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A Conversation With ... Jimmie Johnson & Mark Martin

MODERATOR: We're now joined in the infield media center by today's third quick qualifying driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet, Mark Martin. Mark, tell us about your run.

MARK MARTIN: The car was just really solid, it was yesterday as well. We were third quick in the final practice there yesterday. And we knew that we didn't have the best draw but we were, you know, confident that we had a good, solid race car. It was a very good lap. It was all good. I tried to get maybe a little bit more than I should have in turn 4, but it probably, you know, in the end of the things probably didn't hurt me. Starting position-wise, it probably wound up being a wash. I could have picked some time up, I think I could have picked some time up there if I had done that again, but I probably lost some, you know, in one of the other turns.

So it's just really great to see, you know, my race team has been so determined and so dug in for several weeks now, a couple of months digging to try to fight our way back from where we were to, you know, back up near the top of the heap. And it's been nice to see the progress that we've been able to make in speed with the race car, especially starting at New Hampshire, even though the results may not have really shown it, I've been seeing more and more speed in the race car.
I was very pleased at Chicago with the gains that we had made and appeared yesterday as significant gains again this week. And we have a lot more work in front of us. So we're excited about getting back in contention here.

MODERATOR: We're also joined by today's second quick in qualifying, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie, tell us about your lap.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We were proud of the lap that we ran today. We felt confident yesterday and was in qualifying trim and was real happy about things. Knew that the Ganassi guys were going to be real tough today, and to be as close as we were to Juan was a good accomplishment for us. I was really proud of what I did, because yesterday I continued to make mistakes, I would get three of the four corners right and I couldn't get all four right. So I made sure today that I did my job and maybe left a little on the table because I wanted to be very line specific and not make a mistake. But so maybe I could have squeaked a little more out or it would have led to a mistake. Either way I'm very, very proud of the lap I ran today. Great starting spot, great pit stall pick and looking forward to it.

MODERATOR: Open up to questions from the media. We'll start with Mike.

Q: One for each of you. Mark, you went out with a much later draw than most of the other cars that are at the top. Do you think that's bodes well for you in the race since it's in the heat of the day?

Jimmie, you're going for three in a row and four out of five. Does that kind of streak play in your mind similar to when you're running for three and four championships in a row or are you out there racing for what you can?

MARTIN: The draw, certainly last year we had an early draw and we had a great car and we were able to capitalize on it. This year we didn't have a great draw but we had a great car, and I feel we capitalized on that car. So I'm, you know, encouraged like I said, with the progress that we've been able to make. It's really hard to do in the middle of a race season when you realize that you're behind. These guys are digging and they're digging in and we're making progress and we've got more in front of us. So kudos to them, and I just want to thank all my race fans out there for keeping the faith. I feel like we're, you know, we're on our way back to contention form like last year. I hope so.

JOHNSON: For me, I feel very fortunate and at the same time proud of my team that we've been able to continue to bring good cars to the track, execute and put ourselves in the position to have streaks from championships, race wins, an opportunity at three in a row here which hasn't been done. I'm very proud of that. It comes down to preparation and teamwork and all the things we know about to put us in that position, and we have to execute and we've done that. There's a lot of pride rolled into that. But it doesn't change my mind-set going into the race. I'm very thankful for the opportunity, but I'm still going to go to bed tonight and do everything I can like I would on a normal weekend to make sure my car is right, and run the race the same way tomorrow. I can't change what I am doing much. You know, we're giving100 percent, so I'm just proud of what we've done and glad that we have been able to link some different streaks together.

MODERATOR: Additional questions?

Q: Mark, you said a couple weeks ago that you thought your team was actually better this year than it was a year ago; it was just the cars obviously when it's fast. But now you're saying you're encouraged. But is it not too late in the season to get back to where you were last year when you were challenging Jimmie for the championship?

MARTIN: To answer your question, no, it's not too late, but it's very close. You know, it's close. So, you know, we still have work to do. It looks really good this weekend, but I don't think that you can judge the rest of the, you know, the rest of the schedule based on one good two days' worth of really good, you know. And we have a lot of work in front of us. We're working really hard, harder than we ever have. So that's what we can do. We can control that and that's what we're doing. You know, we're really focused and dug in.

Q: Jimmie, last year Juan had everybody pretty much covered until that last speeding penalty, and you were the ultimate benefactor of that. Because of what happened to him last year, he's come here, he's been strong every practice, he wins the pole. Do you see him tomorrow as he's got something to prove? He's owed one, anything like that?

JOHNSON: I think we were the best car last year. I think Juan and the team did a great job getting up front and were in clean air. The fact that we started 16th and drove up into the battle for the lead, I think shows a lot for what our car did last year. Yes, Juan was fast in clean air, but when he got mired in traffic, he couldn't go anywhere. Not taking a shot at Juan, but I'm really proud of what we did last year. And I look at where the 14 is starting, and I expect him to be a player. I'm thinking, “Man, I was there last year.” That's a tough, tough row to hoe.

With all of that said, Juan has been awesome here regardless of the car, an open-wheel car or a stock car. From the tire test that we were all part of, he was the fastest there, yesterday, today. He knows what he's doing. That team, I was thinking about this in general just watching the 1 car's performance, Ganassi is doing a great job on all fronts. It doesn't matter if it's Grand Am, IndyCar, NASCAR, they've really impressed the racing world with what they're capable of regardless of car and type of racing. So I think they're going to be a favorite and they're going to do a great job. I'm sure Juan will make sure that he's below speed limit by a long way because he's going to be a factor in the race. I mean, he's got a great shot at winning this thing tomorrow.

Q: Mark and Jimmie, I think Greg Biffle is the only one in the top 10 today who doesn't drive a Chevy. Why were the Chevrolets so dominant in qualifying?

JOHNSON: Go for it.

MARTIN: Mine was fast. I don't know what to say about the rest of them. (Laughter)

JOHNSON: Yes, Chevrolets are amazing cars. I

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