NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Bank of America 500
Topics: Bank of America 500
October 14, 2006
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA
THE MODERATOR: We're pleased to be join in the media center by our second and third place finishers of tonight's bank of America 500. Finishing second, the driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet is Jimmie Johnson finishing third. Driver of the #31 Cingular Wireless Chevrolet is Jeff Burton, our current points leader.
Jimmie, talk about the race out this evening.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The race, Jeff and I were just talking before we got started. It was so tough to get going with the short runs that we had and the small fuel cells. It was kind of boring and frustrating from the driver's standpoint. As soon as you would get into a rhythm, the handling of the car would start to show up, and it was time to come in for fuel.
And just really it felt to me like it took some of the racing out of it having to stop so often and need fuel so much. Hopefully we can come back next time with the bigger fuel cells. The track was really fast tonight. I think there were segments where the 48 was the best car, segments where the 8, the 24, the 9. Then we all just kind of bounced around.
At the end Kasey had his stuff put together really good and got around me. I would barely hang on to him, then at the end just made sure I got home. Haven't finished one of these things where I should have in a long time so I was trying to be smart.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, talk about your run out there tonight. You are still the points leader. Talks about that as well.
JEFF BURTON: Similar, you know. It's very difficult when you take off with these tires, it's handful. And then like Jimmie said, you run for a little while and then the handling starts to come in then you pit. It's hard to get into a rhythm. Good night for us all in all. I stalled the car leaving the pits and got us a lap down and had to fight to get that back. Fortunate to get back by the 9 car and get our lap back.
And then we were-- we had a good car tonight. I think the track position was really big. Whenever I got in the back, I had a really tough time getting back to the front. But nonetheless, we had a good car tonight and feel pretty bad that I stalled at leaving the pits. But nonetheless, it was a good night.
THE MODERATOR: Okay we'll take questions.
Q. Jeff, looks like you are kind of using the consistency to break away from the pack here. I mean Kahne finished second in these wins tonight and he is still 160 points out. Talk about how you are able to use that consistency to pull away right now?
JEFF BURTON: I think if any -- whatever team it happens to be, if you can finish second, fifth, seventh, if you can do those things, you will be really hard to beat. It's not easy to do those things. We haven't had -- you know, we had some bad luck at Talladega but our luck hasn't been as bad as Jimmie's or Kasey's or a few other ones.
So we're one race away, in my opinion. We've had at least one less bad luck race than Jimmie and Kasey and those guys. If we have another one, and they don't, then they'll be right there with us.
So, you know, we've done a nice job of positioning ourselves. At the same time, I'm pretty sure that Jimmie and Kasey and Mark Martin and all those guys aren't just going to say, He's got the lead so we'll give him the championship. I'm sure they're going to race every week.
We just gotta go to every single race and do the very much-- the very best we can. It's one race at a time. Whether you finish first or 43rd, you got to put your best effort in. If you do that, all you can do is go home and go to sleep at night. When you don't feel like you put your best effort in, that's really aggravating.
Like after Talladega for me, I was pretty frustrated that night. But I woke up Monday morning and realized we were running fifth with nine to go. That's all you can do. We just-- it just didn't work out for us.
We've had some fortune and we've run well and hopefully we can keep doing both of them.
THE MODERATOR: A question right here.
Q. Along that same vain, you and Kasey, you did everything you could and you hardly gained any ground on him at all. Junior said when he got out of the car, he called Jeff the Iceman. When do you start banging your head against the wall thinking, What do we gotta do to catch this guy?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was banging my head against the wall after New Hampshire, how the Chase started for us. But Jeff, if you look at the 31 and the 29 what they were doing from mid-season on and the points they're collecting, I think everybody knew that they were -- RCR was going to be a threat for the championship.
Jeff, with his experience, you know, he's been in this position a lot of times. And I think they're doing an awesome job. So it is frustrating to only gain 10 points. But at the same time we've had a lot of other races where we've given away a lot of points. We just gotta see what happens. It's going to be a long five more races.
