Richmond II: Johnson - GM Top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS: ON PRESSURE HERE AT RICHMOND: "The year is winding down, the Chase is here...it is that time of year. There is a lot of pressure on everyone from here on out. This is ...

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

ON PRESSURE HERE AT RICHMOND: "The year is winding down, the Chase is here...it is that time of year. There is a lot of pressure on everyone from here on out. This is really the ramp for the big push."

ON ANY CHANGES THAT SHOULD BE MADE TO PUT MORE VALUE ON A WIN: "That is an argument that happens every year. I think there are certain times when you wish there were more points put on for the guys who win races, or a bigger separation on that. The year I won eight races, I think I won four in the Chase and I really wanted to see that then. But I think in general, the points system does a good job and is fair. It is what it is; it is what it has always been. There are certain years and certain situations where looking back, I would have wished it was different. If I were Kasey (Kahne) I would be in that situation as well.

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO BE THE POINT LEADER GOING INTO NEW HAMPSHIRE? "Every point counts. We want to be leading. We want to be first going into New Hampshire, but it's not the end of the world if we're not. It's five points. We want that position. We just have to go out and get it.

SO DOES THAT MEAN YOU'RE GOING TO RUN A PRETTY AGGRESSIVE RACE AS OPPOSED TO A CAREFUL RACE? "It may not appear so, but we've been aggressive. We've been trying different things. I've been racing really, really hard lately. It's really the same approach. You don't want to throw it away and not collect any points, but I'm going to be out there racing hard. I think you have to at this track. I do think you have to be smart Saturday night in the race. There are going to be a lot of hungry drivers. Every point, counts. Every position counts. There is going to be a fine line between being aggressive and then also being smart.

THERE ARE ABOUT 7 DRIVERS WHO WON'T WANT KASEY KAHNE TO GET AROUND THEM. NOT THAT ANYBODY WOULD TRY TO WRECK HIM, BUT DOES THAT MAKE FOR A TOUGHER RACE FOR HIM THAN FOR ANYBODY ELSE IN THE FIELD? "Thirty points isn't a lot. So I really haven't thought of it in that regard. Of the guys who are on the bubble trying to get into the Chase, this is a great track for a lot of guys. Harvick's not locked from what I've seen, but he's in a good situation. Burton should be fast here (along with) Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., this is a great track for Jeff (Gordon) and a good track for Kyle (Busch). So I don't know how it's going to turn out. I really think it's going to be a great race. It's going to be a great race, and I don't see anybody giving anybody any room or any slack. I think we're going to see good, hard short track racing all night long."

IF A DRIVER DOESN'T WIN A RACE, BUT GETS TOP FIVE FINISHES, CAN HE BE THE CHAMPION AT THE END OF 10 RACES? "It's tough to say. I think the last two championships have been (won) on a top 10 basis. Wild card races like Talladega and Martinsville are really tough to say and we're not going to know until we get in there. But in our hearts, we want top fives. Top 10's are acceptable, but we want to be up there leading laps and fighting for wins and finishing in the top five."

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST REASON THAT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS ONLY HAD ONE DRIVER IN THE CHASE LAST YEAR AND THIS YEAR HAS THREE? "I think last year was a fluke that Jeff didn't get into the Chase. He didn't have the speed that he wanted, but he had a lot of bad luck last year, and it added up and kept him out of it. I think Jeff should be in the Chase every year. He feels that way as well.

"I think if you look at the 5, they've started to gel. They've had another year together. I could say the same thing about the No. 48 team. Those guys have had another year. Kyle's doing a great job. There's no doubt about it. He's got a lot of speed. He's got a lot of maturity. He brings it for the wins. He's been very, very good.

"Rick has the ultimate say. Rick has the ultimate vision. He's able to take a much broader view and look at our race team, look at our operation and see things and push people in certain ways. He's a very smart man and knows what he's after.

ON THE DRIVERS WHO ARE LIKELY TO BE IN THE CHASE "I think I can look at four or five guys who are going to be very, very tough for the championship. The 29, the 20 will be in the Chase, the 5, the 24, the 17--those guys have shown a lot of steam lately, and you know important momentum is. I think it's just all going to carry into the Chase and it's going to be a tough battle to the end.

"In some respects, there's a lot that can happen. I think it's been a strength of our race team that we've been able to bounce back from things that happen in a certain race or from bad races. Hopefully, we won't need those skills, hopefully we won't have to use them, but in 10 races, something crazy is going to happen. As I look through the field, I think the 17 has that same ability and that same strong point as well. And also the 20 is known for that. It's gonna be the best Chase that we've had in the sport so far. We've got a lot of teams that are very competitive, a lot of talented drivers and some very strong race teams. It's going to be a great championship race."

ON REVAMPING THE CHASE, SHOULD THERE BE MORE POINTS FOR A WIN AND FEWER POINTS FOR A BAD FINISH? "I think there needs to be a bigger separation in a couple of ways. To get into the Chase and then to only have a five point separation is crazy. And I also think if you get to the bottom side of the scale, we should give the same amount of points for like 35th on down so that we don't have wrecked race cars out there on the track - driving around trying to pick up more points. I think that would be a good combination to start with if I were king for a day."

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS RACE "There is so much put on this race right now. What about the 25 before this? I look back and think, man, I could be leading the points right now if I didn't have a problem at Daytona or if I didn't have a tire problem earlier this year at Bristol. Everybody looks back on it. You can't put all the pressure on just one race. It's just a long, tough season. Everybody has some races they'd like to scratch off."

IS THERE AD ADVANTAGE TO THE POINT LEADER GOING INTO THE CHASE? "No doubt there is an advantage to being the point leader going in. We had been leading for so long this year. I think we did a much better job this year than other seasons in hanging on to it and performing at tracks that have been tough on us through August. But we're going to all that we can Saturday night and hopefully we're going to leave with the points led and if not, we're going to show up at Loudon five points down and start over. So it's not the end of the world. But we'd certainly like to be leading."

MANY DRIVERS THINK OF TALLADEGA AS THE BIGGEST CHASE RACE THEY WORRY ABOUT. DO YOU? "Oh, yeah. Anything can happen there. It doesn't matter where you're running in the pack."

THEY SAY THERE ARE OVER 725,000 POSSIBILITIES FOR WHAT THE TOP 11 CAN BE AFTER THE RICHMOND RACE. CAN YOU COMMENT ON THAT? "It's going to be an exciting race. I think every year the competition gets stronger. And everybody is working up strategies on how to play the game and collect points and how to stay on the lead lap. There are so many different strategies."

ARE THERE TOO MANY 1.5-MILE TRACKS IN THE CHASE? "I really don't have an opinion on what's in the Chase. I feel like there is a good variety, but at the same time, if you look at what NASCAR did at the start of the Chase, I don't think they really had the freedom of rescheduling what tracks should be where and why. They came up with a concept. Let's make 10 races the race for championship and they just looked at the schedule and that's what it was. I think there is a good mix of things. There is a good line-up of tracks for the No. 48 team, so I have no complaints."

THERE IS A POSSIBILITY THAT THERE WILL BE 8 CHEVROLETS IN THE CHASE. WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THAT TO? "I didn't realize that. That would be great for the brand. I think Chevrolets have always built a great product. They have always supplied their race teams with the technology and support that they need. They've done an amazing job once again."

ON THE RICHMOND TRACK "For some guys this is a strong track. For other guys it's not. For the fans, it's a great track. It's exciting side-by-side racing with a little bump and grind and push and shove. I guess if you talk to the fans, you'll get one aspect. If you get in here and talk to some of the drivers, you might have a different perspective (laughs)."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Kasey Kahne , Mark Martin