NASCAR Media Conference
STEVE BYRNES: Good morning, everybody. Welcome to Richmond International Raceway. There's one race remaining in the chase for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, that will be Saturday night in the Chevy Rock'n Roll 400. Joining us here this morning are the drivers that are battling to get into the Top 10. Mark Martin actually has the 10th spot. Jamie McMurray is in 11th, he's 25 points out of 10th. Bobby Labonte is 12th, 36 back. Dale Jarrett, 43 points out of 10th. Jeremy Mayfield, 14th, 55 out of the 10th and final spot. Also any driver ending within 400 points of the leader transfers into the chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. Guys, I'll ask a few questions, then we'll open it up. Mark, I'll start with you. You have five Busch Series wins here, a Cup win. Your thoughts on the final race being at the Richmond International Raceway.
MARK MARTIN: This is a great place to race. It's a good racetrack to have it at. I'm glad it's finally here. But on the other hand, it's taken all year to get within, you know, the range where we need to be. It's going to be an exciting night. I wish we were doing it tonight.
STEVE BYRNES: Dale, a lot of drivers have been asked from the beginning, prior to the season, their thoughts on the format change we've had this year. There's been a lot of growth, change. Richard Petty even said last week that he won the championship under several different point formats. You won it in a different system. Your thoughts now after things have transpired and with one race to go?
DALE JARRETT: I think the biggest thing is what were we trying to accomplish? What was NASCAR looking to do? I think it was to create more excitement around this time of year. I think they've certainly done that. I think we all knew at the beginning, whether we liked, disliked, approved, didn't really care about what the points system was. We knew at the beginning of the year before we started Daytona what it was. So that's what you race with, within those boundaries. I think it's proved to create a lot of excitement. You know, in years past, we would never be here having this press conference probably because it really didn't matter about the positions 8 through 15 at this time of year. So we have created something new and different. You know, what will it do to the eventual champion as far as in the history of this? I think I've said this a number of times. When my dad won in the early '60s, it was one format. They raced getting points by the number of miles they competed on short tracks and all the tracks. As you just stated, Richard's championships came with different points systems. You know, it's just going to be another way. Will this be the way we keep it for a while? Who knows. It has created a lot of excitement.
STEVE BYRNES: Bobby, I asked Dale Jarrett at Michigan, "What can you do to get into this race?" Dale said, "I wish I had an angle for you, but the truth of the matter is we race hard every week." How do you prepare for this race? Is it business as usual or anything different on the 18 team?
BOBBY LABONTE: I hope it's not business as usual because we haven't run that good lately, that would not be the business we need to be in (laughter). Hopefully our goal right now, after last weekend, we don't have to worry about staying in the Top 10, we have to get in the Top 10. To do that, we have to finish good. Weekends prior to that, if we could have run good last weekend, we could have stayed in the Top 10 possibly. Well, we didn't. Before that, we were still working the Top 10. We had a bad race, we could overcome that. Right now our business is we have to go out there and obviously finish -- win, finish in the Top 5 to maybe have a chance at it. If we don't do that, we don't deserve to be that. Our business right now is different than it was last weekend. It's just the fact that we've been sliding down a slippery pole for a long time and we need to get back up there.
STEVE BYRNES: We'll open it up for some questions.
Q. Jeremy, do you guys want to know in that race car as the race unfolds where you are in relation, I guess, to where you need to be?
JEREMY MAYFIELD: Well, I think we've been doing that a little bit every week. I think this week -- I think we all know we're going to have to be in the Top 5, Top 3 to get in this thing. I'd rather race and try to finish the thing in the Top 3 or win the thing. If you're out of the Top 10, you might be wondering what you got to do then to get up there, you know. For us, it's just going to be we have to win the race or finish in at least the Top 3 to have a shot at it.
STEVE BYRNES: Jamie, will you talk to your crew, do you want to know where you are?
JAMIE McMURRRAY: I don't really care either. The only time that's going to be important is if you're not running well, 30 to 40 laps to go, you can fall out. Like Jeremy said, everybody has been running well it seems like from eighth to fifteenth in points every week. So for us, we're in the same deal, just go and try to win the race or at least try to run in the Top 5. If you can do that, you will probably make it in. If you don't, you probably won't. Doesn't really matter to me.
JAMIE McMURRRAY: I haven't. Getting around the truck race last night, that was a lot of fun for me, something that took my mind off all of this. I'm pretty young. I've never really had any stress in my life because I've had a pretty good life. This is just something that, you know, you just can't -- it's hard not to think about it. I've never really had to have -- sleepless nights that I had was when I was so excited for getting this ride. Now it's all about laying there at night and hoping you can make it in. You're so close, like all these guys are. I never would have thought it would have come down to this. Not only with being in 11th, only 25 points out, but so many of us are within the 400-point range now. Jimmie and those guys who checked out earlier in the year, they're having bad days. I'm hoping those guys have bad days and we all get in.
UNIDENTIFIED: I heard there's a bounty on the 24 and 48.
Q. You've finished second in the points before. It seems like an all-or-nothing race. You've actually been in that situation many times. Does this race seem any different than all the other experiences you've encountered.
MARK MARTIN: This does, for several reasons. First of all, where I'm at in my career. This has been more, by far, more pressure than racing for the championship in 2002 with Tony at Homestead. But there's a lot more that rides on this. All that rode on that was the championship, you know. I feel like there's a lot more riding on the 6 car right now than there was in 2002, whether or not we win that championship. We have a lot of issues. We had performance issues in 2003. It's also a matter of pride. I'm very proud of my race team. I think if we make it in, we'll have an opportunity to show what they can do. If we don't, they've shown me what they can do. It's been incredible, the job they've done this year.
Q. Speaking of the bounty on the 24, the fans are calling about it. What kind of help do you expect from your teammate? Any thoughts on the bounty so more people can get in?
UNIDENTIFIED: I was just joking. I have nothing to do with that (laughter). Actually, I never should have said that, should I?
UNIDENTIFIED: I expect to get the same kind of help I get every week from my teammates: very little on the racetrack, you know (laughter). You know, they're not really your teammates. If they were, they'd only be out there to make sure you won. They're out there to make sure they win. They're competitors.
Q. He's said he'll move aside, help you if he can.
UNIDENTIFIED: He shouldn't have said that. I don't know. You know, each and every one of the competitors on the racetrack, there's still something that is not quite understood when we talk about teammates, you know. Tony Stewart, he's not going to pull over and quit racing so Bobby can have a spot. It's just not going to happen, I'm sorry. That's what maybe a teammate might do if they're playing football, but this isn't football or whatever. This is racing. Everybody's out there to win for theirselves. I have great cooperation on the racetrack from many people, guys that drive for Jack Roush and guys that don't drive for Jack Roush, as well, then I've got a few out there that don't cooperate quite as well. But in the past, some of those guys drove for Jack Roush. You know, you have relationships on the racetrack. Some are better than others. You know, I don't think that teammates, what you guys call teammates, really play a major role in this thing.
MARK MARTIN: No, they don't at all, because you're forgetting that the fuel line turned to mush, we broke four engines and a transmission, as well (laughter). I'm sorry, but just one or two incidents don't quite do it. If any of those seven or eight incidents hadn't have happened, we might be locked in. That's why I'm so proud of this race team. It is a Top 5 race team, no matter what. If I wind -- if my team and I wind up being spectators at the banquet in New York in December, then so be it. I know in my heart that this was a team that should have been in the Top 5 if things would have gone better for us. It surely beats what we had last year.
Q. (Inaudible question re Bristol)?
BOBBY LABONTE: Yeah, well, you know, I heard before we got down there that this was going to be exciting, it could be a record number of cautions, all that stuff. It wasn't; it was a clean race. How did that happen? I don't know. It just happened that way. I don't think there's any rhyme or reason that it turned out that way as much as what it was made -- where it possibly could be that. We've talked about a good race before. How does a good race happen? It just happens. How does a bad race happen? It just happens, too. There's no rhyme or reason to any of that. Why does Talladega go green all the way and sometimes you have 10 cars left with full bodies left on them at the end? It just happens that way. Bristol was just one of those races. I can't explain why it turned out to be that way; it just did. I don't know if it was because of the points or not. It just turned out that way. If we start early tomorrow, it might be the opposite. Turned out that way. I don't have a good answer for it other than that's how it turned out.
