NASCAR Nextel Teleconference July 20, 2004 Guests: Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus Part 1 of 3 John Dunlap: Jimmie welcome to the NASCAR Nextel Teleconference and I understand it you are wearing a special yellow band in honor of a very ...
NASCAR Nextel Teleconference
July 20, 2004
Guests: Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus
Part 1 of 3
John Dunlap: Jimmie welcome to the NASCAR Nextel Teleconference and I understand it you are wearing a special yellow band in honor of a very good cause that ties into another major sporting event that is going on right now. Why don't you tell us something about that?
Jimmie Johnson: I've been a huge fan of cycling in general and really a fan of supporting America to participate and America worldwide and throughout the world in other forms of sporting events so actually with the tour coming along and Lance Armstrong going for his 6th win in the Tour, something that has never been done. I read in his book in the past and as a fan and been very interested in the success that he's had and for America to go over and especially to France and have a chance to do something that has never been done before. I'm all for it as I'm watching the tour on television religiously and I understand that in other states today. When I found out about a month ago about the yellow wrist band was going to be used to support his cancer foundation, I put it on and I wear it during the day when the tour is on and I wear my yellow to support Lance and help him to win the tour and also for the great cause of helping cancer patients for a better lifestyle.
Dunlap: Coming in as the points leader at New Hampshire, that has to be two pretty good feelings -- obviously being the points leader and going to the racetrack that you swept last year. Why don't you give some ideas about your comfort level with racing at New Hampshire International Speedway and your success there and how that all transpired.
Johnson: Well, I'm very excited to go back obviously winning both races last year. I'm looking forward to more success there. For me last year to win on a flat track and a short track for that matter was a huge accomplishment. I've typically been very fast on tracks where you have to be aggressive and a track that required more patience was a weak spot for me. So last year the first win there was a huge step for me and then to back it up and win the second time was a great northern swing for the Lowe's team. I'm very excited to go back and hopefully we have a repeat performance.
Operator: Our first question comes Beth Tuschak from NASCARmedia.com
Tuschak: Is there anything in your contract or your personal play book that stops you from running non-NASACAR events?
Johnson: There's nothing specific in my contract that I'm aware of that tells me I can't race other things. I've had contracts in the past that limited me to compete in other classes. Most contracts I believe require you to get permission from the team or the sponsor. But, besides that I'm not aware of anything else. It's a mixed bag to know or do those types of things and (Dale Earnhardt) Junior had a great opportunity to drive a unique racecar and unfortunately he had his accident and had been injured from that, but I think it happened to such a high profile driver and today's racing world has drawn a lot of attention to it. If you look at drivers like Bobby Labonte, he broke his shoulders racing in a Busch race a couple years ago. He said he wouldn't do it again and he was back in his Busch car this year. (Tony) Stewart is always in other race cars. You're looking at Kevin Harvick who's running Busch and Truck. There are a lot of people that do it and I think an owner looks at it one, you can get more experience and two, it can be helpful and another owner may look at it and say hey you're taking on greater risks and we don't want that to happen. So it's really dependent on your car owner and your sponsor in the situation with that.
Tuschak: Is there anything that you might enjoy besides racing, like skydiving or something that you sort of restrain yourself from doing because of this.
Johnson: There are a lot of things that I would like to do and I have to think twice very often on the decisions I'm making. I would have to say the thing that I miss the most that I will not let myself do is ride a motorcross bike. It is something that I grew up doing and I truly love that sport and enjoy riding the motorcycle. When you crash on a bike there is no question you're going to be injured and have broken bones. So I have completely removed myself from that. In riding a motorcycle I guess because I truly love and enjoy it, but I know if I go down it's all over.
Operator: Our next question comes from Michael Vega from the Boston Globe.
Vega: Where you at all restrained from dipping into the water with sharks with Jeff Gordon at all?
Johnson: Well, I was in a fortunate situation there when you're with your car owner it's hard for him to tell you not to do it when he's leading the (indiscernible). As I give him a hard time about it afterwards he said I'm going to tell you to do what I say not what as I do next time. He assured me that I was totally safe.
Vega: Can you tell us the setting and where and when this all came about.
Johnson: It was over New Year's done in the Bahamas.
Vega: What kind of sharks? Did you get to feed them?
Johnson: They were reef sharks. It was in a controlled area where we were among some other divers. People that I thought were most unsafe were the snorkelers at the top looking in at the sharks below. Not that I was in the safest scenario, but I felt a lot better than the crazy people up top looking in.
Vega: Jeff mentioned after Daytona, that you have progressed from the learning mode to now I get it mode. What is it that you get now that you didn't than?
Johnson: When you start off there is so much to absorb and to take in and your priority list and your list of things alone is long and you have to make a short priority list and I think put in efficient order to help you. First you have to learn the tracks, you have to learn the cars, learn the aero game that exists and learn the basics on those before you start fine tuning them. I think over the past three years and really the first two years in Busch driving for Herzog Motorsports taught me. I've learned all the basics there and I cannot thank them enough for the opportunity they gave me there. I've been able to start through this year and last year really fine tune on the little pieces I need to improve my driving skills. I guess that is probably what Jeff is preferring I do. I've been around and I've learned the major things, but now I'm really learning and noticing the fine things that I need to focus on.
Vega: Do you think you've learned something from Jeff in a way obviously from being around him and how to handle leading the points lead and maybe contending for a championship.
Johnson: The 24 team has taught the 48 a lot of things. This last week being in the same shop we've been around each other. There have been a lot of things more on day to day basis that's taken place from the start of our race team than there has keeping the points lead. So, it's been more a flow that we've picked up from the 24, things that I've asked Jeff about, than it has really been when we've been in the lead we sat down and talked about things. So it's more of an environment that we've been around.
Operator: Our next question comes from Lee Montgomery from NASCAR.com
Montgomery: You don't do any Busch races and truck stuff. I know you're doing one later this year. What does Rick (Hendrick) say about that and why don't you do more than that stuff?
Johnson: There have been offers to do other things and there may be some opportunities in the future for me to do some Busch stuff with Rick. I'll consider it if the situation is right. Personally, I know Rick and he's a fan of racing and safe equipment in the right situation. He doesn't seem to have a problem with that. He encourages it and takes it to a win-win situation. I personally didn't want to do anything that would distract me from my responsibilities as a Cup driver. Especially year one it was a whole new world, a lot going. I didn't need that distraction. Year two, we're competing for a championship at year one and two and now year there we're adding one Busch race, we're in the flow of things and I feel that I know my Cup car and I know what adjustments need to be made and that if I'm going to do some Busch racing it may be appropriate now or in a few years to come from now. In the beginning it would've only messed things up. So I just chose not to do it so I wasn't confused.
Operator: Our next question comes from Steve Richards from Performance Racing Network.
Richards: Can you talk about Dale Junior's crash and what you're thoughts were when you saw it and how you been in that situation before where there's been a fire and engulfed by that sort of situation.
Johnson: That was a big, big fire, especially inside the cockpit with all the footage that we've all seen. His tires lopped around off the wall pretty good and that fire was unbelievable. It's hard to believe that just the amount of fuel in the fuel neck is what caused that and created that. I'm pretty amazed at that. He looked that he might have been dazed and he came to his senses and when able to get out of the race car without any major injuries. I think it has all the marshals and had everyone running the other way and it was up to him to save himself. Luckily he got out of there.
Richards: Where are you testing today?
Johnson: I'm with my younger brother and he's testing the ASA car.
Operator: Our next question comes from Ron Martin from CBS Radio.
Martin: About three weeks ago Matt Kenseth told us that with a consistency that Jimmie Johnson is headed this season, if he should run into trouble in the couple of races, in the final 10 races and loses his title would be a shame. What would you're comments to that be?
Johnson: I think based on the comments that I've made about the points system, I would agree with Matt. In our sport it's so hard to know how things are going to be in a 10-race period and I think we've been accustomed to a long season and preparing for a long ride. If you break apart a 10- race stretch throughout the year of last year I would have been of been the champion at the end and Matt would have been the champion at the beginning. It's where you look at it. Where you look at it there may have been three or four possibilities for champion. Makes for great television, makes for the fans that enjoy and love it. Competition side, you're sitting there going WOW this is a totally different world that we're facing now and it's not like it's been in the past. So I haven't been a huge fan of it. My mind is 36 races, 4 or 500 mile races, it's all about consistency and the position should reflect that. I haven't been the biggest fan of it. I'm going to race it just as hard as I ever would. It's the same for everyone, who knows if it will be in effect for years to come, but I've voiced my opinion about it, but it doesn't do any good to carry on with it because the rules are in effect for how they are now and it's time to get to work and make sure I put [together] the best 10 [races] of my life at the end of the year to be the champion.
Martin: At the beginning of the year, you had a 5th at Daytona and then you had some problems in the next two races and then again a 4th at Atlanta. In some respect was Atlanta a turning point in the season for the team even though it was so early in the year?
Johnson: Daytona was a strong race for us, we ran well. Rockingham was a disaster, we weren't really up to speed and we were caught up in the wreck and than after that was it Vegas that was next? Yeah, Vegas we weren't strong and I didn't or the finish didn't show that we had a problem on pit road. We got up to the lead right away in the race and the first pit stop we had a collision on pit road that took us out. I think Rockingham was a real weak point unfortunately, we didn't show in Vegas like we wanted to, but I think Vegas was the big shot in the arm for the team. I told the guys we still know how to do this, don't panic; Rockingham was just a bad weekend and then Vegas helped us and then Atlanta really just solidified things that we're still the same team that we were. Just don't worry and get back to work.
Martin: A lot of this is this motivation, that mental thing of not falling apart.
Johnson: There are a lot of things to point to. The mental game is really the hardest one that is hardest one to play. In other rules the responsibility falls on the driver's shoulders, the crew chiefs, engine shop, chassis shop, aerodynamics. Every race it's very important for everyone to go in the same direction and not be frustrated by whatever takes place. It's a pretty difficult sport and pressure applies to everyone and that's what's so hard to see from the outside. The pressure lands on everyone's shoulders and it's how the whole teams carries it.
Operator: Our next question comes from Dave Caldwell from New York Times.
Caldwell: The green/white/finish that NASCAR implemented, I'm sure you've heard the concerns that some drivers have about that
Johnson: I've shared the concerns and I would say though there's been a lot of changes taking place, some I've been in favor and some I haven't. Just my own personal opinion on that, this one I think it's one a legitimate reason to make a change for the fans. Especially it being a one opportunity to make a finish under green, but a very good compromise you won't have a fiasco like you did in the truck race the other night. I think that if I was paying my hard earned money to sit in the stands and I saw caution flag races happen, I would be upset too, so I think it's a good move for the sport, a good move for the fans and I don't have a big problem with it. We all have to figure out gas mileage out a little differently now, but I think it's a good move.
Caldwell: What about that concern about anything can happen when the cars are packed up like that in a two race sprint. How do you think drivers will handle that?
Johnson: I think everybody knows the personalities that exist in our sport. When you bunch us back up I think those personalities will be exaggerated and you're going to see more of the same out of everybody already. So, it will be interesting to see what takes form.