JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed the current Chase schedule, changes in Atlanta, California, and Talladega next year, his brother getting a start in the Nationwide Series, and more.
TALK ABOUT YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT GOING IN TO THIS WEEKEND AT ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY: "This track has been real good to us over the years. I look back to how we ran here in the spring and how difficult it was for us at that point in the year just to have our cars right. We still managed to get a decent finish. It was a struggle for us here. We had a car here that was really tough to drive. I still have those thought in my mind but so much has gone on from that part of the season until now that I am very optimistic about our chances this weekend. We are excited to get qualifying in or whatever may come from that. I feel like we are going to be up toward the front regardless of the conditions and how qualifying is set. I am feeling really, really good about the race. We won last year here and got a cool streak going. In the past we have been able to win here in the fall, I would really like to keep that alive and stay aggressive and try to win again in the Chase with everything that is on the line. We're focused, we're committed and we are excited about the weekend."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE DIFFERENCES THAT WILL OCCUR FROM RUNNING HERE IN THE CHASE VERSUS NEXT YEAR WHEN YOU WILL BE RUNNING HERE ON LABOR DAY WEEKEND AT NIGHT? "There is so much that can happen here. It is a very aggressive mile and a half track. It eats tires. It is challenging mentally and physically. It is a tough track. It is much more difficult to drive than a Charlotte, Texas, some of those tracks. You are not in your comfort zone ever, here. Maybe for the first lap or two before the tires fall off, from that point you are hanging on. Depending on what people like to see in the Chase, that might disappoint some fans at this track that this great track isn't in the Chase. Fontana has been good to me as well so from my own selfish perspective, both tracks are good and I don't see any big issues for the No. 48 team. This is a great race track and a very challenging track. People show up and have to respect it regardless of where it falls in the schedule."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT YOUR BROTHER JARIT MAKING HIS FIRST NATIONWIDE START THIS WEEKEND AT MEMPHIS? "I certainly hope he does have a future in the sport. First of all, I have to say that I am very proud of my brother and how hard he has worked to get this opportunity. There is no telling where it is going to lead. It is his first time ever in a Nationwide car. He didn't have a chance to test and he is going to a technical, small short track with some great teams and drivers. I am trying to keep my expectations realistic for him but at the same time, I know how hard he has worked to put himself in this position. He is the father of two, just started a new business, he has been racing his late model and funding and working and building all of this on his own. Since we were kids, Christmas would come, we would open toys and I would start playing with mine and usually break mine before he ever started playing with his. He was disassembling it and then putting it back together and I would hand him mine that was broken and let him fix. He has been a guy that has been really good with his hands, has had a passion for this sport.He certainly has style and his own identity, he is getting his chance. I am just very proud as his brother to know that all the work that has gone in to this and that Armando Fitz is giving him a shot this weekend. I certainly hope things work out for him and he runs well and has a future in this sport. There is just no telling how all of that is going to shake out and I wish I could be there to watch him."
HOW HARD IS IT TO SHAKE THE PERCEPTION THAT YOU ARE ALWAYS CHEATING WHEN YOU HAVE BEEN CAUGHT SUCH AS THE NO. 83 CAR IS GOING THROUGH THIS WEEK AND YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED? "It is challenging, you have teams that go through it each year and there are certain situations where responsibility lies on the team and their efforts to get around the rules. Then there are other situations where it might be a manufacturers fault like Robby Gordon situation at the start of the year, there is a variety of ways this can happen. The old saying that any press is good press is wrong in this respect. When you have that negative press on your team it does put a question mark in people's minds. That is something that it takes a long time to overcome. I have lived it first hand. Chad (Knaus) has been aggressive and has been a rule maker and has had his fair share of issues with that and then he has been a rule breaker and has been slammed on that too. I have lived it but I can tell you that those crew chiefs and team owners are on egg shells every day because the rules are so tight. There is no margin for error. As you dive in to who is responsible for what issues, it helps soften the blows. But still, at the end of the day, it is a tough thing to overcome and the best medicine for that is to just go out on track and keep doing what you have been doing. Hopefully those guys can do that."
IF YOU DO PULL OFF THREE CONSECUTIVE CHAMPIONSHIPS, WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SAY TO CALE YARBOROUGH AND CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT IT? "I can tell you what I think of him, but I have no clue what I would say. I haven't opened up my mind for that yet. It would be foolish for me to start thinking that I have this thing covered. I am here to win the pole and the race and that is what our team is focused on. Cale has been a hero of mine since I was a good. To be mentioned in his presence and to something that has only been done once in this sport, to hear my name mentioned with great of our sport and heroes of mine, that means then world to me. I can only imagine what it would be like if we are able to pull it off. Cale has done a lot for our sport, he has been around a lot of years. I am just looking forward to the future and what can happen the next four weeks."
JIMMIE, I MEAN THIS WITH THE UTMOST RESPECT. "This can't be a good question."
IF YOU KEEP THIS UP, YOU COULD BE KNOWN AS THE MAN WHO RUINED THE CHASE AND YOUR DOMINANCE THE LAST THREE YEARS KIND OF GETS MORE AND MORE, WHAT WOULD YOU THINK IF THAT TAG GOT PUT ON YOU? "Fantastic! I will take it. When you look at what has been done in other sports, You watched Lance Armstrong go for his seventh, the world, and especially North America with excitement to see if he could do it. I would hope that through all of this, that people would watch and say, if it does fall in to that category, they would at least watch and say 'this is pretty cool, I mean a guy has a chance to do something that has been done once before and then will re-rack next year and chase history.' From that perspective instead of from affecting or hurting because if that does or doesn't happen, we have a lot to talk about in our sport and what went on this year. If it does happen, there is a whole story that spins off of it. If it doesn't, it was who came back and was able to win the point. I think we have to look at this either way for the better of our sport and say there is a story either way. From my perspective I hope it is three-in-a-row and then trying to do four in a row."
WHO DO YOU FEAR THE MOST OF THE GUYS CHASING YOU FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I've really been focused on where Carl (Edwards) is, don't know if that is right or wrong. If we have a 43rd place finish, it would probably allow more than just Carl in, but for whatever reason, my eyes have kind of stopped there at Carl. I don't know if that is fair or not. For all I know, somebody could be two points behind him, I just really haven't looked past that. I try to look at the worse case scenario and if we least here with 43rd place points, who has a shot and who is very good at the tracks that are coming up. That is really the way I look at it. Again, I just try to recognize it, I feel like I have closed that chapter in my head. That way I can look forward to what my team needs to do, what I need to do in the seat. Stay focused on positive things and things that put a smile on my face instead of worrying about a negative side to it."
THIS HYPOTHETICAL, WHERE WOULD YOU BE IF YOU WEREN'T PAIRED WITH CHAD AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? "Man, I don't know. You look around at, I am trying to look at different examples. I won a race in the Busch Series. I got the right chemistry and right group of people together and we have done what we have. (Tony) Stewart, who just recently won some Nationwide (formerly Busch Series) races recently, was in that same category. You look at, I am trying to think of examples to cement the fact that I don't have a damn clue, I am sorry. I don't really know. I can say that it is a team sport. It goes both ways. You have days where the crew and car are better than the driver and days where the driver is better than the crew and car. Opinions are formed over the course of a season and over the course of a contract where maybe the crew chief isn't his part more than the driver or the driver isn't doing it more than the crew chief and things change. I have to give a lot of credit to my guys. They respectfully give me that same credit back because we know it takes both of us to get it done. I give my guys a lot of credit, at the same time I am probably criticized and I am in the best equipment out there. But if they want to deal with Knaus, they can have it, I will give them a shot at it. (LAUGHS) If they wanted to drive my car at Vegas earlier this year when it was three seconds off the pace. We as a team were terrible then and took it to where we did. It is a team sport and I love my guys. I have been with them for a long time. I love working for Rick (Hendrick). I love what his company is about and certainly think they do it better than anyone else out there."
WITH ALL THE OTHER MAJOR SPORTS ON TELEVISION THIS SUNDAY, WORLD SERIES AND NFL, WHY SHOULD SOMEONE WATCH THE NASCAR RACE? "Because racing is cool. It is a great race track. A chance someone to do something that has only been done once before. On top of that, the cool thing about our sport and we talk about this all the time, you have 43 stars out there. You have the entire NFL or Major League Baseball, you have all the stars out there, the whole crowd is here. It is a great race, great show. Baseball is interesting, I do enjoy watching it. In fact Marty Smith owes me two beers cause I picked right over the last two nights, so I do keep my eyes on other sports as well and think it is interesting. If you love cars, you have to watch our races."
DO YOU EVER STEP OUTSIDE AND LOOK AND SAY, WOW THIS IS PRETTY COOL? "You know, I do. And the end of the year really is the time to reflect back and I find myself thinking about stuff like that more than any other time. Some of the off-weekends you have worked out to travel and be places and sit back and just enjoy the moment and think about what we've done. But I think it's tough for the people living it. It's only a handful of scenarios per decade that take place. I believe, this is my thought, that the guys that are doing it, one, their afraid some day it's going to stop; and two, they've done certain things to put themselves in that position and they don't want to change that rhythm and that mindset or whatever it is that goes into it. So, If people are thinking that of me, I'm saying that I know we're doing some cool stuff, but I'm afraid some say it could end, and I'm sure it will. It has to. All good things come to an end.
"I'm going to ride this wave while its up and I find myself more focused in just executing week in and week out, than I do thinking about what could be or what might be said. I just hope that when I put that helmet on the rack and say I'm done, that whatever those accomplishments are, people respect and look up to, and as a competitor and wanting to leave a mark in our sport, I want to do as much as I can. I want to win as many races as I can, and championships, and be considered one of the greats. Any driver in this garage area would love to be in that category. I'm not saying that I am, and that people should think of me, but I hope that I am that guy. I want to be that guy. That's what I strive to be."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE HAD YOUR BAD LUCK ALREADY THIS YEAR AND IT'S SMOOTH SAILING FROM HERE ON OUT, OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU STILL NEED TO BE ON EDGE ABOUT THAT? "No, I still feel like we have to stay on edge. There are long races where you can have mechanical issues, you have a lot of cars on track, a lot of times on and off pit road, and there is a lot of risk in our sport for having a bad race. And it's tough to link together ten races without any trouble. So I'm a realist when I look at that and think that we went through Fontana to Richmond and then started the Chase. We're hopeful of going through 14 races without any issues and that's a tough thing and high expectations. So, I still stay scared and I've used that term quite a bit. I just want to make sure we're not getting into a comfortable mindset and put our guard down and I make a mistake or the team makes a mistake. The things that are going to be out there, we can't control. And if that hits us, we'll come back next week and hopefully be able to take care of business."
WHAT DRIVES CHAD KNAUS? WHAT DO YOU THINK HE MAKES OF HIS OPPORTUNITY TO BECOME THE FIRST CREW CHIEF TO WIN THREE STRAIGHT TITLES? "I'm not sure he thinks about it much. He is more motivated by dominating, in a sense. We'll have what we consider the best car in practice and look at lap tracker and we might have a tenth on the field a he's like, we need more. That's just his mindset. It's more, more, more. We've got to be better. We've got to be better. I don't know exactly what motivates him. I can see all the things that people that would predict, but in some ways I feel that he's afraid of losing. When he loses, something goes on in his head and I don't know if it comes from being a kid and racing and working his way up through the ranks or watching his dad race or whatever, but there's something there that he is afraid of losing. And that's why when he wins, he's kind of chilled and relaxed because it satisfies what that fire is inside. We didn't have the race we wanted at Lowe's. Sunday they were working on the car we raced to get on the seven post machine for the next morning. Chad is there in the shop after the race on Sunday, working on that stuff. And I think it's a fear of losing that motivates him more than anything."
ON THE CURRENT METHOD OF QUALIFYING, WOULD YOU BE IN FAVOR OF CHANGING TO A RANDOM PICK JUST LIKE IS USED TO PICK THE QUALIFYING ORDER? "I do agree that something needs to change. And if you look at the guys that are in that go-or-go-home category, they get off to a terrible start at Daytona with those five races, but then the flipside of that is people that have committed to the sport and have been able to succeed need a little something for that. So that's arguable those first five races. I think that a good compromise, and it's been floating around here a little bit lately, is why not qualify the go-or-go-homers on Saturday and make them impound their cars if say, they were rained out on Friday? Tomorrow we can spend 20 minutes and run those guys and let then earn their way into the show, and go. And so I think a compromise is out there. We just need to think it through. But the scary thing is, the numbers do not work in favor of the guys that are in the go-or-go-home situation because as soon as that guy is 35th, the system is just fine. We don't need to change anything. And you've got four or five guys that still have to race their way in that are struggling with that. So, I think it can be addressed and looked at and I feel like there is enough attention on it that something will be. When it comes to a rain delay, in the top 12 guys, everybody has earned that right to start where they're at. That goes all the way through the field."
-credit: gm racing