Indianapolis: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed kissing the bricks at Indy, 'Boys Have at It', racing in hot weather, aggressive driving, and more. Q. Your thoughts on coming back here to race at Indy? JIMMIE JOHNSON:...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed kissing the bricks at Indy, 'Boys Have at It', racing in hot weather, aggressive driving, and more.

Q. Your thoughts on coming back here to race at Indy?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, definitely excited. This track has been feast or famine for us, so I'm glad the last few years have turned out how they have. And I think this weekend's going to be challenging from the heat of what the driver's going to experience, and the same thing with the cars and the set up.

Then when you get on the track and into the race, track position is even more important today than it's ever been. We're at a track that is really tough to pass at. So I think the race weekend really starts today and making sure that you have a good qualifying effort for tomorrow morning.

First step really, I guess, would be getting a good draw, an early draw. Then you have to bust that lap off tomorrow morning and make sure you have a good starting position. I started 16th last year, and it took me forever to get to the front. I had a great car, I just couldn't pass people. It was really tough.

Q. Is there an instance when a win should be taken away from a driver?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think with where we're at now, no, not that I'm aware of. There could have been some races taken away. I'm not sure. Since I've been racing, I haven't seen a win taken away. We need to build a consistent platform there.

When you start docking points and taking things away, it really sends a message. I've been there with crew chief being taken away and points taken away, and the race you won disappears in your mind, and you're more worried about the damage through fines and penalties than anything else.

Q. Annually this is a pivotal race for the chase. Is that something you guys pay close attention to? Does that add to the drama of what's in the car?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: For us the track is so different than anywhere else we race. We come here thinking that this is one of the top two or three races we want to win each year. The prestige of the event, it far outweighs points.

Where we are in the points right now, we're pretty comfortable in looking good so we can have that mindset. We've been here other years where we weren't as strong in the points and needed a good run in the summer to get things situated for the Chase. But where we are right now, we're getting comfortable and looking for a home run.

Q. Most traditions start by accident. Kissing the bricks here, Todd Jarrett started it. Is that now part of the lore that you get to do that when you win it?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: From the three experiences I've had, Victory Lane is a lot of fun. But you can't wait to get out to that yard of bricks and kiss it. I don't know why it didn't happen sooner.

It's so cool to be out there on the front stretch and experience that. And Todd Barrett had one heck of an idea to do the guys out there to do it.

The other thing I enjoy is when you win, they throw you in the pace car and you take a lap around the speedway. It really helps you stop for a minute and enjoy what you've accomplished. Most events as soon as you win, you're out of the car and you're off talking about it. You don't have a chance to let it soak in and make that parade lap around the track is really cool.

I've had my crew guys jump on the vet with us going around. Just to have that few minutes with Rick, and my wife's been there, and the crew guys, nothing going on but enjoying it is really cool.

Q. Since you're a multiple winner, what is the tendency here?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: The track is very line specific and very technique specific from the driver standpoint. Most tracks we have a lot of room. If you miss your marks a little bit you can go up the racetrack and find a way to carry momentum and keep going here. And it is a very small window and very small margin for error to get it right.

We see a lot of guys get on the outside fence. It's just because they made a bad decision at the start of the turn. What happens at the start of the turn determines your arc and where you'll end up on the corner exit.

So it's a demanding track mentally for the drivers to get it right each corner. You think it looks similar and all corners would drive the same or one half would drive similar to the other half. That's not the case. All four corners take a little different technique.

Q. There seems to be some people who are more willing to push the line on whatever boys have at it line is. Do you think that those who may be unwilling to go that far may have some disadvantage? Do you think some people are maybe looking a little more do you have to be wary of people looking for short term results rather than the big picture like a guy who is running in the thick of the championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know. I get lost in my thoughts on this. But of late I have felt that if you're mad enough, it doesn't matter what NASCAR's judgment's going to be and what the fines are going to be or if they approve of it or not. You're going to take actions in your own hands.

I think as things have progressed with the 99 and the 12, it's gotten to the point where Carl's like the hell with it. I'm not letting it happen. So I think those two know what's really going on. We're all watching from afar.

I think if NASCAR was still as strict this year and didn't make the statements at the start of the year, we'd see those two in this position. There's more to it than NASCAR saying go ahead, guys. You can say a few extra things and rough house a little bit. That didn't provoke all of this.

In one light I think these big flare ups will happen regardless of what the sanctioning body does. When guys get mad enough, they have it happen. I think more the casual stuff with Joey Logano's comments, shoving people around a little bit, that is a result to them letting the reins loose and letting us at it. But those big moments will always be there.

Q. You seemed a little shocked afterwards with the supposition that perhaps Kurt Busch had hit you intentionally, and at the time you said this is something I never would have thought that given your history. Did you ever talk to him about that afterwards? Do you think now that he did that and did your opinion change of him?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, we haven't talked about it. I think the way that it finished up, there wasn't much talk about it. I got to him and was able to get by and win the race. If I would have lost the win from it, it would have changed my perspective dramatically.

But definitely with the 2 car in the future, I will be prepared for that. I didn't expect it from him. We've raced against each other a lot. Never had the bump and run. I guess we haven't been in a position late in the race like that to have him put the bump and run on me.

But you just file those things away and you have to remember when you're in that situation, how did that guy race me? Because in a sense he started it, in a sense he opened the door for this and you race that way. It's just kind of the way it's always worked.

Q. How do you make something like that go away? Do you sit and talk about it later, or is it just too much rough racing that you think it's unfair?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, there's a great story we're all aware of between Earnhardt and Bodine where it got to a certain point and Bill France said you're not messing with my sport anymore. You're not going to make us look like fools. And I guess things can go that far and be that extreme. I'm not sure if it's to that point, and if Brian would handle it the same way. But in the past we've seen that with Earnhardt.

So I think that it's in everyone's best interest to move on and to stop dealing with it. They're tired of talking about it. They're tired of dealing with it. It's in their minds all the time, and they need to be focusing on the cars and the racing for the championships for both of them.

I think they both want it behind them. In the time you make that split second decision to to do something in the car, you don't realize. I think it took Stewart, what, ten years to figure it out? You have to deal with it for months. Now Stewart's in a position where he's like the hell with it. I'm not going to do that stuff anymore.

Q. You've raced on hot tracks in various parts of the series. But what does heat do to this track?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Heat just takes speed out of the racetrack here. It does change the balance some, but it's amazing that when the track is cool, like Saturday morning for qualifying, you'll run around and feel like you ran a decent lap and you'll hear such a faster lap time as a result of it.

It doesn't change the balance. It just builds a lot of speed into the car. We call it free speed. All of a sudden you're a second faster. The day before you're fighting for a tenth of a second, taking a huge risk to get a tenth, and you easily go out to pick up a second. So it's kind of a weird situation like that.

Q. Does this year's spoiler mean more drafting and more interesting things in the turns or is it different?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's going to punch a bigger hole in the air. Down the straightaway, the opportunity to suck up and use the draft is better. It's a better chance of that. But at the same time when you get to the turn, there is a larger hole of air and the car behind you is going to have a less stable environment than what we have with the wing.

It will be interesting to see. Maybe there is a big enough hole being punched that on the straightaways you can get a huge hole behind the guy and make a path which would be exciting.

Q. What about three in a row?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Three in a row will be awesome. I forgot about it until we got here. I've been so busy the last few weeks with the baby and everything and Chani. It's exciting to be back.

In my career I always hoped to be here. In IndyCar growing up in Southern California to come back in a stock car to win, I'm looking forward to another shot at it.

Q. Do you always somehow finish strongly and have a chance? Is it kind of an omen about this race?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: When you win a race here, you've earned it. The Daytona 500 is an amazing event. But there are circumstances out of the team and driver's control that can lead to you winning the race. Somebody giving you a push or not pushing you in a certain situation. Here that doesn't take place.

If you win this race, you've earned every inch of it for 400 miles and put yourself in a position to win.

Q. Jeff Gordon said if they win this race, despite not having won this year, that he'll be considered the favorite in the championship. Your thoughts?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We'll have to see. There is no telling. Jeff has shown all year long that those guys have been able to collect points ask get on a roll and be consistent. This race does send a big message within the industry.

I think that his consistent finishes, in my opinion, show more of his ability to win the championship than just a single race win.

Q. When you look at this race over the year, very few drivers win multiple times. What is it how you, how Tony, how Jeff were able to win it multiple times?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, it's so tough to win here. I think experience really helps in the long run. You understand how important each lap is at the start of the weekend. You show up focused and ready on your qualifying practice, so that for qualifying you can start as close to the front as possible. I think that's really, really important here. Then the experience during the race. Knowing how to pass cars and set your car up to run in traffic. That is a very narrow racing lane all the way around the racetrack for us. Experience makes a big difference. I think that's why you see so many repeat winners here.

Q. (Indiscernible)?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, now that we've won three of these things, it became much more apparent to me when I was out here for the winner's circle appearance. I was here with Rick Mears and able to look at the Warner Trophy with his four faces on it. The fact that he had won the 500 four times. Looking at our trophy with my face on it three times, that's really cool.

This track means a lot to Motorsports in general. Doesn't matter what form of racing you came from. To win here is very, very special to me, and I hope to win again.

Q. What is your take on the speculation of Mark Martin and what his future will be?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not up to speed on the speculation. What is the speculation?

Q. People wondering what is his role going to be next year with the team?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm not in tune with the speculation.

Q. What are your thoughts?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I know that we're in a tough situation because we have Mark Martin who brings so much to the table and we've all really, really enjoyed working with. He's made Hendrick Motorsports than it was when he started there. We have Mark, and we know Kasey will do an amazing job when he comes in. We've been so focused on our own race teams and really don't want to get in the middle of that.

It's a tough decision. Mark has to deal with it, and then Kasey, and Rick makes all the decisions. As far as I know, Mark's in the car next year. That's all we've been told. We'll see what develops over the year.

Q. You guys have the week off before you come here. You've all been so solid here three of the last four years. Is there a special effort that you guys put into this? Do you feel this is where you start gearing for the Chase and that's why you've been so strong?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me here, we did so much wrong early. It was just eliminating all those approaches and finally figuring out the right approach for the track. It is such a sensitive track. Driver technique, set up, I can impact the set up of the handling of the car more than anything.

It took me a while to figure out how to drive this racetrack. Once I did, the light went off in my head and I was like, man, I've been doing this so wrong for so long. Now I've caught up and understand the rhythm of it.

Q. What were you doing wrong?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: With these flat corners and tight corners, it's easy to overdrive the entry, and I knew that. In the back of my mind, I thought I was driving the entry correct. But I knew I was still driving too deep and trying to use too much brake. That's for turns 1 and 3.

For 2 and 4 is the opposite. You have to attack those corners because it leads you to the long straightaways and that's where your time's made. So I was kind of attacking 1 and 3, and easing through 2 and 4. Now I've switched it around where it's easing into 1 and 3 and attacking 2 and 4.

Q. Talk about Jeff Burton and those other drivers. The drivers have to be more aggressive today. You run up front and win the races than they did ten years ago. Do you agree with that and why?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just in the nine years that I've been in the sport. When I started off, a lot more give and take. At the end of the race it seemed to be a clear favorite who could work his way through. Now you have so many cars that are equal, you fight for every inch on every run.

There are still a couple guys that will work with you on the first half, two thirds of the race, but the majority of the field it doesn't matter if it's lap 1 or lap 400 of the track, they'll race you like it's the last lap every time. That environment has changed and I've seen it firsthand.

Q. Now that you have the road course win under your belt, does that make you look forward to Watkins Glen more? Tell me about the differences between the two tracks?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: The Glen's been the better of the two tracks for me. So I feel real good about going back there. Two totally different types of road course racing for our cars. The Glen is much more of a flowing track, a lot higher speeds. Where Sonoma's very technical.

I hope that I learned enough, and I certainly have more confidence after winning the race and running so well all day long that mentally I know what sensations I need in the car. I know what I need to feel on the brake pedal, braking zones, on throttle. So I feel good about going back.

Q. Denny's won five races this year, career high. What are they doing different or better this season? What is it you think about his driving?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I just think his team's maturing. It takes a while for all the pieces to fit together. They've always had speed and been able to win races. I mentioned it before it's going to take time for those guys to gel and win a championship. Each year they get stronger and stronger, and it this could be their year. You never know.

I don't see one big thing, you I just see a mature setting within the whole group.

Q. What about his racing style?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: He knows how to race these long races. He pushes when it's time. He's smart when it's time. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He understands the big picture. He's a guy that's going to last a long time in the sport.

Q. Do you see any scenario where you might ever be here?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I've been trying hard for years. There are a few hurdles to get over on. The most recent hurdle is the fact that I'm a father now. My wife said you can only race the 500 if we don't have a kid. I still have to win mom over and see what we can do. But there is the scheduling and manufacturing issue. And even if the sponsor and team would allow me to do it, you take a big risk of getting injured and take a lot away from an important race we have on our schedule.

But I'm all for it. If there's a $20 million purse or no purse, if I had to spend a million dollars to do it, I'd come and do it. I love the race and want to be a part of it.

Q. Flash ahead to next week as you go back to Pocono. What are you expecting? The same kind of race it was in the spring or can you even think about that now?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it will be very similar. The way the heat has been kicking, I think the track will be a lot slicker. I think it can be a physically demanding track and race for the drivers.

But it's kind of the same thing. It's so close that from the spring in the fall race, we don't learn a lot. We don't come back with an entirely new set up. There will be some small things, but it's not like Martinsville or some of the other tracks where you hit Atlanta where it's so early and so late.

Q. Are you surprised Harvick (Indiscernible)?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I do. Those guys have been very strong all year long. I'm not surprised. I would say after maybe the first quarter of the season they've been able to run fast at some races, but you get to some of their bad tracks and they fall off. We got to some of their bad tracks and they were still producing. Okay, they've got this stuff ironed out.

Kevin's got plenty of talent. They're strong. They've got the whole thing together, and it's really showing this year. They've won here as well.

Q. Who is the better team? You guys have won five races, Denny's won five races. Kevin's leading the points. When you sit back and look at it, obviously you've got to like your chances, but those guys are every bit as good as we are. Are you guys waiting to turn it on?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, we're not waiting to turn it on. When we've been on a roll and we go into the media center and see everybody, you don't realize how hard it is. And you guys roll your eyes and say, oh, yeah, sure. We're serious.

It's such a fragile environment and so tough to win. With the rules being as close as they are, you might have an advantage, but it's only going to last a month at the most. And everybody in the garage has it, and you're off trying to find the new thing again.

I see a lot of parity in the sport. I feel with Rick's vision and how he runs his racing operation, that I'm really on board with Hendrick Motorsports and think that over the long haul it's the place to be to win races and championships.

I don't say that to be disrespectful to either organization, but I'm very happy to be where I'm at, and I certainly have respect for the other organizations too.

Q. The track ticket sales are going to be soft for Sunday. I think everybody understands what race fans are going through economy wise. I think everybody understands the tire problems a couple years ago may have turned some people off. But does this still feel like a huge event in your experience?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, without a doubt. This is the Brickyard. It's a huge event for us. I feel that the racing that has been taking place this year has been very, very entertaining and exciting.

And for a while I've been saying enough with trying to make adjustments in the garage area. You know, new car, new rule, new this, new that. Drivers have at it. We're tapped out. We've been doing all we can and we're putting on great races.

There are other elements from track promoters, track marketing, even NASCAR and their marketing program and promoting events that we could start looking at now and saying, okay, now it's your turn to make it more known and more appealing. As you get down to the number one complaint from fans attending races is the expense to get a hotel room. Is there something we can do there to help out?

So there are other factors involved. The product on the racetrack is awesome, and we should be very proud of that.

Q. Talk about the car changes that might be better?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It punches a big hole in the air. So on the straightaway it's going to help us stay together, but we get in the flat turns and it will hurt the performance of the car. So I don't know until we get out there what's going to happen. I would assume the aero push will be a little stronger because it's so flat here.

-source: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Kurt Busch , Rick Mears , Joey Logano , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports