JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed crew chiefs at the No. 48/No.88 shop, Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a teammate, taking notes at RIR for the fall race, tire compound changes, and more.
ON RACING AT RICHMOND THIS WEEKEND WITH MOMENTUM:
“We’re definitely excited to be at Richmond International Raceway. The track, for us, has been kind of hot and cold over the years and I can even look back to last year’s two races here and see that trend (grins). We’re where we need to be and we’ve been developing a new car and it’s performed very well on the short tracks.
“So I’m encouraged; I know our whole camp is encouraged to come here this weekend and see what we’ve got. So I’m excited. What a better way to go into an off week than coming off a victory like we had at Talladega and a close victory there and an exciting one for the fans and everyone? So it’s been a great couple of weeks and now it’s back to reality.”
IS DEVELOPING NEW CARS THE ONLY NEW HORIZON FOR THE EVOLUTION OF RACING ON THE SHORT TRACK?
“Yeah, and within that, we use a big term, but there are very few areas that we can work within with the Car of Tomorrow and the way the rules are. There are just small changes; and every time you build a car you think, man I could have done something a little different here and make it a little lighter here or whatever it may be, there are just some small, small changes. And with the rules being as tight as they are, those small differences actually add up. And a lot of people continue to learn. In the off-season, you’d expect a lot of people to develop and have…. You just kind of debut your cars whenever you can and whenever the ideas come along. So I wouldn’t be surprised if people later in the year still were bringing out new stuff.”
GIVEN THAT RICHMOND COULD BE A LAST GASP SCENARIO FOR SOME DRIVERS IN TERMS OF THE CHASE WHEN WE GET HERE IN SEPTEMBER, IS THERE ANY EXTRA EMPHASIS IN LEARNING HOW THE NEW THINGS THAT ARE INVOLVED, WILL YOU BE TAKING EXTRA NOTES?
“Yeah, for sure. This race is a lot like a Chase race in a sense. There are ten Chase tracks that we look at and when we go to them the first time (spring races) we want to make sure that we’re right. And this track falls in that category. So, we all focus very hard on Richmond. It’s hard to say we focus any harder on things because we’re all at 100 percent all the time, but when you leave here and you run well, you can kind of rest a little bit knowing that you have a good starting point coming back. If not, you might sacrifice a little at another track or during the week preparing to focus on your short track program or Richmond-style set-up and take something away from somewhere else. But we certainly hope to run well leaving here; even though we’re sitting good in the points, you have no clue what’s going to happen between now and September.”
BEING IN THE SAME SHOP WITH DALE EARNHARDT JR, CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT YOU’VE SEEN FROM HIM AS FAR AS CONSISTENCY? WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHANGE YOU SEEN IN HIM SINCE LAST YEAR?
“It’s amazing how much more interaction you have with the driver that’s in your shop. I would see Junior in passing at team meetings and things that take place at HMS throughout the week, but now there is a lot more time that I spend with him whether it’s talking or through emails. I got home and up and at it on Monday morning and I had three emails from him explaining different scenarios about what he thought went on with the car and how to make our stuff better. And then I looked at who he had sent it to and it was the engineers, the crew chiefs, and myself. I don’t know what he was like before, or if this is new, or what; and I have seen his commitment from afar and I know we’ve all had hoped for a little more success and different situations for him but he, like he was before and has always been (is) committed to his team and is doing his best job. I’m excited to work with him and to really see that first-hand even more than I have in the past. At times, his sense of humor really keeps things light-hearted and I had a blast listening to him during the race at Talladega (laughs). I’ve asked (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) if I could have his radio at other tracks so I can just tune-in and just kind of pick my spirits up, but he won’t let me. He’s on board.
It really boils down to people and the relationships those people have.
“I think a big factor in their consistency and in the confidence that I see in Dale Jr. today is the chemistry between he and (his crew chief) Steve (Letarte). This sport is about people. We always say it. We preach about in the No. 48 car and why it’s had the success that it’s had. It really boils down to people and the relationships those people have. What they have is working. And it was tough to understand, from my standpoint, when Rick (Hendrick) wanted to change everything around. I’m like, wait; from my standpoint I think it’s been great, you know, the No. 24 relationship, this is great, let’s not change anything.
“But they needed to change it around and it’s worked great for the No. 88 car and I’ve seen a great relationship between Jeff (Gordon) and (his crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and some new technology coming through that relationship. And you can put Mark Martin in anything and you know he’s going to be fast. He’s really helped (his crew chief) Lance (McGrew) be confident in the areas that Lance needs some more confidence in. So I think, to back up just a touch, the restructuring that went on has been very good for HMS as a whole and it’s only going to make it stronger.”
HOW ENGAGED JUNIOR IS IN AS FAR AS EMAILING, ETC., IS THAT MAYBE DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
“Yes, it is different; but I don’t know if he had that relationship with Mark (Martin) in the past. So you might need to ask Mark that when you see him. But from my standpoint, I’ve been very impressed with his commitment and asking questions and talking about things and being a part of it. So he’s on it.”
ON THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN STEVE LETARTE AND CHAD KNAUS, THEY HAVE AN EVERNHAM-STYLE APPROACH BUT IT SEEMS LIKE LETARTE IS LOOSER THAN KNAUS. CAN YOU COMPARE THE TWO?
“Well, I’ll give you a great quote. Chad wasn’t happy a few weeks back and I saw Stevie and we were joking around about Chad being mad and Stevie said to me that Chad came up to him and said, ‘I don’t know how you can be so happy all the time’. And Stevie looked at him and said, ‘Well, I don’t know how you can be so mad all the time’ (laughs). So they are nothing alike. And it works very, very well in our shop to have that good-cop, bad-cop situation where Chad in a sense goes out and thrashes on the guys that we need to develop this and work on that; and then Stevie comes around and kind of gets everybody smiling again. They work well together. They do share the common goal that they hate losing. Stevie goes about it in a different way than Chad, but their chemistry is a big part of the success of what the No. 48 has done over the last five years, and I thank those guys a lot for it.”
“I don’t know from Junior’s standpoint in communicating with the team, I really don’t know much of how things went beforehand to notice a difference, but I think all crew chiefs and competitors share something in common in their desire to win. And that’s the same within the shop. There are more things different between Stevie and Chad than there are alike. They are pretty much polar opposites (laughs).”
WITH GOODYEAR CHANGING THE TIRE COMPOUND AT A LOT OF TRACKS, HOW DOES A NEW TIRE IMPACT THINGS? WHY DOES IT CHANGE SO MUCH? WHY DOES IT THROW SO MANY PEOPLE A CURVEBALL? ALTHOUGH WE DON’T DRIVE THE SPEEDS YOU GUYS DO, WE COULDN’T TELL YOU ANYTHING ABOUT THE TIRES ON OUR CARS.
“It’s amazing. I’m surprised at how sensitive the race cars are to the tires. When I go to a tire test and I wonder if I’m going to do a good job for Goodyear and give them the information they need and work through the controlled tire and they put their first set on and oh, that’s a big difference than the second set. So it really is amazing how sensitive the cars are to it. In today’s world, we’re making quarter-pound (psi) tire adjustments; quarter to half-rounds on the track bar, so the cars are very sensitive to change. At the end of the day, the only thing touching the ground are those four pieces of rubber, and a small area of it. So, it really does make a big difference from compound, which seems to be more of a factor in a fast lap than a lot of fall-off; and also a track that would rubber-up to where we don’t have the tire-wearing issue. So that seems to be a trend that we’re trying to make sure tracks rubber-up. I think it’s very important to have them rubber-up.
”But then you get into the construction, and just in the way that they position the belting inside the tire completely changes how a car drives. We try to prepare as much as we can coming in, but there is limited data that we have access to now. In the past we could test tires ourselves and get a lot more data. Now we show-up with the provided data and hope for the best. It’s tough because it changes a lot. And I know that Goodyear is trying to make a better product and I get that. But that’s why we continue to say we don’t know what we have. And even if we won a race at a track in the spring and they come back with a different tire, there’s no guarantee that set-up is going to work. I mean it is that sensitive.”
DO YOU THINK ITS DELIBERATE ON GOODYEAR’S PART JUST TO CHANGE THINGS UP AND KEEP YOU FROM WINNING A SIXTH CHAMPIONSHIP OR SO YOU CAN’T COME BACK WITH WHAT YOU’VE GOT?
“No, it’s not directed at me (laughs). It’s just to make a better product. I would feel or think that they run a high risk of taking a lot of criticism to do that. Why would you put your company out there in the firing line just to make things interesting? I don’t think that’s the case. I believe that they’re learning a lot as time goes on. At every tire test I’ve been to, they’ve debuted something new and then they still are talking about stuff that’s coming along that they want to introduce. So I believe it’s just technology coming along.”
HAVE YOU TALKED FORMALLY OR INFORMALLY WITH ANYONE ON YOUR TEAM ABOUT THE NEW POINT SYSTEM COMPARED TO THE OLD POINT SYSTEM?
“Nothing, really, Chad (Knaus) and I spoke about it when we had our big meeting with NASCAR prior to the season starting. We talked briefly about it. But one, we just didn’t know until we got into it what it was really like and we knew the math breakdowns and it seemed relatively similar to what’s going on. And we knew that if we run in the top five, top-10, it would be a very similar situation. So that’s about as much thought as we’ve put into it. And we just went to work and started racing.”
WHEN YOU COME TO RICHMOND, THE TRACK IS USUALLY CLEAN AND FRESH. DOES IT CHANGE ANYTHING WITH YOUR NOTES IN HAVING A FULL DAY OF PRACTICE AND TWO RACES LAST NIGHT WITH GETTING RUBBER ON THE TRACK?
“Yeah, this Nationwide (NNS) practice that’s going on is really getting the front-end of that right now. For us, it should be cleaned-up and pretty good. These guys are always in an impound situation so there’s a lot of laps and they’ll move around on the track. So I don’t think it will be a big deal once we get on. But the first 10 or 15 minutes of this practice had to be pretty tough to know what you had.”
-source: team chevy