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July 25, 2009
KERRY THARP: We're roll into our post qualifying press conference for tomorrow's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard. Our second quickest in today's qualifying session is Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet. Take us through your qualifying performance out there today.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Actually, it was a little disappointing. With the track, being so late, the first few guys had the coolest track. It was hard. I think we had a car to beat Mark. Actually, the balance was kind of weird. We did three runs yesterday, didn't touch the car, and it was always on the loose side. It turned really good. It was just a little loose. I think here it's a little faster.
The qualifying lap was actually tight. I was kind of surprised. Actually kind of happy we ran a little bit faster than we ran yesterday.
But I don't know, car seems good in race trim. It's been consistent. For what we're trying to achieve, it's very good. We got to try to have very good finishes the next few weeks to get to the Chase. It's all about that. I know we have a chance of winning tomorrow. Most important thing is bringing the car home. If we can have a very good points day tomorrow, it will be huge.
KERRY THARP: Questions for Juan Pablo.
Q. Juan, nobody has yet won the Brickyard 400 and the Indianapolis 500. Obviously starting second, that seems to give you a great opportunity. Do you think your car is adjustable enough to keep up with the conditions all day tomorrow to win it by the end of the day?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I'll tell you the truth, we unloaded, I think the only thing we done to the car is changed 20 pounds on the left rear spring. That's all we done. Car is that good.
I don't know. My first year here, I qualified second. I think I qualified second, yeah, and finished second. Last year we didn't qualify that great, like 11th or something, or 13th. We were running fourth when the tire blew up.
I think we got a very good car. I would have been happier for the race if we didn't practice today 'cause I think people will find things that will make their cars better, as well. You know what I mean?
Q. You mentioned the importance of getting a good points day tomorrow. What might you do differently in this situation versus if you were fifth in points or something?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, I think if you're fifth in points and you're getting top fives every week, you can take more risk, you can take two-tire stops. You can get away with a lot of things. You look at the points, we're ahead of the 5 car and ahead of the 18 car in points. One of them won three races, the other one won four, and I don't have a single top five. You tell me if points racing doesn't help.
Q. You mentioned you don't have a single top five all year long. Don't you think it would be kind of necessary not having a bad race from now until we get to Richmond?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: If we have a top five, great. You know, we probably could have had a top five in Sonoma. We decided to be careful. If somebody was coming inside, let him go, take the points. It was a great points day. We finished sixth and it was good.
Did you want to finish better? Yeah, of course you want to finish better. I think here, the way the track is, I think overtaking is really hard. So we'll see. We'll do what we can, pick our winning and losing. If we have a good stop, clean track ahead of us, we'll go. If we're in traffic, be smart about it, take our time.
Q. Juan, you've won the Indianapolis 500. Have you ever thought in your mind what it would be like to win the Brickyard?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: In Formula One it went across my head a lot of times because I had a chance to win, but it blew up and all kinds of things happened (laughter). I think today if I looked at it, I'd rather win this than the Formula One race here, to be honest. I think it's a bigger deal, so...
I finished second once. Started second once, started twice second actually. So we'll see. From practice, we have probably the fastest car. But not always the fastest car wins. We'll see.
KERRY THARP: Juan, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: All right.
KERRY THARP: We're pleased to be joined by our third fastest in qualifying, that's Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Dale, good qualifying effort out there for you. Your thoughts?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, we put up a good lap yesterday. So we felt like we had a good shot at qualifying in the top five. We had a pretty early draw. The track temp was really good for us when we went out. We were just able to capitalize on that, beat a couple guys that beat us yesterday.
It's been a good weekend for us. Lance built a brand-new car to bring here. He's really excited about it, has been talking about it for the last couple weeks, about how excited he was to bring it here, looking forward to see how it would work. Seems to be doing really good.
Couple of our teammates were able to tire test here. We felt pretty comfortable coming in that we knew what we needed to have underneath the car to run well. It seems to be working.
KERRY THARP: Questions for Dale.
