Fontana: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the Daytona 500, former exciting moments in racing, how the teams will stack up in the next couple of races, and more. ON THE DAYTONA 500 AND THEN COMING TO AUTO...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S/KOBALT TOOLS IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the Daytona 500, former exciting moments in racing, how the teams will stack up in the next couple of races, and more.

ON THE DAYTONA 500 AND THEN COMING TO AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY: "We're definitely disappointed with Daytona. We had speed in the car, but unfortunately the right front tire was a big issue for us and we really had to baby the car and try to find clean air and really not run in the draft in certain situations so that we could keep the wear within reason on the right front. We did run into some trouble and had to pit the same time Jeff (Gordon) did, I think a lap later, actually. And the caution came out and from that point we were trying to get back on the lead lap. Once we finally did, the rain came and we were the last car on the lead lap. It's not the finish that we wanted. We put a lot of work into the 500 and the last couple of years that race has been a disappointment event for us.

"Again, it wasn't from a lack of effort. I feel bad for the guys and all that's gone into it and not getting the results that we want down there. Fortunately there are only two races in Daytona, four plate races in general, and we're leaving there and coming to a great race track for us. In the spring it seems like we're good for a top two finish, and then in the fall race we've been able to win a bunch lately. So I'm very excited about the race and get to a downforce, fast race track and see where we're at.

"There are so many questions about who is going to be fast and who is going to be the favorite. Has testing affected the competition or not? Over the next few weeks we'll get a good indication of that and the teams and players and what testing has done and all that good stuff. I'm excited for it."

DUE TO THE LACK OF TESTING, WILL THE SAME TEAMS CONTINUE TO BE ON TOP OR WILL THERE BE SOME SURPRISES? "I really think you have to go back to the conclusion of last season and look at the way everybody was running on certain types of tracks and start there. I don't know how much we can all learn without testing. It's going to be a great test to the engineers and the seven post rigs and all that stuff that we all own and use, but we're always able to go to the track and validate it and see if that stuff has worked or not. So, in my mind, I look at who was strong at these tracks last year.

"This race last year was late enough in the season that you might look to the finishing order to place your favorites, or if you are in Vegas, place your bets (laughs). But I think the way things finished up at Homestead and Texas and all that would be the way things start off here."

ON BEING THE BAD GUY AT TALLADEGA A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, WHAT DID IT TAKE TO REGAIN TRUST WITH OTHER DRIVERS AND SUPPORT FROM FANS? "Inside the garage area and what takes place on the track, even though people may be frustrated, you're dealing with fractions of and inch (between cars) out there that can make you look like a hero in some situations and in other situations tear up cars and have people mad at you. But last weekend is last weekend. I know it probably sticks around a little longer for the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) because he had such a good car and led so many laps. But that's plate racing. It took longer to win the fans back, much longer, than it ever did to work inside the garage area. Stuff happens on track. Fortunately next week there's another race and you move on and you have a whole new set of problems to worry about and frustrations that come along. It goes by pretty fast. But it's the crazy sport that we're in and again, fractions of an inch can sway the fans one way or the other.

"Two weeks would be a long period of time for something like that to last. Now if you were intentionally wrecked by somebody, being caught up in that accident there was frustrating to most, but if you're going into Turn 1 here at 210 mph and somebody picks your rear tires up off the ground an intentionally wrecks you in the race, now that's going to last. You will see things come from that. Plate racing, we talk about it each week. It's just a frustrating type of racing and at some point somebody's going to get turned, for whatever reason, and you're going to get caught up in it."

MICHAEL WALTRIP'S TEAM MADE AN EMERGENCY AT LAS VEGAS AND HAD TO BUS THE TEAM TO CALIFORNIA. WHAT'S THE MOST HARROWING EXPERIENCE THAT YOU'VE HAD ON AN AIRPLANE? "A couple of years ago we were flying home from either New Hampshire or Watkins Glen or something up that direction. We were coming back down through Richmond through the airspace, and the tower had a commercial airlines descending through our altitude. And the cockpit in our plane started giving instructions to go down and left and I didn't know there were that many lights in an airplane before. All these lights turned on and sirens were going off. The pilots followed procedure. As they turned the plane down and we were pulling out of the way, I saw a USAir flight coming by the other way. We were on a direct impact. We were in their direct path to hit the plane.

"Investigations followed after the, the controller was released and all sorts of other things took place. To be that close where you can actually see the paint job and read U.S. Airways on the side of the plane was not cool."

TALK TO US ABOUT YOUR MOST EXCITING MOMENT IN RACING. "Some of the coolest moments I've ever had have been last-lap battles to the finish line. The first one that I lost in major competition was to Carl (Edwards) at Atlanta. I gave him the outside and he was able to go to the outside and beat me back to the start-finish line. That was frustrating. It wasn't very nice to experience that. A few hundred feet before the finish line you get passed by a nose and loose. Then I was able to experience the other side of it with Matt Kenseth and with Bobby Labonte.

"Matt was at Las Vegas and Bobby Labonte was at Charlotte, the 600. Last lap was able to go outside and side draft him and beat him to the start-finish line. That's such a cool moment to have 600-mile race or 400-mile race come down to the last lap, last few feet of the race itself to win it.

SOME GUYS SEEMED TO BE STRUGGLING ON SUNDAY COMING FROM TEAMS THAT ARE CLEARLY NOT FULLY FUNDED, DOES THAT HURT THE REPUTATION OF NASCAR AND DOES IT PRODUCE ANY FEAR WITH THE COMPETITORS THAT GO OUT AND RACE WITH THESE GUYS? "As far as the reputation of the sport I think that if it was at the peak of the economy and sponsors were everywhere and grandstands were full and money was flowing and we had that there would be a good argument for that. But in today's environment and the way the world is I think it's quite a story that these guys have an opportunity to come out and compete, that we have a full field. It's what NASCAR was really founded on and if you talk to the NASCAR folks why it's not a franchised sport like you see in Formula One and even Indy Car was a one point and time. It's a free market of sorts. If you have the equipment and you meet the qualifications come run with us. I think it's a great opportunity and you see in these tough times people have a chance to come out and be involved.

"On track you really have to take everybody seriously. I haven't seen the entry sheets to know who is there. Every point counts toward the Chase but at the end of the day we're still going to have 43 cars in the field so I don't think our mindset changes in any way, shape or form. It's still 43 cars and there's only x amount of points available. So I don't see any more fear than normal."

YOU GO TO VEGAS NEXT WEEK, YOU'RE FIRST 1.5-MILE TRACK, IS IT A PRETTY GOOD BAROMETER ON HOW YOUR 1.5-MILE PROGRAM IS GOING TO BE FOR THE WHOLE YEAR? "I think it is. I think that you know where we need a little bit of work and help on is the high-banked 1.5-mile tracks and Vegas is kind of in that middle stage. Flat tracks like we showed here last fall, big flat tracks we've got a great set up. It's more the Charlotte, Atlanta, Texas-style tracks. So I think Atlanta will be a good yardstick for the No. 48 car. Texas is pretty early if I remember right. Those two tracks in particular are the ones that I feel we need to get better at. If I look at Chicago, we got beat there on the last lap but it was on a restart and I went up and took the lead from the No. 18 so I feel really good about the Vegas, Kansas, Chicago-style tracks. It's just the ones with more banking that we need a little bit more work."

-credit: gm racing

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Kyle Busch