Q. Jeremy, this is a racetrack where you do race side by side, close-quarters racing, bumper to bumper. Can you race any more aggressively? What else can you do? It's a track where there is physical contact to begin with. Will you change your driving style any?
JEREMY MAYFIELD: I don't think so. I mean, I think, there again, we got to go all out and run as hard as we can. Whether that means being aggressive or not being aggressive, I think you're going to have to be. That doesn't mean going in and taking somebody out and causing wrecks. It means racing hard. That's pretty much all we've been doing anyway. I don't know. I mean, I know what Bobby is saying like Bristol. It could happen here again. You should see a lot of good racing, not have any cautions, that would be fine, too. I just say we all got to go out, run as hard as we've been running, see what happens.
Q. (Inaudible) does what's acceptable or not acceptable in terms of helping teammates change?
UNIDENTIFIED: You know, I understand -- I appreciate where you're coming from, but I would ask the same question of Jeff Burton, even though he's not a teammate, or Rusty Wallace, and would probably expect about the same kind of response from my friends that I have a good relationship with as I would just because Jack Roush owned the car. There are concessions. You do have your friends, and you might have your foes out there, you know. I have a better relationship with some guys than others. You know, when it all comes down to it, you guys are working real hard at making something out of it. It's just going to be another race. We're going to go out here and race hard. It all boils down to this race, but it does and doesn't. Just like the question a while ago, it all boils back to Daytona in February, too. You know, if we had finished there, then we'd be locked in right now. So the focus is on this race, but it is an accumulation of 26 races.
Q. Now that we're here at the final race, what do you hear from the sponsors? There's been some controversy about sponsors being upset about some drivers getting more attention in the points race than others. Have you heard anything specifically from your sponsors?
UNIDENTIFIED: No, I think that was just a question that was brought up. I know from Robert Yates Racing standpoint, we've heard nothing. You know, you had your chance to get in. It's not like we're going to quit racing. For those ones that don't make the Top 10, we're not going to quit. We have chances to go win 10 more races. Here you're still competing. You're just not going to have a shot at that championship. I don't know. I can't imagine anybody's going to be that upset. It's not like that, you know, you're not going to run.
UNIDENTIFIED: I will say this to your question, it will be a whole lot better for the 6 car if we make it (laughter).
Q. Bobby and Dale, you both won championships. I guess you understand how difficult or rare these opportunities come for such a chance. What has this week been like getting to this moment? A lot of pressure? Can you get away from it this week?
UNIDENTIFIED: I mean, it is a great opportunity that's there. You know, this could all be made a lot simpler if the 48 and 24 would help us out a little bit, make us all a lot more happy, I'm sure. There's pressure every week. Obviously, this is a little bit different circumstance. But when you've been through situations like this, it's a little easier to handle them. I haven't lost any sleep this week thinking about it. You just go through it. We'll go out tomorrow night and do the very best that we possibly can. We know we have to run in the Top 5 to even have a chance. That may not even ensure it. The question I've gotten all week around Hickory from everybody is, "What do you have to do?" There's not a set formula. I put it a little bit like when we were racing for the championship in '99, we were racing Bobby. You know, we had a pretty good-sized lead. It wasn't until we got to Homestead that we could actually do anything about it. When we finally got to Homestead there, we could finish in the Top 8 and win the championship. This race tomorrow night is a lot like those races before that. We can go do our very best, but it may not be enough at that time. That's all we can do is go do that. That will be it. Hopefully it will be enough. There's pressure every week, but I won't look at it as any more when I get in there tomorrow night. You do the best you can. Back to a question from before. You talk about friends, who is going to have -- Mark might have another second-place finish in the championship, except in 1997, Bobby was leading the race at Atlanta and had just lapped me. About two months before that at Pocono, I let him have a lap back. I think Mark and Bobby were the only cars on the lead lap at that time at Atlanta, the last race of the season. We were racing Gordon for the championship. Anyway, a caution came out just after Bobby lapped me, he let me have my lap back. I went on to finish second in the race and beat Mark for second in the championship. It's not necessarily your teammates. It's what you've done with other people. I think that will be part of the game tomorrow night, is who you've treated well and who you haven't maybe. We'll see what happens with that.
UNIDENTIFIED: Of course, now you made Mark mad at me.
MARK MARTIN: I had gotten over that (laughter).
Q. Jamie, how do you keep your crew pumped up, because they're facing enormous stress of their own?
JAMIE McMURRRAY: I don't really have to keep my guys pumped up. Even with everything that's went on with my contract, and all that, actually when all that happened, my team started running better, everyone's attitude got better. I don't really know why. Really for all season we've run well, but the last like six weeks we run really well and seem to have run better. My guys are all pumped up, pretty excited. As far as the 25 points, kind of like what Mark said, we've blown up four or five engines, drove a hole in the oil pan in Daytona this year, didn't finish, got wrecked here. So we wouldn't be in the position right now. We've run well enough to be in the Top 10. But when you have six or seven DNFs, that's why we're here right now. We've run well enough. You can't reflect on just one thing. I know the guys in my fab shop are all kind of on suicide watch. They all came up to me this week, kind of like, "Please, if you can do anything, just get in." The 25 points we took away doesn't keep me from getting in. I'm not mad at those guys. It was a mistake. We wouldn't be here right now if we'd finished all the races.
Q. Jeremy, you are the end-users of those race cars. Do you feel the responsibility to keep your team pumped up, as well?
JEREMY MAYFIELD: Mine is kind of like what Jamie said, when all that stuff happened last year, my team started running good and they've been running decent ever since. They're pumped up. We had a bad week last week with pit stops and stuff. You know, just normal deal. Everybody's pumped up right now and ready to go. Kenny doesn't say much anyway, my crew chief. I don't know if he's sleeping better than I. I think he has. I think everybody's in good shape.
Q. You guys have made several jokes regarding the 48 and 24.
JEREMY MAYFIELD: I didn't mean that (laughter). Seriously, I was joking about that. But it would be cool for all of us to be in. That would be a good way to do that. I think it would be a better show if we had 15 of us running for the championship instead of 10.
UNIDENTIFIED: I think everyone deserves to be in. As close as it is, it's not really fair for 25 points to keep two or three from getting in.
JEREMY MAYFIELD: 55 points (laughter).
UNIDENTIFIED: In Jeremy's case 55 points. I think that would be cool to see 15 guys be in this chase, be a little bit more exciting. And my sponsor would be happy, too, I think, along with Mark's.
Q. How much of this pressure you're talking about exists today, how important is it to qualify well and practice well?
UNIDENTIFIED: Just like earlier in the week, I think it's important. I think it's going to be more important today than maybe it was back in the first race here, spring season, because you weren't thinking about it as much. For us up there, I would say it's going to be real important. But that doesn't mean it's the end of the world if you don't qualify good. I think I was 28th here in the spring, finished third. You know, you just take what you get, then you go out there after qualifying, you make the car as good as you can, finish the race, see what you got. It would be a lot more fun to start up front than it would be at the back, I can tell you that.
Q. Jeremy, looking back at the 25 races, any one or two things that stick out for you that say, "If we had just done that, hadn't done that, I might be in a better position"?
JEREMY MAYFIELD: I think all of us will be doing that. The one thing that sticks out in my mind was Sears Point, we were going to finish in the Top 10 with like seven or eight laps to go. I went over to whatever number hill that is, spun out, tore the transmission out, ended up like 30th. Personally, that sticks out in my mind. There's a lot of little instances that happen throughout the year that you always look back on. You can't look back in this sport. You got to keep looking forward. It's a cumulative point-type system. It starts in Daytona, like Mark said. Can't make it all up in one week either. You can't look back; just go forward and not worry about it.
Q. Will NASCAR scrutinize this race perhaps more closely than they would another race?
UNIDENTIFIED: Jamie said yes. He said --
JAMIE McMURRAY: I said, "Somebody say yes."
UNIDENTIFIED: Let's just say no, but yes. I mean, we could kind of sit back and say they've been overofficiating for years maybe, to a certain extent (laughter). That's just the way it goes. Whether you're 25 points at Bristol, whether -- he's been docked with something before here years ago, you know, just on down the line. There's things you wish that wouldn't happen that happened. But I don't see tomorrow night. I mean, I don't see where it's going to be anything -- it could be business as usual. Sometimes it doesn't look that way. It's probably going to be business as usual. It's not going to be anything different. Just going to go out there and race. I guarantee you, by the time it's over with, it's going to be like, "Okay, that was... " Nonchalant. Once it's all said and done... If anything happens, no different than it was when something happened or a few weeks from now when something happened.
Q. Can you talk about resisting the urge to overdrive the car to make it in the Top 5 or is this a race where you try to do that? Top 5 wins are so difficult in the series, will it be tough not to be aggressive? Dale?
DALE JARRETT: I think the biggest thing is knowing when that point in time is. We say this a lot. You see the racing happen like this a lot, especially with the people that are involved in a points race. It's not that you're points racing, but the first 250 to 300 laps of this race really aren't going to do anything other than obviously position yourself and getting your car right. But the time to be aggressive could be at the end, knowing when that time is, when you need to take that chance or make a move that you wouldn't have early in the race. But, yeah, I think, again, it just goes back -- we got to this place by driving race cars the way we know how to drive them. That's not going to change because of one race.
Q. Mark, you've been second in the points four times, always a contender. Is there any one that is harder to swallow than another?
MARK MARTIN: No.
Q. Mark, a couple months back, we asked you about this. We could pretty much forget about the 400-points scenario. How surprised are you now that that's a possibility?
MARK MARTIN: I guess I just proved I'm an idiot again (laughter). I thought that was ridiculous, the 400-point thing. What, four weeks ago I was looking pretty right. You know, I haven't seen -- over the past history, I haven't seen anything like this. We finished second to Jeff Gordon in the points in 1998 and won seven races. We were almost 400 points behind. I just didn't expect it to come down this way. I expected it more like it was four weeks ago.
UNIDENTIFIED: 400 points is ridiculous. It should be five (laughter). We'd be having a different conversation.
UNIDENTIFIED: They either gnaw at me equally or don't bother me equally (laughter). I'm proud of the things that I've done in my career; not mad because I wasn't good enough.
Q. Why has that scenario changed over the last month? Problems among the points leaders, what has changed to create this?
MARK MARTIN: The biggest thing I think is three or four broken engines. I think that's the biggest thing. I don't know if that was by design or not. I doubt if they broke them on purpose. They may have been trying a little harder on them than they would have been under the old scenario. I couldn't tell you. They might answer that question for you. But the biggest thing is that, you know, mechanical failures brought about 300 points back into the deal, 300 or 350 points that were looking out the window for a while. It drew us closer.
Q. Dale, you tested here recently. How did that go? What did you learn that could help you this weekend?
DALE JARRETT: Well, we haven't been very good here lately, so hopefully we've learned a lot. The track, not quite as much grip as what we saw here in the spring. Obviously it has had more time, more races on it. I think it's going to get back to like what we knew here in the past with Richmond. The tire may be a little hard now for what the surface is. Should make for great racing. We're going in a little different direction with our car setup-wise, which is a good thing, because we haven't been that good. We obviously have won here in the past, so we know how to do that. It's just a matter of adapting to today's styles. We feel like the test went really well. We'll see that tomorrow night.
Q. Should they actually step away and let you guys race even harder?
UNIDENTIFIED: I think you have to do things the way you always do. Whenever the NFL and the NBA, when they get in playoffs, they don't change. They use the same officials and the same guidelines. That's the way it should be here. They should do things the same they always have. Shouldn't be any difference in the way they do it. Now, I started to laugh a while ago. Used to be years ago, people that remember Dick Beatty, and of course we were only at that time -- I think Bobby knows what I'm going to say -- we used to get in the drivers meetings, this was before I was challenging for championships, he was only talking to about one or two drivers total; you're not talking about 15 drivers. He used to tell everybody as we got down to the last four or five races that if you're going to hit one of those guys involved in the championship, then you better go find the other ones and hit them, too. That could be a tall order for someone, I don't know. I don't think that applies here. No, I think they just need to go about officiating the race the way they always do. Whether that's right or wrong, they should continue to do it that way.
STEVE BYRNES: Jimmie Johnson has joined us.
UNIDENTIFIED: A lot. It could happen. It might not happen.
UNIDENTIFIED: Yeah, it could happen.
Q. The question was, a driver who is actually not a factor in the points for the race causes something on the racetrack, will there be animosity after the race?
UNIDENTIFIED: Yep. You'll have that.
STEVE BYRNES: Jimmie Johnson, you come into Richmond as the points leader. Your thoughts on this race. These guys have been talking about obviously the points chase, their approach. What is your approach here at Richmond, since you're already locked in?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Our approach, we definitely want to go out and have a good night. You know, we need to get into the points-racing mindset. We've been very fortunate to be in the Top 5 in points throughout, you know, the later part of the chase here and have been able to focus on winning races. We've experimented with some things that really haven't worked out at times. We're back to the basics. It's time to points race. I think you've got a lot more to lose in a 10-race format than you do to gain. We're just going to do what we can to perform every week and take it from there.
UNIDENTIFIED: I think you need to take another weekend off.
UNIDENTIFIED: We need to know what gear you need to pull.
UNIDENTIFIED: Not time to points race (laughter).
Q. Do you feel like there's a bounty on your head?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: What do you want the answer to be? Do you want a yes? I think our sport polices itself. If somebody takes it into their hands to guarantee themselves a spot into the championship, not only will NASCAR, I'm sure, address it, but I think our sport has a funny way of working itself out. It's not like we're going to be around each other for the next five or ten years. I think that is the one thing our sport has, is it polices itself. I certainly hope nothing happens. I think everybody feels the same. You put somebody into a situation where they've got to fight, kick their way out, you never know what's going to happen. That's why you guys are asking the question, what makes our sport so interesting. I certainly hope it doesn't happen. We'll all find out at the same time.
Q. The fact you guys have had some troubles in the engine department, has that allowed the 400-point rule to come back into play?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: A little bit. But the biggest thing for this weekend is that some of the checks the guys are writing to myself and Jeff haven't cashed. No (laughter). You know, we do everything we can every week to perform, and I think at times we haven't had the performance mechanically underneath the car. We also have had some troubles here with the engines. That's nothing that anybody can control. It's definitely allowed the gap to close up. But we're in a sport where you have to be on the aggressive side, you have to be pushing forward to try to advance your race cars. You can't sit still. We've been trying to make our cars better. The Evernham cars have been extremely strong. Mark has been on a terror. If we sit still, we will be a 15th-place car, 10th-place car. We had the magic the beginning half of the year through the middle. Right now we're strong, but we're not a dominant car. We're trying to advance our program. You stub your toes along the way, that's just part of it. Hopefully we'll have everything in line for this final 10.
Q. Lingering concerns about your engine problems?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think everybody's concerned; not only myself, but all drivers. Everybody's pushing a lot. They've selected the gear for me and have taken the revv chip out. The problems we've had have been different each time. At first I thought that was comforting because it was a freak deal. Now we've had some troubles for the last four or five weeks. It's been something different throughout the cars. You know, you're always nervous, you're always concerned, especially when you're sitting next to something that's spinning 10,000 rpms at times. You wait for stuff to fly through the floorboard, you're worried about a lot of stuff. I can't think with you talking, chewing gum, listening to you, trying to talk, it's killing me (laughter). But everybody is always worried. This race and Lowden, it's different than what you would have at California. I don't think we'll really lean on the engines until Atlanta. Hopefully, everything will be sorted out by then.
Q. Has your race team isolated what the problems have been or have they all been different problems?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's all been something different with the failures. We've been strong performance-wise in the race, have been probably a fifth-place car in the last month or so, then have had some troubles with the engines. But it's been something different each time.
STEVE BYRNES: This is the 26th consecutive sell-out at Richmond for this Cup race since 1991. The guys will be available now for individual interviews. Thank you very much for coming.
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