Michigan: Johnson - Friday media visit



ON HAVING DALE EARNHARDT, JR. AS A HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS TEAMMATE: "There is still a long time to go before we are able to work together, but, I am excited about the opportunity. I think it is great for Hendrick Motorsports and great for myself. We have a long time before we actually get to work together and get in to the grind of the season and things that you face as teammates, working together and developing cars and stuff. Right now I know it is probably a big burden off of Mr. Hendrick's chest, off of Junior's chest and we will just see how the next few months unfold."

ON ROOM FOR ANOTHER TEAMMATE TO WIN AT THE REGULARITY THAT HE AND JEFF GORDON HAVE BEEN WINNING: "I think so. If you look at Hendrick Motorsports and the victories that come of Hendrick and the fact that we have had multiple cars in the Chase and multiple drivers fighting for the championship, I think if there is a team that can pull it off, it is Hendrick Motorsports."

ON BEING SURPRISED THAT SITUATION WITH JUNIOR JOINING HMS WORKED OUT: "Yes, I really was surprised. With driver contracts and sponsorship contracts in place, I just really didn't think it was possible. We all knew that every team would try and make it happen. There was a lot of give and take going on behind closed doors to get this to take place at Hendrick Motorsports and that's happened and we're looking forward to the future."

DID YOU HAVE ANY INPUT ON THIS DECISION? "No, it was amazing to me how quiet things worked throughout the whole process. Obviously it's a sensitive topic and a lot of attention has been on it. Now looking back I see where some questions came from and what they were adding up to but I wasn't involved in the development of the situation and what took place."

DID YOU SEE ANY PICTURES OF THE FOUR OF YOU AND WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS 'DREAM TEAM'? "No, I haven't seen the shot. On paper we've always had an amazing team and I think that Junior coming on brings in a whole different situation. It's a situation that we're all excited for and welcome and the bottom line is we still have to go racing. We've got to build the best race cars we can every week, we've got to do a good job of building the team around Junior while maintaining what we have with the other great teams and trying to continue to develop them. It will be fun to talk about it for a while - and I know Junior is too, but after speaking to him, he's ready to get to the off-season and start developing the product and developing the cars and the relationships and the team that he needs around him. So we'll just have to work hard until then and it will be a busy off-season."

WHAT KIND OF CONVERSATIONS HAVE YOU HAD WITH HIM? "Just called him and said 'hey, teammate, congrats'. I could hear in his voice how happy he is and excited. He's like a little kid right now. I'm happy for him that he's made a great decision and I obviously support his decision to come to Hendrick Motorsports. It's a fantastic company, great owner, great team and it's all in front of him. The world's in his hands and he can certainly take advantage of it at our company."

WHEN RICK HENDRICK CAME TO YOU GUYS WITH THIS NEWS, HOW DID YOU REACT? "I can't say I was deeply involved with conversations about it. Now looking back I could see where different questions he asked, the thought process he was going through. He was gauging my interest and concerns, if I had any. All I can really say is that I was asked about it and there's a lot that happened behind closed doors because of how sensitive this topic is and how much interest has been. So I just really wasn't there for all of it and I don't have a comment."

WHEN DID YOU FIRST HEAR ABOUT IT? "I first heard about it through text and emails. The day before I was running crazy, like there's no way. It was just a long process developing, I guess, and I was as shocked as everyone else."

WHY DO YOU THINK KYLE BUSCH WAS THE ONE THAT WAS EXPENDABLE? "I really don't know, to be honest with you. I think that over the last year or so there have been initiatives and conflicts that have popped up. I think that Kyle has had some opportunities. I think that he'd been in a long negotiation for a renewal that hasn't seemed like there's been a lot of interest. It just kind of steered things in that direction. And again, I haven't been in direct conversation with Kyle and I haven't spoken to Rick on his mindset on it all but we're shocked to see that Junior was coming and we're shocked to see. I didn't know - obviously if he came somebody had to go. And I didn't know what that situation meant. I've developed a good friendship with Kyle and I certainly wish him the best. I also have a great friendship with Casey (Mears) and if he did come, I didn't know who was going to leave. I was really nervous about that whole situation and I don't think it's made anyone comfortable. I know it's been real hard on Rick but he's got to take care of business."

IS KYLE A GOOD TEAMMATE? "He is. I think he's still learning that role as a young guy but the thing with Kyle - and it's something we do good at Hendrick, we understand each other's driving styles - when Kyle's fast, I know what to look for and have been able to apply that. And he's done the same by learning me. I really think that he's going to be somebody that we're going to have to race week in and week out, wherever he goes. He's going to be somebody hard to beat."

WHAT IMPACT DID YOUR DAD HAVE ON YOUR CAREER? "My dad had a large part to do with my career. And we started all the years racing at the local motorcross tracks around my hometown and nationwide, for that matter. A lot of dedication from my mom and dad both and I'd certainly love to win on Father's Day."

WHAT WOULD MAKE THAT SPECIAL? "I think it's that your father watches - all of our parents watch - and they're proud of what we all do and that we've all been able to make it so far in our sport. I'm sure they sit at home with a huge smile on their face and if I'm lucky enough to get to victory lane to do that on Monday and dedicate it to my father would be special."

HOW LONG DO YOU EXPECT THE DALE EARNHARDT, JR. STORY TO BE THE CENTER OF ATTENTION? "Forever (laughs). That's not going anywhere anytime soon. The next talk will be the sponsor and then I'm sure it's going to be testing and then the '08 season so the buzz will not go away, I'm sure."

ON AMOUNT TIME YOU HAVE TO TALK TO OTHER DRIVERS INCLUDING JUNIOR DURING A SEASON? "I don't know. There's always conversation, there's always something. I think we're doing a really good job of trying to stay focused on performance and focused on the competition side of things. I don't see that changing. I just think it will be something that surrounds the team and we've already had a lot of notoriety and a lot of things going on for championships and race wins. Jeff (Gordon) breaking streaks, that it shouldn't be anything different for us."

WHAT DO YOU THINK JUNIOR WILL BRING TO THE TEAM? "I think maybe at Talladega, after the race is over, our race cars won't get beat up now with all the beer cans flying over the fence. I haven't been in a situation like this with Junior. I've known him for a lot of years, have been friends, but until we have that chance to work together and drive race cars and share sensations of what we're feeling, work with the engineers, I don't know. I'm not sure what to expect. There's obviously a lot that he brings in from a fan base side and sponsorship side and a lot of that comes in and helps Hendrick Motorsports. But the things that I'm really concerned with are how are we going to be his teammates, what type of style does he have that I can work from. Those are the things that I think Jeff, Casey and even Kyle have learned about one another and if Kyle's going fast I know what to look for in my style and the things I need to change. If Jeff is, if Casey is too. I look forward to those challenges and figuring each other out so we can make our team better."

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GRASP THAT? "I think it depends on how different the style is. With Jeff and I, our styles were close enough that it didn't take me long to figure that out. Kyle, using him as an example, the guy doesn't use a lot of brake. You almost look at his brake trace in testing, leave pit road and never touch the brake pedal until he comes back onto pit road. And that is something that is so hard for me to not do. That's been a tough struggle for me but as I've learned it, it applied to certain tracks more."

HAVE YOU CALLED JUNIOR AND CONGRATULATED HIM? "I certainly did. I had a great conversation with him and he sounded like a kid in a candy store. He truly sounded happy and I'm excited for him."

WHAT DID YOU TELL HIM? "I just congratulated him, I said 'congrats, welcome to the team, teammate'. You could hear him giggling and he was excited and I really think the focus for him is to be in the Chase and try to win the championship this year for DEI. Once we get into next season there's a lot to learn and a whole new company for him to learn but I think it's a real exciting opportunity."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT HIS COMMENTS SAYING THAT HE WAS PARTIALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR CAREER? "I got a good kick out of that. I've known him for a lot of years. It goes all the way back to the mid '90s or late '90s when I went to the Daytona 500 with Ron Hornaday and his son Ronnie and Dale and myself. (We were) all in a condo together and I remember us all sitting around about our dreams of all wanting to be race car drivers and when I came into the Busch Series he was a big help to me when I was driving that Kingsford car. I was lost. I didn't know what to do, where to be, especially at the Gateway track because it's such a weird-shaped track. I've gone to him on advice on buying my first motor home. I didn't know what that meant and a driver and expenses for it so we've definitely been close for a lot of years and look forward to it."

DO YOU THINK RICKY HENDRICK HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH THIS AND WHAT DO YOU THINK HE WOULD HAVE THOUGHT TO SEE THIS? "Ricky had a great eye for talent and for kind of a direction that his father didn't look at inside the company. I think Ricky was growing into that position. Ricky would see things and drivers brought to the table. I know that he'd been talking about Junior for a long time. They had a great friendship. Ricky could go to his dad and say things that no one else could and put it in a way that no one else could. Ricky was really developing into that role at Hendrick and with his untimely death, we never got to see what that would turn into. Ricky had a great eye for talent."

DO YOU THINK HE WOULD THINK THAT THIS WAS COOL? "I'm sure he would think that it was cool, knowing Ricky. And one big get-together on the lake to celebrate it."

YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT YOUR FATHER AND RACING? "My parents in general made a lot of sacrifices to get me to the race track week in and week out and race dirt bikes. My dad would take me practicing and take me all around the country racing and riding. His vacations were planned around the motorcross schedule so that we could go race in Oklahoma and Tennessee. So my family just dedicated everything to getting me in position to go racing. I can't thank them enough for that and my dad was a huge, huge part of that."

ON MIS AND THE RACE AHEAD: "I'm excited. This is always a competitive track. We usually run well here. I don't think we have the finishes that we would like but we're usually up front and fighting for wins so I'm excited."

THE LAST CHEVY WIN HERE WAS IN 2001 - WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS? "It's really the last third of the race, everything goes haywire. I remember Jeff leading and dominating last time we were here. I've led and I've run out of gas leading. We'll have a great middle segment of the race and then the wheels fall off and a Roush car or a Ford wins. So we look forward to breaking that streak and hopefully it doesn't happen again."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ron Hornaday Jr.
Teams Hendrick Motorsports