Phoenix II: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed the final two Chase races, racing at Phoenix and other topics. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RACING AT PHOENIX?: ...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed the final two Chase races, racing at Phoenix and other topics.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RACING AT PHOENIX?: "Great track for us. Excited to get on the track and get going. Obviously, we've got some work to do and a points margin to make up. Just excited to get out there and stop thinking about things and just get to work."

DO YOU VIEW THIS RACE AS A 'MUST WIN' FOR YOUR TEAM?: "We have to beat him (Denny Hamlin). I'm not sure where they're going to finish, but again, we need to expect the best out of them and that's going to be those guys running up front. We need to lead a lap, hopefully lead the most laps and win the race. Again, at the end of the day, it's relative to where he's running or where he finishes and we just don't know until we get on the track and get out there and see what goes on in the race."

WHY IT IS SO HARD TO MAKE UP POINTS THIS LATE IN THE SEASON AND DOES THAT CONCERN YOU?: "I really don't focus on stats all that much. I had heard about that stat coming into this weekend. I don't know why, I certainly want to believe that it is possible to come back, especially from such a small margin that we have right now. I'm not sure why it hasn't happened. Honestly, we had six Chases, so not a lot of time. Things can change pretty quick with only six years of having the Chase."

WOULD YOU HAVE ANY PROBLEM CONTRIBUTING TO ANOTHER HENDRICK TEAM WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP FOR THE ORGANIZATION?: "There's no doubt that if we were out of the points and didn't have a chance to win then I would do anything I could to help my teammates win. Without a doubt, if the roles were reversed, I would offer the same thing up for Jeff Gordon's team or Junior (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) or Mark Martin's. Without a doubt. I think that at the end of the day, the comments made, they are to be expected. You have a team that's fighting for their first championship, they won the race and did everything they needed to do and we certainly didn't have the day that we wanted nor the situation that we wanted on pit road and we did something that was different. I think amongst all that, it was very easy for Denny (Hamlin) and for Mike (Ford, Hamlin crew chief) to give some comments. I would have to imagine that anyone in that position would take an opportunity to put some heat on the 48 team or if the roles were reversed. I expected some comments, there certainly were some comments. We don't necessarily believe in the fact that we're taking something away from our guys. We are Hendrick Motorsports -- that 24 and 48 shop is one unit. Yes, it is not the ideal situation, but if we win the championship, everybody is going to be there in Las Vegas having a great time and celebrating as a team like we always would."

HOW MUCH ARE THE COMPETITORS AFFECTED BY MIND GAMES DURING THE SEASON?: "From a mind game standpoint, we don't intentionally do much of it if any at all. I think we've been very fortunate in the past to have our performance on track speak for us. There just really hasn't been a need and we really focus on doing our jobs to go out and win races and lead laps and put pressure on the competitors. I'm not smart enough to play mind games. I just get in the car, do my thing and I go. The fact that people think so much about what we're trying to do ends up being a mind game in it's own. They are almost Jedi mind-tricking themselves."

WHAT TYPE OF LEARNING CURVE WILL TRAVIS PASTRANA FACE IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES?: "We've been talking a little bit and I knew NASCAR was a big interest for him. I talked to him maybe two weeks ago and he mentioned that he might run some races and what my suggestions might be. Of course, it's seat time. We've seen more examples of people coming in that are very talented from other forms of motorsports come in and struggle. I have just been advising him to get as many laps as he can. It doesn't matter if it's at a local late model track, if it's in the Camping World East or West Series, but when you go into the Nationwide Series, you have to show up ready. I certainly hope he will take all the steps necessary and you would think with the partnership with Michael Waltrip that they are very aware of that and have the established team. I'm excited for him and with all that being said, you won't find a nicer guy out there and somebody that really cares about motorsports. I think it will bring in some new fans and to our fan base here, he is plenty colorful and will keep everybody entertained. I'm excited for him."

HOW HAVE YOU HAD TO ADJUST YOUR THOUGHTS FOR THESE FINAL TWO RACES?: "Every year is going to be different. Last year we were in a different position coming out of Texas and kind of on our heels a little bit with the crash we had. Other times we've been here, we're really wanted to race hard and win the race and separate ourselves from the 24 (Jeff Gordon) one year and even the 99 (Carl Edwards) in the past. I feel like I'm in familiar territory although I am in second and behind the 11 (Denny Hamlin) right now, it's about performing here. It's really simple with the small margin we have, we still feel like we have plenty of control and just have to win this championship. If we go out and do our jobs as a team, lead laps, win races then we can be the ones sitting at the head table in Las Vegas. We firmly believe in our hearts that we can do this. We're looking forward to the challenge."

DID YOU WANT TO USE YOUR REGULAR PIT CREW THESE LAST TWO RACES AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU ARE DOING TO GET TO KNOW YOUR NEW PIT CREW?: "I know all the guys that are going to be pitting the car this weekend. It's just tough. There's a lot that went on and took place at Hendrick Motorsports amongst all the department heads, crew chiefs and the guys themselves as to what this week is going to look like and moving forward to the end of the year at Homestead. We feel that the change this weekend has brought a lot of excitement to the race shop and sometimes just changing things around a little bit works well for teams.

"We've seen it with the RCR (Richard Childress Racing) guys and I could say that whoever would be pitting the car this weekend is really genuinely excited to win the championship. The guys that are going to be doing it this weekend -- they are fired up. We feel that we're going to get the best out of them. Certainly a tough decision and my heart's out to my 48 guys that won't be crewing the car this weekend, but its go time and we need to make a decision and hopefully the decision that's the best for our race team to win a championship this year. Only time will tell what that decision turns out to be."

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONALITY AND YOUR LOOK AT RACING?: "My approach has been long races, trying race tracks, quirky race tracks, slippery race tracks have always been good for me. I think that my background in off-road racing and being on the dirt kind of helps me in those situations. I see Denny's (Hamlin) skill set and think that he excels on those tough situations as well. Seems to be a little bit more easy going in a sense, from a temperament standpoint. He and I, there are some similarities there. I think Kevin (Harvick) with his background growing up on some weird tracks, he has been able to adapt as well, but I would say the difference is that he has a shorter temper that we've seen over the years than maybe what myself or Denny would have.

"At the end of the day when you just look at performance and the tracks that we have in the Chase, especially these last two races tracks, I can't pick a favorite. Amongst maybe some different personality traits that are different, you look at the teams and what we're capable of, we are all pretty damn close. I think it's going to boil down to mistakes on the track. From a human standpoint of what goes on over the wall, but also what goes on inside the race car and how people deal with the emotions and the pressures of this championship."

DO YOU THINK IT WAS SMART FOR MIKE FORD TO MAKE COMMENTS ABOUT YOUR TEAM AND DO YOU THINK KEVIN HARVICK IS STILL IN THIS CHASE?: "I don't know. The reason that I'm looking at the 11 (Denny Hamlin) is that he's the one that's ahead of us. When we were leading, I was looking back at both of them closely. I know Kevin's (Harvick) right there I guess. With the 11 taking the points lead and all and all that's been made of it, it's been very easy just to talk about the 11 car, but the 29 is there and serious. Again, I expected comments to be made after the 11 won in Texas. Believe me; we have used those comments as motivation inside Hendrick Motorsports. There's been plenty of references to the comments made. Guys are thinking about it during their sets in the gym, when they're changing tires on pit stops, there have been emails internally -- it's been a great motivational tool. We certainly hope to show it this weekend."

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE IN SECOND PLACE IN THE POINTS?: "It sucks. I don't want to be there. Every year feels different and it does feel different being here this late in the game. We all know how special a run we've been on and how rare it is in sports period. In my mind as the years have gone by, I have really tried not to get used to it.

"I've always tried to be fearful of not being there and I don't know if it's just getting myself prepared for the day there's a really big challenge or what, but I'm not as panicked as people may think. I think a lot of it boils down to the fact that I know how good my race team is. I know how good we're going to do here and in Homestead and I'm just trying not to over think it and just go out there and do my job."

DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS THE UNDER DOG?: "Hell, I don't know. I don't care. I'm not sure where I see myself. I know I'm down and I need to get back on top."

CAN YOU KEEP THE BLINDERS ON TO OTHER COMMENTS?: "I am personally because as you guys know, especially when we're in the Chase, I don't follow the coverage. It's just so easy to be persuaded from what really is important and what's on your mind that I just don't get engaged. I'm not involved with that stuff. I'm very involved with my team. I know where Chad (Knaus, crew chief) is mentally, I know where my guys are and that's my reality. That's what I need to worry about and focus on. We are in a great place and we're ready for these next two races."

DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING FROM 2004 OR 2005 TO HELP YOU THIS SEASON?: "In both instances, kind of different routes to get to this same opinion, it's not over until the last lap at Homestead. Clearly the 97 (Kurt Busch) losing his wheel mid-race at Homestead led us to believe that it was maybe our day and that things were going to work out. The green-white-checkered run to the finish at the end, I don't think the green-white-checkered was in play at that time and he was the car behind me when it counts -- the 97 and he wins the championship. That one proved to me that it's not over until the last lap. At Homestead, with the 20 (Tony Stewart) car, we blow a tire and wreck and the 20 needed to finish like in the top-25 or something if we did things right. We had a great evening going and the 20 ran terrible. I still kick myself today for not coming to pit road, not getting the tire off the car because I felt like I had a problem and it was slowing down my pace and maybe we could have recovered from going down a lap and put more pressure on the 20 and come back and finish like we needed to, but we didn't. I know that if we stay in the game till the last lap at Homestead, we will have a chance. That's my mindset off of those two examples."

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF CHEVROLET GOING BACK TO INDY CAR RACING?: "Wasn't aware of it, but very excited. I've again been completely disconnected from things here in recent time, but just happy to hear that the bowtie will be back. Maybe that will give me a chance to go race there someday."

WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF RACING AT PHOENIX AND WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO SETUP A FAST CAR HERE?: "I would say one of the most difficult things is the sun setting toward the end of the race when the sun is going down, it is really difficult to see where you're going into turn one. Then from a setup standpoint, it really is a track of compromises. The radius of the turns in one and two is a lot tighter and there's a lot more banking than what you have in three and four. There's less banking and a larger radius and you can't get the car perfect and you really have to play those compromises against one another."

HOW DO YOU CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS IN THE CAR AND IF YOU WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP, WHICH CREW WILL GET THE RINGS AND BE ON THE STAGE?: "From the emotion side of it, I think years of racing has helped me be where I am today and to manage my emotions through the course of a race. I don't do a good job of it all the time and I can look at some examples through the summer where frustration got to me and I made mistakes inside the car. We talked about that -- when the Chase started that seemed to be a popular question. A lot of discussion about it. I have good days, I have bad days just like anyone, but I think it's just something I've learned over a period of time and it's also fitting to say that my personality fits into that as well. As far as the banquet, if we're in that position and we are going to the banquet, just like every other year in the four other championships we've had -- it's all one race team, everybody goes. Everybody gets rings and everybody inside that 24 and 48 shop -- really at Hendrick Motorsports it's one unit and it would be no different this year than any other year."

DID 2005 HELP TEACH YOU HOW TO MANAGE THE CHASE?: "Yeah and I maybe haven't felt like that moment in '05 helped me with the last four years, but it's in my mind this year that anything can happen in Homestead and you can't assume people are just going to have great days. We went down there assuming the 20 (Tony Stewart) was going to have a great day, had some discussion over the radio about the tire going down and if it was soft or not, what was really going on. Because we thought the 20 was going to lead all the laps and win the race, we were out of character and we tried to limp around on a bad tire and caused a problem. I guess all that together makes me think -- yes, statistics show certain things, but until you go run the race it doesn't matter. It's about what happens now and the performance you have now. If there is trouble like had in 2005, you have to get the car fixed and get back on track -- anything can happen. Then the part that I really focus in on is that if we would have stayed on track and if we would have played our game right and put the pressure on the 20 like we needed to, I think there could have been a different outcome. We blew that opportunity. I don't want to blow an opportunity going into Homestead or during Homestead. I don't want to blow an opportunity this weekend so it all goes back on the character of the race team and myself and what got us into this position and to not change what we're doing and who we are. That's a lesson we learned in '05 and we are using a lot this year."

-source: gm racing

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kurt Busch , Denny Hamlin
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports