By Team Chevy
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S SUMMER SALUTE CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed his hospital visit to the Spediatrics ward at Halifax Medical Center, his first Cup win, blocking on the race track and much more.
EARLIER TODAY YOU SPENT SOME TIME OVER AT THE BETTY JANE FRANCE SPEDIATRICS WARD AT HALIFAX MEDICAL CENTER, TALK ABOUT THAT A LITTLE BIT: “Yeah, we did. We went over and saw some of the kids and I see ice cream floating around in the room here now. Passed out some ice cream. Our friends from Blue Bunny, Mike Wells, President and CEO of Blue Bunny, I’m sure he’s happy to see everybody enjoying his ice cream, but we have a great partnership going on through the summer months. We had a great time over there today and passed out a lot of ice cream to the children and just nice to go over there and put a smile on the kids faces and the families as well. We built some little wooden cars for the kids to play with and really impressed with the Spediatrics wing over there. It’s a great thing and my hats off to Betty Jane for what she has done there and was very nice to go over and spend a little time today. I might also add that Mike and Blue Bunny donated $5,000 and so did the Jimmie Johnson Foundation.”
A LOT OF THE CHARITY WORK YOU HAVE BEEN DOING IS FOCUSED ON VARIOUS CHILDREN’S ISSUES AND SCHOOLS AND THINGS LIKE THAT, WHY IS THAT AND IT WASN’T UNTIL AFTE RTHE BIRTH OF YOUR DAUGHTER THAT YOU STARTED THAT, WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE CHILDREN’S INITIATIVES THAT HAS SPURRED YOU? “We’ve been heavily focused on children-based needs through our own individual charity work that we both did and then when the Jimmie Johnson Foundation came along we started with the bowling alley. It really boils down to opportunities and the things we are presented with. There are many, many great causes out there but we felt like we could make a bigger impact and affect more kids and more families through the educational grants program with the Toolbox for Education program that we are a part of than the other opportunities that were on the table at that point and time. Lowe’s is also a partner and they were on the Habitat build and also through the Toolbox for Education program so it really fits together and also has a lot of reach . We feel we can do the most good right now with these programs.”
ON HIS FIRST SPRINT CUP WIN: “We had a good day going. I think the No. 97 with Kurt (Busch) in it was the dominate car and we had some type of two-tire strategy or something that got us out ahead of him on the last pit stop. I remember coming to grips with the fact that there was a good chance that we were going to win and the nerves of that running through my veins then seeing the No. 97 car edge up on me and get closer and closer.
“I finally kind of stabilized things and managed to gap with a few laps to go but just to feel the weight of the world and the pressure of my career and the pressure of everything I had been to that point and knowing what it could possibly mean for my job and my future, to have all of that weight on my shoulders and almost hyperventilating in the car, just so anxious and nervous and worried and all the things that go on in that moment. It was just a huge sense of relief when it was over and was happy to clearly win.
“One fond memory I have is as I was doing my donuts on the frontstretch just before the engine grenaded I heard a great friend Randy Dorton tell me don’t you blow that thing up and as soon as he quit saying that statement, the rods started flying out of the block. I got on the radio and said ooops too late and he was like yeah, yeah I see that bring it in here. I then brought it around and I don’t think it was running when I pulled into victory lane. They did have to bring in the track crew and throw down the kitty litter and sweep up all the oil that was running out from the bottom of the engine in victory lane so we could take the photos.”
WHEN THE CHASE CAME OUT AND THE STRESS OF THAT CHASE AT THAT TIME A LOT OF YOUNG DRIVERS COMING UP AND THERE WAS TALK OF THE NEW RETIREMENT AGE WAS GOING TO BE 38 TO 40, THAT HASN’T HAPPENED, CAN YOU COMMENT ON THAT? “I don’t know what my generation and generations behind mine, what that mark is going to be. We see guys, Rusty (Wallace), Mark (Martin) – you know Mark has threatened to retire a few times now and can’t get away, I don’t have a clue what Jeff (Gordon) is thinking and where he is at, you know he’s pretty young if you look at how many years he’s been driving he just got in so early, so I really don’t know if there is that number out there. I think we all look at ourselves in the mirror in the morning and know if we are giving all that we can and if we are still committed and our heart is in it. I just don’t think it’s very predictable. That can change for some guys that are very young in age and they want to move on like a Ned Jarrett, you know it’s time to go I’ve done this or it can last much longer. I know back when I was getting started the demands for the driver and the pressure and all of that in was greater then and might lead to a shorter career, but I don’t know. I don’t necessarily see it right now. Bobby Labonte is still out there running hard, Jeff as I mentioned, I’m trying to think of some guys that are kind of the group ahead of me and they’re still out there plugging along doing just fine.”
LOOKING BACK TO TALLADEGA DO YOU GO INTO TOMORROW NIGHT’S RACE WITH ANY SENSE OF DEBT TO THE NO. 88 CAR? “The No. 48 and the No. 88, if those two cars are on the track we are working together. Regardless of the finish at Talladega, our shop and what we’ve decided to do with plate-racing and with the two-car draft, and it’s not just us look around and the Childress cars, Roush cars they go out of their way to work with one another and that’s the same situation that we have. The way things worked out in Talladega, the guy being pushed was in the cat bird’s seat. We saw at Talladega in years past, I think Kevin Harvick pulled out from pushing McMurray and got by and was in the cat bird’s seat there, so long story short I don’t know which position you want to be in but I do know that the No. 88 and No. 48 are committed to working together all race long. We don’t know how it’s going to unfold coming to the checkered but our plan is to have those two nose to tail and going like crazy for the win. Yes, we are tied to one another and yes I certainly do respect and understand that if he wasn’t pushing me I wouldn’t have won the race in Talladega but you can’t sit there and create things so there is a level of – I don’t know if its debt – but I do recognize he pushed me to the win so if I’m pushing him and he wins I’m going to smile and be there in victory lane and shake his hand. Then he owes me some Schlitz because I bought him Schlitz for pushing me.”
IS IT A GOOD THING THAT THE MEDIA DOESN’T TRY TO PUT YOU UNDER A MICROSCOPE AS FAR AS YOUR PERSONAL LIFE GOES, IS THAT LESS PRESSURE AND LESS THINGS YOU DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT? “In today’s world with all the social media we have if you’re any public figure you’re held to a higher level of standards, scrutiny, whatever it is than 10 or 15 years ago. Probably even five years ago when you look at how fast social media has come on board, how strong it is. I think a lot of that is due to, if you look at the NFL and NASCAR we are the highest attended sports out there but we’re short in some other areas and in that popularity and face, name recognition that some of the other athletes have we want that desperately. NASCAR is working very hard to raise it, the level of the sport. Driver’s are working hard to put their faces out there so it is one of those things you have to be careful what you wish for because the more recognizable you are, I’m sure it might lead to a bigger paycheck and more opportunities but there is baggage that comes with that and that’s just a balancing act. You’ve got to deal with it, that’s just what it boils down to.”
I ASSUME YOU SAW WHAT HAPPENED WITH STEWART AND VICKERS LAST WEEK: “Yes.”
STEWART WAS IN HERE TODAY ANDSAID I DON’T CARE, I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE, GUYS ARE IDIOTS, IF I MISS THE CHASE BECAUSE OF IT SO BE IT, I’M NOT GOING TO PUT UP WITH IT ANY MORE, IS IT THAT EXTREME OUT THERE? “It is at some tracks, especially on the road courses. It’s so easy to block and defend. I’m not saying the No. 83 was wrong, I think there were some circumstances he was telling me about what went on in front of him, but when you’re trying to pass someone all a guy has to do is pull down and protect the inside line and that gets really frustrating after a while and Tony clearly had enough and did what he did. You can go to 1.5-mile tracks where you can’t really have that type of contact. If a guy chooses to he can just drive looking in the mirror and block you and put you in a dirty air situation and completely take away any momentum you had to pass him and its happening all the time.
“So the frustration level is growing inside the cars. It is more difficult to pass. If its aero, cars are equal and there is a lot of different opinions floating around that you guys hear from drivers throwing at you all the times, but whatever it is its just more difficult to pass now than it’s ever been. If a guy can control you progress by just looking in the mirror a little bit and running you around and you see it, it raises the temper big time.”
THE TWO-CAR TANDEMS, ARE WE STUCK WITH THAT FOR A WHILE OR HAS NASCAR HAD THE OPPORTUNITY SAY WITH THE 2013 DESIGN CHANGES TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT AND CHANGE THE STYLE OF RACING THAT WE’VE GOT ONPLATE TRACKS NOW? “I’m not sure what their plan is. We’ve worked hard to have a common car and a car that you can take to a lot of places and I think they’re avoiding making a change to the nose and bumper interface because they don’t want to go against what they worked so hard to create. I think we’ve won the Shootout or the Duel, with the short track car down here one time. Maybe we didn’t win but we ran really well. Long story short, I don’t think they’re going to address that to be honest with you. I think its goes against what they’re trying to do and we’re not turning each other around, the interface works really well and so well we can push. I think in a few years once the track gives up the grip level that it has now, we will naturally separate on the tracks and it will be more just in the turns, I’m sorry just on the straights and you won’t be able to do it in the turns. I don’t see anything changing until there is reason to lift and I don’t think they want to send us out in cars that don’t meet well and create accidents. So I think we are going to see this for a while.”
WILL TALLADEGA GO THROUGH THE SAME EVOLUTION? “It will but I think at a slower pace. The radius of the corners and the transitions in and off are just extremely forgiving so you get away with a lot for at Dega than you do here.”
HERE AT THE 500 IN FEBRUARY, DAVID RAGAN IS LEADING THIS THING WITH TWO LAPS TO GO AND EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT HAPPENED AS FAR AS HIS MOVE, CAN YOU FEEL FOR A GUY LIKE THAT AND CAN YOU RELATE TO IT AT SOME POINT IN YOUR CAREER? “Yeah, making mistakes there’s nothing worse and especially late in the race and I can only imagine for the Daytona 500. I have not that I can think of messed up the 500 in that way or anything like that but I can remember by first Coca-Cola 600 and dominated the race, led like 80 or 90 percent of the event and come in for the last pit stop and I slide through the pits and ruin the pit stop and we finished third or fourth. That stung for a long time. I do feel for David.
“When you win the Daytona 500 you pick up the title and its one of just a few tracks we race at if you win there you are forever known as the Daytona 500 winner, or the Brickyard 400 winner. It can make a career for some guys. David is still young but there was a big opportunity for him and I hate it for him that it didn’t happen. If you look at where the fortune then flips over to the youngest guy to win the Daytona 500 in Trevor Bayne so you just never know what is going to happen.”
THERE WAS A TIME WHEN BUMP DRAFTING WAS NOT ALLOWED IN THE TURNS, NOW I’M ASSUMING BECAUSE ITS JUST SO EASY IT WOULD BE RIDICLOUS NOT TO ALLOW IT IN THE TURNS, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHERE WE GO FROM HERE? “I don’t know where to start. There is so much grip on the track that we are comfortable pushing each other through the turns like we are now. You are right in the fact that we left Talladega I guess last fall and we all knew we had maybe a lap or lap and half in our back pockets that we could push for and we were all trying to set that up. It probably even goes further back to when Carl had his big wreck, what was that maybe the fall race before or spring race, so we knew we had the ability to push, we just didn’t know how long. Then in Talladega last year, the fall race unfolded in a manor where all the teams had saw the same thing and went to work on how figuring out we can push longer.
“We just saw it evolving and heading that way. Then rules were put in place and we were still able to figure out how to keep the cars connected and keep the cars cool. So it’s been a fun process to try to learn it and I think there may be another level to it in trying the four-car situation that you talked about. We watched the Childress cars try it in practice yesterday.
“The problem with the four, its real tough to stay together in two and with four what we’ve seen in the past is that any car in the middle – the second guy or the third guy – when your car is held on either end you lose control of it and we see on the back straightaway a lot of times when the bump draft was taking placed the guy in the middle after some contact was made and the energy was transferring through the cars the guy in the center would just spit out and just a single car would spin down to the infield. That’s the problem we have with trying to link four together. At some point the car is going to become unweighted in the front and rear and you’re not going to have control of it and who knows where you are going to end up. The closer you can run together, if two packs and another two ran real close that will change the air enough to make those four cars more efficient and maybe a little bit faster but what we’re seeing is the car is so big in general, it’s such a turbulent air situation behind a two-car or four-car group that you can’t outrun the guys behind you. You are punching such a big hole in the air that they still suck up. Not saying there’s not another chapter in this, a lot of teams are experimenting and trying to find it, we could see something new in the race and if not here, Talladega when we go back there could be something new. It’s an easier track, wider, transitions are more forgiving and we could maybe pull something off there.”
WHAT’S THE WEIRDEST THING YOU’VE EVER BEEN ASKED TO AUTORAPH AND IS THERE ANYTHING YOU EVER REFUSED TO SIGN? “Yeah, body parts are always interesting to be offered up to be signed. I have to say there was a guy in Las Vegas, I was standing at the helicopter pad getting ready to leave and he had a No. 48 car tattooed on his collar bone area of his neck and he had me sign underneath it so he could go to the tattoo shop and have that inked on after. The tattoos get me. I’ve seen a handful of them; thoroughly truly appreciate the passion they have for me as a driver, that’s forever. It just blows me away that people will have a tattoo put on them and then have me sign it and they will go have that inked on too. That’s kind of been the wilder of the things. There have been female body parts offered up over the years and certainly decline on those. Some of the single guys out there can take advantage of that.”