Phoenix II: Johnson - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS: ON RACING AT PIR: "It's a good track for me so I'm not too worried about performance. It's just a short track and it's hard to get away from one another. I think the goal...

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS:

ON RACING AT PIR: "It's a good track for me so I'm not too worried about performance. It's just a short track and it's hard to get away from one another. I think the goal is to find a safe spot on the track and log miles and try to stay out of harm's way."

YOU'RE RECORD IS PRETTY STOUT HERE, BUT DO YOU FEEL LIKE THIS IS A HUMP YOU'VE GOT TO GET OVER? "I really was nervous about Texas, but we were able to perform well there. Phoenix has been a good place for us. We haven't raced for the win in all but one year. The other years we've been kind of a top five, top 10 car. So I don't feel that our expectations here are to really go out and dominate and win the race; we just want to get that same thing going and be in the top five. But the performance we had at New Hampshire and the performance way our cars have been running on the flat miles, I really think we have a chance to improve our finishing position here and be a threat for the win. We had a great car at Loudon but didn't have a chance to show it because of the spark plug wire issue. But I'm very optimistic about this weekend."

IS JUST STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE JOB ONE? "I can't go out and ride around in 15th or 20th and be comfortable. My job these next two weeks is to out perform the No. 17(Kenseth) and the No. 8 (Earnhardt Jr) and the No. 11 (Hamlin). I've got to outperform those guys."

ON RUNNING SO CLOSE TO MATT KENSETH IN POINTS ALL YEAR? "I've been looking at the No. 17 all year and I think the No. 17 has been looking at the No. 48. So it's not a new experience for me. But every point counts. It always does in the Chase, but now we're down to the nitty-gritty here. I'm very aware of where everybody is."

ON THE CHASE OVERALL "I really think the experience of the Chase has made me a stronger driver and a more mature driver to deal with the pressure and stress. The team has been in this position as well and they know what that's like..the butterflies when the car comes down pit road. I think we're stronger. I'm not saying we won't make mistakes, but I think we're a stronger team. I have a lot of confidence in that."

ON HIS STRATEGY FOR HOMESTEAD "Well, it just depends. If we all go clean from here on out and there are no issues, then the No. 17 (Kenseth) is the first priority and then is Denny (Hamlin) still in third? Junior's in third? So it all depends on how we leave here. Coming into this race, the biggest worry is the No. 17 and the next worry is whoever is third and that's Junior. It's just going to change going into Homestead next week."

IS IT SO CRAZY THAT YOU CAN'T KEEP TRACK OF WHO IS 3RD OR 4TH? "To be honest, I just tried this week to detach from racing and only do things that I enjoy doing and only try to put happy thoughts in my mind about Phoenix and about driving the race car. I'm just trying to stay in a happy spot."

WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO OVERCOME HAVING CHAD KNAUS SUSPENDED EARLY LAST SEASON AND MAKING IT THIS FAR IN THE HUNT FOR THE TITLE? "It wasn't a situation we wanted to be in and I think Chad learned a lot and this team learned a lot. The team was forced to be stronger because of that. It helped us mature. In just trying to find some good in the bad, it's made us a stronger team. It was a valuable experience and we learned a lot from it."

YOU'RE PROBABLY THE BEST DRIVER IN THE GARAGE WITHOUT A CHAMPIONSHIP. IS THAT HARD ON YOU? "This is just my fifth year in the sport. Championships don't come easily. I was talking to Bobby Allison before the Charlotte race. He said it took him like 12 years before he walked across the stage. He was just trying to help me understand that hey, this isn't easy. So don't worry about it. Just keep doing your job. You're a great driver and you have a great team. And he thought he was never going to win won and then 12 years later he walked across the stage as champion.

So with that in mind, I've only been here five years. I've had a great shot and we'll just keep working at it.

"In this sport there is only one winner each weekend. There is only one champion each year. I don't know if you just learn to accept to accept defeat in some ways. It's just part of it. You can't win every race and you can't win every championship. We're going to be in this sport a long time and I know deep down in my heart that we'll be champion at some point. I certainly hope it's this year. But we'll just have to see.

"If we win (the title), it will be the ultimate reward for what we've worked so hard for in building this race team and putting it all together. If we don't win it, we got off to a slow start in the Chase. There were things out of our control that really hurt us and limited us in collecting points. In my eyes, it's a miracle that we've been able to come back and race our way into this position and be here competing for this championship. So, I think we're definitely quite positive. But that's the way this team works."

ON GETTING SOME POINTERS ON PIR FROM KYLE BUSCH "I haven't talked to him yet, but I'd be foolish to not go to my teammates and ask them all for advice. You have to rely on them for different things. I flew over with Jeff (Gordon) on a helicopter this morning and asked him for all the little tricks about Phoenix that he knows. If there is just one small thing that any of my teammates can help me with on the track that I can put in my bag of tricks, it can make all the difference."

HOW MUCH PRESSURE IS THERE ON YOU NOW TO COME OUT OF PIR AHEAD? "It's not been a bad track for us. I think we've been in the top 10 quite a bit. I feel it's a good track for us to score points. I was real nervous about Texas and we were able to finish second there. This hasn't been the best track for us as far as race wins are concerned, but the way we've been stepping up at all of our bad tracks this year, I think with this being a good track for us, if we can just improve a little bit, we'll be in good shape and I think we can do that."

ON THE ROUSH CARS BEING STRONG LAST YEAR IN THE CHASE "Last year, all five cars were just so strong week after week. Roush is still strong now at every track, but it's been one guy at that event. It hasn't been all five at the same time. Being inside of a big organization, I know how difficult that is to do. This year, they look more like a normal big team.

Last year they were a super team. This year, they look more like a normal multi-car team. It's just tough to get all that stuff working the same and each driver and crew chief styles working the same. Last year, I was really impressed with what they did."

ON RACING AT HOMESTEAD "It's a good track for us. We went down and tested there. I'm optimistic going down there. I think we'll be good."

THIS YEAR, WHAT RACES WERE THE BEST AND THE WORST FOR YOU? "I'd say this year the best and worst weekend was all in the same. It was the Daytona 500. To have Chad Knaus suspended and to have all the negative publicity and then to be able to come back and win with all that pressure made it the best and worst."

IF YOU COULD TAKE BACK ONE THING THIS YEAR, WHAT WOULD IT BE? "I think it would be the Talladega race. It's against my racing style to even say this, looking back at how important each point is, setting Junior up to pass at Talladega in the end, would it have been better to sit there and ride second, or to let Brian (Vickers) get a run on me and finish third? Looking back on that, that was a lot of points lost in this Chase. Right now, we're only 17 (points) up, but I could be 100 and something up right now. If I could take that one back, I probably would."

DID YOU ATTEND JEFF GORDON'S WEDDING? "I knew it was going on, but it was a very small wedding and no, we didn't attend. They wanted to keep their situation very low key so they could really enjoy the experience and not have any (media) issues. Even when I got married, photos of us leaving the church ended up in the Enquirer and in all sorts of various publications. It's crazy to see the attention that NASCAR is getting. Jeff Gordon, being a four-time champion and all the things surrounding that, if he did it in the United States or if anybody really knew about it, it wouldn't be as intimate or be the ceremony they wanted. So I understand the situation he's in. It shows again how big our sport is."

ON SWITCHING TO IMPALA SS FOR THE CAR OF TOMORROW "Any time the manufacturers chose a new vehicle, I think it benefits the race teams. There are some good things coming with the Impala SS. Monte Carlo has been there for a long time. We'll get some new excitement and new eyes on the Chevy brands. On top of that, on the racing side we know it will be a better product. We're looking forward to learning that car and maximizing it so that we can try to get an advantage on the competition."

HAVE YOU HAD ANY EXPERIENCE IN THE COT? "I tested in at Talladega. It was really basic and easy and forgiving. I don't have any intermediate track experience with it. I'm just going off what my teammates have said. The cat still needs a lot of work on intermediate and short tracks. On superspeedway stuff, I think they're going to have a great package."

HOW DID YOU FIND OUT JEFF GORDON HAD GOTTEN MARRIED? "We knew in the back of our minds. There was enough stuff that we could put together and there were some small comments from them. We knew how important it was for them to keep everything quiet. We had a suspicion. I saw it on Regis and Kelly of all things (laughs). And then when Jeff got back in town last night, I got a phone call from him saying you probably heard, but I'm a married man."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO MARRY THE RIGHT PERSON? "Oh, everybody has a day job. Jeff's wife has had a successful career and Jeff has had a successful career. But where they're at in their lives is they have the same interests and same views on life and I'm very happy for both of them."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Bobby Allison , Chad Knaus