Daytona 500: Johnson - Media Day visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at NASCAR Daytona Media day and discussed the new track surface, pit crew changes and much more.

HAVE YOU LEARNED ENOUGH FROM YOUR TESTING TO FEEL LIKE YOU WILL BE A GOOD CONTENDOR IN THE BUD SHOOTOUT AND HOW IMPORTANT WILL IT BE WITH THIS NEW PAVEMENT? "I guess in the Goodyear tire test there were large enough packs to really get a good feel of how things are going to work and what your car was going to do. The testing that I was part off, the NASCAR test, we only had two-car packs. We would pair up in twos so we could push draft each other around the track. If there was an odd number of cars that poor guy whoever he was wouldn't be able to draft because we would pair up and leave. So for me the Shootout is my first experience with a big pack on the track so it will be a big learning curve for myself, a great experience, very helpful and needed on-track time to figure out what's going on out there."

ON THE CHANGES WITH HIS TEAM. "As far as inside the shop and the guys working on the cars, yes. Our over-the-wall crew is going to be much different. We're still trying to sort everything out on that side. We're in a very fortunate situation where we are making big changes. A very young crop of guys coming along and a situation where guys are earning their way on to the team and competing for. We've had a series of competitions and tests to see who is the fastest. That's one aspect. Who can withstand the pressure. We had all four cars at Charlotte doing live pit stops to see. We put a lot of pressure on them to see if somebody was better. So we're still in the process, Chad may have made some decisions. I was there at that test with those guys last week and I haven't heard the final roster. From that what I saw a very, very strong first and second string of guys. That's our plan, to make sure we have depth and if someone is hurt or having a bad day we can make changes and not lose anything on pit road."

DO YOU CONSIDER THAT THE LARGEST VARIABLE FOR YOU ENTERING THIS SEASON SINCE WE DON'T REALLY HAVE MUCH TESTING AND THERE'S NOT BEEN A WHOLE LOT OF TIME THAT'S TRANSPIRED SINCE YOU LAST WON? "I'm sure what the largest variable will be. I feel that is certainly one of them and there is probably two or three there. I would say that is one. Two, we didn't end the season at the pace that we wanted and we worked very hard all off-season to try to find more speed. And we have a lot of good stuff that has come out. About a real test session on a real track we don't know if we have been working in the right areas so until we get through four or five races I think that's a variable to consider. I think it's going to be good but again it's something different. The fact that drivers have changed teams, there's got to be some learning there and we'll have to see if that's a big player or not. I certainly don't think it will be since it's all the same people internally just moving in different positions but you can't argue the fact that it's different."

HAVING A LITTLE BIT TIME TO REFLECT ON NUMBER FIVE, IS IT ANY MORE SATISFACTORY BECAUSE YOU DID HAVE TO COME FROM BEHIND? HOW DO YOU LOOK ON THAT CHAMPIONSHIP? I guess as the season wore down I recognized that I was very fortunate to be in the tightest points battle that has ever taken place. Certainly very excited that I came out on top and was able to win it coming from behind. The impact that it's had with people making comments to me, it's been big. I know it was big and I know we were in a position we didn't want to be in. We didn't have the pace that we needed at a couple of tracks and got behind and then went into Homestead, actually Phoenix helped us with strategy and then went to Homestead and were able to close the deal. I do have a great sense of pride for the fact that we came from behind and no one has ever done that before. I've been asked the question a few times about does it make it more special. In my opinion the more dominant points battles we've had or championship wins we've had, we have done a better job as a team so there is almost more pride in the fact that we were buttoned up, in control, we could win a lot of races. I feel that last year it was more of a relief and kind of a confidence builder with who we are as a team but even when things are stacked against us we can stick together as a group and still win. I feel like some of our best work was done the year racing Jeff (Gordon)."

DO THE PIT CREW CHANGES CONCERN YOU GIVEN WHAT HAPPENED AT TEXAS AT THE END OF THE YEAR OR WAS THIS SOMETHING YOU THINK NEEDED TO HAPPEN? At the end of the year we were in a position we didn't want to be in. It certainly wasn't typical for the No. 48 team or Hendrick teams to swap crews around. We knew before that that we needed to make some changes during the off-season and truthfully every off-season we go through and try to make sure we have the best people on the roster. This year was different, we changed more positions. Now we're down to six guys over the wall with the rule on the catch can side of things, so I would say five of the six guys over the wall this coming year are new to us. They have the potential to have that on pit road. So it is a variable. We may have some bumps in the road early but I think you will see, it will be a much different look with our guys. You're gonna see some real athletes. These guys are the real deal -- young, athletic, all have sports backgrounds and we feel that will help from a physical standpoint -- quickness, hand-eye coordination standpoint and also from a pressure standpoint where they played important games in the past and they know how deal with those pressures."

HOW QUICKLY AFTER HOMESTEAD DID YOU GUYS DECIDE TO DO THAT? "This process has been in place of finding the proper guys. I would say that the reality of it came much more apparent to us, Homestead, Phoenix, that we may need to go to that well. In our plan we didn't think we would change out so many guys but with the position we were in at the end of the year we were like we need to kick this thing into gear and yes we may take some bumps early in the season but we'll just have to take that and get these guys in and get going."

BRIAN VICKERS SAID THAT IF HE WAS RACING AGAINST SOMEBODY THAT HAD BEEN OUT AS LONG AS HE HAS THAT HE MIGHT HAVE SOME RESERVATIONS ABOUT THAT DRIVER COMING BACK, WHAT DOES BRIAN NEED TO DO TO SHOW, PROVE AND REGAIN THAT TRUST OR JUST TO MAKE EVERYBODY FEEL COMFORTABLE ESPECIALLY WHEN YOUR AT A TRACK WHERE YOU ARE RUNNING SO CLOSE? "I think that it's really about being around other cars and in the test session Brian and I had linked up in some of the Nationwide drafting and first roll out and working with him and I know well, and knowing in the past that's he's very good to draft and be around. About a lap I was paying attention and quickly forgot the situation he was in and off we went. He's gotta go through that process with all the drivers and I don't think it's going to take long with all the practice time we have down here. I don't know if he's in the shootout or not but the Duels, all the practice sessions leading up to the 500. By the time he gets to the 500 he should have everybody forgetting who is driving it. At the end of the day you kind of forget at times who is in the car. You just see the colors, I look for the No. 17 and the No. 22, there are certain guys that I just look for that I work well with in the draft. I think by the time the 500 comes around Brian will be back."

WITH YOUR STYLE OF NEVER SEEMING TO MIND OF SLIDING THE CAR AROUND IF YOU HAVE TO, LOOSE, ROUGH PAVEMENT, NEARER THE OFF-ROAD THE BETTER ALMOST, HOW DOES THIS REPAVING JOB AFFECT YOU AND YOUR STYLE? IS IT A PLUS FOR YOU OR A MINUS? "Our track record doesn't show that the old surface was really a plus. Maybe this is a plus. You know our finishes here especially in the 500 we've been caught up in a lot of late-race stuff and we haven't been the dominant car by any means, but we've had top-fives, top-tens in our hands and had some situations that plagued us. The July race has been much better to us where it is more slick so maybe there is an argument with that. I feel though as race teams with the new surface we only have a few areas to adjust the car and with the track being so forgiving everybody is going to be set on kill and handling is not going to be an option or an obstacle like we all like Talladega. From our standpoint we have less to separate ourselves with on the track during the race but I think it will be in perspective and for the Daytona 500 we're going to have the best circumstances and the best race we've seen. The only thing that can screw that up is all getting too out of control early and cause a big pile up and there's 15 cars left on the track. That's the one thing that can screw this all up but I think for the Daytona 500 we have the best circumstances building."

PHOENIX IS ONE OF YOUR BEST TRACKS AND THEY ANNOUNCED THEY ARE GOING TO REPAVE IT AND ADD BANKING AND BASICALLY CHANGING THE EXISTING PHOENIX AS WE KNOW IT, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THEM CHANGING IT? "Yeah I hate to see it change. I understand their situation and they need to get some new asphalt down. They came through the garage area and tried to get input from drivers and tried to figure out how to make the track better for racing, side-by-side racing and safer. So I think pit road will be looked at, they will allow a little bit more space on pit road. So in the end its kind of one of the necessary evils, no one wanted to see this track (Daytona International Speedway) repaved but it needed to happen. Phoenix is kind of in that same boat. To change the transitions around a little bit to create a second groove with the new asphalt right out of the gate."

IS IT CONCERNING THAT'S GOING TO BE KIND OF THE WILDCARD WITH THE SECOND TO THE LAST RACE IN THE CHASE BECAUSE YOU WILL GO THERE WITH NOT HAVING A LOT OF INFORMATION? "I guess I haven't thought about that. It will make it difficult. I don't know if we will come in a day early to test, sometimes we test on new surfaces. I haven't thought that far ahead and it certainly could be a wildcard."

NOW THAT YOU HAVE FIVE CHAMPIONSHIPS AND SEVEN WITHIN REACH, WOULD ANYTHING LESS THAN SEVEN CHAMPIONSHIPS BE A DISAPPOINTMENT AT THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER? "If it all ended today, there is no way I would be disappointed. It's been one hell of a ride. I'm so proud of the growth I've had as a driver from motocross, off-road trucks, stock cars, there's a lot of years where I was tearing stuff up and trying to find my way. When I went with Hendrick things smoothed out and it's been one heck of a ride. So if it all ended today I would be very proud of what all has taken place."

WITH YOUR TRACK RECORD HERE AND ESPECIALLY IN THE 500 WITH THE NEW SURFACE HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT CHANGING YOUR APPROACH AT ALL? "I think it kind of boils down to the Talladega approach. Do you try to stay up at the top three or four rows and race or do you wait at the back until the end? It can be so easy to stay in a huge group, I think that's where the big questions lie. You kind of want to go where there are less cars. So if there's a big race up front you slide back, if everybody's riding then you might want to work your way back up front."

IS BEING A MORNING PERSON ONE OF THE KEYS TO YOUR SUCCESS? "It doesn't hurt being a morning person. I think it's helpful. I thought I was a morning person until I became and father and now I find I'm officially a morning person. I've always been that way. My dad working construction was always up early and out the door and I would get up and have some breakfast with him and hang out before I would go to school. So it's just kind of been my wiring since I was a kid."

RICHARD PETTY IS REMEMBERED AS MUCH FOR SEVEN DAYTONA 500 VICTORIES AS HIS SEVEN CHAMPIONSHIP, NOW YOU'VE GOT FIVE HOW MUCH WOULD YOU LIKE TO ADD MULTUPLE DAYTONA 500 WINS TO YOUR LIST OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS? I would say plate races in general, first step. Second step would be the 500. In '05 and '06, the last year of whatever that was when we won a couple of plate races, I knew what to do and had things sorted out and was very good at restrictor plate racing then, but now I feel like I'm a top-five guy where I need to learn something else to become a better plate driver. We're limiting my ability to learn because we spend time trying to focus on what we need to do in October at Talladega and trying to understand how you ride, when you go and how you create those opportunities, so that limits my opportunities to learn and really race for things. So I understand those factors but at the end of the day in the 500 I think every team is willing to sacrifice points, not ride, do what you have to do to win this race. It's just so important to win this race."

ON THE NEW POINTS SYSTEM. "From our meeting with NASCAR, we did some math and were able to put a points value on positions and what that value is from first and second on down and its very similar in the upper tier. Obviously the lower you get the more difficult it is. If you've had a bad day it's going to hurt you a lot more than it did in the past. I understand the way it works. I understand why they are trying to do it. Time will tell if it was a good move or not. We're in a weird position because at times we've criticized NASCAR for not doing enough or trying enough then they do something and we pick it apart and criticize if it's going to work or not. I don't really know, but the overall concept of running up front still is in play. It could be argued that riding around in 10th to 15th, they've taken that away. You need to be inside the top-10 to perform. We'll just have to see how the points tally up for people."

WOULD YOU SAY THAT DRIVERS THIS YEAR ARE GUNNING FOR YOU MORE THAN IN THE PAST? "Especially being in the morning group I haven't heard all the stuff yet, so in a few more hours I'll know what everybody has said. Without a doubt to help answer your question, everybody is tired of us winning. That's just how it is. I had a lot of fun at the end of the year with Harvick being as vocal as he was. I also had some fun messing with Denny (Hamlin). There was a lot of good things taking place and I think you will see that again this year. I can say that we saw a very good points battle last year and that didn't include the Roush guys and the way they ran at the end of the season, the Childress, Hendrick, Gibbs group separated itself, you're gonna have Roush back now. So we're going to have one more quality group of drivers in there mixing it up. I think it's going to be a very good year. We can all sit here and get fired up and get quotes to start the season but I'd say come Vegas or maybe after Vegas, I think before five races in whatever that 1.5-mile track is, we can start passing out report cards to see who did what over the off-season."

HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK DANGER IS IMPORTANT TO APPEAL TO THE FANS? WITH THIS YEAR BEING THE 10TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF DALE EARNHARDT'S ACCIDENT, ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH THAT BALANCE BETWEEN SAFETY VERSES THAT APPEAL? "Yeah I'm comfortable with that. You know you walk that fine line and I think the marketing angle is important to really have some fun with it and create the buzz. I feel that the way we work as a group on the competition side and understand the safety aspects of the car that the tracks and what has gone on and the fact that we have a voice and are able to express our dislikes for certain situations like Pocono and now they are actively working on stuff. I think it's a good balance. We all know that's there's a lot of people that come to these races to watch a crash. We may not want to admit it but we know that those fans are out there."

IS THERE EVER TOO MUCH FOCUS PUT ON THE TALKING ABOUT SAFETY? "No. I think we're all looking for the magic bullet to understand why there are not as many butts in the stands and as many people watching on TV. And I don't think it's just one given area. There are multiple things that all need attention. The changes that they are talking about making I think will help it directionally, push things in the right direction but it's not the magic bullet. We need a koozie full of bullets to fix the problems."

-source: team chevy

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Series NASCAR Cup