Jimmie Johnson interview

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet, comments on last weekend's Daytona 500 and provides his outlook for this weekend's Subway 400 in Rockingham, N.C. For the 2003 season, Johnson is currently tied for...

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet, comments on last weekend's Daytona 500 and provides his outlook for this weekend's Subway 400 in Rockingham, N.C. For the 2003 season, Johnson is currently tied for 2nd in points following his third place finish in last weekend's Daytona 500. His earnings this season are $759,226.

CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW THE GUYS WERE PASSING AND ON WHICH LINES THEY TOOK DURING THE DAYTONA 500? "There was so much grip in the race track that the cars could run around the bottom without slowing down and it seemed like the place to be - even through the Busch race for the most part. But for the 500, with all the rubber being put down and everything going on, the top started to work. For that matter, it really made the middle the place to be. I was really working the middle, but unfortunately, we started to overheat early in the race. We had to take some time to pull some tape off (the grill). We kept putting four tires on and really weren't getting the track position we needed or wanted. But as the race wound down, Chad (Knaus, crew chief) had a strategy to get us some track position and it worked great for us.

"It was kind of crazy. You had to work through the middle. I learned a lot about the draft and focused really, really hard on it through last year and through the whole time down there at Speed Weeks. I feel like I've learned what I needed to learn."

DID YOU TALK TO YOUR TEAMMATE, JEFF GORDON, BEFORE OR AFTER THE RACE, OR WERE YOU JUST RUNNING YOUR OWN RACES? "Before the race, we worked very hard the whole weekend to try to figure out how we could help each other. During the rain delays, we were still talking. We are working as close as we possibly can to help each other in the draft and try to create what DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) has been able to do with their two cars (Waltrip and Earnhardt Jr.), but it's a hard thing to do, I'll tell you that. It's a hard thing to do."

DO YOU HAVE A MENTAL ROUTINE TO PREPARE YOU FOR EACH RACE? "Not per se for each race. I just try to make sure that I climb in the car with a clear mind and an open mind - relaxed, for that matter. But there's not really a routine. Our schedules are usually changing around a little each week with the obligations we have to do for our sponsors or different things. It's hard to develop a set schedule."

FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, IT DIDN'T SEEM LIKE IT TOOK YOU GUYS LONG TO FIND OUT WHERE YOU WANTED TO BE "No. Through the Shootout and the 125's, we had a car that was capable of racing for the win. It wasn't the best car - I think DEI had us by a little bit - but we had a great race car. In the Shootout, I made a mistake. In the 125's, I made a mistake. Even in the IROC, I made a mistake late in the event that cost me some track position. I think my worst finish the whole week was 7th. So all in all, everything was awesome and competitive. But with the 500, I stopped taking those risks and chances and when I worked my way to the front. We were able to stay there. Unfortunately, we started to overheat early and had to get to work to cool the car down or else we weren't going to finish the 500, period. That kind of threw a wrench in our plans but once we got it cooled down, we went right back up to the front and got into third before that last pit stop."

IT SEEMED LIKE A LOT OF THE CARS WERE OVERHEATING EARLY IN THE RACE. WHAT WAS CAUSING THAT? "We've been kind of dumbfounded about it because throughout the Shootout and the 125's, there weren't any issues. Everything was fine. I don't know if there is something with this new nose that we need to learn that we kind of overlooked with a small draft or something that just didn't work out for us. When we got in the 500, it seemed like everybody was overheating - especially the Monte Carlos."

DURING THE OFF-SEASON, DID YOU REFLECT ON 2002 AND ARE YOU A DIFFERENT DRIVER NOW AS YOU CONTEND FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "Last year was a learning year. I think there was more pressure on me last year to perform because we didn't have points and we were in an awkward situation getting started with a lot of focus on us. This year, we are calm and confident. We know we have the ability to compete for wins and championships and it's a matter of getting it to work. So it's a lot better state of mind for us this year than it was last year."

WILL KNOWING WHAT TO EXPECT AND KNOWING YOU DON'T HAVE TO PROVE ANYTHING MAKE YOU A DIFFERENT DRIVER? "Absolutely. Remember back in high school when you were walking the halls and you didn't know what to expect or what was going on? When you came back in your sophomore year, you had somebody to pick on and you weren't being the one picked on. It's a totally different deal. I think we've all been through it in different ways in our lives and it really isn't any different in motorsports."

HOW DID THE RAIN AND THREAT OF RAIN AFFECT YOUR GAMEPLAN AT THE DAYTONA 500, AND WHAT'S IT LIKE BEING OUT THERE RACING AND KNOWING THAT THE NEXT LAP COULD BE THE LAST? "We knew we had to race to the halfway point. When we were forced to start pitting early to keep the car from overheating. Chad really didn't have an option at that point with the way everybody was doing two tires or no tires, but to position us to be leading the race at the halfway point. That was the game plan. We got to third at the halfway point and then there was a pit stop after that that we took no tires and got us some track position. We led a little while and then got snookered there with the two DEI cars."

ARE THE DEI CARS BEATABLE NOW? "Well, the thing is that we're all tired of getting beat by them. They're pretty solid on their own. With the good and bad of restrictor plate racing, you can gang up on someone who is better or a team that's dominant and beat them. But everyone seemed to want to team up with DEI and follow those guys to get a third place finish."

ON THE TIRE SITUATION AT DAYTONA COMPARED TO ROCKINGHAM "Luckily at Rockingham we don't have to worry about that stuff. We opt for performance. A lot of guys opt for track position most times. And it's worked against us quite a few times. It's frustrating when we're sitting there running along in fourth and we come up for that first pit stop and everybody took no tires and fuel only and we slipped way back. That's a credit to Goodyear and the strong tires they're bringing. It's surprising at Daytona for that to happen."

MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY, WHAT'S INSIDE A GOOD DRIVER THAT'S NOT INSIDE MOST OF US? "I really think the difference for our sport is communicating. I think the two main things are communication and feel. You've got to be able to feel what's going on underneath you and communicate it to your crew chief. He's got to understand that and so does the team, for that matter. That's where I think is the (mental) difference.

"Physically, one can be stronger and healthier and make it through the hotter days better. But if the car is driving right, it makes your job really easy."

PHYSICALLY, WHAT HURTS MOST AFTER THE RACE? "It depends on what you hit. One way I usually describe it if I know how my race car was is on Monday morning, if my car was really loose, my right leg and calf are pretty sore from having to be real gentle with the throttle. If my race car was tight, then my left side hurts from stomping on the brake trying to get the car to turn."

ARE THE RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES FRUSTRATING FOR BOTH THE DRIVER AND THE CREW? "Yeah, absolutely. Especially at Daytona (where) they put so much into that race. They get burnt to the bone before we even get into the season. So it's frustrating, but it's the same for everyone. I think with experience, teams and drivers learn how to not let that frustration bother them. I know we're a lot better in that department this year than we were last year."

AFTER TESTING IN LAS VEGAS, DO YOU THINK THE MONTE CARLO IS BETTER ON DOWNFORCE AND THAT THE FORDS AND DODGES AREN'T AS STRONG? "What I see is that teams that were good with speedway racing are still good with speedway racing. Downforce is not an issue at Daytona. It's actually a lack of downforce that's what makes the cars run better there. That's why the Chevrolets and Pontiacs have been so strong there in the past. Downforce creates drag and that makes you slow on those tracks. When you look at the teams involved, DEI has always been strong at speedways. Childress (Richard Childress Racing) has always been strong there. It wouldn't matter what make they had, they know what they're doing. At speedway racing, that's what I look at.

"If you look at the domination the Dodge had at different points during the season last year and the downforce numbers vs. horsepower numbers like (Ray Evernham had at Indy. He didn't have the strongest engine, but he had the best downforce and they won the race. I think these new rules are really going to clump that together on the downforce tracks. I think the Chevrolets are going to be caught up now, and 90 percent of those templates are common now between all the cars. There's not that much of a difference with the front bumper covers. It's going to be closer than ever when we get to the downforce tracks, and at the speedway tracks it's just going to be the teams that put their focus on being up front."

WITH THE NEW NOSE ON THE MONTE CARLO, WILL YOU BE ABLE TO GET INTO THE CORNERS BETTER? "Compared to what we had last year, we're creating the same downforce with less work. That means less drag, so the car is going to be a little faster. And it means better fuel mileage. Think back about how bad the fuel mileage has been for the Monte Carlos and look at Roush and some of these guys that could go six or eight laps further than anybody else. A lot of that is in the body. This year, we're able to have competitive downforce numbers without paying a huge penalty in drag."

-hm-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jimmie Johnson , Ray Evernham
Teams Richard Childress Racing