ALLSTATE 400 AT THE BRICKYARD SATELLITE PRESS CONFERENCE Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway JIMMIE JOHNSON Q: You've won the two biggest races this season. Is it only...
ALLSTATE 400 AT THE BRICKYARD SATELLITE PRESS CONFERENCE
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne
Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Q: You've won the two biggest races this season. Is it only fitting that you win the championship, too?
JOHNSON: I think so. I'm not sure anybody else believes that or wants to hear that as far as drivers go, but I'd love to be the champion -- it's been an awesome year.
Q: You've been in the situation before where you've been at or near the top of the points going in. Has your approach changed at all so far and/or will it change throughout the Chase from previous years?
JOHNSON: I think going into it, most drivers have the same idea just getting started to see what happens. You know, every point counts on the racetrack when we're in the car, and you've got to be as aggressive as you can and at the same time not do anything stupid, or try to avoid stupid things from taking place. So, it's just going to be something where we get in there and really work to see where things shake out. I feel that my experience in the Chase the last few years makes me stronger, but I have to say that when I look at favorites, I have to look at past champions. I really think those guys have been in the fire; they know what it's like to win a championship, and they've delivered. So looking at that, Jeff (Gordon) and Matt (Kenseth) would be the favorites going in, and then I'm right up there with them.
Q: There's really not that much disparity coming into the final 10 between first and second place, but if there were, it's all gone with a five-point lead. Should there be more reward and even some recognition for the regular season champ?
JOHNSON: Yeah, without a doubt. I think there needs to be some type of championship awarded to the guy that wins the first 26. I do feel there needs to be a bigger separation in points between each position.
Q: You mentioned in Victory Lane here at Indianapolis your reverence for the "500" and what that means and what this track means. Is there any chance that we'd see you in an open-wheel car here?
JOHNSON: I would love to. My dream before I hang up my helmet is I want to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and I also want to race in the Indy 500. Hopefully I can put that together some day. I don't think we can do it while I'm racing in the Cup Series -- I don't want to take anything away from my Cup effort. If things ever slow down and I can find the time to do it, I'm all over it.
Q: There's a pretty good record of guys winning the Brickyard 400 going on to win the championship. Are you aware of that?
JOHNSON: I am. I just hope I don't mess it up.
Q: You have been at the top of the points going into the playoffs a few times and not won the championship. Has this made you more or less a fan of the points system?
JOHNSON: It doesn't change my opinion of the playoff system. It's changed my opinion of August. I think we've done a better job of producing and getting the right finishes. I don't really have anything against the Chase -- I think it's done a lot for our sport. It really has gotten stick-and-ball sports fans tuning in and watching NASCAR with football starting back up, so it's doing a great job for our sport.
Q: In all the other sports when I talk to athletes they always bring up the playoff intensity -- somehow the intensity goes up during the playoffs. Have you sensed that in the Chase races in years past?
JOHNSON: Without a doubt. As everyone goes on, it gets more and more intense. It's funny to look back on the last couple of years and look at this trip to New York that we're all on. Everybody is all friendly, hanging out and having a great time, but I know in two or three weeks we're all going to hate each other in the sense that we're trying to get every point we can, and the intensity is going to go through the ceiling.
Q: In a race-to-race basis in the playoff system, how much do you and your crew chief and your spotter keep track of the other nine guys in the Chase during the course of a race?
JOHNSON: Yeah, you're really focused on those guys and try to outperform them and find out where they are on the track, so we'll definitely have an eye on everyone.
Q: You made a reference to stick-and-ball sports. So kind of in a similar vein, teammates, so obviously you've got some guys that are competing for the same prize that you are, that are in this Chase for the Championship. I don't want to say team orders of any sort, but how will the teammates work together over these final 10 races?
JOHNSON: That's a good question. I think we're still going to be working as teammates like we always have, but at the same time we've got to do what we can for our race team, and I've got to do everything I can to win a championship for the 48, so the notes will be working and we'll be sharing information, but when we're on the track, you can give an inch -- you've got to race your teammates just as hard as anyone else.
Q: This is only the third year of the Chase for the Championship, and it seems like it's been forever. Can you imagine this battle basically being you and Matt Kenseth being in a command duel if we were under the old system of three years ago?
JOHNSON: Yeah, sometimes I look at that and think what it would be like. We'd be in a pretty comfortable position as far as second or third in points is kind of where we would end up, but it's not that way and Matt's going to be a guy we're going to have to worry about, and it's just not the way it is right now.
Q: There have been so many good moments for you this season; obviously the reason you're close to the top of the points standings. I don't know if you can rank it at this point, but where does your victory at Indianapolis, where do you put that in the things you've accomplished list?
JOHNSON: Well, that's very, very high on the list. It's tough for me to pick between Daytona and Indy, which means more to me. They are both very special for their own reasons. I've always wanted to win the Daytona 500. I've always wanted to win the Indianapolis 500 -- I never thought I would be there in a stock car or dreamed I'd be there in a stock car. With all the troubles I've had there at that racetrack, to come back and win, it meant the world to me. It was such a big struggle to get over and to win that race. It's very, very high on my list. I hope this championship comes and knocks them both down a notch.
Q: I'm curious here about the announcement by Sam Hornish that he's going to go test an ARCA car. We're throwing around the possibility here of crossover in the other direction and whether or not it's possible. In this day and age and in this climate, is it likely that we would ever see a Cup driver go in the other direction and drive an IndyCar?
JOHNSON: I'm not sure. I think that for a driver to leave stock cars and go to IndyCars or IndyCars to go to stock cars, you're going to have to dedicate three or four years to learning the car, learning the tracks, the crew and everything that goes with it, so I really respect any driver that's willing to take that challenge because it's going to take a few years before you get back to the winning ways and back to the things that you're used to. So, I encourage guys like Sam to come along, and I hope that he does and I hope that they come over and give it a shot.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you'd really like to try the "500." Is the time change, the fact that they moved the race up, has that made it that much more almost impossible for Cup guys to do the double?
JOHNSON: Yeah, I think the time change hurts it a lot. Talking to Robby (Gordon) and Tony (Stewart) both, it's just eliminated any opportunity to make it.
Q: What would be the most difficult part of the transition from a stock car to an IndyCar?
JOHNSON: Finding that last half a second. I think it's easy to get close, you can look at a map trace of the computer stuff and see the driver's inputs and all the stuff that goes on, but to find that last little bit, to feel it in your seat and get used to the race car, that's the part that's hard to get.