Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, met with media members at Dover International Speedway for the NEXTEL Leader Chat. Johnson discussed being the points leader, the advantages and disadvantages of having teammates in the Chase, NASCAR'S new...
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, met with media members at Dover International Speedway for the NEXTEL Leader Chat. Johnson discussed being the points leader, the advantages and disadvantages of having teammates in the Chase, NASCAR'S new generation race car, qualifying at Dover, conforming to a new sponsor, Kyle Busch, racing the Impala SS at Talladega, his comfort level with the Chase, drivers having success after converting from dirt to pavement, if the youngers drivers now have a better shot at the championship, how penalties could affect the Chase and battling for a championship with Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
ON COMING TO DOVER AS THE POINTS LEADER: "I'm certainly excited to be back here for the Leader Chat. I'm glad to be back. As we all saw at Loudon, like we've all suspected, it's a very competitive Chase. We had a decent performance. We felt like we were probably a top three or four car and ended up sixth so we left there wishing for a little bit more but certainly recognize that we're in a much better spot than where we were last year at this time and feel that we're doing the right things and still a very strong threat for this championship."
TWO DRIVERS IN THIS YEAR'S CHASE DO NOT HAVE TEAMMATES IN THE CHASE. HOW IS THAT AN ADVANTAGE FOR THEM OR IS IT AN ADVANTAGE FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS WHO HAS THREE TEAMMATES IN THE CHASE? "I've been through some different scenarios and I feel like when you're the only guy in the Chase there's a little bit more of an advantage because it's to the company's best interest that you win the Chase. Granted the engines are all the same but you get the engine with a couple more horsepower. You get all the focus. There's some small decisions that can be made that do give that one teammate just a little bit of an advantage, not a lot, not something that you can probably measure but it does make a small difference."
DO YOU FIND IT A DISADVANTAGE TO HAVE TWO OTHER TEAMMATES IN THE CHASE WHEN YOU GO TO TALLADEGA OR AS YOU GET CLOSER TO THE END OF THE SEASON? "It's a situation that I've been dealing with for a long, long time and very thankful to be dealing with, that I have such competitive teammates and championship and race winning teammates. It isn't a disadvantage but the year Jeff missed it, we felt like the focus was a little bit more 48 focused in the championship Chase but I won last year with my teammate being in it so there's just a very small advantage that they could be there, but having teammates is the most important thing and having good ones and I feel that having the great teammates that I do far outweighs that small advantage that I had, the one year that none of the other Hendrick cars were in the Chase."
ON NASCAR'S NEW GENERATION RACE CAR AND HOW HE FEELS HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS' PROGRAM RATES WITH THE OTHER TEAMS' AND IF HE FEELS THAT OTHER TEAMS HAVE CAUGHT UP TO HENDRICK: "Yeah, I think so. I think that's by design from NASCAR. We worked very hard over the off season to understand the Car of Tomorrow and we're kind of out of adjustments. NASCAR is happy to hear that. Us as a race team isn't happy to be living that but that's what the Car of Tomorrow is for. I do feel though that there are certain tracks that are good for certain drivers and teams and the races left in the Chase are very, very good for the 48 team, also for the 24 and the 20 for that matter, so I do feel that even though the gap has closed up that we're coming to some great tracks for me and I think that I can get to victory lane a few more times."
ON QUALIFYING AT DOVER: "It's probably one of the more intimidating tracks we go to for qualifying and even race situation. You have the concrete squares that have all been poured around the track so you have a little different feel in the car and the car feels like it's on edge kind of the whole way around. The ride quality isn't as smooth as some of the asphalt tracks we go to. The banking from the straightaway into the corners is a pretty severe transition on top of the fact that there is a lot of banking so everything that you do throughout the day is trying to be more comfortable and get into position to drive harder and by the time qualifying comes around you're driving at ten tenths, tongues hanging out, and out of control for lack of better words, which to me is a lot of fun and I really do enjoy this track for that reason."
ON KASEY KAHNE AND HIS NEW BUDWEISER SPONSORSHIP AND IF JIMMIE WHEN HE JOINED LOWE'S WAS A HANDS ON GUY AND IF HE HAD ANY CHALLENGES CONFORMING TO A SPONSOR THAT MAYBE WASN'T AN EXACT FIT BASED ON HIS BACKGROUND: "I had a father that worked in the construction world so I did work and do things and work summer jobs in construction so the Lowe's thing did fit. I've seen Kasey drink some Bud Light so I think he's a good representative of the Bud brand and there's more that goes into it from a marketing sense. There's no doubt that Budweiser losing Junior and what he brought to the 18 to 34 male demographic was unparalleled and an amazing relationship between the two but he's obviously chosen to move on. I think Kasey has the potential and the ability to really be a household name and a face that everybody can relate to and associate with and there's no doubt that he's a huge draw on the ladies and that demographic. So when they're trying to find a guy, I'm sure they didn't want to lose Junior, but I think that Kasey Kahne is a good replacement. He may not be the wild guy but he'll certainly drink his Bud Light and have some fun."
HOW MUCH DO YOU WORK WITH KYLE BUSCH EVEN THOUGH HE'S LEAVING AFTER THE END OF THE SEASON? "I'd say that our communication and the way we work together has stayed the same if not gotten a little bit better through these last few weeks. I give Kyle a lot of credit. He's been committed to Hendrick Motorsports, he's been committed to this championship and has been working real hard at our team debriefs to explain what he's feeling and doing and it's been a help so I give him a lot of credit, a tough time."
ON RACING NASCAR'S NEW GENERATION RACE CAR AT TALLADEGA FOR THE FIRST TIME. WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE RACING THE IMPALLA SS IN TRAFFIC? WILL THERE BE A FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE WITH THE WAY THE TWO CARS RACE THERE? "Yeah, the Car of Tomorrow drafts a lot differently than what we have with the current car. I'm still not sure what I need to do out there. In some ways it's probably going to look real similar to what we've seen in the past. It'll be tough to really tell by the naked eye what's going on out there. But I don't think that I want to be in the pack because the way car punches a big hole and the energy that's created. It's real easy to get to someone's bumper but then with the high drag package it's tough to get out and pass so I think we might just be stuck in a huge pack and a lot of aggressive driving taking place. So I'm really going to pay attention to the way practice goes and then the start of the race just to feel it out. I don't think any of us had enough experience in a big draft to say this is what I need to do, this is kind of where we need to be. All the cars drove really, really well. All the downforce the car has in them made them simple to drive and really closed up the gap so now we've got 43 guys that should run bumper to bumper all day long and I'm not sure in the middle of the Chase that's where I need to be. But we'll sort it out when we get there."
ON KYLE BUSCH'S PROGRESSION IN THE TIME HE HAS BEEN WITH TEAM AND HOW HE SEES HIM EVOLVING AS A DRIVER AND AS A PERSON: "I think as time goes on Kyle's experiencing the things that make you mature and grow in an emotional way. He's an emotional guy, an emotional driver and those emotions turn in to and look like aggression to a lot people. But when you're able to spend some time with him and work with him you can see how talented of a driver he is and you can see how hard he tries to be a better driver and tries to make his race car handle better and give that input back to the team. All those things are there. He does from time to time the emotions get the best of him and he may make a poor decision on track or he may say something that he probably wished he didn't but those are things that you just learn as you're in the sport and you grow and mature and I think this year has been a big growing year for him in that respect to be leaving HMS, going to Joe Gibbs Racing. I've seen personally a lot of things changing with him and a lot of growing going on to go with the amazing talent he has on track."
DOES KYLE SEEK YOU OR JEFF OUT FOR ADVICE? DOES HE TALK TO YOU ALL ABOUT ANYTHING? "Our conversations really are relative to the cars at the track and these team debriefs that we have. I can't say that I've talked to him. I'm not sure what Jeff and Kyle talk about but I haven't talked to him about his new opportunity and certainly when HMS turned him loose we didn't have any conversations about where'd he go, what he would do, so I haven't been advising him on any of those fronts. He's done a great job landing with Gibbs. They're obviously a great team."
BEING IN THE CHASE FOUR TIMES AND WINNING LAST YEAR, WHAT IS YOUR COMFORT LEVEL WITH THE CHASE AND ARE YOU IN COAST MODE RIGHT NOW? "There's no way it's coast mode, not when you have a Chase like we do and all the guys driving like they are and the teams performing. I've learned a lot over the years. I know that 10 races is a long, long period of time and you need to get what you can every day but it doesn't mean that a top 10 is going to take you out of it. So I think that being smart, trying to win when you can is very important, trying to lead laps is very important and it's impossible for us to know the pace you're going to need to win the championship because there's still nine races left and a ton that can go on that take people in or out of this championship battle so I'm showing up every practice session, every lap of the race, qualifying, giving 100 percent and getting all that I can."
ON CLINT BOWYER GOING STRAIGHT FROM DIRT TO PAVEMENT IN RACING AND THE DIFFICULTIES IN DOING THAT AND THE ADVANTAGES OR DISADVANTAGES OF THAT. WILL YOU SEE MORE OF THAT IN THE FUTURE WITH SEEING HIM SUCCEED? "I think so. I think that starting back with Jeff Gordon, as far back as I can remember, it's probably before that, Jeff and then Tony (Stewart) those guys really led a way of drivers coming in from a different background and there's a lot of great talent out there at these local tracks. They could even be off road tracks like where I grew up racing or motorcross. We're seeing guys like (Ricky) Carmichael and (Jeremy) McGrath that are showing interest. To a great degree, racing is racing and where you hope that you get some time and some patience as you're trying to get into stock cars and get into the Nextel Cup Series is that you can get two or three years with a team that's a great team, a good race team, that can get you the seat time. So I think that people can come from local short tracks, like Clint, (or) they can come from F1, they can come from motorcross but they need some time to understand these cars, understand these tracks and understand the way we race. Once th at takes place I think it's a wide open category out there. You can bring a driver in from anywhere."
ON CONVERTING FROM DIRT TO PAYMENT: "From my experience, it wasn't that tough to go from dirt to pavement. The cars were much more comfortable. Granted I didn't go that fast so getting used to places like Texas or Atlanta, it took a while to get comfortable with that but dirt to asphalt wasn't a big deal and I really think that my dirt background has helped me like a looser race car, which is beneficial over the long run and certainly as the race evolves tracks typically get tighter, so it's helped me. And then also on the dirt you learn about line selection and I see a lot of guys that even though it's an asphalt track there are parts of the track that get slick from all the traffic running over it and there are guys that don't search out maybe the cleanest or less used asphalt on the race track. I think the dirt guys search for that and can find new lines on the race track and make it work for them."
IS THERE AN INHERENT DANGER IN THE CHASE WITH THE GUYS WHO ARE NOT THE BIG STARS HAVING A BETTER CHANCE THAT THE YOUNGER GUYS IN THE LAST FEW YEARS SINCE THE PRESSURE IS OFF THEM AND MORE SO ON THE BIGGER NAMES? "I haven't thought about it in that light but I look at it and I think that for guys that are really in the Chase for the first time or second time, I think of Hamlin, these are some talented guys that have been able to get a couple years of quality experience and over a 10 race period of time can be a big threat. So I see it more in that respect where Truex, he's been a great champion through the Busch Series, rock solid, now he's in the Chase and we've been waiting for Truex to be able to have a run and he's on a run and he started it here back in the spring. Hamlin, he's shown time and time again how smooth he can be, how good of a talent he is. Then you go to Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, so there's a lot of talent out there and I look at it more as threat that these guys have some quality experience now and can pull together for 10 races."
ON NASCAR GIVING OUT 100-POINT PENALTIES FOR POST-RACE AND PRE-RACE INFRACTIONS, WHAT ARE THE EXPECTATIONS ON NASCAR DURING THE CHASE? IF ONE OF THE CHASE DRIVERS GETS HIT WITH A 100-POINT PENALTY, IS THAT SOMETHING YOU CAN RECOVER FROM? "To recover from it would be tough, there's no doubt about it, and as a competitor and somebody that's been nailed on things, all we ask for is consistency. There's some big question marks with the body on the Car of Tomorrow and the gold template versus the templates that fit. We got nailed in Sonoma, all the templates fit, but a gold template that's a scanned computer image didn't, didn't look right. So as we move forward we just hope that the sanctioning body is as consistent as possible and if you're wrong, you're wrong. We're well inside that box now. We've been known to push the envelope but the message has been made crystal clear to Hendrick Motorsports and I think the to entire garage area that you don't mess with the Car of Tomorrow and that's where we are. We feel like we could potentially could be soft in some areas and leaving something on the table but we can't afford to be lose 100 points or lose a crew chief in the Chase and all that we hope is that the sanctio ning body is doing everything they can to keep it even and balanced throughout."
ON HIM, JEFF GORDON AND TONY STEWART ALL IN THE CHASE AND BATTLING IT OUT FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND BEING AT HIS BEST FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE THE CHASE HAS BEGUN: "To be honest about it, I'm really excited about it. My dad always told me growing up in order to be the best you got to beat the best and I think that this year we're seeing not only the more recognizable drivers putting up strong performances but we're also seeing some guys like Martin Truex and Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer now, other guys that are getting in this mix so whoever the champion is at the end of the year, you want to look back and say 'I beat the best at their best' and this looks like the year for that. I certainly hope that I come out on top but I'm excited. I'm excited of it being a head to head battle with Gordon and Stewart and all these guys. This is what I've wanted to do my whole life.
"When you expand to 12 the odds are more difficult at that point and we've got the 12 best guys in this sport and there's six or seven right now that all have momentum and it's going to be a great battle all the way to the end."
-credit: gm racing