Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo spoke with the media about the season to date and the upcoming NASCAR Nextel Cup races at Michigan International Speedway and Infineon Raceway. ON HAVING DALE EARNHARDT JR. AS A...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo spoke with the media about the season to date and the upcoming NASCAR Nextel Cup races at Michigan International Speedway and Infineon Raceway.
ON HAVING DALE EARNHARDT JR. AS A NEW TEAMMATE IN 2008
"It's an exciting time. I'm very excited about the opportunity for Dale Jr. in coming to Hendrick Motorsports. We obviously have the '07 season to get through and everybody has jobs to do and things to think about and be concerned about and we'll take it from there and look forward to '08. It's an exciting time. I think it says a lot for Mr. Hendrick and the organization and what we've done together as a company to have Junior think his future is best served at Hendrick Motorsports."
EVERY TEAM WITHIN THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS GROUP HAS WON THIS YEAR. WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THAT?
"We always say it's about people. If you listen to other race teams when they're on top of their game and doing well, we're always talking about the guys at the shop and thanking everyone. Mr. Hendrick, being the type of person that he is, develops a relationship and is able to keep quality and people working at HMS for years and years. Over time, you build such a strong foundation that it's hard to beat. It's hard to beat that foundation that Rick has in place. The people are the core of our success."
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR INFINEON RACEWAY NEXT WEEK?
"Ultimately, I want to win. It's a goal I've set to achieve and hopefully we're able to get it done. That's our first priority. But more than anything, I want to make sure I'm competitive and qualify good. Road course racing can be such a stressful experience. If you have a bad qualifying effort it just leads to a long weekend and crazy strategy to be competitive. I'm just looking forward to a competitive weekend with a smooth qualifying effort, get in the race, run in the top five, and fight for a win."
WHAT IF.......YOU ARE THE POINTS LEADER COMING TO YOUR FAVORITE TRACK WHERE YOU'VE BEEN SUCCESSFUL, YOUR WIFE IS PREGNANT AND COULD GO INTO LABOR AT ANY MINUTE, HOW WOULD YOU HANDLE THAT?
"You're obviously talking about Jeff Gordon. That's a tough one. Where he is in points and in his career, and at Hendrick, and where he is in life, I believe he's in a great situation. Even though it's stressful and he has obligations and needs to be in a race car, he's in a position to enjoy a different aspect of life and to be there for the birth of his child. I'm not so sure how that all works out. I'm not sure when the due date is to get everything coordinated. I saw him at dinner with Ingrid last week and they're both extremely excited. It's interesting to walk into his place now and see strollers and baby cribs and all that stuff (laughs). I never thought I'd see that at his place, but it's an exciting time for him."
HAVE YOU WATCHED HIM AT ALL TO SEE HOW YOU MIGHT HANDLE A SITUATION LIKE THAT IN THE FUTURE?
"I've learned a lot from Jeff. There is no doubt about that. He always jokes with us (Casey Mears and Brian Vickers) younger guys and says to let us learn from his mistakes. We're all watching -- especially me because I'm the married one out of the crowd. We're watching and paying attention. But I don't think we're in any rush to start a family. We're still freshly married and enjoying all that."
WHEN DID YOU FIRST FIND OUT ABOUT DALE JR. JOINING HMS, AND IS YOUR REACTION TO HIS CLAIMING CREDIT FOR GETTING YOU INTO NASCAR RACING BY HELPING YOU OUT WITH ADVICE ON THE KINGSFORD CAR?
"I'm in a position at Hendrick where I'm not the eldest driver, but I'm going to be at Hendrick for a long time. I have a long-term contract. I've known that there has been interest there. I've known that we were pursuing and felt like we were in a good position to acquire Junior. There was a lot that needed to happen and a lot that needed to take place and that stuff has all been going on behind closed doors. But I was at least aware of the situation. I'm excited to have him. I think he's going to be a great teammate and a great asset for us. I also do credit him with some of my early days in North Carolina. I remember all the way back to when we were at the Daytona 500 before I was even driving stock cars -- probably in '99 or '98. He was racing Late Models and we crashed in the same condo together and had all kinds of fun. Neither one of us was racing and we were just having a big time. Then when I moved back to North Caroling he was dominating the Busch Series when I was just getting my feet wet and was a big help to me then. We've been friends for quite a few years now."
IS YOUR XM RADIO SHOW MORE FUN OR WORK FOR YOU? WHAT WAS A MEMORABLE DAY ON THE SHOW? DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DOING BROADCAST IN THE FUTURE AT THE END OF YOUR DRIVING CAREER?
"Yeah, I haven't even thought about after my driving career is over. I'm a driver at heart and I guess you don't really think about that until that day is there when you're not going to be in that seat anymore. I do have experience doing pit road commentating in the off-road for ESPN. I'm comfortable in front of the camera, but it's nothing that I'm actively setting up for my future. I do have a great time with the show and it's brought a lot of great opportunities to me. It does not seem like work. It just seems like a place for Marty Smith and I to harass one another and give the No. 48 fans and racing fans in general an inside look at what goes on in my pea-sized brain."
ON THE AUGUST 29 GOLF TOURNAMENT AND THE JIMMIE JOHNSON FOUNDATION
"We're really excited with the progress we've made with our foundation. It's a little over a year old now and we've been able to raise a lot of money and do some great things already with the Victory Junction Gang Camp. We're expanding into San Diego. The goal is to eventually give back in the areas in which Chani and I both grew up. We're starting that project in San Diego. We're hoping to build a house with Habitat for Humanity in El Cajon. I'm certainly going to build something with Habitat; we just haven't been able to lock down the land piece yet. That's what that fundraiser golf tournament is for. We've had a lot of inquiries and I believe we've already locked up all the foursomes. We have our sponsor packages in place too so it's been moving really fast and we've seen a lot of support and we're just excited for it. Robert Niblock at Lowe's has supported anything that I've wanted to do from driving in the Rolex 24 to my foundation. They've been an amazing sponsor and great friends and they are involved in our golf tournament and what we're doing with Habitat."
WHAT MAKES RICK HENDRICK SUCH A REMARKABLE INDIVIDUAL? IS THERE ANY CONCERN AT ALL THAT ADDING DALE EARNHARDT JR TO HMS WILL MAKE IT TOO CROWED WITH TOO MANY STARS?
"As far as Rick, I think a lot of it comes from your parents. If anybody knew Papa Joe and his mom, Mary -- they are great people. If you ever had a chance to meet his parents, you would see why Rick is who he is. And then I think Rick's life experiences have also made him more of what he is. He's fought Leukemia. He's had financial challenges. He financed everything to get his first auto dealership and has had success with that. He has had a very challenged life in a lot of ways but he's a great person at heart. Through all of that, personal and professional challenges, he's kept his core values and you are able to see those values come out in the decisions he makes. He's a caring person; a loving person. He's also a stern businessman that's made a successful empire for himself. He's got a heart and it's just a pleasure working for him. Anybody in the garage area, if they had a choice to go to work for someone, they would pick Rick Hendrick. I know he hasn't set out to be that person, that's just who he is. He's a humble man. It's who he is and everybody loves him.
"When you have four winning teams like we do, we've had that challenge of are there too many successful drivers in one place? I think we've already proven that if there is a team that can deal with it, Hendrick Motorsports would be one of them. Even though we are teammates and we share everything, that part is set in stone. We have four different drivers with four different personalities. We're all able to be who we are and what we are. Rick doesn't regulate us. He lets us all be ourselves. I think we're all going to be helpful to one another -- help crossing over to a different fan basis. Just being around Jeff Gordon, I've learned so much about the sport and how to handle myself and things by working with him. I'm sure Junior will learn some from Jeff and we'll learn some from Junior. When you're in a teammate situation, you've got to learn how to deal with these things. We've all been in teammate situations and I think Rick's organization is a place where people really can spread their wings."
IN MOTORSPORTS, EACH DRIVER WANTS THE SUPERBOWL. HOW DO YOU HANDLE SITUATIONS LIKE MARTINSVILLE, WHEN JEFF GORDON WASN'T TOO HAPPY WITH YOU FOR WINNING?
"You just saw the competitive spirit. People question whether there are team orders and people really wonder whether we can really be ourselves and fight for wins and do the things we say we do in these situations as teammates. At Martinsville, Jeff's emotions came out because Jeff couldn't get by me. Jeff was frustrated. Jeff was mad that he didn't win. He wasn't mad at me. It didn't matter who was in front of him. It is hard for people to understand unless you're in the sport and living it. But with the restrictions we have as teams, we need to all work together or else none of us are going to be successful. The fact that our four teams have been as tight as they have, we are able to keep Hendrick Motorsports in the position of winning races. So you need somebody who buys into that program and says he's going to be a team player. And if all four of us work together, we're going to stay successful. And if it comes down to the end of a race where we have to fight against one another, I'd rather it be with my teammate. You have to buy into that and I don't think everyone can. And that's why you see some multi-car teams that are successful and some that aren't. The way Rick has put together this organization; we've been able to buy into that philosophy. And it's hard at times. I'm sure it wasn't easy for Jeff to finish second and I've been in second plenty of times to him where I didn't like it one bit, but I'd rather be beat by a teammate than someone else. But that's what we do and that's why we're successful."
IF YOU WEREN'T HIS TEAMMATE, JEFF MIGHT HAVE GIVEN YOU A BUMP AND GOTTEN BY YOU AND WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN CONCERNED IF YOU HIT THE WALL
"If you remember, he hit me about 15 times (laughs). Yeah, he's a car owner and he's not going to crash his own car. But Jeff Gordon doesn't crash people when he's trying to pass him. We've watched the bump and run on Rusty Wallace at Bristol, one of the toughest places to pull it off. He has a very good feel for where the front of that car is and how to move someone.
"But the other thing that comes into play, and it doesn't matter if you're a teammate or not, is that you race people how they race you. And I don't run into people. I've never run into Jeff Gordon to get by him. If he was hitting my bumper trying to move me, that goes through your mind as a competitor. You race people how they race you. It's more that than anything."
SO YOU WERE CONFIDENT HE WOULD RACE YOU FAIR AND SQUARE ALL THE WAY?
"He hit me 15 times. There were a few times when I thought I was going to spin out and crash. It was as heated issue as you can get. It doesn't matter whether he was a teammate or not. He was trying to move me out of the way. And I was doing my job to maintain position."
MARK MARTIN CAN MISS A COUPLE OF RACES AND POSSIBLY MAKE THE CHASE AND JEFF GORDON CAN POSSIBLY MISS THE SONOMA RACE AND STILL MAKE THE CHASE. DOES THAT CHANGE THE APPROACH TO THE SEASON?
"It certainly does. I don't think Jeff wants to miss a race and I don't believe he'll need to. But in his position, it's a little easier for him to consider that. A couple of years ago he missed the Chase by a handful of points. You're not safe until after Richmond or until you're mathematically locked in. Yes, it does take some pressure off of you. From time to time we're not racing for the championship from week one on. You're racing for 12th for the first 26 and from they on you worry about the championship, so it is a little more forgiving."
Continued from part 2