TEAM CHEVY DRIVER AND DEFENDING DAYTONA 500 WINNER, JIMMIE JOHNSON, TALKS WITH MEDIA ABOUT THE CHALLENGES OF WINNING ADDITIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS AND ABOUT THE '07 SEASON-OPENING SPEEDWEEKS EVENTS JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS: HAVE...
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER AND DEFENDING DAYTONA 500 WINNER, JIMMIE JOHNSON, TALKS WITH MEDIA ABOUT THE CHALLENGES OF WINNING ADDITIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS AND ABOUT THE '07 SEASON-OPENING SPEEDWEEKS EVENTS
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS:
HAVE YOU SOUGHT ANYBODY'S ADVICE ABOUT THE CHALLENGE OF REPEATING YOUR TITLE, OR HAS ANYONE OFFERED ADVICE? "No, certainly nobody has offered it and I really haven't thought about it all that much. I'm just looking at it as what we did last year, worked. We look at last year and recognize a lot of areas where we could have improved on, so I'm just looking into last year and the mindset that we had and trying to pick up in the areas where we didn't perform as well as we needed to."
DO YOU THINK YOU'RE IN A BETTER SPOT TO WIN TWO IN A ROW BECAUSE YOU'VE BEEN ON THE EDGE OF WINNING ONE FOR THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS? "I haven't thought about it, but that's a good point. We've been close. We've been knocking on the door. I also look at it this year with all the changes and the Car of Tomorrow as a good year for the No. 48. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and I do a good job of learning things on a fast pace. And with the resources we have at Hendrick, I think we can sort out the Car of Tomorrow in a short period of time and hopefully get things moving in the right direction."
ARE YOU TESTING IT ON A ROAD COURSE? "We haven't yet, but we're planning to."
WHAT'S YOUR ROAD COURSE PLAN? YOU'VE TALKED ABOUT TRYING TO IMPROVE ON ROAD COURSES "I spent a lot of time testing in the 24 Hours and we're going to try to run some other road course races this year. And then our testing program for the road course racing is being stepped up. So it's something I'm really focused on."
DO YOU HAVE A TUTOR OR A DRIVER WHO IS HELPING YOU? "Yes, the lead driver in those cars has been very helpful. Max Papis has been very helpful. He has worked with me in our Cup cars. Marc Goossens was helping me a lot at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Andy Pilgrim, a GM Cadillac driver was very helpful to me. So it's nice to see these top name guys so willing to help me out and give me advice."
WITH ALL THAT'S BEEN GOING ON WITH JEFF GORDON, WOULD YOU BE SHOCKED IF IN 5 YEARS OR SO HE DECIDED TO GIVE UP RACING AND MOVE ON WITH HIS LIFE? "A five-year window? I wouldn't be surprised. This is the start of his 16th year. So in 20 years, I think 20 years of doing anything you're probably looking for a change. So I wouldn't be shocked with that."
HAS HE TALKED TO YOU ABOUT THAT? "No. The side I see of him is very focused on the coming year. I think he's got at least two or three more years on the contracts he has in place right now. Everything I hear is trying to win a fifth championship. So I haven't seen any side of when he may be thinking about hanging up the helmet."
IN THIS FISHBOWL EXISTENCE WITH ALL THE PRESSURE, HOW HAVE YOU MODELED YOUR MENTAL TOUGHNESS DURING THE PAST FEW YEARS WHEN MAYBE YOU MIGHT HAVE CRACKED OTHERWISE? WHERE DOES THAT COME FROM? "I don't think I've had any training. I'll go to Rick (Hendrick) and I'll go to Jeff (Gordon) for advice. But I think everybody approaches things in different ways and with their own style. I try to learn from my mistakes and grow in those areas. So it's kind of more of a self-taught way of how to deal with things."
YOU DO SEEM LIKE THE KIND OF GUY WHO DOESN'T CRACK UNDER PRESSURE. WE'VE WATCHED YOU FOR FIVE YEARS NOW. WHAT'S THE WORST CIRCUMSTANCE YOU'VE HAD WHEN YOU REALLY THOUGHT YOU MIGHT LOSE IT? "Well, I'm glad I leave that impression with everyone because inside the helmet there are a lot of things going through my mind. I'm trying to think of a race. There are so many times in a lap where you might have near misses and you think why did you do that? And don't do that again? Why did you push that hard and talking to myself."
YOU MUST HAVE HAD A FEW THOUGHTS AFTER TALLADEGA BEFORE YOU GOT BACK AROUND. "Without a doubt. With the situation with the championship, I'm sitting there and the car is tore up and I the car won't start and I can't make it back to the start/finish line. And for a few seconds there, I thought, why did you try to win the race? And then I thought well, why wouldn't you try to win the race? I sat there patiently setting up that pass and made the right move and then the unfortunate tap took place. But there were a lot of things said in the helmet at that point."
THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS, YOU'VE TALKED ABOUT GETTING OVER THE HUM AND NOW YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT MAKING A REPEAT. ISN'T THAT A GOOD PROBLEM TO HAVE? "It is a good problem to have. I personally feel there is always pressure to do something. Each driver that is interviewed, there is pressure from some area. I think that carries over to the championship discussions as well. Nobody puts more pressure on me to perform than myself. I know when I get out of the car if I gave 100 percent. I'm very honest with myself and I know the team is too. Last year we did a really good job and we're really hitting our stride right now. Hopefully for the next five or six years, we can just stay in this rhythm and in this pace and get another championship or two."
DID YOU FEEL A BIT LIKE PEYTON MANNING? YOU WERE THE BEST DRIVER IN THE REGULAR SEASON ONLY TO KIND OF NOT MAKE IT ALL THE WAY IN THE PLAYOFFS AND THEN LAST SEASON YOU GOT OVER IT. "I didn't until the media started asking questions. That stuff sticks in your mind and you start thinking about it. The year, in '04, when we lost by eight points - that really felt deep down inside like it was our year to be champions. We didn't have it in '05. The No. 20 (Tony Stewart) was outperforming us. And then last year, we really felt it again. So there have only been two years out of five that I really felt it in my heart that it was our year to be a champion."
WHAT THINGS HAVE YOU HAD HAPPEN IN THE RACE CAR THAT HAVE BEEN A DISTRACTION? "I've had the mirror fall off while driving around the race track. That was a little distracting. It fell in my lap. Under red flags when we're parked and the fans at the fence, there are some phrases and some slants coming from the fans. If I could record all the stuff being said - especially at the end of the day when all the Budweiser has been served to them - it's quite comical."
LOOKING AHEAD, NASCAR IS MAKING A HUGE DEAL OF THE 50TH NEXT YEAR, WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN THAT RACE THIS YEAR AND NEXT YEAR? "Anytime you win this race, it's huge for your career. On big marks like that, there will be extra marketing and PR. But the reach of the 500 in general, is larger than any event we have. If you win it on the 50th, I would think it would bring it up a notch or two."
WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY FOR THE BUDWEISER SHOOTOUT ON SATURDAY NIGHT? "I'm not sure I have one just yet. We'll get out in the car and see where the strengths are in the car and how it does in the draft. But typically, in the Shootout, there are 20-some cars, so you don't have as much energy in the draft to create passes. So you have to get your passes done early and take advantage of any small run that you have on someone. And whatever you can get done on pit road as well, will really make a difference. There's just a shorter window to get stuff done and less cars - so there is less energy to make passes."
IS THERE AS MUCH ADRENALIN THERE IN THE SHOOTOUT AS THERE IS IN THE 500? "Yes there is Adrenalin, but I would say as far as what the race means, it's more of just a fun race. Budweiser does a great job of putting some money up and it's a great experience. The Adrenalin is high, but when you walk home at the end of the night with a check and the trophy, from experiencing both of them, the 500 far outweighs the Shootout."
IF THE DAYTONA 500 MOVED TO THE OLD BEACH COURSE, WHO WOULD WIN THAT RACE AND WHY? "Oh, that would really be awesome. You would have the dirt guys really showing some strength. I'd say Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart - I think my off-road background would help out. I could figure out how to get through the bumps and maybe get a rhythm in double-jumping the bumps. So I would definitely put a vote in to go back to that beach course."
ON THE TEST AT LAS VEGAS "We had a couple of things going. One was the Charlotte tire that we had during the test. That tire takes about 8 to 10 laps before it really comes in and you can lean on it, so I think people were putting too much pressure on the tire when it wasn't up to temp or it wasn't working right."
IS THE TRACK TOO FAST? "I didn't have a sensation of going too fast, but the fact that we are going fast leads to the hard tire and to the things that make the car hard to set up. The track is surprisingly rough for a brand new surface. I think that's great for us. It might be bad for other forms of racing, but for us, we already have the second, maybe third lane working around the track, which was a good sign for the race. And there wasn't any drop off in the tire. So that's maybe where the drivers were referring to speed. You'd lose a few tenths on a 10 - 15 lap run, so you'd pretty much run qualifying laps the whole time. So maybe the effort that you'd put in was a little more intense than on other tracks."
JEFF GORDON HASN'T BEEN IN THE THICK OF THE TITLE RACE FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS. WHAT SORT OF CONTENDER DO YOU THINK HE'LL BE THIS YEAR? "I really think he's a force to win a fifth championship and I know that's his focus and that's all he and the team talk about. They brought Stevie (Letarte, crew chief) in at the end of '05, to try and get prepared for '06. They made great gains last year. But I really see that team, with another year together, the chemistry with Jeff and Stevie is even better so I think Jeff will be a threat."
ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT BUMP DRAFTING? DALE JUNIOR IS NOTORIOUS FOR BUMP DRAFTING. "We all want to bump draft, but we're afraid we're going to get in trouble. And Dale Jr, bless him for it. He just does his thing and if he gets in trouble, then oh well (laughs). I respect him for that. But I think NASCAR has done a good job putting in the new rules about bump-drafting in the corners. And if you're slamming too hard on the straight-aways, then they'll get on you. I think if you look at the wrecks we've had from before and after the rule and it's been a good change. So we're going in the right direction. The more we have time to play with it, the more we know how to manipulate the system. That's just human nature. So I would assume things would get a little escalated - especially with points on the line."
-credit: gm racing