Jimmie Johnson press conference

Tuesday, September 24, 2002 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the Protection One 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race next weekend at Kansas Speedway. Johnson ...

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the Protection One 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race next weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Johnson comes to Kansas as one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR. Johnson is currently 2nd in points, just 30 points behind the leader, and 2nd in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, just 18 points behind the competition. So far in 2002, he has earned three NASCAR Winston Cup victories (California, Dover and Dover), four Bud Pole Awards (Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte and Richmond) and recorded 17 top-10 finishes, including six top-5s (Atlanta, California, Dover, Pocono, Chicagoland, and Dover).

ON HIS EMOTIONS DURING THE LAST FEW LAPS AT DOVER AND THE REALIZATION OF WHAT HAS OCCURRED:

"The last half of the race, our car really came in for us. I was extremely surprised how hard you could run. The tire that Goodyear brought back, you could punish that tire all day long. And you had to. The top four cars were running so strong that you just had to punish the tire and basically run qualifying laps the whole run.

"First the No. 88 (Dale Jarrett) was back there and we pulled away from him. I thought we were going to be able to put it on cruise control but then the No. 6 (Mark Martin) got by him. We were about the same speed. I had to be on my marks and not make any mistakes. I knew that lapped traffic was going to play some part in it and I tried to keep as big of a gap as I could to allow me to battle with people that were trying to stay on the lead lap and to leave me some room so Mark wouldn't be able to set me up and get by. I had a couple of close calls, but luckily it all worked out. It was a huge relief to get back into victory lane."

SINCE YOU HAVE EXCEEDED THE GOALS SET AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON, IS THE REST JUST ICING ON THE CAKE?

"It is in a lot of respects. But the fact that we're in the middle of the points race and we've got a Rookie of the Year battle on our hands with Ryan (Newman), we are putting the icing on the cake by winning some races. But we have a chance of a lifetime here to win a championship and we're taking it very seriously. We're looking forward to these last eight races."

HAS THIS 'CHANCE OF A LIFETIME' STARTED TO WEIGH ON YOUR MIND A LITTLE BIT?

"It has at different points throughout the season. But our team performs the best when we let our rookie status take the edge off of it and looking at what has gotten us to this point which is being aggressive and racing hard. And trying to race for wins, has put us in this position in the points. When we've been conservative - as far as the set-up or whatever - hasn't worked out of us. We've got our mindset on winning races. Hopefully we can do that a few more times. If we're able to (win races) that'll be what earns us the championship."

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY LETTING YOUR ROOKIE STATUS TAKE CARE OF IT:

"We're not supposed to be in this position in our rookie season. So in the back of our heads, we know we have a lot of career years left as a team (to try to win a title). The whole Lowe's team feels like that. We're not in Mark Martin's position or Sterling Marlin's position. I think Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon have similar feelings. Jeff has been in that position four times now, so he knows the routine. But Tony and I and Jeff are (each) going to do what we can (to win), but we all know we've got more years down the road. It helps a little for some reason."

AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON, IS IT HARD TO REMEMBER WHERE THE NEXT RACE IS GOING TO BE?

"Yeah. I get on the plane and when it lands, I realize where I am. We're going to Kentucky on Wednesday (tomorrow) to shake down the car we're taking to Kansas this weekend. The motor department has been working real hard on helping us out with a little bit more horsepower. We're taking our best car. We're taking everything that we've got and even stopping in Kentucky on the way there to shake things down. We're looking forward to Kansas. I finished fourth there in the Busch car. And Jeff (Gordon) won there in the Winston Cup car (last year), so I think we'll be in good shape."

ON TAKING A COMPLETELY OPPOSITE VIEW ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP THAN MARK MARTIN IS TAKING:

"That's just years in this sport and past experiences. Jeff Gordon has been in this sport a long time and has a totally different perspective with the four championships that he has. Sterling (Marlin) probably has a similar outlook to Mark (Martin). It's just what's happened (to you) in your career and where you're at in your career. It makes it interesting. If you go through the top five (in the current point standings), I'm sure you'll have a variety of stories."

ARE THERE ANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN YOUR SEASON AND RYAN NEWMAN'S AS FAR AS BEING MODELS FOR FUTURE ROOKIE TEAMS?

"There are some. I've heard the reference to 'super teams' before and we're both driving for very recognizable teams and both have veteran drivers to coach us. We both have a whole staff on the team and resources to keep us competitive on the track. I think Rick Hendrick has taken some huge steps in putting me in the same building with Jeff Gordon and setting up the team the way it is."

HAVE YOU EVER FOUGHT IN A POINTS BATTLE OF THIS CALIBER BEFORE?

"I won a lot of championships in motocross growing up as a kid. In off-road racing, I also won a few championships in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series. Most recent, I lost the championship in the CORR Series by three points in '97. I finished 4th in the ASA points. I wasn't too close in my (ASA) rookie season, but in '99 I think I only lost the championship by 20 or 30 points and finished 3rd that year. In the Busch Series, we were a distant 8th and 10th. ASA would be the highest caliber (of running for a title)."

OF YOUR PREVIOUS CHAMPIONSHIPS, DO ANY OF THEM STAND OUT FOR ANY PARTICULAR REASON?

"You might like this story. When I was 8 years old, I was competing for a championship on motorcycles. Toward the end of the season, I feel and broke my knee and needed reconstructive surgery. It put me out of the season - so we thought. I wanted to compete for that championship. My mom and dad did some math, and (realized) that if I started each event, I would tie for points and still have more wins at that point if this other kid won all the way through. I would then be the champion.

"So we welded a bracket on the side of my motorcycle and I put my leg on there and I started each event and ran one lap around the race track. The other kid won every single event, but I still had more wins. We tied for points, but I won the championship."

HOW TOUGH WAS IT TO GET ON THE BIKE? WAS IT PAINFUL?

"It was something I wanted to do. When I look back at it now or when I see an 8 year-old kid, I cannot believe that I wanted a championship that bad. My parents never pushed me to do anything. It had to be my motivation to do it. I'm just blown away that I had that motivation that young."

HOW DID YOU INJURE YOUR KNEE?

"In a crash. I came up short on a double-jump and went down tumbling with the bike and it broke my knee."

WAS THAT THE ONLY TIME YOU WERE INJURED ON A BIKE?

"Oh, no. That's why I had to get off of them. I had plenty of broken bones."

DO YOU STILL HAVE THE TROPHY?

"Oh, yeah. It's in my house."

HAVE YOU BEEN IN ANY TIGHT BATTLES FOR CHAMPIONSHIPS THAT YOU'VE WON?

"No, the championships that I've won we've pretty much had a good handle on."

HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR OUTLOOK AND GOALS BECAUSE OF THIS NEW POINTS BATTLE?

"I think we've done a decent job of sticking to our goals since the start of the season and just focusing on the Rookie of the Year battle. With the way the points system is structured (for the two titles) we've had the consistency to be successful in the championship battle, but not the top fives (finishes) that Ryan (Newman) has had to stay on top in the Rookie of the Year battle. So in some respects, it seems like we have a better handle on the (battle for) championship than we do in the Rookie of the Year battle. Our first goal and objective was to make races and be competitive. We've done that. The fact that we're in the middle of it is pretty cool. If we win the title and not the Rookie of the Year, I don't think we'll lose much sleep over it."

HAVE YOU LEARNED ANYTHING ABOUT PAST CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLES THAT YOU CAN APPLY TO THIS ONE?

"Definitely. One thing that I've been able to do throughout my career is to be a good points racer. The experience of winning championship obviously teaches you something. But the one I can think of the most is one that I lost in the (CORR) off-road trucks. It came down to the last race between Scott Taylor and myself. If I won the race and he came in 5th, I'd win the title. I won the race and he was in the 5th spot coming across the line when the third place truck (driven by current NASCAR Craftsman Truck driver Brendan Gaughan) blew a motor. Scott Taylor finished 4th and won the championship. That one stung. That one hurt.

"You look back through a season and you see little things that cost you a point or two and makes you realize how valuable every point is. In some senses in how low a season can be you take things for granted. But it can come down to just a few points."

HOW HAVE THE VETERAN DRIVERS TREATED YOU THIS YEAR?

"I think there is definitely a period of time with some drivers and situations where I'm still being evaluated. But it wasn't like other pro sports. Here (in Winston Cup racing), when you climb in that car and go racing with them that you've got to realize that you need to treat them with respect and you've got to earn their respect. The fact that I'm driving for Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick doesn't instantly grant me respect. In fact, it probably takes a little more time when you're in a high profile situation. They want to make sure I'm going to race them clean and that I'm a decent person and all the things that go along with it. As the season started to move along, we were running well and beating a lot of the guys and racing them clean and getting along with them in the garage area, and it just slowly starts to happen. I pretty much get along with everybody in the garage area."

WHEN DID YOU START DRIVING COMPETITIVELY?

"When I was 15 years old."

OTHER THAN TESTING AT KENTUCKY THIS WEEK, ARE YOU GOING TO TEST ANYPLACE ELSE TO PREPARE FOR THIS FINAL STRETCH?

"Yeah, we've talked about doing a short track test to get us ready for Martinsville. We've run all our tests and want to give the guys a break on that. But they're usually the ones that try to motivate Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and I to try to get better. So we've all decided we need to take advantage of this opportunity and keep testing to try and win this championship."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Sterling Marlin , Jimmie Johnson , Scott Taylor , Brendan Gaughan , Mark Martin