Jimmie Johnson interview 2002-02-05

How did your testing sessions at Rockingham and Las Vegas go? The testing sessions went really well. It was a great opportunity to gain experience in a Winston Cup car on two very unique tracks. I'm familiar with all of the tracks on the circuit...

How did your testing sessions at Rockingham and Las Vegas go? The testing sessions went really well. It was a great opportunity to gain experience in a Winston Cup car on two very unique tracks. I'm familiar with all of the tracks on the circuit from racing in the NASCAR Busch Series, but driving a Winston Cup racecar is different than a Busch car and the additional practice time will help us be better prepared for when we return in a few weeks.

What does the No. 48 Lowe's team do during a test session? Most testing sessions are broken up into two days. The first day is typically spent preparing the car for race day conditions. We'll work on the longer runs and getting ideas on what setups will work best with the track. It's also a time for me to get a feel for the racecar on that particular racetrack and learn the best line around the track.

With this being the first season for the No. 48 Lowe's team, it's essential that we qualify well. So the majority of the second day is spent making qualifying runs. We'll make a lot of short runs trying to learn the best qualifying setup for that track.

Did your testing sessions at Rockingham and Las Vegas help prepare you for Daytona? Not really. Each track is different and it's often difficult to transfer data from one track to another. What will help me in Daytona is the additional time I had in the racecar. Each testing session allows me to get more comfortable with the Winston Cup cars and that will make a difference when the racing season begins.

What about your session at Talladega? Talladega really helped us develop our speedway cars. It's always tough to simulate track conditions during speedway tests, but the speed gains we made and the information we gather should translate well in Daytona. Overall, as always, the in-car time is crucial. The entire team benefits from each testing session we conduct. Whether it's our communication, timing or the car's set-up, we always walk away from each test a bit smarter and more experienced.

What areas do you feel you and the team have improved on since your first test at Daytona? The team is really starting to gel. With a new driver, crew chief and team members, the Daytona testing session was the first time that everyone worked together in race conditions. The additional time and test sessions have allowed us to get to know one another and how best to communicate. We're looking forward to returning to Daytona this week and applying what we've learned.

What are your thoughts about running in your first Winston Cup race at Daytona? First of all, I'm in awe of the facility itself. The history that place has seen...I just can't believe that I'll be racing there soon. Aside from that, there are a couple of concerns we have as a team going into the Daytona 500. In the 125s, anything can happen...and usually does. Since we are a new team and don't have any provisionals, it's important for us to perform well, especially in these first few races. So I'm sure the 125s will be one of the longest races of my life. We just have to remain focused, be patient and make sure nothing too dramatic happens to us to keep us out of the big race.

What are your thoughts about restrictor plate racing? I've had some experience with it in Busch the past few years so I'm not too concerned with it. This year the Cup cars are coming back with a similar aerodynamic set-up that the Busch cars have, so I think my recent experience will be an advantage. Now if I was sitting in this position last year, I'd probably be telling you a different story. But I'm confident that my experience from last year, coupled with getting a few more races under my belt, will give me that extra edge that will hopefully keep me competitive in the restrictor plate races. Who knows, maybe I can give Jeff [Gordon] some advice.

What have you learned about drafting from Jeff Gordon? Patience, patience, patience. I can't stress that enough. He's taught me that it's important to remain calm and patient during a race like Daytona and make use of the friends you have out there. You can't do it all by yourself [in Daytona] like some of the other tracks. I've raced some of these guys last year in Busch and in the three Cup races I ran, so I'm hoping that they understand the kind of driver I am and that I'm not coming out there to drive on top of them or spin them out. It's all about patience and friends...that, and a little luck.

What was the first Daytona 500 you remember watching on TV? I don't know if it was at Daytona or not, but one of my first memories of watching a NASCAR race on television and seeing Cale Yarborough crash his Hardee's car coming out of turn three. He really tore it up...blew the windshield out and everything. Now I didn't see it, but one of my most favorite Daytona memories was the fight between Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough after they wrecked into each other...it was intense.

What was your favorite Daytona 500? By far and away, the 1998 race when Dale finally got his first win. That was something special that I'll never forget. And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

What makes Daytona such a special place? Like they say, it's the Super Bowl of auto racing. No other sport I can think of hosts its biggest event at the beginning of the year. So it's special in that sense. The biggest thing for me, though, is all of the history and spectacle this race represents, with all of the legends that have raced there and all of the current heroes who I'll have the chance to race against. It brings chills to my spine just thinking about it. I just hope that one day people mention my name as one of the greats who raced there.

-hm-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Donnie Allison , Cale Yarborough