Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media and discussed racing at Indianapolis, the prestige of this race compared to the Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, this morning's practice, the Chase, the...
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS, met with members of the media and discussed racing at Indianapolis, the prestige of this race compared to the Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, this morning's practice, the Chase, the disagreement between Tony Stewart and Hamlin and changes to his team next year.
YOU WERE ALREADY ON A ROLL LAST YEAR WHEN YOU GOT HERE. WHEN YOU WON THAT, WHAT DID THAT DO FOR YOUR MOMENTUM FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR? "I think it really put a lot of confidence in the team to come to a track that has been one of our toughest, if not the worst and come through that and win, really did a lot for the team in boosting out confidence and boosting the momentum that was there and carrying us on. We got into the Chase now, got off to a slow start, I keep forgetting that part of it but I keep remembering the five second-place finishes that we had, just chugging along and doing a great job."
HOW SPECIAL IS IT FOR YOU TO COME IN HERE AS THE DEFENDING CHAMPION? "It is such a neat situation to be in, to show up at the track as one, the series champion and two, the champion in this event. I have pulled into this facility the last five years nervous and worried about what was going to happen and to come back this time with a smile on my face, like we really have a shot to win and knowing that we are going to be committed is a great feeling."
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT WHEN YOU WERE HERE LAST YEAR, WHAT KIND OF A ROLE DID THAT PLAY IN GETTING YOU GUYS OVER THE BIG HUMP AT THE END OF THE YEAR? "It was certainly a step along the way. I don't think that this race would have. that it made our championship season come together, nor, if we didn't win, would it keep us from winning a championship. But it did work in a positive way for us. It did help out. It did help build momentum for us moving forward. Now if this track was like, one of the short tracks or one of the mile and a half ovals that we run on, what you learn here could carry over. But with this being such a unique track, nothing really carries over from here to Kansas or to Texas or any of that stuff. It is really tough to say that what we learned here carried over, but the mental side of it and beating a track that has beaten us for so many years really helped."
SO IS THIS REALLY JUST A PRESTIGE TRACK, TO JUST WIN IT? "Yeah, absolutely. Winning this race can make a drivers career, without a doubt. We have seen it through Nextel Cup. We have seen it in IndyCar as well. I mean, if you win at this facility, you have done something that very few men have done,"
DOES THE WINNER SUNDAY LEAVE HERE AS THE FAVORITE TO WIN THE CHAMPIOSNSHIP? "It depends if I win. Then I will have a different opinion. I don't know, it would be hard, based on the statistics to not favor that person. The stats usually ring true, but you know, there are exceptions to it and we have seen that. I think that it is even harder now, with the Chase format for that statistic to stay true. These final 10 races with the re-racking and the seeding process, it has the possibility to really change the outcome."
YOU MENTIONED THE DIFICULTY HERE. WITHOUT GETTING TO TECHNICAL, WHY IS THIS PLACE SO HARD? "There is really one lane and with the track being as flat as it is and being stuck in traffic, you don't have an option, you don't have a lane to go outside of someone or move around and find any extra grip so you are really stuck and you have got to be considerably faster to get through that arrow push that the cars have, to make positions, to make passes. It is just a really tough track to race on."
IN REGARDS TO THE DAYTONA 500 AND BRICKYARD.ARE THEY APPLES AND ORANGES OR ARE THEY COMPARABLE IN TERMS OF PRESTIGE? "They are comparable. They are not totally different. I am asked the question often and it is so hard to answer it because they both have a certain feeling that just kind of fulfills inside of me. I can say that my little trophy case, and the way that things line up, I have my Nextel Cup championship trophy as the centerpiece and then on either side of it is the Daytona 500 trophy and the Brickyard trophy. They are very, very similar and I think for the history of our sport, Daytona has a little bit more to it, but Indy is right there, is not on par with it."
WHERE? ON THE RIGHT OR LEFT SIDE? (HA-HA) "Brickyard is left and the Daytona trophy is right."
DID THIS VICTORY LAST YEAR, KIND OF PUT YOU OVER THE TOP, IN A SENSE? "It didn't put us over the top. It helped, but we. it is a big race and a unique track and it certainly did help us but I don't think that winning or not winning that race would have changed the outcome, would have changed our approach to the Chase, would have changed the fortune and misfortune that we had in the Chase. You can use the momentum in different ways, and this momentum did help us. In the past, it hurt, but it still didn't keep us from being competitive in the Chase. It is just a great shot in the arm if you are able to do it."
YOU HAD BEEN CHASING IT FOR SO LONG. "Yeah, well that part helped the team keep the thirst for the championship and showed us that we could overcome things and getting started in the Chase, we had such a rough start. Maybe the experience here prepared us or helped us in a small way for the start of the Chase. To try to look at how momentum benefited us that would probably be that way I would reference it."
YOU SAID YOU USED TO COME IN HERE NERVOUS, JUST BECAUSE OF WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST. HOW DO YOU COME INTO THIS WEEK THIS WEEKEND? "I come in very excited. I feel that what has gone on since last years race here until now, there hasn't been a ton of growth in the mechanical side of cars. Cars have kind of been in a certain spot, the rules package has stayed the same and we don't really have a lot to come back with that is new. So I feel that what we had last year is going to be very competitive and I think that understanding the track and understanding how long the race is, opportunities to pass.there are some things that I learned last year that I can apply and bring in this year. I am very excited to be here and I think that hopefully we will be able to show all of that on Sunday."
YOU HAVE JEFF GORDON FOR A WHILE NOW AND WHEN HE FIRST WON HERE, THAT WAS 14 YEARS AGO, DOES HE SEEM OLD TO YOU OR IS HE STILL A LITTLE BIT OF A KID? "When I first came in, he was I think 31, and I was like man he is 30 something and now I am 31, so I am like wow, time flies. He is that veteran guy in our sport and the one that everyone looks up to and I think that it is something that I believe everybody thought Earnhardt would have that position and unfortunately he is not here. I think that it had kind of found its way onto Jeff's shoulders. I think that Jeff is accepting that role more and more now and not only is he the senior wise man of the crowd, he is also winning races and fighting for the championship. He is in a great spot and I certainly look up to him and everything that he has done."
DRIVING-WISE, IS HE ANY DIFFERENT FROM WHEN HE WAS 31 AND YOU WERE 20 SOMETHING? "It is hard for me to say at that point. I was so far behind trying to learn my way through the sport. It is tough to tell."
BY WINNING DAYTONA AND THE ALL STAR RACE, AND THIS RACE, IT IS KIND OF LIKE THE GRAND SLAM OF THE SPORT. IS IT NOT? "Yeah, I think so. All-Star, Brickyard, Daytona, and the championship. We got all the majors and the title to go with it."
IN TERMS OF WHAT KEVIN HARVICK HAS DONE THIS YEAR AND WINNING TWO OF THOSE ALREADY? "Yeah, he is off to a great start with those. I am sure he has his eyes on this race and also the championship. It would be wild if he was able to repeat that and have that happen for back to back years. Obviously as a competitor, I want to see that happen. I want to get out there and win this Brickyard and then go on and win the championship."
HOW DIFFICULT IS THAT FEAT, TO DO THAT, TO WIN THE "MAJORS" AND THEN TO GO ON AND WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think that when it happened last year, we were so caught up in the moment and focused on the championship that maybe we didn't understand what we did. And now, as this year has gone on and we are looking back on it, it's quite a feat and I think that the stat alone shows how tough it is to do."
IS THERE SOMETHING SPECIFIC ABOUT THIS PLACE THAT THOSE DRIVERS, THAT YOU CAN POINT AT AND SAY THAT IS WHY THOSE DRIVERS RUN WELL HERE? "It is a very line-intensive track. It's a track that takes a lot of finesse even though it is a larger race track. So I think maybe drivers that understand that balance and how to finesse the car. I think Rusty (Wallace) had a great balance in knowing how to drive a flat track and how to drive a banked track. I think Jeff (Gordon) has that. I think of Matt (Kenseth) and how well rounded he is as a driver. I think this track should suit someone like Denny Hamlin who has had a lot of success a Pocono and has a great flat-track balance. It is just a quirky little place and it clicks for some people and it finally clicked for me and I hope that I can hang onto it."
WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE HISTORY OF THIS RACE, THE BEST OF THE BEST WIN THIS THING. THE GUYS THAT HAVE WON HERE, INCLUDING YOURSELF, ONLY RICKY RUDD AND KEVIN HARVICK ARE THE ONLY GUYS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN CHAMPIONS. WHY? "I think from exactly what you point out, how tough this place is and I think that it challenges all of the teams and drivers so intensely that the top people rise. The top teams rise to the top in the finishing order."
HOW SPECIAL WAS IT FOR YOU TO FINALLY GET TO KISS THE BRICKS HERE? "Unbelievable. I thought that it was something that was never going to happen. When we were out there kissing the bricks, I was in complete and total shock that we were there."
DO YOU JUST AS SOME POINT DURING THE OFF-SEASON WHEN THINGS SLOW DOWN, DO YOU THINK I AM NOW WITH THE FOYTS AND UNSERS AND ANDRETTIS AND GUYS LIKE THAT? "I didn't. I was, I guess my thought were more on the championship. Coming back and getting prepared for this week, those thoughts started to then run through my mind watching the ads run on the television and reading the paper and seeing things. I was like, man, we did something pretty cool. So, I am enjoying today and I am sure that I will enjoy everything through the weekend and hopefully have another trip out there to the bricks."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT BEING HERE TODAY? "The car does save us from a lot of things. It is an honor to win this race and to be back and have the chances to talk about it. It has been really cool. It is a part of our sport that we are busy and it is a good thing that the sport is so popular and that we have these demands. Coming off of a great off weekend, looking forward to getting this race going and then buckle down for the Chase and then fight for the championship."
YOU HAVE GOT SOME EARLY TEST LAPS; DID YOU NOTICE ANYTHING ABOUT THE TRACK? "No, there is nothing that can carry over. I had a few fans hanging on for dear life so that was kind of entertaining first thing this morning."
AND YOU WON A REMOTE CONTROL RACE THIS MORNING TOO. "Yeah, I won the remote control race so I am off to a good start. Hopefully that is a sign of how the weekend is going to turn out."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS EVENT AS FAR AS GIVING MOMENTUM? "I think all teams, we all look at ways to benefit our group and anybody that has played in team sports knows that if a coach or someone, even if you loose, will find a way to pick you up from it. And I think that is just kind of how sports works. When we won last year, we used it as a, hey, we overcame a track that had been beating us, we can go on and win a championship. Times that we have lost here, we have been like, well we don't race here in the Chase, (laughing) there is not another track like it, don't sweat it, move on. So you try to find the angle to benefit your team. Last year it really did add a little bit of momentum to our championship effort. We got off to a slow start in the Chase and I think that, you know, we have been able to do that as a team and overcome some big adversity and win races and win key races so I think that we fall back on that as a team and make the most of it."
HAS IT STARTED TO HIT HOME THAT THE CHASE IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER AND WHAT IS ON YOUR MIND? "It really does hit home. It is kind of, there is just a few races left. We have slipped some in the points. We have had great performances, we've had a car to win races with, but for whatever reason, we have had some wild things happen to us here lately and we have lost a lot of ground. So we want to make sure that we safely transfer in. We don't want to be in a thrash going into Richmond and have to count on that. So, first priority is to get top tens, top fives, then obviously for a position to win and go for that. We really need to find bottom here on the bad luck that we have had and get things going in the right direction."
ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THAT BAD LUCK AT ALL? "Well, the only way that we can really look at it is that we have had some bad luck and there is not a whole lot that we can do about it, but we can't hide the fact that we have lost a lot of ground and if we go through another five/ six race spell like we have, we could be out. So, we are faced with that reality that even though it has been bad luck, we can't have any more of it and we have to capitalize on the strong performances that we have been having and try to find a way to keep tires from blowing out and keep things from taking place like that."
AS A TEAM DO YOU KIND OF DRAW ON THINGS LIKE THE BAD START OF THE CHASE DIDN'T HURT LAST YEAR. DO YOU LOOK AT THAT? "Yeah, I find myself as a coach, Chad Knaus as a coach, even Ron Malec, trying to point things out to the guys and say hey, don't' sweat it. We have the speed. We have the talent. We have shown that. We have just had bad luck. The Chase is an example of that. Even last year's race here, were we were fast and we blew a left-front tire early in the event and we fought back. So, we use those things to try to motivate everybody."
ARE YOU SURPRISED THAT (DENNY) HAMLIN STOOD UP FOR WHAT HE BELIEVED IN, AS STRONGLY AS HE DID, IN CHICAGO? "I didn't have a chance to see all that took place, but I did notice that neither of their cars were on track at that one practice session and I thought. Anyone, not just singling out those two, when you know that you are right, you have got to stand up for it. I think that Tony (Stewart) had an opinion and felt that he was right and I think that Denny (Hamlin) had an opinion and thought that he was right. I guess that it is resolved. I noticed that their race cars finally got on the race track that day." (laughing)
HAMLIN SAID PARTLY IN JOKING, THAT THIS IS THE PLACE THAT YOU DON'T WANT TO PICK A FIGHT WITH STEWART. AT INDY, BECAUSE HE IS WOUND UP A LITTLE BIT MORE THAN NORMAL. DO YOU SEE THAT AT INDY? "Yeah, this is definitely a track where his intensity turns up and I can also say from having a teammate from Indiana that you can see things sort of elevate and turn up. I am sure that I am that way when I go back to the California Speedway. There is nothing like racing in front of your home town."
WITH THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND BRICKYARD WIN COMING TOGETHER, IS IT ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL WHICH CATAPULTED YOUR CAREER FORWARD MORE? "Both are huge. I would have to think that the championship did more and I might not feel the effects of it now, but being a champion in our sport really says a lot. You think of Rusty Wallace and the amazing career that he had. I think that he only had one championship, but he was a champion in our sport. So having a championship really will elevate my career status more than anything."
WHAT DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE TREND TOWARDS BIG TEAMS LIKE YOUR TEAM? IT LOOKS LIKE THERE ARE GOING TO BE A LOT MORE FOUR-CAR TEAMS. "I guess that I really haven't thought about it to be honest with you. Every team is going to do what they can to be competitive. There is no doubt that having the fourth car out there is a benefit and is helpful. You bring in more capital, you have more resources, more people, another car on track for notes and experience and all those types of things. So, it doesn't surprise me that it is going that way. With the rules set as they are, you would be foolish to not try to go that direction and try to maximize your team's potential."
DO YOU THINK THAT THERE IS GOING TO BE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HAVING KYLE BUSCH IN THE TEAM THIS YEAR AND HAVING DALE EARNHARDT, JR. ON THE TEAM NEXT YEAR? WHAT THAT IS GOING TO MEAN TO YOU AND TO JEFF HAVING A DIFFERENT TEAMMATE FOR NEXT YEAR? "Yeah, it certainly is going to be different and that is something that on the competition side, that Jeff, myself, Casey (Mears), the crew chiefs, everybody is excited and waiting for December to come around when we can start testing and start working with one another and understand what our differences are and setups and what we like and don't like. So that is the part that I am eager to get to. He obviously brings in a ton to Hendrick Motorsports that we are very excited about. But we really don't know the competition side until he gets into one of our cars and until we are able to talk shop and compare notes."
-credit: gm racing