JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: ON THE TEST SO FAR: "Last year coming down here we had to come out of the box with everything we had and play our game up front to make sure that we honestly knew where we were at. We led the...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
ON THE TEST SO FAR: "Last year coming down here we had to come out of the box with everything we had and play our game up front to make sure that we honestly knew where we were at. We led the way in testing and were able to get the pole. We came here (this year) a little bit more conservative. We've got a little bit more room to go. But, I feel everyone in the garage area does, as well. We're not really sandbagging or doing anything like that in that respect. The biggest challenge we have right now is we're learning a brand new car. This is the first time for Chad [Knaus] and myself to work on this new body style and it's just taking us a while to figure out the sweet spot that it likes. Yesterday we worked on a lot of suspension and geometry underneath the car and it ended up being a lot different than last year's car, so we made some gains there. Today, we've gotten started on the outside of the car - on the shape of the car -- and have found a lot of things that didn't work, so hopefully after lunch we'll find some things that we'll work."
ARE YOU HAPPY TO HAVE YOUR ROOKIE YEAR BEHIND YOU? "These first five races are going to be really nice for me and I'm going to have a lot more energy through the rest of the season. That stress last year of not having any points and worrying about rain or qualifying on speed or any of those things that went on - the whole Speed Weeks program - from this week last year all the way until the end of the 125s - it was a real high-stress situation. Fortunately, we qualified on the front row and where we finished in the 125s didn't matter, but still it was a very stressful period of time, along with the four races after that. To have that hurdle behind us and we can stay focused on what we need to do, I'm looking forward to it. The rookie battle we had with Ryan was great and it was intense from the start, so those two big stress items won't be up front in our face this year, but I'm sure there are going to be plenty of other battles that we have in competing for a championship."
ON ACCEPTING AN INVITATION TO RACE IN IROC: "I've been invited to run in the IROC Series, so I'm very excited about that. I was able to participate last fall in the Nation's Cup, which is another form of a race of champions - race overseas and compete against some rally drivers, Formula One drivers, superbike riders. It was a very neat environment to go and compete against the best in the world in that respect and have some fun, so I'm looking forward to competing in IROC. I watched it as a kid growing up and have been very interested in it and hoped that someday I would be good enough to be invited into it. I'm very honored to be a part of it."
ON THE CHANGES TO THE TEAM: "What's ironic is that two of the over the wall guys worked within Hendrick Motorsports. They worked on the Busch team with Jack Sprague, so it's not going to be a huge transition for them to come on board. One of them - Ryan McCray - I've known for a long time. He is married to Ron Hornaday's daughter, Candace, so I've known him for a long time. So, there really hasn't been an initial part of learning one another. But, as the season goes on we'll all be learning.
"More importantly, is the team working together and what they need to do on the pit stops. But, they've been practicing for two or three months already, working hand-in-hand, working together. Hopefully, we'll be able to hit Daytona and not miss a beat."
NOW THAT YOU'RE NOT A ROOKIE, WILL THIS YEAR'S DAYTONA 500 BE MORE FUN, KNOWING YOU'LL HAVE A CHANCE TO CONTEND? "Absolutely. I started on the pole for the 125 and the 500 and I didn't lead a lap the whole time here. I had a lot to learn and I didn't have the respect - didn't deserve the respect at the time - nor experience out there to understand how to lead the pack and where to be. As the year went on, I led laps at Talladega and was competitive. I learned my way through the pack, so I feel a lot more comfortable and confident coming back to feel like I actually have a shot at winning the Daytona 500. I came close at winning the first time at Talladega and I know we ran well at the speedways and felt very competitive last year. Coming into it this year, I'm going to feel a lot better and feel like we've got a shot for it."
CAN YOU AND JEFF GORDON HOOK UP IN PLATE RACES, SIMILAR TO THE WAY DALE EARNHARDT, JR., AND MICHAEL WALTRIP HAVE? "We would like to, but we're too competitive with one another. We'll hang the other one out and try to pass them. We do that from racing golf carts in Richmond - you know, I ran him over just to be ahead of him. We're very competitive and we will work together as much as we can. But last year, we honestly tried in all the restrictor plate races to work within all the Hendrick teams and it's just difficult in certain situations. You stick it out and you stay with your teammate when he gets put in a bad situation. Well, you might help him out, but nobody is behind you to help you out and you slip from fifth to 15th. We all look for one another while we're out there. I don't know how Junior and Michael have been able to make it work so well, but they've definitely done a great job with it and push each other to the front all the time."
HAVE YOU TALKED MUCH TO JOE GIBBS' DRIVERS THIS WEEK, NOW THAT THEY ARE PART OF THE CHEVROLET CAMP? "I talked to Zippy a little bit. As far as the driver's aspect, we're not on a track where the driver has a big importance. I imagine when we get to some of the other tracks and we're testing we'll talk more amongst the drivers. But, we've really just been trying to understand our car, and also knowing that these guys aren't going to give away any secrets. But, there has been some information moving around. It's great to have the Gibbs organization a part of the Chevrolet family. They've always been a part of the GM family, but that is another big player that is going to help make that Monte Carlo stronger and better. There will be more information out there for all the teams to use."
WILL IT HELP TO BE ABLE TO BENCHMARK AGAINST WHAT THE GIBBS DRIVERS DO? "Absolutely. When you look around and see other teams with the same make running well or doing something different, you know that potential is in your race car and you'll end up trying to do that. I'm excited to have Tony and Bobby as other gauges out there. Jeff [Gordon] has been a gauge for the Monte Carlo brand for a long time and really who we worked off of and focused on last year. Having the defending champion now in a Monte Carlo gives us another reference point to work towards."
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR THIS YEAR'S ROOKIE CLASS? "'Pace yourself.' It is a long season. Everything was great until that 20 in a row. You don't realize how much work and how much stress and how much really goes on until you're about 18 or 19 races into that 20-week stretch and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then, you get a break from it. It was a nice off-season for me. I took a lot of time just to unwind and relax. But, you've got to pace yourself in this sport, and that is coming from a driver's standpoint and I get some days off during the week. You look at these crew guys - especially new crew members that come in the sport. They don't have an off-season. They didn't get the luxury of having two months off, more or less, to unwind and relax, so it pretty much applies to everyone in the sport."
WHICH OF THE INCOMING ROOKIES IMPRESSES YOU? "I think you're going to see another great battle for the rookie of the year. Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Greg Biffle, Jack Sprague - and they're all going to be in great equipment. They're all with big teams - the most competitive teams in Winston Cup and they're all champions in different forms of racing. I know Jamie and Casey might not be champions in the Busch Series or something relative to Winston Cup, but they've both races and championships in other forms of racing. They all have the mindset that it takes to be competitive. They're all committed to the sport and take it very seriously. I think they all have the energy and determination to see it through."
DO YOU THINK PEOPLE WILL HAVE UNREAL EXPECTATIONS OF YOU THIS YEAR AFTER THE GREAT ROOKIE YEAR YOU HAD LAST YEAR? "I don't know. I don't really know how to perceive what the fans and the media - what that feeling would do to us. We feel like everyone else does right now. We have a legitimate shot of winning it. We competed for it all last year. We've got a big task at hand with the new style body. But, everyone is faced with some new changes this year, so I think we'll be competitive. I'm not going to let that pressure from outside the race team or the race car - let us get a big head or knock us down and make us feel bad. We're just going to roll with it and see what happens."
DID YOU EVENTUALLY THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH BAD LUCK YOU EXPERIENCED LAST YEAR? "At the time, I might be able to contain it well and you guys might not be able to see it. But, I felt real upset in a couple instances and depressed and upset.
"I walked out on the track and flipped off Robby Gordon in front of however many people, so that wasn't one of my better moments. It's hard to really carry it from week to week and you've got to find a way to get over it. I've been able to luckily do that. Right when that race is over you've got to get prepared and ready for the next one. If you carry that stuff along you're just going to beat yourself down.
"As far as when the season was over, I didn't have a chance to really let it go in any way. Maybe I did and didn't realize it, just from relaxing. But, I try to get over things as fast as I can and look forward to the next event."