Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet spoke with the media about the season to date and the upcoming race at Michigan International Speedway. Q&A's WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON: WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING TO MICHIGAN THIS ...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet spoke with the media about the season to date and the upcoming race at Michigan International Speedway.
Q&A's WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON:
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING TO MICHIGAN THIS WEEKEND?: "It's fun trying to get one (track where he hasn't won yet) off the list . Really happy to get two very difficult tracks for me off the list with Bristol and Sonoma. Excited for Michigan. It's been a really good track for us. We had a decent finish there in the spring. Didn't really perform like we wanted to during the day and we were trying some things. We feel like we're going to come back closer than what we were in the past. We had a lot of speed in the car during the race and we'll take it from there. We're optimistic, excited, no idea what to really expect. It could be a fuel mileage race. It's been a good track for us although we haven't won there, we've led a lot of laps over the years and hopefully we can take home a trophy. Especially after last week with the disappointing finish after we ran so well and passed so many cars to then have a late-race incident take us out of a good finish. I don't like sliding down in the points any further than I am right now and looking forward to a good finish and hopefully to go up in the points a few spots."
DOES IT CONCERN YOU THAT YOUR FINISH IN THE CHASE COULD BE IMPACTED BY DRIVERS TRYING TO PAYBACK OTHERS ON THE RACE TRACK?: "I don't see it being anymore than other years. I find that a lot of guys are taking opportunities to say more, to be more verbal, but I don't see a lot on track. Even with Kurt (Busch) and I after Pocono, we both had some fun with what we said, but when he and I are on the phone or face-to-face at the track, you're not happy about what happened but we have respect for each other on track. I assume that's what's going on. I see a lot of guys free to speak their mind and yes, we have seen some really hard racing and contact, but we still don't at the end of the day know what was intentional and what was incidental. We have to separate that. That risk has been there all along, even back before the Chase even started and before I was even racing. I don't see it being a lot different as of now. I could be wrong, the potential is always there for it to be chaotic and I remember where it might have been Loudon (N.H.) or something where a payback happened and took out a Chase contender or two a few years back. That would be disappointing, especially with only 10 races to win a championship. I think it's always been in our sport. That racing has always been there."
HOW FRUSTRATING IS IT THAT THERE ARE RACES THAT HAVE SLIPPED AWAY FROM YOU THIS YEAR?: "We hate to see it happen, especially getting this close to the Chase. Races like Chicago where we led so much early and then we faded are disturbing to us although the trip through the grass on the back straightaway canvassed the car and we see why we slipped after that. We try to pinpoint things back. We've seen different mistakes happen and issues with the car that explain some of it and then there are other cases where our performance just fell off over the course of the race. Those cases certainly concern us. It's weird because you look at that and say, 'that track is not in the Chase and how have we done at Chase tracks.' We've done well at Chase tracks this year. The schedule how it is and how the Chase works, you find one area where you're disappointed and you think, 'man, we really need to get our act together.' Then you look at other things and say, 'well, it's really not all that bad.' We're optimistic. We know we need to be finishing better than we are right now, but again the Chase isn't here yet and we've been in this position before late in the regular season - not performing like we would want to, but for whatever reason when the Chase comes around we typically get our act together and perform. I'm really hoping for that again."
DO YOU LOOK AT KASEY KAHNE NEXT YEAR AS A TEAMMATE OR AS ANOTHER COMPETITOR?: "I guess I haven't talked with them about it and I haven't had a chance to catch up with Rick (Hendrick, team owner) and understand all the details. Kasey (Kahne) has always been a friend and someone who I have spoken to at different times about techniques on the track, not really specifics on the race car, but when it was announced we would be teammates, we certainly talked more about on-track things, but have not spoken about specifics on race cars because we're on different teams. I would assume being on a different team that is not associated with Hendrick, we tend to not go down that road. Tricks are so hard to come by in our sport that you can interact and form a relationship and help each other out without mentioning specifics of the race car and I would assume it would continue down that road."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HAVING MORE NIGHT RACES IN 2011?: "From a driver's standpoint, I think we enjoy the night races some although the early start times have been nice to get home on Sunday. With the night racing, I guess it would be on a Saturday night and a lot of Sundays off so that is another step in the right direction to have another day off. At the end of the day, we as drivers want what's best for the sport. We want fans in the grandstands and people watching on television. I believe NASCAR and the tracks are working hard to do the best job they can in their markets finding the best start times, the best time of the year for the date of the race and there is a lot of work going on with owner's, operators and NASCAR to put together the best schedule that we've had yet. I'm excited. I assume there's a lot of hard work going into this and from what I've heard, there has been. I'm good with whatever, especially if we see ratings increase and people in the grandstands, better value for our sponsors. I'll race whenever. Heck., I would race middle of the week or whatever we need to do to continue to grow our sport."
