Team Lowes Teleconference April 21, 2009 An interview with Jimmie Johnson Q: Talk about your run at Phoenix and where you and your team are at this point. JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I'm very happy with where we're at. I look back at a couple events -...
Team Lowes Teleconference
April 21, 2009
An interview with
Q: Talk about your run at Phoenix and where you and your team are at this point.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I'm very happy with where we're at. I look back at a couple events - Phoenix being one of them and think, 'Man, if things had been a little different we could have won again.' The last three or four races I think the worst we've finished was fourth. It's really hard to have any issues with that, but at the same time always trying to be as good as we can. There's some areas that we need to refine and get a little better. Hopefully we can do that and get the points lead and try to control the points if at all possible. Try to get as many bonus points as possible and if there's any type of mental advantage we can gain by showing this early strength - try to capitalize on that as well. There's still so much time between now and the 'Chase' that the other stuff could just be a good idea and it could fizzle out in a few months and really not carry any weight in the championship. I kind of look at both sides and try to keep an even keel, but definitely want to strike while the iron's hot and get all that we can."
Q: What are your thoughts heading into Talladega?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "Talladega, the spring one is typically a lot of fun. I assume its going to be the same type of Talladega. The pole sitter will more than likely be one of the go-or-go home cars and at this race I think you'll see more action than you will in the fall race. I would expect a pretty full field of cars racing for the win from the start of the race on. When I think of Talladega the way it plays such a part in the 'Chase,' its hard for me to not cringe when I hear the word Talladega and get nervous about things. I have to remind myself that this isn't in the 'Chase' and I can go out and race hard. Looking forward to it - should be a pretty casual, easy weekend. Looking forward to getting back to some more hardcore race fans."
Q: What is the key to a good run at Richmond?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "Richmond, we've been very good there the last few times. Things will cross over from Phoenix to Richmond. I'm not sure if we'll have that same tire or not, but that tire at Phoenix threw us for a loop and I think threw a lot of the teams for a loop. Once we get a good idea of the tire we can work on our set-up and either expand on last year's set-up if it's the same tire from last year or if it's the Phoenix tire we could be a little better and have to work on that and make the car turn the corner a little faster. Looking forward to it - its been a great track for me. I've always loved the racing at Richmond and just recently started running well there so I can enjoy it from that perspective as well. I'm excited for it."
Q: Was there a point when you started to understand restrictor plate racing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "Looking back over my Cup career and even Nationwide career. I think there was a window in 2005 or even 2006 when I could actually call myself a good plate racer and since then I have just been a fair plate racer and I don't know what has changed or what has gone on, but I'm always working on things and hopefully I can find that rhythm that's needed. In some ways I think I just need to be more protective and play more defense than I currently do. Working with people in my mind and the way the flow of things work on a majority of our race tracks - I think it probably cost me track position and cost me a shot at a win late in a race. I'm going to go down there and make some adjustments to that this weekend."
Q: Do you plan to hang back and then go to the front at the end of the restrictor plate races?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "The last two 'Chase' races at Talladega we tried that and the '07 championship battle it went as planned. We battled back and there were two big wrecks and then when it was time to go racing there wasn't a lot of cars left and we had a straight race car and got a good finish. Last year I was right in the eye of the storm and got as lucky as a man could get sliding through all of those pile-ups and almost got collected. In 2007 we played it and the circumstances played out perfectly for us. Last year not so much, but we got lucky. When we go back for the 'Chase' race I would assume that we will probably play a similar role. I don't know with the spring race what our agenda is going to be. I would love to go up there and just race away. There's really not a lot to lose at this point in the year. Just get up in there and have some fun and get better at plate racing itself."
Q: Have you heard of a thing called the 'Talladega Jinx' or the 'Talladega Hex?'
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "Yeah I have - isn't the speedway on an old Indian burial ground or something? There's so many voices in my head, maybe I haven't heard the ghosts. I have heard some of the stories and I guess trying to believe that its untrue and hopefully this question and these thoughts won't haunt me as I'm on track this weekend."
Q: Would you look over your shoulder or just ignore stuff like that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "You know what's funny is that I tend to not believe in situations like that, but then its always amazing when you find yourself in a moment and your brain starts freaking out on you. Then all of the sudden you believe that stuff is true. I went shooting at a spot in Los Angeles before we went to Phoenix and I was staying at this hotel that was kind of rumored to be haunted and some friends were teasing me about how it could be haunted and on and on. As I laid there asleep I woke up in the middle of the night and I just had the goose bumps and had these feelings and I thought, 'Okay, no they are just joking, there's nothing here, they are just giving me a hard time.' I couldn't go back to sleep. I try not to believe that stuff is true, but I guess when your brain starts playing games with you, you kind of believe stuff at that point."
Q: What was your main problem at Phoenix?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "It really seemed to be the glue holding on the lug nut. We had three stops where the lug nuts fell off the wheel as the pit stop was going on. At one point I was third, another time I was maybe fifth and another time I was around the top 10. Each time I had to rebound from that situation and come from deep in the teens all the way to that position again. I'm pretty confident we had a good car - a car that could have won. I know that we could have had a better car, I had better there last fall and last spring, but we're on a different tire and I don't think we got it just right with this new tire that we had there. I really think, especially the last time the lug nuts fell off, if that one wouldn't have happened, we were in position to really take advantage of some things. But it did happen. I think the second stop was our first issue with glue and we just fought it all night long."
Q: Is it because they've added threads to it and the pit crews aren't used to it yet?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I'm not really sure. I was under the impression that as the wheel was hung on to the hub; the nuts were just falling off at that point. So I don't think that's the case. I don't know. To be honest I could be talking out of my rear here. I don't think that's the case. When I left the racetrack, our guys were under the impression that it was a glue issue or the wheels weren't clean enough or the wheels weren't clean enough before they were all glued up."
Q: What is it about Mark Martin that earns him so much respect?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I think from Mark's standpoint, he has gone out and earned everyone's respect. It's not something that was given to him. He's had a long career that has been well documented. A rocky start, a lot of great years with race wins and poles and not a Cup championship, which we all lived kind of with him even from a fan standpoint watching from the sidelines. We kind of lived his emotions with him. Through all that he just earned everybody's respect. I think at his age and the ability he has with his age, a lot of us are inspired, maybe some guys even jealous or envious. We all hope that when we get to his age, we still have the passion for the sport that he does and the skills to go with it."
Q: Do your trophies get invisible after a while like Mark Martin said?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "Yes, in some ways because you're always looking to tomorrow. In our sport, you're only as good as the last time you were on track. In a couple of days, what Mark did in Phoenix is going to be a past memory and it takes photos or clippings or even displaying your trophies to kind of see them. There are a lot of times I'll walk right on by my trophies and they won't grab my eye. So, in that respect, yes, but once I stop and I read the plaque on it or see a photo, that will take me back to the place and I just think it's because of our schedule and all that is going on. We're just trained to look forward and we really don't have time to stop and enjoy what we've accomplished."
Q: Is every race still an adventure for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "Without a doubt. There's always so much changing with the cars and the tracks, who is on top of what technology or the tire that's come into play. It may look monotonous at times - like we're just driving around in circles out there, but from the spring race to a fall race, the track, the car and the tire, that all changes and you've got a new set of challenges. It's fun and I get caught up in trying to find that extra tenth each time I pull out on the track."
Q: Regarding fire in your belly, do racers have to manufacturer it does it burn constantly?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I'm sure at some point it fades and you have to find a way to light it. I experienced it at a young age racing motocross. I was busy racing on Wednesday nights and then on the weekends and traveling all over the country. One year I had to take summer school classes just to clear the grade I was in, in grade school, because I was gone so much racing motocross during the school season. At that point, I wanted to be a kid. I wanted to learn how to play basketball, baseball and football. I started messing around with the other kids and playing games and got involved in sports. I was so bad at it, I figured I'd better go back to racing. I can see it taking place for people. It happened for me young and I'm sure it will happen for me again, though it hasn't happened since. I think everybody has a clock in their brain and it runs out of time for different people for different reasons. Depending on your age and what you've accomplished, I think you have to decide then if you are going to continue to push and find a way to ignite that or decide to hang it up."
Q: Are you surprised that we can be seeing the same lug nut problems every week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I know that the Roush cars had some problems with it at Texas and I didn't think much of it, because I wasn't attached to the issue and it didn't affect the outcome of my race. Then I go into Phoenix and it happens to us a couple of times. So, then it became extremely interesting to me and a point of focus. I just thought that the other guys had done something wrong and that it was kind of unfortunate they had it happen time after time. Then we went through it at Phoenix. I'm not saying we didn't make mistakes, but in the eight years I've been in Cup now, we might have one wheel where a nut falls off, but I've not had three stops during the course of a race where multiple nuts fall off. I think there's something larger going on."
Q: Will you check into it or leave it to someone else in the organization to fix the problem?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I know it will be fixed and we'll try to dig in however we can to understand what's going on, from Chad's leadership all the way through to our pit stop couch and the guys changing the tires. They practice during the week multiple times, sometimes twice a day. They go through it exactly like they do at the track, gluing up the wheels and all that stuff. So hopefully they've been able to figure out what has caused the problem and been able to correct it so we don't have it happen again."
Q: Were you talking earlier about a mental advantage heading into the next couple of races with the other teams or your own teams and momentum?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "It's really both. The fact that we've been running in the top four in the last four races gives us a lot of confidence that we're doing the right thing. But going to victory lane gives the team such a boost. It helps everybody be more comfortable in their position and their roles and we do have a couple of new guys, so every bit of confidence they can get before "the Chase" starts I think is going to very, very important for our opportunity to win a fourth. At the same time, if we can keep knocking down these finishes and go to victory lane a bunch, I think it will also work on the brains of the other teams and drivers."
Q: Is too much made of the fact that Mark Martin is 50 or is it just incredible?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I think it's incredible. Our sport isn't as physically demanding as others, there's no doubt about that, but we are definitely athletes. If you look at Mark Martin's physical commitment and what he's done to make sure that his mind and body is still sharp and able to perform at 50, it speaks a lot as to what he's done. If you broke it down, he could be the one who years back kind of started more of the workout craze in the sport. There are guys that are certainly on top of it now, but Mark is proof that at his age if you start working on those things you can still be strong and able to win at the Cup level."
Q: How involved do you get in the glue and lug nut issue? Do you talk to other teams?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "It's really an internal situation. We really don't talk outside. If somebody has the secret to what is going to correct that problem, they probably don't want to share it. I certainly wouldn't want to share it if we figured it out. But we do talk a lot about the team and the big picture and where we could be better and then also our strengths and how to preserve some of that stuff. We've talked about it and I'm sure we'll talk about it again when we get to the track. I really let the guys do their jobs and let them figure out, from their aspect, what's going on. There's nobody more focused on doing their particular jobs then my guys and if I make some mistakes on track, I know that I go home and think long and hard about what I've done or what I need in the car so that I don't make those mistakes. I know I get the same thing from my guys. That's why I don't get crazy on the radio and scream and throw a fit because those guys are there living it and they are trying as hard as they can. They are professionals and they'll get it sorted out. That's kind of the way I've always operated. Let the guys find out what's going on. If it's a glue issue or a wheel issue, let them sort it out without me hanging over their shoulders and putting extra pressure on them."
Q: Are you concerned about it right now or are you confident it will be fixed next week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I am concerned about it because we had it happen multiple times in one race, which has never happened before. If it goes on a couple of weeks then the intensity of it will ramp up. Maybe we had a bad tube of glue or something went wrong at the track or somebody stepped on some tires. If it happens multiple weeks in a row, then there's a bigger problem there. I know that it's been looked at and they are trying to address it and figure out what's going on. If it goes away this week then we'll probably bury it."
Q: Did running two full seasons in Nationwide serve its purpose for you? Is that why you don't do it anymore?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "It really did help me out. I came in with very little asphalt experience and it was the best way and only way for me to get experience on a lot of the tracks at these speeds and understanding the aero gains that exist out there. It was very important for me. If I ran better in the Nationwide cars, I'd run more races. I'll run 25th and a lap down in the Nationwide race and then get in the Cup car and lead the most laps and win. There's no sense in taking a beating in the Nationwide cars. It's just not my style of driving."
Q: What is the difference in the two Series'?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "The Nationwide car has a lot less power and a lot more downforce so you really just run around near wide open the whole time. My background - I came off the dirt with a lot of horsepower and I need more of a car I can drive with my foot instead of just driving it wide open all the way around the track."
Q: What do you see as the justification for the guys who run a lot more Nationwide races?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I think a lot of those guys just enjoy racing and just want a shot at extra trophies and a championship. I don't think there's any big help between the two cars in the way that the COT is designed versus the way that the Nationwide today, so it's really just about going racing."
Q: What do you feel like Mark Martin's win meant to the sport?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I think it means a lot for our sport. To see one of the greats win a race and come through a bit of a dry spell in order to do it, switching teams and all that's led up to the victory, it's really shown his desire to be competitive and to be in a car. And also for his wife Arlene to let him go back and run a full time season. In that way, I think it's going to obviously be popular and mean a lot to our sport and really be something that people remember about 2009 as the years go by. I'm not sure what that will do for other guys and the duration of their careers. I think it shows that if you are physically and mentally prepared, you can go longer than you would think. I still think that the stress and the obligations of a full-time Cup driver, it's just so much greater now it will still take its toll. You'll still see guys retiring early unless they can do it like Mark has done to come back and run this year. He doesn't have all of the appearances. Being a veteran like he is, he's able to kind of command some of these things that take the extra time and really take the fun out of driving the car. There might be some things there to look at that Mark has done to help an older driver enjoy it and be physically ready, but I still think you'll see guys hanging it up earlier than mid forties."
Q: Do you feel as though there is a need for a drivers union in NASCAR?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "It's been popular at different times. I've found that the more open that I am with Mike Helton and Brian France, and the more involved I am and the bigger effort I make, the more they listen. My opinion of late is that things are working really well and they've worked well for a lot of years. I'm very happy with how things are going at this point from my perspective."
Q: What did you do to figure Richmond out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I really did have one of those moments. I tried for a lot of years to get it right, from the Nationwide through the Cup Series and all of the sudden it clicked. The way Jeff [Gordon] drives the car, I had to really consciously think about that and change my style to run better at those tracks - Phoenix, Richmond and Martinsville - and it worked. It was a similar period of time where I picked up on that style."
Q: Is Richmond a place where you race the car, the competitor or the track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "It's tough to pass people. With them not putting any sealer down on it recently, the grooves from top to the bottom, there is a fair amount of grip. Granted you get smoking around there pretty quick and you get sideways easily, but it's not like at Darlington where you just have to focus on the track. To me, you just have to go like hell and try as hard as you can every single lap because track position is so important there. You can get along side someone, but you can't pull the pass off. To me it's like Saturday night racing. I just run every lap as hard as I can."
Q: Do you think there has been a shift in NASCAR policy in how they deal with emotional outbursts on and off the track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I've seen them a little more lenient with the cars making contact with one another after the checkered flag. I can think of Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch at Bristol, I think it was. It seems this weekend there was some stuff and I haven't heard of any penalties begin passed out from that. I don't think it's a huge change, but it's a little twist on things where you're not being reprimanded for kind of expressing yourself in that respect."
Q: Will that make drivers more apt to kind of get into it because they know they can now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "I haven't thought of it, but the first thing that goes through my mind after the race when I'm upset with someone is to do that and then I think of the trip to the hauler and what it could do to the team if there are any points lost or anything. I guess if the trend continues that way, it will open that up in my mind to kind of react after the race if need be."
Q: How much do mind games and knowing the drivers' mentality and their mental weaknesses play into how you race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: "It does. I tried some of that stuff earlier in my Cup career and didn't have a lot of success it. It's going to sound funny, but from talking on the radio during my lap or while I'm racing to focusing on trying to play mental games and trying to get into someone's head, all of those things usually slow me down and affect me on the track. I've found the best way for me to get in people's minds is to run my race, click off my laps, run them down and pass them. So, from my standpoint, I've had no success in doing any of those games. I've kind of shied away from it. I certainly know personalities on track. I know if you put a lot of pressure on one guy, chances are he'll make a mistake, or certain guys won't make a mistake and you'll really have to force the issue. So, you learn those patterns about guys, but I really don't try to play any games. It just doesn't suit me."