JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S PATRIOTIC CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway and discussed competing in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race, what makes a championship driver and other topics.

Jimmie Johnson, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

TALK ABOUT RACING HERE TOMORROW NIGHT UNDER THE LIGHTS TO WIN THE ALL-STAR EVENT: “It’s just a fun week to have things build up and then end on the All-Star event tomorrow night. Last night was a big night for my crew guys. I couldn’t be happier for them. They just put so much into their jobs and take it so seriously. To win last night meant the world to them. They are still on cloud nine right now. I’m very proud of those guys. Tonight is a very unique format with qualifying in a very fun way to set the field. Tomorrow night is all about the winner and the show and involving the fans. It’s a fun week. We still take it seriously because we are on track and there is a lot to learn. For the most part it’s a casual relaxed stand on the gas weekend so it’s a lot of fun.”

HOW FAR ARE YOU WILLING TO PUSH IT TO WIN THE MONEY TOMORROW NIGHT? “A million dollars there are a lot of reason there to ruffle some feathers. Or to steal Earnhardt’s phrase to rattle his cage. You need to be in position to do that. I think winning last night in the pit crew competition puts us in a good position for pit road. Hopefully, we have a night on track that gives us an opportunity to take advantage of that pit road spot that we will have. There are a few pieces to the puzzle. Really it’s going to boil down to track position for that last segment. In a 10-lap shootout you’ve got to be in those first couple of rows. I would assume there is a good chance we will all crash and maybe the guy fifth or sixth win slide on through. I think your best chance to win is starting on the front row. That is really our goal to put ourselves in position to be on the front row for the final segment.”

IF SOMETHING CRAZY HAPPENS LATE IN THE RACE TOMORROW NIGHT AND YOU ARE INVOLVED ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, DO YOU THINK MOST OF THE COMPETITORS THAT ARE IN THIS ALL-STAR RACE WILL ADOPT THE PHILOSOPHY THAT THIS IS A BY-WEEK AND WHAT HAPPENS HERE IN TERMS OF RETALIATION OR HURT FEELINGS WILL NOT CARRY OVER NEXT WEEKEND AT THE (COCA-COLA) 600? “To a certain degree, there are moves racing for the win, even if a car is turned around and crashed that you just consider good hard racing. There still is that limit. If somebody just flat out dumps you going into the turn, I have to feel that would linger and show back up later. There is a way to race aggressively and then racing is racing, stuff happens. If it’s just a full blown take out, I think that will stick around.”

IN YOUR OPINION WHAT MAKES A CHAMPIONSHIP DRIVER? “At this level everybody is really good at driving the car. My opinion it really boils down to the feel the driver has and how he verbalizes those sensations to his team. Really in my opinion it boils down to communication that is the key.”

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ALL-STAR MOMENT? “If I’m allowed to lump in my two wins I will take that. They are such special wins. Without the pressure of the points, victory lane has a far different sensation for some reason. I don’t know there is just a different feeling when you win the All-Star race. All night long the energy is higher the celebration seems to be bigger. It’s nice that we have an off day on Sunday so we can recover from the celebrating that takes place after. From a fan stand point there are two All-Star races that stick out in my mind. The one where it was wet down in turns one and two and they crashed and the No. 24 car came back in the race with a back-up car and won. Then prior to that I think of the one where I guess Earnhardt lost the lead in turns three and four, then Davey (Allison) got the lead at the start/finish line and ended up in the outside wall with broken ribs and a concussion that is one heck of a finish.”

IS ONE VICTORY THIS SEASON AND NO CHAMPIONSHIP LAST SEASON. IS THAT A SIGN THAT ROUSH AND GIBBS AND EVERYBODY HAS SORT OF CAUGHT UP TO HENDRICK? IS THERE A PERCEPTIBLE DIFFERENCE IN HOW MAYBE YOU ARE VIEWED AS A CONTENDER? “What we did over those five years it wasn’t done in the past for a reason. It’s really difficult to do if not impossible to do. I look back on those five years and realize how magical they were. The fact that we maintained control for that long it is unbelievable. Moving past that we were going to lose at some point, we lost last year. The way we finished last year, we weren’t proud of ourselves as a No. 48 team. There is a way to lose and be in the hunt and that is easier to take. Last year at the end of the season we weren’t happy with our performance. We weren’t happy with the speed in the cars. If you look at this year, I know we only have one win right now, we’ve lead a lot of laps. We’ve been in contention at a lot of races and have made mistakes. That is the part we have to fix. That was probably the best thing leaving Darlington with is we had a deal probably two-thirds through the race where we lost some track position due to strategy. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) made a good call, but strategy and people doing other things and we had to overcome that and we did. Even as the five-time champion there are still little steps to build confidence. For myself last weekend was a big boost and for Chad and my team. Then we roll into last night with the pit crew competition and the guys had a chance to shine last night. Our momentum is going the right way; our race cars are much faster this year than they were last year. I really feel like we are going to win a lot of races this year.”

HAVING WON DARLINGTON, HAVING WON THE PIT CREW CHALLENGE ARE YOU THE GUYS THAT EVERYONE IN THE GARAGE IS LOOKING AT AS THE TEAM TO BEAT? WHO DO YOU REGARD AS THE TEAMS THAT YOU HAVE TO BEAT TOMORROW NIGHT? “Right now it seems like things are changing a little bit. The way last year ended the No. 99 and the No. 14 were by far the class of the field. This year they have showed some strength but there have been a lot of laps led by the No. 56 car, the No. 11, we have been up front a bunch, the No. 18 was real strong at Darlington. I’m not sure really who the target it. I feel like we should be in that grouping. It is probably arguable who it is at this point. You take out the two plate races; we have had a lot of bad luck on plate races this year. I don’t know if anybody has earned more points than us. I think that we are right there in the hunt.”

DESCRIBE WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR HEAD THE MOMENTS BEFORE YOU GET IN THE CAR? HOW VALUABLE IS THE TIME YOU GET TO SPEND WITH YOUR FAMILY PRIOR TO CLIMBING IN? “It is important and it’s nice to be around your family before you get into the race car. Clearly it’s a dangerous sport. It’s nice and comforting to have family there. It is tough to have any type of real moment because cameras, fans, the anticipation for a race, there are a lot of things going on. It’s just a comfort thing. The races where my wife isn’t able to attend or my daughter, I feel a little, not lost but there is a little piece missing and I wish that my family was there. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often. Another thing to touch on, our sport really is a family sport. A lot of other stick and ball players the rules from the team and how they travel, where they stay and the interaction they are able to have with their families is far less than ours. I’m very proud to be a part of such a family oriented sport.”

HOW DO YOU RACE AROUND KURT BUSCH? “Last year we certainly had our issues. Since Richmond he and I had a chance to talk. We have raced great with one another. Through my experience for whatever reason two drivers will run into each other time and time again and they are like magnets and it happens. I had it with Sterling Marlin for a while. I don’t know why but when we would crash, we would crash with the No. 40. Then it was with the No. 2 when Kurt (Busch) was in that and a little bit when he was in the No. 22. When you are in the sport long enough that stuff happens, I’m thankful I don’t have any issues out there right now.”

WITH THE CHANGES TO THE CARS STARTING THIS WEEK WILL YOU KNOW MUCH HOW THE CAR WILL REACT IN TRAFFIC JUST FROM YOUR PRACTICE TODAY AND DOES THIS MEAN THAT PEOPLE WILL BE WATCHING THE SHOWDOWN RACE MORE CAREFULLY TOMORROW? “Yeah, we will learn. Certainly being on track today what that skirt change does and from the way I understand it they are trying to actually slow the lead car down some and not give him such an aero advantage. Clean air travels the car further seals the car off and that lead car has the majority of the downforce. The further back you go the less downforce and the cars don’t seal up. I understand the thought. We will see how it works. We will find out through the All-Star race. It’s a good time to learn. By yourself we will learn some trends, but once we get in the race… you can test all you want, you can put four or five cars out there, but for some reason race situations are far different than anything you can create in a test session or practice session.”

THERE IS NOT A SINGLE GUY LEFT FROM YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS OF 2009 AND 2010 IN TERMS OF THE OVER-THE-WALL GROUP. HAS THE TEMPLATE FOR WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IN A PIT CREW GUY CHANGED THAT MUCH OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS? “Yeah, just like the sport in so many other respects it just continues to evolve. For a long time due to budget reasons and the structure of the budget for our organization we worked hard to have over-the-wall guys that also had some responsibilities in the shop. Ron Malec (current car chief) was a tire carrier for a long time. Clearly the car chief and we were getting out monies worth out of Ron week-in and week-out (laughs). Today it has changed. The physical demand on the road crew guys, working on the car three days in advance, here when the garage opens, when it closes, it takes away a little bit. Pit road is so competitive that we felt we needed to have just specific over-the-wall guys. We went through a variety of hiring, looking at guys from college sports bringing them in. Our whole search started and took us some time to get everybody in the right positions and get the experience that they need, but now it’s really paying off. I’m very proud of what they did last night. Really the progress they’ve made. As you could see last night in the media center we are a very tight knit group of people, very tight knit team, there is a strong brotherhood there that is great to be a part of.”

WHEN IT COMES TO THE EXTRA 100 MILES IN THE 600 IS IT MORE MIND FATIGUING, PHYSICALLY FATIGUING OR DOES IT JUST DEPEND ON HOW WELL YOUR CAR IS RUNNING? “It really is a little of both. Oddly enough we have like a mental time clock of how long it takes to run a race. It changes per track. You just know at some point you have to be close to the end. When that clock hits in your mind and you’re like ‘oh no we still have a 100 mile or 150 to go.’ Then you think ‘man, wow this is a long race.’ In those final laps it’s most important to be on your game in the car; lack of training, lack of hydration all of that shows up at the end. We will have to see what the weather is like; if it’s a hot day it will show more than other weekends for sure.”