Johnson, J.Gordon Daytona test press conference, part 1

PRESEASON THUNDER TEST SESSION I DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY January 10, 2006 JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm very proud of this race team year after year. They want to compete for a championship. I...

PRESEASON THUNDER TEST SESSION I
DAYTONA INTERNATIONAL SPEEDWAY
January 10, 2006

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm very proud of this race team year after year. They want to compete for a championship. I think it's something that we're all focusing on. I think everybody saw the intensity in how bad we wanted the championship last year. It didn't come through and it was very frustrating going through all that. But it just wasn't our year. And I've said it and it's something that I do believe in; that when it's meant to be for me, and if it is or isn't or whatever, I'm okay with that. I'm showing up every day and giving 100% and I know my team is. We'll just keep plugging away. It's got to happen sooner or later.

Q. Inaudible?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We really tried to improve from August on. It seems from Brickyard, it starts right around Brickyard time frame is when things slow down for us. Really last year, our entire career, it's been that way and our last two or three seasons we've been trying to ramp up and pinpoint and test and be ready for that period of time and not have us lose our momentum, and it's happened for whatever reason. And this year, again, we've got our eyes focused on that, of course we want to get off to a good start in the first 26 to try to secure ourselves a spot in the Chase. But we're focused on let's get off to a good start and let's try to ramp up as the year goes on, instead of starting off so strong and trailing off and then trying to turn the corner and get things going in the read direction again.

Q. Can you talk about the new testing procedure, how does that hurt a driver who perhaps your weakness is not one of the five tracks you're testing at, how can you get better at a track that you have no ability to test at?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's a great question. It really changes things. I'm not sure how it's going to play out. I think the rookie drivers are going to have a little bit more of a struggle than rookie drivers in the past, for one. And then two, if you're off on a certain program, if it's road course racing, if it's short track, whatever it is in the season and you want to go make your team better, you're really limited to how you do that.

I personally am not a huge fan of this new testing plan that's taking place. I understand the reasons behind it, but I hate that if a team is in need, they can't go out and try to better themselves. It's very tough and when we show up and we have a couple hours of practice, you're not going to try new things to develop your race cars. You're going to come with what's known, and if its 20th place, you hope that week it's 15th and you do what you can to make small adjustments and make the racing go on from there. So if you're off, I don't really see a lot of chances where a team can pinpoint their problems and work through them.

Q. If there was one thing about last year that you could change, what would it be?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's a lot involved in making this request come true, but I wish that I was a champion. There's a lot of other details in there that would have to add up to that. I look back, and I look at the Homestead event, and I didn't have a soft tire, I didn't have a flat tire but there was something wrong and the tire did explode. And I turned

around and hit the wall. Looking back, Tony did not have the best night that night and is there was an opportunity for us there to have a Top 3 night and maybe be the champion.

So I look back, and definitely disappointed that we talked about it on the radio, and I did have a soft tire. I'm just disappointed that I didn't in my mind say forget it, whatever the penalty is, one lap, two laps it's better than crashing, come to pit road and change the tires.

Q. To follow up on the other gentleman's question, last couple years you've been right there in the Chase, with what you've been through, going into this year, do you see a mindset change, anything you'd like to change over the past couple of years to get you over the hump? And second, how do you feel about the impound rule at some tracks?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think that every year I'm smarter, the team is smarter and we try to make the changes necessary to win the championship. So going into this year, we're looking at different ways to approach the season, different mind set. I feel that we're a smarter team this year. Last year when the shock rule came along, after we won at Dover, we had a lot of time invested in the back of the car to do things to do things, to get the right aero. From that point we've been trying to go to the front of the car where there are not any other rules to get what the other teams have had. So it's where people had their time invested. On the technical side we've been working very hard over the off season: Chad Knaus, Steve Letarte, Alan Gustafson and Lance McGrew, those guys have been every device or machine known to mankind that you can strap a race car to, they have been working on it trying to understand how to make the front of the cars work right so that we can get the right aero attitude back and have the appearance of the 20 and the Roush cars at the end of the season, because they were good and had it really dialed-in right. We were getting it done, but with the back of the cars. We are doing everything that we can mentally, technically, everything that we can to do it and to be the champions and now I'm struggling with the second part of your question.

The impound races, that's right. From what I understand, I've been out of the country so I haven't been paying to close of attention to things. I do know the majority of the races will not be impound races and that is one positive thing that goes in line with the testing. If we had impound races with the testing rule, that's less track time for the teams to development their equipment and I think it would make things a lot more difficult for teams.

Q. While you were out of the country, there was a lot of static about your crew chief, whether he was going to be back, talking about teams and all this stuff, can you talk about your relationship with Chad, which has been obviously perceived as a strength throughout your career, how has that changed, is it any different, is there too much being made of the whole situation? Just that sort of an update on the situation with Chad.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: To be honest, the rumors were kind of a surprise and something that we were laughing about. I think it started banquet week, and I think he called me and asked if I fired him, and my response back was no, are you leaving, there's two rumors, one that you're going to Evernham.

Last year was tough at the end. We were frustrated. I think you guys, everyone in this room and the fans listening, people are smart to know that it's just frustration or if there's more to it. And we were really frustrated last year and working hard. I give Chad a lot of credit for how hard he was working. It just didn't give us the results that we wanted.

I think from the frustration being visible last year to the opinions we formed and then the rumors kind of generated from that. And really, there was not any internal talk, there was not any discussion about a different crew chief, ever, and those rumors were something that we kind of laughed about and joked about.

This year we want to make sure that we're mentally able to make it through all 36 races and especially in the final ten, regardless if we're on top of the world or if we're going through a tough time. If we can stay even keeled, I think we're going to make better decisions. And we were frustrated through the end of last season and I think that, you know, at times it hurt our decision making process and that's something that we're really focused on this year.

Q. Inaudible?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Oh, yeah it definitely affected our performance in the championship in certain ways. You know, we went with the other packages that we felt that our teams were using, and we were competitive, ran top 5, top 10 but didn't have that race winning performance like we hoped for.

As an organization, the 24 was trying new things and they made their change with Loomis and put Steve Letarte in, so they were working on new ideas. The 5 was working, instead of 25 and us, and we literally would just all get together, say, who is working the best, who feels the best about their package this weekend.

What was frustrating at Dover was we were told that everything was perfectly legal and then it was taken away from us. So it was hard to really grasp that. I know it looked fishy and drew a lot of concerns in everyone's eyes; how can something be perfectly legal and then it's not allowed? So that was something we struggled about and tried to talk to NASCAR about but it's a rule that they made and we went on.

One interesting thing just from a technical side, the way the rules read and still do read, the way the shocks should work, we were perfectly legal as we know. But on the front of the race car, limiting the travel is illegal, and if you look at coil binding and understand what the term coil binding means, that's technically an illegal thing to do. But I guess it's overlooked and not really a problem in NASCAR's eyes where there seems to be a lot of money invested into it.

So my assumption is that the shocks look like a potential cost for the team, for other teams to ramp up and try to use those things, and that's why they pulled him off the cable.

Q. Last year you took your share of criticism from your fellow drivers.

A, does that weigh on you at all, and B, what do you expect this year as far as that's concerned?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think that criticism I took was really at Talladega at both races there. Outside of those two races and the plate races in general, I think I had great competition, great balance on the track and didn't have any flare ups or issues with anyone. So I'm not really concerned or worried about anything being there.

Obviously on the plate races, you know, for the first Talladega, a lot of stuff came together and a wreck happened. In the second one, I just got in the back of the 38, got too close, got the aero loose and got in the back of him. I learned my lesson from that. Even if I'm at the front with somebody I thoroughly trust in the draft, you still have to be very careful and leave space to prevent from getting somebody aero loose. So this season on the plate races, maybe I've gotten too comfortable with the area around my car and need to add a couple inches in there and give myself more space so I don't have those problems.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Chad Knaus