Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 56 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta.
AERO PACKAGES AND FUEL MILEAGE AREN'T REALLY PROBLEMS AT BRISTOL, ARE THEY?
"Yes, they are. If you remember back to when Elliott Sadler won his first event there, he was the first one to get enough fuel and tires to go the distance. He was able to hold off and go 150 laps or whatever it was, to win that race. If you look back in the notes, that's what won him that race. Once again, we've got a tire that's so good that you can afford to come in as early as possible in the event where you can get enough fuel and new tires to go the rest of the way. That's kind of the way the game is played. The only tracks where I see it really not being played out that way are Darlington and Rockingham and tracks like that where it's really abrasive and tear tires off the car."
ARE THE DRIVERS AND FANS COMPLAINING THAT THEY JUST WANT TO SEE RACING, NOT A FUEL MILEAGE GAME?
"It is a different type of racing that's come into play here lately. It's frustrating at times. You love it if you win from it and if you lose from it, you're frustrated. Last week (at MIS) we ran out of gas with two (laps) to go, but at Loudon, I loved it. So that's just the nature of the game right now."
YOU ARE HAPPY WITH YOUR TEAM, BUT WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO TO IMPROVE YOUR RESULTS?
"I want to improve on what we did last year. Obviously I'd love to win the championship. But unless Matt (Kenseth) has huge problems, and it doesn't look like that is going to happen and you can't control that, we still have an opportunity to finish in the top three - maybe even second. Last weekend was a huge opportunity for us to move in that direction but unfortunately it didn't pan out for us. With Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon having the problems they did, we could have probably been third in points and very close to second. So, we've still got a lot of races left and we'll just have to see what happens. But I want to improve on last year and get ready for next year."
DOES THE PENALTY FIT THE CRIME FOR THE JIMMY SPENCER AND KURT BUSCH INCIDENT AT MIS?
"I don't exactly know what the story is. I've heard conflicting things. Obviously they (NASCAR) are in a position where they have to make a decision where they have to pass punishment out so they don't have a boxing match after every race. I don't really know all the details. And I don't know if there is a monetary fine involved or if Roush is pressing charges or not. So, I'm going to be curious to see how the rest of this plays out. I would be shocked if charges were pressed and that avenue was pursued. Not that it happens every day, but we're used to rough and tough stuff in our sport. At the first Daytona 500 that I think was ever on TV there was a fight out in the middle of the race track when the checkers were falling. So I wouldn't find it surprising if legal matters were involved in this but NASCAR is going to have to respond and it looks like they have."
HAVE YOU EVER CHARGED AFTER SOMEONE IN THE GARAGE AREA?
"There are a lot of heated moments that take place in the garage area after the races are over. Most of the time they don't exchange into punches because NASCAR has fined people heavily for that in the past. Now, they're suspending people for it. That has always entered into people's minds. But after a Bristol or other races, you'd be surprised at how much yelling is going on and people expressing how they feel about what happened on the race track. But it rarely comes to blows. I've been in my own situations. If you feel that somebody has wronged you, you've got to get out and say something about it. It's surprising that it turned into what it did."
DOES THE PENALTY OF SUSPENDING A DRIVER FOR A RACE REALLY GET HIS ATTENTION? IS THAT THE ULTIMATE PENALTY FOR A DRIVER?
"Without a doubt. Our jobs rely on what we can do in the year for the championship, where we can finish in points, how we represent our sponsors, and everything that goes with that. If you miss an event or lose some points, your sponsors aren't getting their value and there's a big snowball effect behind that. That really sends a message to everybody that if you have a disagreement, you'd better not do anything about it in the garage area."
DOES THIS REALLY SHOW THE AMOUNT OF PRESSURE THERE IS TO PERFORM IN WINSTON CUP RACING?
"I think it happens in anything. Here we are traveling around the race track and putting our lives on the line and roughhousing on the track. Tempers flare up. You don't want to crash somebody and risk injuring him or seriously hurting him. When you come into the garage area, you're mad and it's like when you were in the schoolyard and you throw a punch. It relates to many situations. I'm sure most men have been in a situation where you get pushed and pushed and pushed and then you snap. It's hard to do in our setting when you're in a vehicle and you're racing. And then when you get out, you've got to turn it off. It's a tough thing to do. But we've got to be professionals in our sport."
WITH BRISTOL AND DARLINGTON COMING UP ON THE SCHEDULE, DO YOU THINK EVERYBODY IS GOING TO WATCH THEIR P'S AND Q'S A LITTLE MORE THAN USUAL?
"I don't expect the things that happen on the race track to change. But maybe when we're all in the garage area there might be a different way of going about things."
AS AN ATHLETE, CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW YOUR EYE AND MUSCLE SKILLS ARE BEYOND MANY OF US?
"I really wouldn't really being to know how to tell you. Obviously there is hand and eye coordination that's involved with what we do. There is a lot of feeling that goes on with feeling the vehicle underneath you and how it's moving around. And then your hands counteract with the steering wheel and your feet with the pedals. But I can't say that I'm one of those coordinated people. I can't really catch a football or throw a baseball or hit a baseball for that matter. So it's a different type of hand and eye coordination that takes place in a race car."
HAVE PEOPLE EVER TOLD YOU THAT YOU SEE MORE OR VISUALIZE QUICKER?
"Yeah, I think from my off-road racing background I've been able to develop some different skills than guys on the asphalt maybe haven't been able to. I've been able to spin out and most of the time not hit something. I really like a loose race car and (be able to) throw it around a lot more than some of the other guys do. I think my background has given me an advantage in that area."
HAS ANYBODY EVER INTENTIONALLY DUMPED YOU ON THE TRACK THE WAY SPENCER DID TO BUSCH LAST YEAR AT INDY? AND DO YOU FEEL IT'S BETTER TO DEAL WITH IT IN THE GARAGE AFTERWARDS RATHER THAN USE THE CAR AS A WEAPON ON THE TRACK?
"I've been knocked out of the way a few times. There are different times when you feel you might have one coming and you've chopped somebody and somebody is going to move you out of the way and you end up being crashed in the process. But I honestly can't say that I've made somebody so mad that they've just driven through me and crashed me. I might have upset somebody and they've bumped me out of the way and then I've wrecked from that. But to deliberately drive in the corner with one thing in mind and that's to have me on the wrecker, I don't think I've been in that situation."
DO YOU THINK IF THINGS HAD BEEN TAKEN CARE OF WITH SPENCER AND BUSCH THAT IT WOULDN'T HAVE REACHED THIS POINT?
"I think there was more that was hidden deep down than anybody could necessarily see. NASCAR pulled them both in the trailer and they do that when they feel there's something going on. A perfect example of that was when Sterling (Marlin) and I seemed to have magnets on our race cars at the beginning of this year. I wasn't intentionally trying to wreck him and I'm not sure if he was intentionally trying to wreck me, but NASCAR pulled us both in the trailer and sat us down face-to-face and we tried to talk about it and work it out. Everything is laid out on the table. I know that they give you the opportunity to say what you have to say about the other guy (laughs) and try to get it all out right there as men and get it behind you. I know that has been done. Maybe when the guys were sitting in there they just said what they needed to say to get out of the principal's office and there was still something else hidden below."
WHAT UPCOMING TRACKS WILL BE MORE DIFFICULT IN THE CLOSING RACES OF THE SEASON? WHICH ONES DO YOU FEEL YOU NEED MORE WORK ON?
"Rockingham is probably the track that I'm still looking to conquer. Every other track I feel that I've been able to make big strides and feel very comfortable about it. At Bristol, I'm a little worried about qualifying. I still can't seem to qualify well there, but I can race well there."