An interview with Jimmie Johnson part 2 0f 2 AS A ROOKIE WHO SIGNS AUTOGRAPHS FOR THREE AND FOUR HOURS AT A TIME, ARE YOU TRYING TO BUILD A FAN BASE OR IS THAT JUST SOMETHING YOU PERSONALLY WANT TO DO? "Well, you're trying to build a fan base,...
An interview with Jimmie Johnson
part 2 0f 2
AS A ROOKIE WHO SIGNS AUTOGRAPHS FOR THREE AND FOUR HOURS AT A TIME, ARE YOU TRYING TO BUILD A FAN BASE OR IS THAT JUST SOMETHING YOU PERSONALLY WANT TO DO?
"Well, you're trying to build a fan base, but at the same time we're real busy in the garage area running around and unfortunately you find yourself unable to sign many autographs. You're doing your job in there (garage area) and you're running crazy. So it makes me feel good that I'm able to go out there and spend some time with the fans and sign autographs for them. That's one thing about our sport. The fans are so involved because they can get those autographs and meet the drivers and stuff. I'm just trying to do my part and be out there and be accessible to the fans. The garage area is just not the best place for autographs. That's why I make myself so accessible at the souvenir) trailer."
WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT GETTING A 'RHYTHM' TO THE TRACK?
"Every place is obviously different, but there's a certain line and a way that you can enter the corners and how much brake you can use and how early you can pick the gas back up. There is just kind of a rhythm to it. At Bristol, you don't use a lot of brake getting into the turn. You let off relatively early, but you do everything you can to get back on the gas as soon as possible. Each place has it's own rhythm. You've got to remind yourself of and sometimes you can't find it - at least for myself -- I don't find it until the race. I don't have a lot of experience at some of these tracks so it takes a little bit longer for me at times. I usually seem to find it in the race."
DOES THAT COMPARE TO FOOTBALL PLAYERS WHO SAY THAT EVERYTHING SLOWS DOWN AND IT SEEMS LIKE THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES GOING AT FULL SPEED?
"Yeah, it's close to the same thing. When you show up, there is so much pressure in those two hours of practice we have prior to qualifying. You don't ever slow down enough at times to feel what the car is doing - to have that sensitive feel for what is going on around you. That's what experience does for you. You know the rhythm for the racetrack and it's easier to find it faster and qualifying doesn't get to you as much. At some places, I hit it a lot earlier than others. I think it reflects in qualifying a little bit at times. But at race time, we always seem to get to where we need to be."
ON BEING PENALIZED BY NASCAR FOR A RULE INFRACTION AT THE PEPSI 400 AT DAYTONA
"What we got in trouble with at Daytona only benefits you at a speedway race, and we got caught with it before we even made a lap on the racetrack so we don't know if it would have even worked. It's just the speedway - you know, one of those gray areas in the speedway races that you're trying to find some speed in. We found a touchy subject that we played with."
ENTERING THE END OF THE SEASON, IS YOU PRIMARY GOAL JUST TO RACE THE BEST YOU CAN, OR ARE YOU RACING FOR POINTS NOW?
"There are a lot of different ways to look at it and theories to throw out there. If we stay focused and do the best that we can every week and get maximum points, it will take care of the big picture. At the same time though, we are paying attention to that big picture. We don't have that many races left. And we have a legitimate shot at winning the championship in our rookie season. That would just be such an accomplishment for us, obviously. But we've got to crawl before we walk and walk before we run. To start off, we need to do the best we can every weekend. That's our motto."
SINCE YOU'VE HAD SUCH A GREAT ROOKIE YEAR, ARE YOU AT ALL WORRIED ABOUT NEXT YEAR?
"No. Within this season, we've had a lot of great success but we've also had a lot of hard times. There are cycles in Winston Cup racing that work in a lot of ways. There are cycles where manufacturers dominate. There are cycles where certain teams dominate. And there are cycles on the bad side as well. At the beginning of the season, we had an advantage and our team was working really well. But it looks like people have caught up now. For the past few races, it looks like the No. 9 car (Bill Elliott) has had the magic. The cycles come around. We're using these trying times as a character builder for the team and a way to make ourselves stronger and closer as a team so that when it hits - it happens to everyone - that we don't break ourselves down and that we can pick up the pieces and go on."
BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY GUYS IN THE POINTS RACE, AND IT'S LATE IN THE SEASON, ARE THE GUYS RUNNING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP GOING TO GET NERVOUS, RUN LESS GEAR, AND OPEN THE DOOR FOR DRIVERS THAT ARE SO FAR OUT OF THE HUNT TO TAKE BIGGER RISKS?
"At the beginning of the season, what put us in such a neat situation is that we didn't have anything to lose. Nobody knew - we didn't even know - what the heck we could do. We got really aggressive. When you're up there running for the points, you start changing the way things happen. You don't want to take any unneeded risks or do anything stupid. You just hope that everyone around you is doing the same and you are able to keep from getting your doors blown off. The way this is coming down, it might be a 10-car race for the championship before we know it. It's at least a five or six-car race now. When you don't have anything to lose, you can race a lot differently. You usually do better because you're on the offense and not protecting things on the defense."
ON THE RESULTS OF NOSE KICK-OUT AT MICHIGAN
"It's hard to know exactly what's going on without getting some wind tunnel data. In clean air, obviously the air will sit on that area of the car that's so low to the ground and you will get the benefits of it. In traffic, when you're right behind somebody, that car is cutting the air off that's on the ground. So you're not getting that help you need. You need adjustments further up on the car - up towards the hood area, up in the headlight area - to make use of dirty air in a better way than the kick-out on the nose. We found ourselves extremely loose in clean air, but when we got in traffic we were tighter. In a sense, at least for my car, it hurt us a little bit in clean air and we had to over-stiffen the front of the car to support the downforce. And then when we had the air taken away from us, there was too much spring in the front of the car and we were tight. Jeff Gordon actually had some different things going on. I'm going to leave that to the engineers. I don't know enough. This is my first year. I'm just hanging on and dealing with what I can. I know that all these questions will disappear next year with the new style cars that are coming out. This is just something we have to tolerate the rest of the year."
AS A ROOKIE RUNNING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP, HOW DO THE OTHER DRIVERS TREAT YOU?
"It's come full circle in many respects. In the beginning of the season, nobody really knew what I was going to do. So they raced me real hard and didn't give me a lot of breaks. And when I proved myself in that) I wasn't going to crash anyone and that I was going to race them clean and smart, they started cutting me some slack and giving me some breaks. And then when we started winning races and running for the championship, everybody started racing me real hard again. Track position is so important these days. Unless you absolutely run somebody down and are a lot faster then them, you don't want to give that position up because it might come back to haunt you later in the race and you'd miss out on a win or a top five. So I've actually seen it come full circle."
IS THERE SOMEBODY THAT YOU LEAN ON TO KEEP YOU ON EVEN KEEL?
"The whole group on the No. 24 team (Jeff Gordon) are used to winning races and championships. By teaming up with them and being in the same shop with them, it's changed the mindset of our whole team since the beginning of the year. We are a race winning team. We are a championship caliber team. Instead of us having to go out and muster up those feelings on our own, we were pulled into it in the shop by being teamed-up and working with these guys. That's where I go for my guidance."
ON HIS BUSINESS-LIKE APPROACH TO RACING?
"I guess that's just the way I do it. Racing is something that I've done since I was five years old. At 15, I found myself racing professionally. And I didn't have the means through my family for them to buy me racecars and for them to put me in situations. I had to go out and meet people and talk myself into an opportunity, and from the opportunity I had to go get the job done. Maybe that's programmed me for the way I handle things today."
HAS THE KID IN YOU BEEN CHANGED BY THIS POINTS RACE?
"No, that kid in me is still there. I like to have a good time. I like to hang out with my guys (crew). I love racing. I like to have fun. At Hendrick Motorsports, they are about being who you are. Rick Hendrick wants me to be the guy that he hired a couple of years ago. He doesn't want me to change. I'm in an environment where I have a little bit of free time. I can get away from the grind at times. I can make time for myself and stay balanced."
WHEN YOU TESTED AT RICHMOND, WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE RACING SURFACE?
"It reminded me of Richmond races in the past where the bottom groove sealer is wearing down and the sealer is real tacky and in good shape in the outside groove. You can even see the distinct colors in the groove from the top to the bottom. I heard a lot of references that it wasn't a very good race in the spring. I think what was happening was that the sealer was rolling up on the bottom groove and was dirtying up the second groove and you couldn't run up there. After all summer, I think the track is back to what everyone is used to seeing. We were there for a tire test and the tires were so good, that there wasn't much drop off. After 75 laps, we only slowed down three-tenths of a second. I don't know how much racing that speed is going to promote, but I know the racetrack is back to the way I remember seeing it on television."
DO YOU THINK THE SPEEDS WILL BE SLOWER THAN THEY WERE IN MAY?
"No. It's the same tire. They should be the same, if not faster."
Jimmie Johnson press conference, part I