Johnson likes his chances in the Phoenix 500

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed racing at Phoenix International Raceway, what it would mean to tie Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win list and other topics.

Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT COMING TO PHOENIX: “I’m excited to get on the track. It looks like it is still pretty slick. I watched the Trucks practice last night and there have been a couple of quick cautions this morning. I’m hopeful the Nationwide cars really rubber the race track in and we can get the track to evolve short order and have a great practice session here in an hour or so.”

YOU HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE MANY TIMES IN THIS SITUATION HOW DOES RIGHT NOW COMPARE TO YEARS PAST AND HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR CHANCES? “At this point regardless of our points situation I still came here ready to race and we’ve won some races here and have been able to run in the top-five which is very important to lead into a comfortable Homestead. I’ve been on the ropes here racing Denny (Hamlin) and things worked out from a fuel mileage stand point that closed the gap, went to Homestead and had to race for it. I’ve been here before with (Jeff) Gordon dueling it out. We won and he might have been second or third in the race and that is the year that reminds me the most of what I’m dealing with right now. I expect for Brad (Keselowski) to be strong here. He and I raced real hard for third or four positions in the closing laps of the spring race. I would assume that we would be right there running nose to tail once again when the checkered flag falls on Sunday.”

WHAT DO OTHER DRIVERS SAY TO YOU IN PASSING OR WHAT NOT WHEN YOU SEE THEM IN THE MOTORHOME LOT OR WHAT NOT ABOUT BEATING BRAD? WHAT ARE THEIR COMMENTS TO YOU ABOUT YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO WIN THIS CHAMPIONSHIP BECAUSE YOU ARE RACING HIM? “I haven’t had anybody specifically point out the competition with Brad. I’ve had guys talk about here you are in position again, give me some encouragement. I just saw Clint Bowyer in the motorhome lot and he said a lot of things that I can’t say on TV (laughs). Something about the rear end of anybody and I’m that part for winning last weekend. Not the cheeks the other part in his words (laughs), highly entertaining whenever it comes to (Clint) Bowyer as we all know. I feel like I have a lot of friends in the garage area and people are maybe they are not happy to see me in position to win a championship, but I think a lot of people respect the position we are in and what the team has done, what I have done. I think that respect shows on the race track too. There has been a lot of respectful driving around Brad and I on the race track and guys will let us race for this thing. It’s been good.”

WITH 60 WINS YOU ARE EIGHTH IN ALL-TIME WINS (DALE) EARNHARDT (SR.) SEVENTH WITH 76 HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO YOU TO GET TO THAT LEVEL THROWING CHAMPIONSHIPS ASIDE BUT WINS? ALSO, I SAW YOU RUNNING YESTERDAY ARE YOU ABLE TO DO THAT AND GET THE STRESS OUT WITHOUT GETTING RECOGNIZED BY A LOT OF PEOPLE? “Kind of, I left the track and ran out through the motorhome lot and on my way out no one saw me. On the way back people knew I was coming and signed a few autographs, took a few pictures. Training, I have my event coming up in December, so I have to keep the miles in and keep going. It’s been a great way to make sure that I’m tired every night and go to sleep with a clear mind. Just continuing to follow my routine and what I do. As far as chasing (Dale) Earnhardt (Sr.) I didn’t know that he was the next one in line. There is a good gap between 60 and 76 so I hope to get there. It would be a huge honor for me to be able to tie ‘The Man’. I hope to do that certainly.”

IS THIS A WHOLE NEW LEARNING PROCESS OR IS THIS STILL THE PLACE WHERE YOU HAVE WON FOUR TIMES? “I really think it’s a new place. The old track was really abrasive and tire wear was important. We did see a few things come down to fuel mileage at the end, but the mindset really was working on your race car, tire fall off and you would come in and pit and put four on. That game has changed here now. I would assume the track has evolved a little, but what we have seen with these new repaves whatever the mix is that they put down it takes a long time for it to evolve. I look at the Charlotte track as the best example. It maybe a little easier to drive on now, but it’s still the same tire wear as when they repaved it four or five years ago. It hasn’t changed back to the old Charlotte yet. This track is going to be very similar to the way it was in the spring. I feel like we are on a new sheet of paper with the track as it is. I feel like our fourth is representative of where we are now with the new track. We had a great performance, a little room to improve, but not the track that it was before.”

YOU HAVE HAD TIMES IN YOUR CAREER WHERE YOU HAVE PULLED OFF CONSECUTIVE WINS, WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO BE IN THAT ZONE? “Man, it’s crazy to experience it. In years past when we have been on those runs there is plenty of challenging moments through the course of a race weekend. To have things work out and to watch a team come together and work so hard to work through adversity and to not let adversity affect the execution, the temperament of the team, the moral of the team it’s something special to be a part of. We had some amazing years where we could string those together and I hope that, we have two going, we can keep that string going right now and rattle off two more.”

WHY DIDN’T BRAD (KESELOWSKI) GET MORE AGGRESSIVE WITH YOU LAST WEEK? BACK IN THE DAY WHEN HE WAS REALLY AGGRESSIVE THAT IS SOMETHING HE MIGHT HAVE DONE. WHEN YOU LOOK BACK ON THAT AND THE PROGRESSION HE HAS MADE DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT? WHAT HAS CHANGED ABOUT HIM AND WHY DO YOU THINK MAYBE HE DIDN’T GET REAL AGGRESSIVE THERE AND MAKE A MOVE LIKE THAT AND JUST GO FOR BROKE THERE? “I really feel like he was extremely aggressive and had that mindset of going for broke. But we all evolve as drivers and I think he was more in control of his vehicle Sunday night than he was when he was new to the sport. Then the other thing is certain drivers and I’ve been a part of it too, you have a magnet for a certain car. It was Carl (Edwards) and Brad that had that issue that was going and where a lot of that came from I don’t really recall him having big issue with other drivers. “

WITH DENNY HAMLIN… “With Denny (Hamlin) he did? I don’t even remember that one. I know our history between Brad and myself we haven’t had that. I’ve always raced him with a clear mind and not worry. Sure racing stuff happens and you make mistakes, everybody does. I make plenty myself, but it never crossed my mind that he would make an intentional move to dump me. There are only a few people out there wired like that. I think in today’s world there is probably less like it or not it is just the way it is. People race really, really hard and I think Brad did, but to just go in the corner and dump someone man that is tough to do. Then you play into the Karma thing and then there is always next week. There is a variety of things that come with that. I just don’t think there are many guys out there that would haul off into the turn and just dump their competition for the championship.”

CHAD (KNAUS) SAID EARLIER THIS WEEK THAT AT THIS TIME OF YEAR PEOPLE WHO ARE CHASING YOU HAVE TO RAISE THEIR GAME, BUT THE NO. 48 TEAM DOESN’T HAVE TO. YOU SORT OF REMAIN ON AN EVEN PLANE. IS THAT THE WAY YOU OPERATE AS A DRIVER? “I think it’s really led by Chad’s direction. He treats every race as if we are in the Chase and leans on us all. There are parts of the year where myself, my team members look at him and are like ‘man its June why are you cracking the whip so hard?’ But that is the way Chad operates. I’m thankful that he does because he never sits back and relaxes on past performance and it’s all about the present and working as hard as you can each and every week. He made the comment and a lot of that is due to his personality and the way he runs a race team. Myself I’m usually a little more laid back. It’s not that I’m trying any harder now, but I can let stuff fall off my shoulders a little easier middle of the year than he can. Right now if you are going to be the champion you can’t shrug something off. You have to focus on every single point and make sure you can get every point you can on the track. I guess maybe I’m more like his mindset when the Chase starts and prior to that I’m a bit more relaxed.”

DO YOU HAVE A SENSE THAT THE NO. 2 IS NOT GOING TO CHOKE NOT GOING TO DISAPPEAR AND YOU ARE GOING TO NEED TWO TERRIFIC RACES TO WIN THIS THING? “Yeah, that is the way I have to enter each race. I have to expect the best out of them and I’ve said that through the whole Chase. When there were 12 of us that had a shot I was focused on all 12 and then it’s worked its way down to really just one car. We are here to race. We need to get every point that we can and expect the most out of the No. 2.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK TONY STEWART MEANT BY BRAD KESELOWSKI HAVING A ‘DEATH WISH’? DO YOU THINK WITH THE NATIONWIDE POINTS BEING SO CLOSE THAT IS AN ARGUMENT TO NOT HAVE A CHASE FORMAT ANYMORE? “I didn’t see the comments after last weekend with what Tony (Stewart) said so I really don’t know what he’s referencing. The Nationwide stuff, we saw it time and time again in the Cup Series that you would get a couple close years here and there, but really there was a runaway year. I feel like from an odds standpoint, your chances of having a close championship battle are best with the Chase. The Cup Series is proof of that. We wouldn’t have changed if it wasn’t the situation. I’m happy to see the Nationwide Series tied right now. It’s great TV and it’s great to watch. It’s very hungry guys out there trying to make their mark.”

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE GOALS AND WHERE DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOUR CAREER COMES TO A CONCLUSION? “It’s hard to say and I still live my life and live each day just looking at what’s right in front of me. I’ve been asked the question a lot about long term and where I want to be, the mark I want to leave on the sport and it’s something that I haven’t put a lot of thought into, but I feel like I’ve had lame answers for everybody over the years and I need to think about it for once and have a good answer. I made this reference a few times, but a friend of mine said to me that limits begin where the vision ends. I want to be considered the best driver to ever sit in a stock car. The undisputed way to pull that off is to win eight championships. That’s what I said a few months back and I know that I put that mark way, way out there in front of me and it’s a lofty goal. I’ve accomplished every goal that I’ve set in front of myself, I’ve knocked down and I’m going to put one way out there and hope I get there. If I don’t, I know that I’ve tried and given 100 percent and very proud of whatever the stats are at that point when I retire. Putting one way out there and we’ll see if I get to it.”

DO YOU HAVE AN UPDATE ON THE ‘SUPERSTORM SANDY’ FUND? “I’m not sure how it’s going. I know we made our contribution and I’m hopeful that others have donated as well. I had some news that where our apartments held, it could be three more months before we have power or be back on our own power system. They have some auxiliary power that they are hopeful to get in within two weeks, but before the building is functioning like it was, it’s at least another three months. Believe me, the apartment wasn’t cheap. This is a nice place. I can only imagine the devastation and destruction on many levels throughout Manhattan, Staten Island. Our motor home is on the New York satellite and we were watching the local news from Staten Island, I can’t believe the devastation there. Hopefully, others are inspired to donate as well and we can try to help out.”

ARE THERE MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT YOU AND DOES THAT BOTHER YOU? “I learned a long time ago that it’s hard to make everybody happy. I have seen in the last three or four years and there are plenty of markers to show it in the fan base that has shifted heavily that there are a lot of very avid 48 fans that are out there. With that said, I’m sure there are some that just don’t like us. That’s fine, that’s cool. It’s this sport. It’s how it is. Nothing has bothered me, I’ve heard it all and I guess also in my lesson a while back I learned that if I know someone and they have a problem with me then I should take heart. From a fan’s perspective, in the way things happen within sports, if somebody says something ugly, they don’t know me so why am I going to take it to heart. It’s just fandom. People supporting their teams and who they want to support.”

HOW DOES IT MAKE YOU FEEL WHEN FANS ARE NOT SUPPORTIVE OF YOU BEING POISED TO WIN ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP? “It makes me smile. I really don’t care. I’m doing my job. I’ve worked my entire life to get to this point in my career. I wasn’t around to see the (Richard) Petty era, but I know or I can only assume that a lot of people were tired of seeing the King win. I know that a lot of people were tired of seeing (Dale) Earnhardt win. I lived it firsthand in watching Jeff Gordon go through that very same thing after his fourth championship. It’s not that I’m in this unique situation. We go back through and pull the clips from previous champions and guys that have been on runs before and it’s the same stuff. It’s absolutely the same stuff. I’m not doing anything different than Gordon, Petty, Earnhardt -- in fact I’m awfully damn proud to be in that lump of guys that had to go from cheers to boos and when they get back to cheering you again is when you stop winning. I don’t want the cheers, I’ll keep the boo’s. That’s fine.”

WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN YOURSELF AND BRAD KESELOWSKI AT ROAD ATLANTA AND DID THAT CHANGE YOUR PERCEPTION OF HIM? “When I saw his reply, it took me a second or two to take it in. I thought, ‘Wait a second, Road Atlanta? He crashed.’ Then the few minutes following his crash ran through my mind and I think Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and I were in a Tahoe and ran down there. We were some of the first people on the scene to help him get out of the car. Helping him find his bearings. Checked up with him when he was in the hospital. It was a heck of a crash. I don’t think, I was just concerned for him. Maybe that was something different than what he had experienced with other racers. That’s me. I’m concerned for people and especially seeing a big impact like that firsthand. It got my attention. The next day and a half of testing, every time I went into turn one I could see his marks where he went off the road and hit down there. I was like, ‘Man that was ugly.’ I’m glad that meant something to him. It wasn’t my intentions. He knows where I am with my morals and that I do care about others. I don’t think the situations are identical by any means, but the fact that he is the only driver that came to victory lane to shake my hand after the race in Texas, I just thought that took a lot of class. It’s tough in this moment, we’re both racing and trying to achieve our dreams of being a champion in this sport and for him to put a smile on his face and come to victory lane to shake my hand I thought was a big move on his behalf.”

Team Chevy Racing

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Interview
Tags chevrolet, hendrick, johnson, phoenix