NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference May 20, 2003 This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Chad Knaus. Fresh off his win last week of The...
NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference
May 20, 2003
This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Teleconference featured Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Chad Knaus.
Fresh off his win last week of The Winston, Johnson prepares for the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway - the longest race of the season. The defending Bud Pole winner of the Coca-Cola 600, Johnson currently ranks 6th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. He has been in the top 10 for 43 consecutive races, which is longer than any other active driver. Johnson made his first Winston Cup career start at Lowe's Motor Speedway in October 2001. He has posted two top-10 finishes in three points races at Charlotte - including a 7th place finish in this event last year where he led 263 of the 400 laps.
DOES WINNING THE WINSTON LAST WEEKEND COUPLED WITH LAST YEAR'S SUCCESS AT THE COCA-COLA 600 GIVE YOU AND YOUR TEAM A HIGHER LEVEL OF CONFIDENCE GOING INTO THIS YEAR'S RACE? "We've definitely grown a lot as a team since this time last year. Last year we went out there and the car was very fast for The Winston. We won the first two segments. But we weren't really sure what the car was going go do when they had the inversion. It kind of caught us off guard, whereas some other people were better prepared for that. This year, we paid a lot of attention to how the car was handling in traffic to make sure the car wouldn't get to tight after the inversion. So there was definitely a little bit of experience there. As a team, it helps us with that. And then Jimmie's experience definitely helped when it came time for the third segment.
"Rolling into the 600, we've got a better shot as a good run or a possible win in that race than we did in The Winston even though there's 43 cars in the 600. It's just because of the simple fact that you can predict a little bit better what's going to happen in the 600 than you can in The Winston. With the experience that Jimmie has gotten over the past year and the experience that the team has gotten, I feel pretty confident this weekend."
FROM A CREW CHIEF'S PERSPECTIVE, HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO MAKE THE TRANSISION FROM DAYLIGHT TO NIGHTTIME DURING THE COCA-COLA 600? "Lowe's Motor Speedway is probably the single most difficult track that we have to work at as far as a crew chief and team aspect. The car handles so terribly different from daytime to nighttime, it's just tremendous. The car will continually change as the sun sets and as the humidity goes up or down. It's a very difficult race. But the neat thing about it is that by being 600 miles in 400 laps, you make a lot of pit stops. You stop every 60 or so laps. You come in. You can make adjustments. You tend to build a lot of adjustments into the car so as nightfall comes, you can either free the car up or tighten the car up - depending on how much your car is doing. Typically, it'll tighten up and maybe you'll pull some spring rubbers out or take a little wedge out or things like that. So, yeah, it's difficult. But hopefully we're up to the task."
IS THERE MORE SATISFACTION FOR YOU IN WINNING THE COCA-COLA 600 THAN THERE IS IN WINNING THE DAYTONA 500? "Yeah, probably. That's a tough one. For a crew chief, it's difficult to win the Coca-Cola 600. You definitely have to be on top of your game for a long period of time. For the Daytona 500, the crew chief also has to be on top of his game but there's a lot of chance (involved). If your driver learns the draft, he can make something happen if you know what I mean. In the Coca-Cola 600, if your car starts great in the first segment but then at night it gets too tight that you can't get it worked out, then you haven't done your job. So it's probably a little bit more difficult but a little more fun to run this race, that's for sure."
ON THE COMPETITION BETWEEN JEFF GORDON AND JIMMIE JOHNSON "We go out there to win the race. I'll tell you what, if we got alongside Jeff Gordon and he did not race us for the win and just let us go I would be very disappointed in him. He's our car owner and our teammate. In my mind, he's also one of the best Winston Cup drivers ever. What makes him so good is that he goes out there and he goes for the win. They were out there (at The Winston) and they were racing for the win. Now if they were back there running for 10th or 11th, Jeff would have probably let Jimmie go by a little bit easier because we're working as a team. And vice-versa. But if either one of them - Jeff or Jimmie - had laid down at that point and given the other one the victory, I think that would have been pretty sad."
IN A REGULAR RACE SITUATION, WOULD JIMMIE JOHNSON LET JEFF GORDON HAVE HIS LAP BACK? "That's a tricky deal. You have to look at all the circumstances. If you're at a place like Fontana or Michigan - a big track where there's a lot of room -- and he's not too far behind us and we could give him his lap back without causing a lot of grief, then yes most definitely. But if you're at a place like Bristol, where there are 43 cars in a half-mile bullring and he's a half a lap behind you and it's going to cause a lot of grief and people are going to get wrecked and it's going to be a mess, it's probably not a good idea. You always want to try to help your teammate as much as possible. But you also have to keep safety in mind and what's going on (in mind)."
ON RICK HENDRICK'S COMMENT THAT CHAD KNAUS AND JIMMIE JOHNSON PROBABLY HAVE THE BEST CHEMISTRY HE'S EVER SEEN "I don't really know how it all started. We first met in late 2001 and just developed a bit of a friendship. Last year we had a lot of time together doing the rookie thing and battling hard and we had the common goal. I think that bond grew right there. I can look in his eyes and see what he's feeling. When he comes into the garage area during practice and says the race car is tight, I have a pretty good feeling about how tight it is just by the look on his face and his body language. When he rolls into the truck prior to a race, I can tell if he's switched on and he's ready to go or not. That's all part of just us learning one another. The chemistry that we've got is the simple fact that he is a great race car driver - probably the best race car driver I've ever worked with. He's able to indicate to me what that car is doing.
"The other side of it is that he knows by looking at me or listening to me what kind of mood I'm in. He knows how to approach me and talk to me about different things. That's just something that we've somehow stumbled across rather quickly and it just keeps getting better and better. I've got the utmost respect for him because like I said, he's a tremendous driver and he's got a lot of respect for me and for the way that I run the team. It works out really well."
ON RAY EVERNHAM'S COMMENT THAT JIMMIE JOHNSON WOULD BE ONE OF FEW DRIVERS WHO COULD PULL OFF 10 WINS IN A SEASON LIKE JEFF GORDON DID "I appreciate Ray saying that. I think that we've got a team and a driver that are capable of doing that. But there are a lot of things that happen that you can't foresee and that you can't control. If you stumble just a little bit during a race, there are five or six cars just sitting there - ready to take it away from you. It's not like back then, when Ray dominated the sport with Jeff, there weren't as many good teams that were there to capitalize when you did have an error. You were able to rally back and maybe get a victory a little easier. So, I don't think so. I don't honestly think there is anybody out there who can win 10 races a year anymore. I would like to think we could, but I really don't see it happening."