Atlanta: Johnson Friday wake up call

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Monte Carlo SS, who is fourth in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series points talked with members of the motorsports media about sponsorship in the sport, superstition, success at Las Vegas and more. ON DRIVING THE ...

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Monte Carlo SS, who is fourth in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series points talked with members of the motorsports media about sponsorship in the sport, superstition, success at Las Vegas and more.

ON DRIVING THE KOBALT CHEVROLET THIS WEEKEND: "It's a great opportunity for Lowe's and the Kobalt brand to get involved and sponsor an event. I think the paint job on the car looks good. I know that the Lowe's folks are very excited. I was at a Lowe's store that performed the highest in customer service in the nation on Thursday and even through the store employees to have another Lowe's brand on the race track was very exciting for them. We've got a new paint scheme and new excitement and Lowe's is working hard to revamp the Kobalt brand. There couldn't be a better place to do it than in racing where tools are needed and used. They are putting a lot of effort behind it so hopefully the fans out there can recognize that and start buying their products."

DID YOU GET A BIG TOOL CHEST OUT OF ALL OF THIS? "I did a year ago or so. Now that they're revamping the tools, I need to go back through and get some more."

ARE YOU FOLLOWING WHAT IS GOING ON WITH JEFF BURTON AND HIS SPONSORSHIP SITUATION? ARE PEOPLE IN THE GARAGE FOLLOWING THIS SITUATION? "I believe everybody is paying very close attention to it. I don't know the situation and (don't) know much about it but I can look back on a situation I had and everybody will remember with Gatorade and the other company where they were putting the bottle on top of the car and I knocked it off the car and a couple of times got in some hot water over that. Through that experience and talking to Brian France about it all, his explanation for it is competition is good. So I truly believe that NASCAR wants to have all these companies involved and wants to look out for them but when you sign a contract and they're your title sponsor, there are certain rights that have been negotiated and they've got to honor those rights in the contract. I think the contract is really what is determining that and if it's NASCAR's choice, they want all the companies there. We want every company in America if not worldwide to be involved and have representation here but when you have a contract like that you have to honor what has been negotiated."

AFTER WHAT HAPPENED IN LAS VEGAS WITH THE TIRE AND THE FUEL CELL, WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD HAVE CHANGED IN THE PROCESS LEADING UP TO THE RACE? "It's hard for the guy that won the race to complain too much. I could say it was a very uncomfortable race even with the car that I had and the success that we had. It was a really difficult race. It reminded me of Darlington or even here the way the tires are so slick and it's so hard to get a hold of the track. I think ideally if we could have tested the tire we raced on, we would have all been much happier and much more in control and confident with our setups. Obviously the situation that developed kept us from doing that but I think that's the only thing looking back and the only thing we can ask as race teams looking forward let's make sure we've got the right tire on. It's a big sport. We need to make sure that all the things are thought out and we need to have a chance to test on these things. With limited test sessions you can't go to Kentucky and try the tire and try to sort stuff out, you can't test the race track. And that's really the part we're struggling with; is how we get our cars comfortable when we've got two hours of practice to get it sorted out and that's why we see so many frustrated people. Somebody will get it better than the rest and we were that guy last week but still we'd like to have a chance with the combination we're going to work with."

WITH ALL THE CHANGES COMING TO NASCAR THIS YEAR, WHAT'S IT LIKE TO COME TO ATLANTA WHERE THINGS ARE PRETTY MUCH THE SAME? "I think it's well known that everyone loves coming to this track and racing on it. The vibe that I have is that it's qualifying night here and it's time to suck it up. There hasn't been any discussion of car or tire, it's about how brave we are going to be tonight to try and win the pole and try and qualify well. It's nice to forget about the what-ifs that are out there and just show up to a track and get to work."

ARE YOU OR ANY OF YOUR COUNTERPARTS SUPERSTITIOUS OR HAS TECHNOLOGY KIND OF TAKEN THAT OUT OF THE SPORT? "Superstitions in my mind are more head games and things that may bring you luck, good or bad. So as far as technology is concerned with the cars, I can imagine in Richard (Petty's) day, being on track, you could wear a car out in 200 miles and it wouldn't make the 500 miles. So I can see how you would associate luck and superstitions to some of the cars. In today's world the car will outlast you. They're so strong and built so strong, I don't think a driver thinks about them related to technology. I had superstitions when I was younger; I had certain things where if I ate the right meal or wore the right clothing, whatever it may be, I would feel like I had luck. It would show up once or twice, maybe three times, and it would go away and I'd count on that. I'd go into an event, foolishly thinking 'wow, this is going to work for me, I'm wearing my lucky boxers' or whatever else it may be, and it wouldn't work and I'd think 'wow, what happened.' So I really don't have any of the things that seem to fall in place when I go out to do my best. Weird things like maybe finding a penny that's heads up. But there really isn't anything that I rely on or count on. I want to say it's probably that way for the new drivers coming in. It's just changed for some reason."

DO YOU THINK THE CAR OF TOMORROW WILL BE THE GREAT EQUALIZER THAT NASCAR WANTS IT TO BE? "There's certainly been an effort to control the bodies and chassis and find things out. I don't think we'll have a true feeling of that until a year or two gets under our belts with the car. Right now it's a rat race to figure out what that car wants and the first team that finds it is going to have a nice advantage. The first group, the first company that finds it will have a nice advantage. I think in the beginning it's not going to seem that way but over time I know NASCAR - we all know it's NASCAR's vision to bring more parity to the sport - actually, we're pretty equal as it is and I don't know how we're going to make it more equal out there. So we'll just have to learn with the car and try to help get things sorted out for '08 when we have to run a bunch of tracks like Atlanta."

HOW DOES THE NEW CAR COMPARE WITH THE CURRENT CAR? "The only comparison I have is Bristol. I have not been on a mile-and-a-half track to compare the downforce of the car but we were slower in the Car of Tomorrow and we had tight situation that we couldn't get out of the car. That part was frustrating and then the stuff we use to set the cars up is totally different. Springs don't do what they used to; the main focus is to keep the splitter on the ground and maintain the perfect attitude around the race track. So rear spring changes that you may make will twist the car and change the splitter height and you now have a packer that's a very stiff - it's almost like coil binding - you put packers in the front shocks to keep the splitter from hitting the ground. And there really isn't any give in that. So once you hit the packer the front-end shoots up the track. So we just need to figure out how to make it work and it's going to take some time. Bristol is true challenge to that car. It's a rough track and a tough place to set a race car up."

IS LAST WEEK'S RACE AT VEGAS A MOMENTUM STARTER FOR YOUR TEAM? "No, we felt like we had good momentum. I know our performance in Daytona, for all of Speedweeks down there wasn't what we wanted. We were certainly frustrated with that but as we got into Fontana things were right back on track and then last weekend was a great race for us and in my mind, it's a relief to win the first race of the season. I always come into the start of the season with doubt and wondering if the last year was a fluke. If maybe I forgot how to drive a car over the off-season or whatever it may be so it's nice to get the first win under your belt each year."

COULD YOU PUT MORE THAN 43 CARS ON A MILE-AND-A-HALF TRACK AND LARGER AND IS THERE A FAIRER WAY TO DO THE TOP 35 THEN SENDING HOME ALL THESE TEAMS EVERY WEEK?" "Well, 43 cars seems like it works out there. At some of the smaller tracks it seems a little crowded and congested out on the tracks but I guess we're all used to it so it really doesn't affect me or bother my mindset having that many cars. When you have 43 slots there has to be some sort of system in place to regulate that and set the field. With how many good cars we have and good teams, you're going to be sending people home so I don't know how to look at it. I'm not sure what opinion I should have on it or if there was a change what I would change. Again I'm just a creature of comfort and it seems to be working fine now. But I'm not in Michael Waltrip's shoes; to even have a car sent home so I'm not really living it close enough to understand it."

DO YOU THINK YOU CAN TAKE SOME OF YOUR SUCCESS FROM LAS VEGAS TO HERE OR DOES THE TIRE HAVE A LOT TO DO WITH IT? "We hope that some of that works here but if you look at some of the troubles that the No. 17 had, the No. 20 had a strong finish but had a long week. The No. 9 car, which typically flies at a track like that was struggling. I think a lot of it was trying to understand that tire and we figured it out and had a good car for that. I don't even know what tire we're on here; I'm not sure if it's new or different or if it's going to cause any issues. But I would expect Kasey (Kahne) to be back on track and up front at a track like this."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Michael Waltrip , Jimmie Johnson