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September 5, 2014
THE MODERATOR: We're going to roll into post qualifying for tomorrow night's 57th annual Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway and our third fastest qualifier was Jimmie Johnson.Â He drives the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie, Jeff was second, certainly showed the power of the Hendrick Motorsports team, but just talk about practice, how it's been since we saw you earlier this morning, how your car is shaping up and your outlook for tomorrow night.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:Â It's been really stressful, to be honest.Â The time of day when we practice and an abrasive track is really, makes it tough to know what your car is doing and if your changes are improving your balance.
So, there was plenty of confusion through practice.Â When we switched into qualifying trim, our last two runs on scuffs were pretty fast, but amongst all the confusion, on our stickers we were slower and you never go faster on scuffs, especially here.
So, it was kind of a bizarre set of circumstances for us.Â But we kind of stayed the course, tried to find a little bit of truth through our notes and just conversation in the transporter and came out and had two great qualifying sessions.Â So very pleased with the effort.Â But again when the sun's out today, and if you weren't going out on stickers each time it was really difficult to know if you were advancing your car.
So, evidently we did throughout the course of the day, but didn't make the practice sessions easy for us.
THE MODERATOR:Â Take questions now for Jimmie Johnson.
Q.Â If you will, just talk about how critical it is to start up front at this racetrack.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:Â Passing is really tough, and even the lane that you're in on a restart has a huge impact here.
Although the middle groove seems to be working okay through practice, and it's where I ran in qualifying, I hope that's a good sign for the race and that we'll have side by side racing and outside lane working in.
But track position, being in the right lane and then that pit stall pick, those are really, really important here, because it's just tough to complete a pass.
THE MODERATOR:Â We're also joined by Jeff Gordon, our second fastest qualifier.Â He drive the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet and Jeff, certainly another outstanding qualifying effort by you and your race team and what's your outlook for tomorrow night as you would like to secure that fourth win?
JEFF GORDON:Â Yeah, I'll admit, today was tough, it was a kind of a frustrating day because of the conditions.Â It's a new tire based on what we had the last time we were here.Â So, we were trying to learn that.Â The hot conditions were making you slip and slide around.
So, I'll be honest, I've been confused most of the day, even qualifying I was sliding up the race track and running a groove I didn't really want to be running, and yet we were fastest in the first round and second fastest in the second round, and I'm sitting here baffled by it.
But that just tells me we got a really good race car that's got good speed in it, and we just got to get that balance right and keep working hard, and we'll be able to put a good effort tomorrow night.
I'm certainly proud to be on that front row and Brad put a great lap up there.Â I mean that was incredible what he did that second round.
THE MODERATOR:Â Thank you, Jeff.Â Joining us also with a qualifying effort of 8th is our top Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate.Â Kyle Larson.Â And Kyle certainly had to feel pretty good about your qualifying effort.Â You've got some work to do, to get into the chase tomorrow night, but certainly very, very capable of doing it.Â So, just talk about that right now.
KYLE LARSON:Â Yeah, it's a decent starting spot for us.Â Like you said, it is a big race for us tomorrow night.Â Got a lot on the line, and you have to run really good.Â And if we don't win, we got to hope for a bit of bad luck from Biffle.
So, yeah, off to a decent start.Â Jeff was mentioning how practice was kind of confusing.Â I felt the same way.Â First practice, I was‑‑ I thought I was really bad, and we were here for the tire test, and I thought we were really good at the test.Â That whole first practice I thought we were really bad.
Then second practice, for whatever reason, I felt good again.Â So, pretty confident now with the Target Chevy, and I think it's a top‑5, 6, 7 car, so hopefully we can turn that into a win hopefully.
THE MODERATOR:Â Open it back up for questions.
Q.Â When you were in here 11 hours ago or so, you said that you felt like you really needed to get a hold of this track and that you had struggled.Â Do you feel like you have it now.Â Did you find something out today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:Â We're going in the right direction.Â But, everybody up here said it, it was just really confusing the practice sessions today.
I felt like compared to the field we were a decent car.Â Late in our qualifying runs we seemed to work our way towards the front and hopefully, we can take what we learned in qualifying trim and apply that to the race.Â But, it's still Richmond I'm not breathing easy yet.Â If we get to the final pit stop, and I'm running up front all night I'll breathe a little bit easier then.Â But, this track is still one of the toughest ones on me.
Q.Â Jimmie and Jeff, how much of the confusion you guys were talking about was beyond the new tire, heat related and how much will it work itself out maybe tomorrow night when it's a little darker when you guys get going.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:Â It's hard to pin it on which one, but it's always baffling to us how we practice all day long and then go race at night.
Jeff and I were talking about this before practice even started.Â It would make more sense to have a Cup practice session after the Nationwide race, and let us practice at night to get ready for a night race.
So, it's something you have to get used to in the Cup garage.Â It's what we deal with all the time, but it is highly confusing to practice in the heat of the day and then you go race at night.
JEFF GORDON:Â We're not saying come in as early as they did today.Â Saying come in later, practice later.Â This tire just seems to be laying a lot of rubber down, and so it looked like during the day especially in the heat it was laying rubber, and so the groove kept getting wider and wider, and you just don't know in it's going to do that at night.
THE MODERATOR:Â Jimmie, we thank you for being in here and we'll talk about practice later.
THE MODERATOR:Â Kyle Larson and Jeff Gordon up here for more questions.
Q.Â Jeff, there's a forecast for rain tomorrow.Â So, how much could that make this even more bizarre if the tires aren't putting down rubber and what's there gets all washed off?
JEFF GORDON:Â About any track you go to that changes the contact.Â But a track like this that is putting rubber down you get big swings.Â We have dealt with that here before where it's rained prior to the race, and then you go out and you start the race and in 25 or 30 laps.Â Your car goes from being really good to really bad or from really bad to really good.Â It just it changes a lot.
So, if that happens throughout the race, then you're going to be dealing with those types of circumstances and that just plays havoc on the team.Â The engineers trying to adjust the cars, and you, as a driver.Â But you can't predict that.Â You just got to deal with it.
Q.Â You talked about the groove getting wider and wider.Â Isn't that better for the racing for the show, I guess?
JEFF GORDON:Â Absolutely.Â Absolutely.Â If we were racing during the day, then I would say we would have a multi‑groove lane all the way up to the wall.
But, we're not racing during the day.Â We're racing at night and those cooler temperatures typically don't move the track up quite as much.
So, I think it's fun in a lot of ways to run the way we were running today.Â But, you feel like you're out there really not learning anything for the race.Â You feel like you're just making laps because the conditions will be so much different.
Q.Â This question is for both of you, Jeff and Kyle.Â Jeff, you've been at this for some time.Â Kyle, you're a rookie this year.Â Coming in this race, what would you consider to be an acceptable expectation for this race at this stage of your career, and then also the season.
KYLE LARSON:Â I guess anything less than a win for the situation we're in this weekend would probably be not meeting our expectations.Â We're expecting to win.
That's kind of what we have to do this weekend, and since we're so many points behind Greg Biffle to get into The Chase.Â So, yeah, I guess if we finish second and don't make it in The Chase, we'll be disappointed.
JEFF GORDON:Â He's got more on the line this weekend than I do.Â We're just trying to keep the momentum going or regain it.
You know, in the last couple weeks haven't gone as well as we would like them to have, so this is a big race for us.Â Just trying to get another win and really carry that momentum into Chicago.Â He's not in The Chase, and we're already in it, so you're not necessarily taking the whole lot from this race and applying it into The Chase.Â But, you are going to take that team effort for sure.
Q.Â It's really directed to you, Kyle, but Jeff, at the same time, how intense is your rookie season and, Jeff, do you think his rookie season is far more intense than what you went through?
JEFF GORDON:Â I don't wish a rookie season on anybody.Â Mine wasn't great.Â I can tell you that.
I tore up a lot of equipment.
He reminds me so much of myself, but I always say with far more talent.
I love his background and what he's accomplished at such a young age, and he's got such a bright future.
So, I think that you're going to see him do, I think, similar to what I did.Â Which is next year, because this‑‑ you got to‑‑ stock cars are pretty new to him.Â He hasn't been racing stock cars his whole life, and he's on a steep learning curve.
And I think that as good as he's been this year, I think next year he's going to go to a whole another level.Â Just from having that comfort level of what the cars are like, what the 500 mile races are like, what the track conditions are.
But the rookie year, my rookie year is still to this day the toughest year I had, and it's not because I wrecked a lot.Â It was because I just felt like everybody was judging me and watching me and critiquing me.Â Everything I did, good or bad, you just felt like you couldn't do anything right.Â Even when you did it right, then they expected more.Â If you did it wrong, then they were like, oh, well, you know, he doesn't have what it takes or something.
So, it's tough being a rookie.Â So good luck with that.Â I hope you're having a great year.
KYLE LARSON:Â I'm having fun this year.Â I don't know, it's‑‑ I've had to, I feel like as a rookie, that this is my first time ‑‑ well, now that we're to the second half of the season.
But, before it was tough getting up to speed kind of in practice and knowing what you needed the car to feel like in practice, so you don't fire off the race really bad.
And I felt like the first third of the season we, or I, wasn't good at that.Â Where I was always try and go faster and faster in practice and then in the race I would be extremely loose.
So, now I think I have a better feel for what I need in practice and can start the races off better.Â And that just kind of helps your whole race out, because you're not playing catch up as much.
So‑‑ but I have enjoyed my rookie season.Â It's been a lot of fun.Â I've been running pretty well, too, most races, when we don't have a bad issue or something.
I feel like we have been running, out running Austin Dillon almost every race, too, which is nice.Â So hopefully, we can just keep it going and be‑‑ make a great rookie year if we could get in The Chase.
Q.Â Kyle and then Jeff to follow‑up.Â Kyle, you're teammate Jamie McMurray said he's going to watch the race tonight to see what the tires do.Â Is that something that you're going to do?Â And Jeff, will you also watch the race tonight to see what they will do?
KYLE LARSON:Â Well I'm in the Nationwide race, so that helps me a lot.Â Knowing kind of how the tires and cars‑‑ but the balance changes throughout a run.
Because, yeah, it is way different than the previous tire we had, and I didn't get to run on the last year's tires for what Cup ran, so I don't even know what those felt like.
But, yeah, it's always nice for me to run the Nationwide races, because I think it helps me learn how the track adjusts throughout the race, and I can kind of figure out the lines quicker, it seems like, when I run the Cup races.
JEFF GORDON:Â Yeah, I mean I'll be laying on my couch.Â Actually, I'm building a model right now.Â I'll be building my model while I'm watching the race, and then my crew chief will be texting me the tire situation.
Q.Â What is it?
JEFF GORDON:Â Do you guys watch Formula 1?Â They advertise that Ayrton Senna model?Â That thing is amazing.Â I've been four months into this thing and I'm about‑‑ I got two tires, two front tires on it.
I'm not a good model builder, but I like it.
THE MODERATOR:Â Maybe you should let your kids help you.
JEFF GORDON:Â Yeah, they ‑‑ I put it together, they're going to tear it apart.
THE MODERATOR:Â Jeff and Kyle, congratulations on a good qualifying effort.Â We certainly wish you a lot of luck this weekend.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports