JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Michigan International Speedway and discussed racing at Michigan, track safety, momentum heading into the Chase, Bristol and other topics .
TALK ABOUT YOUR STRATEGY HERE AT MICHIGAN AS WE WORK TOWARD RICHMOND AND THE CHASE: “I think our first goal is to try to lock into the Chase as early as possible. I know that there are a few cars that are mathematically capable of doing that this weekend. I’d love to be one or have that opportunity to do it. From there, we want to win races and get more bonus points; get more trophies and get the momentum really heading in the right direction for the start of the Chase. Our momentum as a team is going in the right direction; we’re getting strong and stronger. We’re seeing improvements across the board. But, a win does so much for a team and really puts a good sprint in everyone’s step. I’d love to get a win before the Chase starts and head off down that road. This track has been tough on me from a finish perspective. I’ve had a lot of good runs. I’ve led a lot if laps. As we all know, I’ve run out of gas a handful of times with the checkered flag in sight. So hopefully it is not a fuel mileage race and hopefully we have the speed to race for it. When I spring race, I think about the spin and the fact that I did some damage to the car driving it back to pit road on flat tires We really didn’t have a chance to race during that event. We were trapped two laps down early and quickly cars were one lap down and at that point I never had a chance to get a lap back and race for a decent finish. We just kind of went through the motions here in the spring race and hoping for a lot more this fall race.”
YOU MENTIONED RACING IN CANADA, IS THERE ANY PLACE SPECIFICALLY YOU HAVE IN MIND? WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE A ROAD COURSE RACE IN THE CHASE? “My perspective on heading north and into Canada to race is from a fan hunger standpoint. We have a huge racing audience in Canada. The Canadian fans travel to Michigan; to Loudon even further south to come see our sport and their presence is felt. We sing their National Anthem at certain race tracks for a reason. I think it is an untapped market of sorts in an area where we can see some growth. Get more eyeballs at the race track and more eyeballs on television and in an area we should really consider moving to. It is easy from my seat because I don’t own a track and I don’t have to worry about the schedule and where a date should go. But, I would think there is some weight in that angle and that thought process. If it happens, I have no clue, but that is really the driving force behind it due to a large fan base and some great circuits up there. I love road course racing and think we could put on a good show at a few of the road courses up there.
“As far as in the Chase, again, it boils down to personal preference. I enjoy road course racing. I love the discipline about it and I think it would make things very exciting in the Chase. When you look at wild card races and the lack of control you have at Talladega, I see road course racing where…I’ve seen some dispute about it is not what we do all the time and that maybe it’s not fair. It’s out of the driver’s hands. I feel more in control at a road course race than I ever would and will at a restrictor plate race. That’s kind of my rebuttal to that discussion and from my own personal preference; I would like to see one. But, again, there are a lot of other factors that go into it and I’m not sure it will happen.”
QUESTION INAUDIBLE, NO MICROPHONE: “No., just the stuff I’ve seen with the Nationwide (Series) and F1 in Montreal. Mosport. I don’t Mosport would work, but, I guess first and foremost, I think a Montreal with the F1 presence and the Nationwide presence already being there, the infrastructure is kind of built from a fan perspective I am sure companies in the area, from a title sponsorship standpoint for the event., TV packages…everything is kind of there and we could really capitalize on it.”
DO YOU LOOK AT BRAD KESELOWSKI DIFFERENTLY NOW BASED ON WHAT HE HAS DONE AT POCONO AND THE GLEN? “I can’t say that it is due to just those two events, I mean those two races definitely…and being there at the test session and watching what he went through and the pain he was experiencing getting out of the car; there are different areas I have more respect in. I look at more at where the team was at this point last year, last season, versus this year. I know how difficult it is to have equipment advancing and having your race cars fast and working with teammates to make sure the company progresses forward. I have a lot of respect for what his part is in the growth and the speed that Penske Racing has along with Paul Wolf and (Steve) Addington. Those guys have done an awesome job as a group taking their cars from where they were to where they are now. My perspective for Brad has been more of over the course of the year rather than just the last two races. Those last two races didn’t hurt by any means, but, you can’t argue with the success they have started since late spring and early summer and they’ve been rolling.”
QUESTION INAUDIBLE, NO MICROPHONE: “Absolutely. This is a team sport. A driver has his part; has to do his job along with engineers, crew chiefs and so forth. Brad has absolutely done his part to advance his team. The No. 2 team and Penske as well.”
AS A DRIVER, NOW THAT THERE ARE TWO GROOVES AT BRISTOL, DO YOU LOOK AT THAT RACE AS STILL A POTENTIAL WILD CARD, POTENTIAL WILD SHOW THAT WE USED TO HAVE THERE? IS THERE STILL TREPIDATION GOING THERE OR ARE YOU MORE IN CONTROL THERE? “I feel a lot more in control going to Bristol these days. From a guy sitting behind the wheel, you want options and opportunities to race. The track has that now. In a certain respect, we almost have three lanes that you can run on around the race track especially as the race wears on and the groove gets pushed out. Behind the wheel, that is what we want. That is what we ask for. That is what they gave us. It is unfortunate that some people don’t see it that way. They prefer the old track and the craziness that would take place. As a driver, you want to have a chance to race. We have a chance to race there now.”
CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW FAST THINGS HAPPEN AT BRISTOL? “Not only is it fast, we make a lap in 15ish seconds depending on the run and the tire, but, the hard thing is also visibility and that helps enhance the sensation of speed. When you go into a corner at Bristol, the radius of the turn is so sharp, that you would literally need a sun roof to see the exit of the corner because you go in the corner and the exit is over here. So not only are you going really fast in a small area, you can’t see much. You only see, as you are going into the corner, you can maybe only see five car lengths in front of you, six car lengths. When something happened, you see it late and then you are going fast and you can’t stop and there’s so room and it just compounds from there and puts on exciting races; exciting stuff. It puts us in a position where we just have to build a lot of trust in spotters and assuming things are ok in front of you and just hope for the best.”
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE WITH THE FIRST TURN AT WATKINS GLEN AND WHY AREN’T DRIVERS MORE PROACTIVE IN MAKING THESE TRACKS SAFER? “We put a lot of trust in NASCAR, the tracks and we understand the effort that has been put in place to make tracks safer. Unfortunately we’re at a stage now where the obvious things are fixed and it’s down to the details. It takes freak accidents to say ‘Wow, we should have thought of that’. Some things, after they happen, are overly obvious, like ‘Why didn’t we think of that’. But, you just don’t. I would love to involved and NASCAR certainly listens, we all get busy and get into our things and maybe there needs to be an official committee that is set up and there is an effort made by maybe tracks, NASCAR, drivers…something going on there where at each weekend, you carve out an hour of time and this group goes around and looks for the fine things. That is really where we are at. It is unfortunate that it takes these massive wrecks for us to say ‘Wow, we shouldn’t have that’ at times when it does. When I think of Denny’s (Hamlin) crash in turn one, the sand trap maybe would have helped him there. My situation, how fast I was going and the angle I had, I didn’t even touch the sand trap. So, for any given wreck, it is hard to think through every possible thing that could take place. It seemed obvious after the wreck that took place at the end of the esses that those blunt angle walls don’t work. They really ricochet a car around and create a lot issues and give you a bad impact angle. We don’t typically have those angles on ovals but you do on road courses. When you look around a road course, man, there is a lot of those blunt angles. So, where do we start? How do we do it.? How do we systematically work through it? It is a big project. I feel like everybody has the drivers safety a top of mind and wants to make it that way. We just need to be a little bit more efficient and try to be more proactive instead of reactionary.”
ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT IT HAS TAKEN AN ORGANIZATION OWNED BY ROGER PENSKE THIS LONG TO BE THIS CONSISTENTLY GOOD? “Yes, when I look at the overall stats of Penske and how successful he has been in open wheel racing and the dominance that he has had there, at times I wonder why he hasn’t had that type of success at the Cup level. We all know his effort and his commitment to the sport, but, it just shows how difficult this sport is. I think about Roger as an example and think about Chldress (Richard) and what they went through a couple of years back. What Roush went through last year. You can argue to a certain extent that HMS (Hendrick Motorsports) has had its fair share of problems this year and we’re working through some issues. No company is immune to it. I am surprised that Roger hasn’t won a Cup championship with everything else that has gone on.”
IS THERE A DRIVER’S ASSOCIATION IN SPRINT CUP LIKE THERE IS IN EUROPE LOOKING AFTER DRIVER’S INTEREST PARTICULARLY IN THE SAFETY AREA? “No, not that I am aware of there aren’t any unions of sorts from a safety standpoint. We’ve always been encouraged to walk into the truck and express our safety concerns to NASCAR officials. There’s nothing organized.”