Preseason Thunder - Johnson press conference

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS PRESS CONFERENCE: Q: When you rolled into Daytona this year, what are the first impressions to come in as the defending champion? JIMMIE JOHNSON: I am excited to get back to the track and being...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS PRESS CONFERENCE:

Q: When you rolled into Daytona this year, what are the first impressions to come in as the defending champion?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I am excited to get back to the track and being in the garage area and the competitors and to be the champion inside the garage area.

I'm glad it's here. I'm glad to be back in the track and glad to be in the race car, and it's been a good off-season for me. Spent a lot of time enjoying the championship we won, reflecting on it and just happy to be back at the racetrack.

I rolled in thinking, man, I won last time we were here for this race, and same time I thought, man, also the champion coming back.

So it's been a great emotional ride for myself and the team. Last night I took the guys to dinner and we just sat around and had some fun and talked about the season, last season and what we want to do this year, and that's go out and try to win another championship.

Q: Can you tell us exactly what happened on the golf cart, and how are you now, I guess you're okay to drive?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm good. As you guys know, I'm screwing around at the golf course having some fun after a long season of racing, just having fun with the boys, and I was up on top of the golf cart and came off and popped my wrist in the process.

I've had that off-season to heal up. The timing could not have been better. Got the cast cut off last week, wearing a splint here at the racetrack just to be smart and make sure that I don't injure it or do any damage. But when I get back Friday, should go right into strengthening my wrist and all of the things I need to do to get ready for the 24 hours at Daytona, and I think we go to Vegas and we're just right back in the middle of it.

So the timing could not have been better and bottom line, out screwing around having fun and it got the best of me. (Laughing).

Q: How is the testing going so far, and did the rainout yesterday mess your team up? Are you going to be able to work through that and get the full day in today? And did we make a big deal about this wrist thing in do you think it was overblown?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Truthfully, I'll start there, yes, certainly. If it impacted the season, if it impacted my duties as a driver, then of course, you know, there's a huge story there.

But screwing around, broke my wrist, doesn't impact anything. It is a funny story. I'm happy to see the humor in it is turning around and coming out and it is what it is.

So the other side of it in testing, if we look at the hours, we might end up getting more on?track time due to the rain. Today the weather conditions have been very predictable and we've been able to go out and repeat and yesterday the wind were really changing and messing with us as the storm moved in.

Today is going to be a solid day for the teams doing their single?car stuff and we'll just see how the week unfolds. My team, we're hopeful that we work through all of our test matrix and we can leave maybe midday Wednesday or the end of Wednesday if that's the case.

But we'll just see. The track is starting to fill and everybody has their A and B cars on the track, so you're sitting in line with 10 or 15 cars in front of you, so the progress is kind of slowing down now.

Q: At one point people wanted you to loosen up and when you loosened up and had fun on the golf cart, it's like has he just gone crazy. The question is, is that kind of you, just now having more fun, and as you project to the season, do you think or the team will change at all as you head into defending the championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: As you know I have the show on XM; you learn a lot about myself and drivers in general. We all do things that are quite humorous. Maybe things that are not the safest within our profession isn't the safest thing, so it's normal to us.

I grew up racing motorcycles and one of the cool moves was to jump the bike through the air and hang on the handlebars and put your feet behind you like Superman, and that was a cool trick and that's what I grew up doing. We're a little skewed that way as drivers and competitors.

And I can guarantee you that all of the men especially in this room have been on a golf cart and have done something that's quite humorous or have could flipped it over possibly, right? I hear a laugh. Just on the golf course, screwing around.

As far as next year going into it, we really just want to go out and fall back on the confidence that this race team how has. I mean, we've always been confident. But winning the championship I feel will really change the way we approach the year. You know, through last year we were as low as low could be, fought back and still won the championship.

So I think we learned more about ourselves through all of that and we're excited to get into '07. We feel like the Car of Tomorrow, what it brings and challenges for that car, it's going to help the 48 team and help Hendrick Motorsports and the current car that we have we feel like we're on top of things there as well.

So we're really excited internally with the 48 team, with Casey Mears coming on board, Jeff has another year with Steve ?? I really expect those guys to be contending for the championship and Kyle is growing and maturing as every day. So hopefully we get all four of those guys in the Chase for the Championship this year.

Q: You had some fun with the golf cart before you fell; did you do any other things during your break that were fun?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Nothing on top of vehicles by any means. I did go over to Paris and watch Travis Pastrana in the Race of Champions, and I have to give him a ton of credit for the job he did over there. It was really, really amazing to watch him, a guy that really has a background on two wheels, to go out and race against the best drivers in the world and beat some of these guys in their own cars was amazing.

So spent some time in Paris and enjoyed that with my wife and we went down to the islands where we got married through Christmas and New Year's and just relaxed, reflecting on the season. Some friends came on their own vacations and spent time with friends and relaxed and recharged the batteries really and now we're back to it.

Q: Since Jeff won back?to?back championships in '97 and '98, the highest a champion has finished the following year is fourth.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thanks for the bad news.

Q: Any time. Obviously that's a pattern that you would like to break, but have you had the conversation with Chad and the guys with the team yet about, okay, that was great, wonderful, we had a great time, now time to go back to work or is that coming, is that something you're going to have as the season starts?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wouldn't say that we've had that conversation yet. I just think we don't assume it. Last year looking at who was in the Chase, the dynamics in the space and the points varied and everything going on, I think we are aware of the fact that that was last year's championship, and this year, especially this point, it's a matter of getting into the Chase and you have to cover that base before you look any further.

We know it's time to get back to work. Last night at dinner with the guys, we talked about it, hey, this is it, Daytona is here, we're testing. It's time to look forward to 2007, fall back on the confidence of 2006, but we have a whole new set of circumstances to deal with and a whole new year to worry about.

Q: You probably got tired of answering runner?up questions last year. How did you keep your team focused on winning the championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Our guys really do a good job of staying focused on the job at hand. I think we do a good job of looking after every practice session, qualifying session, every race, at not looking at too many outside influences. It's easy for us in some respects to stay focused. We just have that ability and that's what our team is about. We all wanted a championship so bad and we've all been close as you point out. That motivation, it just kept us focused I guess.

This year going through the celebration and the highs of winning the championship, I want to do it again, and that's the thing all the guys are saying. It's like, man, one was great, but I want to sit at the table again in New York, I want to go through the photos, the different places, I wants to go through the celebration again and that's the motivation for 2007.

Q: Talk about your experiences from last year and how they will carry over personally for you in racing this year and getting back to the championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think something I needed to work on has been the restrictor plate program and then last year with the victories we had, I feel confident that I know what to do on the plate tracks. I still think that I need to work on Bristol and the road courses. Those are great tracks that if you're having trouble at the start of the season, there are tracks where you can make up some points and that's something I want to focus on.

I've run well and I can finish in and around the Top?5, but I just hate the fact that I can't race for the win with Jeff and Tony on the road course and Kevin this year when he won and Bristol, that I can't race with Matt and Jeff. Usually Tony and some of those guys that win at Bristol, it drives me crazy that I'm a distant third, fourth, fifth or whatever it may be.

So those are the areas I'm really going to focus on and really the way I look at it, try to bring up the low spots and our low finishes. I think those tracks probably are our low spots.

Q: When it comes to your success early on in your career for a few years, people tend to point to the team you're with, the support you have around you, maybe not always pointing to your driving ability. Do you think that's something you'll always find as long as you're with Hendrick, or do you think based on last year maybe you'll start getting a little more credit individually?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't mind taking that heat. It's kind of a double?edged sword because if you succeed, first response is, well, he's driving for Gibbs or he's driving for RCR or he's driving for Hendrick and if you don't make it, it's like, wow, we're not touching, you didn't make it at Gibbs, you didn't make it at Hendricks. It's a double?edged sword.

I'm glad to be on the side of it I am. Without a doubt, if you're coming into the cars I did or the equipment, if Jeff just came off a championship year, I was given a lot of his cars that he won a championship with and that's the way I started my rookie season.

It's a great problem to have, and I'm happy to be in these shoes.

Q: Curious about your wife and the role she played in keeping you together during the Chase as far as keep you from blowing your hair out with all of the pressure of that and being so close.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, she really did an amazing job, she always does, but through the Chase, I just needed to get away from myself in a sense and just stop thinking about racing. And she would encourage me to go places, do things, kept me busy, kept me occupied.

And on the other side, she was just as nervous as I was, and she wouldn't let me see it. She would put it on in a convincing manner, put on a smile and encourage me and help me and when I would be a little bummed out about a practice session or didn't think we had the speed she would help pick me up. So she was rock solid through the Chase and just, you know, can't thank her enough for the support she's given me.

Q: This is the first time we're seeing Toyotas out there, do you see them as a curiosity or a threat in defending why are title?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think over time they will become a threat without a doubt. I think NASCAR does a great job in creating the sandbox that we all need to play in and they do a great job regulating the rules.

I think it's going to take those teams some time. A lot of them are start?up teams. To build up the resources, to get the right personnel in place, to really succeed and compete against the big teams in the sport.

Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, all of these teams have been in the sport for a long, long time. They all have money. Mr. Hendrick has his finances and program in place. It takes time. You just can't come in, we know Toyota wants to succeed and they will spend the dollars to do it, but it takes time to get the people, equipment, the staff put together and get the momentum going.

I definitely feel that they are going to be up there fighting for wins and a championship, but it just might take them a little time is all.

Q: Reports you were here Saturday driving Daytona prototype?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, Jeff Gordon called me and said, "Man, you're here driving?"

Evidently they know you're in the race car by your helmet and they have a code on your helmet and they plug it in and it sends a signal out to the scoring tour and my name kept popping up.

I was not here, but the car was fast, so I'm thankful whoever was driving, but I was not here.

THE MODERATOR: All right, Jimmie, thank you very much.

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR-CUP