MODERATOR: We are joined by Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie, talk a little bit about how this deal came together, and how much you're looking forward to racing in the Rolex 24 with the Riley team. JIMMIE JOHNSON: First of all, I'm glad and honored...
MODERATOR: We are joined by Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie, talk a little bit about how this deal came together, and how much you're looking forward to racing in the Rolex 24 with the Riley team.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: First of all, I'm glad and honored and proud to be driving for Bill (Riley), to come down and race once again in the 24 Hours At Daytona, and also at the Paul Revere race that we have with our Cup race in July. I'm just looking forward to it. It's been a great opportunity.
I've had a chance to test with the guys at Kershaw (South Carolina). It's a great race team, great people. We're focused on winning. I finished second at this event a couple years ago, in the 24 Hours At Daytona. I really look forward to coming back and being with a team that's definitely able to win the race.
I've got great teammates. I've had a great experience. I met a few people at the first test, then today I've been able to meet everyone else. It's just a pleasure to be here working with these guys.
MODERATOR: Jimmie, in addition to our friends in the media here at Homestead, we're going out on a webcast throughout hopefully the world via the worldwide web.
Because you're familiar with the Daytona Prototype, you raced a Pontiac Crawford before, now you have a different chassis, a Riley. Talk about the immediate differences between the Riley and the Crawford.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Unfortunately it was maybe a two-year period of time from when I raced the Crawford to when I drove the Riley car. So for me to remember all the things, it's tough.
But I was extremely impressed with the car under braking and the low-speed corners, how much grip the car had in it. I didn't recall that or remember that from my experience beforehand. The car is very comfortable. The team has worked with me, done everything they can to show me data traces compared to the teammates, how to drive the car, where to find speed, how to also take care of the gearbox and the engine and the different things that are needed. It's just a little different discipline than what we're used to. I'm just going through all the paces of learning everything.
MODERATOR: We asked Jeff earlier before you came out, what's your sports car experience. He said, 'You're looking at.' Obviously Jeff is an accomplished road racer, he gets it done in Cup cars. Does your off-road racing experience help you in your sports car racing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it does a little bit. Fortunately we've been on road courses with the Cup cars, so I've been able to keep that going. I try to get as much seat time in a road course car as I can. I really enjoy racing in the Grand-Am series, enjoy racing on road courses in general. Hopefully down the road when I can slow down at some point from the Cup schedule, I'd like to get more involved and do more road racing.
I don't want to all of a sudden show up one day and say, 'Wow, I want to be an accomplished road course driver.' I want to start working on that now, addressing those things. I don't feel like I do as good a job as I need to in our Cup cars. I get in other vehicles and run well, but our Cup cars, they're their own animal. Jeff is the master, between he and Tony Stewart are the masters at that. That's something I'm going to focus hard on this year with our Cup car, how I can be up there racing with the 24 and 20 at Sears Point and Watkins Glen.
MODERATOR: You've raced in the Rolex 24 as we mentioned. It's really kind of respect among peers, champions from all walks of the sport coming together. As a driver, now a champion, how does it feel to know you're taking a place alongside the other greats in motorsports? As Jeff said, it's a race you want to participate in. What is the feeling knowing the car next to you might have a driver with Formula One experience and the guy behind you might have won the Indy 500?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's really what keeps me coming back. My first experience with that was three or four years ago, and I was so amazed at how many world class drivers, champions, all the names that I've watched as a kid growing up, racing all types of vehicles, they were all there. When I came back my second year, things took another direction. Sadly I missed the 24 hours. I'm going to be able to do it this season.
It's really what keeps me coming back, to be able to do something so unique, so special with all the best drivers in the world. It's a great opportunity.
MODERATOR: Did you go over to Europe and do the Race of Champions, after the banquet?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's coming up. Luckily they moved it back. I leave next Tuesday evening to fly over to Paris and get ready for that. I'm looking forward to it.
MODERATOR: When do you rest before you get back to NASCAR? Do you not need that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm excited I'm going to be testing the Grand-Am cars so much. I love driving a race car. I want to do it every day, every week. The other parts that go with it, especially on the Cup side, there's so much work needed on the Cup side. It's nice just to show up the day of the test, come down, hang out with the Riley team, all my new teammates, and just have fun and get in the car.
I'm excited for it. I consider this an off day, a down day for me, kind of a therapeutic way to stay sharp and have fun in a race car. I will take some time over Christmas and New Year's. I have a lot going on with commercial shoots for sponsors that eat up a lot of December, then January with the race that we have, the test session for the Rolex Series, test session for the Cup cars, we have two of them. January is booked solid already. I'll get a couple weeks through Christmas and New Year's.
MODERATOR: Questions for Jimmie.
Q: This is really an off day for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think so. This is fun for me. I don't have to worry about saying the right thing. I don't have to shave today. I don't have to worry about much except going out and having fun with Bill and the guys.
Q: Now that you won a Cup championship, where does winning the 24 hours rank on your list of things to do?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That is very, very high on my list of things to do. Finishing second in the race a few years ago really, really piqued my interest. I want to come back, I want to win the 24 Hours of Daytona someday. My great friend Casey Mears won it last year. Just to see the pride he had on his face, celebrating with him and sharing that, it's special. Being the Daytona 500 winner, Brickyard 400, if I was able to win the 24 Hours of Daytona would be phenomenal.
The only thing I'd want to do then, there's two other races I want to compete in, which would be the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Indy 500. I don't think I can do either one of those while I'm racing Cup. I don't see how the scheduling is going to work out.
Q: What does it say about this race that guys like yourself, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, a whole slew of really renowned drivers are competing in this race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think the Cup movement has been a little predictable with Grand-Am and its ties to the NASCAR world, Felix Sabates and Chip Ganassi have their organizations, so it was easy to help Casey Mears and some Cup guys get in. Tony Stewart has had a great experience with the Crawfords over the years. I think that's been predictable.
To a certain degree the thing I'm excited to see is the F1 involvement, the Champ Car involvement. Stock car racing to me is just stock car racing. It's what I do. I'm excited to see all these other guys come in, world class drivers from other disciplines.
Q: What have you enjoyed most so far about being Cup champion?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Probably everything that leads into the lack of sleep that I've had. We've done a lot of celebrating. We've been honored beyond my wildest dreams in New York, what we had last week up there for the banquet. All that has been a lot of fun. We had great photo opportunities, and a lot of good times with my crew guys. It's really the highlight. I had a party for them last Wednesday night. There was nobody around, no pressure, nothing. It was just my crew guys and their wives, a good time. That was probably the highlight.
Q: Where did you have your party?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: A little Irish bar in Manhattan, down the street from the Waldorf. We just invaded it, chased everybody out, locked the door, and had a good time.
Q: Is it still weird when people call you a Cup champion after going four seasons of wanting that so much?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. It's rewarding to hear 'champion'. It's an honor to hear it. Those types of things come to mind. I don't think I'll ever get tired of hearing it. It took so much to get to this point. It does for any champion. To be the best over the course of a year is something we all strive for. We all know how hard it is when we're racing each week.
To put in four tough seasons like I did, and then to get it done, I'm enjoying every minute of it.
MODERATOR: How important would it be to Lowe's to win the Rolex 24? Maybe they'd stay open 24 hours in celebration. How important would it be for your sponsor?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It would be important for my sponsor. I have to say Lowe's, they just want to do what I do. Going to the race in Paris, they want to be a part of it. Robert Niblock, the CEO of Lowe's, considered going, but unfortunately he has to work, and can't make the trip.
We're also going to produce a show that is going to be on ESPN. I'm going to have an hour time block. I'm going to videotape everything that goes on. We're producing a show, bringing it back. Lowe's is going to be the title sponsor on that. There's numerous things I do that Lowe's wants to be involved with. They love the ride, love the journey. They're huge fans of motorsports, huge fans of Jimmie Johnson. It's great to have them involved.
They really don't pressure me. They don't need the sponsor mentions. They like the association and like that people associate Jimmie Johnson to Lowe's. It's really a great relationship with no pressure.
MODERATOR: Great to have Jimmie Johnson in here. We want to thank Bill and Ken from Riley Technologies for helping make this happen. Thanks for joining us.