JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed momentum heading into the Chase, challenges of the new race car, tire problems at Indy, adding two races to his schedule and more. WITH TWO WINS, FOUR TOP-FIVE'S AND EIGHT TOP...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed momentum heading into the Chase, challenges of the new race car, tire problems at Indy, adding two races to his schedule and more.
WITH TWO WINS, FOUR TOP-FIVE'S AND EIGHT TOP 10'S AT POCONO, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO BUILD ON YOUR MOMENTUM OF WINNING AT THE BRICKYARD LAST WEEK? "I think we've got a great foundation to work from with the performance we had here in the spring. I think we had one of the best cars throughout the entire weekend. At the end, the No. 11 and the No. 99 had much more pace than I anticipated them having. I still think we have some work to do. The No. 9 was really strong here in the spring. But we're doing the right things. I keep saying this, but it's so true. To see all this hard work pay off it extremely gratifying to myself and the team. We won the Brickyard. We were testing Monday and Tuesday. We've been working really hard to understand this car. And there are days when we feel like we've got it under control, and other days where we feel like we are totally lost. Now we have more days where we feel like we're in control than we're lost and I think it's at the right time leading into the Chase and I feel very good about where we're at and what we're doing."
RIGHT AFTER THE TEST HERE, YOU SAID YOU GUYS HIT ON SOMETHING. TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TEST HERE AND HOW THAT MIGHT HAVE HELPED YOU AT INDY AND MAYBE HERE THIS WEEKEND TOO "Yeah, the way that you use these bump stops and what the bump stops are made of, it really is confusing in how you use the left front, the right front and both; and compounds of the material inside, and we got onto the right track here. I hoped that what we learned here would have applied more to Dover at the time. We had a good car, but we realized after that Dover race that we had more of a flat track set-up than a banked track set-up. So there are different pieces of this. In the past, if you had certain aero loads on the car, it didn't matter about the banking of the track. You put that set-up in and went. But now, you have aero loads that are important and then also the banking of the track. What works on a flat track for us will not work on a banked track. So we've been just chipping away at it and we've seen a lot of positive things from week to week. And we think we can take it to the next track and then reality hits and it doesn't work and we have to start over. But the season is long enough and we've been through enough combinations of tracks to where we can start applying the right things.
"I'm very happy. I think what we learned here at Pocono in the spring carried over to Michigan and we were really able to show it at Michigan; also at Indy, and coming back (to Pocono) we're in good shape. Hopefully this stuff will also work at Phoenix, Loudon, and Richmond. They are flat and have similar banking."
FOR TWO YEARS, YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO STAY AHEAD OF THE CURVE, YOU WERE SETTING THE CURVE. ALL OF A SUDDEN, THAT CHANGED. HOW UPSETTING IS THAT? "Oh, absolutely. It took us maybe three or four race weekends to admit we had a problem, because at first we thought well, it's just a bad test. And then we'd go back out for the race and thought oh, bad race, but we can't be that far off. And we worked extremely hard over the off-season, but unfortunately we worked in the wrong areas. It's not that we weren't pushing the curve up, but we just weren't in the right area of pushing the curve (laughs). So, we were in a bit of shock for a while and then we admitted it. It's kind of like that three-step program or some kind of addiction program where you first have to recognize you have a problem and then address it. We had to go through those steps and now we're coming through it."
ON THE TIRE PROBLEMS AT INDY, WHAT DO YOU THINK COULD HAVE BEEN DONE DIFFERENTLY AND WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE SITUATION? "I think at the end of the day, we need to find out why the tire rubber would not lay into the track and why it turned into a powder. It appears that at the test session, we didn't have that problem. We had a lot longer runs on that tire. We also saw this problem at Dover, where it just turned into a powder and didn't actually lay into the track. So I think when we get to the root of that problem, we'll be in good shape. I don't know what that is, but truthfully Indy always wears tires out. And no one new we had a problem until the end of the first practice when we really tried to make some long runs and the track wasn't taking rubber into the start of the second practice. And by then, it's too late. All the indications before that were the same as it's always been. We were on course for what we normally see except for the fact that the tire turned into a powder and a dust that didn't lay into the track. And with the circumstances we had, I really think NASCAR called a great race.
"From my standpoint, I'd come out in fifth or sixth every time at best, and would have to pass those guys and get to the lead. I didn't feel like I was handed a race by any means. I felt like I really had to go out there and race for it. And at the end, with the No. 11 and the No. 99, we put it all out there and raced hard for it. I hope, just like everyone, this never happens again. But I think at the end of the day we have to understand why the tire turned into a powder and why it didn't lay down into the track."
WITH SIX RACES LEFT HEADING INTO THE CHASE, IS THERE MORE OF A PREMIUM ON WINNING IN THESE NEXT SIX? "There is. We're looking better in the points to where I'd say maybe in a race or two, we could think about gambling, but right now our first goal is that we've got to make the Chase. Bonus points are very important, but I still know in the back of my mind and with my team's sense of urgency, we still know that the Chase is a totally different world with the pressure that comes with it, and the tracks that we run on. There are a lot of high-risk tracks that we compete on where you can lose 60 or 70 points easily in a mediocre day, not even having a bad day. You go to Talladega and get caught up in a wreck and end up 40th, there is a lot that can happen I guess is what I'm looking at. I would love to get a few more bonus points and wins. Wins are always great. They do a lot for the team, mentally, and for myself. There is a ripple-down effect through the garage area and the guys that we're competing against. So I would love for all that to happen, but if it doesn't, when those final 10 (races) start, it's a different world and I'm ready for that world."
ON THE TIRE ISSUE, WHAT WOULD YOUR SOLUTION BE? WOULD IT BE MORE TECHNOLOGY TESTING, MORE TESTING AWAY FROM THE TRACK, CHANGING THE CAR? "Everybody has an opinion and I think that hurts NASCAR and it hurts Goodyear from time to time. They are trying to listen to all the input and every opinion that comes in. At the end of the day, they have to make the decisions. A lot has changed. In some ways, I think a stable environment will allow Goodyear to catch up and do what they need to. You can never underestimate how much testing helps. More test sessions would help Goodyear get a better idea of the tire, more cars on track. All that stuff just makes everyone smarter. We've got a different world today with this car and this is the first time we've run this car on these big tracks. There is 40-50 percent less downforce, the center of gravity is five inches higher. There are a lot of things that are promoting abuse to the tire. And it's just going to take us a while to sort it out. The more testing that Goodyear does is just going improve that.
"In my opinion, we need a softer left-side tire to take away these two-tire stops, and work more on two or three segments on lefts and just change rights. I think if the lefts are working harder it's going to help save the rights a little bit more. Yeah, it's going to bring the pace of the race up and then do you run into a new problem now that you're going faster and beating up the rights? There are a lot of questions to be answered, but I personally think having tires wear out is a good thing and we need to be wearing four out, not just the right sides."
YOU ADDED A COUPLE OF RACES TO YOUR SCHEDULE THIS WEEK, WHAT IS YOUR THOUGH PROCESS IN DOING THAT? IS RANDY MOSS PROMISING YOU SUPER BOWL TICKETS OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT? (laughter) "Truthfully, I set goals for myself at the start of the season that I want (and those were) to win on a road course and to win at Bristol. And I'm running out of opportunities for both and the Truck race will help me get more seat time. Chad (Knaus) will be there and have more time working on a car, or truck I should say, and being involved in that whole experience. So hopefully we get enough seat time there that can carry over to the Cup car and can win. And then the road course race is the same thing. I thought about running the Grand Am race, which I absolutely love the Grand Am Series and those vehicles, but I don't think it's going to help me be better in the Cup car that weekend. The Nationwide car is the closest thing to what we do and that's why I'm going to run the Nationwide race."
WHAT DOES SEAN KERLIN (TIRE SPECIALIST) MEAN TO YOU AND YOUR SUCCESS AND WHAT'S HIS DUTY ON THE TEAM? "He's a light mechanic and takes care of all the tires for the team and really looks after my interests and all the driver safety stuff from my fire suits and gloves to the seats and liners and cooling systems that we use. He's a big part of all of that. He's been in racing his whole life and really loves Motorsports and does a great job. His attention to detail is important to me and goes really far in my eyes with all the stuff I'm using and counting on, really."
THE FACT THAT YOU'VE WON BACK-TO-BACK CHAMPIONSHIPS, DOES THAT SAY SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR TEAM'S ABILITY TO EXCEL IN THE CHASE FORMAT? "I think that experience helps everywhere. When I first came into the sport, I think I said something along the lines of I would trade five years experience for anything. I don't remember exactly what I said now. But the experience of being in the Chase in '06 helped me so much in '07. When I look at drivers and who I would favor for the championship, in my head I start with who has the most championships. He's going to be the most comfortable and at peace when that whole thing starts and the pressure kicks up. So I look at (Jeff) Gordon. And then you look at Tony (Stewart) and me and Matt (Kenseth). You get to other guys who have won championships; I have to put them first. That experience and that means so much, especially the experience in the Chase and winning the championship in the Chase. It's just a different world. I keep saying, it really is complicated; and there is a lot to worry about and a lot going on."
ON YOUR NATIONWIDE RUN AT THE GLEN NEXT WEEKEND, ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE THE SAME OVER-THE-WALL GUYS FROM CUP? WILL YOU BE No. 48? AND WILL CHAD KNAUS BE WITH YOU? "We will be the No. 48. I know in the Truck Series, the guys are going to come up and crew the car. I can't remember if JR Motorsports is running three cars or not. If they're not running three cars and it's just two, I'm sure I would have whatever crew that goes with that. But now that I think about it, isn't Junior running? Junior and the No. 5 and then us. So it would be our Cup guys then."
-credit: gm racing