Continued from part 1 Q: Jimmie, we saw Kyle run away with the regular season and hit the wall at the start of the playoff. Two things on that: First of all, can you talk about how humbling in the sport it is to see that happen; and secondly,...
Continued from part 1
Q: Jimmie, we saw Kyle run away with the regular season and hit the wall at the start of the playoff. Two things on that: First of all, can you talk about how humbling in the sport it is to see that happen; and secondly, what were your thoughts when you saw him hit that wall, and talk about what it did for your confidence.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is a very humbling sport, without a doubt. I've been very fortunate to experience great fortune through my career in Cup, and it's something I'm very thankful for. But at the same time, with all the success that we've experienced, there still have been moments where it just saws you off at the legs. That's racing, and that's what makes our personalities in this sport and the people and the champions who they are is because this sport can eat you up and spit you out the other side.
I watched Kyle this year in total shock and amazement like everyone else and just couldn't believe what he was doing and wanted to be a part of it. I look at the 99 car and say those guys, if you look at consistency over the whole year, they matched Kyle's pace. Kyle did win some more races at the start of the season, but if you look at what these guys have done all year long, they've really been the team to beat and the team we've been focused on all year.
We didn't have our stuff together at the start and then caught up and got there, but I think in the years to come you're going to see a lot more of that 18 fighting for championships and Carl, and there are some other teams out there, as well. But looking at those highlights this year, the guys - I was shocked to see - I knew Kyle was good. I don't think any of us knew he was going to be that good. And then the pairing of he and Steve just skyrocketed. And at the same time, when the Chase started and things didn't work out, I was equally shocked that they had the problems they did and weren't able to be up there fighting for the championship.
Q: Carl, I have to say, as someone who once taught the youth of Missouri, I was pleased that you knew the definition of precipice. My question is you've got nine former champions sitting here in front of you. Do either of you have any stories or anecdotes about growing up and watching any of them, that you wanted to be like any of them, or even from racing against any of the ones that you did race against?
CARL EDWARDS: I know for me, you mentioned Missouri. Missouri is a long way from places like Daytona and Charlotte, and to me, watching you guys race on TV, that was something that we'd go over to my dad's buddy's house and watch the races on Sundays and see you guys like Richard Petty and Rusty Wallace and Bobby Allison and guys that to me were just these mythical figures.
It's so amazing to be sitting up here and realizing that even though it's a far chance, I still have a chance maybe to put my name on that list this year, so it's an honor.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I look through the room, and I see the guys here, and it's impossible to say how much I respect and admire all these guys and what they've done for our sport and have looked up to all of their names and faces through the years. Some of the ones - it was tough for me in San Diego to really catch NASCAR racing at a young age. But I remember being so impressed that a father and son did what the Allisons did, to be out there racing, and how cool that must have been to race against your dad or to race against your son and fighting for wins at Daytona and things like that. That was amazing.
Richard Petty didn't really have a good career, so it's hard to really talk much about him (laughter).
But I mean, these guys are heroes to all of us in the sport, and I think that it's tough, we don't get asked that question that often, but I feel I can speak on behalf of a lot of the drivers, not all of them, that these guys are the heroes of the sport and made it what it is today, and we've got a big responsibility on our shoulders to not screw it up and to help it continue to grow. It's a cool sport that we love, and we're trying to do our best with it.
But these guys are - they ran without HANS devices, they ran without power steering. I mean, there's a lot of different things that these guys have been through that we all admire.
Q: For Carl, a lot of times in sports, people are defined by those they defeat to win championships. Teams have to go through other champions to win that first title, and that elevates their own title. Whether you do it this year or whoever does it, whenever somebody finally beats Jimmie in this business, will the accomplishments of that team elevate the accomplishment by whoever it is that eventually tops them and knocks them off the precipice on which they now sit?
CARL EDWARDS: I hope he's on a precipice. You could fall off at any moment, Jimmie (laughter). Remember that.
I think that you're right; I think in any competition, I know I can only speak for myself, but when Jimmie started gaining speed and ground, you realized, man, this guy could win three championships. You try really hard not to be jealous or spiteful because of his success.
But Jimmie makes it easy to respect what they're doing, and I think in the end, yes, his success and - if he was to win this championship and make it three in a row and do what he could do, it would just make it literally more fun to beat him when we beat him next year. That's our plan.
But yes, his success does, I think, elevate the game, and I think Kurt said it really well last week after the race. It's amazing to see what he's doing right now.
Q: Almost from the time the Chase starts at Loudon, those of us who cover it tend to look at how every race affects the championship chase, and we don't really look at each race individually. How tough has it been for you guys to focus on each race and put the battle for the championship kind of in the background? Is that difficult at all?
CARL EDWARDS: You know, with the way that the 48 team has been running, I definitely have understood the weight of every lap, everything that goes on. That's what made Talladega so excruciating, to be - I will never forget sliding down that banking with the mangled up car thinking, wow, I have really screwed us here. That was a bad feeling.
And then the next week at Charlotte, it was just like a bad dream where we were sitting there changing those ignition boxes, and I'm watching the field go by thinking, I can make up one lap, maybe two, then three, four, five.
I think that through this season or this Chase, I've learned a lot about the value of every point. I thought I really understood that well, but I think I understand it maybe just a little better now. It hasn't really been difficult to focus on it, but we have been focused on every lap because of how well these guys are running, and you know if you give anything up, it's hard to make it back up.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Kind of adding to that, too, is I think it simplifies things just to focus on each race. You don't know where the points are going to come from. If you do get an advantage, you don't know if you're ever going to lose them and how, and I have just found that the more I look at each race, and as Carl said, each lap, you just stay focused on the present and do what you can then. It's been helpful.
Then in '06 when we won the championship, we got off to a bad start, and it helped me then to realize that you can only do what you can do and you can only control the things that you touch. You can't control parts breaking or getting caught up in wrecks and different things that take place. So you just focus on the now. If it comes together, it comes together. That's been something I've learned from '06 and have carried through '07 and this year, as well.
Q: Jimmie, you've been a little bit reluctant to really talk about the historical significance of winning three in a row. If you do this, do you feel like you would belong with this group of gentlemen sitting in front of you? And also, Carl, if you could just talk about the historical significance of if he would win three in a row?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, first you've got to do it, and that's why I haven't talked about it. And two, I don't think I have, or any driver, has the right to proclaim their spot in history. That's not for that person to decide. That's for the fan base, the guys that have done it and are in that club and were accepted into that club. I don't comment about it because I'm 33 and still racing, and I don't feel like it's my spot to say those things.
I also feel that I have a lot of years left in the car to really make my mark in the sport. So I just - if we are fortunate enough to win the championship, I'm sure some things will come along at that point and I'll have some comments then about what it means to me. But I don't think it's my place to say where I fit in.
CARL EDWARDS: I still plan on beating him hopefully (laughter), so I'd rather not comment on it.
Q: Carl, you've had a great season, a season that in other years may have resulted in a championship. If it doesn't work out for you, as you look back on it, will this be a season you view as a success or one that got away?
CARL EDWARDS: Well, like I said, I mean, it's not over, so it's hard to say. I mean, I guess we just have to see what happens on Sunday.
I can say with certainty, no matter what happens on Sunday, our team has become stronger, and I do feel like we can win at almost any racetrack we go to. We ran really well at places like Daytona this year; the road courses were great; Martinsville, a place that I had struggled a lot at. So no matter whether it works out, the Cinderella story for us, or if Jimmie gets this thing, I feel very positive and excited about the years to come. I think we're going to be great. That's how I look at this year, no matter what.
Q: I just wanted to ask you guys a little bit about your reflections on - the relationships you guys have cultivated with your crew chiefs and how important have they been in where you are right now, and do you suspect that Sunday might become a chess match between the two of them?
CARL EDWARDS: The only way this thing could get extremely dramatic is if they had some sort of trouble, and then they would have to recover from that and do a good job with that, and we at the same time would have to go out and try to dominate this race. That I think would be the most exciting thing that could happen, and it would really showcase our crew chiefs' talents to try to take advantage or make the most of the day.
I know my relationship with Bob Osborne, I'm really grateful that Jack put Bob and I together. He's a really, really smart guy and a great racer, great competitor. I have a feeling that Jimmie and Chad have a similar relationship, and they seem to work really well together, as well.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think relationships make everything - make it all happen, and it goes down to many levels, through your crew guys and the relationships with guys that go over the wall, car chiefs, crew chiefs, and the guy that puts that all together is the crew chief. My relationship with Chad has been unlike any relationship I've had before with a crew chief. We're close in age, which is a first for me, and we share a lot of things in common. We have two completely different personalities, and his strengths fit my weaknesses, and my strengths fit his weaknesses. So I think the pairing of us both has been really good.
You know, those relationships, especially as time goes on, make things - not necessarily easier, but they just build people's confidence in what you can and can't do as a team. I have a lot of confidence in Chad and the cars he's bringing to the track, and he has that same thing in me in what I can do in one of his cars. It doesn't make it any easier, but I guess you sleep a little better at night because you have that history together and you know each other so well.
Continued in part 3