Jimmie Johnson Tuesday, March 4, 2003 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and his outlook for the upcoming Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 in Atlanta, GA. Johnson comes to Atlanta...
Tuesday, March 4, 2003
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and his outlook for the upcoming Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 in Atlanta, GA.
Johnson comes to Atlanta as one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR. Heading into this weekend's race, Johnson is currently 3rd in the NASCAR Winston Cup points standings (14 points behind the leader), following his 11th-place finish in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Johnson is one of just two drivers to post top-15 finishes in the first three races of 2003.
In his young career, Johnson has competed in three races at Atlanta Motor Speedway, finishing third in this race one year ago. Johnson also moved into the top-10 in points following his performance last year at this race and has ranked among the top-10 for 36 consecutive races.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR GOALS? "My goals have been more like dreams and dreaming of who I would race against and the series I would race in. I've accomplished more than I realistically thought I would or could. The thoughts I've had are more like dreams and wishful thinking on what I hoped I would accomplish. My goals are just to be competitive and to be a good person and have fun and I've been able to do that."
WHEN YOU HAVE TIME TO YOURSELF, DO YOU SIGH, LAUGH, SCREAM, OR PREFER SILENCE? "I prefer laughing."
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN HURT BADLY ENOUGH WHILE RACING THAT YOU'VE HAD TO SIT OUT? "I had a slight concussion after Watkins Glen in the Busch Series in 2000. That was the most severe injury I've had in a race car. I haven't been put in that situation and I hope that I don't. When I was racing motocross as a kid, I broke bones. It was pretty simple there. You couldn't get back on a bike with a cast on."
WHAT KEEPS GUYS COMING BACK AFTER THEY GET HURT WITH ANYTHING FROM BROKEN BONES TO HEAD INJURIES? "With broken bones, as long as you can work everything inside the car, you're willing to give it another shot. The casts might even help, in that respect. With head injuries, from what I understand, you feel the recovery. You feel yourself getting better and better. And you think you're back to normal. It's very hard for the person who has been injured to really know what 'normal' is. So, one - I think you think you're back to normal; and two - we all want to climb back in those race cars. I don't think anyone intentionally returns knowing that they're not going to be able to do their job right or that they're not going to be competitive enough to do it."
IN SEVERE SITUATIONS LIKE WHEN KYLE PETTY WENT THROUGH AN AGONIZING REHAB A FEW YEARS AGO, IS IT REALLY WORTH IT TO GET BACK IN THE RACE CAR? "We never feel like we're going to get hurt. I've been climbing in that race car after bad wrecks and I don't think I'm going to get hurt. I don't know if it's stupidity or what, but fortunately nothing has happened to me. I don't think anybody else thinks they're going to get hurt. And if they do, it was a freak accident. The advances we're making in the drivers compartments and in safety on the race tracks and the gear that we're wearing increase that confidence we all have."
NOW THAT YOU'VE SEEN THE VIDEO OF LAST WEEK'S RACE IN LAS VEGAS, DO YOU THINK STERLING MARLIN TOOK YOU OUT INTENTIONALLY? "I raced with Sterling all last year and never had any contact with him. I can't believe that it was intentional. We were racing hard on the last lap and I guess he just drove in real hard - I know I did - and moved up the track and had some contact there. I hate what had happened and I thought we fell back to 20th or something. Luckily, we only fell back to 11th from where we were."
DO THE DRIVERS THINK THE SPEEDS ARE TOO HIGH AT ATLANTA, OR IS EVERYBODY OKAY WITH THAT? "Those speeds are only in qualifying. Each time we go there, it seems to be a hot topic. It's always been fast. When I was racing in a Busch car there in 2000 - before the engine changes - we'd run wide-open all the way around the track. And that was crazy. The speed difference between 190 mph and 180 mph - like the difference between the Charlotte and Atlanta tracks - you really can't tell that 10 mph difference. It's still crazy and out of control, but to notice that is pretty hard to tell."
IS IT MORE HAIR-RAISING TO DRIVE AT TALLADEGA THAN IT IS AT ATLANTA?) "No, Talladega is probably one of the easiest ones due to the size of the track and how little handling is involved. Atlanta and Charlotte - those are the ones that are real intense, driving-wise."
