JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway and discussed the ban on testing, if he has any superstitions, how he would grade the new car after a full year of racing and much more. WHAT DO...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway and discussed the ban on testing, if he has any superstitions, how he would grade the new car after a full year of racing and much more.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO THIS WEEKEND? "We've got to finish 400 miles. Looking forward to it. Ready to get on track. It's been a busy week and just really eager to get in the car and get into what I do and what this team's about and what we like to do which is drive that car and make it fast. I'm excited to get out there."
WITH NASCAR'S BAN ON TESTING YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE A LOT MORE FREE TIME IN JANUARY OR MAYBE A LOT LESS IF THEY TAKE YOU TO SOMEOTHER TRACKS THAT AREN'T ON THE SCHEDULE, WHAT ARE YOUR REACTIONS TO THAT? "I think it's a mistake. I think the teams need a chance to work on their cars to improve their programs, to put on a better show. If we had this rule the start of this year with all the development work that needed to be done with the car not only for the No. 48 team but the whole series I don't think we'd be where we are today. I do understand and recognize that we need to cut expenses. I feel a good compromise of the two would be to allow the teams to run data acquisitions on Friday. We can get it off the cars, we can adjust the schedule and make it work and let the teams have a chance to collect data to make these cars better. It doesn't look like that's the case and now we're going to need to focus on other ways to collect data or to create simulation programs or machines to create on-track activity and then test at tracks that may not work and on tires that we won't race on and try to find a base line. It's going to slow things down and make them more expensive and limit some guys but we still have to get on the track and work. We still have to test. We cannot sit still and we won't."
IF YOU WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP HERE WITH THREE CHAMPIONSHIPS IN A ROW YOU WILL BE JOINING SOME PRETTY ELITE COMPANY, DO YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT AT ALL TO THINK OF YOURSELF IN TERMS OF BEING ONE OF THE TOP NASCAR DRIVERS OF ALL TIME? "We talked about this a bunch already and I don't think it's my place to really say where I fit in. I feel like I'm doing my job. Against these guys I'm racing against now I know where I fit in and how good my team is. The performances that I've been able to put up I'm very proud of that but as far as the history books and things like that it's just not my place to say. On top of that, I'm 33 (years old) and have a lot of years left of driving. I think I'll still have more opportunities to increase my position."
CAN YOU TELL US WHERE YOU ARE ON A SAFETY STANDPOINT WITH THE BAN ON TESTING WITH SOME OF THESE TEAMS THAT ARE GOING TO BE OUT THERE WITH PARTS, SET UPS, THAT HASN'T BEEN ON THE TRACK AND HASN'T BEEN TESTED? "No, that's not a concern for me. NASCAR with their inspection process they cover a lot of the basics for safety and also any components that are introduced to the car have to be approved by NASCAR. So on that front I feel totally safe and fine. No concerns there."
LET'S JUST ASSUME YOU WERE GOING INTO THE FINAL RACE OF THE SEASON WHERE ONLY A DISASTER COULD STOP YOU FROM WINNING A THIRD STRAIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP, ARE YOUSUPERSITIOUS AND DOES THAT MAKE YOU MORE SUPERSITITOUS? "I've had this thought come through my mind at different times. One of the things I look for are pennies or I don't look for them but if I see one and it's not heads up I will kick it until it's heads up. I'll see numbers and I'll think wow things are working out. The room number I'm staying in, I had to do some weird math, but it equaled three once I went through the three-digit room combination. Just stupid things like that that go on in my mind and they've always been there but none of it has ever really meant anything. Last weekend doing my goofy little games, everything was against me and we won so I'm like okay that stuff doesn't make any sense. So this weekend as I've been playing my normal games that I do with myself I'm just thinking back to last week where none of it matters and it's been helpful. I've been much more relaxed."
GIVE US AN EXAMPLE OF THE GAMES. "I got up at 7:03 this morning just to play with the three thing. Instead of a minute on the microwave I'll go 48 seconds and stuff like that. I've always done stuff like that, goofy stuff and it's worked and it's been there when I've run well and run bad. So I guess I'm finding some peace that it doesn't really matter."
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT YOUR TESTING SCHEDULE TO LOOK LIKE NEXT YEAR AT NON-SANCTIONED TRACKS, DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE AS EXTENSIVE? "I think it's still a moving target right now. It takes a lot of tracks off the table that we can run at with the pouring over into the weekly stuff and Truck and Nationwide. I guess our guys need to get to work and see what tracks are available and where we might be able to run and get some track time. I guess it's just too early right now to know what it will look like. January looks a lot better now. I'm excited about that. I might extend my vacation a little bit since I don't have to be in Daytona. Outside the Daytona test and the Vegas test and the California test, that's the tests the teams really need to get started for the season. I can see the Daytona test disappearing saving a lot of team's money period but when I heard the news this morning I was shocked. I didn't expect or think we would be in a position where there was no testing."
HOW WOULD YOU GRADE THE CAR AFTER ITS FIRST FULL YEAR OF COMPETITION AND IS THERE A LOT OF FINE TUNING LEFT TO DO FOR '09? "Yeah, I think the more we work with it the better the car gets. I feel on short tracks, I feel on road courses even the superspeedway stuff I think has been good. The area I think we still need to work on the car is on the 1.5-mile and two-mile tracks. You can only get so close to the guy in front of you and it's difficult to really run side-by-side with the big hole that these cars punch. I would say the short tracks, road courses and such; the car had got an A in my opinion. It's done really, really well. I think on these bigger tracks it's in a C+ category, C category."
WHAT THE SINGLE BIGGEST THING CHAD (KNAUS) HAS HELPED YOU WITH THE MOST AND WHAT'S THE SINGLE BIGGEST THING YOU'VE HELPED CHAD WITH THE MOST IN THE YEARS YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN TOGETHER? "The fight that he has in him is contagious and he challenges you to do more than you ever would have done. It's easy to do that when you look at a guy that's doing it. If it's somebody telling you you should work hard and he's cutting out at 4:00 and showing up at 9:00 and not putting in the time it's tough to believe that. But he's the first one in and last one out and working endless hours and its contagious amongst the team. He's helped me get outside of what I thought was working hard and put in more time and enjoy doing it and seeing the results. I think I've brought some patience into this life and tried to slow him down. I know that Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has brought in the whole concept of delegating and sharing the load because in the '04 and '05 years range Chad was taking all the responsibilities and nobody could keep up with that. Then Darian Grubb came into the picture and was a huge help and now Greg Ives is in that position. I think Rick has taught him how to have more people to rely on."
DALE EARNHARDT, JR. SAID IN TEXAS WE DON'T KNOW YOU, DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN BE YOURSELF, IS THAT ONE OF THE PROBLEMS OF WORKING WITH A TEAM LIKE HENDRICK AND NOW THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD? "I don't feel like I haven't been myself. I guess when I go to work evidently I put on a different persona and that's been there. It's not like I've made an effort and said okay you can be this way over here and you can be this way here I've just been me through all of it. I guess there is a lighter side to me that is now coming out for whatever reason. Junior and I got into a great argument over the fact that I'm too worried about doing the right thing and saying the right thing and it was pretty funny because I was like look at you man right now your talkative but we'll go to the track and you won't say anything to anyone for two days. I mean you can just totally go mute on us. We had a very fun conversation on all that but at the end of the day it's surprising me that there's so much discussion about this topic. I'm hopefully going to join Cale Yarborough in the history books and the hot topic seems to be this. It's odd to me but I'm just me, I'm just doing my thing and hope to get this behind me and have some fun Sunday night. I just want to get through this weekend."
YOU MENTIONED YOU GUYS WILL PROBABLY STILL TEST, YOU'LL FIGURE OUT WHERE YOU CAN TEST. THIS IS SO SUPPOSED TO BE A COST-CUTTING MEASURE, ISN'T IT SORT OF REVERSE BECAUSE YOU GUYS ARE STILL GOING TO GO SPEND THE MONEY AND FIND PLACE AND THESE SMALLER TEAMS MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO RENT THAT TRACK TIME AND GO TO THOSE PLACES? "Yeah, in some ways I think it does and it can. NASCAR has had a difficult time figuring out what would be the right thing here. At one point they were we don't care how many times you test. Just open it all up. We don't care. We'll give you the tire you do what you want. So I've watched and been a part of some conversations and know how difficult this topic has been. At the end of the day speed equals dollars. It always has been. It's the formula in racing, it's the way it works and you're never going to get around that. It may slow us down and it may limit the amount of information that we can learn but at the end of the day the only way we're going to beat Roush (Fenway Racing) or Childress (Richard Childress Racing) or Yates (Racing) or Ganassi (Racing) or any of those teams that are out there is by finding more speed and technology and that takes money to do it. No matter how you try to mold the rules you can't change that. That's the bottom line. It could and I know that's the last thing NASCAR wants but at the same time we've got to do what we've got to do to win. I'm not sure what that is it's so new. I don't know what that means and if it is testing, you know we all have seven-post machines now and that started because of the limited testing we had a year or so back. I don't know what the next machine is going to be but we're going to start looking for it I'm sure and try to get it."
A LOT OF CREW MEMBERS LOST THEIR JOBS IN THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS, YOU'RE AT A TEAM THAT IS ONE OF THE ELITE TEAMS SO HOW FORTUNATE DO YOU FEEL THAT THAT HASN'T HAPPENED YET OR HAVE YOU EVEN SEEN INSTANCES WHERE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS IS STARTING TO TRIM BACK A LITTLE? "We've always tried to be as lean as we can and we probably have more people than anyone. It's something to say that. I know how Chad (Knaus) runs the No. 24, No. 48 shop and those guys in there put in a lot of time and he's always kept it a lean shop. We've had some turnover and things but it hasn't been because of budgeting reasons. At least in the No. 24, No. 48 shop, I haven't seen any of that or heard any of that. It's troubling to me to hear that 120 people lost their jobs at DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.). I guess we're finally seeing the impact of this bad economy that we're in. I don't think there's any business in the world that's immune to it. It's taking its toll on everyone. Until the sponsors get their return on their investment in the sport and they can feel comfortable spending the money they have and they continue to sign on and spend more I don't know how it's going to change. It's expensive. It's a big sport and it's expensive."
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL A YOUNG FAN WHAT'S ITS LIKE TO COME ALL THE WAY FROM RACING IN THE DESERT TO RACING AT THIS LEVEL? "It's been a wild ride. There's been a lot of points where I wasn't sure I was going to have a job or things were going to work out. To be here today in the position I'm in it's like watching a movie at times because it's not been this easy road and there's been a lot of opportunities for things to go away and things to go wrong, sponsorship dollars not being there and not performing. I had to deal with the fact that the off-road racing industry went through a tough time and when I was peaking in my career at that point the series went under and I was fortunate to meet the Herzog's and find a way into asphalt racing at that point and time. You just got to commit to the sport. If you love racing and make it your life it will be there for you. I'm one in a billion that gets this opportunity and has this kind of success. But if you love racing you can have a lot of fun with it."
-credit: gm racing