Daytona 500: Jimmie Johnson Media Day interview

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed his visit to the White House, the Super Bowl, his image, signing with a new agency, standout Daytona 500 memories, and more: ON HIS VISIT WITH...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed his visit to the White House, the Super Bowl, his image, signing with a new agency, standout Daytona 500 memories, and more:

ON HIS VISIT WITH PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH IN THE OVAL OFFICE:

'He explained the carpet that's down on the floor, or the rug, and the significance of it and how each president picks that out the meaning of it all. It seemed like Mike Helton and President Bush had some sort of relationship because they were harassing each other back and forth a little bit. He was really, really conversational and it was really fun to be in there. We were only in there probably 10 or 15 minutes, but it was a great experience. You're standing there with him and you're thinking, 'I'm sure this man has a lot pressing things to deal with. Why is he here with me for 10 minutes?' (laughs). It was an honor.

"On of the things that really surprises me is when you're in the hallway waiting to go into the Oval Office, the door that leads you in there doesn't have a handle on the outside. You can see where there's a door, and then you're waiting and waiting and you're not sure which door is the right door or what's going on. And then the door flies open and there's the President. So, it's weird."

WAS IT AN AWE-INSPIRING FEELING TO SEE A WORLD LEADER IN HIS OWN OFFICE?

"Certainly. One observation I had that I think is funny is that you can tell that's not the office he really works in. It's way too clean. There isn't a paper on the desk. There isn't a computer on the desk (laughs). And I'd really like to see his spot. Obviously there are things that are done in that office, but I want to see the spot. I want to see how messy this man is or how organized this man is, you know? I know what my office looks like."

DID THE PRESIDENT ASK YOU ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT JR?

"No."

DOES IT GET TIRING WHEN EVERYWHERE YOU GO, PEOPLE ASK YOU ABOUT JUNIOR?

"I'm just glad I have something to talk about now because before I tested with him, I didn't know anything about him and I was just kind of making stuff up for you guys (media) instead of the same old remarks (laughter). But now I've actually had a chance to work with him."

DID YOU GO TO THE SUPER BOWL AND ACTUALLY WATCH THE GAME?

"Yep, I went to the game and it was awesome. The energy at the beginning of the game was so intense. It was a slow start to the game and as things went on, you could just feel the day getting longer. The game could go either direction. There was just a lot of stuff that was really cool there."

DID YOU COMPARE YOURSELF TO THE PLAYERS UNDER PRESSURE?

"I didn't think about it too much, but I'm sure there are a lot of similarities. Kyle Boller, quarterback for the (Baltimore) Ravens, and I were sitting together and talked about the mental aspects a few times throughout the day. What was cool for me was to sit with a quarterback and watch him pick apart the way the defense was lining up and the way the offense was lining up. He was calling what the plays were and he could recognize and see those things and see where the defense wasn't picking up and what the offense was doing. So I had like an in-depth view of it all; maybe like Track Pass or having the scanner on. It was great sitting next to him and watching all that."

DO YOU EVER MARVEL AT HOW MANY GUYS ON THE FACE OF THIS EARTH GO FROM THE SUPERBOWL TO THE OVAL OFFICE DURING A THREE-DAY PERIOD?

"I haven't thought about it."

ONE OR THE OTHER IS A BIG DEAL BUT YOU'RE DOING IT 48 HOURS APART

"Yeah, and then our Super Bowl. I hadn't thought about it, but it's pretty cool."

DID YOU CO-HOST A PARTY IN ARIZONA?

"Yeah, I did."

WHO WAS THERE?

"I, unfortunately, wasn't there long enough to see who all attended, because we were testing. I left Thursday night after testing in Fontana and flew down and did the red carpet scene and routine since we were hosting the party, and then flew back. So I literally got to the little VIP area. P. Diddy was playing. I'm not sure he's exactly my musical type (laughter), but I got to meet him briefly. I saw Danica Patrick there. There were several big football players there. So I saw a couple of people, but I had to catch the plane to go back. And I had the world famous Casey Mears with me."

SO P. DIDDY WAS NICK LACHEY'S CALL?

"No, actually Nick and I had a relationship with the nightclub itself to support our golf tournament. And they said they were going to book entertainment. And as time went on, we found out that it was P. Diddy. They actually had a lot of big-name folks there. He was there on Thursday night. They had Kid Rock Saturday night. So they had a party going on."

WHO WOULD YOU HAVE CHOSEN?

"I would have chosen Kid Rock. He's a great entertainer."

WHEN YOU ARE IN A SITUATION LIKE THAT WITH OTHER ATHLETES, DO YOU FEEL THEY ARE ACCEPTING YOU AND WHETHER RACE CAR DRIVERS ARE ATHLETES? DOES THAT EVER COME UP IN CONVERSATION?

"It does. Maybe not directly, but I feel and sense the respect that they have for our job, and the discipline in what we do. And as time goes on, there are more and more of these guys who make it out to the Jeff Gordon Driving Experience or Petty Experience or even some type of fast car that they own and they have a track day that they go play around even in their own car. I sense and feel a huge change in respect for our sport and it's great to see."

IN THE SCOPE OF THE SPORT, NOT FOR YOU PERSONALLY, WHAT IS THE BIGGEST MOMENT IN DAYTONA 500 HISTORY?

"In the scope of the sport, it's tough to say. I'm sure there's an early moment, probably the first televised race of the 500."

THAT'S THE SAME THING THAT KEVIN HARVICK SAID. IT WAS IN THE EYES OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE FIRST SEEN ON CBS. WHAT DID THAT DO FOR THE SPORT AS FAR AS GROWTH IS CONCERNED?

"It's impossible for me to speak with an intelligent point of view because this was way before my time, but just in the time I've been involved with the sport I've watched it grow. It was difficult to find on television. It didn't have a lot of coverage on the major networks or prime time. And it's just the evolution. I think that speaks to where it started to where it is today. It has the NFL concerned. It has baseball concerned. It has all the major sports leagues out there concerned with what we're doing with our continued growth."

FOR YOU, WHAT WAT THE BIGGEST MEMORY?

"I have three. I think of the fight on the backstretch. Bobby and Davey Allison racing for the win and how cool that was to see a father and son race for the win; and then Dale Earnhardt's win. And then me winning, of course (laughter)."

WHEN YOU WENT TO THE SUPERBOWL, DID YOU REALIZE WHAT A HUGE EVENT THAT REALLY IS?

"It is a huge event. I've been fortunate to go to a couple of them, but it didn't have a reason and it didn't have some of the media stuff going on. We had the party Thursday night and also the golf tournament on Saturday. That led to a lot of opportunities and also the opportunity with FOX to go on the pre-game show. And to know that was probably one of my largest hits ever on that pre-game. That was really mind-boggling. So from that side of it, I was actually working there and could see the coverage and see what was going on behind the scenes and compare it to our stuff. It was impressive."

IT WAS ONE OF YOUR LARGEST HITS EVER, THERE WERE A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO REALIZED YOU PICKED THE WRONG TEAM (TO WIN).

"Yeah, and I feel terrible. I'm sure that the New York media and my New York fan base is going to be upset with not going with the hometown heroes, but I wasn't sure Eli (Manning) was in a position to take a team to win the Super Bowl. He proved not only myself wrong, but he proved a lot of people wrong and he did an amazing job."

ARE WE GOING TO SEE A DIFFERENT JIMMIE JOHNSON THIS YEAR?

"I don't think so. I don't think it's going to be a big difference for me. I'm me and I take the job seriously. I do what I do and I know the state of the sport and that Brian (France) encouraged everybody to be themselves. I don't think that really pertains to me. Maybe it does to a few of the other guys, but the last thing I want to do is start getting cocky because I've had some success. I've stayed true to myself all along and I don't see any reason to change."

DO YOU LIKE THE ROCK STAR LIFE YOU'VE GOT NOW?

"The off-season has been a little out of character and I'm ready for the season to start and get back to driving race cars and do what I know and get back to work."

HOW OUT OF CHARACTER HAS IT BEEN?

"Hosting parties and red carpets and things like that. It's a fantastic experience and something I enjoyed and it has probably done a lot for me in reaching different fans and new fans out there in the sport. So I understand the positives that go with it, but at the same time I'm sitting there thinking about driving a race car and I want to be back in a race car. I look forward to the schedule and hiding behind the schedule and saying 'No' to some opportunities because I need to be more thinking about driving a race car."

TALK ABOUT WHAT IT'S LIKE TO RETURN TO THE DAYTONA 500 AFTER YOU'VE WON IT. WHAT IS IT LIKE FOR LAST YEAR'S WINNER, KEVIN HARVICK?

"It's really nice to come back a year later and to be honored as the champion of this event. When you drive back through these gates and see your face (on a billboard) and talk about winning, it brings those memories back."

DO YOU THINK THE TOP 35 IS A GOOD RULE?

"I do. I do feel like it is a good rule. It's the closest we're going to get, I would assume, to having a franchise for these team owners. Our sport has always taken care of the people that have supported the sport and grown the sport. Outside of the top 35, in most cases, especially of late, it's consumed more of the new teams than anything. You've got to work hard to get inside of the top 35. And I think the way the system is, it works well and needs to stay around."

HOW DOES THAT RELATE TO THURSDAY'S QUALIYFING RACES WHERE EVERYBODY IS PRETTY MUCH LOCKED IN? HAVE YOU EVER FELT ANY ANXIETY OR DRAMA GOING INTO THAT RACE? DO YOU THINK THAT MIGHT BE ONE CASE WHERE IT SORT OF HURTS THE RACING?

"I think it probably intensifies the racing. It's very difficult on those teams. I fortunately won the pole in my rookie season. We had a new number and no points, and fortunately won the pole, thank God, because shortly into my 125, I went to make a pass on Mike Wallace and he ran me out of bounds and I went below the yellow line and I passed him but had to serve a stop and go penalty and went a lap down and wouldn't have even made the Daytona 500. So, I was there for a brief period of time and can understand that. It gives us something to talk about through the media outlets and a lot of focus is on it. I think there are more people being better served now that are outside the top 35 than there would be. If that bubble wasn't there, I don't think any of those teams would be getting the media that they are now."

ON LOOKING FOR A NEW AGENCY TO REPRESENT HIM

"I did choose CAA (Creative Artists Agency) and I signed up with them. I think they're approach to sports marketing is different than other agencies that are out there. Their tentacles expand into pictures and music and good foundation representation. They are everywhere and with everyone. It will allow me to form a strategy, and we're working on that now, in where I want to be and how I want to be in the trade. I feel that there are certain drivers in our sport that have cornered our hardcore fan and Dale Junior is a prime example. And there is no way that what I do is going to switch them into being a Jimmie Johnson fan. So my goal is to get out to our larger fan base and to new fans who are coming in and are going to pick a driver, say maybe a casual fan, and have them decide that's my guy and that's who I want to pull for. The hardcore fans have made their decisions and there is no way they're being swayed. So that's one of my goals. But at the same time, I want to do quality, solid, products. And if you look at the Gatorade spot that's been airing, that's the stuff I want to be associated with. And I really think that CAA, regardless of impressions that are made with the fans, I want to be able to create in a brand the look and feel I would want to and being portrayed in a positive light."

ON YOUR RADIO SHOW, YOU'VE TALKED ABOUT DOING SOME THINGS THAT ARE DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU NORMALLY SEE AT THE TRACK. WOULD THAT BE LIKE LIGHTENING UP YOUR PERSONALITY OR EXPRESSING IT IN A WAY THAT MORE PEOPLE COULD SEE IT?

"Everything we've talked about, I do have this personality, but having it show up is probably the toughest thing for me to do and probably one of the challenges they have. And I think as you all get to know me, you know that there's a lot here. So, it's just about putting that out there. And it's tough because you want it to be natural and you want it to feel good. And the last thing I've ever wanted to do is to get on TV and start bad-mouthing people and making wise remarks and trashing people. That's just not me. There is a way to show my personality and that's kind of one of the reasons I should say for why we hired CAA to get involved.

WHO HELPED YOU MAKE THOSE DECISIONS?

"It's something I've been working on for a couple of years. I really make the decisions on the direction of my company and the direction of my brand and where I go and what I do. And I just find that I take my time through it all and the right opportunities flush themselves out. It got to a point with this; it wasn't an easy decision to make. I was talking to Wasserman (Media Group) and they have a fantastic group. There's just something I felt was different about CAA and all its tentacles they have. Maybe today, I wouldn't utilize all those tentacles but who is to say that maybe five years down the road from now and the direction my career has gone that there isn't something I'd want to do. I just feel like I have more range with them. But I certainly take advice from my office and from my wife, but at the end of the day it's really a decision that I've got to make."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Mike Wallace , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Mike Helton , Danica Patrick