Daytona 500: Team Monte Carlo - Jimmie Johnson interview

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo - For the 3rd time in history, a rookie wins the Bud Pole for the Daytona 500 "It's hard to believe it's real. But one thing I've got to say is that qualifying here at Daytona is one thing and...

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo - For the 3rd time in history, a rookie wins the Bud Pole for the Daytona 500

"It's hard to believe it's real. But one thing I've got to say is that qualifying here at Daytona is one thing and it really reflects the hard work everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has put forth. You can see how all the Hendrick cars qualified (top 14). Everybody has been working real hard together. This is theirs. It's a great way to start off this awesome relationship with the team and with Lowe's.

What do you think of the fact that there are two drivers starting at the front of the Daytona 500 that have never even raced in it before? "Could be one heck of a wreck, couldn't it? This is neat. I've got a lot to learn. I've only been in three Busch restrictor plate races. But it's really neat to see all the hard work at Hendrick Motorsports pay off."

Are you surprised? "We felt like we were going to be solid in our position without any provisionals for the first four events. We knew we needed to have a solid time. We've shown our hand during testing and practice. We didn't want to fool ourselves into thinking we had a magic three or four tenths hidden somewhere. We thought that some other guys had an ace in their back pockets and we didn't expect Kevin Harvick to jump up there. I went through two packs of gum and wore out my shoes waiting for qualifying to be over."

Will your teammate be your toughest competition on Sunday? "Yeah, he (Jeff Gordon) doesn't like to be called the owner. He'd rather be called the teammate. He's phenomenal, what else can you say? He's won here before. I'm hoping I can hook on the back of him and follow him through the race, and learn when and why I need to make the moves I need to keep myself in the front of the pack and out of trouble."

Without track time, what's your strategy? "I need experience. Every lap counts. I'll wait for the executive orders. I'm sure they'll be kicking it around until Thursday.

"If I had a shot at a pole, I thought it might be at a speedway race. But when we get to Rockingham, it's a different story. The driver has a lot more to do with it. I'm in a great environment, we have great equipment, and a great mentor in Jeff - in Terry (Labonte) and Jerry (Nadeau), too. Our goal is still to make the races and finish on the lead lap. We'll look for solid finishes after that."

After focusing so much on qualifying for the Daytona 500, how do you switch gears? "In practice, I can get out there and get in the draft and we can start adjusting on the car. Everybody is starting on an equal page as far as set-up. Practice time will help a lot."

Did you watch last year's Daytona 500, and what does it mean now to be sitting on the pole? "Yes, I watched it on TV for a lot of years with my dad from El Cajon, California wishing we could be on the east coast. I tried to learn and watch when I found out I would be going into the Busch Series. I'd always dreamed that my first race win in a Winston Cup car would be with me looking in my mirror and seeing that black No. 3 (Dale Earnhardt) wearing my bumper cover out. I always wanted to race against Dale. Now I'll wait to see that No. 8 (Dale Jr.) on my back bumper."

Did you think you could actually win the pole? "We started out real humble. We were happy with the time we put up. We felt confident we could be in the race with that time if something were to happen in the 125's. As time went on, our nerves started playing games on us and we thought we might have a shot. I thought the No. 22 car would be our biggest threat."

How long after Kevin Harvick abandoned Ron Hornaday's couch did you move in? "Not long after. I moved out in '97. I had met Ron at a Chevrolet function in Detroit. Ron said that if I ever needed a place to stay to call him. I landed at Charlotte airport and called him to see if I was still welcome. He wouldn't let me move out until I could buy a house and that was not possible. He even helped me find the house we bought. I stayed there for about two or three months. But I was back and forth racing the off-road trucks in Wisconsin. Lots of people stayed there. I called it Camp Hornaday."

-tmc-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Kevin Harvick , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports