Johnson: Just doing everything we can to be great teammates

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET, met members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed last week’s race and coming into Atlanta this weekend, what the team is willing to do to help teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon get into the Chase, who he thinks is a threat in the Chase at this point of the season and much more. Full transcript.

Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT COMING TO ATLANTA THIS WEEKEND. “Last week things went really well for the Lowe’s team. Starting as far back as we did we were really concerned about getting track position and being able to maintain it. We assumed that we would have to take some risks to get it, but at the end we just really kind of drove our way up through there. It wasn’t all that easy to pass. We had to create some opportunities to pass. We got that done and had a great finish. So we’re very pleased to have clinched (a spot in the Chase). It takes a lot of pressure off of this weekend and especially next weekend. There’s bonus point out there. I still regret not getting the bonus at Michigan. There’s still two races left and hopefully we can get some more bonus points before rolling to the Chase.”

DO YOU EVER SYMPATHIZE WITH THOSE WHO ARE GOOD DRIVERS AND HAVE HAD DECENT PERFORMANCE AND JUST ARE STRUGGLING LIKE KYLE BUSCH FOR EXAMPLE? “Yeah, I do especially my teammates that are in that position. There was one year that Jeff (Gordon) didn’t make the Chase and others years I’ve had teammates miss it. In one respect I do sympathize for Kyle (Busch) not being in the Chase or up to this point not being in the Chase, and then in another light he’s such a threat that in some ways it’s a dodged bullet if he doesn’t make it for the guys that are in. He’s such a talent and a great race team. I say that as a compliment to them. But, I do. I sympathize. I know I’m not immune to it either. We’ve been very fortunate with this race team to have success and consistent success. When we start the year, I wake up every year fearing I might not make the Chase. Fortunately that hasn’t happened, but I use it as motivation. Our team plays close attention to it and there are no givens in pro sports especially in ours.”

DOES THAT EXTEND ALSO FOR CARL EDWARDS, WHO IS NOT ONLY STRUGGLING TO MAKE THE CHASE BUT HE’S COME UP SHORT ON TWO CHAMPIONSHIPS? “Last year being removed from the Championship battle it was easier for me to be sympathetic. The year I had the fortune of beating Carl I was so occupied with my own stuff that it didn’t necessarily cross my mind. You look at how talented Carl is and how strong he is, and how close he is especially last year being tied in the points, it was going to be a bummer for whoever lost last year. Both guys put up such a great battle. Carl handled it about as good if not better than anyone ever could under those circumstances. If you’re in this sport long enough, you’re going to have the good and the bad. I do pay attention to tough times guys go through. It hasn’t been easy for me in the early part of my career. These last 10 years have been pretty magical, but I know at some point that stuff all goes away and I will be faced with a lot of these same things myself.”

ARE YOU GUYS SATISFIED THAT THE VALVE SPRING PROBLEMS THAT HAUNTED YOU A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO IS CURED? “We feel really good about things. The testing that’s taken place since then has uncovered a certain issue that we feel like we’ve rectified. We won’t feel 100 percent about it until we get some top-speed track like Atlanta, although there is a lot of fall-off here. To simulate what happened at Michigan is such a rare animal there. Your minimum RPM is so high at that track with the repave; it will take a while before we have total confidence. We feel like we understand what happened and we’ve made some great changes to rectify that.”

MR. HENDRICK SAID HE WANTED EVERYONE AT HENDRICK TO BE IN THE CHASE THIS YEAR, WHAT LENGTHS IS YOUR ORGANIZATION WILLING TO GO TO GET JEFF GORDON AND KASEY KAHNE INTO THE CHASE? “Just doing everything we can to be great teammates. Share all the information we can. Give each other a little extra room on the track to avoid a mistake. The way our teams are set up, there’s not much more we can do, especially at Hendrick Motorsports. We share and share and share. It’s all there for everybody to look at and use. All the drivers are very available for one another to help. If I could order up some good luck for either one of them I would, but I don’t know how you really do that. Both teams and drivers are plenty capable of winning this weekend and next weekend and locking themselves in.”

THE SPORT WAS BASICALLY THRUST INTO MAINSTREAM BECAUSE OF A FIGHT IN 1979, THE FANS LOVE SEEING YOU GUYS HAVE THAT RAW EMOTION. WHY DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SHOW THAT RAW EMOTION IT RESONATES SO MUCH WITH THE FAN BASE? “I don’t know how to exactly describe it but the first thing that comes to mind is actually another question, why does everybody like reality T.V. It’s kind of in that same vein as people like to watch train wrecks; people like to watch controversy, whatever that is. We are all intrigued and love to check it out. Most of us certainly dislike being in that situation when it happens but it sure is entertaining to watch.”

YOU SAID YOU SHARE INFORMATION WITH YOUR TEAMMATES, IN REALITY IS IT POSSIBLE WITH TWO DIFFERENT DRIVING STYLES? “The styles between the drivers and even the crew chiefs are what separate things within a team. One key area why it is easy to share like we do, I know that Jeff Gordon won’t like the set up of my race car. I know I won’t like the set-up of his. Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) and I are pretty close these days. Everybody has their own style. What you do is you learn over the years how I can take a Jeff Gordon set up and adapt it to my car. Even if I see Jeff running fast on the track, I know his driving style and I’ve studied it so much that I can adjust or I try to adjust what I’m doing to drive it more like Jeff would, or Kasey (Kahne), or Junior. I even fall back on Kyle (Busch) and what he did when he was at Hendrick. At certain tracks where Kyle is fast, I remember from testing with him and working with him in the past that he drives a certain way and I try to go that route. There’s a lot left to each individual within a team situation where you do share so much, and that’s where you have to spend so much of your time during the week and think about how you can use different aspects of driving techniques and set ups.”

TWO WEEKS AWAY FROM THE CHASE, SIZE UP THE FIELD FOR US AND WHO DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE TO BEAT AND WHERE DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAM IS AT NOW? “Based on last year’s Chase I have really not singled out anyone in the Chase as a threat. I think everybody is a threat. Obviously I say that because Tony (Stewart) being as frustrated as he was starting the Chase wins five (races) and is a Champion. I think what happened last year just plays into the point that we all try to say week in and week out you’ve got to take everyone serious. That’s where I’m at right now. These next two weeks I’m starting to process of putting the blinders on and only worrying about the No. 48 and what we do. In the past when I have done that and we’ve left the track satisfied with our performance good things have happened. That’s the mindset and the road I’m heading down right now.”

DID LAST YEAR’S POINT BATTLE JUST ENHANCE WHAT THREE BONUS POINTS MEAN AND MAKE YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH VALUE THERE WAS TO THOSE THREE POINTS? “It really did. I think it’s on the rare side to have that scenario develop. Clearly we’ve never had a tie in the points before. It brings that reality to the front of the line. It could be that. I keep mentioning Pocono and Michigan for a reason and there are some others that I think got away during the course of the year for myself. You just don’t want to give up bonus points and to give up bonus points to a fellow Chaser was tough. At Pocono, my teammate who was trying to get in the Chase that was different. It was easier to deal with Pocono than it was Michigan mentally. Points are points and we need every one of them.”

WHEN YOU GET TO A PLACE LIKE ATLANTA THAT HASN’T BEEN REPAVED IN 15 YEARS AND YOU SEE THE TAR AND A BEAT UP TRACK, HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL? DOES IT MAKE ATLANTA STAND OUT MORE? DOES IT MAKE YOU WISH IT STILL HAD TWO RACES BECAUSE IT’S SO MUCH MORE UNIQUE NOW WITH ALL THE REPAVES? “Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed racing here. I was bummed when I heard a date had left but understand why and what was going on. Tracks with character fit our race cars so much better as we all know. Myself, when I know I’m coming here and I know it’s ahead I just start telling myself you’re not going to be comfortable. Get ready for every lap. Maybe your first lap on track or your first lap on stickers there is grip and you can drive the car, the rest of it is all about compromising and trying to manage the balance of the car and the tire life. Things are deteriorating rapidly. Every lap you make the track gets more slick, your tires are going away, and the environment is changing. I just have to remind myself of that and remember kind of like the old Darlington phrase, you race the track. You don’t worry about other people around you and get into that mindset really.”

Source: Team Chevy Racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Article type Interview
Tags chase, chevrolet, earnhardt, gordon, hendrick, johnson, kahne