Jimmie Johnson press conference 2003-02-25

Jimmie Johnson Tuesday, February 25, 2003 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet comments on his 2003 season and his outlook for the upcoming UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 in Las Vegas, NV. Johnson comes to...

Jimmie Johnson
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet comments on his 2003 season and his outlook for the upcoming UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 in Las Vegas, NV. Johnson comes to Las Vegas as one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR. For the 2003 season, Johnson is currently 3rd in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings (33 points behind the leader), following his second consecutive top-10 finish of the young season. His earnings this season are $826,336.

IN YOUR SECOND SEASON IN WINSTON CUP COMPETITION, WHICH WILL IMPACT YOU THE MOST... YOUR ENERGY OR YOUR EXPERIENCE? "My experience. Experience is the name of the game here. In dealing with guys who have won championships and races, they have years and years of experience. So, I'm looking forward to each year to gain more experience so I can be more competitive."

EN ROUTE TO REACHING THE LEVEL OF WINSTON CUP RACING, WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU LEARN THE MOST? "Relative to NASCAR, my first time in a stock car was in the ASA (American Speed Association) Series, and then a few races in 1997 and then the full season in '98 and '99. That was my first experience in a stock car. I've been racing since I was five on the dirt - from motorcycles to off-road buggies and trucks. You get to the point where racing is racing. But until I got into the stock cars and started to learn about everything that's involved in the set-ups, that's when it really all started for me."

AFTER TWO WEEKS OF RACING, HOW WOULD YOU EVALUATE THE NEW CHEVY BODY STYLE? IS IT TOO EARLY TO TELL? "Yeah, I think it's too early. With all the makes, there are so many templates that are the same. Eighty or 90 percent of the templates are the same between all makes. I think it's a little early to tell. I think it's going to provide more equality in the series. What we have to look at here are the teams that are successful. We all know how strong DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) and RCR (Richard Childress Racing) were at Daytona. Regardless of what make they run, they're going to be strong. And they were strong. At Rockingham, there was a big group of Roush cars that were very successful. I think you're going to have to pay attention to that more than whether it's a Monte Carlo thing or a Dodge thing or a Ford thing. I feel it's going to be more based on the teams."

ARE THINGS SO SIMILAR NOW THAT IT'S MORE THE TEAMS PUTTING THE CARS TOGETHER THAN THE CARS THEMSELVES? "To a big extent, I think so. There are still some areas that NASCAR leaves us to work on the cars. Also, there are small differences between each make. I really think it's going to eliminate a lot of the aero wars we've had in the past. I know that's their goal. It's still a little early to tell, but I think this is all going to be a moot point before too long."

HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO RUSTY WALLACE'S CHARGES THAT THE CHEVYS WERE CHEATING AT DAYTONA? "I wasn't aware of that. If I remember back right, I believe he was caught with something and none of the Chevrolets were (laughs). So, I don't know what he's referring to there. Everybody's got to go down there and work the gray areas. If you look at it, it's more of a team program. We all know that DEI and RCR are going to be strong on the plate tracks. That's what I think shows up and why the Monte Carlos dominated that event (Daytona 500). It's more due to the teams' preparation and the teams' focus on those certain events than it is the manufacturer at this point."

WHAT'S YOUR FOCUS ON THE LAS VEGAS RACE THIS WEEKEND? "We came off a good race at Rockingham and we're excited to get to Vegas with the new (Chevrolet) body to see how it's all going to shake out. We had a test there that went really well. The car responded as we wanted to things that were familiar. We're hoping it's not going to be a huge difference for us as far as set-up goes and that we can go out there and get some more points."

WAS IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU AND JEFF GORDON TO MAINTAIN A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WHILE COMPETING LAST YEAR? "No, it hasn't been hard at all in any sense. He's extremely focused and dedicated to racing and I've been brought up the same way. Out of the box, we have similar work styles and commitment and all the different stuff in the sport that's needed. It's been easy. I respect him and I believe over time that he's gaining that respect for me."

CAN YOU EVER ENVISION A TIME WHEN IT MIGHT BECOME A PROBLEM? "No, I don't think so. I don't think there will be that time. And if problems do arise, I think they'll be good problems. Last year we were competing for fourth and fifth in points at the last race of the year, and hopefully we're competing for race wins and looking forward to those problems because it's a reward for the team and the work they're putting into it and it shows what Hendrick Motorsports is made of, and what our teams are made of. So I think whatever problems are out there are good ones to have."

WILL THE COOPERATION BETWEEN THE TEAMS EVER CHANGE OR WILL THAT DEPEND ON THE POINT SITUATION? "The only changes that happen there are for the better. The more time we spend together, the better we understand one another. The work that Jeff (Gordon) and Rick (Hendrick) and Brian Whitesell and Chad (Knaus) and Robbie (Loomis) have put into this will make us stronger and better. We saw last year what two cars under one roof can do in the way they brought me up to speed. We want to keep expanding on that and growing on that throughout all of Hendrick Motorsports. This year, the tests that we've had already, we've been able to really learn from one another and advance our race cars."

HEADING INTO YOUR SECOND YEAR, DO YOU EVER HAVE CONCERNS ABOUT DROPPING OFF AFTER HAVING SUCH A GREAT ROOKIE SEASON? "Nope. That's not something I think anyone thinks about. You want to come back and be bigger and better. In my experience, I've only been in a series for two years at a time and then I've moved on. My second year has always been bigger and better. So I'm hoping that trend continues and that we'll have a better year than last year."

SINCE JEFF GORDON'S PERSONAL PROBLEMS BECAME PUBLIC, HAVE YOU SEEN ANY CHANGES IN HIM AND THE WAY HE IS HANDLING THINGS? "No, I'm amazed at the way he's been handling things. His life has been totally blown up and exploited in every form of media out there and I admire him to be able to stay as calm as he has and keep his focus where it is. It shows a lot of character in him."

HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS EARLY STRETCH OF THREE MILE AND A HALF RACES - LAS VEGAS, ATLANTA, & TEXAS? "The stretch is always important with the way the points battles are shaping up and the few amount of points between each position (these days). What we learn at Vegas, we'll apply at Atlanta. But more so, we'll apply (it) to Texas. The banking is more similar between those two events. We're eager to get on these mile and a half tracks to understand what we'll have to deal with because so much of our season is made up of those types of tracks. These first two mile and a half's will set the tone for the rest of the year for all the teams."

WHAT CAN A GOOD PERFORMANCE MEAN AT VEGAS AND WHAT CAN A BAD PERFORMANCE MEAN AT LVMS? "A bad performance would mean that we're scheduling tests and cutting cars up and working on stuff and trying to find what we need. If we have a good race, we can better plan out our test sessions to maybe utilize them at a road course or somewhere else where we had trouble at last year. You know we are so limited with test sessions this year. We're hoping that we leave Las Vegas smiling and that we can keep our focus on the whole season instead of just on mile and a half tracks."

SINCE YOU'VE BEEN IN NASCAR, HAVE YOU HAD A MEMORABLE ENCOUNTER WITH A CELEBRITY - MAYBE AT DRIVER INTRODUCTIONS OR IN THE GARAGE AREA? "At Daytona, I was able to meet John Travolta and his wife, Kelly. I was surprised at his interest in our sport and I think he kind of looks at us the way we kind of look at him - kind of in awe. I offered to trade him some driving tips for some dancing tips and he was interested but I'm sure I would look like the bigger fool at the end of that deal (laughs)."

IS THERE ANY PARTICULAR CELEBRITY YOU'D LIKE TO SEE AT THE TRACK OR THAT YOU'D LIKE TO MEET? "No, I can't think of anyone off the top of my head that I'd like to see at the track."

ARE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE WITH YOUNGER RACE DRIVERS AND FANS THAN YOU ARE WITH AN OLDER AGE GROUP? "No, any certain age driver or fan doesn't affect me either way. I've got fans in all age groups and I respect every driver that's out there. You find that there are different personalities - regardless of age - that you need to deal with on the race track. But besides that, it's all good."

-hm/lowes-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports