Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Impala SS spoke with the media about the season to date and the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. ON HIS RUN AT LAS VEGAS "We didn't get the result that we ...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Impala SS spoke with the media about the season to date and the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
ON HIS RUN AT LAS VEGAS "We didn't get the result that we wanted but we had a lot of speed in the car so I feel like we have a mistake-free race, we're going to be in victory lane. At California we had a lot of speed and a decent finish and then this last weekend we had such a good car, so I'm very optimistic. I hate that we're 19th in the points right now, but fortunately it's early in the year and we can move up the list pretty quick if we can just link together a couple of good races. I think Atlanta is a good track to get that started for us."
YOU DIDN'T GET OFF TO A FAST SEASON IN '08, BUT THINGS WORKED OUT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR LEVEL OF CONFIDENCE FROM THAT AND HOW THAT CAN HELP YOU MOVING FORWARD "Yes, last year we got off to a slow start but it was more of a panic situation than what we have right now because we didn't have the speed in the cars. This year it's different. We've got fast cars but just haven't linked together a solid four or 500 miles and taken advantage of the great cars that we've had. I feel like we're in a great position and there is so much racing between now and even when the Chase starts that anything can happen. It's only three races in. Guys are going to have bad luck and hopefully ours is behind us and we can climb up the points ladder here. I'm not worried. I'm not stressed. I'm really optimistic and excited about the next few races."
DOES THE TESTING BAN CONCERN YOU MUCH? "Not as of now because the cars are performing so well. If we were really far off, I would be really concerned. But we've worked hard over the off-season and worked in the right areas and our qualifying efforts show that and the same with our speed on the track. Fortunately we're not in that zone of cars right now that need to test. Last year we were. Without a doubt we were one of those cars. But this year we're not."
DID THE SPEEDY DRY CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR SPIN IN LAS VEGAS? "I'm not sure. I was being really aggressive at the time, trying to make up spots. I made up a handful of spots that run before in a short period of time. In my eyes I could see the leader and I really felt like I had a chance to win the race still. And I was being really, really aggressive. So I felt like it was kind of my fault in trying so hard and certainly lost the back of the car up around the top there, but from my standpoint I didn't see something that really affected me. I'm sure the Speedy Dry didn't help. I'm not sure if dust blew up from underneath the car as I went over it or not, but I knew (laughs) when I got into the braking zone in Turn 1 that I was well past my marks and it was going to be an interesting corner and sure enough it was."
THE LAS VEGAS RACE SEEMED CHAOTIC AND LIKE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST. DID YOU SEE ANY OF THAT OR WERE YOU JUST FOCUSED ON YOUR CAR? "Yeah, it was an interesting race. I never would have thought the No. 17 (Matt Kenseth) would have troubles that early in the race. Those guys rarely break engines so I was shocked to see that. For a long time there it looked like the winner was going to be the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) or the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) or us. The No. 2 (Kurt Busch) was very strong too at the start of the race so I have to give them credit. But guys started dropping off and then the strategy with the tires was different and the fact that guys were doing two and track position would swap around really made it a hectic. I think the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) was good but I think if it would have been a heads-up race he may have been a third or fourth place car. But those guys did a great job getting track position and Kyle drove hard at the end to keep the lead. Not taking anything away from what those guys did, but I think the stronger cars ran into trouble and had kind of a weird finish there at the end."
WITHOUT TESTING, DO YOU FIND THAT YOU ARE THRASHING THROUGH THINGS DURING PRACTICE OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE SUCH A GOOD BASELINE THAT YOU CAN TRY THINGS AND THEN JUST GO BACK TO THAT BASELINE IF THEY DON'T WORK? "No, we've still been experimenting with stuff since we don't have the testing. At California in that first practice, we were really, really good. So we decided to move on and try some stuff that we would have tried during testing. That led to some more thoughts and we tried that again in Las Vegas, which will then lead to some stuff this weekend. So, if we come out of the gate good and we're toward the top of the board in race practice, we will try to explore a little bit and try some other stuff for sure. We hate sitting still and not trying to try new technology. I don't feel like we've really sacrificed the performance of the race any by doing that. There could be a point though, where bouncing around does hurt you and we've just got to be smart in that we don't get a little cocky and think all right, we've got this under control with our standard set-up so let's try something else and waste time in an area when other guys are making their standard stuff better."
HAS THE TESTING BAN ELIMINATED THE AFFECT OF WHAT MARK MARTIN WOULD HAVE ON YOUR TEAM IN THE SENSE THAT YOU'RE NOT SPENDING THE WHOLE DAY TOGETHER GATHERING INFORMATION AND TALKING ABOUT CARS? "Definitely. Mark is one of the unfortunate ones. It's tough for rookie drivers that are coming in and new teams to show up and have two hours of qualifying practice and you may run 20 laps if you're in race trim and then switch over. And then the guys in qualifying trim have so little time to develop the cars and learn the tracks and learn each other that it makes it very difficult to be on a new team or a rookie at this point."
ON USING MARK MARTIN AS A RESOURCE, HAS THE TESTING BAN AFFECTED THAT? "Oh, definitely. It kind of plays into that as well. It's just less time around one another. Mark and I both have gone to great lengths just to try to talk after races and practice sessions just to build that dialogue and just to start understanding one other. He's an amazing asset for our team and we are learning at a slower rate; learning one another and our styles and how we can use each other because we don't have those test sessions to pull from."
WITH KYLE BUSCH WINNING LAS VEGAS AND GOING FROM THE BACK TO THE FRONT, HOW CONCERNED ARE YOU HE WILL GET ON A ROLL NOW LIKE HE DID LAST SEASON? "Well, Kyle is certainly a threat. The team is very fast and showed last year just how strong they can be. During the course of the race they were competitive, but based on sheer speed, the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) at a couple of points during the race and the No. 16 (Biffle) through the majority of it, and my teammate the No. 24 (Gordon) were the ones I was most concerned about. I definitely know that the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) is going to be a factor and the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) will be as well, especially at certain tracks. So it's kind of a broad view right now. It's tough to really focus on one guy until you get into the Chase. At this point, you're really worried about being in the top 12 and what comes with that and who you need to focus on to beat out for those spots if you are around that transfer position. So right now, it's really not just one guy that I'm looking at. As the year wears on it will start to develop to a smaller crowd."
ON RECENT PIT ROAD MISTAKES "Daytona is always so tough as the first one out of the gate. The pit boxes are really slick and with the set-ups in the speedway cars, the cars just don't stop. The brakes are smaller and the set-ups are different to where it's easy to lock up tires and it just doesn't work. At the other tracks, I think its just people being aggressive and I'm guilty of that as well. We had a little bit of confusion on the radio when I slipped through my stall this weekend. We were trying to avoid pitting when the No. 77 car did, who was pitted directly behind us. And as Chad (Knaus) realized the No. 77 had pitted, he was talking on the radio trying to let me know he was there and at the same time my spotter was; and the glare was really bad on the front stretch there. I'm trying to find my pit stall and I remembered the No. 77 car at the last second, but unfortunately I was just going too fast and slipped through. So some of it could be just early in the season and guys are making mistakes and I'm guilty of that. I think we were. Vegas isn't the easiest pit road to get on to. It's pretty easy once you're on it and off of it, but getting to it is difficult and I think you'll see teams working on pit road entry and exit and maybe even validating their speed on pit road and trying to get a better understanding of where the timing lines are getting in and off because it's so easy to get caught."
HOW DID YOU OBSERVE JEFF GORDON AND STEVE LETARTE LAST YEAR THROUGH THE TOUGH TIMES AND HOW THEY ARE NOW IN THE POINT LEAD? "You know it's not easy having that outside pressure. But those two both have always believed in one another and knew that they just needed to work through their cars and sort out what Jeff needed. From being an insider, I'm happy to see them getting the results and running like they are because they've been working very hard to be in this position and have dealt with some outside pressure. It's tough. In any professional sport you're going to have that pressure of the sponsor or the fan base or whatever it may be. Those guys are both professionals and have handled it well and worked very hard to get their stuff how they need it and are showing their speed right now."
ARE YOU SURPRISED AT THIS POINT THAT NO TEAM HAS BEEN ABLE TO PUT TOGETHER THREE SOLID RUNS? DO YOU THINK THAT IS DUE TO THE LACK OF TESTING IN THE PRE-SEASON? "No, I don't think so. Daytona is such a wild card. If I was looking at the stats of the first three races I guess I would throw Daytona out and bring Atlanta in and form an opinion based on that. There have been some motor issues that have been going around through the garage area. As we've seen, if one manufacturer or one builder has a problem, there are a couple more to follow in that camp. I think that plays into it and is not really showing the performance of the teams, especially if you look at the No. 17 (Kenseth) car, he would have been a factor in Sunday's race for sure if he didn't have his engine problems."
WHAT IS THE FUNNIEST THING THAT YOU'VE EVER HEARD FROM YOUR CREW CHIEF DURING A RACE? "I'd say this year the first one that comes to mind was when our friend Angie Harmon was waving the green flag at California and she was up in the stand for however many laps enjoying it (laughs). I could see her support of the No. 48 car and was impressed by it. And Chad, under caution, asked if I'd looked up at the starter's stand lately and I got a good laugh out of that one because I'm not sure anybody else really saw it. But come to find out cameras were filming her and crew members were watching, so it was pretty good (laughs)."
THESE LAST THREE RACES WE'VE SEEN DRIVERS LIKE MICHAEL WALTRIP AND BOBBY LABONTE COMING OUT OF NOWHERE. IS THIS THE BEGINNING OF THE LONG-AWAITED LEVELING OF THE PLAYING FIELD BECAUSE OF THE NEW CAR AND NOT TESTING, OR JUST ONE OF THOSE QUIRKS OF THE EARLY SEASON? "I'm not really sure. I've been around the No. 96 and those guys have just been fast through practices and the races and stuff. They've had a lot of speed and Bobby is a great driver. So I think they've turned their program around. I haven't spent a lot of time around the No. 00 or the No. 55, which is the way things have worked out so it's hard to really see there. But it's early in the year to really form an opinion based on testing. As the year wears on, that's when we'll really be able to tell. When we see teams that are struggling and if they're able to catch up and how long that takes will be easier reference points for us. Over the off-season, everybody has worked hard and it seems that a lot of teams have improved. That falls back on the resources that a team has at the shop and engineers and stuff like that. So, things are going well. I think it's been a smooth start to the season and NASCAR should be awfully proud of that. We'll just have to see as far as testing as the year develops."
ON DRIVERS BEING OVER AGGRESSIVE SO EARLY IN THE SEASON "I know there were a lot of mistakes on pit road (in Las Vegas). Pit road is a challenging one to get on to and it's just the way it is. I think you'll see everybody spending more time practicing their pit-ins next time we're back in Vegas. But my deal (spin) was certainly over aggression. I was frustrated with the day and how awesome of a car we had and with the lap down and all the things that followed after that. I was just driving over my head. I thought I could win the race still and went in there (turn) too deep and lost control of the car and spun out. Certainly from my standpoint is was over-aggression and I had a good view during the race since I was up front a lot, but I didn't have a chance to see some of the chaos that was taking place in the back."
ISN'T THAT UNCHARACTERISTIC OF YOU? "You know at times, probably. But you're just trying to go, trying to win the race. Other times I've been able to dirt track the car around and just have a cool slide that makes the highlight reel and that's when I lost it. So we certainly walk a tightrope out there in trying to hustle the car and get all that you can out of it and I just asked for a little too much this time."
WHAT ABOUT ATLANTA? WHAT ARE THE ISSUES THERE? "Atlanta is going to be kind of like Darlington and the way we used to race Darlington. The track is really old and there's not a lot of grip and it's real rough so you've got to have a good balanced race car that's comfortable and where you're not taking a lot of risk and have a safe event. I think that will be kind of the same we've seen lately. I think early in the race and early in the weekend we'll see excessive tire wear until the track starts to rubber up. Hopefully there are no big issues there. Outside of that, I hope it warms up. Obviously here in Charlotte there's snow and ice on the ground and Atlanta isn't that far away (laughs). So hopefully the weather breaks and we can have a great turnout with fans and put on a great show."
AT CALIFORNIA YOU UNCHARACTERISTICALLY FADED AT THE END OF THE RACE AFTER RUNNING UP FRONT. DOES THAT CONCERN YOU GOING FORWARD? "No. We've been able to come back and look at some adjustments we made and see where things went wrong. This weekend, we unfortunately were trapped a lap down but we kept the speed in the car as the race went on and made the right adjustments. It's early in the year. We haven't had any testing. We're trying to find the rhythm of new set-ups and the technology that we've introduced this year versus last (year). So it's just early in the year and we're trying to sort stuff out. I know at times we've made it look easy, but this sport is awfully tough. The competition is very strong and everybody makes mistakes. That's what you learn from. At the start of this year we made a few and are learning from them."
HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU AT THIS POINT ON YOUR 1.5-MILE AND 2-MILE TRACK PROGRAM? "I'm really pleased with where we are right now. This weekend will be another test to that, but if you look at our performance at Las Vegas last year versus what it was this year we've made some great strides. I'm still reserving a little bit of hesitation for Texas and Charlotte and stuff like that, but Atlanta will be a true test of where we are with that. We've worked really hard to address those issues on those tracks and hopefully my opinion is right and there is no need to be concerned and we've got everything in order."
YOU SWEPT THE ATLANTA RACES IN 2007. DOES THAT MEAN ANYTHING OR IS THERE REALLY NOTHING TO TRANSLATE WITH THE NEW CAR? "Yeah, it's tough to have anything carry over. I look at Atlanta and the No. 99 (Edwards) car and how strong they've been there at that track. I'd probably put him as the top seed going into the race. So I'd kind of look at Carl and it would be fun to put the pressure on him this weekend (laughs) and be the favorite for that. Those guys have been really, really strong there."
YOU CAN PUT THE PRESSURE ON KYLE BUSCH TOO SINCE HE WON THERE IN MARCH "Oh, that's right. He did. We'll put the pressure on all those guys; not a problem (laughs)."
THE KNOCK OF THE SPORT OF NASCAR HAS SOMETIMES BEEN THAT PEOPLE JUST DRIVE AROUND FOR A FEW HUNDRED MILES AND THEN RACE IN THE LAST 50 LAPS. WITH THE TESTING BAN AND THE NEW CAR, IS STRATEGY CHANGING NOW? "I don't think so. I think those comments come from people who have never been to a race to see what it's like to drive your butt off for 500 miles (laughs). We're out there fighting for every inch we can. Track position with the CoT is more important than it's ever been. It punches a bigger hole in the air; there is less downforce, and more turbulent air. So truthfully, the moment we show up at the track on Friday and our qualifying practice that gives you the best pit stall and gets you a better starting position and plays into that whole affect as far as track position is concerned. So the days of really working with one another and cutting somebody a break and pulling down to let them go by, those days are numbered, and every spot that you have on track counts. And you see guys fighting so hard for that, lap after lap. And that goes back to the questions about being aggressive where people are just driving really hard because track position is so important."