JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Kansas Speedway and discussed how he feels about his position in the Chase so far, mentally dealing with on-track mistakes, bringing in younger fans, day verses night races and more.
JUST TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE CHASE SO FAR AND HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT COMING INTO KANSAS THIS WEEKEND. “I feel good about our 1.5-mile stuff and after reviewing things coming here with Chad (Knaus, crew chief) during the week and this morning I think we are a lot smarter with our 1.5-mile stuff and should have a really, really strong showing here. So excited to get on track. It’s back to the old format which I feel is a better use of our time, tires and resources that we have at track where we have qualifying practice, qualifying and then we come back and have race practice tomorrow.
“I feel very good about the schedule which may sound odd but there’s a lot of decisions that have to be made when you’ve got to post a fast time, all your practices are in one day verses your qualifying making one lap virtually on Saturday and come back and race. Where’s the track at, what adjustments, all that stuff has been challenging throughout the year and I’m happy to see kind of a standard schedule if you will back on the books for this weekend.”
JACK ROUSH WAS TALKING ABOUT GOING TO CARL (EDWARDS) AFTER MAKING THE MENTAL ERROR AND SAYING OKAY YOU’VE PASSED A BUNCH OF CARS, YOU HAVE TO GET USED TO THAT ON PIT ROAD BUT DON’T SPEED, TALK ABOUT MAKING MENTAL ERRORS AND HOW MUCH TIME YOU SPEND THINKING ABOUT THAT ONE LITTLE THING THAT YOU KNOW HOW TO DO BUT MIGHT SCREW UP BECAUSE THERE IS SO MUCH GOING ON. “Yeah, we walk such a fine line on all aspects of the track that a small error, it can be so costly and even though we do it week after week our job is to make up as much time as we can on pit road and I don’t know what led to Carl’s mistake, if he forgot where the lines were or just missed it by a thousandth of a mile an hour, but in the cases where you miss it by a thousandth of a mile an hour we’re looking at the lights on our dash trying however they are set up, if it’s all green, red or whatever it may be and you’re just staring at those little lights trying to hit it perfectly and over the course of pit road you can make up a second and half if you do it right.
“On the race track that’s two or three spots at times depending on where you are running. Long story short, we walk that balance all the time and when you make a mistake you try to learn from it not that we all do and when you make that mistake a second time you’re even more upset with yourself. The way I handle it is when I make a mistake I try to evaluate it, think it through and then try to recognize it when it’s coming up again in the future. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t but that’s just part of it.”
YOU MENTIONED IN YOUR OPENING STATEMENTS BETTER USE OF YOUR TIME WITH THIS WEEKENDS SCHEDULE BECAUSE YOU WILL BE ABLE TO QUALIFY TODAY AND PRACTICE TWO TIMES TOMORROW, DO YOU FEEL LIKE THAT PROVIDES FOR A BETTER OR MORE EXCITING RACE ON SUNDAY WHEN YOU HAVE THAT SCHEDULE? “I’m trying to think of which hat to wear because the only way I see it is as a competitor and it’s so tough to do all of your race practice on a Friday and kind of help rubber in the track and then guess where the track is going to be come Sunday when you’re back on the track. Weather conditions change a lot, totally different so from a competitor’s standpoint I think it’s tough and it’s exciting in a way we don’t want it to be. If it puts on a better show for the fans, which I don’t know how that really plays out then it probably needs to stay that we because we need to do everything we can to put on a great show. I don’t know how it looks from the grandstands so that’s the only catch there.”
IN CHICAGO YOU TOLD ME YOU WANTED TO BE THE DRIVER WITH THE TARGET ON YOUR BACK, HOW CLOSE ARE YOU NOW TO BEING BACK IN THAT POSITION? “We’re close. To not be a smartass on you, we’re 13 points away from being that guy and that’s really what my goal is and that’s where I want to be. I think that people argue the point is it good to be under the radar or be out in front, in a 10-race format if you’re the guy setting the way and you continue to put distance between yourself and second, you gain an advantage at that point and that’s the advantage I want to have.
“I hope to get there after this weekend or be even closer yet because people also do pay attention to the momentum you have and where you are going and if we can continue to close that gap I hope that we can find something positive out of that to send a message and keep things going.”
EARLIER A QUESTION CAME UP ABOUT ATTRACTING YOUNGER FANS, WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MAYBE ANOTHER DIVISION TO ATTRACK YOUNGER FANS OR IF THERE WAS SOME KIND OF POINT-PAYING RACE WOULD THAT ALIENATE THE TRADITIONAL NASCAR FANS TO SEE SOME JUMPS OR SLIDES OR WHATEVER IN HOT CARS? “I think that you will bring in a different demographic. I feel because it’s the way I grew up going to races that you become a race fan at a young age. You become a fan of whatever sport at a young age with your dad and that’s the way it worked for me. We didn’t go to baseball games, we didn’t go to football games, we went to race tracks and I think it starts at a very young age. You mentioned the sliding and jumping if it’s a rally demographic I don’t know how big that is but sure it wouldn’t hurt to tie into our sport but the big numbers I think started at a young age and creating a racing fan verses a baseball fan or a football fan. I can’t thank my dad enough for dragging me all over and if my grades were up he took me up on Wednesday early and we’d go to one short track and watch sprint cars, if it was a Friday we’d run up to Ventura or Ascot wherever it was and I became a fan at a young age to that.”
THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE IS OPENING THIS WEEK AND THE STAR PLAYER IS STILL OUT WITH A CONCUSSION FROM JANUARY, THE USA TODAY HAD AN ARTICLE ABOUT FOOTBALL HELMETS WITH DOTS ON THEM SO YOU COULD TELL WHERE YOU GOT HIT AND HOW HARD YOU GOT HIT, IN THIS SPORT YOU USED TO GET YOUR BELL RUNG ALL THE TIME BUT THAT DOESN’T SEEM TO BE A FACTOR ANYMORE, ARE THE HELMETS BETTER OR ARE YOU GUYS BETTER PROTECTED, WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU HAD YOUR BELL RUNG? “I think it’s actually quite a few components to our sport that lowered the concussion rate and even the fatality standpoint. We look at a threshold and the impact that was estimated for Earnhardt’s crash and now that we have the date recorders and you can see that we are well in excess of that and guys aren’t even losing consciousness or breaking shoulders, we used to break shoulders just because of a seat design, so we’ve come a long way and there is a lot of technology out there that can be applied to other sports and I’m happy to see it. People love the crashes, people love the hits in football, but still you have to keep the athletes safe and protect their lives, their families and put on a good show as well. Helmets, to a certain degree you look at what soft walls have done for us, there might be something to consider in the boards at a hockey game. If people really break down the fundamentals where injuries are coming from there is a lot of data out there. In our sport that data was there, we kind of looked at it but for a long time we thought it’s the option the driver can take and we’ll just let it be there. We’re not going to change, it wasn’t until NASCAR really got serious about things and started implementing it and also took the loss of the greatest driver out there, Dale Earnhardt, for us to say hey this superman essentially has been killed, we need to wake up. I remember the HANS device being carried around the garage area years before Earnhardt’s crash and we all looked at them and went ah, I’ve been through a bad wreck I don’t need that. So I think the leagues need to get more involved and really spearhead and lead technology and safety together and implement it into the regulations.”
HAS THE TEAM FED OFF OF THE FACT THAT SO MANY PEOPLE HAD COUNTED YOU GUYS OUT AFTER THE FIRST TWO RACES? “We haven’t talked about it in the team too much but for myself I’ve been very fortunate over the last five years to be in front of all of you and answer questions and I’ve always said it’s not over until it’s over even when we’ve had huge points leads and I don’t know if people believe it. They’re it’s a slam dunk, you’re just going through the motions, this is racing anything can and will happen in racing and I think that there’s more of me trying to prove that point than anything. With that being said, we’ve closed it up to 13 out and we’re in fifth but even the other way, there’s no guarantees that we’re going to keep going forward. That’s the point I guess I’m trying to make that this is racing and with 10 races, 43 guys on track, 500-mile events, there’s a lot that can go right and wrong and it’s not over until Homestead.”
JUST WANT TO GET YOUR THOUGHTS ON CARL (EDWARDS), WE KNOW THAT HE IN THE PAST HAS BEEN VERY STRONG TOWARD THE END OF THE YEAR, WHAT MAKES HIM SUCH A THREAT FOR THIS YEAR’S CHAMPIONSHIP? “I think that Carl and Bob (Osborne, Edwards' crew chief) have been through a lot together and I think where Roush was a year and a half, two years ago, those two stayed together and worked through it. Even at one point they were split up and still found a way to work together again and get back together. I think their strength as a group is something that is really needed as you get into a Chase battle and fighting for it. The confidence they have in one another helped them get through the speeding penalty they had and make up a lot of positions in a short time on the race track at Dover. So there’s that strength within the team and it’s those two together and then the team falls in behind it. They’ve been through a lot together and that’s something I look at and consider a huge strength of theirs.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT JEFF GORDON AND ALL THE THINGS HE IS DOING OFF THE TRACK? “I’m trying to think about Earnhardt and his appeal to mainstream, I guess the King (Richard Petty), Earnhardt and Gordon, they were able to tap into mainstream in a unique way and help bridge motorsports to mainstream. Jeff has done that, he has had a lot of great opportunities he’s taken advantage of and at the end of the day has done a lot of good for people and done a lot of good for himself and our sport to help it be recognized in such a global mainstream appeal. When I see the Clinton initiative that he is a part of and the roster they have, he is in there with mainstream faces and celebrities across the board. That’s something he’s done a very good job with and been able to crossover and do a lot of good in a lot of areas.”
AT NEW HAMPSHIRE YOU AND CHAD HAD SOME SHARP RADIO COMMENTS, WHAT DO YOU DO AFTERWARDS BECAUSE OBVIOUSLY AT DOVER THINGS WENT A LOT SMOOTHER? “We talk about stuff all the time, good and bad, that’s good races and bad races. Truthfully if you had a microphone on the sidelines and heard a quarterback and head coach conversation I’m sure it would be a lot more sharp and pointed than what I said to him and then other drivers, there’s a lot that’s said out there. I think people overreacted and Chad has never been a good cheerleader and I just kind of needed to remind him of that at New Hampshire. It’s just stuff, we work together so closely and we both want to win so badly. He can’t help but push the radio button at times and say what’s on his mind and I’m already living it and thinking it and sometimes I don’t need to hear it and that was one of those times where I was like okay enough, that’s it, I’m doing all I can in here, cheerleading is not helping, it’s hurting, lets eliminate that. Just stuff, we just want keep you all entertained I guess.”
THE SPEEDWAY HAS A MONUMENTAL MOMENT TONIGHT WITH ITS FIRST NIGHT RACE, FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES WITH THE ATMOSPHERE BETWEEN A DAY RACE VERSES A NIGHT RACE? “It’s more entertaining for a couple of reasons, speeds are up, people are used to a night-race format especially the hardcore racers that grew up racing at short tracks or go to short tracks and watching. Another component that I like is the area you need to focus on is lit, the racing surface with the race cars is lit and it just makes things look a little bit cooler if you will. It’s tough from a competitors standpoint to practice in the day like they are right now and then come back and race at night but it’s the same for everyone and a challenge you just have to figure out and make the most of.”