Michigan: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed road course racing at Sonoma, double-file restarts, the town hall meeting, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the importance of manufacturer involvement in NASCAR and more. FOR...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed road course racing at Sonoma, double-file restarts, the town hall meeting, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the importance of manufacturer involvement in NASCAR and more.

FOR THIS RACE, AS THE CAR IS EVOLVING, CAN YOU USE ANY OF YOUR NOTES FROM LAST YEAR? "For us, we've kind of moved on to some new ideas. I'm not saying that what we used last year wouldn't work, but you just can't sit still. You're always trying new things. I don't think it's a ton different, but we certainly have moved on to some new ideas. I would expect another great race, especially from the drivers' standpoint. This is one of the tracks that we all enjoy coming to and really think we can put on a good show."

WITHOUT THE PIT INCIDENT AT POCONO, WOULD YOU HAVE BEEN IN POSITION TO WIN THAT RACE? "I think that when we went back to green, I drove up to third or fourth. So I think we got right back in the middle of it. We lost the handling at the end of the race and were just way too loose. And then I was racing Carl (Edwards) for second and the last lap ran out of gas and ended up seventh. I think we showed last weekend that we could come through traffic that I don't think many cars did. The No. 14 (Tony Stewart) was really the only other one that could. So I think we're awfully warm right now. The team is working really well. Our shops are awesome. The pit road thing hurt us but hopefully we can get that addressed and just have there be more noticeable flagmen, stoplights, and all those types of things in consistency from track to track because at 170 trying to hit pit road and there's a small red light off to the left side it's tough to see and it certainly caught us and got us in trouble. But we recovered from it. I felt really well and unfortunately just lost the balance at the end of the race."

SO YOU AND CHAD KNAUS CONTINUE TO HIT YOUR STRIDE EARLY IN THE SEASON, IS THAT RIGHT? ARE YOU A LITTLE AHEAD OF YOUR NORMAL SCHEDULE? "I think we're doing great. I really do. I think that the new tire we've had at a lot of the tracks, we're still catching a little bit on that. The first time we were on a tire from last year was at Dover and it showed that we had last year's tire really well understood. So I think we're understanding where we can be better and we're addressing that and doing a good job of it."

IF GM DOESN'T SUPPORT THE NNS AND TRUCK SERIES ANYMORE, HOW IS THAT GOING TO AFFECT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AT THE CUP LEVEL BECAUSE WE PRESUME THAT'S COMING? "I'm just not sure. I'm not sure what the cutbacks mean and what it's going to mean for the sport. It's obviously a tough time for GM. It's a tough time for our country. And one thing that I do know is that racing sells cars. And hopefully we can continue to do that for Chevrolet and for GM and go out and win on Sunday and sell on Monday. We also bring a huge level of technology on the safety side for the manufacturers. So hopefully all of that stuff is valuable and as everything is restructured, they are able to direct money into marketing and into racing and keep these teams funded. For a lot of these race teams, the manufacturers' involvement is a big, big part of their success."

LAST YEAR, YOU TALKED ABOUT YOUR GOALS OF WINNING AT BRISTOL AND SONOMA, BUT THAT HASN'T WORKED OUT YET. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO TRY TO GET COMFORTABLE AT SONOMA NEXT WEEK? "Man, we have tried really hard, once again. Fortunately for Bristol, we were able to run third and look at the leaders all day long, so I feel like we're getting closer there. And I feel very, very good about what we've done. We tried a different approach with testing this time for Sonoma. We worked in some different areas and hopefully those are the areas we hadn't hit before and we're going to be right. I'm excited about it. I feel very comfortable. I've got a lot laps. And hopefully we're going to be in good shape.

"We're really just working on the comfort. As I've learned in running the Rolex car and the more comfortable you can make the car and the breaking zones, the lap just starts off in that particular corner and gives you the confidence to charge. And I think we're all a little nervous, especially at the first road course race of the year, you don't want to make mistakes. You don't want to screw anything up and you're a little tentative. That tentativeness has also been some of the car and not being comfortable with it and that has led to not having the best race. So I think it boils down to making sure I'm good and comfortable with the car and know exactly what it's going to do. I think we're there. I think we've found some things that will really help."

MIS IS ONE OF THOSE TRACKS WHERE IT COMES DOWN TO FUEL ECONOMY LIKE IT DID IN POCONO. IS THAT A PART OF YOUR STRATEGY THAT YOU CAN WORK TO SAVE FUEL EARLY IN A RUN AND NOT JUST WHEN IT'S A CERTAIN THING? WHAT DO YOU DO? "You have to really commit to saving fuel at the start of the run, the minute you leave pit road on that run. So if the crew chief notices, even two pit stops from the end, that hey we're getting to that point and figure out how to save fuel, you can hopefully learn the run before and see what those savings are and then count on that again for the final run. So, it's always in our minds at places like Pocono, Michigan and the road courses for sure. So hopefully it doesn't come down to that. We all like to race hard and stand on the gas and hopefully it doesn't."

WE SAW TONY STEWART SHUTTING THE MOTOR OFF AND WE SAW JUNIOR RIDING ON THE APRON HERE LAST YEAR. WHAT DO YOU DO TO SAVE GAS EARLY IN THE RUN? "Really, with the in-car cameras that we all have, everything that we do is noticed. I used to shut the car off four or five years ago and I'm sure it happened well before what we did, but my teammates didn't even know about it until I started shutting the car off and they saw it on in car cameras (laughs) and it crossed over there. So, if that engine's running, it's burning gas. Under green flag conditions, everybody saw what Tony was doing last week pushing in the clutch. And a lot of us have been doing that for a long time on straightaways, halfway down it, push in the clutch and get off the gas and hopefully save on your way into the corner. But all of those things only make small, small differences. And it's really tough to have anything different. So you just try not to get to wide-open too fast, try to let off as soon as you can, and if the caution comes out, shut that baby off and coast."

WHEN THE SEASON STARTED, DID YOU CONSIDER TONY STEWART A CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER? "No, when the season started, I thought we needed to check Tony into a mental hospital (laughs) and ask him why he was trying to be a car owner. In today's world and the economy and all that's going on, he has so far exceeded expectations or hopes, and everybody managing that organization. They've done an awesome job."

WHAT SORTS OF CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN IN TONY AS A COMPETITOR AND A PERSON? IT SEEMS LIKE HE HAS MORE EMPATHY FOR THE BIGGER PICTURE THAN HE DID AS JUST A DRIVER "I don't know Tony that well on the car owner's side and kind of the business side of things. I just know him on track. This year, I've seen a heck of a lot more of him on track than I have in a couple of years. I've always had a great relationship with him. We've always raced really well together and he's doing all that plus being sharper and more focused on track than I've seen. Off-track, I just don't know that side of him. But on-track, everything he's doing is extremely calculated, smart, protecting his equipment, but still going forward. He seems really crisp and sharp right now."

KYLE BUSCH JUST DROPPED ANOTHER ONE BY SAYING HE'S DECLARED COMPLETE PEACE WITH DALE JUNIOR AND IT'S THE FANS THAT ARE CRAZY. HE SAID THE PEOPLE THAT DIDN'T LIKE HIS GUITAR INCIDENT WERE PROBABLY PEOPLE WITH THE NO. 88 TATTOOED ON THEIR ARMS. WHAT WOULD YOU FORECAST FOR A GUY WHO CALLS OUT DALE JUNIOR'S FAN BASE? "You know, certain people just like to stir things up. Kyle, I'm sure, at points regrets stirring up the pot, but in other times I think he thrives on it. I see the DW in the making of sorts. I mean we all know Darrell (Waltrip) in one way and Darrell doesn't come off as a guy that bad-mouths a lot of people but if you put a camera in front of him and put him at the race track and he has the nickname jaws. So I kind of see that side of it. I'm sure he's going to regret calling out the fans. By focusing on Junior alone, yeah, he had the fans on him but now he's going to start up a whole new wave and who knows, he's probably loving it the way I see it."


I THINK IT WAS AT BRISTOL "I don't remember. Truthfully, what I have experienced is I have a very loyal fan base that at my fan club events and ways that I access them, and they go out of their way to say nice things about me. They are there for the No. 48. The rest of them? The only reason they write in chat rooms and the only reason they say anything is to slam me. So I don't really watch or read or pay attention to that other stuff. I just pay attention to my fan base and appreciate everything they do for me. But there is a part of me that thinks that Kyle is enjoying this. If I don't like the way some of it's going and I'm afraid that it's going to hurt me, I don't talk. I get quiet. I shut up. I don't say anything. There's a side of me that thinks he's enjoying all this."

ON CONSISTENCY, MAYBE THE WINS ARE GREAT FOR THE TEAM BUT NOT AS IMPORTANT AS THE CHASE. HAVE YOU CREATED A ROAD MAP FOR SOME OF THE OTHER DRIVERS TO FOLLOW ON HOW YOU WIN THAT CHAMPIONSHIP? "I think the road maps are easier to look at when the season's over and you can plot them at that point. But during the season, there are so many variables that the teams are faced with. We all set out to do certain things, but you just never know. It's a tough industry. The tracks are always different. Technology is changing. Tires are different. You're just hanging on. You're just trying to keep the water out of the boat. You're just bailing water the whole time. When the season's over you can look back, but at the time it's hard to recognize it."

IT'S BEEN A YEAR SINCE DALE EARNHARDT JR. WON A RACE. HOW SURPRISED ARE YOU BY THAT? "I'm definitely surprised. There are some great tracks for him that you would expect to see him win at. And on top of that, to see the effort and focus that he's had to be a better race car driver, the guy is trying. Regardless of what people think to say, he is all in doing everything that he can. That's why the thing that's more frustrating for him and the team than anything is that they are doing all they can. Hopefully this shake-up gets things rolling and moving in the right direction and we can get that No. 88 in victory lane."

ON DOUBLE FILE RESTARTS, HOW DID THE INITIAL EXPERIMENT GO? "Everybody enjoyed it. And there was point where we had our pit road penalty and then had to restart at the tail end, I think it would be better if there is a penalty, to start with the lead lap cars and race the guys that you're supposed to. But I'm sure that point can be argued in a variety of different ways. But in general, I really think that the double-file restarts worked out really well. It was nice to race the cars that meant something to you and you weren't spending a lot of time and wasting your tires and the balance of the race car by passing cars that don't relate to you. So I think it went really well. There are a few tracks where the wave by will work. Pocono is one. Michigan is another, where you might be able to take advantage of it. But when we get to the smaller tracks, the wave by, nobody's going to take the chance on it at Bristol or something like that. So, I think it's a good start. I think it's going well."

IS SONOMA REALLY GOING TO BE THE FIRST BIG TEST OF THE DOUBLE-FILE RESTART WHERE THERE'S A BIG ADVANTAGE ON THE INSIDE OR OUTSIDE STARTING SPOT? "I don't necessarily think there. In my opinion, the wave by benefits a lot of cars and if they have a chance to come around and take on tires, that's helpful. You just don't see a lot of cars down a lap on a road course. Maybe here. Maybe Pocono; you see cars that are down a lap where they could take advantage of it. But outside of that, I think that it's so nice to be racing cars that you need to race against. You're not running tenth on the track but restarting 20th and racing ten cars that don't mean anything to the particular race. I think it's a good move. I think it's going to work out well."

ON THE TOWN HALL MEETING "I think last year was an early indication that NASCAR needed to connect more and relate more with the drivers and crew chiefs and owners. And I guess at the time maybe we wouldn't recognize it, but where we are now after the town hall meetings and hopefully where things are going to be going, I hope there are more meetings. And I hope we do have a chance for them to share with us what they know and see and think that's helping and hurting and we can do the same. I think it's important. I think the days of Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr. may have been more of a dictatorship in the ways they spoke to you, but you knew where you were at. And then there was an influence that was involved. I think that's good. I think we all need that. I think we all need an opportunity to talk and communicate and hopefully we get more of that. Last year, I guess was probably an early indication of how much we needed it. And it's nice to see that it's gone forward."

HOW DO YOU DETERMINE IF A TOWN HALL MEETING IS SUCCESSFUL AND IT ACTUALLY MEANS SOMETHING SIX MONTHS GOING FORWARD? "That's a good question. Initially, just being heard and knowing the voices we have and the thoughts we have are being heard means the world to us. There were stages during the build of the CoT where a lot of people felt like their voices weren't heard. And if we can prevent things like that from happening again; it's hard to know exactly what that's going to be and the double-file restart seems like the easy thing to work on as of now, but the next changes we make to this car to hopefully make it better on the 1.5-mile and two-mile tracks, that's going to be a huge, huge step. I don't know how that's going to go. But we're making some progress. Progress is good. And hopefully with the bigger issues that come along, we make the right decisions. And it's easy to say yeah, that worked. But I just don't know. I don't know how much interaction they want. How in-depth they're going to go with the engineers and crew chiefs to understand next steps. That part is still a little unclear, but it's just nice to know they're listening as of now and hopefully this keeps moving forward."

DO YOU ALWAYS FEEL COMFORTABLE WALKING INTO THE NASCAR TRUCK? "I do. I didn't until recently and it really took an effort on my behalf to get to know Mike (Helton) and to know Brian (Pemberton) more. And that's not comfortable. And the other part in me is it took a championship or two for me to feel like I had the right to go in there. So I certainly understand that it's intimidating to walk in that truck. But if you really feel passionate about something and you go there, they're going to listen to you. Maybe the track isn't the best place either, I've realized. I can call Mike on Monday or Pemberton on Monday and we'll talk for an hour. And it's so much easier. So you've just got to apply yourself and figure out how it works."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Kyle Busch