Martinsville II: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed his Martinsville battle with Denny Hamlin, running for the championship, Talladega, tire strategy, and more. YOU HAVE A 41 POINT LEAD COMING HERE TO MARTINSVILLE TALK A LITTLE...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed his Martinsville battle with Denny Hamlin, running for the championship, Talladega, tire strategy, and more.

YOU HAVE A 41 POINT LEAD COMING HERE TO MARTINSVILLE TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR THOUGHTS ON RACING HERE ON SUNDAY "Yeah, you know we are excited to be back at Martinsville. Martinsville has been a great track for the 48 team over the years and there is a certain rhythm to this track that took me a while to figure out but once I found the rhythm the results have been really good for me here and its just a fun place to race. It can be frustrating at times and there is no doubt about that but when you get in the right rhythm and things are clicking off like you would hope you can have a lot of fun on this race track. It's cool and I am glad to be back and we will just see how the weekend unfolds."

YOU AND DENNY HAMLIN HAVE WON BETWEEN YOU THE LAST 8 RACES AT MARTINSVILLE. DOES ONE OF YOU HAVE TO RUN WELL AND ONE OF YOU HAVE TO HAVE A TOUGH DAY TO CHANGE MOMENTUM? "Yeah, I know there is a lot of hype coming into this race but at the end of the day there are four more races left and there are so many points to be won and lost in those four races and I still can't stress it enough that Talladega can equal this whole thing up and its an eight car race or a ten car race for the championship so at this point its really about doing the best job I can do here as possible and if that's eighth, then so be it. We did all we could and we finished eighth and we have to go to Talladega and do our best there. But I am not going to get caught up in just worrying about one guy. Its just not worth it at this point.

"After we get out of Talladega there will be more of a clear strategy kind of unfolds and we know who we really need to race and what to do from there. Hopefully we are in a position to protect. That's the position I want to be in. I want to leave here with a win, there is no doubt about that. But I want to go to Talladega and win that race, but you just don't know. I just want to keep a realistic approach to all this and score every point I can and then after Talladega, I know what I need to do then."

YOU HAVE RACED DENNY HAMLIN AT THIS TRACK SO MUCH IS IT DIFFICULT TO COME UP WITH A DIFFERENT MOVE TO GET BY HIM OR TO KEEP HIM BEHIND YOU? JUST LIKE BALL PLAYERS WHO PLAY AGAINST EACH OTHER SO MUCH THEY GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER'S MOVES, IS IT KIND OF LIKE THAT AT THIS PLACE AND HARD TO COME UP WITH SOMETHING DIFFERENT? "Yeah, I mean so much of it depends on how a driver's car is handling when you get to them. There are certain things you do when you catch someone who has a tight race car or a loose race car so, it's really hard to say that there is one particular move. In a way I find its kind of easy coming here because I know I need to have the best car I can. I mean it's not like you are going to beat the 11 and it's not just the 11, but I think the RCR cars have an awful lot of speed here and my teammate Jeff is really good at this track and you know you can't compromise on 'hey, I think we are close', it makes it easy because you have to make sure your stuff is right. And that is our goal today and tomorrow."

IS THERE A MENTAL ADVANTAGE OF BEING IN THE LEAD WITH JUST A FEW RACES LEFT IN THE CHASE KNOWING OTHER PEOPLE HAVE TO BEAT YOU? "Yes, there definitely is an advantage and I have said this before, I think that the teams are strong enough, the drivers are fast enough that a four point lead isn't going to intimidate anyone. The larger the points lead, the better that can happen. I think the thing that sends the larger statement is how you have been running lately. And I think the worse we have been since New Hampshire is third and I think that sends a statement and that works in our favor. If it's really in their heads right now, its really hard to say. There are still five races left and I think all of us drivers look at it and say, 'it took us five races to get to this point and certainly five races could swing it the exact opposite direction. So it's a little too early for anyone to fret all that much. I could be wrong and I hope that I am because I need any advantage I can possibly get and I think here in the next two to three weeks if we are able to keep running like we are then that will start to work for us, but I just think it's a little early yet."

If you are way out then you have to win races, if there are a couple guys you are worrying about then your focus gets more narrow and you really focus on two or three cars and where they are at. So it changes all the time and the other thing that I am guilty of just like anyone else, is that you never want to give up and you want to have hope that you can come back so even if the situation is terrible. You and your team are building around something and you're not go down without a fight and you do what you can and you find a way to be optimistic and you find a way to find some hope. And I think that also plays into the fact that we are also only five races into this thing and there are a lot of guys who have a lot of hope, and they should. There is a lot of racing left and I guess that is why I don't have a lot of earth shattering statements at this point because there is a lot of racing left."

IS THE RUN FOR THIS CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR ANY DIFFERENT THAN ANY OF THE OTHERS THAT YOU HAVE WON? "Yeah, I think that every other championship has helped me be more confident in my abilities, what my team is capable of; and there are probably some other emotions that are wrapped up into it that all lead to the fact that I am much more relaxed fighting for this championship than any other championship in my life. So experience really helps out a lot and I have enjoyed these last five races more than I did the last year and the year before, and so on.

"I feel like I am in a really good place where some guys that are fighting for their first championship, there is so much on it. I have been there, so I know exactly what those feelings are like. I feel like it's helpful for me to be this relaxed and to come in and not obsess over things during the week and to come into the track with a fresh mind and a ton of energy and go to work. So I really hope that the experience gives me an upper hand through the championship battle."

ON THE BUMPS BETWEEN YOU AND DENNY HAMLIN IN THE PAST BATTLING FOR THE WIN AND WHETHER THAT CHANGES WITH THE CHAMPIONSHIP SCENARIO OR IS THAT JUST SHORT TRACK RACING? "Yeah, for me it's more short track racing. It's taken me more time to try and move someone out of the way.......and my experience has been that it takes more time to try and move someone out of the way than to get position on them to pass them. Usually when I move somebody out of the way.....I wreck them. I just don't have that soft touch and all the time it takes to set it up for the soft touch, I could just be inside of the car and have position on them and go about my business.

And the contact that Denny and I had getting into turn three here before, it was really just a racing thing. I was in there deep on the brakes and he thought he was clear to come down and we rubbed a little bit but everybody has their own style and at the end of the day I guess what I am getting at is that some guys are good with the bump and run and the casual contact but for myself I like to climb out of the car -- especially at Martinsville and I have done it in the past -- without a tire mark on the race car and we are sitting in victory lane. I take a lot of pride in that and I think that the way that I race people pays off in the long run and there is no sense, five races into this thing when I get around the guys I am racing and laying tire marks on them and roughing them up. Again, what is it going to do? Once again it's just not time to do that stuff. There is a time and a place for it and certainly if it comes my way, I can't just let it happen, I have to interact the same way that guys are treating me but there is nothing better than pulling into victory lane with a clean race car and holding the trophy."

ON MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY SPENDING MONEY TO IMPROVE THE FACILITY "It's always great to see track owners and operators putting back into the facility. This race track, for me, is fun to come to because it is a time warp back with today's world and the big race tracks. We've kind of lost the feel of the old school racing that we've had and I always appreciate coming here because it helps me understand a little bit more and takes me back to that point. I hope it keeps its character but at the end of the day it needs to be easy to get in and out and the fans need a great experience when they come to the track. They're here for days on end and at the shortest bit they're here for six or seven hours. It really needs to accommodate the fans to give them a great experience."

EARLIER THIS WEEK DENNY HAMLIN SAID AT TALLADEGA HE'S GOING TO KEEP YOU IN FRONT OF HIM THE WHOLE TIME AND IF HE'S GOING TO BE IN A WRECK, YOU'RE GOING TO BE IN IT. HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THAT? IS TALLADEGA A PLACE WHERE A GUY CAN GET INTO YOUR HEAD PUSHING YOU THROUGH THE PACK ALL DAY LONG? "I don't really think that there's any type of head game to be played at Talladega. I think it's really about playing your odds. Knowing Denny like I do, he's a man that likes to play the odds. He's really sharp with that stuff. He's into numbers. He's into stats. He's into all that stuff. And it's not a bad strategy. Ideally you put the No. 29 (Harvick) and the No. 11 (Hamlin) and the No. 48 (Johnson) all in a group and if we all leave there with the same amount of points and we race in, it is what it is. So I certainly understand that approach. I think it's more of a smart decision based on odds than it is any type of mental tactic. At that track, you can pass people at will and it depends on the lane you're in and it's really not a driver performance, car performance situation. It's really being in the right lane at the right time. I don't read too far into that. He's just trying to think through his options, you know, on what to do."

I WORRY THAT YOU OVERDRIVE SOME TOO MUCH. YOU WENT AGAINST KURT AND KYLE BUSCH LAST SATURDAY NIGHT AT CHARLOTTE WAY TOO HARD FOR 5 POINTS; AND THEN I WAS REFLECTING ON TEXAS WHEN YOU AND KENSETH WENT SIDE-BY-SIDE WHEN YOU WEREN'T REALLY RACING HIM FOR THAT MANY POINTS. ARE YOU WORRIED THAT YOU MIGHT JUST TAKE YOURSELF OUT BECAUSE YOU'RE A RACE DRIVER AND YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO RACE HARD? "Man, we fight with that battle every day, every lap. Every race car driver does. And the thing I've found is that there is a sweet spot that I operate well in. And there's no doubt, earlier in the year I was stepping over that line. I say all that and I did spin out at Charlotte (laughs) in stepping over the line. But that's the internal struggle that every single driver has. It doesn't matter if it's on the local short track or it's all the way here on the Cup level. Like in baseball and football and any other pro sport, when you start defending and you lose your rhythm, you make mistakes. So there's an argument that says yeah, is it worth the risk? At the same time, if you back off and don't do things that you typically would, you create problems then. The five points with Kyle the other night? I could have forced it a little harder and tried to get to his outside a couple of times, but I was trying to think big picture there. That's when I was having the argument. You can watch it each lap; I'd kind of roll up to him in the center and had maybe a little bit more throttle than I wanted to and I'm like all right, maybe he'll make a mistake; I just want to be in position that if he makes a mistake I can try to pick up those five points. So, I was in a full-on argument in my own head out there. And that's what we do."

SIX YEARS AGO THERE WAS A RACE HERE WHERE YOU WERE LEADING WITH LIKE 40 OR 50 TO GO AND THERE WAS A LATE RACE CAUTION AND THERE WERE 14 CARS ON THE LEAD LAP. YOU PITTED AND NOBODY ELSE DID. IT ALWAYS SEEMED LIKE THAT USED TO BE THE LATE RACE STRATEGY WAS TO JUST TO THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT THE LEADER DOES IF YOU'RE TOWARD THE BACK. IS THAT NOT TRUE AS MUCH ANYMORE OR DO YOU WANT TO DO THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT THE GUYS IN FRONT DO IF YOU'RE TOWARD THE BACK? "I have to agree that it has changed. In the past it was much more of a numbers game. If you were in the minority, you probably made the wrong move. If you're in the majority, things worked out for you. Now it's a little bit more unclear what works. When I won my race at Bristol, I think I restarted 6th on tires. I thought I was dead in the water. No chance. I would have to believe that Denny (Hamlin), when we were here in the spring, when he restarted deep in the field I thought that four tires wasn't the call. But it worked out. I don't know if there is a clear cut easy decision for the crew chiefs to make, but trends are kind of showing that tires are more important with these double-file restarts. And truthfully, the worst position to be in is the first couple of cars near guys with tires. That's the thing; a crew chief doesn't want to put his driver or car in that situation. If you think they're coming and you're around that cutoff point, you're better off just coming to put road so that you're not that first car on old tires and end up losing 8 or 10 spots."

-source: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Denny Hamlin