HAS THERE BEEN ANY TALK IN THE PITS ABOUT TOYOTA COMING IN AND/OR ABOUT GETTING RID OF ENGINES WITH CARBURETORS? "No, not really. NASCAR founded the sport on carbureted engines and it's the way that they can keep up with things going on and people trying to find an unfair advantage. I'm personally excited about other manufacturers getting involved. I think the more the better and the bigger the sport will become with maybe some international involvement. We'll do some great things having them (Toyota) involved in the Truck Series next year. I'm not sure what's predicted for other car manufacturers coming in. There really hasn't been a lot of talk among the drivers. I know it's a few years away."
WHEN YOU PUSHED THE ACCELERATOR DOWN AFTER THE INCIDENT WITH STERLING MARLIN, WHERE EXACTLY WERE YOU HEADED? "I was just trying to hurry back to my truck (smile)."
YOU WEREN'T HEADED ANYWHERE NEAR STERLING, WERE YOU? "No, no. I didn't even know where he was. I was just trying to hurry back to my truck so I could get out and tell my guys, 'Good job'. Sorry you guys misunderstood that (laughs)."
WITH DODGE ALREADY SAYING THAT THE NEW CHEVROLETS HAVE AN AERO ADVANTAGE, IS THERE NO END TO THIS STUFF? "No, there will be no end to it. In the past, before we had such common bodies, the squeaky wheel would get oiled. When one manufacturer dominated, NASCAR would take cars to the wind tunnel and try to put some truth to the speculation. And now, with the common template over 90 percent of the car, I really hope that it ends that. If you focus on teams instead of manufacturers, there are certain teams that have a set-up or the magic for speedway racing and they always have. There are certain guys that have dominated Las Vegas every year. Roush has won almost every race out there. If you look at which teams have been successful at which tracks, I think that would eliminate a lot of the squabbling that's going on."
CAN YOU SEE THE DAY WHEN ALL THE CARS ARE EXACTLY ALIKE? "No. I don't think that's right. Everyone tries to hire the best crew chiefs and engineers, and tries to build the best race cars and the best engines. If we have parity, we might as well just walk up to one supplier and buy everything. I don't think that's right and I don't think that's what our sport was founded on. Everybody is trying to build the best stuff. It's just unfortunate that instead of looking at your stuff and trying to work harder on it, that you try to verbally try to create a change in the rules. I hope that we don't end up with an IROC-style car because it ties the hands of our crew chiefs and engineers and all the resources that the teams are trying to acquire. I think that's what makes NASCAR what it is.
"And then I think what would happen if all the manufacturers were equal is that people would be trying to find a way to trick NASCAR. There would be no rules. There would be no one to work with on the rules. And then you would have to be bending and breaking the rules. And then you'd be dealing with a whole new animal."
WHAT MAKES ATLANTA SUCH A UNIQUE TRACK? "In qualifying trim, it's the fastest place we go to, so right there it adds a certain dimension to it. And then there's the race itself. The asphalt has some years on it. The way the banking works around the race track really promotes three-wide racing. We're always hoping for two-wide, and there we end up with three and sometimes four-wide. The fact that we have other options on the race track for lines and can move around and not be stuck behind someone in an aero disadvantage (makes it unique)."
DID YOU AND STERLING MARLIN HAVE AN ENCOUNTER AT THE BELLIGIO AFTER THE LAS VEGAS RACE? "It was just a racing thing. And to be honest with you, I haven't even seen Sterling. I spoke to his crew chief and his spotter, but I never even saw him (afterward).
"It was just a racing thing. At the time we were upset but we reviewed the tape and talked to his guys. I raced with Sterling all last year and never had any contact with him. So it's not like I think he was doing something intentional. I was just upset at the time. We lost a few more spots and spun out and almost crashed. But you know, that was that and it's over."
WHEN ALL WAS SAID AND DONE IN LAS VEGAS, HOW MUCH DID TESTING THERE HELP YOU? "It helped us a lot. We were able to come in there and qualify in the top 10, which was one of our goals. We were competitive through all our race practices and really fine-tune our race car and be one of those in the front competing for the win. So I think it was a huge help for us. It worked out really well."
WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE TWO-TIRE CALL AT THE END OF THE LAS VEGAS RACE? "Those calls are changed from week to week between Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and me. I called for no tires in Homestead ('02 race) and it burned us. Chad called for no tires in California and we won. So sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. This time, Chad made the call for two tires to try to pick us up a few more seconds on pit road since we didn't need all 22 gallons of fuel. We needed three-quarters of a tank of gas. Unfortunately it didn't work out."
WOULD THAT HAVE CAUSED YOUR PLACEMENT IN THE RACE MORE THAN THE STERLING MARLIN THING? "Oh, yeah. That's what put is in the position of being around Sterling. We came out the same distance behind the No. 17 (Matt Kenseth, race winner) but as soon as we put eight or 10 laps on the tires, our left-side tires were a lot more worn than we anticipated. And the car got really tight and I started to slow down a lot. That's how everybody caught me."
IS THE FRUSTRATION WE SAW AT THE END OF THE RACE A NEW SIDE OF JIMMIE WE'RE GOING TO START SEEING NOW? A TONY STEWART SIDE? "Oh no. I think me hurrying back around pit road and driving into the garage area fast is far from any type of aggression. You race your tail off all day long and you're competing for a win and losing spots and spun out coming to the checkers, I think anybody would have been a little frustrated and that's all that I was."
IF FORD WERE TO GET A NEW NOSE OR A NEW TAIL, WOULD IT MEAN ANYTHING?) "I think it's a lot less effective when have only those couple of areas to work with and deal with. A lot of this is just positioning. Everybody is trying to have some type of body that they can work around to meet the rules. NASCAR had all these cars in the wind tunnel and made their decision on the stock appearance of these bodies of what was going to be the right thing to do, and I think they need to see it through. I think they need to leave the manufacturers alone and let everybody sort out their stuff and look more at what teams are successful where. A big thing that I think everybody needs to look at is Talladega and Daytona. The Monte Carlos are faster there and they're faster for a reason. They have less downforce. They have less drag. On the other race tracks, you want that downforce. You want that drag. And that's why those cars have been so dominate. They still are today. The Monte Carlos have less downforce and less drag and that's why we're faster at Daytona and Talladega.
"If you get on the inside and understand how all this works, I think everything's fine. With the new Monte Carlo, we feel that we've got a better car and a more dependent car aero-wise. It's more efficient and it's putting us in a better situation with the other makes."
FORD SAYS THAT CHEVROLET HAS A MAGIC NOSE AND THEY SEEM TO BE PUSHING FOR A NEW NOSE. IF THEY GOT ONE, WOULD YOU THINK THE RULES ARE BEING CHANGED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GAME OR WOULD YOU THINK IT DIDN'T REALLY MATTER? "I see what you're saying either way. The majority of the car is common so how big of a difference would it really make? That's one way I can look at it but at the same time they (Ford) just won Las Vegas and they almost won Rockingham. What's the problem? NASCAR is trying to build this parity and it's not going to be a walk in the park for anyone. I think it's too early to make any changes. I think it's too early for any manufacturer to be happy or to be crying the blues. I think we need to just leave it alone for a while."
DO YOU THINK WE'LL KNOW MORE AFTER THE ATLANTA RACE? "Absolutely. I think (we'll learn) all the way up until the mid-point in the year. Every time we have a chance to be on the track to learn more about the race cars, the better each team - regardless of the manufacturer - is going to be. With only the five tests that we're allowed to have now, that's two less opportunities to sort out that combination underneath that body that makes the car work. We've been learning some incredible things in the last couple of years about spring and shocks and how you're going to keep that body in the air. The attitude that you have the car at makes that body perform beyond what you ever expected or ever thought it would do. There's a lot of magic underneath that body in our set-ups that we're still trying to fine tune and figure out where that sweet spot is. So it's going to take a long time before we all figure it out."
IN LAST YEAR'S ROOKIE BATTLE, YOU AND RYAN NEWMAN TOOK THE CAKE. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS YEAR'S ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CHASE? "I think it's got the potential to take the cake again. Last year, we all knew that Ryan was going to come in and break all the marks that had been set. I even thought that. I didn't think I would be in there with him. I hoped that I would. I was able to be in there breaking records myself, which was cool. Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle probably stand out the most right now as guys who can raise that bar another level. But the other guys that are involved - Jack Sprague and Casey Mears - I think the potential is there to have four or five rookies raising that bar."