Johnson pre-Michigan teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 HOW WILL DALE JUNIOR FIT IN WITH THE HENDRICK FAMILY AND DO YOU ANTICIPATE ANY PROBLEMS WITH THREE PREMIER DRIVERS ALL ON THE SAME TEAM? "I don't think so. I think he's going to fit in well. We still have a lot of time to...

Continued from part 1

HOW WILL DALE JUNIOR FIT IN WITH THE HENDRICK FAMILY AND DO YOU ANTICIPATE ANY PROBLEMS WITH THREE PREMIER DRIVERS ALL ON THE SAME TEAM?

"I don't think so. I think he's going to fit in well. We still have a lot of time to work out all the details with the team and the sponsor. I think it's really important to make sure all four teammates are pulling in the same direction and that we are all working for the same goals. I think Junior has made that commitment to the team. It's something he's looking forward to. He wants that team camaraderie. He wants the opportunity to win races and championships. I think it's going to be a good experience. We welcome him. We look forward to '08. But right now we've still got a whole lot of racing left and he has responsibilities with DEI. Kyle (Busch) has responsibilities for the No. 5 team and Hendrick Motorsports. And Jeff and Casey and I need to keep worrying about what we're doing now in the cars. So we'll just let this thing develop and see how it comes together in the off-season and once we get into '08, we'll have a much better idea of how it's all going to play out."

HOW DO YOU THINK THE CAR OF TOMORROW IS GOING TO HOLD UP AT INFINEON RACEWAY? DO YOU ANTICIPATE ANY ISSUES WITH THAT CAR ON A ROAD COURSE?

"The car is different. We've been doing some testing. It's been tough to get a real good feel for it because we're not on the tire we're going to race on. The things that are going on with this car I think will lead to more tire give up and more tire fall off, which will make Infineon more challenging than it has been in the past."

AND WHY AREN'T YOU TESTING OR PRACTICING ON THE SAME TIRE?

"Well, NASCAR won't allow us. There are testing limitations and tire limitations that's a rule in our sport that we are hopeful will be lifted for next year."

RICK HENDRICK SAID THAT KYLE BUSCH WAS LOOKING AT OTHER OPTIONS. DID KYLE COME TO YOU FOR ANY ADVICE ABOUT WHAT TO DO? AND HAVE YOU SPOKEN WITH HIM SINCE ALL OF THIS WAS DECIDED?

"No, I haven't had a chance to talk to Kyle yet. A lot of stuff has gone on behind closed doors. It's amazing how inside boardroom conversations find their way out in a hurry. So it's really been quiet in conversations between myself and Rick and the teams. I'm learning as I go. I've just learned a lot watching the press conference a few minutes ago to be honest with you. I think the thing I saw today in the press conference and in Kyle's heart. He wants to do the best job that he can. He wants to win races this year. He wants to be in the Chase and fight for a championship. That's the biggest thing I'd be looking at. I certainly know that's something that's going to be important to Kyle."

DID HE COME TO YOU AT ALL IN THE PAST COUPLE OF WEEKS AND ASK FOR YOUR ADVISE?

"No. On the teammate side, we've been communicating more and more as the year has gone on in understanding each other's driving styles and set-ups and we've been really gelling in the team debriefs. There has been a lot more conversation on that front. But as far as his future and decisions he's going to make, I've not had any conversations with him."

ALONG THE WAY, DID RICK HENDRICK CALL THE DRIVERS IN TO BRIEF YOU AND TO GET INPUT ABOUT DALE JUNIOR FROM YOU?

"It would be hard to say that I was asked for a lot of input. Looking back, there were questions and things that I could say now I understand the meaning of the questions. With the sensitive nature of this, I feel everybody that was working the deal had to be smart and work well and discretely so they could put this thing together. So I do feel like I was involved on a very small level. But it took the whole thing to come together for me to recognize it."

IN TALKING ABOUT THE CHASE, AS WE GET CLOSER TO IT, HOW IMPORTANT DOES IT COME FOR YOU TO BE IN THE POINT LEAD?

