JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S HOME IMPROVEMENT CHEVROLET met with media and discussed the test session, his thoughts on the 2012 season, pressures on the start of the year, fund-raising, and more.
KRISTI KING: We'll start off our media availability today with Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Just talk a little bit about the day and a half you've had of testing here so far at Daytona.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we've been really just focused on our single car runs. We brought down a really fast race car, and I'm proud of all of HMS and engine shop included, 48 guys. They really brought down a nice race car. We haven't really showed our hand, and we're right there with the top cars in single car speed. I'm proud of the work that's gone on over the off season with our plate program, and our plate stuff has been real strong, especially from a qualifying standpoint through the last few plate races last year. We're still maintaining pretty well, and excited about the speed that the car has.
KRISTI KING: Also, too, looking at the trophy here right beside you, what would it mean to you to win the Daytona 500 here next month?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's such a special race, and I feel very fortunate to have won that race. At that point I didn't have a championship, and it's one of two races that you get a title when you win this race, this one and the Brickyard. It can make a career, and it was a huge, huge thing for myself when I won it in 2006.
Q. Jimmie, can you talk a little bit about the drivers' meeting that NASCAR just held? What did they tell you and what do you expect out of the pack drafting this afternoon?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I missed it. I was over taking my drug test and missed it. It ran a little longer. There was a long line of guys waiting to use the restroom. But what I did hear is that they want to get everybody into a big draft and collect data without the pushing, just to see how stable the cars are, what the cars do. So they're just trying to encourage everybody to get out there in a big group and use the old style of drafting to see what the cars do.
I'm not sure we'll participate in it. We don't want to take any chances with this car. It's way too fast. We don't need it on a hook.
Q. I wanted to ask you a little bit about having Kasey Kahne a part of the team, and since you had known for so long that he was going to join the team, did you guys kind of have a bonding session or get to know each other coming in, and just how do you see him fitting in?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I've been real fortunate that Kasey and I have been friends really since we met, since he came into the series and was a part of the Cup Series. He and I have always had a great relationship and friendship. It's really been the same since he's come on board and even through when the announcement was made until now, we're great friends.
The relationship that has grown, and I've spent some more time getting accustomed to Kenny. I didn't know Kenny other than just some casual passings in the garage area. And I've really enjoyed the time I've spent with him and picking his brain and understanding what he's about. Two big assets that Hendrick Motorsports picked up, and I look forward to what they can do.
Q. Obviously you knew Chad wasn't going to be here, but did you almost still expect him to be here when you got here, and have you heard from him at all, and what's it like to be at a test when he's not around?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He's been texting and emailing, so there still is that communication taking place. But we've got a very confident race team, and everybody is following the test plan, and we're going through the motions. Truthfully a lot of the work for this test was done at the shop getting prepared, and now we're just following a test plan. It's worked out well for Chad to take some time for himself, and I'm really happy that he has decided to do this. As we all know, he doesn't give himself much personal time, and I've been on a similar trip to the one he's on now and know how special it was to Chandy and I. I can't wait to hear the stories when he gets back and what he goes through. It's been a nice calm test so far.
Q. With all these rule changes for the 500, plus the introduction of fuel injection, being at a team like Hendrick, which always seems to be a step ahead of everybody else, what kind of comfort is that to you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have to believe that all the teams and engine shops feel pretty comfortable with all the testing. In the time to prepare for this race and what we're doing now, we've worked through a lot of the gremlins, so I think NASCAR has handled this really well, and we've had a lot of time to develop the systems and get things going.
I don't have any fear, and I don't really sense any throughout the garage area. But we're still learning the rules packages as we go, and with a day and a half left to go, I'm not sure NASCAR has settled in on the package that they want just yet, and we'll keep fine tuning.
From an overall aero package and plate package, there's still probably some adjusting that would take place I would guess. I don't really know, but from a reliability standpoint of the EFI, I don't see any issues for anybody.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the psyche, if you will, entering this season because it's, as you well know, obviously very different than it has been the last five years?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, I've spent a lot of time through the off season thinking about the way I'm involved with the race team, the responsibilities I have, the just the way I've gone about work for the last five years, and it's hard to argue with the last five years and what had happened. Last year was the sixth year and we didn't get the results that we wanted. But I really felt like we were competitive in a lot of areas. Chad and I made some mistakes in the Chase and took ourselves out of it.
It's been a very good off season for me to internalize some things and to really evaluate what goes on from my standpoint and my involvement with the team and how good of a teammate and team member I can be for the 48 car, and I'm making changes. I feel like even though I tried to over the five year run not stall out and tried to continue to evolve and challenge myself and recreate myself. It's hard to do it. You have a roadmap that's working and it's hard to get too far from it. This winter has been really good for me to really dive down and understand the areas where I feel like I can do a better job and be a better member of the 48 team.
So I know I'm stronger and better today than I was leaving Homestead, so I'm looking forward to 2012.
Q. I know this isn't an official race weekend and the trailers aren't parked on points, but is this still one of those times when you walk out of your transporters in the middle of a pack, and you're like, damn, I'm not the champion anymore? Has that hit you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I've made more mistakes walking to the wrong end of the garage. I've been programmed for so many years to walk to a certain stall that it's been tough, and even driving into the pits the first three or four times, I didn't know where to pull in. It's not going to end. That's a good thing, too, that reminder every week that I had it really good over there as the champion in that first spot.
Q. Competition is coming from NASCAR up on the podium after you. What would the perfect Daytona 500 look like to you, number of laps where you could do tandem drafting or how much people may lay back because they don't want to blow water out so they're going to save and maybe it'll create people going to the back? What would the perfect Daytona 500 mix be like to you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not sure of the mix but I know what I want the results to be. I want the 48 car in victory lane. There's a fine balance as a competitor with the tandem racing does give the driver some control to race. But at the same point, the fans aren't into that style of racing. That's what we need to pay attention to.
I think we're all learning. These three days are going to be very useful for teams, for NASCAR to find the right package and right balance. So I'm just not getting attached to anything yet and just waiting to get through these three days and see where we're at then.
Q. The same question I asked Jeff Gordon about, he's got a charity now as a sponsor, but did you think when you first got into racing that you would be giving back as much as you do both in time and money to charity?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I didn't. I mean, I spent a lot of time being involved with different charities and supporting them and donating my time and funds when I could. But until Kyle and Pattie Petty sat me down and really explained what I could do and what the NASCAR fan base and my fan base would get behind, also my sponsors at some point I guess I would have figured it out, but I'm so grateful that they sat me down, and my wife, sat us both down and said this is what you're doing, which is great, but this could happen. It's been far more money donated, impacting more lives.
I never thought that our foundation would be on a race car at a racetrack, and it's been there for a few years now at the California races. It's far more than I ever expected.
Q. Just to kind of touch on something earlier that was brought up, for a guy who's won five championships, you've won the Daytona 500, going forward, what motivates Jimmie Johnson? Is it something as simple as winning the next race, or is there kind of a NASCAR bucket list that you still have something left unchecked?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, there are some events that fit into that and some stats and some goals. But really the thing that motivates me is the fire hasn't gone out in me to compete, and as long as that fire is burning, who I am as a person, I'm going to give 100 percent. I know when I do a good job, what my responsibilities are. That's the thing that keeps motivating me and that's what I'm reflecting on from last year is at times we did a good job, and when we put up 100 percent we got the results that we wanted. But some other time things just didn't work out as they should and weren't handled correctly from my side and the way I went about things. So that's my motivation for this coming season is to not make those mistakes and to do the best job that I can and be the best member of this 48 team that I can be.
Q. This question is about there's definitely pressure during the last few races of the season; can you talk about pressure when you actually start the season, especially the back and forth that you have to do between the East Coast and West Coast in the first few races?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the start of the season with the 500 as our first event, we walk into a pressure cooker right away. Leaving there with the limited testing that we have, you go to the first couple fast racetracks, downforce tracks, wondering if everything you worked on in the shop is going to pay off or not. So there is a lot of pressure for the first, I don't know, four or five races just to find out where you're at. And then from there you can address some problems and try to correct any issues that you have or sit there on top of the pile and be real happy with the work that took place over the off season.
Coming out of the gate, there is a lot of pressure for the first few weeks.
KRISTI KING: Jimmie, thank you for your time, and thanks to everyone who joined us on the teleconference today.