Loudon: Johnson - GM top-10 interview

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS Q. What do you think about Juan Pablo Montoya coming to NASCAR? I'm excited. I think that our sport today is the biggest sport out there. It's even rivaling racing like...

BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS

Q. What do you think about Juan Pablo Montoya coming to NASCAR?

I'm excited. I think that our sport today is the biggest sport out there. It's even rivaling racing like F1. Everybody wants to be a part of it, doesn't matter if you're a driver, team owner, sponsor, team member. I'm really excited about it.

Q. Talk about Juan Pablo Montoya.

It's going to be a real big adjustment for him. Just the same as if a stock car driver went to the Indy world or went to F1, I think that says a lot about what Tony Stewart has been able to do coming into our stock cars and having the success that he has.

Jeff Gordon went and drove an F1 car and was really good in it and had some opportunities and some things out there, some interest, something he's always been interested in, but at this point in his career he did not want to take the three or four years to go learn those vehicles, and I think it's going to be the same for them, maybe even a little harder, going from a car that is so forgiving with so much downforce into a car that has very little grip, very little downforce, way too much horsepower and small tires. It's going to be really tough for those guys. Juan is a very talented race car driver, and I think in time he'll learn these cars and be competitive.

Q. A couple years ago you really found the key to this place. I don't remember those days or how hot and greasy it was when you swept New Hampshire that weekend, but talk about this year and the conditions here.

I feel good about it. I like the heat, and I think the slicker the track is, the better I do. I think it suits my driving a little bit, so I'm excited for that. Hopefully we don't get a thunderstorm that affects the length of the race or the race in its entirety. I'm looking forward to it.

We've been working hard on our mile program, and we feel like we've made some good gains, done some testing coming into this weekend and this race, and looking forward to getting on the track. Hopefully we can be up there leading laps and get tight for a win.

Q. Did you learn things on the last Pocono race that you can translate to next week?

We didn't feel too bad about the Pocono race. If we count the 11 out of it, he was so much faster than everyone else. But compared to everyone else we felt like we were close. I don't think we finished in the top 5, but we were still inside the top 10 and had a decent day there. We learned a little bit in Indy, got some good ideas to go back there with, and we're looking for solid top 10s every week. That's what we're after.

Q. With this next win Jeff Gordon will tie Dale Earnhardt. In your mind how significant a moment would that be?

I never really ever thought of that until you just mentioned it. How successful Earnhardt was, the championships that he had and the mark he left in this sport, I think it's a huge accomplishment for Jeff, something I'm sure he's very proud of, when he's able to meet that number or maybe even someday be ahead of it.

Q. What do you think it is about Jeff that's enabled him to be this successful this quick?

The thing with Jeff, I've only known him for the last four or five years, and just to see the sustain power that he has. There's times when people doubt what he's doing, what the ability of the team is, and those guys never quit. It's so amazing to me and it's inspiring at the same time to see Jeff Gordon always reinvent himself; the team always keeps finding speed and keeps finding ways to perform.

At the beginning of this year, there was some rumbling about the lack of wins for the 24, especially on 1.5-miles. Then he goes to Chicago and is one of the dominant cars all day long and wins the race. He really amazes me every time. He steps up and gets the job done.

Q. I'm sure it's going to be an emotional response from the fans. In your opinion how do you think the fans will react?

I think whether you're a 24 fan or not, they've got to respect what he's done, and that's all Jeff would ask for and the team would, as also. He understands the fact that he's loved by many and hated by many. That's just the way it goes. That's just the way sporting works. A fan is going to cheer for who they want and the rest they don't like.

He's the one who taught me his point of view on that, and I think all the racing community, all the race fans will respect what Jeff Gordon has accomplished.

Q. Is there a little bit of payback here from September? Do you think you'll see any retaliation this weekend at this particular race?

You never know. It just depends on how people start racing each other and if it drums up something in your mind where it's time to push back. You guys will I'm sure pay close attention to it, and if I see something brewing in front of me I'll try to stay out of it.

Short track racing, one, you have things that carry over from previous events that may have rubbed you the wrong way with another competitor, and two, it's very tough to pass here, so you can aggravate something in a hurry trying to pass them or trying to get by them and lean on someone and get your competitor in a bad mood and the next turn they'll knock you around, as well. That really escalates at a track like New Hampshire. You have a hard time passing and you can't pass just driving by someone, you've got to lean on them a little bit and no one likes that.

Q. Did you have enough time at Indy this week to test?

No, we really could have used a second day. It seemed like the first day ?? as our first day wore on, which was the third day, we started closing the gap and getting closer to where we needed to be and a lot more competitive. When the day started, it was quite a bit off, but we finished stronger.

Q. Were you there one full day or were you there Monday, as well?

No, we weren't there Monday, it was just Wednesday, and it was from maybe 1100 or 1200 to 500 in the afternoon, so we got three quarters of a day.

Q. Is there any way to lobby NASCAR for another day or extra time there considering all the rain?

No, we would like to, but in all seriousness, I don't think we can as a team. Our guys have been on the road nonstop. They stayed overnight in Chicago, worked on the cars, turned them around, turned the transporters around, traveled Monday afternoon to Indy and we sat there on Tuesday and then drove on Wednesday and then had to come here. That's a tough part of the schedule, a lot of travel, a lot going on. I'm not sure unless we went on the off weekend how we could find time to even go there and test again, so I wouldn't anticipate it.

Q. What do you think the effect of having a driver like Montoya joining the circuit is going to be in worldwide recognition and worldwide publicity?

I'm excited for it. I think it will bring in a lot of recognition worldwide, and I think eventually it'll shut up all the F1 guys that don't think this is a sport, don't think that we have a technical sport, don't think that we're drivers.

Juan is going to have a big learning curve coming in. I think when you look back when Jeff Gordon tested the F1 car he jumped in it and drove fast right away. Even Jeff Gordon said it's going to take years before I learn exactly what this vehicle wants to consider or even think about winning a race. I think it's going to be the same for Juan. It might be even tougher, and I think history shows that it's harder to come out of a high downforce, high grip car into a low downforce, low grip car.

But all that being said, I think Juan is a great personality, a colorful personality for our sport. The Latin market just by itself we saw with Adrian Fernandez coming in driving the Lowe's car how excited and the fan base he had with that. So a Colombian driver coming in, I think it's going to do a lot of great things for our sport. I think it's going to help it grow a lot.

Q. More and more Cup drivers are coming out talking about the large number of drivers who on the Cup side are going to the Busch side, and more are saying NASCAR has to do something to decrease that or to limit that. What's your opinion on that?

You know, if we had 50 or 60 Busch cars showing up at the race track, then I would agree with that and think that something needs to happen. But when we have a race that's separated and the Busch cars ?? I think it was Kentucky, Cup cars were at Pocono or something and we had 42 cars on the race track and they didn't even have a full field. If we take away the Cup guys, and there was, what, 10 or 12 that went back and forth to make it work, that race could have been really bad and really boring. In the end, not even a regular Busch Series driver won the race, the 84 Dave Gilliland.

I think that race really put a lot of things into perspective. We need to have these fields full, and Cup drivers do add a lot to it, and until we have too many cars or not enough spots, I think they ought to leave it alone.

Q. You've been the only guy, I guess maybe Tony, too, but the last three years of this Chase that has been firmly in it, haven't really worried about being on the bubble. When you look at some of the guys on the bubble like Jeff, are you kind of glad you don't have to deal with all that stress that those other guys are going through?

Yeah, I guess I am. There are two ways of looking at it. One, it's very important to get off to a great start and not have to worry about that. And two, I caught the end of old style racing and old style points system where if you were 10th, 500 points out, you didn't have a shot anyway. It's like a rebirth or a new opportunity for these ten cars now that you didn't have four or five years ago.

Hopefully, and I know someday I will be in that situation, I'll be loving the fact that there's ten cars ?? I'll be fighting trying to get in it, that's the way racing works out. But I still have that mindset of it's a great opportunity for those guys, and their stress right now is to get in the Chase. My stress really hasn't been there yet because we've been fortunate and been up front, and in a few weeks the stress is really going to show when the Chase starts.

Q. Is there any stress for you right now from now until Richmond? Are you worrying about preparing a certain way?

Yeah, I'm still worrying about every race, every track, especially coming here because it's the first race of the Chase. I just want everything to be right and keep making our cars better, not be comfortable, not be content where we are, try to keep new technology coming, trying to learn new things I can do inside the car to go faster so when the Chase starts we have the best product possible.

Q. Are you telling Chad Knaus things you want done on your New Hampshire car and your Dover car? Are you looking that far ahead?

You have to, and in order to really make body changes even, it seems so simple, it's a good two?week turnaround to get a body change done and to try to get the wind tunnel documented so you know what you're taking on the track. You really have to look far ahead and get these things planned out, get them built in the shop, get some data through wind tunnel or whatever the means may be to validate the product you're taking to the track, and then you take it to the race track. So we're thinking pretty far ahead.

Q. Do you think you're ahead of the guys down 11 through 16 or even like 8 through 10 where they've got to worry about the now even more than thinking about September, October, November?

I see a large ?? there are a lot of guys that are very capable of winning the championship that are from that 8 to 12 range right now in the points. I guess my eyes are focused on the individual cars. I know there's like three Roush cars that are really tough, and if they're in the Chase then I'll have my hands full with them. The 9 has been really strong, the 8 has been showing a lot of strength, 24. So I've been more looking at individual cars.

To tell you the truth, I don't really know who's in 10th right now. I know where Jeff is, but I don't know the other players. I'm just focusing on my car and my situation.

Q. But the guys who are back there, regardless of who they are, they probably can't look as far ahead as your team is looking so you probably have a bit of an edge.

Yes and no. I think that's common practice anymore. You really have to plan things out far in advance and always be working on it. I feel that there's probably 15, maybe 18 cars that could win the championship under this format with the Chase, so anybody gets in the championship Chase, they're going to be a threat.

Q. Earlier this morning Matt Kenseth said that Jeff Gordon is the face of NASCAR, and when he's not running well, it doesn't feel right, it doesn't feel normal, and then when he is running well, it all feels normal in NASCAR. Is there something to that here in the garage?

Well, I think that comes from when he was first getting involved in the sport, Jeff was a dominant guy, and I have to agree with that on some levels. You know, if you're out there racing and it's the usual suspects, the 20, 24, 9, those guys aren't up front, and it's new faces or new cars, there is maybe a little different feel to that, but it's more based on past success of those race cars.

You know, I've been so close to the 24, and I've personally seen a lot of really good races all year long, and bad luck taking place and distributor caps breaking and wheel bearings blowing out or rotor blowing apart. I've seen some different things taking Jeff out of it. I guess I can understand where Matt is saying that, and I do see a part of that.

-gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya