JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT CHEVROLET met with members of the media today at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed the new surface at Phoenix, Kyle Busch’s penalty and other topics.
WHAT DO THE CHANGES AT PHOENIX MEAN TO YOU WITH ONLY TWO RACES REMAINING?: “There’s obviously a big difference here with the race track. I was out here for the tire test and then the open test so we got a lot of laps on the race track and eager to get on track and see where the groove has evolved to. Unfortunately, it’s been tough to really get a wide race track out there. There’s been some huge efforts made to put rubber down and then obviously a lot of traffic with all the different series here. Hopefully it widens out and hopefully we can go out there and win this Kobalt Tools race. I’m happy to hear that we are near or at capacity with the crowd and we have a new paint scheme that we have on the race car that we’re debuting here. Hoping for a strong performance.”
WHAT ARE THE ODDS YOU CAN STILL WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND WHAT DOES YOUR FIVE YEAR REIGN MEAN TO YOU?: “Where we are in the points, we’re over a race out so we’re going to need a lot of help and it probably would involve help here and at Homestead. I’m not necessarily counting on that, but I’m an optimist and myself and this race team, we’re not ready or willing to give up. We’re going to try to win these next two races and still be in a position to win the championship if there are some big mistakes made. If not, it’s very important to me to finish as high as I can in the points. I have a thing going where I have been in the top-five every year so far and at a minimum I want to try to keep that alive and I still need to get one more spot to do that. I guess I’m not really ready to reflect yet. When I’m mathematically eliminated I’ll be willing to go down that road emotionally and talk about it. I’m still trying to keep some hope.”
HOW DO YOU VIEW KYLE BUSCH FOLLOWING LAST WEEK’S INCIDENT AND HOW HAS HE CHANGED SINCE HE WAS YOUR TEAMMATE?: “When you’re a teammate with someone you spend a lot more time with them and understand them. I am friendly with Kyle (Busch) in the garage area and we talk. I personally haven’t had any real big run-ins with him so my interaction with him on the track has been fine and all of that. I guess I can’t really answer your question about big differences in who he is and what he is because I’m not in the same shop with him any longer.
“I was real disappointed to see what took place and what happened to (Ron) Hornaday and his championship hopes and then clearly from there it’s been a crazy week for he and his team and his sponsors with everything that’s been going on.”
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO HAVE ANOTHER OWNER-DRIVER WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP?: “I didn’t think it was possible. Certainly would love to see Tony (Stewart) win this championship. I don’t think any of us felt that we would see it take place again or even get close to it. Tony has done an amazing job as an owner and as a driver and we’ll see where things turn out for him, but it would be a huge feat that I think everybody wrote off and said would never happen again.”
DO YOU THINK IT IS REMARKABLE THAT YOU DIDN’T REALLY HAVE AS MUCH BAD LUCK IN WINNING YOUR PREVIOUS FIVE CHAMPIONSHIPS?: “I think we did have some challenging moments -- the (Sam) Hornish thing at Texas, I think about the 2006 championship, I think about last year and how dominant Denny (Hamlin) was in this race and looked like things were going his way. Then it all turned around so there certainly has been challenging points through each championship. I guess that’s why I’ve always been in the mindset that it isn’t going to last forever because I know how difficult it is. It is really, really remarkable what we’ve done with this race team and to win five in a row.
“There’s a reason why no one had won five in a row before and it just doesn’t happen, in any sport. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished this year and the mistakes that have happened in the Chase. I hate that they did and I have to take responsibility for a lot of them. I was the guy behind the wheel in the crashes that took place and a bunch of the strategy for Talladega and a lot of different aspects of it. That stuff happens and you can’t win them all. We certainly want to and are going to try and not giving up hope yet. If it doesn’t happen, we’ll come back next year and try it again.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE NEW SURFACE AT PHOENIX?: “For some reason we’ve had a hard time finding grip, which is odd with brand new asphalt. We’ve seen it before at Charlotte, Las Vegas -- there has been a couple instances, we don’t know why, but it just happens that way. There’s been a lot of effort made to get it right with the tire test, the open test, laying rubber has been a concern and the track has gone to great lengths to get rubber down all last week. The effort has been there and it might just take a while before the track ages in the right manner for our cars to be real comfortable here and widen out and use all of the new areas they created for us.
“The reconfiguration down here in one and two, I don’t know how that’s going to evolve. I don’t think you’re really in the corner long enough and I call that turn one and then the dog leg turn two. They built all that banking and all that extra space to run, but I don’t think you’re really in the turn long enough to work an outside lane. At least as of now. We’ll see as things evolve with the race track and how it goes. Passing may be a bit difficult. The good thing about it is that it is a fun lap to drive. I’ve said that from the beginning. I really had never been through a combination of turns that we have at this end of the race track and then we show up and turn three is going a lot faster than we ever have before and there is a downhill, flat entry that makes turn three very exciting.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR EVENT LAST NIGHT?: “It was a good night. We had a lot of fun. It was great to see Adrian (Fernandez) -- I hadn’t seen him in a few years. I talk to him from time to time, but it was great to catch up with Adrian. Great concert, great turnout. Adrian is also going to be a part of everything that takes place on Sunday. Lowe’s has a large presence in Mexico and the fit and tie all plays in really well.”
HOW WILL YOU RACE AGAINST KYLE BUSCH MOVING FORWARD?: “It doesn’t really affect me on track I don’t think any differently as to what took place. I’ve seen a lot of stuff go on under caution and you kind of know when you’ve either been in an incident and that guy is limping his way back to pit road that you need to look out. Or once that car returns to the race track that something can happen.
“Speaking of a car limping to pit road, at Martinsville, (Jamie) McMurray and (Brian) Vickers had their thing and Jamie was down to like two miles an hour waiting for Brian to drive by on the outside and Brian took it and I’m like, ‘Don’t drive by, don’t drive by.’ Pow, he gets nailed. I’m like, ‘Man, why did you drive by him?’ That’s there. There are a lot of factors that played into Kyle’s (Busch) penalties and what took place. You know when you’re in that situation what’s possibly going to happen and then at that point you start worrying, but until then you just try to keep your eyes open so you don’t get caught up in something.”
HAVE YOU THOUGHT OF ANYTHING YOU WANT TO IMPROVE ON IN THE OFF SEASON?: “We’re always trying to become a better race team. I think through this year we developed a better race car and a better crew over the wall. We had some issues early in the year in those areas that we had to overcome. That’s kind of the disappointing thing is to be where we are in the points right now is we made so much progress over the course of the season and I feel like I had the speed to be competitive in this Chase and be a part of it. That’s kind of disappointing to have the issues that we’ve had. We’ve got to learn from them and move on.”
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A SURPRISE ATTACK FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP LIKE TONY STEWART IS DOING TO CARL EDWARDS THIS YEAR?: “You try to look at the tracks on the Chase and know you are going to be strong at one and form some opinions, but truthfully all that thinking that goes on between the races or before we ever get to the Chase, it goes out the window when you hit the track. You unload and you go on track and you’re dealing with whatever handling conditions you are and you’re going to get involved in the moment and making your car as fast as you can. You look around and see where the 14 (Tony Stewart) and the 99 (Carl Edwards) are and they are going to be worried about each other on speed and lap tracker and all that kind of stuff. Each weekend takes on its own dynamic to be honest with you is what I guess I’m getting at. All the worrying and thinking you do prior to the Chase or that particular race goes out the window when you hit the track and then you deal with those circumstances that day. Over thinking is certainly something I’ve been through and keeping it simple is something I have found helps in that department. Experience in the sport, experience racing for championships helps you kind of understand where to worry. Before you win a championship I think you worry about everything. You don’t really have a road map yet. Once you have some success and win a championship, you are like, ‘Okay, this is what’s important.”
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO SEE AT DAYTONA IN REGARD TO RULES?: “I haven’t thought a thing about it. Not concerned. Plate racing in a big pack or in a tandem -- it’s not my favorite kind of racing period. Whatever it is it is and I will just go down there and try to do my best job.”
HOW IS WHAT KYLE BUSCH DID IN TEXAS DIFFERENT THAN WHAT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME OTHER THAN IT WAS UNDER CAUTION?: “I think the championship implications had something to do with it. I think he was on probation -- no. I don’t have a clue. Under caution, but as you pointed out there were other instances there. I don’t know -- I really don’t know. I just don’t. I thought it was between those two things and I guess it’s not.”