Jimmie Johnson wants to join his heroes with another Indy win

Jimmie Johnson, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its prestige, the different in the schedule and how he plans to approach it, sportsmanship between drivers on and off the track and much more.

TALK ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO COME HERE TO INDIANAPOLIS AND WHAT IT WOULD MEAN TO WIN ANOTHER BRICKYARD TITLE. “I’m just excited to be back. I think everybody shares the same emotion when you drive through the tunnel and come into this race track. You know you are somewhere special. After being in the sport for 11 seasons now, it still has that same feel to me. Even when I was here for the advanced media tour, there is just a special feeling when you drive through the tunnel and come out the other side and look around. You know where you are and it’s a cool feeling to have. Over the years this track has been really good to me. Most times it’s been a really difficult track for myself and the team. We’ve have mechanical issues, I’ve just been flat out off and slow, and have had a variety of issues. Here in recent time, I’ve really figured out how to drive the track so that I can lead the team in the right direction on the set up. We’ve had three wins and certainly looking for a fourth. With Jeff (Gordon) and Rick Mears at four wins, I would love to put myself up in that elite company. I feel that we have a real good shot this weekend.”

HOW DOES THE DIFFERENCE IN THE SCHEDULE CHANGE YOUR APPROACH? “I don’t mind it as a driver. It’s real tough on the crew guys. They have a long, long day and that’s the only down side to it. The closer we can put our practice times to race time, race day, to start with the days and then the time of which we are on the track too, is helpful. This morning’s session we will get familiar with the track again. Speeds will be really high, and then we need to seed ourselves for qualifying. So, the first practice is more about going fast to help for qualifying draw and then the rest of the practice is very useful and good. We have a couple sets of extra tires to use, which this track needs a lot of traffic on it to rubber it in because it’s so big. That will go a long way with everyone. With the Nationwide on track that will help and I’m not even sure we will have a tire problem at this point, but that’s all directionally correct from a tire-wear standpoint. But then as I think about it some more, we will have a more rubbered in race track than we have ever had, so our starting balance will probably change compared to years past.”

WHEN SAM HORNISH IS INTRODUCED AS A FORMER INDY 500 CHAMPION HERE DO YOU LOOK AT HIM ANY DIFFERENT AT THIS TRACK THAN OTHERS? “Not necessarily the track because the cars are so different, but I was watching the speed rock cast last night and in some ways I had forgotten that Juan Pablo (Montoya) has won the 500 and that’s just amazing that he’s had the career and won here. Same with Sam, to say that you’re an Indianapolis 500 winner is something really, really cool. I look at both of them as winners of an amazing race that’s known worldwide than I do that this weekend they are going to be tough. It’s just so different than what they did and what they won here on that day.”

YOU SAID YOU WOULD LOVE TO PUT YOURSELF UP THERE IN THAT ELITE FOUR-WIN CATEGORY, WHAT WOULD THAT MEAN TO YOU FOR YOUR NAME TO BE IN THAT GROUP OF NAMES? “When I think of it from the (A.J.) Foyt and (Rick) Mears perspective, I was just a little guy sitting on the couch with my dad and grandfather watching the 500. My grandfather was a huge Foyt fan and then I kind of gravitated toward Mears because of my roots and his roots being the same. His brother Roger was still racing and I was riding bicycles in the pits with his nephew, Casey. So, I had this attraction and pull toward the Mears gang from when I was very young. Indy Car was my focus as a kid growing up, and I just sat there with great intent watching. To know that Rick has won here four times at a pretty young age, that was the stuff and he was the man. Then with Jeff (Gordon), he gave me a lot of hope as a young driver. I was just in the off-road trucks at the time, but to watch his career path from a small track down the street and turn into what it did in stock cars, and then my career started to go that way. I guess I realized that he was opening doors for drivers like myself and then Jeff has had an amazing career as well and we all know the story from that point on. I guess to sum it all up it would be my heroes for a variety of different reasons of four-time winners here. It would just mean the world to me to be up there with the guys I idolized from such a young age.”

IN A COUPLE OF WEEKS WE GO BACK TO WATKINS GLEN, DO YOU THINK OFTEN ABOUT THE DAY IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES WHEN YOU TRIED TO LEAVE THE BALLPARK AND HOW DID YOU BOUNCE BACK SO WELL TO WIN TWO TIMES AT THAT TRACK? “I don’t think I’ve won at the Glen. It’s been good to me. Out of the road courses we did win at Sonoma. In general that place (Watkins Glen) has been very, very good to me. It’s a track that fit my style right away. When I look back on that crash, unfortunately it kind of rung my bell and I don’t have a lot of thoughts that linger from the crash. But, I look back and it still runs on reels now and take a little bit of pride on the fact that I was the idiot in the car. Then the second part to it is Jeff Gordon was a key part of me coming to Hendrick. He didn’t know who I was prior to that wreck. When I stood on the roof of my car he was like who is this guy. That is when he first started paying attention. Granted it was a scary moment of my life, but looking back on it now it really led to a lot of good things.”

FOR SO LONG THIS TRACK WAS STRICTLY KEPT TO THE MAJOR CIRCUITS AND NOW YOU HAVE NATIONWIDE COMING HERE, AS A DRIVER DOES THAT AFFECT THE MYSTIQUE AT ALL? “To me it doesn’t matter. When I first heard my mind instantly went to how great of an opportunity it is for those series, for the drivers competing and really for the winners. In most cases you have up-and-coming drivers and teams in a tough economy and a tough sport trying to raise notoriety for themselves. So, my mind instantly went to what an opportunity. It wasn’t it’s going to affect the history; it was more a great opportunity for a lot of people.”

CARL EDWARDS WENT THROUGH A CREW CHIEF CHANGE DURING THE OFF-WEEK; CAN YOU IMAGINE TRYING TO FIGHT FOR A CHASE SPOT AND HAVING A CREW CHIEF CHANGE AT THE SAME TIME? “It’s tough, but they are at a point and time where they have to do something different. I’d imagine that from the final few laps at Homestead until now has been the toughest part. Now they’ve probably turned the page and moving forward with the decisions they’ve made. I would assume it brings a little bit of new life and excitement to the program. I’ve always Carl and Bob (Osborne) in the way of the respect they’ve had for one another and how they’ve dealt with tough times in the past. I think they did a great job here and the decision has been made. If I was Carl, it’s time to look forward. We’ve turned the page, we’ve made the decision, and he had a short period of time to get stuff done for this year. The window is closing. Knowing Carl, he’s a strong race car driver, strong-minding good leader, and all the qualities to make the best of this situation he naturally has. Time will tell what really happens, but they’ve got to get going and they’ve clearly made the decisions to do that.”

NASCAR PLACES SUCH A PREMIUM ON THEIR DIVERSITY PROGRAM, CAN YOU TALK PERSONALLY ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THAT TO YOU AND THE SPORT OVERALL? “It is very important. It’s an expensive sport and a sport to be competitive at this level. It’s a sport that you need to start doing as a kid and a very young kid. I know we got to a certain point with my family; I wasn’t even on four wheels when it got too expensive. So, there are a lot of challenges to really develop young drivers regardless of gender, all backgrounds, whatever it is. That’s the tough part. I think our sport became more mainstream and appealing in recent time and it’s just going to take a while to develop the diverse group that we think we can see in the garage areas. It is an important focus for NASCAR, but they fully understand and I think everybody in the garage area does. It just takes time to develop drivers and bring them along.”

WITH THE DIFFERENCES IN THIS TRACK AND THE OTHER TRACKS THAT YOU RACE AT, WHAT DO THOSE DIFFERENCE AS FAR AS A CHALLENGE POSE TO YOU AS A DRIVER, AND HOW DIFFICULT IS TO RUN AT THIS TRACK FOR THE FIRST TIME? “It’s really tough. If you make a mistake on a corner here you have such a long straightaway to pay the penalty. A tenth lost in the corner compounds to three or four tenths at the end of the backstretch or frontstretch. Turns one and three you need to be right and you can lose time, but you just have the short shoot to really lose time, but if you’re wrong off of (turns) two and four you really pay the price down the whole straightaway. Yes, we have a couple of extra sets of tires here today, but no testing and one day of practice. So, as a new team or driver coming in it just takes time to get it right. It’s such a big track that you run eight laps and you’ve been out there for 15 minutes, so it’s just a tough track to get right. Experience does pay. It took me a long time to figure it out. It may look just kind of simple to drive around the track at times, but it’s one of the most demanding tracks we’re on from a driver’s mental capacity and line-specific. It’s almost as line-specific as a road course. A lot of the ovals we have tons of room and if you go in the corner and you slip up you can run the second or third lane, you can’t do that here. You’ll lose way too much time.”

WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE ISSUE OF SPORTSMANSHIP IN THIS SERIES ON AND OFF THE TRACK? “It’s really tough to have friendships outside of your core group of guys on your team because the sport is so regulated that you don’t even have to say the area you are focused on with your race team. Just through a few comments, if somebody is paying attention they can pick up on what you are working with. That makes some friendships tough outside of your own home base. I feel like sportsmanship in general is really dependent on overall relationships. There are some guys you click with and you’re friends with and things work on and off the track. There are other situations that don’t. There are situations where you have a friendship on the track and somebody takes advantage of you and it upsets you, and you create kind of two different situations, on track and off track which I have experienced. The longer I’m in this sport the more I realize that in time everything comes back around. I can use Tony (Stewart) maybe as an example or Kevin (Harvick), the longer you are in it as I mentioned things keep circling around and it doesn’t pay to always handle things how you first want to and how you want to react when the pressure of a race and the frustration is there. It just leads to a long-lasting issue. All 43 guys are typically on the race track the next week, and we have 38 of these things that we do. You can just be mad all the time if you want. I think sportsmanship has evolved in our sport and there is more camaraderie now than what I saw when I first came in. I was a bit intimidated when I first came in and didn’t have the relationships. I think the camaraderie is there now more than it’s ever been. I’m not sure if that translates to what the fans want to see on the track, but I think there is a better respect and friendship throughout the garage than ever before.”

WAS THERE AN ON-TRACK WHERE AN INCIDENT TAUGHT YOU TO REACT IN A CERTAIN WAY? “I’d say the best example for that would be this year’s Daytona 500. It was a Talladega in 2003 or 2004, going into turn one I’m trying to help Elliott Sadler, he was in the No. 38 M&M’s car, and I ended up pushing him to hard into turn one and created a huge wreck where we all crashed. Elliott handled the situation well and knew it was intentional. Fast forward to this year’s Daytona 500, he’s trying to help me by pushing me through the tri-oval at the start of the race and I crash. People were probably expecting me to come out of the car and shred Elliott apart. It wasn’t the case. I didn’t mean to crash him eight years ago or whatever it was and I know he didn’t mean to crash me. If I was younger, I probably would have gotten out of the car and been an ass about it. When you’re in it long enough you see both sides of it.”

YOU NEVER HAVE REALLY BEEN OUT OF SHAPE OR UNHEALTHY, BUT YOU’VE TAKE UP TO TRIATHLON TRAINING AS OF LATE, AS WE HEAD INTO THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER HAVE YOU FOUND THAT TRAINING HAS MADE IT EASIER FOR YOU TO DEAL WITH THE HEAT? Triathlon “From a physical output standpoint, it’s making things a lot easier. The heat and getting strong in the heat, it’s a different game. There are slow gains there. So much of it has to do with hydration. With the training for the triathlons and dehydrating myself doing that and doing that in the heat of the day to build strength, it’s a tough cycle to keep right and to keep the hydration there so that when I show up to the track and have to race on Sunday that I’m there. So, it’s been an interesting challenge and one that I’ve really enjoyed. I had such a great experience with the first triathlon that I picked another training program and looking forward to doing my second one whenever we get some free time which probably doesn’t look like until the season is over. I don’t even know if they still have competitions then. I definitely had a great experience and know all the benefits that come from it. It can’t hurt, I know that much. It’s only making me better.”

WHAT DID YOU DO WITH YOUR OFF WEEK? “Off-week was traveling. We went through Europe. After the Kentucky race I took my family over to France and we had other families in our neighborhood that were there with their kids as well. The guys kind of retreated back to go to work and the ladies stayed and joined up with my family after Loudon and spent some more time in France, some time in Italy and then came home. I’ve got to get back to the tri-training and lose a few pounds. I ate more begets and butter and all the bad things over there than I ever meant to. It was a great off weekend for us.”

Source: Team Chevy Racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Rick Mears , Elliott Sadler
Article type Interview
Tags brickyard, chevrolet, hendrick, indianapolis, johnson