Chicagoland: Johnson - Friday media visit

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS met with media and discussed how the team is doing so far this year, returning to the Brickyard as defending winner, teamwork at Hendrick Motorsports and other topics. WHERE WOULD YOU SAY YOU ARE IN...

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS met with media and discussed how the team is doing so far this year, returning to the Brickyard as defending winner, teamwork at Hendrick Motorsports and other topics.

WHERE WOULD YOU SAY YOU ARE IN THE SEASON? AHEAD OR BEHIND? WHAT GRADE WOULD YOU GIVE THIS TEAM? "We've been doing a good job. I'd certainly give us probably an A or A-minus. The real benchmark is where the points leader is. There is a big gap between Jeff (Gordon) and us. All in all, we've won some races and we're in a good position for the seeding if we transfer into the Chase and it looks like we're doing what we need to make the Chase. So all-in-all, it's really been a good season."

WHERE HAVE YOU STRUGGLED AND WHERE HAVE YOU EXCELLED? "I really can't say that we have any weak points. We have some races that have not gone our way with strategy. We've had a couple of tire failures that we couldn't control and those really are the issues that have us further back in the points than where Jeff is. I think we have a couple dnf's and you really can't control those things. But all in all, we've been strong on short tracks and intermediate tracks and superspeedways. We've been strong everywhere."

WERE YOU ALL SURPRISED LAST WEEK THAT SO MANY ROUSH CARS DID WHAT HENDRICK DOES BEST. DOES ROUSH COMING UP SURPRISE YOU? "I can say that I've had more surprised that they've had struggles. Roush has a great company and great drivers and my opinion has been like everyone else's, like what's going on? Why haven't they been up front fighting for wins? And it looks like they've got their stuff going in the right direction."

SO IT'S BACK TO NORMAL FOR THEM? "You can't count them out. The No. 17, and No. 99 - all those guys are so strong. I've been shocked that they haven't been up there fighting for the wins."

WERE YOU SURPRISED ABOUT KYLE BUSCH'S COMMENTS AFTER THE DAYTONA RACE ABOUT A CONSPIRACY AGAINST HIM AT HMS? "Yeah, I was really surprised to read and see all that stuff. It's unfortunate that he things that way. From the Hendrick side, we haven't done anything to push him out or eliminate him from meetings. In fact, I thought we worked well together through the race and I thought our teammate situation was working really good through our debriefs and events and the race cars. "Hopefully his opinion will change and he won't have this chip on his shoulder thinking that everybody is trying to push him out."

ON THE IDEA THAT HE WALKED AWAY FROM HIS GUYS EARLIER IN THE YEAR WHILE THEY WERE FIXING HIS RACECAR. DOES THAT MAKE HIM AN AUTHORITY ON TEAMWORK? He's a young driver and he's going through a growing process. It's good for him. He has all the skills to be a champion. He's an amazing driver and through this process I think he's going to do some growing and he needs to. Hopefully as he moves into a new team he can grow and do the right things to have a very successful and promising career. I really think he's probably one of the fastest guys on the track week in, week out but he needs to grow a little bit and mature in other areas to become a team leader and have some stability in his racing career.

WHEN DO YOU STOP BEING TEAMMATES ON THE TRACK? "It does on the last lap. You've seen that with the Martinsville race with Jeff on the last few laps. I think that what it boils down to in the heated moment, you race people the way that they race you. Jeff did all that he could to get by me and all but wrecked me. And I respect him for that. He wasn't going to roll over and let me cruise on to victory in Martinsville. I've been in positions - racing Vickers, I think I passed him in a Talladega race, got past him on the last lap and got the win. So you work together as much as you can but at the same time when you get to the end of the race you've got to do what you can for your team, for your sponsor. You get out there and race people the way they race you."

ARE THINGS GOING TO WORK OUT WITH THREE SUPERSTARS NEXT YEAR - PEOPLE WHO ARE USED TO HAVING THE BALL, SO TO SPEAK? I think that in motor racing it's a little different. We're each the leaders of our own teams. So with Junior whatever the sponsor and car number that is, that's his responsibility and he's the guy there. Jeff's the guy on the 24. I'm the guy on the 48. So that dynamic already exists and is different when you can have a lot of top guys on one team, where the egos may clash. In our environment it's really about how we can grow our team, how we can make our cars better and we're all working to the same goal - to have the best car out on the track. I think the situation's different in motorsports, especially in NASCAR. I see in F1 where it's tough and the guys are big rivals but in NASCAR it's always been different.

"The other part of this is how Rick Hendrick runs his business and the way that Hendrick Motorsports has been founded and put together. It's about all of us working in the same direction. That culture we have at Hendrick will prevent anything from taking place at Hendrick Motorsports.

"If it does we can nip it, if things do start going the wrong way, Mr. Hendrick knows what he wants, knows how to run his business and get it back into shape.

ON RETURNING TO THE BRICKYARD AS THE DEFENDING WINNER: "I'm excited to go back. It's the first time I've ever been excited to go back to Indy. I've always struggled there. And after our victory last year, I'm really pumped up to go back."

MANY TIMES THE GUY WHO HAS WON INDY HAS GONE ON TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. HOW SPECIAL WAS IT FOR YOU TO DO THAT IN THE SAME YEAR LAST YEAR? "It was very special to do it and to be in the category of guys who have won both Indy and the championship. I look back at last year and the All-Star race and Daytona 500. It was just an awesome year with all the big events being taken down by the No. 48. I hope we can go back and get the Brickyard trophy again. It was a great experience and it really got our team fired up."

DOES IT SHOW YOU WHAT YOUR TEAM IS MADE OF? "It does. I think it's more of the high you ride after winning a major event. You win the Daytona 500, I'm sure you've seen through time, that, that team is on cloud 9 for a while. The All-Star? Same thing. The Brickyard? Same thing. With the Brickyard being as late as it is in the season, that momentum and that confidence that it brings you can help carry you into the Chase and to the championship."

IF YOU DON'T WIN IT, WILL YOU LOOK AT THE PERSON WHO WINS IT AS MAYBE POSSIBLY MORE OF A THREAT TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think so. It's so funny because you want to spin things to benefit you. So if you win it, you get in there and you talk to your guys to get all the momentum going in the right direction. If you don't win it, you try to pick apart who did win it and then find a way to pump your guys up. So, I'm sure it would, though."

YOU HAVE THE BEST RECORD IN TERMS OF TOP FIVE'S, BUT YOU HAVEN'T WON AT CHICAGOLAND. DOES IT GIVE YOU ENCOURAGEMENT? "I'm just excited to come to Chicago. It's where I had my one and only Busch win. I know we always run well here in the Cup car, so I get excited. The fact that we haven't won here doesn't discourage me by any means. It gets me excited knowing that we have a top five qualifying effort here in the past and also top five finishes."

WHAT WILL IT FEEL LIKE TO DRIVE THROUGH THE GATES AT INDIANAPOLIS, KNOWING THAT YOU ARE THE REIGNING CHAMPION THERE? "I'm not sure I'll really think of it because every year you've got to focus on that event and the challenges that you have there. Without our crew chief (Chad Knaus) it's going to be tough. It's a tough race track in general. I'll be more concerned about the qualifying session and the race session and the things coming up that weekend more than anything. I'm sure at some point I'll kind of look around and take in the fact that we've won there and how amazing that it, but I'm pretty sure my mind will be focused on what we need to do."

IS THERE A REASON THAT INDY HAS BEEN SUCH A BAROMETER THAT IF YOU WIN IT, YOU WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP THE SAME YEAR? IS THERE SOMETHING ABOUT BEING THE BEST-PREPARED TEAM? "It's such a hard track to get right that I think the top teams are the winning teams at that track and then that carries over to the championship."

WHAT IS DIFFICULT ABOUT SETTING UP THE CAR FOR INDY VERSUS A 1.5-MILE TRACK? "It's so flat and you have real narrow corners. The car really has to perform and there is a very small, thin line to run around that track. And it's tough to get the car to turn so well on a flat race track. So you really have to have a refined race car to do that."

IS IMS BUILT MORE FOR INDY CARS THAN STOCK CARS? "Yeah, I think even now, IndyCar would like an even wider race track so they can run side-by-side. If there is an aero-sensitive track, Indy would probably be the worst track for it. But with the history of the track and the shape of the track, nobody wants to see it go anywhere. But one of the cold, hard facts is that it's a narrow race track and you can't run side-by-side on that race track."

HOW DO YOU THINK NASCAR SHOULD REVISE THE QUALIFYING PROCEDURE? "I believe there has to be something to protect the owners that have been in the sport and have earned their way into the top 35. I'm in favor of it. Granted, I haven't lived through the Friday nightmare that a lot of these guys have and I certainly sympathize with them. When you support the sport and help build the sport, you should have something for that. We've all talked about franchising our sport and I'm sure it will never happen. But this is the only thing that these owners have that they can count on that they can sell to their sponsor. So even though it's tough for everybody out there, I'm in favor of the 35 like it is."

YOU HAVE A TEAMMATE RIGHT NOW (KYLE BUSCH) WHO FEELS LIKE HE'S ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? "I don't see somebody on the outside looking in now with Kyle. I think our team has done everything in its power to make him still feel at home. The teammate situation has been working better than it ever has. And frankly, I was shocked to hear his comments after last week's race. So for one, that doesn't exist now. At Hendrick Motorsports, we are four drivers trying to win a championship for HMS. We're not independent satellite teams. The culture at Hendrick is to work together. I'm not saying there can't be bumps in the road and if there are, Mr. Hendrick will smooth that over.

But the only way we've been able to get to where we are is by working together. And we're not going to change course."

DO YOU REALLY FEEL LIKE YOU'RE TURNING INTO THE 27 YANKEES OUT THERE? "No, I don't, because our teams are still independent enough and we have our own goals. We're all kind of separate teams but fight for the same cause. If we were all like sharing the car, like an endurance race where the four of us all rotated through the car, it would be different. But we all kind of have our own agenda and our own guys and our own teams so that makes it a little different."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports