Jimmie Johnson met with media and discussed the new drafting format at Talladega, making the Chase on points and more.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/VALSPAR RESERVE CHEVROLET SS
ON THE JIMMIE JOHNSON FOUNDATION AND HELMET OF HOPE... “First of all, I just want to thank everybody for supporting the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and writing the articles and talking about the Helmet of Hope program. We had over 400,000 votes tallied over the ten semi-finalists to decide the five winners and that’s just massive. We were so impressed by that stat and so thankful that people are participating and the reach that our media center has and the what you guys (media) do for us, I just wanted to thank you all for that to help raise awareness and drive so much focus to it. So, next weekend we (Mike Wells, President & CEO, Wells Enterprises, Inc., maker of Blue Bunny ice cream and Johnson) are going to do a Google+ hangout talk to the five winners and everybody is excited about and it will be a lot of fun. And then I will wear the helmet at Indy on July 27th. So, thank you once again.”
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT DURING QUALIFYING TOMORROW WITH THE NEW QUALIFYING FORMAT FOR THE FIRST TIME HERE IN TALLADEGA? “I don’t know what is going to exactly happen. But to win the pole, you’re going to have to go out there and race.
And setting that up is going to be tough because one, everybody is going to be trying it; and two, if you see someone behind you coming, why are you going to stay on the gas to help them? So, bailing out of the gas, breaking up the pack, and things like that are all possible. So, I don’t know. It’s going to be exciting for sure. We’ll all clearly be working on it during practice. And then qualifying itself will be very exciting.
“The thing I’m trying to come to grips with is where do I take a large risk? Trying to qualify well or trying to work my way through the pack to get to the front? And we’re just not sure right now what to expect. We wanted to come here with a plan in place of how we were going to qualify, but our opinion seems to change every 15 minutes. And we’re going to wait until after P2 and decide what we’re going to do.”
BOTH PENSKE CARS HAVE WINS THIS FAR AND THEY ARE PLANNING THEIR TESTS AROUND CHASE TRACKS. ARE YOU THINKING OF THAT ADDED BENEFIT WHEN THAT WIN DOES COME AND WHEN ALL THE HENDRICK CARS MAYBE GET THOSE WINS? “It definitely does change the way you race. I think with that pretty-much guaranteed lock with won win lets you take two tires when maybe you should take four, or try for fuel; look at what Junior did in Las Vegas. Steve (Letarte) played that perfectly and why not try? They won at Daytona and they’re locked-in so let’s go for a W. I definitely agree that it gives those teams and advantage.
“But I knew I was going to get asked questions about this today before I came down here. Honestly, the way I see it is we’re locked in the Chase right now. If it were to end where we are in points, we’re in the Chase. And I’ve been trying to explain that to many people through interviews and other things and sure, we want to win. We feel like we could have won a few times. But as of right now, we’re locked into the Chase. So I don’t know what the big concern and worry is.”
COMING OFF A SHORT TRACK AND NOW A SUPERSPEEDWAY, THE INTERMEDIATE TRACKS ARE THE BREAD & BUTTER OF THE SCHEDULE. TALK ABOUT KANSAS NEXT WEEK AND YOUR INTERMEDIATE PROGRAM? “I feel pretty good. We’ve had strong runs and I think Texas, we didn’t get to go very far, but through practice and qualifying we had a lot of people concerned. We led a lot at California. Vegas went well. I feel very good about our 1.5-mile stuff. We still want to be better and I think the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) has been the most consistent car with the most speed. But we’ve been in there fighting for wins. So we feel very good about that. Our Richmond-specific program, it’s needed work for a long time (laughs); and we just proved it again last week that we still need to keep working on it.”
JOEY LOGANO SAID THE PACKAGE FOR PLATE RACING HAS CHANGED A LOT. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT? HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY DIFFERENCE IN THE MENTALITY OF THE DRIVERS IN RISK VERSUS REWARD OR PLAYING IT SAFER, OR HAS THE AGGRESSION LEVEL CHANGED? “Yeah, I definitely agree that the rules package really promotes the type of racing. When we had the push-drafting that we could do, you’d really ride and wait and catch-up at will and track position, as a result of the rules package, didn’t really mean a lot until three or four (laps) to go. It’s far different than that now.
You really need to take off and go from the beginning and fight to maintain track position. The one other component is the track. At Daytona, it’s so much more narrow that there’s even a higher premium on track position. Where here (Talladega) you can get a third or fourth lane going. There’s much more of a revolving door from the front positions on back that there are more opportunities to go forward and also to come back. So, Talladega does have it’s own style compared to Daytona as well.”
LOOKING BACK ON THE 2013 FALL RACE, WHEN NOBODY PULLED OUT WITH YOU AND MATT KENSETH WHEN YOU TRIED TO MAKE THAT MOVE, DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE DIFFERENT THIS TIME? DO YOU HAVE ANY EXPLANATION A FEW MONTHS LATER? HOW MUCH OF THAT WAS JUST DUE TO THE LOW LINE NOT SEEMING TO WORK LAST TIME? “I really feel that whichever line it is works via numbers. The lane that has the most cars is the fastest lane; that’s just really how it is. If I remember right, I think the No 1 car (Jamie McMurray) was leading and I should have known before I pulled out, I should have looked to see who was leading, because I would have made a different decision I believe and stayed in line.
With certain guys, they just have certain strategies of defending. And Jamie and a few others, there’s nothing wrong with it at all, but that’s going to be his move and it worked very well for him. So, I’m just curious why second, third, fourth, and on back didn’t try to make a move at any given point in time. And I still don’t have an answer or reason for it. I get it up until the white flag falls, but once the white is out, I still for the life of me don’t know why nobody tried to pass. We just kind of all rode around single-file.”
WHEN YOU LOOK AT WHAT KURT BUSCH IS DOING THE MONTH OF MAY AND RUNNING IN THE ‘DOUBLE’ AND THE NEW CHAMPIONSHIP FORMAT WHICH ALLOWS YOU TO MAYBE MISS A RACE. IF HE HAS SUCCESS IN THE INDY 500, DO YOU THINK THAT WOULD CREATE MORE OPPORTUNITIES FOR CUP GUYS TO GO RUN THAT RACE? WOULD YOU BE INTERESTED? “I think the opportunity has been there and I’m not sure that a lot of stock car drivers have the desire to run Open Wheel; and that’s probably been the limiting factor. I know at one point in time, manufacturers had supplier issues that prevented me from going.
You can certainly have sponsors and people to get everything approved. In my situation, I have a wife that would have to approve me going to Indy. We had a deal that prior to having children, I could. And I didn’t get my opportunity before having kids. The start time was the big problem there. You couldn’t physically do both the way the start times worked out. I hope that encourages others. I think as a race fan, I look forward to that weekend to see who does the double and watch that much racing from Monaco all the way through to the NASCAR event.
“Again, I think opportunities are there. A lot of it is just sponsor-driven. But if any top driver from NASCAR showed interest in Andretti Green or Penske or Ganassi and had the sponsors to go through with it, I think they could get a seat. I just don’t know how ambitious many closed-body drivers are to try Indy.”
ON MOTHER’S DAY, WHAT DID YOU MOM MEAN TO YOU DURING YOUR CAREER? WHAT IS HER ROLE? “My parents, together, were largely responsible for my career and my love for racing. My mom fortunately was on board; it wasn’t just my dad’s idea to take me to the race track. My mom was really into it and enjoyed it. She even did a few little races in the ladies division and stuff in different vehicles. So, her willingness to let me ride and compete was much appreciated. But I think my personality and the way I treat others, even the way I compete, really reflects my mom. She’s a respectful person and treats others how they treat you; a lot of those things from my mother’s personality show through.
And my dad, certainly, too. But my dad can be a little bit more stern; and even out of my brothers, I’m the one that’s the most relaxed back and I guess more like my mom than my brothers are to a certain degree. So, I’m very thankful for all the sacrifices my parents made. Mother’s Day is a special day; especially now being a parent and understanding that a little bit better. It makes me reflect back and think about all the times I was traveling the country in a 1979 Ford Econoline van with a little 12-foot trailer behind it towing motorcycles. I can’t imagine parents taking off weeks at a time to take me to Oklahoma to race dirt bikes or to Tennessee or to Las Vegas. All the sacrifices they made were pretty awesome.”