Fontana: Johnson post-qualifying interview

JIMMIE JOHNSON , NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS - Qualified 3rd: ON HIS LAP: "The team made some great adjustments. I got in and drove that race car around here as fast as I could. We made a great qualifying effort. Internally, I feel very ...

JIMMIE JOHNSON , NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS - Qualified 3rd:

ON HIS LAP:

"The team made some great adjustments. I got in and drove that race car around here as fast as I could. We made a great qualifying effort. Internally, I feel very peaceful and happy right now. This is a great start for us."

FOR QUALIFYING, ARE TAKING ON MORE OF A LEADERSHIP ROLE SINCE CHAD KNAUS IS NOT HERE?

"Over time, you fall into certain rhythm and I've fallen into a rhythm with Chad and how we adjust the car and make decisions. Starting over with someone new, we just have to figure out how that works. I've stepped up and am in more of a senior position than Darian (Grubb) and before it was kind of directed from Chad. He would conduct and lead in a sense. I've taken on more of that role. And so that would be I guess how my leadership is more of working on the race car. But I'm just trying to be around for the guys, too, and keep the spirits up and when anybody has time to sit and think, that's when you worry and get nervous. But if I stick around and keep the guys pumped up and smiling and keep positive energy rolling, everything's in good shape."

HOW MUCH DID IT HELP TO RUN YOUR QUALIFYING LAP TOWARD THE END OF THE DAY AS THE SUN WAS GOING DOWN, AND WHY DID THAT HELP?

"The air temperature dropping and the track cooling down helps. Also the air that runs through the engine is a lot cooler so it builds more power and more speed. There definitely was some advantage to going later. It's hard to really tell how much. We were 8th or 9th on the board during practice, and then qualified 3rd. So I think it helped some."

ON THE LAS VEGAS TEST, DID IT HELP?

"To specifically fine-tune on each track, you need to go to that track to do it. We felt like we learned some things in Las Vegas in general that we need to go home and work on. And so far, it looks like it's been good. Tomorrow is a whole different deal in race trim. You can't really focus on the specifics. You can get close, and work on some general stuff, but you can't really hone in on what you need to."

MORE ON HIS LEADERSHIP ROLE WITH THE TEAM

"I don't want to overstress and say I'm this grand leader now. Over the off-season we try to get together and evaluate what went wrong and how we can be a better race team and do a better job. We openly talked about some things and made some adjustments and started into the season with that. Now, with the situation we're in, it's asking me to more of what we talked about over the off-season. I'm trying to do that and be there for the guys and lead. Chad is such a strong leader. His personality really does it on its' own and that's an area I need to focus on. The guys want me to be a little bit more in that role. And now with our latest situation, I'm the senior guy. My responsibility is to keep the crew chief up, too. So it's different, but fortunately we've all worked together so long for the last three or four years, it's not reinventing the wheel."

DOES THE REAL SEASON START HERE?

"We have so many downforce races and so few plate races, that we're all excited to get here. Today is just the start of things. I'm really excited about the season. We got off to a good qualifying effort today and we had a nice smooth practice. I feel like we've definitely improved over last year."

-gm racing-

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Series NASCAR Cup