Sears Point: Johnson - GM top-ten interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS: Q. How do you feel about it now? It's a track I've always enjoyed coming to. It's just the first road race of the year is always tough on everybody. Getting in the ...

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

Q. How do you feel about it now?

It's a track I've always enjoyed coming to. It's just the first road race of the year is always tough on everybody. Getting in the rhythm of things, right when we walked in, I think most of the drivers were comfortable with it, the crew chiefs are comfortable with it, and we're really ready to start road course racing. So I'm one that's lobbying for more road course races.

I love being out here. I don't have the results to really show for it, but I love the racetrack, it's really challenging, and hopefully I can turn that around this weekend

Q. Can you win here this weekend?

I think so. We've worked really hard on our road course program, we struggled in practice a little bit with a few things. At the end, really started getting some grip back in the car and gaining on it. So tomorrow is going to be an important practice.

But the way we've been able to run on road courses in general, I feel we should be a threat.

Q. I guess that was one of the things you said you'd like to cross off your list, being able to one on a road course?

Yeah, it's one of the few things I have left that I want to accomplish. There's lots that I want to accomplish, but this year I set out it ?? I've been able to win on short tracks, intermediate tracks, Pocono, which is kind of an odd place, and the next thing is a road course win. Hopefully I can do that.

Q. Obviously with your points situation, you want to come out of here ?? what's your goal to come out of here on Sunday?

As many points as possible, whatever that is.

Q. The top five guys in points right now haven't really fared well with road courses. With that in mind, how do you race this weekend with the big picture in mind?

I think it's the same each week. You just try to get maximum points. I think that the guys in the top five in general I think will be a little more cautious. It's a race where you can look at it one of two ways, either you can gain a lot of points or lose a lot of points.

Where I am doesn't matter in the Chase too much. I've got the approach I can gain a lot of points, it's a place where I can win and I'm going to push real hard to do so. I'm not sure what other people's strategies are, but this is a place I'd love to win at and I'm going to charge hard during the race to try to get that done.

Q. This is the biggest sporting event in northern California. Are you guys as excited to come here as drivers as the fans are to see you?

I think there's a handful of drivers that are really excited to come and then the majority wish that we didn't come. But I have to say, everybody is getting a lot better at road course racing. If you get set back into the pack, if you have a bad pit situation or make a mistake and you've got to come back through traffic, it's really tough to get through traffic and everybody has improved their game as a driver and I think everybody is taking the time to really build specific road course cars.

The competition is definitely getting stronger and stronger, and I think the drivers may be enjoying it more.

Q. How do you guys stay cool in the cars when it's upwards of 90, 100 degrees outside, let alone much hotter inside?

We have two air inlets to the driver on our race cars. There's a three?inch inlet on the left side that just blows on me, and then the three?inch inlet on the right side that goes through a cool box that knocks I think 10 or 15 degrees of temperature out of the outside air, and then that splits and half comes to my back and the other half goes inside my helmet. So there really isn't a lot of air coming in.

Q. Is it specially done because the road course there's a lot of slow corners?

No, it's the same cooling system that we have at every race. The big thing for me is the fact of getting dehydrated, so making sure I'm drinking all the Gatorade and waters that I can, and also the in?car Gatorade drinking system that I have. That thing is a life saver.

Q. How much does it help having the expertise of Jeff Gordon on your team?

It really does help. It helps the crew chiefs, it helps the drivers, just across the board I think makes things stronger for all of Hendrick Motorsports.

Q. Has he been telling the team how to win here?

No, he just has so much knowledge in general. Just whatever your question may be, he has an answer for it. It doesn't matter what part of the track or what's bothering you, he has an experience that you can pull from.

Q. Do you see this as a track that can help Jeff get back on track? He's been kind of inconsistent.

I think so, and I think his practice speeds show that he's ready to do that. He smoked everybody today in practice.

Q. Do you follow him at all?

I wasn't out on the track with him. We were working on race run stuff and he made very few laps today, solely working on qualifying, so I didn't have a chance to run with him.

Q. In general how good is Jeff on these road courses?

He's one of the best. If you look at his stats, his stats show that ?? last year, he's still been in the top three, so I think there's been a lot of hard work to make our cars a little bit better, and I think that's probably ?? working on our cars and making our cars better along with his ability to road race I think is what had him so far ahead in practice today.

Q. Next week Daytona, can you go three for three? I feel very good about my road racing program, but I feel even more comfortable about our plate program. I know it's strong. I've won there at the 500 and looking forward to coming back. Really excited to go back.

Q. What's the hardest part about this track? The track itself or in general?

Q. Both. The braking zones are tough, but in general the hardest thing is just to understand all of what you dealt with on a lap and know how to adjust to that. There's so many different turns, so many different situations. We're used to working on two halves of a track and there's a lot less to worry about, and adjustments kind of work similar from one end of the track to the other end of the track. Here, there's 11 different corners doing 11 different things. So to be able to retain all that information, describe it and be able to make the right adjustments to it, it's really tough.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about Tony and his broken shoulder. When we went to Pocono, when we went to Michigan, the physical strains weren't as great. Can you compare the physical strains he'll go through here on his shoulder compared to Pocono and Michigan?

This is one of the toughest tracks we run on.

It's going to be hot this weekend so that will make it harder on everyone from a conditioning standpoint, but with his situation and the shoulder, we don't shift on any other race tracks like you do here, so that may be something that aggravates him. I think he's had enough time to heal. I know he's been working on his shoulder and should be fine, but I think Monday morning when he wakes up, that shoulder area is going to be pretty tight.

Q. How much of a threat for the win here is he, say, compared to last year?

Oh, I don't think that his broken shoulder is going to take away from his of his performance. He's still going to be one of the tough guys to beat. I don't think he was able to put up a qualifying lap. I know they were trying to make a qualifying run when we were and the track shut down a little early because somebody spun, but he's going to be a threat for the win, no doubt.

Q. What about Jeff Gordon? How important is it for a guy like him, your teammate, to have a good run this weekend? I think it's really important. I think we all look at different racetracks and say, hey, this is a place where we can go in and count on a win or really look forward to a win. I think Martinsville, the speedway races, the road courses, Jeff really starts drooling when he looks at those races, and knows, hey, here comes ?? I've won a lot at Sonoma, won a lot at Martinsville, and he really looks forward to those races.

So coming in here, this is a race that he can really gain a lot of points, points are important right now, he's outside the Top 10, so it's a big weekend for him and hopefully he's able to capitalize on it and make up some ground.

Q. I think the last year and a half some guys looked at Jeff as beatable, which is not how they looked at him three or four years ago when he was absolutely on top of his game at road course racing. Right now, where do you see him at road course racing?

I see him near the top or at the top. It's really tough to tell until we get back out there racing this weekend and see what happens. We felt like the 20 car had a little something better than we did as racecar, especially compared to Jeff. Tony was kicking our butt pretty bad here last year and at Watkins Glen, so we've been working hard leading up to this race trying to make our car a little better, and I think we did make some gains.

So with Jeff's experience and knowledge on the road course and a little better racecar, I think he'll be up there racing with Tony.

Q. Why in particular have you gotten better at road course racing over the last couple years?

Just knowing where I need to be on the track, how hard to charge certain turns, the grip level of the racecar, and you don't learn those things until you get laps, until you make mistakes and blow turns, until you spin out and find the grip level limit of the racecar and the braking ability of the car. So it just takes time to really get in those different situations and learn the potential of the racecar. I think experience is really helping me.

Q. How about your confidence? Has that confidence level changed over the last couple years when you've come to a road course?

Without a doubt. I used to sweat coming out here, and we haven't had a finish here so show where I think we should have been, but I used to be pretty nervous coming out here, now I'm looking forward to it.

Q. How do you look at it now?

Excited.  I've been pumped up about it, we've been testing, getting ready
for it.  I've been really excited to come out here and get to work.

Q. Any nerves anymore?

We didn't have the best practice, so you're only as good as the last time you're on the racetrack. Semi?nervous, but I think we're going to make some good changes and pick it up a bunch.

Q. Are you confident about the transmission, whether it'll go the distance this year?

We are very confident with this transmission because it is not the one we used last year. It's one that we used in years previously, so we're in good shape. We shouldn't have any problems. The transmission didn't break last year, the gear selector had an issue, and it was getting hung up between second and third gear. We came back with a completely different transmission and selector for the gears, which is fine.

Q. The only time you guys haven't really been strong here or had trouble is when you don't finish, and the other thing was the transmission a couple years ago. Are you guys pretty confident that the whole car is ready to go the whole distance?

Oh, yeah, definitely. The only problem we had was that transmission problem, had some bad luck and I made some mistakes and that's kept us out of the Top 10 a couple times, but we should be fine.

Q. What sort of differences do you notice in getting around the track?

You just lose grip, and then definitely it's hotter inside the racecar. Also, the braking zones, the brakes don't have a chance to cool down on the lap when the temps come up, so you continue to overwork the brakes. You just have to start adjusting your braking points, as well.

Q. Looking at the way some of the turns have been reconfigured over the years, and I don't know if you were here in the old days when they had the track longer, but maybe talking to Jeff or experience, was there any major changes that you can see yourself that could hurt you or help you out, any passing points that have been passed on to you that has helped you through the last couple years minus the incidents with the transmission?

No, and they repaved the forward grip and it improved quite a bit. Now the track is aging and the grip level goes away a little bit. It's not a bad thing, it's just what happens after a couple years. I see it doing that again and heading in that direction, so it was a little more forgiving on the racetrack when we came back after the asphalt, and now it's going back that direction and slipping and sliding.

Q. Have you beefed up your cooling system or is it pretty much the same standard cooling system?

It's the same thing. We'll just adjust the tape on the nose to get some of the airflow to the radiator.

Q. You don't see a lot of trash on this track so it shouldn't be too bad with things getting clogged up on the front end. Have you had any problems here at this track with that?

No, no problems with that. The biggest problem you have is if you go off the road and start bouncing around you knock the radiator out of it, so you just stay on the road and you should be fine. I had a jackrabbit take out my radiator one time, too, so stay away from him and I should be fine.

Q. How about the driver heating system? The temperature is higher than normal for this year's race.

Yeah, it's really, really hot in the cars. The temperature just escalates that issue, your conditions, your hydration, and then being able to drink enough fluids inside the racecar, that's going to be really important.

Q. Do you start that routine earlier for this track or is it the same schedule that you normally have?

For me it'll be the same schedule. I'm pretty good with that stuff. But inside the car, I think I'll drink more than normal. I think the in?car Gatorade drinking system, that thing is a life-saver. I'll just force myself to drink and drink and drink so as your body is sweating to cool yourself down, I won't get dehydrated.

Q. Do you eat any granola bars or anything, as well, just for the food factor, or is it just purely fluids?

I eat during the race. They chop up bars and hand them to me, but that's, again, at every racetrack. It's something I've brought into my deal inside the car to keep me mentally sharp inside the car.

Q. Do you lose a lot of weight during a race like this?

Your goal is to not lose any weight. Your goal is to drink as much as you're sweating out, but that's virtually impossible. On some of the hotter summer days last year, I would still be down five or six pounds, and that was after drinking three liters of fluid. Three liters passing through and what your total weight would be, it's quite a weight loss. Go home, eat a pizza and eat some cheeseburgers and life is good.

Q. What about all the work you have to do? Tony Stewart was saying there's about a second and a half between turn 10 and turn 11; the rest of the time you have to work your butt off.

That's true. That's the only take you take a breather, or maybe between 4 and 5 or 4 and 7 might be the only other time you get a breather.

Q. Do you feel like coming here Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are always the drivers to beat just because they're so good at a road course?

There's stats that show that. You can't argue with that. Those guys are always up front. I look at Mark Martin and I also look at some of the road race guys coming in that will be really strong, Robby Gordon being one of them, kind of being a regular but still a course expert. But I think that Jeff and Tony both have done a great job of keeping oval track guys up front.

Q. Have you done anything like to prepare like taking classes like a lot of other drivers have to get a little better on a road course even though you come here only two times a year? Yeah, I've been through that. This year we had quite a bit of testing before the race so I didn't feel it was necessary to go out and get any more road course experience. We'll do anything we can. These races pay the same amount of points for any of them, and depending on where you are in the points, this race can be really important, so everybody is taking it seriously.

Q. Do you like being on a road course or are you one of the drivers that likes to get this weekend over with?

I love it.

Q. Do you like being out here in wine country in California?

I do, and I would enjoy it a lot more if I didn't have to race and could enjoy the wine and the food.

-gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Mark Martin