JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed the All-Star race, his early days of racing, his new haircut, double-file restarts, the history of the 600, and more. Q: Were you able...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Lowe's Motor Speedway and discussed the All-Star race, his early days of racing, his new haircut, double-file restarts, the history of the 600, and more.
Q: Were you able to learn from the All-Star and bring that back this week for the 600?
Jimmie Johnson: "We learned how important track position is. The twenty-four ran really well as the night went on so we have some really good ideas of where we started with our baseline and kind of where we needed to end up because he was by far the most competitive Hendrick car on the track late in the race. But we got a good plan in place and we just have to get through qualifying tonight and pit stall selection is going to be extremely important. We ran a very fast lap in practice and in qualifying for the All-Star race and hopefully we can back that up tonight and get that out of the way. The journey begins of how to find that balance to have the car turning well enough at nine o'clock at night and then have it drivable at five-thirty when the race starts. So we'll start that process on Saturday.
Q: What do you make of the new aero package and what can we make of your dominant run early in the All-Star race and will any of that carry over to this race?
JJ: "I think we had everything just right for those first fifty laps and once we lost track position a lot of guys took two tires and I think some got none. We kept taking four thinking that four tires would eventually pay off. I made up some positions and I think in that final ten in like fifth and unfortunately I got turned around coming off of (turn) two. The two car got loose in front of me and unfortunately when I checked up to miss him, the eleven got me from behind and it was just a racing thing and I spun. We couldn't recover from that point on. So I think we are close and we learned a lot and we need to be better, especially as the night wears on, but overall I think we are going to be good.
And the aero package, for my head, there was seven kids that thought it would be a great idea to shave my head and I am a kid at heart and decided to let them do it. My wife ran out of the room immediately and wasn't sure I was going to go through with it. I walked out and showed it to her so what heck, it will grow back. It's not a big deal."
Q: What did you wife think about it?
JJ: I don't know. She stood there for a few minutes with her hands over her mouth and just stared at me and I don't think that is a good response. But she is getting used to it and I think I am too. The first couple times that I walked by the mirror the following day I was like, damn, that's much different than what I've ever seen before. So, what the heck.
Q: Jimmie, when you were a kid growing up, who was your motorsports hero and what specific attributes did that person or persons have that made you like them?
JJ: "For me the first one I had was Rick Johnson, who came up through the motocross world in El Cajon where I grew up. Brock Glover, Ron Lechien, Rick Johnson, Bob Hannah and let's see, there were a bunch of guys because it was kind of the hub for motocross and you had guys like Jeff Stanton move to town and (Jeremy) McGrath was just up the road a little bit because the weather was so good there all the time and that was my influence. And Rick Johnson was a family friend of ours and I would listen to him before I would even listen to my dad and he would come to racetracks and would work with me and his career took off and did good on bikes. In my early years all I wanted to do was race bikes and then I had to open my mind up to four wheels and road racing and fortunately for me Rick was changing from the two-wheel to the four-wheel and had the connection at Chevrolet and really helped me meet the right people at GM to get my start at the stadium trucks and he has been a big part of my life and a big influence of my life through my professional career and through my personal life.
He would be the first one and really the most consistent one through my career but as time went on and I watched guys in Indy cars like Rick Mears -- I looked up to him a ton. Then Cale Yarborough was the guy in the NASCAR ranks but we didn't catch much of the races on the West Coast but he was somebody that I pulled for. Davey Allison was one.
Then once NASCAR became an option or a spot in my mind that I wanted to pursue, Jeff Gordon was really getting started with his career and winning races and championships. It inspired me that you don't have to live in the South, and you don't have to grow up in a stock car to get your chance. And then Tony Stewart came along and a lot of different guys with different backgrounds and those guys fortunately opened the door for me and gave me the opportunity to get started here."
Q: Those last few restarts on Saturday night were pretty electric. Can you talk about what you saw the other night and that seems like par for the course to see Kyle (Busch) to take a few chances and can you describe racing with him?
JJ: "Unfortunately I was out of the mix with the trouble I had in that last segment on that first start. The highlights I watched on television looked awesome and I don't know why those last ten laps people were able to pass while running side-by-side where the first eighty laps was kind of drawn out and very little passing. So something was right and I don't know if everyone was able to make their cars right or what, but that was a great race in those closing laps. Kyle was driving hard, but everyone was driving hard.
When you see three guys coming off of turn four side-by-side including Gordon in there leaning on people and everybody is wrecking and stuff, that was just good racing."
Q: Do you think it's time for NASCAR to go ahead with double-file restarts and do you think that is going to create more exciting racing?
JJ: "Kind of. In my opinion I think it hurts our racing. I think that as a lap down car you need a chance to try to fight to get your lap back and I like that option that the inside lane has the lapped cars and if you are down a lap you can try to get in there and race for it or two laps. That's because sometimes if you are two laps out you don't have a chance at the Lucky Dog and if you have a great race car, you will never have a chance if you are starting at the tail end each time.
I do think some aspects of it is very helpful and I think it's good for the All-Star race, but I like what we have."
Q: Can you just speak to the history of this event and what makes it a marquee event on the schedule each year?
JJ: "There is a few tracks that we race at that when you finish the race with the sense of accomplishment and there is a lot of pride associated with that. And this track, Darlington, and I'd say Bristol....those three tracks, if you were able to leave there and run well, you've done something special. Especially a six-hundred mile race here and how difficult this track has been.
It's a little more forgiving right now because they did a very good job paving this surface and it's not giving up any grip yet and it's still very, very smooth. But with six-hundred miles at this track and the speeds that we run, the history behind this track and the great battles, the great winners, the fiftieth year, this race is very special to all the teams and drivers look up to it and I think this year being a big year like it is, it's a lot higher on everyone's minds in wanting to run well here and putting this trophy on the mantle."
Q: When you started racing up the ladder did you have any particular rivalry with any other driver and what were the circumstances surrounding it?
JJ: "Definitely. In motocross I would race at my local track and there were certain kids there and it was all done by age group at that point in time. I think it was like three to four years between each group as you would move along and then you had different bike classes. So there were the local kids and then there were the Golden State Nationals that you had to qualify in to race in the national events. And so at those Golden State races you had kids from all over the state of California, the champions from their local tracks would meet so there was a whole new set of guys there.
"And then we would race the Nationals in Las Vegas, Oklahoma and also Tennessee. Then you have the whole national component. So definitely through the years there have been a variety of kids that I grew up racing against. I've been in ASA and Off-Road Trucks and I was still really trying to find my way because I was seventeen and eighteen years old trying to racing against.
Walker Evans at forty-something and Ivan Stewart at that age range so by far I was the youngest guy and I was just trying to figure out what I was doing out there.
But as I got into ASA and the Rookie of the Year battle that started there were guys I raced against for that, then it moved into championship stuff fortunately for me there and in recent times it was Mike Bliss, Ryan Newman, Adam Petty and myself.
I remember when I was trying to get my fulltime ride in the Nationwide Series, us three were fighting for the same seats and literally be at a test session. The first day it would be Adam and I showed up to watch the end of the test, watch Adam. The next day it was my day, and then as I was leaving, Ryan Newman was there to get in it the next day.
So that was kind of my class to get established at that point. But you definitely have guys that you look at and rivals your whole career."
Q: You've had a lot of success at this track, you are the favorite coming in here, does that put any extra pressure on you for this event?
JJ: "From that standpoint, that stuff really doesn't register with us. Right now everybody has the feeling they are going to win. And you go on track for practice and either your feelings are reinforced or your feelings are hurt based on how you run in practice and you really take each session the way it comes. The All-Star race gives us good hope and I definitely think we'll be a factor and I think a long race like this benefits the Lowe's forty-eight team and we should be a factor at the end of the night."
Q: I heard on the teleconference that you have to eat during this race to keep your energy up. Is that true, are there other tracks you eat at during the race, and do you keep food in the car or does someone hand it to you?
JJ: "Yeah, I try to eat at every track. You would be surprised because your adrenaline carries you so far through that you don't feel that you are hungry and most people know that when you are hot and in that type of physical environment the last thing that is on your mind is eating.
I picked it up a few years back and I try to eat at every track and I have bars that people pass to me. I hear that some guys are eating sandwiches and stuff.
"They just cut up bars into like fourths or thirds and on that pit stop they will hand it to me in the pits with the guy that services the window and stuff.
It's really amazing how much better you feel once you get some food in your system. Like ten minutes later you just feel your energy coming back and you are like, I needed that.
Everybody has done a great job of drinking in the car and Gatorade has built an awesome system that pretty much the whole field uses. So that has been out there but I think the food is very helpful as well.
Q: Can you draw anything out of the All-Star race for a favorite for this Sunday's Coke-Cola 600?
JJ: "I think that how strong we were at the beginning showed that the things we worked on will be very helpful during the daylight hours. The two car and the twenty-four were really loose and I would run away from them but they would start catching me over the long haul and were more competitive at the end of the night.
So being on track, I wasn't around the eighteen much or the seventeen. I know they stayed out on two tires and picked up some track position but I thought the two and the twenty-four from the situations I was in, that those guys had a very good long run set up and that those guys looked good going into the night. So I would kind of look at those two."
-credit: gm racing