Martinsville II: Johnson - Friday media visit

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS met with media to discuss his outlook on Martinsville, his friendship with Jeff Gordon, supporting Major Guiliani, battling with Gordon in the spring race at Martinsville, his race strategy, Chase...

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS met with media to discuss his outlook on Martinsville, his friendship with Jeff Gordon, supporting Major Guiliani, battling with Gordon in the spring race at Martinsville, his race strategy, Chase contenders, the new-generation race cars and more.

ON HIS OUTLOOK FOR THE WEEKEND: "I'm excited to be here. This has been a good track for us. I'm bummed out that some things went wrong at Charlotte last weekend. We spun the car out just trying too hard and got us into a hole there; but we recovered nicely from that and got up into the top five and then we had a fuel pickup problem on that last restart that we didn't need to get some good points. But I'm still extremely optimistic. We have a great track here for us. I know it's good for Jeff (Gordon), but through this stretch of race, 68 points is very, very small. It took us five races to be 68 points down. It's easy to get 68 (points) back in the remaining five (races) that we have."

REGARDING YOUR TIGHT RACE WITH JEFF GORDON AT MARTINSVILLE IN THE SPRING, AND WITH THE NEW BUMPERS ON THE COT, CAN YOU BE MORE AGGRESSIVE WITHOUT WORRYING ABOUT DUMPING SOMEBODY? "Yeah, I was shocked. The impacts, where you see it lifted with a light touch with the current car in putting your out of control and really messing you up, and the impact I was feeling I knew was pretty severe and I was shocked - not as shocked as Jeff - that I wasn't moving out of the way, but I was pretty impressed that he couldn't move me out of the way. I knew he was hitting me hard. So we all did learn a lot through that. And I think we had a great short track finish here that the fans enjoyed."

WHEN KYLE BUSCH WAS TOLD IN JUNE THAT HE WOULDN'T BE BACK WITH HMS NEXT YEAR, HE'S DONE A GOOD JOB OF CONTENDING FOR VICTORIES AND KEEPING HIS HEAD UP. TALK ABOUT HOW HE WILL FINISH HIS CAREER OUT AT HENDRICK "I'm extremely impressed. In working with Kyle over the years, I've always seen a guy that wants to do good and wants to be a champion and wants to be a race winner and loved working for Hendrick Motorsports. He's done a lot of growing and maturing. We got him when he was so young, I guess that's why he left Roush, the age moved to 18 and he wasn't there yet. He's done a lot of growing. Unfortunately, he's done all of his growing in front of camera and national media and has made some mistakes, but we're all seeing that progress.

"I couldn't be more proud of him as a teammate and as a friend. He's come a long way and I think he's going to be a threat to deal with as he goes to Gibbs and goes further in his career."

MATT KENSETH SAID HE THINKS THAT YOU AND JEFF GORDON ARE MORE FRIENDS THAN YOU ARE TEAMMATES. IS THAT TRUE? "I head that and I was thinking about it. I'm not sure how to think about that. I would probably agree with that, to be honest with you. We've been great teammates. But through all of that, we know that when we go to the track we are independently working on our own goals and achievements, and there is a way that we interact at the track and take care of business. But outside of that, we've been great friends. He stood up at my wedding. We've been on great vacations together with our wives. There has been a great friendship there that has been there through all the years."

THERE WAS NEWS THIS WEEK THAT YOU AND JEFF GORDON AND CASEY MEARS CONTRIBUTED TO MAYOR GUILIANI'S POLITICAL CAMPAIGN. IS IT A DELICATE SITUATION WITH YOUR FANS AND SPONSORS WHEN YOU CHOOSE TO MAKE A CONTRIBUTION LIKE THAT CREATES THE PERCEPTION THAT YOU'RE NOT POLITICALLY NEUTRAL?" "Yeah, it is a tightrope that you walk. From my experience in having a place in Manhattan and seeing what Guiliani has done in Manhattan and the way he handled 9/11 and the things he's done for the city, I've been very impressed with him. And I've certainly have shown some support to his camp and in his direction. So it is a touchy situation, but we all have opinions and we all have views and who I choose and who I'd support and think is right for the job might not be someone else's opinion. I think when you're in a public figure's situation, your opinions are used in broadcast so it's delicate and people are usually reserved about that. But what I saw, and lived through, and experienced in Manhattan, he does great things."

SINCE YOU AND JEFF GORDON ARE SUCH GOOD FRIENDS, HOW OFTEN DO YOU TALK ABOUT THAT LAST LAP AT MARTINSVILLE IN THE SPRING OF THIS YEAR? "We talked about it Sunday night or Monday after the race and since then, that's kind of it. And even at Talladega, where he passed me on the last lap, we talked about it and it's really from a perspective of - this sounds odd - but it's from a perspective of what he saw and what led him to getting that pass. And then from the Martinsville race, it was my perspective of defending the position and the win. Of course we want to make sure that each other understands we were just racing and doing our job. So, in our situation, when you're the victor, you make sure the other guy understands that you were playing fairly of sorts, and then that's easy to recognize and see as we're both tough competitors and recognize that."

IF IT HAPPENED AGAIN THIS WEEKEND, WOULD YOU CHANGE ANYTHING? "If I was in the lead, or behind him?"

THE SAME WAY "If it was the same way, I wouldn't change a thing. It worked out well for me last time. I won the race. And even if I am in second, there are certain things you can do on a short track to try to get position. Jeff used everything that he could without crossing the line when we were here in the spring and if I'm in second and he's leading or if (Tony) Stewart is leading, or anybody, I need those points and I want the victory. I need to do everything that you're entitled to do on a short track."

DO YOU THINK YOU GUYS WOULD BE A LITTLE MORE SENSITIVE TO EACH OTHER BASED ON THE CURRENT SITUATION OF THE POINT STANDINGS? "Our intensity doesn't really change because we've been dealing with racing for wins and racing for championships since I've been a part of Hendrick Motorsports. So that intensity level, I don't see in my own eyes. It doesn't change by who I race. Everybody has a position. Everybody has a points value out there. Of course I want to outscore and be ahead of the No. 07 (Bowyer) the No. 24 (Gordon) and the No. 20 (Stewart) and probably try a little harder to get by those guys if that opportunity is there, but I don't change - not in the Chase or whatever part of the season it is - I need those points and I need to pass that guy."

FROM WHAT WE SAW IN THE SPRING HERE, HAVE YOU LEARNED ANYTHING ABOUT WHAT IT'S GOING TO TAKE TO MOVE OR PASS SOMEBODY IN TWO EQUAL CARS? "Yeah, we're a lot smarter now. We've all had a lot more experience with the bumpers and with passing people. I think it was so new into the CoT phase that we were all sitting back on our heels saying wow, I can't believe that you can get away with that; but it doesn't take long for us to figure it out. We know how to move each other now."

ON THE INTENSITY LEVEL OF HOW HE RACES OTHER PEOPLE DURING THE CHASE RACES COMPARED TO THE REST OF THE YEAR "It really does change. I think it changes more depending on your situation. Going into Richmond, I think there were 14 teams or whatever it was who were really concerned. Then it drops down to ten. And now I think you have six guys who are really focused and queued up and stressing about a championship. Some may argue it's probably less than that but it just depends on your situation. Our sport really gets fired up for the Daytona 500 and for the Brickyard and then you get close to the Chase. And then in the Chase it starts to thin out. I think guys outside the Chase are looking at next year and what they can do to build the teams and trying maybe new stuff set-up wise on the CoT since that's what we'll be running next year. So it really depends on where you are in the mix."

MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE VERY GOOD FRIENDS ACTUALLY COMPETE HARDER AGAINST THEIR FRIENDS THAN THEY DO WITH GENERAL COMPETITORS. IS THAT TRUE WITH YOU AND JEFF GORDON? "I do lay it all out there against him, but I don't feel that it's because of a friendship situation. It's basically because he's good. He's arguably the best to sit in a stock car. Statistics show that. So I know, especially in this stretch for a championship, that if I'm going to beat him, I've got to bring my A-game. And that goes for the No. 07 and the No. 20, the guys who I think are really still in this points battle. So our friendship makes things tough from time to time, considering I'm worried about teammate situations or friendships as you get into that cutthroat, decision-making process at the end of a race. But the intensity and all the things that go into it, I've got to bring my A-game and be that intense just because he's Jeff Gordon."

AT THE END OF SUNDAY'S RACE, IF YOU'RE RUNNING SECOND AND GORDON IS FIRST, AND YOU TURN HIM, ARE YOU IN A NO-WIN SITUATION BECAUSE HE DIDN'T TURN YOU IN THE SPRING? HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THAT? 'No, but think you (laughter). When I'm in the car racing and get to those closing laps, my style and the way I race people comes into play more than anything and I wouldn't want to turn around Casey Mears if he was leading or Jeff Gordon or whoever it may be that might be in front of me. I'd get in there and use the bumper and try to move someone but my intentions, and I think if it did happen, then it would be a big problem, but I don't think I would put myself in a position to turn Jeff around. So I haven't thought about it. I'm sure Mr. Hendrick would be thinking about it - sitting there on the pit box watching it. But I just don't think that either one of our styles lend to dumping people. If it did happen, hopefully everyone would understand that it would be accidental (laughs)."

WHICH IS THE BETTER TEAM, THE NO. 48 OR THE NO. 24? AND WHY? 'I have to choose my team, that's just the obvious. But it's tough because in the shop, the only ones on the weekdays that are separated outside of the 24/48 would be the crew chiefs. And the engineers, the crew members, everyone else is one unit. They work on anything and everything for the 24/48. When we get to the track, you break into your 15 guys. I feel that my guys are the best. And they've given me everything that they have in their heart and soul to put me in this position to win a championship. I respect them and care for them and hope to deliver my part of the bargain and give back to them. And I would anticipate that Jeff would say the same thing. But I have a special spot in my heart for my guys."

FOR OTHER GUYS IN THE CHASE, IS IT MORE DAUNTING FOR THEM TO BE RUNNING BEHIND THE NO. 24 AND THE NO. 48 SIMPLY BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE?

"At times I've experienced looking ahead in the points and seeing a Matt Kenseth or a Tony Stewart and thinking I'm so far out of this deal, there is no way. And I guess Tony (Stewart) wasn't in the Chase last year but we had Jeff (Gordon) and Jeff Burton was on fire. And you see these teams that are linking it together and you think you're in trouble; it's not going to happen. But then the unexpected takes place and somebody is caught up in a wreck or somebody cuts a tire down by running over something and all of a sudden, boom, you're right back in it. I'm not putting my guard down to any of the guys that are fourth, fifth, or sixth in points because anything can happen. You can lose 150 points in a heartbeat, in one race. You cut a tire, hit the wall, and finish 42nd and it's over. It's not over, but those guys are on top of you now. At times, I do believe that and I fall into the trap that you expect the top guys to finish in a certain spot and gain so many points but the n the unexpected typically shows up at some point. So, barring the unexpected, I think these guys still have a shot."

AT ATLANTA, YOU WERE ON THE LOSING END OF A PHOTO FINISH AND AT CHARLOTTE YOU WERE ON THE WINNING END OF A PHOTO FINISH. FOR A 500-MILE RACE, HOW DO YOU POSITION YOURSELF TO HAVE A SHOT AT THE WIN IN THE END? WHEN IT COMES DOWN TO THE LAST LAP, WHAT DO YOU DO? DO YOU GO DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OR TO THE TOP OR WHAT? "Well, you're trying to be in the top five after the last pit stop. That's a goal I typically have. It would be great if you're leading and defending. But if you run in the top five, there is enough that goes on in the last pit stop. You can pick up some spots on pit road; things happen on track that you really have a shot at it. On the last lap, if you're chasing someone, you're going where they're not. And that really dictates your move and what you do. And if you can break the plane of the guy you are chasing and get to his quarter- panel off of Turn 4, the way we side-draft each other even on the 1.5-mile tracks, you will slow him down and you will beat him to the start/finish line. It's just the cycle of it. If the start/finish line was down another couple hundred yards, that inside car would side-draft you and cycle back by and he would win. But the way the tracks are laid out, if you can break the plane of his bumper off of Turn 4, you will win the race. I've had a cou ple work out that way for me, and I also lost one to Carl (Edwards) that way.

"I see a lot of guys now that if it comes down to the last lap, they know how that cycle works through, and they'll give the bottom to the guy that's chasing them. Go ahead and take it. Not a problem. And you can even let the guy get all the way up alongside of you because the side draft will work and get you back to the start/finish ahead of him."

SO IF YOU'RE LEADING, IS IT BETTER TO RUN HIGH? "In a lot of cases the high lane is the place to be. And I see from Busch and Truck racing and obviously the Cup series, guys leading the last lap just give the bottom up.

"Just go ahead and take it because they know that will work. So I think that is kind of common practice now. If you're on a short track, if you're here, it's not going to work for you and the guy is going to motor right on by. But it depends on the track."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports