Q&A with Bristol Pole winner Jimmie Johnson
THIS IS YOUR 24TH POLE IN THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES, YOUR FIRST POLE AT BRISTOL. LOOKS LIKE THINGS ARE LINING UP FOR ANOTHER GOOD PERFORMANCE FOR YOU TOMORROW NIGHT
"Yeah, we definitely have things going right for us so far; a good qualifying effort. Race practice went well. We were near the top five on the fastest lap throughout most of practice. It felt like our car was very consistent and we were a bit puzzled on how much the groove has widened out and where we think the ideal line to race is, come race time. We spent a lot of time focused on the bottom of the race track, including qualifying and running our lap. There was a lot of question and concern in my mind. I went on top of the transporter and watched all the guys go and nobody made the bottom work until late when the No. 20 (Joey Logano) went out.
"So that gave me hope but I really couldn't change directions at that point because we'd set the car up to run on the bottom for qualifying and felt like it would be foolish to change things and introduce a different line with the set-up that we had kind of fine-tuned. We did things right there, but it's also the mindset in race trim. Typically the bottom is the place to be and we focused a lot working the bottom in race trim and some up top. But we'll just have to see in the race. I think my car drove easier the higher I went so I don't feel like I'm going to be out to lunch spending so much time being focused on the bottom. But it was an interesting day. This tire was a lot different. It laid down a lot more rubber. It seemed to be a little bit looser at the beginning but we did a good job adjusting to it."
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE FIRST PIT STALL HERE AND HOW MUCH ADVANTAGE DO YOU HAVE WITH THAT?
"Yeah, it's huge. I was on the front row once because of points and we just didn't have a competitive race. Actually I think I had crashed early in the race for some reason and couldn't take advantage of that first pit stall. But I've seen a lot of people over the years take advantage of it. And I'm very, very excited to have that and hope to take advantage of it tomorrow night."
ATYPICALLY OVER THE LAST SIX RACES, QUALIYFING HASN'T BEEN AN ISSUE FOR YOU AT ALL BUT YOU HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO CONVERT THOSE EFFORTS INTO THE FINISHES YOU NORMALLY DO. WHAT'S BEEN DIFFERENT ABOUT THAT STRETCH OF RACES? ALSO, WHICH LANE ARE YOU LIKELY TO PICK AT THE START?
"I haven't thought about the start of the race. I think the outside may be the preferred spot. I watched a little bit of the truck race that seemed like it worked well for guys. And tonight's Nationwide race will teach us a lot on what to do there. As far as qualifying well, we have been doing that. And over the years past, it's been a sore spot for us and I feel confident we're doing the right things there. But if you look at the 1.5-mile race tracks and above, I don't think through the summer months, we have had the package we need. I can burn off a fast lap. I can be fast in the practice sessions and in the qualifying effort, but when you get into the heart of the race and longer runs and a series of long runs, we seem to fade a little. And I think we're not where we want to be on the 1.5-mile and 2-mile tracks yet. There's not a lot of time left, but there is still a month left before the Chase starts and another four or five weeks I guess in total before the first 1.5-mile race in the Chase. So we have time to figure some stuff out. And we have some ideas. We made some decisions after Michigan to revamp some cars and to do some things differently. And we're hoping that will pay off going into Atlanta and we can get a good gauge on things in Atlanta and moving forward. I see Atlanta and I don't want everybody to think that Atlanta is a real telltale sign for us because we haven't been that good as the 48 team there. So our goals in Atlanta may be different than winning a race. If we can run competitive and be in the top four or five throughout the whole day I think that would be a very good indication of the No. 48 team going in the right way."
WHAT KIND OF RACING DO YOU THINK WE'RE GOING TO SEE? IS IT GOING TO BE THE OUTSIDE LANE? WHAT DOES THAT DO TO THE MINDSET OF RUNNING BRISTOL BECAUSE IT APPEARS THINGS HAVE CHANGED OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS?
"Yeah, I'm not sure why it's changing like this. Asphalt wears out much more and concrete stays very consistent. We've seen the outside lane work better and better each time, but I guess the teams are getting smarter and are planning to run the top lane. The bottom works. I think you'll need to run the bottom to work through lapped cars and through traffic, but if your car isn't handling right, you have to slow the car down so much more to get to the inside lane that it's just easier to not tough the brake and let the car roll up into the banking. Once you hit the banking it really helps the car change directions and get going for you. You may not win the race on the bottom, but you're going to have to run well on the bottom to get through traffic and to make stuff happen. I think the preferred lane will be middle to top as we get going in the race, which is totally backwards for this place (laughs)."
ON THE TIRES, I GET THE IMPRESSION THAT GOODYEAR SHOWS UP AND GIVES YOU SOMETHING YOU THAT BASICALLY NOBODY KNOWS MUCH ABOUT, EVEN IF YOU DID A TIRE TEST. THEY MIGHT BRING OUT SOMETHING DIFFERENT. IS THAT PART OF A PLAN?
"Yeah, it is tough. And to their credit, they have a lot of tracks to build tires for and it's tough for Goodyear to make everybody happy all the time and to tire test enough and to give all the teams a chance to collect data. One thing they do do, is they give the same data to all the teams. As long as we're all getting the same information, that's helpful. We used to be able to do some other tire testing because we had access to tires and did some stuff on our own. We can't do that anymore. So it's a pretty even playing field. If you do have a chance to tire test, you think you're going to gain an advantage, but when we look at our organization after the Watkins Glen tire test, Jeff (Gordon) came home really, really excited. And we went up there grinning, thinking we've got something special, and we sucked (Iaughs). It took us a long time to get stuff right. So at the end of the day, they have to do what they feel is right for the tire and it may not always work for the garage area and sometimes it works for a handful of teams. Other times it works for the majority. You just never know. It's one of the variables that we have to deal with week in and week out. I'm not saying it's not frustrating either. I mean it is frustrating from time to time. But I don't know how else to go about it, you know?"
YOU WON THE RACE HERE IN THE SPRING AND THE POLE TONIGHT. WHAT DOES THAT DO FOR YOUR CONFIDENCE FOR TOMORROW NIGHT'S RACE?
"For me it's kind of checking things off of the list, especially this weekend. We had a good practice session and qualified well. Now we need to debrief and make sure we make the right adjustments for tomorrow's race. And then, you can't over-think it because this race changes so much during the course of the night. You have different strategies. The leader you think is in a safe spot, but sometimes he's in the eye of the storm. So you just don't know. We'll make sure that we're buttoned-up and organized and ready but still, tomorrow we've got to think on our toes and do our best job to be heads-up during the race." Source: GM Racing