Phoenix II: Johnson - Friday media visit

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, met with member of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed this weekend's race, attacking and/or defending at the end of the Chase, the Lucky Dog rule, his spotter, and more. YOUR...

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, met with member of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed this weekend's race, attacking and/or defending at the end of the Chase, the Lucky Dog rule, his spotter, and more.

YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR PREPARATION AND MINDSET COMING IN TO THIS WEEKEND AT PHOENIX: "It has been a really good track for us, so we are excited it is the race before Homestead. We are excited to still have a nice points lead. Obviously last weekend didn't turn out like we had hoped for, what we thought we would get. But, we are still in a great position. One of our better tracks in the last couple of years and looking forward to a good performance this weekend."

DO YOU THINK BEING A NEWCOMER TO THE SPORT MADE THINGS MORE DIFFICULT FOR THEM WITH THE NEW GENERATION RACE CAR? "I do. I think on the front side of it, people looked at the car and said, nobody knows much about it so the gap is closer than it has ever been. There may have been some truth to that, but the fact of the matter is, this car has been really tough to figure out and sort out. The car that we had in the past, you may remember some conversations and people talking about, we are tapped out, we have done all that we can with these cars, we are working in very small areas to find advantages, and like that. We felt like that as one of the big teams and a team that understood that old car so well. We were really at the ceiling and the floor was catching us and the gap was getting closer and closer.

"You come in to a new car, a new rule book essentially, people are going to find bigger chunks of speed and eventually, you run through the car long enough, the ceiling will be found and the floor will start coming back up to it. I think that is the cycle of any new rule book or car and we are seeing that. I think we are all looking for different positive things when the car came along. I don't think any of us really understood how big of a challenge this car would be until it was here and we had it full time."

ARE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE THAT YOU HAVE A BIGGER LEAD HEADING IN TO PHOENIX THAN YOU HAVE HAD PREVIOUS YEARS? "No. When I stop and look at where we are at, I am certainly more comfortable now than any other Chase that we have been a part of. But the racer in me and what this team is about, we look at last weekend and say, we gave some points away. We got caught behind and couldn't recover through the course of the race the way the race worked out and we lost points. That side still sticks around and it is in my head and Chad's head because we are racers. We felt like we were much better than where we finished. That is a problem in our eyes. We can't have those days, regardless of where the points are. Again, that is behind us. That is last week. We are at one of our better tracks. When we look at the reality of things, we still have a great points lead as you pointed out and it is just time to get out there and do it again."

IS THE LUCKY DOG RULE A LEGITIMATE PART OF NASCAR COMPETITION? "I think it is a fair compromise. There are schools of thought that way, you should have to go up and earn the opportunity to be back on the lead lap If you have lost it, you need to race for it. There is another side that says it wouldn't put on good racing and it isn't what our sport is about. It wouldn't be good for viewership so then it would be bad for the sponsors, the teams and have this trickle down affect and cause a problem. When you look at the whole picture, I think it is a good compromise. I think it has been quiet among the people in the garage area the last two or three years once we got it resolved and understood it that is just how it is and it is a fair way to go about it."

YOUR SPOTTER IS LEAVING, ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS OF FINDING SOMEBODY NEW OR IS IT A BIG DEAL? "No, it is not a big deal. First of all Stevie has done a great job for us over the last couple of seasons. As a year winds down, teams are looking at improving in different areas and that is a position that we are going to make a change in. We think a lot of Stevie and certainly don't want to make that change now, we want to finish up the season and hopefully win a second championship together. You at Stevie and a couple of other people inside the No. 24/No. 48 shop, there are some changes that have come along and are taking place and it is just natural, end-of-the-year stuff to make our team stronger and better for the future."

WHAT ELSE DID YOU DO TO IMPROVE THROUGHOUT THE SEASON TO IMPROVE IN ADDITION TO THE EXTRA TESTING? "Truthfully, we had to find a direction and part of the testing, when we first ramped up our testing procedure, we were just trying to find something to build off of and find that direction to go it. With this car, you can get confused and things may show a little hope, but then they don't. The clear-cut decision making that we had in the past that either showed speed on the stop watch or it didn't, it was hard for us to find that clear-cut direction when we started with this car. Multiple packages that we tried, all produced the same lap time, but they all had issues in different areas. Frankly, all the stuff we were working on wasn't fast. So it is like which one do we hone in on, which one has the best potential. It took us a long time to find the package that had the best potential. I think that we 2/3 thirds of the tracks where we know what package to take. Atlanta, California even Texas package, I think we can be much better in those areas. But we are competitive. We are able to run in the top-five with this package, but, you got to find the bottom and you have to find a direction. All of that stuff takes a lot of time and really a lot of patience from a crew chief and the engineering staff to continue to work on things.

"From my standpoint, I just work really hard to do the same things each time out. I didn't try to make a certain setup be any better. I just went out and found the same rhythm, produced the lap times, drive the car the same way so that I was a constant and the team could make adjustments and see what showed the most hope. A lot of it, from my side frankly, was being patient with the guys and having trust in knowing that my guys were working endless to hours. We might not find it as fast as we want, but, we will. That is really what I had to do was just sit back and relax and drive laps that I could repeat so that they could work on stuff."

HOW SERIOUS IS THE ECONOMIC SITUATION IN THE GARAGE AND HOW MUCH DO YOU GUYS WORRY ABOUT THAT? "We certainly worry about it. I think everyone in the world is worried about their financial future. It doesn't matter if it is in motorsports; other sports or regular businesses as well as people at home trying to pay their bills. That crunch is out there. The thing that has gone on at Hendrick Motorsports, some of it, a lot of it has just been trying to make the company better. Some of the changes that have gone on, things that have gone on in the No. 5/No. 88 shop and really things in general in staffing. I don't have any part in what goes on there. Everybody is always looking at how you can do it for less and more lean and different things like that. So those all apply to what has gone on at Hendrick, trying to make the team better. Trying to be lien and more efficient. I think that is the way any business operates but in today's market, you even have got to consider people the you really like and need and wonder 'Am I just doubled up in this are, I really only need one guy that specializes in X'. You have to be smart with money right now, because there is no telling when this thing is going to turn around."

IN THERE A DOWNSIDE TO WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP? "In some cases, I look at what we did over the off-season. We worked the same hours if we would have won it or not. I think there were a couple of small things we could have done a little bit better. Participated in the Atlanta test and some things like that, but I can't really look back and say 'because we didn't go to that Atlanta test in October, or whatever it was, it affected the start of our year.' We were just working in the wrong areas. The time was put it, the money was spent, and the effort was there. We just were working in the wrong spots and paid the price for it. But I think in some cases you've seen it before, and it can happen, but we worked very hard through '06 to '07 and then '07 to '08 to not let that happen to us. We made a conscious effort to make it right and just didn't get it right."

ON THE SUBJECT OF IF HE WINS THREE CHAMPIONSHIPS IN A ROW "Yeah, I'm certainly comfortable with it. I'm very proud that what I've done and what this race team has done has put us in the situation to have people ask the question. That's a great by-product of what we've been doing. So I'm excited about that and the conversation has started, and I still have many, many, many years left of driving. So I don't think there is an answer. I think when a driver gets to the end of his career and thinks about hanging the helmet up, that's when the real question comes along and more of an answer needs to take place then. But still, you have the deal that takes place was Richard Petty the best or was Dale Earnhardt Sr.? So I don't think there's ever closure to it, I'm just excited that what I've done has led people to talk about me with those other names. So I think it's very cool and exciting and I'm hopeful of pulling off three. But I haven't spent much time thinking about where I fit into all this because I still have a lot of years left and I think that I can improve my stats and race wins and qualifying and hopefully (there are) more championships to come."

YOU'RE IN A DIFFERENT PLACE THIS YEAR THAN PAST YEARS. THE TWO YEARS YOU WON THE TITLE, COMING INTO PHOENIX YOU WERE IN ATTACK MODE. THIS YEAR, YOU'RE IN DEFEND MODE. HOW IS IT DIFFERENT? "It just depends on what's taking place. Last week (at Texas) there was a calmness because we had a big points lead. We got off on that third run, and then the runs around that; we had the speed to be in the top 10 and so we found comfort in some areas. We also knew that if we melted down and Chad pushed me too hard and I crashed the car or we didn't have the right energy in the pit and missed a lug nut and had to come back in and tighten up a wheel or lost a wheel. Those things would create bigger problems. So I think out of our team maturing and growing, we dealt with that a lot better. I think that last weekend shows you can't just defend. You can't be comfortable with any size point lead. You need to attack. You don't know what's going to take place. You don't know what's going to go on. So I'm still in attack mode. Certainly, with a 106-point lead, I don't need to take as much risk and there is a little bit of a different feel to it than what I had chasing Jeff (Gordon) last year, but the more I can look at what our team has been successful with, and how we've acted, the better we're going to do. And that is staying aggressive. And I keep saying this over and over because that's the way we perform our best. And last week we were mature and had a little bit of a points lead; we didn't have to stress too much about and so we handled it right. But this weekend, we're showing up and we want the trophy. We know what the points breaks are. We know what we need to do. And the first goal would be to try to leave here and not have to worry about racing in Homestead. Will that happen? Carl (Edwards) is going to be strong now. But if I can keep the points where they are and take the trophy home, we're in great shape."

FROM WHERE YOU WERE FIVE OR 10 YEARS AGO, DID YOU EVER THINK YOU COULD BE ONE OF THE GREATEST DRIVERS EVER? "I can't say I've ever looked at that or thought of my career going in that direction. Everybody has high hopes and everybody is confident in what they do and I feel that I do a good job in that race car, but to have it develop as it has, I couldn't dream that big, no. It's been a great ride and I still feel like there are a lot of great years ahead of me and I hope to improve my position in the sport.

"Jeff (Gordon) has taught me a lot by leading through example. When I first came on board and was trying to get to know Jeff, and the way he thought and what he thought about racing, it was very easy for me to see that he was a humble guy that had a lot take place in a short period of time. He would openly admit that so much more has happened to him than he could have ever dreamed of and he's very grateful for those things. Having somebody to look up to that was in check and balanced out, helped me a lot to put it in perspective. He's been a good mentor in that respect."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty
Teams Hendrick Motorsports