Tuesday, September 16, 2003 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming MBNA America 400 at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. Johnson currently...
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming MBNA America 400 at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del.
Johnson currently sits in fourth place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, just 9 points behind third place and 68 points behind second place. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 60 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta.
HOW DO YOU COMPARE THE HOURS YOU WORK EACH WEEK WITH THE AVERAGE PERSON WHO WORKS 40 HOURS A WEEK?
"In most cases, the driver probably puts in the least amount of hours compared to anyone on the team to all fairness to the crew guys. I would say it's well over a 40-hour workweek. The crew guys work seven days a week and probably easily 10 hours a day. If you averaged everything out, it's probably even higher than that - especially the road crew guys that are at the race tracks week in and week out. It's a lot of work."
WHEN YOU RACED DOVER IN THE ASA SERIES, YOU SAID THE TRACK WAS VERY INTIMIDATING TO YOU. HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH IT AND TAKE BACK TO BACK WINS IN 2001 IN A CUP CAR?
"Experience. The race track is such an aggressive track. At that time when I came out of an ASA car, the Milwaukee Mile was the biggest and fastest race track I had been on. It's a mile track, but it's flat. Going to Dover was just a whole new animal and something I'd never experienced before. As time goes on and you go to Daytona a couple of times and you race at Bristol and you go to places where your sensation of speed is really high, it really helps you to get used to that and feel comfortable with your eyeballs rolling around in your head at that speed. It's just something that over time you get used to and feel comfortable with."
WAS YOUR WIN AT LOUDON LAST WEEKEND ONE OF THE MOST DRAMATIC AND DEMANDING RACES THAT YOU'VE WON IN YOUR CAREER?
"Yeah, in a different way than normal with what happened on pit road (three crew members were hit by Jeff Gordon's No. 24 car in an accident, but they were not hurt). To have those guys come so close to being seriously injured was really something. It was the weirdest race for us. Even in Victory Lane we were all standing around looking at each other. We were happy that we won and excited that we won but the energy was so different from normal. It was just a very odd race. When you see your teammates and friends come so close to being injured, it puts it all in check. For me, having to be in the back and having to come through - it was very difficult and demanding to come back through the pack. And for those guys to jump off the wall and do stops again with the close call that they had - they had to overcome a lot mentally to step up and do that. Chad (Knaus, crew chief) could have easily lost his focus during the race and not been on top of his game on the pit calls and even on the car adjustments. He made the right calls and everyone hit their marks and did everything perfectly and we were able to win."
DID ANYTHING DIFFERENT GO THROUGH YOUR MIND BEFORE YOU MADE YOUR NEXT PIT STOP?
"Oddly enough, there wasn't anything that went through my mind. I was afraid to really ask anything and I could hear on the radio the guys arguing about going to the Infield Care Center. They wanted to stay there and work and do their jobs. So I knew everybody was okay. When it came time to pit again, I just had all the confidence in the world in them. They had a 13.7 stop. At that point, I thought everybody was okay and there was nothing wrong and it ended up being that way. But the guys were beaten up pretty bad. I didn't realize the severity of it until after the race. It just amazes me even more to know that they were able to not only continue the stops, but to have very competitive and fast ones."
ON BATTLING BACK THROUGH THE PACK AND HIS INVOLVEMENT WITH WARD BURTON) "We were racing hard for position. We saw that happen at Richmond a few times and then also at New Hampshire. When you're inside of someone going into the turn, it's very difficult to keep from being loose-in (at both Richmond and NHIS). I had a very loose race car at the time. I was trying to come through the pack and got loose-in and got into the side of Ward and turned him around and put him in the fence. So it's a racing mistake and I guess the blame would be on me since I'm the one who made contact with him. It's definitely something that I didn't intend on doing. I've raced with Ward a lot. You don't see me getting caught up in all this other wrecking and crashing and stuff that happens on the race track. It was just purely a racing accident. I spoke to him yesterday and cleared everything up. We should be in good shape for the rest of the year."
WERE THE REPORTS TRUE THAT HE WAS COMING BACK AFTER YOU DURING THE RACE?
"Definitely. He made a few moves at us. Finally NASCAR put the black flag out on him and pulled him down pit road and parked his race car. He was definitely upset. He's in a situation where he is trying to finish as high as he can in points. In our conversation yesterday, he just had a bad day. He felt like he was going to end up leaving that race in the top 15 in points. He was upset and wanted to let me know it. Message delivered. I knew he was upset when he was trying to get me back. Fortunately nothing happened and we were able to finish the race and win it."
HOW ARE THE GUYS AND WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST TO MAKE PIT ROAD SAFER?
"The guys are all great. They're bruised up and a little sore. What happened there was a freak accident. In our sport, we all have to remember that accidents happen. Those guys know when they go over the wall that they're putting themselves in dangerous situations. Making helmets and fire suits mandatory was a huge improvement. I think everybody behind the wall should be in a fire suit with the pit road fires we've seen. I see some small changes like that. With our pit road speeds, I think moving the line for pit road speeds back further and further out at the end of pit road have been a huge help. Maybe the only other thing we can look at is slowing down the pit road speed even more. I think we've got a very safe environment. We know these crew guys almost better than we know our own families. I don't think that anybody is taking unneeded risks on pit road from the drivers' standpoint. What's happened in the past have clearly been accidents. It's a dangerous sport and that's part of it."
MICHAEL WALTRIP SUGGESTED THAT ONCE DRIVERS ARE GOING DOWN PIT ROAD THAT THERE BE NO PASSING ALLOWED. DO YOU AGREE?
"That would fix half of it. If you look at what happened at Homestead last year with Ward Burton exiting the pits, going out of the pits is just as dangerous. Maybe even more so when you've got guys that shoot out from their pit stall at a 45-degree angle. You know if you shoot out there, that a guy isn't going to run into you - even though you're trying to block him and make an advantage on him and sometimes there's contact there. But that would fix some of it. Jeff (Gordon) had no idea the No. 15 (Michael Waltrip) was pitted there. It was just a freak accident. I don't think there are any quick answers. Lately, we're really working hard to make improvements and fix things. But at the same time, we can't just react to every accident that pops up and try to fix it and just throw things at it. We need to really look at it and understand it and work our way through it."
WITH BRIAN FRANCE ASSUMING CONTROL OF NASCAR THIS WEEK, ARE THERE ANY PARTICULAR THINGS YOU'D LIKE TO SEE HIM CHANGE OR IMPROVE?
"I think there are a couple of topics. On the rules side, we keep trying to have equality on these race cars. We've made a lot of huge steps over the winter to do that and the racing has been better than ever. This season, there are more changes coming up for over the winter. I know it's too late now to probably change anything. But we're just now getting caught up with our race cars and getting enough cars in stock that we can run next season. And now with the rule changes that are coming along, we have to go back and cut every car apart. From a financial standpoint and a workload standpoint, we were promised we were going to sit still and we'd have common templates for a few years. But here we are in the midst of a huge changeover again. If a team like Hendrick Motorsports is having trouble financing it and finding enough crew guys and enough man-hours to get the job done, I'd hate to imagine what some of these smaller teams are having to deal with.
"Another top is the amount of time we're away from home. It would be good to break up this final 20-week stretch even more than what's been announced for '04 and look at some ways to get these crew guys home a little bit more than they are now."
WHAT HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT HURRICANE ISABEL AND THE DOVER RACE?
"I think we're going to know this afternoon. Our motor coaches and souvenir rigs are hanging out around the Pocono area waiting to see what's going to happen. I think once we know where everything is going to land and how fast it's going to happen, they'll make a decision. Even if we just have to show up Sunday or Monday or something, NASCAR is going to make every effort they can to get that race in somehow by Monday.
"The transporter is sitting tight. With two drivers, they can get there in a half a day so that's not an issue. But as far as the rest of the traveling circus that goes along, they're far enough inland at Pocono that when we get the word they can shoot into the race. So everyone's in a holding pattern. I have my dad (Gary Johnson, driver of his coach) following Mike Helton's bus. Wherever he goes, my dad is going (laughs)".
MENTALLY, WHAT DOES NOT KNOWING WHETHER OR NOT YOU'RE GOING TO GO DO TO A DRIVER?
"It doesn't really do much. From our standpoint, we were up there testing Monday and Tuesday of last week. For the Lowe's team, the best thing that could happen is that we just show up there and race. However it plays out, I'm really looking forward to going up there whenever we have a chance to go race there."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT MOVING UP IN THE POINTS, BUT HAVING THE POINT LEADER, MATT KENSETH, MOVING UP AT THE SAME TIME?
"Matt is doing a great job week in and week out. That team is not missing any strides. I think this week was a big week for everybody to gain points on him. We picked up 17 points on him so it wasn't much. There's a great battle from second on back. If Matt has a bad stretch of races, we can get closer to him and have a shot at it, but right now I'm looking at realistic things. I'm really trying to chase down that No. 8 car (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) for that second place in the points."
TERRY LABONTE WILL BE MAKING HIS 50TH START AT DOVER BUT HE'S NEVER WON THERE. DO YOU FIND THAT SURPRISING?
"I wasn't aware of that. There are certain tracks that fit certain driving styles very well. Dover has been a great place for me. That surprises me, but at the same time I'm sure there's a track or two out there that I just don't have figured out. There are so many tracks that we go to that it's hard to find one that fits your driving style and also your crew chief's set-up so that you have that combination to win."
WHAT DO THE COMPETITOR'S THINK OF BRIAN FRANCE AND HAVE YOU HAD MUCH CONTACT WITH HIM?
"No, not personally. I'm just now getting comfortable with and getting to know all the faces of NASCAR. I'm finally at the point where I can walk up to Bill France Jr. and talk to him a little bit. He's just kind of an intimidating guy. I don't really know him or have had a chance to get to know him. I've made good ground this year getting to know Mike Helton. I've known John Darby from the Busch Series. So I'm still learning my way through there so I wouldn't be very good at commenting on your question."
APPARENTLY HE IS GOING TO TAKE MORE OF A CORPORATE LEADERSHIP ROLE INSTEAD RATHER THAN A GARAGE-AREA APPROACH. DO YOU THINK THAT'S A GOOD IDEA?
"I don't think that anyone will be too far disconnected. But with as big as the sport is and how much attention needs to be paid in every department, they're wise to put people in place in their specialties and let them work that area hard. Brian has been around the race track for a lot of years, but he hasn't been working on race cars. No one can deny that. You wouldn't take a mechanic and put him in charge of the marketing plan - just as you wouldn't take a marketing guy and put him as a crew chief on a race car. It doesn't mean that they don't understand what's going on in those fields. There's definitely a balance to be played. NASCAR is growing and has very competent people in all positions. As long as they all keep communicating, I think our sport will continue to grow."