Wednesday, September 24, 2003 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama. Johnson ...
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama.
Johnson currently sits in third place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, just 37 points out of second place. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 61 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta.
HOW DO YOU COMPARE RETURNING TO A TRACK WHERE YOU DID WELL, WITH A TRACK THAT YOU DIDN'T DO SO WELL?
"Most of the time, you carry a lot of confidence coming back. You know your set-up is going to be close. But, we've also come back and been disappointed like at Pocono, where we really struggled. And then at Dover, we were the dominant car at both races last year but didn't have it this year. Technology is changing. Every race team is constantly moving forward. Sometimes you might get lulled into a situation where you think you're going to be fine and you expect to be good, but you go there and it doesn't pan out. In some cases it works for you and in others it doesn't. I do like the feeling going into a track where I know I'm going to run well. It definitely makes the week leading into it a lot better."
HOW CAN CONFIDENCE HELP IN SOME PLACES?
"From my standpoint, I'd go out there and put out a good solid lap and I'm comfortable doing it. At some tracks, you might try too hard or you know that it's one of your worst tracks so you're really focusing on it. When you wake up in the morning or possible during the night before, you're driving laps in your head. If it doesn't work out and you're not where you want to be, you might overreact and it might make that day a long day. When you come into a track and you know that you're going to be good, you make a couple of laps and you're in the middle of the board, you know you can get better. It's just a different approach. It builds a lot of patience into the team's atmosphere."
CAN YOU PUT INTO PERSPECTIVE WITH RELATIONSHIP TO ALL THE DIFFERENT TECHNOLOGY AND THE FACT THAT DALE EARNHARDT JR. HAS BEEN ABLE TO WIN TALLADEGA FOUR CONSECUTIVE TIMES?
"It's tough. With the speedway stuff, the rules are so constricting. There hasn't been a lot of advancement there like you would see at Chicago or Kansas or Lowe's Motor Speedway. But the fuel cells have changed a little bit. We're getting ready to have a different package this weekend. Finally, there are some small changes. Over the last few years, it's been pretty similar. But the thing that's amazing there is that amongst all the variables, Jr. has still been able to win. In one lap you can be leading and the next lap you can be 20th. He's still always found a way so far to win there. A lot of it falls into the driver's hands - especially when the green flag drops and all the tricks for qualifying won't work in the race. They're only designed to work for a lap or two. When it comes to the race, you've to got to have a good driving car. And you've got to know what to do with the draft."
ARE YOU CONTENT TO FOLLOW THE DEI DRIVERS TO THE FRONT, OR HELP THEM, OR DOES THAT JUST VARY THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
"You know that the No. 8 (Dale Jr.) and the No. 15 (Michael Waltrip) are going to end up in the front. The problem is passing the lead car. That's the hardest position to make. Third to second is easy. Second to first is the hardest one. So I've been very content in following the No. 8 and the No. 15, but I find myself sitting in second without an opportunity to pass. So if you're deep in the pack and those guys are in front of you, you know you're going to get to the front. But as you start getting closer and you have an opportunity, you need to take it because you might just be building a coffin for yourself in settling for second."
IS IT LIKE TAKING THE TRAIN TO THE FRONT AND THEN SAYING THANKS FOR THE RIDE AND TRYING TO TAKE OVER?
"Yeah, we all use each other out there. It doesn't matter who or what it is. It's what can you do for me now? And then when you've got your opportunity, you've got to do something with it."
ON TONY STEWART'S COMMENTS ABOUT TIRE CONSISTENCY
"From my standpoint, I haven't had a consistency problem. I know, depending on your shock package, you're really asking the tires to do different things. Maybe what they (No. 20 team of Tony Stewart) are doing shock-wise, they're making the car ultra-sensitive to different sets of tires that are put through it. We're given sheets that show the spring rate of each tire and codes of when they were made. Our tire guys try to make sure that they're all from the same batch and that they're all equal in spring rate and all those things. But the element of putting them together by hand still exists. I've been through the Goodyear facility. They try awfully hard to make a great tire and I think they do. It's tough. You see guys who continually have a problem with it and other guys who don't."
SO IT'S NOT A MATTER OF SPEAKING OUT AGAINST A SPONSOR, BUT MORE THAT SOME HAVE IT AND SOME DON'T. CAN IT ALSO BE LUCK SOMETIMES?
"Some people are more vocal than others. I can't say that I've had a big problem this year with inconsistency in tires. I can think of a couple of cases but Tony seems to have had a lot of problems. Once again, I do know that with the shock package, you can take a car that is driving very consistent and put come aggressive shocks on it and make the car very unpredictable. I can see that if your shock package doesn't correlate with the tires that one set with the right rating works fine, but another set on and it might put you over the line at that point."
CAN YOU SEMI-ANALYZE THE YEAR AND ARE YOU A 'GLASS IS HALF FULL' OR A 'GLASS IS HALF EMPTY' TYPE OF GUY?
"Right now, I'm looking at it as half full. Honestly last year, my rookie year, I surprised myself and I think most of the racing community with the way our race team was able to gel and the way everything took place. I'm trying to be a realist. In my second year to be third place in points - to have won three races and The Winston - that's pretty impressive stuff. I'm very happy with what we've done. Obviously, I want to be the best. I wish we were in Matt Kenseth's position right now, but we're not. We'll just keep working on it. I have a long career in the sport, Chad Knaus does, Lowe's does, and Hendrick Motorsports; and we're looking forward to good things in the future."
GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES, ARE YOU SHOCKED THAT MATT KENSETH HAS BEEN ABLE TO OPEN UP THE SPACE HE HAS?
"No, it exists. Matt is having a typical championship year. Last year, it was such a tight points battle but there were so many DNF's among the top few guys. Tony (Stewart) came from deep in the pack to win the whole thing. So, if you look at Bobby Labonte's championship year or Jeff Gordon's championship years, it's the consistency that pays off. Matt has been so consistent with no DNF's and he has only not complete two or three laps. That's doing a great job and those guys have been doing it all year."
ON THE CURRENT POINTS SYSTEM AND THE FACT THAT RYAN NEWMAN HAS WON SEVEN RACES AND POINT-LEADER MATT KENSETH HAS ONLY WON ONE
"Let's say that the winner of the race - he obviously leads a lap and then wins the race - gets 180 points. But he doesn't lead the most laps. And then let's say that the guy who finishes second also gets the bonus points and ties the winner in points. I don't think that's right. I think there should be a bigger separation from first to second; or, maybe through the top five to pay that off. But when you race 36 times a year, our series is build on consistency. If we raced 10 times a year then I would say let's build a points structure that is based on performance and winning. Our whole motto at the shop is to set a pace and be consistent. So, I think it's right in the way that our point structure is. But I do think we could use some work at the top and separate that out a little bit more."
DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE A BONUS AT THE END OF THE YEAR FOR THE MOST WINS?
"No, I don't think that's right. It's almost a lottery for people to get their laps back now. The NASCAR rule system of the past was just straight- forward and simple. There weren't any lotteries. There weren't any hoops to jump through. What you got was what you got. I think that's what has gotten the sport to what it is today. Personally, I think that's the direction it needs to stay. When you set something at the beginning of the year, everyone knows what we're racing for. You don't have a bonus at the end of the year and hopefully there's never a committee involved to choose who would be the highest performing driver and would be deserving of a few extra points. I've heard of a few things myself that scare me. I would home that this stays locked down and maybe adjust the top five position in points and let it be."
IN YOUR ROOKIE YEAR LAST YEAR, YOU GOT A LOT OF MEDIA ATTENTION. THIS YEAR, YOU DON'T HAVE AS MUCH ATTENTION BUT YOU'RE DOING BETTER IN POINTS. WHICH DO YOU PREFER?
"I guess (I'd prefer) just having a better year, which would be this year. Last year with being a rookie, there was a lot of attention put on that and the records we were able to break and the battles with Ryan Newman. This year, I have to say that my weeks are a little easier and I'm enjoying myself and I have a better understanding of how this all works. I've had a great year. I've had a lot of fun off the track and on the track. I feel that we're performing and doing better. I'm really enjoying this year."
ON THE LOWE'S / RED CROSS SUPPORT FOR HURRICANE VICTIMS
"We raised $69,200 -- $48 for every lap. We don't know any of the figures as to what the Lowe's stores are doing. But people can either go to a Lowe's store and donate right there at the cash register, or they can go to Lowes.com and help raise more money for the American Red Cross. Throughout the weekend, the disaster relief fund has been at zero. With the hurricane, it's been more of a silent disaster more than anything. It's like people don't feel it's necessary to contribute as much or that there hasn't been as much devastation. But truly, there has been. The silent disasters are the most dangerous ones because the awareness isn't there. With the disaster fund at zero, we need to raise some money. With the race car, we raised over $69,000 last weekend and hopefully the fans can donate some more and help our friends in need."