Chicagoland: Johnson - GM top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS: Q. Is it beginning to bug you at all that you haven't won with all these top 5s? I haven't really thought about it. I look at it and feel that I've qualified.


Q. Is it beginning to bug you at all that you haven't won with all these top 5s?

I haven't really thought about it.  I look at it and feel that I've
qualified.  (Inaudible)

Q. You'd like a win at every track, but would you like to get one for (crew chief) Chad Knaus at his home town track?

Definitely. I'd love to get it for him. I think we satisfied that desire a little bit in Charlotte, and that's kind of everybody's new home track where everybody sort of migrates to. So we satisfied that to a certain degree, but personally I want to win at Fontana, and I know deep down inside Chad would like to win here, and I would like that, as well.

Q. ESPN is making a big deal about when they get the full-time Busch Series contract next year. Can you foresee ESPN making a big deal out of it, that it could become an NFC-AFC type situation for NASCAR?

I don't think that the Busch Series is designed to be as big as Cup or can be. There obviously a lot of talent coming down, but if you don't have top drivers there on a regular basis -- we have some of the top drivers but not all of them, it's a great series, but I hope everybody keeps in mind that that's a series to get us all prepared for Cup. I certainly think NASCAR wants to keep it that way to get them groomed and ready for the Cup Series and Busch Series. I don't know much about what ESPN is doing, but hopefully people keep that in mind so the Busch Series stays strong and growing and we're able to grow the Cup Series.

Q. For someone who trying to get noticed in Busch and came up through Busch, do you feel for the guys in their developmental stages that maybe that forum is fading away fast because of all the Cup drivers racing in Busch?

I wouldn't say the Busch Series is that way. If you look at the quality of cars out there, there's some guys trying their hands, trying to get out there. Also there's some guys trying to get starting money and really don't have the effort to put forth. When we see 50 solid teams there, well-funded teams and then we're sending people home in well-funded cars, I think everybody then will be in an uproar. But until then I think it's doing a great job for the Busch Series regulars and the guys coming in.

The part where I worry is your local Saturday night race. There's tracks shutting down all over the place. That really, I think, is going to affect us as time goes on because kids aren't able to get out and race as much as they could. Series like ASA have gone away. Late model divisions are all struggling. There's a lot of struggling going on below the major racing arenas, and I hope that those guys can continue to produce some talent because that's where I came from, as well.

Q. How's your car for this race?

What we did here last year and what we have set up is much different this year. Really I'm coming in with a complete sheet of paper and we've been running well in the mile and a half, so I have a lot of confidence coming in.

Q. Is there some pressure for these guys trying to make the Chase at this point in the season?

There's a lot of pressure to perform. Compared to the pressure years ago before the Chase, it was sometimes more intense and other times less intense, but if you look at it now, you've got 10 guys minimum that have a shot at winning the championship, and we all know that when you have a bad year and you're sitting 500 points out that it's not your year and we're also accustomed to that. I do feel like they have a lot of pressure on their shoulders, but at the same time they're right on the brink of a great opportunity of what's available.

That's why the battle of the Chase has always been in line with the drivers and the teams. There's rumors of expanding that to 15, and I think heading in that direction, that's going to dilute or semi-dilute the concept of having a great year for whoever it is that can be the top driver for all 36 races. If we expand it to 15, I think it takes some importance off of how hard it is to make the Chase and to be in the Top 10.

Q.  You've had a couple approaches going into the Chase when it gets to
this time of year.  Anything different this year?

I wouldn't say anything major. We're still in that same mindset, same attitude. We're a lot smarter, we're a lot stronger, and hopefully we won't make the mistakes we've made in the past and we'll keep plugging along and do what we need to do.

Q. Next week we're going to Loudon. How do you guys attack that track when the next time we're at Loudon it's the start of the Chase?

We look at the Phoenix race and also Richmond. There's things that can carry over from those two tracks and put a lot of importance on those. We're testing at Milwaukee and working on our flat track program and our mile program to make the cars better.

We put a lot into the Loudon race coming up. It's an important one. The first one was really important because it gets you ready for the second one, which is the first race of the Chase. We've got our eyes on it. We didn't fare well there the last couple years, and we know that's a track where we need to pick up our performance. Hopefully we can do it this year.

Q. What do you hope to gain in Indianapolis and is there something you apply there to other races along the way?

It's pretty unique. What you learn there doesn't really apply for any other -- maybe some stuff at Pocono. There's some things we've seen at Pocono that we can take to Indy and vice versa. Hopefully we're able to do that, but Indy is special in its own right. It's been a track that's been really tough on the No. 48 team. We're going to be there ready to go and eager and hopefully find what we need so we can be competitive when we go back to the race.

Q. What makes Indy such a special track for you?

Well, the history speaks for itself. The track is kind of rectangular shaped and much different than anything else we run on, so it's unique in its own right, its own setup, and there's nothing that we can carry over from any other racetrack.

Q. Do you feel Matt Kenseth coming? Even when you get to the end it starts all over again, but do you feel the pressure of someone else coming? Do you watch them and look at the points?

The way the Chase works out, I don't really look at one guy, I look at who's inside the Top 10 and who's putting together consistent races week after week, and Matt has certainly been one of those guys.

I also think the No. 20 (Tony Stewart) has had a tough little part of the season. He said last week that they're back on track. There's quite a few guys that I look at, and with Matt in particular and some weeks I'll gain 25 (points) on him and other weeks I'll lose 25. Last week I lost a lot more than that. Matt is one of those guys that I kind of worry about every week.

Q. How hard is it to know that it's within your grasp this time of the year? Can you define at all how difficult it is to be at this elite level at the top of the points?

I guess my experience over the last couple years I try not to let that pressure get to me. Once the pressure is on there's nothing you can do about it. I think my experience allows me to stay relaxed and calm and I really am evaluating myself, making sure that I put everything on the table. We can't control everything, we can only control certain things. Last week I was disappointed, I got lose in a three-wide situation and made a mistake and ran out of racetrack and ran Bobby into the wall.

Looking at those things I think how could I have changed that, how could I do a better job and not lose points, and really just challenge myself.

I've been in this situation, had every different approach I can think of for the past four years trying to be a champion and it hasn't worked. I'm going to keep staring myself in the mirror and do the best job I can.

Q. How good do you have to be to be at the top of the points? How good?

You've got to be -- not only the driver but the team, you've got to be the best out there. I think that this new format has shaken things up some, and it allows people who have had a rough part of the regular season a second shot at a championship. Unfortunately I haven't been in that situation, but once we get in the final ten, I think the way the championship has been determined, those guys have been the best guys in the Chase.

Q. Do you have to be flawless?

It depends what you mean by flawless. I think you have to make it through without any DNFs, but no major issues. Tony (Stewart) proved it last year, you don't need to win a race in the Chase, and there's nothing against that, that he didn't win a race in the Chase. He finished second and said I'm cool right here. That's why I get nervous when I hear different ideas coming along to promote racing.

We're doing everything we can out there to win races out there, and our sport is still about consistency and I think the championship should reflect that.

Q. What's it like when your car is on a roll and your car is performing at a high level?

Really you're trying to stay confident, even if you have a track that you're trying to qualify. You know the car has got it and you just have to find the little adjustments you need to wake it up.

Q. Do you enjoy coming to a market like Chicago? I know you've been up here other than race weekend, but do you do anything interesting and fun?

Well, I lived not that far away from here in Milwaukee. There's been some traffic driving through town and I'm frustrated like everyone else driving through Chicago. But I've had some great times, won my first event here in Chicagoland. As the weekend wears on we'll have some free time. A major market is important for the growth of the sport.

Q. You've run well here, but without winning would your mental approach to this weekend be any different if you had won a race here previously, or is it the same approach you would take at this track?

Same approach. Things change so much from year to year that you can't really count on previous wins giving you an advantage coming into the next year's race.

In 12 months a lot has changed since then. I do have confidence that we always seem to run well here year to year, so that trend shows me a lot of hope but a lot changes in 12 months.

Q. Why is Chevrolet so successful here?

I think it obviously is a great product and we're working on a new body this year, so I think we're starting to see that. I think the drivers are driving on tracks that really suit them.

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Chad Knaus