This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Teleconference featured Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Chad Knaus. The series moves to Kansas Speedway next weekend for the Banquet 400, round 30 of 36...
This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Teleconference featured Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Chad Knaus.
The series moves to Kansas Speedway next weekend for the Banquet 400, round 30 of 36 points-paying races on the 2003 circuit. A three-time winner this year (Charlotte and both Loudon races) along with The Winston, Johnson enters the Kansas event in fourth place in the standings. He has been in the top 10 for 29 race weeks, and is the only driver to be in the top 10 for the entire season. Dating back to 2002, he has been ranked among the top 10 for 62 consecutive race weeks. Johnson started on the outside pole at last year's Kansas race and finished 10th.
With Johnson's win at NHIS in July, he earned the 400th Winston Cup win for Chevrolet in NASCAR's Modern Era (1972 - present). If Johnson, or any other Chevy driver is victorious this weekend at Kansas, Chevrolet will clinch the 2003 Manufacturers Cup award.
Q&A's with JIMMIE JOHNSON:
WITH SEVEN RACES TO GO, HOW CAN YOU ACCESS YOUR SEASON SO FAR?
"Our second year has been a great year. Obviously our rookie year last year was a surprise to everyone including myself. I was hoping that in year two or three I would start having the wins and a good season like I'm having now. Now in my second year, we're still able to maintain that pace of still winning races and competing in the top five in points. It has been a huge accomplishment for me and this whole race team. Everybody is extremely young and for a lot of guys, this is their first year in Winston Cup. For the team to gel as it has and for us to be doing as well as we are is great. I'm very proud of everything that's gone on.
"One of our goals this year was to win races and we've been able to do that. Another goal that we've got left to accomplish is to finish top three in points. I wish we could have a shot at the championship, but Matt (Kenseth) has had a great season. When he has bad luck, I have bad luck. So I haven't been able to close that gap at all. I'm pretty far out of the loop. I'm looking for a top three in points. Hopefully next year we'll be in championship form."
GOING INTO KANSAS CITY, HOW DOES THIS YEAR COMPARE WITH LAST YEAR?
"It's a lot different. Last year at this point with the pressure of my rookie season and competing for the championship, there was a lot going on. I was really burned out and beaten down. I learned a lot of lessons from that. I learned what to worry about and when to worry about things. There is just so much going on. If you pay attention to every detail, you're going to burn out. I learned some very good lessons. This year has been a much more relaxed year. We still have the competitiveness that we had last year but we've learned how to spread it out a little better. I anticipate the screw-ups that take place and understand things more."
ON RACING THE KANSAS CITY TRACK
"Kansas has been good to me. I've always been very competitive there. It's a lot like Chicago or some of these other mile and a half tracks we go to. I think last year it was one of the better tracks for us to race on as far as the new ones were concerned. The groove really opened up. We had a lot of side-by-side race. Coming back after another summer has beaten up the track, it's going to be a great race for everyone."
COULD YOU TALK ABOUT THE YEAR THAT TERRY LABONTE IS HAVING AND HIS ROLE WITH THE TEAM?
"Terry and Jim Long and that whole group of guys have been working so hard to get the No. 5 team pointed in the right direction. I think Jim Long has done an awesome job of building race cars for Terry and getting things sorted out. Terry is a single-foot driver. It doesn't sound that complicated, but there is a lot that goes on in all the reference points of how you drive a race car change with you're not using both your feet - one for the gas and one for the brake. Jim has done a great job of understanding Terry, -- and Terry has done a good job of communicating to Jim how to get that set-up on the car. To win at Darlington, one of the toughest tracks we go says a lot for those guys. Terry is a veteran at Hendrick Motorsports that I can go to for that worldly advice on how to attach the sport."
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK ON LAST YEAR, WHAT MADE YOU AND RYAN NEWMAN PULL THINGS TOGETHER SO SOON?
"I don't know. I really thought my rookie season would be more like the type of season this year's rookies are having. I had no idea we would take off and do what we did. Right place, right time, right people - there are a lot of things that go into it. The stars and the moon have to be aligned. I think there is a great rookie crop out there right now. Everybody's time comes. Fortunately for me, it showed up in my rookie year."
ON TAKING THE POINT LEAD AT LAST YEAR'S KANSAS RACE AND ON JEFF GORDON'S WIN THERE
"We had a great car. We ran up front all day long. I had a flat tire under green and had to come in. Actually, it was a loose wheel. Regardless, we had a great day and still came back for a 10th place finish and left with the points lead. I have fond memories of the track. I hope to do better when we go back."
HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT FOR YOU TO BE LEADING THE POINTS WHEN YOU LEFT KANSAS?
"It was huge. In looking back on it now, you don't know how long you're going to stay there (in the lead) and you don't know what the season is going to bring. So you don't get caught up in all of that. We went to the next race and unfortunately got crashed before the green flag ever came out at Talladega and lost the point lead. You just roll with it and see what happens. Now looking at how far away the point lead is right now, that was my only opportunity to lead in the points. I hope that opportunity comes again soon."
WHY DO YOU THINK THE MILE AND A HALF TRACKS HAVE BECOME SO POPULAR INSTEAD OF ONE OR TWO MILE TRACKS?
"I think it has a lot to do with the amount of fans you can put in there including camping in the infield. It has a lot to do with the track generating revenue rather than the type of racing it provides. It's the perfect size track. You get the right amount of fans and the infield camping. I think the series needs some more high-banked mile tracks. Rockingham and Dover are great races and we could use a few more tracks like that."
ON BRENDAN GAUGHAN'S TELECONFERENCE CALL COMMENT ON REVENGE OF ANOTHER DRIVER LIKE BOBBY HAMILTON
"There's so much on the line. Usually in those cases, there's one guy who has a lot to lose and one guy who doesn't have anything to lose. Brendan is competing for a championship. Bobby is not up there in the points as far as I know. I might be mistaken and hate to insult him like that. But for Brendan to keep that fire burning, he's got a lot to lose. He's leading the points. It's just not his time to play that game. But down the road, you remember those things. You remember the situations. There are some guys who really wait for those situations to take place. Other guys like myself don't. I don't think Brendan will. You try to move on. You try to take the high road because you've got a lot to lose -- especially in Brendan's case. He just doesn't want to get caught up in any of that and it's just not his style."
AT THE END OF THE SEASON, HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO FIGHT OFF THE BURNOUT ISSUE?
"I've just really learned which ones are the important battles. Everything is important. But for me, what's important is that race car running up front. I need to be in the right state of mind. I need to be focused and do my job on the race track. I'm really focused in putting my priority there. There are a lot of obligations outside of the car that I need to do, but I'm not stressing over it. I'll do what I can. I'm working as hard as I can. But when I know I'm at the end of my rope, I know it'll affect me when I climb into that race car. I step back from it and the people working with me know that is the most import thing."
THE NEW RACING BACK TO THE YELLOW RULE SEEMS TO BE WORKING, BUT WHAT IS YOUR VIEWPOINT ON THE SINGLE FILE RULE ON PIT ROAD?
"The rule changes that have been made are very good. I agree with what they've done with racing back to the yellow. I don't agree with getting your lap back because you're in the right place at the right time. I think that needs to be looked at. I know it makes for great television but not from a competitor's standpoint. We almost had the last two races won from that situation. When you're having a bad day, you need to earn it back - not just have it awarded to you.
"I think the pit road changes are great changes. I don't think the changes that were made caused the problems that we saw that first pit stop. What happened was that everyone came in and only needed a few seconds for fuel. So the lead cars took their few seconds for fuel and were pulling back out while guys were still trying to get to their pit boxes. Typically, you need at least a can of gas so the whole field has time to go down pit road and clear the guys that made it to their pit boxes early. That rule is only to protect the guys coming into the pits so that someone isn't inside of a car like you saw with Jeff (Gordon) at Loudon and has contact and ends up striking some guys. Everything isn't going to be safe on pit road or on the race track. When you make rules, somehow random things seem to happen and unfortunately it did at Talladega."
ON TEAM HERZOG RETURNING TO THE BUSCH SERIES
"I feel so bad that those guys weren't able to find a sponsorship. Stan and Randy Herzog are racers at heart. They are very dedicated to their race team and the sport. To see the points leader in the Busch Series go away because they didn't have a sponsor is a crime. I feel so bad for them. I know they worked so hard to get to where they were. I drove for them for six years and I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for the Herzogs. I certainly hope they are able to get a sponsor so that they can come back. I'm glad they're going to be there at Kansas.)
DOES THE SMALL TEAM HAVE A CHANCE?
"Sure. They showed they were capable of it by leading the points for as long as they did. I don't think you just stumble across that. They spend just as much money as Richard Childress. They're doing everything that they can to be competitive in the Busch Series. But there was a point there where they were spending so much of their money to compete with Childress, that it just didn't make sense. That had to be a hard decision for them. They might be considered as a small guy, but they are very capable of running up front."
WHEN YOU AVOID A CRASH LIKE YOU DID IN TALLADEGA, HOW MUCH OF THAT IS LUCK AND HOW MUCH IS EXPERIENCE?
"A big part of it was luck. I was extremely lucky to not be caught up in any of that or have anybody hit me. There were three or four opportunities for me to be knocked out of the race at that point, but it all worked out. The car was out of control. There are a few small things that a driver can do that might help a little bit, but it was pretty much luck."