Las Vegas: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed having a bad run at Las Vegas last year, the impact of no testing, engine problems at California and his difficulties there, making mistakes on pit road, how to rebound from a...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed having a bad run at Las Vegas last year, the impact of no testing, engine problems at California and his difficulties there, making mistakes on pit road, how to rebound from a poor season start, and more.

ON RETURNING TO LAS VEGAS FOR THIS WEEKEND'S RACE "I'm excited to be back. I'm trying to forget about last year's race. We ran well at California last weekend, but kind of lost the handle on things as the race went on. But I think looking back on it now we kind of understand what we did and what went on. So I think we're really excited about today. Our qualifying program has been really, really strong the last six or eight months and I feel good about that. I think the track has been aging and has been much more competitive and more fun to drive and better action for the fans. So I'm just looking forward to it. It's nice to be back in the swing of things and back in a rhythm and a normal work week and being on a track where we actually have to drive it and worry about set-up and springs and shocks and all that stuff so I'm real excited to be back."

ON LAST YEAR AT VEGAS, THE RUN YOU HAD AND HAVING TO TALK TO 3,000 PEOPLE IN THE SPONSOR TENT AFTERWARDS, JUST HOW HUMBLING WAS THAT DAY AS A WHOLE? "It was extremely humbling, and almost embarrassing in some ways. One, obviously the performance, but two, to be so frustrated on the radio and (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and I weren't holding any punches back and forget that there were so many people listening, especially the 3,000 we were visiting with in the sponsor test afterwards. And to walk in and have them recite some of the smart remarks and I had for Chad and that he had for me, it was embarrassing on that front and really helped me recognize and realize who is listening and all that kind of stuff. So it was a humbling and embarrassing experience all in one."

WHERE DID YOU GO AFTER THAT? HOW DID YOU REBOUND? "It was the start of us recognizing that we didn't have the speed on the 1.5-mile tracks. We raced at California, obviously, and finished second, but we struggled all through practice and late in practice we hit on something that the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) car was trying and we had a good race. So we thought, okay, we're just going about it the wrong way but now we've got it. We came here and totally missed it again and we never got back. We tried the No. 24 set up it didn't work; we tried the No. 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) set-up and it didn't work. So at that point we admitted we had a problem and we needed to catch up. In the pre-season testing that took place we were off, but we didn't really overreact. But this race here made us say, all right, we're really got something going on and we need to sort it out. And from this point forward, it took two or three months before we started breathing easier. "And I'd say, really in my eyes, in July at Chicago when we really raced the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) for the win at the end, that's when I felt like all right, we've caught up now and we're where we need to be."

ON WINNING THREE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CHAMPIONSHIPS WITH VARIOUS CHALLENGES AND ON MAKING A COMEBACK FROM TERRIBLE RUN AT LAS VEGAS LAST YEAR "I look at the resources we have and the relationships that exist between the NO. 48 car and the engineering staff and it builds a lot of confidence for those days when you don't perform like you want to. We found that last year when we were living through this stuff that the two previous years and really the five or six previous seasons, that yeah, we've been out to lunch at times but eventually we'll find our way back and we'll be competitive again. And it wasn't fun last year. We did get nervous about the Chase and some other things, but deep down inside, we didn't panic and kind of fall apart as a race team because we had the experience of going to the basement and finding our way back up. It's a great characteristic for this race team. I think we've been tested time and time again and we've continued to work hard and come back and be competitive after a period of time. So I'm excited about every year and the challenges that come. One thing that's different this year though, if we do end up in that hole, is that we can't test. And last year, if we didn't have testing, I don't think we would have found the magic and gotten our cars right before the Chase started."

WHAT PROBLEMS DID YOU HAVE AT CALIFORNIA, AND DID YOU HAVE ANY OF THE MOTOR ISSUES THAT SOME OF YOUR TEAMMATES HAD? "No, we didn't. We were fortunate on that front. It appears that a batch of valve springs that got our other two cars and they literally broke on the same lap. Fortunately my car and Jeff's car didn't have those in them or the No. 39 (Ryan Newman) or the No. 14 (Tony Stewart) and we made it through. So it's frustrating on that part because there is no way to x-ray valve spring and components beforehand to find impurities. Once something breaks, you can get in there and look at it and it's pretty easy at that point for our guys to know what went on. But it's frustrating on the front side. We develop components for months and months on end and endurance test them and then you get a batch that comes in that has some containment in it and you have a failure. It's just one of the risks that are out there.

"At the start of the race, the car was really good, but tight. As we tried to help the car, we actually kept making it tighter. Looking back on it, I really felt like the splitter was on the ground. So we made adjustments to help the front travel of the car to get the splitter off the ground and it just made the car worse. Come to find out after looking at our travels afterwards, the splitter wasn't on the ground. So I kind of steered us in the wrong direction there. I was just tight. It wasn't the splitter dragging and making the car tight. And the adjustments we made to try to help that just hurt it even more. We kind of missed it a little bit there and tuned ourselves out, which is not common for the No. 48 car but you live and learn and we have a better idea of what to do this week."

WITH THE NO TESTING POLICY, HOW IS YOUR THREE-YEAR DOMINANCE GOING TO PLAY INTO PUTTING YOU IN THE CHASE FOR A RUN AT A FOURTH TITLE? "It's still kind of early to tell. I think that once we get to June -- July, we'll have a better Idea of the testing and whether it has helped our sport in the competition or hurt it. I think over a period of time without testing, it will hurt and there will be more separation from the top teams to the bottom teams for sure. That's just my opinion. I know there is a large group, and that group seems to be growing, that wants to keep this ban on testing. I'm certainly not in favor of it. I think we need some sort of on-track testing to advance the cars. But we've been dominant at different points in the year. It's tough to be dominant all year long. With the Chase format last year it really put us in the game. Otherwise, we would have been so far out, mathematically, that I'm not sure we could have gotten back. I'm not sure how the points tallied up at the end with the No. 18 having troubles, but I don't think we would have won the championship last year if it weren't for the Chase. So, it's so tough to find new technology when all you do is get two hours of practice today and the majority of the teams will be focused on qualifying practice, so I'll get five laps today, then two laps in qualifying and then you get two 45-minute sessions tomorrow. It's really tough to work in new stuff. And if you're off, it's even more difficult. And it you're fast, you can try a set-up, your baseline set-up, and go and have a baseline run to look at and then make changes. It's simple. If it's faster, you leave it in. If it slows you down, you take it out. With such limited on-track activity, if you're in a hole you'll never get out. Or, it's going to take you so long to get out that if a team is dominant and a team does have something, and it looks like the No. 17 (Matt Kenseth) is on that path right now, that they'll hang onto it for a much longer period of time than we've seen in the past."

ON KYLE BUSCH SAYING HE MIGHT CONSIDER GOING TO F1 AFTER WINNING A NASCAR SPRINT CUP CHAMPIONSHIP OR DABBLING IN IT "I think that F1 would be awesome to go and experience. It doesn't matter if it's Kyle or who would get that opportunity to go over and do it. The question really boils down to being competitive. It's hard to leave a championship caliber team, a race-winning team for sure, and go and start over; and with a start-up team, I read some of the stuff yesterday on that. The competitor in all of us, and if you had a chance to go get in a red car or a silver car, it would be an easy decision. But a start up team is really the tough part that whoever those drivers will be will have to face. I think that anyone who has ever driven a race car looks at F1 and gets excited and would love to have an opportunity to drive one of those vehicles and to race at some of those tracks."

ON MAKING MISTAKES ON PIT ROAD "Pit road is a tough situation. There are numerous times when you look at your rpm's and you're 100 off and you got to pit road a little fast and you're 100 off you know that there is a segment of time when you can give some back and hopefully get it right. So then you're left with the difficult situation to let off and try to give back that time because you know you got into that box too fast. And then you're waiting and hoping they don't call your number out for a pass-through penalty. And then getting into your pit box, if you can get into it a half a second faster than the other guys, then you're overall time in the pit box is less and you make up spots. So there is a lot of time to be made. But at the same time, the risks that you take, if under green and you have to serve a pass-through penalty, it's almost not work the risk in some cases. I've been nailed for speeding problems. I got in trouble at Atlanta in the Chase last year. You're walking such a tight rope and a fine line that it's easy to get busted."

IF YOU HAVE A STRING OF POOR FINISHES, HOW DO YOU MAKE IT UP? WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU GET BEHIND? "I think a lot of it, at least for our success, has been going to the race track and validating things. The simulation programs are good and we use them to help work on ideas. But once you get on the track, the feel that each driver has is so different that on track really is the best thing for that. Over the years, we've been able to dream up really neat things on the computers and through the seven post machines and all that stuff, but until you validate it on track, it's tough. But I think it's going to put the importance back into the simulation modes. I think your teammates, and maybe even as a group, the whole corporation is off. This guy starts with this set-up and this concept. Someone is here and someone is there. You can go at it that way. So I think your teammates will be a big part of this as well as time goes on."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman , Kyle Busch