Kansas: Johnson "wake-up call" interview


NEXTEL Wake-Up Call with Jimmie Johnson
Kansas Speedway
October 7, 2005



YOU ARE 4TH PLACE IN POINTS AND HAVE THREE WINS THIS SEASON. WHAT'S YOUR GOAL FOR THIS WEEKEND? "I think the Chase is really starting to take shape right now. We're starting to see who has the speed and who has the consistency. By the next two or three races it may be a three or four car race. I don't want to lose a lot of points. I'd love to be leading the championship right now. But you have to make sure you have good finishes. Most of the teams have a bad or semi-bad race so far, so it's fairly grouped together. We're 82 points out in fourth. There are some guys right around us as well. I think in the next few weeks, all the strategies will really start coming together for the teams. Everybody will see what's playing out and the teams and drivers will know what they have to do to become the champions."

THIS TRACK IS SIMILAR TO CHICAGO. WHAT'S THE KEY TO SUCCESS HERE AT KANSAS? "I'm told that a lot of the tracks we go to are built off the same blueprints basically and that Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, Kansas, and Texas resemble one another. But none of them really do. The only two -- and the closest two tracks on the circuit, I feel -- are Kansas and Chicago. They are very similar. With the success we've had at both tracks, I'm excited. We ran really well at Chicago earlier this year and we've also been here and tested a couple of weeks ago. I'm looking forward to getting on the race track here."

COULD YOU RELIVE THE SEMI-NIGHTMARE HERE LAST YEAR AND DO YOU HAVE A HANDLE ON THE HANDLING THIS TIME? "Yeah, I definitely think so. If I remember right, we spun with the No. 97 (Kurt Busch) and then later in traffic I was just being too aggressive. You have to start the car very loose -- especially in traffic -- to be competitive at the end of a run. It was on a restart and I was trying to get going. I think I was on the top side of the race track off of Turn 2 and just spun out. We had a decent performance that day; not what we thought we were going to have. I feel our l.5-mile stuff has been a lot better of late and there has been a lot of hard work going on to get ready for the final 10. Our testing plan has really come into play. We've been working with our teammates. We feel we're in a much more competitive position this year at this race than we were last year. I think our performance so far shows that as well in the Chase. We're just better prepared."

SOME PEOPLE THINK RICK HENDRICK AND JIMMIE JOHNSON TEND TO GET FAVORABLE CALLS FROM NASCAR MORE TIMES THAN OTHER GUYS, YET NASCAR IS INCONSISTENT IN THEIR CALLS. COULD YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? "I guess it just depends on your perspective. We won one of the only appeals to ever be won in Las Vegas. That makes a statement and we all know NASCAR and how difficult it is to overturn that process and win the appeal. I think that alone has a huge statement in it that we were a-okay. And then if you haven't had a chance to go to the NASCAR trailer and talk to the NASCAR officials, I think you should. Our car was perfectly legal. We passed with flying colors. And then to our engineers' credit and Chad Knaus's credit there has been a rule made. Quite a few rules have been made for Chad Knaus here in the last few years just because he's aggressive and working hard and things are coming along. One thing that I think is going on that everybody needs to understand is that all teams are working in areas where there aren't rules. We were working on the back of our race car and it's very evident that the Roush cars and the No. 20 (Tony Stewart) have been working on the front. It just depends on where you pick to work on the car and where you invest your time, your money and your resources. All the Roush cars and the No. 20 -- the front of their cars are really low. We were working on the back. The back of our car was high. It just depends on where you're working. We're all doing the same thing. NASCAR gives harsh penalties and passes them out when necessary. If you look at both of our cases, we must have been a-okay or we would have been in trouble. That's the way I look at it -- especially when there is an appeal and in going through post-race technical inspection at Dover and people questioning thing things, they know there is pressure on them and a million eyes are watching them. Why would they favor us? Again, I think it's just your perspective."

ON THE WEEK-TO-WEEK ASPECT OF GETTING THROUGH THE CHASE, CAN YOU DIVORCE YOURSELF FROM THE HORSE-RACE ASPECT OF IT AND JUST GO ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS? "I think over time we've all realized that if it's a ballgame or even racing, that there are certain stats they continue to produce. We look at those things and it helps us prepare for the race coming up. At Charlotte, I've been waiting for our success to slow down there. I thought it would be that way in the spring. We got off to a slow start but by the end of the night we made the right adjustments and ended up winning the race. Going to Charlotte, there is really only one direction for us to go and that's not winning. If that happens, so be it. But I really feel comfortable and confident about our chances there. We tested in the Busch car there and ran a 28.70 -- the fastest I've ever been around that race track. And that was on 50-lap tires at the end of a run. We had a great test there. It's really fast. Our teammates were testing there in the Cup car. I think we're going to go back there and definitely be in the top five."

CONSIDERING THE RECENT CALLS BY NASCAR, DO YOU HESITATE TO TRY STUFF THAT'S NOT IN THE RULE BOOK THINKING MAYBE NASCAR MIGHT MAKE AN EXAMPLE OUT OF YOU? "No, after Las Vegas, we knew we needed to be 100% in the green. Chad (Knaus) has had different penalties over the course of our career together. From being aggressive, we've had some points docked at times. If you look around, all crew teams and teams have that at times. We've been working hard to find advantages. That's the nature of the sport. Every team is trying to find an area that hasn't been looked at before and trying to develop something that'll work there. No, I'm not worried about it. This climate has existed since racing started or since officials were out there inspecting race cars."

YOU OBVIOUSLY THOUGHT IT WAS IMPORTANT TO READDRESS THE TALLADEGA INCIDENT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? "When I climbed out of the race car, I made some comments but didn't really know what was going on at that point in time. I knew that I didn't have contact with the No. 38 (Elliott Sadler) initially starting that big wreck. That's really all I knew at the time. After the second crash took place I went and looked at the video and watched everything, it was my responsibility and my fault. I got the No. 38 loose going into Turn 1 and then had contact with him after that and then the No. 8 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) got in the back of me because we were all slowing down, and caused a big wreck. I just felt it was necessary to come out. I just felt it was necessary to come out and make a statement on it. I think I was asked the question (in the Tuesday morning teleconference) so I needed to respond to it.

"After I saw the video, when the race was over, I tried to make phone calls to everybody I had phone calls for. I went and saw Elliott (Sadler) personally and explained my side. That's all you can do at that point in time. After speaking to everyone, everybody knew it wasn't intentional. They were all very upset that they were taken out and they had the right to be. It was early in the race and there were a lot of good cars. Mark Martin is a championship contender and he was taken out as well. It was my fault and I feel bad about it. I did the thing I thought I should do to make it better, if there is such a thing, and here we are today."

IF YOU HAVEN'T FIGURED OUT HOW TO RUN WELL AT THE CHASE TRACKS YET, IS IT TOO LATE TO CATCH UP? "I don't think it's too late to catch up. We got off to a slow start and were behind when the Chase started last year and found something and caught up and won four races. So I still don't want to rule anyone out in the Chase. I think everybody has a shot. The majority of the Chase races are on 1.5-mile tracks so it does give teams who are strong on those tracks an edge. But in 10 races, a lot can happen. Some teams can develop and learn new things and other teams can lose their advantage."

AT THIS POINT IN THE SEASON, IS YOUR 1.5-MILE PROGRAM AS GOOD AS IT'S BEEN? "I think we're still climbing the hill and that's a good position to be in. We're still excited and getting ready to peak."

DO YOU THINK CHARLOTTE WILL BE ANOTHER CAUTION-FILLED RACE LIKE IT WAS IN MAY? DO YOU HAVE A BETTER HANDLE ON THINGS THERE? "I'm not sure. I heard all the bad things about the track with the Cup test. For the Busch test, I was really nervous for the first half day. Nothing bad happened. It was still Charlotte; I have to say that. When the sun is out, the track is slick and it's tough to get a hold of. As night comes, the track gets faster and the grip level increases. So in my opinion, it's still Lowe's Motor Speedway and it still has those characteristics. As far as drivability, they've made improvements to the track. Before, we had the old surface in certain areas and the new surface in other areas. You had a huge change in grip level as you went through the corner and I think that caused a lot of problems. In the Busch test, it seemed as if the grip level was equal around the entire corner, which made things a little better. It's made it a lot faster. The faster the speeds, the less side-by-side racing you are going to have. My prediction is that the track has improved since the Cup test. They drug tires around the track and it really helped the surface. I think we're going to see a very fast race and possibly single file. I don't expect it to be as tough as it was in the spring. But then again we still have to remember when the sun is out and it's Lowe's Motor Speedway, it's a tough track to get a hold of."

WOULD DISALLOWING BUMP DRAFTING MAKE THINGS BETTER AT TALLADEGA? WHAT WOULD HAVE PREVENTED WHAT HAPPENED THERE? "It's a popular question and I can't say there is one thing that would do it. If you look at what happened with me and the No. 38 (Sadler), I had him sideways before I even touched him. He was trying to save the car and rolled out of the gas and I ran him over. So we weren't even touching. I didn't touch him to start the problem. It really wasn't massive bump drafting like we see in what has caused other problems. I personally think it's just that type of racing. When you have 43 intense drivers stuck next to each other side-by-side, lap after lap, stuff is going to happen. Until we find a way to make us lift and require handling at those tracks, we're always going to have a problem. I don't think anything is going to fix it."

DOES THE FAN REACTION TO THE TALLADEGA INCIDENT SHAKE YOU MENTALLY? "No, I think over time I've been through enough -- positive and negative. I know I just have to go out there and do my job. I know who I am and I know what took place. I've apologized. I can't sit there and dwell on it. If I look at other plate races, or even the race we were in, there was a wreck that took out more cars and more people and fans mad. This is racing. We're going to have that. I feel bad that I started it and will try very hard not to do that again. But I've got to go on. I've got to worry about a championship and about my team and about winning races and that's what I'm going to do."

IN THE SECOND YEAR OF THE CHASE, IS THERE A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO IT NOW? "I see that the teams are a little bit more relaxed in the first few races. Last year, everybody felt that the champion was going to be a team that made it clean through the final 10. This year, I think the teams are a little bit smarter and everybody has realized that last year everybody had a problem. So I don't see the intensity level as high as the first few races. Now as we get toward the half-way point in the Chase, the intensity level is going to ramp-up and catch up for everybody."

IN LOOKING AT THE TALLADEGA PROBLEM AGAIN, DON'T YOU THINK YOU GUYS ARE JUST GOING TO HAVE TO SUCK IT UP AND CRASH BECAUSE THAT'S THE WAY NASCAR AND THE FANS WANT IT? "That's the way it seems. The fans like the crashes. And then you're in a crash or are responsible for a crash that the fans like, and they hate you. So, I'm in a no-win situation as a driver and I think the rest of us are. I understand why we have plates. I understand that when the car spins out at a certain speed, takes off. We all remember Bobby Allison's crash; and the last thing we need is a race car in the grandstands. But we've got to figure out something else. We need to make the cars handle worse or do something where we have to let off the gas or use the brakes a little bit. But the problem is, if we all think back to the Daytona 500 or the track in general, that's a track for a plate race where we need to let off at times -- especially later in the run. The race is boring. You're sitting there in a single file line and nobody can pass and it's boring. Well, who wants to watch that? I don't know what the fix is going to be. We need to figure something out or take the Talladega race out of the Chase. And I've always been one to say we need half-mile, road course, superspeedway, 1.5 mile -- we need a wide variety in the final 10 to really prove a champion in our sport. But the way the plate racing has been, it's not fun. People get caught up in stuff that's not their own making and then you've got a lot of money and points riding on things and it's painful to watch it go away."

COULD YOU FIX THE RACE TRACK INSTEAD OF THE CARS? WOULD THAT BE AN OPTION? "To a certain extent, we've had a variety of little changes on the cars. Somebody mentioned to me the Busch rule package. Would that be better because there is more drag in the car? Yes it puts more drag in the car, but the car punches a bigger hole so now you have a bigger closing rate. So the bump drafting would be that much more intense. I don't know how we can really fix the cars -- unless we can dream something up to keep them on the track when they spin out. Besides that, maybe we should knock down one side of the track and make it flat (laughs) -- that would slow us down and we wouldn't need plates."

DO YOU HAVE ANY IMPRESSIONS OF THE CAR OF TOMORROW? "I know there is one in our chassis shop, but I haven't seen it yet. I know from the outside looking at it, the engineers aren't thoroughly impressed with the looks of it. But that's an engineer's mindset. They're looking at how they can build the car with maximum downforce -- a real race car. This car has safety and a lot of other things in mind. So I think their point of view is based on a car that makes great downforce numbers now, and now we've got to address this (new) car and work on it. I think that's an engineering standpoint versus anything else, so I need to go take a look at it."

WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE THE HALL OF FAME? DO YOU THINK KANSAS WOULD BE A GOOD SPOT OR DOES IT BELONG IN THE SOUTH? "I've been to a couple of different meetings and have listened. Every state has put up a good fight and made some good points. But in my heart, I think everything is in Charlotte and that it should be there. That's where the majority of the fans come. That's where the teams are based. They're going to have more participation from the drivers and teams. It would just be better if it was there and would have more interaction from the drivers and teams if it was in a local area."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Bobby Allison , Chad Knaus