Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, met with members of the media at Richmond International Raceway and discussed the importance of winning this weekend at Richmond, Kasey Kahne’s championship chances, his hope at earning a sixth championship title and other topics.
Talk a little bit about being in Richmond here this weekend and how important the race is here tomorrow night: “I’m excited to be at this race track, it puts on such a great show. It seems to be a favorite amongst a lot of the drivers and certainly for the fans. I’m also happy to not be coming to this event needing a spot in the Chase.
It’s always a goal for myself and the team starting the year. A lot can happen on a short track and I’ve watched my friends go through some stressful evenings here and I’m glad to not have to worry.”
What will it mean if you could get that fourth win and how important is that at the top end of the chase field getting the highest seeding that you can get? “Yeah, highest seeding and max points would be key. I want to take in every point that I can of the Chase, missed out on a few opportunities here of late.
I would love to get a few more to take in with me and then the momentum it would give the team is very useful to. It’s a great shot in the arm for everyone.”
In the years that you finished second in the chase did you find that it inspired you or did it let you down? Was it fuel for your fire the next year? “In 2004 to lose by so few of points to Kurt (Busch) was a tough one. We overcame a lot that year. That is the year of the plane crash. All the momentum we had in the closing events, closing the gap and being a contender at the final race early in the race things went our way, Kurt had some bad luck and we were sitting in a great position.
It just felt like it was meant to be and then when the checkered fell it wasn’t. There were moments through that experience that made me stronger today. I feel like 2005 we went into Homestead with a good chance to race Tony (Stewart) for the championship and had a tire issue.
That off season was probably the best off season or best period of time for the No. 48 team. It wasn’t the most fun there were some hard meetings which everybody knows about the milk and cookies meeting and all that went on during that off season. That was the most productive period of time for the No. 48 team from a championship stand point and got us going.”
How competitive do you see Kasey (Kahne) being for the championship this year?“I see him being pretty high. One, I know he and Kenny (Francis) and his team much better than any other year because we are teammates. I know how good they are and how capable they are of winning races and the championship. The thing that comes to mind first is that at the end of seasons we see a lot of speed out of those guys.
When he was at Red Bull and he has been at Evernham, Petty, there are multiple names that it had. That whole era they have always ended the season very well. One they have built and get stronger all year, second part of that I think is the tracks are very good for Kasey too. If we can get him in the Chase I know he will be a great bullet in the gun for Rick (Hendrick).”
What is the biggest surprise to you in terms of the guys that are really fighting tooth and nail to get into this chase? Is it Jeff (Gordon), Carl (Edwards) or Kyle (Busch)? “Man I’m torn between all three. Those three would be guaranteed locks in my mind. If I were to sit down at the start of the year and write out the 10 locks, I would have those three in there. Those three period are all tied for the big moment I think.”
Compared to past years that you have come into Richmond and you are on the verge for the chase how does this feeling compare to the years that you won the championship? Do you feel that feeling again? “I feel really good. I think our performance on track shows that. We haven’t had the results the last couple of weeks where we were running on the race track.
I feel really good about our cars and also the 10 tracks in the Chase. They are the best 10 tracks that I have. Atlanta has been hit or miss for us, Richmond has been hit or miss, but I know the tracks coming up starting at Chicago I’m always fast there. Loudon, Dover, Martinsville, Charlotte, there’s a great lineup of race tracks for the No. 48 team. I feel really good about things.”
Denny Hamlin has won the last two races, he’s really good here could well win a third. With the chase coming up how much attention do you pay to that? How much concern do you have or are you focused solely on what you are doing? “I am definitely aware of Chasers winning races and what Denny (Hamlin) has done over the last couple of weeks has been spectacular. I thought about it on my way up here, this is a great track for him; he has a very good chance of winning here tomorrow night.
I put Kyle (Busch) in that category too. It’s been such a strong track for him and it would lock him in, he would have more bonus points going into the Chase. More than anything I’m just aware of where Chasers are finishing. Another example of that is at Michigan when we had our issue a fellow Chaser won. It just was tough to pass those points along to another Chase competitor. So, I’m very aware of that.”
When you get to this point and you are locked in already. Are you guys kind of chomping at the bit to get started with the chase? I know you like Richmond and i know you like racing here, but are you guys ready to get going into the final 10 races? “I think a lot of it depends on where you are running. After we won Indy and went to Pocono, Michigan, I couldn’t wait for the Chase to start.
