NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Southern 500 presented by GoDaddy.com
Topics: Southern 500 presented by GoDaddy.com
May 9, 2009
DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
KERRY THARP: We've got our race runner-up in tonight's Southern 500, Jimmie Johnson. He drives the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Rick Hendrick Motorsports.
Jimmie, talk about the race. It was about everything we could ask for.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: What a challenging night. Clean air was so, so important that it really boiled down to strategy at the end. I think there's probably 15 good cars, maybe 10 good cars at the end. However they came out from that final pit stop is how they were going to run.
The track is just so narrow. With the new pavement, this car being bigger and boxier, there's less racing room, the speeds are higher, and there's no falloff in the tire, it's all about track position. Fortunately we got it at the end. We had four or five things pop up through the night, from being trapped on pit road, spun out trying to get my pit stall, just a bunch of stuff. It was a chaotic night.
I'm very relieved and proud of the race team. We kept our heads and fought through it all night long and got ourself as good finish.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Jimmie Johnson.
Q. Are you astonished that you're in here given the night you'd had? Was there any point you thought you were done?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I kind of felt that way. In my heart I felt it was going to be like 10th place because we would be in 17th or 18th again after something went wrong, then I'd get to 10th or 12th, we'd pit again, it would all start over. That was kind of our range, from 15th or 17th to 10th or 12th. We kept fighting with everybody in that area.
Once we got some track position, then it took me a little while to recognize that I had a good car because when you're back in traffic, the car drives so bad that you can't fix the handling. Once I got up behind Mark, got comfortable with the car, understood the grip level, I'm like, Damn, I got a great racecar. Then I realized I had a shot at winning it.
I pushed Mark as hard as I could. He made one small mistake. We needed to go into fuel-save mode at that point. Unfortunately just had to ride home.
We'll take second after what we went through tonight.
Q. Why was it so chaotic? Four and a half hours out there, the thing had no rhythm. Last couple of races you have had, Talladega, Richmond. Going crazy out there.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, these tracks kind of build up from Talladega you get frustrated with the environment and people, Richmond is very similar. Then you come here, and this is so tough. The speeds are so high. Track position's everything. Lapped cars, even if they want to get out of the way, they can't, there's no room to. They get frustrated and probably warned by NASCAR for going too slow. They quit laying over. Every position that you go for out there, you've just got to gouge and bang and run people over and fight with each other and run into each other under caution. It was absolutely out of control out there.
It's just because of the fast speeds on such a narrow track and this big, boxy car, you can't go anywhere.
Q. Jimmie, have to ask you about your reaction to the news today of the positive drug test for Jeremy Mayfield and your reaction to that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know much about it, just heard it was positive. No clue what it is. But that policy is in place, and it's there for a reason. If you use something that's illegal, per that substance abuse policy, you get in trouble. It is what it is.
KERRY THARP: Let's hear from Tony Stewart right now. Tony comes in with a third-place showing tonight, outstanding. He's moved up to second in the points. Tony drivers the No. 14 Old Spice Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. Talk about the performance you had tonight and your teammate right there behind you, Ryan Newman.
TONY STEWART: I was just tickled to death tonight. That's the best finish I've ever had at a Southern 500. It's a tough race, one of the toughest physically we run all year, obviously with the heat the way it was today. Just proud of our guys. Happy for Jimmie and Mark. Mark is a great guy. You love to see somebody that works as hard as he does have success.
This kid did an awesome job tonight. First time here in a Cup car at Darlington, and this kid just did a great job. It was fun watching the 20 car up there. When he was leading the race I was smiling because I knew those guys have been waiting for this for a couple weeks now. It's just a matter of time before Joey got going.
Our guys on the pit stops tonight, we just had phenomenal stops all night, and that made the difference. I bet they passed 12 guys in the pits today, and just amazing night for the pit crew. The guys that came in, those of us that came in at the end and got two, we were leading that group. We just didn't have enough to get by Mark and Jimmie tonight.
KERRY THARP: Tony, thank you.
We're joined by our top Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year candidate, Joey Logano, ninth-place finish in his first ever run here at Darlington. He drives the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Joey, talk about your experience out there tonight.
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, I felt like I learned a lot for next time I come here, what I want in a racecar, more than what I had. I was very happy with the way we ran. I led laps in the Southern 500, I was stoked about that, I was all excited.
I think we had a good run. There towards the end, we're not in the points position to go gamble and try to stay out there on fuel right now. We played it conservative and got a solid top 10. That's where we ran all day pretty much. We didn't steal any spots, that's just what it was. Awesome pit stops all night. Every time we came down pit road, we gained spots, at least one. That was huge.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for all three.
Q. Jimmie, you made a run there at Mark after one of those last few cautions. Were you concerned about the fuel situation if you kept trying to test him you might fall back from second place?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: At the end I tried for 20 laps or so and I could stay with him and I could maybe force him into a mistake. He made one small one that helped me close up one time. I just deep down inside knew I wasn't going to get by him. We had to go into fuel save at that point and limp it back home from there. I tried a couple times to get to the outside of him down in three and four. I kind of got there, but I got in so hard, one, I thought I was going to hit the wall and, two, in that whole time of being surprised and worried about the wall, Mark got on the gas and drove away. I'm like, Damn it. I got in too hard.
I think clean air was really, really important. The fact we got up there and I could feel what our car had it in was really nice. Mark did an awesome job. He drove 30 or 40 awesome laps there at the end and I didn't have anything for him.
Q. Joey, at this point in the season, are you surprised your two best finishes are Talladega and Darlington, very difficult tracks?
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah. You know, the way I look at it, this is our first true top 10 I think. Talladega's kind of a luck thing. So we were lucky. I'm thankful for it. But here we ran solid top 10. Kind of looking at where I ran good so far, Las Vegas, new asphalt, here new asphalt, I don't know what's deal is at Talladega. That's kind of interesting. Like I said, this is one of those places I thought I was going to be really bad. I was happy with the way we ran.
Q. Jimmie, how much has it helped Hendrick Motorsports to bring in Stewart-Haas Racing into the fold?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's a great help. For a lot of years Haas has been there, has been a part of Hendrick Motorsports, helping us in a variety of ways, working together. And now to have Tony and Ryan and the depth that they have in their race team, it's really great. The information flows different directions and it's actually cool, for a lot of years Tony's old sponsor, we had this rivalry of sorts, now it's cool to be in a teammate situation. Granted, we're not teammates. But to actually talk about racecars, be a little more in-depth with Ryan and Tony.
I'm excited about it. They've done an amazing job. I think everybody looked at the start of the year, including myself, and thought Tony was crazy for what he was starting to do. He's put his heart and soul into it, done an awesome job, and it's paying off.
Q. Jimmie and Tony, Hendrick-built cars, six of the top seven tonight. Hendrick has been winning a lot of races lately. Stewart-Haas is up in the points, up in the Chase. At this point is it going to be a season about Stewart-Haas and Hendrick? Are you on top of your game? When we see the Chase, is it going to be overwhelmingly with your organizations? Do you feel confident that you are the best two teams right now?
TONY STEWART: That's yours.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Oh, it's me.
There's a lot of racing between now and then. We work real hard. We know we have great equipment. At the same time Roush has his five cars. Other associations he has out on the track. You look at Gibbs, what they've done. It's just real tough to say right now looking forward what that will be.
We're all very proud of what our equipment has done and the fact that we finished all in the top 10 like that, or top six, whatever that stat was. It's just too early to tell.
You look at the depth on the teams, the drivers, I think that explains a lot of it. Just a great group of people. We certainly hope it stays this way.
Q. Joey, can you tell me what it feels like to take such nice praise from a two-time champion sitting next to you? Did Cale make that big a difference for you, taking those laps a month ago?
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, to Tony happy with the way I ran with his old car, that's a very big compliment. They're hard to get. This is a tough series to run good in, believe me. I know (laughter).
You know, I think going with Cale helped a little bit. I was thinking about the last few laps what he was telling me. I actually tried, and he was saying back up your corner, get back on the gas before you get to the fence in three and four, just trying to drive the car with the throttle. I started doing that at the end because my car was getting tight. I seemed to help a little bit.
I guess Cale knows what he's talking about (smiling).
Q. Tony, curious what your thoughts are about why you thought it was so tough out there, all the cautions? Twice as many cautions as last year.
TONY STEWART: Kind of like what Jimmie said when I was walking in. We're running so fast here. It's such a narrow place. Lap cars were absolutely miserable tonight. If these guys that were a lap down would race that hard before they get a lap down, it would be great. You got guys that get on that inside line, it's hard enough just to run single-wide right here let alone two-wide, especially with the entries and exits the way they are.
It just makes it difficult. You got two guys fighting for one piece of real estate in turn one and turn two, a lot of times in turn three. It gives you three opportunities a lap for something to go wrong. It doesn't even have to be somebody making a mistake. Just two guys going for the same spot. It's just tough. Any time they repave a place, it's got a lot of grip. This place will season in just like any other place that has been repaved, it will get slick again. In the meantime, when it's got a lot of grip, everybody's fast. Everybody's cars feel good when the surface is fresh like this. That's why you saw track position like you saw tonight, but at the same time that's why you see a lot of cautions, 'cause we're running so fast around here now that that's what you're doing. It's like Jimmie said, it's a wrestling match for 367 laps. It doesn't mean we need to put restrictor plates on, change anything. Don't write that in your stories. Time is all it needs. Everything's fine (laughter).
Q. Tony, if you could comment on the positive test that Jeremy Mayfield had.
TONY STEWART: What he said, so...
KERRY THARP: We appreciate it .
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