Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, VA. Johnson currently sits in fifth place in the NASCAR...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, VA.
Johnson currently sits in fifth place in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings, just 21 points behind third place and 28 points behind second place. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 63 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta.
For more information about Jimmie Johnson and Team Lowe's Racing, visit http://media.lowesracing.com.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO DRIVE ON PIT ROAD AT MARTINSVILLE SINCE IT IS SO NARROW?
"It's extremely narrow and it's difficult for a lot of reasons. It's such a shorter distance around than what the pace car does that we almost have to stop in certain spots just getting to pit road with people trying to get in their pit stalls and you can't pass the pace cars so there are a couple of issues there. It's really narrow and our stalls are extremely small. Coming in around somebody or pulling out around somebody is very tight. You don't know if you're going to hit a tire or the back of a car or clip a crew member so you've got to be on your toes and be very careful."
HAVE YOU HAD CLOSE CALLS THERE?
WHAT'S THE MOST DIFFICULT PART?
"In my eyes, the hardest thing is just getting in and out of your pit stall. The length of the stall is only two feet longer than the length of your car. So you can imagine how difficult it is to get in your stall halfway decent and not block the guy behind you and not get blocked in yourself. From a competition standpoint, that's the thing I worry about the most. With the congestion that there is on pit road, maybe it's more of a safety risk. But as a competitor, the thing I worry about the most is making sure we qualify good so we've got a stall with an opening."
WITH PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THE NO. 12 TEAM OF RYAN NEWMAN SO MUCH, IS IT SORT OF A MIND GAME WITH THE REST OF THE COMPETITORS THAT IS HELPING THEM TO DO WELL?
"There's always going to be someone who wins the most races or that is the champion or that is the dominant guy. That's just part of it. There's always going to be that person that's the one you want to knock off the top. I just hope it's us one of these years (laughs) with all those cool stats. But I don't think so."
DO YOU PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE NO. 12 TEAM?
"Yeah, especially at tracks where the fuel mileage issue comes into play. Those guys are obviously playing that game the best and have figured out an advantage in those races. It almost worked out for them at Lowe's Motor Speedway last weekend, which was pretty amazing at a track where the tires fall off so fast. It still almost worked for them."
HOW IS YOUR TEAMMATE, JEFF GORDON, HANDLING THE FACT THAT HE'S IN THE TOP 10 IN POINTS BUT HAS ONLY HAD ONE WIN THIS YEAR?
"From my standpoint, I know he wants to be in Victory Lane a lot more. I think he's led the most laps of any driver. I know he's been frustrated with being good at the beginning of a race, but at the end eight strategy or fuel mileage or something has kept him from the win. I know that side of it. But he doesn't seem overly frustrated or any different than normal. It takes a lot to rock Jeff. He's a pretty solid guy."
CHEVROLET HAS BROUGHT YOU ALONG IN YOUR CAREER, BUT DID YOU HAVE AN AGENT OR A LAWYER OR SOMEBODY HELP YOU WITH YOUR MOVE TO JOIN HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?
"I have representation and people I go to for advice and that work with me and all. But the step to Hendrick was really my own doing. Rick Hendrick knew who I was. Chevrolet and GM Motorsports had talked to Joe Gibbs, to Richard Childress, to Dale Earnhardt, to Rick Hendrick, and to a lot of people about me while I was racing off-road and coming along.
"The big plan, the thing that was put in stone for me back in 1996, was driving for the Herzogs. Together, we thought we could go from off-road to ASA and to Busch and to Winston Cup. We made it all the way to the Busch Series, but they weren't able to take it any further because of the sponsorship situation. That's what really instigated putting me on the market. We were losing the Alltel sponsorship and then Excedrin was coming on but there were a lot of things up in the air. People knew about it and started asking questions about whether I was available or not. That started it more than anything. But Rick Hendrick knew who I was because of conversations with Chevrolet."