You have momentum on your side, everything is running well. I still feel that way myself personally, but I can imagine that the No. 11 team right now is like yes, let’s get this started, they are coming off of two wins, momentum is on their side. It really depends on where you are at. If you are struggling you may want a little bit more time. A few more weeks to work on your stuff and try to get it right, but regardless of what anybody wants it’s here. It starts next week and it’s on.”
What is the attitude this week knowing that there are no consequences beyond this week? If you wreck a car providing you are not going to use that car in the chase there are very few consequences you can go out and try to get those bonus points. Is that an attitude you bring into this? Is the car that you are using this weekend something you want to use further down into the chase? “It’s kind of within reason situation and a balancing act. If it’s five (laps) to go and you crash racing for the win you chalk that one up and say hey we were racing for the win and we didn’t have anything to lose.
If you are running 15th, 50 laps into the race and crash it has the opposite effect and you are pretty frustrated about things at that point. Of course the top priority is to win and take any reasonable risk to win, but a strong finish here is really important too. To finish in the top three or top five that is the mind set you want in the Chase. It’s just a good practice to get into and a mindset from inside the car, calling the race, pit stops, top fives are really important.”
I assume you heard about the rule change or clarification that came out yesterday to the bushings. Is it a big deal or were you guys already anticipating what NASCAR might do even if it comes a week before the chase you guys are prepared to handle it? “I think you mentioned clarification. I think NASCAR made it known that they are just putting parameters on what is going on.
There is no change. That is just what it is and what it has been. If there are rule changes we will adjust and do our best job. There has been a lot of discussion about it, but to add to the conversation a lot of people are focused and think that it is just Hendrick (Motorsports) or big teams that have been working in this area. I was in a conversation with Phil Parsons last week.
A smaller team, they have been there, been doing this for a while they have adjusted; they have been working on the rule book to get to this point too. The field migrates quickly in certain directions and I think NASCAR is just making sure that people understand the parameters so that they can regulate in post-race and find ways to make sure no one is going above and beyond.”
Tomorrow night from the moment the green flag falls what is more important for you to win a race or for you to do everything to make sure that jeff gordon can make the chase? “Win a race. That is just how it is. We are teammates we do everything that we can, but I’m not interfering with anything on the race track to get a teammate in the Chase.
It’s just bad karma, bad ethics, bad everything that it would never cross my mind. Of course I will give him room and if he’s better than me I don’t want him to beat up his tires passing me. There are things that are just a common flow on the track that I will always respect with teammates, but outside of that I’m not playing a hand in fate. There is no way.”
You have crashed out of all three restrictor plate races so far this year. Do you have any special plans for how to make it to the end at Talladega? “I heard NASCAR was considering dropping that track from the Chase. I’m thrilled about Talladega being off the schedule or the points not counting how about that? That would be good (laughs). Well, the odds are against me based on our finishes, but eventually we have got to finish one. So, hopefully it is this fall race and it’s a good position.”
Am i hearing you right about the new NASCAR change that it is not really a rule change so is it not going to affect anything you guys are already doing is that what you are saying?“Yeah, (John) Darby spoke about it earlier today to some folks and it’s just a clarification of the rule to better define it.”
So you guys won’t be changing anything on your cars? “No.”
How much are you viewing the chase this year as maybe not a second chance but a way to prove that last year was a fluke that you guys didn’t win the championship? Are you guys coming into this as a way to prove that you are still the ‘top dog’ and can be dominant again? “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. Last year we just got beat. I wouldn’t necessarily put it in a fluke category that we lost.
I think we had a fighting chance coming into Charlotte mathematically and we were on pace with what was going on. But the way Tony (Stewart) closed out the year and you just look at our performance versus the No. 14 we would have been beat. There are years you get beat, that is part of it. We have been very fortunate to win a lot of championships and to have people think in that mindset, but it’s a tough world.
You have to earn everything that you get and things don’t last forever. We are not counting on our history and the five straight to make us be a shoe in for this year. It’s really about going out there and earning it. I think that what we have done on the track over the summer months here has shown people, proven to people, that we are a legitimate threat. Now it’s time to go out there and get to work.”
Source: Team Chevy