Dover II: Johnson - GM Top-10 interview



YOU TOOK A BIT OF A HIT LAST WEEK. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING INTO THE SECOND ROUND? "We just go racing. Things out of our control took place last weekend. We had an issue with a spark plug wire, got us in the back. There was a chain reaction that got stacked up and some contact sent me into the wall. It's just one of those racing deals. But we hate it. We don't want to be in this position but we are. The good news is that we're only 139 (points) down. I know it a hole we don't want to be in but in '04 I guess it was, we were 250 points down and we came back to put up a fight at the end. I don't think we're out of this deal, we're definitely in a hole, we just want to get out there and go racing."

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO DO TO GET BACK TO THE LEVEL YOU WERE AT EARLIER IN THE SEASON? "I think we're coming into tracks that really fit the No. 48 team and tracks where we're able to get on a run. I think the Chase suits us well; the 10 races in the Chase are very good for us. I have luck here at Dover, Lowe's Motor Speedway, Talladega, Martinsville, and Atlanta. Tracks that I've won at and run really, really good at. I feel like we can get some things moving and shaking here and start collecting some points."

YOU EARLIER DESCRIBED THE CHASE AS 10 WEEKS OF HELL. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT NOW? "It definitely is 10 weeks of hell, now it's nine weeks of hell. For whatever reason after what happened last weekend, myself, the team, spent a lot of time this week, having lunch, having some fun. None of us are in that place where we're tore up or emotionally beat down or feel like we're out of this thing; we've all got a smile on our face, we know it's racing and we're ready to get going. Which is different than other Chase years. I would imagine as time goes on that pressure is going to ramp up, especially if you're in a position to protect I think that pressure shows up a little sooner. But right now we've got to play offense and get out there and get to work."

WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THE RCR WHEEL STORY? "I think that it's NASCAR's responsibility to do the same thing week after week and make sure that the teams and drivers feel that they're playing the game fairly and administering everything fairly. Tech is a fair and equal place. With all that in mind, they've got a lot more to lose than anyone else in this deal and the fact that things would come out and everything. the way I see it is that RCR passed their inspection with flying colors and that's the way it is."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT CONSPIRACY THEORIES? "We need something to write about, right? Something to write about and talk about. You've got to have that stuff. It doesn't surprise me that there are different theories and ideas flying out."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT TALLADEGA BEING REPAVED AND WHAT'S TEAMMATE BRIAN VICKERS' IMPRESSION OF TESTING THERE? "I didn't talk to him about it. It's such a forgiving race track. I'm anxious to get there and see if the speeds picked up or slowed down before I have an idea either way. The tires shouldn't be a big problem with it being a forgiving track. When we get there we'll face the challenges and come up but I don't think it's going to be like a new surface like at Lowe's Motor Speedway."

DO YOU NOTICE A DIFFERENCE THE WAY COMPETITORS RACE NOW THEN OPPOSED TO THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON? "At the beginning of the Chase I think everybody has respect for the guy that's in the Chase and gives him some room. If there's a feud or a Chase guy and a non-Chase guy have some history, I don't think that's going to make it go away. History is history and people don't forget. But as we get to the final two or three races I can say from my experience in the last few years is that everybody gives the Chase guys lots of room, especially the guys in the hunt. The last thing what they want to do is be involved with something that affect the championship and the outcome of things and I think that respect and the space between the cars will certainly develop as the Chase goes on."

ISN'T IT WEIRD HOW YOU CAN GO FROM THE TOP TO THE BOTTOM (OF THE TOP 10) IN SUCH A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME? "That's racing. It just happens. Especially when you have two seasons, potentially, a regular season and a post-season. When you re-rack it it's five points apart and anything can happen and for the people that don't like the Chase, I fell from second to ninth whereas I would have been second and stayed in second and just have been down in relation to Matt (Kenseth). It's just racing, it's the same for everybody."

DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL STRATEGY FOR THIS WEEKEND? "Nothing different than what we normally do. We just have to go out and race hard and get maximum points. The last couple years everyone's had problems with the Chase. I can't live in a world where I'm hoping people have a problem, I just have to go out there and do my job. History shows that everyone's going to have a problem with the Chase but we'll just go out there and collect points."

CAN YOU THINK OF A TIME WHERE RICK HENDRICK HAS REALLY HELPED YOU OUT? "Well, Rick is known for that. At Hendrick Motorsports it doesn't matter if it's financial needs, if you've had a tragedy in your family or you become sick and have health issues, when you work for Rick you just get to know Rick, you don't even have to work for him - you connect with him. It's just a different relationship than with other people. He's helped me personally in a lot of different ways, professionally, obviously, driving for his race team. And helping me work through issues within the business of the sport, on the race track, relationships within the race team, and a lot of different things. What shocks me the most is that the guy never stops. Even when he goes through the most difficult times and personal tragedies he's still there picking us up. Like when he came back to Hendrick Motorsports after the plane crash. He stood up on stage with his wife Linda and they were trying to lift us up. We're like 'wait a second, you're facing 550 employees and you're trying to raise our spirits and we need to be there for you'. Rick just really is an amazing guy."

LAST YEAR, WAS HE FIRED UP ABOUT PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT ROUSH HAVING FIVE TEAMS IN THE CHASE AND HE ONLY HAVING ONE? "Oh yeah. Rick's very competitive, it doesn't matter what it is. If it's being in the Chase or winning the championship, he's very competitive. I think the biggest thing that sparked his interest or got his opinion so strong is the fact that he knows all these four teams have the same equipment and that we need the personnel right and the communication right so that all four teams are performing the same. We got close this year, we've got three in the Chase and hopefully next year we can get all four."

DO YOU THINK TEAMS MIGHT BE PLAYING MIND GAMES OUT THERE? "It's a part of racing. It happens all the time. Doesn't matter if it's how you race someone on the race track, strategies, little games that the crew members play with each other when they're setting the race cars up, there's always something going on."

IT'S SMART ON YOUR PART NOT TO ADMIT YOU'RE DOING STUFF LIKE THAT BUT DO YOU THINK OTHER TEAMS VIEW YOU GUYS AS PLAYING MIND GAMES? "No, I think our pattern has been pretty predictable here lately over the last few years. We've had the same patterns. There's no doubt that we're trying to fool each other and put solutions out there but if you look at the Chase now and our start, we don't want to be down 139 points in this thing so I don't think anyone's seen that as a strategy."

LEAVING DOVER, WHAT'S THE BEST POSSIBLE SITUATION FOR YOU TO BE IN APPROACHING TALLADEGA? "I don't know. I haven't found a good position yet in Talladega in the fall race. I've always had some type of problem like if it's the start of the race and Mark Martin's steering box locks up and I'm in the pole position and he runs into me. I've caused crashes, I've been in crashes; there's no telling. You just chill out, cross your fingers and hope it all works out."

DO YOU EVER THINK TALLADEGA NOT MIGHT NOT WORK OUT FOR YOU? "Definitely. I think everybody feels that they can win there. The way the draft works, I think most guys, maybe 80-90% of the garage area thinks that that's a race they can win. At the same time, 100% of the crew guys and teams are worried about it.

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports