Highlights from the Raybestos Rookie of the Year press conference, including rookie points leader Jimmie Johnson and his team owner Jeff Gordon. JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON: "Obviously, it's...
Highlights from the Raybestos Rookie of the Year press conference, including rookie points leader Jimmie Johnson and his team owner Jeff Gordon.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON:
"Obviously, it's been a great season for myself and this Lowe's team. To be teamed up with Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports has given me a great opportunity to come out and learn and develop as a driver. And obviously we've had a great season and a great Raybestos Rookie of the Year battle with Ryan (Newman). He hasn't won a points race yet, but it's around the corner. He's been running extremely strong and obviously won The Winston, the biggest paying event we have. The season's been great; we've been competitive; we've been up front racing in the top five for the championship along with the battle with Ryan for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. It's just a dream come true for me to be here and to be in this situation and even better on top of that that we're running so well week in and week out, and as long as we can just stay consistent and stay in the top 10 here and keep that as a goal of ours -- top 10, top 15 in race finishes and qualifying throughout the rest of the season -- we feel we'll be a contender for the Rookie of the Year battle as well as possibly a top five in the points."
DID YOU REALLY THINK YOU COULD WIN A RACE IN YOUR ROOKIE SEASON?
"I hoped that I could. Coming into the season watching in the past, of course, Tony Stewart, Dale Jr., Matt Kenseth, all the rookies that had come along, Kevin Harvick, I thought that I might be the one that didn't win a race or had a shot at winning the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. I was expecting to be coming on over time and developing as a driver, but to come in and be in a situation to break records that had been set by other rookies, it's something I never expected, but (I'm) very glad to be up here and be part of it doing it."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:
WHY DID YOU PICK JIMMIE JOHNSON AS YOUR DRIVER?
"I don't know if Rick and I picked him or if he picked us or how exactly it worked, but we're certainly proud of the effort that's been put out and extremely proud of what Jimmie's done out there. The two rookies have had extraordinary years, and Rusty (Wallace) and I have had kind of quiet years, without the wins but yet consistent, so it's been pretty interesting to see it all work out. I got a chance to race with Jimmie in the Busch Series. I guess I'm glad I ran those two years in the Busch Series because I was able to meet Jimmie and get to know him and also get to see him drive the race car. It appeared to me like you put this guy behind a top-notch team and car in the Winston Cup circuit that he would get a lot out of it. He seemed like a smart driver, he certainly proved that this year, by Hendrick Motorsports putting good equipment underneath him and him going out there and getting the job done. I'm proud of the whole effort because basically (it was a) brand new team the end of last year, when it ran a few of the races, (and) for them to come into this season with a lot of new individuals on the team and a rookie driver, a fairly new crew chief, and to come out and be as prepared as they've been and to be as consistent as they've been and then run the way that they have has really been amazing to watch and (I'm) really proud to be a part of the team that's come together."
HOW FRUSTRATING HAS YOUR SEASON BEEN?
"It's been a little bit frustrating. It's like Rusty (Wallace) said, (he) usually had won a race at this point in the season and that first win of the season can do so much for you. If it comes early it can just help your confidence level through the rest of the year. It's certainly been interesting for the DuPont Chevrolet team because we came off of a championship year last year. Everybody keeps telling me how bad of a year I'm having, then I'm third in points and led quite a few laps and sat on some poles. I know that we haven't won a race; that's frustrating to us too. At the same time it really hasn't been that bad of a year. Other than the kids are kicking our butts. That to me is the only thing that we can learn from and understand how to push the limits a little bit more in the cars and the setups and (it) should hopefully just make us better."
WHAT'S THE BEST ADVICE THAT JEFF GORDON GAVE YOU WHEN YOU GOT THIS RIDE?
"The biggest thing really has been patience. He might not have said it directly or talked about it in conversation, but it's something that sticks in my head, how much longer these races are and how many opportunities you have to work on the car. And if you can stay on the lead lap, stay patient and keep working on the car, crazy things happen. The race turns around, comes your way and you can salvage good finishes out of bad days. It's really been patience."
ON LOOKING FOR A WIN:
"We're going to a lot of tracks I think we're capable of winning there. We've been good enough to win at a few races this year. I know that it's around the corner. We're doing what we need to be doing right now as far as the points are concerned, but we want to get to victory lane. We know that Pocono is a track that we run real strong at, that we can win it. Jimmie's tested here, hopefully we can learn a lot from what they found here and we can apply to the 24 car and get a victory."
ON RETURNING TO WATKINS GLEN:
"What you'v really got to stay conscious of is not to overdrive the tracks when you come back to them a second time and feeling like I've got to be up front or got to win or qualify on the pole or whatever it is. I just try to stay calm and take it all in stride." ARE ROAD COURSES WHAT YOU HAVE TO CONQUER THIS YEAR?
"I don't really think so. It's close to the background I had with off-road racing. I ran strong at Watkins Glen at both the Busch races we had there; had a wild wreck one time and pitted at the wrong time and lost a lot of track position and didn't have a good finish to show for the second race there last year. I'm looking forward to it. We tested out at Sears Point and ran some extremely good lap times, but the track's changed a little bit. We'll have to see when we get there. I'm hoping that we can keep it on the road all day long and come out with a top 10."
IS IT STILL FUN?
"It's been a blast. It's hard not to have fun when we've had the success that we've had. the true test is going to be when we have the first slump thrown at us and test our patience and skill and who we are as a team at that point. That's something that we talk about in our team meetings every week. Don't expect to come in here and lead and win and qualify up front. This could be a bad run and that's what going to show who we are as a team and what our character is -- when we are able to have a slump and come back. It's just been a dream year and (I'm) having a blast."
"I've worked real hard through a lot of divisions; my parents didn't have the means to put me in race cars to get going, and I've fallen into opportunities. I've had a lot of pressure performing in those opportunities. I've been extremely lucky that from my off-road days until now I've been with great teams, great equipment and great people to learn from. It wasn't a dream situation, and now of course it looks like it, but at the time when I entered into the season, the three races I ran last year -- I think my best finish was a 25th, my best qualifying effort was 15th -- I had won one Busch race; I didn't dominate the Busch Series by any means. there was a lot of pressure and a lot of worries coming into the season. And now that we've been able to perform, it's definitely turned it around to a definite positive feeling."
TALK ABOUT CREW CHIEF CHAD KNAUS:
"Chad's great. It's been one of the few relationships I've ever had in my life where I didn't have to work at having a relationship. It just kind of clicked. It's naturally been there. He didn't need to babysit me, I don't have to babysit him. It's just been a good, easy working relationship."
ON POSSIBLY WINNING BOTH ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AND CHAMPIONSHIP:
"It's hard not to look at the points and see where we're at. We are so above and beyond our expectations, where we thought we'd be. And, if we come out shooting for the moon like that and putting that pressure on ourselves, I think we're going to self-destruct. We're going to put unneeded pressure on ourselves, and get frustrated and be in a bad situation. Right now we just need to enjoy where we're at and gain experience. It's easy to forget that we're a rookie. This will be my first race at Pocono, my first time at the Brickyard, first time to all these tracks in Winston Cup cars, so we just need to keep it all in perspective and if, for some crazy reason, we're at at the head table in New York then we'll talk about it then."
THE MORE WINS, THE MORE SPONSOR AND MEDIA ATTENTION. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO HANDLE THAT?
"I've got a situation where Jeff Gordon is coach and mentor, I drive for the same team, and thing's have been put in place for him who's probably the most successful driver in recent history. To still have a balance, to be able to still hit everything that he needs to and have a personal life and enjoy himself. I have the network set up around me and I'm falling in line with it, using it, and it's working great. That's another advantage driving for the team I'm driving for and having Jeff as a coach and mentor. He's found a way to stay fresh and energetic through all of this stuff, with all of the stuff that he's had. And I'm on my second win and third pole; he's well above that. He's been able to maintain it and do a great job."