Loudon II: "Juice" guest Johnson interview

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet is NEXTEL Cup Juice Guest September 16, 2005 "JUICE" WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO To date this season, Johnson has two wins, nine top fives, and 15 top 10's. He is 4th in the ...

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet is NEXTEL Cup Juice Guest
September 16, 2005

"JUICE" WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO To date this season, Johnson has two wins, nine top fives, and 15 top 10's. He is 4th in the Chase for the Championship point standings, and has two wins at NHIS (swept both races in '03).

WHAT LITTLE PIECE OF LUCK DO YOU NEED TO START THE CHASE OFF RIGHT?

"We're definitely hoping for good things to start the Chase. We've been to Milwaukee and tested and we really feel like we've got a great package we're going to bring out. I couldn't sleep all that well last night because I was excited to get on the track and put the set-up to use and see what we've got. New Hampshire has been a good track for us. I think if we can leave here with a top 10 or top 5, we'll be in great shape starting the Chase. Last year we got off to a slow start. We finally got things turned around and won a bunch of races and had the momentum in the right direction. Richmond is behind us. It wasn't the best night for the No. 48 team. We've been working hard all week to make sure we have everything right. We have a lot riding on when the final 10 starts. We have a lot of new cars we're bringing out. The guys are excited. It's playoff time. We're really pumped up."

WITH THE CHANGES WE'VE SEEN WITH TWO CREWS THIS WEEK, DOES THAT MEAN THERE IS A LOT MORE PRESSURE TO MAKE THE CHASE THAN WE THOUGHT? SAY YOU HADN'T MADE THE CHASE, WOULD YOU TAKE A HARDER LOOK AT YOUR TEAM AND MAYBE MAKE SOME CHANGES?

"I think if you don't make the Chase, the team is in a position to use the final 10 races as a testing ground for the following season. Granted, there is some money on the line and everybody wants to finish as high as they can in the points. But looking at what the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) is doing, there has been some discussion throughout the season that Steve Letarte was going to possibly take over that role and that Robbie Loomis would move up inside Hendrick Motorsports. Robbie has been grooming him. Steve has been working side by side with Robbie throughout the whole season to get some experience. Now, with the final 10 here and they're not in the Chase, it just makes sense to the team to give Steve that head start on next year and get him some experience. From there, Robbie Loomis is such a great talent, we thought he would stay at Hendrick Motorsports. But he's chosen to go back to Petty Enterprises. We're excited for him to take that opportunity. He's one of the biggest fans of Petty Enterprises and we know it's going to make a big difference over there and help those guys out a lot. So we're happy for Robbie and the decision he's made. But we still have 10 races left and he's way too strong of a resource for us not to use.

"With that in mind, he's going to help the No. 48 team out and be another set of eyes just to kind of watch what our other teammates are doing and what the competitors are doing. Chad (Knaus) and Robbie have such a great rapport, when Robbie comes to Chad with some advice or something that he sees, they communicate and it's an easy deal. This idea is something Chad came up with. It wouldn't hurt to have another set of crew chief eyes looking around and understanding what's going on and bringing him that information. We're just really directing all of our efforts and resources at Hendrick Motorsports to win the championship."

MOMENTUM IS A HUGE PART OF THIS SPORT AND THE NO. 48 TEAM SEEMS TO BE LACKING MOMENTUM ENTERING THE CHASE. HOW CONCERNED ARE YOU ABOUT THAT? ALSO, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE NO. 5 AND THE NO. 25 HAVE ACTUALLY RUN BETTER THAN THE NO. 24 AND NO. 28?

"It's in our hands to change it and we're working hard to change it. First, I've got to say I'm happy for the No. 5 and the No. 25. They've had a lot of years of not performing and not winning races. Rick (Hendrick) has spent a lot of money. All of Hendrick Motorsports have worked really hard to get those guys up to speed. I've got two good friends and two good friends as crew chiefs. I'm really happy they're having success. It's tough to have all four, or all five cars, running up front and doing well. Roush has been able to make it happen this year, which has been unheard of. In the past, we've had two at Hendrick performing at top notch and two that weren't there. It's that way again. It's unfortunate for me and Jeff that it's not our two cars. But we are way too good of an organization to not have all four cars performing at the same level. We're working hard to turn it around and make it right. It's not from a lack of effort. Everybody is working so hard. I'm not happy with not winning races right now, but I can't ask any more. My guys are working so hard. We're trying to find that tenth of a second that we're missing. It's not much. It's just a little bit. In our sport today, a little bit takes you from winning races to running tenth. The last couple of races, we haven't finished like we've wanted to. But we had a great run at Michigan and a strong run at Fontana. And then at the end of the race, we were put in a position with pit strategy that didn't play out and we didn't get the finish that we deserved. We've got the speed. We're just a tick off. At the same time, we haven't tested throughout the season. We've only used up one or two tests. We have four more coming up. We tested at Texas on the way home from California. We're actually really proud of where we are as a team without testing. We haven't done anything. We're really looking forward to the final 10."

YOU SWEPT AT NHIS IN 2003. HOW IMPORTANT WOULD IT BE FOR YOU TO WIN AGAIN THIS WEEK?

"Yeah, we had the magic set-up in '03. But times have changed. Last year when we came back, that set-up was three-tenths off. I wish that set-up would still work, but things continue to change and the speed is just not there. We have been trying to revamp things and make the car better. We went to Milwaukee before coming out here, so hopefully we've learned something new and can bring it over and make it work. Like I said, I'm not really worried about winning here. I think a top five would be the goal -- a top 10 at worst -- and leave here with a strong start to the Chase and just kind of roll from there."

WHAT'S THE MAGIC SET-UP FOR NHIS? THE TRACK HASN'T CHANGED, SO WHAT MADE YOU LOSE THE MAGIC SET-UP?

"We haven't resurfaced the track or anything, but it has changed in grip level and where the grip level is and the way you drive the track. Tracks always age and mature. And with the temperature swings that exist up here, the asphalt is always changing. That's maybe 20 percent of the difference. The rest of it is that other teams in '03 were beat and they go back and work harder to not be beat. It's our job to catch up. It's a continual cycle that happens in our sport. Other teams are always working to make stuff better. Our technology continues to change. The biggest factor is that we're always on a new tire every time we come back to the track it seems. Also, the rules package changes each season. As soon as you change one of those ingredients, the entire set-up changes. It's just a matter of keeping up with the changes."

JEFF GORDON HAS COMPLAINED ABOUT A LACK OF STABILITY IN HIS CARS AS BEING PART OF THE PROBLEM. SINCE YOUR CARS ARE BUILT IN THE SAME SHOP, ARE YOU HAVING THE SAME PROBLEM? AND HOW IS ROBBIE LOOMIS GOING TO HELP?

"We're definitely going to utilize Robbie in every aspect. After each race, we have an intense review process of what we need to do and what we need to change. What goes on here is going to carry over to Phoenix, so it'll be a busy week in the shop trying to dissect the way this race unfolds and the way the set-ups work out. The comfort factor (in the cars) is what we're trying to get back to where the drivers can really lean on the cars and push on them hard. There's also communication and getting that flowing and working right between the drivers and the crew chiefs. Sometimes you're a little bit off, but it's hard to get that last bit.

"Like I said, we're only off a bit. But it's so hard to break through last bit. The No. 48 team has always been really good at it with all the championships and race wins he's had. It's right around the corner for us. We're just a small change away from having the success we need to have."

IS IT MORE IMPORTANT TO HAVE A REALLY GOOD RUN HERE OR TO NOT HAVE A DISASTER LIKE WHAT HAPPENED TO A COUPLE OF THE DRIVERS LAST YEAR AND ONE RACE CAN TAKE THEM OUT OF THE RUNNING?

"The way last year unfolded, we won the most races but didn't win the championship. We had two or three DNF's that really hurt us. The way I look at it, it's really about starting strong and getting top five's and top 10's and not having any DNF's and see how the race unfolds. I've heard that (Greg) Biffle has a different approach. He's going to win every race or something. But he has the speed and he's in a great position to have a lot of confidence. Those cars have been fast. The way I look at it is no DNF's. Last year, everybody had a DNF."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF GETTING BONUS POINTS DURING THE CHASE:

"If everybody can start with a clean sheet of paper and say we're going to be competitive and able to win all 10 of the races. So my strategy is going to be to lead a lap and try to lead the most and then try to get top fives. That's the dream situation everybody wants. But we'll find out today what everybody's true situation is. And then as the Chase starts to unfold, everybody's strategy is going to change on Sunday when the race starts. If you're looking for track position, you're not going to stay out and get your five points. It's going to be more important to pit -- move inside the top 10 and get more points at the end of the day for a better finish than gambling and trying to lead a lap for bonus points."

HOW TOUGH IS THE INTERNAL DEBATE BETWEEN TRACK POSITION AND FIVE BONUS POINTS POSSIBLY SITTING OUT THERE?

"At times it can be challenging. But after having four years in the sport, we know where the important things lie and what's important to us. Last year, leading two more laps would have made the difference and would have had us sitting at the head table (at the awards banquet). But then I look at Kansas where I spun out because I was frustrated in 25th and ended up finishing 36th or 37th. If I would have just stayed frustrated and finished 25th, I would have made up 50 points and it would have been a different swing. I look back and I truly think it's about finishing races and not making mistakes and not having any 20th or 30th place finishes at the end of the season."

DO YOU FEEL YOUR CHANCES ARE ANY BETTER OR WORSE WITH ONE ORGANIZATION HAVING FIVE TEAMS OUT OF THE 10?

