|Johnson is 9/5 favorite to win for ninth time at Martinsville|
FOUR RACES TO GO THIS RACE TRACK HAS BEEN VERY GOOD FOR YOU TALK ABOUT AND JUST TALK ABOUT YOUR OUTLOOK NOW YOU HAVE A FOUR POINT LEAD WITH FOUR RACES TO GO:
“Without a doubt it’s been a good race track for the No. 48 team. It doesn’t guarantee anything for this weekend’s race and we have to go out and get everything we can in this first practice session and then try to get our best two laps possible for qualifying. We all know how important that first pit stall is and it can make life so much easier come Sunday afternoon. Very happy to be here, the week was a comfortable week, one from having a decent finish at Talladega and taking the point’s lead. Then two rolling into a track that is historically really good for the No. 48. It’s been a good week, but again that doesn’t guarantee anything for the weekend. We have to go out here and get the job done and work hard.”
DOES IT SURPRISE YOU THAT MATT KENSETH SAID THAT THEY MIGHT AS WELL JUST PENCIL YOUR NAME IN ON THE TROPHY FOR SUNDAY?
“Yeah, I mean it’s flattering, I appreciate it, but there are four or five guys that really stand a chance each time we come here. I think the No. 24, No. 29 and the No. 18 has been knocking on the door. Matt (Kenseth) ran in the top-five, even led laps here in the spring. We have had a good run over the years. I understand where that comes from based on past history, but again it doesn’t guarantee anything for this weekend. At most it’s flattering, but we’ve got to go out there and get to work.”
HOW IS RACING MATT (KENSETH) NOW AT THIS POINT IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO 2006 WHEN YOU GUYS WENT HEAD TO HEAD? HOW IS HE DIFFERENT? OR IS THIS THE SAME MATT KENSETH AS 2006? HE SAID HE TEXTED YOU THIS WEEK ASKING NOT TO ASK HIM FOR ADVICE THIS WEEK WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THAT?
“(Laughs) we have had a good banter texting back and forth. For a guy that can come across dry at times, as we all know in here, he is awfully funny. He asked me to not pester him and ask him for too many tips this weekend and a bunch of different things. Certainly having fun with Matt he’s a great guy and one awesome race car driver. We have all grown and changed a lot over the years. I think that especially racing Matt with the experience that he has he understands the big picture, how to race, when to race, what to do. I think his departure from Roush and then joining up at (Joe) Gibbs it’s filled in some weak spots that you would normally think that Matt would have. This track is a perfect example. I think his run in the spring was pretty darn strong. I think the relationship that he has with his team and his crew and his crew chief they are vibing pretty good. I’m not going to put my guard down here even though it is one of our better tracks. I look forward to a battle all the way to the last lap at Homestead with him. If we slip at all the No. 29 and the No. 24 and the No. 18 have shown they are not going away. We need to certainly worry about the No. 20, but also there are four or five cars we have to really pay attention to here. If Matt and I slip those guys are right back in it.”
WHEN YOU WERE THIRD IN POINTS YOU SAID YOU ONLY REALLY FOCUSED ON THE GUYS IN FRONT OF YOU. NOW YOU ARE FIRST WHAT IS YOUR FOCUS ON NOW?
“Really this weekend especially doing the best job that I can, in general that is really what I have done, Chad (Knaus, crew chief) has done and what we preach to our guys. If we put our blinders on and focus on the No. 48 and do our jobs we will be alright. That mentality definitely is there, but the first car I worry about right now is the No. 20. Then it kind of goes back from there with the points. I feel like (Jeff) Gordon and (Kevin) Harvick are going to be awfully tough this weekend. It’s a good track for them. I think the No. 29 was here and tested so that’s going to be helpful for those guys. It is going to be a good race. I think you are going to see the Chaser’s racing for the win.”
WHEN IT COMES TO FEAST OF FAMINE THIS PLACE SEEMS TO BE PRETTY EXTREME. IT SEEMS THAT GUYS EITHER DOMINATE OR STRUGGLE. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS HERE?
“It’s a track that we don’t run on anything like this. It’s the only paperclip out there for us to run on. I don’t know why the switch was flipped for me. I know how. I’ve said it a million times I was following Tony Stewart here as he came to lap me I think my sophomore season and something clicked. We came up and tested my rookie year a couple of times. Looked at data that Jeff (Gordon) was driving around the track and I couldn’t piece it together. There was something that finally clicked. I think once it clicks here for a driver it’s a place they always have. If it doesn’t it gets under your skin and aggravates you and continues to fester and create the flip side. You are happy and enjoy the place, you run well then the flip side is if you don’t and it festers you just have a tough time here and don’t like this place.”
IN THE PAST YOU HAVE TALKED SOME ABOUT RACING THE FIRST SEVEN RACES OF THE CHASE AND THEN REALLY WORRYING ABOUT WHOM YOU ARE RACING. IT SEEMS THAT YOU HAVE REALLY FOCUSED A LITTLE BIT ON (MATT) KENSETH A LOT THE LAST FEW WEEKS. ARE YOU MORE FOCUSED ON HIM THAN OTHER COMPETITORS IN THE PAST? IF (KEVIN) HARVICK WAS SECOND COULD YOU HAVE RAN 29 MILES YESTERDAY?
“I might have to slide a few miles in on the bike if it was (Kevin) Harvick (laughs). I don’t know I made 20 pretty well, but 29 that’s a whole other game. I am focused mostly on the No. 20. He’s been ahead of me, you know Talladega has been looming out there as we’ve all known. I didn’t want to put too much stock in just chasing the No. 20 until we got out of Talladega. But without a doubt that has been my focus. I was pretty frustrated after Charlotte. I was in front of him all day long and then when it finished up he was right there in front of me at the end of the race. My focus is on the No. 20 first and foremost, but again if we slip. I’m not sure at 25 back if Harvick heated up real good if there is enough time to really be concerned or (Jeff) Gordon or Kyle (Busch) is even a little further back yet.”
IS THIS ANY DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU’VE DONE IN THE PAST?
“No, I mean I guess maybe social media and other things allow people to see more of what goes on during the week, but I’ve always been focused on a particular guy when we get to the end of the year. One year it was Carl (Edwards), one year it was Denny (Hamlin) you certainly do draw focus. The later you go you focus in on one or two cars and drivers much more at that point. Yeah, especially as you wind down I will be much more focused on individuals.”
WE GO TO TEXAS NEXT WEEK. 2007 YOU AND MATT KENSETH PUT ON WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE GREATEST RACE OF THE LAST 10 YEARS. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT AND DO YOU GUYS EVER TALK ABOUT THAT?
“I think about it. I don’t necessarily talk to Matt (Kenseth) about it. I’m not sure he’s thrilled with the results of how it turned out. We put on a heck of a show. I was just there testing and remembering that battle. I was inside of him for many laps. Both of us are sideways and just driving the wheels off the cars. From my standpoint I think it was an amazing race. I’m sure Matt would agree on most levels, but the results I think he would want differently. I just remember knowing that second would be okay, but that is just not in my DNA. We had an opportunity to win and I also had confidence in Matt that we would race. It wouldn’t cross that line and was able to push and put on a great show.”
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO THE OTHER DRIVER’S ABOUT THE KIND OF ANTICLIMACTIC FINISH OF LAST WEEKEND’S RACE? SECONDLY DO YOU KIND OF EXPECT THAT SAME KIND OF CAUTIOUS RACING HERE OR DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU GUYS GET OUT THERE BOUNCING OFF EACH OTHER THAT WILL ALL GO OUT THE WINDOW?
“Any team member or driver I’ve seen this week they all ask the same question. Why wasn’t everybody racing? I don’t know. We had more side-by-side action on lap one, lap 100, on through than we did in the last few laps. I think everybody especially in the first five to 10 positions they were waiting for their opportunity. Waiting for someone to pull out and in anticipation no one made a move. I can’t quite explain it. I’m a little puzzled by it as well. It falls within that strategy mindset. Guys were trying to get their best finish. At Daytona you might make a run down the backstretch. At Talladega the finish line is out at the tri-oval a lot further away so if we made it to turn three, turn four, there would have been a lot going on at that point. But we crashed down the back and didn’t get that chance. For my sake I wish that we would have started racing earlier. I tried a couple of times tried to get the bottom line going and nobody wanted to. Then this weekend it’s a short track so all the cautious driving is going to go out the window. It’s a short track.”
WHAT DID YOU TEXT BACK TO MATT KENSETH WHEN HE ASKED YOU NOT TO ASK FOR ANY TIPS THIS WEEKEND?
“Let me pull out my phone. I will try to remember the exact dialogue. He just texted me again and said ‘be ready for the media center.’ He basically said ‘we are friends and all but he would appreciate me from refraining of asking too much advice or pointers about this weekend at Martinsville.’ He hopes that ‘I would understand and I’m not offended.’ I told him ‘I completely understand and wish I could offer him some help one of these days.’ Then it just went back and forth. Then he gave me the heads up what was going to happen in here (laughs).”
WHEN YOU WENT OUT ON YOUR RUN YESTERDAY DID YOU JUST HAPPEN TO RUN 20 MILES OR DID YOU HAVE THAT NUMBER IN MIND?
“No, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been building up. Last week I ran 17, the week before it was 15. 20 was the number my coach and I talked about it last week when we got to 17. As I got near the end of it I think my coach said 20 for the 20. That kind of planted the seed in my mind and helped me run strong at the end.”
“No, I have just been training hard and working hard on things. Running those longer distances and paying attention to your heart rate, I ran a conservative heart rate for the first 17 and then at the end started building my heart rate up. I had some left in the tank. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but ran home real strong. I was happy about that.”
WHEN IT COMES TO MATT KENSETH HOW MUCH DOES MAYBE KENTUCKY OR INSTANCES WHERE YOU KNOW IT’S NOT GOING TO BE OVER UNTIL THE END ARE YOU GOING TO KEEP THAT MORE IN MIND PERHAPS OVER THE NEXT FOUR RACES THAT HE IS NOT GOING TO GO AWAY EASILY?
“Yeah, for sure I don’t know how I can defend against it, but it is on my mind. Charlotte was another good example of it. I think he ran around the top-five, fifth, sixth, seventh somewhere throughout the night in that position. We were up there dominating the race and I started to think that we might pick up a couple of points on him. Then when the checkered fell he was one spot ahead of me. He is a great driver, great team, and there is no quit in those guys. It just means we need to be buttoned up until the end. It’s no secret that we have missed some opportunity throughout the year. The final laps of a race, restart situations, there have been a handful that have gotten away. At this point I can’t let that happen anymore.”
I DON’T THINK WHEN YOU WON YOUR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP YOU WERE RUNNING 20 MILES. THE PHYSICAL FITNESS ASPECT OF THIS HAS THE PRESSURE OF GETTING OLDER RESULTED IN YOU LOOKING TO BE MORE PHYSICALLY FIT OR HAVE YOU JUST REALIZED THAT THE DEMANDS OF THIS JOB REQUIRE YOU TO BE IN BETTER PHYSICAL SHAPE?
“I have been in and out of different training routines and I would say really the last five years I have been focused and determined and on the right path with it all. This fascination with the endurance stuff it’s just build over the course of the last year as I got strong been able to compete in a few different events and put up good times. That kind of fueled the fire as well. Then for me mentally as I dedicated more time to it and found a way to manage racing life, personal life and the training side it’s been a very good thing for me mentally oddly enough. Sure there are physical benefits, but there is something in my mind where I feel accomplished, I feel I did all that I could that day to do my job and to be an athlete. I sleep well. I don’t sit up wondering about different things because I’m exhausted. It just generally feels good to get this work done and to have that behind me in the course of the day. There is a strong mental aspect to it that I have enjoyed. Also in the moment suffering on the bike or swimming or running or whatever it’s a similar mindset to driving the race car late in the race or an ill-handling race car, where it’s not fun, but you have to figure out how to get to the end as fast as you can. That mindset has been fun to kind of live during the week days and not only on the weekends.”
THIS WEEK CARL EDWARDS SAID THE NO. 48 GUYS ARE GREAT CLOSER IF THEY ARE AT THE TOP OF THE STANDINGS OR AT THE LEAD IN A RACE THEY ARE GOING TO FINISH IT. EVEN AT THE LAST TWO YEARS, THE LAST COUPLE OF RACES LAST YEAR YOU SURPRISED YOU STILL HAVE THAT REPUTATION IN THE GARAGE?
“Yeah, I mean last year didn’t buy us any stock in that. There have been some races this year late in the event where things have slipped way, but I think people know what our team is capable of. And through most opportunities we show that and we are able to get the job done. We are human and we do make mistakes. I make mistakes, the team does, stuff happens. I’m glad that at least Carl (Edwards) thinks that and hopefully we can live up to that and get the job done and continue to enforce that message.”
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