JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media to discuss the tire situation, Dale Jarrett's retirement, the new generation race car, expectations of this weekend's race at Bristol, and more. CAN YOU RUN ALL AROUND THIS RACE TRACK NOW...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media to discuss the tire situation, Dale Jarrett's retirement, the new generation race car, expectations of this weekend's race at Bristol, and more.
CAN YOU RUN ALL AROUND THIS RACE TRACK NOW WITH THE NEW SURFACE? "Yes, you can certainly run all around the race track. My opinion before, nobody could pass me as long as I stayed fast enough so they couldn't get to my bumper I was fine. And now they can go around me. In some respects it's been a little tougher for me as this hasn't been one of my better tracks. But I really think we're on to some good things and I know this track didn't put on the kind of race that the fans wanted, but it raced a lot better. You had at least two or three options that you could run on the track. You could change directions and enter on the top and get the car arced and turned and enter off the middle to the bottom.
"So there is a lot of flexibility on the track. I think as we all get smarter with the cars on how to drive this place it'll put on a better show."
WITH RAIN IN THE FORECAST, HOW DO YOU APPROACH THE WEEKEND? "We were going to start in qualifying trim but it looks like qualifying will be rained out so we've opted to switchover to race practice and just sacrifice the speed that we would be looking for in qualifying, ensuring that we're going to have a good race set up. Luckily, this track is so small that it dries fast. There are so many cars with the Nationwide race and the Cup race; the track will come in pretty fast. Really of all the tracks we go to, this is the best track to have weather conditions at because it will dry quick and rubber-up fast."
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE TIRE THIS WEEK? "I really think that last week was the worst possible case for the tire, for the car, for the aero balance of the car; everything showed up at that race track (Atlanta). Everything that NASCAR took away intentionally, with downforce on the car, this new design, I mean everything showed up there. I didn't test in the fall last year so I don't know what that tire felt like. I know I was completely out of control the entire weekend (laughs). I'm glad I wasn't the only one. It looked like everybody struggled with that. But I think the guys that tested in the fall of last year and then came back and raced (in the spring) this year, knew the grip difference. They knew how good the tire was and then to where it went. So I think that's where a lot of the criticism came from."
ON DALE JARRETT'S LAST RACE "Watching him through the years, I've always respected him. The first memories are maybe the best memories in the car was watching him win the Daytona 500 with his dad announcing him coming to the finish line. Outside of that, being in the sport and being in the garage and racing him on track and working through foundation stuff and working outside of the car in all the areas, he's probably the top guy on the list that has the most respect. He's one of the best guys to be around. I really, really do enjoy being around him. I've enjoyed racing against him. And I'm glad to see that he'll still be in the sport. I'd hate for him not to be in the sport. He really is one of the good guys in the sport. He's accomplished a lot in the car, out of the car and carries himself in the right way. It's somebody I certainly look up to."
COMING INTO THE SEASON, DALE JUNIOR HAD SOME ANXIETY ABOUT PERFORMING IN HMS EQUIPMENT. WHAT HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THE WAY HE HAS COME OUT OF THE BOX SO FAR? "He's done a great job. He and Tony (Eury) Jr. both have done an amazing job. I think it was real smart of everyone to kind of switch gears midway through last year and get Tony building the cars and getting his people around him. And then when Junior came in, the transition has been kind of seamless. He really has done an amazing job. He came out and won a couple of the non-points races. He's been running well up there in the points and really doing a good job. So, I've been impressed with his performances and impressed with his involvement in the race team and also the level of feedback he's giving from inside the car. He's going a great job."
JUNIOR IS THE TOP HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS DRIVER IN THE STANDINGS. DID YOU EXPECT THAT? "I don't think any of us knew what to expect, to be quite honest. We've all watched races where he's been real fast. We've watched him win races. He's been in the points battles in year's past. I don't think anybody knew what to expect. I think all of us at Hendrick had an open mind and welcomed him as we should and as we always support new teammates. He's doing a great job."
CASEY MEARS HAS HAD A ROUGH START. HAVE YOU GIVEN HIM ANY ADVICE OR DOES HE NEED ANY? "He knows. It's weird how drivers have certain trends. It seems the start of every season for him is tough. I hate it for him. But he's in that position again. I think his experience is helping him deal with the issues and how difficult it really is. They haven't had the races that they've wanted. But at the same time he was running great in the 500 and made a bad decision late and crashed; and then flipped over 15 or 20 laps into the California race. So there have been some circumstances working against him. But it's tough when you switch teams and crew and all that and those guys are working together well. But they're just trying to find the catalyst to lock this thing down and carry on."
IF CASEY MEARS HAS BAD LUCK THIS WEEKEND, HE COULD BE OUTSIDE OF THE TOP 35. TECHNICALLY, YOU GUYS COULD SWAP OWNER POINTS. HAD THERE BEEN ANY TALK OF THAT? "No, nothing that I've been a part of. I didn't even know that was an option to be quite honest with you. I don't know. I'd hate to say no, there's no way if it could happen."
BRISTOL HAS IT'S OWN PERSONALITY. COULD YOU ALMOST COMPARE THIS PLACE TO A MODERN DAY ROMAN COLISEUM? "I think the old track was probably more of that than anything. I'm hopeful that this track goes back to the days of old where you watched on television and you saw all the guys running side-by-side with no problems. I just don't know what's to be expected as this track develops. But it's Bristol and the energy is here and it's still this crazy little half-mile track. I think the intensity will continue to come back over each race that we have here. Before, it was one of the tracks that I absolutely hated entering the race. You just didn't know what was going to happen. You'd be leading the race and get taken out by a lapper or second place gets impatient and takes you out. Or you can be in 31st and be dealing with those issues. So it's turned into a racier track, but it's maybe lost a little bit of that Rome, just kill 'em all type of race tracks that it was once before (laughs)."
IN TERMS OF YOUR DRIVING STYLE, WHAT HAS TO CHANGE WITH THIS CONFIGURATION? "I don't know. I feel with the test session we had here last year, leading into the races, that we made some good adjustments and it just didn't work. For whatever reason, this has been a track that no matter what I try or what set-up we put in the car, it just doesn't click. I'm missing a little bit and here, a little bit is a lot. So I'll keep working at it. I'll try every lane combination I can think of and every different way to use the brakes. Charge the corner, not charge the corner and go through all that again when we get on track (for practice) and just see where I find my best speed at and just work around that."
DOES THE MINDSET OF THE DRIVERS CHANGE? IT SEEMS LIKE A KINDER, GENTLER RACE TRACK WHEREAS BEFORE YOU HAD TO BE READY FOR ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING AT ANY TIME "I think so. I think the mindset has changed some. If you look at all the green flag racing we had here in the fall and all the side-by-side racing and very few cautions we had, I think the mindset has changed some. You've got to have your stuff right. You can't count on a caution coming every 10 or 15 laps to let you come in and pit and work on your car. You've got to be prepared for longer runs."
THE FANS DIDN'T THINK THE RACE WAS AS EXCITING LAST FALL, WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THAT? "There's not doubt that what makes it interesting and exciting for a driver is different than a fan. We don't like restrictor plate racing. Bristol has always been a tough one. Fans love it. They want the bumper-to-bumper action lap after lap. I think as teams get used to this track and drivers too, it will be more competitive. There will be more aggressive racing that comes along and I think we'll put on a better show this time than last.
"But the track is much different. I'm not sure it's going to ever be a single file race track where in order to pass you've got to crash a guy and get the fans up on their feet like it used to be."
HAVE YOU NOTICED ANY DIFFERENCE IN KYLE BUSCH'S MATURITY? "From working with him the last few years, I've seen a steady progression each year. Now that we're not on the same team, I don't spend as much time with him as I have in the past. But one thing I always saw is that he wanted to do the right thing and he wanted to be a champion in our sport. He wants to be one of the top guys. So he's been looking at himself awfully hard and trying to improve each year."
ARE THERE ANY THINGS THAT HE DOES ON TRACK THAT YOU WOULD NEVER DO? "Yeah, I see in some respects a lot of myself. In my earlier career, I tore up a lot of stuff in the off-road trucks. I would look at things differently and find different lines. He was down on the apron passing people in the Craftsman Truck race the other night in Atlanta. That stuff, when you're new and haven't hit anything really hard or been through those experiences, tough times come with crashing all the time. Your eyes see a different set of lines. And Kyle has never had the fear of losing his job, never had the fear of getting hurt, which are good things. I mean that as a credit to him. So he is looking at things differently. As he matures I think those lines will disappear and he'll realize the risks that's involved. But right now he keeps everybody on their feet and he pulls it off. And he's winning while he's doing it, so he's putting on a good show."
IF THE CHEMISTRY HAD BEEN BETTER OR IF HE HAD BEEN MORE MATURE, WOULD KYLE BUSCH STILL BE WITH HMS? "There certainly is an option to that, I would say. When Junior came on the market and was available, there were a lot of things that were being jockeyed around and pushed around. And there was a lot that went on in rooms that quite frankly, I don't know about. I think that if things would have started off differently and not been such a roller coaster ride, that could have worked out for him. But I think that he's excited about the change. I'm sure the pay increased and I'm sure it's nice to start over on a clean sheet of paper with new people and all that, and he's certainly made the most of it."
WHAT IS YOUR BEST ON-TRACK MOMENT WITH DALE JARRETT? "I remember my first Cup race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in '01 and I came out of the pits and I think Mark Martin was in front of me and he (Jarrett) was behind me and I couldn't believe I was there at that moment and I really remember that. I didn't catch him at the peak of his career and race with him. It's just the way he commanded respect from people and the way he respects people. And that's in the car and out of the car. He's a great guy but there is a line and damn it, you don't cross the line with Dale Jarrett. You just don't do certain things.
"And that's because of who he is and how he treats other people. He's been an amazing driver and someone I watched as a kid. I cheered for him and remember him winning the 500 and his dad commentating and how special that must have been. His championships and all the things that he's been through, I've watched and enjoyed. But I really say that I've enjoyed being around him as a person."
HOW HAS THE NEW GENERATION RACE CAR CHANGED IN THE YEAR SINCE ITS INTRODUCTION? "On the easier tracks where grip is not all that difficult; short tracks where aero is not all that important, the racing has stayed very similar. When you get on the bigger tracks; and Atlanta is a perfect example, it really puts everything to the test. The aero platform of the car, the aero balance of the car, the weight distribution changes they've made, the roll center height changes they've made, the limitations we have in front, geometry, there are just a lot of things that all took grip away from the car. And then we had a new tire last weekend and all of that piled up to make a joke. They were just impossible to drive. But as we get to other tracks where grip is easier and better, I think the racing stays similar. It's going to be the extreme tracks. Darlington, I remember last year was just a pain to drive and it was ridiculous how slow we had to go to stay on course. Now it's been resurfaced so that'll be a forgiving track. I think the high grip level tracks (like) Darlington, Atlanta, Michigan, Pocono; you're going to hear a lot complaining. It's going to be a tough, tough process to get the car right. And then you get to the other tracks and it'll be more normal."
ISN'T THIS CAR MORE FORGIVING? "When you are completely out of control and ready to crash, it is more forgiving. But up until that point, from baseline until you're holding your breath swearing you're going to hit something, it's more difficult to drive. But once you are completely out of it and you normally would say okay, that's it, I'm crashing, the car straightens up. It is more forgiving in extreme situations."
-credit: gm racing