Darlington: Jimmie Johnson press conference

Tuesday, March 11, 2003 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and his outlook for the upcoming Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 in Darlington, S.C. Johnson heads into this weekend's...

Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and his outlook for the upcoming Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 in Darlington, S.C.

Johnson heads into this weekend's race at Darlington as one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR. Johnson is currently 4th in the NASCAR Winston Cup points standings (99 points behind the leader), following his 32nd-place finish last week in the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 37 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta.

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR SOPHOMORE YEAR IN WINSTON CUP COMPETITION? ARE YOU WORRIED YOU COULD HAVE A SOPHOMORE SLUMP? "It's definitely my second year and I do feel like a sophomore. I do feel like our actions on the race track show we're not in a sophomore slump and we're right on track and right where we left off last year."

ON LAST WEEK'S ENGINE FAILURE AT ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY "We think we broke a crank. It looks like somehow, some way, there was a lack of oiling to the crank - on either the pit stop prior to it breaking, or when we got up to speed going through Turns 1 and 2. It looks like there was an oiling problem that ended up starving the crank of oil and ended up breaking the crank."

ON THE 2003 ROOKIE CLASS "It's early, but I think it's interesting to see. I think there are guys who are going to come out of the box strong. And I would expect (Greg) Biffle to be the strongest one out of the box, but he had his troubles in Las Vegas and didn't make the race. (Jamey) McMurray has been strong at times. Casey Mears has been pretty steady. (Jack) Sprague has been fairly consistent. So it's going to be interesting to see. I think it's going to change from week to week. I think you're going to see different tracks that are stronger for each driver. It's going to be interesting all the way through it."

HOW MUCH OF DARLINGTON'S HISTORY AND TRADITION DO THE YOUNGER DRIVERS UNDERSTAND? "It takes a while to sink in and understand what Darlington is about. But the one thing that's self explanatory is when you get out on the race track and you hear all the different things about the Lady in Black and how you've got to watch yourself or she'll jump up and bite you. You hear it for so long and you think okay, fine, I believe it. But as soon as you make a lap out there, that is probably the one track that demands respect after you make lap. It is instilled in your mind right away. You realize that there is truth in what everybody has said. It is just a very intimating and crazy track to get around. It stands up to it's own word as soon as you make a lap."

WHAT WOULD YOU THINK IF THIS TURNS OUT TO BE THE VERY LAST SPRING RACE AT DARLINGTON? "Darlington is a track that I always love to race on. I've always had good runs there. Regardless of what happens, I don't think Darlington will be off the schedule for reasons seen by NASCAR and others out there. They might need to move some dates around. I'm just one of the circus clowns that shows up for the show every week. I go wherever they tell me. I enjoy racing there. I enjoy the race track. I really look forward to having a good day there. I really want to bring home a trophy from Darlington some day. That's one of my top goals for the year is to try to win a race there."

HAVE YOU LEARNED MORE FROM JEFF GORDON ABOUT DARLINGTON THAN ANY OTHER TRACK? "Yes and no. It's very hard to communicate verbally where you are. I've been able to follow him in both races there last year and race with him and be around him to see things. But I think the thing that's helped me the most is being in his race car. He's been there for so many years and has won so many times, that's a place that's he's perfected the set-up and that team knows the set-up. I think there's more of a direct effect from that. We've talked about some different things about the race track and it's characteristics that have been helpful, but it's more the race car I'm climbing into. That place eats tires so fast. Regardless of how good or bad a driver you are, if the car won't save the tires you won't be around at the end of the race."

SO EVEN THOUGH GORDON IS THE BEST AT GETTING AROUND DARLINGTON, YOU HAVEN'T LEARNED AS MUCH BY JUST FOLLOWING HIS LINE? "No, you do. I guess it's really hard to equate that stuff. I guess I really don't pay too much attention to it. I just follow him because I know he's the best. I just learn from that. It probably is more from that but I probably just don't recognize it at much, I guess."

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU TESTED TOGETHER AT DARLINGTON? "Never. I tested there in the spring of last year, but we've never tested together there."

WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU THE MOST ABOUT NASCAR'S POPULARITY GOING WAY BEYOND THE TRADITIONAL LINES AND MEDIA OUTLETS? "I guess it's just the fans' recognition and support of our series. It's something you know and see and expect around race weekend. But away from the track, in other places where you don't expect to see a race ran, it's amazing to see the support and recognition for the drivers. Even wandering down the street and I'm not recognized, you'll see Earnhardt or Gordon jackets on people in places you'd never expect. It's pretty amazing to see."

HAVE YOU EVER EXPERIENCED CARBON MONOXIDE IN A RACE CAR AND IF SO, WHAT IS THAT LIKE? "I think there's probably always some small effect - even for everyone at the race track because there's so much of it around that you don't recognize or know. Twice, I've had issues where I've had contact and the crush panels were knocked in or out and the fumes got inside the race car. You don't realize that you have it until you get out of the race car and you notice that you're not recovering from the race like you need to. You become dizzy and nauseous and have headaches from it. It's a weird gas. You don't realize you're in trouble until it's too late. I've suffered the effects twice and they weren't in a Winston Cup car. They were in other forms of racing. Once in an ASA car I had it real bad, and also in a Busch car. So it's possible in any form of racing."

HOW SOON AFTER YOU CLIMB OUT OF THE RACE CAR DO YOU FEEL THE EFFECTS OF CARBON MONOXIDE? "When you climb out of the race car and your Adrenalin slows down and everything stops, I think that's when you probably really start to notice it. Other people around you could possibly notice it first. The Adrenalin carries you so far. If it's a mild case of it, you could possibly overcome that just with the Adrenalin. I know I had an extreme case in the ASA car. At the end of the race, I thought I was going to get sick in the car. The other time, I just wasn't feeling right when I got out of the race car. I was a little dizzy. As the next half-hour to an hour went by, the headaches started to set in."

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR CAR TO TRY TO ELIMINATE THE CHANCES OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING NOW? "After my ASA incident, we designed crush panels that were a little bit more forgiving in the way they were attached to the race car to have them give a little bit and still be able to reseal. You need to make sure you have a fresh air source coming in from somewhere that's not around the exhaust pipes. You'd be surprised at how much exhaust circulates around the cars and even being next to other race cars. We look to find areas where we can get fresh air into the driver's area. When I got into Winston Cup, the No. 24 team had dealt with everything for a while and tried to come up with the best system. I said to just give me everything that Jeff was using and I'd make it work. I've been using the system that he has had in place for quite some time."


WHAT IS THE GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE THAT JEFF GORDON HAS GIVEN YOU? "The piece of advice I keep hearing from him is patience. It's amazing how many areas and ways that word comes into play - in everything from dealing with on-track activity (good or bad), to the pace of a race, how to win a championship, how to win races, how to deal with the media and sponsors and fans. You just need to have patience and to pace yourself through it all. That's been the biggest thing that shows up in every form of stuff I've dealt with."

WHEN YOU SEE YOURSELF STEPPING AWAY FROM THAT RELATIONSHIP AND BEING ON YOUR OWN? "That's something that I feel that people that are around me and close (to me) see that I'm Jimmie and I've been myself. I really haven't changed personally. Professionally I've changed because of performances. I've just been raised to be myself and that's the way I've always been. I feel like I really stepped away from that in the beginning and have had that separation between us. But to have someone who is willing to give me information and who wants to work with me and make this teammate situation really work, I've tried to get everything I can out of it and tried to give everything I can back."

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SIDE-BY-SIDE RACING LAST WEEK THAT WE'VE ALWAYS SEEN AT ATLANTA? "That's a good question. I noticed this early too that I jumped to the topside of the track to try to save my tires. I was really strong on the short runs and if I stayed on the bottom, I'd abuse the tires real bad. I found myself getting to the top just to budget my tires and stay with the leaders over the long haul because we were up there in the top five. Fortunately, I wasn't in deep traffic to really know. But from my standpoint, I was just trying to save my tires because we had so many long green-flag runs."

ON COMING OFF THE TURNS REALLY HIGH AT ATLANTA "You know, you beat the tires up so bad on the bottom and for about 10 or 15 laps you can do that and still carry good speed. But you were able to carry the same speed with less (tire) abuse by running up there. It's amazing how much more straightaway speed you could get once you got the rhythm right around the top. I think people were just trying to take care of their tires and keep the speed up around the top of the race track."

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME REALITY TV AFTER HOURS? "It seems to be a big push from everywhere. Reality TV is everywhere. I think it might be an interesting thing for the fans, but my life and activities are exploited enough. I still want to have a private life."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson