Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and talked about what makes Darlington unique, his reaction to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. leaving Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, on preparing for the upcoming...
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, met with members of the media at Darlington Raceway and talked about what makes Darlington unique, his reaction to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. leaving Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, on preparing for the upcoming races in Charlotte and more.
ON HAVING SUCCESS HERE AND WHAT HE FINDS BEST AT THIS TRACK: "It's just such a different track where most tracks you can follow somebody and worry about their line and worry about the competition, what that individual driver or the other guys on the track. Here it's not that way and that's probably one of the first lessons I learned. You've got to worry about yourself, you got to keep it out of the wall and your car will have an area where it performs, you just have to wait for that, it might be at the start of the run, it might be at the middle of the run, it might be at the end but you just have to be very patient and run your own race and that's something that I've been able to pick up here earlier on because it's such a challenging track and I've also made mistakes in my career where I got racing other people and was too focused on the short term gain and caused problems for myself. So it's just really a place where you have to race the race track and we hear that from time to time but there isn't another track on the circuit where it's more meaningful than here."
ON HIS REACTION TO DALE EARNHARDT JR. LEAVING DEI: "Just surprise that Teresa and Junior weren't able to put something together. Junior has certainly made an effort to go out and further his career. He's also show a lot of respect for DEI, I think through the press conference and the things I saw yesterday. So I know life's changing for DEI and for Dale and I certainly wish them both the best. We need Dale Earnhardt Incorporated in this sport succeeding and we also need Dale Jr. doing the same."
DO YOU EVER SEE DALE JR. AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS IN? "(Laughs) No, the rumors I've heard floating around, we're use to silly season with the normal drivers and now with our sports biggest driver silly season is going to be 10 times larger than it's ever been. I think Junior has done a good job of thinking through what he wants to do on his own private time and he is a hot commodity. There isn't a team owner or sponsor in this sport that wouldn't want to be with him. The ball's in his court and I'm sure Hendrick is an option for him. I don't know where he would ever go. We've got four drivers signed up and we can't add a fifth car. I've heard rumors that he's starting up his own team and if that's the case then I'm sure he'd look at Childress engines, he'd look at DEI engines, he'd look at Hendrick engines, probably those same teams and also Gibbs for a job to go drive for them. It's just going to be a lot of what ifs right now and it's going to make for good media across the board. For the next two months before he decides we're all going to be trying to guess where he goes."
ON THERE ONLY BE SO MANY MARQUEE DRIVERS IN THE SPORT: "Outside of the garage area and outside of our sport there's really one or two names that really carry and I'd have to put Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon in that category. Inside the track there's a lot of names and a lot of guys than run well and perform and Junior is certainly one of those as well. From inside the garage area with my competition hat, Junior would be a good teammate. Junior would do a lot of things right and be an asset to Hendrick or to whatever team he went to race for. I probably look at it more as what my teammate situation would be like if that scenario ever came out then anything. Like I said, we've got all four guys that are signed up and I just think that's a rumor. I don't where in the world Dale Junior would go at Hendrick."
COULD THIS RACE BE A GOOD SEPARATION OF THE GOOD AND BAD CAR OF TOMORROW RACE CARS THAT ARE OUT THERE? "The way things have been so far - I think Bristol has been the same Bristol, Phoenix has been the same, Martinsville was the same, Richmond was the same. You've got teams that are going to be fast and teams that struggle. I think that's just the way racing is so I don't expect anything different here as far as what the fans will see or what we'll see on television. Inside the cars there're going to drive probably different than what any of us have been used to. I was just thinking about this before I came out, I've never been to this race track with a 1990-style car so when I think of people that should excel here. I think of Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, guys that in the late '90s with this type of car, this type of setup that were really, really fast and that's why Jeff Gordon owned this place. So I feel that it's still going to be the same racing but I think it's going to be more in the drivers' hands than what it's been in the past."
SO IT WILL BE EVEN MORE OF A DRIVERS' TRACK? "When you think of drivers track, this is the first one that comes to everybody's mind. I think that the car that doesn't do what you want it to, you need a driver in there that can hang onto this thing and a driver that can look for the right areas to find speed. That's one of the big challenges with the Car of Tomorrow and I think the opportunity is brought myself. It's a challenging car to drive and you really got to search a lot as a driver to find out how to make it work. Yeah, they don't turn but we're all in the same box. The rules are very, very similar for all the cars. From Kenny Wallace's car to my car, there is very, very subtle differences just because the way NASCAR has put it. It puts a lot in my hands and also in the crew chiefs hands for strategy and the adjustments in the race."
SHOULD THERE BE ANY CHANGES TO NASCAR'S NEW-GENERATION RACE CAR AT THIS STAGE? "I think we need to look if there are any safety issues. The first thing that comes to mind would be overworking the brakes. Maybe we could think something through that gets more airflow to the brake system, at least get it equal to what we had with the old car. We haven't seen any major problems. There's nothing there that alarms me but that would be an area that I hope NASCAR would consider. Then you look at what's going to put on for better racing. So far we've had side-by-side finishes, some of the closest finishes we've seen at the tracks this car has been on. I would love to see changes based on fuel alone but I'm trying to put NASCAR's hat on and I just don't see that yet. It's just not in the cards yet."
DOES THIS WHOLE SITUATION WITH DALE EARNHARDT, JR. SHOW HOW MUCH OF A BUSINESS NASCAR IS? "It certainly is a team sport in a lot of aspects, every aspect for that matter when we have 560 employees at Hendrick and 89 just in our 24/48 shop assembling cars, then you break it down to the 15 that show up here working on race weekend. It is a team sport. Sometimes you have the best people put together and it doesn't work out and you've got to shake that up and make some changes and I think that's where Junior was looking for control, control of the 8 car so he could get in there and start making decisions that he felt was right and it appears that they weren't able to find that agreement so he's going to take it down the road and see if it works somewhere else."
DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHY A DRIVER NEEDS CONTROL IN REGARDS TO OWNERSHIP? "I don't know his situation. I'm sure there's a lot to it and we all know how tough this has been for him to decide on so I can't speak clearly or from the right place on Junior's behalf. But at the end of the day for him to make such a bold move there's something there that he's looking for and hopefully he finds it."
ON THE CREW CHIEF RACE IN CHARLOTTE, WILL YOU BE GIVING CHAD ANY TIPS? "They have me involved somehow and I can't wait to get on the radio and yell at him about corner entry because he's always on butt about it (and saying) 'Don't overdrive the entry, you're using the brakes to much.' Hopefully I can be on the radio and start screaming at him.
IS THERE ANYONE HE HAS TO BEAT OUT THERE? "Really I hope he doesn't do all that well because then it means my job's at stake. I think there's a pretty good rivalry right now between the crew chiefs involved. I just have a suspicion that it's going to turn into a bumper car match out there once it's all said and done. The racing's not going to be all clean."
DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO CHARLOTTE WITH AS MUCH CONFIDENCE AS YOU ALWAYS HAVE? "I do especially after the test we just had. We really had a really strong two-day test session and I feel that we addressed some things that hurt us last year in those two races where we ran second. We've found some speed there so I'm really excited for the next couple races."
WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS HURT YOU THE LAST COUPLE OF RACES THERE? "I'd say we didn't have a good balance from the start of the run to the end of the run. The track gets so tight and the way that that tire works with the track and the demands on the car, at the end of 10 laps the car has massive understeer in it but you're starting off wrecking loose so you've got to balance that out and we've found some things that really helped us not lose too much time at the start of the run because the car was loose and then as the car built tight we didn't get too tight and were able to maintain some higher speeds."
HAVE YOU RACED THAT CAR IN CHARLOTTE BEFORE? "I'm not sure if it's raced there before but I think it's our Vegas car so it's certainly a proven race car."
ON WHAT HE'S DOING ON MOTHER'S DAY: "Hopefully I'm going to be at home. With the rain in the forecast hopefully we're not here racing at Darlington on Mother's Day. (I'll) be at home, make some phone calls to my mom and to my mother-in-law and then we have two small dogs so of course I got to do the corny route and wish my wife a happy Mother's Day even though we aren't really parents."
ON WHAT'S SPECIAL ABOUT THE ALL STAR RACE: "I don't know, maybe the million bucks on the line. We all enter it and say it's not a points race and I certainly think that makes everybody a little bit more aggressive but when the purse is that large you also take on the mindset of a points race because you want win. I think it gets really intense. It's a place where we can try new setups and I think sometimes cars aren't driving like they typically would so guys more are on the raged edge in some areas. It's just the combination of everything."
WHAT MAKES THE CAR OF TOMORROW SO DIFFICULT: "We lost probably 30 to 40 percent of the handling of the car going from the current car to the new car and not looking at time sheet to find out where you're ranked but just going off of fuel alone and you feel terrible, you feel slow. I've been guilty of this a few times where I go out on the track and the car and I'm like 'This thing is terrible' and all I know is what I felt last year at that track and what I felt for the last six years and then I come in and look at the board and I'm third on the board and running competitive times and it's like 'Really? I'm good after that?' So that's probably the hardest thing to deal with."
ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT THE REPAVING COULD MESS THIS PLACE UP NEXT YEAR? "I am. The speeds that we run and granted we're going in the Car of Tomorrow so it's going to slow things down, but the track was built to run 140 miles an hour around it and we're far above that. Now with the new technology and asphalt and how fast the cars are, you bring that within these small confines and I'm not sure the racing is going to be that good. It's really going to be a single file race track and they should actually consider reworking the width of the track and the transitions in and off the turn so we can run side by side. With new asphalt there's so much grip it's just going to be single file."
-credit: gm racing