JIMMIE JOHNSON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, met with members at Texas Motor Speedway and talked about testing over the off weekend, safety at race tracks, weather affects on the track, riding dune buggies and more. LAST WEEK YOU...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, met with members at Texas Motor Speedway and talked about testing over the off weekend, safety at race tracks, weather affects on the track, riding dune buggies and more.
LAST WEEK YOU TALKED A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SHORT TRACK RACING AND THAT YOU HAD PRETTY WELL COVERED, YOU TALKED ABOUT INTERMEDIATE TRACKS NEEDED TO BE WHERE YOU GUYS PICKED UP, SO SINCE ATLANTA WHAT HAVE YOU GUYS WORKED ON EITHER TALKING TOGETHER OR WORKING ON THE RACE CARS TO MAKE TEXAS A BETTER SITUATION. "We were happy to go to Martinsville and run like we should there, so we recognized what we did last year was working on the short tracks we just need to spend a little time on the big tracks. I look back to the test sessions with the Car of Tomorrow and we didn't really anticipate any of the intermediate track stuff. When I did the NASCAR test it was at Talladega and we've had great success there so we just haven't had a lot of time on these intermediate tracks and myself as a driver and our team is suffering a little bit from that. Some of our teammates have run better than us but I still think as a whole we got a little bit of work to do.
"So we've done nothing but work hard. We tested a lot over the off weekend that we had and hopefully we'll get on track this weekend and we're able to be up front where we want to."
WHAT WAS THE MOST POSITIVE THING THAT CHAD (KNAUS) TOLD YOU FROM THOSE TESTS? "The thing was we almost felt like we were going to find something big that we were missing and we didn't. But we found a lot of small things in a lot of areas. Hopefully all that comes together. We tested at some different tracks but none of them were a big track like this so hopefully those things carry over and show up. You just never know with the testing rules like they are it's hard to find the right tire, it's impossible to get on the right track. We're hopeful that all the time, effort and money that we spent to develop the cars and make them a little better pays off."
ON THE POSSIBILITY OF PEOPLE ROOTING AGAINST HIS TEAM SINCE THEY HAVE BEEN ON TOP AND WON TWO CHAMPIONSHIPS IN A ROW. "I can see that. I watched the Patriots last year and the negativity surrounding them and the Super Bowl and everybody wanted the underdog to win, so I can see how that can take place. I haven't really experienced much of it. It's pretty early in the season. If people don't want to see us succeed and if it makes fans mad, not fans of the 48 mad, I want to make them mad. That's my job. I need to go out there win races, win championships and I hope we get back to our ways and have a bunch of people mad at us."
LIKE THE NEW YORK YANKEES AND THE PATRIOTS, AFTER A WHILE THEY BECOME THE TEAM TO ROOT AGAINST. I DON'T KNOW IF YOU'VE EXPERIENCED ANYTHING LIKE THAT. "Not yet. I do recognize how tough it is to stay on top and when you see guys go on runs like Lance Armstrong won seven Tour de France's in a row, I watch what the Patriots have done, you look at Jeff Gordon's four championships in our sport and I look around at other sports organizations and their success, it's a tough thing to do. And we're trying to do our part to make this 48 car have a solid footing in the record books. I certainly respect what other sports organizations have done to be there and put themselves there too."
ON THE REACTION THAT HENDRICK HAS FALLEN OFF THE EDGE OF THE EARTH THIS EARLY IN THE SEASON. "I think there's a little bit of an overreaction right now. We're realist and we know as a whole that Hendrick hasn't been as strong as it was last year, but we still haven't had horrible cars. I think Jeff (Gordon) has been running the strongest but has had some bad luck and hasn't shown up. I think Junior is running the second strongest of the Hendrick cars. You look at Jeff, I don't know where he is in points I think it's probably ninth or something, I'm tenth, Junior's fourth or whatever, it's not terrible.
"We're off to a good start. I mean it could be better yes, but it's a long season and we really got to look at our goals which the first goal is to make the chase and then win the championship. Where we are right now we're certainly on track to make the chase and once we get our foundation built for the season and understand what we need for every type of a track then we can start looking at race wins."
JEFF BURTON HAS BEEN THE ONLY TWO-TIME WINNER IN THE CUP SERIES HERE AT THIS TRACK, WHY IS THAT AND WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO TRY TO CHANGE THAT SUNDAY? "This track is tough. It's seems to change a little. The harsh summers and winters effect the track and the same set up won't work every time you come back here. The track changes a lot and I think that's a good thing. I think this track really is challenging and challenges the teams and drivers from year to year. I hope I can come back and repeat but I know it's a tough thing to do here at Texas."
ON HOW MUCH THE WEATHER CONDITIONS WILL CHANGE THE TRACK FROM TODAY TO SUNDAY WHEN IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE AROUND 80 DEGREES AND SUNNY. "Huge change. Big, big change especially if the temperatures go up like that. The track will lose a lot of grip over the course of the weekend."
WHEN YOU WON HERE LAST YEAR THAT WAS A STREAK OF FOUR INA ROW YOU HAD ON THE WAY TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP. HAVE YOU EVER HAD A TIME WHERE YOU FELT AS DIALED IN WITH THE TRACK, WITH THE CAR, WITH THE CREW AS YOU WERE DURING THAT STRETCH LAST YEAR? "Can't say that I have. That was a special period of time and we won races we should. We won Atlanta, which we shouldn't have, we were a sixth-place car all day long and that's when strategy worked out and some cautions helped us at the end. We really couldn't do any wrong over those final few races and it was a great experience."
DOES JUNIOR BEING SO STRONG RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX SURPRISE YOU? "No it doesn't. I can remember points through last season and year's past where that eight car has been up front and strong and has had some quirky things take place and take him out of shots to win races. I think he's on par. I think he's put in the performances that he has been and should and there's less mistakes being made as a whole and he's able to capitalize on those strong runs. He's doing a great job."
HOW MUCH INFORMATION FLOWS BETWEEN THE 48 AND THE 88? "It's free flowing between all of them. It's not out of design, but the fact that the 24 and the 48 are in the same building and the five and 88 are in another building, there's probably more day-to-day communication that takes place just because of how the cars are positioned in the shops, but with all the meetings and the database and the information, the open-book policy that we have we all know every intimate detail of each other's cars."
WITH OTHERS TEAMS SUCCESS THIS YEAR SUCH AS RCR, DOES THAT GIVE YOU GUYS A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF HOW TEAMS WERE FEELING LAST YEAR WHEN YOU WERE SO DOMINATING? "I think we're seeing, like we typically do in motorsports, times change. It's impossible to stay on top for a long period of time. We saw Childress, we knew Childress was strong last year, we knew Gibbs was going to be strong regardless of make, Roush was maybe a little off last year and it caught a lot of us off guard and as the year wound down those guys were right there, so it's not surprising us to have the competition as tough as it is. We're, as the 48 car, a little surprised to be off on the intermediate tracks like we have been and we're working very hard to correct that and I'm excited to get out there on track and get back to our winning ways."
ON RIDING DUNE BUGGIES WITH CASEY MEARS. "That's awesome. I had high expectations. I knew that technology in those off-road buggies evolved and I went in with lots of expectations and driving the cars and feeling the horsepower and what they could do far exceeded the expectations that I set for myself and what those cars can do.
"The coolest thing is, I've been telling my wife about the sand dunes and how much fun we had out there, she didn't know what to think. The first thing we did - I'm in a 1200 horse power sand car, a real light sand car, and we're doing wheelies at 80 miles per hour uphill, she wasn't too fond of that at first and that's her first exposure to sand dunes and then we found some big jumps.
"We're jumping this thing probably 50 or 60 feet in length and I hit the first jump and I knew I carried a little too much speed into it and when I landed I expected her to look at me like don't do that again and she looked at me, had this smile on her face and said do it again. So we spent all day trying to find more jumps and launch that buggy around. It was a great experience. It was fun to be out there."
LAST WEEK YOU GUYS WERE HAVING SOME PROBLEMS WITH EVERYBODY SAYING IS HENDRICK DONE. YOU GUYS PUT FOUR IN THE TOP 10 - DO YOU FEEL LIKE MAYBE THAT'S A SIGN OF WAKING THE GIANT? "I think what we're looking at is all right last year in the COT races that we won were on the short tracks, as we come back to those tracks are we still competitive? In Bristol I was more competitive than I was there in the fall so we felt like short track program was still there for us. Went to Martinsville and ran like we should so we recognize okay short track stuff we're good, we're where we need to be. It's the intermediate stuff that we just, we're not up to speed on yet and we spent a lot of time testing over the off-weekend to get prepared. We feel like we have some new direction, new areas to work in and I really look forward to getting on track and hopefully proving that out this weekend with all the hard work we put into it. I think superspeedway stuff we're good, road course we should be good, short tracks are showing strong, if we can just get our 1.5-mile stuff under control we should be fine."
WHERE DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOUR STRUGGLING ON THE 1.5-MILE TRACKS? "We were really hopeful we were going to find something big and through our testing we didn't find anything big. We threw everything at it, a variety of combinations and ideas and it really came down to massaging a lot of little areas and found a tenth here and a tenth there. We're optimistic but at the same time we couldn't test on the right tire or on the right tracks so if we can just bring half of what we learned at the tracks that we tested at and get half of that speed here, we'll be in the top five and have a very competitive race."
ON IF THE NEW CAR WILL PRODUCE THE EXCITING SIDE-BY-SIDE RACING THAT HAS HAPPENED AT TEXAS IN THE PAST. "It's gonna be a while before we see the side-by-side racing on these bigger tracks. The car's a bigger vehicle, it punches a bigger hole in the air, tires have less and less grip, we have less down force, higher roll centers, I mean everything makes these cars harder to drive. So it's not as easy to race side-by-side. It may be entertaining to watch because the car's sliding around on track but it's more difficult for us to race on these big tracks than what we had last year."
YOU DON'T EXPECT TOO MANY GUYS IN THE HIGH GROOVE THIS TIME AROUND? "It will sound like I am contradicting myself, but because the car is so tough to drive, you go in the corner and you lose it and you find yourself in the high groove, so the groove will widen out but the real hard side-by-side racing is just tough to do.
"You want as much space around your car, you don't want any air disturbance around your car because it just takes the car out of the track and you can't drive it. Hopefully we'll have a second groove and I think this car will promote more lanes of racing but to really get in there and race with someone, it's harder than it was in the past."
ON WHAT TRACKS NEED TO MAKE CHANGES AS FAR AS SAFETY IS CONCERNED. "I think Pocono is certainly a track that needs to be changed around immediately. It's probably further behind than any other track that's out there. But still even the tracks that are the most advanced today still need work and unfortunately in our sport everybody responds after something bad takes place and they need to be proactive and they need to look at a lot of different areas. These cut outs, you look at Jeff Gordon's impact at Vegas, that's one of the more modern facilities that we have but there's a problem there. We need to work on that and address that and from what I understand they're doing that. So those kick outs and cut outs where safety vehicles come onto the race track all need to be revamped and looked at. I don't see any reason whatsoever to have grass from the inside wall to the outside wall. Grass does not slow the vehicle down, gets the car air born, speeds it up in some cases. The other thing like Pocono has, they still have guardrails. I mean that technology is form the 80's and it can be better and needs to be better. Hopefully the tracks, I know it's expensive but it's not worth losing somebody over and not worth hurting someone. Everybody needs to stay focused and continue to evolve the safety in the sport."
EVERYONE WAS TALKING ABOUT HENDRICKS STRUGGLES THIS YEAR BUT YOU GUYS HAVE THREE CARS THAT ARE STILL IN THE HUNT, HAS THAT JUST PROVEN HOW GOOD YOU GUYS ARE? "We haven't had the quick start that we had hoped to have. Unfortunately the five car has had a slow start plus a lot of bad luck. I still think that he can get into the chase. It's early enough in the season where he can get on a roll and get back into the chase. I really think that another month from now we'll be where we want to be company-wide and really have the speed across the board on every type of track. Racing is a tough sport. We've had a lot of great success but we've also known we've been on top and it's tough to stay on top and right now we're trying to search back and get back to those dominating ways."
ON HOW THE ECONOMY IS AFFECTING THE TEAMS AND IF IT HAS A BIGGER AFFECT ON THE SMALLER TEAMS. "It is. I don't think it matters if you're a big team or a small team, you're gonna see the affects. The smaller teams certainly see the affects much more. I feel very lucky to work for Hendrick Motorsports and know how Rick commits to sponsors and it really shows on the return of their investment. That's something that a big team can do and that helps us in these tough times. With Lowe's, they're going through a tough time in the housing market and all that's going on and they look at their NASCAR program they think wow this is an asset and this is helping drive traffic to our stores, those other business-to-business relationships that exist.
"We're not going to cut this, we're gonna cut something else. I think that's where the big teams can show a return to the sponsors and continue to keep the doors open and have the funding there and continue to run well. But there's no doubt it has everyone nervous. Not only from the sponsorship side, but when you look at the discretionary money that families have to come to race tracks, buy souvenirs, every revenue stream in motorsports is affected by the economy and a down economy. Right now it's tough for everyone, nationwide, doesn't matter if its sports, not sports related, it's just a tough time for everyone right now."
TALK ABOUT PHOENIX: "I'm ready to go back. I think Martinsville was a great race for us and our short track program. We tested out there and felt like we got a good idea and good direction to go with things. I'm excited we have the Jimmie Johnson Foundation race on Thursday evening that's gonna take place for the Winston West race. A great opportunity PIR came to us about, and we're gonna have the foundation kind of hosting the event out there. I'm excited about that. Just fired up to get out there. We were able to win out there last fall and we want to get another trophy out in Phoenix."
WHOSE GONNA WIN THE FINAL FOUR? "I'll say two things, one is my publicist, I obviously know who she wants to root for, but the other side of it is I don't know any other team that's in the final four. I have not been paying attention, I've been completely out of the basketball loop, and I'm totally serious. I've been focused on driving race cars. I've been testing my butt off, we tested five or six days in the last ten so I've been thoroughly committed to motorsports and listening to my publicist tell me how Kansas is gonna win."
SO YOU WON'T HAVE ANY INTEREST IN WATCHING THE GAME ON MONDAY NIGHT? "I'll watch it. Hopefully I'm not testing Monday night or Monday. We've been so busy at the track, but I love any playoffs. It doesn't matter what the sport is, a certainly want to check it out. And she's gonna tell me about it anyways."
ON WHAT HE LEARNED FROM TESTING THAT GIVE HIM HOPE FOR THIS WEEKEND? "We tried to do some intermediate testing in Kentucky but the weather was bad. Cancelled two opportunities that we were going to go to Kentucky and test and then we had an open day to go and the track was weeping water out and we couldn't test so we packed up the truck relocated the crew and repositioned the cars to Nashville and I think it's a mile and a third right around a mile size race track and we spent a couple days there. We didn't get on a big track or the high speeds but we saw some gains and I think directionally we learned some things at Nashville. We're optimistic, but it still wasn't a big track and that's where we're frustrated with all the attempts to go test and hopefully it shows up here."
ON HOW IT FELT TO FINALLY FIGURE OUT RICHMOND LAST YEAR. "It's so frustrating when you can't figure out the rhythm of the track and after you've been there so many times and tried every combination of set up, driver's techniques and all those things and you don't hit it, it's really frustrating. So to get it right last year was rewarding. I was fearful it was a fluke after the first race and luckily we came back the second race and had a similar performance."
WHAT MAKES IT SO TOUGH FOR REPEAT WINNERS HERE AT TEXAS? "The track changes so much year to year. It's early in the season too, at least the first race and the way it's been the start of the racing here. So much changes over the off season, new rules, new packages and the track changes a lot. Bumps develop here, the asphalt's aging because of the weather patterns we see here in Texas. Those are all good things and as drivers we all love the rougher tracks and tracks that age and have some characteristics to them."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT THESE DAYS TO HAVE GOOD TEAMMATES WITH YOU, WORKING TOGETHER? "It really is everything to have good teammates. We're so limited with our testing and how we're able to collect data that if you have multiple teammates and guys that know what they're feeling and know how to develop the car you cover a lot more ground that other teams."
ON IF HE HAS HAD ANYONE THAT HE SEEMS TO TANGLE WITH A LOT. "I haven't had any this year luckily. There's usually guys for whatever reason the cars have magnets on them and you run into each other time and time again. Luckily I haven't had that this year. I'm sure it will happen though."
-credit: gm racing