Team Chevy Driver Jimmie Johnson Maintains Point Lead with Four Races To Go in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup
Kevin Harvick Closes in to Within 62 points of Overall Lead with Solid Martinsville Run
Martinsville, Va. (October 24, 2010) – Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, held on to the overall points lead in the Sprint Cup Series championship standings despite a furious challenge from two other contenders today. With four races remaining Johnson’s lead is now just six points over Denny Hamlin, and 62 over Kevin Harvick, driver of the Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet.
Several Chevrolet drivers led 410 laps in the race today taking their overall total laps led in the series to 200,080 since 1949.
Harvick was the surprise of the day after qualifying in 36th position on Friday, he torched the field and stormed to the lead by lap 172 of the 500 slated for Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Harvick led a total of 97 laps before finishing third in today’s race and slicing a bit into Jimmie’s lead.
Johnson never led today, but was hardly ever outside the top-five running order. Their car was a bit off from the start and they never could quite get the grip they needed to make a charge for the lead. But Johnson was strong enough to score his 15th top-five of the 2010 season and keep the competition at bay.
Driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, Jeff Burton, looked to have one of the strongest cars all day, but fought a loose condition late in the race and faded to ninth after leading a race-high 134 laps. He now sits eighth in the standings, up two positions.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, thrilled the crowd by taking the lead at lap 285 and stayed on the point for a total of 90 laps but lost the handle and became too tight after the final pit stop before finishing seventh.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont/National Guard Families Appreciation Chevrolet, recovered from contact with the wall after being spun by another car at lap 386 to finish in 20th position. Gordon had a strong run in today’s race leading 56 laps. He fell one position in the overall points from fourth to fifth.
Tony Stewart, No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet, finished 24th after suffering a flat tire late in the race and falls one spot to seventh in the overall standings while Clint Bowyer, No. 33 BB&T Chevrolet was involved in a single car accident early in the race at lap 193 and returned to the track after lengthy repairs in the garage and finished 38th in today’s race. He remains in 12th position in the Chase standings.
Denny Hamlin (Toyota) was the race winner. Kyle Busch (Toyota) completed the top-five finishers.
The series moves next to the biggest track, Talladega Superspeedway on October 31,2010.
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPTS:
MARK MARTIN, NO. 5 EBAY MOTORS/GODADDY.COM CHEVROLET – Finished 2nd
KEVIN HARVICK, NO. 29 SHELL/PENNZOIL CHEVROLET – Finished 3rd
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET – Finished 5th
KERRY THARP: Let’s roll right into our post race for today’s race. Our third place finisher, currently third in points, is Kevin Harvick. He drives the No. 29 Shell Pennzoil Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.
Kevin, you have to be pleased with your performance out there today. You contended for the win. You sliced 15 points off of Jimmie Johnson’s lead.
KEVIN HARVICK: That’s what we have to do. Coming into this race, no one gave us a chance to even run anywhere towards the front. So it’s nice to come here, get the finishes we feel like we deserve, that we’ve run well over the last few years, just hadn’t got the finishes to show for it.
Great day for us. Everybody did a great job on pit road and in the pits, doing everything they had to do to keep the car up front.
KERRY THARP: Questions for Kevin.
Q. Kevin, Denny just said that he was watching you and Jeff go after each other, hoping you used up your stuff. Does the thought process ever enter into your mind as teammates not to use each other up?
KEVIN HARVICK: I didn’t see any bent fenders or contact, so I think it was fine.
Q. Kevin, how close were you to hitting that home run you said you probably needed to hit on Friday?
KEVIN HARVICK: We came pretty close. I mean, coming here and getting our first top five, beating the 48, being in contention to win was pretty close to a home run.
Q. Kevin, we heard what you said on TV about Bowyer’s pit crew. Talk about how that went today? Did that make you more relaxed?
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, I didn’t have any to do’s with how it all went down or anything like that. That was something that they handled internally at the shop.
Clint is obviously doing everything he can to try to help us win the championship. It’s just unbelievable the stops that those guys had on pit road today. Makes life a lot easier.
Q. What was going on with you and Burton? At some point you have to look at the big picture, say we don’t need to be doing this, just worry about the points?
KEVIN HARVICK: We were just racing.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Kevin. Congratulations. See you at Talladega.
Our race runner up is Mark Martin. He drives the No. 5 eBay Motors Go Daddy.com for Hendrick Motorsports. I can tell you from watching this race, folks here in this media center, what a performance you put on there today with a car that was pretty tore up.
MARK MARTIN: Yeah, lap 30 I started overheating my brakes, started having to baby them. I thought there was no possible way we were going to run 500 laps. At lap 150, 175, I thought, Oh, my goodness, it’s going to be a long, long day.
Then we had all the stuff tear up. I never really have much enjoyed this place, to be real honest with you. But that last hundred laps was fun. I’ve had guys pass me and I wondered how in the world they did that. Now I see how. What an incredible racecar that Alan Gustafson and everyone gave me. Really good looking paint job with eBay Motors onboard.
Really a great time, great recovery from two laps down. I really want to thank my teammates and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for supporting us through a really tough summer. We’ve turned it around with some good runs. Hopefully we can continue to do that.
KERRY THARP: Certainly a great performance out there from you today.
Also joining us up at the podium is our currently points leader and four time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series defending champion, Jimmie Johnson. He comes in fifth in today’s race. He holds a six point lead after today’s race here at Martinsville.
Jimmie, talk about your performance out there. You kind of gutted it out and still are the points leader heading into Talladega.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Good top five finish today. We certainly wanted to finish higher. But it’s over and done with. It is what it is. Top five is something would have been a good goal coming in here this weekend. We’re rolling into Talladega. We all know what can happen there.
Happy to still be leading. Wish the margin had gone the other way. Denny won the race, closed it up. We’ll buckle down, go to work the next four.
KERRY THARP: We’ll take questions for Mark or Jimmie.
Q. Jimmie, Denny was talking all week about his strategy, the pressure was on you. What is your feeling after seeing him do what he did, backing up what he said?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I really felt like he had a chance to win the race here. You can’t argue with stats. The speed that he and that team have had here over the years.
Did a good job of stepping up to all the talk. He did a great job today. For a long time I thought the 29, the 11 and us were going to finish in sequential order. We were around each other all day long. That last stop at the end, those guys found a little something and got going.
A lot of racing left. We’ll see.
Q. Season high number of cautions today, but didn’t get one at the end. Were you surprised there wasn’t? You could have used one.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yes, with how often we get cautions when guys blow a tire and end up into the fence. Once the first two or three had gone by and we didn’t have a caution, I was glad to not see one, although it would have helped me. I just felt it was fair that point. If you didn’t throw it for the first couple, guys were blowing them, no sense in throwing them now. NASCAR stuck to their plan on this and wanted it to finish under green.
Some weekends the smallest piece of debris will bring out a caution. This week you have seven or eight cars blowing a front tire up at the wall, we don’t get one. I’m not complaining about it. I wasn’t counting on getting one. We made or bed and finished fifth today because we didn’t have the car we needed on the long haul. It’s not that I’m blaming my finish on anything.
It is odd sometimes.
Q. Mark, Denny said in Victory Lane that he had never closed that well before. Had you ever had a closer rate like you had at the end of the race?
MARK MARTIN: Not in Cup. In Nationwide, Busch races, some short track late models. That baby was rolling. That last 50 laps was unbelievable. Man, that was fun. I love long green flag racing. I don’t like these 10 lap sprints, all that crazy junk. I love long runs. When I don’t have a good car and we get a long run, we suffer miserably. When we have a great racecar like California or here, that’s to me what racing is all about and always has been.
Q. Jimmie, you just talked about didn’t have the car you needed on the long haul. Certainly this race going green the last 100 laps is a rarity here. That catch you off guard? With the history here with the cautions, were you more set up for a short run at the end?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: In the past I’ve always been really good here on the long runs. In the past we’ve worked more on the short runs. Got beat a few times on the short run stuff.
Today the trend of our car was very quick at the beginning, would fall off, get tight as the run would go on. It didn’t really change much about all the adjustments we made to the car all day long.
It did hurt us with it staying green. Typically it’s good for me when it stays green, but it was just circumstances today. Last night, we overadjusted a little bit. I’m just as responsible, probably more responsible than anyone. Yesterday the way we needed to get the car in the track and working was far different than what we had seen here in the past for our setups. That’s what brought our car around yesterday at the end of practice.
We started with it stowed, spent a lot of the day backing out of the stuff we did last night to the car. I’ll take the blame on that. Just happy we got a good finish out of it.
Q. You said last week at Charlotte, Jimmie, that Talladega is always your worry in the Chase. Having your points lead cut today here, is it hard not to feel that sense of dread going to that track next?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: 36, whatever it was, 41, whatever it was. That’s not a huge amount. You hate to see it vanish. I’m really trying to not be emotionally attached to things until we get out of Talladega. So much can happen at Talladega. Last year, Mark, catch me in the points, right there with me on the points, I’m running sixth on the track, he’s running seventh coming to the checkered flag, his car gets hit, he gets hit, he is upside down. I’m just one spot ahead of him. I finish the race, get a bunch of points.
MARK MARTIN: The race is on after Talladega. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Not getting involved. Not worrying. Three races left after that. If we’re close, we’ll race like hell.
Q. Mark, how do you judge a finish like this? Are you happy to see the improvement or do you dwell on the season saying we should have been running like this all year?
MARK MARTIN: I hadn’t thought about that. Pretty dang happy. That’s what I did think about, definitely. You know, it’s not a gimme. You don’t get this stuff. You’re not owed it. You’re lucky if it happens. That’s the way I look at it. I feel darn lucky to have been in that seat today.
Q. You said you really haven’t had a lot of fun at this track. Can you talk specifically about what happened today?
MARK MARTIN: With a hundred to go, we were 20th or something like that, 111 to go. We drove to second. Why wouldn’t that be fun? I’m used to people passing me. I was passing good cars the way they usually do me here. I never could figure out how they did that. Now I know. When the car was working like mine was working today, that was really fun. We had a spectacular racecar at the end. Seemed to get better throughout the race. We had to run it harder. We weren’t running it real hard before we got wrecked and tore up, lost the laps we lost. We had a flat tire under the green and lost two laps, too. But we had time to get them back.
Great success for us.
Q. Mark, you say you had a great car. Those closing laps we saw so many cars fall off. What adjustments did you make to be there at the end and come on strong while others were falling off?
MARK MARTIN: Car just got better. The only thing we did was raise the track bar two rounds today and took half a wedge out. Over the course of 500 laps, the car was mediocre at the start of the race and spectacular at the end. The adjustments weren’t what made the car spectacular. I think the racetrack just came to us. We had a good setup in the car for the racetrack when it was rubbered up in the second half of the race.
KERRY THARP: Mark, thank you. Super performance.
MARK MARTIN: Thank you, guys.
Q. Jimmie, what was the issue with the draft shaft cover? Why did NASCAR ask you to replace it? Any fear there might be any penalty involved with that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don’t know what you’re speaking about, to be honest with you. Is this before or after?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don’t have a clue. Not my job, man, as Juan would say.
Q. I think everybody expected you and Hamlin to do well here because you have such a great track record here. Were you a little bit surprised how well he did, making this a three man Chase? Could he be figured the favorite because of his success at Talladega?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Coming into the Chase I definitely felt like the 29 was the favorite with the speed they showed on all types of tracks. Didn’t matter, short track, big track, those guys did a great job. They got off to a good start. We thought it would be a bit stronger of a start. They’re on it, they’re not slouches. They ran great here. There’s been an RCR car always fast at this track. The 31, the 29, the 33 at times. I felt like all three RCR cars would be quick here, including the 29, and they were.
I almost fell into a sense of security today where the 29, the 11 and us were all like a third, sixth place car. We stayed together most of the day. The last stop at the end, those two both got going. We just didn’t go anywhere.
Wish that was different on our case. But I can’t remember what you really asked me. I know I answered the 29 part.
Q. With Harvick’s success at Talladega, is he considered the favorite now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Kevin’s done a great job at those big tracks. Man, you can make all the right moves and something out of your control happens. We’ll just have to see what happens. I know he’s going to be a great threat. Have to naturally think the 1 car is going to be strong there. The Gibbs cars are strong on those big tracks. We’ll roll the dice and see what happens.
Q. You spent a lot of time nose to tail with the 18. That got heated. Can you talk about that a little bit.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah. I was doing all that I could to hang on to the position I was in and the points that came along with that. Worked me over from time to time. Never really got inside of me. Then the contact started. That’s fine. I get it. Especially in the center of the corner off the turn, that’s not a problem. Then I got hit a couple times going into the turn. That’s when I thought it was uncool. Showed him the one finger salute a few times. It was more me letting him know I was pissed. He mellowed out.
Once he got back to me, got back inside of me. I knew he was just racing hard. I had to show him I was not happy getting hit going in the turn. Left in the lane, raced hard side by side. He went on his way, that was that.
I had a prime opportunity if I really felt like what he was trying to do was unfair, I could have dumped him if I wanted to. That wasn’t the case. He was just racing hard. I was expressing my frustration with getting hit going into the turn, and that was that.
We had a good talk after the race. Everything’s good.
Q. Jimmie, if you and Denny and Kevin come out of Talladega similarly close as you are now, who has the edge in the last few races?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There’s no way I can answer that. It’s going to be one helluva race. I can promise you that, though.
Q. Obviously you have teammates, Denny has teammates. I assume Charlotte was trying to keep you from getting another five points. I assume that’s going to be the problem at Talladega. In other words, it’s not just you racing the other two guys. You’re racing two other teams, whether it’s Clint Bowyer or Jeff Burton or something like that. Is that just natural, you understand that, or is that something your spotter has to remind you of?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I’m certainly aware of that. At Charlotte I didn’t think that Kyle was just trying to finish second. He didn’t do anything wrong. He was running as hard as he could. He wasn’t mirror driving me. I had zero issues there. That was just racing hard.
Today, I mean, I was totally fine with it until I started getting hit going into the turn. That’s a big no no. If you want to move someone out of the way, contact center of the turnout, but you get hit going in, that gets people’s attention.
Q. Is that Denny’s teammate trying to take five points.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: If he handled the situation differently, yes. If he went in there and blasted me out of the way, yeah. But, you know, it was short track racing. There’s a line there that I guess we recognize as drivers. Kyle just did his job to finish as good as he could at Charlotte, and it was short track racing here.
But that is a concern. If it does cross that line, that’s not cool. I’ll do my best to make sure to show it.
Q. Jimmie, Chad came over the radio when you asked for more front grip and said he couldn’t do much else, it was in your hands. How do you feel you did with what you did or didn’t have? Did you adjust the way you drove to try to stay as competitive as you could?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I did. I’m not going to stop trying things in the car, searching for different lines, different techniques with the steering wheel and the brake and all that stuff.
Oddly enough, we came in the next pit stop. We found something. Went back on some adjustments. Found some speed, the car was faster.
I know it’s tough for him on the pit box, sitting there working adjustments, feel like you’re boxed into a corner, can’t do anything. After he had some time to think about it, he found me a little more.
KERRY THARP: Jimmie, thanks a lot. Good luck at Talladega.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports
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