DO YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT POSSIBLE CHANGES NASCAR WILL MAKE TO THE CHASE?: "I know I've been heard, I definitely feel that. I'm not sure that my opinions are shared by NASCAR's opinion and what they feel might be best for the sport to create interest. The more drivers I speak to that race for championships year after year, we all agree that our champion should not be crowned based on one event. Guys that have an outside chance or maybe are strong at Homestead, I think they would say, 'It would be better suited for me to have it all be based off one event.' It all depends on where you're at in it. At the end of the day, I don't have a good feel on what's going on and it seems that every week or two we hear about more changes coming. I know there's a lot of work going into schedule, tracks, Chase format - there is so much change going on, I don't have a good sense of where they're at on any of the stuff and I'm kind of learning as we hear these announcements come out."
CAN YOU PINPOINT THE PEOPLE WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE IN YOUR CAREER?: "There's such a long list of people - drivers, crew chiefs and even friends that weren't associated in racing that were just good influences from hard-working parents that I knew in my neighborhood growing up. Every experience shapes who we are and there are so many people that have helped out along the way and I just talked to David Stremme last night and mentioned that my crew chief from ASA is fighting a really tough battle with cancer right now. I just was made aware of it last night and have been thinking of him a lot here over the last 12 hours. Would hate to have anything serious happen to him. There's so many great people along the way and so many people that mold you into who you are, you hate to hear that somebody is going through a tough time."
WHAT CANNOT BE TAUGHT TO A RACE DRIVER GROWING UP?: "I think your desire - just what's in you. You can learn technique, you can learn right, wrong, suspension, a variety of different things, but at the end of the day I think we all see people that just have the desire to be in our sport and succeed. It doesn't always turn out into an amazing experience that I've experienced or gone through, but you can see that character, what people have and what they are about and I think that is something you are just born with."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON GOING TO KANSAS SPEEDWAY TWICE AT THE EXPENSE OF GOING TO AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY TWICE?: "I'm up for whatever is going to make our sport stronger. If there is a huge fan base in Kansas that has been supporting NASCAR very, very well and filling the grandstands and everyone must feel that there is enough support in the area for two dates. We all know that in California, although it's been a great race track for me, my home state and all the reasons I love to go there, we've been lacking in attendance. In a sport where you have to produce to survive, I believe the tracks are now being held to that same type of scrutiny and whatever is best for our sport to ensure the best crowds and best viewer ship. I'm for it, I understand, I hate seeing California lose a date. Growing up out there, it was very tough to get much NASCAR or exposed to NASCAR racing and this will hurt that for the fan base out there, but at the end of the day we need our grandstands full of people and I do understand that."
DO YOU LIKE RACING AT KANSAS SPEEDWAY?: "It's a great race track. The surrounding area that is immediately by the track is amazing, it's amazing what they've built around that race track. The fans, the city close by - it's a great facility. We really enjoy taking the series there once a year and hopefully we can have two dates sold out and a lot of support from everyone out there."
DO YOU THINK GOING BACK TO ONE RACE WILL HELP CALIFORNIA?: "I do. I have friends that I grew up with that were season ticket holders at California Speedway and when there was one date, there was a need and an urgency to go. When they had the second date, life makes things busy and you don't have as much time and the spring event would come along and it would be on the calendar so they would say, 'we'll go to the fall race.' The fall race would come along and something will be on the calendar again that they needed to do and, 'well we'll go to the spring race.' I've seen that with sort of my close friends, I'm not sure that is the number one issue, but I can't see that being an issue. I've said for a long time that I think one date at every track would probably be ideal. To spread out amongst 36 different venues over the course of the year, I know track owners hate to hear that because they need the two dates to cover all the expenses and keep those big, beautiful facilities open. I think this might be a growing trend to have one date at tracks and make sure that it's sold out and a big event each time we're there."
WITH CHICAGOLAND BEING ADDED TO THE CHASE, WILL THAT HELP YOUR CHANCES TO WIN THERE?: "No. We've been so close and I told Chad (Knaus, crew chief) yesterday that I owe him two or three victories there, I know one for sure I lost on a restart to the 18 (Kyle Busch). We've been so close. I don't think it being in the Chase will change our focus and make us try any harder. We go there with everything we've got. Chad is from the area and I've wanted to get him a win there really bad over the years."
WHO IS YOUR STRONGEST CONTENDER THROUGH THE CHASE?: "You never know until you get in the Chase and see what kind of run people have, but right now I think the 29 (Kevin Harvick) has shown that irregardless of track, they have the consistency and speed to be a contender. Right now I think we would be foolish not to look at the 29 and think he's the guy."
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT FOR A TEAM WITH NO WINS BEFORE THE CHASE TO TURN IT AROUND AND GET WINS IN THOSE FINAL 10 RACES?: "I think that as racers, right or wrong, we look at our situation and we try to find the bright spots in it and the silver lining or whatever may be there. The way the rules are written, you do not have to win a race in the Chase to be the champion. If our team was in that situation, I would turn it around and say, 'okay, here's the average finish we need to maintain to be the champion based on however many years the Chase has been around.' Yes, I know its in the back of team's minds, but you don't have to win a race to win a championship. If I was in that situation, I would rally my team around an average finish more than saying, 'hey, we have to win races."
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST STRUGGLE YOU WORK ON?: "For myself and anybody, regardless of who they are, we all have things in our sport that we know we're weak at. We get a lot of credit for the things we do right, but we all make mistakes. I think at the end of the day, when frustration sets in for myself, I tend to clam up and not communicate and not verbalize what the car is doing and what I need in adjustments. That is something over the years that I have seen a pattern in and have tried really hard to not let that get the best of me and my race team."
DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE RACING YOU DIFFERENTLY?: "At times I want to think that, but when I look around on the race track and I see the battles taking place and how hard guys are racing and guys that are known for pulling over and letting people go that race their guts out now. It's not just me, track position is so important these days and especially since the spoiler has been put back on the race car, it has taken it to a new level. It is more difficult to come through the pack and pass people. You can sit there and hold off a guy that is four-tenths faster than you for a lot of laps and hope for a caution and maintain track position. It's just the way this sport is now. I don't think it's anything against me. It's just the way the racing is on the race track."
ARE YOU AND YOUR TEAM READY TO PEAK WHEN THE CHASE STARTS?: "We haven't been peaking lately so I hope so. It seems that when we have been really good at the end of the summer that I get really scared of what's on the other side. If you're running really well right now then you're like, 'man, we have to continue to do this.' You know in motorsports it can change overnight. If you're running bad you think, 'well, there's only one way to go from here.' It's not that we've been running bad, we just haven't been finishing like we should. We've had speed and been a contender, but just crazy little things have been going on. I'm telling myself to get it all out of the way right now so when the Chase starts we can be consistent and smooth."
HAVE YOU AND CHAD KNAUS BEEN EXPERIMENTING FOR THE CHASE?: "We've definitely been working on stuff and we do every year. I wouldn't say it's just been blind experimenting. In 2005, we felt like our standard package was really strong and we could go off into left field and try some things. This year, it's been more of the evolution of the car. We're seeing teams that have picked up a lot of speed and the areas that we were working in last year, there's nothing left there. They aren't producing what we need to beat those Ganassi cars right now and some of the Roush guys are coming back, Childress cars have been really strong so we recognize that we have some work to do. Each week when we go to the track, we have been trying new things and not fully experimenting, but working on new ideas. Yes, we have been working on stuff, but it's not really an R&D project where we're just going through the paces of racing."
HAVE YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO DRIVE A NEW NATIONWIDE SERIES CAR?: "No, I have not been in one. NASCAR usually experiments in other series before they bring it into the Cup series. I know there are features on the Nationwide COT that we have been talking about for a long time that we would like to see on our cars. I just don't know if NASCAR is going to make those rule changes. With the tough economy, the inventory of cars that everyone has right now, some of the things that we would like to have like more travel in the front of the cars. You would have to go through and cut the front clips off of every race car we own and the bodies off and start over. I don't know if NASCAR wants to put that burden on the race teams. There are a lot of features that we would like to adapt, I just don't know if they are going to come through. I think at some point they will, I just don't know when."
IS THE NEW NATIONWIDE CAR GOOD FOR THE SERIES?: "One thing that I saw that is really good for our sport is brand identity for the manufacturers. Dodge looked like a Dodge, Chevy looked like a Chevy and so on and so forth. I think that is something that we could use on the Cup side sooner rather than later. Some of the other mechanical issues we would like as racers, we could probably do without for a while to allow the teams and the economy to come back for the teams to get more sponsorship."
IS IT COMMON FOR DRIVERS NOT TO WORRY TOO MUCH ABOUT THE CHANGES TO SCHEDULES?: "You can only worry about things that you can control and in our sport a driver controls very little anymore. I wont even worry about it and go on. I know there's been a lot of joking and speculation about the schedule changes in an attempt to stop the 48 from winning championships. I just laugh about it because I could care less where we race, when we race. I know our team will be ready for those final 10 wherever they are, whatever the format is and we will put up a good fight and be competitive through it all."