Texas: Johnson - GM top-ten interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS Note: Media talks with Johnson following the press conference announcing that Lowe's and SeaWorld will feature a Shamu paint scheme on his Chevrolet when the ...

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS

Note: Media talks with Johnson following the press conference announcing that Lowe's and SeaWorld will feature a Shamu paint scheme on his Chevrolet when the Daytona 500 champion returns to the superspeedway on July 1

"The partnership between SeaWorld and Lowe's just makes a lot of sense. It is going to be great for everyone. Growing up I did spend a lot of time at the SeaWorld in San Diego. So having Shamu on the car is kind of a blast from the past in certain ways. It is going to be a lot of fun and an event we will look forward to at the July race at Daytona."

ANY ANIMAL MEMORIES FROM SEAWORLD?

"I remember this kids area where you could just climb on everything. We would spend a lot of time in there and then try and catch some of the different shows. Definitely watch the whales. I remember the penquins and some other things there at SeaWorld."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS WEEKEND AT TEXAS?

"I feel really good coming in here. I think we have started to understand some more things on the mile and one-half tracks. Texas hasn't been one of the better ones for us, but I think we're on the right track and we are going to have a great performance here this weekend"

ON MENTAL ADJUSTMENT COMING OFF SHORT TRACK TO TEXAS

"It is not that difficult really. I think we are trained as the season goes on and the years go by to think of that race track and what it requires, then once you race there, you move on to the next one. So, all week long, I have been thinking about Texas, how I drive this race track, what I do and should be right up to speed when I get on the race track.

ON WHAT IT TAKES TO BE FAST AT TEXAS

"For me, it seems like getting in to the turns is the hardest part. The transitions are pretty aggressive getting into the corners and that is where I have typically struggled here. I think we finally understand how to keep the car at the right attitude on corner entry here. I am looking forward to practice to make sure we have it where we need it."

ON THE STRENGTH OF THE TEAM

"It is a very strong race team. Chad Knaus (crew chief) has done an amazing job of building the race team, putting it together and really training us all in our positions. I think we surprised ourselves along with the whole racing community coming out and winning the races that we did without Chad. Bristol really wasn't the greatest welcome back for him the way things went there but after that we went to Martinsville, won the pole, finished third and fighting for the win all day long. We had a great performance and I think we were able to show that this team is something to really pay attention to and that we are really serious about this season."

DURING SUSPENSION, HOW MUCH WAS CHAD KNAUS INVOLVED ON A DAY-TO-DAY BASIS?

"He was still the crew chief and ran the operations of the race shop. Obviously when we left and went to the track, we were kind of on our own at that point. But he was still the crew chief and did everything he could during the week to get the team prepared for the races."

DO YOU KNOW WHAT MIGHT BE IN STORE IN THE FUTURE FOR (TEMP. CREW CHIEF) DARIAN GRUBB?

"He is back, in his position. He is the head of our engineers at Hendrick Motorsports. He is still on the 48 box during the races helping Chad call the race working through those things. I am sure his phone has been ringing after the success we have had. Bu at the same time, I know he wants to be a part of this 48 team and hopefully a championship. He has been here since really the second year of the No. 48 team being around. He has been a very crucial and important part to the race team. Hopefully we can win this championship and hopefully keep him in our organization."

WHAT IS DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TEXAS AND CHARLOTTE WHERE YOU HAVE BEEN SO SUCCESSFUL? HAVE YOU HEARD ANYTHING ABOUT THE MOST RECENT TIRE TEST AT LOWE'S?

"I haven't heard anything about the tire test. I am not sure how that turned out. The tire test I participated in there, I thought we had a really great tire and was really shocked at the problem that we had and crash our race car. Texas is still different.

"I know that Texas looks like Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Atlanta to the naked eye but on the track, they drive so much different. We have been decent here but struggled and not the performance we want to have. I think we have learned a lot over the off-season and the start of this year. I am really excited and ready to get on the track."

THOUGHTS ON THE AIKMAN/STAUBACH TEAM -- WILL THEY EVENTUALLY BE A FORCE IN THE SPORT?

