Tuesday, October 1, 2002 Part 2 of 2 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the EA Sports 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race next weekend at Talladega ...
Tuesday, October 1, 2002
Part 2 of 2
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the EA Sports 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
Johnson comes to Talladega as one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR. Finishing 10th last week in Kansas, Johnson put his name in the record books as the first rookie in Winston Cup history to lead the championship points battle. So far in 2002, he has earned three NASCAR Winston Cup victories (California, Dover and Dover), four Bud Pole Awards (Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and Richmond) and recorded 18 top-10 finishes, including six top-5s (Atlanta, California, Dover, Pocono, Chicagoland, and Dover).
WHEN JEFF GORDON SAID ABOUT YOU, 'THIS GUY HAS GOT IT', WHAT DO YOU THINK HE MEANT? "Ever since I've raced four wheeled vehicles, I've had somebody that I had talked into giving me the opportunity. They'd say okay, we'll give you a try and they'd let me test the car. The test led to a race and the race led to the next thing. So I've had pressure on me to perform throughout my whole career. Everybody does. But I had pressure where if I didn't make the most of an opportunity, I wasn't going to race. So I've always found a way to keep a positive outlook on it and not let the pressure consume me, bother me, or stress me out. If you're not stressed out and bothered, and under pressure you can make the right decisions."
DO YOU THINK ALL GOOD RACE CAR DRIVERS HAVE A CERTAIN SENSE OF TIMING? "Timing is a lot of it. There are so many variables in our sport that I think luck has a lot to do with it, too."
WITH THE NEW FUEL CELL, DO YOU THINK TEAMMATES AND/OR BUDDIES WILL PIT TOGETHER SO THAT THEY WON'T BE LEFT HUNG OUT OF THE DRAFT WHEN THEY GET BACK ON THE TRACK? "Whoever you're running with in that group - and that is the same with the old fuel cell rules - you need to pit with a group of people -- at least five cars. If you don't, when everybody cycles around and gets back up to speed, they're going to be closing on you so hard because of the draft that you won't be able to hang on to the draft.
"As far as teammates are concerned and if you're riding around with one another, definitely (pit together). The crew chiefs are running around on pit road trying to see who in your pack is going to pit and when. You try to all come in together. But as far as strategy for the race if it stays green for a long time, you're going to be able to race in a pack all race long and get strung out - hopefully. The pit stops will hopefully separate the field a little bit and we'll be able to race clean all day long."
DO YOU THINK THAT'S GOING TO WORK? "I don't know. I think if it stays green for long periods of time, it will naturally work itself out. A second on a pit stop adds up to a lot of distance on the race track if you have a problem on pit road. It's very possible, but as soon as you have a caution, it's going to obviously start all over again. It's going to take some time - at least a pit stop or two - to get things spread back out."
WILL THE IMPORTANCE OF PIT STOPS PUT MORE PRESSURE ON THE CREW TO BE ON THE MARK ALL DAY LONG? "Definitely. You're going to have more pit stops and there's definitely going to be more pressure."
HEADING DOWN THE HOME STRETCH, WILL RUNNING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP GET IN THE WAY-- IN A SENSE --OF RUNNING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "We'll just have to see (laughs). I have no idea. I've never been in this situation and I don't know what to expect. I don't have a clue."
WITH THE VARIETY OF TRACKS, CARS AND SET-UPS LEFT THIS YEAR, IS A MIX-UP LIKE THAT REALLY A GOOD TEST TO SHOW WHO IS THE BEST TEAM? "Yeah, I think so. I haven't really thought of it that way but there is full gamut of tracks that we're approaching in the final stretch. It will really showcase the best team. At the same time, it's been a championship race of who has the least amount of problems and can stay on top. So I don't know how it's all going to shake out."
HOW DID BLAISE ALEXANDER'S ACCIDENT AFFECT YOU - IF AT ALL - AS A DRIVER? "It didn't make me question what I'm doing being in a race car. I reflect back to some conversations that Blaise and I had prior to that race (about) his seat not being up to par and about him not having a head & neck (restraining) device and the different things there. I had some anger inside that he didn't have that (safety) stuff. But at that time, it was new to Winston Cup - let alone to ARCA. I wanted to make sure everything was as safe as possible because when you lose somebody that close to you, it's a big reality check. I think the loss of (Dale) Earnhardt really woke everyone up. But still, when it doesn't hit close to home - because I didn't know him - it's different. But the next month, it was really hard on me. That Saturday, I had the Busch race and that next morning I had to be on the track to qualify. Going down the front stretch and seeing his marks where he hit the wall and seeing where the car came to a stop in the grass was really tough the first couple of times through there. I found myself just blocking it out. Luckily, by race time I had been able to build a mental wall tall enough that I couldn't pay too much attention to it. I found my way through the weekend."
HOW DO YOU STAND FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR REGARDING THE NUMBER OF CARS AND TESTS? "We're out of tests. Kentucky is the track we went to before Kansas because you don't need a NASCAR test to be able to go there. We're talking about doing a short track test to work on some brakes for Martinsville. On the car count, I've done a good job of keeping the guys busy and building new cars with the stuff that I've been hitting lately. Hopefully, we'll quit doing that. Being with Hendrick Motorsports and the supply of cars that we've got is not putting us in a bad situation. We've got a great car count and really not any testing planned except for maybe the Martinsville race."
WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE AND APPROACH TO QUALIFYING AT TALLADEGA? "In order to go fast and to have a shot at the pole, you have to be working every single gray area that's in the Winston Cup rule book. When you are in those areas, you hope that the things you're doing won't alarm the officials and result in some form of penalty like we went through at Daytona for the 400. With that in mind, and the slap on the hand that we received down there, we are not playing with any of the gray areas because we're in the championship points battle. We're hoping for a top 15 qualifying effort. The things that make the car go fast in qualifying, don't apply for the race. So we're giving something up on the qualifying side, but we're not going to take any chances."
BECAUSE OF WHAT'S HAPPENED TO SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS WHO HAVE BEEN IN THE POINTS LEAD, ARE YOU ENTHUSIASTIC OR RELUCTANT ABOUT BEING IN THE LEAD NOW? "I'm excited about being in the points lead. Maybe some negative energy out there - when people are in the points lead - make them afraid of losing it or whatever. That possibility is there, but I'm excited about leading in the points. We've talked about it and talked about keeping a positive outlook on it all and having some positive energy out there. We'll see where that leads us."
DO YOU TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT THE 25 POINT PENALTY NASCAR GAVE YOU? "We try not to think about it. There's nothing we can do about it. We lost some points there. There are other points (lost) where I've made rookie mistakes that have cost us more than 25 points (like) racing (Jimmy) Spencer at Richmond and sliding through my pit stall at Lowe's (Motor Speedway). There are a lot of things you can reflect back on. We're going to try not to think about those 25 (points) from Daytona and hope they won't come into play."
DO YOU THINK NOT KNOWING WHAT TO EXPECT AS WORKED TO YOUR ADVANTAGE THIS YEAR? "I think so. I think since we don't know any better, it keeps us from thinking about past experiences and how close we were and how we possibly lost it. There's a lot to that negative energy that can haunt your team and consume your life. That's a great advantage that we have right now. We don't know any better. We have not been in this position. We don't have any past history of fear to fall back on. All we have is a positive outlook in trying to do something that's never been done before."
HAS IT BEEN HARD TO KEEP THAT POSITIVE ATTITUDE ALL YEAR? "Yeah, there's definitely different points and that's just human nature. It seems like there are a couple of weeks where you can go on the right cycle and then it's inevitable that something starts creeping in. Luckily, as a group, we try to keep communicating and recognizing this in one another and point it out and try to keep each other from heading down that road. We saw that happen to us after Sonoma where we went in running second and broke a gear and lost some points and it warped us into points racing right away. We suffered a little bit from that. We've been able to turn the corner now and hopefully be able to recognize (it) and keep ourselves out of that rut the next time it comes up."
WAS IT HARD TO GET THAT CHEMISTRY WITH YOUR TEAM? "It's always worked. But of all the relationships I've had with teams and crew members, this is been the easiest group I've been able to work with to form a bond and chemistry with out of the box."
ARE THEIR ANY UNIQUE THINGS ON THE CAR - IN ADDITION TO HAVING BLAISE ALEXANDER RIDING WITH YOU - THAT YOU HAVE GOING ON? "I seem to find pennies on the ground at the race track. If I find one that's heads-up, I'll pick it up and glue it to the dashboard of the car. Every once in a while if you look inside our cars, you'll see some pennies glued in there on the dash."
HAVE ANY OF THOSE PENNIES HELPED YOU WITH YOUR WINS? "Yeah, there have been a few pennies that seemed like they've brought us luck. But I found a cool-looking silver coin that we had at Martinsville when we broke a gear, so we tore it off. No, actually it stayed on and hit the wall somewhere else again with it. So I pulled that sucker off the dashboard and threw it out the window."
Start of Jimmie Johnson interview Part I