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,...
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.
GOING INTO THE COCA-COLA 600, HOW BENEFICIAL WAS IT TO WIN THE WINSTON LAST WEEKEND? "There is a lot to learn at The Winston to get us prepared for the 600. You'll find that a lot of teams build brand new race cars. With the limited testing that we have in Winston Cup, they'll bring a new race car that hasn't seen a race track and try to test it and try to figure it out through all the practice sessions and The Winston to help them everywhere and also for the 600. So The Winston has a few different things for everyone.
"Last year we brought a brand new race car. This year, we brought a newer car that we haven't run a lot and spent some time trying to figure it out as well. So it's a very good weekend for us to learn about our race cars and understand what the night racing part of the 600 will be like. We also get to be home and sleep in our own beds for a little while."
FROM A DRIVER'S PERSPECTIVE, IS THERE A BIG CHANGE FROM RACING DAYLIGHT TO DARK? "The track is so well lit at night, it helps us to see things better during night racing. I think I can see the track better at night and see more detail on the race track. I can even see pit road better - everything better. Everything else is blacked out. The only thing you can really look at is what's lit up. They've done a good job with the lights and I think you can see more."
IS IT DIFFICULT TO TRANSITION FROM DAYLIGHT TO TWILIGHT TO DARK? "Going into Turn 3 as the sun sets is kind of hard on your eyes. But beyond that, there's nothing from a driver's perspective that really bothers you or irritates you. The temperature usually comes down, obviously; and as we go into night, the track starts to gain a lot of grip. During the day - especially during the heat of the day - Lowe's Motor Speedway is one of the hardest tracks for us to drive on. It's very slick and bumpy and it's very hard to get a hold of it. So, as you start getting into the night, you're work level starts going down more and more as the grip starts coming back to you."
WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO DRIVE THAT EXTRA 100 MILES? "Last year, it didn't bother me. I wish it was 100 miles shorter because I probably would have been in Victory Lane. I slipped through my pit on that last pit stop there and got myself deep in traffic and wasn't able to get back to the front. But that's only thing where I can see that a 500 mile race could have helped me there."
THIS IS A LOADED QUESTION FOR A GUY WHO DRIVES A LOWE'S CHEVROLET AT LOWE'S MOTORSPEEDWAY, BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK OF BRUTON SMITH AND BILL FRANCE AND THEIR INABILITY TO GET ALONG? "To be completely honest with you, I have no knowledge or understanding of what's going on out there amongst that whole political world. I've just been trying to find my way through the Winston Cup garage and trying to do my job for my sponsor and the media. So, I haven't paid any attention to it and don't really know much about it."
DO YOU KNOW BOTH GUYS AND DO YOU LIKE BOTH GUYS? "I've shaken both of their hands and have met them in passing, but I have not had an opportunity to sit down and you know, have a dinner with either one or get to know either one of them very well."
GIVEN THE PRESSURE OF THE WINSTON CUP SERIES, ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT RICHARD CHILDRESS ALLOWS ROBBY GORDON TO RACE IN BOTH THE INDY 500 AND THE COCA-COLA 600? "Each car owner has his own thoughts of what they want their drivers to do and what he'll let them do. Childress has let his drivers run the Busch Series, Late Model, Craftsman Trucks - every one of his drivers is competing in another series besides Winston Cup. Last year, if I'm not mistaken, Childress was a part owner or sponsor of the Indy car that Robby raced. So no, it doesn't surprise me. Childress loves to go racing. It doesn't seem to really matter what types of cars his drivers are in.
"In my situation, I don't think I'll be given permission to do anything (race other series) while I'm driving my Winston Cup car for Hendrick Motorsports for a variety of reasons. Safety is a big concern; and also taking focus away from the Winston Cup program. There is a lot of money invested by Lowe's and a lot that Hendrick Motorsports is putting into me as a driver. If you look at Hendrick Motorsports as a whole, their drivers don't usually do a lot of other things outside of Winston Cup racing or of the series they're hired to drive for them in. Someday before I put my helmet on the shelf, I'd love to drive an Indy car. In dream world, I'd love to compete in the Indianapolis 500. I don't know if that's a reality or not. I'd also like to compete in a World Rally race and drive a World Rally car a little bit more than I already have because I had such a good time in it."
ARE YOU AND TEAMMATE, JEFF GORDON, RACING A LITTLE TOO HARD AND DO YOU THINK HE IS A LITTLE MIFFED THAT YOU'RE UPSTAGING HIM? "I don't think that Jeff miffed or that (he thinks) I'm even upstaging him. He's a competitor and I'm a competitor. If you'll notice, during the race when it's time for give and take, both of us play that game pretty well together and give each other the breaks that are needed. But when you get to the end of the race and you're competing like we did at Homestead last year for your spot on the stage in New York, or when you have a million dollars on the line (at The Winston last weekend), you're going to race him as hard as you do anyone else. But would I turn Jeff around to have a position or would I rough him up? No. That's my teammate and I wouldn't do that to any of my teammates. But I'm going to race him as hard as I can."
WHEN A DRIVER WINS A RACE, DO YOU THINK IT REALLY GIVES THE SPONSOR A CHANCE TO GET ITS NAME OUT THERE? "That's what, in a sense, they're paying for. The way you're on television is by running up front. That's how their sponsor logos are in focus and they get the exposure they want. For me to win at Lowe's Motor Speedway in the Lowe's Chevrolet is something that Lowe's has dreamed of for a long, long time. I've always hoped that situation would come together for them. I'm glad that I was the driver and Hendrick Motorsports was the team to do that for them. It was a very special day for those guys. They've put a lot of money into NASCAR racing and into that race track and into our race team. To walk out of there with a trophy means a lot to them. I was very happy to do that for them."
LAST YEAR WHEN YOU WERE A TITLE CONTENDER, YOU SAID THAT IF YOU DIDN'T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP IT WOULD BE OKAY BECAUSE YOU'D HAVE OTHER CHANCES LATER. BUT NOW, DO YOU THINK THAT OPPORTUNITIES LIKE THAT ONLY COME AROUND ONCE OR TWICE IN A LIFETIME? "Yes, I do have a better understanding of the difficulties in competing and winning races and winning championships. It's very hard. Last year, when I made that comment, I felt we'd have another opportunity. That's kind of why I said that. With us being a rookie team (last year), the worst thing we could do was to have that pressure on our shoulders. We were putting ourselves in that position by not thinking or worrying about that. As soon as that pressure started to creep in, then you change. You start being conservative and your decision process is going the way that was putting you there. That's what we were trying to avoid. With the future at hand - who knows when that opportunity will happen again - we're working hard to build a team with a group of guys who are going to be here forever. Hopefully we'll be a contender for years to come. As long as at the end of the day and at the end of my career and Chad's career and the team's career that we gave 100 percent and did everything we could to win championships and to win races and it didn't happen, you'll be okay with that. I'm not saying you're going to like it, but you'll be okay with that. I think Mark Martin has finally realized that. And we all know how hard he's been on himself for years and years about not getting that. But you can't deny the man the effort and dedication he's put into it. It just didn't happen. I think he's realized that and he's enjoying himself a lot more. I don't want to find myself or my team in that situation."
AS A YOUNG DRIVER, HAVE YOU PASSED THE "ACCEPTANCE TEST" OR "HAZING PROCESS" IN THE GARAGE, AND DO YOU THINK KURT BUSCH HASN'T PASSED THAT ROOKIE TEST? "It's just how you handle things and everybody has his own style. My style has been to come in and give these guys the respect that they deserve and to try and win my own. I really have a perspective of earning their respect. I see other guys that come in and demand respect and that handle it in a different way, and they're treated differently. You can't turn your head at what Kurt has been able to accomplish. He's been in one of the best battles with Ricky Craven for a win and he has his own style. He's done a great job with it. He's up there in points. It's not necessarily a hazing process. You treat people how they treat you. That goes both ways. I remember how guys race me. If they're running all over the side of me to get by for no reason then when the roles are reversed, you return the favor. That's starts to happen and develop between drivers over time. That's what grows. I don't think there's a hazing period when the drivers think they're going to teach a rookie a lesson."
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE A SPONSOR LIKE LOWE'S WHO TAKES CARE OF YOU AND THE TEAM BEYOND JUST WRITING A CHECK? "Throughout the entire team and Hendrick Motorsports and Rick himself, you can tell when a sponsor is happy and is enjoying what they're doing and that they want to have a long term relationship with you. One of the biggest worries we all have is whether we'll have the same sponsor or will we have to look for a new one - especially at a time when sponsors are hard to find. Lowe's goes above and beyond writing that check and looking for their in-focus exposure on TV and the appearances they get out of me. They really care about this race team. You can see it is something they want to do and that they're behind the team and want to support it. I feel very lucky to be in this situation and to have the security of knowing I'm going to have a job next year. We're going to work through the good times and the bad times together. That really calms the whole race team and Hendrick Motorsports to know that we've got a partner in this. It's not about what they're going to get out of you in a short period of time. That's the difference between Lowe's and other sponsors. Also, I think a lot of it is just the way people like Rick Hendrick attract certain types of sponsors and people to his organization. Every one of his sponsors is like that. We're very lucky. Some of it is not luck, it's Rick."