Martinsville II: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed running at Martinsville, the points, the Chase and his comfort level based on experience, understanding the Martinsville track, the importance of the first pit stall, testing at...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed running at Martinsville, the points, the Chase and his comfort level based on experience, understanding the Martinsville track, the importance of the first pit stall, testing at Rockingham, and more.

TALK ABOUT COMING TO A TRACK WHERE YOU'VE EXCELLED "It's crazy for me to think that we've had so much success here because when I started, the first race that I ran here, I had not idea what I was doing or where I was on the track. We tested once beforehand and we tested a second time before my second event here, and it felt to me like it took a long time to click. In fact it took my following Tony Stewart up through the field in that second race to finally learn the rhythm of this track. It's a quirky track. Obviously it's hard on brakes and hard on forward bite and all those types of things, but I think the diverse background I've had in racing has helped me here and helped guys like Tony and Jeff as well to be very strong here. But I'm excited to be back. I've been looking forward to this race in the Chase for a long time, and I'm hoping to get out of here with some good points and go on to the next one."

IS THERE ANY SENSE THAT THIS TRACK IS THE LAST LANDMINE YOU HAVE TO GET PAST IN THE CHASE? "Yes and no. I look at Texas, even Atlanta for that matter, you don't see big pileups like you can potentially see here, but there still is a lot of risk at those tracks. It seems like you can have your fenders torn off the car here, but still stay in the race and get some points. Where if you crash at Atlanta or Texas, chances are you're on the truck and going home. I've looked at this, and I've looked at the No. 16 (Biffle) and the No. 99 (Edwards) and said, this could be a track where if we're in a big dogfight, maybe I can get 10 or 15 points on these guys. Jeff (Burton) is there in second right now and looking strong. This is a good track for him. I think, from what I remember, he's finished well here and is always in the points and running well. So, again, I'm just hopeful to stretch it out. If it's 10 points, or 15 points, or whatever it may be, my goal leaving here is to try and get a few points on those guys. And this is a track where I feel we can do that. We go to the next one, things might change a little bit. So I'm hopeful to get what I can here and roll on."

COULD YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT NASCAR IN THE MIDST OF THE CHASE, COMING BACK TO ITS DEEPEST ROOTS AT THIS PLACE? DOES IT NEED TO? DOES IT NEED PLACES LIKE THIS? ALSO, COULD YOU TAKE US ON A LAP OF THIS TRACK AND EXPLAIN WHY IT'S SO MADDENING OR TIRING? "Yeah, I think the Chase needs to represent what the season is about. So I feel this track does need to be on the schedule, or a short track like this. I personally think this one because I'm terrible at Bristol and would hate to see Bristol in the Chase (laughs). So I feel good about it. I think that our champion needs to represent what the season's about. And this track is really a lot about our sport and we race here in the spring as well. So I think it's a good track for the championship battle.

"On a lap around here, just trying to figure out where your car has grip and try to take advantage of those areas. Sometimes you have a car that's very good up off the corner, so you change your line a little bit and make sure you can make the straightaways as long as possible to really use frontal application. Other times, if the setup doesn't work and your really strong on the brakes so you'll try to shift that arc a little bit in the center of the corner instead of making it this way for the exit, you kind of shift it the other way around and try to roll around the corner as far as you can, and then use as little throttle, and make sure you're as straight as possible up off (the corner). So that's where, in the race, the track changes a lot and you'll see the rubber start laying down. And you have to make those adjustments. You have to have different lines and different arcs. The grip level changes, so you're just constantly shifting that around. And that's where I really feel like I come into my own here is when we get 20 or 30 laps on a run and you've really got to move that stuff around. But most guys know you need to be smart on the brakes so you charge the corner. I use the rev chip a lot to set the rhythm for me, so I'll hit the chip, fair amount of brake, and as I get close to the curbing you kind of get off the brake and let it roll. And there is a point where you feel the car hitch, and once it hitches and you can kind of see the exit, you start searching for the throttle. It's amazing how little throttle can upset the car here. So a very delicate right foot is important to get around here as well."

LAST TWO AND A HALF CHASES, YOUR TEAM HAS EXECUTED PRETTY WELL, AND I KNOW YOU SAID YOU'RE GETTING BETTER ABOUT STRESSING OUT. BUT DO YOU HAVE NIGHTMARES EXECUTING, OR DO YOU DRAW GREAT COMFORT WITH THE FACT THAT THEY DO EXECUTE SO WELL? "As of now, I'm drawing great comfort in what we've done in the past and that's making it easier on us. From '06 to '07, I had fewer nightmares. From '07 to '08, less again. But we're performing and doing our jobs. If things change and our luck changes and we don't execute like we need to over the next five (races) I'm sure the nightmares would come back in a hurry. But experience and building confidence in the experience that we've had has helped me be much more relaxed."

MOST OF YOUR WINS COME IN THE CHASE. ARE YOU MR. OCTOBER OR ARE YOU JUST REALLY FOCUSED ON THESE RACES AND THESE RACE TRACKS? IS THERE A SPECIFIC EFFORT TO FOCUS ON THE TRACKS IN THE CHASE? "There really isn't. I don't understand why, at the end of the year, we win a fair amount of races. I've always thought that these have been good tracks for us and in the spring we'll run well at them and in the fall we'll do a little better job and have a winning car at the point. Or sometimes we'll win in the spring and also in the fall. I really don't know what it is. We do not try any harder for these races than we do for the ones at the start of the season. This year, we just didn't have our act together at the start of the season and we've done a good job of catching up. But it's still the same amount of work and the same effort and thought process that goes into it. I don't know why the results show that."

DO YOU THINK YOU'D BE JUST AS GOOD IF THE FIRST 10 RACES WERE THE CHASE RACES? "You bring up a good point. The Chase fits me well, the tracks that are in it. If we had Bristol, if we had Sonoma, or if we had some of these other tracks in it, even Indy, even though we've won there twice, it's been a victory or a wreck. So, it would change that a lot. Ideally, any driver would love to sit down and mark out there best 10 races and I'm very fortunate in the Chase with the ones that are in the final 10. I'd probably choose seven or eight of them if I had my wish list of tracks to pick."

IF QUALIFYING GETS RAINED OUT TODAY, IT'LL BE THE NINTH TIME THIS YEAR AND THE THIRD TIME IN THE CHASE. IF YOU WEREN'T SITTING FIRST IN POINTS, WOULD YOU CONSIDER THAT GETTING NOT ONLY THE POLE, BUT THE FIRST CHOICE OF PIT BOXES TO BE TOO BIG OF AN ADVANTAGE FOR THE GUY THAT'S LEADING THE POINTS AT THIS POINT? "No, truthfully, and I think you'll find this to be the opinion in the garage area, you've earned that right to be there. If today's effort is rained out or could be rained out, what you've done all season long and in the Chase, you've earned that right. So, this track is one of the tracks where that #1 pit stall gives you a big advantage. If it happens, great; if not, we've worked real hard on this set up and I feel that we're going to be a threat regardless. But at the end of the day, I don't care. I'll take it however I get it. If it's because of rain if we go out and do it on our own, that first pit stall, everybody will forget about it about two stops in and it's just about the race and who's where on pit road and it would be a big advantage."

HOW MUCH DOES IT PUT YOUR MIND AT EASE WHEN IT'S RAINING LIKE THIS FOR THE SECOND STRAIGHT WEEK AND YOU KNOW YOU'RE GOING TO GET NOT JUST THE FIRST STARTING SPOT, BUT THAT FIRST PIT STALL? AT THIS TRACK, IS THERE A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PICKING FIRST AND 10TH IN TERMS OF PIT STALL SELECTION? "Yeah, a huge difference from first to 10th. From first to second, there's probably more of a difference here than anywhere we go. I'd say Bristol would be a close second in that ranking. But it's a huge advantage to have the first stall here. I tried, throughout the day, knew it was going to rain here the last couple of days, and if it happens, great, but I'm mentally trying to prepare for being on track and doing our jobs. We were testing Wednesday trying to get prepared for being here and getting that first pit stall pick and qualifying on the pole, so we've been working all week like we're going to qualify today. And still, even when I was getting close to the track, I could see the rain and started relaxing. I'm like, don't do it. Just stay focused. You've got to be on track and be prepared for that because if we get a small window and NASCAR gets the cars on the track and we get three or four laps, we'll qualify. And I need to be prepared and make sure I do my job."

NASCAR HAS SAID THERE WON'T BE ANY CHANGES TO THE CARS FOR NEXT YEAR. ARE YOU OKAY WITH THAT? "I think a lot of us have some ideas for changes and we'd like to see them put in. I feel that as the season's gone on, we've all gotten a lot smarter and we've helped the car. But there still are some things that I feel should be looked at and considered. I didn't hear that yet, but it doesn't mean much because I usually don't pay attention, especially during the Chase. I'm kind of focused on racing the car itself. But I was hopeful that something would change there, definitely. So it's new news to me. At least we're putting on good shows. The cars are easier to drive in traffic. We have some boundaries with the rear ends being skewed and some of the things where teams found some easy speed at the start of the season. And the racing is going well on the big tracks. I still think it could be better.

"There's a fine balance, and these are my opinions, I'm sure as you speak to other drivers and engineers and they'll be plenty of other opinions. But the car is so big and punches such a large hole in the air, we need to get back some mechanical grip. The aero grip is what it is, and we have much less, and the cars are much more sensitive today than the old cars. Where we are with this car, we can't go back. We can't go back to the old car. We can't make the greenhouse smaller. We can't do that. We'll run teams right out of business. So we need to find ways to put mechanical grip back in the car. I think allowing the front of the cars to travel further would lower the center of gravity height and bring some more grip in the car, plus help the aero platform of the car. That would be one of the first moves I'd make."

WHAT KIND OF AN ADJUSTMENT IS IT FOR YOU TO BE OLDER ~ EVEN A DECADE OLDER ~ THAN SOME OF THE OTHER COMPETITORS? HOW DOES THAT EXPERIENCE HELP AND HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DO YOU STILL HAVE TO GAIN ON SOME OF THE DRIVERS LIKE BIFFLE AND BURTON WHO'VE GOT SOME YEARS ON YOU? "Experience is everything. I still feel like I'm learning more and more each year and learning how to deal with our sport and the challenges in it. Experience has done a lot for me. I'm happy to be where I am and I feel in the next two or three years I'll be even stronger and better as time goes on. It's crazy to hear that I could be a decade older. You've got my mind going now. I've got to try to figure that out. Is that true? Ten years older? Gosh, dang. It goes by fast. I was a young gun not long ago (laughs). Joey Logano, yeah, that one really hurts. I guess it hurts everybody to see that one. It's crazy. And I've been racing my whole life and I've felt like I was kind of slow and late, but truthfully I feel showing up at the Cup level in my mid-twenties was really a blessing in disguise. I showed up at the right time, had a lot of experience, and had matured in a lot of ways. I think watching some of these young guys come along, it's challenging for them. I'm not saying it can't be done, but they're going to have other challenges that I didn't experience. So I'll take the experience and I've love to be competitive at 40 years old and racing for championships. And I really think it's possible."

WHY ARE YOU SO COMFORTABLE AT MARTINSVILLE WHEN OTHER DRIVERS AREN'T? "I feel like in the past, and I'm hoping it continues this weekend, I've been able to take my time. The first 20 laps on a set of tires, the field is very close. And then as the run goes on, tires give up, the rubber starts to lay down on the track, and there are more lines and options out there to pass than you would think. A lot of guys aren't creative enough to look for it and to find it and they're just stuck in the same rhythm and the same line and I can see that, and know how I can adjust what I'm doing and find a way by. So after 20 or 30 laps, I get into a rhythm and things just click and go well. I can go on different parts of the track where guys are not, get position on them, and work my way to the front. The time I worry the most is that first 20 (laps) after a restart. And then once we get going into the middle part of the run, I feel very comfortable and good about things. This race is usually finished under a green-white-checkered, or some type of short sprint at the end and I've felt venerable in the past and we worked hard on it this week to make sure we were good on the short run at our test. But the long run stuff in the middle of the race, I look forward to that. I think if we can put a bunch of cars a lap down, hopefully Chase contenders, and get a cushion on these guys and so I'm looking forward to a lot of green flag racing and hope we get it."

ON THE POINTS, IS YOUR MIND AT EASE OR IS IT STILL NERVE-WRACKING KNOWING THAT EVERYBODY IS TRYING TO COME AFTER YOU? "I'm really content with it this year. In the past, I've probably wanted to be in a different position and be a close second or something and not have to have the pressure. But this Chase, this team, the confidence we have in ourselves and what we've developed over the years and the experience we've been through, has made me much more comfortable with where we are today. And I'm excited to be in the lead, and enjoy the idea of trying to control this thing. I feel that we have a chance at doing that. And so if we just keep going out and executing, I think it will take care of itself. But a year ago, leading the Chase at this point, I would have been pretty nervous. Right now, I'm pretty excited about it."

REFLECTING BACK ON THE TIME WHEN YOU WERE BEHIND A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET WHEN YOU'RE STARTING TO RUN OUT OF RACES? IS IT OUT OF REACH FOR CARL EDWARDS NOW? "I wouldn't say it's out of reach. The thing that takes place is that you feel like you lose control of your own destiny. Where if you're within 50 or 80 points, you can race your way and go out and win races and run in the top five and control your own destiny that way, especially leading the championship, you can control it that way. If you're outside of that, and especially as you lose events you'll gain points at, you have to start counting on other people having bad luck. And your odds change dramatically if you have one guy in front of you, if you have four cars in front of you, or wherever you fall in there, you've got to count on other people having bad luck. And in '06, that happened to us. We were way behind. Guys had a lot of bad luck and they let us back into it and then we had a shot at it. And you hate not being in control and I would assume that's where Carl is at, and some of those other guys are at. If we run like we think we will, they can't go out and just out-perform us by a spot or two each week and win the championship. That's the reality that you start facing."

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO REACH A COMFORT LEVEL AT MARTINSVILLE? DO YOU THINK MORE ABOUT WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN TO WIN A THIRD TITLE? "I really haven't let my mind go on the third championship. We're in a good position, but truthfully, only being half-way through the Chase, anything can happen. And there are still five races to go. As we get closer to the end, it'll run it's course and my mind will start playing games on me and I'll think about those things. I do appreciate and respect history and what's been done in the sport, and know that I have a chance to do something very, very special. It's back in my mind, deep somewhere, but I haven't let it out yet. There are other things to worry about that are much more important week in and week out and gaining points. If we go to Homestead and we're sitting in good shape, I'll really think about it. I'm sure even if I go to Homestead and we're not in good shape, then it will kick in and it'll be like man, reality it here. This is the final race. So at that point, thing will really kick in. But right now, anything can happen.

"You're still comfortable when you're going forward. I'd say my second race here, I'd figured out how to pass people. If you can keep moving forward, people are patient with you. If you're holding up a long train of cars, you know you've got something coming. So my comfort probably does change during the race and as long as I'm going forward, I feel very comfortable and good about things. And if I'm holding guys up, that's when you worry. But I'll tell you, the second race it really clicked for me here. I was following (Tony) Stewart through the pack and there was just a rhythm about it that I didn't see and didn't understand and it took following Tony to figure it out."

YOU HAD EIGHT WINS IN '04. THAT'S WHAT KYLE (BUSCH) IS GOING THROUGH NOW. WILL THIS SEASON BE REMEMBERED AS A COLLAPSE OR FORGOTTEN IN HISTORY BECAUSE OF WHAT'S HAPPENED IN THE CHASE? "I can't say that we talk much about the eight wins in 2004. I look back at that, and the fact that we lost the championship by eight points, and say that built a lot of character in our race team to have it slip by. Moving forward, it'll be a defining year for that team and for Kyle. Obviously he's young. And the relationship he and Steve Addington have together with what that team can do, they'll be champions at some point. I think we'll look back at this season and say that was the one that got away. On top of that, I think we'll look back at all the races he's won, period, and think it was a pretty special year. He has nothing to be ashamed of. He's had an amazing year. I know that the ultimate prize is the Cup championship, but he's had a stellar year, and the first year with a new manufacturer and a new team."

WOULD YOU CALL IT A COLLAPSE? "I don't know. It's been pretty bad to say the least (laughs). I don't know if I'd use (the word) collapse, but I don't know. It's been pretty rough on those guys. They've had everything go wrong with a bunch of crazy stuff. So it's been pretty bad for him."

AS A CHEVY DRIVER, DO YOU HAVE ANY REACTION TO TALKS OF A POSSIBLE MERGER BETWEEN GENERAL MOTORS AND CHRYSLER, AND WHAT THE IMPLICATIONS MIGHT BE FOR NASCAR RACING? "I saw something briefly on that, but I have not heard anything through our GM channels to know if that's true or not and what that may do to Motorsports. I think we're all sitting back wondering what's going to happen with the economy like it is and the auto industry like it is. So I'm not sure if anything will happen there and what that affect could be, but I think we're going to see some big change in our sport from the manufacturers to the economy side and sponsorship dollars; even the whole phase of going green and how we make our sport more green moving forward. So I think there's a lot of change for Motorsports in general in the next few years."

ON TESTING AT ROCKINGHAM, AND WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ABOUT GOING TO A FIVE-RACE CHASE? "Oh, we're already confused as it is with 10. Change it to five? We're just getting the public to understand 10 races. I don't know. Whatever it is. One race, five races, or 10 races, I'll show up and go like hell. Personally, I think 10 races works well. You still have to have consistency, but at the same time you've got to have a fast car and win races. I think it does a good job of motivating people. It does a good job of having teams take risks and drivers taking risks, but our seasons are long and the races are long and it needs to have an element of consistency. I think 10 races is a good balance of that."

The track at Rockingham was just finished, maybe two days, when we got on it. It was intended to look a lot like Martinsville and kind of act like Martinsville. To their credit, they did a great job, but it's brand new and it needs some work done to it. They need to grind some areas and smooth it out a little bit. There are no walls up. We blew a right front tire and thankfully there were no walls because I went flying out through this field. I thought I was going to end up on pit road where everybody was standing, to be honest with you. I'm coming through (turn) 4 and the tires blows and there's nothing there. And I'm like, this is going to be big (laughs). Luckily the ground was real soft and the car stuck and threw dirt all over the place. It can be a tool, especially if they work on it and try to make it more similar to this track and not as rough. It could be a tool for teams to go test at. It's just an oval sitting out there with a few hay bales. It's really old school looking (laughs). But they just got the asphalt and concrete down. They still have a lot of plans to bring it along, but the fact that they built it to be a lot like Martinsville, we had to shoot over there and give it a shot to see if we could learn something to bring over here."

NO WALLS? "It's kinda comforting. There's nothing to hit. It was comforting until the tire blew and I was heading toward pit road and I thought man, this could be really, really bad. And my transporter was the first one, so how cool would that be to blow a tire and go off the track and run into your own transporter? But it didn't happen."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Joey Logano