NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference April 27, 2004 This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Chad Knaus. Johnson and Knaus discuss the season...
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Teleconference
April 27, 2004
This week's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Teleconference featured Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Chad Knaus. Johnson and Knaus discuss the season to date and the upcoming NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race at California Speedway, the Auto Club 500. Johnson's first Cup career win came at California in 2002. With his fourth place run at Talladega, he jumped to 2nd in the '04 series point standings. He has already posted one win this year, which was at Darlington.
ON THEIR SUCCESS AT THE ALL STAR RACE IN CHARLOTTE LAST YEAR
"I wish I knew how it transpired because I'd try to duplicate it everywhere we go. Jimmie is an awesome race car driver. We went out there and tested there in 2002. The set-up we put under him was something he really clicked with. We've been able to work with that set-up over the past couple of years and he just loves it. He loves that race track. When we went out there last year and tested in 2003 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, we took two race cars. One was built specifically for The Winston and one was for the (Coca-Cola) 600. We built a car that was very high-end (with) front downforce and kind of like a little sports car for The Winston. And then the other car was a little more bias to the rear downforce side for the 600 so he could drive it nice and easily for 600 miles. It was kind of like a Cadillac ride. That approach definitely worked. They were two completely different race cars with similar set-ups but not the same set-up. It definitely worked out."
ON THE SEASON SO FAR
"I am extremely pleased with the performance of the team so far. Jimmie has come in more focused than he has ever been. The team is doing a great job on the car preparation side of things. Just about every week the No. 24 and the No. 48 are running in the top 10 consistently. That's what it takes to win the Cup championship. When you get out there and are erratic on your finishes, it's not good. It's not near as detrimental this year because of the new point system. But if we can be consistent it helps us get our strength built up and our inventory built up and our team sorted out so when we get to those final 10 events we're ready to go strong."
AFTER WATCHING THE EVOLUATION OF WHAT'S HAPPENING ON THE RACE TRACK, DO YOU THINK IF YOU'RE NOT OUT THERE MIXING IT UP THAT YOU MIGHT AS WELL PARK THE CAR?
"I despise what's going on at the speedways (Daytona and Talladega) right now, I'll be honest. We ran 500 laps at Martinsville and came home with a donut on the left hand side where we got passed for the lead by Rusty Wallace. That was it. The nose wasn't touched. Jimmie didn't touch another car. We came home from running 500 miles at Talladega and it's absolutely trashed. The cost of putting a body on a superspeedway car and the amount of detail put into it is probably about four times as much as a short track car. The majority of it is labor with the details of the body and the way the templates have to fit and so forth. I don't have a problem with those guys beating and banging on each other. I just wish we were doing it for the win and not for the half-way mark of the race. I want to figure out some way to spread those fields out. I don't know how we're going to do it at Talladega. I know the fans love it. Yeah, it's exciting. There's not doubt about it. But when you've got to bring that thing home and fix it, it's miserable. We were pretty fortunate we didn't have a big, big wreck. Shoot, Dale Jr. had Jimmie jacked up going through turns three and four a couple of times and I thought there was no way he would hold onto it. But he did, thankfully. There were a lot of other guys going sideways on the race track and it's a scary thing. I wish we could break them up just a little bit. But it's difficult to do. Everybody in the garage is so smart now that they're able to figure out ways to make our cars faster no matter what NASCAR does. I don't know how you fix that."
WILL WE SEE MORE AGGRESSIVENESS IN THE DRIVERS AS WE LOOK AT THE 10 TRANSFER POSITIONS IN THE CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"I don't think they're making more desperate moves because of the transfer. They're making them because the cars are so equal. It's not like they used to be where you could have a car that was head and shoulders above everybody else, or there were five or six cars that were better and that could go out there and actually pass. You see bumping and banging because that's the only way to get the line. If so, that's the only way to pass. We were fortunate at Martinsville we had a car that was in the top two or three and he was able to get the line from guys without roughing them up. At other places, that just doesn't happen. You have to move them a little bit. That's just part of racing. They say rubbing is racing to some degree."
WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE TRACK AND WHY?
"I love Kansas City and Chicago - tracks like that. I like Las Vegas and Homestead. I don't have a specific track that I like more than others. But I really like the new 1.5 mile type race tracks. The facilities are incredible. They are accommodating for the guys. They are safe for the drivers. They've really put a lot into it. Some of the garages at some places we race are atrocious. The guys can't work. The guys on the team are miserable. If it starts raining, you're sitting outside. But if you go to places like Kansas City and Chicago, you've got a great garage area and facility to work in. It's clean. It's organized. You've got a huge, wide, smooth, multi-grooved race track you can get your car to work on. You don't have to deal with the aero push as much. If you get tight, you just move to another line. I just love those race tracks. I'm glad we've got them."
DO YOU HAVE AN IRON CLAD RULE ABOUT WHO CALLS THE SHOTS FOR THE LAST 10 LAPS?
"No. I make the majority of the calls on the team. But Jimmie is the driver. He knows what's going on inside that race car better than anybody else. Martinsville is a great example. We were leading the race. The caution came out and we discussed it and decided to stay out. It bit us. We made a mistake. No doubt about it. But we are a team and we work very well together. We communicate what each other wants to do. But if it comes down to the last minute, typically I make the call."
ON FINISHING THE RACE UNDER GREEN VS. YELLOW
"NASCAR stated that they would not red flag the race after we completed lap 183 (at Talladega) and we had completed that lap. They can move me back a spot every race for the rest of the year as long as they keep it the way it is. The way it was, racing back to the yellow, somebody was gong to get hurt. That's the first think I don't want to happen. If my driver is sitting out there in a crashed car in the middle of the race track and somebody comes blowing by racing back to the yellow and hits him and hurts him, it's not worth it. I'd rather them finish every race under caution if we could avoid that just one time. It needs to get better, there's not doubt about it. I don't think the green-white-checkered is the answer either. If you get into a situation where the caution comes out with a couple of laps to go, and you're at the tail end of a fuel run, it's just not fair if you have to come in and get fuel. Or if you've been dominating the race all day and somebody who is running second goes into the turn and knocks you out of the way and goes on to win the race, that's just not right. You've got to look at it in the grand scheme of things. We advertise to run 400 miles or 500 miles that's what we run. If we didn't count yellow flags, we'd be there all night long at some of these places. So I think what they did is 100 percent correct and I stand behind them (NASCAR)."
EXPLAIN WHAT YOU SAID EARLIER ABOUT JIMMIE COMING INTO THE '04 SEASON MORE FOCUSED
"When we ended the 2002 season, our rookie season, we were on a high. We were really kicking it strong and winning races and doing great. When we started 2003, we tried to carry that maybe a little too intensely. We were trying to win every race. At the beginning of last season, we had a lot of problems. We spun out a couple of times at late stages of the events. Communication wasn't quite what it was at the end of the previous year. I think a lot of that was a lot of reality setting in. We didn't win the championship like we could have done. This year, we came in with realistic goals. We need to finish these races at the beginning of the season and hit our stride. We need to pay attention to the race car and the basics of the race team and get all that stuff in place for the end of the year. We came in with that determination and that goal and that's what we're doing. We've been pretty fortunate to be able to do that."
IF THE COMPETITORS - DRIVERS AND CREW CHIEFS - CAME UP WITH A BETTER WAY TO RACE AT TALLADEGA FOR EXAMPLE, WOULD NASCAR LISTEN?
"NASCAR's got a big problem because they've got 43 cars that race every single weekend and probably 50 teams as a whole with every crew chief and every owner coming up and telling them how they should be doing things and how messed up they are and how they need to be doing different things differently. If I went to NASCAR and told them they needed to do x, y, and z, yeah, they'd look at it. They're going to think I'm nuts, though, I guarantee you, because whatever I tell them is going to benefit me. Every other driver and crew chief out there is going to do the exact same thing. If I feel like a gear ratio regulation is going to benefit me, that's what I'm going to tell them I want them to do. I'll tell you there is no way for us to fix what they've got going on at the superspeedways. It's not going to happen. It can't happen unless they knock some cylinders out of the engines, or they knock down the banking, or they take the restrictor plates off. Until the guys have to lift going into the corner and make the cars handle, it's not going to change. It's impossible."
WHAT If YOU MET WITH NASCAR AS A COLLECTIVE VOICE?
"There have always been suggestions like that. A couple weeks ago I went to John Darby and suggested we go to narrower tires to reduce the grip level of the car. They listen to that, but there's always somebody else who is going to argue why you should not do that. That's what puts them in a crazy situation. If anybody tried to form a committee against NASCAR, you can't do that. You can offer them something, but they're going to do what they think is necessary and entertaining to the fans. You're never going to get all the teams together and get one good answer. We're all bull-headed. We all want what we want. Shoot, my teammate Robbie Loomis and I disagree on just building some of the cars sometimes. We have some great people in this sport. We've got some brilliant people. If you give us something, we're going to figure out how to make it better. If you give us a rule change, we're going to take every degree of that rule to our advantage. That's every team out there, not just us (Lowe's team). That's why you've got about 20 teams out there that can win a race every single week."