JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S POWER OF PRIDE CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Richmond International Raceway and discussed heading into the Chase, focusing on just Cup racing, mental preparation for the Chase and other topics.

Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson

Photo by: Adriano Manocchia

TELL US YOUR THOUGHTS COMING INTO RICHMOND AND GETTING READY FOR THE CHASE: “Obviously we are a bit relaxed right now with the fact that we’re able to lock in a few weeks back. It has taken some pressure off. We had a lot of fun this week at Atlanta. My thoughts have really been on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. The great paint scheme we have on our race car this weekend with the Power of Pride. Then also, the fact that I will be wearing the Jimmie Johnson Foundation Helmet of Hope this weekend and we all know how important that is. There are really a lot of us in here with all the charities that have been able to find their way on to that helmet over the years. That is where my thoughts have been. Looking forward to a good race. We ran terrible here in the Spring; somehow got a good finish. We’re hoping to have another great finish but a much stronger effort from qualifying on through the race.”

IS IT A DIFFERENT FEELING WHEN YOU ARE ALWAYS DOMINATING A RACE AND LEADING ALL THE LAPS? DO YOU FEEL A LITTLE MORE UNEASY IN THE CAR GIVEN WHAT’S HAPPENED THIS YEAR? “It is one of things when you are dominating and leading the laps where you know you have a great opportunity and you stay focused on not messing it up. And, then when something goes wrong, which is quite often, you think ‘Oh yea, I’m that guy that lead the most laps and then didn’t win the race’. That statistic is obviously pretty high. I think one of the reasons for that, especially now and moving forward is that the car balance is so different leading the race versus in traffic. If some cars get ahead of you on strategy; when you are the leader and you have not had to drive through traffic all day long, one-you have to spend a little time to figure it out and two-your car isn’t set up for it and you see guys kind of stuck where ever they are on the track. So, those are kind of my thoughts on why the leader can’t find his way back forward typically. Then, yes, when that happens, that little thought pops up in your mind.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI SAID HE DIDN’T THINK THAT ANYONE WOULD DISPUTE THAT THE NO. 48 TEAM WAS THE MENTALLY TOUGHEST TEAM OUT THERE SO CAN YOU EXPLAIN TO US WHAT MAKES YOUR TEAM SO MENTALLY TOUGH. ALSO HE SAID YOU HAVE TO LOSE SOMETIME DON’T YOU? HERE YOU ARE FIVE-TIME CHAMPION, YOU ARE LEADING THE POINTS NOW, YOUR SUPPOSED TO BE DROPPING BACK, HOW COME YOU GUYS KEEP STAYING AT THE TOP? “I’ve learned a lot about myself and my race team. I think my team and teammates, team members, have learned a lot about themselves over the last five years. We’ve been just taken back, amazed, impressed at our own abilities and we’ve continued to learn each year what we are made of and what we are capable of. We’re certainly hopeful for a sixth. We are obviously in a good spot right now. We’ve been collecting a lot of points over the course of the year. We’ll all find out next week who’s off to a quick start and the storyline will continue to develop each week from there. I’m proud of my guys. I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of Hendrick Motorsports. There isn’t another group of guys; another team; another sponsor that I’d want to go to war with. We’ve proven to ourselves time and time again what we are capable of and looking forward to this year’s challenge. Absolutely, at some point, I’m a realist. I know at some point we’re not going to be the champion. I’ve thought about that a lot over the last four years to be honest with you. But I think that there is something within that that continues to make me hungry to succeed and also something within all of it has helped me enjoy what has been going on. We’ve already beat the odds. We’ve the things that nobody has done before and inside of that, I’ve had a lot of fun. I think people saw that last year in the Chase. I hope to continue that and carry that through this year’s Chase regardless of where we finish.”

HOW MUCH STOCK DO YOU PUT IN MOMENTUM GOING INTO CHASE? “Momentum doesn’t hurt going into the Chase; but, we’ve been without momentum; we’ve had momentum. Another way to look at it is we’ve had momentum working against us and momentum working for us and we’ve been able to win either way. I’ve said all along, these final 10 races, it’s its own world. When everything re-racks and the point spread is so small between first and 12th, it changes things and it’s a whole new season. It’s a clean sheet of paper and off you go.”

WHICH WAY DO YOU FEEL IS THE STRONGER WAY TO COME INTO THE CHASE - TO COME IN RESTED AND CLINCHED EARLY OR COMING IN WITH MOMENTUM? “I feel rested. I feel the fact that you can clinch early and come in. I don’t think that you have a chance to rest physically. We’re still going through the motions. Every team members, every driver, you still do the same reps if you will. But the mental side of it, it is just draining. If you are worried about things night after night. Worried about mechanical failures or flat tires; crashes on the track. Things that could take you out of being in the Chase. That stuff adds up and it takes a toll. The championship pressure itself; it’s big. I prefer to come in rested; that was one of the goals the No. 48 team had coming into the season was to clinch early and not come to Richmond all stressed out.”

YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR TEAMMATE JEFF GORDON; WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN OUT OF HIM THE LAST SEVERAL MONTHS AND YOU GUYS WERE IN A BATTLE FOR THE WIN LAST WEEK; DO YOU EXPECT HE WILL BE IN THE BATTLE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? “Yes, I really do. I think Jeff is a very serious threat for the championship. I’ve been very impressed with the relationship that he and Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) have put together and the communication between those two. Each year we see Jeff and his excitement to continue and excitement to race and win and compete for championships. He still has that same excitement. This year, I think the difference has been the connection with he and Alan. They’ve done a great job and I feel that he is going to be a very serious threat for the championship.”

AS SOMEBODY WHO HAS ONLY FOCUSED ON THE CUP CAR; DO YOU THINK YOU SUCCESS HAS PLAYED A PART OR INFLUENCED THE DECISION THAT OTHER DRIVERS HAVE MADE RECENTLY TO FOCUS PRIMARILY ON CUP? “It might. Guys are aware and pay attention to what’s going on around them. There are times I sit on my bus watching a Nationwide race and I know what took place in practice before and I see Kevin (Harvick) or Carl (Edward) or Kyle (Busch) really fast in a Cup car and dominating in a Nationwide race or a Truck race. I sit there and think maybe I should be doing what they’re doing. I overhead some of Jeff Gordon’s comments earlier, it’s just what works for you. At times you can blame it on certain aspects, maybe not being focused. At the same time, you can turn around and say I learned something running in that series. The one difference that Kevin and also Kyle have is owning. That is a whole other lump of whatever to deal with. Driving is one thing, but, owning, man that’s just tough.”

AARON RODGERS (QUARTERBACK FOR GREEN BAY PACKERS) SAID THAT AFTER WINNING THE SUPER BOWL, HE WAS EMOTIONALLY, MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY EXHAUSTED, HE WAS ALMOST GLAD FOR THE LOCK OUT TO GET IT TOGETHER; DID YOU FEEL THAT THE FIRST YEAR? OR YEAR AFTER YEAR AFTER SO MANY CHAMPIONSHIPS, ARE YOU READY TO MAKE ANOTHER RUN AT IT? “They have a relatively long off-season; so I think it speaks volumes about our sport and the people within our sport, the workload we have and what we deal with year after year. I think it gives us some props from the No. 48 team aspect to come back and be a factor each year. We have what, six weeks, where we are dark and truthfully when you’re the champion that turns into about two weeks. There is always something going on. Which is a great problem to have and I’ve really enjoyed it the last five years but there is a lot of work that goes with it and it is draining for sure.”

WHEN DID YOU KIND OF GRASP THAT THE CHASE WAS KIND OF GOOD FOR YOU AND THAT YOU GUYS HAD IT FIGURED OUT MORE THAN ANYBODY ELSE? “I wasn’t a big fan of the Chase when it came along. Here it has been the way I have won championships for the last five years. I still think we would have two or three championships otherwise if it was the old system. Then you can always argue the point that we race differently, which we do. You do make some decisions throughout the year to advance your cars and to handle things differently because of the Chase format. But, at the end of the day, it’s an interesting…the Chase is very compelling for our fan-base and I think it is a great change that our sport has gone through to convert over. You just have to buckle down and figure out what you need to do over those 10 races and take it from there. I don’t know…I don’t know how to answer your question. I keep getting lost in my own head”

WHY WERE YOU NOT A FAN OF THE CHASE? “Because I felt like the history of our sport and the fact that we have crowned so many champions prior to it a certain way. I just felt like it needed to continue that way. It ‘s not the way it is and times change and things change.”

YOU SAID YOU HAVE LEARNED A LOT ABOUT YOURSELF DURING THESE CHAMPIONSHIPS, ARE YOU MORE INTENSE THAN PEOPLE WOULD THINK YOU ARE? HOW DO YOU APPROACH THIS? ARE YOU ABLE TO BE RELAXED? “I think I was more intense in the early years because any driver has a lot of thoughts and you’re trying to analyze all these situations. Before you win a race, you wonder how you are going to handle those situations and you are trying to mentally prepare for a variety of situations. Once you win a race, you’re like ‘Oh, ok, this is how I do it’; this is how I deal with pressure; this is how I hold someone off; this is how I find a way by someone; adjustments you need to make late in a race. You start building some confidence in your own decision making process. You get into the championship format and it’s the same thing. So, over time, I’ve built a lot of confidence, in truthfully the way I think and the things that I focus on and I feel like I have a better road map on where to focus. I don’t waste a lot of extra time worrying about other areas. Throughout all of that, you know, I’m not the smartest guy and I don’t have a ton of brain power, it’s allowed me to kind of sit back and relax and have fun.”

TALK ABOUT THE CHASE KICKING OFF NEXT WEEK IN CHICAGO: “Really excited for it. I think the Chicago area and the race track is going to be a great host for the start of the Chase. I’ve been close to victory there a few times. We’ve always run well and led laps there. Really want to win there for the fact that it is in the Chase and also for Chad. We’ve been able to win a lot at my home track. I owe him a couple there and I need to get him one before long.”