Teammates Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, And Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 88 Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet
The drivers met with media and discussed plans for Watkins Glen next week, expectations about Pocono this weekend, Danica Patrick, testing, and more.
The interview to drive for him was rather tough.
ON JIMMIE JOHNSON DRIVING ONE OF DALE EARNHARDT JR’S CAR AT WATKINS GLEN IN THE NATIONWIDE SERIES
EARNHARDT JR.: “We really didn’t have anything; a driver and a sponsor for the car, and Tony (Eury) Jr. texted me and said that Chad (Knaus) or Jimmie had mentioned to him at one time if there was ever an opportunity or maybe if they were interested in racing at The Glen or driving at The Glen. So I just passed it on to Chad and asked him if he might be interested and got to talking with him and Jimmie and they just decided that they would like to do it. So, we still didn’t have a sponsor. Jimmie has a new console video game coming out called ‘Jimmie Johnson’s Anything With An Engine’ and he’s going to take the opportunity to showcase his new product at that race. So it’s a neat opportunity for him and it’s fun for me to have friends of mine and people that I work with and respect to work with him through my Nationwide program every once in a while. And so it’s going to be fun to see Jimmie driving the car. I guess one of the more mechanical or important parts of the deal, or underlying issues, is that it will give our over the wall guys some practice on pitting the car backwards like they do at the road courses. That was what was more interesting to Chad and Steve (Letarte). It will be three teams for us so it will give us an opportunity to get the HMS guys there and get the Sunday guys some more time in race conditions. So, I’m looking forward to it.”
TALK ABOUT DRIVING THE JR MOTORSPORTS CAR; THAT’S KIND OF A NEAT DEAL FOR YOU
JOHNSON: “Yeah, I’m excited about the opportunity. The interview to drive for him was rather tough. He wanted to see my resume. I think Mike wanted to see my resume in great detail and make sure I was qualified with good references. Once we cleared that hurdle, it was on (laughs). But I’m just looking forward to it. I’ve enjoyed, I think I’ve run a handful of races for him; I don’t know how many exactly, but I enjoy the group of guys. I enjoy being around Tony (Eury Jr); I’m not sure if he’s the crew chief or not. At one point he was, and I’m not sure if he is now. But however it shakes out I’m looking forward to having some fun and doing my best to put the Junior Motorsports car in victory lane. I’m excited to have my video game on the race car. It’s kind of a last-minute add and something we weren’t necessarily prepared for. We’ve got some art and graphics on the car. I wish that my character that’s in the video game could be on our race car, but we just didn’t have a high resolution image to blow up that big to put on the car. So it’ll be a couple of characters on the car and the car will look pretty sharp. I’m looking forward to a good run with it and to getting more seat time on the road courses. I do only have one Nationwide win and I’d love to get some more. So two attempts there, some seat time, and hopefully another trophy.”
YOU ARE AT VERY DIFFERENT LEVELS OF SECURITY IN THE CHASE RIGHT NOW. WHAT ARE YOUR RESPECTIVE STRATEGIES OVER THE NEXT SIX RACES?
JOHNSON: “I kind of feel like it’s the same in some respects. We want to win races and we need to be fast. I think from the No. 88 side, they need to do that to build more security being in the Chase; and from the No. 48 side, it’s what we need to do to be ready for a championship. So it’s really the same objective. To me, looking at the top and how no one has been able to stay consistent and run away. Carl (Edwards) broke away a little bit, but I think this championship is anyone’s championship. The fight for that bubble spot is pretty open too it seems like. I think you’re going to see everybody who is anywhere near the Chase and transferring into it, intends on looking for consistency and some wins.”
EARNHARDT JR.: “Yeah, I think the main difference would be you see people making different choices and different strategies at Indy; we feel like we weren’t in a position to really take a gamble of trying to make it on fuel. So we played a safer strategy. If we were more in Jimmie’s position, we might have taken the gamble and tried to do what some of those guys did to stretch it. That’s mainly the difference, really. Otherwise you’re all out there running as hard as you can run.”
REGARDING EXTRA PRACTICE FOR THE PIT CREW AT THE GLEN IN NNS CAR, WHEN YOU STARTED YOUR NEW PIT CREW APPROACH THIS SEASON, WILL YOU HAVE A SET GROUP OF GUYS WHEN YOU REACH THE CHASE OR IS IT STILL GOING TO BE A FLUID SITUATION?
JOHNSON: “Our goal is to have depth and the option to go to the bench and use someone if someone if having a bad day or is hurt, we’re not in a situation where we’re scrambling. The ideal scenario is each week, the guys earn their starting position going over the wall; and the guy that didn’t is sitting there ready and warmed up and loose and looking for his chance to get in and to do his job. So that’s the overall goal and hopefully we end up there.”
IN JUNE, THE RACE SEEMED TO BE UNEVENTFUL AND THEN JEFF GORDON PULLED AWAY AT THE END. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT AT POCONO THIS WEEKEND?
JOHNSON: “I think you’re going to see more of the same. From the driver’s standpoint, it’s more exciting and challenging with the shifting that’s been allowed back in, or the ability to have some options to shift. I guess it was never really truthfully taken away, but it makes for a better lap for us. There are just certain things you can’t get around. The flat corners don’t necessarily promote side-by-side racing. Turn 1 is your one opportunity for it and if it doesn’t happen, you’ve got to wait 55 or 56 seconds to try it again. There are certain things we just can’t overcome. Track position is going to be very, very important once again. I think you’ll see a very similar race to what we saw in the spring.”
EARNHARDT JR.: “Yeah, I feel the same way. I think the track is a lot of fun to race on, but it’s real challenging to pass. And with the shifting, it has sort of made it more difficult to pass. I think track position is going to be real important trying to be out front or do whatever you’ve got to do to come out of that last pit stop in the top-five somewhere around there.”
THERE IS A LOT OF TALK THIS WEEK ABOUT DANICA PATRICK. ARE YOU ANY CLOSER TO HAVING HER FULL TIME FOR NEXT YEAR?
EARNHARDT JR.: “I have nothing new to report on that. I guess I’m really not in the middle of it, but I guess they’re still moving forward. I don’t know nothing that I didn’t know last week.”
WILL YOU BE ABLE TO STEP-UP YOUR NATIONWIDE PROGRAM EVEN FURTHER AFTER HAVING JIMMIE IN YOUR CAR NEXT WEEK AT THE GLEN?
EARNHARDT JR.: “Well, I just think it’s a good opportunity to raise awareness for our race program to have a five-time champion in our car. And hopefully it makes us a more visible team for potential sponsors down the road and things like that. I know Jimmie will enjoy it. I know that we’ll get some things out of it as a company. Tony (Eury) Junior and Senior will learn things from it. But mainly it’s just to try to keep the company healthy. It’s something you do as a healthy thing for the company. The guys in the shop get excited about it and it builds morale. Everybody in the shop is excited to be putting a car together for somebody like Jimmie. So it’s a pretty neat deal for everybody involved.”
ASSUMING YOU DO PUT THE DEAL TOGETHER WITH DANICA PATRICK FOR NEXT YEAR AND SHE RUNS THE FULL NNS SERIES INCLUDING THE INDY 500, WHEN WOULD YOU SEE HER GOING INTO A CUP RIDE? WHEN DO YOU THINK SHE WOULD BE READY AND WHAT IS THE BEST TRACK FOR HER AND WOULD YOU CONTEMPLATE BRINGING ON MARK MARTIN AS A MENTOR FOR HER IN NASCAR FULL-TIME?
EARNHARDT JR.: “Well, I think that anyone that comes into the sport, anyone, needs two to three years in the Trucks and the Nationwide Series to step into the Cup Series comfortably. Two or three years in the Nationwide Series is a pretty decent amount. And that would be rushing it in my mind. These cars, the Cup cars, are a real challenge; and the travel and the series itself and the schedule and everything is just a real big old pool to jump in right off the bat. But it’s just good for people, any driver, any young guy that comes into this sport, to really take its time. I know once you get that opportunity in front of you, you’re afraid that might be the only opportunity you’ll ever have. But sometimes it’s smarter to gain more experience at the Nationwide level because some guys come in a little early and they blow that opportunity and it turns out to be the only opportunity they ever get. But the other question about Mark is kind of hypothetical. We can’t consider adding to our program without money. And money is tight.”
WOULD HE BE A GOOD FIT FOR IT THOUGH?
EARNHARDT, JR: “Mark’s awesome. He’s mentored me my entire career and I can’t count on both hands how many drivers he’s helped and he continues to help today. He does it just out of his own free will. He just enjoys racing and he enjoys helping people get better. He likes to see his advice go to work and prove people on the race track and he’s been doing that for years.”
DO YOU GUYS HAVE ANY IDEAS ON ANY PLAN OR ANY SUGGESTION TO HELP GET THE BRICKYARD BACK TO WHAT IT USED TO BE FROM A CROWD POINT OF VIEW?
JOHNSON: “I don’t necessarily have ideas. We live in our world of working on the technical side of the cars and trying to race and do our part. I guess marketing is really the key. I would also assume a part of that as well would be the economy and the expense that it costs to go to a race and stay and all that’s involved with that. The economics of it and marketing, you never have too much marketing. I don’t know what the track does on its own right but it does kick off the start of ESPN’s coverage for us. There’s some great coverage that comes from that. More, more and more is all I guess I can think of on short notice.”
EARNHARDT, JR: “I can’t really add much to it. I thought the race was a pretty decent race. From where I was at it was a little difficult to pass. I think what gets people interested in our sport, marketing and all those things are really important, but what really turns people on is what happens on the race track and I wouldn’t even begin to know how to improve on the product that we have on the race track but that’s where it really kind of begins. That’s what gets people excited and gets people to come check it out and any kind of a gimmick that’s off the race track. Everything kind of evolves around what the show is like. I don’t really know even if we could race like hell some races aren’t just going to be as exciting as others, that’s just the way it’s going to be. Sometimes some guy just hits on something and he’s the class of the field and in a way if you’re a purest you will appreciate that and understand what you’ve witnessed at that track and go about your business. I think it cycles too. The economy is a big part of it. We’ve had a pretty rough week this week on Wall Street and that really affects everyone. People are scared to go spend money when they can sit at home and watch it on TV and maybe wait until next year. It’s a difficult decision at these times with how challenging everybody’s pocket books are.”
THE NEWS ABOUT NASHVILLE THIS WEEK, BOTH OF YOU GUYS HAVE HAD SUCCESS AT DOVER AND BRISTOL, TALK ABOUT RACING ON CONCRETE AND DO WE NEED THAT IN THIS SERIES?
JOHNSON: “I think Nashville has been bought out if I’m not mistaken. Is that right?”
NO, DOVER MOTORSPORTS OPTED TO NOT RENEW SANCTIONS FOR 2012, FOR NATIONWIDE AND TRUCKS.
JOHNSON: “Something like that. Concrete is fun to race on. I’ve been to that track, it was a long time ago when I raced there and it was exciting to see a track that size comes along. I think that is a good size race track for Cup, Nationwide and Truck. We’ve been there and tested quite a bit before the testing bans came into play so I enjoyed the facility. Nashville has been a big are for racing especially when you think of short-track racing, the old fairgrounds. That was big-time racing for short-track guys. So I don’t know where the disconnect took place. Sad to see it and hopefully it can turn around. Concrete tracks are fun. I think of concrete and high-banked, that one is not necessarily high-banked but I enjoy racing there.”
EARNHARDT, JR: “I don’t know. I tested there a little bit. I guess if that’s that case we’ll be testing there a whole lot trying to figure out a way to make that stuff transfer to an asphalt track probably. I don’t know. The place is pretty neat. I did love the fairgrounds and wish we still ran Nationwide and Truck Series races there. That’s just an awesome place. Nashville, it’s a great market and I think we ought to be racing there one way or another.”
GIVEN ALL THE THINGS THAT REQUIRE YOUR TIME, CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE NEGOTIATING YOUR OWN CONTRACT AND WHAT THAT PRESSURE LEVEL MUST BE LIKE?
JOHNSON: “After a period of time and being in the sport a little while you understand where things are at. What are the hot spots and how to navigate through a negotiation? It’s a ton of pressure if you’re the front man on it or not, going through it. The difference is sitting at the head seat of the table and communicating what you’re after and what you want. We all live it when those contract years come around. I’ve been very fortunate to not have to live it as intensely as some because I’ve been picked up well before I’ve been close to a free agent and it’s been a pretty easy negotiation with Rick but Junior can speak with his challenges of leaving DEI to come to Hendrick and what he was doing. It’s not fun but I guess at the end of the day you’re pretty much there if you’re the front man or not. Those are decisions that you have to make and you have to instruct your staff, your agent or whatever it what are the hot spots. At the end of the day he probably saved a bunch of money and not having to pay a bunch of agent fees, probably sleeps good knowing that but that’s about it.”
EARNHARDT, JR.: “I really don’t get involved in my negotiations too much because I’m too nice. I had to send my sister in there because she is a shark about it. I just want everybody to be happy and everybody to go on down the road and get back to work and move in the right direction and all that good stuff. I also like to try to keep the relationship between me and Rick less about money and more about being friends and trying to do better on the race track and helping each other out. I kind of leave all that stuff to my sister and I think she’s the one that went to school and has all that experience and knowledge having worked at Action Performance and all those places, she knew a lot about licensing and how all those contract kind of get put together and what people are worth and what’s going on. I really trust her with all that stuff. If I had to jump in there I really don’t know if I could put up the fight. I’m just not that kind of guy and would likely come out with the short end of the stick so I’m probably glad I’ve got her around.”
IN REGARDS TO TESTING AT ROAD ATLANTA AND BRAD KESELOWSKI’S ACCIDENT AT THE TEST, YOU GUYS SHOULD HAVE BEEN TESTING AT WATKINS GLEN ON THE TRACK.
JOHNSON: “I totally agree. I know we’re trying to keep expenses down but here we go to a track we don’t’ race on, on a tire we don’t use in the race, trying to find a way to make it correlate to a track that we run the tire we’ve used. So we’re kind of wasting money in a sense and that’s been my argument all along with the testing ban. Give us a chance to go to a few tracks and be on the right tire because we’re all going to spend the money. We all have some budget set aside to test and develop our cars but let’s use it wisely.”
DID YOU SEE WHAT HAPPENED OR WERE YOU ON THE TRACK WHEN HE HAD HIS ACCIDENT?
JOHNSON: “No, I was standing right there and watched the whole thing. Jumped in a rental car and went down. Actually Junior was there first in his race car, hopped out and went over to see him and kind of reported back to our guys what he had seen. We were in rental cars down there to offer assistance, help, and do whatever we could and then the fire crew showed up and all the things started taking place from there. Saw the whole thing. I just happened to be out of the race car and watched it go by and saw it happen.”
HOW SURPRISED ARE YOU THAT’S HE’S COMPETING THIS WEEKEND?
JOHNSON: “You know I grew up in a world where broken bones were pretty common in motocross and the fact that he doesn’t have any broken bones; I see why he’s back in the car. Even then with broken bones, motocross guys just get it screwed and plated and take off and try it again. So it wouldn’t surprise me if he did have broken bones that he would still try. I could tell he was a bit dazed when he got out of the car. I spoke to him the night after the wreck and he didn’t remember me being down at the race car with him so I think he definitely was dazed. After you go through all the clearance stuff to get approved you go back to racing and the green light is there and you go. I was shocked because his right foot I saw the laceration on it. He wasn’t really complaining about his left foot and when I saw his photos on Twitter I saw how swollen his left foot was I was like man at the track he never mentioned it and never saw any issues. So pretty shocked to see how swollen that left foot was.”
JEFF (GORDON) TURNED 40, DID YOU DO ANYTHING FOR HIM?
JOHNSON: “I harassed him a little through a text and then today is Chad’s (Knaus) 40th and I’ll definitely give him a hard time. It’s also Alan Gustafson’s birthday. In two days we knock out a large percentage of the Hendrick employees.”
HOW HAS JEFF CHANGED THROUGH THE YEARS OFF THE TRACK?
JOHNSON: “When I met him his personal life was changing dramatically. I really didn’t know much when he was married to Brooke. Had a couple of meetings and had arms-length relations there just trying to get in the program. From meeting Ingrid, re-marrying, children the whole experience it’s hard not to change. I think he’s a better person today then he was then. Having a family and starting a family there’s just things that you pick up that make you better and you never give up.”
By: team chevy