Jimmie Johnson heads to Darlington Raceway in search of his first win of 2014.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed the disappointment of having fast cars and yet not winning this season, what he likes about Darlington, qualifying, the toughest days inside the race car in his career, and more. Full Transcript:
TALK ABOUT COMING TO DARLINGTON. CERTAINLY YOU’RE ON THE VERGE OF GETTING YOUR FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON. TALK ABOUT YOUR CHANCES HERE TOMORROW NIGHT “I’m excited to be back at the race track, a track that is a favorite of so many; including myself. The sensation of speed here is higher than any other track we go to. And the line and racing surface is so narrow and unique and challenging, that it really is an accomplishment to run 500 miles here; to be successful and qualify well and have a good race, and then ultimately to win. So, I’m very excited to be back and I’m looking forward to a good race.
“We’ve had a lot of speed in our cars. And I feel terrible that honestly, the last three weeks we’ve had a race-winning car and just haven’t been able to take advantage of it. Las week our race was cut awfully short; just three or four laps before we had all the damage fro Junior’s trip through the grass, and didn’t have a chance to let our car shine there in Texas. I think we were really, really in a great position to compete for a win, but that stuff happens. We’re looking forward and are focused on this weekend’s race and can hopefully get a ‘W’.”
ABOUT THE LAST THREE WEEKS, WHEN YOU DOMINATE THE RACE, LOSE CAR AT THE END AND THEN LAST WEEK, WHAM, EARLY. IS THERE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF ‘OUCH’ THAT BITES YOU? DOES THAT THROW A GLITCH IN THINGS AT TIMES? “There’s definitely an ‘ouch’, but it’s more from a position where we hate to see opportunities slip away. It doesn’t hurt our confidence. For us, and I think most teams, when you’re that close and have a shot to win, and know that you have fast race cars and you don’t pull into Victory Lane, it’s a confidence booster. The end result isn’t what you want or what you like, but you know your cars are fast and your pit stops are good. You have all the pieces there and it’s just about running the distance of the race and getting the job done.
“So, I’ve been through various challenges in my Cup career and one marker I always look for is clearly fast cars and ultimately top 5 finishes. And I firmly believe that if you’re running in the top 5, you’re going to have your shots at winning races. And even a step further, top 3’s. But our goal, since I’ve started, has been if we can run in the top 5 all day long, we’ll have a shot to win the race. And it’s led to a lot of victories for us.”
PENSKE, IN EFFECT, HAS BOTH OF HIS CARS IN THE CHASE AND CAN EXPERIMENT MORE AND TARGET CHASE TRACKS WITH TESTS. HOW MUCH OF AN ADVANTAGE IS THAT? DOES THAT PUT THE REST OF YOU AT SOMEWHAT OF A DISADVANTAGE? “My first response is that it doesn’t put us at a disadvantage. The game has changed some and I think most of it falls on the fact that you have to test as an organization where you go. We’re confident we’re going to have a car, if not all four cars, in the Chase. And all of our planning has been focused around Chase tracks for testing. So, if we do get deep into the regular season and need to use a test at Richmond or a test at a non-Chase track, at that point yeah, absolutely. It benefits a Penske where they’re already locked-in. But now, in the way we’ve been planning things, we’ve been focused on all our cars being in the Chase and heading that direction. But you know, in time it could change and we might have to call an audible late in the post-season and show a little help to one or more of our race cars.”
WE ARE COMING UP ON THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF LOSING ARYTON SENNA. YOU ARE A BIG FORMULA 1 FAN. DO YOU REMEMBER IF HE HAD ANY IMPACT ON YOUR EARLY YEARS AS A DRIVER? IS HE SOMEBODY YOU LOOKED UP TO BACK WHEN HE WAS A CHAMPION? “The media back in that period of time was so different than today. A few magazines I’d pick-up, I could learn about him; an occasional Formula 1 race on TV, but it was pretty far and few between. I knew the name. I knew the legacy. I feel like I’ve been able to learn more about Senna through Max Papis, to be honest with you, and some of the open wheel guys that I’m friends with that looked up to him and he actually mentored along the way. Max is probably the biggest one to that effect.
“So, his legacy still lives on and it’s a beautiful thing to see the respect that he has worldwide. It doesn’t matter the discipline of motorsports, people still respect his abilities today and it’s an amazing thing. And truthfully the documentary kind of opened-up everyone’s minds, as to what he was as a man, in and out of the car. And still, I can’t believe the footage they got and the story they were able to tell through that documentary. I wish I’d had a chance to meet him, and certainly wish I had the chance to race against him. I know a lot of drivers who wish they could have had that opportunity.”
ON DEALING WITH THE FRUSTRATION OF HAVING FAST CARS AND NOT WINNING, IS THAT SOMETHING THAT YOU LEARNED EARLIER LEADING INTO THE CHAMPIONSHIPS OR ARE YOU HAVING TO DEAL WITH IT NOW? “It’s something that you learn. I’d say that maybe the first couple of races there was a bit more frustration because our cars didn’t have the speed that they needed to, and those were things that we could control. So, practice sessions at Phoenix and Las Vegas, that’s where we felt like we were off and missing something.
“But we’re giving 100 percent and that’s really all you can do. We’ve learned through experience to identify with that. You can only work so many hours in the day and then in the week, and only give 100 percent. Anything more is only going to be detrimental to the team and not help things progress. So, I feel like post-Bristol, moving forward, we’ve had speed in our race cars. We’ve been competitive and have had looks at wins. And things have happened. And that happens in motorsports. So, we hate that it (wining) hasn’t happened. We hate opportunities slipping away, but when you’re giving 100 percent and you have fast race cars, you’re controlling most of your variables and we feel good about that know that once we get things rolling we’ll be in great shape.”
LAST WEEK CHAD KNAUS (CREW CHIEF) SAID YOU NEED TO BE BETTER ON FRIDAYS. WHAT WAS THE CASE OR WAS THAT JUST AN ISOLATED INCIDENCE OF NOT QUALIFYING AS WELL AT TEXAS? AND ALSO, CONSIDERING YOUR RACE AT TEXAS, WHAT IS YOUR TOUGHEST DAY IN THE CAR AT A RACE? “Man, I can think of a lot of Nationwide days that are tough. Cup-wise I think I would go to Las Vegas maybe in ’05, can’t really remember the year, but I think we were like three laps down and had a perfectly straight race car and didn’t hit a thing. I was loose in the front straightway in that little bend in the road. That was my toughest day in Cup for sure. It’s kind of hard to tighten a car up on the straightaway. It was a very challenging day.”
“Fridays are a big focus for us and I don’t think going fast for a lap is the 48’s specialty. It could just fall in my lap, team, setups, whatever it is; it’s just kind of the team’s history here at the 48. It’s something that we have worked hard to improve. If we had started on the front row, we wouldn’t have been in harm’s way and we have seen that a few times. I think it was Texas in ’09 or something where Sam (Hornish) spun and we got caught up in that. There are some rare situations where there is a problem early and if we had qualified a few spots better, then we would have been ahead of it. That is what Chad was referencing.”
WAS YOUR CAR DAMAGED SO MUCH ON MONDAY THAT THE ENTIRE DAY WAS A WASTE AS FAR AS NOT EVEN LEARNING ANYTHING ON THE NEW AERO RULES, OR MAKING ADJUSTMENTS TO SEE WHAT THEY DO? “Yeah, we had some pretty good damage to the car. I think they did a very nice job of fixing it and I still think I could have run in the top-five based on the lap times that I heard through the course of the day. The damage was one thing, and our guys did a nice job of keeping me on the lead lap but then something fell off my car, or I ran something over on the track that shredded that right rear tire. But as I went into turn one I ran something over, something big. I knew I was going to have an issue and sure enough, I had a flat. That flat is what really put us down. So it was kind of a wash, especially with the aero damage to the race car and knowing how adjustments would work.”
ARE YOU SEEING ANYTHING DIFFERENT OUT OF JEFF GORDON TODAY, OTHER THAN SOME OTHER YEARS YOU HAVE RACED AGAINST HIM? “Jeff is so rock solid. During the week, out of the car, our team meetings or debriefs, he just knows what he is looking for out of his race car. There have been times where the collective group on the No. 24 have been able to give him what he needs and he is off and you can’t catch him. He is off and gone and you are behind him chasing him down. Then there are other weeks where it doesn’t pan out and you are wondering why the 24 isn’t up front just because he has set such a high bar through the years with all the success he has had. I have always admired his ability outside the car to continue to lead his team, to continue to search for the feeling. It helps me because we run through stretches where we don’t have speed in the car and I look around at my peers, and Jeff being one of them, and watch how he handles those situations. He has confidence in his abilities and his feel of a race car and keeps challenging the guys to find that. I am very happy for the success the 24 has had this year and know that they are going to be strong all year long.”
NEXT WEEKEND IS AN OFF WEEKEND. HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT WEEKEND AND WHAT KIND OF PLANS DO YOU HAVE? “It’s very important to have off. I am not sure what our plans are with the tragedy we had last week and we are just not in the mood to really go anywhere so we may have a stay-cation at home and enjoy just being at home which is going to be a vacation all on its own. But it’s great for the teams. The drivers have one aspect and we would like some down time, but for the crew members, they have been going hard since Christmas break. Especially since after the New Year and trying to narrow in on our rules package; through testing, through Speedweeks and to here. So it’s a much needed break for the crew members.”
Team Chevy Racing