If we can go out and run up front, fight for wins and finish up front like we did tonight, the rest will fall in place. If we don't get to the championship, I want to finish as high as I can in the points this year. I've got a record of being in the top five every year so far. I want to keep that going. The racer in me, I want to finish as high as I can regardless of the championship.
THE MODERATOR: Question right here.
Q. The last pitstop you come out thought you had a loss wheel, but it's funny how things work out sometimes. I heard you say if you hadn't had some things happen first in practice with some tires, you absolutely would have pitted, but it turned out to be the tire.
JEFF BURTON: We put a set on Thursday that shook so bad, I told them that something was going to fall off the car. We took the tire to Goodyear and they rebalanced it and we put it back on the car and it was all good. So we dealt with that on either Thursday or Friday, I don't remember what day it was.
Tonight, I mean, when I drove into turn one, they dropped the green flag, and I mean it shook. I mean it shook bad enough where it scared me. And I screamed, We got a wheel loose, we got a wheel loose. And they said, We do not have a wheel loose, we know we got them tight.
Had I not done that on Thursday, I would have pitted regardless of what they said because it shook so bad. It never got worse, but it never got better. I was glad the race ended because I mean it was vibrating hard. And it did it all the last run. Probably wasn't very smart to keep running, but I was banking that we had that same deal that we had Thursday.
We had it in the Busch car and in the Cup car. So I would have pitted without that experience.
THE MODERATOR: Question in the back. Go ahead.
Q. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kasey Kahne both got out of their cars and said they can't break you, as if they couldn't get you off your game. Do you feel you have a mental edge as a veteran? What were you thinking when you stalled the car and they were pushing you down pit road, what was going through your minds?
JEFF BURTON: I probably can't say that. They would probably fine me.
I mean, I was just mad at myself. It was my fault. I was having trouble with the carbreuator and I was afraid to give it enough rpm because I was afraid it was going to break the rearend gear, and I just didn't do a good job getting out of the pits. Then I flooded it trying to get it restarted. It was just a complete screw-up all the way around on my part.
As far as, you know, as far as, you know, them saying they can't break us and all that, I mean, you know, they seemed to break us last week. How soon people forget (laughter). I take it as a tremendous compliment when people like Jimmie or Kasey or Junior talk, you know, good about us.
At the same time, this is -- this sport, five races is a long time. You can go from having all your stuff together and really feeling good about yourself to really figuring you can't run a lick. So I've been through it, I've seen it, and I'm not going to -- we're not going to take ourselves too seriously just yet. We still have a lot of work to do. And you know anything can happen.
We put a good effort together and hopefully we can just-- we'll continue to put a good effort together. I just hope that we can keep yielding results.
THE MODERATOR: Question right here. Go ahead.
Q. Jimmie, how hard has it been to get over what happened last week? Vickers just said that every single driver on the tour had congratulated him and said, Don't worry about it, except one. Would that be you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess-- no, it's not me. You know, last week's last week. In racing, you are going to have things that take place. You are going to have-- I mean, I've caused wrecks, people have wrecked me. It's just part of it.
Last week's last week. I've congratulated him. I've congratulated the team. I went through the shop and shook everybody's hand in the 25/5 shop. All those guys deserve all the compliments in the world for what they did.
I think it was obvious that Brian made a mistake last weekend, and that stuff happens. It's racing. We're all good.
THE MODERATOR: Question right here.
Q. Jeff, with your success, the mile-and-a-halves this season, how much does any more does Martinsville become a challenge? Maybe it's not a track you have dominated as much. You have finished an average of tenth in the last three races.
JEFF BURTON: I think Martinsville is a challenge for everybody every time we go there. It's such a unique racetrack. It's unlike anything else in the country. I don't know of any racetrack that's similar to it. It's a huge challenge.
I think that Martinsville will have a huge bearing on the points race because it's so easy to, you know, mess up there and, you know, cause a wreck. It's easy to get in a wreck. It's easy to break a transmission. It's easy to burn the brakes off the thing. There's so many things that happen at Martinsville every single time we go there.
There's a reason that people throw helmets at each other. You know, it's short-track racing. And, you know, I think it's a lot of fun though. I think Martinsville is-- I enjoy it. I think it's fun. But it's totally different than what we did tonight; certainly different than what we did last week. But that's what's fun about our sport.
I mean the best thing about our division, in my opinion, is that we run so many different racetracks. That's what I enjoy. Martinsville is a huge challenge every time we go there. When you unload at Martinsville, it's like you have been dropped into another planet. I mean the racetrack's so different. But I think it's a lot of fun.
THE MODERATOR: Less' go upstairs to the press box for questions. Who has a question? Go ahead.
Q. This question is for Jimmie. What does this finish this week, finishing second, say about your team's ability to bounce back after last week's run at Talladega?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think our team's kind of known for that. And what we look at with Talladega, Kansas, even Dover we had a strong run, New Hampshire we had a great car, didn't have a chance to show it, we feel like we've had speeds-- we've been able to go back each week, you know, have a positive attitude in the shop and get prepared for the next week and show up with that feeling that you need inside to come here and compete for a win.
So we feel good. We're glad to finally get a finish where we've been running, where we deserve to finish. So that's very refreshing tonight. We're all going to go to sleep well and be ready for next week.
THE MODERATOR: Let's stay upstairs. Go ahead.
Q. Jeff, I know there's 42 other guys out there and nine other guys in the Chase, but would you consider your teammate to probably be your toughest competition because you know he's got the same kind of good stuff you do?
JEFF BURTON: I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kevin and for Todd  Barrier and everybody on that team. I mean, they're exceptionally talented group of people. There's no question about it. And they will be a huge challenge.
But, you know, the 48 team, I mean, the 9 team, the 24 team, there's a lot of teams that have shown a tremendous amount of speed. Like I said earlier, the only reason that we're ahead of them in points, I mean, we've run well, but so have they. And we saw it with the 24 tonight, the 11 tonight. I'm not sure what happened to the 29, the 6. I mean they all ran well. Who didn't run well? Just they had stuff go wrong.
So I am not looking at any one team saying, That's our biggest competition. I think we're our biggest competition. I think that we've gotta go and do our job. And I think the racetrack's the biggest competition. If we go and race the racetrack and try to go around the racetrack faster than our competition, then that's the goal.
You know, I don't look at it as a competition between the 48 and 31. I look at it as a competition between us and the racetrack because it's all about lap time. And I know that sounds a little goofy, and everybody knows I am a little goofy, but I focus on-- I try to focus not so much on what these guys are doing because if you do it will drive you crazy. I mean, you don't want to go toe-to-toe with Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson. Those guys are really good. So we focus on the racetrack and try to make the best lap time we can and hopefully we do it on any given night better than they can on that day.
But I am not looking at any one team by any means. I don't even-- I mean, I won't know until tomorrow where we are. I know we're leading the points but I don't know by how much. That's inconsequential right now. It's five races to go and we'll try to race the next five racetracks.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take one more upstairs. Any other questions upstairs?
Q. Jeff, all that talk about being unbreakable and being the leader and being hard to catch. Don't you feel that your opponents are trying to put a little bit of psychological pressure on it? If so, how are you planning to handle that, because you know that's what they seem to be doing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think us drivers are that smart.
JEFF BURTON: And I'm not smart enough to take it like that either.
You know, it's a-- sports is a funny way to make a living. If somebody says you're not doing worth of a crap, everybody says they're trying to psych you out. If somebody says you're doing really good, they say they're trying to psych you out.
I just don't believe in all that. I think you just-- you know there's a reason. Sorry to all you guys. There's a reason I don't read the papers. There's a reason that I don't watch a whole lot of TV concerning our sport. The only thing I really watch is a replay of the race. And I don't watch that until we get ready to go back to that race.
So I've been around long enough to know that you -- what my peers think of me means a great deal to me. But what people write in the media or what, you know, I just don't get into all that. And I take it as a huge compliment when somebody says something good about me or our race team. And that's all I take it as, as a compliment. When somebody says bad about it, then, you know, I try to understand what they're talking about.
And I don't-- I just don't understand how somebody saying something good about you can be a head game. I just don't get into that. I don't think the head game thing would be even brought up if we didn't have the 'Wheel Gate' situation where everybody started talking about, you know, it's mind games and this and that. I mean, I just don't buy all that.
THE MODERATOR: Question here then we'll go over there. Go ahead.
Q. Jeff, before Mark Martin's accident, he and you were going back and forth trading for the points lead then he was in kind of a freak accident and when he got out of the car he said, The championship's just not meant for me ever. I know and we all know he is a pretty big pessimist. Do you think there's anything to that? Could the guy just truly be cursed?
JEFF BURTON: No. If Mark Martin is a cursed individual, then life's not fair at all. There's no fairness to it whatsoever. He's genuinely a good person. He is the kind of person you'd want your children to grow up and emulate - except for the pessimism. You would like them to be a little more optimistic. By the way, Jimmie, they crowned me in here Thursday. When Mark retires, I'm the most pessimistic person in racing (laughter).
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you.
JEFF BURTON: I feel-- you know, I feel bad for Mark that he'll not sleep tonight. At the same time, you know, stuff turns around really quickly. But Mark Martin is-- if Mark Martin never win as championship and never wins another race, you know what, it doesn't matter because he has had a positive impact on this sport. When he came to this sport, he left it better than when he got here. And he's had a huge impact on a lot of young drivers. And he's taught a lot of young drivers the racing etiquette that is proper. You know, Mark is the kind of person that deserves a championship.
But, you know, I can understand that people look at championships as a way of defining greatness. But with Mark Martin, he is a great driver, and he is a great person.
THE MODERATOR: Next question.
Q. Jimmie, are you and Kasey going to maybe rent the track and come out here and race each other for like a thousand miles? You two apparently are the only two guys that can win here. I mean, you and Kahne have won the last 47 races or something at this track. What is it about you two guys that-- I mean he's beat you, you finished second to him twice this year, and God knows how many times you have won before that. Is it just something that suits your style? Do you have just a good car? Is there something special about you and Kasey at this track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I do think this track for myself personally, there's a certain style and certain way you drive it, and it's just works well for myself, and for the cars that Chad puts together for me. It's been a great place for both of us.
I look at Kasey's success here. I can remember chasing him a lot of different nights, and he blew a tire or had something that went wrong. He was definitely a threat for the win, and I ended up getting the trophy that night for whatever reason. So it comes as no surprise to me he has won the two ace races here this year.
You know, he's always been good here, from the old surface, the grinding, and to the new surface he has been strong here.
THE MODERATOR: Next question.
Q. Last year we had two bad races here and the solution was come with rock hard tires and small fuel cells. You guys both came in here tonight and first thing each of you said was basically it was kind of miserable trying to build up a rhythm driving with a small fuel cell. Are you going to go to NASCAR or have anybody on your team goes NASCAR and say, We don't need these any more? What's the process with something like that?
JEFF BURTON: What matters to me isn't so much what we think, but was the quality of race okay and what's the smartest thing for safety. If the cars drive bad, I don't care, as long as everybody drives bad.
The fuel cell comment from me was just that, you know, we are so used to racing a certain way that when you change it, it's hard to get in a rhythm. But, you know, it's the same for everybody. I'd rather pit every 35 laps and have a tire that's too hard than blow out right fronts because I'm too old to hit any more. I'm telling you, it hurts. I'd rather pit every 35 laps and know the tires aren't going to blow out.
And I think any time we go to a new racetrack, a fast big racetrack that's paved, they ought to put tires that are too hard and small fuel cells, just for the first couple races and just get you through, because there is a history of having catastrophic tire failures at places that have new surfaces.
And I'll take tonight's race and May's race over last year's races any day, any day.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'll just add a little bit more to that.
I agree with Jeff's point of view on all of that. I think after two races, and if NASCAR looks at-- I think I went three different stops without putting tires on, just fuel only. They weren't full runs. But the fact that we got up near and around a regular size fuel cell run, I truly think next time we'll come back.
The Busch cars ran with the big fuel cells in both races, if I can remember right, they didn't have any trouble. So I think there's enough in the right direction on top of Jeff and I's comments of the race and how it wasn't like our normal rhythm on the racetrack where we will come back with a big fuel cell.
As far as the tire, they did a great job with the tire. We're flying around here. I don't know if I would want to be out there on a stickier tire because the cars and the surface, the way the cars drive now and how good the surface is, we're going way too fast. Not too fast from a safety standpoint but too fast to run side-by-side and put on a good race.
If we go any faster, it will just be a single-file race. Right now I still think we could use more side-by-side racing here.
JEFF BURTON: We don't want more grip. Last night's Busch race was like unbelievable how fast you were going. Then tonight, I mean we don't need more grip.
Q. Jimmie, you are 146 points back. Statistically you can make that up in one race, but you got six guys in front of you. You've had to come from behind in the past. How challenging is it to move up in the standings and pass so many people? And points-wise, statistically you could be the leader next week. But how challenging is it to pass six guys or so many guys at this point in the season?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's no doubt it's big challenge. The one thing that I look at is how tough it's been on all the Chase guys. Nobody's had a clean run so far. Everybody's had some form of problem. So I think that I can be optimistic.
If we can go out there and do our jobs, I still feel like we can be in contention when we get to Homestead. I don't think we can make any more mistakes on our side, we can't have any more bad luck. We need to be earning points and collecting points from here on out. But it's not going to be easy.
When you look at how strong Jeff has been and look at Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick, there's a lot of good tracks for those guys coming up. It's going to be a tough order, a big order.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go upstairs for any final questions in the press box. Are we clear? Go ahead. One question. Let's go.
Q. Jimmie, we keep talking about how hard it is to pick up ground, yet this Chase, with the exception of the guy sitting next to you, seems to turn over every week. Have you put a lot of thought into the fact that however your situation is now it's not near as bad as it was at this same point two years ago?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think about that. I think that we're, you know, in a much better situation now than we were then. And I think the 48 team and myself, we keep that in the back of our minds. I even hear other teams reference what we were able to do a couple years ago and come back and get right in the middle of things.
So we'll just keep fighting. This thing isn't over until it's over at Homestead. I know this 48 team is going to work as hard as they can to keep giving me great race cars. I'll go out there and drive my butt off and hopefully we can be in contention.
Q. Jeff, as the pessimist heir apparent to Mark Martin I have to ask you this. Five races to go, you are so mild-mannered and cool. How do you stay cool in the next five races knowing what may or may not happen for you?
JEFF BURTON: I think the key is you can't worry about the things you can't control and you need to do your best to control the things you can control. And, you know, it's in perspective of things, we're working really hard. When we're racing, the championship is everything in our life. But there's other things going on in the world too.
And certainly, you know, every one of the competitors' goals is to be a NASCAR champion. That's certainly what we strive for. At the same time, I'm just old enough to appreciate how hard it is, and appreciate the opportunity that we have in front of us. And I'm also just old enough to understand that the sun's coming up tomorrow regardless of what happens on any given Sunday.
So I certainly take this very seriously, put a tremendous amount of effort into it. But I also, like I said before, don't take ourselves too seriously. It's a lot of work, a lot of dedication, but there's also things that are bigger in life and more important. And I think that's a good perspective.
You know, this is a great example. These guys, in my opinion, you know, have every right to be champions. They've run well enough to be champions. And it's just one reason or another hadn't worked out for them. It isn't because he is not a championship driver. It isn't because Chad isn't a championship team or Hendricks isn't a championship organization. To this point it hasn't worked out. It may work out this year. It may work out next year. But, to me, I don't look at him differently because they didn't win a championship last year, or didn't win a championship the year before. I don't look at them differently. I know how good they are and have a lot of respect for them. Being around Mark has taught me that. If Mark Martin hasn't been able to win a championship, then, you know, it's okay if you don't win one, as long as you put forth the effort and put yourself in position.
It's not to say I'm not taking this seriously and not to say it doesn't mean a great deal to me because I've worked since I was five to get here. But you know there is a perspective that I think is healthy.
THE MODERATOR: Okay guys congratulations. Have a good weekend. We'll see you next week.
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