An Interview With: JIMMIE JOHNSON
THE MODERATOR: We've got our five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Jimmie, obvious question is you're five-time champion, and what's it going to take to win the sixth?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, it's obviously a new year and new set of challenges. It's awfully early to even understand what the challenges are going to be. We hope that we're smarter through all the hard work that we've been going through in the off-season, but we just won't know until we get -- actually really leave Daytona and get to Phoenix and on and on from there.
We're working hard on all fronts to be a better race team. I think that last year we learned a lot more about ourselves and kind of validated our core beliefs and stuck to what the 48 team is known for and what we believe in and was still able to overcome a lot of adversity and win a championship. I feel like we'll be stronger and better, but we just don't know until we get into the meat of the season and the first goal is obviously to make the Chase and from there figure out how to win again.
Q: The buzz at the beginning of this week was points, change in the points. You're the five-time champion. The last time we had the buzz about points there was a guy that won the race and it wasn't that exciting of a season. Do you think maybe this could be pointed at you somehow?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I mean, I guess if we don't have an idea what it's really going to look like, there's a lot of speculation at this point, but in theory if it is 43 points for the winner on down to 1 for the last-place car, in concept, in theory, it's still very similar to what we have now. So I think the premise, the concept is still very similar. Take a while to get used to it.
I think it's more of an attempt to make our points system easier to understand. I don't think that it would be a huge change from the thought that I've put into it so far. I don't see it being a big thing. I know people expect me to react and think, oh, they've got to leave it alone, don't change it. I don't care what races are in the Chase, the format to win the championship; I could care less because I feel confident that my team will be able to win championships under any set of circumstances. We'll wait until the announcement when and if it comes and kind of take it from there.
I don't believe it's a huge strategy to engage the fans more from an attendance standpoint for a viewership standpoint. I mean, you always hope for that. I think in my opinion there are other areas to focus on for that. This would give us something to talk about and hopefully simplify the system and make it easier to follow.
Q: Jimmie, Denny Hamlin talked about the track being so smooth that there was almost nothing that you can do to the cars to really make a difference and that they're likely to be bigger packs, drafting packs and so on because it will bring everybody together. If there's not that much you can work on and not much you can change, what will you guys be doing here for three days?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, we kind of speak to that point, we didn't participate in the Goodyear tire test for that reason alone. We felt like three days here would be enough time on track to sort out what we had.
The rules are such where there are very few areas to work in. We have a lot of freedom at the front of the car to work on it, but with the bumps gone there's very little driver comfort issues or drivability issues and you're basically trying to get the car as low as you can to the track and don't let the splitter drag. After a handful of runs of doing that, you're kind of out of moves. We can't mess with the back of the car. We don't have body changes that we can make to the templates and the way they are with the cars. So it really shortens up the list of things to try.
Our teammates are doing great. We were on the bottom of the board for a while so I'm not sure we've got everything sorted out on the 48 car just yet. To have our teammates as fast as they are, we'll just go home and get all the adjusting things around and get it right. I think it kind of comes down to drive line, some different angles and drive shafts and rolling resistance and issues like that where the speed is, so we'll just have to do a bit of work there.
Q: Denny Hamlin was in here and said he didn't think about racing during the whole off season and he promised us that, and Carl Edwards and Martin Truex, Jr., talked about how crazy the racing is going to be here. Can you sort of talk to both of those entities? Did you think about racing during the off-season, and how crazy will racing be here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it was in my mind at times. There was no doubt that once things slowed down for me, which was around Christmastime, from I'd say Christmas to maybe January 3rd or 4th, I did a very good job of not being connected and got away and spent time with the family.
But we had a lot of changes going on with pit crew stuff, the changes with the crew chiefs and drivers moving around. There's been plenty going on.
January has been extremely busy. I've missed being in the car. I think all drivers would say wanting to go to the track and drive the car and compete, you can do that year-round. It's the other stuff that makes it a long year.
I'm excited to be in the car here, although it's not all that challenging, but I was here for the Rolex test and had a great time in that car and will be back next weekend for that race, and really excited for that race. Enjoy running that event.
And then the 500 I believe is going to be everything everyone would hope for. The track will have plenty of grip, multiple lanes. In my opinion, yeah, I believe some guys will probably ride and try to play it smart. But for the Daytona 500, at least in my mind, and I think most drivers look at it the same way; you're willing to make a lot of risky moves and willing to wreck your car. Points don't seem to be a premium yet. We're going to see a very, very action-packed Daytona 500.
Q: Just want to know how the first stages of your relationship with having Dale Jr. in your shop has worked? Have you got him running ten miles a day with you, your karma rub off or anything?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Fortunately all the teammates, all the drivers and crew chiefs, over the years the way Rick has had a vision for Hendrick Motorsports and the way we all communicate. I can't say it's been much different from that standpoint. I mean, we still -- when we weren't in the same shot there's just a lot of communication taking place. In the shop I guess the biggest thing we've been working on is just the driver's compartment trying to make sure with both cars being built in that same shop that we can use the same dash, seats, things like that, and with us, we both seem to like a similar seat angle and placement, which will then allow us to have the dashboards in the same spot, and it's going to simplify the shop, and we're just kind of working through the final stages of that now.
With Jeff being shorter and the seat angle he had, our cars were pretty different, and right now we're trying to make it kind of a common cockpit through the shop and working through that.
Q: You said that the 1 through 43 thing would maybe be a way too make the system simpler, but does the system need simplification? Carl was in here earlier and said he doesn't know how many points he has when he's running 12th but aren't you all cognizant of the fact that when you make a pass it's going to be worth three points, four points or five points, depending on where you are?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I can't say I knew where that cutoff was in the past, especially from four to three. I knew first to second and that kind of thing. But in the car I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the points values, you just know that there's more points in front of you type thing. Maybe other guys think a lot more in depth about the exact numbers, but you just go forward and pass those guys and be ahead of them.
I know that we were trying to -- potentially -- this is my opinion. I haven't had anyone at NASCAR tell me this, but it seems like we're trying to make this just a little bit easier to understand. At the same time we have a complicated system. We don't have two teams on the track. There's 43 obviously.
So there's a point there where now we've got to reeducate our fan base and any new fans coming in. Are we going to confuse everyone even more and shoot ourselves in the foot a little bit? I don't know. Time will tell. But one thing that's obvious to me is that NASCAR is continuing to try to make it better, and they're looking anywhere and everywhere they can, and I think we have a very refined product in the garage area from a competition standpoint, and last year's championship battle spoke to that.
Some more tweaks here and there, I'm willing to try it, but I think there are some other issues that would help with attendance and viewership that kind of leave the garage area and what happens on the track. You look at length of races, frequency of races. In my opinion I think a lot of our fans are just overexposed from race lengths and then so many events.
Q: This 500 will mark the 10th year of Dale Earnhardt's passing. As a five-time champion yourself, can you talk about that legacy, what he's left, and what it means to you as a champion and him being a seven-time champion?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: From my standpoint, I never was able to race against him. My standpoint is watching him on television and being a fan of the sport. My brother picked Senior as his driver when we were young as kids, and I certainly couldn't align with my brother in his thoughts. It was my job to beat him up and often as possible. So I had my driver, my brother had Senior, and I remember a lot of times, my guy was getting waxed by Senior year after year.
I didn't know him as a competitor. I met him a few times in passing. That's one thing that I really wish I could have experienced was the intimidation factor that he had on and off the track and being around him and watching him work through the garage area and to help advance the series and to work with NASCAR, his interaction with the fans, and you just hear some stories -- I hear so many stories today about him but I never had a chance to see him firsthand. I have a great deal of respect for who and what he was and what he did for our sport, and I regret that I didn't have a chance to know him.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thank you so much, and good luck in your quest to win the 53rd running of the Daytona 500.