JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed the importance of qualifying, racing around the Chase contenders, managing fuel mileage, and more.
TALK ABOUT COMING OFF OF CHICAGOLAND AND HEADING INTO THE NEXT CHASE RACES “We had a great showing in Chicago. I’m very proud of the effort. Unfortunately we came up a lap short on fuel. We went back and looked at it and we had a bit more of a deficit on fuel on that final run than we kind of thought. I knew that I had saved fuel, but I had a bigger window to make up than we anticipated once we got home and got a closer look at things. So, to run out coming to the white (flag) and still finish 10th is amazing and shocking to me to roll all the way around the race track with the engine off and still finish in the top 10; and a top 10 at the start of the Chase. I’ve had years where we’ve started far worse than that. So yeah, we should have gone forward in points; especially with how we ran all day long, but you’ve got to run every lap and it shows how buttoned up you need to be, top to bottom, to have a shot at this championship. And fuel mileage has never really been a strong suit to trust and it’s something that we know we need to be better with. Tires don’t fall off like they used to; we don’t have cautions like we used to and all that means is two tires, no tires, no cautions and you pit as early as you can. So, the game certainly has changed over the last year, or year and a half, and we need to be a little bit better in those situations but we’re strong and fast. That’s what I’m really proud of. We showed a top three effort all day long at Chicago and that’s something I’m very proud of.”
AS THE SENIOR STATESMAN OF THESE PLAYOFFS, HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS HOW SIGNIFICANT IS IT THAT KEVIN HARVICK AS A TOP SEED WAS ABLE TO GO IN THERE AND HANG-IN AT THE TOP AFTER ONE ROUND? IS THAT SIGNIFICANT THIS EARLY? AND IF SO, BY CONTRAST, HOW SIGNIFICANT IS IT THAT KYLE BUSCH FELL SO FAR BACK IN POINTS? “Honestly, I know Kevin is leading. I don’t know where Kyle is; and I heard as I was leaving where I was. I don’t know where anything else is in between. It’s just too early to be overly concerned. And yes, every point counts. And I know that we left points on the table because of fuel mileage at Chicago. But it’s just too early to start worrying about that stuff. I don’t know where he came from at the end of that thing. I know he had a decent day going but he came flying by me and I thought he’s surely going to run out (of fuel) and he made it and I ran out (laughs). So they did a good job of managing what they needed to there and got a good finish.”
WHAT GOES THROUGH A DRIVER’S MIND DURING THE LAST LAPS OF A FUEL MILEAGE SITUATION? IS THERE COMPLETE TRUST IN YOUR CREW CHIEF AND THE GUYS ON THE PIT BOX TELLING YOU THAT YOU HAVE ENOUGH; OR IS IT GUT-WRENCHING FOR A DRIVER? “The situation we were in, we felt like we managed everything right during the race. We thought we needed one lap. Once we were able to look at things after the race conditions were over, we realized we needed more. We made a mistake there in how much we needed to save. As Chad (Knaus, crew chief) slowed my pace down and I did the things inside the car, I really felt like I had saved a lap, which is what I was asked to do. And then when I ran out coming to the white, I was pretty discouraged in my ability to save fuel and with what went on. When we got home we found out that I saved quite a bit more than a lap. So it was kind of a mixed set of emotions for me. But there is nothing worse than thinking you’re in the good and I come off of (Turn) 4 and it’s running out. And I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ So I’m thankful we were able to roll around and finish 10th.”
LAST WEEK AT CHICAGO, THE CHASE CONTENDERS WERE UP FRONT MOST OF THE TIME. DO YOU LIKE THAT? IS IT EASIER FOR YOU TO KNOW WHERE THE GUYS ARE? WITH THE THREAT OF POSSIBLE RAIN COMING LATER, YOU WOULD ALL START UP-FRONT “Yeah, from Chicago; when we get into the Chase, there’s 12 guys that have a shot at it. And those 12 drivers are usually the cream of the crop on any given weekend, so it’s not shocking to me to be up there racing with those guys. You kind of expect it. I was wondering where the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) was and where the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) was throughout the race. But it didn’t surprise me to see those guys up there. And then coming here, based on weather and rain and what goes on with practice today, you start by points; the rule is a little bit different, so I guess if we don’t get on track at all it would be points. And if we do get practice here shortly, you’ll see everybody in qualifying trim trying to lay down that lap so that you’ll be seeded properly and also potentially for tomorrow’s rainout if it does happen. So, today is going to be all about speed during that first 30 or 40 minutes; maybe even longer. Guys will really be focused on laying down a lap. At some point you’ve got to decide to switch over to race trim because it may be our only practice session. So we’re kind of battling a couple of things here today.”
IF WE DON’T HAVE QUALIFYING, HOW MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE DOES IT REALLY MAKE IF YOU’RE IN THE TOP SIX FOR EXAMPLE? CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT TRACK POSITION? “Yeah, in some weeks, some of the factors don’t impact you as severely. And the point of that is one big thing for track position is how you perform on pit road. There are sometimes when you qualify poorly and the way things work out around you on pit road, there are cars that are go or go-homers; they are out of the race and you’ve got an opening in and out, life is good. Other times, you qualify decently and you’re pitted around good cars and you get killed on pit road. And the only way you can really, truthfully control that, is to be first or in the three-four-five or however many openings there are on pit road. That’s the way you can control that. And then of course, your performance on pit road leads to how your track position works out. And then, just starting up front, the pace that the lead cars run is considerably faster than what 15th runs. Your car handles so much differently that speed and the aero-balance of the car, the closer you get to the front, the balance usually shifts towards looser. And I’ve seen where I have showed up at the front late in the race, and get the lead, Michigan comes to mind, and we get the lead and I had been tight in traffic but now I’m too loose and the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) runs me down and gets by me. If we had another pit stop up front where we had track position, we could have been better prepared for that battle. So, that’s just one example. There are examples to kind of work for you and against you, but in general you want to control every aspect you can and it starts on Friday with qualifying right. And hopefully you can maintain through the race and keep track position all day long.”
FROM A DRIVER’S PERSPECTIVE HOW MUCH OF SAVING FUEL IS MANAGING THE PEDALS AND IS THAT A DIFFICULT THING AT ALL TO TEACH YOURSELF? “It really is an odd situation to be in and it becomes much more manageable in a relaxed situation when guys around you are doing the same. When we started that run I thought we’re a lap short, Chad and Greg calculated fuel mileage on the pit box at x pace we knew we had a window where we could run as hard as we could then we had to start saving. So we ran, I tried to get to the lead, I couldn’t do it, then we started saving and I watched Tony (Stewart) kind of drive away and Matt (Kenseth) maintain. Once Matt started saving fuel and backed up to me then I was comfortable to save fuel.
“I think I saw the No. 39 catch me but he only got so close and he kind of stalled out and was saving fuel and once that happened I was like okay we’re all in the same boat but the No. 14 is still driving away. I was like how in the world just knowing he was going to run out. But he’s great at saving fuel and I think they did a good job with jetting and carburetion of the race car toward the end of the race. They had better mileage than we did period. We got home and looked at all the data and how long they could go on fuel so he had a smaller deficit to make up and get a nice comfortable lead and really started sailing off.”
FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE IS ALL THAT HOW HARD YOU ARE ON AND OFF THE THROTTLE? “There are multiple philosophies on how to do it. Naturally you think the more you’re at wide open throttle the more fuel you burn but the way the carburetors work there’s different pumps and secondaries and things that go on, once you get to a certain place with the throttle pedal its dumping a ton of fuel. So some say wide open as short as possible, shut the engine off. Others say leave the engine running, run half throttle, never get to wide open. It’s tough to science it out and we don’t go to a test session and dedicate three or four hours figuring it out. Maybe we should. Maybe that’s an area we need to focus on but you just threw everything you can at it. As a driver, my fuel savings I feel like there’s two or three levels of it that I can deal based on how animated Chad is. If he’s like man we’ve got to save then you’ve got to do it all, shut the engine off (laughter), if you need a half of lap then you can race differently.”
AT CERTAIN POINTS OF THE YEAR IT SEEMS LIKE YOU GUYS RACE AGAINST THE SAME GUYS, EARLY IN THIS YEAR TONY STEWART DIDN’T HAVE THAT SPEED IN THE LAST MONTH OR SO HE HAS, HOW MUCH MORE OF A THREAT AS A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE NO. 14 TEAM AS OPPOSED TO THE WAY YOU MAY HAVE FELT ABOUT THEM TWO OR THREE MONTHS AGO? “For me, I feel like I have felt like if the No. 14 makes the Chase he’s a threat. I know the equipment he is in, we all know what Tony’s capable of, and I know Darian (Grubb, Stewart’s crew chief) very well. I think it’s kind of separating us all out but I think we all can say those are the facts that we believe in and once he made the Chase we all knew he was going to be a factor. After leaving last weekend I thought this is just so wild how two to three races prior to him coming into the Chase there’s one energy and one feel of what’s going on he goes out and wins the opener and now he’s a championship threat all of a sudden. It’s always been there. Every track is different, every weekend is different and it is so tough to manage the 10 races and to be good at all 10 tracks, different sizes, different challenges, different tires you know there’s so many different things that go on it’s amazing to see when a team can link together a 5.0 average or 7.0 average whatever that number is you need to be champion and it is tough to do. In two or three week’s time it can change, you can be the hero and be the zero.”
YOU WON AT TALLADEGA SO DID YOU NOT WANT THE RULE TO CHANGE? “I think with the new rules it’s a step to make us pass more. I don’t think we are going to be able to stay connected as long. Any time you put a bigger plate on the cars it allows for a larger closing rate with more opportunities to pass with more power. With that said, I don’t think the changes are large enough to have us not push. That threshold for pushing, the grip level is still so high at the race track that I don’t think it’s going to separate us yet but it should make for more passing. We see that more with a larger plate and then the fact that we can’t stay together we’re going to be changing, I don’t think we’ll be staying together as long we’ll be changing out more often which could lead to us being in a big pack like some of the fans want to see. We’ll get down there and see what happens. I don’t care what the rules are. I learned a long time ago to stop worrying about that stuff. I just go.”
DOES THIS 12 DRIVER FIELD KIND OF FEEL LIKE AN 11 ON ONE AGAIN WITH YOU BEING THE GUY EVERYBODY WANTS TO TAKE DOWN? “No, I don’t see it that way. I guess every team and driver builds a thought process around something that tries to motive their team around whatever it is. We all have those pep talks you probably see in football, all that stuff takes place in these transporters as well where you rally your team around a thought or a direction and everybody is in on it. We could be that focal point for a lot of teams but for us what we’ve done over the last five years is behind us. We’re in today and that’s how this team has always operated. We’ve got to worry about what we’re doing today and do our best job today. If we do it right over the next 10 weeks we have a shot at being the champions. So we know the past is the past and it’s all about today.”
HOW WOULD THINGS HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT FOR YOU GUYS GOING INTO HOMESTEAD LAST YEAR HAD THE NO. 11 NOT HAD THE FUEL MILEAGE ISSUES THEY HAD AT PHOENIX? “It’s so hard to know what momentum would do in that situation. When you look at the results from where we finished verses the No. 11 I don’t know if that math would still show us as the champion or not. So I look at that and say well maybe things would still be the same but then there is an argument that momentum and we saw how unhappy Denny (Hamlin) was and I’m sure it was something internally that lived and went on the race track in Homestead maybe led to a worse qualifying effort in the race and all that. It’s just so hard to quantify it but I guess the math would maybe tell the story. This year I think we’ll see fuel mileage play a larger role in the championship than we have in years past. When you mention Phoenix, it’s now repaved and we were there for a tire test. You can’t wear the tire out on this new asphalt so it’s going to be a fuel mileage race. Talladega to a certain degree will, here will be for sure. We have a lot of tracks with very low tire wear that will promote fuel mileage races.”