JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed his experience of being in the Chase and how that helps him, the stress of the Chase, NASCAR's drug policy and Ron Hornaday, the Talladega race, momentum, and more. ON...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed his experience of being in the Chase and how that helps him, the stress of the Chase, NASCAR's drug policy and Ron Hornaday, the Talladega race, momentum, and more.
ON DEFENDING HIS TITLE: "I certainly feel good about things. The last three or four months we've been making a lot of progress here the last two weeks. At Brickyard we were able to show that when we get it right, we can go out and race for these wins and in some cases, do it in a dominating fashion. So the million-dollar question is can we do it during this final 10 (races) and over a long enough period of time during this final 10 to be the champions. I feel good about where we're at. I'm excited about what we've learned as a company and as the No. 48 car and the strength we have as the No. 48 team and the confidence we all have in one another. So I really feel that we have all the stuff there to be competitive and we just have to get racing and see where we fit in and where luck falls into place and how things play out. I feel more confident about this race based on our performance in the spring then the two wins I had back in '03. We were very competitive here in the spring. We were running down the No. 20 car (Tony Stewart) and we all came to pit road and then the rains came after that. So I feel like we have a very good baseline to work from this weekend and will have a very good car off the truck."
IS THERE ANYTHING FUN ABOUT BEING IN THE CHASE? OR IS THE STRESS-LEVEL SO HIGH THAT'S ITS NOT FUN? "Before and during the '06 championship battle, I didn't have any damn fun. There was no fun to be had. A victory was good, but it was short-lived. Tuesday morning or Wednesday morning or whenever it was when you're flipping things around in your mind to get ready for the next race, that pressure would set it. And it's like, here we go again. And it was because I wanted that championship so badly and we'd been so close and things didn't work out. Last year, I had some fun through it. And this year I hope to expand on that and have more fun. I'm doing what I love, racing against the best drivers in the world. I'm confident in what I can do in the car. I'm confident in my team. I need to have some fun with this. I operate better and my team operates better when we're enjoying ourselves and having some fun. I'm looking forward to it. We'll see. Unfortunately we live and die by what takes place on Saturday afternoons. As of right now I think everybody is in a good mood and we'll just see how it goes from here."
AS SOMEBODY WHO HAS SLEPT ON RON HORNADAY'S COUCH, IS HE THE LAST PERSON YOU'D EXPECT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF DRUGS? CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS STORY AND HOW RIDICULOUS IT IS? "Yeah, Ron and Lindy both have opened their home to Kevin (Harvick) and I, which everybody knows about. But if you look down the line at crew members and other people through the years (they have helped), they are great people. Ron and Lindy demand and expect a lot out of people who stay with them and their integrity and who they are and what they're about. I am blown away to hear what has taken place. Sounds like the true story is coming out and will be coming out and this thing will all be put back in line where it needs to be. No doubt, Ron was sick at one point. We all saw his weight loss. And from what I've heard it sounds like there are things associated with that that leads into the story and the issues at hand. Hopefully this is all behind Ron soon. I am a hugs Ron Hornaday fan and care for him and Lindy dearly and his family. I want to see him fight for a championship this year and I don't want to see this be a big distraction for him and affect his performance on track."
HOW DO YOU APPROACH TALLADEGA SAFELY WHEN YOU'RE IN THE CHASE? "You either race or you ride. We've seen guys caught up in wrecks in both philosophies. I have no clue what to do when we get there. We've tried the ride thing and it's worked out. The spring it didn't work. We got torn up. Last fall it worked out. You don't know. That's the part that makes it exciting for everyone else. The guys dealing with these race cars and driving them, it drives us crazy. We do not like Talladega in the Chase. We love Talladega. Talladega is a blast in the spring. But this time of the year, for those 12 guys, there isn't a worse track to put on the schedule for us and our mental stability. But it is what it is. We're all dealing with the same stuff and it certainly keeps things interesting and can be a turning point in this Chase battle."
NOT SO MUCH FOR YOURSELF, BUT IN THE BIG PICTURE, IS THE CURRENT FORMAT OF THE CHASE FAIR? SHOULD GUYS WHO HAVE A WIN BE IN THE CHASE? "I think that in today's world of fan interaction and fan involvement, a lot of opinions can come through. That's one thing that makes our sport what it is. I disagree with those thoughts. Every time there is an email box full of messages saying this would be a great idea, I don't think that they're factoring all things in. Our sport was built on 400 and 500-mile races and a 32 to 26 race schedule and like it or hate it, it's built on consistency. The championship has always been that. NASCAR has a fine balance of maintaining what they've built over the last 60 years and what keeps the fans engaged.
"The Chase represents the best 12 drivers, the best guys in points, the way it's always been in this sport and I think that's the right way to look at it. We can't say, okay, if you've got a win your in. And then it's going to break down into top five's and top 10's and the next thing you know it's going to be where you qualify and your qualifying average. It's got to stop somewhere. I think the overall design of the Chase works really well."
ON THE RON HORNADAY SITUATION AND NASCAR COMING UP WITH A REVISED DRUG PROCEDURE "I assume that's why NASCAR hasn't jumped onto a more strict policy because where do you draw those lines. I don't know anything about testing in other sports. I don't have a clue what these performance-enhancing drugs can do. To me, it seems like it's all physical stuff. And yeah, there is a physical aspect to our sport but we're not an Olympic sport and we're not doing different things you require for your body.
"I guess I need to educate myself and I need to learn and understand more. But I really feel NASCAR looks at things fairly and they're going to put something in place that's going to allow everybody to come out, regardless of medical conditions or whatever it is, to race and be out there safely and in a fair manner. I don't know enough about these performance enhancing drugs and testing procedures and what goes on to really speak much to it. But I know, watching and knowing Lance Armstrong a little bit, and what he can and cannot eat, I mean he can't take pain medicines. You think about what those guys put themselves through. They have to walk a fine line. That's an extreme way to live life. I don't think something like that is going to work in our sport and I don't think it's needed either."
THE THINGS THAT YOU AND CHAD HAVE HIT ON IN THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS, HOW MUCH COULD THAT HELP THE NO. 24 TEAM? OR ARE YOUR DRIVING STYLES TOO DIFFERENT? "I think they're close. It's tough to take what you've been working on and completely change it and put something else in. With the experience I've been through, you see different set-up trends that work for your teammates and you try to implement them into your car. I see the No. 24 doing that now. Some of the stuff we're doing didn't work for us the beginning of the season and hasn't worked for the No. 24 over the season. But there are two other adjustments that need to go with that concepts and thought to make it work. You just have to walk down the road and figure it out. You can't just jump in the deep end and hope it works, especially at this point in the game. I think we're learning a lot with the No. 48 car. We've been testing and learning a lot about what we need. I think it will help company-wide. It just takes a little time for everybody to work with it and understand it."
IN THE FIRST FEW YEARS OF THE CHASE, DRIVERS AND CREW CHIEFS SAID IT WAS ALL ABOUT 10 ERROR-FREE RACES. NOW, THEY SAY YOU HAVE TO WIN RACES TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP. WAS THAT A GAME CHANGE LAST YEAR? "It could be, but I still feel we won't know what is needed until the fifth, sixth, or seventh race in. You just don't know. If you look at '06, Talladega, we all thought I was out of it. We came back. Last year, we wouldn't have had a chance with that. You needed a 4.8 or 4.9 average to win the deal. So it depends on the other 11 guys and the types of starts they get off to in the Chase and where that stuff all falls into place. We're all preparing for the worst. I think we're all talking about how you need to win races. Chances are, that's going to be the case, especially with so many guys running well. But again, we just don't know."
HOW MUCH HAS YOUR PAST EXPERIENCE OF WINNING CHAMPIONSHIPS HELPED YOU? AND REGARDING MOMENTUM GOING INTO THE CHASE, IS IT OVERBLOWN ONCE THE CHASE STARTS? "I feel that my experience does help me. I feel that it helps me focus on the right things since we have pulled off a championship. If I look at '06 to '07, I worried about a lot of things in '06. In '07, I had a better idea of the important things to worry about. I just focused on those and gave myself a break, mentally, through the Chase. Where in '06, I was just freaking out about everything. And I hope that experience will carry into this season's Chase and give me an advantage and mainly give me some relief from my own head and the things I worry about trying to do something special in our sport. Those guys have the pressure of winning their first. I hope there is something there. Only time will tell. And everybody's got to win their first at some point, so it's not saying that it's an advantage they can't overcome because at some point you've got to win your first.
"On momentum it helps for the week leading into the next event. I'll climb into the car with a ton of confidence. But as soon as you go out and make your first lap, or first five laps, you know where you're at. And you're like, okay, we either have it or we don't. At our sport, we race at so many different tracks and styles of tracks from week to week, it's tough to have momentum carry you too far. It builds confidence. It helps you sleep better. If you go back to a track that's similar to the one where you just had success, it does help you there and you do carry some momentum in, but chances are you're going to leave a big track and go to Martinsville or a Talladega and it's tough to have that same momentum at each venue."
-credit: gm racing