Charlotte Motor Speedway
IMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 5 LOWE’S 5% EVERY DAY CHEVROLET, met with media and discussed racing in the All-Star this weekend and the million-dollar prize, planking, the importance on how the race car unloads off the truck, and more.
TALK ABOUT COMING TO CHARLOTTE THIS WEEKEND “I’m excited to come back and have some fun with the No. 5 car and the program that Lowe’s is putting on and the 5% rebate. So it’s different. At the All-Star race we can always count on something different and I commend Lowe’s for doing something outside of the ordinary here. Hopefully I’ll walk to the right car and climb in the right car. I’m excited for it. This race is a lot of fun as everyone knows. At the same time, it’s great for us to get out and practice and try some things that we can come back to the 600 with. So, I love this race track. And from what I hear, it’s aged some and is a little bit rougher and hopefully it’s lost some grip but it’s coming back to the old track when I had so much success at. I’m eager to get out there and get going.”
HOW MUCH MORE AGGRESSIVE ARE YOU REALLY WILLING TO BE TO WIN THAT MILLION DOLLARS? “If you’re in second, where you have a shot at it, well, everybody has a different sense of everything but you’ll throw caution to the wind and drive over your comfort zone to win. If you’re running fifth or sixth and the leaders are checked out, that’s stupid to tear up a car then. But if you’re got a shot at the money, you’re going to take all the chances you can.”
AFTER THE MARTINSVILLE RACE WHERE YOU HAD AN ISSUE WITH PIT ROAD SPEED, YOU WERE INVITED UP TO RACING CONTROL. HAVE YOU DONE THAT YET AND IF YOU HAVE, WHAT WAS IT LIKE? IF YOU HAVEN’T, WHY NOT? “No I haven’t gone up. I guess it’s kind of slipped my mind. I’ve seen the data loops post-race and it all made sense then and it was blatantly obvious. I still think it would be smart to see that stuff live-time. I don’t know how it would affect the race or strategy or anything else that goes on at the track. But I haven’t gone up. And it was crystal clear to me on Monday. And I should go up at some point at see it. It would be interesting. I’ve never even seen race control, period. So, for a lot of reasons it would be good to get up there.”
QUESTION INAUDIBLE “I don’t know if I have a question to be answered, but just to see it. Again, when I saw the data loops following the race, my questions were answered and I realized I was talking about the wrong segment on pit road. At that point, my question was answered.”
YOU’VE WON A LOT OF BIG RACES IN YOUR CAREER. WHERE DOES THIS ONE FALL ON THE LIST? “This one is in the top three-to-five for sure. All-Star races are hard to win. The prize money; you can make an amazing year out of winning this race. The prize money generated here affects the bottom line that much. And it’s just such a cool race. It’s in the top five for me.”
DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANY WAY FOR THE ALL-STAR EVENTS TO HAVE A SIMILAR INCENTIVE LIKE BASEBALL, WHERE THE WINNER GETS THE HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE DURING THE WORLD SERIES? IS THERE ANY THOUGHT THAT NASCAR COULD OFFER MORE ENTICEMENT THERE? “I don’t know. When you think of qualifying and pit road pick and how valuable that is, yes the All-Star race is important, you need to go out and earn that top starting position through qualifying. I know other things we could look at and explore; it wouldn’t hurt and it’s good to have things apply and roll around. But at the end of the day, whoever wins this race is awfully satisfied. There’s a million reasons to smile. You leave here and you don’t care if you start at the back in the 600; man you’re leaving here with a big smile and a big check.”
RACERS FROM F1 HAVE COME TO NASCAR. WHY IS THERE NO CONSIDERATION THE OTHER WAY? WOULD YOU GUYS NEVER THINK OF IT OR IS THIS AN ABSURD QUESTION? “No, it’s a good question. I think that when you look at how many seats are available in F1; there are so few. It’s the top division of open wheel racing and there are so many young drivers and talented open-wheel drivers that are fighting for those, I don’t know if it’s 16 or 18 but it seems like a third of our field. Teams have test drivers and there’s just a long list and they’re all very, very young. I just don’t think it’s possible for an established Cup driver to go that direction based on those terms. The other direction, Cup drivers last a long time. There’s the Truck Series, Nationwide, and there are more opportunities; more seats. They’re not so concerned about age. So, there are just more opportunities. If you have a recognizable name and have created a name for yourself, you can generate sponsors and dollars and there’s just more options and opportunities here. I can only imagine being in your early thirties or late twenties in F1 and not having something to race. That wouldn’t be fun. You still have a lot of great years of driving ahead of you and NASCAR makes sense for that.”
I would love to experience Monaco; also the Indy 500.
HAVE YOU EVER CONSIDERING GETTING IN AN INDY CAR FOR THE 500 OR AN F1 CAR FOR MONACO? WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE IN A RACE CAR FOR 600 MILES? “Yeah, I would love to experience Monaco; also the Indy 500. As a kid growing up in Southern California, the Indy 500 was my dream. I don’t believe it’s in the cards for me; especially since I’ve started a family. But I love those cars. I love watching the events. From a motorsports perspective, you talk about a good day of racing; a good weekend of racing, there’s a lot to see. I’m excited for next weekend and what it holds.
“Running 600 miles? It depends on how the night’s going. If you’re in the first caution and you’re out there with a wrecked race car, it’s a long 600 miles and it goes by so slow (laughs). If you’re competitive it kind of goes by quick.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE RADICAL CHANGE KIMI RAIKKONEN IS MAKING TO IN THE TYPE OF VEHICLE HE’S RACING AND THE TRACK DIFFERENCES OF THE TRUCK SERIES? “From a competition standpoint, it’s a really radical change for him from F1 or Rally (WRC) to where he is now. But I have to say from a vehicle dynamic standpoint; from F1 to Rally would be the biggest gap in my opinion. It’s not that it’s all that close, but this is much closer to a F1 car than a Rally car is.
“I commend him for exploring and trying different things. I think Rally is amazing. With my off-road background and all the things that I raced, I have a great of respect for Rally racers. I’ve also competed in the Race of Champions event a few times and unfortunately being a dirt specialist as they classify me when I run in that event, I’ve got to race against these guys. It’s neat to see their skillset, and Kimi (Raikkonen) is trying to race. I respect that. It’s got to be tough like I said a minute ago, I don’t know what his age is but I assume early thirties, and you don’t have anywhere to race; nothing to do. He just wants to race from the way I see it.”
IN THAT VAIN, ROC, DO YOU FEEL WHAT HE’S GOING THROUGH NOW WITH JET LAG AND THEN GET IN A STRANGE CAR AND COMPETE WITH PEOPLE WHO RACE SOMETHING SIMILAR. CAN YOU PUT YOURSELF IN KIMI’S SHOES TODAY? “Yeah, in the experience in the Race of Champions, you show up and I think you get two to four laps of practice and then they start the event and you go. So it’s tough to really get comfortable. I would think that here he’s tested before. I’m not sure how many days they’ve tested, but at least he’s been in the truck. And then our practice sessions are a couple of hours and he’s getting reps and that’s helpful and that’s what he needs. Certainly it’s a foreign world to him. To come over there and I’m sure just the simple process of getting in and out of the garage area and in and out of the race car, I mean everything is different for him. I’m sure he’s wide-eyed now just trying to soak it all in.”
ON YOUR TWEET ABOUT PLANKING NASCAR-STYLE, HOW IS YOUR HEAD TODAY AND WHO’S IDEA WAS THAT? ON A MORE SERIOUS NOTE, WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE KEVIN HARVICK/KYLE BUSCH RIVALRY, IS THAT GOOD FOR THE SPORT? “I think rivalries are great for the sport. People tune in for a variety of reasons and when you look back through the history of our sport, some of those key moments like passes and spins and wrecks and confrontations and issues, those are some of the things that define our sport. We all know about the Daytona 500 with the Allison family and Cale Yarborough. Those moments kind of shape our sport in a way. So no, it’s not bad for the sport and rivalries are good.
“On the funny side with the Twitter thing, my forehead still does hurt; I’ve still got a line between by eyebrows where I put my forehead on the doorsill of my car. It was just an idea that came together. I was at the shop shooting some stuff for the team and wanted to give it a shot. I wish I would have had a little better form, but if I went back and did it again, I could word things a little differently. It was hard to stay up between the two cars. My feet kept wanting to slide down the door of the No. 88 car. It was fun; just screwing around.”
YOU’VE GOTTEN TO KNOW DALE EARNHARDT JR. A LITTLE BETTER THIS YEAR. ABOUT THE ALL-STAR RACE, LAST WEEKEND HE SAID IF HE WAS IN IT, HE’S IN IT; IF NOT HE’LL GO HOME AND DRINK A BEER. SOME PEOPLE FELT HE DIDN’T CARE, BUT THAT’S NOT WHAT HE SAID EARLIER IN THIS MEDIA AVAILABILITY. WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THAT? “He likes beer (laughs). What else are you going to do? (laughter) I know everybody is trying to understand and dig in and know where he is mentally and I feel like I’m one that’s trying to pass along what I see. It’s tough to do because I don’t want to speak on his behalf.
“But I see a guy that’s committed; a guy that’s trying really hard to bond with Steve (Letarte), his crew chief, and the team and understand the cars. And I also see a guy that this year, is flying, for whatever reason. The shuffling around, the different crew chief; whatever it may be. He’s always done a great job and it’s really showing this year. I think there are more good things to come. I spent some time with him and Stevie yesterday and went out and played some golf and just relaxed. It was great to be in that space and to relax and watch he and Steve bond. Those guys have really built a friendship and I think it’s something that he needs, to trust in someone. If you think back to his relationship with Tony Eury Jr., they are family. There’s a deep bond there. Junior and Stevie are heading down that road right now and I think it’s beneficial.”
HAS MORE EMPHASIS BEEN PUT THIS YEAR ON HOW YOUR CAR COMES OFF THE TRUCK ? “Yeah, we started the season being concerned about posting a fast time for two reasons; one, in case rain came and then the other side of it is the late draw that you benefit from when qualifying does go off. We’ve unloaded pretty far off as far as the No. 48 is concerned. The last month or so we’ve unloaded in race trim now just so that we can get a feel for the car and directionally find somewhere to go to get the balance underneath the car. And we’ve been working through some new set-ups. So a long story short is we haven’t been in qualifying trim. The only time that we went after it was Dover and it paid off because we unloaded in race trim and the car was really fast. And we felt like okay, we’ve got race trim under control and let’s go for that time; one there’s rain and two, we liked the draw, and we got it. We got the fast time which paid off. It just depends on circumstances. Ideally you want to come in and unload in qualifying trim and blast off a quick lap and then go into race trim I believe. And most practice sessions start around noon or before and the track is just going to lose grip as it heats up and the cars go on it. So if you can unload and post, that’s the way to do it. But when you’re searching, you’ve got to go about it the other way.”