Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, met with members of the media for the Nextel Leader Chat and discussed entering the Chase for the Nextel Cup as the points leader, his mindset for the Chase, the challenge of racing two different cars in...
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, met with members of the media for the Nextel Leader Chat and discussed entering the Chase for the Nextel Cup as the points leader, his mindset for the Chase, the challenge of racing two different cars in the Chase, if NASCAR should award the regular season points leader, his relationship with his teammates during the Chase, if the signing of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was a distraction and the characteristics of Dover.
ON EXPRESSING CONCERN AFTER THE BRICKYARD YET BEING THE POINTS LEADER HEADING INTO THE CHASE: "It feels great. A lot can change in the sport and I think just using my situation I can look back at probably eight, 10 races ago, it just shows myself and I think shows probably everybody how much can change in 10 weeks and how tough it is to be good through these 10 weeks coming up. I was concerned about making the Chase. We were running well and having poor finishes and I knew if we weren't running well and weren't finishing we'd be in big trouble but fortunately we got the finishing thing under control and maintained a good pace and good equipment and all that stuff so we really didn't lose too much. We're now leading the points and we did a good job over the last couple weeks here to get some more bonus points. Now we got a 20 point margin over Jeff (Gordon) and 60 over 12th and we'll just roll with it and see what happens. I can say that I'm much more relaxed. I woke up this morning, I was having breakfast with my wife and to sit there and remember a year ago today wha t the emotions were like and how tense and nervous I was last year at this time. It's so different now and I can't tell you how excited I am to go racing and get in the middle of this and see where it shakes out. Obviously I have a lot of confidence since we've won the last two races but aside from that, I'm in a better place, much more confident and I think my team is as well and we're really excited to go racing for these 10 weeks."
ON THE MINDSET HE'S TAKEN FOR THIS RACE AND IF IT'S ONE OF ATTACK OR DEFEND AS HE GOES RACE TO RACE TRYING TO PRESERVE HIS 60 POINT LEAD: "I think you have to take advantage of opportunities when they come so you're going to have to be aggressive. I think of laps led, I think of leading a lap in general, those are all very important to do to get bonus points and to try to separate yourself and get a bit of an advantage. I'm trying to tell myself and I hope that I can just go out and race the same way I always have. I've always been good at collecting points. I've always been good at competing for a championship and the last thing I want to do is get out of my rhythm, get out of my team's rhythm. So we want to win but I'm not going to be reckless and I'm not going to make stupid decisions out on the track and hopefully we can also have that situation on pit road where we're just solid and smooth and not in a panic mode. We'll see. Last year we were forced to panic and we responded well and I would prefer this year for it to go much smoother."
HISTORICALLY DRIVERS WHO HAVE GOTTEN IN A HOLE HERE DIDN'T COME OUT OF IT. WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF NOT COMING OUT OF HERE IN A HOLE? "It's really important but there are variables that are out of the competitors hands that control this whole thing and last year I had a lot of bad races and then some other guys finally did and that really dictates it. If we all come out of here with poor performances, it's a wash and the next nine races following that dictates it so it's real tough to have a clear strategy and I think everyone's strategy is to run top five, top 10 and try to get maximum points but we won't know the hole that we're in or the advantage we may have until we're probably seven or eight races in and I think then you can formulate a strategy at that point. Until then I think we're all just out collecting points."
HOW MUCH HARDER DOES YOUR TEAM HAVE TO WORK TO MANAGE TWO DIFFERENT CARS IN THE CHASE AND IS IT AT THE SACRAFICE OF SOMETHING ELSE YOU MIGHT BE SPENDING TIME ON? "At this point of the year I think we're pretty well caught up, at least at Hendrick. The beginning of the season running both vehicles was really tough and trying to get our inventory of cars built up, trying to understand the technical side of the Car of Tomorrow, what makes it go. So at this point if you look at the whole season we're in the best position so far I think not only Hendrick Motorsports but as a garage area. We've had seven, eight months to really get prepared for this."
SHOULD NASCAR AWARD THE REGULAR SEASON POINTS LEADER HEADING INTO THE CHASE? "Yeah, I think that's been something that's been brought up each year and I do feel that there should be some reward for the regular season. I don't know what that may be. If you look at other sports and there's a championship won for whatever division it may be, what are those things? I guess they have home turf advantage depending on the sport so I don't know what a fair advantage would be moving into that. But I think it would be good for our sport to have a regular season champion and a post series champion." ON THE HIGHEST A CHAMPION HAS FINISHED A YEAR AFTER WINNING HIS FIRST CHAMPION IS FOURTH OR FIFTH AND IF THEIR TEAM IS UNDER AS MUCH PRESSURE GOING INTO THIS CHASE AFTER WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP: "You're not bringing me good news (laughs). I know that throughout the team and throughout Hendrick Motorsports that focus of winning and winning championship is always there. That's just ingrained in the company policies at HMS and I think that's helpful and I think that the guys look to Chad and I to lead them and to show them what we want to do. Are we OK with a championship and sitting back and enjoying it or do we want to win another one? We both are very dedicated to performing in our sport, winning races and winning championships and I think that's kind of helped things along. I look at Jeff and I have a ton respect for what he and.also even looking at Robbie Loomis, Steve Letarte, the different crew chiefs that Jeff has had, those guys have maintained that focus and it's rare. I certainly believe it's rare and I think that our guys are feeding off of Chad and I. I give a lot respect, a lot of props to Chad because he's always looking forward. Someday he'll stop and th ink back and look at what he's accomplished but he's looking forward and (is) the leader of the team and really driving us to focus on a second championship and not be comfortable with a championship."
HOW DOES YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JEFF GORDON AS A TEAMMATE CHANGE GOING INTO THE CHASE VERSUS THE FIRST 26 RACES? IS IT EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF A LITTLE BIT MORE? "Yeah and I would assume as we get closer to the end of the Chase that it may be more that in that light but we've been through this before, we've competed against each other in championships and through it all, year after year, week after week, we recognize how if we work together it helps both of us and that's still the bottom line. When we get on the track there's still enough going on with each driver's style, each crew chief's style, that when you get out on the track you can race your own independent race and not worry about things and I would expect us to continue with the open notebook policy that we've always had and try to ensure HMS with a championship. That goes along with Kyle Busch. I have to give him a lot of credit for staying committed to the racing, being open, sharing what his driver techniques are, what changes they're making on the car and really helping the whole organization so hopefully between the three of us and Casey Mears helping out we can keep dr iving technology forward and help the company win another championship and let us not close the books and let us settle it on the track is really the way we're hoping to do it."
WITH ALL THE MEDIA ATTENTION ON THE SIGNING OF DALE EARNHARDT, JR., DID YOU FIND IT A DISTRACTION FOR YOU AND THE HENDRICK TEAM? "No. There's been a lot going on there's no doubt about it and we still have a lot to finish up and button up with Dale Jr. coming to Hendrick Motorsports but that's really stayed in the offices of Hendrick. I'd say Doug Duchardt, Marshall Carlson, Rick Hendrick, there's a group of guys there that have really been digging through that and our marketing staff as well at Hendrick Motorsports and it's stayed in the offices. It really hasn't made its way into the teams. I would think now that we're into the Chase and there's a lot of things that changed with the 25 and 5 for next year the way that's working out that there will be some sort of a burden on those teams getting prepared for next year but in the 24/48 shop, all efforts are focused on a championship. I say that and I think about Kyle and those guys are in the Chase but there will be some type of burden on those guys. Kyle's not going to be there, Junior's coming in, sponsors are changing, Casey's moving from the 25 to the 5, so it's inevitable to have some type of pressure on them but the 24/ 48, there hasn't been any pressure creeping in our walls."
ON THE UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS OF DOVER: "The corners are below the level of the straightaway so you're launching off into the corner and then trying to get the car to slow down and turn and then driving back up onto the straightaway and it's really an entertaining track, a fun track to drive on but you're on the ragged edge and that's why it's such a dangerous track and have so many issues. And then the track is a self cleaning track as I've heard mentioned and if you get in trouble and you lose it, you're going to hit something and it's a place that is very challenging and the risk reward thing, you've got to risk every lap and there's a chance you're going to bust your butt so the reward is very small for a lot of guys. It's one of my favorite tracks. I really, really enjoy running there."
IS THE CHASE LIKE A TRACK AND FIELD EVENT WHERE YOU HAVE A STAGGERED START AND YOU HAVE TO STAY IN YOUR OWN LANE AND KEEP YOUR EYES FORWARD UNTIL YOU GET TO THE LAST TURN AND THEN YOU RACE EACH OTHER? "I think that's the way I approach it. I'm not sure about the other guys. I've always been under the school of thought that I'm my own worst enemy, my biggest competitor however it's phrased and I think my team's that way and if we stay focused and we have history to show this, if we're focused and giving 100 percent we can be successful and that's the thing I fall back on and kind of the way our team operates so I certainly kind of approach it that way."
-credit: gm racing