JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed being in the Chase and going for the championship, his new Corvette, the importance of the Texas race, the emotions of Kyle Busch and feeling out of contention, NASCAR's new drug...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed being in the Chase and going for the championship, his new Corvette, the importance of the Texas race, the emotions of Kyle Busch and feeling out of contention, NASCAR's new drug policy, and more. Full Transcript:
DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE A CHAMPIONSHIP TO WIN ONE? "It seems that trend happens more than the other way around. If you look at Lewis Hamilton last year you can draw comparisons to things that I've been through and other drivers have been through. But it's not impossible. There always is the guy who can sneak through and get it done. But for whatever reason, history shows that you typically lose one before you win one."
HOW DID 2005 CHANGE YOU AND THIS WHOLE TEAM? "I'd say '04 was probably when it started the most. We only lost it (the championship) by eight points. And then in '05, we just got beat. And it really made us question what we were made of as a race team and the relationship that Chad (Knaus) and I had. We sat down over the off-season and looked each other in the eye and said this is what we want to do and this is the group of guys we want to work with and we've just got to do a better job and we came back from it. But each year you learn so much and can take that into the following season, but '04 was the one, I felt, that slipped away. In '05, we just got beat and then I questioned what we were made of and then we got it done in '06."
IS THERE A GREATER APPRECIATION NOW FOR HAVING WON AFTER GOING THROUGH THOSE YEARS? "There certainly is. In some ways, when I won in '06, I felt like my racing career was complete. I had everything in my mind set on being a Sprint Cup champion. And then to get it done, it was like wow. This is my life's work. It is everything I've worked for. It's here. It's done. And then you wake up after the banquet and it's like wow, Daytona testing is right around the corner and I've got to go do this again. So you find ways to motivate yourself after that. But since the first championship, I've been much more at peace with my abilities and my team's abilities and we're just in a sweet spot of sorts and just doing what we can and not living and dying by every emotion that comes along and only championships bring that calmness to a team."
WHY DO YOU THINK THE CHASE GUYS HAVEN'T DONE WELL AT KANSAS? "I think of Kansas and Chicago being very, very similar for tracks and for guys that you expect to see up front. So with that in mind, I look for the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and the No. 99 (Carl Edwards) and the No. 16 (Greg Biffle) has obviously shown that they're ready for this Chase. But the track drives very similar to Chicago. I think this track is actually starting to get wider than Chicago first, and we have a true outside lane that works here and works well."
AT THE CHARLOTTE TEST, CLINT BOWYER BROUGHT A CLASSIC CAR AND YOU BROUGHT A NEW CAR. TALK ABOUT THAT "Yeah, I saw Clint's car when I was driving by and it looks like his Merc (Mecury), and before it was black and it was very nice then, but he's spent a lot of time and money on that thing to trick it out even more. I wish I had a chance to look at it, but with testing and all that went on, I didn't. I saw some other cool cars that crew members drove and motorcycles that were parked out there. And then Rick (Hendrick), myself, and Jeff (Gordon) and a few other folks went to Bowling Green, Kentucky two weeks ago and picked up our ZR1 Corvettes that came in. And I had such a blast going through the Corvette museum and on top of that, they had this huge reception there and all these people were waiting to take photos. I saw my car and the keys were in it and I'm like man, I've got to drive this thing. So before the official event started, I started my car up and drove off and everybody was like, where's he going? There were big signs that said no burnouts on the complex, and of course I did a huge burnout leaving the museum there and what a car. That thing is awesome. I had a lot of looks there at the test. A lot of people like it."
HOW FAST DOES IT GO? "I don't know. I really haven't gone any faster than probably 70 or 80 mph in it. I know it's an immediate ticket to jail if you stand on the gas (laughs) and you're going to fast."
ON GREG BIFFLE WINNING THE LAST TWO RACES "In some ways I'm surprised and in other ways I'm not. Greg has been so solid through the Truck Series and the Busch Series and I've always looked up to his hard-nosed driving and aggression on track and getting everything he can out of a car. The last two years have been more of a shock to me that he hasn't been in contention, than seeing him where he is right now. I think in '05 he won the most races in that season and we thought going into '06 he was going to be the guy, and it wasn't around. So, I was more shocked by that than what I see now. We all know that Roush has the equipment. Once you get all the right people together and they get some time together, it's hard to stop them."
EVERY GUY WHO HAS WON TEXAS HAS WON THE CHASE, BELIEVE IT OR NOT. HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT FOR YOU AND WAS THAT A TURNING POINT FOR YOU GUYS LAST YEAR? "I think a couple of races before that, we got into a really good rhythm and were gaining a lot of points on the No. 24 (Gordon) and then that evening, I think we showed what we were really made of and how bad we wanted to win that race and get maximum points and win the championship. And really what we needed to do, because Jeff (Gordon) was so strong, we put on an awesome race with the No. 17 (Kenseth) car and I jut got him with a lap or two to go there at the end. So Texas is a weird track; it's a 1.5-mile track but that track drives so different then any other 1.5-mile we go to. I don't think it's necessary to win there to win the Chase because it's really it's own 1.5-mile and it doesn't apply to Atlanta or Charlotte or Kansas or any of the other tracks. But maybe because it's so quirky and tough to get a hold of, it means you've got your stuff well-refined and you can win on any type of track."
ON BATTLING KENSETH AT THE END AND WINNING IN THE SLIMEST MARGIN AT TEXAS LAST YEAR "I remember getting to him with a little bit of time. And I got to the side of him and just couldn't finish the pass off and I was really loose inside of him and the big picture flashed in front of my eyes and then I regrouped for a lap or two and I knew I was better and he left me the inside lane, which was like a carrot in front of me. And I moved to the middle to kind of protect his momentum and if I wanted it, I'd have to go down on the bottom and fight for it. And I got a good run or two on him and felt like I could pull the pass off. I also knew I was racing someone who was not going to side-draft me and take the air off the spoiler getting into the turn and take a cheap shot at me and that was part of that too. Matt and I just got in there and raced hard for it and I ended up getting by him."
DO YOU THINK YOU'RE IN THAT RHYTHM RIGHT NOW? "This is the best start to the Chase we've ever had. So I feel very good about where we're at. I'd like to be a little better in seeing the No. 16 and No. 99 have the opening two races they've had for the Chase. It certainly concerns me. And there is a lot of racing left. We just had a good test at Charlotte and more testing is still out there for us. And there are different tracks that have been really good to us. So I feel like we're in a rhythm. We need to be little bit better if these guys keep up the pace they're at. But we're off to the best start we've ever had in the Chase."
KYLE BUSCH THINKS HE'S OUT OF IT. WHEN YOU HAD A BAD RACE OR TWO, DID YOU THINK THAT? "Oh, I thought I was done, especially after Talladega. When we left Talladega, I was in a position to pick up a lot of points that day and we lost a lot of points the way it turned out, I thought I was done. I knew it was out of my control, for sure. And I think back to the quotes I made, I thought we were over."
BECAUSE YOU THOUGHT IT WAS OVER, DID YOU TAKE CHANCES? "I don't recall changing much. I remember that we had a few bad races. The No. 31 (Burton) was just rock-solid through it all. And then they had some bad races and people kind of led us back into it and then we just kind of raced like we had been. But if other people didn't have as much trouble during those final races of the Chase, I wouldn't have had a shot."
CAN YOU RELATE TO HOW KYLE BUSCH IS FEELING RIGHT NOW? "I can. I certainly can relate to Kyle and what he's going through. I left New Hampshire way behind. We picked up some ground in '06 when we left Dover but when we got to Talladega again were sawed off at the legs. So I understand where he's at. And from being in that position before, I know we can't count him out. But I don't think it's in his control. I think if the rest of the field has problems, he'll be back in it. That's the last thing any of us want to do because that team is so strong. "
WITH HIM BEING SO FAR BACK, IS HE MORE DANGEROUS BECAUSE ALL HE CAN DO IS WIN RACES? "I guess I don't think about it that way. It just depends on what the team does. And finding the sweet spot with your race team is so tough to do when you run on different tracks every week. With Kyle, you know he's always giving 100 percent. In most cases, probably 120 percent (laughs) and creating some problems from that. But as he's matured, especially through this year, he's found that spot where he needs to be. And if those guys get on a roll, they can do it. But there are a lot of different tracks coming up and a lot of different things to go on. I'm certainly worried about he and his team and what they can do moving forward, but I think we all have to have trouble to let him back in."
WHEN YOU'RE RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CHASE LIKE YOU ARE, WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE ON TAKING A CHANCE AND JUST BEING SAFE? "It's such a moving target and inside the car, emotions get the best of us from time to time. I think some of us are just wired. All of us are wired and take a certain amount of risk. Some guys will get in there and take a lot of risk and that's just their nature. Some guys have their spot where it's just shy of that, and I'm probably in that situation where I want to make sure I'm going to finish the race and not tear up my car. If I look back to Texas, last year in the Chase with all that we had going on, I found a safe spot to be aggressive. And that's really what you look for. And I don't think it really changes much. I don't think the drivers think about it that much when you're in the heat of the moment. Usually you realize that after you just got away with something or after you're in the fence wondering what in the heck did I just do that for? So it's tough to think that much inside of the car when you're just set on go."
ON REMAINING CONSISTENT IN THE CHASE WHEN YOU'RE BATTLING WITH DIFFERENT PEOPLE EACH YEAR? "It is tough, but our team is very good at that stuff for some reason. And some teams are great for qualifying and other guys are great on long races and short races and you can break it down into a lot of different categories. If you look at the endurance factor, if you look at long races in the course of the season, we just do a good job in those long battles. I don't know if it's me or Chad or a combination of the two; the team or Rick Hendrick or all of that does come in and play a role in it. But we've just been good at that stuff and I'm glad because our whole season is built on consistency and it's built on being the champion and I'm thankful we have the skills that we do."
ON NASCAR'S DRUG POLICY AND COMPARING IT TO OTHER SPORTS, DOES IT BOTHER YOU THAT THERE IS NO LIST OF DRUGS AND THAT THE DRIVERS DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE BEING TESTED FOR? OR DOES IT MATTER THAT THERE IS NO LIST? "Absolutely. Everybody has a lot of questions. I don't know where Dr. Black is and I wish he was at the race last weekend for us all to ask questions and learn and understand.
"Moving forward, I need to meet this man and find out and understand what it's all about and what the perimeters are because NASCAR made their announcement and that was great, but there are still a lot of questions to be answered for the media and drivers. I'm in favor of this policy and whatever they feel is correct. I just want to make sure that I understand it. I take seasonal allergy medicine and from what I understand, it's a steroid. And there are things inside of that that could trip certain tests if you're an elite athlete like somebody in the Tour de France or if you're an Olympic runner or something. So where is that boundary? I think they've left it open-ended like they have because they don't want prescription drugs to be a problem. They don't want this Flonase that I take to be an issue and they want to be able to regulate that on a case-by-case basis. But at the same time, in a sport where all we want more and more is black and white, it's kind of in a gray area and I think we all have questions."
WHEN DO YOU TAKE THAT FLONASE? IS THAT FALL OR SPRING? "Mainly Spring and Fall, when seasonal allergies kick in. But my allergies have been pretty rough on me and it's kind of ended up as a year-round prescription that I take."
DID THEY TALK TO THE DRIVERS BEFORE THEY MADE THE DRUG POLICY ANNOUNCEMENT AND TELL YOU THEY WOULDN'T HAVE A LIST OF WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO TEST FOR? "I wasn't contacted, but it sounds like they have spoken with some drivers. But I wasn't in the group of drivers they spoke to."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE BEEN? "Oh, it just depends. NASCAR comes to me and talks to be about certain topic and other guys about other topics. I think it's good that they have a rapport with all the drivers and involve a lot of different people. At times you wonder if there was a bigger group of guys if it would be more helpful, but at the same time you if you open the door for that, you have more opinions and nothing ever gets solved. I think it works out well and I'm fully willing and able and ready to take any test or any procedure they want to perform. I just hope that we think this through and answer the questions so that we're not scrutinized in other forms of media and stuff out there in other sports."
THERE IS A LOT OF TALK THAT KANSAS WILL GET ANOTHER RACE SINCE A NEW GAMBLING CASINO IS BEING BUILT. DO THEY DESERVE A SECOND RACE? "I look at the race track and it puts on a great race. I personally love racing here. I'm sure other guys might have other opinions to that. The location is great. There's not a lot of racing in this part of the country. But at the end of the day, we won't know until they release the tickets for two dates and see what the ticket count is. I think that's really what we have to base things on. I think a perfect world be 36 races at 36 different tracks. When I put on my marketing hat and I think how we're gong to grow the sport and how we're going to reach more fans, that's what I think.
"But if you talk to the builders of these facilities that have hundreds of hundreds of millions of dollars in these facilities and they're trying to recoup their money, they need two races to do it. So I only know one limited perspective to it all. But for the sponsors and on that side of the fence, being in 36 different towns or states is the way to go."
-credit: gm racing