KERRY THARP: We are going to roll right into our post a race for today’s 16th Annual Sylvania 300, the second race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson was our race runner-up. He drove the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, and he is now our new points leader, one-point lead over Brad Keselowski.
Outstanding effort you showed out there today. You regained the points lead and now you go to Dover, a track that you’re very good at.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, very, very strong performance for the Lowe’s team today. We just did all we could today. We just missed a little bit of speed and the 11 seemed to have everybody covered. And after that, we were the next-best car and I just kind of ran there all day.
Q. On the restart, the last caution lap, what was going through your mind when you were one, two, with Denny on the restart? What were you thinking?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just trying to get a good start, and if I could have gone into the corner on the outside of him and kind of pinned him down a little bit, I may have had a chance to get by. But once I got into the turn, there’s paving seams in the road, and I got my right sides on a paving seam; and I couldn’t turn under it and I was kind of stuck on it; the 24 got close to me.
I had a little bit of hope for just, you know, quarter of a lap there. And then it was like, uh-oh, don’t lose second. And then pulled away from Jeff and got going from there.
Q. You started the day at 20th, worked your way up to the front; when you look at the car like the 11 today, do you walk out of here and just say, you know what we did have a great day, we made it up through the pack and were satisfied?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we are. When we look at the spring race here and then their performance on short tracks of late, those guys have had a little something on the field.
So we saw Richmond not go their way. What was another track — long story short, you can have the best car but it doesn’t mean you’re going to win. So today, they covered their bases. They did a great job. They had the speed that we all expected them to have and they executed well and got it done.
So I figured he would — I kind of thought he would be the guy to beat and he certainly was. We are second best.
KERRY THARP: Jeff Gordon joins Jimmie right now. Jeff was the third place in the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Both two Hendrick drivers finished two, three here today.
Jeff, certainly coming back with a stronger performance today at New Hampshire. Talk about your run.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, it was a great performance. Certainly helped qualifying on the pole, getting that No. 1 pit stall. That was important. We had good pit stops, good pit calls and strategy and then good adjustments. We weren’t very good at the start of the race, but we hung in there with our track position and then we made an adjustment about halfway through the race that wasn’t very good for the short runs, but it seemed to maintain pretty good on the longer runs. So allowed us to get up there into fourth and then that restart, we were able to jump into third.
Q. Can you elaborate on your climb from the pack up to second place?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we started in the outside lane and a couple guys, I had to go to the back, which moved us up some. Just tried to let things get single file and unfold. And that old saying, comers and goers, there were some guys coming back to us and we were going forward.
Just worked my way through traffic. Didn’t have any big moments, but it was tough to pass. And the one thing I had working for me was that our car had a lot of speed and I would catch someone quickly where they wouldn’t put up too big of a fight and showed me some respect and gave me some room and let me go.
I was able to get up there pretty well, lap 70 or something, I think I was in the Top-5, 75 or something like that. Worked our way in there and found our way in second based on some good adjustments, good pit stops and a good car and we just kind of hung out there all day.
Q. Can you describe the swing of emotions here, coming out of Chicago, having endured a difficult time there, and then coming back here to New Hampshire; and now putting yourself in contention here, obviously coming out, doing what you needed to do.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, today was crucial to have that kind of a finish and result.
You know, it’s just on one hand you look at it and say, man, we let a Top-5 get away from us. Last week we were running fourth when we had the problem; and then this week we come back and finish third.
So, you know we are just going to fight from here on out and try to get some consistent finishes and win races and fight and battle. I mean, this team has gotten kind of used to this stuff all year long. We just have had everything thrown at us this year, and I think it’s made us stronger and more prepared to handle these type of things, even when the pressure is on for the championship.
So you know, allowed us to come in here, sit on the pole and finish third and have a good weekend and take that — I don’t know, wherever we are going next week –
KERRY THARP: Dover.
JEFF GORDON: Dover, yeah. Take it there.
Q. You’re heading to Dover, which is arguably your best track with a one-point lead over four guys who have not been particularly good at Dover. Do you really have them where you want them right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, you’ve still got to go run the race and run well, and as much as I love that track, and I have a fast car, and this guy sitting to my right does, too.
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, but I’m 46 points — give me one, man, come on (laughing).
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I certainly look at good tracks and want to capitalize. I think the 11 had that on their mind this weekend and came in here and executed and did a great job.
You know, when you get to the Chase, you need to execute on your great tracks and get the results you should there, and then on your tracks that aren’t your best, you still have to have good days.
This track’s been hit or miss for us over the years; so to come out of here in second, I’m real happy with today. We didn’t have anything for the 11; I wish we did. Leaving the track that’s been fair for me with above average finish and going to a track that I love next weekend, hope to get a great finish.
Q. Did anybody have anything for Hamlin throughout the point, once he got to the point in clean air, was anybody going to catch him?
JEFF GORDON: No.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. Kept waiting for him to make a mistake, did he a good job.
JEFF GORDON: I don’t think that thing boggled all day.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Never slipped.
Q. How can one guy be that dominant? Seemed like he was the only guy who could pass out there when he wanted to?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I noticed his rear end moving. There was like extra skew or something in his rear end. Let’s start that whole mess again. (Laughter).
JEFF GORDON: I’m not sure they know what to look for.
Q. You guys said you didn’t see a boggle but there was one point where he did have a bunch of trash on his grill, and Kyle who was down a cylinder, they told Kyle to just drop all the way back to him so he could get on Kyle’s bumper and get the trash off the grill. I assume that’s kosher; like teammates working together, or is that beyond the line?
JEFF GORDON: Go ahead.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I had trash on my grill and was trying to use the 14 to get it off. He was too generous in letting me go and almost ran into the back of him and had to use the 30 to finally get the trash off, but that’s pretty common. As fast as he was, he could have gone to the back of any car and pulled that off.
So little things like that, that’s not a big deal. And then Kyle, you know, I was chasing and saw all that, and Kyle could have been a pain to me trying to get by him and he just let me go. So I didn’t have any issues with what they did today.
Q. You said yesterday, you need a bit of a miracle to close in on the Chase in the remaining nine races; does that change with the result today?
JEFF GORDON: No, we are still 46 points back, so we are going to need some help and –
KERRY THARP: 45 points.
JEFF GORDON: Whatever, 45 man.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Going the right way.
JEFF GORDON: Goodness. We are going to have to win a lot and gain a lot and keep these top results like today going, and then like you said we are going to have to need some help.
So we still — this is the first step to process. I mean, this is definitely what we needed to do here today and it’s great. And you know, we’ll try to keep this going and hopefully we can win some races along the way, as well.
But you know, it’s still going to take a miracle for us to win the championship. I mean, you’ve got guys like Jimmie, Keselowski and Hamlin; I mean, these are guys that have been strong all year. You know, Jimmie’s won five championships. These guys are not going to make huge mistakes.
But we have to go and race every race. There’s a lot of racing and a lot of different tracks that a lot can happen at. So this is step one and we’ll go to the next one.
Q. Given the strengths of the guys you’re against and given the fact that you say you need wins, is there any tinge of regret that you didn’t win today or are you just happy –
JEFF GORDON: You’re never happy with anything other than a win. You know I felt like we got the most out of it. I felt like we were about the fourth or fifth-place car and we came home third. I felt like we did our job today and that’s what you have to do. That’s what good teams do: On the days that you’re capable of winning, you’d better go win, and on the days that you’re third, you’d better finish third or better. Today I felt like we were a fifth-place car and we finished third. So job well done.
Q. You said I think on Friday that Denny was probably going to drive up through the field; that you figured just because he was starting 32 was not going to be a huge hindrance to him. What’s it like to have a car so dominant on Friday, and not mess it up by the time the race comes and throughout the race? How difficult is that for a driver?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, he gave us a little optimism on Friday qualifying that maybe they could mess it up for the race.
I don’t know, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a car that dominant and won with it. I’ve kind of forgot what it’s like, but I have had them and I’ve seen others have them. It’s certainly an amazing feeling and it gives you a lot of confidence and allows you to make smart moves. You.
Know, you can still lose the race, but you know, certainly makes your day go a lot easier when your car is that strong. You don’t have to take big risks. You can take your time coming up through there. Usually like Jimmie was saying, guys move out of your way when they see you’re that fast, so it actually makes passing that much easier. He had, from where I could see, what I could see, he had it pretty easy today.
Q. I have no idea what you said; forgive me. Based on your championship experience, how would you characterize the potential for your team right now over the next eight weeks?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That question was not asked, so don’t feel bad. (Giving thumbs up). I feel really good.
We have tracks that have been great to the 48 for a lot of years; tracks that we were very successful at in the spring events.
The one hanging out there that has me concerned, is the same as everybody else, is Talladega. I haven’t finished a plate race this year. You can look at it and say the odds are in my favor and then I’ll finish one of the four years. I hope that happens.
But outside of ‘Dega and the unknown there, there’s a lot of tracks for this 48 team that I’m very optimistic.
Q. I know you want to talk your great run, so forgive me here. What’s it like when a team just is so consistently good, the way that the 48 has been for so many years. They find themselves in the points lead again in the Chase; how does the field react to that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it’s definitely — I think it gives them a big advantage. Certainly it allows the competition to get down — beat mentally as well as on the racetrack. That gives you an upper — even another edge.
These guys, they are just so strong, you don’t expect them to make mistakes; when they are in this position, you expect them to be strong week-in and week-out and they are going to be tough to beat. They are just that good. The whole group, it’s just everything clicks. They have had that from early on and it took them a few years to win a championship but I always knew, once they won one, watch out. That’s how it’s always been since they won their first championship. They just have so much confidence in what they are doing and the cars and the racetracks, and especially the ten in the Chase, it’s a combination that is really difficult to beat.
And so you know, after these first — I mean, just the season that they have had the first two finishes, I think that just builds confidence and sends a message to the competitors that you’re definitely going to have to deal with this team for the championship.
We have seen others make a run at them, but when they are in this kind of zone, they have not been beat. You know, I think what the 11 did was pretty big today, but he’s going to have to do that for eight more weeks.
Q. I know the last two Chase races here in September, guys have run out of fuel here on the last lap. Did you and Chad over the week talk about fuel mileage?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, that’s something we all take into consideration, and I asked two or three times on the radio around the midpoint how we were looking. I think it was 100-something laps to go and everybody had to stop one more time, and then I let that go in my mind. Partially because I’m terrible at fuel mileage. I get the worst fuel mileage out of anybody, I don’t know why.
So was happy to hear I didn’t have to worry about saving gas, and the way the cautions fell today, it just worked out where we didn’t have to worry about it.
KERRY THARP: Jimmie and Jeff, congratulations, outstanding run and we’ll see you at Dover.