JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed drivers hand signals with the new race cars, having Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a teammate at a restrictor plate race, Talladega success for HMS, and more. NASCAR KEEPS TAKING MUSCLE...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed drivers hand signals with the new race cars, having Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a teammate at a restrictor plate race, Talladega success for HMS, and more.
NASCAR KEEPS TAKING MUSCLE AWAY FROM THESE CARS. WHAT KIND OF RACE ARE WE GOING TO SEE ON SUNDAY? "I think Talladega is going to be a great race. I feel that at the fall race, a lot of the drivers were behaving because of the championship and the number of things that were on the line. I might expect some guys to lay back here, but there is a lot less pressure at this race than what we have in the fall. We have less to really adjust with on the race car than we ever have, but I don't think any of the problems we've seen with the car of tomorrow will show up on this track. I expect a great race and I think it will be exactly what the fans want."
ON THE DRIVERS SAYING IT IS DIFFICULT TO SEE OTHER DRIVERS HAND SIGNALS AND POSSIBLY MAKING THE WING OR THE WICKER BILL PLEXIGLAS SO IT'S EASIER TO SEE? "I don't think that wicker bill is going to make any difference at all. There are a couple of things. One, the angle of the back glass is in a way where it reflects a lot of light and you can't see inside of the car in front of you. It's almost as if there is a mirror of some sort there. So you can't see in the cockpit in the car in front of you. The wing does pose a problem, but that quarter-inch or half-inch of wicker isn't going to make things better. The other part is, waving out of the side of the car. The greenhouse on the vehicle is so large that you can't see around the seatposts of the car in front of you to see where the window net is because the window net is inboard. And you can't see a guy's fingers or his hand or whatever. There is very little room to reach out. It is a problem and it's the same for all of us. We just have to be very smart with the spotters and how the spotters communicate to each other up there to let them know when somebody is going to pit."
IN TERMS OF EXPERIENCE, HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU AND JEFF GORDON AND DALE EARNHARDT JR. BECAUSE OF THE SUCCESS YOU'VE HAD HERE IN THE PAST? "This has been a great track for Hendrick Motorsports. I expect us to be right there in the thick of it. I think Junior is one of the best in the draft and that's nice having him at Hendrick and we can all work together and hopefully get a one through four finish. We've run one through four before and have finished one-two, but it would be nice to really dominate out here. And as I say that, this track is more forgiving to all competitors than anywhere we run. So, even though it'll be a strong track for us, I think there are a lot of other strong teams in general. And then this is really a crap shoot for some of the lower level teams that wouldn't typically have a chance to win."
THE DRIVERS ARE TALKING ABOUT LAYING BACK AND JUST RIDING AROUND FOR THE FIRST HALF OF SUNDAY'S RACE. AS A COMPETITOR, HOW TOUGH IS THAT FOR YOU TO DO? "I've done it a few times. And the first few times were hard. There are certainly some ways you can get in trouble. And that's where it affected me more before. An example of that is we were riding and hanging back and when it comes time to hit pit road, we had a problem with a pit stop. Now that small draft of cars we were in, is all broken up and I lost the draft. And here comes the big pack catching us now and fortunately a caution came out. So there are some other risks that run with that. But in general the way it worked last fall for us, you've just got to be patient enough to believe in it and know that with 10 or 15 (laps) to go, it's going to be a free-for-all and you're going to find your way back into the race and have a shot at it. So, it's not that difficult now that I've done it a few time to be honest."
DID THE RACING CHANGE AT ALL LAST YEAR WITH THE NEW SURFACE? "It made it more forgiving. It certainly did. I know there was a lot of criticism with the fall race, but I don't think it had anything to do with the car or the track. It was really drivers trying to be smart and worrying about a championship and what was on the line than anything."
SO ARE YOU MORE AGGRESSIVE IN APRIL THAN OCTOBER? "Yeah, I definitely think so. That's been the trend that I've personally seen out on the track. I know coming into this, we're ready to go racing. We might elect to be smart if things are getting too crazy. But as of now, we haven't talked about riding in the back or doing any of that stuff. When we come here in the fall, there is so much on the line and so much to lose, that the top 12 teams and then it seems like those teammates of those drivers as well, all know what's on the line and nobody wants to do anything stupid, so everybody plays it smart. The race may have been a little less than what everybody would want to see."
COMING OUT OF DAYTONA, HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT THE NEW RACE CAR AND YOUR PROGRAM WITH IT? HOW HAS THAT CHANGED FROM DAYTONA TO NOW FOR PLATE RACES? "Daytona has been a struggle for us the last couple years down there, even with the old car. We seem to get straight-line speed out of it but something has just not been where we needed it for the race. We roll into Talladega, and Talladega has been just what we need. Our package works great. The track works great for me driving it. We've had some top two's and won a couple years back. So the two track, I walk into them with different expectations. Daytona is a tough track for us and I feel like we certainly have a chance to win, but coming to Talladega I know we have a chance to win."
WHAT SORT OF AFFECT DID DALE EARNHARDT SR. HAVE ON YOU? WHAT IS HIS LEGACY IN THE SPORT? "There is so much that he's done for our sport in general that all of us drivers are thankful for and recognize that he was one of the guys that helped carry the sport on his back and really helped to bring it to where it is today. The success that he had on track, the character he was, inside of the car and outside of the car, left a lasting impression with anyone associated with sports or motorsprots. He's done a ton for our sport and I wish that I had a chance to race with him. That was something that I didn't have the fortune of experiencing and something I really wish I could have done."
ON JUNIOR HYSTERIA SURROUNDING TALLADEGA, DO YOU FEEL LIKE THERE WILL BE MORE OF THAT BECAUSE HE'S WITH HMS NOW? "I really don't pay attention to what goes on outside of, and I think every time we come to Talladega and to certain tracks it's Junior country and the fans are the same. I don't think it's impacted my fan base. I think that with Junior joining the team, there are more people looking at Hendrick Motorsports and Jeff Gordon and myself in a respectful way and I'm appreciative of that. But I can't say that I feel like I'm any more or less under the radar. It's really the same stuff. I don't get flipped off as much, which is nice, from his fans, or beer cans thrown at me. So that's one positive aspect of it. But all in all, he's been great to work with and really has been a professional and focused on performing and I look forward to watching him get his first win."
WITH THAT IN MIND, HAS THERE BEEN A CHANGE WHEN YOU'RE OUT THERE RACING WITH JUNIOR ON THE TEAM, OR IS IT THE SAME THAT IT'S ALWAYS BEEN? "There are some small changes. Anytime you're around a teammate on track, you give them a little more slack and work with them a little more. So being on different teams in the past, we've probably raced each other a little harder than what we do now. But it's so tough to really help a teammate unless you're at Talladega or Daytona. At Daytona he was up front and running well and we had a problem early and I was fighting track position all day long and really never had a chance to work with him. So I'm excited for this weekend and hopeful that we all get out there and work well together."
WERE YOU IN AWE LAST NIGHT STANDING IN FRONT OF THAT STAGE WITH ALL THOSE GUYS? "Oh, that was great. It was so cool. And one of the hightlights for me back stage was that I have these shoes that look like they're size 14. They're really my size, but they have this really long nose on them and I had Junior Johnson and David Pearson busting my butt over my shoes. And David Pearson was so amused by my shoes that he made me take my shoe off so he could see the actual size of my foot (laughs). So to have that type of banter and to be back there with those guys and see those personalities; I mean I know who they are but I've never had a chance to spend any time with them. So to be back stage and have them pick on me a little bit was a lot of fun."
-credit: gm racing