JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed racing at Atlanta, Chase contenders, Frisbee accidents, and more. YOU HAVE THREE WINS, NINE TOP FIVES, AND 11 TOP 10'S AT ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY. YOU ARE LOCKED INTO THE CHASE.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed racing at Atlanta, Chase contenders, Frisbee accidents, and more.
YOU HAVE THREE WINS, NINE TOP FIVES, AND 11 TOP 10'S AT ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY. YOU ARE LOCKED INTO THE CHASE. YOU HAVE THREE WINS SO FAR IN '09. WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY AS YOU HEAD INTO ATLANTA THIS WEEKEND? "Really, just to do the things we've been doing. I feel that we've had a bunch of victories kind of slip through our fingers here lately. It would be nice to have those points. Outside of that, I think we have the speed in the car and if we can take a chance to win the race, we should do that. At the same time, running in the top five and having great pit stops and is good for the team's confidence and for mine as well. So if we don't have a shot at winning, a realistic shot at taking a chance to win something and we're running in the top five, I think our goal at that point is to get a good finish, collect points, and get the mindset right for the Chase."
AS WIDE AND AS RACEABLE AS THIS TRACK IS, AND CONSIDERING THE NUMBER OF 1.5-MILE RACES IN THE CHASE, IS SUNDAY'S RACE MAYBE A LITTLE BIT MORE OF A PRE-CHASE SNAPSHOT THAN SAY A BRISTOL OR A RICHMOND OF WHO REALLY BELONGS IN THE CHASE AND WHO IS LIKELY TO DO WELL IN THE CHASE? "I would kind of say yes, but this race track has taken its own character now and the way you drive this track, the set-up that you end up with here, really doesn't apply to Texas or Charlotte any longer. You can't sacrifice mechanical grip here for aero balance. Where, on the other tracks, the asphalt is still pretty new and the tire wear isn't as high and you can focus solely on aero advantage and not really worry about tire life. And it's quite the opposite here. This track reminds me more of Darlington the way it used to be than any other 1.5-mile track. So, I think yes, it will in some respects, but at the same time I think when we get to Charlotte I think that’ll be a better indicator for what you'll see during the Chase. I think Richmond will be a good indication of what's going to take place at Loudon. I think the next couple of weeks are going to be exciting."
IS IT MORE OF AN INDICATOR THAN A SHORT TRACK WHERE PEOPLE ARE BEATING AND BANGING? "From that perspective I totally agree. There should be a lot of green flag runs. You have a lot of options so you're not doing the bump and run. You have a better chance of not being caught up in a wreck because of all the space. So in that respect absolutely. I totally agree. This track is so challenging any more. I think this track can be a big player in who makes the Chase or not. You're going to have a lot of green flag runs. If you're off a little bit, you're going to go down a lap. So I think this race is going to be big for the bubble guys and who is going to be in this thing or not."
UNLIKE PREVIOUS CHASES WHERE TWO OR THREE ORGANIZATIONS HAVE DOMINATED, THIS YEAR HAS NEW TEAMS AND DRIVERS IN THE CHASE. HAS THE NEW CAR CREATED SOME PARITY? "Yeah, I think the new car is very challenging and you just don't know what's going to happen. So yes, I see parity. But at the same time I can speak from what we went through last year. We went through an off-season from '07 to '08 and we thought we were working in the right areas and had everything under control. We showed up at the first few races and we were out to lunch. And that kind of reminds me of what you're seeing with the Childress cars. They ran great last year. Those guys were very competitive in the Chase and then show up at the start of the season and you're not where you need to be and you're playing catch up. So yes, I see parity. But at the same time, it's very easy to get off base. And when you off, once you finally get back on track, it's probably a month or two later, and now it's even longer because of no testing, and now you're two to four months behind the guys that have been on base. So it just takes a while to catch up."
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN INVOLVED IN A DEADLY FRISBEE ACCIDENT? "No, of all the stupid things I've done, Frisbee accidents are not on the list year (laughes)."
DALE JUNIOR SAID SINCE HE'S NOT GOING TO BE IN THE CHASE, HE WANTS TO FOCUS ON GETTING SOME WINS, RUNNING WELL, AND DOING WHATEVER HE CAN TO HELP YOU AND JEFF GORDON AND MARK MARTIN TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP. FROM YOUR PROSPECTIVE, WHAT CAN SOMEBODY DO TO HELP YOU GUYS DURING THAT TIME? "The best thing he (Junior) can do obviously is to go out and win races and get everything under control in that respect, and silence all of that side of things. I think it would be great for his sanity and the team. He's close. Just some small adjustments are going to make the difference and he's going to be there. He's been a great teammate. He's been doing everything he can to help provide great information, and his car set ups and working with all of us. I can't say that I can see him doing much more because he's been a great teammate and engaged and involved and doing everything he can. So we'll just keep plugging along. As an organization we hope to get his car and get him up to speed to where we have four cars in the Chase next year. That's the ultimate goal."
ON CARL EDWARDS' FRISBEE ACCIDENT, WHAT IS YOUR MOST BIZARRE OFF-TRACK ACCIDENT AND HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THAT TO THE TEAM? AND WHY DOES THIS SEEM TO HAPPEN TO NASCAR DRIVERS? "I'm not sure of all the details of Carl's accident. But mine happened during the off-season and I think what led to my accident was a little different than Carl's (laughs). Different circumstances. But in the respect that our season is so long, if you get injured, if it's something from screwing around, if it's something that you do in training to be involved in the sport and compete, we'd have no time to heal.
"I got lucky when I broke my wrist, there were six weeks from the say I broke my wrist to when we were back testing the cars and my cast was off and I was in the car and ready to go. I just don't think we have a lot of time. And if anything does happen, everybody is going to know about it because it's in the middle of the season at some point."
IS IT AWKWARD TO EXPLAIN THAT TO YOUR TEAM? "Yeah, for me especially, because when I came back from Florida and I got off the plane, the one waiting there to take me to the hospital was Mr. Hendrick. I'm not sure how Jack Roush deals with things, but Rick is that father-figure to us. And Rick never said a word. Just seeing his eyes and understanding that he was disappointed in me was enough. It was like that father deal where when your parents don't say anything, you know they're really mad. So I'm like man, I've really disappointed this man. That's how I worked through my situation and make sure I stay away from making stupid mistakes again."
AS SOMEONE WHO HAS WORKED WITH BOTH KYLE BUSCH AND BRIAN VICKERS, WHO DO YOU THINK HAS THE ADVANTAGE TO MAKE THE CHASE? "Well, I have worked with both of them obviously. Brian has a good head on his shoulders and can really focus on the job and I think be a little more stable in some situations. I think some of the tracks in the Chase, if he is able to make the Chase, are pretty challenging for his team. They're still trying to find the balance there. So I kind of put Brian behind Kyle in the sense that I think Kyle has a better chance of making the Chase and being a little more competitive in the Chase because of the notes and the equipment and stuff at Gibbs. Those guys are spot-on and do a great job and the Red Bull team is still building. I don't want to take anything away from them. They've done an awesome job this year. They've won a race and each week we see them becoming more competitive. But I kind of put Brian in a stronger mental standpoint than maybe what Kyle is; and maybe the car is a little bit better on the Gibbs side versus the Red Bull side. But I'd love to see Brian in the Chase. He's a great friend and was a teammate at one point and I think it would be a good story to see the Red Bull guys in the Chase. They've been working real hard."
ON NASCAR'S OUTREACH TO HAVING MINORITIES IN THE SPORT AND THE IMPORTANCE OF ADDING DIVERSITY TO THE SPORT "It's great to see young faces in our sport. Gender and race don't matter. NASCAR is a great sport. It really starts at the grass-roots level and the interest being there from a young age to develop drivers to come up through the ranks to be competitive at this level. I'm excited for the future and look forward to racing against guys, girls, regardless of race, whatever it may be. It would be awesome to see it."
WHEN YOU SAY KEEP IT SIMPLE, THAT'S ONE THING. IN SOME WAYS YOUR LAST THREE CHAMPIONSHIPS HAVE MADE KEEPING IT SIMPLE OBSOLETE. YET IT SEEMS LIKE YOUR TEAM HAS PERFECTED A WORKING AND WINNING FORMULA. "Yeah, there's some contradicting thoughts that go along with all that. I'm a big believer in keeping it simple and I've said that over the last couple of Chases. I do disagree that every race in the Chase is the same. You might want to tell yourself that it it's the same and that it's no big deal. But I tell myself that. I climb in the car. And I know it's a Chase race no matter how often I tell myself its no big deal, it's no big deal. You know what's on the line. I think that what we've been able to do really good over the last three Chases is to understand and deal with and kind of manage the emotions that are going with each race and do the best job we can. So in that sense, keeping it simple to where you don't have to think about the walk-off home run. You've got to do your job. You give 100 percent; no more, no less. And it's kind of a corny answer maybe and there's not a lot of depth in it. But if you can rule out all the other tricks you're trying to play with people or tricks with the set up or funny strategy or whatever it may be and just go out and run your race and do your job and everybody leave that race weekend and know they gave 100 percent, you're going to have good results. That's really what we have done. We try to put blinders on and run our race and do our thing and don't leave anything at the track. Put it all out there."
HOW DOES THE CHASE CHANGE WITH NEW TEAMS AND NEW DRIVERS INVOLVED? WITH YOU HAVING BEEN THERE AND DONE THAT, IS THAT GOING TO BE DIFFERENT? "Yeah, I think so. Experience is everything. The fact that we've been able to win championships will really help us deal with some of the pressures. It doesn't mean that a first time Chase contender can't come in and win this thing. Those things are still out there and can take place but I like where we're at. I think experience is very important. I think it'll help.
"When things really get tough, the experience will hopefully help us make the right decisions and manage the stress that comes with the Chase. But I'm excited. I've never felt this good about starting the Chase in the past. Our cars are spot-on. Mentally and physically, I'm the best I've ever been. I feel that the team is the same and doing really well. The first few races we'll get a good sense of who is where and who is really going to be a contender in this thing and hopefully we are one of those guys and we can start grinding it out and wearing these guys down."
-credit: gm racing