Indianapolis: Friday press conference (part 2)

Continued from part 1 MODERATOR: Thus far this season your team has been consistent at diverse tracks, whether superspeedways, mile tracks, short tracks, it doesn't matter, and despite the conditions you seem to finish consistently. What are...

Continued from part 1

MODERATOR: Thus far this season your team has been consistent at diverse tracks, whether superspeedways, mile tracks, short tracks, it doesn't matter, and despite the conditions you seem to finish consistently. What are you doing to your program so that each week you're pretty much ensured that you're going to have a good finish?

JOHNSON: You know, it's, I think -- I think a lot of that, the changes from the years past and seeing the diversity out of the 48 car has a lot to do with me getting more experience on the smaller tracks and also restrictor-plate races and really at all the tracks in general. I've been fast at tracks with a lot of banking and grip where you can drive aggressive. Over time with more and more experience I think I've been able to understand what I need to do in the car to be faster everywhere. I think our foundation has always been there. You look at Jeff's success, it doesn't matter if it's a road course, superspeedway, Martinsville, Bristol, here. Wherever it is, he's always fast. I think it just takes a little bit of time to hit the rhythm for all the tracks. Now year three, more experience, more time, I've seen the tracks six, seven times now, it's made a big difference.

Q: Jimmie, former winners here, Dale Jarrett and even Kevin Harvick today are talking about the two Hendrick cars have got everybody covered so much, especially if you can't translate a lot of Pocono to here. Do you and Jeff go in feeling like the clear favorites in this race, the guys to beat? And do you feel you have a psyche advantage over the rest of the guys going in?

MODERATOR: The question is former winners here have said that the two Hendrick cars, yourself and Jeff, are the teams to beat. Do you feel like coming into Sunday's race you have a psychological advantage but also your car is just a better car, do you feel like that?

JOHNSON: We definitely come in high and confident, especially the 48 team after the performance at Pocono. But I think between the 24 and the 48, we have seen our success on the track, and from our team we've noticed that we maybe do have a small advantage mentally on the competition. That's very tough to do, and in most cases it's usually short-lived. So we're hoping we can keep that. The sport is too aggressive and too much changes in a short period of time. In the beginning of the year, I think the 9 car probably had everybody mentally, had an advantage on everyone mentally. You have a new driver on the car, he's knocking down seconds left and right and that was the car we had our eyes on. We've hit our stride, and hopefully we can hang on to it and have a final 10 and get it when it's really important.

Q: Jimmie, I'm sure you've been asked this question a few times, with the points, Jeremy was in here earlier, he's very happy about the system.

MODERATOR: The question is regarding with the new point system, come September after Richmond, obviously the situation is going to change dramatically, whereas with Jeremy it would benefit him and with you it still may or it may not.

JOHNSON: Yeah, I've been pretty vocal about it before the season, throughout the season, especially now I have the points lead. But we are in a great position, and even if it was the old rule system, there's still a lot of racing to be done. In some ways people have given us a lot of credit and say we'll be the champion. But there's a lot of racing left. So with that in mind, looking at the point system, there's a lot of racing left until that final 10, and there's a lot of teams excited about this new point system. For me it's not -- when I watch all the broadcasts now, everything is for the drivers from eighth to 15th. And in any form of sports, I don't think you look at the eighth-place team in NFL and wonder is he going to win the Super Bowl this year or the 15th-place team. So it's something different for me, and I'm not a fan of. It's created a lot of excitement for the fans and lots to talk about. So there are people in favor of it; but for myself, to win a championship in this sport is very tough to do. In the past it was something that was always done over the course of 36 or whatever the number was over the past years, and that's what I've always been a fan of and still am. Then my points situation definitely makes that even more concrete. So to make a long story short, it's what it is, and I've got to race and try to win the championship just like all the other competitors do regardless of the point system and, you know, if it turns out that we don't have our best 10 at the end of the year and we're not the champions, you have a lot to write about.

Q: Jimmie, would you tell us about your relationship with (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and your relationship and communication and all that that's led to the success?

MODERATOR: The question is, will you comment on your relationship with Chad and that's led to your success so far.

JOHNSON: I think communications and chemistry on a race team is everything. You have a lot of relationships in this garage area. If you counted them all up, you could take the top 20 cars and look at four car owners possibly and that would be the top 20 teams. What makes the teams different, what separates team to team, I personally think it's communication, and it's, you know, it's within the team and how the guys communicate, that connection that you have to do that. Chad and I have been able to really see each other eye to eye. I believe in him; he believes in me. Today he sent me out with a whole new package that he wasn't sure it was going to work entirely like he had dreamed of and was very -- thanked me for believing in him and just giving something off the wall a shot today. You've got to have that confidence in one another, and the communication is everything. It's so cool that I can describe what I feel. I don't have to worry about what he's put being in around me because I believe in him. I just describe what I'm feeling, where I need some help, where the car may not be right and he can visualize what I'm saying and fix it. It's really an amazing deal.

Q: Jimmie, you talk about going on 40th tomorrow, do you worry about being set back by luck of the draw, a place that typically changes as the day gets hotter?

JOHNSON: Yeah, it's definitely going to hurt us. You know, you roll the dice like that. I think the Lowe's Motor Speedway earlier this year, it's another track that's sensitive to the sun, we drew dead last, and it worked in our favor. Here we're going out near last, and it's the opposite because we're starting qualifying first thing in the morning. So sometimes they work for you, sometimes they don't. I wish I had an early draw, but I can't do anything about that. We just worked on getting our car to drive good today in the hot weather so that we can hopefully be in the top 10. Tomorrow our goal is it to be in the top 10 to get a good pit stall down towards Turn 1.

MODERATOR: The question is have you gotten much feedback from your fellow drivers about the fine handed down this week?

JOHNSON: Haven't had a chance to run into everybody yet; a few walking through the garage. I think there's been some chuckling about it and laughing about it. But, you know, it is what it is. I was trying to defend my sponsor and do what I could there. NASCAR had to do what they had to do to honor relationships that they have with people that sponsor them. So I guess we're all doing our job to look good for our sponsors and it's given us something to talk about.

Q: Have you and Ed Scheul talked about a strong chance for you getting in Victory Lane again Sunday, and have you and Ed talked about any sort of strategy?

MODERATOR: The question is have you talked to Ed Scheul, I'm assuming he's from Gatorade, about your Victory Lane plan if you visit Victory Lane on Sunday?

JOHNSON: No, absolutely not. I haven't been contacted from any of my sponsors to handle Victory Lane in a certain way. What's taking place has just been something that I've decided on my own to do and what I wanted to do to defend my sponsors and not endorse people that are competitors of my sponsors. So from six months ago until today, I have not received a phone call from anyone at Gatorade saying we would like you to do this or that. They appreciate the fact that I look out for them, but there's no one pushing anywhere to do that stuff.

Q: Is there any chance they would pay the fine for you?

JOHNSON: There's been lots of -- many people have offered to help pay that fine. I might make some money on this. (Laughter)

Q: You talked earlier about possibly having a small advantage over the competition, mental advantage. How do you see that or can you further explain that and maybe I guess talk a little more about how Kasey Kahne's mental advantage played on you guys earlier?

MODERATOR: The question is earlier you mentioned having a small mental advantage over the competition. Can you explain that but then if Kasey has a mental advantage as well?

JOHNSON: It's kind of a hard thing to explain. But I'm trying to think back to maybe past champions or people who have been able to win a lot of races. You look at Ryan Newman last year, maybe when he'd qualify, he hits the track and, OK, here comes the 12 and, boom, he does it. We're qualifying for second. And last year he won eight races, so it's like 'Newman won again.' I think Kasey Kahne led us all to think that at the beginning of the year. The guy couldn't stop finishing second and third and just running incredible. So, you know, I think when you're able to put together a stretch of races like that, competitors know that, they see that; and it's not that they don't expect it, but when it happens, like, OK, there's just a small thing there. I really don't even know how to describe it, but there's something little there. But again it's usually short lived. In our sport, you'll race at Talladega one weekend and be at Martinsville the next weekend, and it takes a totally different package, totally different style of driving to do that. So it usually grounds itself from week to week. We've had a few big tracks that have played into one another here that kind of gives us an upper hand coming here. But once qualifying starts, I usually think that whatever mental advantage that did exist is usually gone unless you backed it up and sat on the pole.

Q: You guys had strong runs the last couple years, have you noticed any perceived advantage different now as opposed to other years or do you kind of get the same sense?

MODERATOR: The question is you've had some strong runs over the last few years. Do you notice a perceived advantage now versus other years?

Q: Is it about the same thing or is it any different?

JOHNSON: I think it's about the same. I think what's different is maybe the duration that we've been able to be on our game as a race team. Where we would hit it every once in a while in the rookie year and last year we had maybe a little longer stretch of it. This year we've been pretty solid from the beginning. So I think that thought, if there is such an advantage does exist maybe, it's been over a longer period of time this year instead of just flashes of it.

Q: Can you recall the story when you were 8 years old going for a motocross championship?

JOHNSON: In my first championship that I won, I broke my knee and had reconstructive knee surgery on my left leg at, of all things, on my eighth birthday. There was I think four or five more races left in the season, and I needed -- the way it worked out after I got home from the doctor's office and everything, there was two races left, and you had a starting point if you started the event. I didn't want to lose my championship, I was upset about that. My dad looked at the points and figured out that if I started the last two events and rode one lap and got the starting point, that I would tie with the other kid in points and then the tie-breaker would then go to the one who won the most races during the season; and I would win it on the tie-breaker. He asked me if I was up for it, and I said absolutely. We went down the street to the local place where we would ride and tried it out one day, built a bracket that held my leg in the cast and everything and let me ride around on the track and figured it out and started the races, the two races. Rode around and did what I needed to do and almost killed my dad from having him chase me around the whole track and won my first championship. I still have that trophy and the pictures.

Q: Jimmie, do you think they can change the schedule? It's essentially a two-day event here, can it be put to better use?

JOHNSON: I think so. I think what changes the schedule here is that only the Cup cars run. If we could bring the Busch cars over and have them run here, also, I think it would be more of a jam-packed day and wouldn't seem to have so many dead spots throughout the weekend. But without any other competitors here, it's tough to stay occupied. We've been sitting around all day doing nothing.

Q: When you look at tomorrow's schedule, I mean 10:10 qualifying and then you've got a 2:00 and 4:00 practice. Wouldn't it make more sense to have a 9:00 practice and 1:00 qualifying and 4:00 practice?

JOHNSON: Yeah, I think so. I think putting everything on one day for qualifying, even if we come in today and did it. The biggest thing I have trouble with is the racetrack sits all night long, and then tomorrow the first guy goes out without any traffic on the track; and the track is dirty, so the first four or five or six guys are track cleaners. Then on top of that you have such a huge advantage from going at 10:00 versus going out, we'll go 41st at noon, 1:00 or whatever that is. Personally, I would like to see it all in one day or in a little different format so that we didn't have that big dead spot from practice to qualifying. Having to go home and go to sleep -- or go to the bus and go to sleep and kind of forget about today and wake up and everything's on the line with one lap, first lap, first time by tomorrow in qualifying. That's pretty tough.

Q: On that same subject Jimmie, even though it might not work for this big a race at this racetrack, might a Saturday/Sunday format for Cup be a good thing as you try to cut away from this grueling schedule for your everyday rank-and-file racer, would you like to see if you're just running Cup, you come in and practice and qualify on Saturday and race on Sunday and that's it, would it help the week for everybody?

JOHNSON: Yeah, I think any day at home would help. The thing that probably a lot of us don't factor in would be the amount of time we're here at the track and the days the track is open. So I think there's some other issues with putting people in the stands and stuff like that that probably keeps that decision from taking place. Here we come to one of the biggest races of the year and have a short schedule and you don't have all the hype and buildup, it probably wouldn't work here. You need to have it drawn out to a point and have a lot of excitement around it because it's the Brickyard. I think they could do it in a better way and even bring the Busch cars over, I think would help us a lot to make the days go by. I'm in favor of any more days home. Even if it's one, it doesn't matter.

Q: Other tracks and/or lesser races?

JOHNSON: Any days home. An extra day home, I wouldn't know what to do with myself. It would be awesome.

Q: Jimmie, can you make a comment on racing a four-time champion and also your car owner for this year's championship?

JOHNSON: I've got a lot of views on it. First of all, it's great for motorsports to have two cars competing for a championship. Rick (Hendrick) would really like to have all four cars competing but to have two this year is a huge accomplishment and says a lot for the organization. You know, another way I look at it is in order to be the best you have to beat the best. So I want to race against these guys and the best in the business. If I am able to win a championship, I want to beat them when they all have a great year and it's a great dogfight to the end. You know, both cars being assembled in the same shop, it's really hard for the 24 to have an advantage on the 48 or vice versa. I mean you have the same guys assembling the cars, open notebook on setup. So it's really tough to find an advantage over the 24 and same for Jeff over me. You look at different situations, and there's some that really equalize us, there's others that are very cool and respectful. I mean, it's just a mixed bag. It's hard to really nail it. But I think at the end of the day I'm happy for Rick to have two cars competing for the championship. If it does come down to it and I have to race my teammate, I think that would be the best situation possible. I know I'm going to be racing with someone that I can trust, be door to door with, and put on a good show and not be in a situation to be wrecked or taken out in order for somebody to win that championship. So we've got a lot of racing to get to that point before that would play out. But if it does get to that scenario, I think it may be a problem, but it's a good one.

MODERATOR: Good luck qualifying tomorrow. Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

-ims-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Jarrett , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , Kasey Kahne