Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the UAW-GM Quality 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race next weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Johnson comes to Charlotte and...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the UAW-GM Quality 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race next weekend at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Johnson comes to Charlotte and this weekend's race as one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR. For the 2002 season, Johnson is currently 3rd in points, just 82 points behind the leader. So far in 2002, he has earned three victories (California, Dover and Dover), four Bud Pole Awards (Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and Richmond) and recorded 18 top-10 finishes, including six top-5s (Atlanta, California, Dover, Pocono, Chicagoland, and Dover). His earnings this season are $2,506,930.
IF YOU WIN THE WINSTON CUP CHAMPIONSHIP, TO WHOM DO YOU FEEL YOU OWE YOUR SUCCESS? "There is a long list. It's not just one. The first would obviously be everyone at Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports. There are a lot of people along the way from my very first opportunity of climbing in a stadium buggy in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series to Chevrolet and GM. There have been crew chiefs and members and a lot of people along a hard fought path that have helped me and influenced me and taught me a lot over the years. I could even back it up before that probably to when I was racing motorcycles when I first got started at five years old. It would be a lengthy speech at the (awards) banquet."
DO ALL THE TEAMS AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS SHARE INFORMTION? "Yeah, obviously the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the No. 48 teams are in the same building and intentionally build the cars identically. That's easy for the No. 24 and the No. 48 to share information. Terry Labonte (No. 5) is a one-footed driver so his set-ups are a lot different to support that driving style. So it's hard to have a lot of direct information there. With Joe Nemechek (No. 25), we're learning. There has been both a driver change and a crew chief change over there. We've been trying to understand what equipment they have and they've been doing a great job. The information crosses, but if we could get all four (teams) to work closely together, we'll have an advantage."
ON THE SMALLER FUEL CELL AT TALLADEGA "The thing that I don't like is how races come down to fuel mileage. Most fuel mileage is gained by fuel capacity, which is finding ways to get around NASCAR's ways of measuring and monitoring your fuel tanks. It looked like there at the end the field was really separated by a few guys who could make it and then the rest couldn't. I hate to see races come down to fuel mileage, but at the same time, we had so many problems early that I wasn't able to get a good feel for the race and what the fuel cell did as far as multiple pits and all. When you're racing for the win, it's a lot different than when you're racing to get a lap back."
DO YOU SEE THE POINTS CHASE CONTINUING TO FLIP-FLOP DOWN THE HOME STRETCH, OR DO YOU THINK TONY STEWART HAS A LOCK ON IT? "I hope it continues to flip-flip right back into our hands. I can't foresee the future by any means. We felt there a lot of strong tracks for us in the remaining races of the season. We felt Talladega was going to be a very strong track for us but we crashed coming around to get the one to go. I don't think anyone is able to predict who is going to win this. There are a lot of strong tracks coming up for Tony (Stewart), but also for us. Also for Jeff (Gordon), there are strong tracks. I think this is going to go down to the last race. It's going to be a good battle and great for the fans."
IS THERE REALLY NO SET TRAINING GROUND TO BECOME PROFICIENT IN NASCAR? "I don't think so. It's definitely important to get into a stock car at some point to gain the experience and knowledge of how to set them up - through ASA or one of NASCAR's touring series - and then moving up the ladder from there. But getting started, I don't think it matters if you grew up racing motorcycles or go-karts or off-road or Sprint cars. To a great extent, racing is racing. One thing that was important in my career is that I was able to bet involved with well-financed teams with smart crew chiefs and crew members along the way that have been able to let me grow and not have to worry. It was pretty obvious that I was in great equipment and that I needed to work on myself. I think your situation need to be right (in order) to succeed. If you have a dirt background, you might have an advantage at some point if you're able to make it all the way."
WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD WHEN MARK MARTIN CRASHED INTO YOU AT TALLADEGA BEFORE THE RACE WENT GREEN? "It happened so fast. I'm used to cars trying to scrub in their tires and weaving around and being close to you on the caution laps. I saw Mark (Martin) turn to the right and I looked down to do one final check on my lap belt to make sure it was tight and that my safety stuff was in place and working. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the No. 6 car (Martin) shooting across the front of me. I just had enough time to try to react, but it wasn't enough time and he ran across the front of us. So, as we were in the grass, there wasn't much I could do except kind of chuckle about it. I couldn't believe it. I had hoped we didn't have much damage, but when the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) pulled up along side of us to look at the nose, my chuckle quit and I went into a serious tone. I knew we were in a bad position at that point."
SINCE YOU'VE BECOME KNOWN IN NASCAR, WHAT IS IT LIKE NOW WHEN YOU GO OUT IN PUBLIC? "It just depends on where you are and what's going on. If you're around a race weekend where fans are expecting to see drivers, you get approached quite often. But for the most part, I'm able to go around and not have too much recognition through it all. It hasn't been too bad."
ON THIS WEEK'S RACE AT LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY "Obviously we're looking forward to going back with the way we ran at The Winston and also at the 600. We're bringing that same race car back and hopefully we can get another pole. We had a pole there for the 600. I need to make sure I keep it in the pit box this time so we can hopefully take home a trophy."
DID MARK MARTIN SAY ANYTHING TO YOU AFTER THE TALLADEGA RACE? "Nope. I haven't had a chance to talk to him."
ARE YOU ANGRY ABOUT THE INCIDENT WITH MARK MARTIN? "I kind of understand it a little bit more now after hearing about what all went on. We turn those power steering pumps real slow so we don't use up a lot of horsepower. We turn them so slow that the volume of fluid is not in the power steering pump. With him trying to scrub in his tires, it starved the power steering pump and the steering locked to the left. First, it locked to the right and he almost hit the outside wall. And then he pulled on it to the left and missed the wall and it hung to the left and he ran across us. I know he didn't do it intentionally, so I don't think anger is the right word. I was extremely disappointed. I felt like we had a shot at winning the race and having a strong finish and staying in the points lead. But that's racing. We've got six more to go. Whoever has been leading the points had had something goofy happen. We'll just see what happens."
SINCE YOU'VE HAD SEVERAL GOOD BREAKS, HAVE YOU BEEN WONDERING WHEN YOUR BAD BREAK WOULD COME? "No. We've had our share of bad luck through the season. We've torn up some cars. We broke some gears on the road course. You don't look forward to those things. I think you might create negative things happening to you if you have a negative approach. I try to keep a positive approach and I really felt like we were going to have a good day. But we got crashed before the green flag ever fell. I didn't expect that."
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH DISAPPOINTMENTS AND PREPARE FOR THE NEXT EVENT? "You really can't control what happens. When something happens, there's really nothing you can do after that. The faster you can get over it and move on, the better prepared you are for the next week. We did everything we could (last) Sunday afternoon to stay on the lead lap, to get our lead back, and have the best possible finish. Usually by the time we get home, I've moved on to the next week because it's just unneeded thoughts. There's just nothing you can do about it at that point. I'm switched gears just as fast as I can over to Charlotte and I'm looking forward to qualifying."
ARE YOU ABLE TO BLOCK OUT THE POINTS? "No, there's nothing you can do about it. This whole points thing is a great way to lose a lot of sleep. If you go out there and do what you can every single week, and you're collecting maximum points because you're getting your best finishes, it's all going to work itself out from there."
WHAT HAPPENED WITH ALL THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS ENGINE FAILURES LAST WEEK? "Actually, I haven't been to the shop. Today I'm going to go by and I'll probably get the low down on it. But I know it was a valve train problem. Something happened where we lost a cylinder. Once that happens, you've got parts floating around in there and essentially wipes everything else out in there."
HOW MUCH CRAZIER CAN IT GET? ARE WE GOING TO SEE MARTIANS OUT THERE BEFORE THE SEASON IS OVER? "You never know. It's definitely been wild. To get crashed before you even get the green flag is something I've never ever seen. What do you do?"
WITH THIS BEING YOUR FIRST YEAR, DO YOU REALIZE THAT THIS IS NOT NORMAL AND HOW GOOFY IT'S BEEN? "Definitely. I've watched Winston Cup for a lot of years growing up so I'm well aware of how the points battle is shaping up. I think it's going to be something you're probably going to see in years to come. There are so many teams that are competitive and finishing strong week in and week out. Plus, NASCAR is building parody with all the rules that we have and how close the cars are running on speed. For somebody to have an advantage for a long period of time and build a lot of points and break away is just really hard to do any more. I have a feeling that tight point races are going to be a thing of the future."
HAVE YOU MADE CHANGES TO THE CAR YOU ARE BRINGING BACK TO CHARLOTTE? "With the mechanical grip level on the track, we're going back with the same set-up there. But you continue to learn a little bit more aero-wise and motor-wise. The springs and shocks in the car will probably be the same. But I know we're going back with more motor like what we had in Kansas. And we'll have a little bit better aero-balance package."
IS IT POSSIBLE THAT SOMEBODY ELSE HAS FOUND SOMETHING BETWEEN NOW AND THE LAST CHARLOTTE RACE IN MAY THAT COULD BLOW YOU OUT OF THE WATER? "Definitely. One thing that happens in the sport is when you run well somewhere - win a race or whatever - you have it figured out for that track at that time. When you're getting prepared for that race, you remember how strong you were and how everything went. In a sense, you don't change anything. Well, the rest of the guys went back home and they were mad because they got beat. They put more effort into it and go back to the drawing board and come back with a better package. So, it's kind of a dangerous situation to be the dominant car or the winning car at an event. When you come back, you've got a big bulls-eye on you and everybody has been working hard to beat you?"
DID YOU HAVE A LOT OF PEOPLE LOOKING AT YOUR CAR THAT WEEKEND AND COMING OVER TO SAY HI AND CHITCHAT? "Oh yeah, we always do -- especially with a Hendrick car. They're always snooping around."
WITH THE 6 RACES LEFT TO GO, ARE THERE ANY TRACKS YOU'RE LOOKING FORWARD TO AND ANY THAT YOU'RE DREADING? "This weekend at Lowe's (Motors Speedway) - I'm really excited to go back to Lowe's. Atlanta is a good one. Those are probably the two left that I'm really excited about. I haven't been to Phoenix in a Cup car so I'm not sure what to expect there. We ran okay at Homestead and Rockingham. I'm hoping to have a strong improvement at Martinsville."