Bristol: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed on-track issues with other drivers, difficulties at Bristol, the new spoiler, and more. HAVE YOU HAD ANY PROBLEMS WITH BRAD KESELOWSKI: "He's a great driver; he's a great...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed on-track issues with other drivers, difficulties at Bristol, the new spoiler, and more.

HAVE YOU HAD ANY PROBLEMS WITH BRAD KESELOWSKI: "He's a great driver; he's a great talent and he's going to do great in the Penske cars. He's got to stand up for what he feels is right for himself and his race team. But you just don't turn off a garage area as fast as he has for no reason. So he's got to work on that in my eyes.

HAVE YOU HAD ANY PROBLEMS WITH KESELOWSKI? No, not on track. I have not had any issues. But if you watch the Nationwide races there's a long list starting with Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards and there's just like an overall brewing of thought and discussion in the garage area. I think some of it has to do with when you come into the sport, especially at the top level as a rookie, if you like it or not, you're going to take a few lumps before you're given that opportunity to pass some out. And I believe he's come in and has passed out more bumps than he's taken. And a lot of people view that as great and some people view it the opposite. There is no right or wrong in all that. I think a great example of someone who had a rough start is Kyle Busch. Now that this point, that's behind him and he's moved on and can talk about totally different things and about how great he's doing in Trucks and Nationwide and Cup cars. We all have our entry point into the sport. Again, there is no right or wrong, but right now he has an entertaining and an entry point that requires a lot of time thinking outside of the car. That's just not my style. I want things to be smooth on the outside so all I have to do is worry about my race team and driving my car. That's why I took my time in really dishing things out and getting started in this sport and making sure I didn't have all this other stuff to focus on."

HAS IT COME DOWN TO THE PERSONALITY OF THE DRIVERS? IT SEEMS LIKE THE SAME NAMES GET INVOLVED IN THESE THINGS AND YOU'VE KEPT YOUR NAME CLEAN "I think we all go about policing the things on track differently. We all carry ourselves differently. Coming in, my eyes were wide open. I'm racing against Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton and Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace and I don't want to ruffle their feathers; they are the veterans of the sport. And that was my approach. Other guys come in and look at that same group of guys and say, 'I'm gonna crush 'em. I'm gonna turn them around. I'm gonna rub fenders with those guys. I'm not going to take anything from those guys.' And it's just different styles. Everybody handles it differently. I'm very proud of the route that I have gone. At the same time, a lot of people have criticized me and say that I'm too boring because of the route I've taken. So, at the end of the day I look at four championships and hopefully working on a fifth and hopefully I've made some good decisions."

DO THE WORDS 'HAVE AT IT' MEAN SOMETHING DIFFERENT TODAY THAN THEY DID SINCE ATLANTA? "I guess, to a certain degree, because no one expected a Cup car to turn over on a 1.5-mile track. So in some respects, yet. In others, no. We're going to see a very action-packed race here (Bristol). At Martinsville we're going to see the same. I think it's more in shock of saying wow, we had a car turn over and yes, thank God Brad (Keselowski) is fine. He wasn't injured. And yes, thank God the car didn't go into the stands. So, it's kind of a weird mix of emotions in my eyes where we are creating an environment that the sport was founded on and creating excitement but we had one big scare. And we don't need those scares."

ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO THE SPOILER AT MARTINSVILLE? "Yeah, I don't see it being a big difference at Martinsville. I'm really curious about the test at Charlotte (Motor Speedway) and understanding how the car works in traffic at the higher speeds with the spoiler. We went to Little Rock and tested and within a couple of laps of looking in the mirror and realizing there wasn't a wing, you just kind of forget about it and go on."

WHAT IS IT ABOUT BRISTOL THAT'S BEEN SO DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO FIGURE OUT? "There's just a certain rhythm here that has not fit my style. And I have been in the same cars as Jeff (Gordon); identical set-ups. We've been here back when we could test. He's driven my car and went a lot faster (laughs). I've done everything and the rhythm of this race track hasn't fit my style. I have continued to work on it. The last two races here I've felt very competitive. I seem to still struggle in qualifying, but I feel we can get that under control this year. But I feel much more confident in the race and I feel that we do have a chance to win here."

IN YOUR HMS GROUP SESSIONS, ARE YOU SEEING ANYTHING DIFFERENT OUT OF JEFF GORDON IN HOW HE IS ANALYZING OR DISCUSSING THINGS? "I see the difference when we're all gathered up. But I know they've put pressure on him with the other things that have just sort of been standard procedure for me and (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) like post-race reports and layers of communication so that when you come back you have something to look at. I think there's a lot of communication but it's tedious to sit there on the computer and make all your notes and track maps and do all that stuff. But I do know that they've pushed harder on that area. So what I see in the team meetings, no. Jeff has always been very good at explaining his race car and doing that stuff and being prepared for the track. It sounds like the comments made to you (media person) and what I have heard internally, they've made some changes there."

WHO DO YOU MEAN BY 'THEY'? "I'm referring to (No. 24 crew chief) Stevie (Letarte) and his engineers."

WHEN JEFF GORDON WAS DOMINATING SEVERAL YEARS AGO, HIS COMMENT WAS THAT IS ALMOST WAS 'EASY'. FOR YOU, IT'S EASIER NOW THAN IT WAS EARLIER IN YOUR CAREER. HOW DO YOU AVOID FALLING INTO A LULL? "I think Chad (Knaus) and I coming in and paying attention to what has gone on before us and previous teams and drivers and we recognize the fact that it's hard to stay on top for a long period of time. From Chad's leadership, we're just trying to be as prepared as possible. And we understand that preparation is really the foundation for success. And Chad is very strong in that department. I wouldn't be as thorough as I am if I didn't have Chad and our engineers emailing me for race reports and (asking) where's this? Where's that? So I have to give Chad credit where credit is due. That's a lot from him. I certainly buy into the system. I see the results. In Jeff's defense, which is kind of where we started with this, you know the sport has changed so

much. We have so few opportunities to separate ourselves as an organization now; unlike when Jeff was racing, that those fine, fine details are valuable now. Before, you didn't care about a tenth of a second. You were looking for a half-second. You weren't worried about 180 thousandths of an inch in a packer shim. You were worried about a quarter of an inch or half inch in ride height. So things have changed so much that it's driven our sport to focus on the fine points."

WITH YOUR NEXT WIN BEING YOUR 50TH, YOU TIE JUNIOR JOHNSON AND NED JARRETT. HAVE YOU EVER HAD MUCH CONNECTION WITH EITHER OF THEM? "I certainly knew of them both. A memory for me was watching Ned commentate Dale Earnhardt winning the Daytona 500, hearing Dale talk about his father; but I wasn't around to really see any of those races, especially being from the west coast, but out of the respect the garage area has for him and how he conducts himself and handles himself, I've always been a big fan. I've respected who is his as a man. Again I didn't have a chance to watch him race, so I can't say I've loved him as a racer. But who he is, I am a fan of. Junior Johnson, I was around when he owned cars and would watch that. For a period of time there, if you had Junior's approval and blessing and you drove his race car, you're going to win races. He was one of the sought-after car owners as a kid growing up. Man if you could drive for Junior Johnson, that would be great. And then having the same last name, when I first moved to North Carolina people would always as me if I was kin to Junior. I would laugh at the word 'kin' and then I would think boy that would make life a lot easier if I was (kin), but that just wasn't the case (laughs)."

DO YOU HAVE AN ON-TRACK INCIDENT WITH SOMEONE, OR SOME SITUATION, THAT IS MEMORABLE? "Yeah, I had a couple of different things. When I was running in the NNS, Matt Kenseth wrecked me all the time. And it took until we were racing together in Cup for us to become friends and spent more time around one another. He actually apologized like man, I'm going to have to say I'm sorry because those years in Nationwide when we were racing I just crashed you; I just wrecked you. And I'm like oh I feel better about it because I think we're kind of friendly now and I always wondered all those years why he just wrecked me for no reason (laughs). I remember one time in Dover I was running 6th or 7th and he had dominated all day long and something went wrong and he was coming up through and there were just a few laps left and he turned me around in (Turns) 1 and 2 and I hit the fence.

"I was sitting down on the inside of the track waiting for him to drive by and I had the engine running and I was just doing to door him, and when I dropped the clutch to take off, the bumper bar had wrapped up under the race car and had the rear tires off the ground. So when I tried to take off I couldn't go anywhere! And I was like, damn it (laughs).

"So that was one. Another one was Jeff Burton in Martinsville. Had to be '03 or '04 time frame. For a top 10 finish, he absolutely drove all over the top of me. He ran into for numous laps. He ran over the side of me and I couldn't understand why or what went on. He came over the truck afterwards, through all my crew guys that were mad at him, and walked up into my truck and apologized but didn't have an excuse. He just said man, I ran all over you. And he said he was wrong and he shouldn't have raced me like that. If you're going to run somebody over, it means a lot to have somebody step up and say something to you. With that experience, I've gone out of my way to talk to guys if I've meant to crash them or not, which typically doesn't happen, and talk to them.

"One funny one was when Ward (Burton) and I got into it one year at Loudon. We were coming from the back and coming up through there and we got together going into Turn 1 and I got into him and turned him around and he hit the fence. He got back on track and spent like four or five laps trying to crash me. So then I was pretty nervous about what went on and started tracking him down. I called his office but that didn't work and somehow I got his home phone number. And I don't know what made him more mad actually, whether it was me calling him on the phone or calling him at home. I think he was cussing at me because it was a little tough to understand him (laughter) but he went on for 30 seconds in just four-letter words and he finally calmed down and we talked it out from there. That's just a part of it."

ARE YOU READY FOR THE NEW SPOILER? "I think we're as ready as anyone. But until we get out there and really have someone to chase and some lap times and can get in traffic and figure out what's going on, I think we're all on equal ground and hoping we have what we need. But nobody has a clear advantage at this point so it's going to be different. The wing was put on the car to help with downforce for the cars behind. It was less sensitive to the pitch and attitude of the car and made the car more friendly. So with that stuff in mind, I'm assuming the car is going to be a bit more of a handful in certain situations. And we need to put the car in those situations to understand how to get that balance right."

WHAT SORT OF WORK LOAD DOES THAT PUT ON YOUR SHOP GUYS TO CHANGE THOSE CARS OVER? "From what I gather, it just seems like we're taking the wing off and putting the spoiler on. So there is minimal body work that needs to be done. I feel that the set-ups in the race cars are going to change and evolve. We're kind of at a standstill now because we've had this combination for a while and we're fine-tuning and working on small areas. I think this will open it back up where the guys are really going to search hard in a lot of areas to find some speed that's outside of the norm right now."

SO YOU CAN WORK IN MORE GRAY AREAS? "Oh, I don't know enough about it to say that there's gray to work in because when you have that template or that cage or whatever that claw is that they put down over the car, they pretty much box you in. I think it's just opening up the shock and spring combination in the back of the car and then that also carries over to the front some, where we're all kind of locked into a spot now because we all have equal cars and we all end up in a certain place. It will open that back up for a while and then we'll all find where that comfortable spot is again.

@%-source: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Rusty Wallace , Carl Edwards , Junior Johnson , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin