Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS, met with members of the media at Bristol and discussed his outlook for this weekend’s race, the changes in the qualifying procedure, and many other topics.
TALK ABOUT YOUR OUTLOOK COMING TO BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY: “I just want to survive this place. We did get our win in 2010 and we have been able to run consistently in the top five. That is truthfully our goal. This track really is difficult on me and Chad (Knaus) and the team through practice and qualifying. Then in the race we seem to find our way. A lot of that falls on my shoulders. I feel like this track for me it just takes the repetition of laps to find a rhythm and to find the half a tenth or so that I need to really be in the game. We will try to keep aggravation and frustration to a minimum today, tomorrow and then whenever we race. I know that we will be able to get out there and run well.”
There is no doubt that Junior can move the needle. I’m happy to see his success right now. I think one of the effects of it and a positive effect of him running well is the interest it brings in the sport. We can kind of speculate the type of fan base that he has and maybe fans of his father that some say have left our sport because of the change. When he does well their interest comes back in, is it the younger kids? I don’t know where the interest comes from, but it’s a great byproduct of him running well.
But it’s too much pressure to put on one person. Just as unfair as it is for people to say that I have hurt the sport with my success, I think it’s a little unfair to put that all on him that this sport depends on his success. The sport is bigger than him, it’s bigger than me and it’s bigger than any one person. It takes all of us to make it what it is. I’m very proud of where he is and I have seen the hard work that he has put in and Steve (Letarte) has put in. I pay more attention to my teammate running well than the other effects that take place out there.”
DOES IT ADD ANY ANXIETY AT ALL WHEN YOU ARE NOT IN THE 2014 WINNER’S GROUP YET? “No, I haven’t put much thought into it. The main reason is 16 transfer and it’s pretty rare that we have 16 different winners in the course of a season. So points still have a pretty big impact on where you are at. I’m happy that we are third in points. I feel like Vegas we had a shot to win. Midway through the race the balance of the car changed and we found something wrong with the car that was pretty rare and unique for us.
So we know where our speed went and I feel like the (Daytona) 500 we had a shot to win so we have had two chances to win and have had a bunch of top six finishes. There is nothing to be concerned about yet, one because the year is early and two I feel like at least one or two positions will go in via points.”
WERE YOU HAPPY TO SEE THE QUALIFYING CHANGES ANNOUNCED EARLIER THIS WEEK AND DO YOU EXPECT TODAY’S SESSION TO LOOK MARKEDLY DIFFERENT THAN IT HAS THE LAST FEW WEEKS? “Yeah for sure. We have had two very forgiving race tracks with generous aprons to cool down on and we still had some close calls. Here you can’t get on the apron to get out of the way. I guess you can, but it’s a lot more difficult. So I’m very happy with the changes and I think we will see a much cleaner, fair opportunity to get your fast laps in.”
WERE YOU WORRIED ABOUT WHAT IT WOULD LOOK LIKE HAD THE CHANGES NOT BEEN MADE? “Yeah, it would have been total chaos. There is some level of excitement in it for sure and there are certainly story lines following qualifying that isn’t a bad thing for the sport. Sometimes bad press is good press, any press is good press that whole mentality. But there needs to be a bit of order and this should bring a lot of order.”
WITH THE PREFERRED LINE NOW BEING THE HIGH LINE NEXT TO THE WALL IT’S DIFFERENT FROM WHEN IT USED TO JUST BE AROUND THE BOTTOM THE BUMP AND RUN WAS EASIER. IF YOU ARE COMING DOWN TO A WIN HERE AND YOU ARE LOOKING TO MOVE A SLOWER CAR HOW DO YOU DO IT? DOES THE BUMP AND RUN NOT WORK ANYMORE? “It definitely is a different bump and run factor. If it’s a lap down car or somebody that you are not racing for position a little tap on the straightaway usually wakes up whoever is in front of you and they will cut you some slack. If it’s for position I wouldn’t anticipate anybody to pull down and get out of the way. You are just going to have to go to work the hard way and try to get by.
You know some drivers have grown up in stock cars and in environments where you use the bumper to move someone and it’s second nature. It’s not the environment that I came out of and I think the same for Kasey (Kahne) if you go through his background and the types of cars he raced. You don’t bump, you don’t touch and I have found personally that it takes me longer to set up a bump and run. It’s a delicate touch to get in there and to move somebody in the right way.
I waste more time doing that than it does to get inside of them to try to pass them. That might also lead to kind of the conversation with Kasey’s closing laps last year and if that happens again, there are some guys that are comfortable and used to it. If I have to I will, but I am probably going to be saying I’m sorry after. It will be in that category of (Dale) Earnhardt trying to rattle Terry’s (Labonte) cage and Terry’s car was all torn up.”
IS THERE MORE RISK FOR THE GUY TRYING TO DO IT THAN THE GUY THAT IS RUNNING UP NEXT TO THE WALL? “Yeah definitely getting your path and the wall will catch them. I’m pretty sure they will be able to get back to you in (turn) 1. Bump and run works nice when you can get somebody if they slip and slide and they are four or five car lengths behind you in the next turn because you know it’s coming back. Being so close to one another and then the proximity of the wall a bump and run you might complete the pass to start with, but you are probably going to get it back sooner than you would want.”
AS YOU LOOK BACK OVER THE TIME THAT YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE SERIES ARE DRIVERS MORE WILLING TO HIT EACH OTHER NOW A DAYS THAN BEFORE? “It’s tough to say. I mean you race people how you are raced and vice versa. There is usually not a lot of contact between myself and other cars and it’s been that way since I’ve entered the sport. I feel like there might be less casual contact, but we see more heated moments when something does happen. I think there are far less bump and runs and there is more aggravation and frustration and something big happens and then we have a wrestling match on pit road after.”
DALE, JR. MENTIONED A DRIVER, JASON KELLER, AS ONE THAT ONE TIME GOT HIM. HE ALWAYS WANTED TO GET HIM BACK AND NEVER HAD THE OPPORTUNITY. IS THERE SOMEBODY WHO IS NO LONGER IN THE SPORT THAT GOT YOU THAT YOU NEVER GOT THE OPPORTUNITY TO GET THEM? “The first one that comes to mind and I actually tried was with Matt Kenseth. I guess it was one of my full years in Nationwide and he had crashed me two or three times and he had a bad pit stop in Dover and came out deep in the field. I was running eighth to 10th or something and he wrecked me in (turns) one and two.
I was sitting on the apron waiting for him to come back around and I had the car in gear ready to dump the clutch to harpoon him. When I dumped the clutch to take off the fuel cell was on the ground and my rear tires were up off the ground and I couldn’t go anywhere. I was all over the rev chip going nowhere. I have teased him about it since and I think even mentioned it in the media once. Matt (Kenseth) does not remember that thing, but I do. But we are well past that now. There is no revenge there, but it’s fun to harass him about it.”