WITH THE TIME AND EFFORT AND MONEY THAT CHEVROLET HAD INVESTED IN YOU, COULD YOU HAVE CONTEMPLATED LEAVING GM AND GOING TO FORD OR DODGE IF THE OPPORTUNITY HAD PRESENTED ITSELF?
"There were opportunities there and I did not want them. Chevrolet and Herb Fishel and Sue Seaglund and several others have been there through it all since I was 16 years old. I just couldn't see leaving Chevrolet. It just wasn't an option."
WHEN YOU ARE WITH A MANUFACTURER A LONG TIME, DO THEY BECOME LIKE FAMILY?
"Absolutely. They become family. One thing that's different on the Winston Cup and Busch levels is the involvement of the manufacturer. Everything that I raced in before was dependent upon the manufacturer. When you get to Winston Cup, you have other sponsors involved. Chevrolet sponsored every off-road truck I drove. The factory was my sponsor. So my involvement was a lot different and there was a lot more inner-action. Now you get to Winston Cup and it's the car you drive. You see them at different times and go to a couple of functions. But it's not the type of involvement that I was used to in the past. I was very close to everyone at Chevrolet and GM. I went to functions and sponsor meetings and race tracks. They were my 'Lowe's' in a sense. It was a much different relationship."
DO YOU THINK YOUNG KIDS COMING UP THROUGH THE SERIES GET CAUGHT IN THE GLITZ & GLAMOUR AND LOSE SIGHT OF THEIR LOYALTIES?
"Possibly. It's obviously great to have that loyalty. But the manufacturers don't influence the teams in Busch and Cup like they do in ASA or off-road or road racing or in all the other venues. It used to be that way and that's how NASCAR was founded when the manufacturers wanted a place to showcase their vehicles. The manufacturers were the leaders. They directed the sport and that's who you went to for a ride. They had that impact. But now, independent car owners rely on corporations for 95 percent of their budget. The manufacturer pays for a small percentage of it. Even the technology aspect of it is more driven by the car owners themselves and the money they spend based on sponsorship dollars than it is GM giving up wind tunnel time. We pay for all that stuff. So the manufacturer's involvement is a lot less. So the impression they leave in young drivers is a lot less, unfortunately, at this level because the aren't as big a player as in years past."
WHEN A DRIVER LIKE JOE NEMECHEK HAS BEEN WITH YOUR TEAM AND THEN GOES SOMEWHERE ELSE, DOES THAT BOTHER OR WORRY YOU?
"There are a lot of factors that drive it. Joe Nemechek has been doing a great job. It was about sponsorship issues and that Delphi is leaving. With times being as hard as they are right now and with the success that Brian Vickers has had, sponsorship opportunities came together for Brian on the Cup level. Understanding the details behind the scenes, I wish Joe was still going to be in that No. 25 car, but it's a very expensive sport. Unfortunately the sponsor was leaving so I understand the factors involved."
WHAT ABOUT WHEN DRIVERS MAKE THAT MOVE AGAINST THEIR WILL?
"There are lots of different factors that drive it. Obviously performance is the number one thing. It depends on if the sponsor is unhappy with the performance of if it's the team owner. Everybody wants to win. But within that, every sponsor has it's own agenda. It might be catering to the corporation or it might be about the winning image or whatever it is that drives who is in what race car. It just depends on the situation."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE NASCAR HAVE A TRAVELING SAFETY CREW?
"Absolutely. I think it would be a great step. In a perfect world, having a traveling safety crew with doctors like the Indy Car organization has would only bring positive things. Only positive things would come of it."
DO YOU THINK THE DRIVERS ARE GOING TO HAVE TO COME TOGETHER WITH ONE VOICE TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN?
"I know the drivers and team owners have been pushing for it. I'm not exactly sure what's going on with it. I've heard rumors that it might happen next year. I've heard that it won't. I'm not exactly sure why. I think as far as everything is drafted up now, it is the track's responsibility now to supply adequate safety personnel. I don't know the details. I know from a competitor's standpoint, we would do anything possible to make sure we have the same people week in and week out performing those duties so that in bad situations they have a (medical) history about the patients and drivers and everything else that goes along with it."
HAVE YOU BEEN IN A SITUATION WHERE YOU THOUGHT THE ATTENTION YOU GOT FROM THE SAFETY CREWS WAS LESS THAN WHAT YOU THOUGHT IT SHOULD BE?
"I personally haven't. Fortunately, I haven't needed any care. I have obviously seen the frustration with some of the drivers this year on a slow response time like Jeff (Gordon) at Watkins Glen. He crashed at the end of the race and was picked up by the ambulance and the ambulance had to fight the same traffic that any fan would have to fight leaving the race track due to the route it was taking. It ended up taking 20 minutes to get to the Infield Care Center."
DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING SPECIAL IN STORE FOR RYAN NEWMAN AT MARTINSVILLE?
"If I remember right, Ryan has qualified well at Martinsville but it hasn't been one of his better races. But maybe it'll be a different player up there this week. Hopefully it's us. We've been in the top 10 I believe, and racing in the top five throughout the last three races there. We've been very competitive. Hopefully we'll have what it takes."
WHAT ABOUT ROCKINGHAM?
"Rockingham should be good for us. Looking at the remainder of the schedule, that's one of the places where it's been a little tough for us to pull off the finishes we want. Hopefully it'll be a big improvement this time."
HAVE YOU BEEN SURPRISED BY THE PERFORMANCES OF SOME OF THE OLDER DRIVERS THIS YEAR?
"Those guys are always going to be strong. Veteran experience goes a long way in our sport. That's what it's about. I'm looking forward to getting some more experience under my belt."
DO YOU THINK NASCAR IS SHEDDING ITS RUM-RUNNING IMAGE OF OLD WITH ALL THE RECENT CHANGES IN THE SPORT?
"I think so. Something that sports fans in general need to pay attention to is what goes on in other major sports. There has been a lot of negative play with different confrontations our drivers have both on and off the track. But if you look at other major sports -- like the ordeal the other night with Boston and the Yankees game -- there are things that tarnish the sport a little bit. Typically if it happened to us, we'd be called a bunch of rednecks. That's what the sport was founded on but you catch a lot of negative press from it. The more people look at NASCAR and compare it to what happens in other major sports, it's a sport. We all have our roots. We all have our history. In today's day and age, it's a professional sport."
DO YOU VIEW NASCAR'S SUBSTANCE ABUSE POLICY AS A TOOL FOR SHEDDING ITS IMAGE?
"I don't think that that's in any part of NASCAR. So as far as it being a tool, I don't see that. Substances aren't needed to enhance performances."
DOES HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAVE IT'S OWN SUBSTANCE ABUSE POLICY?
"All teams do. There is drug screening involved. The contract includes anything that would make for bad press. There is actually a drug clause in there that refers to making the sponsor or team look bad like a drunk driving ticket or something like that. There's a lot of language in there to protect the sponsor and team."
SO BASICALLY, YOU'VE GOT TO WATCH YOUR P'S AND Q'S ALL THE TIME?
"You have to be a good citizen just like anything else."
WITH A LOT OF YOUNG GUYS COMING INTO THE SPORT, IS DRUG ABUSE SOMETHING THAT NASCAR AND THE TEAM OWNERS NEED TO PAY MORE ATTENTION TO?
"I think NASCAR is in a hard spot where they can't be prying into peoples lives, but at the same time they can't people under the influence while they're driving race cars if it's alcohol or whatever it is. So they've got a delicate balance they're juggling. Fortunately, there haven't been those types of problems in our sport. You have to be sober and sane and in the right frame of mind to compete at this level and to drive and control our vehicles. I don't think our sport is conducive to that stuff in general. There might be a couple of situations that crop up, but I don't see it as a worry for our sport."