Fontana II: Johnson - GM Top-10 interview



THINGS ARE GOING WELL AND YOU ARE LOCKED INTO THE CHASE. ARE YOU JUST TRYING TO KEEP THINGS ON AN EVEN KEEL RIGHT NOW? "I think we've done a good job this year of keeping focused and not letting things break us down and not stumbling over ourselves. With all that in mind, regardless, our point situation disappears in a few races. Right now, we're still charging hard. We want to win this race. We want to run good at Richmond. It's not one of our best tracks, so we've got personal goals that we want to accomplish. I really think that this weekend we have a shot of winning here at this race track. We're just going to try to keep this momentum going and carry the same mindset into the final 10 and hopefully do our job there."

EVEN THOUGH THAT'S BURNED YOU IN THE PAST, COULD YOU AFFORD TO BE A LITTLE MORE AGGRESSTIVE ON YOUR SET-UP THIS WEEKEND? "I think this year we're a lot more zeroed in on the package we want to run. Last year we were on the fence and the year before we got really aggressive. I feel that this year we're more prepared for the Chase. We're fine-tuning our set-up and looking for speed. We're going to keep fine-tuning and stick with this package for the final 10."

ON HIS FISHING TRIP TO ALASKA WITH CASEY MEARS: "Oh, we had a great time. It was so different to be up in Alaska. It's really untouched land up there. There really isn't much to see or do besides be out in streams fishing and be out on the ocean fishing and hanging out with friends. I met a lot of different people in this little lodge that we were staying in. In this area called Elfin Cove had some 20 full-time residents. In the peak of summer, and we were on the tail end of it, they might have 100 people in that entire town. So we had a lot of fun and had a great experience fishing."

HOW MANY AUTOGRAPHS DID YOU SIGN? "Not many (laughs). To my surprise, they were flying a No. 48 flag at the lodge when I got there, so I think somebody set them up for that."

WHAT DID YOU CATCH? "We caught all kinds of fish. We caught some halibut and salmon and rockfish - that was all in the ocean. And then one day we kayaked from the big boat in the saltwater to the mouth of a freshwater stream. We went up the stream as far as we could and threw the boats up on the shore and walked a couple of miles fishing in this river all the way up catching salmon left and right. There were so many fish in the water that you could literally drag your lure through the water and snag one on the back. There were a couple of catches that weren't legitimate. You would just snag one in there (laughs) because there was so much fish."

DID IT TAKE A WHILE TO STOP THINKING ABOUT RACING AND UNWIND AND RELAX ON THIS TRIP? "No, I'd say on the last day I knew reality was right around the corner and I had to start thinking about the race track, this track, and what's going on. But that's one thing I love about traveling. You go somewhere and just try to fall into that culture and that rhythm of life and it's definitely a different form of life up there. We were there in the summer and I'll bet it never got to 60 degrees. At night it was really cold and it rained a lot and we were wearing waders and rain gear the whole time just catching fish and cleaning fish and it was just a lot of fun. We really had a good time."

DO YOU THINK LOUDON, NH SHOULD BE THE FIRST RACE OF THE CHASE? "I really don't have an opinion on it. I've looked at the way they've picked the final 10 races and the schedule has been set and those tracks have had their dates set all along. In a 10-race stretch, you're going to have a race or two in there that aren't your best. That's part of it. New Hampshire is sort of a middle of the road race course. We run in the top 10 or 15. It's a race that I don't feel like I can walk around too confident and too cocky about, it's just as soon get in there and get to racing and have a good day and get out of there. You're going to have that. I think of the No. 17 (Matt Kenseth) and the troubles he's had at Martinsville. That's a track that I know he doesn't look forward to. I think in the Chase we all have a race or two that bothers us."

HOW CONCERNED ARE YOU ABOUT MATT KENSETH'S MOMENTUM AT THE MOMENT? "Oh, I'm very concerned - not only with Matt's momentum, but you look at the Childress cars and what they've been able to do. There have been a lot of guys earning points over the last 10 races but it's been hard to notice it because the point separation has been so big from first to 11th. But the No. 17 and the No. 29 (Kevin Harvick) and the No. 31 (Jeff Burton) have been doing an awesome job. The No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) has really been earning a lot of points lately. It's going to be interesting Chase. I think it's going to be the best one we've had yet."

WITH YOUR HOMETOWN BEING EL CAJON, HOW MUCH DO YOU LIKE COMING TO THIS TRACK? "This is what I could call my home track. I got my first Cup win here. This weekend I'm also running the Busch race. Lowe's has been nice enough to let me paint the car up like my foundation. So we have our Jimmie Johnson Foundation car running on Saturday night and then the Cup race on Sunday. So, all in all, I've been looking forward to this event."

ARE YOU WEARING A SPECIAL VICTORY JUNCTION HELMET? "Yeah, this is my first time auctioning off a helmet. The helmet that I wear in the race in the Busch car we're going to auction that off at the This is the first time I've done it. A nine-year old girl, a camper from the Victory Junction Gang Camp created this paint job for the helmet. It's blue. And the part that really got me was the writing on it that says 'follow me to victory'. I just felt like it was so fitting - for the name of our bowling ally - it just fits well."

ON HAVING A DIFFERENT GROUP OF DRIVERS MAKING THE CHASE THIS YEAR: "I really think we have a lot of great competitors and I believe you'll see a turnaround from year to year of guys not making the Chase. I think you'll see four or five guys that don't come back that find their way into the Chase the following year. There is that much competition. If you add up all the cars that Childress has, and Gibbs, and Hendrick Motorsports, and Roush, you've got about 16 cars. So there's going to be a lot of turnover from year to year, and I think that says a lot for our sport."

DOES IT AFFECT YOU TO RACE AGAINST GUYS THAT HAVE NEVER RACED IN THE CHASE BEFORE IN THAT THEY DON'T KNOW WHT THEY'RE UP AGAINST? "Not really. I think if you make the Chase, you've shown that you have the ability to race for a championship and that things are working right for you that year. And in a 10-race stretch, everybody has a chance to be a champion."

NOW THAT YOU ARE LOCKED INTO THE CHASE, ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE STANDINGS THIS WEEK? "No. And if something bad happens, we'll look back on it and know that we're locked in and that it doesn't matter. But realistically, we all want to do well here. I think momentum is important. I think that we want to stay in that pressure situation. We want to compete for this championship in the regular season right now. I really want to challenge Matt (Kenseth) in these next two races and see what the team is capable of. I think it's a great opportunity for us to see what is going to take place in the Chase. So we're taking this very seriously. So if we do have a bad day, we'll get some sleep - we won't lose sleep over it - but we still want to keep the pressure on and keep racing hard."

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO BE NUMBER 1 GOING INTO THE CHASE? "Oh, I think it's important. You never know when those five points are going to come in handy. I lost this deal by eight points a couple years ago. I think there's a mental advantage too to lead in the championship going into the Chase."

ARE YOU KEEPING A CLOSE EYE ON KYLE BUSCH AND JEFF GORDON? "Oh I keep a close eye on where Jeff and Kyle are. I want to make sure those guys make the Chase. We need a Hendrick car to win the championship. It's been a while. So I want all my teammates in there. So I keep a close eye on those guys, definitely."

ON BEING IN THE POINT LEAD NOW AFTER HAVING A ROUGH START TO THE YEAR WITH THE PENALTY CHAD KNAUS SERVED? "It seemed so long ago that we had problems at Daytona. We got in trouble qualifying. We served our penalty. We were put in a situation that was really tough. We learned a lot from it. We made the most of it and won two races in the process. So when I look back on it, I don't have any negative feelings about it. It made our team stronger and has been beneficial to all of us."

DOES IT SURPRISE YOU THAT A YOUNG GUY LIKE KYLE BUSCH IS RIGHT IN THE THICK OF THINGS LEADING INTO THE CHASE? "When you get out on the track, rarely do you see the age of a guy. You just see a car driving away from you or a guy that you're passing. So I forget about the age of a guy - especially once those yellow (rookie) stripes are off his bumper. Rookies don't have a lot of experience on the tack and maybe aren't as familiar with pressure situations and look for some opportunities there, but even that's changing. Rookies are winning races all the time."

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST THING KYLE BUSCH HAS LEARNED FROM YEAR ONE TO YEAR TWO? "I think Kyle understands the flow of a race more. It was tough for me to come in and have a 500-mile mindset and I think that's what he's learning is the flow of the race - when to charge and when to ride and how to play the game out there."

HOW DO YOU PICK AND CHOOSE WHICH BUSCH RACES YOU RUN? IS IT UP TO YOUR SPONSOR ORDO YOU MAKE THE DECISIONS? "It's really about my sponsor and the preference of where I want to run them. If I'm going to be in a Busch car, they would love me to be at Lowe's Motor Speedway and I do two events there. And then this is a special place for me. So it's a combination of the two."

SO DOES IT STILL HAVE TO BE SOME SORT OF SPECIAL EVENT FOR YOU TO RUN THE BUSCH SERIES? "I love running the Busch car but I don't have the desire to run for points in both series. I think it takes a lot of work and it takes a little bit away from your Cup program at times. I say that and then you look at the success that Harvick and Childress has had and that makes me question that. But in general, I think that more guys are distracted from Cup by running the Busch program full time. I don't want to put my Cup program in jeopardy."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick