Fontana II: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 48 LOWE'S/JIMMIE JOHNSON FOUNDATION IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Auto Club Speedway and discussed his golf tournament this week, intimidation on the track, what it means to a driver to be on...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, DRIVER OF THE NO. 48 LOWE'S/JIMMIE JOHNSON FOUNDATION IMPALA SS, met with members of the media at Auto Club Speedway and discussed his golf tournament this week, intimidation on the track, what it means to a driver to be on probation and much more.

TALK ABOUT HOW YOUR GOLF TOURNAMENT WENT AND LOOKING INTO THIS WEEKEND'S RACE. "We had our second annual golf tournament in San Diego this week. We still are trying to figure out exactly how much we raised with expenses and all those things but it's safe to say that we raised over $500,000 through our dinner and our golf tournament that took place. That will put us real close to our pledge for building the four homes through Habitat for Humanity in my home town of El Cajon. Really exciting week. A busy week. We were testing on Monday and then everything that took place on Tuesday. We went to the home and gave the keys to the first family that's going to move in. Helped build a wall for the second home that's going to be going up and had our dinner that evening then Wednesday was the golf tournament and all that went on there. Special week, a fun week. Excited about this weekend running the Nationwide car and the Cup car. They both have the (Jimmie Johnson) foundation logo on them. It's an exciting week for the foundation. I can't thank Lowe's enough for all of their support and willingness to let us do this. And thank you all again (the media) for the Helmet of Hope, it raised $18,000 for that helmet I'll wear this weekend. I'm just happy to help the charities that were on the helmet and support from the fans, media and everybody involved. So thank you very much."

KYLE (BUSCH) AND CARL (EDWARDS) GOT INTO A LITTLE FENDER BENDER AT THE END OF THE RACE IN BRISTOL, AS A FORMER CHAMPION CAN YOU PUT IN PERSPECTIVE OF WHAT GOING ON PROBATION MIGHT MEAN TO THEM AND HOW THEY RACE GOING INTO THE CHASE RIGHT NOW AND COULD IT EFFECT ANYTHING AS FAR AS THE WAY THEY DO THINGS? "I don't think so. I'm sure Kyle would have gotten him back if he got to him. How blatant that would have been, it's hard to say. You looked at what Kyle did afterwards, he came up and rubbed doors with him and then Carl wasn't going to let that happen and turned him around. It was just emotions coming to a head. Both guys know what they have on the line. The probation is something that will be far back in their minds, but it's not going to change how they race and what they do. Those guys are both very fast and they're going to be serious contenders for the championship and they know that, recognize it and are going to be smart. I wish they were going to be smart and would decide to wreck each other hopefully at the first at Loudon, start off with a deficit but I know that's not going to be the case."

WHAT DID WINNING HERE LAST YEAR DO FOR YOU AND WHAT WOULD A WIN HERE ON SUNDAY DO FOR YOU TO GET SOME MOMENTUM VERSES KYLE OR CARL? "Yeah it would mean a lot for us to win on a big track like this. Mile and a half and above tracks and down force tracks have been kind of our weak spot. We've been making a lot of gains. Hopefully we made some gains that will help us this weekend and moving into the Chase, the test session we had this week. Last year it just started the confidence in our minds that we're ready for the Chase. Regardless of the fact we are ready. Especially the top-five guys have a very good point of view or mindset they're going to be in the Chase. So you're looking at what you need to do to be as good as you can in the Chase and building the confidence around yourself and the team that you can be a contender. We have learned that, we know that we can do it. Our past history shows that we can do it, but winning here last year just kind of cemented those confident thoughts in place and we rolled it from here into Richmond and won again on a track that's been very challenging to us over the years. That really just put us in the right mindset that hey you can do this. We needed that momentum as well because (Jeff) Gordon was on a terror and if he had a bad day was finishing third or fifth or whatever it was so it was a big part of the confidence and the mindset that we had moving forward."

AS YOU GEAR UP FOR THE CHASE WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT YOU'VE IDENTIFIED THAT YOU KIND OF NEED TO NAIL DOWN OR TIGHTEN UP IN ORDER TO BEAT THOSE GUYS (KYLE BUSCH AND CARL EDWARDS)? "Yeah, when I looked at the tracks there are seven mile and a half tracks that we need to deal with. Both of them (Kyle and Carl) have been the dominant cars on those tracks. I look back to what we did at Chicago and gained a lot of confidence in Kansas, Lowe's, Texas-style race tracks. In Michigan I thought we were going to be a lot better. In the end we got the car right; we just started the car way too loose trying to really prepare for the end of the race. I had that contact with the twenty and the twenty-four and things just really got out of control at that point and we got a lap down. We looked at the big tracks and know that's where we've been behind and we've been working hard to catch up. I think we're in the right spot. We're on par with those guys. This week will be a better tale of it and then as we get on those tracks in the Chase we'll certainly know where we stack up to them. The short tracks, when we look at Martinsville, Loudon, we look at Phoenix, those are great tracks for us. I feel like we're fine on the short tracks, it's just the mile and a half stuff that we need to be a little stronger at to really put a fight up for these guys. I think we're there; I really do so it's not that we're behind. You would always like to be ahead and that's why we're still testing and doing all we can. We should be a factor in this thing."

OBVIOUSLY AFTER BRISTOL AND GIVEN THEIR SUCCESS THIS SEASON, IT LOOKS LIKE CARL AND KYLE ARE GOING TO BE THE DOMINANT STORY LINE IN THE CHASE, HOW DO YOU THINK THE NASCAR FAN BASE VIEWS EACH OF THOSE GUYS? "I think that both are respected as hard-nose drivers. I think Kyle is winning more fans over here lately by his success and being able to win in any type of car. He's gone at it the hard way and people don't love him when they first see him on TV. But, what he's done on track, I think he's converted more hard-core racing fans to respect and appreciate what he's doing on track. I think Carl has that same thing going for him running the Nationwide Series full-time like he does and the success he has there. The Cup car, certainly different guys. You have Kyle who is, I don't know exactly how to explain it, Carl's like the good guy, Kyle would be the bad guy. Two totally different personalities but I think the fans respect what they are on track and what they're doing. I hope to be in there and have you guys talking about three guys here pretty soon and be the PC (politically correct) guy, which I guess I've been labeled for whatever damn reason in the middle of it showing you I'm not so PC and I can get in there and spin people out too."

WHAT ABOUT JEFF GORDON, IS HE KIND OF LYING IN THE WEEDS RIGHT NOW? WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON WHERE HE IS AT THIS POINT? "He's in a position he doesn't want to be in. I've got to be honest with you all, the twenty-four car and everybody that works on that car doesn't like where they're at. They're working extremely hard to correct that. They're testing. Jeff is as focused as he's ever been and all of those things are there. You just have bad stretches, bad years whatever it may be so I really sympathize with these guys and the position they're in. With twelve races to go and knowing the fight that Steve Letarte has and Jeff Gordon, I really don't see them going this season winless. I don't see them, it would be impossible to think of them not being in the Chase. Those things I don't think will take place. I think you'll see what you expect out of the twenty-four moving forward."

REGARDING TONY STEWART STARTING HIS OWN TEAM NEXT YEAR, IS THERE'S A FEELING AMONG THE DRIVERS IN HOW SUCCESSFUL HE'S GOING TO BE IN HIS FIRST YEAR AND MAYBE IN YEARS TO COME? "I think we're all wondering what the hell he's thinking. He's biting off a lot. Respect him for it, certainly do. I have no desire to be a car owner and to deal with all of those challenges. If there is a guy out there that can wear both hats it would be Tony. I think everyone looks at what he's doing and wishes him all the best and know that he's got a big challenge ahead of him. We're all sitting, watching and waiting how it's going to work out. I think Ryan (Newman) is going to be a good addition to those guys and the agenda that they have to get cars qualified and get in the top 35 in points. I'm sure their goals are much higher than that over the course of the year but keeping sponsors happy, building that race team, they've got a lot to do and we all recognize that. I'm excited for them because of the relationship in Hendrick Motorsports. I know that they have the parts and pieces there to get the job done and it's a matter of getting all the right people in place to execute. I hope to help out as well. Tony is a friend of mine and also being in the Hendrick equipment it will be nice to have a relationship with him, get more in depth with car set-ups and ideas and strategies and what we do. Looking forward to it."

WITH THE CHASE JUST TWO RACES AWAY, DO YOU EVER ALLOW YOURSELF THOUGHTS OF PERHAPS BECOMING THE SECOND GUY TO WIN THREE STRAIGHT CHAMPIONSHIPS AND IT THAT AT ALL A MOTIVATING FACTOR FOR YOU PERSONALLY? "It's a huge motivating factor for me and I know the team as well. If you look at our testing and what we've done to close the gap, I think it shows how committed this forty-eight team is to doing that. I haven't thought about it much because I've been so focused on getting prepared for the Chase and once we get into the Chase we have what we have. I don't see many teams finding new technology. It's just about refining the package that you have. If we're way off we need to work even harder yet and find some new speed somewhere. Right now we're really trying to refine our package and make sure that we have a chance at this thing. The pressure will kick in. As soon as we leave Richmond, you're going to be smiling that the first twenty-six are over and you're locked in and everything is great and then you'll wake up Monday morning and go oh my God, the Chase is here. Here we go. That pressure, you're not going to be able to hide from it."

HOW IS IT THAT YOU GOT TO PLAY AUGUSTA AND CAN YOU TELL THE HOLE IN ONE STORY FROM EARLIER THIS YEAR? "There's a friend of mine in the Charlotte area who is a member at Augusta and he's nice enough to invite me. Tried to get me down the year before and with the banquet and the date he had to go down it didn't work out and this year right after the banquet and it didn't work out. I went down, hacked up the course. Had fun. I'm surprised how groomed and beautiful that course was all through the trees where my balls end up. It was quite an honor to be there and the friend in the Charlotte area, Mack Everett, got a hole in one on six. He's a little older so his eyes aren't working as good. We all watched it go in and he didn't believe it. We were like seriously Mack it's in the can, it's there, it's there. As we got closer and walked up he started believing it a little bit more. The ball landed maybe three inches away from the cup and spun back into it which he was all over the stick. It was cool to see that. I guess that wasn't the first that I've seen. I watched Armando Fitz of all people make one at Bobby Labonte's tournament. It's a cool site to see that take place and the caddies went crazy. We had a good time."

EARLIER THIS WEEK YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT RIVALRIES, MIND GAMES AND WAYS TO INTIMIDATE ON THE TRACK, BEFORE THE CHASE WAS DEVELOPED DID YOU SEE MORE OF THAT AT THE END OF THE SEASON OR DO YOU SEE MORE OF THAT NOW IN THE CHASE? CAN YOU REALLY KIND OF DEFINE WHAT YOU'VE DONE OR THINGS YOU'VE SEEN IN REGARDS TO WHAT IS EXACTLY INTIMIDATION ON THE TRACK? "I think there is more now because you have more people with the chance to win the championship. In the past it came down to a couple of guys and no one wants to be the driver that crashed the guy that was going to win the championship so you leave a lot of space. We see that later in the Chase as you get down to the last race or two. The guys that are in the hunt the other drivers are extremely respectful to those drivers, make sure they're passing them clean and racing them right. Really over the entire season with the Chase format you see more intense racing because every point counts and the opportunity for twelve guys to win it. I really think it's more now than it's ever been.

"Different guys are successful with different forms of intimidation. I don't think that I'm good at the trash talking, the mental games of pulling out behind someone in practice and all over their rear bumper trying to mess with that person and creating that type of intimidation. I see Tony Stewart as one of those guys and it really boils down to the personalities. All forms work. My form is be respectful and wear them out. That's what we were able to do last year and the year before. My form of intimidation is to be the fastest one in practice, sit on the pole, up there leading laps and the guys saying damn forty-eight is up there again. That's where we operate at our best. I need to stay focused on what I'm doing in the car. If I'm worried about a bump and run on this guy because it's going to rattle him or roughing someone up, saying something in the media, whatever it may be, that's just not my cup of tea. It's not going to work so I try to do it with performance."

YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN STRONG BUT OBVIOUSLY THE NINETY-NINE AND EIGHTEEN ARE GOING TO BE THE TOP TWO CARS, DOES THAT FORCE YOU TO HAVE TO RECONSIDER? "I don't think so. I think the fact that the eighteen and the ninety-nine have been stronger than us makes me fall more into the thoughts and the ways that I've won the championships in the past. It puts more confidence in my abilities and what we've done in the past is a road map to a championship. We think all right this is what we need to do, it's been proven twice, let's proceed this way."

AS A DRIVER, WHAT DOES BEING ON PROBATION MEAN? "It just depends on how intense that meeting was with NASCAR, how serious they are about the probation. I'm sure there are probations that are kind of like a slap on the hand and then there are probations where they might have you buy the shirt saying you do this again you're really in trouble. That's really where the question lies. I'm not really sure what type of probation they're on. I know its one word but it might be many levels to it."

HAVING BEEN BACK HOME IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING HAD YOU NOT GOTTEN THE SHOT TO GO RACING? "If it didn't work out, I'm not sure what I'd be doing. If I never had racing in my life, I think I would have pursued being a fireman but if it didn't work out I probably would be working in the off-road industry somewhere, hopefully racing an off-road truck. That off-road motorcross stuff was such a big part of my life and knowing racing and all that so I would find a way to work in the industry. Hopefully be competing at some level but if I didn't grow up racing like I said it would be fire fighting."

WAS THERE SOMEONE IN YOUR FAMILY THAT WAS A FIREMAN? "Every neighborhood I grew up in the next door neighbor was a fireman or somebody real close by which my Dad was friends with. I just liked what they were about, what they did and it seemed glamorous in some sorts to be a fireman in the service side of it. One of my great high school friends his father was captain of the local fire department. Again I just liked who he was as a man, work ethic, what he stood for and there was a lot of that that resonated with me."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart
Teams Hendrick Motorsports