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NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: SUBWAY FRESH FIT 500

March 3, 2013
INDIANA SPORTS PAGE



Jimmy Hamilton

Jimmie Johnson

PHOENIX, ARIZONA
  KRISTI KING: We welcome our second?place finisher Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet.  Jimmie is currently our points leader by eight points over Dale Jr.  Talk about your run out there today and those last few laps specifically. JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, definitely a good performance.  First pit stop we went with four and nobody else did, and we lost a lot of track position and realized then that the game here, it was going to be a little bit different than what we had expected.  That was our last four?tire stop that we made.  That was really key to keep track position. I think we made the car better as the day went on and I know we made it a lot better from yesterday's practice to today.  We are still learning this Gen?6 car and made some good improvements to it.  At the end it got a little crazy, especially that last lap.  Denny got a huge run, cut the corner down there and cleared us both, but I felt like I still had a chance if I just hung on on the outside around turns 3 and 4 and I was able to do that and just kind of beat him back to the finish.

Q.  Did you expect the Fords to gang up on you there at the end? JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I didn't even notice the make situation at all, no.  I felt like Carl didn't follow the restart protocol and was slower than the pace car on his last two restarts, and it gives the leader a huge advantage when that happens.  You're supposed to wait until you get between the two lines and take off and this was all going on before it.  Outside of that, yeah, that was the only issue that I saw.

Q.  How close were you on fuel at the end, and for the last part of that green?flag run before the caution, were you and Carl?? it looked like you were running all out but I couldn't tell. JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I started at the beginning, Carl got a comfortable lead and I knew how hard it was to pass the leaders so I went into fuel?save mode then and felt like I did a good job early.  I'm not sure the 99 did because I'm not sure they were concerned, at least what was being relayed on the radio to me.  So I'd say just inside 40 to go, I started trying again and brought the pace up and using more fuel and that kind of stuff, and I got within three car lengths but that's as close as I could really get to him.

Q.  Were you kind of shocked to see Denny suddenly start to appear there beside you or were you keeping up with what he was trying to do dropping low? JIMMIE JOHNSON:  My spotter was all over it.  I didn't expect Denny to get up in front of us like he did.  I thought we were going to enter three wide, and I was going to be in the worst spot.  The clean line turns away from me, so I was looking out my window, and I could see a lot of the 11.  I thought, well, I'm not sure really what's going to happen here, sure not going to let off, and the 2, gave him some room, and we all rolled in there without wrecking.  When I first heard that we were three wide I was pretty concerned that I wasn't going to have a clean lane to race in.

Q.  (Inaudible). JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Well, we'll take it one week at a time.  That's a cool stat and I want to keep it alive, keep it going.

Q.  Yesterday in Nationwide qualifying I heard Brad Keselowski say on the radio that he would like to beat you to everything including the race to the bathroom, and seeing how you guys raced out there today in the closing laps, coming off of the championship battle last year, do you think that this is going to be an ongoing rivalry between you and Brad for the 2013 season? JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Without a doubt, and it's not just Brad related.  I'm sure Brad has a few others on his radar, and whoever is ahead of him on the track or in the points.  But I'm well aware that with the success that I've had over the last eight or 10 years that there's a lot of bull's eyes on me.  I'm kind of afraid to sleep at night sometimes.  I know those guys are all gunning for me, and that's a huge honor, it really is, to have the garage and then the reigning champion thinking that way about me.

Q.  It looked really hard to pass the leader out there today.  Is that more a factor of this track still being relatively new pavement or is there still some kinks to work out on the new car or a little of both? JIMMIE JOHNSON:  It didn't seem a lot different than other races here to me since the reconfiguration.  I don't think the Gen?6 car has anything to do with it at this point.  I think next week in Vegas we have a track that has multiple lanes and we'll see some great side?by?side racing.  The garage area and the teams and owners and the competition side of NASCAR have worked so hard to make these cars equal and we keep changing and jumping through hoops, new chassis, new bodies, new this, new that.  The cars are equal and when they're equal you're going to have a situation like this.  What we need now is the racetracks to consider the asphalt they're putting down and even reconfigure the lanes so that we have somewhere to race.

Q.  The final restart, it looked like you had a little bit of problem on the final restart.  Did you, or did it just seem to appear that way? JIMMIE JOHNSON:  No, you're supposed to maintain the speed of the pace car, so I maintained the speed of the pace car and the 99 is dropping back.  At some point you can't see the guy to know when he's going to accelerate, and that's the goal of the leader.  If he can get you looking and get out of your sight and punch it, you never have a chance to recover and that is why the rule states that you're supposed to maintain pace car speed. You have the double red and the single red to work whatever you want to inside of there and to go when you want to still give the advantage to the leader of the race.  So this was all happening before that, and that's why I mentioned he didn't follow the protocol.

Q.  This kind of relates to one of the other questions, but in general, what did you think of the Gen?6 car racing today, and do you have any ideas of how it could be improved? JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I think we have a great product.  It's going to continue to get better.  One of the things that we've all recognized over the years is the faster we go the narrower track gets the harder it is to pass.  Speeds will be up, especially when we get to the mile?and?a?halfs, so with all that being said, I think we need to leave the cars alone for a good 10, 20 years.  Let the teams be.  Right here on this blacktop there's a lot of work that can be done to help create better racing and keep the fans in the grandstands. KRISTI KING:  We now welcome our third?place finisher in today's Subway Fresh Fit 500, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota.  Talk a little bit about your run out there and specifically those last few laps. DENNY HAMLIN:  We overachieved a ton today.  We really just had good pit strategy.  The pit crew picked up spots here and there, and you end up on the right lane here or there on each restart and you find yourself in the top 10 and then in the top 5 at the end.  A lot of it we got our car better and were at least able to somewhat run with the leaders.  But I think we definitely have some work to do. I think we didn't run as good as I hoped, but we finished better than I imagined after about halfway through today's race.

Q.  Did you have any issues at all with your tires throughout the race that gave you concern? DENNY HAMLIN:  Just that they weren't wearing at all.  The left sides have zero wear after a full fuel run.  Typically that's not supposed to happen.

Q.  Were you aware of the right fronts blowing for some reason? DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, right fronts are going to blow if the left sides have no grip, all the right has to carry the load.  So until we get better tires on the left, the rights will continue to blow.  Don't matter how hard you make them.

Q.  Could you talk about the move on the last lap cutting the dogleg and how tense a moment was it when you came back on the track realizing you were going to come up three wide there? DENNY HAMLIN:  I wasn't concerned too much because as far down as I was, I was committed.  There was nothing I was going to do that was going to back out.  I just hoped that I would have slid in front of the 48, but then you risk getting punted and spun and your whole day you worked everything for gets taken away in a corner. I held my line and really thought I did the right thing to get those guys still an opportunity to pass me back, and obviously one of them did.

Q.  Two things:  How far ahead did you sort of plot that move on the apron there?  That wasn't a last?minute thing I'm thinking, and secondly, Jimmie mentioned he had some problems with Carl's restart there.  Does that bother you at all? DENNY HAMLIN:  It bothered me because I was behind Jimmie and we were way too far back from the leader when we got to Turn 1.  I was thinking the whole time it was actually Jimmie's race to win.  Usually the guy who can get to the outside into Turn 1 can typically be the guy in the catbird seat off of Turn 2, and obviously with Carl, whatever he did?? I didn't even see it because I was so focused on Jimmie's back bumper that I just know that Carl was way out there by the time we even got going.  He was the leader, he had the right to go any time he wants.  But I didn't look and see when he went or if he went early or late or anything like that. But I was plotting my move ever since I saw Jimmie and Brad side by side.  I knew it was going to be interesting, at least for that lap, because Brad was driving so hard, eventually he was going to slide up, and he knew he was going to slide up, and he did and opened the door for me.

Q.  Were you concerned at all about your engine today, and also, you talked about it being difficult to pass, yet you kind of went from the back to third.  Do you feel it was just all track position and having to really pick your spots carefully? DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, I hate to be Denny downer, but I just didn't pass that many cars today.  That's the realistic fact of it.  You look and we started 40 something, we finished third and you think that we just motored our way through the pack, and that's just not the case of what happened. I'm ecstatic about our finish, don't get me wrong, because we did not have a third?place car today.  But my pit crew just kept putting me in a position to race those guys, and then I capitalized when one or two guys in front of me made some mistakes here and there, I'd get one more spot, two more spots, next thing you know I've got a shot to possibly get a win at the end.  That's what you've got to do when you don't have the best car. It was a teamwork third?place run today, that's for sure.  And the engine, not really.  The drivers will not change anyway that they drive to try to help reliability because if we do that then we're altering our chances to win, and we're not going to do that.

Q.  My question is about the tires.  I saw more tires go down this race than I have.  Are you running different tires? DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah.  I think a little bit of it is I did a tire test here not too long ago, and they're trying to get these green, I guess, tires into the series, and what it's doing is it's changing the entire compounds and the way the tires are built and everything like that, and it's a learning curve.  Every time those tires go on, it just seems like passing is a little more difficult, and then it makes the right side tires blow typically because they're so hard on the left that the rights just can't take all that pressure.

Q.  Did you do any testing on them before this race? DENNY HAMLIN:  We spent a couple days tire testing, and I don't think we raced any of the tires we tested.

Q.  Obviously you've never had a period in your career where you went 70 races without a win.  Can you even imagine what that would be like to go that long?? DENNY HAMLIN:  No.  I'd be in the nut house after 50.

Q.  Can you relate to?? DENNY HAMLIN:  You know, I think in Pocono '09 it was like, I don't know, maybe 50 or something for us, and it felt like an eternity.  It really sucks when you miss out on ones here and there, and when you finally do get that win, obviously I was emotional for a lot of reasons that weekend, but I'm sure it's a relief for someone like Carl that he's now relevant again.  He really is.  It's a good sign for their race team for things to come.  When you win really the first real race of 2013, you've got to feel pretty good about your program.

Q.  In that regard, you certainly can relate to being an almost?champion, and then the next season having to struggle, which is exactly what happened to him last year.  You must be able to feel what it must feel like to him to finally be winning again. DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, it's very similar.  I mean, we struggled in '11, we won Phoenix in the spring of '12, same thing last year.  He struggled, he won?? we had a good year last year, and I suspect now looking at some of the other Roush cars that their program has gotten better.  We've seen it?? it's a cycle in our sport.  No team that's got any kind of depth stays down long.  Everyone just keeps?? it's almost the worse you run one year the better you're going to be the next because it pushes you to work that much harder, and I'm sure all those guys have done that.

Q.  Next week is LasVegas, totally different from Daytona and Phoenix, and then the weekend after that you're at Bristol, that's totally different from LasVegas, Phoenix and Daytona.  How important is that extra day of practice going to be at Las Vegas, and how do you think you will approach Bristol? DENNY HAMLIN:  It will help.  I think that we had some practice cut obviously with our engine failure during practice, we had some practice cut out here, so we didn't get to run as much as we'd like, and talking with Darian, he felt like we could have used that extra 30, 45 minutes that we missed to possibly have run better. Having a full day at Las Vegas will be a big benefit.  It will give everyone a great opportunity to get their cars right and see what it's like on a mile?and?a?half because really the closest thing I've run is Darlington tire test, and everything seemed fine there.  So we'll see how it goes.  It looks like the first five races are all something different, so you really have to get back with us after that.

Q.  What did you think about that gift you got from NASCAR when Jr. held back and they put him behind you and you got to move up a spot? DENNY HAMLIN:  It was a gift from Jr., really.  (Laughter.) You've got to maintain speed, and I'm trying to be a nice guy and give him some room to kind of?? I knew he was lunging forward and backward, cutting his car off.  Usually the?? I don't know, the etiquette is you try?? when everyone is in fuel save mode you give the guy a little bit, but I was nearly stopped, so I had to pass him because I thought he had actually ran out of fuel at the time.  I guess NASCAR once you get to a certain speed and you stall, then you're free game for anyone that goes around you.

Q.  You were real happy, though, weren't you? DENNY HAMLIN:  I was happy.  (Laughter.) KRISTI KING:  Denny, congratulations on your finish today.  Thank you for your time.


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