Loudon II: Johnson - GM Top-10 interview



EVEN THE NASCAR RELEASE MENTIONS THAT JIMMIE JOHNSON HAS GOTTEN OFF TO SLOW STARTS IN THE CHASE. OBVIOUSLY THIS YEAR, YOU'VE MADE PLANS TO CHANGE THAT. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? "I was just listening to Jeff (Gordon) a minute ago. He made a great comment about the hardest thing he feels, is knowing when to change. The summer months for us have been slow I think (because) there are some tracks that aren't our best tracks. Technology changes a lot. I look at our record over the last month and a half and I think in my heart I feel like I've done a much better job this summer than the summer before. With the changes we've made as a team and the way we're approaching things, we've done a better job. We lost some points and we lost the points lead, so we didn't do a great job, but I think we have done a better job. Eight of the 10 races in the Chase are very good races for us. Loudon, at one time, I could get around here. But now this is one of the two that I don't think are my strongest tracks. I've won here twice before and hopefully I can get that back going once again. Phoenix is the other track that's a lot like here and we've been a little slower at. Looking at the 10, I feel good about it. We've got great race tracks coming up. One of the biggest changes we've made is the fact that we haven't changed a lot. We know what we're doing. We've been here before. We know that it's about these 10 races. We have an idea about how Tony (Stewart) was able to win his championship last year and Kurt Busch the year before. And we've just formulated our own strategy and we're ready to get to work."

WITH 7 GUYS IN THE CHASE WHO WEREN'T IN THE CHASE BEFORE, DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE A HUGE ADVANTAGE OVER THE OTHER GUYS, A LITTLE ADVANTAGE, OR NONE AT ALL? "It's so hard to tell until we get into the middle of it and see how people deal with pressure and how they deal with the Chase. I can say that as these 10 races go on, it's going to get so tough - mentally and emotionally - decisions the crew chiefs have to make on the box.guys on the track.I don't know how to handicap it because everybody deals with pressure in a different way. There is no doubt that pressure is going to continue to ramp up. I can say that I'm a lot more confident in this Chase than I was in my first one. I have a better idea of how things go. What that is, I'm not really sure. Again, it's hard to predict. Everybody deals with pressure differently."

JEFF BURTON SAID THIS IS AN EMOTIONAL RACE TRACK. IS THIS A GOOD PLACE OR A BAD PLACE TO GET THE CHASE GOING? "I have a hard time thinking about tracks and the Chase and what track deserves a Chase race, if that's the right way to say it, and how the season lays out for the Chase. I think the Chase gives us some very good balance of all the types of we race on. NASCAR needed to put 10 races in. This date has always been here. The Chase starts here. So I don't really have a problem with it. I think we have a few tracks that are very high in emotions. Talladega is one. Martinsville is going to be one. Phoenix is a lot like here. So it's nothing new for us. To me, it doesn't matter where we start off. That's part of being a Nextel Cup driver. You have to balance those emotions and deal with all that."

DO YOU AGREE WITH BURTON'S CONTENTION THAT THIS IS AN EMOTIONAL RACE TRACK? "Yeah, I think so. Phoenix, to Jeff's point, in Turns 1 and 2 you can run side-by-side - Turns 3 and 4, if you have position you typically go by the guy. So I see what Jeff was saying there. When you sit there for five or six laps beside someone and you can't pass him, that's when the emotions start to rise. And we see that all the time. It doesn't mean it's a bad track. It doesn't mean whatever, it's just one of the byproducts of side-by-side racing."

WHAT HAVE YOU NOTICED ABOUT THE WAY THE GUYS OUTSIDE THE CHASE RACE YOU IN THESE LAST 10 RACES? IS IT DIFFERENT THAN DURING THE REGULAR SEASON? "I think everybody still has to do his job and go out there and try to win races. I have seen a lot of respect from the guys that weren't in the Chase - especially when you get down to the last three or four races. It's not that they give you a position, but instead of holding you up for five laps racing side-by-side after a lap or two, they may cut you a break and give you some extra room. After three years I've been a part of it, there has been a lot of respect in the closing races. In some ways it's great. In Homestead, when Kurt Busch won the championship, he had to come through traffic. I know that none of the other drivers wanted to interfere, so they gave him a lot of room and I was disappointed to see him in my mirror so quickly. And I was like, man, I wish these guys would race him harder. But it's just a lot of respect being paid to one another out there."

EVERYBODY IS ASKING YOU WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO DO DIFFERENT THIS YEAR IN THE CHASE. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU'RE TRYING TO KEEP THE SAME? "We recognize, as team, when we're having fun and we're not caught up in pressure situations, we do better. I think everybody can say that about themselves. We do perform under pressure. We're always able to rebound and come back. But we just want to have fun. We want to get out there and have fun with our crew guys and have fun on pit road, off the race track, on the track, and just get out there and enjoy this. I think the last few years you get so focused on these 10 (races) that maybe it creates some problems. Maybe it makes decisions harder for the crew chief and for myself. So one change is that we just want to have fun through this. We're going to try and just have a good time and see if that helps. But at the same time, we've been in the Chase and we know what these races are like and it's really hard to put a strategy in place because there is no telling if you're going to some out strong or come out soft. We do know there are some strong tracks for us and some weak tracks. Naturally we want to pick up the weak tracks and take advantage of the strong tracks when we get to them."

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FUN THINGS YOU WANT TO DO? "I think it's a mindset on how we approach things. When the pressure is on, you get stuck on making decisions. Again, going back to what Jeff Burton said, it's so tough making decisions - especially when you've done everything you have all year long to get to this point and now you've got 10 races to determine the championship. And you're stuck between two set-ups, what do you do? I feel if you're in a better place, so to speak, it's easier to make those decisions. But if you let the pressure of the championship really weigh on you, you're going to be at a crossroads and it's going to be painful and you're going to have a tough time making decisions. So that's what we're going to try to do is have some fun with it. Just lighten things up a little bit."

JEFF GORDON HAS SAID HE REALLY ONLY WANTED TO BE IN THE CHASE IF HE HAD A CHANCE OF WINNING IT. WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE AREAS WHERE THEY HAVE IMPROVED? "I think Jeff has finally had some luck turn his way. The last two years - even in parts of this season - he's had some weird mechanical things go wrong that kept him from being in the Chase. I think his relationship with (crew chief) Steve Letarte and the personnel changes that have gone on, that everybody is really clicking and Jeff and Steve know how to communicate to one another. In the last month and a half, they've really shown a lot of speed and fought their way back into the Chase. I really think he is going to be one of the guys to contend with for the championship."

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE MORE POINTS AWARDED FOR WINS AND WOULD THAT CHANGE HOW YOU WOULD APPROACH THE CHASE? "I don't think changing the point system is going to make the drivers try any harder or make the racing any better. Believe me, we're doing everything we can out there. We know that every point counts - especially the guys in the Chase right now. It doesn't matter if you're 20th; 18th is going to pay more points. And you need everything you can get. If you look at it in a different light and think of rewarding guys who are able to win, I agree with that. Coming into the Chase, there needs to be a bigger separation of points for each position and maybe a bigger payout through the positions in our point system in general. It's always worked well. I don't think we need to rush off and take care of, but I think it could use a little bit of tweaking."

AS A FOLLOW UP TO THE QUESTION ABOUT GUYS DRIVING YOU DIFFERENTLY THAT ARENT IN THE CHASE, HAS IT BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE WHEN GUYS USE THAT TO THEIR ADVANTAGE? "I think early on, people who aren't in the Chase think hey, there are still 10 races left and I need to do all that I can. And you might see somebody betting on the fact that hey, he's racing for points and he's going to give me some room. I think you'll see that early. But as you get to the end and the championship is really pushing on, I think everybody just backs away and gets out of the way to a certain degree."

YOU'VE BEEN CLOSE EVERY YEAR. SOME PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE THE BEST DRIVER NOT TO HAVE WON A CHAMPIONSHIP, DOES THAT PLAY MINDGAMES WITH YOUR HEAD? "No, each year that goes by, I'm stoked with the year that I've had and I'm honored to be in the top 10 and to finish second in the points a couple of times and fifth. I've accomplished a lot. I'm very happy with everything I've done. I do want to be a champion. I've never had the goal of being a seven or eight-time champion - trying to beat Earnhardt Sr. or something like that. Now if it happened, believe me I'd be very excited about that and it would be a stat that I would like. But I've just wanted to be a champion in this sport. That's what I've set out to do. And if it's this year, or next year, or 10 years or now - I'm going to be around for a long time and I know that driving for Rick Hendrick I'm going to have that shot year after year. It's just a matter of getting everything put into place. So life is good."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kurt Busch