JPM, NO. 42 TARGET CHEVROLET, POLE SITTER:
ON WINNING THE POLE:
«It was a good lap until turn three when I got sideways, I got sideways and got on the gas and I thought they are going to kill me. I am about to press the button and say ‘Sorry guys, I got loose’ and they say good job. I’m like ‘Oh, thank you’. I nailed one and two and made such a big gap that even with the mistake in three, we were good enough to get the pole so I was pretty happy.»
STILL LOOKING FOR YOUR FIRST OVAL WIN, IS THIS THE PLACE YOU CAN DO IT:
«You don’t have to remind me» (LAUGHS) AND ALSO DID YOU SEE «DAYS OF THUNDER» 20 YEARS AGO?
«I did watch «Days of Thunder». One of the coolest things about it was when surround came out. A friend of mine in Miami had an old style DVD disc player, the huge ones. When he started it, you could see the cars running in the background, I still remember that. My car looked like that last weekend. Honestly, I nearly went to Brian (Pattie, crew chief) and say ‘Do we need to hit the pace car as well? We’ve hit about everything else’.
«To tell you the truth, every week as a team and a driver, I try to drive the wheels off of that car from lap one to lap 500 or 600 or whatever we go to. Sometimes the best we can do is 12th place. Sometimes the best we can do is top-five. We have been very close as a team to winning races. I think last year we were too conservative here against Mark Martin but it was the beginning of the Chase and we thought we needed to be very smart and take the points. Right now we are kind of in the same situation. We need a lot of points. We’ll see what happens.»
DID YOU DRAW ON YOUR EXPERIENCE RUNNING WELL HERE LAST YEAR TO WIN THE POLE AND WHEN YOU GO SIDEWAYS, HOW SIDEWAYS WERE YOU?
«I slid just over a grove so it was enough to say ‘Oh, you moron’. (LAUGHS) To myself by the way. We always qualify well here and race really well here. We were pretty good before. Since we started working with Brian on the short tracks we always seem to run really well. For some reason here, we seem to have a lot of speed in the car which is nice.»
THERE HAVE ONLY BEEN SEVEN DIFFERENT RACE WINNERS THIS YEAR, WHY IS THAT NUMBER SO LOW?
«I think the teams are really competitive. Most of them are the best teams. Jamie (McMurray) won Daytona, you have (Kevin) Harvick that won Talladega and then most of the other guys win multiple races. It is hard. It is so competitive. When it comes down to it, you are going to have to try to beat one of those guys and it is not easy. There are guys that do it every week, that run good every week and when comes down to it and you don’t have as many chances as they do, it’s not as easy. You look the amount of races that they don’t win, that they made a mistake is probably less than the chances that I get. It is what it is.»
HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS WHERE YOU ARE THIS YEAR VERSUS WHERE YOU WERE LAST YEAR?
«We are miles ahead right now. We have more top-10s, more top-fives. We have a much faster race car than what we had last year at this point. But we had a blown engine. We got together with our teammate. We’ve been involved in I don’t know how many wrecks from other people. It sucks, because we have been right behind the wrecks. We have been a row or two rows behind where they wreck and they block the whole track and right there you are just a passenger. We have had like seven of those this year. So when you have that many bad races and you are only 160 points out. I mean I think we are doing pretty good.»
ON SONOMA, ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH THE AGGRESSION OF THE DRIVERS THIS YEAR?
«There were a few guys out of control there. But it was fun to watch. I followed Jeff (Gordon) for a long time in the race and he moved his share of cars around. But I think for a fan and anybody that watched the race that was fun. I had fun. The No. 24 wrecked somebody and we all bunched up in Turn 7. Now before that, he wrecked somebody else (laughter), not that I’m implying that but the guy spinning hit me and then I moved right and then I hit somebody else and it was pretty bad. And I go to Brian (Pattie) and I said how bad is the car? He said have you watched Mad Max and I said yeah, just like it.»
DANICA PATRICK WAS TALKING ABOUT THE SUPPORT SHE’S RECEIVED IN NASCAR AND SHE MENTIONED YOU. WHAT KIND OF ADVICE HAVE YOU GIVEN HER FOR THIS WEEK?
«I haven’t talked to her this week. I came in last night and this morning she had a practice. I’ll probably talk to her later today and see if I can help her in any way. I think it’s just hard when you drive two different cars. I used to struggle when I drove the Nationwide and Cup cars. So I think for her, the transition is pretty hard. I don’t know. It’s not easy. I think what she’s going through is not easy and I think you’re going to see as the weekend goes along, she’s going to get more competitive and more competitive and she’s going to run better. But I don’t know what her schedule is and when she’s running again. I think she’s running Indy Cars again next week. The change has got to be hard.»
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO BE COMFORTABLE IN THE CAR?
«We ran the 24 Hours and when I got back to Daytona to drive the Cup car, it feels really weird. I mean, it’s like weird. I’ll give you an example. In the Cup car you come out of Turn 4 and as soon as you get straight, you’ve got to get on the brakes to get to pit lane. Their thing when you come out of (Turn) for you run and you run and you run and here comes boom, boom, boom, boom and you stop. Do you know what I mean? So, simple things like that. How you sit. How you look at everything. How the dash is and how the gears are and how the clutch is. The whole thing is different. The more that I run Cup I can get back to the Cup car that easier. But I mean when I get in the Grand-Am car I go whew. I’ve done it three or four years already and it’s weird as hell.»
HOW MUCH IS THE CHASE IN YOUR MIND RIGHT NOW? HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF YOU WERE TO MISS IT?
«If we miss it, I don’t think we can say we missed it for lack of speed in the car or mistakes we’ve done as a team. We have made mistakes but I think everybody does mistakes. It’s just the amount of wrecks that we’ve been involved in and things that shouldn’t happen have happened. It just put us far behind. If you look back and you think oh, we should have done this or that or if we could have avoided one of those you would have 80 more points or 100 more points. Today would be a huge difference. Now I would be within 50 points of the Chase everybody would be thinking oh, I think you could make it. Right now, we’re 160 points out but the cars are there. They’re not that consistent either. So I think if you can put a stretch of five or six good races, you can give yourself a good chance. Somebody told me today that (Brian) Vickers was nearly 200 points coming to this race last time. So, we haven’t given up. I think as an organization, it’s cool because it’s putting a lot of pressure on us and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform and get the job done. So it’s pretty exciting to see.»
GIVEN HOW GOOD YOU WERE HERE LAST SEPTEMBER AND GIVEN YOU ARE STARTING IN THE FRONT, ANY UNFINISHED BUSINESS THAT YOU WANT TO TAKE CARE OF ON SUNDAY?
«Not really, no. You do the best you can every week. As a team we did what we had to the last time and it worked well. It wasn’t enough, it was very close. I don’t remember. We fell behind in one of those green flag runs and made up some ground at the end, but it wasn’t enough. It is ok, we do what we can. We want to win races of course, of course we want to win races. But, points are very important in this series and you have got to take advantage of that. Sometimes you forget that when you are in the car.»
AFTER SUCH A ROUGH RACE LAST WEEKEND, DO YOU HAVE TO BE COGNIZANT OF WHO MIGHT BE RETALIATING AGAINST SOMEONE OR RACING REALLY HARD?
«Not really. I passed a lot of people and touched a lot of people and things and I don’t have any big issues to be honest. I think a lot of people settled their difference on the in laps. Oh my gawd. The race was over and all of a sudden you saw the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) and No. 26, I think Boris Said was driving, were hitting each other. Then here came Elliott Sadler and he hits the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon). I was like ‘Wow, this is more exciting than the race’. (LAUGHS) That was definitely different.»
WHERE EXACTLY DID YOU SLIDE DURING QUALIFYING?
«On the pole lap in turn three getting to the middle of the corner. The second lap. I thought there was no way I was going to get it. It surprised me.»