Winston Teleconference with Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet Yancey Casey, moderator Jimmie is currently seventh in points, still leading the Raybestos rookie of the year competition over Ryan...
Winston Teleconference with Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet
Yancey Casey, moderator Jimmie is currently seventh in points, still leading the Raybestos rookie of the year competition over Ryan Newman and we're heading into the Winston. This will be Jimmie's first Winston and then next week we'll be looking for the 600 right after that. So I will turn it over, if everyone can just announce who they are, the publication that they're with and you can just feel free to ask however many questions you have, in any order and then just let everyone know when you're done. Feel free to jump on in, anyone.
Q Jimmie, this is Mark Armeho, at The Arizona Republic. I'm sure you're aware, or maybe you're not aware, but the Formula One race over the weekend, the team orders were Rubens Barachellos was told to pull over and let Schumacher go by and win. Can you think of any situation, in your future in NASCAR, where that would be applicable or is that just against your philosophy altogether?
Jimmie It just depends on the situation that you're in, I guess. I just saw that. I was watching some stuff that I had taped this morning and I was completely blown away by that. Rubens has led every single lap except the last car length. That's a hard a shot to him; I felt bad to see that. It just depends. Evidently in that sport, in their situations over there they really choose one driver to be their lead driver. I'm not saying that you won't see it happen in Winston Cup, especially with the multi-car teams, but it's something, I hope, that doesn't enter into our sport or needs to happen, because it's just not racing.
Q Good morning JJ. Can you talk about Chad Knaus' influence on the team and how he's helped bring you up to speed?
Jimmie Sure. Chad has some experience in Hendrick. He was there before; I believe I've heard it phrased "one of the original Rainbow Warriors". He's been there and understands the system. So him coming in, initially he was ahead of where a lot of crew chiefs would be coming in, and had relationships there at the major places inside the complex, through the engine department chassis, and all that kind of stuff. So it's helped him there and allowed him to focus on bringing together our group of guys.
Brian Whitesell is managing the programs and has also helped take the pressure off of Chad in some different areas, to let him focus on bringing together a group of guys, who needless to say, is what he's spent a lot of time focusing on and we've got an incredible core group of guys that Chad has been able to pull together.
Then another thing is, for some reason, and you could never see this stuff out there and force it to work or force it to happen, but we've had a great line of communication and there's a million different ways to describe things and he understands when I'm trying to describe something, the level of what the car is doing. Where there are relationships where you under-adjust or over-adjust, Chad has been able to nail it so far.
So we're just hoping that nothing changes and we're trying to both apply the same effort level, but I think he's done an incredible job, this young into his crew-chiefing career. To be at one of the major teams and all the things we've had to fight to be as successful as we have.
Q As far as Brian Whitesell's role, are you kind of sharing him between the 24 and the 48? Because obviously he's been Loomis' right hand, his engineer over there for the last few years, even stepped in as Crew Chief, before Loomis assumed that role. Are you sharing him between the two teams and what kind of influence does Ken Howes have as well?
Jimmie Definitely. Brian's role, in particular, is that he's kind of the manager of both programs. The way the team was set up, having all these race cars and two different drivers, basically, has allowed this formula to work. Where Brian just manages the shop and this car might have a 48 decal on it and that one a 24, but it's the same equipment, same procedure, same everything. And Brian is managing that whole side of it, all of the cars coming together and the people internally, letting Chad and Robbie both focus on other crew chief duties and taking that burden off of them.
Ken Howes is Director of Racing Operations, where he's overlooking and overseeing all four teams. He obviously filled in for the 25. I'm not sure what their status is right now for a crew chief, but he fills in where he needs to.
Jimmie Ken oversees a lot of different managerial sides of all four teams, but he still is involved on the technical side. He's very, very sharp with shocks. He's sharp with a lot of things and we refer to Ken and also Rex Stump as more of the racing engineer that we refer to. But between Rex and Ken, on the technical side, is who we use as our backup, our security blanket or whatever you want to call it.
Q That's fabulous. Thanks a lot.
Jimmie You got it.
Q Jimmie, this is Bill Coates with The Saint Louis Post Dispatch. I'm just wondering if you're at all surprised at the success that you've had so early in your rookie season?
Jimmie Of course. You always dream big, but you never know what's going to come through or what that will be. You know we've tried to set some realistic expectations of qualifying for every event and finishing on a lead lap, coming into this season. We've qualified, probably, for all the races, have two poles and have won an event already. So we've blown past all of our expectations and feel if we just keep this intent and energy level that we've put forth, that we started the season with, and don't change our goals, we'll be able to stay in our rhythm and hopefully have this success all season long.
Q What have you found is the biggest difference between Winston Cup and, say, the Busch Series, as far as adjusting to it?
Jimmie The races are so, so long and there are so many things that change the race. The fastest car doesn't always doesn't win. The fastest of the cars that are left will win. You know there are a variety of different things that go on and you're jockeying all day long for that last pit stop. The last time you put tires and fuel in the car is what the whole day is leading up to and you've got to make it to that segment to have a shot of winning it.
I've learned some lessons in the three races that I ran last year at Richmond. You know the last race we had it unfolded that way again and I crashed with 70 laps to go, racing for the lead. So it's just amazing how long they are and how much patience you need to have. As soon you feel like you've got the patience licked, something else happens.
Q One last question, you've raced against Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Busch Series and now in Winston Cup. In your opinion, how does he handle being the son of one of the most famous guys there ever was out there?
Jimmie You know in conversations and being around him and hanging out, there are at times different pressures that he feels. There's one thing that Junior does do, or how Junior is, is that he does at times feel a little pressure or situations of being the son of Dale Earnhardt Sr. But Junior has his own style and really, truly does things his own way and I don't think he lets too much of that pressure land on his shoulders. He's just himself and has done a great job.
Q Alright. Thanks, Jimmie.
Q Yes, Jimmie, Al Levine from Atlanta. Give me your thoughts on the Winston and also could you talk about how you were signed? I thought I heard you said you were signed to a personal services contract with Chevrolet before you even lined up with Hendrick and how did that work?
Jimmie What was the first part of the question?
Q About what you felt about the Winston, being in the Winston.
Jimmie Okay, being in the Winston, you know it's the all-star event, very excited for it. You know being in the Lowe's Monte Carlo at Lowe's Motor Speedway is going to be awesome. So I'm very, very excited for it and feel that we've got a good shot at winning the Lowe's Winston, which would be a huge highlight in my career.
Oh, forgive me, now I've forgotten the second part.
Q About Chevrolet.
Jimmie Oh the personal services agreement. Yes, when I started racing the off-roads circuit, I think in 94-ish I signed up with Chevrolet to start driving their second off-road truck in the stadium series. When I signed up at that time, they put me onto a personal services contract, and between Chevrolet and GM Motor Sports, have guided my career through a variety of different off-road series and owners. I was able to get involved with Herzog Motor Sports in '96 and ran two years of off-road, two years of ASA and two years of Busch for them, before I signed up with Hendrick Motor Sports.
Q Does a personal service contract indicate doing something beyond racing?
Jimmie Yes, at times I would go to auto shows for them and sign some autographs, attend some other things away from the racetrack, other motor sports functions, but away from the racetrack. I also did a commercial for them with their off-road trucks in the mid-90's for them.
Q How did you handle this week off? Was it a good breather or you've got so much momentum built up that you didn't want to stop?
Jimmie You'll always, especially the way these races are back to back, you'll always take the breather, but I had a great weekend off. It was very busy the first part; Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we had a lot going on, but then it slowed down and we had some time off and we really kind of had another week where you have a different type of pressure on you, going into the Winston. Yes, you want to race, and all that, but it's just a different mindset when there's nothing on the line. You just go out and drive your butt off and have a great time.
So we've got another light week this week, but then we'll get back to normal work here for the 600.
Q I have a follow-up on Al's question, if I may. Rick Hendrick, in California, talked about putting you in a late model; I guess the other Jimmie Johnson set that up in `97/'98.
Q Can you tell me what the extent of that was? Did they just want to get an idea if you could acclimate to stock cars? What exactly was involved?
Jimmie Yes, Chevrolet took me to a variety of different places and functions. In '95 they took me to Orlando for the truck race. They had a type of conference where they were educating all the Chevrolet drivers on some media stuff and we were able to attend the race and spend the weekend in Orlando, throughout this whole little event they put up for us. At the racetrack and at those events, I would always pass around business cards and try to meet people.
I just happened to be standing next to Jimmie Johnson, talking to him and we traded cards and it was about a year process, at least a year process of me calling him, giving him updates on how my off-road racing was going, and just trying to keep that relationship there and connection there. I guess it was the beginning of '97 and Jimmie called me. You know, we had been talking and Herb Fishal, behind the scenes, had talked to Rick and there was just a lot of stuff going on that I wasn't aware of, of people paying attention to me racing in off-road.
Rick had a late model that he was involved with and they threw the thought out there, "Well shoot, let's bring him back and let him run some late model races. Let him run as long as he can until his other racing starts and give him some experience and see what happens.
Q So were you doing that at Concorde Motor Speedway with Ricky?
Jimmie No, actually it was up in Virginia that we ran most of time and I didn't run very many races. I ran probably four, South Boston, I think South Hampton; there's a South Hampton Speedway up there. What was the other one ....
Q New River, maybe.
Jimmie No, I didn't run New River until ASA. There was like a little trial; it was out in Virginia, something Hampton; I can't remember it. But I ran, I think it was, I ran South Boston twice, that other one Hampton Speedway or whatever it was then Kenway.
Q They make it sound like you went up to Jeff Gordon one day for advice and it turned into a full-blown ride with Hendrick, but there was a lot more planning that went into it than just you asking Jeff Gordon for advice. Can you give me the year and the time frame that you first approached Jeff and then how the ball got rolling? Because this team was basically being put together all of last year, is that correct?
Jimmie Yes. To be honest with you, from my perspective, I mean there was a little bit of discussion going on behind the scenes; you'd probably need to get quotes from them on exactly what level.
Jimmie But Jeff and Rick decided like the Wednesday before that race where I asked Jeff for advice that they were going to go to a four-car team. I mean it was that fresh. They had kicked around some names and ideas, but they had no direction. There wasn't this big long planning session set up.
Q We're talking 2000, correct?
Q Okay, I just want to kind of go through the time frame with you. So in 2000 they came up with this plan. You approached him for advice at what track?
Jimmie In Michigan, ... in Michigan went to, you know the Herzog Motor Sports was a little questionable about what they were going to do for the following season. Alltel had just pulled out of the sponsorship for the next season, for the Busch car. We were up in the air as to what was going to happen. Herzog weren't going to continue on if they didn't have sponsorship and Excedrin hadn't shown up yet. So it was kind of a questionable time.
Word traveled fast through the garage. I had other Cup teams, truck teams, Busch teams all showing interest and I needed to get some advice. I'm sitting on the couch at home thinking that if I could get some advice from, say, a Jeff Gordon or someone who has probably seen a situation like this, maybe they could give me something I can use.
That day at the drivers meeting, Jeff Gordon sits behind me and I think, "Well, here's your chance." I turn around and say, "Do you have a few minutes that you could hear me out and maybe give me some advice?" He said, "Sure, stop by the trailer." It was just as coincidental as that.
Q I appreciate your time.
Jimmie No problem.
Q Jimmie Johnson, this is Bill Wood with The Racing Report. I wondered; several times this year there's been talk about attention paid to the younger drivers on the series, at the expense of some of the older drivers. You being one of those younger drivers, what's you reaction to that?
Jimmie I don't know. I mean the television, all media goes to where the story is and the rookie drivers, young guys, you know this whole "young guns" stuff, we can't control that. We're just out there driving our butts off, doing the best we can and we've been having some great finishes that have been drawing attention. You know it's something that none of us drivers can control, but I guess there have been some other guys who have thought there's been too much focus on the younger guys coming in. But none of us drivers have any control of it, unless you go out and make a big story to be talked about. So I've just kind of brushed it off and I haven't paid too much attention to it.
Q I've noticed at a lot of the events there are several drivers who, when the fans come up and ask for autographs and so forth, they sign the autographs, but they're moving as fast as they can, because they're busy. They don't even look at some of the fans and some of the younger guys do take a moment or two. Do you think that maybe has a part to play, that maybe they've been around too long and maybe some of the external pressures have gotten to them, and they don't make themselves as available to the media as they could?
Jimmie Well I'm seeing an evolution to that right now myself. Before we won in Fontana, if I could stop and sign autographs for everyone who wanted one, and there would be a sea of people there, but there would be 50 people that wanted an autograph out of the 2000 that were standing there. I would sign my autographs, walk off and everything was fine. But when you're a Jeff Gordon or a Dale Earnhardt Jr., one of these names that are extremely popular, those 2000 people are going to mob you, want five autographs and then the ruckus that causes, 3000 more are going to run over, because the know that there's one of those drivers coming through.
So you want to sign, you want to do what's right for the fans; but you also have to get to the next place. So you're signing and passing and working your way through the crowd. Some drivers, including myself, know that you can't reach all your fans, and it could be frustrating for them, so you have fan clubs, you have Web sites. I go to the apparel trailer and sit out there for a couple of hours and sign autographs. So you try to make yourself available for those situations.
I don't believe that that has a huge impact on the stories behind it, but there is a common momentum that's there that the story that the media and television is putting forth towards the young guys. Also the fans are noticing that. There is a story there; there is a legitimate story and that's why it's being out throughout all the channels.
Q A lot of people make a big deal about younger demos and the importance of a younger demo to marketing and so forth. Comment on that; do you think it's important that younger people are only going to respond to younger people and at the expense of some of the older guys in the series?
Jimmie Well I think, probably just like any sport, the true fans, the fans that have been in it for a long time, have their driver or their sponsor or team that they choose to follow, but the young people in the sport bring out the new demographics that maybe hits a new type of fan. I haven't seen a lot of real marketing play to hit a direct type.
But with the racing as nationwide as it is and all the media channels and all that, I know looking at Lowe's in particular, they're hoping through me being their driver, a young driver, that I'm hitting the first-time homeowners' category. Because they can make a connection to me being a young guy; I'm also a new homeowner and working through the same paces that they are; that they would choose to shop at Lowe's. So there is a little bit there, but that's just creative marketing.
Q Lowe's ever brought you in and sat you down and described who that person is and how they would want to reach them in some form or another?
Jimmie Yes, they, of course, like all major corporations, do their research and understand where they're strong, in what categories and where they're weaker. That was a long time ago and I've done a bad job in remembering what those areas are. But they've done a great job of laying out the program, as to what they would hope to have happen on the racetrack and off the racetrack.
So we all know how to help them get what they're, in a sense, paying for. So we do have an understanding of that stuff and try to - the people at Hendrick Motor Sports and JGI try to cater to those areas where Lowe's is looking to grow in and whatever the marketing plan is. So there are planning meetings that go on, very small-scale for the driver, but very large-scale for the team.
Q Finally, have they ever included you in some of the focus groups they might have with these first-time home buyers or people that are potential customers for Lowe's stores?
Jimmie Do you mean as far as like appearance-wise?
Q Just bringing you in to just be a part of the discussions, to learn who these people are, so that you might be able to talk to them a little easier and have a better understanding of what Lowe's is trying to do to reach them?
Jimmie No, because I am one. I'm the same age, same category, all the same stuff. As much as they like me to do the things off the track, they've hired me to be their race car driver and really allowed me to stay focused on the 37 to 38 races that we have every year and the 12 tests and all the things that we do. The schedule that I have to hold now, it would be pretty much impossible.
Q Great, thanks. Good luck this weekend.
Jimmie Thank you.
Q I just wanted to ask you about winning the Daytona 500 pole. How important - what was the spotlight like, having that on you during speed week for the next week and how important was it for you and your team to start off with that kind of achievement?
Jimmie It was a great spotlight. There were positives and negatives to it. We were on top of the world and only one way to go, which was down. We finished 15th in the race, which was good, but Neet was green, needed a lot of ... experience and found that, through that race, and then was even better race-wise in Talladega. So it was a great way to jumpstart the career, my Winston Cup career, the start of the team to give all the crew guys, everyone involved in the Lowe's 48 car, that confidence to know, "Hey, if everybody is doing the job, we're capable of running of running up front." So it really set the tone for the season.
Q Do you feel like your experience at Daytona and at Talladega will help parlay into even a better run at the Pepsi?
Jimmie Oh yeah, the more experienced the better, especially if this rules package stays the way that it is. I don't have experience with the - what the heck do they call it - the fins on the roof and the extra thing on the spoiler; I've never raced in that configuration. So I'd be starting all over again if the rules went back in that direction. The way the rules are now, I had a couple years of Busch experience with them this way and then obviously the races that I've run this year. So every lap counts, especially this early in my career.
Q Do you find that veterans might pull in to draft with you more, especially after your Talladega performance? Has that kind of helped, as you've been perceived throughout your rookie season? Are people starting to work with you a little bit more out there on the play tracks?
Jimmie Definitely, from Daytona to Talladega, there's a huge, huge difference. You know, still, you have to go out and earn that respect and late in the race I pulled out and tried to make some moves to win the event and I didn't get the help that I thought I was going to get. So you never know until you're in that situation. You also have to understand that everybody else out there is trying to win, as well.
So if you could find a way to be in the lead, like Junior did, and hold that off or have a teammate with you, working with you, that you know if you put yourself in a vulnerable situation, they're going to choose to get you to the end instead of hanging you out, that's a great situation to be in. But Junior is so good at the draft and understanding what's happening behind him and how to block it. That's the kind of experience that I need to get, and I need to show myself to those guys who are there, when we're in the middle of pack. They know this 48 car is going to get in the front; I'm going to stay lined up with them.
Q Thanks, Jimmie, appreciate it.
Jimmie You got it.
Q What about Chad's background on restrictor plate races? Obviously the success he had with Stacy didn't hurt you at all at those two tracks.
Jimmie No, Chad was a body man and spent a lot of time building these bodies and playing with them. You know there's a lot of research and development and wind tunnel time that goes into that. When he went with Ray over to start up Ray's Dodge program, Chad found himself in the middle of that environment again and a lot of time in the wind tunnel, which when he went to Melling, I don't believe he had the resources at Effingham or at Hendrick Motor Sports to sit on the pole like he did and qualify and be as strong as they were on the restrictor plate races. That was just all of his knowledge on aerodynamics that he's been able to pick up and develop, being in that environment, working on the bodies of the cars. You know you take him over to Hendrick Motor Sports with that same knowledge and stronger resources and he's going to be tough.
Q Thank you.
Jimmie You got it.