Daytona II: Jimmie Johnson press conference

Jimmie Johnson Teleconference Transcript Tuesday, July 1, 2003 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Pepsi 400 at Daytona International ...

Jimmie Johnson Teleconference Transcript
Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson remained seventh in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings (431 points behind the leader) following his 17th-place finish at Infineon Raceway two weeks ago. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in points for 49 straight races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta. He has competed in three races at Daytona, scoring two top-10 finishes. He finished third in the 2003 Daytona 500, his career-best restrictor-plate finish and eighth in this race one year ago.

CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE HENDRICK R&D PROGRAM AND IS DAVID GREEN BASICALLY AN R&D DRIVER FOR THE TEAM?

"To be quite honest with you, I don't know all the details about it. But we have David Green driving the car. We do have that team in place and there are requirements they need to meet with NASCAR in order to be a legitimate team. I believe we're meeting those requirements and then some as far as the races we're attending with the race car. I know David Green helped Rick (Hendrick) and that whole Busch team quite a bit last year when little Ricky was hurt. We're learning some information and I think Rick is real happy to put David in that Winston Cup car and give him some Winston Cup rides because he's a great guy and is a big help to the team."

RICK HENDRICK WAS ONE OF THE FIRST TO HAVE AN R&D PROGRAM AND IT'S PRETTY EXTENSIVE NOW. DO THEY FEED YOU INFORMATION AS THEY FIND THINGS?

"Yeah. The R&D team has been in effect for quite some time. When I first started for Hendrick Motorsports, my first test was in the R&D car at Kentucky in 2001. I know it's been around. It hasn't necessarily been competing in events yet, but it's a place where the crew chiefs can go and throw ideas out and the engineers can see them through. We can put them on a car and take them to a race track. There are obviously a lot of ideas floating around but so little time for the crew chiefs and race teams to try them. So we're trying to use this R&D team as an outlet for all those ideas."

WILL HAVING DAVID GREEN IN THE FIELD AT DAYTONA GIVE YOU ANOTHER CAR FOR PUSHING HELP?

"Yes, it's always nice to have more friends out there - especially a teammate - to help out. But at the same time, he's out there to try to win the race and do the best job he can as well. So, it'll be a help in pretty much every respect, but at the same time it's another car out there you've got to race."

WHEN YOU CAME TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS FROM THE BUSCH SERIES, WHAT IMPRESSED YOU THE MOST ABOUT THEIR RESTRICTOR PLATE PROGRAM?

"My big surprise was the amount of detail that go into these race cars to make them go fast. In the Busch operation, all we cared about was the body. There's a lot going on with suspension and geometry in the front and the rear of the car and the car's attitude. That's something that smaller teams aren't able to pay attention to. With all the experience and knowledge going on at Hendrick Motorsports, one of the first things I was able to see when I walked in there was the detail away from the body. You're kind of limited with the body because NASCAR has so many templates. There are all these other areas underneath the hood and the engine - and with geometry and rear suspension all the stuff that makes the car as free rolling as possible."

DID HAVING THAT KNOWLEDGE CHANGE YOU OR AFFECT THE WAY YOU RACE?

"No, it didn't affect anything there. The biggest affect it had was when we rolled into Daytona for the 500 and we were able to get the pole and I didn't have to worry about racing in the Shootout or anything else because I didn't have any points. That was the biggest reward I received from it all."

IN A RESTRICTOR PLATE RACE, CAN YOU DEFINE HOW MUCH IS CAR AND HOW MUCH IS DRIVER?

"You've got to have a good horse. But, there are a few variables out there that are pretty big. One is (that) you need help to make things happen out there. If you can make a friend or you have a teammate, that's pretty important. You also need a good race car. A good car does a lot but good driving is a big aspect of it too. I have to say that I started the Daytona 500 in my rookie year with a car capable of winning of winning the race, and I finished 15th (and was) a lap down. As time has gone on, I kept getting better and better and I've had a good horse through all of that. But you've got to have a good car and somebody to work with you. At the same time, you've got to have a good sense of the draft because it's a weird environment out there. You spend more time looking in the mirror than you do looking in front of you. That's something that no one in racing is used to doing. It just takes a lot of experience to get used to it."

IN LIGHT OF WHAT IT TAKES TO DO WELL, HOW FRUSTRATING IS IT TO GO UP AGAINST THE DEI CARS WHEN THEY'VE WON THE LAST 5 RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES?

"I think they definitely have a bull's-eye on them. We've all felt at different stages of the race - especially in the closing laps of the race - that we have them under control. But they keep finding a way to get to the front. So, they're the teams to beat - especially the No. 8 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and the No. 15 (Michael Waltrip) down there (Daytona). With the runs that we've had at Talladega and Daytona, I think if anybody has a shot at doing it, we do."

AT THE LAST TALLADEGA RACE, THE HENDRICK CARS HAD THE TOP FOUR SPOTS WITH LESS THAN 20 LAPS TO GO AND DALE JR. FOUND A WAY AROUND YOU. FOR DAYTONA, DO THE HMS DRIVERS HAVE A BETTER GAMEPLAN TO WORK TOGETHER?

"We always try to work together. But that was sheer luck and fortune to have us all end up nose-to-tail out there. We try to look for those opportunities and try to create them as the race goes on, but it is so hard to end up behind a teammate and to really work well. The lead car of any group gets the biggest benefit. And the guys behind you usually get hurt because they're all pushing that lead car. So for you all to stay together for a long period of time and make it really work is tough to do. Somehow, the No. 8 (Earnhardt Jr.) and the No. 15 (Waltrip) have been able to do it. We've all been trying to mimic it. It's been pretty obvious to the fans and drivers that they've been able to make it work. None of the other teams have been able to work that well or help each other that much and we don't know why. We're trying to figure it out. We're going to try to do it again and see what happens. But at the same time, all of our experiences have been that the guys at the back of the line can't break away from the field like those two (drivers) have done. So, we'll just have to see what happens."

IS IT HARDER THAN IT LOOKS FOR DALE JR AND WALTRIP TO WORK TOGETHER FOR A WHOLE RACE?

"Yeah, I think so. That's what I was just touching on. It is very hard to do. They've been able to make it work. At Talladega, the No. 15 (Waltrip) worked with me a lot because he and Jr. were in different lanes. And then Jr. had his troubles and kept working on the car and finding his way back through the field and then Michael (Waltrip) crashed. So, Jr. did Talladega without Michael -- in my eyes. So it's been amazing they've been able to work together. But at the same time, both of them have been able to win without the other one being there. I think Michael won this race (Pepsi 400) last year without Jr. there. So they can do it together or without each other, which is pretty amazing."

SINCE THERE ARE ONLY 4 RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES A YEAR, DOES THAT MAKE IT HARDER TO IMPROVE AGAINST DEI AND MAKE IT EASIER FOR THEM TO STAY AHEAD OF THE GAME?

"I guess four races of the same kind is a decent number. We have intermediate tracks and short tracks and they might look the same but they really don't drive the same. At Talladega and Daytona, the rules are identical across the board. So we have just as good of a chance to catch up and close that gap on the speedways as anywhere. One big thing for the No. 48 Lowe's team is the experience that I've been getting behind the wheel on the plate races. I've been making huge gains from race to race and I feel like I'm a much stronger plate driver than I was when I started in 2002. I think that's been the biggest improvement. I've had a good car and good equipment. I just didn't really know what to do with it. I'm just starting to figure that out."

DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE YELLOW LINE RULE NOW, OR IS THERE SOME CONFUSION AFTER WHAT HAPPENED AT TALLADEGA WHEN DRIVERS MIGHT NOT HAVE REALIZED IT WAS OPEN TO INTERPRETATION AT THE TIME?

"I know that I've been nailed for being forced out of bounds to avoid a wreck. I didn't have a choice and I went down there (below the line) and was penalized. All it takes it being penalized once and you realize that you don't need to be there and put NASCAR in the position of making a decision on what's going to happen for me. So if I'm down there and I'm forced out of bounds - I say this now and you don't know what'll happen in the heat of the moment when maybe you're coming to the checkered flag - but if I'm forced out of bounds I'm going to hold my position and not advance and roll out of the gas and fall back in line as soon as I can. I was nailed in Daytona for it during the 125's last year and it just takes getting busted once. You've got so much to lose. If the ruling is against you, it's just not worth it."

AFTER TALLADEGA, THERE WERE SOME CONSPIRACY THEORIES FLOATING AROUND THAT MAYBE NASCAR PLAYS FAVORITES WITH CERTAIN DRIVERS AND TEAMS. WHY ARE PEOPLE WILLING TO THINK THAT OR BELIEVE THAT?

"(Is the answer) because we're basically a bunch of circus clowns running around the race track? (laughs) I don't know. There are so many opinions and so many opportunities for fans to voice their opinions and media that pay attention that you're going to have a million different points of view on it all. Everybody is entitled to have an opinion. There is always going to be controversy. I think that's what makes the world go 'round."

-lowe's-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Michael Waltrip , Jimmie Johnson , David Green
Teams Hendrick Motorsports