KERRY THARP: Let’s go to our post-race for today’s 12th annual GEICO 400, and our race runner up is Jimmie Johnson. He’s also second in points right now, three behind Brad Keselowski. Jimmie drives the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Your thoughts about the how the team performed out there today.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, just really proud of the team on all fronts. Overcame some adversity through or practice sessions, sat on pole, led a lot of laps today, fell some on pit road, race strategy, you name it, we had a very, very solid day. Of course we would have loved to have won the race, but we’ll take second and go on. This is a fantastic way to start the Chase.
Q. It seemed like you were a little bit upset about the last pit stop. Did that make the difference in terms of him getting the win because he got out in front of you? I guess for me it was reminiscent of Michigan where they snookered you guys in the pits. Did that happen again today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, it was a different situation there. In Michigan they stayed out on fuel or had something working for them fuel wise where we didn’t think they were on the lead lap and they were, so it was a different scenario. He did cut up early. It did impede my progress, I had to check up and wasn’t sure where things were going. But it didn’t affect the outcome I don’t believe. The way he made quick work in traffic and stretched it out on me, I’m not sure I would have held him off. At the time it messed me up, but I don’t think it played an outcome in the race.
Q. Brad seemed really loose coming into this thing. Can you tell that, that that type of mentality helps a driver coming into this thing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You saw everybody Wednesday night. I think everybody was good and loose coming in. We’ll see. I mean, it’s a great – there’s not a lot of pressure now, and the first race is really an opportunity to separate the field. You hope that happens if you have a good run. I saw a lot of Chase contenders going down a lap. I saw the 11 rolling around out of gas at the end. My philosophy is just to stay in the hunt. Let’s get midway through this Chase and see who’s where and what to do. Brad definitely was loose coming into the race, and he should be. He should be confident on these bigger tracks. He’s been very strong on them over the last four or five months, and they did a good job today.
KERRY THARP: Let’s also now invite Kasey Kahne to join us, Jimmie’s teammate over at Hendrick Motorsports and he had a solid third place finish today, driver of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet. He’s moved up now six spots from where he was. Kasey, talk about your run out there today, driver of that No. 5 Chevrolet, 15 points now out of first place.
KASEY KAHNE: Yeah, we had a great run. The team did a really nice job. The pit stops were perfect throughout the whole race. The car was good. We just – it just was a little bit to keep up with Jimmie, and then when Brad came up there later on and they were just better than I was throughout that race.
I was slipping a little more than I would have liked to off the corners, and we weren’t able to get a handle on that. Tried to lead a lap there with Jimmie and just wasn’t able to get by him. We battled for about three laps there through the middle part of the race, and ended up third. I think I ran third most of the race. It was a solid run for us. Our whole Farmers Insurance team did a really nice job, and a nice start to the Chase.
Q. Brad was saying in post-race that he felt like this was the first week he felt like he had speed to keep up with you. You dominated with the same car you dominated Dover and Indy with, but did it seem like other guys were up there with you this time despite how many laps you led?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Seemed pretty strung out. I mean, at times we had pressure from different guys, and it did seem normal. I thought that at Michigan, Brad was way fast, too, and Kentucky, obviously the last run at Kentucky ran right up through there and got the lead. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary in my opinion. If you’re on, you’re on, and there’s been a lot made up over things that didn’t really make a big deal for a while now. It’s just racing. You go out there and make your car as good as you can.
Q. In any sense when Keselowski took the lead by just changing two tires and managed to hold on for a good while, was that in any way a sign of things to come? Was that a sign maybe if he had track position and fresh air, he did have a car to – did that have an impact? Did you get that impress early in the race when that happened?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, when – I don’t know what he did at the end tire wise, but at the start of the race – not the start of the race, but there was one point where he led and I chased him the whole fuel run. Two tires worked really good on his race car. I’d say on my car I was pretty impressed the way two tires held on. But I’m not sure if he had two on at the end there. If he did, then his car really, really liked two tires, and they learned from earlier in the race that clean air was everything, which we already kind of knew.
Q. Do you guys think that Keselowski has matured to the point where he’s ready to pull off a championship?
KASEY KAHNE: I just think Brad does a nice job. I think he prepares for the races, he knows what he has. He works really well with his team. He must communicate great with his crew chief, and Penske obviously has great cars and engines, and they put a lot into it. I think he does a great job as a driver.
And as far as the championship, I don’t think anyone knows that until you actually win it.
Q. Do you guys have a good sense of kind of where you’re at as far as compared to the other Chase competitors after this race, or was it too much of a track position game to really know how much better you are?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think you can see some trends from the big tracks and form opinions there. But this track versus Charlotte versus – where else is mile-and-a-half? Texas, they’re all so different.
Sure, you can maybe pick a favorite, but to really know is tough. And then it’s a long time between now and Homestead, so things can change before we get there, too.
But big-track wise, you can group that into it, but next week is short-track racing, and we’ll see what happens on a short track. Then you’ve got Dover and Martinsville, which really shake things up.
Q. More of a general question: I think we’re kind of painting this as a wide open Chase, seems impossible to pick one person. Do you guys kind of see it the same way?
KASEY KAHNE: I felt like coming in it was pretty wide open. I felt there’s been a lot of speed from a lot of different guys throughout this season. I think you have your guys, your Tony Stewart who’s won a couple of the last seven maybe, and Jimmie has won five of them. So those guys have to be the favorites. I mean, they’ve won championships. They know what it’s all about and they’ve handled the pressure at the end of it and done a good job with it, and so has their team.
I think those guys are really stand-out guys, and then everyone else feels pretty competitive.
The swings were, I think, kind of changed throughout the season. I think it’s pretty open, but it’ll probably take three or four weeks and you’ll have those five or so guys that will probably end up going until the end.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I agree, and I think when you look at the summer months and how someone would be hot for a couple weeks, it was us, the 11, the 2, the 17, the 16, everybody was streaky, and that lead five – that just leads to – in my opinion leads to – nobody knows. Anybody can catch a little rhythm here and get going.
KERRY THARP: Kasey, Jimmie, congratulations on a strong performance today, and Jimmie, I hope you enjoy your birthday tomorrow.