Daytona 500: Johnson - Wedneday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the bumps on the race track, teammate Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards being picked to win the next championship, how the new teams stack up, and more. HOW IS YOUR FINGER? "It's...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the bumps on the race track, teammate Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards being picked to win the next championship, how the new teams stack up, and more.

HOW IS YOUR FINGER?

"It's doing fine. It's getting better and better every day. It's still going to be a couple of months before I can do everything that I want to with the tendon and what I did to it. But inside the car, everything that I do there is going well."

YOU WON'T NEED A BRACE?

"No, I tried the brace at first, but it just didn't work with the glove. I wear a brace at night so while sleeping I don't roll over and bend my finger back and hurt the tendon. But outside of that, we're in good shape. I whacked my wife in the head with it the other day (laughs) so I'm sure she's excited to see the brace go away."

IS IT METAL?

"No, it's a plastic one. I clobbered her man, and she came back swinging. I got her pretty good."

LOOKING AHEAD TO THE 500, CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE BUMPINESS AT HIGH SPEEDS RACING SIDE-BY-SIDE?

"The track, I don't know if it's gotten rougher or if it's more the function of these cars, but the combination, either way, really leads to the cars moving around a lot. The track is certainly rough in certain spots and then with the wake of air up off the cars around you, the car just moves around a lot. There are times when guys will just break the plane of your rear bumper and pull up next to you and it completely changes the balance of your car and you're in a slide. You don't even need contact. So, I think the Shootout showed when we're ready to really race, that it can be exciting. But I don't expect to see a lot of that stuff in the Duels or in the 500 until the end of the race. Everybody knows that points are on the line in the 500 and we don't want to make mistakes that are going to take us out of a good points paying position."

WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN FROM YOUR GROUP THIS WEEK THAT INDICATES YOU WILL GET OFF TO A BETTER START THIS YEAR THAN LAST YEAR?

"Truthfully I haven't seen anything yet. Daytona is so different than the rest of the races we run. At least last year we could test and we were in Las Vegas and California with the rest of the field. We knew that we weren't up to speed then. We were trying to work on it and correct it then when we knew we were off. This year, we don't have a clue. We haven't tested. My fingers are crossed, but I have to have the mindset that we're going to be off and just go to Fontana and learn from there. I think it's going to be a very challenging year for the teams. They're bringing new technology to the track.

b^0x001cThey're going to have to sacrifice the practice sessions on Friday and the potential for a good qualifying position, which will lead to problems on pit road. Things are a little different in areas that we worked hard to be good at in qualifying so we have track position and so we have a good pit stall. That dynamic is going to change a lot this year."

HOW IMPORTANT TO THE DUEL RACE BECOME IN JUST GETTING OUT ON THE TRACK AND GET SOME LAPS IN?

"Laps are important and my goal is to finish in the top two or three in the Duels so that I have a good pit stall pick. It's so tough here. And everybody is usually on the lead lap when everybody comes to pit road and you're blocked in the pits, it can really affect your position in getting out of the pits. So I need to finish well in the Duel so I can prevent that from happening."

ARE YOU A BIT OF A KLUTZ?

"Yeah, I've been accused of that, especially if you talk to my wife. She believes that I'm a klutz. I've always been good at controlling a vehicle and where it ends up and how to go fast in a car. But if it was basketball, or baseball, or football, there are funny stories after funny stories. I've tried to play the game but not being coordinated to do whatever discipline it was. On top of that, I've always been injured. If you look through my grade school photos, I'm the kid on the side with the cast on or in a wheelchair or whatever it may be. I've always been accident prone (laughs)."

BASED ON THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD AND SOME OF THE STRUGGLES JEFF GORDON HAD LAST YEAR, IS THERE MUCH YOU CAN DO AS A TEAMMATE TO HELP HIM?

"Here, at Daytona, it's so different. There's not much. But when we get to the downforce tracks, I think through the course of last year, if you just looked at our set-ups on paper and the driving styles that we have, it would be easy for Jeff to think we shouldn't go that direction; the car will be looser than I would like. As we're learning with this car, so much of it is the package. Unlike the old car, you can really just look at the spring and shocks and form an opinion of how loose or tight the car would be. Now but geometry is so sensitive, the bump stop loads, which bump stop you're sitting on, if not both, and there are just so many other factors to it that it's tough to take a quick glance at a sheet of paper and form an opinion. I think that the start of this year is a good time for everybody inside of Hendrick Motorsports to re-rack and be as close together as we've probably ever been. And then we'll go out from there and find our own styles."

DOES HE HAVE JUST AS GOOD A CHANCE AS ANY IN THE FIRST FEW SINCE THIS IS A DIFFERENT STYLE OF RACING THAN WHAT YOU'LL SEE IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS?

"Yeah, he's awesome in the draft. I think so. But I mean, it's hard for me not to think of Jeff Gordon as being the guy to beat at any of the tracks. I know last year wasn't the year that we would have all expected or what he wanted to have. But I think of California last year in the spring when he had probably the fastest car out there and then Carl (Edwards) came on late in the race and won the race. He was very competitive in Vegas before the big crash. Hopefully he comes out rolling and taking trophies home."

ON THE BIG CRASH ON LAST LAP OF THE BUD SHOOTOUT

"The crash, for me, my pusher disappeared. Something happened with the No. 18 off of (Turn) 4, coming to the white (flag). I saw the videos and he was down like 15 lanes below the yellow line off of (Turn) 4. I don't know how he got there, but I knew my pusher was gone. I thought I was dead in the water but by the time we got back to the exit of Turn 2, the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) was close and I thought, all right, I might have a shot here. So I set up my move and the No. 14 gave me a great push and there was a little hole that developed between the No. 26 and the No. 11 down the back straightway and I thought that with the run I had, I could get through the middle of those guys and hope somebody would follow and try to win the race. Well, little did I know that in the outside lane, the No. 24 was bump-drafting the No. 07 and they were coming with a head of steam and I think the No. 07 got a good shot from the No. 24 and lost control a little bit, and we were both aiming for that middle lane. We just came together at the wrong time and that big wreck happened."

YOU SAID YOU THOUGHT JEFF GORDON WAS FRUSTRATED FROM LAST YEAR. HOW HAS IT MANIFESTED ITSELF? WHAT HAS HE SAID OR DONE THAT HAS INDICATED TO YOU THAT HE'S BEEN FRUSTRATED?

"Oh, just knowing him like I do and at times after races, I could just see the expression on his face and how he's carrying himself. He does such a great job of letting things roll off his back and moving forward, that you don't see it long. You've got to look for it because it's only going to be there a short period of time. But when I look at things that he's doing now, he actually has a trainer and he's training and working hard on that stuff. When I talk to him, I see the intensity he has to test, to be on the race track, and there are just little warning signs there that I think he's more committed than he's ever been, this year. And certainly, going for 16 some years in this sport and winning and doing all that he did, I guess I'm also putting my opinion in there in trying to imagine what it would feel like. Certainly he was frustrated and the team was. But I see a lot of good things going on for this year and those guys will be right in the thick of it."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF PIT STALL AND THE FINISH OF THE DUEL RACES, IS THERE A LINE TO WALK TO MAKE SURE YOU DON'T WAD UP YOUR PRIMARY CAR?

"Yeah, there's definitely a line to walk. I think there are situations you put yourself in, in plate races, and moves that you make that are safe. In the Shootout, everybody was taking every run they had or every push they had and trying to go somewhere with it. And when you get back to normal plate racing, you sit on those moves and you almost wait for the guy in front of you to make a mistake. You kind of give him the bait. Instead of pulling out, you go up and push him and see where he goes from there. So you're playing much more of a defensive role than what you saw in the Shootout and I think that type of racing will come back. There will be a lot more staying in line.

"I think where the transfer position is, you'll see a lot of guys being crazy and doing what they need to to get into the Daytona 500, but toward the front you'll see a lot of single file and trying to loosen each other up with air and trying to maybe push the guy in front of you to get him to pull out and then you don't follow him. You'll see those things coming back."

ON THE MERGERS AND DRIVER CHANGES, AND NOW THAT YOU'VE BEEN ON THE TRACK A LITTLE BIT, HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU STACK UP?

"I think we're good. Next weekend is going to be a better test of things. The rules that NASCAR has for us on these plate tracks are so tight, that it's really tough to get a feel for things. There are only four of these plate races versus all the others. So I feel good about where we're at, but I don't think we have a good indication of where everybody is going to be. The Roush cars typically don't qualify well, which we saw. But they're going to race well, which we saw in the Shootout. I still think that based on the way things finished up last year, the Roush cars were pretty good on the high-banked 1.5-miles. I think we had them covered on the short tracks and some of the flatter tracks. I think Vegas might be a Roush track, which it's typically been.

"I think at California, we should have something for them and hopefully be the favorite there based on what we did last fall. In some ways I can form an opinion, but when I really think about it, we haven't seen anybody on track yet on those types of tracks. So, I just don't know."

ARE YOU LOOKING AT SOME OF THE NEW MERGERS AND THINKING THEY MIGHT HAVE SOMETHING THERE?

"I think these mergers are making the race teams stronger. They are able to keep the best guys from each team and take their best race cars and their best engines and really consolidate that stuff. So, it's sad to see some of the mergers. You'd hope that they could be stand-alone race teams, but in the end it may make them more competitive."

GIVEN THE ECONOMY, HOW BLESSED TO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING AT HENDRICK?

"It's one of the great benefits, driving for Rick (Hendrick). He's a people person and built this race team and put the right people in place and people that get along. In that aspect, it's great. This is home and I'm very proud of that. At the same time, he's a very smart businessman. He always prepares for a rainy day and no one knows how long this economy situation will last. Rick has done a very good job to make sure his race teams can weather the storms."

HOW MUCH DID YOU LEARN FROM THE SAFETY MEETING TODAY?

"Um, that there was one (laughs). I didn't go; I didn't know there was one. In the past, they typically go through and recap different things and new technology. At the same time, they pass out a memo. Hopefully I'll see the memo soon and see what's out there."

HOW DID YOU FEEL AFTER THE IMPACT OF SATURDAY'S SHOOTOUT CRASH?

"You know, it wasn't bad. It reminds me again how good those soft walls are and how good the car crushes. The car is done, unfortunately. It's going to the scrap yard. But the impact wasn't all that bad."

ON GOING TO CALIFORNIA, DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT IS HOME OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE A SOUTHERN BOY NOW?

"Charlotte is home. I've lived there almost as long as I lived in California for that matter. It's where I chose my house and friends and restaurants and that stuff. But California has a special place in my heart; especially El Cajon. It's neat to go back and let my mind go down memory lane and all the experiences that come with it. Maybe some day I can end up back in California when my Cup career is done. But as of now, I've been in Charlotte since 1997 so it's been a while."

ARE YOU DOING ANYTHING SPECIAL BEFORE THE FONTANA RACE?

"We're going to go to the houses and just wander around a bit. We'll go to the dealership and see everybody there. We'll spend a say in Southern California before we head up to Fontana."

LIKE SOME DRIVERS, HAVE YOU CHANGED OR CUT BACK ON FLYING BECAUSE OF THE ECONOMIC PRESSURES?

"In general, I'm always trying to be smart with what I do, so nothing has changed. The situations we find ourselves in with the planes that we have are really out of necessity for our jobs. In talking to Jeff's (Gordon) situation, I think he's made a smart move in the way his situation works and the ownership of his plane and where it's based and it has to go back to New York. It makes a lot of sense with what he's doing. With my situation, it would end up costing me more money to look at that route. Once you own the plane and you have it and you're paying the insurance and you're paying for the pilots and you're paying for all that stuff, you need to use it.

"And I don't have my plane in service like he does. So it doesn't make sense yet. I'm not saying it won't at some point. But my motto is always been to save and to be smart with my money."

WHAT WAS YOUR INITIAL REACTION WHEN YOU FOUND OUT CARL EDWARDS WAS PICKED TO WIN THE 2009 CHAMPIONSHIP?

"Well, what about me? (laughs)"

WERE YOU ANGRY OR ANNOYED?

"No, the funny thing is from a racer's standpoint is that we still have to go out and prove it. It's flattering to hear that stuff, and I just thought well darn, if you've won three championships in a row, you'd think that you'd be a favorite. We all have to go to the track and prove it out. So it was more of a funny moment where I'm like, really? What's a guy have to do to be considered the favorite?

A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK THAT YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO BE LONG GONE OR RETIRED BEFORE PEOPLE RESPECT OR APPRECIATE WHAT YOU'VE DONE. DO YOU SEE IT THAT WAY?

"From everything I've seen, from fan support I look at people that I've met that I wouldn't expect to know about NASCAR and what we've done, and souvenir sales and all the markers that we put out there to show us what our sport is doing and the level of recognition. Everything is pegged on the good side. I've been overwhelmed by a variety of situations. So from my standpoint I think it's running a great course. I think I've been paid a great deal of respect for what we've done. In general, it's tough to appreciate things that are taking place now. It usually takes a while to get ahead of it and reflect back. So I feel great about everything and where it's at."

DO YOU FEEL UNAPPRECIATED IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM?

"Heck, no. Things have gone great for me. The race wins and everything that comes with those, I don't know where that whole idea ever came from about not being appreciated. It's going well. I think a lot has changed from last year to this year, there is one big indicator. If you look at souvenir sales and the fan's opinion, it seems to really direct a lot of our opinions on all this. I rivaled Junior in sales through the off-season and moved from fifth to second in sales. On that side, and by people going out and buying hats and things, it's always been something we've used as a reference point. That's been going the right way. It's increased 100 percent."

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM DALE EARNHARDT JR AS A DRIVER AND OFF THE TRACK?

"I've been really amazed how focused he is on racing. When he was at DEI, I think we all wondered is he focused on racing? Does he want to be a racer? That's all the guy does. That's all he wants to be. He spends a lot of time with his Nationwide team and with what he does on the Cup side. He's really impressed me (with) his work ethic, his dedication, and then his sense of humor. He does keep things light around the transporters, which is fun."

JUNIOR SEEMS LIKE HE'S BEEN IN A BAD MOOD LATELY ABOUT NOT DOING THINGS FOR THE TRACKS AND PROMOTING THE SPORT. HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT HE'S MORE FOCUSED ON TRYING TO WIN AND TO GET A CHAMPIONSHIP?

"I'm not sure. The conversations I've had with him; Jeff and I, we've all talked about how we need to make sure we're doing all we can for our sponsors and for our fans and for our teams, so at least in conversation, I've heard the opposite. I don't know by his actions, what he's done. But before the season started, in conversations we had he was saying all the right things."

WHAT MAKES FOR A GOOD LOOKING RACE CAR?

"I think the number is an important part of it. And the number itself; some numbers look better than others. All of the body lines of the vehicle in the paint scheme itself is very important."

HOW INVOLVED DO YOU GET IN THE DESIGN OF YOUR CAR AND HOW IT LOOKS?

"I'm able to see a couple of the final versions of what it's going to be and look like. But that's something that Lowe's is very involved with and spends a lot of time making sure the paint schemes look like they want them."

KEEPING THE BEARD?

"Yeah, it'll be around for a while."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Carl Edwards
Teams Hendrick Motorsports