that way. When all the cars are qualifying as tight as they do, we can't pass as easily as anybody, we have to logically look at it and say, Hey, we're all going the same speed, no wonder we can't pass.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, appreciate your time tonight.
THE MODERATOR: We've now been joined by our second‑place finisher, driver of the No.42 Target Chevrolet, Kyle Larson.
Kyle, we know you're feelings to finish in second. Talk to us a little bit about your run and those final 10 laps.
KYLE LARSON: I saw an interview Donny Schatz did last night. They said, Oh, second is good. But, no, he said second sucks ass. Today it sucks ass.
Yeah, that sucks. But we had a dominant car all race. I thought initially our pit crew struggled that last stop. Our jack post on the right side broke off at some point throughout the race. So the jackman had to make a couple more pumps to get the car up. It slowed the stop down enough that we got beat off pit road by three cars. That was kind of the difference in the race for us.
Had a lot of speed. Restarted fifth. Was able to get by Jimmie there that last lap, get to second. I thought that we had a great shot at winning the All‑Star Race, but didn't work out that way.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Kyle.

Q. When it came to using the option tire, did you have a plan before the race about when you might use it? Did it change at all within the course of the race? What are your thoughts on racing in the All‑Star Race for a second year? How do you compare this run to last year?
KYLE LARSON: So the option tire, I feel like our strategy going into it was going to be to save it for final the segment. But when you saw a few people start to use it early in the race, you kind of have to change up your game plan there.
After that first run when Jimmie couldn't catch me on the option tire, I was hoping that we were going to put them on for the next segment. Yeah, that segment was a lot of fun. We had cars that had taken two option tires, not option tires. The racing was really good. There for that final segment, we all had used up our green tires, added on the normal ones.
I think the option tire was a really good thing. I think in the future maybe they could bring a tire that has even more grip and more of a speed and lap time difference that we can visually kind of see that there is a difference.
But I thought it was good. Yeah, I don't remember your other question.

Q. Running two years in a row.
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, so last year was exciting, you know, with the open or the showdown, whatever they called it back then. Making it in. My crew having to work really hard to repair that car. Not really expecting to be that fast in the All‑Star Race, but we almost won. That was awesome. Probably a little more heartbroken last year than this year.
But this year it was nice to be able to watch the open, I think it's the open, in my motorhome. Then dominate the first two stages. The third one, we were really good. Then our issues kind of evolved right there.
I got going really, really good that last run. I just didn't have enough laps.

Q. Kyle, you mentioned you got going really good at the end of the last sprint. Is that high lane where you're so good at so many of these mile‑and‑a‑half's, do you wish you could have found that sooner? Would it have made a difference?
KYLE LARSON: No, I don't think it would have made a difference. Maybe, if anything, if I would have got going fast even earlier, Jimmie would have just moved up in front of me and tried to catch the 18. I think it probably would have just hurt me in the end.
Yeah, you know, 10 laps is fun and exciting. It's just not enough time to make any ground. I was able to start making ground there the last couple laps. Yeah, I slid Jimmie into three there on the last lap. He was a little upset with me after the race.
But, you know, it's a race that pays no points. You never know what can happen in these things. You never know if Kyle would have blown a tire, blown an engine. I just want to be in position to be the winner, be second, to capitalize if he ran into any issues.
Yeah, I was running extremely hard there the last few laps just trying to do anything I could.

Q. Kyle, this has often been debated in the past, but would you like to see the All‑Star Race possibly move to different venues, different style tracks?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, for sure. I think you look at other sports, their All‑Star games switch venues all the time. It's the same game, so it didn't really make a difference other than the venue.
For us, I think it's really cool to change the venue. I don't know if racetracks could bid on the All‑Star Race or bid on the final race of the season. I think that would be really cool.
It would open up different fan bases to come see a big event. You're not going to get many people from the West Coast to fly out here for the All‑Star Race, I don't think, whatever. It would be cool to have an All‑Star Race in Fontana or Vegas or Sonoma. Road courses, anywhere. It would be cool to switch it up every year.
I think you get more fans kind of come to it. Kind of makes the race more exciting again.

Q. Nobody had anything for you the first two segments. I understand why what happened on pit road. Should you have been the winner of this race tonight?
KYLE LARSON: No. I mean, I don't think I should have been the winner. I think we had the car to be the winner.
It's just racing. I mean, you know, bad pit‑‑ I'm not going to call it a bad pit stop anymore because of our issues. When you run into bad luck or problems like that, you don't win the race.
You got to be perfect to win a Cup race, even XFINITY race you have to be perfect, especially Cup race, though. Tonight we just weren't 100% perfect. We were almost there. We'll get better and try to win again next year.

Q. In your mind, was it whoever is the leader on that restart?
KYLE LARSON: Yeah, yeah. I mean, for sure. In those 20‑lap runs, I don't think my balance really changed or my lap time dropped off too much until we got past 10 laps. So I knew being the leader off pit road was going to be the big thing. Yeah, when I could tell that the rear changer wasn't around nearly as fast as the front, I knew we were in trouble.
I'm surprised at the 18 and the 11 beat me off pit road because my nose was definitely in front of the 11 all the way down pit road, I thought. But obviously it wasn't, so...
Yeah, just disappointing.

Q. We knew the option tires were good on the short runs, but how were they on the long runs?
KYLE LARSON: Well, it's hard to really give an answer to that. The run that I was the leader, Jimmie was on the options, I felt like he closed on me to about the six‑ to eight‑lap mark, then I started pulling back away.
The run that I was on the green tire, there was a lot of us on the green tire. I was kind of at the speed that they were at. We were catching Jimmie, who was on the regular tire.
I don't know. Everybody's cars drive differently and stuff. I felt like the handling of it stayed pretty good, though, throughout the 20 laps. I don't know how the lap time looked 'cause I was battling people, so I wasn't really looking at my dash to see what I was running.
Yeah, so I don't know.

Q. We all know about aero push, leaders kind of run away here. Were you surprised that you were able to kind of dominate the first 40 laps like you did?
KYLE LARSON: I wasn't surprised. My racecar's been really fast this year. I wasn't really surprised that I didn't get back to the lead. I guess I am surprised I didn't get to the lead when I had the option tire on. I just got a bad restart, got kind of split.
But, yeah, you know, dirty air, definitely my balance was tighter on exit in dirty air. When I was out in front by myself, I would never have to come all the way out of the throttle. But when I was in traffic, I definitely had to come all the way out to help my car turn.
So dirty air, like Jimmie said, you're always going to have dirty air on mile‑and‑a‑half's. You're never going to get rid of that. Maybe there's ways you make it better. I don't know. I'm not an engineer. But it's just mile‑and‑a‑half racing.
I enjoy it. Even Donny Schatz, go back to his interview last year, he said he enjoys dirty air. It adds an element. It's something you have to work through and become the better driver, find clean air, do a good job with it.

Q. How exactly did Jimmie Johnson show his displeasure with you after the race? How often has something like that happened so far in your Cup career?
KYLE LARSON: He just had his hand out the window like, What are you doing? No big deal really. I always race hard with Jimmie. I expect the same from him.
Jimmie is to me the greatest driver of all time. Any time I can race hard with him and pass him, do it without getting into him, I'm proud of that. We didn't touch tonight.
Yeah, so it was fun. He probably looks at it as there was no reason to pass him. We weren't going to win. But you never know. You never know what's going to happen. I just want to be running second if something has to happen.
Oh, well.
THE MODERATOR: Kyle, we appreciate your time. Thank you.

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