"I'll walk you through my perspective and we'll see if it makes sense. You have five cars with all of the resources needing to be divided up equally so all five guys have a fair shot. I'm one of four. Everything we have is being focused on one team. Does that make a big difference in the end? It's hard to say because at Hendrick Motorsports, we already have our cars built and we know what we're taking. But there is a small advantage to have every engineer, the engine department, and every resource at Hendrick Motorsports focused on one car to win the championship. That's our vantage point. That's they way we're looking at it. I don't have teammate to worry about racing hard with for the points. Those five guys -- I'm interested to see how hard they really race each other. Is it really every man for himself? Or, is it getting the Roush organization another championship. So we'll see. It's going to be an interesting 10 races."

THERE IS A LOT SAID ABOUT STREAKS...DO YOU ENVISION SOMEBODY GOING ON A STREAK DURING THE CHASE, AND COULD THAT DRIVER BE YOU?

"I certainly hope it is (laughs). That's what makes the 10-race format at the end of the year for the championship so interesting. In a 10-race stretch, a lot of guys are dangerous. Anybody can go on a streak and it could be any driver. It could be someone that you haven't seen this year performing strong or having a streak. It could be somebody different than the No. 16 or the No. 20 or the No. 48. That's why the fans are going to be tuned in and that's why it's going to be a crazy 10 races."

YOU'VE BEEN LOCKED INTO THE CHASE FOR A COUPLE OF MONTHS. ARE YOU COMING IN WITH AN EDGE OVER SOME OF THE OTHER GUYS?

"Yeah, I think so. We've been able to preserve some tests and take some time to build new cars and specifically focus certain cars on certain tracks that are coming up. The No. 24 was using up test sessions to make the Chase. I'm not sure how many tests some of the other guys have, but we feel like we do have an advantage. We've been able to save test sessions and build specific cars and give the crew guys some time to be home and charge up and be ready for the final 10 and not overwork the guys."

WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT OTHER SPORTS, SOME SAY YOU HAVE TO LOSE ONE TO WIN ONE. CAN A YOUNG GUY LIKE CARL EDWARDS JUST COME IN AND BLOW THEM AWAY BECAUSE HE HAS NOTHING TO LOSE, AND IS THAT TO YOUR BENEFIT?

"Yeah, that exists. He's in great equipment and he's been doing a great job on the track. Last year I wanted to be that guy who didn't need to lose one to win one. I know Carl is thinking the same thing. Of anybody in the final 10, I would say he has the least amount of pressure. Rookie season, top 10 in points guaranteed -- I'm sure he would sign on the dotted line at the start of the season for that opportunity and say hey, I'll take 10th. That's a huge accomplishment. I think experience is going to pay off. You can't count him out. I'm coming into it with a different set of eyes this year. I know the guys who have won championships. There is just something different when you know you've competed for a championship and you've felt the pressure and you understand how long these 10 races really are."

SO DO YOU PACE YOURSELF OR CONTINUE TO POINTS RACE? WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH?

"I think we're more on the points racing side. Last year, we got to a point where we said all right, it's wide open from here. We've won a lot of races. We didn't win the championship because of some inconsistencies we had in the season. This year, I'm really all about being consistent. I don't think you can have a run of 15 place finishes and win the championship. You're going to have a lot of top fives."

ON YOUR TRIP TO NEW YORK THIS WEEK, WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS? DID ANYTHING STAND OUT?

"The traffic (laughs). It was a mess up there. They had the U.N. in town and it was complete gridlock throughout the entire city. We were on our way to a concert Tuesday night and it took 45 minutes to go five blocks and we still had 45 to go. My wife and I got out and walked the rest of the way. It was better than taking a cab or subway. It was a mess."

DID YOU DO ANYTHING SPECIAL TO CELEBRATE YOUR (UPCOMING) 30TH BIRTHDAY? "Yeah, we did do some good things. As a birthday gift, my PR lady took me to see one of my favorite bands, the Jack Johnson Band, in Central Park, and that was a lot of fun. From there we just bounced around and did some media stuff and talked a lot about the Chase."

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO BE OUT IN PUBLIC WITH THE DRIVERS?

"It's really a lot of fun. Everybody who has made the Chase is so proud of making it and so honored of making the Chase. NASCAR had a big dinner one night. Just to see everybody relaxed and enjoying each other's company and talking and telling stories -- it was a side to some guys I hadn't seen before. Rusty Wallace is friendly to me at the track, but I don't know him away from the track. So I was able to talk to him some. So it was a lot of fun to be in a casual setting and happy to be in the Chase."

ARE THE MIND GAMES STARTING?

"I haven't seen any mind games yet, but I assume they're already starting outside right now."

DOES WINNING THIS RACE AFFECT THE MIND GAMES FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON?

"I think so. Anybody that wins that's a part of the final 10, it takes it up a notch. It definitely gives them a small mental advantage. I saw it last year when we won three in a row. You could see it in other guys' eyes. I didn't think Kurt (Busch) was too worried. But then when he had his problem in Atlanta and we won, then I could see it. Every race counts. If you're able to win, it definitely sends a message."

-gm racing

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Jimmie Johnson , Robbie Loomis
Teams Hendrick Motorsports