JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S DOVER WHITE CHEVROLET, met with media and discussed the elements of the Kentucky track, differences from a driver’s point between the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400, triple-digit heat this weekend, and more. Full Transcript:

Jimmie Johnson, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

TALK ABOUT THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE KENTUCKY SPEEDWAY TRACK “I got a lot of laps around this race track; when I came into the Cup Series we were test here and I got a lot of laps just trying to understand what the Cup car was like and working on new things with the race team because we had a year to prepare and get ready before I started at the Cup level with the No. 48 team. So, through all of that, I really didn’t enjoy this race track. I crashed a lot down in Turns 3 and 4. Last year, coming into this race, I didn’t have the warmest of opinions, but after the test day and when we got into the race weekend and really started racing and driving with people, I was really surprised with how racy the track was and how much fun I had. The bumps are frequent and everywhere (laughs); it doesn’t matter which lane you’re in, they’re all around the race track. And that challenge, I think puts on for better racing and make multiple lanes available for the drivers out there.

“What little bit I saw of the Truck race last night, we can get up to about the middle of the race track. And then there’s something different from there out to the wall with the surface itself and we can’t get up there and put rubber down. But up and to that point, we’re using a good three lanes and maybe four in some areas. So, it should put on a great race and I finished really well here last year and was competitive through qualifying and the race and I look forward to coming back.”

THIS IS THE FIRST 1.5-MILE TRACK WITH THE SWAY BAR AND SKIRT CHANGES. ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT MAYBE THE ADVANTAGE THAT HENDRICK HAD WAS TAKEN AWAY WITH THE RULE CHANGES? HOW DO YOU THINK THE WEEKEND WILL GO AS A RESULT? “This is going to be the same for Hendrick as it is for everybody else. The skirt changes will be a significant reduction in downforce to the cars. So we’re looking forward to it. I think the more we do to make the cars difficult to drive, the more it comes my way and I think the better it is for Hendrick Motorsports in general. So, I think it’s going to be a good race and hopefully we’ll be right there where we’ve been the whole time.”

RECENTLY TONY EURY JR. SAID SOME OF THE DRIVERS IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES WERE PUTTING DANICA PATRICK IN DIFFICULT SITUATIONS BECAUSE SHE IS A WOMAN. WHY DO YOU THINK HE WOULD MAKE THAT STATEMENT BASED ON WHAT YOU’VE SEEN FROM HER ON THE TRACK? IS IT A CASE OF A WOMAN OR A ROOKIE AND WHAT KIND OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR SOMEBODY WHO IS IN THEIR FIRST SEASON? “I didn’t see that comment or know the instance he’s talking about. But I can say, when you are a rookie, and I was clearly there a couple of different times in different divisions, you have to take three or four lumps before you pass one out. That was my philosophy. There are other drivers that have taken a different approach and I don’t think it went as smoothly. But rookies get used up. It doesn’t matter if it’s out sport or baseball or football; it doesn’t matter. It’s just how it is. It gets better with time and that stuff goes away. But what’s unfortunate is when you’re being used up, you then start looking at everything that goes on and you think that it’s people taking advantage of you. And this is racing. Sometimes there’s just contact; other times you’re getting used up and you file that away. Again, you take a couple as a rookie and then once you’re established and you have a chance to thank people for the respect they showed you previously (laughs), you send that message back to them.”

YOU WERE PART OF A PRETTY EXCITING FINISH LAST YEAR HERE AT THE END. BUT, WITH THE TRAFFIC SITUATION, DO YOU FEEL LIKE THAT WAS OVERSHADOWED AND WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE CHANGES IN THE TRACK SINCE LAST YEAR? “It’s hard for me to say that it diminished the finish and the great racing that we put on here. Clearly, I was at the race track in my motorhome and didn’t have to face the problems a lot of people did. It was unfortunate to hear that everybody that bought a ticket wasn’t able to get here and people were turned away. You never want that to happen. But, it did. I think we’ve got a chance to make it right, well not ‘we’, but whoever is in charge of what the issues were has a chance to get it right this weekend and I hope that’s the case. From stuff that I’ve read Bruton (Smith) has worked on the areas here at the track that were his responsibility and then we’ll see what happens with the state and city-side with the roadways. I just drove in, so I haven’t seen any of the improvements yet. I haven’t had a chance to experience any of them. The road looks very similar to me from coming off of I-71 at the track, so I don’t know what’s changed, but I really hope that it has because there is a huge market here with a lot of race fans. And we can’t give them two black eyes; we’ve already given them one.”

ON THE UPCOMING BRICKYARD, AT WHAT POINT DO YOU START FOCUSING ON THAT? IS IT STILL THE NUMBER TWO RACE BEHIND THE DAYTONA 500? “Depending on who you speak to, it changes. For me, it’s kind of a draw between the two. I grew up in an IndyCar household and didn’t know much about stock car racing and always dreamed of racing in the Indy 500. I’m a stock car guy and our sport was founded on the beaches of Daytona, so that kind of heads back to center and balances out (laughs). But from a driver’s standpoint, a driver is a lot more responsible for the results and the performance at Indy than you are at Daytona. When you’re in the draft and restrictor-plate racing, sure you’re responsible for the decisions you make, but you need a draft and you need a push and certain circumstances have to work around you to have you surge to the front at the right point in time. So, there is a little bit more; I don’t want to use (the word) luck because there is a lot of skill required to win the Daytona 500, but it’s just a different type of racing, plate racing versus normal racing; so again, I’m kind of neutral on it, too. Depending on who you talk to, it goes either way.

“From my standpoint, I know which race is coming up and I prepare each week for that event. The teams, on the other hand, work real hard and they have been for a while, making sure the car is as efficient as possible from an aero standpoint, and working through our set-ups and tire data just trying to make sure that everything is right. It’s normal stuff that we do; but we do put a little bit more effort into the Brickyard and start earlier. Instead of a couple of weeks out, it’s a month or two months out, just massaging the car. The engine shop usually shows up with a little bit of something new for us or special or with a little bit more power, typically. And it really pays off with having those long straightaways.”

HOW COMPETITIVE IS IT FROM A MARKETING STANDPOINT WITHIN CERTAIN CATEGORIES? IT APPEARS HOME DEPOT WAS LOOKING FOR A CHAMPION TO GO UP AGAINST YOU (LOWE’S) AND ANOTHER CHAMPION. HOW COMPETITIVE IS ALL OF THAT? HOW WILL MATT KENSETH FARE AGAINST THE CURRENT FIVE-TIME CHAMPION? “Is that where he’s going? (laughs) That’s the rumor? Okay, I haven’t heard what’s what. I kind of thought he was coming to Hendrick Motorsports (laughter) so, add that to the mix (laughs). We’ll let that one simmer for a while (more laughter). So much of it depends. There are two elements. One, we have the sponsor element to the team. Everybody has expectations but some sponsors and their involvement in the sport, is solely focused on winning. With others, it’s more about being out there and having a presence and maybe a hospitality component where maybe they entertain folks at the track. Every sponsor is a little different.

“I know when I came to Lowe’s and at the time, Bob Tillman was the CEO. Winning was the highest on his list. They’d been in this sport for a long time and hadn’t had a victory and absolutely, they wanted victories. So it just depends. I would assume (Home) Depot; I know how competitive those two are in the work space, and I have to assume they would be very competitive on track. At the same time, Gibbs is a company very focused on winning as well; and it’s vital for them to win based on it’s the only business the family is in. So winning is a priority, long story short. But a lot of it depends on different factors.”

HOW WILL THE RECORD-SETTING TEMPERATURES AFFECT YOU AS A DRIVER, PHYSICALLY? HOW DEMANDING IS IT IN THE CAR VERSUS NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES? AND HOW MUCH WILL IT AFFECT YOUR CAR IN TERMS OF TIRES, AND THE HEAT? DO YOU BURN THROUGH THINGS MORE QUICKLY? “The heat just makes it harder on everything. You have less downforce because the air is thinner. You can’t run as much tape on the nose of the car, so you lose some aero there. Engines are hotter. The tire grip-window is far less because of the heat. Oils come out of the asphalt. Every element slows the car and makes it more difficult, the hotter it is; which is cool. I think a lot of guys with a dirt background enjoy that. So the track will be low on grip. The cars will be low on speed. The track is also rough, so it’s going to add another physical element to us where we’re going to have to catch the car and really drive it and wheel it around here.

“From a driver’s standpoint, and your training coming in, your hydration that you started before you got here because as soon as we get in the car today, we’re going to be taxing our systems on our bodies. And hydration is done days in advance, not the day of. So if you were in the bar on Monday or Tuesday, you’re probably going to be regretting it (laughs) towards the end of the weekend (laughter). So, you’ve got to be on your game. And this is part of the season that I really look forward to because I spend a lot of time on the training and nutrition and hydration. So, hopefully things will work out well for us tomorrow night.”

THE DRIVERS HAVE BLOWERS ON THEM AND PROFESSIONAL PEOPLE TO HELP THEM HYDRATE. WHAT ABOUT THE TEAM GUYS AND HOW EASY IT IS TO MAKE A MISTAKE WHEN IT’S THIS HOT? WHAT DOES THIS WEATHER DO FOR THEM? “It’s tough on them. The race car is going to come in and have a ton of radiant heat in it. All day long today they’ve got to work on it and make adjustments inside of a closed building that just gets hotter and hotter as the race cars pull in and out. So, it’s tough. And when you think about the amount of time the crew members are exposed to the heat, from when the garage opens until it closes day after day, the duration they experience is pretty high. Inside the car, I’m not sure there’s a hotter place to be than inside the race car. But it’s for a three or four-hour window; and you add up practice and qualifying and you’re at four, or four and a half hours within the car, that’s half the day for what these guys are experiencing in the heat out here. So it’s a very important part of them to hydrate and rest and do the things that they need to do so that they don’t literally fall over during the weekend.

“Focus is everything; especially when you come to pit road and you’re in the race itself. Focus hand-eye coordination, quickness; all that goes away with dehydration. So, if you get to the end of the night and while you may not feel it physically, the coordination is one of the first things to go, and that could lead to a slow pit stop.”

Source: Team Chevy Racing