JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed his 250th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, new paint scheme for the No. 48 Impala SS, how he handles success, racing at Lowe's Motor ...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed his 250th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, new paint scheme for the No. 48 Impala SS, how he handles success, racing at Lowe's Motor Speedway and other topics.
CONGRATULATIONS ON THE MILESTONE OF YOUR 250TH START: "I don't know how to feel about that. It is like being excited now about your birthday. You should be, but you are not sure."
TALK ABOUT YOUR SUCCESS AT LOWE'S AND HOW IT FEELS TO COME BACK HERE: "I do feel good. The test session that we had a couple of weeks ago, it didn't go as we had hoped. But, we left here, went to Kansas, expanded on stuff and are very very excited about coming back. We are hopeful that is crosses over. The tracks are different. There is more banking here. So I am sure we'll have to work on the setup a little bit and tune it in for this track. I smile when I come here. This has been a great race track for me. Hendrick Motorsports being right down the street. I know everybody feels like it is a home race, but that sensation is here for me and I am excited the company, excited for Lowe's.
"The new paint scheme that is on the car, Lowe's has worked hard on that. Now we are debuting it this weekend. And then like you pointed out, 250th start. It is amazing how fast the time goes by and I was just hoping to have a chance and to be here. Seven seasons later, 250 starts is pretty cool."
JEFF GORDON DEBUTED HIS NEW PAINT SCHEME ON THE TODAY SHOW, DO YOU NOT HAVE THE SAME PULL AS YOUR TEAMMATE? (LAUGHTER) "I guess not. (LAUGHS)"
WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR FIRST CUP START? "My first Cup start was here (Lowe's Motor Speedway). It was such a wild weekend. One of my close friends was killed in the ARCA race and that day I qualified for the race, we didn't have provisional, points or anything at the time, whatever that situation was-I think it was provisionals. So to have the ultimate high of qualifying 15th, Robby Gordon was in the Lowe's car at the time and they missed the event, so it looked really good on Hendrick's behalf and my behalf in starting a relationship. Left here with the high of highs, driving up the street and got a phone call that Blaise (Alexander) was in a bad crash and later found out that he has passed. So it was a really tough weekend for me on that front.
"The Busch race on Saturday was very tough for me. Then as I got in to the race on Sunday, I was excited about the opportunity and some of the pain started to slip away. I was able to go out and focus on my job and ran a good first part of the race.
"I spun out right in front of the pack, I think I was running well at the time. I remember sliding in to the wall in three and four and the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) coming straight for me.
"I thought man, if I crash him, he's in a championship points battle, if I crash him right now, this will not be good for my job. Fortunately, he missed us. It was just so overwhelming to be on this track, especially then and how difficult the track was to drive. I remember my first pit stop, I Ieft the pits, I was in between Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett and it really hit me at that point. I am like WOW, I'm out here with the big boys, this is pretty cool."
DO YOU THINK YOUR FANS ARE DIFFERENT FROM ONE PART OF THE COUNTRY TO ANOTHER AND ARE YOU SEEING MORE CROSSOVER FANS?: "Yes, you certainly do see different in fans in different parts of the country. Certainly accents change. I do think the fan base kind of emulates the driver, but I think the sport is growing so much and there is so much exposure that, I may have, I guess I am kind of cornered in to one type of fan base and one type of fan. But, I am seeing, say more Tony Stewart style fans pulling for the No. 48 now. Even Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans, which I would never see before -- a No. 8 getup with a No. 48 hat or a No. 48 shirt with a No. 8 hat when Junior was driving for DEI. Now I will see a mixed combination of a No. 88 shirt and a No. 48 hat, which I had never seen before. So it does change from time to time and I think as I put in more years in this sport, more fans will show an interest in supporting what we do."
HOW MUCH HAD IT CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR SUCCESS THAT YOU HAVE HAD SO MANY FAMILIAR FACES ON YOUR CREW WITH CHAD (KNAUS) SINCE THE BEGINNING? "It really does help. I think it is a huge part of what has gone on. If you look through the management role at Hendrick Motorsports, you look at our engine department, chassis shop, there is a lot of layers that exist there that are the same people and they just continue to fine-tune and make their programs better. It all transfers over to the race track. I have had Ron Malek working on my race car since I have driven a stock car, it is comforting to know his watchful eyes are over it. I know him so well, I don't have to worry about anything. I know he has his side covered. The same with Chad. So those things build a lot of confidence in myself and we build that in each other and we just focus on what we need to do and worry about what we can control and go on from there. I think it buys us some free time to either relax or focus harder on our given areas."
DO YOU CONSIDER JEFF BURTON A THREAT FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND CAN YOU IMAGINE, HE HAS BEEN WITH HIS WIFE, THE GIRL HE FELL IN LOVE WITH SINCE SHE WAS 14 YEARS OLD, TO BE WITH THE SAME PERSON THAT LONG AND HOW THAT SPEAKS TO HIS CHARACTER? "I absolutely believe that Jeff Burton is a threat for this championship. His character shows through his relationship with his wife, his kids, what he means to this sport, the way he drives on track. He is far from a push over, but he is respectful. You get in there and ruffle his feathers, you are going to regret the fact that you have done that.
"He is a man of his word. He races people with respect. He acts that way through the garage area. I think back to a time at Martinsville, I think it was '04, he absolutely ran me over to pass me and get a spot with three to go. I mean I was furious.
"He comes in the garage area, comes in to the transporter after the race, through all my guys who are just as mad at him as I am. Walked through and came up to me and said 'Hey, I am not making up any excuses, I ran you over and I thought I should be here as a man and tell you that I meant to move you out of the way. Sorry I got so rough with you, but I intended to do that.' First, I thought he was crazy, then when he walked off, I thought 'Well, at least he didn't lie to me and say, Hey buddy, I didn't mean to do that. So I have a lot of respect for him and it is nice to see him over the years. Be so dominant and then had to rebuild, I don't know exactly if it was just the team or himself or whatever it was, but to come to Childress, bring a lot of life back to that company. He has done a great job."
HAS YOUR STRATEGY CHANGED NOW THAT YOU HAVE A LITTLE CUSHION IN THE POINTS? "As far as strategy, we can't change anything. We still have to go out and lead laps, win races and run up front. 72 points is nice, but with six or seven races, I don't even know how many we have left, to go, it is not a lot. Anything can happen still, we are in a great position but we still need to race for every point and don't change anything. I feel through my career, the times I have tried to change something are the times I have made mistakes. So I am trying to wash out the points lead, and just do my job and go out and race like I do each week.
"Chad is a major, major part of this race team. There are so departments at Hendrick, you would be foolish for me to say I am the reason the car is running well, or Chad. There are many layers to it and we've had great reliable power that is getting better each week. The cars are getting better. Chad's work load, effort and commitment, I think is second to none. That guy works more hours than anyone. I am grateful for of that and really proud of him to stay focused for so many years and work the hours that he has. I give him the vast majority of the credit at the same time, I don't want to undercut anyone in Hendrick Motorsports for all the effort that goes in to it."
WHAT STANDS OUT IN THIS CHASE TO YOU SO FAR AND LOOKING AHEAD, WHAT ARE THE KEY THINGS YOU FEEL LIKE THE NEXT SIX RACE? "Things that stick out in my mind is what has happened to the No. 18 (Kyle Busch). Typically somebody that is that strong through the first two-thirds of the season, you expect to see him at the end. The flip of that is the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) and how much strength they have shown since the Chase has started. The No. 99 has been right there on par. I think, he has been very consistent. We have gotten stronger through the course of the season. But in general, my overall feeling is that you have to race hard for this one. This reminds me a lot of '07 where we had to fight for every position on track, it was a small points gap going in to Homestead. So I personally see that and feel that is going to be the case once again."
HOW HAVE YOU ADJUSTED TO THE WEIGHT OF BEING A CHAMPION AND THE RESPONSIBILITIES IT CARRIES FROM BEING A GUY WORKING TOWARD HIS FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP TO THE GUY THAT HAS WON TWO? "In some ways I think it has been easier because I have been through the tough times. I have thought my career was over at many different levels, from the off-road ranks and Chevrolet pulling out of the series I was racing in. The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series coming online was the big thing that hurt the off-road industry back when I was trying to graduate out that. The Herzog's and their search for sponsorship, how tough that was. Even in ASA, we were a well-funded but it took a lot of persuasion my side and GM to get the Herzogs to invest financially to do that stuff. Through it all, I ran just well enough to make it to the next spot and still have hope and show sponsors and manufacturers and all that, that I could do the job. But I think all of that made me really appreciate what opportunities I have had and I really think it makes me who I am.
"It is weird, I saw Greg Biffle last night and I told him I was genuinely happy for his success that he is having this year and the fact that he and Greg (Erwin, crew chief) have clicked and come on strong. He looked at me and said 'Why would you say that?' and I find people get so competitive and just everybody operates differently -- put me on a dart board, that is the guy we have to beat, and throw darts at it and that is cool, I am fine with that. But I have always had friends my entire career. I have always befriended different drivers and had a great time in the garage area and the crew members and owners and just enjoy having a good time. I've really tried to stay true to that, there is no doubt that the challenges of being a champion have changed me some and I feel it is all for the better. At times I have to be more guarded or protect it, but still at the end of the day, I am just Jimmie. I just do my thing and am genuinely surprised that so much has happened. I know I say it and I make comments about not thinking we are the favorite at different times and I know it is hard for everyone to understand, but that is me. My whole life I have worked really hard and have been ok. I have always wondered why I didn't have my chance and why everything didn't work out in the ASA or the Busch Series or in Trucks. Now that it is all said and done I look back on it I get it. It wasn't my turn yet. Now it's my time and thank God it's this massive scale."
TIMING WAS GOOD? "Timing was good but I didn't have anything to do with it as far as the timing. All I did was show up and try to learn. And at times I was a slow learner who made a lot of mistakes. Through the off-road ranks I tore up so much stuff. The Herzog cars I tore up plenty of those as well, the Nationwide cars and ASA cars. But once I figured something out I didn't let go of it and that's really been my path throughout my career. It might take me a little while to sort something out but when I've got it, I've got it and I don't let go of it. It's worked out, I just didn't know that it would take 18 or 20 years of my racing career to develop all the skills needed and then I'd have my chance."
WITH THE ECONOMY HOW IT IS RIGHT NOW, OWNERS ARE A LOT LESS LIKELY TO TAKE A RISK ON SOMEONE. I WAS JUST WONDERING DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DEVELOPMENT WOULD HAVE GONE ANY DIFFERENTLY IF IT WAS AN ECONOMIC CLIMATE AS TOUGH AS THIS? "That's a good question. I think so. I think it would be different I guess is what I should say. When you look around at all the big race teams the majority of the big teams are having trouble with sponsors and sponsors want out of contracts, want a reduced fee for the services. That certainly does impact testing. Granted we have a pretty strict testing policy this year that prevents a lot of that, but I think it would make a difference and more than anything it makes it tough for an owner to take a chance with a young guy and to put the future of the company and how ever many employees you have at stake. I was talking to Max Siegel (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) last night and not only is he worried about running races and doing well and finding sponsors and all that, but every Monday morning he walks in and looks at 400 employees and he's worried about their families, their kids, tuition for kids going to school, putting food on the table. There's a different way to look at it. I think it's tough for owner's and these managers of major race teams to take a risk right now and to develop somebody because if you miss the show or you fall out of the top-35 in points it's not just taking a risk on one guy, you're taking a risk on your whole company. You've got to look at your employees in the morning and that's where your loyalty is. It is tougher for a younger guy today than it's ever been."
-credit: gm racing