Jimmie Johnson, driver of the no. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo held a Q&A session with the media prior to Friday's practice session. JIMMIE JOHNSON: HOW DO YOU COMPARE THE NO. 8 TEAM OF DALE EARNHARDT JR. AND YOUR TEAM? ARE YOU BOTH...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the no. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo held a Q&A session with the media prior to Friday's practice session.
HOW DO YOU COMPARE THE NO. 8 TEAM OF DALE EARNHARDT JR. AND YOUR TEAM? ARE YOU BOTH HAVING SPECIAL YEARS?
"Every driver and every team has to have a special year in order to win a championship. It comes with the territory. Do I think it's their year? They've been very strong. Do I hope it's my year? Absolutely. I hope that the way we've been performing shows how we're going to be in the final 10 races. It's a whole new environment with the way the points shape up. I wouldn't say it's been like a Matt Kenseth year for them so far. They've had a lot of good fortune come their way. But Matt, last year, was fast with the misfortune that turned into good luck for him. The No. 8 has had a strong year. But now I'm rambling about things when it's really a little too early to tell. As soon as we get a good read on it, everything starts over and you have a five-point race again. It gives us a lot of things to talk about. You can work out a strategy but by race 27, it's a whole new race. You just start over."
IS THE POINT SYSTEM FAIR?
"From a competition side, I don't think the new rules really show who the true champion is or will be. It may work out that way and a good car will always rise to the occasion. But I think giving somebody that would have been 12th or 15th in points a shot at winning the championship if they don't have a DNF in the final 10 (races), that isn't proving a true champion in my opinion. This is 36 races; 500- mile races. It's about endurance. It's about showing consistency and I think our point system should reflect that. The point system is for entertainment. It isn't based on the pure aspect of being a champion in our sport the way it's been for the past for the last 50 years or whatever it's been. It's TV-based, not competition-based. Being a competitor, I don't like that. I don't think it's fair if Dale Jr. has a 300-point lead and he goes into race 27 and it's (only) a five-point lead.
"The same goes for me. It isn't fair to me to have that washed away and have to start over with a five-point separation. I don't think that's right."
WOULD YOU HAVE MADE ANY CHANGES IN THE POINT SYSTEM?
"I think the point system did need to reward the winner of an event and separate him more. Finishing second and leading the most laps and then tying the winner for the number of points, I don't think that's right. They made a good adjustment to separate first and second. I would have fine-tuned maybe the top three or top five in points to make a bigger gap to make people race harder for each position toward the front. But I wouldn't have restructured everything like it is if I were King for a Day."
SUNDAY IS FATHER'S DAY. WHAT HAS IT MEANT TO YOU TO HAVE YOUR DAD SO CLOSE BY?
"It's been an amazing ride. I realize now the sacrifices my family made to let my brothers and me go have fun. My dad wasn't gambling on his children succeeding and steering his future. He did it solely because he knew it was fun and he wanted his kids to have a good time and loved his family. I'm so appreciative of everything he sacrificed and all the money he's spent to take my brothers and me all over the place to go racing. Our house wasn't the nicest house and we didn't have the nicest cars. But we had the cool new motorcycles and toys to ride and learn on. I'm happy all those sacrifices he made has turned into a career for me and I'm able to give back to my family. I have my dad close by every week and I've shared some special moments with him in Victory Lane. It's been a neat experience."
WHEN YOU SEE A SEA OF RED IN THE GRANDSTANDS, IS ANYBODY WHO GETS IN A POINTS RACE WITH DALE JR. ALMOST NATURALLY GOING TO BE LIKE THE OTHER GUY? LIKE PEARSON WAS TO PETTY?
"There's always going to be that aspect in our sport. I think you hit on it with Pearson and Petty and even probably Earnhardt Sr. when he was competing for his championships. But it's going to be there.
"Would I like to be the guy looking up and seeing blue everywhere? Sure. But it's not that way. You see a sea of red. It's my job to go out and win races and create my fan base and show them by performance that this No. 48 team and Jimmie Johnson is something to cheer for. With our sport it's the familiar face and the popularity of that person. I think it's fair. You need to recognize the stars. But I think there are a lot of stars in our sport aside from Dale Jr. that deserve recognition as well. I think our sport is grasping that. There are a lot of neat stories in this garage area."
AS CRAZY AS IT'S GOING TO BE AT THE YEAR-END CHASE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP, IS THE NO. 48 TEAM PREPARED FOR THE PRESSURE?
"We've had the No. 24 team as a model. Our two teams work together side-by-side. When our guys come in on Monday morning, they're wearing a Lowe's shirt and a DuPont shirt and they work on both cars. From the first day, our team has had that championship mindset. We didn't have to learn that or develop that. We've had that presence around us. From our first race, we had championship on the brain. We let things roll off our shoulders quickly and move onto the next race if we've had a bad one. And that helps. I think we're good with dealing with pressure. I think pressure motivates them in a weird way."
ON ALL THE RECENT RULE CHANGES
"There are a lot of things that are different now and a lot of rules and more gray areas to work within. After Dover and the problems we had, I commend NASCAR on the changes they made and I agree with every change that they made. They made things go quicker under caution and speed that process up. What happened in Pocono was just human error. It was a mistake. Our sport has that and will continue to have that. The poor flagman has probably been roasted to death over this deal, but it was just a mistake on his part. Where I'm frustrated is where NASCAR knows they made a mistake and they didn't come back and correct it or fix it. There are four of you who did the right thing and 39 of you that didn't. That's the part that frustrates me. But you're going to have human error.
"What happened last week can happen any week. But I think they're making the right steps to fix the problems we had at Dover."
IF YOU COULD MAKE ONE CHANGE TO THE POINT SYSTEM, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
"I would put the overall points chase back to the way it was last year. If we ran 10 races per year in a NEXTEL All-Star event format, this point system would make sense. It would be great. But when you have millions and millions of dollars in it plus the hard work that goes into it, 500-mile races, and 36 races a year, your point system needs to reflect what your series is about and that's consistency. I don't think our system reflects that right now from the competition side. From the entertainment side, you couldn't ask for anything better. From my standpoint in the final 10, I can't have a DNF. I've got to worry about other teammates who are helping their teammates out. There are so many different things that change the competition. It's not about racing and it's not about being a champion. It's about jockeying for position and not upsetting anyone and looking out for teammates and conserving and looking for top fives instead of wins. So it's really going to change the dynamics of our championship battle. I think a true champion is the team who shows all year long when they can do and what the team is capable of."
CAN YOU LOOK AT IT LIKE A PLAYOFF LIKE OTHER SPORTS?
"In any other playoff system, you work down to the best two teams. Right now, you take the top 10 or 15 based on the spread and you give the 15th place football team a shot at winning the championship if they are lucky. And that's not fair. I don't think that's right."