Jimmie Johnson puts Chevrolet SS on pole at Charlotte
Sixth consecutive race Team Chevy leads field to green
Jimmie Johnson, six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup points paying race winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS), put his No. 48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet SS on pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. Johnson turned a lap of 194.911 mph, 27.705 seconds in the third round of NASCAR’s knockout qualifying format to earn his first pole of the 2014 season.
It was Johnson’s fourth pole at CMS, his 33rd NASCAR Sprint Cup career pole, and he moved into a tie for 20th on the all-time series poles list with Fonty Flock. He is also tied for the most all-time point wins at Charlotte with NASCAR Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.
Johnson’s quick run was also the 31st pole for Team Chevy at the 1.5-mile track. For the past six consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup point-paying races, a Chevrolet SS has led the field to the green.
Teammate Kasey Kahne posted his ninth top-10 starting spot at CMS with the third place qualifying effort in his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS. Danica Patrick was fastest in the second in her No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS and fourth quick overall giving Team Chevy three of the top five starting positions.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified his No. 88 National Guard/Superman Chevrolet SS in 10th, and Kevin Harvick qualified 11th in the No. 4 Budweiser Folds of Honor Chevy SS.
Brad Keselowski (Ford) will start the race alongside Johnson and Clint Bowyer (Toyota) will start fifth to round out the top five qualifiers.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S PATRIOTIC CHEVROLET SS – POLE WINNER
COMING INTO CHARLOTTE AND SITTING ON THE POLE, THINGS ARE LINING UP FOR YOU.
“It’s nice to have a fast car off the truck. I think we were second or third in the first practice session. We go back to last weekend and we had the fastest lap in All-Star qualifying. It was a decent car in the race; struggled a little bit in traffic. As we get into practice on Saturday, that’s really going to be the goal for us. I think we have some good ideas to secure the car up and help the clean air balance versus the traffic balance that we’ve been working on. In qualifying today, it was really interesting to start with the sun kind of out and warmer track temps. As the sessions went on, the grip level came in and the adjustments we made got the car better and better. To have my fastest lap around here come on my third time out on the track is pretty mind-boggling the way it works out. So I’m very proud of the team. We had a strong race car all day and are obviously very happy about our performance.”
YOU’RE THE ONLY DRIVER TO WIN FROM POLE HERE SINCE 1998. CAN WE INFER FROM THAT, THAT WHEN YOU QUALIFY WELL HERE THAT YOU’RE A THREAT TO WIN THE RACE? AND IS THE TRACK STARTING TO BECOME MORE LIKE IT WAS WHEN YOU DOMINATED BEFORE THE REPAVE?
“I don’t think it’s there yet. It’s definitely getting rougher and losing some grip. In the All-Star race we saw that four tires were definitely better than two. So it’s slowly coming. Whatever the composition of this asphalt is that they put down, it’s tough. It’s taken a long time to finally give up and get to this point. We’re getting into a sweet spot and I feel that in the next three to five years it will continue to evolve and get us to where we were before and provide some great racing. “We’ve won a lot of races from the back, too. In today’s form of racing though, track position is so, so important. A good pit stall pick. I guess statistically and if you’re looking at the odds or something, the better you qualifying, it will show with a better performance on Sunday. We feel good about it. There’s no guarantees with 600 miles. Anything can happen. We’re so happy to start in this position than 20th or something.”
YOU GET ASKED QUITE A BIT ABOUT NOT WINNING A RACE YET, AND YOU REPEATEDLY TALK ABOUT HOW IT DOESN’T BOTHER YOU. DO YOU GET THE IMPRESSION SOMETIMES THAT PEOPLE WANT IT TO BOTHER YOU? AND DO SOME PEOPLE GET SATISFACTION OUT OF YOU NOT BEING ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING AT THIS POINT OF THE SEASON?
“I think there are some people getting satisfaction out of it. But honestly no matter what I do, people talk about it and I don’t mean that in a bad way. If I win, then I’m winning too much. If I’m not winning, then it’s ‘Why aren’t you winning?’ So I can’t do it right either way. I learned a long time ago to not pay attention to the outside voices and influences and just worry about my race team. We’ve been good and had a chance to win at a few tracks. And then at some our bad tracks, we went in there and ran terrible. I’ll be the first to admit it. I think we deserve a fair evaluation at times. We’ve been close to wins and we’ve been pathetic at other tracks. This is a good track for us. Next week is a good track for us and we need to capitalize on those opportunities and get some wins. Again, it doesn’t matter what I do. It’s a good situation to be in because I have had so much success. But no matter what we do, I think they’ll talk about the 48.”
THIS IS YOUR FIRST POLE UNDER THE NEW FORMAT. IN LIGHT OF THAT, SHOULD THE COMPETITION BE CONCERNED ABOUT WHAT YOU’RE CAPABLE OF ON SUNDAY?
“Qualifying is on Thursday and (the race) is so far away. You’re really worrying about beating the tires up versus a fuel run when you’re out there. It certainly shows that we are going to be strong this weekend. I’m not sure that it sends a message that two or three race wins would send. That’s the position I want to get in. I’d love to rattle two or three wins and have people fear the 48 again as they have in the past. I don’t think a pole position does that in the garage area but you have to start somewhere. So if we can start here today and keep things moving forward from today, we’ll be good shape.”
YOU WEREN’T VERY GOOD IN THE ALL-STAR RACE. YOU DIDN’T APPEAR TO BE FAST IN PRACTICE. YOU DIDN’T DOMINATE THE RACE LIKE YOU HAD AFTER WINNING IT THE LAST TWO YEARS. DID YOU FIND SOMETHING DIFFERENT BETWEEN THEN AND NOW, OR WAS IT JUST ONE OF THOSE WEEKENDS WHERE IT DIDN’T HAPPEN? OR HAVE YOU HAD TO RETHINK SETUPS AND SO FORTH?
“We’ve definitely come back with a different setup and leaned on our teammates. The 5 car looked real strong in the race and was able to cut through traffic real well. A lot of credit to all our teammates and probably most of all to the No. 5 car in what they did. Our fast lap that we ran in qualifying (for the All-Star Race) gave us a great reference point for today. The balance and simulation – although the setup is different – gave us a nice target to shoot for and balance to build the car around. We did learn some things last weekend that led to speed today. Maybe we learned what not to run in the race last weekend and we will be in much better shape this weekend.”
WHY IS THE RACING BETTER THIS SEASON?
“It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been up front to see all that. The one race I was leading at California I thought was a pretty exciting race. You had a lot of tire issues going on. It looks like we had it in the bag and blow a tire and the No. 18 emerges from a decent day and ends up a surprise winner of sorts. I think some of that has been going on. When I think of Richmond and how the No. 22 car was able to make stuff happen in the final few laps and get from deep in the field up to the lead and win. There has been the drama late in the race and I don’t know what has created it personally and it’s hard to say and every year NASCAR works hard to tweak the rules and doing whatever they can to provide great side-by-side racing. I don’t know what it is right now, but it seems to be putting on the performance that we all are hopeful for especially late in the race. I’m sure there are still long points in the race where there is green flag runs and we are logging miles, but the finishes of these races seem to be pretty exciting.”
IS THIS QUALIFYING NOT LIKE A RACE ON THE TRACK BUT MENTALLY AND STRATEGICALLY IS IT LIKE A RACE?
“There is a rhythm a lot like a race out there. You get a couple of chances at it. In the past it was real easy to go out when you would run one lap and be as brave as you could and hope it sticks and just kind of go on from there. Now you’ve got three shots at it at minimum to get the pole. In that first session you’ve got two to three shots at it depending on how you work your time and when you roll out. You do strategize a little differently. You certainly drive the car hard, but you save the real bravery until the final segment. That is kind of what happened today. Our best lap came at the end and we got the car dialed in and I went out there and hope that my grip level and that my commitment level and it worked out. It’s nice to have that where you can build into it. Especially days like today the thing that helps us a lot and we have been working hard on it at Hendrick we have watched other cars get faster through qualifying sessions. That is something the Hendrick Motorsports cars really haven’t had at a lot of the tracks. We did that tonight. We are hitting on some things that should help us run faster longer.”
THE NO. 20 AND NO. 4 WERE LATE GETTING OUT AND DID NOT MAKE RUNS DOES YOUR TEAM HAVE ANYBODY THAT MONITORS THE CLOCK?
“Oh yeah we have someone on pit road. Chad (Knaus) choses to be on top of the transporter where he can feel more calm over there and he can get a more global view of what is going on. Maybe there is something in that that is helpful. I would assume everybody is on the radio counting down. Listening to what NASCAR is saying and then relaying that information. That is shocking they didn’t make it out. I’m sure there is an interesting meeting going on right now somewhere.”
IN THE FIRST SESSION YOU AND CHAD HAD SOME MISCOMMUNICATION WHAT DID YOU MAYBE FIGURE OUT BETWEEN THAT FIRST RUN AND THE LAST ONE?
“For starters Chad comes here to win. When things done go well you are not going to get a good response. We all know that after listening to him long enough on the radio. He just wanted to know what happened with the car. I felt like I tried a little too hard and was a little too aggressive and at the same time we over adjusted the car for the session. Then the second outing we went a little too far with it back the other direction and then the third session got it right. He was just eagerly trying to diagnosis what went on because he initially thought we would have to go out again that first segment which is no fun to put an extra lap on the tires and really hurts your opportunity to try to win the pole. Chad not having a filter at times and trying to understand what was going on that was some of the choice words that you heard.”
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE/THANKAMILLONTEACHERS.COM CHEVROLET SS – QUALIFIED 3RD
HOW IS YOUR CAR FOR THIS WEEKEND?
“So far so good we just ran qualifying stuff today. 600 miles and limits on engines we want to run as much as we can Saturday, longer runs and things to make sure we have the car right for Sunday night. It felt pretty good in qualifying, just seemed to give up a little bit getting into Turn 3. All three of my runs I wasn’t able to get to the white line quite as quickly as I would have liked. We were working on that and just trying to keep the car in the track. I was a little bit free throughout the laps. I figured third ended up being pretty good for us. I was pretty happy with our Farmers Insurance Chevy today.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS RACE AND IF YOU CARE FOR THE MARATHON ASPECT OF THIS RACE ON SUNDAY?
“I’ve always really enjoyed the 600. Being able to start usually it’s sunny and hot out and finish at night. As the cars change the track changes, things like that and just try to keep up with it throughout the race. It’s a challenge. So I’ve always enjoyed this race it’s a lot of fun to be a part of each year. Even before I was in the Sprint Cup Series I remember watching the 600’s. That was always a big race to watch. Something I liked we would get people together and do that for this Sunday weekend. To me it’s a big deal and I enjoy being part of it for sure.”
COULD YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH KENNY (FRANCIS) AND THE KIND OF RAPPORT YOU GUYS HAVE HAD HAS THAT HELPED YOU FIND A STRONG POINT IN THE SEASON RIGHT NOW?
“Well we had to really sit down and talk about things together and get back on the same page. There were a lot of things we were thinking differently on the first six to seven weeks of the year. We have spent a lot more time the last month and a half together and figuring this out than what we had early in the year when we were maybe thinking different directions and things with the car, adjustments and set-up’s for each track. I feel like our relationship is still really good and because we have that we have been able to figure it out and do enough testing and things to get back on track. The teammates are really good and helpful as well. But it still wasn’t really just clicking with us this year using their information so we had to figure it out ourselves. I think we have gotten a lot better since we did that. Now I think everything is starting to make sense from what all the guys are doing and what we are doing with our car. It’s much better today than it was a month ago.”
HOW MUCH HAVE YOU MISSED KEITH RODDEN THIS YEAR?
“I mean I miss him some because we were really good friends. I spent a lot of time with him over the years. But Chris does a great job as an engineer and the more I’m around Chris the more I understand him and we are building that relationship. Similar with Kenny over the last month and a half we have had to spend a lot more time together. Chris is a great guy and just like anyone if you spend time with them and get to know them better and respect the way that they go at their job and things. It’s good. I feel like our team is strong and glad Keith is running well as a crew chief and things that he deserves to be. But I feel like we are in a really good spot with Chris.”
WITH THE NO. 4 AND THE NO. 20 NOT GETTING OUT TO MAKE A LAP HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT THAT COULD BE YOU?
“I mean I guess you are just waiting to try to get the coolest open race track that you can. For a night like tonight I’m not sure that last 30 seconds how critical that is, but you are looking for an open track as well, so that is what they were doing. We were really close at Kansas on a second run. I think we made it by five or six seconds before they threw the red so we got to run that lap. You definitely push it as close as you can to get your tires cooled off and try to get the coolest race track conditions, but I’m surprised that neither one of them did in this session. 12 cars, five minutes I mean I’m surprised that would definitely not go over well if we missed it.”
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