Daytona 500: Johnson - Media Day visit

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES DAYTONA MEDIA DAY DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY February 5, 2009 JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed going for his fourth championship,...

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
DAYTONA MEDIA DAY
DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
February 5, 2009

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed going for his fourth championship, expectations of Mark Martin, coming out of the box strong and more.

ON NASCAR'S MEDIA POLL PICKING CARL EDWARDS FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP. "It's not annoying me. I mean everybody is entitled to their opinion and if you look at the odds it's certainly stacked up against us winning. It's never been done before. I'm just speaking from my perspective and my heart that I truthfully think we've got a great shot at a fourth championship. In my opinion we should be ranked number one especially if you look at our stats and what we've done over the last three years. I think it would all lean that way but if it's not, so be it. This is just the hype for the season. This is not what goes on on the race track and whoever is ranked number one, the favorite going in they still have to go out there and perform for twenty-six and then for ten after that. So, it's just some good preseason hype and its good talk."

SPEAKING OF PRESEASON HYPE, GOING INTO THE BUD SHOOTOUT WITH NO TESTING DOWN HERE, DO YOU THINK THAT RACE WILL BE DIFFERENT? IS IT GOING TO BE A SETTLING IN AND LEARNING RACE FOR EVERYBODY OR IS IT GOING TO BE A LITTLE WILDER THAN USUAL? "We're pretty restricted on the plate stuff in general what we can do so I don't think there's going to be a ton to learn from a technical standpoint. I think the first practice we're all going to give each other a lot of room because we haven't been in the car for months. So there will be some subtle differences there, but I still think for Daytona and how tight the rules are that it is not going to affect the overall show. When we get to California and Vegas I think that more of the ban on testing will show up there. If it is the great equalizer it will be obvious or if it does separate us more I think it will be obvious then."

TO PUT JOEY LAGANO IN THIS MIX, HE DOESN'T REALLY HAVE ANY EXPERIENCE RUNNING IN BIG PACKS HERE, DO VETERANS STAY AWAY FROM HIM, COULD HE EMERGE AND DO WELL RIGHT OUT OF THE GATE, WHAT DO YOU SEE FOR LAGANO? "How many races did (Denny) Hamlin have before he came in?"

GOOD POINT. "I don't know, was it a lot?"

I DON'T KNOW IF HE HAD ANY EXPERIENCE HERE. "That's the one, I remember him shocking all of us. Man, he just won. So it could go that direction. You know it's tough. If we were at Talladega I would say it's much easier for guys to get ready in the draft. Here handling is so important and we all know that car is going to be pretty damn good. I think he's going to have more of an opportunity to create his own outcome, his own destiny than he would if he was at Talladega. He's shown his smarts and Gibbs wouldn't be putting their faith in him if he couldn't do it.

"NASCAR has approved him so I don't feel there are any issues there. I think all the stuff that leads up to the (Daytona) 500 will be good practice for him. I showed up pretty green as a rookie here. I only had I guess four plate races before I started and I think he's had two or three with all the other stuff he's done. You just line up and go and again here I think here the fact that his car will drive really good and be really fast based on what the No. 18, No. 20 and No. 11 have done in the past. I think he'll be just fine."

IS IT TRUE THERE'S NEVER ANY EQUALITY AT DAYTONA? "I don't know. The longer I go, I don't know. I kind of went through a deal where I made a bunch of mistakes then I was in a sweet spot for a while and won a couple of plate races and now I can't finish in the top-10 and I don't know why. It's just such a different animal than what we do. Here handling is much more important than Talladega and I think qualifying is going to be much more important than what we've seen in the past. With the race starting during the daylight hours, you might remember last year's race got so spread out. I think the car can carry you through a lot of the experience here especially if it's one of the top two or three cars."

WOULD IT BE A BIG DEAL FOR YOU AND CHAD (KNAUS) AND YOUR TEAM TO COME OUT OF THE BOX AND WIN THAT SHOOTOUT? "Winning anything, hell if we're at the go-kart track with all the other guys and won there we'd find a way to put a spin on that. I think last year how helpful it was for (Dale Earnhardt) Junior and his group of guys. It was a new team, new everything for them. I think he won what the Shootout and his 150, didn't he? That stuff, teams thrive for that. That really builds positive momentum so anything we can do to win any of these races would be helpful and even a pole. It kind of validates the off-season for the guys too. Back at the shop everybody has been cooped up for so long and working away, if you can go to Daytona and win the race or win the pole, I think it boosts the morale because we're just now getting car complete. To build our inventory up there's still three or four months of hard work ahead of these guys so any boost helps back at the shop a lot."

DOES JUNIOR COME INTO THE SHOOTOUT AS A PRE-RACE FAVORITE BECAUSE OF HIS HISTORY HERE? "I think so. He's able to do things out there that a lot of guys can't. He's really amazing with what he does. I think (Tony) Stewart is going to be a big threat. He's got great equipment. I think that the core will be the same guys fighting for the restrictor plate stuff. I think Michael (Waltrip), Michael always shows up at these plate races and does a great job."

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OUT OF MARK MARTIN THIS YEAR? "With Mark it's not that you have expectations for him. I think he expects a lot out of us and a lot out of his teammates, his crew, Hendrick Motorsports and that type of focus and the angle he brings is pretty cool and unique. He's got Mr. Hendrick losing weight, (Jeff) Gordon is working out, (Dale Earnhardt) Junior is working out.

"I mean we've all been trying this stuff for years with these guys and nothing has happened. So, I think Mark expects a lot out of us and we all respect him so much that it's like okay, I get it. We all want to do a good job and we all want to help each other be stronger and I think Mark is going to bring a lot to the team from the physical standpoint, mental standpoint and a commitment standpoint. I'm sad that we haven't had a chance to test with him and get to know one another in that intimate race car level that you need to as a teammate but we've got plenty of races coming up and we'll get to that point. He's a cool dude. He really is a good guy and I've heard all these things about texting but since we've become teammates I'm very impressed with his texting ability and staying connected and in the loop. The man is amazing with all the different things he brings to the table."

AFTER WINNING THREE-IN-A-ROW IT SEEMS YOUR TEAM HAS KIND OF PERFECTED INTO A SCIENCE, BUT IS THERE A FORMULA TO IT OR CHEMISTRY TO IT? "You know each year has been so different. The first year in '06 was the old car and we felt like after '05 and the No. 20 ((Tony Stewart) car just flat out beating us and we needed to get to work and understand coil binding. In '06 we got a handle on that and had the speed in the car. In '07 with the mixed car, we had the old car well under control and then the new car we had the magic we needed on the short tracks where we were running them and just had a great situation.

"Last year on the other hand was so different we were just flat out behind at the start and had to catch up. I don't see a lot of consistency from year to year but I feel the commitment our team has and just the work ethic, the dedication of winning races and all the testing we did all that stuff played into us being successful again in 2008. I just put a lot in the fact that our guys just want to race and they want to win races. Looking forward to this year we are very proud of what we've done but nobody has that feeling of wow we've made it, we've won three, let's throw it up into neutral and cruise.

"Every team meeting we've had and everything we've talked about is winning races and winning a championship. It's not winning the 41st race or winning the fourth championship, we still treat it as a race and a championship. I don't know if I'm really conveying it correctly but it's just in the simple mindset for us that we just want to win, that's what we do. Yeah, we've done some cool things but that doesn't mean it's going to be any easier tomorrow or come September or November when the championship is passed out. We just like doing what we do and we want to win and we want to be as good as we can be. No one is really satisfied. We still have that hunger to go out and do our jobs and be the best in our sport."

LAST YEAR YOU WON THREE IN A ROW JOINING CALE YARBOROUGH AND THAT SELECT GROUP AND NOW HERE WE ARE ASKING YOU IF FOUR IN A ROW IS POSSIBLE AND WHETHER OR NOT YOU CAN SET YOURSELF APART AND HOW COOL IT WOULD BE TO STAND ON THAT STAGE AT THE END OF THE SEASON AND BE A FOUR-TIME CHAMPION. "I hope that I can get up there and harass Cale. I mean he did a great job of harassing me up there on stage. What an honor it was to have him up there as a hero of mine when I was a kid and being in the record books with him means the world to me. I do feel that we have a very good chance of winning a fourth championship. We have the tools. If we can be organized and composed come September like we've done the last three years, I think we really have a chance. If you show up to the Chase trying to catch up you've got your hands full and you have to count on what's coming your way. The last three years we've been ready for the Chase, we've been ready to go out and race for wins. We've really had to win a lot of races to beat these guys and win the championship. Our goal is to be organized come September and hope things go our way."

CONSIDERING HOW LAST YEAR STARTED, OBVIOUSLY YOU DON'T WANT TO NOT DO WELL AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON, BUT DOES IT MATTER THAT YOU COME OUT AND ARE AS GOOD AS CAN BE RIGHT AWAY OR DO YOU WORK UP TO THAT? "It makes it so much easier if you can come out organized and at the pace that you need to. As we all know it's hard to stay on top for a long period of time so if you can start peaking California, Richmond those tracks there I think that at that moment you have a lot of things working in your direction. It doesn't guarantee the championship but you have a lot of things going your way and the last two years we've had that fortune. I hope that we can be in that situation again, but so much changes in a short period of time. You always have to be on your toes and I think that's where Chad (Knaus) and I work so well together. The tires are changing from track to track. We all know this year there's still going to be plenty of changes that come along. It's just so tough to stay on top of it and it just boils down to the people you surround yourself with. That's where I think we've done a very good job."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU GET THE RESPECT YOU DESERVE FROM THE MEDIA AND FANS FOR BEING A THREE-TIME CHAMPION? "Definitely. I've been extremely thankful to my fan base and my growing fan base at the end of last year. The things that we use to show popularity and success with souvenir sales, polling and all the things that have gone on. We've been number one if not number two to Dale (Earnhardt), Jr. in those areas where I've normally been number four or number five. Everything is going in that direction and I think people going to the Super Bowl and different events especially in the off-season, people are paying attention especially that third championship. Anybody winning three championships at anything is special.

"Seeing Mike Ditka the day after we won the championship, I've never met the man and he walks up to me and says hey, I saw you yesterday on TV and you are a dynasty. I've never met this guy, he's a football man so it's just across the board. Ken Griffey, Jr. I met last week at the Super Bowl, Jerry Rice a variety of guys and I see them walk in and it's hard to miss them. Wow, that's Jerry Rice, whoever it may be and they see me and say hey congratulations on the third championship so it's out there and it blows me away that so many people are paying attention to our sport and also people recognize what we've done."

ALONG THOSE LINES, IN TERMS TO WIN FOUR IN A ROW YOU HAVE TO WIN THE FIRST THREE, YOU'VE DONE THAT. IF YOU DON'T WIN THE FOURTH NOW YOU HAVE TO START ALL OVER AGAIN SO IS THERE SORT OF SOME PRESSURE THAT YOU HAVE TO WIN THIS ONE? "I try to be realistic on it. I'm not sure if I don't do it this year that I would have a chance to do four more in a row. I don't think the odds are there. It's just a tough thing to do. Truthfully I'm so far ahead of the goals I set for myself five or six years ago, that I'm just damn happy where we're at. And again talking to what I said earlier the fact that we've done these things is very cool and something I'm very proud of but I still have that feeling today to show up in here and race Daytona as I did my rookie season. I mean it's not like we're fat and happy and feel that we're better than anyone. Last year at the media tour at the race shop before we started, we said we were tied for 43rd in points and we feel that way again. We have to go out and earn our spot in the Chase, fight to race wins and earn this fourth championship. It's just not going to come to us and we recognize that and we love the challenge. This is what we do. This is who we are and we just want to race. If we don't win this championship we'll certainly be disappointed and I would love to be history and not a part of history you know being tied with Cale. If it does happen I don't even know what the hell it would mean. It would just be off the charts."

WHAT WAS IT LIKE GOING THROUGH THE DRUG TESTING PROGRAM HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME? "It was kind of odd to go into a room with another man and have him watch you pee in a cup. It was one of the first times I experienced that. But outside of that they did the screening process and an uncomfortable three or four minutes trying to go to the bathroom that was about it."

DO YOU THINK ITS NECESSARY? "Yeah, absolutely. I mean we need to be proactive. We need to separate ourselves from other sports. We need to be on top of this stuff especially when the issues that popped up through the years with the illegal drugs we absolutely need a policy and I'm glad it's in place."

HOW IS YOUR FINGER DOING? "It's good, got the stitches out. It's still a little ugly and swollen but I've got motion and grip which we've been working hard at the rehab center, so outside of being a little clumsy and swollen it's doing well."

HOW MANY STITCHES DID YOU HAVE? "I think there were five, five on the outside. It went all the way around. I had my suit open and it just gets in may way and I was trying to cut the hole in the pocket for the cool suit and I felt like I could cut those two off so I had the bright idea to flip it over and then I should have realized you know you're going to cut yourself why are you doing this but I didn't and still tried to do it and it went through it."

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO WEAR, IS YOUR GLOVE ENOUGH FOR PADDING? "I don't think I need any padding. We have two or three braces, one is kind of extended so it's in the most comfortable position and other ones that kind of wrap my hand around so I can easily grip the wheel. So I'm just going to try a few different things in practice tomorrow."

HAVE YOU LOST ANY STRENGTH IN IT? "Yeah, I'm limited on training in general. The worse thing I can do is go into this position because it would pull the tendon tight and break the sutures and stuff that sewed it back together so they said you can do anything this way especially once the swelling goes down. Frankly the thing their most worried about is if I trip or fall and have to catch myself that would put me in the worst situation possible."

IS IT GOING TO BE MOST DIFFICULT WHEN YOU'RE SHIFTING? "I'm not really sure. I actually think getting through the garage area is going to be more difficult. I've been driving at home and driving my corvette so I can do the shifting and all that stuff to get ready for it. The toughest part I have is the real sharp turns so I think getting in and out of the garage area is going to be the toughest part. Once you're going especially here the corners are so big you only turn the wheel a quarter or half of the way so it should be pretty easy."

IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT YOU GUYS HAVE USED THE REGULAR SEASON IN THE PAST FOR THE CHASE, DO YOU BUY INTO THAT OR ANY OF THAT TRUE? DO YOU GUYS JUST TURN IT ON FOR THE FINAL 10 RACES? "Those ten tracks really are good for us so I think that's a factor. We really show up each week to do what we can to win. In '05 we thought we had things under control and we got cute before the Chase stated and worked on some stuff and that ended up biting us. Then '06 went our way and '07 was an interesting season and last year we were just frankly catching up. Thankfully we had so much time to catch up and we got to September and we had ourselves right and were organized as a team and knew what we needed to do. It's just I wish we could say that we were planning on just turning it on for the Chase but that's not really the case. We're fighting hard each week."

ARE YOU KIND OF CLUMSY AWAY FROM THE CAR? "I'm injury prone in general. I've broken more bones through the years racing motorcycles, falling off of golf carts, cutting myself whatever it may be I am injury prone. I have a younger brother that's never broken a bone or been injured. Growing up he was lying on the ground more than I was. I would just fall over and bust something. I'm just injury prone in general."

DIDN'T YOU GET A BIKE PEDAL STUCK ON YOUR HEAD ONCE? "Yeah, I crashed my bicycle. We had a really cool ramp built and the plywood broke and made it pretty bad. I had the petal stuck in the top of my head. A friend went to pull the bike off and I screamed and sure enough the pedal was stuck in my head. I got a few stitches on that one."

DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE EASIER FOR YOU TO CARRY ON TO THE CHASE WITH THE RESOURCES YOU HAVE? "Without the testing I feel that no one really knows. The big teams all have this technology, the shops with seven-post rigs and simulation, wind tunnels its' going to be interesting to see this first quarter how much of an advantage that stuff is. So I'm not really sure. I think with no testing nobody has an idea and I look back at who was strong at the end of last year and kind of rank things from there. So I expect a bunch of those Roush cars were very fast. There are some other teams as well, but I think the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) and the No. 17 (Matt Kenseth) and the No. 99 (Carl Edwards), those guys were all really strong so I think out of the gate, California and Vegas we're going to be dealing with the Roush cars."

WERE YOU BUSIER THIS OFF-SEASON? "I had more fun. I celebrated this championship a lot more. Watched the BCS game, watched Oklahoma and Miami, went to the Super Bowl. I was able to stand on the sidelines of the Oklahoma game and really inside the area where the team was and to see that first hand was really special. Did some other media stuff and some neat opportunities came along as well. It has been busy but I've had a lot more time to see friends, to travel and enjoy myself and to enjoy being home. That sounds crazy but there was a four or five-day stretch where I was home and didn't have anything to do and it was awesome. Sat around in my pajamas one day, watched movies on my big screen TV and watched football and just kind of hung out and it was really a lot of fun this off season. But at the same time as January hit and the end of January I got really antsy to get in the car. You've got this mental clock where it's time to get in the car and time's expired and it's time to go."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Greg Biffle , Carl Edwards , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports