Johnson - NASCAR teleconference, part 1

NASCAR Teleconference Transcript - Jimmie Johnson November 3, 2009 An Interview With: JIMMIE JOHNSON HERB BRANHAM: Thank you very much, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR Cam Video Teleconference. We're in advance of...

NASCAR Teleconference Transcript - Jimmie Johnson
November 3, 2009

An Interview With:

HERB BRANHAM: Thank you very much, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR Cam Video Teleconference. We're in advance of Sunday's Dickie's 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Great event, which is the eighth race in the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. We have a great competitor with us today, our three -- time defending champion of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Jimmie Johnson. He's joining us from Hendrick Motorsports headquarters in Charlotte.

Jimmie comes into Texas leading the series points by 184 over second place Mark Martin. Jimmie is trying to set an all-time series record by winning the title four years in a row. He shares the current of three straight with Cale Yarborough.

Jimmie, I know you're getting asked a lot, but what's it like to be so close to such an enormous accomplishment still three weeks to go in the season?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's an exciting time for sure. There's still a lot of racing left, and things can go wrong. We're in as good of a position as we could have ever hoped to have been in. So there's levels of excitement and emotion that comes with that. But I'm really trying to keep my head down and keep this team focused on doing the job the next three weeks. Not only do I feel it's important to do that for the championship's sake, but there are also some really good tracks for us coming up. I feel we could win one or two races here with the tracks we have left on the schedule, and we just need to keep going

What got us in this position was racing hard and going for every point, and until it's mathematically locked up, we're going to keep that mindset and try to get every point that we can.

Q: Looking ahead to the Phoenix race in two weeks, it'll be the first use of the double wide restart rule at PIR. Two-part question: Do you think the inside or the outside line will be favorable, especially because a couple of years ago the wall in turn 2 was moved back a little bit to open it up? And the second part of the question is considering that Hendrick Motorsports cars have won the last five Cup races in a row at PIR, even if you have a bad result at Texas, does that previous success at PIR give you a little more comfort level going into that race in terms of the championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I would say that looking at the schedule, the best track remaining for us would be PIR. We had a really fast car in the spring and had some different issues on pit road and some bad luck with the timing of the caution that kept us back in the pack, and still ended up with a reasonable finish but we passed a lot of cars, and in our opinion felt like we had the strongest car.

So going back to Phoenix is exciting for us, and it's one of the tracks I was mentioning in my opening statements there that I feel we can get a victory at, and hopefully make some more cool things take place in the points

For me it's a great track but it's also a great track for Jeff. He runs very consistent there, and then Mark won in the spring. The two guys I'm trying to stay ahead of in the points have that track as a strong one, as well.

At the end of the day I feel very confident. I feel very strong about the performance Hendrick Motorsports will have. I just hope it's the 48 car on top of the heap. But the double file restarts will be interesting. The bottom will probably be the preferred line. I think in turns 1 and 2 the outside will do a really good job of hanging on and can maintain down the back stretch. But in most cases the bottom of 3 and 4 is the preferred line, and we'll probably end up prevailing through the length of the race.

Q: As you've said, nothing is certain yet, but four years ago would you have thought a driver winning four straight titles was almost as unattainable or untouchable as Richard Petty's 200 wins?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm not sure what I would compare it to, but I didn't think it was possible. I looked at what Jeff had accomplished, race wins and four championships, and that was probably the last we'd see something like that with how competitive the sport is. I'm blown away and honored and enjoying every minute of what we're doing here, and hopeful that we can do it right these next three races and do something that's never been done before.

Excited about the potential that's out there, and no way I thought that it was possible, let alone with my situation. I know that people may find it hard to believe, but I've only been in a stock car really for 10, 11 years, and then in the Cup Series, this is my eighth season now. To have all this take place, it's pretty shocking to me, and I've worked very, very hard to get to this point, and so has this team, and we're enjoying every minute of it.

Q: I wanted to ask you about Chad: I know it's well documented you guys had a rough patch there before you started your run of championships, but what has made you guys work at this level for so long? I know there's days you want to kill him, but then last week you said you wanted to kiss him. How were you guys able to manage that relationship at this level?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I would say that the fact that we're so different really helps. If we both had similar personalities, I think we really would kill one another, so I think over time, the fact that we're so different but have some similarities and the desire to win and commitment and focus and all those things, and we share the important common things, and the other stuff that really annoys each other, we're probably more different than any driver/crew chief combination out there, and I think that's been helpful to us.

I'm pretty patient; he's not so patient. And in more instances I find that -- in a normal relationship outside of a working relationship I should say, patience really prevails, and I think my patience and kind of letting him have space at times to blow off steam and reevaluate and things like that is helpful, too.

At times I feel like I'm a psychologist with all that takes place on the race team and trying to manage emotions, and I certainly know Rick does, as well, and I don't want to leave him out of this. He's a big part of keeping our chemistry together, and back in '05 when we were really trying to kill each other, he just had a great way to connect to us and help us understand each other and work through some of that stuff. It certainly has worked.

Q: What does he do that really drives you nuts, that annoys you?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd say more than anything, it's when he is on the box and he's frustrated that the car is not going anywhere, and he thinks that I'm sitting on some speed and I can just magically make the car go a little faster. Those are the things that frustrate me in the car more than anything. He doesn't even have to say it. I think it was Charlotte maybe, I could just tell in his voice by how he was reading lap times to me, and he got under my skin and I threatened to strangle him. That worked well because he stopped talking and we got our stuff together and came back and won. I am learning how to handle him more and more each year that goes by.

Q: I know you had talked about what to do about Talladega, you had some good comments after the race, until they blow the track up and fix it, but given that may not happen, if you were NASCAR, looking back, what would you do? You heard all the fans talking about it, options of continuing to enforce harder regulations that they didn't seemingly enforce that much, but what would you do if you were NASCAR now coming back out of Talladega the next time we return other than tear the track up?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, there's a couple things. First of all, bump drafting hasn't been allowed in the corners for some time, so they didn't allow push drafting. Mike wasn't sure what phrase to use in the drivers meeting because it's kind of a new thing that is a product of this new car. So I don't think that that had as big of an impact on the race as people want to make it up as.

The real impact was we didn't want to wreck. We knew we were going to wreck. We knew we were going to cause a big wreck, it's just what that racing does, and everybody was minding their manners and be responsible up until we could see the checkered flag essentially and that's when things started to get crazy and we crashed.

NASCAR we're on a different style of car that was supposed to make the racing more exciting at these bigger tracks and really all tracks, and it has made it more exciting and allows us to close and make passes on the restrictor plate tracks, but it also is the exact thing that causes the big wrecks. We went to a smaller restrictor plate to help keep the cars on the ground and make them safer. That didn't work.

At the end of the day I hope people realized we have messed with enough in the garage area with cars, threatening drivers, regulating -- some people think they're over-regulated, other people think we're under-regulated, but the bottom line is we're going to have these issues until we're required to let off the gas going into the turns. I don't see any way possible with the safety rules that we need to pay attention to for the safety of the drivers and the fans and the way the cars are built that we can do that without eliminating banking in the corners.

I was just on a phone call with Mark Martin not long ago, and he said for 15 years now, he's been saying to people that would listen, they need to take the banking out of the corners and make us lift. I think finally the overwhelming public is understanding and starting to recognize that you can't change the cars anymore. You can't scold the drivers almost. We're going to ride single file for 490 miles and make it boring and then wreck everything at the end. So the only way we can get the racing to change is by changing the track. It's the only thing left. We've messed with every other area and nothing has worked.

Q: And how do you balance what the fans want and the crashes and the drivers not liking cars going end over end, the balance of what makes Talladega in some sense maybe really attractive to fans?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: The bottom line, somebody is going to be unhappy. The fans that want to see the big wrecks and want to see four and five wide are going to be upset, and right now they're upset because we were responsible as drivers and tried not to wreck earlier in the race. Now it looks like we've got both sides unhappy. I guess it can stay this way and it probably will stay this way, but the only true fix is changing the racetracks.

And then the people that enjoy Talladega and enjoy the big wrecks and four and five racing, they won't see it. It will be more like a two-mile track like we see at Michigan or California Speedway. So there is no way that anybody is going to be happy in this. Right now because we're trying to be responsible, we have more people upset than we've ever had before.

Q: We've probably talked about this back when you were winning your first or second championship, but provincial question, take me back to your racing for the Herzogs back in the Busch Series and what impact did they have and how important were they to where you are today?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: They are largely responsible for where I am today. The offer of racing when the Craftsman Truck Series came along back in the day, '95 or whatever it was, off-road truck racing, that whole series -- there was a few series at that point in time. They literally went under as a result of that. The manufacturers found a better way to market their trucks, they were spending less money and getting more for their dollar, and the off-road industry started to implode. So through that I knew the Herzogs kind of in passing, and when they moved to the Midwest to start racing in really the last remaining form of off-road truck racing, I had GM support, they were looking for manufacturer support, we were able to marry things together and get things going for the '96 season. And at that point we shared a common goal and dream to get to the Cup level.

They spent a lot of money, a lot of time, and put a lot into me through their own family's emotionally -- they gave me everything they could to make me succeed in the sport. So we went through off-road days, ASA, Nationwide, and then we all know the story and the fact that the sponsorship wasn't there and the great opportunity I had from Hendrick. But they developed me, they finished the details I needed as an off-road truck driver, prepared me for stock car racing and then completely taught me how to race stock cars, and we did it together. We were both rookies to it. But through the years in ASA and Nationwide, developed me as a stock car driver.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Cale Yarborough , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports