CHEVY NNCS AT INDY: Weekly Top 10 with Jimmie Johnson BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS: YOU SAID YOU'D TAKE JEFF GORDON'S ROAD COURSE CAR RIGHT NOW..HOW ABOUT HERE? WOULD YOU TAKE HIS SET-UP FOR THIS...
CHEVY NNCS AT INDY: Weekly Top 10 with Jimmie Johnson
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS:
YOU SAID YOU'D TAKE JEFF GORDON'S ROAD COURSE CAR RIGHT NOW..HOW ABOUT HERE? WOULD YOU TAKE HIS SET-UP FOR THIS RACE RIGHT NOW AND RUN IT? "Yeah, what I was saying it that Jeff it so good on the road courses and we've been trying to experiment and develop new things to find some speed and there are things we've developed on the road courses that the No. 24 has taken, and with Jeff's knowledge and experience of road course racing has made it really fast and proved that at Sonoma. So, going to the Glen, I want the identical set-up so that if I'm off pace, I know it's just me. That's one part of it.
Here (at IMS), he has a ton of experience and knows what he's looking for and we did come with very similar set-ups and as practice sessions develop, I'm going to be at his car trying to understand what he's looking for and what he feels about the set-up so that I can carry that into Sunday's race."
FAN-WISE, IF JEFF GORDON IS GOING TO TIE DALE EARNHARDT'S RECORD, IS THIS THE FRIENDLIEST AND STRONGEST PLACE TO DO IT? "Yeah, I guess so. Thinking of it that way. I was just thinking of how cool it would be to tie Earnhardt here - personally what he would be experiencing and going through. You can't control where you race and if the fans like you in that state or in that area or not, that's just one of the things you deal with. I think that even if it is a No. 8 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) fan or a No. 20 (Tony Stewart) fan, or whatever it may be, I think everyone respects what Jeff has done. If and when he ties Earnhardt, I think regardless of the fan, they're going to respect what he's done in the sport."
IF YOU DO ADOPT GORDON'S SET-UP AND WAY OF GETTING AROUND HERE, IF IT COMES DOWN TO THE TWO OF YOU, DO YOU HAVE ANY QUALMS ABOUT TAKING THAT SPECIAL MOMENT AWAY FROM HIM? "No. These wins are so tough. He shouldn't be selfish (laughter)."
IF YOU COULD MAKE A CHANGE OR TWO TO THE CHASE FORMAT, WHAT WOULD YOU DO? "I think the promoters' concepts and even the fan's ideas of the Chase and the adjustments that need to be made are much different from the people that are in the Chase. The trick is to find a balance between putting on a good show and also keeping the competitors happy. I was one of the last ones to fall in love with the Chase, but having a couple of years into it now, it has done so many positive things for our sport, that I would be foolish to not like it or agree with it. I think it's been a great thing for us. I feel there needs to be more of an emphasis on the first 26 races. There needs to be some type of award or purse to whoever wins that championship and then some type of reward for going into the final 10. A five-point separation, from the competitor's standpoint, isn't a lot. It's very close. Again, I think it's just a fine balance. Drivers and competitors are going to want one thing. The sanctioning body and possibly fans may want something else to put on a good show."
YOU ARE IN A GREAT SPOT MOVING TOWARD THE CHASE. DOES IT OCCUR TO YOU THAT YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE TOO MANY MORE OF THESE CHANCES WHERE YOU ARE PROPERLY POSITIONED TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP? "It's not my style to really think about things that way. I feel very fortunate to be in the situation I've been in. At the same time, I look back at the last few years and look at mistakes I've made and the team has made and where we could be stronger and I don't feel in my heart that we have reached our potential yet. Maybe it appears that we've been in this position and haven't been able to win a championship, but from my seat, I feel that we've been really strong but we can still do a better job. This year we've been doing a good job. If we can keep this going for the next three or four races, we'll be in really good shape."
WITH JUST SIX RACES REMAINING BEFORE THE CHASE, AND WITH THE POINTS BEING SO TIGHT FROM 7TH TO 14TH, HOW DO YOU EXPECT THAT TO AFFECT THE RACING? "I think the intensity between those guys is really going to be heightened. They are going to be racing each other very hard and worrying about every spot. I was talking to Jeff (Gordon) about that. He said, 'Not only do I have to worry about overall points and getting as many points as possible, but who in front of me is going to outscore me in points?' So there are a couple of different scenarios those guys have to worry about. It's that time of year where it's going to get real dicey."
DO YOU THINK GUYS WILL TAKE MORE CHANCES? "I think so. I definitely think so. Leading a lap, those five bonus points are important, leading the most laps is going to be important, and then just getting that next position is going to be very intense for those guys."
SAY YOU WERE ONE OF THOSE GUYS IN THAT POSITION, AND YOU HAVE A CHANGE TO GAMBLE ON FUEL AND WIN AT INDY - IF YOU RUN OUT AND FINISH 25TH AND HURT YOUR CHANCE TO GET INTO THE CHASE - WHICH CHOICE DO YOU MAKE? "I'd hand it over to the crew chief and let him make the decision (laughter). I do see a trend where more people are opting for track position and hoping for cautions than I can remember in the past. So I would say that everybody is going to have a number and they're going to pray for four or five or six caution laps. When they get to that number, they're going to come in and roll the dice and hope from there that it's going to play out and they're going to get cautions late in the race.
"If you knew the final outcome and you knew you were going to run out of gas, that's one thing. We take the conservative route all the time. Our philosophy always is four tires and a full tank of gas so you know that you're going to make it. You don't want something out of your control to knock you out. That's usually the way we play it."
TO GO BACK TO THE CHASE, SHOULD THERE BE MORE POINTS REWARDED FOR WINNING RACES? "I go back and forth on that. I agree that there should be a bigger separation, but I don't want anyone to feel that if there is a bigger separation in points, it's going to make for better racing. As a driver, if I can pass a guy and win the race, I'm going to do it - regardless. The fact that there are five or 10 more points on the line isn't going to change the way I drive. We're doing all that we can out there. I get a little scared when I hear things that are going to make us drivers try harder and put on a better show, we're there. We're doing all that we can. I think we need to look in other areas (like) how can we make more race tracks have variable banking so we have multiple grooves to pass and how can we make the racing better."
IS YOUR TEAM AT THE POINT NOW, THAT IF YOU DON'T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP THAT ANYTHING LESS IS A DISAPPOINTMENT? "We'd be definitely disappointed. We've had another stellar year and leading the points and won a lot of races. So maybe it does change our perspective. The worst we've been in points is fifth. So we do have a lot on the championship. I feel that anybody who is going to win the championship is in that situation. The guys I look at every week, area all the guys who have won championships and who can win championships. I would be disappointed, without a doubt. But at the same time, it hasn't been the cakewalk as it may appear. I've heard different comments. We've had races where we've lost a bunch of points. We've been fortunate with no mechanical failures. We've missed a lot of wrecks. Through the year, there were a lot of opportunities for us to not be in this position. So, the thing I tell myself, and my crew everyday is that okay, we've got six to go and we're in great position, but it's not over yet. Mathematically we could still fall out of this thing. We're trying to keep the intensity up so that we don't put our guard down or put as much pressure on ourselves so that when the Chase comes we're used to the pressure and so that we can try to do the best job we can in the Chase."
HOW PUZZLING IS IT THAT YOU'VE HAD SO MUCH SUCCESS AT OTHER PLACES BUT STRUGGLED HERE AT IMS? "The year that really confused us was when we won both Pocono races and came here and weren't competitive. I think the year before Bill Elliott did the same and won the Brickyard, so I was feeling pretty good about things and came over and didn't do too well. So this has been one of the tougher tracks on us. Hopefully we can come out of here with a top 10. Realistically a top 10 here would be huge for us."
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT YOUNGER DRIVERS BEING AGGRESSIVE. HOW MUCH OF THAT IS JUST EVOLUTION OF THE SPORT? "I definitely think it's been evolution in what's been going on. I do notice a difference in the Busch Series. They don't have as many pit stops and the race is a lot shorter. There is a little bit more intensity in the race and less give and take. Mark Martin is my example of this. In the past, if you ran him down or got close, he would be trying to be so nice to you, that if you let off it would almost catch you off guard. Now, unless you're there inside of him for four or five laps, he's not going to let you by him. And we all know and respect Mark for the driver he is and how he understands the race. That's the best example I can use in how the intensity keeps ramping up.
IF NASCAR GAVE A BIGGER SPREAD IN THE POINTS, HOW SIGNIFICANT COULD THAT BE? "I think that whole spread going into the Chase...whoever is first, deserves a nice bonus going in. Whoever is second deserves a decent bonus going in and so forth. To have somebody who is 10th in points - 500 in points out of the championship chase after 26 races and only be 45 out, in my opinion, is unfair. I think there needs to be a bigger gap in all that."