Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media at California Speedway and discussed visiting his former high school, his outlook for the Chase, racing in California, how the hot weather...
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's/Jimmie Johnson Foundation Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media at California Speedway and discussed visiting his former high school, his outlook for the Chase, racing in California, how the hot weather affects him, on what kind of race Richmond will be, the Chase format, rumors of a switch to Toyota by Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch, car numbers, bonus points and Denny Hamlin.
ON HIS VISIT TO HIS HIGH SCHOOL: "I was shocked to see some of my old teachers that were still there at the school. The vice-principal is now the principal She treated me well. I had a couple trips to visit her when I got in trouble and she didn't rat me out too bad so it was nice. The students were great. The school couldn't have been more inviting and made me feel more comfortable and put on a good display for me and make me feel great coming back home. A really cool experience. The whole week was really busy, really active. I got very little sleep through it all and came back here. I got to the track yesterday afternoon and fell asleep about four o'clock in the afternoon and was out all night long. I burned it from both ends this last week. A lot of cool opportunities, raised a lot of great money, went to the Padres game, the school - just a ton of stuff going on."
DID THE VISIT BRING BACK MEMORIES? "When I left there I thought that was the last time I would see those halls so it was kind of funny to come back and actually walk through and see everything. I can't believe how small it all seems when you go back. It seemed like such a big campus and when you go back things definitely shrink. It was just a great experience."
WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THE CHASE? "It's a great situation to be in. All we have to do is start these two events so we're essentially locked in. With that in mind we want victories. We want those 10 points to carry us over into the Chase. It's nice being able to race against the No. 11, race against the No. 24; the No. 17 I guess is locked in, the No. 99. Racing against those guys with the same mindset and not be out there still trying to collect points and possibly lose 10 to them the way the seeding process works."
ON RACING IN CALIFORNIA: "It's great. I forget how hot it is out here until we get here every time in September. I think that traditions this weekend will help me. The hotter it is, the slicker the track is the better. A few of us guys do and I think I'm in that group of those drivers."
IT MAY BE OVER 100 DEGREES ON RACE DAY. WILL THAT AFFECT YOU? "It takes away a lot of grip and the tires don't like to stick to the asphalt so with the track being so slick and the tires not liking it, it makes the cars a lot harder to drive. Setup is more important and I think my off-road background carries over and helps me deal with those things. I also train hard so I think that the hotter temperatures and also running the Busch and the Cup race this weekend, I'm just prepared physically for the hot weather and looking forward to it."
DO YOU LOSE A FEW POUNDS AFER A RACE? "You lose a lot. Your goal is to not lose any. You're supposed to drink enough during the event to replace what you are sweating out but it's impossible to keep up when it's this hot."
WITH MOST OF THE CHASE DRIVERS LOCKED IN BY RICHMOND, WILL IT MAKE IT A CRAZIER RACE WITH ALL THOSE DRIVERS GOING FOR A WIN TO GET BONUS POINTS? "I hadn't thought about it. I think it would be in some ways be a much more enjoying event for the field. Guys that are on that bubble trying to get in or out, the drama that kind of carries into it is probably great for television, great press and all that. But not having that pressure on you to make it in or be on the edge and even someone to have bad luck in order to make it. That pressure not being there has got to be relieving for the guys where that takes place. But I think you're going to see good, hard racing. I think the new car has put on good racing in general. I remember a competitive race at Richmond. Guys three wide in some situations so I think we'll put on a good show regardless of the Chase situation."
DID ANY OF YOUR OLD TEACHERS OR PRINCIPALS SAY THAT THEY NEVER THOUGHT YOU WOULD MAKE IT? "No, everybody. I forgot about my desire and the things I would say to people because somebody would give me a hard time for not being around or missing something fun that went on or missing my homework or whatever it was. Those teachers reminded me that I would say 'it's no big deal, I'm going to be a professional race car driver, I don't need to worry about my homework'. So thankfully it all worked out (laughs)."
WHAT'S THE HOTTEST WEATHER YOU'VE EVER RACED IN? "As far as air temperature I would say the race in Barstow that we would run for the SCORE Desert Series was always really, really hot. It was in July. I can remember 110, 115, stuff like that. The hottest I've ever been in a vehicle has been - actually, it was in that Daytona Prototype that I ran in July at Daytona. Those things are so hot. Cup cars are hot, and hotter than most. But those enclosed-cockpit endurance cars are really, really hot."
THOSE WERE HOTTER THAN THE OFF-ROAD TRUCKS? "The trucks you have. you don't run a windshield in them so you have air running across your suit plus you can always turn on your water bottle and let it saturate your suit, which is helpful. In a Daytona Prototype there is no air moving around inside those cars. On top of that you have the radiator at the front of the vehicle and the vents run over the windshield and over the cockpit of the car. Unlike a Nextel Cup car where it kind of blows down and out, it comes right over the cockpit of the car and just superheats the inside of it."
HOW WAS THE CAR IN PRACTICE? "We've been awesome. Really, really good off the Truck. Hopefully we can go out and repeat. I'd like to get a pole this year. I've kind of had a lean year in qualifying."
FOR THE FIRST CHASE, AT RICHMOND THERE WAS STILL 15 DRIVERS ELLIGIBLE AND NOW THE FIELD IS ALMOST LOCKED UP. WHAT'S CHANGED? "I think that over the course of 26 races, that threshold is kind of at 12. You can fudge it; some years it might be 14, some years it could be less but you're right at that mark where it's tough after 26 races to be within a certain points span. Now we have 12 that get in but I think that's more of it than anything. It's that 12th-place cutoff and the points that are associated with that that are making this year not as exciting for that transfer spot going in."
DOES NASCAR LOSE ANYTHING BY CHANGING THE CHASE FORMAT? "If there's anything lost going into the Chase, say Richmond for one event, they are gaining so much more by ensuring they have - and Jeff Gordon has missed it, Tony Stewart has missed it - there is so much more good that goes with it than the one race that you may lose. So I think that's why they have made the adjustment at 12."
IF GIBBS GOES TO TOYOTA, WHAT IMPACT WOULD THAT HAVE ON YOUR TEAM? "They're a strong company, Gibbs is, and I think that Toyota's commitment to the sport and what they are willing to do to get competitive and to compete for race wins and championships will force all the other manufacturers to spend more money. It will force all the teams to get more funding to try to compete. So I think that they may have some type of learning curve if they do go. It would be great for Toyota, it would be terrible for Chevrolet, for us to lose to those guys but that combination together, I would think, over a period of time, would be very, very tough to beat."
WOULD IT BE ANY DIFFERENT FOR YOUR TEAM NOW KNOWING THAT KYLE BUSCH IS GOING TO A DIFFERENT MANUFACTURER? "No, we've still kept everything open for him and nothing against Kyle, but I think it's hard for us to leave our notebooks open knowing that he's going to arguably one of the best teams in the garage area and maybe to a different manufacturer. It's been open-book policy to him still and I guess with the new car being full-time next year and all the things that change over the course of an off-season, we're not too concerned about that. But he's done a great job, he's still driving his butt off and given us solid information and we've been supporting him as much as we can so it's been going well."
WOULD YOU THINK THAT GIBBS WOULD HAVE SOME PERFORMANCE DROP-OFF NEXT YEAR? "You would think so. I'm not saying it will but anytime you have to change that much by changing manufacturers, there's got to be some type of learning process. Unless they're currently doing it now and developing engines, developing chassis, trying to get some time with that new body. As I say that, the purpose of the new car is to make things more equal. So it could make that period of time to adapt much shorter because you don't have the flexibility on bodies that we used to have. Also the suspension and geometry is much tighter than in years past so it should be a shorter learning process."
ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT THE OTHER TEAMS HAVE CLOSED THE GAP WITH THE NEW CAR NOW? "Yeah, there are certainly a lot of other teams that have closed the gap. That's really by NASCAR's design. I think we did a very good job of sorting out our cars before the season started and had a little bit of an advantage. But as the year went on, we really haven't had anywhere else to go and we're kind of topped out and finding very small subtle teams where the teams below us have been catching up and if not, better at times. It's by design as NASCAR wants it but the competitor in us, we're like 'well, this isn't any fun, we're tapped out, we're there, and everybody's catching us'."
WHAT IS IN A DRIVER'S NUMBER? "My deal with numbers growing up, there were certain numbers that were lucky for me and worked well. We didn't have as much built on the numbers in the different classes I raced and series growing up but when I could choose, I wanted something with a four or an eight in it and fortunately 48 was available and it worked out and fit and fell into place. I think a number in the licensing business side of it, it's probably more important for a team than a driver but it's so often a driver's number and the driver name are so associated together outside of the business sense and the way people recognize the teams. So it's kind of a catch and I'm sure it's coming back to the Earnhardt, Jr. situation. On the business side, they've spent a lot of money and put a lot of time and invested into that No. 8; a lot of equity into it. I guess they don't want to give it up."
WHAT IS YOUR TEAM'S OBJECTIVE HERE AND AT RICHMOND? "Make sure the engine starts so we can drive off so we're locked in and beyond that it's just about winning. It's nice to be in that situation right now and not have to worry about earning points to get into the Chase. Then it also puts us on par with the other guys that are locked in and we're not going to enter an event more conservatively than the No. 24 or the No. 11 or any of those guys and potentially lose 10 points."
IS 10 POINTS ENOUGH FOR A WIN WHEN THE SEEDING IS DECIDED? "It's hard to say. I've been quick to judge the points system and in years past and it's worked out to be pretty fair and entertaining. So it doesn't seem like a lot but you never know. I've lost the points championship by eight points one year and last year was a much larger margin so it kind of depends on how things play out. I think 10 is a good place to start. I know that NASCAR wants to keep it exciting and fair at the same time. I haven't heard of any potential changes but if we get through the Chase and they don't think it's right I think I'd change it."
DOES DENNY HAMLIN'S SUCCESS SURPRISE A LOT OF DRIVERS? "It's certainly surprising but I think we've all grown to be used to it because those first handful of times in a Busch car was rock-steady and smooth. Same in a Cup car. You could see him on track. He's certainly driving hard but he doesn't take unneeded risks. He doesn't put people in compromising positions and situations. He's a very smart driver on top of an intense, hard and fast driver."
DO YOU THINK HE'S HIGH-PROFILE NOW? "Yeah, our race fans certainly know who everyone is. I can say that getting started, I had a similar path with what Denny has had. Came out with a big team, had a great mentor ahead of me and Jeff Gordon like he does with Tony Stewart. He's able to win races and compete for championships. It just takes a while to get that status and Denny certainly will be at that point and the biggest thing that helped me personally was winning the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard and then we got the championship. That has pushed it over the top. I think Denny has all those things in his future."
-credit: gm racing