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October 26, 2008
KERRY THARP: We're pleased to be joined by our race runner-up and our points leader this week. He increases that points margin up to 183 points, Jimmie Johnson.
Jimmie, you got that pit road speeding penalty early on. You certainly made up a lot of ground. Boy, you were coming on strong there at the end. Your thoughts.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, I felt like I went 12 rounds with Tyson today. That was a long, long race for us. I made that mistake getting onto pit road I guess. I've heard it was in and off pit road. I'm not sure where. But somewhere I was speeding, had to do that pass-through on green flag stop conditions.
It just killed us. It just killed us. We just fought back from that all day long. We could make up some ground, but we could only get to seventh, sixth, something like that. The cars were all pretty equal in front of us on speed. We just kind of hung there and couldn't go anywhere.
Chad's calls for tires at the end really paid off. We were able to make up a lot of ground, get a good finish out of today.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Jimmie.
We have our third-place finisher, as well, Denny Hamlin. Denny, you had a strong run out there, led a lot of laps. Your thoughts about how things shook out today?
DENNY HAMLIN: It was good. Our car was good. We worked it into a top-seven car early. Worked it into a top-five car around halfway. Then after that, just every pit stop we got a little better, a little better, starting making up positions. We knew if we could get past the 17 in the pits that we were going to check out. Once we got around him, our car was just awesome. It was really, really good.
You know, we looked good with 30 to go there. After the last pit stop, that was the best my car had been all day. We had that debris caution. That just completely changed the complexity of the race. It seems like it glazed over my rear tires because after that I had no rear grip whatsoever. That's part of it.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions now.
Q. Denny, can you talk about the restart with Carl, when he maybe made a little contact with you. Also the last lap with Jimmie, when you got loose in four.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, you know, we struggled to get going on the restarts, which is fine. We were still okay. But, you know, the 99 was coming. I was probably -- I think I was in the middle of the track. Versus going high or low, he hit us. When he did, it knocked us down the racetrack. He chose what lane he wanted to be in when he hit us. Once you get the guy on the outside on the restart, it's over.
That second groove is really, really good for a few laps. Once he knocked us down to the bottom right there, it was over with. We knew, we conceded that. The only way to do it was to do it back to him. But our car would not take off. It would not take off at all.
The last lap with Jimmie, he just had position on the outside. Our car was really loose to begin with. With him beside us, I mean, we almost took him and myself out.
Q. Jimmie, when you were flying past people after that last restart, did you even have visions of maybe even catching Carl? Was it to the point you almost ran out of laps to win the race or missed a 'green-white-checkered' to win the race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think that the circumstances really played into us finishing as good as we could. Carl was gone. I don't think I could have caught him. I missed the chance to pit with 16 to go or something. A lot of guys pitted. Then we had a couple more quick cautions. Then it was a single-file restart with lead lap cars only. In that situation, that worked out perfectly. We were the first car back out on four after that.
So I don't think I could have got Carl. Maybe a 'green-white-checkered' would have given us a chance. But he was so far ahead, I couldn't have got to him.
I have to commend Denny on his slide through turn three and not getting into us. Got real close to him down the backstretch, poked down around the outside to get into three. Got him sideways. I could hear him pedalling the car. Did a great job of saving it.
I made it through all the other guys on the outside, but once I got to Denny, just caught him on the back straightaway at the wrong time and got almost sideways.
Q. Denny, is the one thing about this car that you can get it in a slide and save it like you were able to today? There were cars sliding around out there all day today.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, the pace was slow. I told my crew chief during the course of the day that the pace was so slow, I thought NASCAR was just going to black flag us all for not making minimum speed. We were running 34 something, mid 34s, something. That's just a horrid pace around this racetrack.
But, yeah, I like it when you got to slide around. I like it when the driver's got to make up a difference. This is a racetrack where you can do that.
But, you know, it's just a product of we have a hard tire, so you're gonna have a natural slide anyway. This track is very, very coarse. The whole tire's not on the racetrack anyway. You're running on top of the rocks. So this track, it's very hard. But the car does make it easier. It has so much side force. It's almost like a truck. If you do get it sideways, you can kind of control it a little bit easier.
Q. Jimmie, on the post-race TV interview, Carl was basically in disbelief, he didn't know you finished behind him. He called you magic. What does that mean to you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm just as shocked as he is. I thought we were finish probably ninth or tenth today. That last caution came out, I have to give Knaus the credit for making the call, playing the strategy right. It worked out well for us.
Like I said, I really thought that I was from a seventh to tenth place car. With the guys behind me, I was in seventh, three or four of them were right behind me on fresh tires. I thought I was in big trouble. That last caution put us back in play.
It just worked out.
Q. Denny, this is easily your best finish here at Atlanta. Obviously you kind of wanted a little bit more.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it's frustrating. This has not been my best racetrack by far. We've run well here. We've run third to fifth here before. Had a car capable of running third to fifth, but had issues. Had a power steering failure in the spring where we had a good car.
You know, by the stats, this is a terrible track for us. So obviously that gets you excited. With 60 to go, I was thinking, Man, this is a track, if we're going to win, we definitely did not put this on our calendar to go out and feel like we had a really good shot at winning. We knew we could run well. It takes a really, really good car to win here. You really got to have a great car.
We had it today. Just let it slip.
Q. Jimmie, you were talking about thinking you had a seventh to tenth place car and you finished second. You're 30th after the penalty. At that point what is your goal? You already said you can't believe you finished where you finished. A seventh place car finishing second seems to be what a champion is.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, we did our part today. I had fresh tires. Got to the topside, drove the crap out of the car today. Chad made a good decision to put four tires on it there at the end. We had things working for us there that paid off.
You know, it was so tough at the start of the race when we got that penalty. I did a good job of keeping my cool. Chad did, as well. We just set our sites on the first goal we had to overcome to get back to a good finish, and that was getting in position to be the first car one lap down so we could get the Lucky Dog. So I'm running, running. Come to pit road. I think I was the ninth or tenth car on pit road. My guys killed the stop. I came out in the lead and had that. Then we caught the caution.
From that point on, it was just about staying on the lead lap because we were starting so far in traffic, it was tough to get going, fighting all the lap cars, all that stuff. Then we got about halfway up through the field. It was really trying to get a top five. At that point we kind of stalled out at seventh, just kind of riding there. Then everything went crazy at the end. We had the right strategy at the end.
Q. Jimmie, you get asked after every race what your outlook of the points is, whether you were leading or not. A lot of people speculated that Carl Edwards was going to be good here. You managed to bounce back from being a lap down, potentially losing a good part of your points lead, to hardly losing any ground at all. Do you feel with Texas remaining, a mile-and-a-half, he's strong, you have a bit more of a sigh of relief with the troubles of Burton and Biffle that you can cruise just a little bit? Slicing and dicing on the last lap, you weren't playing possum at all.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, you got to race. That's what we're here for. You have no clue what's going to take place next week or the final two races. You got to go. You just can't sit still and be content with sixth, seventh, fifth, wherever you're at. You've got to go. You just don't know what's gonna happen, what kind of luck we're gonna have. You just got to do it.
My outlook is better. There's three races left. Our points margin is bigger than it's been yet. So that's a step in the right direction. But until I have that trophy in my mind, I can't loosen up on things. I just got to keep my head down and keep working for this.
Q. Jimmie, when you're in 30th, are you looking at the pylon, looking where the 99 or the 16 is? Are you cognizant at all of the guys you're racing in the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: At first I was. I really expected Carl to be gone, his car was so fast at the beginning of the race. 17 led for a while. Denny led a lot late. I was wondering if it was just track position killed the 99 or what had happened.
But then those last couple restarts, he got up there and got going. I had a feeling Carl was controlling the race up there in the top three. Once I got my lap back, I'm running along, there's the 31 and 16 right in front of me. We ran a full fuel run all with each other. So my mind was thinking, At least we're all together, if we get lapped again, we're all in the same boat together. I was able to get by them and get away and stuff. At different points I did pay attention to that. I could say at the end, I was just really worried about getting every single point I could and wasn't really paying attention to where the 31 and 16 were.
Q. Jimmie, you've said in the past in so many words that you like to stay confident but worried. Are you going to carry that mindset all the way through the last lap in Homestead?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm gonna try. We're just going to show up each week and do what we can. We got a good race team. Everybody's doing their part.
We have a lot of reasons to be confident. I think we'd be foolish to be cocky. But we're definitely confident in what we are, who we are as a team. Show up next week and try again.
Q. Unless my math is wrong, Jimmie, you can clinch next week. It would be a longshot, but you could do it. More than likely if you do, did it will probably be Phoenix. Your thoughts about that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, sure would make the week of Homestead a lot easier for me.
You know, it would be great if it happened. That's certainly a goal. If it's in our realm of accomplishing, that is something we want to do. But truthfully it's about beating now I guess the 99. He's second in points. I have to worry about still the 99, 16, 31. Those are the guys I'm racing at this point. The problem with that is one of those three guys is going to be leading the race. It means I've got to race for the win. Head down, keep diggin'.
Q. You said this place has become a lot like a bigger oversized Darlington. Knowing that, were you surprised more guys didn't come for tires that last pit call? Talk about the tactic by Chad, how it worked out.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The guys behind me came. We really had the perfect storm come together. You had the leaders, there's no way they're going to pit. A group of three or four guys that just got tires a couple laps to go. They don't want to give up any track position. They feel pretty good about the tires they have on their car. And then myself. Tires make such a difference here that I was able just to get smoking around the outside and go.
But this track is Darlington, it is what Darlington used to be. Only problem is we're going about twice the speed and it's even more hairy than what we had at Darlington. This track has aged a lot in my seven or eight years of driving in the Cup Series. It's lost a ton of grip. It's really rough. It is a tough, tough track. They need to come up with a nickname or something for this place, like Darlington has had. This baby's tough.
Q. How challenging were those last few laps? Obviously the tires helped. Was it as easy as it looked, difficult? How does it compare to anything you've done in races where you made runs at the end? Was it that big of a deal?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I mean, I had a lot of speed. That's the hardest I've been able to drive my car throughout the race. We had tire pressures up, made some adjustments to kind of treat it like eight laps of qualifying. That's really what I did.
The first few laps the tire was so good that I was pretty confident in what I could do, how far I could go. Each lap went by, it started losing a little grip, slipping and sliding.
The last two laps, I had my hands full. I couldn't just mat the gas when I got back on the throttle, hold on to it. I was fighting it up off the turn pretty bad.
I got to fourth and took a deep breath, said, Okay, this is good. Then something in the back of my mind said, Wait a second, there's still two more up there you can easily get. I again put my head down, got going. Real close with Denny. I'm glad that worked out like it did. Glad he hung onto it, stayed off me.
(Indiscernible) to go. I wanted to get every one I could.
Q. There's been times in the past where people have said you don't have a fiery personality. But watching out there on the track today, obviously you must show that fire from your driving ability. Talk about that. Are you getting tired of people saying your personality isn't one that a lot of people tend to invoke passion one way or the other?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's a couple times I climbed out of the car and been a smart ass about things. It just doesn't work for me. I can't get out like Stewart and create a hurricane and be okay with that. I just don't do good at that stuff. Certain guys do.
Carl will probably admit, if you ask him when he comes in, he started a hurricane with Harvick, that crash, all the stuff that went on, and he didn't like it. It wasn't what works for him.
I've known that my entire career. I've always raced people with respect. I've always tried to settle it on the track, settle it in a way that it's racing, but I'm pushover by any means out there. That's just my style, the way I've always raced. I think it's why guys work with me so well on track over the years. There's just a lot that spins off of it. If you get out there and race hard but you don't screw with people, things work out a lot better.
Q. Talk about the tire a little bit. How did it feel today, especially compared to the spring race? Looked like a lot of guys used up the right side of their car.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's really tough for me to say that I could feel a difference with the tire. It's so long ago, I can't remember if we had blown tires or not. I thought we had a couple. I think the tires lasted longer.
To me, I'm not sure what the change was, I should, but it felt like maybe a little softer compound.
KERRY THARP: Softer right sides.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: But the construction is still not matched up for what the car needs and wants here. This track is so different than any other mile-and-a-half that we run on. I can't explain to you how rough it is in this car. I think the old car with the more travel that we had, a little more forgiving. In this car, with the splitter hitting the ground, it being solid like it is, the bump-stops, this place is a monster, man. It's got its own characteristics.
You know, I commend Goodyear for taking a shot at making the fire better. I think we saw some improvements. But from a driver standpoint, I can't say that I felt a lot different this time versus last time. I had my hands full both races.
Q. Since you're talking about just the characteristics in the car, since I'm not in the car, what did it feel like? How tough is it? What is your body feeling like at this point? Any different from any other places?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, I could tell you mentally I'm wore out. I think tomorrow morning I'll wake up and certainly have some sore spots. Shoulders will be sore from trying to saw on the wheel all day long. If you think about it, when you're comfortable in the car, you can relax into the seat and restraint systems. When you're uncomfortable, you're just like in a clenched position the whole time and you've got to be really delicate with the gas pedal. For whatever reason, I push real hard on the steering wheel, you're fighting the resistance of the wheel, wrestling the car around.
There was a lot of that today out on the track. I don't think anybody was ever comfortable where they could just relax into the seat and do their jobs.
Does that help? Need more? Something else (smiling)?
Q. Put me in the seat.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: (Laughter).
KERRY THARP: Jimmie, great job out there today. Good luck next week.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you.
End of FastScripts