An interview with Jimmy Johnson: Part 1 of 2 Q: Jimmie, good morning. Jimmie Good Morning. Q: I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about coming back to Daytona, and here it is reaching the mid-way point of a season that I guess you have...
An interview with Jimmy Johnson:
Part 1 of 2
Q: Jimmie, good morning.
Jimmie Good Morning.
Q: I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about coming back to Daytona, and here it is reaching the mid-way point of a season that I guess you have to be pretty proud of. As a rookie, do you feel like a rookie anymore?
Jimmie Totally, I definitely still feel like a rookie. There are a lot of places that I haven't been to, and there are still a lot of new things out there. We have obviously had an incredible season so far, and I don't feel as green coming back to Daytona as I did when we went to Daytona at the beginning of the year. There has definitely been a change, but I'm not forgetting that I am a rookie.
Q: Can you describe February, what that was like for you?
Jimmie It was really overwhelming. I was extremely proud to be on the pole for the Daytona 500, but was in a sense, confused and did not know what to expect. I was also overwhelmed at winning the pole for the biggest event of the season. There are just a lot of things going on and a lot of uncertainty what the season was going to hold. Little did I know then that it was just the start of many great things to happen for us. I was nervous at the time that here I was on the pole and it was going to be downhill from there, but I guess it has all been uphill from there.
Q: Did you feel like the first win that you had, obviously coming in your home state and everything, was that kind of a breakthrough event that maybe got you into the fraternity of drivers? I mean, people started taking you more seriously, not that they didn't already, but do you think that that gave you more cache, so to speak?
Jimmie Well, I think every week was a building process towards that. California was a very big part of that, and I think after Dover it even raised it another notch. To run how we had - California we were strong, but then we went to the Winston and had a really good shot at one in there. We went to Richmond; I had a shot at one. Lowe's for the 600 had a shot at winning, and then we won at Dover.
We showed back-to-back weeks, a variety of tracks that we were capable of winning, and then won the second time. There could not be that, well anybody can win once slogan, so I think it has been a big building process. Dover, with the type of racetrack it is, and to have success there I think has been the latest topper.
Q: Clearly I mean, it proved that it was no fluke. California was no fluke.
Jimmie I hope so. I hope we keep on winning these things.
Q: As far as acceptance among the drivers, how has that been?
Jimmie That has been fine. Personally, walking through the garage everybody has been accepting, and easy to work with. On the racetrack I have noticed some relationships that have changed in a variety of different ways.
There are guys that race me a lot harder than they did at the beginning of the year because they know how important track position is. If they let me by then they might not have the opportunity to get back by me at the end of the race. I found that with Dale Jarret and Ricky Rudd at Pokono and at Michigan, which was different then the way they had raced me before, but that is something that comes along with it.
I find myself racing other people that I know are going to be the one's that I got to battle at the end harder. Other people you race easier. There have just been some changes going on, nothing in the negative way, but just the dynamic of racing between the drivers. My relationship with the other drivers out there is changing.
Q: This is my last question. I know you probably commented about this time and again this season as being one of the leading rookies in the series, but can you talk about maybe the subtle transformation of NASCAR, the changing face of NASCAR with the emergence of new faces, new names?
Jimmie Well, I can remember back a ways and watching Tony Stewart, Dale Jr., and Matt Kenseth come in, what Kevin Harvick's done it. It has been a change and I guess it has probably been five, or six year's worth of new faces to come in and adding the new perspective to NASCAR/Winston Cup racing.
I didn't know if I was going to be one of those people that do it. If you would have asked me six months ago, coming into the season I wouldn't have expected to be where I'm at and be one of the changing faces in the sport, but it is neat to see. I think there is a racer out there that every fan can connect with, support, and be behind. That is what makes NASCAR/Winston Cup racing so popular.
Q: All right. Thank you, Jimmie.
Jimmie You got it.
Q: Kind of picking up on that theme a little bit, you said if we asked you six months ago you didn't think you would be one of the faces changing NASCAR. At what point along the way in your growing up process did you think you could be one of those faces? What made an off-road truck racer from California think he could pull this off?
Jimmie Well, I felt in my heart that I had the ability to drive a racecar. If I was given the right opportunity in stockcar racing I felt in my heart that I could make it. I did not know how well I would make it, or anything along those lines.
I've been real fortunate that I got involved with Herzog Motorsports and ran two years of off-road trucks with them. They shared the same goal to go stockcar racing and took me into ASA, and then ASA in the Busch. They had me in great equipment and in front of the world to where I was noticed by Hendrick Motorsports. I guess here in the last two, or three months after all wins and success we have had I've had a lot more comfort in knowing that I have made it to where I have always wanted to be and that I have the confidence to stay here.
Q: Was it ever a risk, a gamble? I mean, was there ever a point where you said, "Okay, well it is all, or nothing now. I'm going for broke." Making a decision somewhere along the way that maybe good sense wouldn't have made, but your heart had to do it?
Jimmie Yes, I mean maybe not in that exact form, but there are always questions of sponsorship. I've driven for the Herzog's for so many years, through three different series and forms of racing. They needed sponsorship to move from series to series and they were spending a lot of money out of their own pocket. A new team, so we are looking for good personal. We had a lot of different challenges along the way that were very stressful. Praying and hoping that your sponsorship would come along.
One of the points in time where a decision took place for me was in 2000 when I driving for the Herzog's and Alltel decided they were going to leave. A lot of opportunities came up for me in the Truck Series, Busch Series, and also Winston Cup. One of the options I had was to drive for Hendrick Motorsports.
Before that option came along there was some other ones that I had to look at. That was not going to be an easy decision. I mean it was going to be extremely hard, extremely tuff and upset a lot of people, but luckily things all came together, and I was able to get involved with Hendrick Motorsports.
Q: Even all those times on ... couch, you never had any second thoughts?
Jimmie No, I guess when you are chasing something that is such a passion to you all the sacrifices you make it is just part of it. I guess if things would have turned the other way and racing didn't work out for me I might have a different feeling for it all, but it has all turned so good it is hard to look back and have any regrets.
Q: Great. Thanks, Jimmie.
Jimmie You got it.
Q: See you this weekend.
Q: How are you this morning?
Jimmie Doing good.
Q: I'm interested in your relationship with Jeff Gordon. What kind of influence has he had on you during your rookie season? Has he been a bit of a mentor for you?
Jimmie Yes, I mean I guess that is the word that fits it, but he is -- I don't know you would think he would be this hard-core owner. I don't know if hard-core is the right word, but really involved owner/boss telling you you need to do this. This is what is going to happen. It has been so opposite of that. It is sort of very relaxed, laid back relationship.
He does not liked to be called boss. We're teammates we work together. He respects me, which has been a very neat thing to see because coming in and being around a four-time champion it is a little intimidating at times. To see his respect for me as a driver, and a person it has been a neat relationship that is I think is going to last for a long, long time. We will be able to be a great help for one another for years to come.
Q: You mentioned his four championships. When you watch him, you observe him either off the track, or on the track what do you think he does maybe a little bit differently then other people that kind of leads to that success?
Jimmie He is just good. He is just that good, I mean he is down to earth, he is a normal guy, but he is just good. That is what he is about, he is about racing the cars, and he is really good at it.
Q: Thanks, Jimmie.
Jimmie You got it.
Q: To follow up on another question on Jeff, just from your perspective, what has it been like for him going winless the first half of the season? Does that eat him up as much as we think it does?
Jimmie Well, it eats him and the team up because they are winners, and they want to win. They find humor in the media play on it all. Here he has been in the top five in points, the threat to win the championship, and all the other stuff. The consistency is there. They have been more consistency point wise this season than many of the other seasons they have won championships in. The fact is that they won in them though.
They are finding humor in it, and they are trying as hard as they have in every other year. I think that once the light switch is flipped on here before long and they start winning they are going to win a lot of races and be, I think, the favorite for the championship. If you look at years past coming into the stretch right now where Jeff Gordon wins the majority of his races. If that happens with how close he is in points we are all in trouble.
Q: One follow up on that. They struggled at the beginning of the year and then turned it around. I wondered did your team success have anything to do with that turnaround? Was there any kind of more sharing of information that helped them reverse that trend a little bit?
Jimmie Yes, we are definitely sharing a lot of information. I think the second half of the season the stuff that we have been trying on our racecars will be more volatile to 24. We have been - they have had to learn my driving style. The 24's had to learn my driving style and Chad's style of setting up cars, and understand that before you just start bolting it on a car for Jeff Gordon.
Our driving styles have been really close so far, but we have pushed the envelope in some areas. In going into those events the 24 is sitting there with a set up that won the race with the year before and we are trying something different. They stick with what won in the race and we go out and have good success with a new style set up.
When we come back to these tracks the second time I think our information will be more useful to them, but it has been a two way street for sure this year so far with us not having notes for the 48. We are using the 24 set ups and then expanding from there.
Q: Jimmie, thanks very much.
Q: Rookies in Winston Cup racing at about this time of the year, or maybe a couple more races down the road hit what is called the Marathon Wall, where you just, you can't believe that there is another race coming up. Have you felt that yet?
Jimmie No, not yet. The environment I'm in with Hendrick Motorsports and Lowe's; Lowe's understands that they need to keep me rested and focused on driving racecars and not all over the country doing different events. The same with Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon, and everybody involved.
They have worked really hard to keep the focus on racing, let me have some time off at times. Luckily, I haven't felt that yet, but it is my first year in Winston Cup, so I guess I'll have a little bit more enthusiasm though to work through stuff a little further being that it is my first year.
Q: Did you do anything during the off-season to prepare physically for this season than you have done in the past?
Jimmie No, nothing different.
Q: Okay, thank you.
Jimmie You got it.
Jimmie Johnson press conference part II