"With the current structure, the first priority is to be in the top 12 and then it's base on wins. So we've had a couple of races here where we've had tire problems where we've lost a lot of ground to the No. 24. Somebody could get on a streak and we could have some bad luck and we could be 10th or 12th if we're not careful. So, we don't want to be in that position. So we want to get back into our points-collecting ways and race-winning ways. We've had the speed. We've been there in contention. We're doing the right things. We started off with so much good luck, maybe some of that bad luck is coming in. I want to lead in the points from start to finish every year. That's a goal that all competitors set out for. Right now we're fourth and trying to catch back up to Jeff."

WITH THE BONUS POINTS YOU GET FOR WINS, DO YOU SEE DRIVERS DRIVING MORE AGGRESSIVELY?

"No, it's not something we're thinking about in the car. At least I haven't. Maybe on the plane home you'll realize you made some more points. We're learning the new Chase format and now we're living it. We've known about it but now we're getting into the heart of the season where these things are more important. I always see the intensity pick up when we get close to Richmond. It's hard to say because we just always fight for a win anyway. I'm not sure you'll see a huge change."

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR DALE JUNIOR TO ADJUST TO HIS NEW RIDE AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?

"I don't know if I'd have a lot of advice for him. He's done an amazing job working through his decision and handling things at DEI and working out his program with Hendrick Motorsports. He's been racing for a long time and knows the deal. He's got to come into a new company, but he still has quite a few months before we're in that position. So I think he's been doing a great job thinking through it all. He's carrying himself in a great manner. So I can't say I'd have any advice for him."

HOW EASILY CAN ANYBODY MEASURE THE EQUIPMENT OR WHAT KIND OF RIDE HE'S GETTING INTO NOW COMPARED TO WHAT HE'S HAD IN THE PAST? "I think that's all to be determined. But one thing that we always talk about is the people. DEI has shown that they have good equipment. Martin (Truex Jr) has won. He's run up front. Junior has been running strong at different tracks. The pieces are there. In my heart, I feel it's about people. I think Rick Hendrick does an amazing job of bringing the right people together. That doesn't just mean at the race track, but also behind the scenes. There is a long list of people who play a part in what we do. People are what make the difference I think that's where our strength shows up year to year. Sometimes luck falls in our direction and we go on a tear, and sometimes it goes the other way and we're not where we want to be. We have a solid group of people. As Junior gets into Hendrick and gets some experience with us, he'll be able to see that. Maybe it's almost a floor when you can only fall so far when you have such a great foundation. That's what we really have at Hendrick."

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH JUNIOR?

"At the Daytona 500 in '98 staying with Ron Hornaday in a condo. Ron's son Ronnie was there with Dale Junior and we three didn't have much to do except run around and get into trouble. He still owes me a belt. He had to go to an event with his dad. I think it was a Chevy dinner and he didn't have a belt. He borrowed my belt and I never got it back. So that was my first experience with him quite some time ago."

HOW LONG DO YOU THINK IT WILL TAKE MICHAEL WALTRIP RACING TO BECOME COMPETITIVE? AND WHAT ADVICE, IF ANY, WOULD YOU GIVE THOSE GUYS?

"They're in a tough position. Any start-up team -- it doesn't matter if it's Michael Waltrip Racing -- or Team Red Bull -- and you look at the finances. You can't say it's just a financial piece and all you need is money. Toyota has done a great job of bringing money in and financing Michael Waltrip Racing. They have a lot of big sponsors. Red Bull does. I just think it's time. You've got to compare them against the other start-up Toyota teams. That's a fair assessment. That's why I guess I threw out the Red Bull Team because they're in the same situation. Rules are rules and the Car of Tomorrrow helps them in some ways, but it still takes a long time to get people in place and to build that chemistry. You can't just show up with all the latest and greatest gadgets and tools and expect that you're going to start winning. I feel for Michael. I watch him from week to week and feel the stress he has on his shoulders. And it's nice to see those guys making some races and getting up to speed."

HOW DO YOU THINK JUAN PABLO MONTOYA WILL DO ON THE ROAD COURSE AND HOW IMPORTANT WILL HIS ROAD COURSE EXPERIENCE BE AT INFINEON? IS HE A FAVORITE?

"He's going to do a great job at Infineon. He showed at the Busch race that it wasn't a huge challenge for him to switch over from road course (racing) in a stock car versus road course in an F1 car. I think he'll certainly be tough. It's still a different format. I don't know if he has any experience at that track, but we're all learning this car of tomorrow. It's going to be relatively new for all of us to try it out. I think that would be one of his better chances to win -- at the Glen or at Infineon."

LISTENING TO DALE JUNIOR TODAY, IT WAS MORE OF A PERSONAL DECISION RATHER THAN ABOUT GOOD EQUIPMENT THAT LED HIM TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS. WAS THAT THE SAME FOR YOU WHEN YOU JOINED THE ORGANIZATION?

"My situation was much different. I didn't have the luxury of talking to Childress or Gibbs or really anyone in the garage area for that matter. I was just thinking of the Chevy teams off the top of my head. The only one I really knew was Rick. And that was my best opportunity. I had other things that were coming along at the time, but they were kind of Busch and Truck related. Rick was willing to take that chance with me. So I was going off of speculation and off of street credibility in a sense. My interactions with Rick and being around Ricky and spending so much time with him, I knew what a great man he was. I, like a lot of other people, said if there is somebody I want to drive for, that's who it is. I didn't get to see Childress's or Gibbs' operations."

DALE JUNIOR SAID YOU DON'T GIVE HIM CREDIT FOR STARTING YOUR NASCAR CAREER

"Oh, he was just cracking jokes (laughs). He certainly was a big help to me getting into the sport. I drove that Kingsford car a couple of times. I'd never been on a radial tire and didn't know these tracks. In ASA, I think the biggest track I'd ever been on was a mile. We thought we were at Daytona USA when that happened. As I came into the sport, he was able to give me advice and to help me through different situations -- whether it was the Kingsford car or buying my first motor home. That was the most expensive thing I'd ever bought in my life. What do I do? And what about a driver? How expensive is that? I remember having those conversations with him too. It's funny how all these things come together."

WITH THE GREAT ENVIRONMENT AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT KYLE BUSCH HAS DECIDED TO LOOK ELSEWHERE?

"I guess I haven't thought about that. It is a little surprising. There are other drivers that for whatever reason, things didn't mesh at Hendrick and they wanted to pursue other opportunities. Brian Vickers felt that way and went off to start his career with Red Bull. Kyle is a great talent. As a group, we've been learning more and gelling more and more as time has gone on. I wish him all the best. I think he's going to be an extremely hot commodity and has a great opportunity. It think the best place for him would be at Hendrick. But I wish him well and I know that we're going to be racing against him for years to come. He's going to be a serious threat week in and week out."

CHEMISTY, RECENT RESULTS, AND POTENTIAL, IS THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS LINE UP THAT SHOWS UP AT DAYTONA IN '08 GOING TO BE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE ONE THAT FINISHES OUT THE '07 SEASON?

"It's all about the people. Bringing Junior in is an important piece. There is a lot that he brings to the table. A lot of it falls back on the engineering staff and crew chiefs and all to keep developing the best product on the track. That's what really takes place during the off-season. The focus really is performance-based and it's on technology. The driver is really the computer. It's the link to the team. Regardless of who the driver is, we've got to keep focused on the technical side so that Hendrick does stay strong year after year."

SOME OWNERS PIT DRIVERS AGAINST EACH OTHER TO GET THE MOST OUT OF THEM. IS IT A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT AT HMS?

"Rick lets us all be ourselves and do our thing. We're all in this together. We win together; we lose together. I've never seen him creating competitions between the drivers. He comes through and tries to support every team where they need it. Every team has its weak spots. That's where Rick is so good. He recognizes those things and addresses them. That's where he likes to spend his time is to make people better and to make teams better. So I have not seen that.

"On a bit more on Kyle, I'm not sure what's gone into his thought process. He's made a big decision and I certainly wish him well. I look forward to catching up with him at the track. I haven't had a chance to talk to him."

IF YOU FOUND YOURSELF BEHIND JEFF GORDON AND DALE JUNIOR IN THE POINTS STANDINGS, WOULD YOU STILL STAY WITH HMS?

"Absolutely. I truly feel in my heart that the No. 48 team is my team and it's our responsibility to do the best job we can. And if my teammates are outperforming me, I have access to their data and setups and I need to learn something from what they're doing. And we've been through that at times where we've been outperformed. And we go learn what that driver or team is doing. There have been times when we're on top and they come look at what we're doing. So I really feel at HMS you have all the tools necessary to be a champion. And it's up to your team to use those tools, which are your teammates and the engineering staff."

-credit: lowe's/hm

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Michael Waltrip , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Brian Vickers
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Michael Waltrip Racing , CIP