Chevy Notes - Panel Discussion, Homestead, Nov. 19 Comments by Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budwieser Chevrolet Monte Carlo -- Chevy drivers...
Chevy Notes - Panel Discussion, Homestead, Nov. 19
Comments by Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Budwieser Chevrolet Monte Carlo -- Chevy drivers among the five contenders in the Chase for the Championship:
JEFF GORDON - Chasing his 5th Cup championship.
(HOW DOES THIS COMPARE TO 1992 WHEN ALAN KULWICKI HAD TO MEET ALL THE WHAT-IF'S TO WIN) "Having Alan around was a lot like having a computer around. But I'm certainly nothing like that. We're not going to pay attention to the numbers. We'll let Robbie Loomis and those guys handle the stuff. But we're all in a similar situation where we feel we have to go out there and win. We just have to perform at our best and not really pay attention to where the other guys are and go after it as hard as we can just like we did last weekend and the weekend before that. I've been a part of a championship battle where Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett were involved were we came down to the final race. It was very tight. But I was in a different situation. I was leading the points. I remember feeling a lot more pressure in that situation than I do now. Being in the lead is certainly the place where you want to be. But at the same time, I feel like it was ours to lose. We were just trying to protect. We had to finish 20th or better and we finished 17th or 16th. It was an awful day for us but we got the results. It was a tough one. This one is exciting and fun. Our team has momentum coming off two top three finishes and coming off a good test here last week and we're just going to go out there and do what we can to win."
(REALISTICALLY, ARE YOU RACING 42 CARS ON SUNDAY OR FOUR?) "I feel like we need to approach it like we're racing 42 and go for a win. This is a track I haven't won at in the Cup series. I've won here in the Busch Series. I feel like we've got momentum from the last couple of weeks. I think that if we're focused on our own program and on what we need to go out there and do to win the race - instead of focusing on Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Mark Martin - we're going to go out there and do a better job throughout the race."
ON MOMENTUM AND WHAT THAT'S GOING TO DO FOR YOU) "We all know that momentum is an important thing. But I have to admit that throughout this Chase for the Championship, everyone on this panel has had a lot of momentum and it's really hard to weight it one way or another. We've been lucky to be able to close the deal at the end of the race for the last four or five weeks. We've had a top three car at all the race tracks and great pit stops and everybody is doing their job. Things have been working out for us. So it's been very nice to capitalize on that. From my standpoint, I feel like I kind of let go of the championship after Kansas. I felt that I was out of it and there was no way between the three drivers up front that they would have enough problems to let us be back in it. With the bad luck they've had and the hot streak we've been on, here we are 18 points out. So going into this race, I'm just really taking the mindset that Mark and Jeff have said. It's too close to worry. It's tool close to points race. You just have to go out and run your own race and put out your best effort and go from there. So I have the mindset that if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I feel I have that because I thought I was out of it and now I'm back in it."
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
(ARE YOU RACING 42 CARS ON SUNDAY OR ARE YOU RACING FOUR?) "I think we're just racing. We're just out there doing what I can. Me and Mark are both on the back side of the deal. We can just race as hard as we want. There are so many things that would have to happen with these three guys here it would be a struggle and a huge amount of luck to win it. So we'll just go out there and race as hard as we can. I really am more concerned I guess about what kind of car we have this weekend because we didn't run good here last week. If we just get a good race car that can run up front in the top five I think we'd be pretty happy no matter how the points shake out."
(ON A POSSIBLE GREEN/WHITE/CHECKERED FINISH) "Not only do you have all five of us, you're going to have other cars up there that are battling for a win - maybe they want to end the season on a positive note. So you've got a lot of guys who are going to be driving extremely aggressively and I don't think there is any intentional thoughts about a guys saying, 'Okay, I'm going to win the championship by taking this guys out.' It's not necessarily about that.
"It's about very aggressive driving and trying to get the best finish or to get those positions that create the wrecker scenario as well. That's usually why that happens in the green-white-checkered is because everybody is just so aggressive that accidents happen."
(YOU AND MARK MARTIN WERE INVOLVED IN THAT TIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON ENDING BATTLE BACK IN 1992. WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT DAY?) "I'll be honest. My involvement with the No. 92 was that I backed into the wall about half way through the race and I believe I was already on my way home. It was, for me, a very cool experience because it was Richard Petty's last race and I'll never forget that drivers meeting. It was an amazing drivers meeting to be a part of. And then he went up in a ball of flames. I backed into the wall. And I remember the drama that was going on with the championship that year. But I had never really run for a championship or been a part of anything like that. But I just remember the aftermath of that race and how it was coming down in the closing laps of who was going to win that championship. I remember that excitement but I was at home watching it on TV."
(DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON HOW THE CHAMPIONSHIP WOULD STACK UP UNDER THE FORMER POINT SYSTEM?) "I constantly get reminded of it. So that makes it tough. But you race the points the way that they're structured. It doesn't matter if they change it again next year and the year after that. What may have happened under a different point structure really isn't important. If the point system paid for consistency and the best average finish, then that's how you race. This certainly has changed things a lot on how you race these last 10 races. It's impressed me more than I thought I would. It's tense for all the guys who are a part of it. This is probably one of the most difficult championships I've ever been a part of. Every week the points are changing. You really have to race for wins or top fives every single weekend. If you have a bad finish, you'd better bounce back and have something good happen. In the old scenarios - even when it was a tight points battle, you were just trying to get your finishes and your consistency in there. This certainly isn't the case. I'm really not looking back on what could have been with the old system. "
(HOW DID WINNING YOUR FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP CHANGE YOUR LIFE?) "It did. I don't think anybody expected us to win that championship in 1995. I think they all expected us to crack under the pressure including ourselves. I don't think we even knew what we were doing at the time. We were just putting fast race cars out there on the track and putting the finishes together and that was incredible. I just remember that as the season went on, things were just happening. We just went with it week to week. We didn't think about what we were accomplishing until it was all over and then we just shook our heads. Still to this day I shake my head that we won that championship against such an amazing driver, team and championship contender which is Dale Earnhardt Sr. I remember that when it all started to finally sink in I went to the banquet week in New York and I was completely exhausted, overwhelmed and excited at the same time. The next season, 1996, was just a year that I was so drained, not only mentally but physically. That's to me what really gets to you is you just don't understand the responsibility and all the things that come along with being the champion. You get tugged in so many different directions. There's new opportunities, exciting opportunities, things that come up that are fun, cool and hard work at the same time. I knew that '96 was a tough year for me. Then we came back in '97. It seems like each time I've won the championship, I've understood it a little bit better and I knew what to expect a little bit better. I was able to balance out the schedule and enjoy it that much more. I think after I won the second one it's what really helped me win the third and fourth one because the first one after that was so overwhelming that I didn't know if I was ever going to win another one again or if I even wanted to because I was so drained."
(ONCE YOUR TEAM DECIDED TO GO OUT AND WIN RACES, HOW HAVE THINGS CHANGED AND IMPROVED IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS?)
"It's tough to say that there's really been a difference physically, the interaction with the car, the race strategy and things that we do. It's more of a mental thing. When we were leading the points, every time we hit the track we felt like we had a target on our backs. It's our own fault. We wanted to be the fastest in practice. If we didn't, we were nervous. If we didn't qualify in the top five, we were nervous. If the race didn't start off just right, we were nervous. There's just something with leading the championship that gets inside your head. It's a tough thing."
"It's a burden. I made a reference to Lord of the Rings and that little guy Froddo that runs around with the rings. It's a burden. It is. Hopefully I don't resemble him too much. (laughs) It's just tough. After Kansas that pressure, whatever it is in your mind that switches on and makes you think about that, went away for us. When it was about practice and we're fifteenth, we said let's get to work. (We) qualified tenth. We'd say we're doing better. At the start of the race if we don't have the best car, don't flip out. Just stay focused. By the time the end of the race came along we had a top three car, great pit stops and we're in Victory Lane. Just the flow of it went different. It's more of that than anything we did physically to the car, how we set the car up or a different strategy. It was all a mental thing."
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
(IS THE ENERGY IN THE SHOP, THE DEMANDS ON THE TEAM AND FEELING AROUND THE GARAGE DIFFERENT THAN IF WE WERE IN A REGULAR 36 RACE SEASON?) "Yeah, its way different. For me and my team, I see a little more excitement in the shop. It's funner. I think the system is a lot more fun like this. I don't know how I would feel being on the outside looking in. That's just the difference I see in my team. They enjoy the challenge of it. They enjoy kind of knowing where you stand and what the opposition is and how steep the hill is. It seems like if you win a race in this ten-race post season, it puts a lot more emphasis on it. It's a bigger win to win at that part of the season. I've got a couple wins. It really meant a lot to the team. The confidence and the morale of the shop was higher than I'd ever seen it before with the excitement level. It was a real big difference than what it was last year."
(DO YOU EXPECT ANY HELP FROM NASCAR IN THE RUNNING OF THIS RACE?) "I don't really expect any help. I don't know what the call on the radio was. I think we want to have the same respect among our competitors any weekend. I don't think that any of us should be treated with any special treatment. That's the way the Chase is. We're battling with other guys out there trying to win races. I call down every weekend asking for help whether I'm in the way or somebody else is. You get into the heat of the moment. The adrenaline is flowing especially when you're a part of this championship. The intensity level is at an all time high."
"We may ask for help from NASCAR all the time but we don't really expect any special treatment or anything to be done any different. You deal with each situation the best that you can. We know that we're racing other guys besides the five that are sitting up here."
(DO YOU EXPECT ANY HELP FROM NASCAR IN THE RUNNING OF THIS RACE?) "I know that NASCAR is not going to ask guys to let us pass or to race a certain way. Sometimes you have lap cars and people that may have a hurt race car. We had an incident where there was something that took place that took out the points leaders. I would be hopeful that something is said to remind everybody. I think if anybody has been in the sport long enough, they understand that respect - if you don't give it you're not going to get it. I definitely hope something is said and I certainly hope we don't have tempers or grudges or somebody racing hard for three laps down and causes a wreck that takes anybody out of the Chase for the Championship. We want to decide on it the race track, car to car, head to head."
(HOW MUCH PROGRESS HAVE YOU MADE SINCE YOU LEFT OFF ROAD RACING?) "There's been a lot of learning since then. I think of Howie Leto. I think Mark (Martin) has had a chance to work with him in the past. He's just a great guy. I remember at my first test session in Nashville at the old asphalt track. I'd been on the asphalt three times the year before in ASA races. I wasn't sure if I would really know what loose or tight was. I'm out there making some laps. I wore him out the whole drive down from Milwaukee in the truck trying to pick his brain. I came out of turn four backwards. Not totally backwards but pretty crossed up, kind of glanced off the wall, and gathered it back up at turn one. He got on the road and said 'Jimmie, that's loose.' In his own simple ways he really taught me a lot. I didn't know anything about stock cars. I came off the dirt. We were worried about running straight lines as fast as we could and over bumps. Well now in the stock cars the straight aways really don't mean much. It's all about getting through the turns. I had to completely change everything that I knew and start over. He had a lot patience. I also remember going to the first race of the season at Peach State (Speedway) and I spun out five times and didn't hit anything."
"We ran out of tires and were borrowing used ones from people just so I could finish the race. I think I may have taken a few years off of his life or off of his crew chief life. I thank him for that. He was a huge help and I enjoy seeing him every chance that I get. He really showed me the way in stock car racing."
Final Question: How bad do you want the championship and how far will you go to get it?
"A championship at this level is all that I've ever wanted since I was a kid. Growing up in Southern California racing in the deserts, all I would do was watch and at the time it was Jeff (Gordon) winning his championships. I thought how in the world am I going to get there. I'm out here in the Nevada desert and it's a 120 degrees and I'm beating around in an off road truck and that's where I want to be. How do I get there? I worked and sacrificed a lot like everyone else giving everything that I've ever had for it. I want to be a champion. I certainly hope it's this year. There's many more years that I feel in my career to hopefully achieve that. Since I was a kid this is everything that I wanted to do is be a champion at the Cup level."
"I'm a true believer in what's meant to be is going to happen. Everyone is going to be working hard. Everyone is dedicated. Everybody is putting their best race and best effort out there. We're just going to have to wait and see what the results are and be content with whatever the results are. I guess the difference for me from these other guys is that they're hoping for their first championship. It's kind of a got to have it, need the championship. For me I've accomplished more than I ever dreamed that I would ever accomplish in this series and in racing in general. Having those championships, I'm not in a need to win or need to win a championship situation. I'm in a pure desire want. That's what is driving me. I've experienced what it is like to win. I know how awesome it is. I know how special it is. This team has worked really hard to get to this point and we're going to work extremely hard all day on Sunday to try to get number five. It's been about the drive for five for us this year. You can't say any of us want it any more because we all want it really bad. For me it's just about the desire for this team and the desire to try to get another one."
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"I feel like I'm pretty fortunate that I've made it this far. Being the son of Dale Earnhardt, I just tried to do everything I could not to embarrass him in my career. I've just tried to make the right moves and do the right things to have gotten to where I am and be able to compete against Jeff (Gordon) and Mark (Martin) and guys like Kurt (Busch) and Jimmie (Johnson). I feel really good. I don't know who up here wants it more. I think we all would say each one of us probably does. It's the biggest goal we all try to achieve. That's the reason we're all here. Like I said earlier, we're kind of a long shot. I don't think the take will be any more but the give will be a lot less on Sunday. That will be how I'll be racing."