JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET met with media and discussed new system of qualifying, anticipated changes to PIR, points, tires, Trevor Bayne, how the weather will affect Sunday's race, and more.
DOES THE NEW POINT SYSTEM HURT MORE NOW WITH BAD FINISHES? "We think so but only time will tell. It looks like that way. The worse you finish the bad days are going to be tougher to recover from but luckily it's still early in the season and we know that people are going to have bad days. And I was one of 15 or 16 in that wreck that had a bad day. At Daytona, at least at the 500, I either run up front and win, or we're on the hook going to the garage to fix the car. I hope to get that out of my system. The Daytona 500 means so much to me and to our sport to win it; I have the one win and I'd love to get a second (win)."
CAN YOU RELATE IN ANY WAY TO WHAT TREVOR BAYNE IS GOING THROUGH? HAVE YOU WATCHED ANY OF THE STUFF HE'S BEEN DOING THIS WEEK AND HIS WIDE-EYED AND GEE-WHIZ THING HE'S GOT GOING ON? "Yeah, I can relate in some ways. I came into a very powerful situation driving for Hendrick Motorports and Jeff (Gordon) and it's a big world out there and there was a lot to learn in a short period of time. You find that the magnifying glass instantly is put on you and things that you say are now critiqued and judged and it's confusing. It's a tough world. And I've reached out to Trevor and we've been talking a little bit over the last week and like I do for a lot of other guys, I'm always here to help. Jeff helped me out and I remember his words and I've used them in talking with Trevor that Jeff said he wished there was a book to tell you the do's and don'ts as you are thrust into stardom as an athlete, whether it pertains to this sport or any other. And I used that again for Trevor. There is no way to educate you for what's to come. You're just going to have to go through it and you're going to make mistakes being true to yourself. People see that. And in time, if you do make mistakes, people understand. His world has changed dramatically since last Sunday (Daytona 500)."
HAVE YOU AND (CREW CHIEF) CHAD KNAUS DISCUSSED THE NEW-STYLE PIT STOPS? HOW LONG WILL IT BE BEFORE TEAMS FULLY HAVE A GAME PLAN ON THAT? "I feel like during the 500, because we had a wrecked car, we took every opportunity to come down pit road and get familiar with it. But at the end of the 500, we were pretty efficient. So I hope that we're there. I know that it took a long time for everyone in the Truck Series to get comfortable and familiar with it. I think there's still a learning curve here for the Cup guys. We had the old system perfected so well and now it's just something new in a couple ways. So it's going to take a little bit of time."
DOES THE REAL RACING BEGIN THIS WEEKEND? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? "I certainly agree that this weekend really starts what our season is about. And we have four plate races out of the 36 that we run for points. In my eyes, along with many others, the Super Bowl, the big race, was last week and it's kind of a specialty event. But now we get down to what we really use to determine the champion. And that's short track racing 1.5-mile racing, and so on. So we, a lot like a lot of other race teams, worked very hard all off-season to get better. We're excited to get on track this weekend, and really the next two or three weeks to find out if our hard work during the off-season was done in the right areas."
YOUR RECORD HERE IS FANTASTIC. YOU HAVE A 4.9-AVERAGE FINISH. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS PLACE WITH YOU? "It's weird because in the Nationwide Series this was one of my worst tracks. We came back in the Cup Series and things have been a lot better for me. In the past this wasn't a good track for Hendrick; so I think over the last six or seven years our company and the drivers at Hendrick have learned how to get this track down and what we need, along with the crew chiefs. It's a fun track. You have two different ends and drive them differently with different banking in (Turns) 1 and 2 than in (Turns) 3 and 4. I run well on quirky tracks. This is one of those tracks. It's low-grip, it's odd-shaped, you can't get the car perfect on either end of the track and you've got to make up for it and slide around yourself."
ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE LAS VEGAS RACE? WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET AROUND THAT PLACE? "Vegas, the last few times, has had so much grip between the re-surfacing they did a few years back and the progressive banking and the new tires that we take to the track. So when I think of Vegas, I think of pulling (his belts) tight and taking a deep breath, especially in qualifying. You go out there and lay it all on the line (during qualifying). And in the race, you're not tiptoeing around there either. In the race you're laying it on pretty hard."
WILL YOU STAY OUT ON THE WEST COAST BETWEEN THE PHOENIX AND LAS VEGAS? "Yeah, we're going to stay out instead of traveling back and forth; and just have some fun and try to relax and then head over to Vegas."
IS THERE ANY ADVANTAGE TO STAYING OR GOING HOME? "I don't think so. For us, we realize that the season is long; and for myself and my family to take breaks in the action between races is important. Granted we just got started, so we don't really feel like we need one, but we'll take this chance to spend a couple of days and have some fun with some friends. But then actually Wednesday, I have to be in Las Vegas. Lowe's has a big thing they do out there each year and there's two days of work at Lowe's before we go to the race track. So it is somewhat of a work week for me."
ANY THOUGHTS ON THE CHANGES THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT DOING TO PIR AFTER THIS RACE? WILL YOU BE SAD TO SEE THIS CURRENT LAYOUT CHANGE OR DO YOU THINK IT'S TIME? "Yeah, I'll be sad to see it change. I understand that tracks need to be resurfaced and it's one of the necessary evils of our sport. I know they are working very hard to make sure we have two lanes of racing when we come back. And then all the changes they make will make it safer and more competitive. So only time will tell. The best of intentions are there but until all of us get on the track and really get to work, we just won't know. But they're working very hard to favor things in the right direction."
MARK MARTIN SAID ALL THE HENDRICK GUYS ARE TRYING DIFFERENT THINGS THE FIRST FEW WEEKS HERE AND THEN MAYBE IT'LL BE MORE COMMON IN A FEW WEEKS. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT TRYING TO BALANCE WHAT MIGHT WORK WITH THE NEW NOSE AND SOME OTHER THINGS VERSUS KNOWING THAT YOU'RE LOW IN POINTS THIS EARLY? "We haven't really thought about points that much. We certainly didn't finish (Daytona 500) where we wanted to but there is so much racing left that we're not concerned with that yet. We're just more interested in what we worked on during the off-season and if it's going to produce speed.
"All four teams are trying a few different things. We feel we can cover more territory that way. And then the fact that we have great drivers and crew chiefs, we can find our way back after a practice session and we'll take what's working from each car and apply it and hopefully get to the end result faster and have our cars as fast as possible.
By the end of these practice sessions to day or Vegas or soon to come. We're working hard. There is a lot that has changed with the concept of our car and the way our cars are set-up and the set-ups underneath them. We worked really hard over the off-season to come back and have the speed that we should have."
DO YOU ANTICIPATE IT TO BE MORE DIFFICULT TO LEARN THINGS ON A RACE WEEKEND THE WAY IT IS HERE WITH QUALIFYING ON SATURDAY AND NO PRACTICE? "I don't know when you fastest lap counts. I don't know if it's an average; does anybody know?"
IT'S WHATEVER YOUR FASTEST LAP IS IN PRACTICE
"Okay, well that's good because originally I thought it was only based on the first practice session. The restriction in tires would be an issue. But the fact that we have one less set of tires makes a difference. It's less track time. And we have to be very smart on when you decide to make your qualifying runs and your race runs to maximize your sets of tires. If you start in qualifying trim, you'll run two laps and burn up two different sets of tires and only have two to work on race trim. Or you try the other route and just focus all on race trim and let it rip from there. There's a lot of different ideas that will come out here. I'm not sure which will be the best just yet, but we're all going to be learning quickly."
ON THE WEATHER, IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE HIGH 40'S ON SUNDAY. YOU'RE USED TO RUNNING MUCH WARMER IN PHOENIX. IS THAT GOING TO BE A BIG ADJUSTMENT OR NOT? "Yeah, this track is affected by the sun. It's so old and porous that the cooler the conditions, but better the tire life and the better the grip level is and the easier it will be for everyone. When it warms up here, the track grip drops way off and it becomes a handful; which I like that kind of racing. The slicker the better in my book. So it will impact things on race day."
THE NUMBER OF CAUTIONS PER RACE HAVE DECLINED OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS TO APPROXIMATELY TWO FEWER CAUTIONS PER RACE. HOW DOES THAT IMPACT YOU IN TERMS OF HAVING TO DEAL WITH AN ILL-HANDLING CAR A LITTLE BIT LONGER, OR GOING THROUGH A WHOLE FUEL CYCLE, ETC. "I didn't realize that. It seems to me that we're under caution a lot you know? But stats are stats. Not to be stupidly obvious, but the more chances you have to come to pit road to work on your stuff, the better you will be. More of a premium of what's on practice and now we have one less set of tires in practice to work with. Everything in today's world; all the time has been shortened up and you have to come off the truck better than ever. And all these rules are shaping that into play. You've got to come off the truck and be right. Otherwise, you won't be able to find your way back during the course of the weekend."
-source: team chevy