Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed the weekend, the relationship between him and Jeff Gordon, how competition affects that friendship, racing at Charlotte, ...
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed the weekend, the relationship between him and Jeff Gordon, how competition affects that friendship, racing at Charlotte, restrictor-plate racing with the new car and other subjects.
TALK ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING WEEKEND: "I'm really excited to be here. I'm running the Busch car, as you can tell by being in a fire suit already. So excited about the Busch race. I finished. I remember running well but I'm not sure where I finished in the spring race but I felt very competitive and hopefully I can win No. 2 in the Busch series and looking forward to the Cup race. We ran really strong all night long, led a lot of the event and at the end some strategy stuff worked against us and we didn't win the event. I feel like we're a little bit stronger now with our equipment and hopefully we can have the type of success we're used to having here. And get back into the points lead and stretch it out on a few other guys."
HOW DO YOU AND JEFF GORDON BALANCE YOUR RELATIONSHIP OUT AS THE CHASE MOVES ALONG? "It's something that we've been dealing with for a long time and we just understand that on the track, we're competitors and we try to help each other and work with each other as much as we can. But at the end of the day, I know he's trying to win races, he knows that I am and that goes for the championship battle as well. And I'm not saying that it's a piece of cake, and especially if we get to Homestead and it's Jeff and I fighting for the championship, it's going to be very challenging. But through it all and through the years and all the competitive moments that we've had, we've always had a lot of respect for one another and I don't see that changing or being any different. We've faced those challenges and try to still do our jobs and win the championship or win races and do whatever we can for the company."
WHEN DOES THE LINE OF FRIENDSHIP AND TEAMMATES END AND COMPETITION AND COMPETITOR COME IN? "The only way it would end is if somebody got upset and just decided 'I'm going to crash them'. I don't think that's Jeff Gordon's style and wouldn't see that happening there or on my side. Even if it wasn't Jeff, I would race the same if it's the No. 20 car or the No. 07 or whoever it may be. I'm going to race those guys with respect and how I like to be raced and race for this championship heads up. So there's really nothing different, even though the tension is building for the championship battle in general, it's really no different than any other time. If we get down to the last race, it will get more and more intense - but our relationship and the dynamic that we have as teammates, friends and all that - that won't change.
"I have no plans or intensions to crossing the line and take cheap shots on my teammate and car owner and friend. I know it's the same way with him. He wouldn't do that to any other driver on the track and I wouldn't do that to Jeff or another competitor. We race so often and against each other so many times a year, and hopefully for many, many years. You race everybody kind of how they race you and I race certain guys differently. Some guys work with me better but that dynamic is always there. Even through the most intense moments on track."
WHAT IS THE SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS HERE? "I think in general I just try to have an optimistic outlook and I carry that into here, also Martinsville. We probably had more success at Martinsville recently than we have had here at Lowe's. We've been up front and competitive here but I think Kasey Kahne won both races last year and then Casey Mears won this year so far. I'm very excited to come here and I get on track with confidence knowing that it's a place that works for me. We've been able to build our setups and have a good baseline and advance them each time we come here. So there's just a lot of good things going. Now if we get out there and we're no good on the race track, I think hit the panic button and wonder what's happened and hopefully that doesn't take place.
"But coming into it, we just have confidence in the car that we're bringing, the style of setup we're bringing. I know that my line that I drive around here and the techniques I use in the car have worked. Throughout the different paving surfaces and different things that we've had, and it's worked earlier this year. So just trying to remember the things we did here in the spring and try to build on that. So I'm just trying to be relaxed about it. There's no sense in putting more pressure on myself and the team coming in, there's already enough in the air. So plenty of that going around, as I said."
DO YOU HAVE IDEAS ON WHAT NASCAR MAY DO TO MAKE THE UPCOMING DAYTONA 500 MORE EXCITING, BASED ON FEEDBACK FROM TALLADEGA? "To be honest with you, the reason it was single file and boring racing had nothing to do. well, it did have something to do with the cars. The cars are too competitive and we were all afraid of running three and four wide all day long. So you have drivers break off into groups and I chose to be around guys that I knew have as much to lose as I did and pace myself through the day. And then up front, you had three Chase guys running the field up front and they took the lane right to the top and tried to control it and keep it single-file for as long as possible. I just think that the race and the result of the race and not being as action-packed is that 12 of us have a lot to lose right now. Just those 12 cars and the mindsets that they have, and maybe the teammates associated to those 12 cars, broke that whole pack up and all that energy and chaos that we typically have. Daytona is totally different.
"You need track position, you need to be up front and you've got about a five- to eight-lap window while the tires are still good to make passes and get position. And then we end up single-file because the tires fall off there. But I think the spring Talladega race will be wild and crazy and everything everyone would hope because it's still early in the year and you're not counting points closely at that point. But at the fall race, I would say in general, the fall Talladega race has a very good chance of being boring and it's just because the Chase contenders don't want to get in there and mix it up until the end. You've just got too much to lose. I really feel it was the Chase and not the cars at Talladega."
THE CHAMPIONSHIP IS YOURS TO LOSE - CAN YOU PLAY WITH THE LEAD OR WILL THAT BE A DIFFERENT PRESSURE? "I like pressure. I work better under pressure and I think the team does as well. I think our history shows that we do a better job of coming behind and trying to fight through issues. But I would like to have a chance of holding onto the lead. I'd love to be in that position and leave here and have a big points lead and get through Martinsville and stretch it out and have to defend. I think that our teams played plenty capable of doing it but the circumstances that could pop up and mechanical issues, being caught up in wrecks, I really have tried to focus on things that I can control and things that are going on now and not worry about too many outside things and just worry myself to death and over-think things and frankly, not enjoy my week. Last year in the Chase, when I started enjoying myself and getting away from racing for a day or two during the week, that's when things all started to fall into place.
"I think (Chad) Knaus has recognized that, I think our team has, and we've done a good job of trying to give all the guys and myself a little time, take a day off, get caught up, come to the track with a fresh mindset and not just punish yourself and pound yourself into the ground. With all of that, I think we're very capable of fighting from behind if we do get into a hole and/or leading if we somehow come out on top and have some success for the next couple weeks. I think either way, this team is ready for another championship and we're hitting on all eight cylinders."
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE CUTOFF IS FOR GUYS WHO MAY HAVE A CHANCE TO WIN THE CHASE AND WHAT WILL IT BE AFTER SATURDAY? "I know you'd love a hard number for me to tell you. I think with 12 guys, the chances are more difficult to come back from as far back. I think that it's still possible and anything can happen; we've seen how the start of this Chase has started. I don't think that anybody is really out yet but unfortunately, when you're in that position and you're in a hole, you need a lot of guys to have problems. And this year, it's 11 guys instead of nine guys in the past.
"So I wouldn't count anyone out yet but it's getting very difficult for the guys at the bottom side of it. But we still have a lot of racing left. I think when you get two, three, four races out here in a few more weeks, it will become more clear as the Chase wears on. But as of now, if I were in an 11th or 12th spot, I still wouldn't give up. There's still a lot of racing left and you need to get every point that you can. You may be more aggressive but you still need to be out there points racing."
YOU AND JEFF GORDON HAVE BATTLED FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE. WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT EACH OTHER THEN THAT YOU MAY BE ABLE TO APPLY TO THIS YEAR? "I think more than anything, I left that experience with more respect for the situation of the No. 24/No. 48 shop and all the hard work that goes on in there and the fact that those guys worked together and as hard as they did to keep Jeff and I fighting for the championship. I also left there realizing how good of a race driver Jeff Gordon is and how serious he is about his career and the championship. I remember that from then and I see Jeff at the peak of his game right now and a serious threat. It doesn't matter which track we're at, he's up there and it's tough to outscore him. I'm excited about it. I really am excited for this year's Chase and I hope that it comes down to the No. 24 and the No. 48. Our company deserves it; there's so much hard work at Hendrick Motorsports that goes into it. That would be the perfect situation for us to be in. But then it would be tough and wouldn't be a lot of fun living it. But I hope we have that problem. That would be a good problem. "
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE NEW GUYS COMING IN AND HOW QUICKLY CAN THEY BECOME COMPETITIVE? "It's going to take years for these guys to be competitive. I think restrictor-plate racing and road-course racing will come easily for them and I think you can look at Juan (Pablo Montoya)'s stats and we all feel that Juan's done a great job coming in. But it's going to take them another year or so to get the oval stuff figured out and to give the team the descriptions that he needs to know what adjustments to do to the car. There's just that whole process that he needs to learn. Same with these other guys coming in. They're fantastic drivers but if you took one of us and put us in an F1 car, we'd go out an impress people but to really be there fighting for the win week after week, it takes time to develop those skills and it takes time to understand those cars. So I'm excited about it. I'm really happy to see the worldwide focus on our sport and other drivers that I know in Europe and see if these specialty races that I ran three years ago would just frown at us. When Jeff and I were over there, they wouldn't even pay attention. They wouldn't even come and engage in a conversation with us and now these guys are paying close attention to our sport so I'm excited for that.
"I do see this trend and think well, it would be great to have local short track drivers that are raised on the short tracks across our country get the shot. But there's still a great format for them to come in. The Busch Series, Truck Series, there's still a good opportunity for these up-and-coming young drivers to get exposure, get noticed and get experience. I think it's a good balance and I think it's good for our sport to have these guys in it."
TALK ABOUT YOUR DECISION TO RUN THE BUSCH RACE - IS THERE ANY CONCERN? "There's always a concern. There's no doubt I'm putting myself in harm's way to a certain degree on the track. It's something that I'd run the three races we decided at the beginning of the season and put all of that thought, really into this idea of me running Busch races three or four years ago when I started. Lowe's is good with it, Chad is good with it, I'm good with it, Mr. Hendrick is good with it and it's here and we'll just go run the Busch race and be smart. I feel with the safety advancements in the race track facility and our seats, I feel like I'm in good shape. I'm not too concerned about it."
IS RUNNING THE BUSCH RACE IS A BENEFIT? "Yeah, it really helps. I think, like today's format, go out and get an hour of Busch practice and then go get in the Cup car after, you just get a better idea of the track and this track can be kind of funny in the sun. So having an idea of grip and what to expect and kind of how the rubber is laying down and where the line is on the track helps the Cup session get started a little easier. I have fun doing this, especially when we run competitively. This year's been a lot of fun for me to drive the Hendrick Busch cars. The last couple of years we weren't so good and it's no fun running around 15th in the Busch car at this track that I do so well at, then I get in the Cup car and go win. I just kind of scratch my head when I'm driving home like 'why am I doing this'. To come and run and be competitive like I've been this year makes it well worth the time."
HAVING RUN AT MARTINSVILLE IN THE NEW CAR, HAVE YOU GUYS LEARNED HOW TO BUMP-AND-RUN OR IS THAT TACTIC NOW GONE ON SHORT TRACKS? "I think we're getting smarter with how to bump people and before, the way the bumpers lined up, a real delicate touch was all you needed. Now you can be a little more forceful and we've all adapted to that now and can certainly make the bump-and-run work. I don't think it matters on the size of the track, we have figured out how to use the bumpers and be efficient and effective with them. A little bit more force and you've really got to time it when you touch a guy. If you hit them too late, on the corner exit you're just going to accelerate them and move them along.
"But the careful balance is, if you hit someone going in, people get really, really sensitive about touching them on corner entry so you've got to catch them early enough to where you don't make them so mad and make them feel like you're trying to wreck them. You've got to catch them just before the center and give them a little nudge and break their rhythm to the center of the corner."
ON CASEY MEARS: "With Casey, I think Casey. winning that race here earlier this year meant the world to him and to the National Guard. I couldn't be happier for him, I know a lot of you saw Victory Lane running over there and I've got a picture of him from Victory Lane in my bus. I've just known him for so long and know how much it meant for him to win at the Nextel Cup level. I think the progress that he has made as a driver, that the team has made, the way that they've been growing together, it's sad to see them not be together next year but I think they're really getting on to the type of performances and finishes we're going to be familiar with seeing out of Casey Mears and what he does. He's doing a great job. Great feedback, learning the system at Hendrick. Every place is different and he's really adapted well and getting the results."
ARE YOU WORRIED THAT MARTINSVILLE MIGHT NOT BE AS EXCITING AS IT SHOULD BE? "I don't think so. I think at Martinsville we'll put on a good show. It will be like what we saw in the spring. I don't think you're going to have the same concerns of a 'big one' on the short track and taking out. You certainly have spins and catch four or five cars but you can't clean out 15 cars. So I think everyone will be back to normal and racing hard there. With the bumpers and how tough these cars are, we might actually see a more intense and exciting Martinsville than what we had in the spring."
DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JEFF GORDON: "We're certainly still close. With him now being a father, our social scenes have ventured in different directions. We still are very close with Jeff and Ingrid and spend time and go to dinners and do those things. Jeff lives in downtown, I live in South Park. We're still close, absolutely still close. As time has gone one, he's helped me get off on my feet and I haven't been in the situation of needing as much help with driving the car and maybe some of the business stuff and things like that. So our conversation is probably less on the work side and more on the personal side and how each other are doing and what's new and how many diapers has he changed this week and things like that. The friendship is still there and it's as strong as it's ever been. I think as years go on, from my side I respect him and what he's accomplished more and more, especially how he's carried himself through Hendrick Motorsports, through our sport.
"And the fact that he brought me into the fold and put me in the No. 48 car and how his leadership and the way things work between the No. 24 and the No. 48, it would be easy for them to be sour and to have the dynamic be too competitive and us not work well together. But Jeff's really been the head of that and has led the team through all of that. I have more respect for him today than I did when I started driving for him."
IF YOU ARE CLOSER, IS IT GOING TO BE THAT MUCH HARDER GOING DOWN TO THE WIRE WITH HIM? "I don't think so, because our relationship has been competitive even though we've been friends. There's no doubt he wants to beat me, we saw that last week. He made a move and got it done. But it's not that he hates me and wants to pass me or I hate him and want to pass him. We're friends and we have respect for one another on and off the track, but it comes down to the end of the race. That's what we're out there for is to get the job done. If we do get together and things happen, that's the stuff that puts a strain on our friendship or relationship. If you get passed and beat fair and square, that's one thing. But if you start crashing each other, that's where it would strain our friendship and I don't want to say we won't crash. You get into each other at some point because we'll end up crashing here this weekend on accident and it will be all over the headlines (laughs). But it would take a lot to jeopardize the friendship and it's just not in either one of us to do that . It's just not who we are as racers on track."
-credit: gm racing