JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed his goal of winning a road course race, what it would mean to win at The Glen, the points leading into the Chase, transferring off-road racing skills to Cup, and more. YOU ARE...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed his goal of winning a road course race, what it would mean to win at The Glen, the points leading into the Chase, transferring off-road racing skills to Cup, and more.
YOU ARE ON A ROLL NOW, IS IT GOING TO EXTEND TO THE ROAD COURSE HERE AT WATKINS GLEN? "I really hope so. We've made a lot of testing and put a lot of work toward it to come out here and compete and try to run the Nationwide race. We qualified well at Sonoma, but didn't race (well); we led at the beginning, but just didn't race in traffic like we wanted to. I feel like what we've been learning on the ovals is going to help us with the Chase. This race here is very important for the points, but it's more of a personal challenge for me and Chad (Knaus) than it is a race that we're looking at to help us down the road. The points are very important. We want to get out of here with a good finish, but when I wake up in the morning in the bus and look in the mirror, this is my challenge. I want to win on a road course. And this is the last chance I have this year to do it. So that's really what it boils down to."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN? "It's going to mean a lot to me. Through life, you set out challenges that you want to conquer and beat and I've been very fortunate to achieve a lot in this sport and win the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard twice now. Other tracks have been difficult on me, like Richmond. I never thought I would win at Richmond but I finally conquered that track. It would be extremely satisfying. It's something that I want to do. I really enjoy road course racing. I love racing in the Grand Am Series. I can see, way out in the future some day if I'm not racing Cup full time that I would love to run in the Grand Am Series on in some type of road course racing series. The 24 Hours of Le Mans is another big goal that I have for myself. So being a good road course racer is important to me. The crazy thing is I do a better job in these other vehicles than I do in a Cup car. I just have to figure out how to adapt my skills to this Cup car and do a better job at it."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR STRUGGLE FROM THE START OF THE YEAR UNTIL NOW? HOW DIFFICULT HAS IT BEEN? "It's been difficult. There are certainly races that we hit some new marks and some new lows at the start of the season with how the car performed and the finishes we had and kind of where we thought we were competitively in the garage. But it just shows how difficult the sport is and how hard it is to stay on top. We've put in a lot of hard work since and have established ourselves as a contender. At the end of the day, that's all you can ask for. We either have our stuff right and be a contender with the Chase starts and then just deal with those ten races as they come."
IF KYLE BUSCH WINS THIS WEEKEND, HE WILL CLINCH THE TOP SPOT IN THE CHASE. CAN YOU GO BACK TO LAST YEAR AND COMMENT ON THAT CUSHION YOU HAD GOING IN AND HOW MUCH THAT HELPED YOU AND HOW BIG A DEAL THAT REALLY IS? "You know, it's important, especially for the first two or three races when everybody is so worried about the points and where you're at. It really buys you some sleep and peace of mind at the start of the Chase. From my own experience, now it can be different for others, but as the season wears on and those final ten (races) wear on you're really just looking at the total and where it's at. For whatever reason, you forget about the seeding process, especially when you leave tracks like Talladega and Martinsville. You have so many other things on your mind that the seeding process is kind of at the bottom of the totem pole. Even though it is an important factor, but you just start worrying about what's ahead and those challenges that you have at the track. But he's definitely going to have a margin going into it. And the ways those guys have been and how good they've been, we're all going to have to show up on our game to beat them."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT RACING IN THE ROLEX 24 HOUR AND DO YOU EXPECT TO BE BACK THERE SOON? "I just really enjoy it and wish I could race a couple of other events throughout the year. We looked at it hard this year, but it just didn't come together with the tough market and the challenges we had to get our Cup program back in order. So in the future, I'd love to look at other events, but at a minimum I want to run the Rolex 24 Hour each year. I've finished second twice now. Hopefully that opportunity is there for me again next year. I'm sure in the next few months we will button-up what's going to take place, but I have every intention of racing in that race."
IN THE NEXT FIVE RACES, ARE YOU JUST RACING NOW FOR BONUS POINTS SINCE ONCE YOU'RE IN, YOU'RE IN. DOES IT CHANGE THE WAY YOU APPROACH THESE NEXT FIVE RACES? "I don't think about it that much, to be honest with you. I just give it everything I can every lap and if it's for a win, great, I think Texas was a good example of that last year of racing with (Matt) Kenseth. I really wasn't thinking about what was on the line. I just knew that we could win and I was going to do what I could to win. Over the years, and that may change, I've had a good understanding of what's pushing too hard and what's not trying hard enough and finding that balance to race for wins and win a lot of races but not make too many mistakes. And I hope that never changes. If that does change and I make bad decisions, then I'll probably think a little bit more. But right now I just try to keep things as simple as possible. I try to lead a lap to get the bonus, and try to lead the most laps if I can, and try to finish as good as I can without sticking it in the fence and without not finishing the event."
ON THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOU IN SIMILAR SITUATION AS YOU GO ALONG? "There are very few that get away that you feel that you could have prevented. I can think of three in my career in Cup. I don't think there are any others. But the three I think of are leading the 600 in my rookie season, we led 80 or 90 percent of the race and I slid through the pits on the last pit stop, that one definitely got away. I think of Chicago and I think of Atlanta where Carl Edwards got to the outside of me coming to the start/finish line. Those never leave your head. They just don't. And I think that's a good thing. I feel that you learn more from the mistakes you make on letting things fall through the cracks or whatever it may be, than you do in positive moments. So it's easy to win. It's easy to have things go your way. But when something like that hits you man, that stings. And you can't blame it on anyone but yourself. Those stick with you, they certainly do."
ON THE NUMBER OF CUP DRIVERS DOING THE NATIONWIDE RACE THIS WEEKEND, IS THAT BECAUSE ON A ROAD COURSE IT'S EASIER TO TRANSLATE STUFF FROM THE NATIONWIDE CAR TO THE CUP CAR? IS THIS ESSENTIALLY A PRACTICE FOR SUNDAY'S RACE? "I don't think that the technology will transfer like it would in the past. On a road course, it's more of an equalizer of the equipment in general. I think the cars that don't have the Cup affiliation have a better chance of winning on a road course. That's more of a basic set up; more of a neutral set up. You're turning left and right. Downforce is important, but how the body is twisted and where it's at and all those details that are so important on the ovals don't really exist here. They're helpful, but a good road course driver can overcome those things. Then on top of that, from my standpoint, I just need more seat time out there. If the Truck Series were here, I may choose running truck instead. It's closer, set-up wise than Cup car, but I just want more laps to get in the rhythm of road course racing and also have some fun.
"Bottom line, we're having some fun. I'm not making any money doing it. From my standpoint on this race, it's not for any money. Lowe's was nice enough to get involved and let Chad and I go out and have some fun. But some Cup drivers that come down and run have some great financial reasons that they do it. But when you get to a road course, I think everybody has a better chance to run up front with given equipment."
WEATHER IS A FACTOR HERE AND EVEN THOUGH THEY RAN IN THE RAIN LAST WEEKEND AT MONTREAL, NASCAR HAS SAID THEY WON'T DO THAT ON THE CUP SIDE. HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF THAT CHANGED AND THEY MADE THAT DECISION TO RUN IN THE RAIN AT THE GLEN? "I guess we're learning through the Nationwide Series, which has its pros and cons. There are teams that are barely making it race to race. They're out there doing the research and development for it (laughs). But I found the race interesting. As a driver, I like challenging situations and wet would be challenging to say the least.
"I'm not sure if I was a fan spending money to come sit in the stands and come and camp out and do all the things that you do, that you want to watch a slow paced race in the rain. That's my opinion. So I see why the Cup show is going to be run in the dry. It is what it is. I think that the wet experience I've had in the Grand Am racing will be helpful. At the end of the day, it's still a race and a trophy. So we'll just go out there and do what we can."
HOW MUCH HELP HAS JEFF GORDON BEEN TO YOU ON ROAD COURSE RACING? "Jeff has been a lot of help. We don't test up here, so it's tough, or at Sonoma anymore, so it's tough to really look at data. But as much as we can really talk about what our cars are doing and what we're looking for in the set-ups, we do all we can there. But when you get in the car and you're looking for a half-tenth per corner and it totals up to a three or four-tenth advantage come to start/finish, it's really tough to communicate those things. I seem to have the pace for a lap, or for a handful of laps, doing the right things, but as the tires age, I lose a little bit more time than I need to. So I'm not sure if it's being over-aggressive or what that really is. I keep searching for it. And you can't find that half-tenth per turn unless you get more seat time and just do it over and over. And that's really where I'm at and trying to race as much as I can on a road course."
LAST YEAR, WHAT WAS YOUR PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE ON THE CHAOTIC FINISH LAST SEASON THROUGH YOUR EYES? "Help me remember. I remember the No. 24 spinning and the No. 99 going off."
YES, ALL THAT, AND JUST BEING INVOLVED IN IT AND TRYING TO CATCH UP AND THEN FINISHING THIRD "They were all in front of me, so I was saying, 'Thank you', as I went by and went up a spot on the board (laughs). I really, really hated to see Jeff (Gordon) spin out. You get to the end of these races and it's funny being in the car, to watch the intensity ramp up. The first third of the event everybody is pretty reasonable with blocks and being considerate on track. And then it gets a little more intense. And then from that last pit stop on, you'll have Bill Elliott run you through the grass to not let you by. Everybody just fights for that space. It just gets really intense. You have to run so hard here to keep pace. There are heavy braking zones that can get you in trouble, like in Turn 1. When you get to the end of the race, the brake pedal is long, pads are worn out, and brakes are not working the same. You can get yourself in trouble. I think we saw a little bit of that last time."
IN YOUR EARLY CAREER, YOU DEVELOPED A SKILL SET THAT WOULD HELP YOU ON ROAD COURSES, LIKE OFF-ROAD AND RUNNING THROUGH THE DESERT. WHY HASN'T THAT TRANSFERRED TO CUP? "I don't know. It's such a good question. If you look at Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, two of the best road course drivers out there, and they grew up on dirt ovals running cars without bodies on. So I don't know what it is that crosses over and that works. But through everything we've worked on to look at where speed may be and what I need to do, it's such a small difference that after it totals up over the course of the event and you get back to the start/finish line, there's a sizable margin. But to break down a corner and find something that I'm really doing wrong, it's not there. It's just a little everywhere. The conclusion I've come up with is that I just need to do it more often. In off-road racing, it's really weird, but now it's more advanced and has developed into (being) similar to stock car racing or oval track racing. But the turns in off-road racing, when I was doing it, didn't matter. You were more worried about getting over the bumps and obstacles. There was more time to be had getting over those bumps than there was in the corners. And as technology has developed and they've figured out how to make those trucks handle even better in a straight line, the corners become more important. And I think an off-road racer today has a better feel for the corners and what takes place, than what I did. And for me, when I came into stock car racing, had no idea what stagger is, or wedge, or trackbar. I knew what compression and rebound were in shocks and sprint rates, but for jumps, none of that other stuff even mattered. I didn't even know what it was. And that's why that ASA Series did me so much justice. My crew chief literally sat me down with these VHS tapes and a book from this guy named Duke Sutherlin that walked me through the basics of stock car racing. And I remember it took me months to understand wedge and he literally went in the office and took the little adjusters off the floor, you know, that get the table level, and walked me through what wedge was and how it worked. And then it made sense. So it just took me a while to understand stock car racing and really what makes a car work through the turns and how to do that stuff because I was going straight and jumping stuff and in the air."
IF YOU HAD TO CRITIQUE YOUR TEAM'S PERFORMANCE ON THE ROAD COURSES, EITHER SKILL SET OR MECHANICALLY, WHERE IS THAT LAST LITTLE BIT YOU NEED TO GO FROM CHALLENGER TO CONTENDER? "I feel here, we're very close. At Sonoma, we're still searching. I know for a fact we have all the tools. I watch Jeff Gordon win and do what he does and I'm sitting there with the same equipment. So it boils down to the skill set. I can say Chad isn't as confident as he should be on road courses and I'm in the same boat. We're both kind of searching. And at the top level of racing where we are today, that little bit of indecision is probably what's hurting us. And that's why we were in Road Atlanta for two days after we won the Brickyard, on Monday and Tuesday, just trying to have more repetition and just do it more and make decisions and me drive the car and that's what this Nationwide effort is all about, just repetition. It's not something big. We have all the tools. It's just something small that is going to add up and be what we need."
-credit: gm racing