Charlotte: Johnson - Thursday media visit, part 2

Continued from part 1 ALTHOUGH YOU'RE HAVING SUCCESS, HAS THIS BEEN ONE OF THE MORE CHALLENGING YEARS, OR IS THAT AN INACCURATE STATEMENT? "It's an accurate statement. I've been able to win races and run well. If we look at my first couple of ...

Continued from part 1

ALTHOUGH YOU'RE HAVING SUCCESS, HAS THIS BEEN ONE OF THE MORE CHALLENGING YEARS, OR IS THAT AN INACCURATE STATEMENT? "It's an accurate statement. I've been able to win races and run well. If we look at my first couple of years in the sport, there was a lot of heartbreak and a lot of different things that went on trying to win the championship. The hardest year when I look back, would be '05. The coil binding stuff just came into play and it took us a while to sort it out and we really struggled in '05. We still finished second in points, but we didn't perform like we needed to or wanted to and just got beat by the No. 20 (Stewart) at the time. It's really the toughest year that we had. And all of those tough times made us stronger over the winter and more focused on what we wanted to do and accomplish. And we came back in '06 and put it all together. So yeah, we're not having the type of season that we want to have, but you learn a lot in these tough times and that's what we want to do with the team is to learn and become a stronger team and still recover this year and be a serious threat for the championship."

GIVEN THE ISSUES THAT HMS HAS HAD GETTING THIS CAR ON THE 1.5-MILE TRACKS, IS IT ODD TO YOU THAT DALE EARNHARDT JR. IS THE POINTS LEADER AMONG YOU NOW? "No, he's done a great job. Tony (Eury) Jr. and Dale Jr. have come in and built some cars and set-ups that they've been running in the past. They've been very strong out of the gate on the big tracks with the stuff. They've only had one race where it really drove them batty and they didn't know what was going on. It is a different philosophy in some ways in how we've been setting up our cars. And they've brought a little to the table for us to learn from and try to adapt. So, I look at that side of it and he's been very strong. He's been very good at finishing races and not being taken out of events. So, I'm not shocked that he's there. From everything I've seen at the start of the season, he's been rock solid and has been carrying on."

YOU GUYS ARE GOING TO TONY (EURY) AND TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY'RE DOING, ARE YOU ADJUSTING YOUR CARS CLOSER TO WHAT THEY'RE DOING? "We know what they're doing. We're very close to them from the first test session on. Chad and I have a little different style. We're working on some different things. Let's see what was it, Atlanta I tried to run Junior's set-up. We went out and ran 13th but the problem was he was up front running away with the race and kicking our butts with that set-up, so that just didn't work for me. Our driving styles are similar, but not the same so we're still trying to find exactly what we need and then at the end of the day Junior's been happy, but it's been a third to fifth place car when the checkered flag falls. If he was out front dominating, we would just make ourselves adapt and run those set ups but he still feels and Tony, Jr. still feels that they need to learn some more and still need to develop their cars. We're kind of spread out in four different areas right now trying something and collectively bringing it together to advance all of our cars."

ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS CREW CHIEF AND CREW AWAY FROM THE TRACK. "It is important. As time goes on it seems more and more difficult to do it but the more time you spend together, the more free time you spend together the easier it is to communicate, the easier it is to say the hard things and to work through the tough times. That's something that I feel very fortunate to have with my guys. A lot of them have been there from the start. I look at Ron Malec and we lived together at one point so we could say anything to one another. Chad and I have a great, long history together, so that aspect really does help."

DARIAN GRUBB WAS A BIG PART OF YOUR TEAM AND HE IS OVER AT JUNIORS TEAM NOW, HOW DO YOU FEEL LIKE HE HAS HELD THAT TRANSITION OVER THERE AND MADE TONY EURY AND THAT WHOLE TEAM CLICK A LITTLE EASIER? "I think Darian (Grubb) and Brian Whitesell have done a great job trying to keep these shops as close together as possible. They're only 50 yards apart but the fact that there's a wall up its just tough to have everything transfer as open and easy as it has inside like the 24/48 shops. They've done a great job.

"I miss Darian, he was a great asset to our team. I won the Daytona 500 with him so I'm very proud of him and glad that he's with us. I wish we could knock all the walls down and put the shop together and have all four teams under one room, but we're doing everything we can outside of knocking those walls down and making that happen."

WHAT DID HE BRING TO YOUR TEAM THAT YOU THINK HE'S BRINGING TO THAT TEAM OVER THERE? "He's a realist and he has a very calm to it all. He was a really good combination for Chad and I because Chad can get real excited and his emotions kind of get him from time to time and that's something that Darian, never happens with him. He's a very, very smart guy and he could really be a good balancing act inside the front of the truck when we're trying to sort out set ups on the car and direction we need to go because he never got fired up about anything."

JEFF (GORDON) AND (DALE) JUNIOR AT TALLADEGA, WHEN THAT WHOLE THING PLAYED OUT DID YOU STAND BACK AND SAY, UH-OH THIS COULD BE A PROBLEM FOR THIS TEAM? "Not at all. That's I guess maybe the first time they've had that problem and I guarantee you it won't be the last. It is human nature to want to pass people, it is human nature to want to beat people and those two guys are both extremely competitive and they want to win races and lead laps. I've had my run-ins with Jeff and he and I have had very frank and rough conversations with each other but I respect him more today because of those conversations and when you understand the other person's side, what went on, I think it helps with the situation. The fact they talked it out, that's good. The worst thing they could do is internalize it and not have an argument and not talk about it. I think everything is in great shape and I feel there's more respect between those two guys."

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THE ALL-STAR RACE THAT WILL HELP YOU THIS WEEKEND AND IS THE 48 STILL THE TEAM TO BEAT IN THIS RACE? "We've learned a lot really over the last two weeks. We learned a lot at Darlington that carried over to the All-Star race. We need to get some more rear grip with the car and I feel that we know how to do that now after the All-Star race. We're excited and I wouldn't put your money anywhere else. I think this 48 car, especially a 600-mile race at this track, we'll figure it out one way or another and we'll be there and be a contender at the end."

WHAT'S YOUR OPINION ABOUT HAVING A TRAVELING SAFETY CREW? "I've been in and had some real open conversations with NASCAR and there are points of that that I think would be beneficial to our sport to have a traveling safety crew. There are also some negatives to that. I'm happy to see the consistency that we do have with the liaisons that are around. And I know there hasn't been a move made there but NASCAR behind the scenes worked very hard to make this sport as safe as possible and I feel we're in a good place. I don't ever want us to be stale and not to try new things and improve that safety situation but they've done a great job. I've been convinced in speaking with them that the situation that we have is the right situation."

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES? "A traveling safety crew and all they do is spend time at the race track working Thursday to Sunday at the race tracks, they are not in the environment and in the situation, emergency room situation that they need to be in. If you're not in a position to save someone's life over a three or four-week period of time, you become rusty.

"You might not have that response and instinct to jump in and perform your job like you need to. So having people who work E.R. rooms day in and day out come in and be at track, they're more crisp and on top of their game. I think from a managerial stand point like they have it's smart to have key people that are there week in and week out and coordinating the local E.R. crews that are brought in to take care of the drivers and their families.

ON WHY DIFFERENT DRIVERS HAVE DIFFERENT DRIVING STYLES. "I think there's a lot of factors involved. Your background of what you grew up racing. Your coaches essentially, who taught you, being your dad or maybe another driver or somebody that's worked with you or a kid that you watched growing up racing and liked what he did or he was fast and tried to mimic his style. There are different things that we're all exposed to at a young age that give us our style and our techniques that we enter Sprint Cup racing with and I think there's quite a few things that play into that."

SO WHEN WE HEAR THAT SOME DRIVERS CAN DRIVE A LOOSE RACE CAR BETTER THAN OTHERS IS THAT ALL PART OF THAT BACKGROUND? YOU WERE SAYING THAT YOU CAN ADJUST YOUR DRIVING STYLE, BUT IS THERE A LIMIT TO THE WAY YOU CAN ADJUST YOUR STYLE? "Yeah, there is and it's tough to recognize that sometimes it's tough to make the adjustments but Jeff Gordon is probably one of the most aggressive guys at turn in with the car and I think that comes from his sprint car background of needing to pitch the car sideways into the corner. Ryan Newman has one of the biggest arcs into the corner and I think that comes from his USAC open-wheel asphalt background that he had and looked at (Tony) Stewart and how he enters the corner and I think that comes from Indy cars and the experience that he has had there.

"I watched (Sam) Hornish and when I worked with Adrian Fernandez just looking at the data and his approach to a corner was so different than ours because of the open wheel cars and all that down force it caused problems for him. I mean he knocked down that turn one wall four or five times in the course of couple of test sessions and the race weekend and it was all because of his technique on mind entry and what he was doing there. That's just what you grew up doing and what your eyes are collaborated for and what you're looking for."

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR OWN PERSONAL STOCK DRIVING STYLE? "My driving style, the off road truck and stuff I've done, you make up very little time on corner entry and you're on a slick surface, the vehicles don't stop all that well and it was all about being on the throttle. I'm not the bravest one on corner entry but I'll get the car stopped and turned and be back to the gas before most guys. Ideally what I'm looking for is a lot of on throttle, a lot of part throttle, trying to get the car to turn on part throttle and that leads to a much looser set up.

"Jeff's (Gordon) style verses mine, that why our set ups have been so different over the years is because he is very brave on corner entry and tugging on the steering wheel and hitting the brakes as to where I am kind of floating it in and spending a lot of time on throttle, so it's two different approaches."

THERE'S TALK THAT MARCUS SMITH MAY END OF REPLACING HUMPY DO YOU KNOW HIM AT ALL HAVE YOU EVER INTERACTED WITH HIM AT ALL? "We're basically neighbors. Certainly know Marcus and David and Scott Smith, all three of Bruton's sons."

WHAT KIND OF GUY IS HE; DO YOU THINK HE'S READY FOR A JOB OF THIS MAGNITUDE? "He's an extremely well-rounded man that has seen all aspects of the sport. There's a lot of things behind the scenes that have gone on with the relationship with NASCAR, with the licensed merchandise, industry we have in this sport, track management, race operations, he's been around it all and has a very quiet and mellow personality to where he's probably flown under the radar when people may not have recognized or realized all he's been doing but he's a great man, his heart is in the right spot and if he does end up in that capacity he's going to do a phenomenal job but I really think he has so much experience in a variety of areas that his might be one of many options for him. The guy can seriously do anything that he wants to do."

WILL IT BE A MUCH DIFFERENT APPROACH? "I don't know what the situation is but, I think Marcus with all that he's seen and done he knows and understands how Humpy's had success and how being a great promoter works out. I think of the Texas track and all the success they've had there, Marcus has been a part of all of it and seen the great promoters from all around the country and what they've done to put on great auto races and on top of that other sporting events in general. He really does have a great background."

HAVE YOU BOXED MARCUS AND DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS TO BOX MARCUS? "No I haven't boxed Marcus. He's a strong dude, so I want to catch him at the end of a workout and make sure his arms are tired."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Ryan Newman , Adrian Fernandez , Scott Smith