Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Impala SS spoke with the media about this season to date and the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. Q: LOOKING BACK AT ATLANTA, WERE YOU ON BOARD WITH THAT FINAL...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Impala SS spoke with the media about this season to date and the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Q: LOOKING BACK AT ATLANTA, WERE YOU ON BOARD WITH THAT FINAL PIT STOP CALL FOR THE TIRES THAT CHAD KNAUS MADE?
JOHNSON: "I was. I just didn't want to be responsible for the call (laughs). So I backed out and let him make the call. This is what's tough for me, being in the car, is to understand what's all going on. I'm just dealing with the emotions and the issues I have in the car. From Chad's perspective, you had a handful of cars that had three or four laps on their tires that felt they were good enough to stay out. Then in front of them, you had a bunch of guys that wished they had pitted, except for maybe first and second. It was a single-file restart, under 10 laps to go, and Chad could see all that and made the absolute right call. We got the tires and off we went."
Q: WERE YOU SURPRISED AT HOW GOOD YOUR CAR WAS AFTER GETTING THOSE NEW TIRES ON IT?
JOHNSON: "I think I got to fourth and up until fourth, I thought it was kind of what I expected. And then from fourth to second, I didn't think I had enough time or was fast enough to really get to Denny (Hamlin). I think the No. 17 (Matt Kenseth) was right there and I got by him. It took me a lap or so to get him. So I could feel the grip level and the good of the tire going away and I thought I was going to be in the top five, which would have been great, based on how the day had gone. But I just kept driving the crap out of the car and it worked out."
Q: I THINK YOU WOULD HAVE WON IF YOU'D HAD A FEW MORE LAPS TO GO
JOHNSON: "If there was a caution with two or three (laps) to go, I may have had a chance. But Carl (Edwards) was pretty far out there."
Q: PEOPLE OFTEN COMPARE ATLANTA TO TEXAS, BUT ALL OF THEM ARE UNIQUE. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE DIFFERENCES FOR YOU INSIDE THE CAR?
JOHNSON: "Atlanta has turned into it's own track. It has, in my opinion, taken the place of the old Darlington, except for going much faster than what we've seen at Darlington. The track has taken on a personality of it's own and is an absolute beast to drive. It is so difficult to get hooked up and to make your car work around there. I think that people were really scared to run side-by-side, so you saw a lot of single-file racing because you needed all of the race track just to keep your car straight and not spin out. So it was a very, very challenging race, and there is nothing like Atlanta right now."
Q: IN TERMS OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CHAD KNAUS, CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW THAT HAS EVOLVED OVER THE PAST THREE SEASONS, AND HOW YOU'VE REFINED YOUR LINES OF COMMUNICATIONS DURING THAT TIME?
JOHNSON: "We're still very, very similar to the way we started in a lot of ways. From the beginning, Chad and I have been able to communicate well and just fit well together. Over time, it continues to amaze me how well he knows me. Saturday night, I made a couple of general comments about the car in passing or something and he called me a couple of hours later and just on some comments that I felt were insignificant in talking about what the car was doing, it pulled him back to some different races during the course of the season and some changes we made to help the car, and the light came on in his brain and it pieced everything together and I went to bed Saturday night feeling very good about the changes we were making to the car, and went out and made the car better. It wasn't a dominant car, but we certainly improved the car and made it plenty competitive. So, at times I'm even amazed at how things click and how well we know each other, and especially how well he knows me. I think over time we've just gained more confidence in our gut feelings with the car and with one another and with those decisions; and we've followed those gut feelings and they've really turned out to be something."
Q: YOU SAID YOU WANTED HIM TO MAKE THAT CALL ON SUNDAY. IN A CASE WHERE YOU REALLY FEEL STRONGLY ABOUT SOMETHING LIKE THAT, WILL YOU USUALLY DEFER TO HIM?
JOHNSON: "Oh, I'd rather him make the call so I can yell at him on Monday, rather than him yell at me (laughs). In most cases, he's got such a better perspective of what's going on so I try to keep my opinions relatively to myself. In the past, I've made pit calls that have been wrong more times than right. I've made adjustments to the car that I swore I needed, and it's not what I needed. In today's racing, in my opinion, you really need to be a computer for the crew chief and tell him what the car is doing, not tell him how to fix it because there is a lot more going on than a driver can sort out."
Q: HAS THE TRUST FACTOR BETWEEN YOU AND CHAD REACHED THE POINT WHERE NOW YOU TRUST EACH OTHER EXPLICITLY?
JOHNSON: "Truthfully, it's been that way for a long, long time. Each year that goes by and each time we deal with a high-pressure situation and come out as we had hoped, it just builds more confidence in that. But we've had this ability for a long time. It's been there, we just keep refining it."
Q: WITH HALLOWEEN COMING UP, IF YOU WERE LEADING TEXAS WITH THREE LAPS TO GO, WHAT FIVE DRIVERS SCARE YOU THE MOST AND WHY?
JOHNSON: "What's the situation? I'm leading and I've got four guys running me down, or I'm leading and I'm lapping four guys (laughs)?"
Q: YOU'RE LEADING AND YOU'VE GOT FOUR OR FIVE GUYS COMING AT YOU
JOHNSON: "Well as of now, I think I've got to go with the first three guys in the points. And then I'd have to put (Tony) Stewart in there and (Jeff) Gordon, because those guys want to win a race pretty bad."
Q: IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT THEIR DRIVING STYLES THAT SCARES YOU ABOUT THEM COMING ON AT THE END OF A RACE?
JOHNSON: "Nothing to where I would end up with a tore up race car, but they're all great drivers and a threat to take points away. So, in that respect, I'm scared of them all because I want the points and especially if you're leading a race with three (laps) to go there's nothing worse than giving one up that late."
Q: WHAT FIVE DRIVERS, ANYWHERE ON THE TRACK, WOULD SCARE YOU THE MOST TO BE AROUND?
JOHNSON: "There are a bunch of them (laughs). Typically, wrecked cars to start with, and then I think if you get around the No. 77 (Sam Hornish Jr.) or the No. 42 (Juan Pablo Montoya) or the No. 7 (Robby Gordon) at times can be a handful; gosh, you go through the list, let's see. I seem to be struggling with those guys from time to time. The No. 77 of late has been one of the toughest ones for me to pass, which I don't understand why. But I guess those three off the to of my head."
Q: IS THERE SOMETHING IN PARTICULAR THE NO. 77 IS DOING TO CAUSE YOU PROBLEMS OR ARE YOU JUST NERVOUS AROUND HIM?
JOHNSON: "No, and I'm not trying to slam these guys and this is their right as competitors, but they just go. I don't think that in some cases, the new guys that come into the sport, and you know, they might be fighting for a situation in points and they need to beat the guy in front of them to stay in the top 35, I don't understand their scenario, I just know mine. I catch them, and they're harder to pass than when I'm racing Tony Stewart for the third spot. And you're like, why are you doing this? You are multiple laps down, why are you racing this hard? And there are a variety of them out there that do it, but just don't see the leader coming or the top five guy coming, and pay them that respect, or I'm not seeing the situation they are in and respecting what they're up against. But either way, I end up ticked."
Q: YOU LEFT MICHAEL WALTRIP OUT OF THAT AND HE'S BROUGHT OUT MORE CAUTIONS THAN ANYONE, I BELIEVE.
JOHNSON: "He brought out a couple on Saturday, but I haven't had any issues. And it's weird because different guys have different issues with different people. And the people that I might be having a hard time with right now are not the same guys that other people have hard times with. I've seen that with my own teammates and have talked to other drivers, and they're like man, so-and-so is a pain in the butt. And I'm like, really? He treats me great. So there are a bunch of things going on out there that create these situations. But when you're in the car driving, the only one you care about is yourself and you're real greedy and selfish in that respect. I'm just as guilty as anyone else of that."
Q: HAVE YOU COUNTED HOW MANY TIMES YOU'VE COME FROM WAY IN THE BACK TO THE FRONT IN A NASCAR RACE, AND DO YOU MIND WORKING THAT HARD SO MANY TIMES?
JOHNSON: "I've never counted. It's something I think our team got off to an early start with in dealing with that situation because I haven't been a good qualifier until late. And if you're leading the qualifying pole awards this year, that's a shock to me and our team. Qualifying has been a tough, tough thing for us over the years. I can think of a Coca-Cola 600 where we blew an engine in qualifying and started last and came back and got to the front in a hurry and won the race. I was talking about that scenario quite a bit year's back, but it's just been something we're good at. I feel like I'm better racing people than I am running a single lap and trying to post the fastest speed. I just enjoy passing people and think I'm a better racer than I am a qualifier. It's just something we've always had."
Q: IS THERE REALLY A DIFFERENCE AS FAR AS IF YOU HAVE TO COME FROM THE BACK OR IF YOU'RE IN THE LEAD AND YOU'VE GOT TO RACE HARD TO KEEP THAT LEAD?
JOHNSON: "Well if you have a good car and you're coming from the back, it's one thing. If you've had a tough weekend and you don't have the pace in the car and you're in the back, you're panicked and struggling and hoping for a lot of cautions so you can work on your car and try to make it better. So it really just depends on why you're there. This last weekend, we were much better than a 30th place car or whatever it was when we went a lap down, and I had the confidence that we would still salvage a good finish, but there was so much green-flag running, I didn't know when or if we would catch a caution to get the Lucky Dog. That was a big scare, but fortunately we got it."
Q: DO YOU EVER THINK ABOUT WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE IF YOU DIDN'T HAVE CHAD KNAUS AS A CREW CHIEF, OR IF YOU HAD TO START WITH SOMEONE ELSE?
JOHNSON: "No, I don't know why I'd do that (laughs), or put myself through that. So I've never sat down and thought about it. We end up thinking about and talking about running our careers together. And I don't want to drive for anyone else and he doesn't want anyone else driving his cars. So I've really never let my mind go there."
Q: WHAT MAKES HIM SO GOOD? ON THE DEEPER SIDE OF IT CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHERE HE STACKS UP IN HISTORY?
JOHNSON: "My opinion is truly biased. I'm a huge Chad Knaus fan. He's the only crew chief I've worked with in Cup; so again, I have a very limited perspective of it all. But I truthfully believe he deserves all the respect in the world and if my name is considered in top tiers of what drivers have done, his name rightfully so, needs to be considered in that top tier of what crew chiefs have done. Both of us feel we've got a lot of years left and a lot more to prove. So we'll just let that kind of be out there, and let it be what it is someday."
Q: HOW MUCH OF A CHANCE WAS CHAD'S CALL AT ATLANTA?
JOHNSON: "At the time, I had a hard time helping him with the decision because I thought it was risky; and as he explained it to me and then when I came out of the pits and saw that a lot of them came in and pitted as well, it all made sense. And he called it before the pits opened up. He said, 'Look, you had a couple of guys with new tires behind you, newer tires, and then a whole group of guys behind that who had nothing to lose. We can be the first guy on four new tires and you're three spots worse than where you were a few minutes ago.' At that time we were on old tires with guys on our butts. So it was an easy call."
Q: REGARDING HALLOWEEN, DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT COSTUMES YOU WORE AS A KID? DID YOU EVER DRESS UP AS A RACE CAR DRIVER?
JOHNSON: "I remember my mom doing all this exotic face-painting stuff. She was pretty good at it. I remember my brother, Jarit, and I winning a competition at our elementary school; it was some type of Grim Reaper thing. When I really think about doing it up and dressing up, that was back in my younger days, and I don't recall going as a race car driver or anything like that."
Q: HOW COOL DID YOU STAY WHEN THAT PENALTY CAME DOWN AT ATLANTA?
JOHNSON: "I had a feeling I was going to be in trouble. So, when I was in the pit box and the pit stop was taking place, I was waiting for them to issue the penalty. I was leaving the pits when we heard it. I felt bad. I felt really bad that I put the team in that position. It was my mistake. I started running through the day and how early it was and the circumstances, and knew that I could rebound and make it. So, I tried to stay calm. Chad did a great job of keeping cool and staying calm. We stabilized our emotions and made the most of it."
Q: PEOPLE ARE SAYING AND WRITING THAT YOU APPEAR TO BE DESTINED FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR AND ARE LEADING A CHARMED LIFE, ESPECIALLY AFTER ATLANTA. ARE YOU STARTING TO BELIEVE IT?
JOHNSON: "I'm still what I know (laughs). I'm just going racing. I'm just ignoring as much of the media as I possibly can. I'm not watching the shows and not reading articles. I'm living inside my own head. I feel very good about where we're at and I'm trying hard not to pay attention to outside opinions and what's really going on out there. So, I'm just keeping my head down and staying focused on the things I can control."
Q: AT THIS POINT, WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGER FEAT IN TERMS OF THE POINTS RACE, THE WAY YOU FINISHED SUNDAY OR HOW THE WRECKED CARS SEEMED TO MISS YOU AT TALLADEGA OR IS THERE SOMETHING ELSE IN THIS CHASE?
JOHNSON: "Talladega, I put as number one. That was the first point where we were able to get some points and put a lot of pressure on the other guys and required them to step up. So I think that was a key moment. This last weekend, we had the pressure on ourselves and it was time for us to step up, and we did it. They're both very, very important points in the championship battle. I'm more focused on the things I can't control, so I'd put that one (Talladega) a little higher than what went on at Atlanta. I made the mistake and then we had to go out as a team and recover from that and we did. So I'd put that second."
Q: WHAT WERE THE KEY BREAKS, OR THE ONES THAT COME TO MIND LOOKING BACK TO THE 2006 AND '07 TITLE RUNS?
JOHNSON: "In '06, I remember people having their problems late and letting us back in. We had speed and we were competitive and doing things right, but we opened up at Loudon with a problem and at Talladega had a problem. I think (Jeff) Burton had a sizeable lead and then they had some troubles and let us all back in it. Last year, I was pretty frustrated after Charlotte where I spun out, and then coming to the last restart, we started to see a problem with this new mechanical fuel pump and I was sitting in fourth or fifth and they dropped the green flag and I fell to like 14th. So that was a big one I remember, emotionally. It was like man, lost a bunch of points there. After that we got on a tear; we won some races that we were the strongest car, and in Atlanta where we took two tires, we weren't the strongest car, we were sixth or seventh all day long and put two tires on and never made a green flag lap after that except crashing, and then won the race. We had some things go our way and we also earned some wins, but I just think that stretch of winning those four races, that's what separated the season for us was getting on that run."
Q: HOW MUCH UNFINISHED BUSINESS DOES HOMESTEAD REPRESENT TO YOU IN TERMS OF WINNING THERE OR GETTING A GOOD HOLD ON THAT TRACK?
"Depending on how things shake out, it's a track where if there's a close points race, momentum could shift a little to the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) or No. 99 (Carl Edwards) because they've run so well there. We've been down there worrying about the championship the last couple of years, but if you look at Biffle's record there, it's pretty impressive. So ideally, I want to have business taken care of before I get there (laughs) and not have to worry about anything. That's truthfully my goal and what comes to mind when I think of Homestead."
-credit: lowe's racing/hm