Johnson discusses tandem versus pack racing at Daytona

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Team Chevy Racing press release

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed tandem versus pack racing, winning the Daytona 500 and other topics.

Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET NOW GETTING READY FOR THE DAYTONA 500? “From this point, moving forward, it’s really trying to understand the track and how much it changes as we get to Sunday’s race. In years past we would see the (Budweiser) Shootout and the cars drove perfect. The track is green. Temps are low. The things helping the cars are really nice. As you get into this week, into the Duel (150-mile qualifying races) and then the (Daytona) 500, the balance of the car changes quite a bit. I don’t know how much that is going to happen. The track still is very forgiving; has a lot of grip right now. The thing I am going to be most aware of moving forward is the balance of the car, the handling conditions of the car throughout the course of a fuel run, making sure it drives good through the entire Duel, and make sure it will do that throughout the entire 500.”

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO APPROACH THE DUEL? “I feel like things are going to calm down versus what we saw in the Shootout as we get into the week. The Shootout, without any points and the line and everybody so charged up, everybody was willing to take chances; and a lot of them. The 500, there will be some issues and things like that will pop up early and midway through the race, but I think everybody will be relatively well-behaved. Then we will get to the end, and then really put on a show for everybody. (LAUGHS) The opportunity to pass is there with this combination. I think we are going to have an exciting Daytona 500. I want to use this race car in the Daytona 500. I don’t want to lose it in practice or in the Duel.”

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SENSATION IN THE CAR IN THE TANDEM VERSUS BEING IN THE LARGE PACK? DOES IT FEEL ANY DIFFERENT? ARE YOU EXPERIENCING ANYTHING IN THE CAR THAT IS DIFFERENT IN TANDEM VERSUS PACK? “The tandem, you are going a lot faster. So, there is that element of speed that was with you. It became more comfortable to tandem race when we able to share spotters and move around on the radios. Now when you do it – one - it is tough to keep the car cool. Two - you don’t know what is really going on and you are looking for a hand signal, or really anything (like) that to try to know what is ahead. But, from a sensation standpoint, it is really the speed. Then we have to be so far out right now to cool as the pusher, that you feel like the guy you are pushing can get turned around any moment. Those are the two sensations and concerns that you have.”

LAST YEAR’S CHASE ENDED WITH A TWO-MAN RACE BETWEEN TONY (STEWART) AND CARL (EDWARDS) AND THIS YEAR’S DAYTONA OPENS WITH TONY RUNNING FOR THE WIN IN THE SHOOTOUT AND CARL WINNING THE POLE. DOES THE REST OF THE FIELD LOOK AT THEM AND THINK WE ARE STILL CHASING THEM OR IS THERE A CLEAN SLATE HERE? “I think we are still chasing them, but in my opinion it is not due to what has gone on in Speedweeks. It is the way they closed out last year. We all know when we get to Phoenix it is a totally different style of racing and both of those guys were quick in Phoenix and at (Las) Vegas. When we get into the meat of the season, they ended up as the best two cars. That’s more of a statement to me than what’s taken place here at Speedweeks.”

HAVING WON THE DAYTONA 500 EARLY IN YOUR CAREER, CAN YOU FEEL FOR WHAT TONY IS GOING THROUGH HAVING WON THREE CHAMPIONSHIPS; HAVING BIG VICTORIES INCLUDING THE BRICKYARD 400, BUT STILL NOT BEING ABLE TO CAPTURE THE DAYTONA 500? “I don’t know what that is like. I can remember watching… I am surprised that he hasn’t won it, now that I think about it. I remember watching (Dale, Sr.) Earnhardt and even Darrell Waltrip for so many years trying and then get it. I know he’ll get one and it will be awfully special. I am very glad to have won mine and certainly I want to win more. It is something that is top of every driver’s list. I know it is top of his.”

IT SEEMS LIKE IN THE SHOOTOUT THE YOUNGER DRIVER’S HAD MORE DIFFICULTY SINCE THEY WEREN’T AS ACCUSTOMED TO RACING IN PACKS AS THE VETERANS ARE. DO YOU THINK THEY WILL BE ABLE TO GRASP THAT AND PRACTICE BEFORE SUNDAY? “It is going to be tough in a short period of time. Some of the guys coming in have only tandem raced. When you are tandem racing, you are forced to partner with someone; if you like them or not, if you trust them or not, (and/or) regardless of experience or if it is a rookie driver. Where in the pack you have a little bit more free will and you can choose who you want to work with a little bit more. So, not only does a rookie driver have to face the issue of not having any pack experience, but also, the guys around them. There’s a lot more decisions that take place in pack racing. They are probably fighting a double-edged sword.”

YOU WON (DAYTONA 500) IN 2006 AND THAT WAS THE SAME YEAR TONY CAME IN HERE AND SAID SOMEONE IS GOING TO GET KILLED IN THIS KIND OF PACK RACING. THEY OTHER NIGHT HE SAID IT WAS GREAT; HE LOVED IT BETTER THAN ANY OF THE TWO-CAR DRAFTING. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE IN THE PACK RACING IN 2006 THAN WHAT YOU ARE SEEING OUT THERE NOW? “Not much. I think the biggest deal was that the Shootout was a non-points race and now we have points racing. I would assume the interviews following the Duel, and also the 500, will be much more similar to what we saw in the past when a pack crash would take place. The Shootout is fun. You don’t have much to worry about. It’s an all-or-nothing scenario. When you get into points races, our interviews will change. Our opinion changes dramatically. I think not only drivers, but the fan base too, forgets that at certain times pack racing wasn’t all that entertaining. We need to have realistic expectations of what the race will look like. I promise you it will be an exciting finish, but there might be some points where we are logging miles. We don’t need to tear up race cars because we all want a shot at winning the Daytona 500.”

ARE THESE PACKS MORE DANGEROUS WITH THESE CARS THAN WHAT YOU HAD BEFORE? “No. The same elements are there - speed and contact. If you turned around and get a nudge in the wrong way your car can go airborne. That can take place in a pack or in the tandem. I think it is the same risk level either way.”

WHEN YOU WON THIS RACE IN ’06, HOW DID THE REALITY COMPARE TO HOW YOU HAD ALWAYS ENVISIONED IT IN YOUR MIND’S EYE? “Boy, I’d never thought it through. Things slowed down. It was surreal. It was just a wild experience. I’m trying to remember back exactly; been a few years. No one can prepare you for it. Especially being a driver that hadn’t won a big race or a championship before, I had no clue. Not only what took place with the emotions and the things that went on in victory lane, but the days to follow and what went with that. It was an eye-opening experience. Unless you have been through it before, I don’t think you can prepare yourself for it. I’m sure Trevor (Bayne) experienced that and has talked about it a little bit first-hand. There is nothing that gets you ready for it, and it is more than you have ever hoped, to be honest with you, or ever dreamed of. It is one heck of an experience.”

IN THE LAST 10 YEARS THERE HAS BEEN 10 DIFFERENT DRIVERS TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500. WHAT MAKES IT SO DIFFICULT? “There are so many circumstances out of the driver’s control that lead to it. Your ability and your decision don’t create the win. You rely on the draft, and what other people do within the draft. If somebody chooses to work with you, and give you that push that gets you to the win; you’re the hero. If they choose someone else, you’re the guy falling down the back straightaway and comes around in 15th (place). We don’t have the control as individuals on the track like we do at other race tracks. It is more of a collective group out there shuffling things around. Whoever is at the head of the line coming off of (turn) four in most cases wins.”

WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP, OTHER THAN MOTORSPORTS, DID YOU HAVE ANY SUCCESS IN ANY OTHER SPORTS OR PARTICIPATE IN ANY OTHER SPORTS? “I participated, but really no success. Plenty of failure. (LAUGHS) Just some general stuff in school. Playing different stick-and-ball sports. I was on the swim team until my junior year in high school, and then the fact I was racing and making some money racing, I was considered a professional athlete, and couldn’t compete in my high school stuff. That was the extent of it. I was happy I had racing, because I wasn’t the best at the other stuff.”

MORE SO AT TALLADEGA THAN AT DAYTONA WE’VE SEEN SOME OF THE GOOD CARS GO AND HANG OUT IN THE BACK OF THE FIELD. FOR AWHILE AND LET EVERYTHING SETTLE OUT. WITH THIS PACKAGE, ARE YOU ABLE TO DO THAT AS MUCH AS YOU HAVE IN THE PAST? TONY MADE IT SOUND EARLIER LIKE YOU WERE GOING TO HAVE TO STAY IN TOUCH WITH THE PACK THIS TIME. “I agree with that. If you can time it right, and miss the big wreck, and be at the back, there is a small chance that would work for you. I think this package lends itself to racing. You need to fight for track position lap after lap. If you get mired in the center of the pack, there is really nowhere to go. People race a lot different in the 500 than they do in the Shootout. In the Shootout if you have a run you are going to take it and see what happens. You have nothing to lose. But, there is a lot more strategy; many more calculated moves and decisions in a real race, in the 500 especially. I think you will see guys race from the start of it all the way through.”

YOU WERE FORTUNATE TO GET THE OPPORTUNITY WHEN YOU DID AND THE WAY YOU DID. WITH THE ECONOMY AND EVEN THE BIG TEAMS CUTTING BACK, MAYBE IT IS A LITTLE HARDER. DO YOU SEE NOW THERE IS A CHANCE THAT GOOD, CHAMPIONSHIP QUALITY DRIVERS MAY NOT GET A CHANCE BECAUSE THERE ARE NO OPPORTUNITIES? “It is hard to say. I definitely know that the economy has impacted our industry dramatically on a lot of levels. From a team owner’s standpoint, it is probably one of the scariest positions to be in. One of the first areas that major corporations cut is marketing when they need to pull back and times are tough. That is where our livelihood comes from is their marketing budgets. I understand the cycle and the evolution. But, to get to this level it is just tough, period. That probably makes it more difficult in today’s world with the economy being soft like it is. We are seeing a lot of things showing that it is coming around. Hopefully it turns soon and the young guys that are in the queue now can live it out and ride it out, so that they can get a chance when the time comes. It is crazy to think that Ricky Stenhouse, Trevor Bayne, you look through and those are the first two that come to mind with great success and white race cars. Not a full-time ride for Trevor is pretty crazy.”

I KNOW YOU ARE A PRETTY EVEN-KEELED KIND OF GUY, BUT AFTER LAST SEASON IS THERE ANY KIND OF EXTRA EAGERNESS TO GET THE SEASON GOING TO SEE WHAT YOU HAVE THIS YEAR? “I am excited to get to work. I really enjoyed my off season. Took the time I needed personally to get ready for the season. We’ve been testing quite a bit already. Have seen some great progress. I think when we get to Bristol; we will have a good idea of where we stack up. Phoenix with a mile track, Vegas with a mile-and-a-half and Bristol with a short track, we’ll have a good sense of where people are for the first half of the year and I hope this No. 48 car is at the top of the list.”

NASCAR HAS INDICATED THAT THERE IS PROBABLY GOING TO BE SOME SORT OF PENALTY FOR THE C-POST SITUATION. IN THE PAST YOU HAVE DONE VERY WELL THINKING OF 2006 WHEN CHAD WAS SENT HOME. WHAT SORT OF IMPACT OR EFFECT DO YOU THINK IT WOULD HAVE IF HE IS SUSPENDED AGAIN THIS YEAR OR AT THIS TIME IN THE SEASON? “It is not good for any team that goes through it. It certainly puts a tough wrinkle on things, but at this point I would be purely speculating. I am hopeful and want to be optimistic that wouldn’t be the case, but I don’t have any more news. So, we are going to have to wait until Tuesday to see where things shake out.”

DO YOU FEEL ANY ADDITIONAL PRESSURE TO TRY AND GET A DAYTONA 500 WIN FOR CHAD SINCE HE IS THE ONLY ONE IN THE CROWD THERE THAT DOESN’T HAVE THAT? DO YOU FEEL FOR HIM AND WANT HIM TO HAVE THAT? “There is definitely a piece of me that wants to have that Victory Lane photo with him. He was certainly a huge part of us winning in 2006, but I want him to have the photo to put on his desk that he was there in Victory Lane. It adds a small percentage to it. Nothing can dilute or change my mindset and desire to try to win the 500. That is pinned already. It would be a nice perk though, to do it for that reason.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags chevrolet, daytona 500, hendrick motorsports, johnson