Â JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed his outlook for the season, preparation and racing the Daytona 500, Danica Patrick, the new NASCAR rules and other...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed his outlook for the season, preparation and racing the Daytona 500, Danica Patrick, the new NASCAR rules and other topics.
TALK ABOUT YOUR OUTLOOK COMING INTO THE DAYTONA 500: "Excited to get going. It was nice to be on-track for the Shootout and the Shootout practices. We didn't finish like we had hoped we would in the Shootout. Early in the race we were in good shape and then the handling started to slip and the right rear tire wasn't agreeing with the setup and the car faded pretty bad at the end of the Shootout. But, it is nice to be back obviously. I really think that when we get to California and go to Las Vegas, we will have a much better idea of what teams are where. I feel very good about where our team has been focused during the off season. The areas we are looking for speed in some of the new components, some of the new thoughts and setups that are coming along. But really until we have a chance to validate them, we don't have a clue what how good it is going to be, or if it is going to be good at all or where other people are at. We've not taken the four championships in a row lightly. We want to win a fifth, we want to perform each and every week. We want to win races and a lot of them. So, we are still full steam ahead. Hopefully the whole organization has been working in the right areas."
HAS IT REALLY SURPRISED YOU THAT ALL THE ATTENTION SO FAR THIS SPEEDWEEKS HAS REALLY GONE TO ONE PERSON, DANICA PATRICK, AND SOME OF THE BIGGER NAMES LIKE YOURSELF, JEFF GORDON, TONY STEWART, HAVE BEEN SOMEWHAT NOT NOTICED? "First of all, I am excited for our sport to have this magnifying glass on it, so I think it is great for all of us. With it being a tough time with the economy where it is, with us wanting more viewers because the viewership numbers weren't where we wanted them last year, this is great stuff. With that being said, people are paying attention to our sport, this is great. With what we have had going on with the HBO show, 24/7, and our own stuff going on, I don't feel like a lot has changed for me. I am getting more exposure; more is going on for me in my own personal situation than ever. I am very content and pleased. I think she (Danica Patrick) did a good job in the ARCA race and the Nationwide race is the next step for her. As long as it is bringing eyes to television sets and putting butts in the seats in the stands, that is a good thing."
THE BIGGER RESTRICTOR PLATES, THE BUMP DRAFTING ALLOWANCES, THE SORT OF LAISSEZ FAIRE ATTITUDE THAT NASCAR HAS EXPRESSED, IF YOU HAD TO BE PINNED DOWN ABOUT IT, WHICH OF THE FOUR HENDRICK DRIVERS DO YOU THINK THAT MIGHT HELP THE MOST? "When I look at our situation at plate tracks, I think that Jeff (Gordon) and Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) are our two best plate drivers. It took me a while, but I did a good job with the old car at the end before the car went away. "With the COT, I just haven't been able to figure what to do all the time, really, how to defend once I get to the front. I can get there, but how do I defend and stay up there for long periods of time like we have seen Jeff and Junior both do, the No. 14 (Tony Stewart), the No. 18 (Kyle Busch). So that is where I need to get better. I have been studying tapes and trying to understand as much as I can to be better at that. I'm not sure how much it is really going to change things. I think with the bigger plate and the fact that the cars suck up easier, it is making us more impatient. We all have these big runs and you are letting off the gas and you know that if there is an opening there, you are going to take advantage of it. But you are stuck two-by-two and nowhere to go. I think there is a good chance you will see more aggression. And I say all that based on the race in the Shootout when the track was still pretty grippy and green. Daytime Duel race, I don't think you will see us in a big pack for long. The handling is going to go away quick. I guess I am talking in a circle now that I recognize what the hell I am saying. But, when the race ends at night, green-white-checkered, a shootout at the end with 10 laps to go, whatever it may be, it is going to be exciting, I can promise you that. Because you can stay in a big group, temperatures will be down. Tires will work; it will be one heck of a show."
JUST FOLLOWING UP ON DANICA, IT SEEMS THAT A LOT OF GUYS WERE IMPRESSED WITH WHAT SHE DID IN THE ARCA RACE, YOUR THOUGHTS ON HOW SHE DID AND HOW THAT WILL PLAY IN TO NOW THAT SHE WILL BE RACING IN THE DRAFT, STARTING TODAY WITH PRACTICE, DO YOU THINK THAT EARNED HER SOME RESPECT AND CREDIBILITY FROM VETERANS? "I think so. She is going about it the right way starting with ARCA race and moving up. Things went well for her there so now on to the Nationwide Series. If I can draw any parallels, I would say the ARCA race would be more like the high school level of ball, now she is in the college section of it then the Cup Series would be the big wigs. She is making the progression; she is doing a great job through the progression. She will learn a lot more today. When she is out there with a lot of these Cup guys that run in the Nationwide Series, it will be overwhelming, but, there isn't a better way to learn than diving in their head first. The speeds aren't as high as what she is used to so I think that part is fine for her. It is just understanding these cars and how the draft works and how much to move around. The only way you figure that stuff out is by making laps. She's going for it; she is doing it."
HOW MUCH BUMP DRAFTING DID YOU SEE ON SATURDAY NIGHT AND HOW MUCH DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE TOMORROW AND ALSO SUNDAY? ALSO, GIVEN THE FACT THAT MOST OF THE DRIVERS ARE LOCKED IN TO THE 500 ALREADY, COULD WE EXPECT A LITTLE BIT MORE WILD RACING ON THURSDAY THAN WE HAVE SEEN IN THE PAST, GUYS DON'T HAVE TO BE AS CAREFUL? "I don't think anyone wants to tear up their cars even though they might be locked in. I think it will be like you have seen in the past with the race on Thursday. You put so much work and effort in to that primary car; you don't want to tear it up.
"It will be a race, but I don't think it will be as exciting as the end of the Daytona 500. At that point, when you can see the white flag and all you need to do is come back, that is going to be a totally different situation than what we will see in the Duels. The bump drafting, the ban was lifted, some guys tried it at the end of the Shootout and it clearly doesn't work at this track. On the straighaways, you can do the bump drafting, but the cars are so on-edge and there is so little grip here compared to Talladega, that I don't think that the bump drafting in the corners, you just can't do it. You can try it, but you are going to have a big pile up like we did. I'm not sure many people enjoy that. I know some people love to see the crashes, but I am sure that everybody would love to see a great race and finish under green than 10 cars piled up in turns three and four."
WHAT DO YOU SEE THIS YEAR AS THE PLACES YOU ARE TRYING TO MAKE THE MOST GAINS OVER LAST YEAR AND WHO DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE BEING POTENTIALLY IN THE WAY OF FIVE STRAIGHT CHAMPIONSHIPS? "In the Chase, when the championship is on the line, I feel really good about the tracks in the Chase. I think that New Hampshire, we need to be a little bit better there, although we finished, I think, in the top-five. We haven't won there in a while and it would be nice to start to narrow in on that to start the Chase strong. I think we could send one hell of a message to the garage area if we could come out and win the first race of the Chase. So looking that far ahead, I would say that is one track in the Chase that we really need to zero in on. I would say Texas in the past, but we have done a really good job of understanding Texas and being competitive there. I feel good about those tracks. Before the Chase I still look at Bristol, I look at the roadcourse races, that is just kind of a personal thing to me. I'm running much better at those tracks and much more competitive, that is just something that is under my skin, I need to win at those tracks in my mind. Other than that, I think it is about winning races. We need to win races, to make sure we are in a comfortable position in the Chase. That is our goal starting the season. We want to win races and win a lot of them and I would love to roll in to Richmond and have ourselves locked in to the Chase, ideally, a race or so out. To watch what Mark Martin and that team went through last year, three or four months out being as far behind as they were and to fight all the way in, it took a lot out of them. If possible, I don't want to be in that position, so winning races is what it is all about."
AS YOU BEGIN YOUR QUEST FOR YOUR FIFTH, DO YOU THINK THE GARAGE FEELS LIKE YOUR TEAM HAS DEVELOPED AN ARMOR-PLATED AURA THAT YOU GUYS CARRY YOURSELVES WITH AND WHAT KIND OF INTIMIDATION FACTOR DOES THAT CARRY TO YOUR COMPETITORS? WHEN THE NO. 5 AND NO. 88 HAD THEIR SUCCESS IN QUALIFYING, DOES THAT INDICATE THAT THEY ARE GOING TO LOOM AS A REALLY THREAT TO YOU? "The confidence we have as a team is seen in the garage and the things that we have done in the past is great and it might carry over to the start of this season. But truthfully, as a competitor in this sport and the other competitors do this as well, you have to let stuff roll off your back quick. You can't hang on to the past too long. You have to keep looking forward and moving ahead. With that in mind, if we do have some type of mental advantage, it is not there for long. But, what can simulate that is if we are winning races. The best thing we can do to keep that advantage is to win races. If we go a long stretch without winning and not performing, weren't not going to be a threat in the minds of those other teams. It is really up to us to keep that going and I think we can. Out of people in the garage area right now, with less success, we can intimidate people. I don't think we have everybody beat for the entire season, we have to go out and prove ourselves week in and week out. That is kind of my twist on that I guess.
"I am expecting the No. 5 and No. 88 to be challengers but qualifying here is so different from what the bulk of the season is based on that it is a great feather in Rick's (Hendrick) cap and both Mark's and Junior's. For the company (Hendrick Motor Sports) is a great way to build momentum internally because of all the hard work during the off season to take down the front row. There are small battles won there internally at Hendrick Motorsports. But, California is really the true test bed for what the bulk of the season is going to be."
LAST YEAR WAS RAIN RACE, THE 500 HAS A HISTORY OF FLUKY FINISHES, WHEN YOU WIN ONE OF THOSE RACES, DO YOU LOOK AT A GUY WINNING A RAIN-SHORTENED RACE ANY DIFFERENTLY? "Yes, I do. A win is a win, I get it. I think I have been in a position once or twice where rain came and we won the race. But, there are some situations where you are running 20th or that driver is running 20th and all the fast guys pit and they take a chance and stay out, that one, it is definitely a win. But I think even in those driver's heart, they know that they still need to win one by beating the guys, by beating everybody heads-up on the track. I do see that at times. Restrictor plate racing I see less of that because we are all in such a big pack and typically everybody pits at the same time, it is more indicative of what was going on on the race track before the rain came. Like Matt's (Kenseth) win last year. Matt was fast. Matt did a great job. We all pitted and came back and were racing, the caution came out, he was in the lead, he wins the race. So that one, he earned that one in my eyes."
THE ONE THING YOU HAVEN'T SHARED WITH CHAD OUT OF ALL THE SUCCESS YOU HAVE HAD TOGETHER IS A DAYTONA 500 WIN. HAS HE EVER EXPRESSED TO YOU WHAT IT WOULD MEAN TO HIM TO GET A WIN HERE? "We talk about it each January and February that we need to get him a win. So that is priority number one and I hope we can get it done for him. I also use as an opportunity to give him a hard time and try to get under his skin with I have won the Daytona 500 and I have a picture in victory lane and he doesn't. You know how it is with Chad, anything you can do to get his blood pressure; I usually take advantage of that."
DO YOU SEE DENNY HAMLIN AS ONE OF THE LEADING THREATS TO YOUR STREAK OF CHAMPIONSHIPS? "Without a doubt, he and that team are more than capable. They have everything there and once they figure out how to win a championship, they are going to win a bunch of them. They just need that road map and it took us a few years to figure that out. We had to lose a couple of them to really understand how to do it. Thankfully in '06 it came together and that made '07 easier for the brain, we knew where to focus. It did not make winning the championship any easier, but we knew what to worry about; we knew what to focus on and had kind of a road map of where to go. And then it has just progressed each year. A lot like a race win, once you get your first one, the second one seems a little easier because you have been there through experience. I can see him, once they figure it out, they are going to be very tough to beat year in and year out."
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE DRASTIC CHANGE IN DIRECTION FROM NASCAR THE WAY THEY ARE CONDUCTING THE RACES NOW, THE RULE CHANGES, BUMP DRAFTING, HAVE AT IT? "From my seat in the race car, we weren't pushing each other through the turns here anyway. It is just something you can't do. Although the rule has changed for Daytona, I don't see it. It isn't a big deal to me. I don't see the drastic swing in things. I think it is great to see, I think the fans are very excited to hear it. But, we saw the other night, what happens with bump drafting in the turns, you just have big wrecks. Where you can do and it is helpful and it puts on a good show is Talladega. So when we go back to Talladega in the Spring, it would be more of a fair opportunity to have an opinion there. But here, we will just tear stuff up.
"They have honestly been telling us this stuff for a long time for a couple of years. They continue to remind us about what is going on. But I think the fact that we race each other every week, we have corporate situations to be concerned about, there is a lot of things that frame in each driver to where they are with their own personalities and stuff. I think that once something does happen, I think there is a better chance that it will last longer now because of the encouragement from NASCAR, but I don't see this changing anyone's mind to 'You know what, I just feel like starting an issue with someone. I am going to go wreck this guy then we are going to live it out through the media for four or five months.' That stuff is not going to happen. But that stuff has already been around. So now those guys may feel more comfortable expressing themselves, crashing each other more because the riff has already started. But for drivers who don't have a riff, I'm not going to start driving around on the race track saying 'You know what, NASCAR has changed their rules, I'm wrecking the shit out of this guy. Watch this.' It is just not going to happen."
EVEN WITH THE NO. 77 (SAM HORNISH)? "He has already wrecked the shit out of me. (LAUGHS) Again, from my standpoint, it polices itself on the track and I have not, including Sam, I'm picking on him here, he did not drive in to the corner and pick my rear tires up of the ground and wreck me. It is not the situation. If that situation does happen, we've seen it with Denny (Hamlin) and Brad (Keselowski). We saw Tony (Stewart) and Juan (Pablo Montoya) take care of things in Homestead, that is a different type of a situation that I think the fans want to see. Racing is racing. We are going to lean on each other. Wrecks are going to happen; bumping is going to be there. But if somebody comes in and cleans me out intentionally, then it starts. That is the same for everybody."
-source: gm racing