Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the MBNA ALL-AMERICAN HEROES 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race next weekend at Dover International Speedway. Johnson comes to...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the MBNA ALL-AMERICAN HEROES 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race next weekend at Dover International Speedway.
Johnson comes to Dover as one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR. Johnson is currently 3rd in points, just 40 points behind the leader, and 2nd in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, just 24 points behind the competition. So far in 2002, he has earned two NASCAR Winston Cup victories (California and Dover), four Bud Pole Awards (Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and Richmond) and recorded 16 top-10 finishes, including five top-5s (Atlanta, California, Dover, Pocono and Chicagoland).
DO YOU KEEP TRACK OF THE RAYBESTOS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR POINTS and DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE POINTS STRUCTURE?
"I know who's leading the rookie battle after each event, but not as far as keeping up with exactly how the points pay out. I know it's its own point scale and system in the way it works and that it's different from the (Winston Cup) championship points system, but who's leading at the end of the year is what's important."
MATHEMATICALLY, YOU COULD WIN THE WINSTON CUP TITLE BUT NOT THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR TITLE. WOULD THAT BE A NICE CONSOLATION PRIZE?
"Yeah, I think winning the championship would work out okay (as a consolation prize), but it's amazing how the two different they work and that you could end up the champion but not the rookie of the year."
ON THE YEAR-END DISTRIBUTION OF 30 ADDITIONAL POINTS
"I know there are some outstanding points at the end of the year but the point stuff in general is hard to keep up with and hard to focus on. We're just going to try to keep running up front. Obviously Ryan (Newman) has now won a race (last week at NHIS), and that team has been very close all season long. We're just going to see where it all ends up. If we end up winning the Winston Cup championship and not the Raybestos Rookie of the Year, I think we'll be okay with that (laughs)."
DO YOU HAVE A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH RYAN NEWMAN
"Actually our paths crossed coming up through the Busch Series and ASA. He was trying to find his way into the sport as well. I've always thought he was a super talented driver. (By) being around one another in the Winston Cup garage this year, I think he's a great guy. We both said at the beginning that if we could have fun with this Rookie of the Year battle and be friends and competitors like Matt Kenseth and Dale Jr. were, then that would be pretty cool in the end. And that's the way it's turned out."
HEADING INTO THE HOME STRETCH, DO YOU THINK YOU ARE IN A GOOD POSITION TO TAKE BOTH THE ROOKIE TITLE AND THE CUP TITLE?
"Oh, I don't know. When we started points racing, it affected the way we approached everything and our mental aspect of the races. We told ourselves as a team that we weren't going to worry about the points and that we'd just do the best we could. That's how we were able to win a couple of races at the beginning of the season. We've got four or five tracks coming up here that are strong tracks for us. Hopefully we can get some top fives or a win."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE NEW GOODYEAR TIRE THAT WILL BE USED THIS WEEKEND AT DOVER?
"I'm not exactly sure what the change is or the reason behind it. I know Dover is really hard on right-front tires with the load that you put on the car. I think there were a couple of blown tires there, but I'm not exactly sure what's changed and why."
WHAT HAS AFFECTED YOUR PERFORMANCE RECENTLY? HAVE YOU GONE INTO POINTS RACING MODE OR ARE YOU HAVING ENGINE TROUBLES?
"No, we haven't had any engine troubles. It's just hard to be in a race-winning mode all year long. I don't think anyone has been able to do that. If somebody had been able to do it, he would have run away with the championship. We're in the middle of a six-car battle for the championship because nobody has been able to put together a ten-race stretch with a lot of victories and really collect a lot of points. Everybody has run fast and strong and has won some events, but nobody has run away with the championship."
ON THE WEAR AND TEAR OF THE LONG SEASON WITH TWO MONTHS STILL LEFT TO GO:
"Everybody is doing good. We're a young group of guys and enjoy doing what we do. We want to go racing and learn as much as we can. That's what we've been doing all year long. We've kept it fun and we've won some races. We're having an incredible season and we're having an incredible rookie season and we're enjoying it."
ON JEFF GORDON'S ABILITY TO BALANCE AUTOGRAPH SIGNING ONE MINUTE AND RACING THE NEXT MINUTE:
"He's great at handling it all. He's obviously focused on driving the race car and what's going on during the race weekend, but he wants to have some fun while he's there and hang out with the fans."
IS THAT HARD TO DO?
"It depends on your weekend. If you've got a good weekend going, it's easy to bounce around between all the faces you need to have at the race track."
DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD BE WHERE YOU ARE NOW IF YOU HADN'T BEEN ABLE TO TAP INTO JEFF GORDON'S EXPERIENCE?
"In a lot of ways, Jeff's experience and all of the No. 24 team's experience has made the Lowe's No. 48 team a race winning team and a championship caliber team in the first season. I've been able to adopt and pay attention to Jeff and his approach to handling things inside and out of the race car. Our whole new group of guys on the No. 48 team has been able to come inside of a shop and work side by side a championship team of a four-time Winston Cup champion. So it's been a help in all ways - from the drivers aspect to the entire crew."
NOW THAT STERLING MARLIN HAS DROPPED OUT OF THE POINT LEAD, DO YOU THINK THE TONE OF THE RACES WILL CHANGE?
"I'm not sure how all this is going to work out. Mark Martin and Sterling (Marlin) have been in this sport for a long time. Mark's been racing for a championship for a lot of years, so I'm not sure how they'll play their cards and how it's going to turn out. But we're not supposed to be in the position we're in now (of) racing for a championship in our rookie season. But we're going to try to have fun and keep smiles on our faces and go from there."
HAVE YOU AND JEFF GORDON TALKED ABOUT HOW YOU GUYS WOULD HANDLE IT IF THE TITLE CAME DOWN TO A DUAL BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU ON THE LAST LAP OF THE LAST RACE?
"No, we haven't talked about that at all. But that would be a good problem to have."
ON THE YOUNGER, SINGLE GENERATION OF DRIVERS HAVING FUN BOTH ON AND OFF THE RACE TRACK?
"I don't think it's a different generation. Everyone out there in the 20-30 year old group wants to have fun. I don't see what's different between myself and any other drivers who have come up to Winston Cup and grown up through it all. But you've got to have fun. You're only here once. I personally just want to have fun. We work way too hard racing 38 times per year. You've got to have some balance and a little bit of a personal life and have some fun."
DO YOU GET TO DO EXTRA THINGS AT SOME OF THE CITIES ON THE CIRCUIT LIKE GOING TO A CUBS GAME?
"No, unfortunately we go to all these cities but never make it out to anything big or to any other sporting events."
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO CELEBRATE YOUR BIRTHDAY TODAY?
"We have a function this afternoon at the shop with some folks from Lowe's. And then I'm going to probably go to dinner with my family and hang out a little bit."