Indianapolis: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed winning at IMS, the set-up for the new race car at Brickyard, Mark Martin's desire to win at Indy, the year to date, and more. Q. Totally different tracks. You run well at this...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed winning at IMS, the set-up for the new race car at Brickyard, Mark Martin's desire to win at Indy, the year to date, and more.

Q. Totally different tracks. You run well at this place. Could this be Round 2 of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch late shootout with a different kind of track?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, I hope so. And I certainly hope it's a runaway 48 show. Kyle I would expect to be good here. Obviously he's been good at a lot of tracks this year. I'm excited to come back. This track has been so feast or famine for us. We've either won or been on fire, wrecked. We were on fire, wrecked last year. I hope this year it switches over to winning and kissing the bricks on the front stretch. I'm excited. It's hard to tell. People say Pocono is similar to this track. We ran well at Pocono. So I'm excited about that. But I really can't see the similarities from track to track. I really feel it's its own type of track until we get on the racing surface and see where we're at. I'm kind of optimistic, but still at the same time not sure where we're going to be.

Q. Even though Kyle has yet to win here, just as hot as he is, does he sort of have to be the favorite for this race going in just based on what he's done so far?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Certainly comes to the top of my mind. There's some other cars that have been really fast on the flatter tracks, as well. I certainly think he's going to be one of the guys. But until this first practice takes off, it's really hard to tell where everybody's going to be at.

Q. What did that win here do for you?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I feel very fortunate to have won on all the major tracks and events in our series. At the time to overcome such a difficult track for the 48 team meant a lot to us, gave us a lot of hope and belief in overcoming the championship, that had been right there in front of us, we had kept missing it. It really set the pace for us to go on and have good things take place.

It was really rewarding, too, on that same note, to really be terrible at a track and come back and finally beat it, that had beaten us so many times. To come back and beat the track was pretty special. I think we did the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard in the same year, the championship. So it was extremely special.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's so different than the other tracks, especially the tracks in the Chase. It wasn't a must-win for us. There are so many positives that came from it, the attitude the team had, the momentum it gave us, that sense of feeling like we beat something that had been beating us. You know, it helped, but it wasn't the reason.

Q. In the Brickyard do you take more chances to go for a win?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think so. I definitely think you take more chances. You know, where we are in the points, we're a couple hundred above 12th. We got to be smart to not shoot ourselves in our foot and affect that. We know this has been a bad track for us. You know, top five would be our first goal, then from there look for a win. It's tough to really gamble when you're sitting in the top five because you feel like you can race for the win at that point.

So I wouldn't see the 48 doing anything risky unless we were 15th and really needed to gain some track position.

Q. What do you need out of your car to be the frontrunner?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It has to stay turning all day here. These corners are really flat and tight. They're much faster with a loose racecar here than a tight racecar. The goal for everyone will be to keep the car turning throughout the day.

Q. Somebody called in and said Tony Stewart would win hands down because he's from Indiana and wants it more than the other drivers. Do you believe that he wants it more?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not discrediting Tony's desire to win here. But it's hard to say he wants it more than anyone else. I can argue that fact for my own reason, and I'm from San Diego, El Cajon, California. Tony runs really well at this track. He's won here I guess twice now. He's one of the favorites.

But, you know, I wouldn't say he want is it more than anyone.

Q. Do you believe in home-field advantage?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, in some ways. It certainly does help. I think Jeff has that working for him here, too. When we get in those cars, the engines fire up, you can't really feel those things or see those emotions and have the fans and the audience kind of pump you up. Once that engine fires up, you just go to work and deal with the car and how it's handling.

Q. And you want it as bad as Tony?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Worse.

Q. How does the Car of Tomorrow change the setup for this race?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: They're totally different. The fact we run on those bump stops completely changes the front-end geometry. The springs that we run, shock packages. Rear springs are fairly similar, you know, within reason. But the front of the cars are much different than what we've ever had.

Q. Which position at the start, how important is it given the fact there's so little room to pass?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, the first victory to take place for the weekend will be qualifying. Whoever can qualify first, get that first pit stall, I was just watching last year's race on television, and saw quite a few accidents on pit road. Guys were just trying to leave their pit box, another car was getting in. Fast cars that were going to be a contender in the event.

Not only track position, track position is more important when Sunday comes along, but whoever can have that first pit stall, that starts the day with practice, then going into qualify tomorrow morning, that's really a high priority to make things work right.

Q. Can you make things happen during the race?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I typically would say there's limited opportunities. But the year we won, we blew a left front tire. Had some damage. Patched the car up over some pit stops. I had to come from the back, work my way around. Really drove up to the lead.

That's in the back of my mind. Last year we had a right front flat again. Okay, I've been here, I can do this. I can make something happen. Unfortunately we crashed. It's one of the more difficult tracks to make stuff happen in.

Q. Talk about the specific thing that Mark Martin will bring to Hendrick Motorsports.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I personally am really excited to understand what he feels and what he's looking for. I think watching our cars slide around on the track, Mark and I both like a loose racecar. I really feel our setups will be closer between Mark and mine. I've never worked with him. It's just an assumption. Maybe than some other teammates. Jeff likes a tighter racecar. Junior likes a loose racecar, too. Our setups have been relatively close. There's something about Mark's driving style, how strong he's been year after year, I want to get in there and understand how he's thinking, what he's looking for, the setups, things like that.

But I think Mark's experience will come in and lift that 5 team up to where it needs to be. Everybody's working extremely hard, but their confidence is beat up from Casey's to the teams. Mark will be able to come in and help them find their footing and they can start building from there.

Q. Question regarding the Chase and Kyle.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Once you make the Chase and you're in that top 12, it's a totally different world in those final 10 races. Last year I learned from the years before that when those -- when the Chase starts, you forget about all the good and bad that took place in the first 26. That's just out the window. It doesn't matter. You're there, you have the points you're starting with, and it's just 10 races until you're done. It really takes on a different mindset for the guys that are competing in the Chase.

I'm looking forward to that. We've got to stop Kyle from getting such a big lead before we get started here. I need to win a few of my own and close that gap. Those 10 races, tough. You have Martinsville, you have Talladega. There's some tracks that really, really -- you know, high-risk tracks, and a lot can happen over those 10 events.

Q. Sometimes does consistency matter a bit more?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just depends on the year. Last year I had to win four in a row to have a shot to beat Gordon. The year before, if anyone could have been consistent, it would have been there. I had to come back from almost 200 points down after the Talladega incident we had to come back and win it. I think everybody looks at being consistent, but you never know who's going to be caught up in what wrecks, who's going to have problems on pit road or speeding. Just you can't control that stuff. So it really depends on the type of year that's going on.

Q. It's almost August. Do you try to attack different tracks this year?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I feel it's going in the right direction right now to be honest with you. The last few races, even though we don't have a trophy, I look at Loudon, how strong we were there, catching Tony at the end, Michigan, I look at lot of these tracks where we've been right there knocking on the door. I'm excited about August. First time in my Cup career I've been excited to come here, excited about August. I guess I was excited last year to come after the win. We've had a lot of good things taking place here the last couple months. A lot of hard work that's led to that. I'm ready to get to work. Looking forward to these next 17.

Q. Is there any extra level of anxiety coming here with the Car of Tomorrow?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: To be honest, it's actually made it easier. When you come back to a track where you were last year, the performance you had, you start worrying about the changes you made, if it's going in the right direction. We're showing up here, nobody's going to know anything. We've had so much less time to really worry about how the car's going to be, what are they going to do. I've been more relaxed coming into this one than any other.

Q. Jeff Burton mentioned concern with taking care of the splitter. Could that be something that's an epidemic of problems for a lot of people?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It could. But I saw something today, I was out there in that Chevrolet thing, giving rides around the Speedway. I saw mostly for the motorcycles that are going to race here, they actually came in and ground the curbing that used to be there. That curbing in the past would rip off the valence, rip off the side skirts of the car. Rumble strips, they're gone. I was happy to see that. I feared that coming in here. With the splitter being as big and also as strong as it is, if you went down there and clipped that rumble strip, it would rip the front of the car off. Thankfully those aren't there. They've ground them down.

Q. Teams headed towards the Chase in the past, not locked in, I know Chad talked about trying things to get ready for the Chase, deviating from what you're doing. Each win is important now, does that take a little bit of that away, you can't afford to feel comfortable and just prepare for the Chase if you're still concerned about getting to it?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it really depends on where you're at in your season. I think the 18 car could afford to try some things. I think we tried that in '05, it completely backfired on us. Where we're at, we've been making slow and steady progress. Learning and trying stuff each week. But heading down a road, crossing things off that didn't work, finding new things that do. We're still in that state.

We're not throwing the Hail Mary. But we're slowly making progress each weekend, applying new things to our car. I think a lot of it depends who is where, what their agendas are.

Q. Where is this team right now compared to March?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're such a better race team as far as cars on track and the finishes we can have on track with this race team right now. We were great race teams, great vehicles being prepared, but we didn't have the speed. It took a lot of hard work to get where we are. Last month, how we've been running on big tracks, short tracks, really shows the progress this Lowe's team has made.

Q. Do you feel you've been flying below the radar, do you like that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I hate it. Miss being booed. I miss people throwing stuff at me. I want to start winning again, go through that stuff. This sport is humbling. One thing I can say about this year, we came off of last year, won as a group 50% of races, 10 wins to ourself. You feel like you can't do anything wrong. This year we went to Vegas, I had a car that was not wrecked, was three seconds off the pace. I mean, it's just such a humbling sport. Technology changes so fast, so much moves around that you can't sit still.

I've been humbled and now we've been working really hard to get things right and I'm very proud of where we are today.

Q. How satisfying would be winning the title this year?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Extremely satisfying. It really would be. On top of that, the mark that Cale Yarborough set, I would love to beat that, or tie that goal, I'm sorry. Tie three championships with Cale, that would be something special.

Q. Do you look back at the Chicago finish and try to analyze that or do you not worry about that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, there's definitely things to learn from that. I feel that I always learn more from tough times than I do when things are going well. It was completely my fault. I got a poor restart. Kyle timed it right. Timed it perfect. Hit me in the rear bumper as I was going back to the gas, I buzzed the tires, then he was on me. Then I got to the outside and side drafted by me, did a perfect job. Timed it all right, did well. I kicked myself for about three days, and then as we got home from my vacation, got closer to coming to Indy, started kicking myself again. You know, certainly disappointed that I missed that opportunity. Learned a lot from that. See if I can avoid doing that in the future.

Q. Would a win here mean the 48 team is back on top?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I feel confident saying we're back already. I don't think we need to run this weekend to prove that. You look at Loudon, you look at Michigan. I'm drawing a blank on the other tracks we've been to. We've led a lot of laps, been in contention for the wins late in the race. Our results might not show it. Michigan I think it came down to fuel mileage or something. Loudon, the rain came. So there are things there that kind of hurt our results. But this team's been doing a great job. We've had a lot of speed. Been qualifying up front. Been racing up front. We're back.

Q. Does it concern you that Kyle was able to participate in a Goodyear tire test at Atlanta?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: If I recall, I think we were at one point going to possibly do that, but things just didn't work out. Goodyear does a really good job in NASCAR to give the dates out in a fair manner, fair order. If somebody's going to go, you want the big teams to go, collect good data so you make sure you come back with the right tires. I mean, it could have been a Gibbs car, could have been a Roush car, could have been a Hendrick car. Those things pop up. I feel confident Goodyear is doing everything they can to keep it fair and to do the right thing. For them to have the guy that won the race go back, it's going to make for a better product. Doesn't help us, that's probably where your question's coming from. But I don't have heartburn from it. They're doing the right thing. This he got good data. Had the winning car there working on the setup to make sure the tire's right.

Q. Question regarding softer tire.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think -- trying to remember back. It's been so long. I remember I was completely out of control all day.

Q. Everybody was.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Everybody was. You know, you want tire wear. I think Atlanta with how abrasive the surface is, you're gonna have tire wear regardless. I assume they worked on getting the grip balanced up between the left and right side tires, just trying to make the cars drive a little smoother.

Q. Last year you were the guy that nobody wanted to see in their rearview mirror. Has Kyle gotten that rep now?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, with the success they've had, week after week, doesn't matter the size of track, if it's a road course, the team's doing a great job, he's doing a great job. You know when they see the front, chances are they're going to get there. That certainly aggravates everyone. I certainly understand now over the last few years what we've been doing to people.

Q. Does it encourage you that you were able to catch him and then had the restart?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah. My crew, I've never seen them so happy for a second place. We left there so happy. With the performance of the car, the fact we made the car better throughout the night, run down the 18, passed him for the lead, those are good things. We're going down the right road. It's been a lot of hard work, like you keep saying. I don't think anybody understands how hard we've been trying to understand this car and make it right. To see these gains we're making and running down the 18 and passing him late in the race really psychs us. We're ready for this Chase to start.

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Cale Yarborough , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin