Kansas: Jimmie Johnson preview

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Oct. 1, 2002) - The last time Team Lowe's Racing driver Jimmie Johnson left Kansas Speedway, he was the first rookie in Winston Cup's modern era to lead the points standings, finishing with a 10th-place finish in his first...

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Oct. 1, 2002) - The last time Team Lowe's Racing driver Jimmie Johnson left Kansas Speedway, he was the first rookie in Winston Cup's modern era to lead the points standings, finishing with a 10th-place finish in his first Winston Cup event at the track.

This season, Johnson does not have his sights on leading the points race when Sunday's race is complete; he just hopes to close the gap on second and third place in the overall standings.

Jimmie Johnson Comments 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."

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 this 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.

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."

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."

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."

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."

Chad Knaus Comments WITH SEVEN RACES TO GO, HOW CAN YOU ACCESS YOUR SEASON SO FAR?

"Jimmie and I sat down at the beginning of the year and laid out some goals that we promised we'd keep confidential of things we wanted to accomplish. Oddly enough, we didn't accomplish as many of the goals as we set out to, but we accomplish things we didn't think we would do. So it balanced out a little bit. We thought we'd win a restrictor plate race, but we weren't able to do that since the last one was Talladega last Sunday. But we never in a million years thought that we would sweep Loudon. So we've really had a pretty decent year. We've had a lot of unfortunate luck. And we've had some engine malfunctions that have cost us a lot of points. We really thought we were going to be able to bid for the championship. But with Matt Kenseth's consistency, we're not going to be able to. We started to falter just a little bit at Talladega. If we didn't have our engine problem and not gotten spun and lose the engine as a result, we would have had a chance to capitalize on the points. We feel like we can finish in the top five in points and that's going to be very respectable. I think we've really set ourselves up for a championship bid in '04."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE FIRST CAR GETTING A LAP BACK IN THE NEW RULES?

"You're probably getting the same answer from everybody. If our car is in a position to get a lap back, I love it. If the situation is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman - two guys that I'm battling in the points - get their laps back for free at Talladega and they're able to make up a bunch of points, I don't like that. Since they've implemented that rule in the last two weeks, Ryan Newman has probably gained over 100 points than he would have if they didn't have that rule. That just puts him closer to us, so I don't really like that. But you can't whine over it because it is what it is. NASCAR will make adjustments as necessary. They didn't make this rule to help a guy who's a lap down. They made this rule to help the guys that are injured and to keep accidents from happening. And that's the most important thing and I agree with that 100 percent."

ARE THERE ANY DRIVER WEAKNESSES YOU'D LIKE TO ADDRESS BEFORE GOING INTO NEXT SEASON?

"As you grow and mature as a team, you always see new things you have to grow and get better at. Jimmie and I have made such big gains on our communications skills and our teamwork. We can identify with whatever each other is feeling - by facial expressions or tone of voice or whatever. To make us better, the thing we're going to have to do is just continue to mature together. That means that when we go out and win, we've got to be sure we maintain a level attitude. Same when with we don't do well. We can't have peaks and valleys emotionally because that's where a lot of strain comes from - whether it's a marriage or a friendship or a working relationship like Jimmie and I have where you've got to maintain some type of level. That's what we're working on that now. They guys that we have on our team are still fairly young and they kind of feed on the emotion that we put out there. That's the biggest hurdle we've got right now. Performance-wise and with on-track actions, I don't think there are really too many teams that are better than we are right now."

ON YOUR CREW PACING ITSELF BETTER THIS YEAR?

"There are seven races to go and there are some very difficult race tracks. We have some more testing to deal with. Now is the point where we're going to see if our plan worked. I think it did. Our guys are better and more rested. They've maintained a level of intensity the majority of the season that they've been able to carry all year long. To be able to win the Winston Cup championship, we need to do a better job of it next year. But I think we've taken it to the next step over what we had last year by far. I'm not going to say I'm not getting tired because I am starting to get a little bit tired. I think everybody is. A lot of these crew chiefs are sick and worn down. I spoke to James Ince on the phone yesterday and he's got the flu. Its just part of it. Everybody gets tired and worn down. But I think my guys are in better shape at this point in the season now than they were last year."

IT'S DIFFERENT FOR EVERY DRIVER/CREW CHIEF COMBINATION, BUT HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR YOU GUYS TO GEL?

"It varies. You talk to some drivers and crew chiefs and they never get it to work. It just doesn't happen. They don't find that chemistry and it just doesn't work for people. Jimmie and I were fortunate to be able to do it right out of the box. We had a couple of test sessions and went to some social activities before the start of the season and it really clicked. It really worked right away. That's the big reason why we've had success. You look at some of these other guys, like Matt (Borland) and Ryan (Newman), who were together for a long time before they even got into Winston Cup. They had background and time working with one another. They hit the ground running. We went to Daytona and said okay here we go. We tried to make it work. But as far as a timeline for when you get things figured out and understand each other's vocabulary and how to interact with other members of the team, you can't set a timeline on that. Some people never get it. Some people get it right away."

Jimmie Johnson Fast Facts

* Johnson ranks fourth in the Winston Cup Series championship standings, 92 out of third place.

* Johnson has three win (Lowe's Motor Speedway and two at New Hampshire Int. Speedway), eight top-five, 13 top-10 finishes and one pole position.

* Johnson has led in 13 out of 29 races this season.

* Johnson is the only Winston Cup driver to be in the top-10 in points every week this season. He has been in the top-10 for 62 consecutive weeks dating back to last season, the longest current streak in Winston Cup.

* Johnson has six career Winston Cup victories and five pole positions.

Jimmie Johnson at Kansas Speedway

* Johnson has competed in one Winston Cup Series event at Kansas, where he started second and finished 10th.

No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Fast Facts

* Team Lowe's Racing will bring car 4876

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus