Johnson talks about his success at Martinsville with the media

Team Chevy Racing press release

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 MYLOWE’S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed his success at Martinsville, several other drivers, being a parent, and more.

Jimmie Johnson, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

YOU’VE GOT SIX GRANDFATHER CLOCKS (TROPHIES) FROM MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY, BUT YOU WENT LAST YEAR WITHOUT GETTING ONE. YOU MUST BE READY TO PUT ANOTHER ONE IN THE JOHNSON HOUSEHOLD “Yeah, we were competitive in both races; in the fall race we were really strong and really a corner away from taking the white (flag) which would have locked that down and got us another trophy. And then on the restart, on the outside, (Tony) Stewart had just mad speed and got by me and got around. I hate that that one slipped away, but I feel very comfortable with the car we’re bringing back, the baseline set-up we’re starting with. It was probably in my sophomore year when I started coming to this track (when) it made sense to me. Ever since, I’ve always been excited to come back to the track and enter the gates with the right mindset. And I think that’s a big part of any race track that you go to. If you’re walking in with the right mindset, it just makes for a better weekend.”

REGARDING BRIAN VICKERS AND HOW HE RAN AT MARTINSVILLE LAST FALL, COULD YOU GIVE US YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HOW HE HAS CHANGED AND HOW HE WILL BE PERCEIVED BY THE REST OF THE FIELD? HE HAD A GOOD RUN AT BRISTOL, BUT DO YOU THINK SOME DRIVERS WILL BE LOOKING FOR REVENGE ON SUNDAY? “I don’t think so. I think that Bristol, if there was anything lingering that would have been the opportune time to do something there. But in our sport everybody has a bad day. Everybody has a run-in with somebody on the race track. If I was to speak for Brian, I’d say that was one of those days for him. My comments after (the race), I was disappointed in the race and also frustrated with it and that’s just kind of the way it was then. But when I look back at what he’s been through over the last three or four years, the first issue he had was a medical issue. And I know how difficult it was for him to not be in the car due to medical reasons.

“And now the situation that he’s had this year with Red Bull shutting down so late, good rides disappearing before he ever knew he was going to be on the free market, has just created a different set of challenges. And it’s been even more difficult for him to try to make the right decisions. And I think his patients paid off; although I was one encouraging him ‘out of sight, out of mind; you need to be at the track and in a car’, but his patience paid off and he has a very good ride in the No. 55. He went to Bristol and led laps and ran up front. So, he’s clearly building his worth and when the silly season starts, I know he’s trying to do everything he can to position himself as a top pick and work his way back into a great team and do his job. He’s been through a rough few years and hopefully things get stable for him on the racing side of things.”

YOU’VE WON TWICE IN YOUR LAST 49 RACES. THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER, YOU’VE AVERAGED ONE IN ABOUT EVERY SIX RACES. HAS IT BEEN FRUSTRATING? WHAT’S THE CAUSE OF THAT? ARE YOU READY FOR US (MEDIA) TO START ASKING YOU IF FATHERHOOD IS MAKING A DIFFERENCE? “No, I hadn’t thought of that (laughs). I look back and I think of five or six races that got away. Making those mistakes, I didn’t make those in years past or the team didn’t make them. There are some things that boiled down to strategy and others down to restarts that have been on me; and some other issues in between.

“So, I hate that opportunities slip away. I heard Jeff (Gordon) say something a long time ago, when he won 13 races or something like that in a year. He said he won every race he should have and then some that he shouldn’t have. We need to win the races we should be able to win and that we have a shot to win. I feel like the closest opportunity we had was Las Vegas and I don’t know what I could have done differently. And I look at Phoenix when we had a loose wheel that certainly hampered our chances at a win there. But the way we closed out last year, I wasn’t happy with that. The team wasn’t happy with that. We showed good strength up to our Kansas win and from that point on things slowed down for us. But we’re a lot stronger now than we were then. And I really feel like we’re in a position to capitalize on the opportunities when they’re there. And then with just good, smart racing; and running in the top five, you find your way into a couple (of wins) that kind of get handed to you. I’m looking forward to those days starting again.”

THE FOUR HENDRICK TEAMS HAVE HAD SOMEWHAT OF A SLOW START TO THE SEASON. HAVE YOU TALKED TO KASEY KAHNE? IS HE BEATING HIMSELF UP AS HARD PERSONALLY AS HE IS ON TWITTER? ARE YOU COMING TOGETHER TO GET THROUGH THIS? WHAT DO YOU DO AS A TEAM OFF THE TRACK TO GET THROUGH THIS AND MAYBE GET YOUR 200TH WIN THIS WEEKEND? “With Kasey, we all feel terrible for him and (crew chief) Kenny (Francis) coming in and having the troubles they’ve had. I spoke to Kasey a couple of times after races where luck just clearly went the other direction on him, and just tried to point out that you sat on the pole. You’ve won every practice session. You’re in the top three to five in most practice sessions. He has a lot of speed. He and Kenny both have brought in some fresh ideas that I think have helped the company. So there’s a lot of credit that needs to go to Kasey and Kenny. For our car, I think we’ve been on a pretty strong tear after Daytona and the 42nd place finish there. So, I just continued to give him confidence and I know that he and Kenny both have a lot of confidence. They’ve worked through some tough situations over the years moving from team to team. And they have the speed. They have everything there; it’s just getting the finishes in place.

“I know it’s frustrating for both of them. And anytime you’re flirting with that 35th in points cutoff, you just get really stressed-out. So I think his reaction on Twitter and the things that he has said it true; and his critical of himself and I’m happy that he is. You should never be happy with your performance even when you’re winning. You can always do a better job. So I appreciate and respect that in him. But, he’s just had some terrible luck and I know he’s ready for it to turn around and I want to see it turn around for him and that team.”

AFTER PRE-RACE INTRODUCTIONS, WHEN YOU AND ANOTHER DRIVER RIDE AROUND THE TRACK IN A TRUCK, DO YOU TALK? DO YOU TALK ABOUT FAMILY OR VACATIONS? WHAT’S IT LIKE WHEN YOU’RE WITH PAIRED WITH SOMEBODY YOU HAD AN ISSUE WITH, OR SOMEBODY YOU’RE NOT AS FRIENDLY WITH? “It just depends. The majority of the truck rides I have are friendly. I’ve got a lot of friends in the garage area. A lot of us are new parents and conversation quickly turns into that. The chassis (and) car-handling stuff is usually minimal, unless it’s a teammate. There’s only so much area to work on these cars and you’re afraid to tip your hand to someone and let them know what areas you’re working in (laughs). So I usually steer away from those conversations.

“And there usually is that deal, where you have a run-in with someone the week prior, and that week you’re in the back of the truck with them. I’ve had that happen a couple of times and it’s a good time to sort stuff out if you haven’t already. Guys have different philosophies. I’m a guy that would rather find them immediately after the race if I’m right or wrong; give them an explanation or catch them on Monday or Tuesday on the phone or whenever they’ll answer it (laughs). I had to chase Ward Burton down for like five days one time, just to try to find a way to talk to him (laughs). So, some guys are willing to talk and others aren’t. So it just depends. But I typically have things cleared up before then. I’d say what’s really uncomfortable is if at the end of the year, if you’re in the championship hunt, and the guys that are still eligible for the championship, mathematically, and they’ll hold you and put you in a truck together, especially the trip with Denny (Hamlin). Those trips are just tough. Man, that’s a long five minutes around the race track. I’m a friendly guy by nature, so I’m sitting there trying to have my competitive mindset and it’s not very comfortable, to say the least.”

DO YOU SAY ANYTHING? “Yeah, we talk a little. In situations like that and I think that particular year with Denny, we talked about the off-season and what was going to go on. It wasn’t much of a conversation, but just vaguely, both staring in a different direction (laughs). It’s like yeah, I’m going here and I’m going there. Well yeah, have fun. Good luck; good luck too. Stuff like that.”

IF MY MATH IS RIGHT, ELEVEN RACES IN A ROW WITHOUT WINNING AND ONE IN 39. HOW MUCH DOES THAT MESS WITH YOUR HEAD? WITH ALL THE SUCCESS AND DOMINATION YOU’VE HAD, HOW MUCH DOES IT MESS WITH YOUR HEAD TO HAVE BEEN NOT WINNING? “Man, what’s messing with my head is the stats. You (earlier media question) said one in 49 and you (current media question) said one in 39. Two in 49. I’m confused. No, it doesn’t mess with my head. What messes with my head is when I miss a chance to win. When you run 15th all day long and finish second, you leave the track knowing you got more than you should have. The days that you lead the most laps, and dominate a race and come home second, those sting. I think back to Dover last year. That one stings. Given the situation, there are different times where it bothers you more. Vegas? I felt like I had a great car. Nobody had anything for that No. 14 car (Tony Stewart) on restarts. I felt like I had an equal car to him and it boiled down to a restart and I got beat there. And now I understand why I got beat and I feel better about it.

“But growing up in racing, I didn’t have this kind of success until I got to the Cup level. It’s not that I was ever happy with not winning, but you just learn how to deal with your emotions and you learn how to learn from experiences and get better and stronger at it. But nothing is eating at me. Right now I’m very optimistic about our season. I have not paid attention to a stat or a number since our last win. I feel that we’re knocking on the door and we’re running on the race track where we should, and up front, and that’s going to give us chance to win.”

PRIOR TO LAST YEAR, YOU AND DENNY HAMLIN HAD COMBINED TO WIN 9 STRAIGHT AT MARTINSVILLE. A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO ON TWITTER, HE SAID IF YOU’RE PUTTING YOUR MONEY DOWN IN MARTINSVILLE, YOU’D BETTER PUT IT ON THE NO. 11. WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF HIS APPROACH HERE AND HIS SUCCESS HERE AND HIS CONFIDENCE HERE? “He’s definitely a player when we come to this track. There’s no doubt about it. From my experience, there was a stretch of time where we couldn’t mess it up here. And then things kind of changed. So, no telling if he’ll have that magic again or if Tony’s (Stewart) success last fall, if he’s going to start a new run here, which certainly, momentum is on his side. You just don’t know. But without a doubt, the No. 11 is going to be a factor in the race. I know that.”

KEVIN HARVICK WAS TALKING EARLIER ABOUT NOT HAVING A TRUCK TEAM AND BEING MORE RELAXED AND GETTING READY FOR THE NEW BABY. YOU WENT THROUGH THE BABY PROOFING. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT ALL YOU DID TO YOUR HOUSE? DO YOU SEE A DIFFERENT KEVIN HARVICK THIS YEAR WITHOUT THE TRUCK TEAM AND EVERYTHING ELSE GOING ON? “I think any parent, you start to worry about dangers in the house and work through it and oddly enough, Lowe’s has a department to help baby-proof your home (laughs); and so it’s like hey, let’s use this service and make sure that we’re buttoned-up. So, that worked well. The wife goes through the nesting phase and I came home one day and the entire kitchen is cleaned out. It’s like everything it out of it. She’s throwing stuff away. I didn’t know what was going on but she wanted to organize and make room for baby stuff (laughs). So you go through those fun experiences along with way and I know Kevin and DeLana will experience a lot of that as well. But the stress; I don’t see Kevin a lot away from the track. But at the track, our conversations in the past would revolve around man, there is just a lot going on. And now I hear a different side and how much he had fun during the week go-kart racing and playing golf and the experience with DeLana and her pregnancy. There are a lot of different storylines or topics, I guess, we discuss. Before, it was payroll or insurance or somebody got hurt in the shop or whatever it was. So I can only imagine the stress level and how it’s come down. It’s stressful just being a driver. That’s why I’ve never pursued any of that. It’s just a lot of extra work. And I want to be the best race car driver to ever sit in a race car. I’ve never had the desire to own, and I respect those guys that do, but it just hasn’t been my mission statement. I want to drive.”

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson
Tags chevrolet, hendrick, johnson