Jimmie Johnson Teleconference Transcript Tuesday, April 22, 2003 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Auto Club 500 at California ...
Jimmie Johnson Teleconference Transcript
Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Auto Club 500 at California Speedway.
Johnson solidified his position (fourth place overall) in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings (179 points behind the leader) following his 9th-place finish in the Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 42 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta. Johnson has competed in one race at California, capturing his first career Winston Cup victory in last year's event.
ON HIS TOP 10 RANKING FOR 42 CONSECUTIVE WINSTON CUP RACES
"I didn't realize that stat until a race or two ago when somebody brought it up. But I've been very lucky throughout my career to be able to be consistent and to compete for championships and to have that consistency in all forms of racing that I've been in. So I think it's been kind of my style. At the same time, the support from Lowe's and the race cars that Hendrick Motorsports gives me and all the work that goes into it make all the ingredients to be in that position. I'm just glad that we're stepping up to the plate and doing it."
WHAT IS YOUR STYLE AND WHAT IS THE STYLE THAT WOULD KEEP A DRIVER IN THE TOP 10 FOR THAT LONG?
"I've always had opportunities and I've had to make the most of my opportunities throughout my career in racing. If I went out there and tore up somebody's equipment or made some dumb moves, I wasn't going to get the ride. But at the same time, I had to go out there and be fast and show that I have potential and can win races. So I've been able to adapt to a certain style there to push when I need to and race hard when I need to but at the same time, not take unnecessary risks. Last year I did a pretty good job of that. I made a couple of mistakes. One that I remember was racing with (Jimmy) Spencer for the win at Martinsville that I wish I could have back. But as a whole, I've been able to adapt to that style."
ON THE EXPECTED MEDIA FRENZY WHEN GOING BACK TO HIS HOMETOWN IN CALIFORNIA AND DEFENDING HIS '02 WIN
"Last year, with all the success that we had, really trained me well when we developed a great system on how to handle (media & sponsor) demands and all the different things that come along so that my focus stays on the driving the race car. It's not routine by any means, but I understand the format and understand better what's coming up so I can get prepared for it. Experience both inside the car and out makes a big difference. I know what to expect now."
WHO WERE SOME OF THE PEOPLE THAT HELPED YOU DEVELOP YOUR STYLE?
"From my early days in riding motorcycles, that was kind of my style. I guess it would be my dad's influence and also Rick Johnson's (former Supercross champion) influence really played that role at a young age. When I got into the stadium trucks (now defunct Mickey Thompson Stadium Racing Series) I tore up plenty of equipment and drove Jon Nelson (team owner) crazy by destroying his race trucks. But I learned some hard lessons through that. Rick Johnson has influenced me through a lot of my career and so has my dad. I had some hard knocks along with way with Jon Nelson in particular being frustrated with some of his equipment that I tore up."
SPEAKING OF YOUR DAD, IS HE GOING TO MAKE THE TRIP TO CALIFORNIA THIS YEAR?
"I know my mom is going to be there. I'm not sure if Dad has decided to make it or not. He's been on the road non-stop driving the bus everywhere this year. He hasn't decided yet. He might end up sitting on the couch at home."
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LAST YEAR'S CALIFORNIA RACE AND COMING BACK AS DEFENDING CHAMPION?
"The only experience I have coming back as defending champion was last year at Dover. We were able to go back to Dover and win a second time. So I sure hope that things go that well for us in California. Our technology has changed so much in the set-ups in the race cars from when we were there last year that nothing will be the same this time. Things change so fast that we're kind of starting over from ground zero again. But I like that race track and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) knows how to set the race car up for there. We're just going to have to find a balance with this new set-up and see what happens. So as much as being the defending champion you'd think would help you and give you and the team the confidence to come back, the car isn't the same. So you've got to go back out and rebuild your race car."
WHEN YOU WERE TEARING UP ALL THOSE TRUCKS IN STADIUM RACING, DID YOU EVER THINK YOU WOULD END UP WHERE YOU ARE IN WINSTON CUP COMPETITION?
"No. When I was in the stadium trucks as a young kid, that's where I wanted to be and that's where I wanted to end up. I was amazed at 16 or 17 years of age that I was competing with my heroes and racing against Ivan Stewart and Walker Evans and was very happy where I was. I had my eye on IndyCar racing with the Mears brothers making that path. That's where I kind of thought I wanted to go, but I didn't know how to get there. Chevrolet was backing out right when I kind of topped-out in the off-road stuff and hit my peak there. They asked me if I wanted to go stock car racing and that's how I ended up taking that path. I was very happy at 16 years old racing with the guys that I was."
WHAT IS IT ABOUT CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY THAT YOU REALLY LIKE?
"The reason I like it the most is the trophy that's sitting on my mantle. If I finished 20th, I probably wouldn't like it as much (laughs). Chad (Knaus, crew chief) gives me a great racecar for a mile and a half and up (track sizes). He gives me a great racecar everywhere. But it seems like a mile and a half and two-mile race tracks - from Vegas to Michigan - we're always competitive. When you're out there running fast and passing good cars and racing for the lead each week on this style of track, you look forward to those on the schedule. California is one of those tracks and we took the last trophy home from there so we're really pumped about going back. Trophies are what we're after."
HOW WAS YOUR EASTER WEEKEND OFF?
"The weekend off was pretty low key. Maybe the next weekend (off) I'll travel somewhere and do something else, but I just really relaxed and didn't do a whole heck of a lot trying to soak in some off-time."
WITH NINE DIFFERENT WINNERS IN NINE RACES, DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS THE 10TH DIFFERENT WINNER? IF SO, WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO YOU?
"I don't really pay too close attention to the stats. But it's great to see the parody in our sport. Different makes are winning. Different teams are winning. There are all kinds of stuff that's been going on and that's been great. There's just been a lot of action and a lot going on. I think it shows how equal the makes and the teams are. I'm really looking forward, obviously, to going back as the defending champion. Things have changed a lot in a year. At Dover, we were able to come back and repeat. We were able to step up and do it. I hope we're able to go back to California and do it. But it's a long year and a lot has changed since then. We're going to come back with our new style race car and set-ups and see what happens."
ARE YOU SURPRISED BY THE FACT THAT BOTH YOU AND TONY STEWART WON THREE TIMES LAST YEAR AND NEITHER OF YOU HAS WON YET THIS YEAR?
"No. This is my second year in the sport. I only won three out of 36 races last year. There are still plenty of races to go and I didn't win my first one until California last year. This year, out of the box, we've been in contention to win four or five races. We've had two engine failures late, a couple of spins late. We've had some crazy stuff happening to us that has taken us out of race wins. But looking at last year's schedule and where we were at going into Fontana versus this year, we are so much further ahead. I don't know if the points reflect that as much. But where we were as a race team and how competitive we are, I think we'll be able to keep stepping it up."
HAD CHEVROLET ALREADY TALKED TO YOU ABOUT STOCK CAR RACING WHEN THE VORTEC ENGINE PROGRAM STARTED?
"The Vortec stuff was pretty late as far as I remember. I think I was probably done with the SODA (Short Course Off-Road Drivers Association) Series and was racing with the Herzogs (team owners) then. Herb (Fishel, Executive Director, GM Racing) and I had spoken about the asphalt racing plans from probably the end of '95. But that was something down the road we needed to look at. I didn't find myself in a stock car full time until 1998 because I ran two more years in off-road with the Herzogs and then we went to asphalt together. That was part of Herb's plan as well. I knew the Herzogs really well and I introduced Herb to them and he was able to get a good eye on their program and what their goals were in racing. He grouped us together and we've all made it."
SO BY 1995, DID YOU KNOW THE ASPHALT PROGRAM WAS GOING TO BE STOCK CARS?
"I knew a little earlier than that. I knew I needed to make a change after '95. The Stadium Series had already folded and there were going to be major cutbacks in the desert racing series. So I knew we needed to make a change. Herb was leaning on me to find a program and that was how I was able to make the introductions between the Herzogs and GM."
THE HERZOGS TOOK YOU THROUGH OFF-ROAD, ASA, AND THEN THE BUSCH SERIES. DO YOU STILL HAVE A GOOD ASSOCIATION WITH THEM?
HOW DO THEY VIEW YOUR CAREER AND HOW OFTEN DO YOU KEEP IN TOUCH WITH THEM?
"Our schedules are changing all the time, but I try to make it over at some point during the race weekend and visit all the crew members. The crew is still pretty much the same as when I was there. I stop and say hello to everyone and also to Stan and Randy (Herzog). I try to get by each week to see them. It turns out to be a lot less than that, but I still keep in contact with them. We did way too much for one another to not keep in contact."