"Without a doubt. To walk into our sport with a start up team, it doesn't matter who it is that forms a race team, and have instant success in very tough. I don't think it is really possible. If you look at how long a Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Robert Yates, Richard Childress, all the major teams, they have years and years of experience in the sport. Over that period of time, they have built all of the things necessary to support the race team. They have the machinery, the people, and the engineers. all the other things. You need to be in the sport for a while to accumulate all of those things. With all that being said, I think they are great for our sport, we welcome them to our sport. I think they are going to help our sport move to the next level. At the same time, I think it is going to be a tough grind for them until they have been in the sport for a little while, get their feet wet and get some experience behind them."

TALK ABOUT THE HIGH GROOVE HERE AT TEXAS.

"I think so. I have had a little success running in the middle of race track here. When we come to a track like this, I eagerly watch practice for Kasey (Kahne) or Michael Waltrip or different other guys that are known to get up there and clean the top off and get it working. Hopefully it will come in and we will have good two or three wide racing."

HOW DOES YOUR PREPARATION CHANGE TO COME BACK TO A TRACK LIKE THIS THAT IS IN THE CHASE FOR A SECOND TIME IN THE SEASON

"We are paying close attention to every race. Martinsville is in the chase as is this place, we look at this as a test session getting ready for the final ten races. In the situation we are in right now by getting off to such a good start, so we can strategically play this game. The teams that have had a slower start, this race is just as important to one in the Chase and they have a different agenda out there. For us, we want to bring a well- refined package. One that is based on good notes from the track for our car setup and bring it back later in the year."

ON MARK MARTIN RETIRING FROM CUP AT THE END OF THE SEASON.

"Mark Martin is one of the most well respected guys that has ever driven a race car in my opinion. I was talking with him before the Bristol race and said 'Man, I thought you were going to slow down this year'. He said 'Me too, and they are trying to talk me into a full truck program, I have these Busch races and I have the full Cup program as well'. For a guy who wants to slow down, for whatever reason he would want to retire or slow down or if you think you have lost your edge to a certain degree, Mark Martin hasn't lost his edge or his desire. The guy has raced in more races than anyone, winning, competing, he is second in Cup points right now. He is very well respected in our sport."

DO YOU SUBSCRIBE TO THE THEORY OF IF MARK MARTIN WOULD DO, I CAN OR IF HE WOULDN'T DO IT, I WON'T EITHER?

"That is a fair way to put it. Guys like Mark, Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett race with a lot of respect and there is a certain flow on the track that they expect to see and want that respect given back to them. If you don't, they will get in there and teach you that you need to pay them the respect that is needed. I subscribe to that as well definitely."

DID TONY STEWART SUBSCRIBE TO THAT MARK MARTIN RULE IN GETTING AROUND YOU AT MARTINSVILLE?

"When you get to the end of a race and there is 25 to go, I think the rules do change a little bit. I can say from racing with Mark the last five years, the competition is so much more intense when you get to midway through the race. Whereas before at the beginning of the race, you knew everyone would let you go, then you would get down to two or three pit stops from the end, it got serious. Now it's serious throughout the race. Track position is so important that you can't just point people by anytime they get to you. I have seen a big change in Mark's driving. Not to single out Mark, but everyone. The competition is so much tougher, that a guy like Mark Martin who would point someone by, he doesn't even do that anymore because the competition is that much more intense. We are all changing on the race track."

IS THERE MORE MEAN DRIVING OUT THERE THIS YEAR?

"Competition does wierd things to people. I haven't seen a huge lack of disrespect or evil driving out there, but we all know we are professionals. We all know where to position our cars to give us maximum advantage. Sometimes the guys are getting a little more aggressive than others, but that is what we are trained and paid to do and I think that is what keeps our sport so exciting. We are not out there in a parade pointing each other by and letting the race unfold. We are out there trying to earn it and doing everything we can.

IF YOU HAVE A VIEW STEWART'S REAR BUMPER IN YOUR WINDSHIELD HERE WITH THREE LAPS TO GO, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

"He did a very good job of racing me hard and not wrecking me at Martinsville. You race people how they race you. He didn't wreck me, he roughed me up a little, it took about 10 laps to do it. He got me up off the bottom after rooting me out of the way. There is nothing there between me and Tony. After the race, I got out of the car and congratulated him, he did an amazing job and was faster than I was. I look forward to racing Tony very intensely at a good short track race. I want to go back to Martinsville and race that same way with him because that is fun stuff. I saw a quote from him that said something about if Dale Earnhardt was behind me. When I read that, if Earnhardt was behind me, I am not sure I would have made it back to third. It was just short track racing, I had a lot of fun and I had a great time last weekend."

IS IT ROUGHER OUT THERE?

On the short tracks, it may be a little rougher and when you have single groove race tracks and someone is really holding you up and you get to the end, you are going to have that. I wouldn't expect that stuff to take place this weekend, the speeds are too high. We can't bump each other and lean on each other like you would a short track. When you have back-to-back short tracks, I think you are going to see some feuds and tempers escalate and carry over and see a lot of bumping and banging."

DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT TIRES THIS WEEKEND?

"I haven't even thought about it coming in here, I think we will be in good shape."

WILL TIRES NOT BE AN ISSUE BECAUSE THE TRACK IS WORN OUT?

"There is always tire pressure and camber you have got to worry about. But for our team, we have had more tire issues by wearing the right rear out. That doesn't make me feel a ton more comfortable but I think that some of that is in the setup. We just don't have right front issues on the 48 team, we don't push the envelope there.

"We just get to the maximum grip area with that right front tire and consider that good and try not to abuse that. If I am worried about anything, it would be after 40 or 50 laps and wearing the right rear out. That is something we will play close attention to and get the setup adjusted around so we use the left rear tire a little bit more than just dominating on the right rear."

ARE YOU GETTING AT ALL FRUSTRATED THAT HUMPY (WHEELER), GOODYEAR AND NASCAR DON'T SEEM TO BE MAKING PROGRESS TO CORRECT THE TIRE PROBLEMS THAT HAVE RECENTLY BEEN HAPPENING AT CHARLOTTE RACES?

"I think there is something new taking place on the tracks and it really just boils down to technology and how fast the race cars are advancing and our speed and how much load we are putting on the tires. It may sound wierd, but I think the asphalt industry is growing and building a better product. Which puts Goodyear to adjusting to two different things that are coming along. When I was at that tire test, I felt like we had a perfectly good tire. I was out there making a long run and the right rear went down and I got in the wall. I was shocked and surprised and didn't expect it. I think there is more going on and it is really hard to point a finger at anyone. I know that Goodyear is working as hard as they can, but when they have so many variables it is a tough industry and business. I know we are all very hopeful that the tires can make an entire fuel run and this problem goes away. I think Goodyear is in a position now that they are developing, designing and building an entirely new tire that can take new loads and new demands. Whereas we have been racing on something that has been good for 15-20 years. I think the cars are at the next level and the tracks are at the next level and the tires have to catch up."

ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH KNOWING WHY YOUR TIRE WENT DOWN AT CHARLOTTE?

"I am not 100% sure why it went down two weeks ago. But I was excited to hear that they are going to go back and test which they did, but I haven't heard anything from that test."

THOUGHTS ON CAR OF TOMORROW DEVELOPMENT

"Well, it is coming and I think teams are trying to ramp up and get prepared to make the transition. I think all of us question some different things about it, the look I guess is the first thing that everybody questions. But it is the package that NASCAR has announced and it is time for all of us as a team just to get the ball rolling and get things right to try and have the best product when they debut at Bristol. We are working hard on it, I hear talk about it all the time and the advancements we are making and developing and all the things that are going on right now. We are trying to build a good product and come back and race it next year."

MARK MARTIN IS 17 YEARS OLDER THAN YOU AND SECOND IN POINTS RIGHT NOW, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?

"He is one of the best in the sport and I think that Mark Martin has shown that he is at the top of his game. He is ready to win a championship. He is doing an amazing job of winning races and competing for the championship. It is a tough thing the difference in our years and experience. I would trade experience over age any day. When you have as many qualify years in a race car as Mark does, it all comes back in perspective. You can see the sport in the bigger picture. From inside the car, you understand the racing and how it develops. The experience is priceless."

-gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bobby Labonte , Michael Waltrip , Jack Roush , Robert Yates , Chad Knaus , Mark Martin