Q. You talked a lot about having a new car. Are you a little frustrated you have to come here this weekend and be sick and not be able to be a hundred percent?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Yeah, I feel a lot better today. I feel about 90% today. It was real frustrating yesterday 'cause we didn't come in till Friday morning. I felt so terrible before we flew out. And yesterday was just really a frustrating, miserable day for me physically.
You know, didn't really seem to bother us, how we ran, what we needed to get done or accomplished. We probably could have ran one more sticker run, or would have normally ran one more sticker run at the end of qualifying than we did, but we cut it a little short.
I feel a lot better today, a lot more confident in being able to get out there and get something out of this next practice, go into tomorrow. I don't think Brad is going to be able to come out here this evening to help us. He was going to come out and run a lap just in case he had to climb into the car for some crazy, unforeseen thing on Sunday. We just wanted to have a backup plan instead of not having one at all. He's not going to be able to come out here, so we're going to have to man up and not have a backup plan. That's all right.
We'll see how the car is. Hopefully it's just fine. Seemed to be working really good yesterday. We'll see how it goes. Like I said, it was a 24-hour stomach bug. I guess I lost a bunch of fluids during that whole deal. I feel fine now. I just got to get fluids back in me. Just been drinking a lot of water a lot of Gatorade.
Q. Can you talk about your relationship with Lance and how it's progressed. You feel like you're in the saddle now, you have something to build on.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, the weekends and the races really can't come fast enough for me because I just want to work with him more and more and learn more and progress more. Either the weekends can't come fast enough or we aren't progressing as fast as I would like to.
But we are doing better. We are seeing some signs of improvement. The team's mentality and everybody's personality, including myself, has turned around for the better. We just still have a little ways to go. We still have some work to do and still have a lot more to achieve.
But, you know, I've always gotten along with Lance. Before we started doing this deal this year, we worked together a time or two. I enjoyed working with him before.
I don't know. I kind of like the way we're able to communicate. Right now we can talk to each other without taking things personally or letting things become too personal. Hopefully we can keep it that way.
Q. Is that a relief?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Well, I mean, working with Lance has been great, and I've enjoyed it. And he's doing a really, really good job. And he works really, really hard. Being a crew chief in this business is one of the toughest jobs. He does an amazing job. He came into a deal that wasn't doing very well, and he's helped turn it around. I'm sure he wouldn't take all the credit for it.
But, you know, I'm really proud of him and I think he does a good job. We got more to do. We're not where we want to be. We got more to get. Like I said, the races can't get here fast enough. I think even if we came out here and won this weekend, I'd still be itching to see four or five more weeks of racing to know what are those four or five weeks gonna look like, you know, to get a real good grade or gauge of how much better we've gotten or how much more we're improving.
Look forward to running more and more races with him.
Q. Dale, Mark Martin is 50. Bill Elliott is 53. That's a long time for you. Can you foresee yourself at that age to be doing the things these guys are doing?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: It's different for everybody, I think. I really don't know how you gauge the deterioration of talent in a racecar driver. It's not as easy to do that as it is, I guess, in stick-and-ball sports where you can see when somebody's lost a step or their batting average goes down or whatever.
You know, when I see Mark and Bill doing what they do, doesn't surprise me individually. Mark has always taken great care of himself. He's always been one of the fastest guys. Bill's the same way. I mean, Bill's in excellent health, and he's always been that way. I think a lot of it has to do with your ability to handle the heat and the endurance of the races themselves.
Obviously, anybody can come out here in a good, fast car and run a quick lap. Anybody can come out and do one or two or a handful of good laps. But those guys still run well and will continue to run well because their bodies can handle the heat and the endurance of the entire race.
I don't think age is really a factor. It's really what kind of shape you're in, you know, to be able to do it.
Q. You mentioned this is the first car that Lance has built from the ground up. He seems like a pretty confident guy anyway. Does he have a little more confidence knowing he's had his hands on this whole thing from the beginning?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: He seemed real excited the last couple weeks talking about the car, some of the advantages the car seemed to have over what we've been using. He's been looking forward to getting this type of racecar out on the racetrack and using it.
I guess I like it because if he feels this way or feels that much confidence and he knows the car as well as he does, then I have the ability to feel a little more confident in his decisions during practice and during the race on what to change, what he's trying to do to improve the car. I feel like he'll know the car better.
Every crew chief has an idea and an approach to what a car needs to do. He has his approach. We're gonna try it out this weekend.
Q. Dale, I know you've had your struggles this season. What has it been like to witness the fun that the gentleman next to you has been having so far this year, for Mark Martin?
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: We knew when we talked earlier, the middle of last year, about Mark coming, that it was going to be fun. Rick was really, really excited to be able to work with Mark. I think Mark was excited to work with Rick. So it's been fun talking and hearing Rick, you know, after a win or something, texting back and forth with Rick, being able to feel the excitement in his communication with you about Mark.
I knew Mark would come in and run well. I knew he would be fast. That's a great race team. He's a great driver. It was just a perfect fit. They were both at the right place at the right time. Hopefully he'll stick around for a couple years. I'm sure if he's running like this and winning races, it won't be hard to talk him into it.
I am enjoying being this close to him and being able to work this close to him. He's been a huge supporter of mine since I started racing in the Busch Series. Like I said, it's been great for Hendrick Motorsports. Already he's just done a tremendous amount for that company and the owner of that company.
So, you know, I guess that's something that I think is really important, is just in this short time what he's been able to do and provide for all the employees that work there, and Rick as well.
KERRY THARP: Dale, we appreciate it very much. Hope you feel better. Certainly good luck tomorrow.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.: Thank you.
KERRY THARP: Our polesitter for tomorrow's Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, none other than Mark Martin, driver of the No. 5 Carquest/Kellogg's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. His fourth pole of the 2009 season, his first pole here at Indianapolis. I'm told that at the age of 50, you've become the oldest pole winner in any major event in the hundred-year history of this racetrack. Congratulations, Mark. Your thoughts about sitting on the pole for tomorrow's race.
MARK MARTIN: I like making history. That's cool (laughter).
You know what, yesterday was a lot of fun for me. We struggled through race trim practice and then we went into Q trim and we made improvements. We made three qualifying runs. The last one was about 10 minutes left of practice. We went to the top of the board. You should have seen the light in all my guys' faces. I mean it, that's the most, the very most fun of the whole thing that we're doing here, is to see their faces. It's just really, really cool.
So we got to do it again today. It feels really cool. I love those guys. I'm a pretty tough unit. I've had a lot of disappointments. But I feel toward them like you do toward your children. I don't want them to have to suffer through disappointment. So I put a lot of pressure on myself to get a good lap today so that I wouldn't let them down. So that long, drawn-out wait to go qualify, it felt like a long time to me. I was sure glad when I got the lap over with and the lap time was so good.
KERRY THARP: Questions for Mark Martin.
Q. I don't know how much of a golf fan you are, but did you have a chance to check in on what Tom Watson was doing last week? What's going on? Is there hope for the 49-year-olds like myself?
MARK MARTIN: There's hope, buddy. Did you see Bill Elliott out there today? Believe me, there's hope (smiling). The guy's still got it. He's still pushing the button.
Yeah, it's pretty cool. Like I said, you know, before, heck, if you can make any kind of history, it's usually a good thing. I don't know. I'm sure loving it.
I can promise you one thing: no matter what, there is nobody in NASCAR having more fun than me (laughter). I'm sure about that. Ultimately, that's really what it's about.
Q. Did you watch any of Watson?
MARK MARTIN: I did hear peripherally. It's not on my radar screen. I did hear about it, and do watch the news and check the news. I knew a little bit about what's going on.
But if it doesn't have wheels on it, I don't know much (smiling).
Q. What do you see as the difference between this year's car and last year's car?
MARK MARTIN: You know, I had an awesome car last year. We set on the outside pole last year. The 8 car was awesome, spectacular. But we couldn't keep a right rear tire on it as long as most of them. I didn't get to race Jimmie and Jeff. Don't know that I could have anyway, but I didn't get a chance to.
This car is just really special. It is big horsepower, great handling. The men that make this car are the real stars and the real heroes behind the scenes, starting with Alan Gustafson, working down to guys that work in the shop that don't get nearly the kind of credit that even Alan does. They're the ones that make the car special, all the guys in the engine shop and in the chassis shop.
Q. Dale Jr. said a few minutes ago he said what makes the difference later in a driver's career still being competitive is the fact you're staying in shape, you're healthy. Obviously that's what you think is a big part of your success. Do you feel at a later age you become a better driver, thanks to maturity and things you've seen?
MARK MARTIN: You know, there's no question that there are some elements that deteriorate. On the other hand there are some elements that you can use as your strengths: experience and judgment, you've seen situations before. In my case, I've made the wrong decision and learned from it, or whatever, like that.
All I can do is use my strengths. That's all I can do. I can't do anything about my weaknesses. You know, I can't help it that I got to have reading glasses to read a menu. There's not much I can do about that, or whatever.
So what I do is I focus on my strengths. I'm trying to make the very most out of my career. And physical fitness, health and fitness is a part of that. My quality of life from here going forward is very dependent on that. That's something that I just don't think you can afford to let go.
I look back and 30 years ago I moved to Indiana. I didn't come out to race here. I was up the road. I could tell you every pothole and crack that was in the roads, the beltway around Indy here, the road that goes up to North Liberty, all that stuff. When I look back on that, I can't relive those days. The only ones I can live are the ones going forward.
I happen to have the same fire and desire that I had 30 years ago. Not everyone, you know, has that. Maybe three years ago I didn't have as much either. I had a chance to look at it and say, What I want in life, what do I want out of life, and can I still do this. I think that's a very important question that I asked myself.
The 8 car was really the one that answered the question. You know, we ran so good in the 8 car that it gave me the confidence that I could probably still do it. I don't want to race to make laps, even though this is where my -- the people at the racetrack are my family and have been my family for a long time.
Q. Last year at Pocono you said, I'm going to come to Indy and win. That didn't happen. Do you have any predictions for tomorrow?
MARK MARTIN: No, I'm not even thinking about it. We've got a lot of work today. I'm going to stay focused on that. I prefer not to think about what possible result could be tomorrow.
I can tell you I think it's gonna be a dogfight for this race. I really do. I'd like to be in the fray. That's about as far as I'll go thinking about it.
Q. In your younger days the expectations on you were very high. When you get up to this age, expectations go down from the media, from the fans. Does that take pressure from you that you don't feel now?
MARK MARTIN: It's such a great question, and it is so true. The media still had greater expectations than I wish they would have coming into the season. They scared me a little bit because they had such high expectations.
But really to answer your question, my expectations were what eventually just ground me into the ground and took the fun out of racing for me. That, along with burnout, being burned out, tired, frustrated, what have you, pretty much took the fun out of it.
So to be able to be rejuvenated after a couple years of catching my breath, then to have some crazy surge of success that we're experiencing, is beyond my dreams. It's meeting anyone who even had the highest of expectations, we're meeting right now. So that's pretty good, too.
Q. Mark, obviously you're one of the older drivers in the series. You're constantly the oldest to do this, to do that. Do you ever get tired of hearing about your age with your successes?
MARK MARTIN: No. You know, in other words, it's not offensive to me at all. It's just fine to be recognized for doing something. A lot of my career I felt like there were times when I wasn't, so I'll take it right now (laughter).
It's okay. It's okay. At least we are having fun and we're having success. It's always fun to beat the odds. I believe that we are beating the odds.
Q. You talked about hoping to be in the fray tomorrow. You've been a part of NASCAR's venture to Indy since its inception. I know you didn't want to make predictions, but where does this race rank in the scheme of things? Would you consider it a big accomplishment if it were to happen?
MARK MARTIN: It would be a great accomplishment. It is really the number two crown jewel of stock car racing, I think. But, like I've always said, you don't get to choose where you win. If you're lucky, you get to win.
You know, for me, if I get to win, and it don't happen to be Indy, I'll take it. But, you know, if we could win Indy, I'll certainly take that as well. It would be a big win for my race team and it would be a big win for me, for my career, especially at this point in time.
Q. Rick Hendrick has a way of making dreams come true. He did it for Terry Labonte in '96 when people thought Terry might have been past his prime. What is it about this man? He makes dreams come true for people, especially racers.
MARK MARTIN: He does. And don't forget Tim Richman, when he came back from being sick. That's got to be one of the biggest overlooked stories. It is a big deal to me anyway. I don't know.
He's a special guy, and I think he takes a little extra pride in that. I think he and Jeff Gordon both are enjoying our success because they were the biggest believers in this. Jeff was a huge supporter of Rick persuading me to do this, as well. I think doing something that some people thought couldn't be done, I think they enjoy it. I think they're enjoying it.
Q. Juan Pablo was in here earlier talking about the position he's in in points. As much as he would love to win this race, he can't afford to risk a bad points day to do it. You're in a comparable position. How do you approach tomorrow?
MARK MARTIN: For me it's fairly much the same as my entire career. Frickel taught me in 1977 in order to finish first, first you must finish. If you watched Chicago, you saw an example of that. There was a point inside of a dozen laps to go that it looked like I might not win that race. Because I led the most laps and was fixing to not win the race, wrecking wasn't going to fix that. So I kept racing, fighting, and it turned out to happen for me.
I understand what Juan Pablo is saying. It reflects in his racing. He's one of the best racecar drivers I've ever seen in my lifetime. I'm really, really excited to see him having the success that he's having, really getting his arms around such a different form of racing than what he grew up doing and experiencing.
Q. You're having a lot of success now. Going back to the North Liberty days, you had a lot of success then as a young driver. Are you having more fun now than you did then?
MARK MARTIN: That was pretty much fun (laughter). That was pretty much fun. My first winter in that shop in North Liberty, it had a tin roof with no insulation, and we heated it with a space heater, kerosene. I was a teenager. Out on my own making it, without parental supervision, so to speak. It was the first chance to be out there in the world doing it on your own. It was really fun.
We had tremendous success. But there's been a lot of days since then. A lot of the fun finally either dwindled away or was taken for granted. Some of it was taking for granted how much this sport means to me, how little I want to do. What do I want to do? I had enough time off to figure out, Okay, I think I'd like to be at the racetrack driving the fastest car at the track. I think I'd rather be doing that than anything else. So that's what we're doing now.
But those days were very, very fun. Adventurous, very adventurous. To me, this adventure with Hendrick Motorsports is a little bit adventurous, as well, if you can understand. It's all new. We're doing probably what many people thought couldn't be done.
You know, I questioned myself whether or not I could do the job. I certainly didn't expect to have this kind of success. I just hoped to have some success. I had no idea it would be so spectacular.
Q. Mark, you made the comment after your lap that you left a little bit out there, probably could have run a flat if you had been a little bit younger. The guys on TV mentioned that may not have been the case; if you were younger, you may have pushed it too hard and hurt yourself. Do you think you got the most you could?
MARK MARTIN: Let me kind of take you through that lap. 49 seconds is actually quite a long lap, a long time. When I left the pits and went into turn three, the car got loose right away. Wasn't really at a hundred percent speed yet. That concerned me. It was free off of four coming to the green. I went into one, I knew I was going to be loose. It was pretty free, pretty eventful. I did two, and it was pretty eventful. I thought about it for quite a long time going down the backstretch.
I went into three, like in my phrase, 'young and dumb,' and it was pretty eventful. When I got off of that one, I had this quick flash in my head of the 5 car on the wrecker, and therefore turn four wasn't eventful (smiling). I had that quick flash. That's all I can tell you. That sums my lap up. That's what I had.
When I came off of turn four, not a tire on the car slipped. I was like, That's disgusting. You know, now I hadn't drove it hard enough (smiling).
The lap time was spectacular. I thought it was maybe a 50.40, not a 49.40. When he told me the lap time, I was like, Well, okay. I guess that's acceptable. But it was not really what I was looking for. The lap I made at the end of practice yesterday was all of it, all of it. The lap today, the car could have been better, and therefore I could have maybe done a better job with my judgment on the turns.
But that's what happened.
KERRY THARP: Mark, we certainly appreciate it. Congratulations. All the best tomorrow.
MARK MARTIN: Thank you.
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