Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the Ford 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race next weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway in Homestead, FL. Johnson is currently...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the Ford 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race next weekend at Homestead Miami Speedway in Homestead, FL.
Johnson is currently tied for 4th in points, 238 points behind the leader, and 2nd in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings. So far in 2002, Johnson has earned three NASCAR Winston Cup victories (California, Dover and Dover), four Bud Pole Awards (Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, Richmond) and recorded 20 top-10 finishes, including six top-5s (Atlanta, California, Dover, Pocono, Chicagoland and Dover).
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST THING YOU'VE LEARNED THIS SEASON AND WHAT CAN YOU IMPROVE ON FOR NEXT YEAR?
"The biggest thing I've seen is how important people are. A lot of the teams have sufficient funding and resources, but I think it's the people within the organization that make the difference. This is the biggest lesson I've learned. There are definitely things that I look back on personally, as a driver, that will be different next year and that I feel I'll be better because of that. There are a lot of things that we've done in our first year that you just don't know any better unless we do it. Next year should be a better year for all of us."
DO YOU AGREE WITH YOUR CREW CHIEF, CHAD KNAUS, THAT YOUR PIT CREW SHOULD BE STRONGER?
"Lately, it's been a concern. I think our pit stops won us the race in Dover earlier this year. They got us out first. At California, it was a big element to our win. It's not a big problem that we've had all year, it's just that at different times we've had problems. It's hard for me to be real judgmental because I make mistakes too. We're a big team and the last couple of weeks have had a problem. We're hoping to have it all fixed this weekend."
DOES THE CREW NEED TO GET ITS CONSISTENCY BACK?
"Yeah, for some reason here at the end of the year at the last few races we've had some things happen. At Rockingham, we had a wheel left loose and it destroyed the hub. We had to go behind the wall to change the hub. Last weekend, the jack dropped and there weren't any tires on the left side of the car. So, we've just had some inconsistency there that we're not really used to seeing. But it's happening at a bad time for us. We hope to have it all cleaned up for this weekend."
DO YOU THINK THE WHOLE TEAM IS EXHAUSTED FROM YOUR ROOKIE SEASON AND BE ABLE TO PACE YOURSELVES BETTER NEXT YEAR?
"It's a long season and it's my first time in a 20-week stretch. That's the case for some of the guys on the team too. It's been easier for me because I'm able to get away during the week and get some peace of mind. For Chad and these guys, starting up a new race team, it's been non-stop since he was hired on in January. They have had an exceptionally hard year. I hope that they'll be able to slow down and spend some time with family and friends and get some peace of mind back. It's going to be hard for everyone with these new body changes. It's like starting all over again. The cars we have are not legal. So we're going to have to cut them all apart at some point and build all new race cars."
HOW DO YOU PERSONALLY ADAPT TO THE BODY LOCATION AND GETTING THE FEEL FOR THE NEW MONTE CARLO?
"I'm not sure. I haven't driven the new car yet and so I don't have that feel myself. I don't have a lot of experience in it yet. I've been real comfortable with the cars that we've had so far. The cars that Jeff (Gordon) likes, I like. Our styles have been very similar in that respect."
WAS THERE A POINT IN THE SEASON WHEN IT HIT YOU THAT YOU WOULD HAVE A REALLY SUCCESSFUL YEAR?
"All season long we've been able to go out and run strong. We've gained that confidence from week to week."
ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COMING INTO WINSTON CUP RACING WITH A TEAM LIKE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS VS. A LESSER TEAM:
"It speaks for itself. To be able to be involved with Hendrick Motorsports has been a very unique situation. At the same time, being involved with the crew guys like the No. 24 team have enabled us to learn a lot and use the resources that we have and finances that we have to our best use."
IF YOU WERE TONY STEWART, HOW WOULD YOU APPROACH THE RACE THIS WEEKEND?
"You go out there and use your head and be smart and have a strong race on one of your best tracks and become the champion."
WHAT KIND OF WINSTON CUP CHAMPION WOULD TONY STEWART MAKE?
"He's a racer's racer. He might have done some things off the race track that I'm sure he's not real happy with and that have left a negative mark out there for him. But he loves the sport of racing and every race fan respects that fact that he's raced everything on the planet and won everything he's ever been in. Winning in NASCAR Winston Cup racing is about being the best. He definitely represents that and has done a great job all season long to earn the championship."
WHAT KIND OF CHAMPION WOULD MARK MARTIN BE?
"Probably going into it, he's the favorite. We've all watched him a lot of years get very very close to winning the Winston Cup championship. When you think of Winston Cup racing, you think of Mark Martin. It would be hard to believe that he hadn't won a championship when he stepped down from the sport. I think he'd be a great champion as well."
WHAT KIND OF SCHOOLING DO YOU GO TO IN PREPARATION WITH DEALING WITH THE MEDIA?
"I've not really had any formal schooling. I've been in teammate situation where I've been able to watch what's been good and what's been bad in the relationship between the driver and the media. Chevrolet has done a few things where they've brought their drivers to a common place and had some media there and educated everyone. We had a crash course at the beginning of the year up at Lowe's corporate offices. For the most part, I've learned on my own from watching other people. But along the way there have been a couple refreshers."
OTHER THAN ANSWERING THE SAME QUESTIONS WEEK AFTER WEEK, WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST FRUSTRATING THING ABOUT DEALING WITH THE MEDIA?
"That's pretty much been it." (laughs)
DOES THAT GET PRETTY MADDENING FOR THE DRIVERS?
"You've got to understand that everyone has the same questions. But after you've answered it four or five times, you run out of ways to phrase it. You hate to be repetitive."
DO YOU GET A SENSE IN THE GARAGE THAT PEOPLE ARE WORRIED ABOUT LEGAL MANEUVERING REGARDING THE POINTS PENALTY FOR MARK MARTIN?
"I personally haven't heard anything. It's been a concern of mine all year long with our points being taken away from us. I never considered any kind of lawsuit being filed. It's their (NASCAR) series and their rule book and their decision. I would personally be surprised if anything was filed."
WERE YOU SURPRISED TO SEE NASCAR TAKE MARTIN'S POINTS AWAY SO LATE IN THE SEASON?
"No. I'm taking it out of that context. We were a championship contender earlier in the season when the points were taken away from us. I don't think it matters to them where you're at and I think it needs to be that way. If you have something that's questionable or something that's not right, it needs to be fair for everyone regardless of the situation. They shouldn't cut some slack for someone because of where they are in the points. It needs to be fair for everyone. If, after Homestead, if whoever the champion is has something wrong, they need to dock the points then and be consistent so we all know where we stand on a regular basis."
ARE YOU AND JEFF GORDON FINDING TIME TO RIDE MOTORCYCLES LATELY?
"No, not lately. We haven't had the time and the weather hasn't been so friendly."
DOES NASCAR'S POINT PENALTY SYSTEM WORK?
"However it is, I want it to be consistent. Based on the fact that we had a bolt that they didn't like earlier in the year and it costing us 25 points, I'm glad to see them reacting to all things. It might be hard to understand the little suspension parts that are involved and the huge advantages. But a spring that has one less coil that allows travel an inch further - we're fighting to get and extra eighth of an inch in travel. Picking up an extra half-inch or an inch has such an advantage. With the aero advantages that we know of today, some of the smallest things are really important."
ON NASCAR'S CHANGING THE TESTING POLICY NEXT YEAR FROM SEVEN TESTS TO FIVE:
"I wasn't aware of that. I haven't had time to think about that. But, the more tests the better. Obviously, with being a rookie and an inexperienced team, I would assume it would make it harder on us."
HOW MANY TIMES DID YOU TEST THIS YEAR?
"Twelve that I was allowed for being a rookie and than another four or five at non-Winston Cup tracks."
ON THE RAYBESTOS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR BATTLE WITH RYAN NEWMAN:
"We've both had incredible seasons and we still don't know who is going to win the Rookie battle. With the way the scoring system work out, the past has shown that whoever has the highest number of Winston Cup points usually ends up with the Rookie of the Year honors. So possibly that will happen. I'm not 100 percent sure. But we've both worked hard and have had great seasons. Regardless of how it turns out, we're very proud of our season."
WOULD YOU BE DISAPPOINTED IF YOU DIDN'T WIN IT?
"Of course you want to win it. That's what you start out the season to do. So, I'd definitely be upset in that respect but we can't complain about the season we've had."