JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET met with media and discussed Chad Knaus' contract extension with HMS, battling with Jeff Gordon, racing at Darlington, and more. ARE YOU GLAD YOUR CREW CHIEF IS STAYING AROUND FOR A...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET met with media and discussed Chad Knaus' contract extension with HMS, battling with Jeff Gordon, racing at Darlington, and more.
ARE YOU GLAD YOUR CREW CHIEF IS STAYING AROUND FOR A WHILE? "Oh, I'm very happy. Very happy it's signed up. They've been working on it for quite some time now, so I'm glad that it's all buttoned up and finished up and it's all done."
WHAT DID RICK HENDRICK SAY ABOUT YOU AND JEFF GORDON? "We just all hopped on a phone call and talked about what had gone on and I think when Jeff jumped out of the car (at conclusion of Talladega race) he didn't realize that it was just a bad decision on my part to come down and try to get in front in that lane. So our conversation was pretty good to be honest with you. In a lot of ways from Rick's standpoint, my standpoint, and Jeff's it was just a mistake that I made. And unfortunately coming off the heels of Texas and the fact that Jeff crashed after that and the emotions were high and he got out of the car and said some things that he probably didn't want to."
HAS THIS BEEN BLOWN OUT OF PROPORTION? "In some respects, yes. But at the same time, when somebody gets out of a race car and says pretty pointed things, it gives everybody the opportunity to chase it down and see what's going on. So, I think the lesson in all of it is that we're very competitive guys and emotions are high regardless of if it's a teammate or not, and we're both doing everything we can to win races. So everything's in good shape. And we'll just make sure we stay away from each other for a week or two and not let anything else fester this thing along and we'll be fine."
DO YOU HAVE TO BE MORE CAREFUL WHEN YOU'RE RACING AROUND HIM? "No, that's one thing we were joking about in our conversation. You've still got to race. It's not like you can just turn the hazards on and run each other by and act like there's not racing going on. We've done this for nine years without any issues. Unfortunately we've had magnets on our cars for the last couple of weeks. But we'll get through it and move on. We're both professionals and great teammates and we have a great boss. We'll be fine."
WERE YOU SURPRISED AT WHAT JEFF GORDON SAID? "In that situation, yes, because it wasn't an intentional situation where I was trying to like crash him. I mean, heck, I was doing what you do in the draft which just go down and block a lane and then try to have that lane push you. I misjudged it a little bit in the mirror with the closing rate and he had to go out of bounds to not run into the back of me. In that respect, yes. But he was definitely frustrated with what had been going on from the week before. And he's been so close over this start of the season to some wins I think there were some other things layered in there as well."
DOES THIS PUT YOU ON EDGE AT ALL? DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU MAY HAVE TO TALK TO JEFF GORDON EVERY NOW FOR A WHILE? ARE YOU COMFORTABLE THAT EVERYTHING IS OKAY? "Yeah, I am. Unfortunately this has been in the media more than other things have. As a professional athlete and as a NASCAR race car driver, you have this stuff take place all season long. A lot of it gets handled behind the scenes and not in front of the cameras and pens & papers; but this one unfortunately did. So it's not something new. It's somewhat new to this caliber with my teammate, but we deal with this stuff all the time and we're all professionals and I'm plenty comfortable with where things are and what's been going on."
DOES ALL THIS OVERSHADOW THE FACT THAT YOU'RE THE POINT LEADER COMING INTO THIS RACE? "No, shoot, points are points. We're leading the points and won three races. We're coming to a great race track for us again and hopefully we can make it four wins."
RON DAUGHERTY SAID ON ONE OF HIS SHOWS THAT WHAT YOU'VE DONE MAKES JEFF GORDON IRRELEVANT. IS THERE ANY VALIDATION TO THAT? "That's his opinion. You know I don't want to get into the line of trying to justify people's opinions of what they're saying. I know he's really hunger and he has been over the four years I've won these championships and since I've been a part of Hendrick Motorsports. We'll just keep racing hard and see what happens."
HE'S A FOUR-TIME CHAMPION, THOUGH. IS A FOUR-TIME CHAMPION EVER IRRELEVANT? "Yeah, right, yeah; totally agree. He's relevant. I think he's shown them this year with how many laps he's led and how competitive he's been."
HOW MUCH OF THIS STEMS FROM ON HOW MUCH BETTER JEFF GORDON IS RUNNING? "I don't know. I'm not sure how much that carries over in it. It would be wrong for me to assume what his emotions are and what his feelings are. But certainly it was a little un-Jeff Gordon-like to say what he did so I think it's all of it. It could be from some of the start of the season and as close as he's been. Certainly at Texas both of our blood pressures were pinned and there was a lot of emotion there. The mistake I made at Talladega; I was distraught; it broke the camel's back for him."
ARE YOU AND JEFF GOING TO HAVE TO RACE EACH OTHER DIFFERENTLY? "Yeah, I mean, we joked about that on our phone call the other day. We still have to race. We can't act like we're not at the race track. We can't just turn the hazard lights on and just point each other by and not race and do our thing. So what we talked about (is) for nine years we've been racing with no issues. We can do this. It's not a big deal. Last week was an accident. We'll be fine."
ON QUALIFYING IN THE SUN, BUT RACING AT NIGHT AT RICHMOND, AND SETTING UP THE CAR "It's tough and sometimes, this track as you go into the night, you typically think it's going to tighten up and there have been times where it's loosened up. So I don't have a fair trend to build confidence in what the car is going to do and how to start the race with the race car. So it is a very challenging track and the first two or three pit stops are important to find a direction and to try to get the car tuned in because towards the end of the race, track position is so important you won't come to pit road and work on your stuff."
YOU HAVE A LOT OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS. IS THIS PLACE A THORN IN YOUR SIDE? "Not really. It started off that way and then we won a few races. Last year we had a break failure in the spring race. And then in the fall race we ran near the top 10. We didn't have a dominant car by any means, but still we were in the hunt. So, I feel good about this track. I don't come here anymore feeling like there's a thorn in my side with this place."
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE MORE RACING LUCK HERE THAN ANYBODY? "No. Last fall we had a ok car. In the spring we had a fast car but had a break failure. And then I think we won like three of the four before that, or two of the three or something like that. So I don't really have much going wrong with this place right now."
WHAT WAS RICK'S TAKE ON WHAT'S BEEN GOING ON WITH YOU AND JEFF GORDON OVER THE PAST COUPLE OF WEEKS? "Talladega was just a mistake on my behalf where I misjudged the closing rate. In plate racing you're trying to block the line that's coming and taking place all day and I was just doing what you do in the draft but I guess I misread the closing rate and ran Jeff out of bounds. With what had gone on in Texas it was kind of a situation where it made the straw that broke the camel's back when he got out and was emotional about things. So, we had a great conversation. Things are well. It's amazing how clear you think on Tuesday after the dust settles and the emotions go away. Things are in great shape. We've certainly had a little more interaction on track than we would want to or that we've had so far with the No. 24/No.48 as teammates. We've got to go back to the old ways of racing hard and not making contact."
NOW DID RICK HENDRICK GET INTO THIS CONVERSATION THAT YOU AND JEFF HAD? "It was a pretty simple deal. I talked to Rick and he said we should all just jump on a call and just talk a little bit. That's what we did. Now we talk a lot on the phone with Rick individually and even as groups. Tuesday is full of phone calls where crew chiefs talk to drivers and we're all together for competition meetings. So it was just another phone call. We both, after the race, probably Monday when things settle down, I think Jeff knew it was just a bad decision on my part to block that line and things are much better."
SO WHEN YOU GOT INTO THIS CONVERSATION, WAS IT UNCONVERTIBLE TO START WITH? "I didn't have anything angry on my side. Heck, I looked in the mirror and saw a line coming and I moved down. So for me, it was a pretty simple conversation."
WHAT MAKES DARLINGTON SUCH A TOUGH TRACK? "How narrow it is. I love Darlington. Since they repaved it, you have a lot more grip than you did in the past. We're running 190 mph around a track that was designed to run 130 mph. And the fact that it's so narrow makes it really, really tough, but at the same time a lot of fun when you have it right. It's one of the coolest race tracks we run on."
A LOT OF DRIVERS SAY YOU HAVE TO RACE THE TRACK. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? "It still is that way. It was more that direction with the old asphalt down because you could be hero for two or three laps and then you were terrible after that because you burned the tires off the car. So the mindset of just driving the car on how it could without being abrasive to it and focusing on the track, it used to be really important. It still is, because you're going to fast the walls come up and bite you and you get a Darlington stripe. It's just a place where you need to ignore the other 42 cars and focus on your race car and driving the race."
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO BE SUCCESSFUL AND TO WIN AT DARLINGTON? "In the past, it's been a good handling race car. It's still I important, but I think track position is really important. A good qualifying effort and good pit stops and anything that you can have that keeps you towards the front is going to make a big difference."
WITH MOTHER'S DAY COMING UP, WHAT KIND OF THINGS DID YOUR MOM DO TO HELP YOU OUT AS A KID GROWING UP? "Both my parents worked, so my mom was working hard to create the income to take us racing. She gave up her weekends and even some week nights when we'd go to the local tracks. She volunteered in the snack bars and would help out in the race tracks as well. She cleaned dirt bikes and cleaned your goggles and your helmet. She made sandwiches. She was all into helping us out. Thankfully she was cool with the whole racing thing. The fact that I'm going to be a parent soon, I don't know if I could send my five year-old off on a motorcycle and let them race. So we'll see how that goes."
LAST WEEK WAS ANOTHER CASE OF A WINNING CAR FAILING POST-RACE INSPECTION. IT WAS A NNS CAR. SOME FANS THINK YOU CAN STILL WIN WHILE CHEATING. DOES NASCAR NEED TO LOOK AT THE ISSUE OF TAKING AWAY WINS? "I don't know much about the penalties. But there are situations where you something on the car and there isn't a rule written about it yet, so there is less of an impact on teams. That was our Vegas thing I should say. There wasn't for what we had working. So, we won our appeal. We didn't do anything wrong for their rulebook. So, you've just got to defend sometimes. There are safety infractions that don't lead to other issues. I think it depends on the intent. You hear that word used a lot and I think that's what really drives the penalties.
DO YOU HAVE TO RACE JEFF GORDON HARDER NOW BECAUSE HE'S MORE OF A THREAT TO WIN THE TITLE THIS YEAR THAN HE HAS THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS? "In 1007, we raced for the championship. So that's not the case. I think from my perspective there's a point where I've got to race people how they race me. If people are pushing and showing me out of the way, I've got to do the same thing back. I've been very gracious with teammates where I've taken more lumps than I've passed out. That's what the Texas thing was about. I just got to a point where I said enough. But last weekend at Talladega was merely an accident on my behalf. I just misjudged the closing speed."
ARE THESE CONTROVERSIES GOOD FOR NASCAR, BAD FOR NASCAR, AND ARE YOU TIRED OF TALKING ABOUT IT? "I've been doing this long enough to make my way through it and conversations with Rick and Jeff, you know we're fine. That fact that it's continuing on outside I think it's good for the sport."
DO YOU THINK EVERYBODY IS RACING YOU HARDER NOW SINCE YOU HAVE WON 4 CHAMPIONSHIPS? "No, the culture on track is that you race people how they race you. And I've always had a great rapport with the competitors on track and have been able to race really hard for championship and wins. In that respect, I have a lot of friends out there; although they're tired of me doing well. That is true. But there is a lot of respect on tract because of how the relationships work."
SO YOU HAVEN'T SEEN HOW PEOPLE RACE YOU CHANGE OVER THE PAST 4 YEARS? "No, again, if I'm a pain in the ass, they're going to be a pain in the ass. And it's just how you race each other. I worked very hard to have respect for guys on track and race them clean and fair and then they do the same back."
HAVE YOU EVER WORRIED THAT CHAD KNAUS WOULDN'T BE YOUR CREW CHIEF? "No, you love to see negotiations that are done fast and over and then Rick and Chad have been working on them for a while and then Alan's (Gustafson) contract came up and we had to get the Lowe's stuff buttoned down. It's been in the works and I'm very happy to see that it's done. But between Chad and I, we made a promise a long time ago that if I'm driving, I'm driving his race car. So I feel pretty confident that he'll always be here."
-source: gm racing