Johnson wants to get back to top 10 finishes; believes Brickyard could be the answer INDIANAPOLIS (July 30, 2003) - You would think posting the fastest overall time for the 2003 Indianapolis Motor Speedway test sessions would put Team Lowe's ...
Johnson wants to get back to top 10 finishes; believes Brickyard could be the answer
INDIANAPOLIS (July 30, 2003) - You would think posting the fastest overall time for the 2003 Indianapolis Motor Speedway test sessions would put Team Lowe's Racing in a comfort zone heading into this weekend's race at the famed "Brickyard." Well, think again. Last season Team Lowe's had a similarly strong test session and believed they would be one of the race cars to beat. But during qualifying, Team Lowe's ended up taking a provisional just to make the race. Fortunately for the team, driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus were able to formulate a strong game plan, while the Lowe's crew worked extremely hard to prepare the Lowe's Chevy for the race. The end result was a 9th-place finish for Johnson in his first-ever race at IMS.
This season, Team Lowe's is determined to unload strong and be more prepared for the ups and downs that the sensitive track offers in hopes of competing for the win from the moment the green flag drops on Sunday's Brickyard 400.
Jimmie Johnson quotes
Do you agree with some people who say that 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."
When you go to the Brickyard and Daytona, do you get the feeling that you're on hallowed ground, like golfers when they play the Masters?
"I've heard of drivers mentioning those experiences, but I personally haven't walked into Indy 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."
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, it's packed with people and looks like a tunnel when you walk out onto pit road. Plus, 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."
How difficult is it to drive Indy and how difficult is it to set up the race car?
"It's one of the more sensitive race tracks we run at. Everybody knows how temperature-sensitive Lowe's Motor Speedway is, along with Darlington and Rockingham. For a big race track, Indy is one of the most sensitive places we run on. 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, flat and difficult to pass on. Last year, we started 37th and ended up finishing ninth, so I'm really excited to go back."
Does it take pure horsepower or just handling characteristics of the car to get around another driver?
"Horsepower never hurts with the straightaways 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?
"Every where we're going now where you hear about safety improvements and especially the soft walls that are coming in. 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 is 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 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?
"During 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 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 a track like the Brickyard or Daytona 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 my career and the top thing on my resume. 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."