Jimmie Johnson press conference, part I

An interview with Jimmie Johnson part 1 0f 2 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the Sharpie 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Bristol Motor...

An interview with Jimmie Johnson
part 1 0f 2

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his rookie season and outlook for the Sharpie 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Johnson comes to Bristol as one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR. For the 2002 season, Johnson is currently 3rd in points, just 60 points behind the leader, and 1st in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, with a 2 point lead over the competition. So far in 2002, Johnson has earned two NASCAR Winston Cup victories (California and Dover), three Bud Pole Awards (Daytona, Talladega and Charlotte) and recorded 14 top-10 finishes, including five top-5s (Atlanta, California, Dover, Pocono and Chicagoland). His earnings this season are $2,022,270.

AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON, DID YOU ENVISION YOURSELF RUNNING FOR ROOKIE OF THE YEAR?

"I thought we'd have a good shot at Rookie of the Year, but I didn't believe that the championship would be something we'd have a legitimate shot at. Our primary goal was to try and win Rookie of the Year and we've been in contention for that since the beginning of the season and have found ourselves in the middle of the points championship as well."

TO SUCCEED IN WINSTON CUP, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE AN OVAL TRACK RACING BACKGROUND?

"Racing is racing to a point. The variety of different series and types of cars I raced in (growing up) taught me a lot. I think it's important to be in racecars at a young age or racing in general, but I don't think you have to start out on ovals to be able to succeed in Stock Car racing today."

DO YOU THINK IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN EASIER FOR YOU AND WOULD YOU HAVE FOUND SOME ACCEPTANCE QUICKER IF YOUR ROOTS WERE IN OVAL TRACK?

"I didn't really have an acceptance problem with the drivers. There were four or five years of a lot of hard work that I had to put in at 19 years old to try to understand and learn Stock Cars. I guess if I had started earlier, I would have understood what chassis changes would have done at a much earlier age. But I've been real fortunate to move right along in my career."

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH RACING CHAMPIONS FOR MANUFACTURING YOUR DIECAST COLLECTIBLES?

"It's been good. We didn't know, as a whole, what to expect when the season started. We've surprised ourselves with the demand that the fans have had. It's been surprising to me. To out to the apparel rig and sign autographs for three or four hours and still have to turn fans away so I can go back and get some dinner and get ready for the Sunday race. I think they've done a good job and it's been a lot of fun."

WITH THE SEASON BEING SUCH A TIGHT POINTS RACE, WHAT ADVANTAGES DO THE ROOKIES HAVE OVER THE VETERAN DRIVERS?

"I think it's more of a question of what the young drivers don't have over the veterans. These veterans have been in these situations and they understand how long the season is and everything that goes with it. I'm just making my way through it trying to learn it and understand it for the first time. In some respects, I guess it's been good that I don't know much and that I don't know any different about car set-ups and lines and maybe some old habits that I might carry along. To be honest, I would trade experience for my age any day."

YOU HAVEN'T REALLY GOTTEN CAUGHT UP IN ALL THE TALK ABOUT THE YOUNG GUNS VS. THE VETERANS, HAVE YOU?

"No. Within the garage area and the drivers, there hasn't been a conflict. There's been a lot of hype and play on it because of some comments some veterans made. But if you race those guys clean and race them how you want to be raced, they're going to do the same back. I've got a lot of good relationships with a lot of the veterans that have been highlighted through all the hype. It's just how you race them. If you come in and disrespect them and you don't go out there and race them clean and earn their respect, you're going to have a hard time."

HOW HAS JEFF GORDON HELD UP THROUGH ONE OF THE TOUGHER STRETCHES IN HIS CAREER?

"I didn't know him too many years prior. More than anything, I've gotten to know him this year. He seems great (with it). There are a lot of things in his personal life and his professional life isn't the so-called 'Jeff Gordon style', but he's working as hard as he can and so are all the guys on the DuPont team. They want to win. But at the same time, they're doing everything they can every week. They're just hoping that the wins are going to come soon."

WHAT DID YOU LEARN AT THE LAST BRISTOL RACE THAT YOU CAN USE THIS WEEKEND, AND WILL GOING BACK THERE HELP YOU AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON?

"It's nice to go back to short tracks, but I've actually struggled on short tracks coming out of the ASA cars into these heavier Busch and Winston Cup cars. But I've started to get a feel for the short tracks here this last season in a Winston Cup car a lot better than I did in a Busch car. So I'm looking forward to going there.

"But Bristol is such a unique racetrack. I struggled a little getting going there in the spring. I crashed a car right away in practice and we had to come out with a back-up car. It took me until the race for me to figure out the rhythm of the track in a Winston Cup car. I'm hoping to go back and fall into that rhythm relatively quick this time in practice and qualify strong and race strong again."

SINCE POINTS ARE BECOMING SO IMPORTANT NOW, DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL GAME PLAN FOR THIS WEEKEND?

"There's not much you can do. If you change your racing and how you approach it and get a little conservative, you change everything around you. I usually find myself in more trouble then than if I would have stayed aggressive. At Bristol, and also at (upcoming) Talladega, you have so much to lose at those races as far as points are concerned. Something can happen on lap one. The craziest things happen at short tracks and at superspeedways just because of how tight things are and how hard everyone is racing. So Bristol is one of those races that you fear the points but that you're excited to go to and race there."

WHEN THE SEASON STARTED, WHAT WERE YOUR REALISTIC GOALS?

"To qualify without needing to take a provisional and finish in the top 15."

ARE YOU SURPRISED WITH YOUR PROGRESS AND THAT YOU'VE GOT A CHANCE TO BE THE CHAMPION?

"Of course (laughs). You've got to be realistic. I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd be in this situation."

HAS IT DAWNED ON YOU THAT A ROOKIE IS NOT SUPPOSED TO WIN THE TITLE?

"You hear those phrases out there. And as the season's gone on, I've just tried to keep my focus on the Rookie of the Year battle. But this late in the season, we've got a legitimate shot at it. If we do our jobs right, and race like we did in the first half of the season, we'll be right there in the middle of it."

IF YOU DON'T WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP, HOW DISAPPOINTED WILL YOU BE?

"It all depends on how it unfolds, but we can't take away all the success that we've had - three poles and two race wins so far. We've had a great season. Once we reflect back on it all, I'm sure they'll be a lot of great things to come out of it. But I'm sure that the racer in us would of course be disappointed when we're out there giving all we've got to win it. So we'll see what happens. You never know until you get there."

ON THE ENGINE SITUATION REGARDING TIRES, GEAR, HORSEPOWER, THE E-ENGINE ONRULE, ETC.

"With the range in which a Winston Cup motor runs at almost all the tracks, the drop off in rpm's isn't very far. So the rpm range the motor is living in the whole time is upping the horsepower range. You don't ever fall low enough to end up in the torque range. Short track wise, you're looking for that combination of good torque and horsepower. At the majority of the tracks we run on, we don't drop really drop below 7000 rpm. So you're doing everything you can to squeeze horsepower out of the engine. And in order to gain horsepower, you put yourself in a risky situation at times. We've seen a lot of guys breaking from it. It's just kind of a toss up between how aggressive you want to be and how many chances you want to take. I don't know a lot about the topic, but I've heard a lot of comments based on the Chevrolet block not having the potential of the Ford blocks." (IN TERMS OF RPM?) "Well, just the potential of the components inside and what you can do with that. The Ford is stronger and has more potential - mainly in just the way it's designed. In the past year or so, I know GM has made a couple of passes at NASCAR to try to let us introduce a new block and to have us more competitive with the Fords. At the time, it was turned down and maybe that's something that needs to be revisited."

-hm-

Jimmie Johnson press conference, part II

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson