NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Jeff Byrd 500 presented by Food City
Topics: Jeff Byrd 500 presented by Food City
March 20, 2011
KERRY THARP: We're going to roll into our post race for today's race here at Bristol Motor Speedway. Joining us is our race runner-up Carl Edwards and our third-place finisher Jimmie Johnson.
Carl, I'll turn it over to you. Certainly a race of ebb and flow. You had a good car it seemed like throughout the entire race. Maybe just couldn't get there to the 18 at the end.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, I thought we'd be better matched with him. I thought I'd be able to race with him harder for the last 15 or 20 laps. But he took off and I was a little loose off. I just couldn't get back to him to race.
While we were racing for the first couple laps after the restart, it was a blast. If I'd have known that was the only shot I was going to have, I might have raced a little harder.
It was a good race at Bristol. It was fun. I'm just ready to go to California and hopefully we'll have strong cars there.
KERRY THARP: Jimmie Johnson, third-place finish, leading the most laps, 164. Your thoughts about today's performance?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Certainly a solid performance for us. I felt like coming off pit road in fourth with only 40, 50 to go, the guys I was racing with, I knew it was going to be tough to get back to the front. I think we had a slip on the rear tire changer coming around the back of the car. Amazing, one little slip on pit road what it equals on the racetrack.
Great performance, qualified well, raced well. Very proud of the team. Glad to be climbing up in the points.
KERRY THARP: Questions now for Jimmie or Carl.
Q. Carl, when you said you might have raced a little more aggressively earlier, does that mean when you were in position to give him the bump-n-run, everybody thought it was a little early, do you wish you had given it to him while you had the chance?
CARL EDWARDS: I should have. It was a little early. I told him after Phoenix I still owe him one. But I'll save it up.
But I was just talking to Jimmie on the way over here. We were running so hard at that point in the run, I don't know that you could really bump a guy and just move him. You might cause a big wreck, might wreck yourself. Jimmie was right behind us.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Should have done it.
CARL EDWARDS: Thought I'd maybe give him the win.
I figured we'd let it calm down and we'd just race. It ended up the fastest car at the end won the race. Hindsight is 20/20, but that's the way it panned out.
Q. Jimmie, were you taking it all easy the last laps where Edwards and Kyle were really fighting for position?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: To a certain degree. I mean, we were all running really hard. There were a couple moments where I thought I might be given a big gift here. It's not like I was really riding. There was nowhere for me to go if I got up in there and raced with these guys. I left myself a little bit of room. I was still running awfully hard to keep pace.
One neat thing about this track, you can run good lap times side-by-side. There's just enough room to do that. These guys were digging up front and I was just waiting to see what was going to happen.
Q. I know it's really early in the season. I know y'all will say, Anything can happen. Is it pretty much down to the 48, the 99 and the 18 this year? Three of you seem to be noticeably better than everybody else.
CARL EDWARDS: Are you seriously asking that question right now (smiling)?
I hope. It would be nice to have two guys to race. That would be great.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: If you're going to go on short-term results, you look who has done the best, it's the 99. You look at us at Vegas last week, we just about killed each other during the race.
We're still looking for some speed. I think on the short-track stuff, we're in good shape. Our research and development program on the mile-and-a-half and two-mile is still underway.
Q. Carl, when they gave you the new tire yesterday, it didn't seem like you took to it too well. Was that an issue? Did you have to battle through that today?
CARL EDWARDS: We never ran the old tire in that second practice. That's I think why we were 33rd or 34th on the board. It looked bad. But I thought we were pretty good once we made two or three runs on that tire. I felt like we were pretty competitive.
The beginning of the race, we weren't very good. We went backwards pretty quick. Bob made some pretty large changes with the car.
I would say we didn't think we would be struggling as much as we did when the race started. It was a little bit more of a curve ball than we thought.
Q. Carl, three restarts you and Kyle side-by-side. Did you think, If we do enough of these restarts, I'm going to figure out how to beat him? Is he just so good on restarts, it's hard for anybody to beat him?
CARL EDWARDS: I think the last two if I'm not mistaken I had to lift out of the gas. I got a pretty good jump on him. I kind of figured out what he was doing.
But he does do a really good job on restarts. I think that outside lane, you have a little more of a hill to come down or something, so you have a little advantage on the outside. So I was doing everything I could to take away that advantage.
I needed a few restarts just to figure out how to keep up with him because he was doing a really good job.
Q. When he started to break away from you and Jimmie, was it because Jimmie came up and put heat on you? Was he just a stronger car?
CARL EDWARDS: He was better off in the corner. I think I worked my tires a little too hard on the bottom racing really hard with him. My car had been loose all day. That was the tightest it had been. Coming off the corner, I pushed the throttle down, I was sideways all the way. Once Kyle got out there, I was just trying to keep Jimmie behind me. At the end, I think Kyle definitely had more drive off the corner.
Q. Jimmie, when you were leading, how was it getting through some of the lap traffic for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's always challenging. I mean, I've been here with a torn-up racecar. You just go to the bottom or the top, pick a lane and sit there. You can still run fast lap times around here. So there's always issues with torn-up cars that you catch at the wrong time, maybe you're alongside of a car for position, it gets frustrating.
Then there were some other guys racing hard to stay on the lead lap. You try to give them two or three laps, understand what they're doing. But at that point when somebody starts catching -- when the leaders started catching me, I just had to start moving people, bumping people out of the way. Nothing major, but put pressure on them, lean on them, they would point you by and let you go. It's kind of short track stuff. When you're the leader, when you watch the lead you built up disappear, that's frustrating. Those guys have every right to race for their lead-lap position as well.
Q. On the short-track racing, short-oval racing, how big is the issue with brake cooling and engine cooling? Is this always a problem?
CARL EDWARDS: I was a little nervous about my brakes today because I was riding them a long ways through the corner. I kept asking Bob the wheel temps and stuff. He said they were fine. We didn't have any trouble today, but I was nervous about it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Same here. A little contact with some guys when I was leading trying to push them out of the way. Did some damage to the radiator. My water temp was high at the end . It was 250 the last 40, 50 laps. I was a little concerned about that, but it survived.
Q. Jimmie, we talked to Jeff Gordon a few weeks back when Kyle was having a pretty decent run. He compared the young Kyle Busch to Kyle Busch now. How have you seen Kyle mature over the last year to 18 months?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, you can definitely see him bite his tongue at times and not say what is the first thought that comes through his mind. From being teammates with him and racing with him, I've been able to get to know him years back. I've always raced well with him on track. He's always been patient, hasn't roughed me up. So I haven't had any issues on track with him over the years.
But you can see, especially now that he is a car owner, has sponsors to worry about, you can just tell in his interviews the way he speaks. He's very aware of series sponsor, track sponsor, his sponsors. We've also probably seen that same transformation with Stewart over the years. Once you're an owner, I haven't been in that role, you understand how fragile this environment and sport is. It certainly matured him a lot.
I can't say a ton in the car because I don't think he was doing much wrong there to start with. I think outside the car, he's handling himself better.
Q. Between you two and Kyle, you have pretty much won all the short track races over the last two or three years. Even though these tracks are all different, what is the similarity? Why are the same guys winning? When you look particularly at Bristol with Kyle winning four of the last five year, do you feel the gap is widening or you're closing on him here?
CARL EDWARDS: I didn't know I'd won that many short track races. These guys have been doing a good job, though.
I don't know. I think these races are pretty grueling. They're tough for the whole team: the driver, the pit crew, the crew chief, the engineers, everyone. I think that, you know, I look at some of the best teams in the garage, it's Jimmie and Kyle's teams. I think from my perspective that's why they do well here, because they have good, well-rounded teams and they're great drivers.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm just happy to be in the hunt here at Bristol. It's been such a long time for me to figure this place out finally, two years of Nationwide, then probably eight or nine years of Cup. I can say through all of that for me, if you don't have the right rhythm at this track and know how to drive it, you can drive it a lot of different ways, I'd go out there and search for three or four different rhythms or lines, have Chad set the car up for one of those, it just wasn't right. I would change my line in the race, see what I should be doing. Now I have the car set up to run differently.
I think now that we're on the same page, I know the line we need to run, we can tune to it and improve the car in the right areas. It's been helpful for me. It just took a while to get it.
This track, a lot like the other short tracks, technology doesn't affect the cars as much, so your setup should last longer on a short track over the years. Then also the driving style, the technique for each track. That stuff doesn't really change all that much.
The reason Kyle continues to run well, he started off strong well here and has done nothing but make small improvements and stay ahead of it.
Q. About 50 laps to go, it looked like it was in the perfect Mark Martin cautions-beget-cautions mode. Had it been that way all the way to the end, both of you certainly would have had more chances. Do you think the only way he could have been beaten would have been to get him quick after a green flag?
CARL EDWARDS: Looking back on it, that was the only way. At the time I thought our 99 car was going to be better after 10 or 15 laps. I wasn't too concerned with it. I thought we were going to get another caution or two. My gut told me there was going to be another caution. But you never know how those runs are going to go. You never know the adjustments guys make on the last pit stop. You just don't know.
Q. Carl, with the confidence that you've had so far and the results you've had dating back to the end of last year, the last 50 laps you thought you were going to win this thing. How confident were you and how peeved are you now instead of sitting in Victory Lane?
CARL EDWARDS: It's no fun to run second. When I look at the big picture, the fact that I'm sitting here frustrated about a second-place, one or two points out of the points lead, that's a huge jump from a year ago.
When you're running poorly, you'll take anything you can get. I guess we're just so greedy when you're running well, you want to win every race, want to lead the most laps, sit on every pole. Our performance has been great. It's just been amazing. It's been a huge turnaround.
I have to keep this in perspective. By the time Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday rolls around, we're gearing up to go to California, I have a feeling I'll be all right.
Q. Jimmie, you mentioned you really started to figure out Bristol. Your result in August when you had the wreck, was there anything you learned from that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Last year, the last race in August, I learned that you need to leave Juan Pablo a little bit more room. Thought he was getting crowded, turned down from being kept from running into the wall. Had plenty of room, but maybe couldn't see over the dashboard. He's kind of short, you know.
CARL EDWARDS: That's a low blow, buddy (laughter).
Q. Carl, you were talking about your performance now, how steady it's been. When it wasn't that way, what is it like when you know you have the talent and ability to be up there, but are not able to be competitive?
CARL EDWARDS: It's very difficult. I think all of us got here by performing well and getting great results. We're used to running well. We're used to getting the result you want. The problem is when you start to not get the results, you have to make sure that you still give your best performance. Two completely different things. So it's very difficult for me, I don't know about other guys, but it's difficult for me to not do a worse job because I'm trying too hard, I guess.
It is tough. Man, looking back, if I could write a letter to myself and send it back eight months, I'd say, Just keep doing what you're doing, everything is fine. At the time, you just want to explode you're so frustrated.
Q. There's been a lot of talk since this track was reconfigured a couple years ago. Has it taken some of the contact out in these late-race finishes? The old layout, would we have seen some pushing and shoving in order to get to the finish?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's no doubt the old track lent itself to more contact. There was no outside lane. You would just go in and move the guy off the bottom and take the lane from him.
I don't know what would have happened. It's so far removed from that rhythm of the race. You'd have to think if you're in second with one or two to go, that guy is within arm's reach, you're going to take a shot at it. The way it panned out today with two to go, Kyle had a big enough margin, even if the throttle was hung, that Carl could have got a him.
CARL EDWARDS: Thought about it. Physics didn't work out.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Turn in early across the apron.
Some of the fans like the old track. From a racer's standpoint, we can race finally. This place is fun to race at.
Q. Kyle's second consecutive weekend sweep at Bristol, how do you put that in perspective, what it means?
CARL EDWARDS: That's a pretty big feat. That's a good weekend right there. To put two back to back like that is pretty amazing.
It's a blast for us, wonderful (laughter).
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Happy to talk about it (smiling).
Q. Jimmie, which one of your crew members fell on that last stop? Even though there is more room to race here, was losing that track position really that difficult to get back up there or was it the high side that Kyle had that was the difference?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Definitely track position is a lot. Kyle and I traded the lead back and forth at different points today. Whoever had the clean air in the lead would get a nice margin. We'd pit, it would change around, we'd end up with the lead, we could stretch it out on him. I think there was a 10th or so being the leader that you had in your back pocket. It's all a compounding event. If you can control the race on the restarts, that outside lane has a big advantage, there's a big advantage going up through the gears. There's something with the banking, the transition off the corner onto the straight where you can really launch on that outside lane.
I was impressed with Carl staying alongside of him on the restarts. That's a tough job to do on its own there. The inside car being trapped down usually gets loose, then you don't have the room on exit to stay on the throttle to stay alongside of someone.
With Kyle, really any of these guys, if Carl was leading the race, the guy off pit road on the last pit stop has a strong control of the event here. Other tracks maybe not so much. Here you can really control the short run. That's really what we had, we had a couple quick cautions, then a 30-lap sprint at the end which is pretty much a short run.
Q. Jimmie, anything from last weekend give you much pause going forward either at California or the one-and-a-half-mile tracks? Was it more of a one-race particular to Vegas?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's plenty of concern. Once the dust settled, we came home, we started the race, we were really bad. Made some good adjustments, worked our way up inside the top 10, then had some things kind of go wrong with two tire strategy at the end, we tried four, everybody else did two. We came in early for four. Some guys waited and took two. We lost a bunch more spots there. Then we had a problem or pit road.
If we look at where we were running and how we recovered during the race, I think we're on to something. I'm not saying that California is going to be real easy on us. But I think we found a direction. We certainly got smarter through the course of two weeks ago in Vegas. I look at where we evolved in the Phoenix race weekend, all four Hendrick cars unloaded pretty far off and by the end of the race, we were there. One or more mile-and-a-half, two-mile tracks, I think we'll be where we need to.
KERRY THARP: Guys, thank you. Congratulations today. We'll see you at Fontana.
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