Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Impala SS spoke with the media about the season to date and the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway. Q & A's WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON: SO AFTER THIS WEEK'S RUN AT ...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Impala SS spoke with the media about the season to date and the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.
Q & A's WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON:
SO AFTER THIS WEEK'S RUN AT BRISTOL, WILL THE BEARD BE BACK FOR THE SECOND BRISTOL RACE? "Yeah, beards in Bristol work (laughs), especially for the No. 48 team. We obviously had a great run. We were very competitive all day long. I wish that we could have lined up and raced another 500 laps after the race was over because I really understood the track and understood our set up. We were kind of scared to make any adjustments during the race because it was going so well. But looking back on it, we were very competitive. When we go back for the fall race, I think we're as close as we're ever going to be to win a race there. I'm excited for the future at Bristol."
YOU'VE BEEN IN THE SPORT QUITE A WHILE NOW WITH THREE CHAMPIONSHIPS UNDER YOUR BELT, WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG FOR YOU TO FIGURE OUT THE BRISTOL TRACK? "Every track has its own rhythm and certain tracks fit certain styles and I just for short tracks, it seems like the flatter the short track, the better I've done. I really enjoy the high-banked tracks. I love how hard you can drive the car and all the things it takes to be fast there, but we just haven't really done it. I don't understand why it's taken so long. But again, every place has its own challenges and I'm glad that we finally got it. It's been a long eight years to get it right (laughs), but we made a lot of progress last week."
YOU ARE IN THAT WEIRD, FUNKY GATORADE COMMERCIAL. WAS THAT FUN FOR YOU TO DO? "I had a blast doing it and to be able to spend some time with the other top athletes that were in that spot. Originally it was going to be a Super Bowl commercial and I still was able to be in a Super Bowl commercial, which meant the world to me and am extremely thankful to Gatorade for that opportunity. What they've done in the sports world with all their athletes, and to be considered one of their top athletes and to use me like they have, it's done a lot for me and been a lot of fun and has elevated my status within sports."
IN LOOKING AT YOUR MARTINSVILLE RECORD, WHAT DID YOU DO WRONG IN YOUR FIRST RACE THERE? "Everything (laughs). We went and tested at least once, maybe twice for that thing and I had an okay race going, I mean I would have been in the twenties, at best would have been a top 15, and then we broke a rear-end gear, actually. So that took us out of a respectable finish. And then the following race, I was being lapped by Tony Stewart pretty early in the event and I followed him for about 10 or 15 laps and the switch went off in my brain and I thought ah, that's how you do it. I've got it now. And I was able to salvage a good finish there and just started fine-tuning from that point on."
YOU FINISHED 35TH IN YOUR FIRST START, AND YOU HAVEN'T FINISHED OUT OF THE TOP 10. IN 14 STARTS YOU'VE GOT TEN TOP 5'S. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT YOU LIKE SO MUCH? "The question before was about why it took so long at Bristol and I when I was coming up with an answer I kind of hit on something that felt right in my brain, that the flatter short tracks fit my style for whatever reason. Phoenix has been good to us. Richmond took a while, but we got it. Martinsville has been good. New Hampshire has been fair to me. There's something about the flatter tracks and the braking technique and how you get the car to turn there that works for me. I think that the car set up and the crew chief style plays into that as well. It's kind of a combination of things. Our flat short-track program has been good and something that I've done well at as well."
SHOULD I BET THE HOUSE ON THE NO. 48 THIS WEEK? "I'm hoping that's the case (laughs). I hope to deliver. Coming off of Bristol, we're all walking with our chests out and going to one of our best tracks. So I'm fired up for that. I know it's going to be a good battle. It's a great track for the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) and they all had good finishes as well. And here Jeff's been awfully hungry and leading the points and all that kind of stuff. I think we're going to have an awesome race in Martinsville."
WE HEAR A LOT ABOUT JIMMIE JOHNSON THE GENTLEMAN AND YOU ARE, BUT WHEN I WAS IN YOUR CAMARO RIDE-ALONG AT DAYTONA AT 160 MPH, YOU WERE ANYTHING BUT GENTLE. WHEN THE HELMET GOES ON, DOES A DIFFERENT PERSONALITY COME OUT OR WAS THAT PERSONALITY ALREADY THERE AND WAITING FOR A HELMET? "There is an old saying that before you put your helmet on, you take your brain off (laughs), so I guess there's a multitude of ways to look at it. From when I was a kid on a motorcycle, I've always been kind of quiet and I certainly like to have fun, but my element has really been with the helmet on. And that's my space, that's what I'm good at, that's what I do, that's what I look forward to, and we all have that thing that we're good at. And for me, it's when that helmet goes on. That's my little piece of the world and I enjoy it."
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THAT TO A FAN WHO HAS NEVER RACED? "There is so much that goes on through the course of a race, and through the course of a career, for that matter, that you deal with all the same emotions as anyone does in a professional work space you know; am I doing my job and I committed enough am I focused enough and do I have the right techniques and is my boss happy, and my beard is happy (laughs) and you go through all the same emotions. I really think that everybody can deal with x-amount of stress. In every workspace you've got an employer that has expectations. There are some good employers and some bad employers; I mean it's all relative. It's my passion but at the end of the day I have a service to do and I'm an employee of Hendrick Motorsports and an employee of Lowe's and I've got to go out and do my job. So those same pressures we all face creep in."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN QUALIFYING AT MARTINSVILLE COMPARED TO QUALIFYING AT BRISTOL? "At Bristol it seems like we can get tire temp and really get a lap in first thing. Mark's (Martin) fast time was his first lap. I was third and it was on my first lap. Where at Martinsville, you just cannot get tire temp or brake temp. There's a lot of braking involved there. Normally we have two laps, but they give us a third (lap) so we can get everything up to temp so we can put down a lap. So it's really kind of a guess when you leave pit road and go into Turn 3 the first time, you're guessing how much grip you have and you usually realize that you got strong and you got in there too fast, and then you start predicting each corner and hoping that when you take the white (flag) and you go into Turn 1 for the lap that counts, that you guessed right and the grip level is what you expect it to be so that you can put down that lap. So it's kind of an unknown and I think experience really pays at Martinsville to find the rhythm, to have the expectations of the grip level and tire temp that you'll have so that you can put down a good lap."
WHEN YOU QUALIFYING AT SHORT TRACKS, DO YOU STRESS OUT ON THE FACT THAT IT'S SO SHORT AND QUICK AND YOU'VE GOT TO NAIL IT, OR DO YOU JUST GO INTO AUTOMOTIVE MODE? "For me I find that in most cases I have to pull myself back. I think it's very easy for the moment to get a race car driver fired up, and if you talk to most guys or just go through the tapes of qualifying, you rarely hear someone say I under drove the car. It's always I over drove it; I tried too hard. So to find the rhythm and to find that sweet spot and come in with the right level of approach is something that experience really helps you with and you have to focus on."
LAST YEAR YOU TALKED ABOUT HOW IT'S MUCH EASIER TO TUNE YOURSELF OUT OF A RACE WHEN TRYING TO MAKE ADJUSTMENTS. HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO MAKE YOUR CAR BETTER DURING RACES AND NOT MAKE ADJUSTMENTS THAT MAKE IT WORSE AND HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT AT MARTINSVILLE WHERE YOU'LL PROBABLY BE IN THE PITS A LOT? "Yeah, if you look at Fontana this year, we had the fastest car at the start of the race and started working on it and tuned ourselves out. So at times we feel like we know the right adjustments to make and other times we still make mistakes and make the wrong ones. With this car it seems like you've got to be in a small window and just adjust tire pressure and maybe a round of wedge or on the track bar and you're really there. Much more than that, and you've got other problems with the fundamentals of the set up that you just missed in practice. So you've really got to be on the game in happy hour and make sure that you get your stuff right so that you're within air pressure and a round or two."
HAVE YOU NOTICED ANYTHING DIFFERENT THIS YEAR ABOUT JEFF GORDON AND WHAT HIS TEAM IS DOING THIS YEAR? "No, those guys have been doing the same stuff and questions like that pop up when you run well or you run bad. I guess the greats like Jeff, you get so accustomed to them running up front all the time and racing for wins and championships, that when they don't have that it's like wow, what's changed? And those guys are just doing their thing. Their putting in their time and their hours and they're getting smarter each week with the car and it sounds crazy but Jeff it still learning and I'm still learning how to drive these cars. We all are. We're learning how to set them up and what works and what doesn't work. Styles also have something to do with that and certain cars and tracks take different techniques and different styles to adapt to all this stuff. So there's just a lot of moving pieces that every once in a while you get on a rhythm and you put them together. And then when they're off, they're off. So, I haven't seen those guys working any more or working any less, they're just in sync right now and it's working."
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT MARTINSVILLE IS A VERY SPECIAL PLACE FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? "I knew it when I started driving for Hendrick. In the Busch Series, when I was running it, I had a pretty bad problem with over-using the brakes (laughs). I can remember my team and crew chiefs saying that if you ever get in a Cup car at Martinsville you're just going to blow right fronts (tires) and take yourself out of the thing if you don't learn how to use the brakes. So we tested there a few times and I had Jeff (Gordon) to really pull from and the history that Rick (Hendrick) has had at that track with all his drivers, I knew I'd have my best shot. It helped me kind of just fall into what the team knew and what Jeff was doing and not get caught up in well, I need this and I need that. It's like okay; until I can go as fast as Gordon does with his set-up, don't listen to what I have to say. Let me go out and figure it out. Let me just run laps and log laps and miles and sort it out myself. It took a couple of years before I could really do that. We saw good progress within the first year and then things just continued to get better from there."
DOES RICK HENDRICK TALK ABOUT THE MEMORIES OF MARTINSVILLE AND HOW SPECIAL THAT FIRST WIN WAS? DO YOU EVER TALK TO HIM ABOUT THAT? "Yeah, it is a special place. And how that man deals with the highs and lows of life and the sport, I don't know (laughs) because he really does love that race track. I think obviously because of his first win being there and then just the type of racing it is. The fans are so close. Hard core race fans come. We're so glad we have events like that. I know Rick is too, that really kind of go back to the old days and what our sport was about. It's just a special place. And the fact that he can show up there today and smile and know what happened just a few miles away to his family and friends and loved ones, the guy is just amazing. Every time I see him there's a smile on his face."
SEVERAL DRIVERS AND TEAMS AND RACING ORGANIZATIONS ARE ON TWITTER. DO YOU PLAN ON JOINING THE TWITTER NATION? "To some level, I would say yes. I like some forms of privacy (laughs). I don't want everybody to know where I'm at and what I'm doing. On top of that, I'm so busy as it is, I don't know how I could continue to make inputs and keep things going. But we're certainly looking at it. It's a huge movement that's taking place from Twitter to Facebook and we want to be current and be able to reach our fan base, but at the same time I want to do something that I know I can just fade in and be involved in and if fans are going to it, have something that they can count on and not have it be hit or miss and all that kind of stuff. But we're definitely looking into it. Kristine (Curley) is probably smiling right now because between her and my staff and John Lewensten, they're all over me to do it (laughs) so we'll probably do it at some point."