JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Talladega Superspeedway and discussed the challenges of racing at Talladega, Hendrick Motorsports 1.5-mile program the two-car draft and more.
TALK ABOUT THE CHALLENGES AND THE NUANCES OF RACING AT TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY. “Yeah for me trying to get my arms around plate racing years ago, I made some mistakes here and had to find my way and was in position to win a few and got one with the old style car. With the new style car it was a new set of challenges. Certainly we are all aware of the push drafting and what’s developed lately so plate racing the technology has stayed pretty much the same but the way we go about it as drivers continues to change. I’m excited to give it another shot. Daytona came to an end way too soon for us. We were part of that big wreck and looking forward to a good race. I really don’t know what to think from a strategy standpoint, from race standpoint you just kind of go. If you choose to ride there’s a good chance you’ll be lapped before long the way the push draft works. Staying up front and out of trouble with the push draft seems to really be the best place. We’re looking forward to a few laps of practice today if the weather holds out but outside of that we’re pretty much locked and loaded and know what we need to do. I’m looking forward to the race.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU DEAL WITH THE COMPETITIVE ISSUES WITH THE TANDUM RACING? “It’s a totally different dynamic for us and we’re all adjusting as we can and filling our radios with other frequencies, trying to talk to guys in the garage area and seeing if someone will work with you. At the end of the day I think a lot of it just kind of takes care of itself because we all are aware of the fact that we need a partner and it really boils down to a restart and what lane you are in. In most cases the guy you’re pushing if you don’t come to pit road you’re gonna be in separate lanes and you might have built some type of report with the driver and now you’re lining up in different spots. It’s really tough to stick together and you can try and do some things maybe on restarts to get down in front of someone you want to work with but in general we all know the game. We all know it will be easier than it was in Daytona and from the minute practice opens up until the checkered falls we’ll be focused on pushing each other around the track. We’ll just work with it and see how we can do a better job as a team and make sure we miss the big wreck and try to win this thing.”
YOU ARE OFF TO A PRETTY GOOD START IN THE POINTS, WE’VE HAD SIX DIFFERENT WINNERS SO FAR AND YOU HAVEN’T WON A RACE YET SO I GUESS EVERYBODY IS GOING TO START ASKING IS TEHRE SOMETHING WRONG AND DO YOU WORRY ABOUT THAT? “No, I feel like we’ve been knocking on the door. We’ve had I’d say three real opportunities to win. Made some mistakes, I guess I’m responsible for two of those mistakes, one at Martinsville and the other at California. I felt like looking back I could have done things a little differently to keep Kevin (Harvick) behind coming to the finish at California. But it didn’t happen and we lost those races. I’ve always believed in the fact that if you’re knocking on the door by running in the top five you’re going to have your fair share of wins. We’ve been running well. Top 10s maybe a little more than we want, we want to be a little bit better and focusing on the top five and running in the top five more regularly throughout the course of a race instead of just showing up there at the end and we’ll be in victory lane. I’m sure the question will be asked and is probably already swirling a little bit and we’re only six races into the season. I took that big trophy home again last year so I’m not too concerned and we’ll keep racing. You know it’s tough to win in this sport. As you mentioned there are six different winners. We preach it all the time especially myself how difficult it is to win races and championships. I don’t know if people want to believe me especially when we’re on a roll. It is very, very tough to do and this year is proof of that to an even further extent.”
THE TWO-CAR DRAFT KIND OF STARTED HERE A FEW YEARS AGO BUT IT WAS NEVER AS PREVALENT AS IT WAS IN DAYTONA IN FEBRUARY, NOW EVERYBODY IS SAYING THIS RACE IS GOING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE THAT ONE, IS THAT JUST BECAUSE EVERYBODY FIGURED OUT THE TWO-CAR DRAFT VERY WELL DURING SPEEDWEEKS AND NOW ITS GOING TO TRANSFER HERE? “I think there are two factors to it. One, the car and the evolution of the cooling system and trying to understand that aspect of it. Going into the Daytona 500 all the teams were smarter. Although there were some changes made, we were smarter and did a better job. But I think the largest of the two is the drivers have learned how to work this better. When we were here last fall we all knew it was possible but we felt like we had a lap and half to push and then you would get so far ahead and at that point when you would have to break up the pack would gobble you up and run you over. So we saw some guys trying to work on the exchanges and when we left here it was pretty obvious you focused on the exchange and kept changing position over time you could march away from the field. I just feel that a lot of people did their homework following the fall race here and when we went to Daytona every team and every driver was geared up and ready. So it’s been an evolution of things. I know that with Jeff and I at the end of the race in the fall last year, we felt like we could make a move to get to the front but then we would have to defend and try to wait until a lap and a half or two to go, then it would be time to push and you would be willing to overheat your engine at that point. It’s just been ever changing.”
If you don’t get linked up and we have a long caution free period you can get lapped in a hurry.
WHAT ABOUT GETTING LAPPED BY THE TWO-CAR DRAFTS? “The drivers have all worked very hard on the exchanges. We’re only losing a second a lap on the exchange and you’re two second a lap faster pushing than you are in the pack so the time just adds up. If you don’t get linked up and we have a long caution free period you can get lapped in a hurry.”
HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE THE TENSION, THE ANXIETY THAT’S GOES INTO RACING HERE AT TALLADEGA KNOWING YOU ARE JUST TRYING TO AVOID THE BIG ONE? “You know over the years I’ve realized that there is very little I can control until the race starts and its easier said than done but now after 10 years of being in this sport realized how to just shut it off and enjoy myself Friday, Saturday and then Sunday when you get in the car you start worrying about things. You can think through plans really far and work things out with other drivers, teams but as we all know when you hit the track things just happen. You can plan what you want but things just don’t turn out that way. I guess over time I’ve learned to really disconnect and really enjoy just being at the track and enjoy the experience and worry about when its time during the race. I used to over worry a lot, especially when I come back in the fall the way we’ve been the last five years fighting for the championship that statement of it being easier said than done is very true. You’re worried about everything and you know that the race is coming and you can’t get around it and you need to finish the race to have a shot at the championship.”
JEFF GORDON HAD SAID HE WAS A LITTLE FRUSTRATED WITH THEIR 1.5-MILE PROGRAM, HOW DO YOU THINK YOU GUYS ARE ON THE 1.5-MILE TRACKS? “We looked back through the Chase last year and the start of this year I would say as a company we have been playing catch up a little bit on the 1.5-mile tracks. I have to thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for all their hard work and how much has gone into it. At times we feel like we’ve made some good gains and there are other times we don’t. We have cars that run strong in a race and at some cars that don’t. Jeff has been on that side that doesn’t run well at the 1.5-mile tracks here lately and I know that he and his team are frustrated but as a group we’re all working in different areas trying to find the speed. We have a lot of new components this year with the new aero balance and nose on the cars along with some stuff that we have developed internally for our chassis and our setups so there are a lot of moving pieces right now and I think as a group we are working well together and we’ll get there. I hate that Jeff is in the position he is in the points and we need to stop the bleeding there and get him back. He does have a win which is great but we want all four Hendrick cars in the Chase and need to get those guys collecting a lot of points especially on the 1.5-mile tracks. We know how important that is with how many races we have.”
LAST YEAR IT CAME DOWN TO YOU AND DENNY (HAMLIN) AND KEVIN (HARVICK) AND IT WAS A PRETTY CLOSE RACE, THIS YEAR DENNY HAS GOTTEN OFF TO A SLOW START AND HE’S STRUGGLED A LITTLE BIT BUT KEVIN HAS NOT, KEVIN IS STRONG AND WON TWO RACES AND SEEMS TO BE RIGHT WHERE HE WAS LAST YEAR, WOULD YOU SAY HE’S PROBABLY YOUR BIGGEST WORRY RIGHT NOW? “Yeah, I would also add the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) car and even the No. 17 (Matt Kenseth) car. The Roush group has made huge gains and I said last year it was kind of obvious with how Carl is running but that’s a very mature team. They went through a tough period of time and stuck together. We didn’t hear about he and Bob Osborne tearing each other apart and the team dismantling itself. They went down the rough road and came through it and are winning races and running well. Clearly all the Roush cars are. You look at the Texas race last weekend and all the Roush affiliated cars pretty much took up the top six or eight spots on the race track. They’ve figured something out. I think there is a lot of racing left between now and when the chase starts. We have time to get our stuff right. But Kevin is doing a great job and I have to say that Denny doesn’t have some of the results but he’s been running well and has had some crazy things happen. I remember him being in front of me at a few of the races where he had DNF’s and bad finishes. So I’m sure they don’t want to be in the hole that they’re in but I think they are running better than where it shows.”
-source: team chevy