Championship contenders pre-race press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: As we saw in the video, guys aren't afraid to say what you think about each other. Knowing that, each one of you, can you tell me what irks you about the other two drivers. JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me, Denny is the fact...

Continued from part 1

Q: As we saw in the video, guys aren't afraid to say what you think about each other. Knowing that, each one of you, can you tell me what irks you about the other two drivers.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me, Denny is the fact that he's in the lead. I guess Kevin, he's lurking back there in third.

What else did you expect out of me (smiling)? Come on.

DENNY HAMLIN: I was told in these situations to deflect, so I then turn to Kevin (smiling).

KEVIN HARVICK: I'll give you something.

I think the thing that irks me the most probably about Denny's team is his crew chief. Jimmie is the fact that he's probably won the last four championships. Not that that's mean or anything. It's just when a guy's won four in a row, you beat your head against the wall and wonder, Why can't we be competitive enough, why can't the whole sport be good enough to keep somebody from winning four in a row?

Q: How important are pit stops and pit strategies going to be for this race? We saw from last weekend Kevin had a lug nut issue which wound up turning good in his favor. Denny, you came in and took some tires and fuel, took away from your chance to win. Jimmie stayed out and kept his position and points. How important is it going to be to keep those pit stops perfect and have the right strategy to be at the top when we come to the end of the race?

KEVIN HARVICK: I think as we've gone down the last two years, the race has come down to fuel mileage. Last year Denny stayed out, if I remember right. The year before, it came down to the same thing.

It's all important. Last week we got lucky with our pit stop. Those guys seem to make one error in about every 50 races. So I feel I put my pit crew that I have right now up against anybody. The fuel mileage is going to be a big factor as we come to Sunday. I hope they put that same carburetor on your car Sunday.

DENNY HAMLIN: It won't be.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Hopefully it's one that's worse (laughter).

DENNY HAMLIN: I don't think any of us know how important it's going to be. It just really depends on when cautions fly. Sometimes, I mean, like Martinsville and Texas, the two races where we probably didn't have our best pit stops, we won those races. But the cautions flew to where it really didn't hurt us too bad.

It really depends on when that last caution flies. Really I think it's going to depend, too, on how much tire drop-off is. If we have a huge drop-off, you'll see us pitting quite a bit more often. If it doesn't, you'll probably see a lot of getting within that last fuel window and staying out.

I don't think any of us really know that yet.

Q: Denny, if you take the 'boys have at it' mentality, whatever it takes to win the championship on Sunday, you're sitting there with a three-car team, your teammate is more like a Formula One teammate, not a NASCAR teammate.

DENNY HAMLIN: Which one?

Q: Kyle, to start with. They have alliances with other organizations in the garage. What is your strategy going to be as far as staying away from everybody else and not getting caught up in the riffraff?

DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I mean, yeah, as far as the teammate side of it, we have Toyotas, but there's really not a whole lot of connection there. They have like Stewart Haas, the engine program. Probably more teammates connected between them.

But really I think it's the last race. Everyone's going to go out there and try to win. That's the most important thing. Really I think all the drivers pretty much respect the fact that, Let the three drivers settle it.

For me, I'm really not worried about that part of it too much. Really just continue to figure out what I can do to be faster.

Q: Watching the three of you when we were seeing the video, the golden horseshoe remark, you were smiling about it, enjoying it. Jimmie, does this feel a little bit different, this championship? In the past couple of years, love fest might be a little bit too much, but it's been your teammate or friend. You guys have taken a couple pokes at each other. It's gotten different this year. I think the fans are probably enjoying that, too.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, with it not being a Mark Martin or Jeff Gordon, the teammate situation, we're excited for what happens for the company. It changes the dynamics. We all drive for three different teams. All have dreams of being champions for various different reasons.

It is a different year, a different Chase. I kind of think every year is different for that matter. I know the last four we've had the same result. But every year, every championship battle has had its own little quirks to it.

This year has been very exciting for our sport. There's been plenty of comments and stuff flying around from all angles, doesn't matter if it's drivers, crew chiefs, it's come from everywhere.

It's good for our sport. I think it's something we all recognize as well. You got to have thick skin if you're going to be a pro athlete, especially in NASCAR. All the opportunities we have to get at one another. A level of the sportsmanship amongst the comments. It's good to have this banter, it's good to have this stuff. We're all having fun with it, making the most of it. Not just us three, but through the whole field.

One of the things we were laughing at on the video is how consistent some drivers were in every highlight. Might think about that one a little bit (laughter).

Q: Jimmie, obviously different dynamics this year in terms of you going in with the points scenario. Kind of the thoughts in your head. You touched upon the pressure a little bit. What are you processing as the weeks go on? You're a little bit of the underdog right now as opposed to being the favorite.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, for us, I mean, we have nothing to lose. This guy does (referring to Hamlin). It's a much different perspective for us. I've been here in the past with even a big points lead and have been concerned about dropping the ball.

When you're defending, your mind starts to change and you start to think about the 'what ifs'. When you're chasing, it's more about, What do I need to do? It's been a much more relaxed week for me, even though I'm down 15 points, that I've experienced before.

All the jokes aside, it's just about performing. We need to go out and have a great day. Even then, I have to assume he's going to have a great day, and so will Kevin. Why not just get it done. I don't know. Glad to be a part of it and look forward to doing all I can on Sunday.

Q: Denny, your owner Joe Gibbs could tell you a whole bunch about gut checks. What has been the gut checks for you this season? Was it the days after your knee surgery?

DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I mean, there's been tons of different things that I've learned during the course of this season. Yeah, I mean, that was a significant part of our season, for sure. It was most of the summer that we had to deal with that.

But that's why we set out to do that during that time, is that by this time of the year, when the championship's on the line, if we hopefully had a shot at it, it was not going to be an issue, wasn't going to sidetrack us.

For me it's tough to say what situation really was a gut check. Maybe it was last week. We don't know. It's just now we have to respond wherever something negative does happen.

I feel like we have done a good job of that, whenever we've had to face adversity, pressure. Jimmie talked about earlier, this pressure like I've never seen before, I had to fight for my job. That was way more pressure than this right here. I had to battle with a couple different drivers to get that 11 car, knowing I only had three starts to do it. That was serious pressure. This right here is fun, what I set out to do when I was a kid.

Q: You talked a little bit earlier about the approach you will have racing each other. The odds are that you probably will be. Is there a line? What is the line that you'll go up to but maybe not cross or would cross if it came down to the final laps for the championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not sure any of us can give you an answer. We'll go out and race and see what happens. I mean, it's tough for us to sit up here - I know you want to hear it - but for sure, if the 11 is in front of me, we're coming to the line, I'm going to dump his ass. You can't say. We're not thinking about those scenarios. It's about going out and racing as hard as you can.

Maybe I'm wrong, but from my standpoint, I haven't thought about last-lap scenario, what do I do. I'm more concerned about, How can I run as fast as I can and try to outrun these guys personally.

DENNY HAMLIN: I can't really say that I would change my driving style, championship on the line or not. Of course, you're going to be more aggressive in situations. But for me to say I would wreck a guy or turn a guy for a championship, I don't know how high I could hold that trophy.

Hopefully I'll have many other years to do it the right way. If someone had to put the spotlight on me and say, You have to do this or not. I'm not going to change the way I drive. I was raised in driving one way. I've always had to fix my equipment when I raced late models. I'm not going to sell out. I'll say that.

All of us really don't think about last-lap situations I don't think. I think it's more about, How can I just whip 'em outright? That's what all these other guys are thinking so they don't have to put themselves in that situation.

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, you know, obviously you want to outrun the other team, and you want to do it as fair as you can. I think if it comes down to the end, I'll sleep fine. I'll do whatever I have to do (smiling).

Q: Denny, a follow-up on something you said earlier. What is awkward about this experience right now? What's awkward?

DENNY HAMLIN: Oh, just all the shit talking that's going on, then we're like two feet away (laughter). Other than that, I mean, it's good now. I'm okay.

Q: When Jimmie said, I've got nothing to lose and turns to you and said, This guy does, what ran through your mind?

DENNY HAMLIN: I don't have the crown on my head.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Based on his expression, I don't think he was even listening to me. So I don't know if it went well.

Q: Since you haven't won it, do you think he has more to lose than you?

DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I think if one of the two of us win the championship, I think half the headlines will talk about us winning the championship, the other will be Jimmie Johnson's streak ending. So I think he has equally just as much to lose as we have to gain.

Q: About this awkwardness, Jimmie, you told us last week at Phoenix that you didn't want to hear what Denny had to say, you didn't want to be in the same room with him. Now that you're up there, it seems like you're enjoying it a little bit, needling him. Would you rather still be in a soundproof booth like on a game show or do you like being up there and having this little banter and interaction?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, at Phoenix I had an option to not go in the media room and hear what he had to say. My deal, as you guys know, I don't tune into what's going on, just choose to live in my little bubble, my little world, and do my thing. It's worked for me.

For us all to have some fun with it, I'm just trying to remind Denny that he has everything to lose and we're only 15 points back. Really not anything to fret over, Denny. But that's it, you know, just having fun (smiling).

Q: Kevin, you talked about playing loose. At the same time it's been a long time since Richard Childress Racing has won a championship at this level. Do you ever allow yourself to think about what it would be like to be the guy to bring that back to Richard after so long a drought? Since it's been since '94, is that ever a weight on the organization or you?

KEVIN HARVICK: I think those are a lot of things that Richard and I realized last year when we went through our spat, I guess you could say as we went through the end of last year. We want the same goals. He wants to go back to Victory Lane. He wants to win a championship. We've achieved all those things this year except for a championship.

Obviously, as we sat and talked, those are the things that everyone wants to achieve that gets to this level. We've all won at every level that we've ever come from. That's the ultimate goal that you want to achieve.

But it's different, to be honest with you. We talked about the pressure of the situation. It just seems like, you know, we've been through so much together. It all has worked backwards for me with coming in, with taking over Dale's car. You started with the biggest press conference you'll ever be a part of in your whole life. You start with the weight of the world on your shoulders. As it's gone through the years, it's gotten easier. It's almost like you've gotten prepared for these situations before you even got started.

I guess the point of the story, Richard and I have been through a lot together. We've talked about what we have to do to get to this point. Whether we win or lose this year, we've taken a huge step towards achieving those goals and put ourselves as a company back in contention to what looks to be hopefully consistency as we go forward to racing for championships.

It's taken a while. We've been there sporadically from '03 to '06, but we didn't step it up when it was time like we feel we've gotten better in the last 10 weeks this year.

It's what we want to achieve as an organization. And Richard has been there at this level. I think all the pieces are there to do that. It's just about making it all happen.

Q: Why are you going to win the championship?

KEVIN HARVICK: I think for us, it's one of those scenarios where we don't have any pressure on us. We go and we race as hard as we can. Hopefully they put that same carburetor on Denny's car that they had last week.

For us, it's going to come down to those guys. I think the 11 needs to make a mistake. We've got to outrun both of them. So for us it's very simple: you let it all hang out, see where it all falls in the end, see where the mistakes crop up this week.

DENNY HAMLIN: For me, the one thing you know, anything can decide the championship. It could be wrecks. It could be luck. It could be strategy. Any of those things. The one thing that's tough to get is speed. I feel like we have good speed.

So I like that part of it being on our side. Yeah, we probably realistically will have the worst fuel mileage of these other two guys. But, you know, we'll have to take the speed. Hopefully things work out for us. If they don't, we'll work on our whole program next year.

For me, I'm in a good situation because, like I said before, if I go out there and I do what we've done all year and perform really well, then it's up to them to go out there and better us. We don't have to beat one of these guys by a certain amount of positions, we just have to stay ahead and that's it.

That's not going to be an easy feat. We know that. But we have the speed, I feel like, to do that.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: For us, the small points gap, the way we'll win the championship is by doing our jobs. If we go out and lead the most laps, win the race, we'll be potentially in a tie situation. But that's what our motive is. That's what we need to do, is go out and do our jobs. We're capable of doing it. We've done it in the past. Now it's time to step up as a team and go out and do it.

Q: A lot of people don't realize how physically demanding your sport is. Could you each maybe give an example of how demanding it is and what perhaps you've added or changed in your fitness regimen to deal with those demands.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It definitely is. I think each time the media center mentions I'm the 2009 male athlete of the year, I take pride in that. I know it was important to the France family to have NASCAR drivers and racecar drivers recognized as athletes. Training is part of my week and part of my year and something that's necessary. You know, I think the more athletes that come to our events and are around, there's been a lot of work going on behind the scenes, maybe not in the headlines, but our sport is getting the credit it deserves. Not only the drivers, but the guys going over the wall, the work that's done during the pit stops. I'm so happy to see it come in our direction.

DENNY HAMLIN: I'd agree for sure. I came into this sport 40 pounds heavier than what I am right now. I realized real quick that fitness is a major part of this sport. Not necessarily for going out there and being fast, but it's about being focused at the end of these races. For me, the better physically fit you are, the more hydrated you are, the more you make better decisions when your body's getting fatigued.

So for myself, I work out just to kind of get my mind off things and relieve stress. It's been good for me.

KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, I think as you look at the sport, how much it's changed from the physical part of it, I think as you look at the guys that are successful, you know, you have to be physically fit. For me, I treat it much like I did when I wrestled in high school. You try to eat and prepare.

Still in the end the biggest thing for us is hydration. It's pretty easy to stay in shape and keep your weight where it needs to be with the six, seven, eight pounds that you can lose on any given race weekend during the summer.

Just maintaining the hydration part is the most important.

Q: It's great that NASCAR listens to its fans. What changes do you think the NASCAR world needs, if anything?

KEVIN HARVICK: In my opinion, I think the Chase has been good for our sport. I'd like to see a little bit more diversity in the racetracks. I don't think the last 10 weeks should be the same racetracks over and over and over again. I think it should rotate around. I think that would help particular race markets get better.

You have it end at different places, have it start at different places. Maybe you go to some of the same racetracks, but I think a different 10 weeks, even a road course at the end of the year would put that full diversity I guess you could say on your champion to getting to all the different styles of racetracks.

DENNY HAMLIN: I would agree. I don't disagree there. I think changing up racetracks is good. I know it's going to be tough because of the weather. We can't go to Michigan in November. That part of it's going to be tough.

But, yeah, I definitely would like to change racetracks, switch it up a little bit. Obviously, like I said, maybe throw a road course in there. It's part of our regular season, why shouldn't it part of the our regular championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think a shorter schedule would be awesome Shorter . races, too .

DENNY HAMLIN: Talladega 10 laps.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You'll have one hell of a race. 10-lap race at Talladega. You won't have to worry about people riding then.

Q: Jimmie, how do you feel about the sentiment that somebody else, anybody else, needs to win it?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's a compliment. I want to choose to look at it as a compliment. We've done our job over the last four years. I guess I do understand if the shoe was on the other foot, I was watching someone take the trophy away four times in a row, I'd get tired of it, too. Even from a fan base side.

Believe me, from a guy that spent most of his career as a B to C driver, I'm relishing in the spotlight that we've been in, enjoying it. I never thought I'd be in this position.

I know it won't last forever. That also needs to be said. Going to ride the wave as long as we can, see what we can do. I think when people are on a run, doesn't matter the sport, at that time it's hard for everyone to embrace it. But when they reflect back on it, it's: Look at the run that so-and-so is on, the Lakers, the Yankees. You reflect back on it with a much different perspective. I guess in time people will reflect back on what we've done with the four and a potential fifth.

Q: I want to bring up something that seems to always be sensitive with a lot of fans, and that's team tactics, not talking about somebody leading for five points early in the race. I want to give you a specific scenario, because we've seen it in Formula One, and in drag racing. We get to the final laps. One of your teammates is up front. You hear over the radio someone, team owner, crew chief, telling that teammate to move over because it means the difference with you winning the championship or not. What is your personal position?

KEVIN HARVICK: I think for me being a team owner, being a part of these championships before with Hornaday, there's a lot that your teammates can do to help you. I think you look back at 2008. We had Ryan Newman in one truck and Hornaday in the other. I think if it comes down to a win, you're looking at one scenario.

I think in '07 and '09 in the Truck Series deal, without our second truck, we probably wouldn't have won a championship to help push Ron and push the vehicles. We went out and led the most laps in two out of the last three races to take the points away from Kyle.

There are a lot of things that your teammates can do as far as those things go. I think if it's winning a race, it's one thing. But for the company, a car winning a championship is the best thing that you could have for your organization. Half the fans will tell you that it's not right, the other half will call you stupid. You do what's right for your organization.

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, it wouldn't be the first time really. I can remember giving up in 2005 a couple spots. I think at Texas, my second race, Tony was actually behind me. I gave up that position because it meant five more points. It happens here and there in different places. You don't always see it. But it does happen.

I think for all these teams, the bigger goal is win it for the organization. That's why you probably see the crew swaps and stuff. They're doing what's best to win for their organization because they know if one of those teams wins that championship, it's going to benefit all of them.

There's a bigger picture than each individual driver winning a championship.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm aware of examples, the points they're making. I certainly understand that, the points that are being made.

I could say in the nine years I've driven for Rick, it's never been asked of me, and I've never been asked or been in a position to ask a fellow teammate to do that for me. My teammates have been racing against me for the championship, so they're never going to pull over and give me the points.

I can't say that I've experienced it. I've seen it and it takes place. As a fan watching it in other sports, there's one side where you despise it, and another side where, Well, I guess I get it.

So far I can say I've never been talked to about it, it's not on our radar going into this race. We plan on going fast and taking care of it ourselves.

Thank you, gentlemen. On behalf NASCAR, Sprint, Ford, Homestead-Miami Speedway, I want to thank everyone for attending today's press conference.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Mark Martin
Teams Richard Childress Racing