Charlotte II: Johnson - Thursday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed the upcoming Talladega race, his approach to the Chase, and more. YOU HAVE SIX WINS AT CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY. YOU HAVE THE TOP DRIVER RATING OF 115.3. YOU ARE ON TOP OF THE...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed the upcoming Talladega race, his approach to the Chase, and more.

YOU HAVE SIX WINS AT CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY. YOU HAVE THE TOP DRIVER RATING OF 115.3. YOU ARE ON TOP OF THE POINTS BOARD, BUT YOU'VE GOT SOME PEOPLE BREATHING DOWN YOUR NECK. WHAT'S YOUR THOUGHT ABOUT RACING HERE THIS WEEKEND AT CHARLOTTE? "It's been good to us over the years. This track, by the time the checkered flag falls, we seem to get on track and get where we need the car to be and can get a good finish. But I think, in my mind, of the No. 09 (Kasey Kahne) and the No. 2 (Kurt Busch) performance here in May, and how strong those two cars were and expect those guys to really be on top of things. But I'm optimistic coming in. I think the way we've run on the 1.5-mile tracks recently and the two-mile tracks is a very good sign for the No. 48 team that we're on the right track and doing the right things and expect a good run from that. It's hard to go off the May race (because) so much changes from May to October that it's just really tough to say.

"I know we're not coming back the same but it's tough to go off of a race that was so many months ago. I really don't want to go off that one because I ended up wadded up somewhere back here off of Turn 2 (laughs) on the back straightaway. But I'm looking forward to it. I'm hoping the weather will stay away. It looks like we'll probably be okay there and we can qualify tonight."

ON MARTINSVILLE NEXT WEEK "We go to Martinsville next week? I swear I thought it was Talladega. I honestly thought it was Talladega."

NO "Okay, I'd better get my stuff together. Fantastic."

YEAH, A LITTLE DIFFERENCE (LAUGHTER). WE TALK TO DRIVERS ABOUT THEIR SHORT TRACK BACKGROUND. YOU HAVE AN OFF-ROAD BACKGROUND YET YOU ARE AMONG THE ONES TO BEAT AT MARTINSVILLE. TALK ABOUT THAT. "It took a while to get there. And when I came into the sport, I had two years in ASA and thought that the short tracks would fit well for me and it was quite the opposite. It took a long time to understand the big car, the radial tire, the extra power, and how to maneuver around on a short track. But the track at Martinsville, especially when the rubber is laid down, reminds me of some of my off-road stuff where we would have barrels or tractor tires stacked up as the turn-marker, but it was that tight of a radius. And when the rubber lays down, especially the right-side rubber on corner exit at Martinsville, you have to change your line to not run through the rubber at the wrong spot.

"And that rhythm really helps all dirt drivers. It doesn't matter if it's Tony (Stewart) in a Sprint Car or Dirt Late Model, or Kasey Kahne for that matter. I think certain guys have an eye for where the slick spots are on the track and how to change their lines and I think all of our dirt background really help that."

CAN YOU DESCRIBE FOR US THE FIRST TIME YOU WENT TO TALLADEGA IN A NATIONWIDE CAR AND THEN A CUP CAR? FOR US MORTALS, IT WOULD SEEM TO SCARE THE HECK OUT OF US. IS IT STILL AS TREACHEROUS AS IT APPEARS TO US? DESCRIBE THE MINDSET THERE. "I'd say my first lap at Talladega was with one of the craziest guys ever to drive a Nationwide car in Randy LaJoie. He had me in a rental car and left pit road and went straight for the wall as fast as he could and was trying to show me how you run a lap up top and work your way down for your final lap. And that certainly got my attention. Luckily for me, I had Daytona earlier in the year and was able to comprehend the fact that you could run wide-open around a race track. Everything I've ever raced, in the corners you really had to brake and slow down and get in the gas and come off the corner. The single-lap stuff wasn't all that intimidating, but when you hear 'three-wide', 'four-wide', 'five-wide' for the first time (on the radio) and you can't see that far in front of you and you're trying to imagine where the guys are next to you and trying to find some type of reference point with the dotted lines on the track to determine okay, this is my lane I think and we've got two in here and hopefully that's their lane (laughs), so there are a couple of moments there that are really tense. It's kind of trial and error at that point. I've had plenty of errors early in my Cup career at Talladega."

NOW THAT YOU HAVE FOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS, DO YOU EVER GET TO A POINT IN THE CHASE FORMAT WHEN YOU'RE THINKING YOU DON'T HAVE TO FINISH IN THE TOP THREE, I CAN FINISH 8TH AN BE OKAY; I DON'T HAVE TO BE AS RISKY AS SOME OF THE OTHER GUYS "At this point, I think that would be a mistake for myself and anyone for that matter. You just don't know what's going to happen at the end of the season. I can look at the championships I've won so far and find different examples. Last year is a really good example. Luckily, I raced for every point I could up until Texas; or really the whole time, and then in Texas when we had our problem on lap 2 I had points that I could afford to give up and still was able to race from there and win the championship. You need every point.

"Last week at the end of the race when Clint (Bowyer) got by me, I thought I had another lap. I didn't realize it was a green-white-checkered and I was really upset with myself for losing those five points. With the situation we had, it would have been smarter for me to play a little more defense and protect the bottom, but I thought I had a couple more laps in my back pocket where I could get the top working and try to get by the No. 14 (Tony Stewart). You really want every point you can get at this point. You just don't know what's going to happen through Talladega. And we always look at Talladega, but Texas I had a problem; you can go to Phoenix with the tight racing we have there and have a problem. You need every point you can get."

AT THIS RACE LAST YEAR YOU AND CHAD KNAUS DECIDED YOU WANTED TO LEAD ALL THE PRACTICES, QUALIFY ON THE POLE, LEAD THE MOST LAPS, AND WIN THE RACE. AND YOU DID THAT. THE CHASE BASICALLY ENDED THERE AND NOBODY WAS CLOSE TO YOU AFTER THAT. DO YOU LOOK AT THIS TRACK AS A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN DRIVE A STAKE INTO THE HEART OF THE COMPETITION, ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE FACT THAT THERE WAS SO MUCH SEPARATION LAST WEEK WITH ALL THE BLOWN ENGINES? "We really hope to. I think last year we were much more confident with our 1.5-mile set-up. And we've had a lot of good races leading up to now to where I should be confident but I just don't want to get too far ahead of myself and be too optimistic. I like to be in a spot of concern that keeps me on my toes and stay focused on doing my job. Believe me, I'm excited that we're at this race track. I know what we've been able to do here in the past, so it helps me sleep well the week leading into this race weekend but if the truth be told, until we get on the track and really know what we have, it's all just smoke and mirrors in my brain right now. And I don't want to fall into believing that and because we've been good here before that we're going to again. We've got to go out and make stuff happen tonight in qualifying and then at the same time in tomorrow's race practice, we need to be on our game. I certainly hope so. For my sake, I really want to leave here and collect a lot of points if possible, but at the same time I know it's a really good track for the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) and it's been a good place for Jeff (Gordon) over the years. So I don't know what's going to happen. But we're going to go like hell and see if we can get some points."

I WAS JUST HALF PAYING ATTENTION AND THEN PERKED UP WHEN YOU SAID YOU DIDN'T KNOW THE NEXT RACE WAS MARTINSVILLE, DID YOU REALLY THINK TALLADEGA WAS NEXT? ARE YOU KIDDING? "No. I'm 100 percent honest. I thought that was next. Tells you how much I'm thinking about Talladega and how concerned I am about that race on the schedule (laughs). Wasn't Talladega after Martinsville at one point in our schedule? Or am I totally backwards?

NOT RECENTLY "Okay, well I thought that it was. I just get on the plane and where it drops me off, I get off and this week I wasn't told to go to the airplane so I got in my car and drove here (laughter & clapping). Yeah. And I'm also a new parent and it does eat up a lot of time and a lot of your focus. It's a good thing."

AT TALLADEGA, THERE IS REALLY NO SURE FIRE WAY OF STAYING OUT OF THE BIG ONE. YOU'VE DONE IT BOTH WAYS, AT THE FRONT OF THE PACK AND THE BACK OF THE PACK. IS IT REALLY A ONE IN 200-LAP CRAPSHOOT THAT YOU NEVER REALLY KNOW AND THERE'S NO SURE FIRE WAY OF AVOIDING IT? "We've tried both approaches and the last three years we've made it through there (the big crash) without any big trouble. I can remember Bobby Labonte at the front of the pack racing Talladega one time and gets flipped over and ends up landing on Tony Stewart, who is trying to ride at the back to be smart for points. So there is no safe place. We see a lot of teams trying to be conservative and smart and get to the end of the race and go from there and the problem we have now is when everybody decides with 20 (laps) to go, that it's time to race, you have to race. You need the best finish you can get and that's where the crashes are. So I think we all feel better if we go 480 miles and then get crashed. It really sucks to crash at five miles into the race or something (laughs). I think that's what we've done over the years is there's no need to push the envelope now if something weird went on, we could miss that. But at the end you've got to pull them tight (belts) and drive through there and try to get the best finish you can."

ON THE COMMENTS THAT JIMMIE JOHNSON IS TOO VANILLA AND THE REASON THE TV RATINGS ARE FALLING IS BECAUSE JIMMIE JOHNSON IS TOO SUCCESSFUL AND WE'RE TIRED OF SEEING HIM WIN ALL THE TIME. HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THAT? "Well I know that I'm not the reason for those things and I sure as hell know I'm not vanilla. I think it takes anybody some time to get comfortable in their shoes and their sport and with where I went from being like a C-level driver in Nationwide and through all the other things in my career, to drive for Hendrick Motorsports to having success early, at the end of the day I want to be a professional and do my job. And some people formed opinions then and it's unfortunate that if it still lingers around because I think I've done plenty to show that I'm far from vanilla. And at the same time, I'm getting more comfortable as each year goes by in how I act and what I do and with who I am. I have my own securities like anyone else and when I come to the track I just want to make sure I'm doing my best job and representing my sponsors. I think I'm finding a better balance of that. And from the success that we've had, it's just unfair to put it on a driver's success. When you look at the economy and the challenges that it's posed on people, there's a lot of conversations about the prices being too high for hotel rooms.

"The tracks have worked very hard to get their price point down and that hasn't really moved the needle all that much. We have an amazing television package and people aren't tuning in to watch. We don't know why. And it's not just our sport, it's all sports and it's all television. It's not me and I know that. So I just kind of chuckle about it and if people want to spend time talking about it they can."

IF MY MATH IS CORRECT, THREE OF THE SIX TRACKS LEFT, YOU'VE GOT 16 OR 18 VICTORIES THERE. SO IN A LOT OF WAYS THE NUMBERS REALLY DO KIND OF FAVOR YOU. THE ONE TRACK THAT'S LEFT AT THE END OF THE SEASON IS HOMESTEAD AND YOU HAVEN'T HAD TO WIN AT THAT TRACK. TALK ABOUT HOW A LOT OF US ARE ALREADY IN A POSITION WHERE WE MIGHT BE CONCEDING YOU THE CHAMPIONSHIP "Yeah, I just don't think that's the smart thing to do. There is just so much racing left. Texas is a great example of what can happen. I think this championship is going to come down to Homestead and I feel that we've don't a really good job of being more competitive at Homestead. Last year we ran in the top three or five most of the race with being smart on the race track. And we sat on the pole too. So I feel that if push comes to shove when we go to Homestead and we need to race for the win, we'll have what we need to there. The other tracks, I'm very proud of what we've accomplished and what we've done. But it doesn't mean a damn thing about this weekend's race or next weekend's race and on and on. You have to go out and like we always hear, you've got to go play the game. Well, I've got to go run the race and that's my job now."

YOU'VE BEEN IN CRASHES AT TALLADEGA, WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE IN A CRASH AT TALLADEGA--THE SOUND, THE FEELING, ETC. "First thing, there is a certain noise that restrictor plate engines make when you bail out of the gas and you can hear maybe other guys out of the gas. Then your own car noise. The tires squealing. Depending on how hard you hit something, the tone and impact changes the harder you hit stuff, but one of the most interesting parts of a crash is spinning and bouncing off of things. As a driver, you're judging and rating how much damage it's done. If there's some real small impact you that you make, you're like, 'Ok. We can fix that. That's not bad.' And then a good pop and you're like, 'Oh, that's going to be a problem.' We're evaluating each bump that we take throughout the spin and then the impact with the wall and you start off with kind of like a video game, you have all this life in you and you're like, 'Ok. I'm going to make it through this crash.' As you start bouncing off things, your power starts dropping down and eventually in most cases, you leave defeated and the car is destroyed. The noise and also the smell of the tires. You get a lot of tire smoke inside the car. Sometimes if you get off in the grass, not only do you smell that, but you're covered in dirt and grass from being in the infield."

CAN YOU COMPARE IT TO ANYTHING THAT WE WOULD KNOW? "No. I would say it's also the longest slide. Other tracks, the slide and the feeling of what am I going to hit and how hard am I going to hit it, there is a point of time that is really uncomfortable as a driver. It's very long at Talladega, but at other tracks it's not long before you hit something. Your nerves go through a little bit more of a roller coaster ride on one of those tracks, but I can't say that anything that I've raced or done has compared to a 200-mile-an-hour half-mile slide and bouncing off things through all of it."

KEVIN HARVICK SAID THAT REALISTICALLY HE THINKS THE TOP-FIVE STILL HAVE A SHOT AT THE CHAMPIONSHIP. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT AND HOW QUICKLY CAN THAT CHANGE? "Yeah, I mean it really can. You look at Tony [Stewart] down there in fifth and how much pace he has had and been chipping away the gap from where he is to first. I certainly think he's a player. You kind of go through the numbers and you look at the three cars ahead of him, the four cars ahead of him and it's hard to think that all three would have trouble, but I've just grown to believe that anything can happen. We have a big gap over sixth and even a decent gap to where Tony is in fifth. At Talladega all three of us, all four of us, could be in a wreck and Tony could leave there as the points leader at 107 out. I just don't want to worry about it too much; I want to consider everyone as a threat and stay on my toes to make sure that I do the best job that I can."

WITH EACH OF THE FOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS, DO YOU CONSIDER THEM SEPARATE ENTITIES, OR DO YOU KIND OF TAKE ALL FOUR AND BUILD MOMENTUM AS YOU'RE CHASING THE FIFTH ONE? "In my mind, they are all their own independent years and each one has had its own challenges and its own journey of sorts to get to that point. Again, falling back on the past, I feel good about what we've accomplished and I'm proud of that. It helps me get through the week I think when I'm faced with tough times, I can look back on my experience and say, 'Ok, in 2006 we had trouble; and this happened here. In 2008, we got in a heck of a run and outraced Jeff.' So every driver will go back through their own experiences and find things that they need to apply in their current situation, and I do that as well with those championships. I just know in the bottom of my heart because I did it in the past does not mean that it's going to happen again and I've got to go out and earn it again. It's just me being a realist about it. I'll fall back on that experience to help me through the times that I need it, but I know that I've got to go on track and do it."

GOING TO MARTINSVILLE WHO DO YOU NOT WANT TO SEE SITTING NEXT TO YOU ON A RESTART? YOUR BOSS SEEMS TO THINK THAT THE DOUBLE-FILE RESTARTS ARE WHAT IS GOING TO EVENTUALLY FIGURE OUT THE CHAMPIONSHIP. "Yeah and we had a really exciting finish there in the spring with the double-file restart. First and foremost, you would have to assume the front-row outside driver--the old theory of eight wheels are better than four is going to come into play--and whoever the inside car is going to lean on him pretty heavily. There we can turn people around pretty easily. It could. I've heard Jeff [Gordon] make those comments on how double-file restarts could affect things. I naturally think that he's speaking more to the mile-and-a-half and two-mile tracks because the cars are really out of control in low-air situations. You have more control over your car at Martinsville than at any of the other tracks on a double-file restart. We'll see. Who I wouldn't want next to me--man I guess whoever would be second in points. We're going to be gouging for every single point at that part of the race and the way the points are stacked up, the top-five are all guys that are really good at Martinsville. It could be exciting."

IS THERE ANYONE THAT IS BETTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE AT GETTING THE POWER DOWN AND GETTING STARTED? "Yeah, Kyle is probably the one right now that can get the power down better than others. We've been beat by him and addressed it and have worked on things and looked at car set-ups and what I do. At one point a few years back, I was that guy. I don't know what has changed. I think Kyle right now probably has the best at getting the power down and getting to the line and taking that momentum and making something happen with it."

-source: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Kasey Kahne , Denny Hamlin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports