JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the Chase format, his personality to the public, the strength of his team, Jeff Gordon being winless so far this year, and more. ON THE TEXAS RACE "I'm definitely excited for...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the Chase format, his personality to the public, the strength of his team, Jeff Gordon being winless so far this year, and more.
ON THE TEXAS RACE "I'm definitely excited for to the race. When we look back through our notes and look at where the year started showing some promise for us on 1.5-miles, we look at Texas and say that's a period in time when we were getting stuff figured out and getting it right. We're excited to be back and looking forward to a good race. This race was really big for us last year in the points battle and I'm hopeful that it turns out the same for us this year."
EARLIER IN THE SEASON YOU SAID YOU WANTED TO GET BACK TO BEING BOOED AND NOW YOU ARE. DO YOU WONDER IF PEOPLE REALLY UNDERSTOOD HOW YOU CAME INTO THIS SPORT THAT YOU WOULDN'T GET THAT OUTSIDER TREATMENT? WHEN DID IT FINALLY CLICK THAT THIS COULD BE YOUR CAREER? "I have had more fan support than any other year I've been in Cup. My fan base has done an amazing job of supporting me and I've seen a lot more people wearing other colors, cheering for me and respecting what this team has done and what I've done. So, this has been a great year for me and my fans. I'm thankful for that. I feel that coming in and driving for Jeff (Gordon) and driving for Rick (Hendrick) in some way created that negative tone. People who didn't like Jeff instantly weren't going to like the No. 48 and the guy driving it. But I'm my own personality and my own driver and I really feel like I've created my own mark in this sport. To be honest with you, I don't really care what people think anymore. I've spent my whole life, my whole career worrying about that crap, and it's done nothing but confuse people. So I'm just climbing in that car and doing my job and driving my ass off and taking it from there. The thing that I've done through my whole career is treated everybody with respect and raced hard. 'My story has been out there about how hard I've worked to get here, and the simple upbringing that I had in El Cajon, California and how far NASCAR was away. That story is still out there and it's a story I'm very proud of, but today, man I'm trying to race and win races and win championships. If people want to go back and look at that stuff and see the stories, then, fantastic; because I feel I have a great story. But I can't spend my whole career trying to say hey, you need to respect me and you need to look at my upbringing because you might be a bigger fan of mine. I've just got to go out and do my job and race hard. So that's my perspective on it.
"And for myself, and even my dad and my family in Motorsports, we thought we hit the big time when I started driving Chevy trucks in the mid-90's. That was it. I was on four wheels. I had a roll cage driving that lightning bolt-looking Chevrolet that I was in. That was it. That was big time. So everything from there was really gravy for myself and my dad, especially.
"My brother (Jarit) just ran his first Nationwide race last week. And I was talking to my dad before the race because he was spotting for Jarit. I remember the first race that I ran at IRP for the No. 59 car for Tad and Jodi (Geschickter) and it was terrible. I was in the way all night long; terrible. And I got out of the car and I was really disappointed. And when I had my dad on the phone, he said you know what? You might be disappointed, but I can't tell you that there is a more proud father out there. I just watched my son run his first Busch race. So at that point, I know it meant a lot to my dad and my family and myself to be making that transition into the big time. I wasn't even wearing my own firesuit. I was wearing a Kingsford firesuit that had somebody else's name on it. But man, I felt bigtime. It was cool. I remember driving the Curb car at Homestead that same year. I think it was '99, and I wore Brad Noffsinger's firesuit. And people were saying, hey Brad. Sign this or sign that. And I'm like, cool. They don't know my name but I don't care. I'm wearing the suit. I signed.
"So there have been many moments along the way and it makes it more special now to be where we're at and to look back on those moments. I feel like I've kinda lived the dream and shows that the sport meant not only as a southern sport for crew members and stuff, it's nationwide. It doesn't matter if you grew up racing Sprint Cars or Motocross or whatever it is. You look at (Clint) Bowyer coming in with his background, myself, (Kasey) Kane. You look at guys from all over and everybody is getting a shot. And it's really cool to see."
WHAT NAME DID YOU SIGN? "My own. And they're like, what? It doesn't match the suit (laughs)."
JEFF GORDON IS FACING THE PROSPECT OF HIS FIRST WINLESS SEASON SINCE BEING A ROOKIE. HE'S YOUR FRIEND AND TEAMMATE. HOW HARD IS THAT FOR HIS TEAM, AND ALSO FOR HIM? "It's tough. To say the least, it's tough. One thing about Jeff, is that he has always done a very good job about letting things roll off his back. If it's been positive things with championships or negative things with winless streaks or whatever it may be, the guy has a very good ability to let things roll off his back and focus on next week and the job that he's got to do. Stevie (Letarte) and Jeff don't like this position they're in and they're working hard to not being in it. I think they're close to winning a race. They've had a good season. They've been able to make the Chase and be competitive in the Chase.
"There are a lot of positives to look at. I know at some point in my career I will experience the same thing and have the questions asked, so I am watching and learning as Jeff is going through this. All you can do, and all that I see him doing, it showing up each week optimistic and putting his head down and getting to work. And in time, that will pay off. As a friend and teammate, I hope it starts this weekend for him. The guy is an amazing driver and still has plenty of years left in him and that team is still an amazing team. They just need to get everything clicking on all eight cylinders and made it happen."
ARE YOU OKAY IF IT HAPPENS THIS WEEKEND AS LONG AS YOU ARE SECOND? "Yeah. Frankly, as long as I'm ahead of the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) and the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) and the No. 31 (Jeff Burton), I'm pretty happy. So yeah, I would love to see him win, definitely."
ARE YOU GETTING A GOOD LAUGH AND EVERYBODY IS OBSESSED WITH CHANGING THE RULES OF THE CHASE? "Yeah, it's funny to see how that pops up. We've worked very hard to be in this position and it's an honor to be here and hopefully we can continue down this road and keep everybody talking about the system and all those things that come with it. We've worked very hard and I know everybody has listened to me over the last 34 weekends talking about how hard we've worked this year. At the end of the day, we all know we didn't get off to a good start. And we had to work very hard to be in this position. We're here and we're proud of it. So, it is interesting to hear the comments and it makes me laugh that our sport can be susceptible to that whole reality TV buzz that's coming along and if you don't like it, let's have a fan vote and let's change it. And it seems like it's kind of going that way. If nobody likes it, let's just have Sprint run an ad on TV and they can text who they want to qualify on the pole and who they want to win the race and all these crazy things. I mean it's really crazy. Racing is about earning your points and earning wins. We made an adjustment to the points system a few years back to make it more competitive. What else are we going to change?"
IF THEY GO TO TEXAS VOTING, THAT WOULD BE FOR THE NO. 88 (EARNHARDT JR.) "The No. 88 is going to win every year. Do you see? And then all the other fans are going to be upset. But it has that feel to it that people are considering this reality TV craze in our sport. And sports are about earning whatever that given prize is. And if I were sitting 183 points out where Carl (Edwards) is, and I don't think Carl is saying these things, but I would be looking at myself and what went on with the team. I wouldn't be thinking now we need a Mulligan in this series or we need this or that to try and make it even. Then we all showed up for the 10 races and the points were there and you go earn it. That's what you do."
WITH KYLE BUSCH, WE SAW THE WHEELS COME OFF IN A THREE-RACE STRETCH. IN THAT RESPECT, IT KYLE ON YOUR MIND THESE DAYS? "Yeah, I look around and I see things that have gone on with other teams and I face that reality every time I get in the car. And I know that anything can happen. And again, that's why we race as hard as we do and why we've always said we need to go out and focus on winning races because you don't know when or it the wheels are going to fall off, and what that will look like and how many points you really will need to be the champion. We really look at ourselves as a team and focus on our strengths and our weaknesses and try to maintain the strengths and prevent the weaknesses. So the more simple we can keep things and not focus on what other guys have gone through, I think the better it is. But that's a great example of what can happen in a three-race stretch. We're just as focused and determined this weekend to do our jobs as we were last week and at Martinsville and things like that. This is racing and we still have at least a thousand miles of racing left. And that's why we're here on Sundays to race. You've got to go out there and execute."
YOU AND YOUR TEAM HAS RUN THEIR BEST IN THE FINAL TEN RACES FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS. YOU'VE HIT YOUR STRIDE. HOW MUCH OF THAT IS CONSCIOUSLY BUILDING TO BE AT YOUR BEST WHEN IT MATTERS MOST, AND HOW MUCH OF THAT IS JUST HOW IT HAPPENED TO TURN OUT? "I wouldn't say our focus is any more than the other teams. We all know it's coming. The only time I can say we put up an effort to focus just on the Chase was in '05. We had a lot of things go in our direction and a nice points lead and we tried new set-ups and messed with some things that ended up biting us. Since then, we've been under the same mindset as everyone else. If you're behind, you've got to catch up. We were that team this year. We got off to a slow start and had to catch up. Once you get to the Chase, everybody is a little leery, especially starting the Chase, to come in with different set-ups. You come in with what's proven and with what works and see where you rank. If you're in the hunt, you stay put. If you're out of the hunt, you start building on '09 or trying to win at the end of the year. Where we're at, once the Chase started, we've stayed pretty close to our set-ups and our concepts of set-ups and we've just racing and doing what we can. We've had some luck come our way guys caught up in wrecks at Talladega. But at the same time, we've been performing and putting up good finishes too."
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THAT OVER THE LAST THREE YEARS THAT YOU'VE RUN SO WELL IN THOSE PERIODS IS IT COMFORT LEVEL? "I have no clue to be honest. We're just racing. We're just going out there and racing and doing what we know how to do and trying to be smart about it. But at the same time I don't think that what I'm doing or what I'm attempting to do is any different than any of the other guys when they show up for the Chase, when they show up for each race weekend. I mean we all have the same goal, be smart, race smart, qualify on the pole, get the best finish you can. You set those goals out there and my goals are no different than anybody else's. It's not that we're spending more time thinking about it or focusing on it, it's just worked out for us."
WITH A 183-POINT LEAD WHY NOT COAST? "A couple of reasons. One, we don't do a good job as a team sitting still. We do a better job focusing on winning and staying in that rhythm of winning. I guess I've seen that in football teams where they park their starting players and come back and they're out of rhythm or whatever it may be. We can see that on a given run if you get the lead and you start trying to save your tires, my own experience of when guys catch up and you try to get going again, I'm not in the rhythm, the car has changed, the track has changed and now I'm an adjustment behind. So in general I have found that staying aggressive and just doing what we do which is trying to win races is better for us. That's the first part. The second part is we have no clue what's going to go on these next few races.
"Last year, using that as an example with Matt (Kenseth), those 10 or 15 points to win a race, I thought I might need them in Homestead. I just didn't know what was going to play out throughout the rest of the year and I can't sit still in second spot and coast. I need to go get those points because we don't know what's going to happen. The same mindset is going through my mind right now. I have no clue how these next few races are going to go. The potential is there where you can lose a lot of points. I mean 34 points for a 43rd spot that's a big swing. A lot can happen and we need to go out and get every point we can."
IS IT WILD TO SIT OUTSIDE THE DOOR AND HEAR QUESTIONS LIKE WHY CAN'T YOU THROW A TIRE IN FRONT OF HIM, W HAT CAN YOU DO TO SLOW HIM DOWN? DO YOU FEEL LIKE THERE'S A TARGET ON YOUR BACK? "I wouldn't say that we feel like there's a target on our back. This year we've been much better at dealing with this pressure than any other year. That's something that I'm very proud of. Its taken '06 and "07 and really losing championships before that to give us the strength. I'm proud of that and frankly I'm trying not to listen to comments, remarks, open up newspapers, watch television, I don't need that floating around in my head. I just need to go out and do what I know how to do and drive the race car. The one thing that has caught me off guard by standing over here was listening to how the points need to change.
"Someone asked me last week about qualifying if there should be a random draw if it's a rainout to make it more exciting for the fans to where you start. I can't believe some of the questions and I'm finding humor in that stuff of these conversations of a reality situation taking place for point systems, qualifying, things like that. This is racing, you go out there and you earn your starting spot. You go out there and you earn your finish. You go out there and you earn your championships. That stuff I've been laughing at and listening to a little bit."
GREG BIFFLE AND JEFF BURTON WERE IN HERE EARLIER AND I ASKED THEM ABOUT WHETHER THEY THINK MUCH ABOUT THE CHASE WHEN THEY'RE NOT AT THE RACE TRACK, HOW MUCH IS IT ON YOUR MIND WHEN YOU'RE NOT AROUND THE RACE TRACK? "I have to work harder to ignore the Chase and what's going on than anything else in my life right now. I'm sure it's the same way for anyone that has a shot at this thing. I have found that trying to manage my own mind, manage my emotions, it's a full-time job. If you ignore it during the week and show up here on Friday, it's going to hit you hard and you're going to be overloaded with it. Different year's different things have worked for me. I try to keep myself occupied. I try to keep myself busy during the week and try to ignore as much as possible what's going on. But the hardest part is when you lay down in bed and try to go to sleep, there's nothing to keep you busy and you need sleep. That point I find I probably spend more time thinking about things before I fall asleep and when I wake up than I want to. It certainly cuts down on the sleep. You just can't shut the brain off. The things I've been ignoring throughout the day, they are still there.
"Going back to the management side I found that this year I've done a better job of managing those thoughts and spend a little time thinking about it before I go to sleep and almost having a mental check list - I've thought about that, going to Texas, I've looked at my race notes, looked at your qualifying notes, covered your bases go to sleep. Then I can sleep. Again the experience of dealing with this, we've had a shot at the championship each year, it's helped me learn these things and how to really manage my own head. That's what it really boils down to."
TALK ABOUT YOUR RACE SET-UP COMING INTO THIS WEEKEND, IS IT MORE LIKE YOUR SPRING RACE SET UP OR MORE OF A BASELINE FROM ATLANTA OR DO YOU PUT THE TWO TOGETHER? "No, from when we ran here in the spring things have changed a little bit for us. We had a long discussion at the beginning of the week, really last week as we were prepping the cars to get things ready to come, we felt like we were good but we feel like over the summer after this race we learned some more stuff and that what we've been racing lately is better. I'd say more like Chicago and Kansas, very, very strong setups and I hope we can make that setup apply here. Granted this track acts more like Charlotte and Atlanta with the transitions in and off the turns, maybe not the grip level especially Atlanta, Atlanta has lost a lot of grip. We know we can go back to where we were in the spring. We think we have something better than that. It's more like our Kansas setup that we're focusing on. We have a lot of experience with this set up so we're not scared about it, we're not nervous or feel like we're out on a limb that we haven't been on before but we're going to start with something a little bit different today and if we need to we can go back to where we were in the spring."
IF YOU'RE ABLE TO PULL OUT THIS CHAMPIONSHIP, HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO SIT DOWN AND THINK ABOUT REALISTICALLY HOW MANY TITLES YOU CAN WIN IN THIS SPORT? "No, I haven't thought that far ahead. I'm struggling dealing with tomorrow let alone years out. Again, just trying to manage my own head and what I'm focused on and what I'm thinking about, trying to keep it simple. Trying to not worry about things that are so far out and just worry about today and then wake up tomorrow and worry about that day. The team is a very, very good race team. We know at Hendrick (Motorsports) we have the tools to race for wins and race for championships year after year. I don't see that changing any time soon. A great group of guys, we're all in the middle of our careers so we still have a lot of years left. So I think all the ingredients are there to continue to fight for these championships and stuff but what that number is or any expectations, I really haven't thought that far along. Happy and shocked at the same time that we're in this position we're in this year, fighting for a third and really focused on getting that done and then worrying about what comes after that."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO THE SPORT IF YOU CAN CLINCH IN PHOENIX? WHAT ABOUT HOMESTEAD, ARE PEOPLE NOT GOING TO SHOW BECAUSE YOU MIGHT CLINCH IT AT PHOENIX NEXT WEEKEND? "As a fan of watching other people do amazing things, if you look at the Tour de France and how many people attended to watch Lance Armstrong win his seventh, I guess it depends on how you look at it. We have a chance at doing something that has only been done once before and I would hope that fans would look at that and say this is a special time, something we need to see, we need to go to the race. So that's really the mindset that I've had on all this. I'm sure for the fans they would love to see a race and I understand that and can sympathize with that to a certain degree. If we are able to do such a thing, that's a unique opportunity to see that and I would hope the people would go to watch."
-credit: gm racing