Continued from part 1 Q: Is there any one thing they did, any -- what did they teach you? Do you still have things in the back of your mind when you're doing something that came from them? JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there's a lot. I mean,...
Continued from part 1
Q: Is there any one thing they did, any -- what did they teach you? Do you still have things in the back of your mind when you're doing something that came from them?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there's a lot. I mean, they didn't work with me on the technique of driving the car. They gave me the opportunity to go out and learn, and they gave me all the tools and resources that I needed and the team needed to be successful. But I think more than anything, they taught me how to really commit. They taught me how to do it right. They've been very successful in their own right, and they've done it with class and style and being a man of their word. It's very, very important to them.
So they taught me in a lot of ways how to be a man in the business world and how to be a man in the race car and own up to things and carry myself in the right way and act as a professional should. So I owe them a lot.
Q: So you went to Hendrick, you went with Jeff, you had an agreement with them that you could do that? Was your contract up with them, or what were the mechanics in you moving on to Hendrick?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, in 2000 it was our first year of Busch Racing at the time. We had "Alltel" on our car. Alltel was going to leave and sponsor Ryan Newman's car at Penske, and we didn't have a sponsor. And through that there were opportunities that were coming my direction. I didn't know what to do, and Jeff gave me some advice and also mentioned that they were thinking of starting a fourth Cup team. And as that developed, I went back to the Herzogs and explained my situation to them. It was actually at the Bristol race that followed, the August Michigan Race, and I laid it out to them. I said, "Look, I've got all these opportunities. There's one that's really special with Hendrick Motorsports, where are we at, what should I do?" This is where I say they taught me a lot about being a man. They both sat there in the transporter and said, "This is a deal you can't refuse; you should take this. As much as it pains us to do it and we've come this far, you need to take this opportunity."
And at that point I agreed to move forward with Hendrick. I still had another year left on my contract with the Herzogs and finished up with the 2001 Busch season for them and ran a partial schedule with Cup and then 2002 was my rookie year in Cup.
Q: Just wanted to get sort of a sense from you of what you're doing, if anything, to sort of not let your guard down with three races to go and having such a big lead.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Really just treating these races as if they were other races, any other race. I know it sounds stupid and corny and almost predictable, but it's the truth. I mean, the way we have prepared to this point has led to the points lead that we have and the race wins that we've accumulated over the year, and we need to do more of the same.
From my standpoint, studying my notes from the previous races, working with the engineers, understanding the setup that we're taking, understanding what we're trying to qualify and what we're going to try and race trim, and being up to speed on all those potential changes that we can work on and understanding what we're hoping that they will do, that's all part of it, and I think this weekend will be a lot easier for me than Talladega because I'm going to be working on things that actually make a difference
At Talladega there was a lot of free time for my mind to worry because the rules are so specific and there's not a lot you can think about from a driver's standpoint. But this weekend it should go fast. As soon as we get in the car, be focused on how the car is handling and adjustments that we need to make right on through the race.
I'll just try to fall into all of that and just live and breathe the race car as much as possible so that my mind doesn't think about outside things.
Q: With you getting out of Talladega and actually padding your points lead instead of potentially losing points, does that make it harder to stay on your guard, just the fact of knowing that you got screwed there the way you did?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It could, and I'm preparing for that, but I'm not sure. I don't want to open my mind up to too many things and let my guard down and I make a mistake. The same for the team. We still have a lot of pit stops that could be costly. If they lose their focus, they would miss something on the race car. From a mechanical standpoint and a handling standpoint, we really need to keep our heads down and treat this as if we were behind and chasing so that we cross all the T's and dot all the I's
Q: Even if Mark leads the most laps and wins the final three races, all you have to do is finish tenth in each race to clinch the championship. Do you plan to play it conservative at all, or do you plan to just go all out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're showing up to win races. Finishing tenth isn't as easy as it sounds. If Mark did everything right. It is a tough field of cars out there, and we need to be on our game. So with that in mind, we're going to race as hard as we can these next two races and see what happens for Homestead and see where we're at.
Then at that point I think we can look at more of a specific strategy. But with three to go, we need to race these next two as if we're behind in the points and get every point that we can.
Q: I'm sure you've probably gotten this question before, but I'm just wondering if I were to say a year, if you could tell me what is the first thing that comes to your mind about that championship, whether it's a couple of words that describe it or something in particular. If you could just go down your three championships for me.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: 2006 was stressful. I think about getting the monkey off our backs, sort of say getting that first championship because we had been close. And I think comeback, as well, because we were so far down in the points and were able to rally back.
2007, I think more along the lines of managing two cars. We have the split season, and the challenges that went with that, and how impressed I was with the team to understand the technology because the cars were so different, to show up and remember that it sounds easy, but yes, we're working on this car, these adjustments work. This car, the complete opposite adjustments work. So that was something I was really impressed with.
And last year I think I've come back in a little bit of a different way where the start of the season we were just out to lunch. We had to test 26 times to catch up, caught fire through the summer, and then we got into the Chase and had a great averaging finish. Our average finish in winning races and stuff.
To turn around the season in '08 -- we thought we would start '08 and everything would be fine and we'd continue on running competitively, but we were just in big trouble. So that's kind of the way I look at those three years.
Q: I'm sure you know as well as anybody that to win the championship you've got to have skill, you've got to have team work, and you've also got to have luck. Outside the way the race finished at Talladega last week, what are some other times this season where you've felt like you've had some exceptionally good luck?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, I don't know off the top of my head. I guess I haven't thought about it too much. I can say that the thing I'm really proud of through the Chase so far is that some people may say Talladega was a lucky race for us, but I see how we earned this thing and made good decisions. There's only one race I can say where we left something on the table, and that would be Kansas. I thought we had a much better finish for ourselves there and tuned ourselves out at the end of the race.
Even Talladega, Chad made a decision to pit for fuel, and that decision put us in position for a good finish. It wasn't a lucky call where Chad had to make the call and off we went. I feel from that race the luckiest thing I had was not being back one more row and collected when the wreck started. The 82 car was cleaned out behind me, and I was lucky to not be him.
When I think about luck, it's hard for me to think too much about it. I guess I'm maybe trying to ignore it in some respects and focus on the things I can control and what the team does and just haven't paid too much attention to those things.
Q: And also, I mean, potentially approaching this fourth championship, a lot of people who have accomplished what you accomplished say when it's happening they don't ever have time to enjoy it, but looking back, they can. Are you at a place where you can really enjoy and embrace what's going on right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I do enjoy it. I enjoy it in the car more than anything. Being in these moments, I've always watched sports and wondered what it would be like to pull something off in the final few seconds of a game, the fourth quarter, whatever it may be. I think we've all as kids watching sports have wanted to be in that moment and experience it.
I feel very fortunate to be experiencing those things. I am guilty that I don't reflect back a lot on what we've done. I assume at some point I will, but I guess it's a good thing that I'm not doing it yet. That might be a sign that you're ready to hang it up, and I feel like I'm pretty far away from hanging it up, and I'm still looking forward instead of reflecting back right now.
Q: Rewinding to Talladega and the talk about the banking, would it make any sense in your opinion to put a chicane on the back stretch? Would that slow the cars down to justify removing the plates?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It would slow the cars down, but we would have a 43-car pileup first attempt trying to get into the chicane. You've got to think about what it takes to stop a car on a Superspeedway. The cars are very slick so there's no downforce in them, which really affects the braking a lot. On top of that we're running small brakes. Just one thing after another from a mechanical standpoint, just two totally different worlds. I guess we could put all the beefy stuff on it; it wouldn't be a possibility to make them stop and last. But when you have all those cars in a big kind of running down into a braking zone, guys would be five, six, seven wide and tires locked up and running through one another, there's just no way. It would not be able to happen. If we're going to reconfigure it, there is a road course in the infield and just make it a road course race. You couldn't have a combination of 2.6 mile speedway track with a chicane in it. It's just two different worlds.
Q: Also there was no chatter during the race on Sunday that maybe a lot of the single-file racing we saw could have been some type of former driver protest against restrictor plate racing. Is there any truth to that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, there's no truth to that. That really is, when we hit single file like that, we just know there's no need to race at that point. All that matters is from that last pit stop on. I've been joking for years saying we just need a 23-lap shootout and it will be exciting and everybody will be happy and we'll hurry up and wreck the cars and go home. That's really what took place. Nobody was willing to race that hard and make those risky moves for the first 490 miles. So much so that our strategy, thinking that somebody would wreck, didn't pan out and we were sitting in a really bad situation at the red flag.
The fans can be upset and be upset at NASCAR, but at the end of the day, the reason we weren't three and four wide is because we didn't want to be. We wanted to ride single file. We wanted to log miles and have a better chance at finishing the race.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to Jimmie Johnson for joining us. Best of luck as you come down the stretch here and chase this tremendous bit of history.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Appreciate it. We'll see everybody soon. Thank you.