Jimmie Johnson Teleconference Transcript Tuesday, July 29, 2003 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor ...
Jimmie Johnson Teleconference Transcript
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Johnson currently sits in fourth place in the NASCAR Winston Cup points standings (430 points behind the leader) following his 15th-place finish in last week's event in Pocono Raceway. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 53 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta.
Johnson has competed in just one race at Indy, finishing ninth in this race one year ago. He has never led at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
NEXT TO THE DAYTONA 500 AND THE BRICKYARD 400, WHAT RACES REALLY EXCITE YOU? "I guess it depends on the reasons you're looking at. If you look at popularity and prestige in the NASCAR world, it would be Daytona and the Brickyard. If you look at money-related events, you would think of The Winston. The Brickyard probably pays close to the same, as does Daytona. From a driver's standpoint or from my standpoint in difficulty to drive, I would look at Lowe's Motor Speedway and Martinsville and Darlington. It just depends on the angle you're looking at. It seems that money and prestige drives the ranking among most people."
WHEN YOU GO TO THE BRICKYARD AND DAYTONA, DO YOU GET THE FEELING THAT YOU'RE ON HALLOWED GROUND LIKE GOLFERS DO WHEN THEY'RE AT THE MASTERS? "I've heard of drivers mentioning those experiences, but I personally haven't walked into Daytona and felt that. I guess I did at Daytona, at my very first time going to the race track three or four years before I ever raced on it. When I went to the Brickyard, I did not have that experience. But when you accomplish what you're there for, or when you win or run very well or you come close or you win a pole, I think those experiences then show up."
WHY DO DRIVERS GET EXCITED ABOUT DARLINGTON? "It's such a difficult race track to drive. Every lap you complete - especially every competitive lap - you're so happy that you didn't hit anything and that you still have your race car underneath you and you're pointed in the right direction. It's very rewarding from a driver's standpoint to accomplish a fast, competitive lap there."
IF THERE IS A HOME TRACK FOR NASCAR, IT SEEMS TO BE LOWE'S MOTOR SPEEDWAY. WHAT'S THE THRILL ABOUT LOWE'S? "Again, it's one of the most difficult tracks we run on. The surface is very abrasive. The track is very rough and difficult to drive. And it's real fast. From a driver's standpoint, it's probably one of the more difficult tracks we run on."
AT INDY, DO YOU PAY ATTENTION TO THE CROWD - ESPECIALLY DURING DRIVER INTRODUCTIONS AND OPENING CEREMONIES? "One of the most unique things about Indy is the front straightaway. When you walk out race morning and it's packed with people and it looks like a tunnel when you walk out onto pit road, and every time you come out of Turn 4 and you look down that long straightaway it's pretty amazing to see all those people sitting there."
TELL US ABOUT INDY AND HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO DRIVE THE TRACK AND HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO SET UP THE CAR "It's one of the more sensitive race tracks we run at. Everybody knows how temperature-sensitive Lowe's Motor Speedway is and Darlington and Rockingham. For a big race track, Indy is one of the most sensitive places we run on. So it's very challenging to set the car up and get the balance right for either qualifying or the race. But then when you get into the race, the track is narrow and it's very flat and it's difficult to pass. Last year, we started 37th and ended up finishing seventh. So, I'm really excited to go back. I think I've found some ways to make passes. But it's a very difficult track to pass on in our race cars."
DOES IT TAKE PURE HORSEPOWER OR JUST HANDLING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CAR TO GET AROUND ANOTHER DRIVER? "Horsepower never hurts with the straight-aways being that long. It's so difficult to keep control of your car when you're behind somebody if you don't have the right handling package because when the air is taken away or disturbed in front of you, the balance of your car goes away so bad that if you get off the corner 10 mph slower than the guy in front of you and you've got 20 more horsepower, you're not going to pass him. So it really does take a blend of things to make it all work."
ARE YOU HAPPY TO BE RACING AT A PLACE WITH SAFE WALLS INSTEAD OF HITTING JUST BARE CONCRETE? "Every where we're going now where you hear about safety improvements and especially the soft walls that are coming in, the drivers are excited. To be honest with you, I tested there a couple of weeks ago and I didn't even realize that there were safe walls there. I spun out in Turn 1 and almost hit one and it didn't even cross my mind that there might have been a safe wall there. We're just used to running on the race track. Hitting the wall it part of it, but I'm very excited to know that Indy is the first one to take these steps and that there are some other ones coming along behind it."
HOW MUCH DOES A GOOD TEST SESSION MEAN WHEN IT COMES TO THE RACE ITSELF? "It means that we go in there excited about coming back. We did post a real good qualifying lap. But as far as what I felt in the race car, I'm not too sure how qualifying is going to work out. But the way our race run stuff went, I'm very excited to go back for the race. I think we're going to be in great shape."
WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT YOU'RE NOT SURE ABOUT QUALIFYING? "Our qualifying lap was a good lap and a fast speed. But it's just a feeling thing when you know there's a good lap underneath you. I posted a great lap time, but I thought there was some more out there."
WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT LAST YEAR'S RACE? "How difficult it was to pass. The track is so flat and so temperature-sensitive, it's very challenging to run on and try to make passes."
HOW DID THAT AFFECT THE WAY YOU AND CHAD KNAUS WORKED ON MAKING ADJUSTMENTS? "In the race, I just verbalize what I'm feeling. But the thing that was surprising was how loose you had to get the race car so that you could run in traffic. But then when you'd get some clean air the car was so loose that the guys behind you were all over your bumper cover trying to get back by you. Qualifying is going to be really important - probably more so than anywhere we run. Track position is important too. We keep hearing about track position and qualifying and how important they are and Indy is probably one of the bigger places where that's really going to come into play."
RICKY RUDD SAID THAT AT THE END OF HIS CAREER, HE WOULD BE FOREVER REMEMBERED AS A WINNER OF THE BRICKYARD 400. WHAT DO YOU THINK A WIN AT DAYTONA OR THE BRICKYARD WOULD DO TO YOUR CAREER? "Obviously, if you're able to win those races that are so popular to our sport and to the fans, you'll be forever remembered like Ricky mentioned. It's something that your sponsors and your race teams look at. I haven't been in that situation. It would be incredible. Obviously, to do that would be the highlight your career and the top thing on your resume that everyone would look at if you were looking for a new job in racing. That is something that is so big. It's something that Lowe's would be so honored to have. I can only imagine what they would do with it and how they would blow it up in the stores."
WHEN JEFF GORDON WON THE COKE 600, HE WENT FROM A YOUNG MAN TO A STAR IN ONE NIGHT "That's kind of the same mindset that I have. Daytona and Indy are huge races, but 600 miles at Lowe's Motor Speedway is a lot of work. Those races like Martinsville and Darlington from a driver's standpoint are the most difficult ones. Last year, after I had so much difficulty at Martinsville and Rockingham and Darlington, I thought they were the places I want to win at from my own personal challenge and where I'll feel the most satisfied because they're so tough."
ON RYAN NEWMAN'S STRENGTHS AND HOW ERRATIC HIS SEASON HAS BEEN THUS FAR "Strengths? He's got them in every department. The consistency hasn't been there for him. But when you look at his wrecks and his blown motors, it hasn't been his fault. It's not like he's taken unneeded risks or has been out of control. It's just been bad luck for him. He's been amazing. Those guys are always strong on Fridays and are always somewhere in the top five on Sundays. When you put yourself in that position, you're going to win races. I think they've been doing an awesome job. Ryan can't be rattled when he's in the race car and somebody's on his bumper. He doesn't give in to that pressure."
HOW MUCH OF AN ADVANTAGE IS IT THAT BOTH RYAN NEWMAN AND HIS CREW CHIEF MATT BORLAND ARE BOTH ENGINEERS? "It's got to help. I'm not in that position. The further involved I get, I know that there is so much stuff going on that it's not like when I ran in ASA or in Busch where you just changed a spring and it should help the handling. There are so many things that are looked at from mechanical grip to aero attitude. That engineering brain and engineering has to help in some way. For me, I'd get myself in trouble the more involved I get. So I work hard on my communication skills and work hard on making sure that I explain exactly what I feel in the race car and verbalize that to Chad (Knaus). Everybody is different."
DOES THAT STILL WORK AND DO YOU THINK THE DRIVER CAN BE THE END-ALL CREW CHIEF BEHIND THE WHEEL LIKE RUSTY WALLACE HAS DONE FOR SO MANY YEARS? "It's got to be tough to do it. He runs Penske South, he drives the race car, and he's got a lot on his plate. That's tough. It's a lot of work for somebody to do. Personally, I like the situation where I am. All I've got to do is worry about communicating what the car is doing. I just don't have enough experience. There are other guys out there that have that same situation. Rusty is very competitive and leads a lot of laps doing it the way he's doing."
DO YOU AGREE WITH SOME PEOPLE WHO SAY THE POINTS RACE IS OVER? "No, not yet. But it's definitely Matt's (Kenseth) championship to lose. He's been so strong. Just when you think you've got them down, they somehow rally back and get themselves another top finish. I don't think it's over, but it's his championship to lose."