Phoenix II: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed racing at Phoenix, off-road racing in Arizona, crashing and losing points at Texas last week, the emotions of going for a fourth consecutive championship, and more. THE ...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed racing at Phoenix, off-road racing in Arizona, crashing and losing points at Texas last week, the emotions of going for a fourth consecutive championship, and more.

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the infield media center by driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, currently No. 1 in points, Jimmie Johnson.

Jimmie, thoughts about racing here at Phoenix International Raceway?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I look forward to it. This track is a lot of fun to drive with the two different ends of the track. We've been very strong here in the fall race. So I look forward to it.

I just look forward to getting back on the racetrack so that I don't have the memories and thoughts of Texas in my head and have something new to think about and focus on. So eagerly awaiting practice to start, looking forward to it.

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions.

Q. Jimmie, jumping behind, I guess, can you kind of take your mind back to that 2004 race at Homestead. What was going through your mind entering that race and then when Kurt had that issue with the tire, brought the caution, can you sort of go through your mindset and recount it now five years later?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: To me, that year I really felt like was our year. The plane crash obviously took place. We won at Martinsville. We came back to Atlanta and won the following weekend. Guys were having trouble. We made up a lot of points. The Homestead race was going very good for us. We were running well. Kurt has his issues. You know, it just felt like, whatever that feeling is when it comes through your body, and you feel it's going to happen, whatever it may be, I had all those sensations.

Then with a restart or two left, I knew I needed three or four cars between me and Kurt. I look in the mirror, he's two cars back. I'm like, Oh, man, he's coming back. He recovered from his trouble.

On the last restart we had, if I could have gotten by Biffle, I think the way the points worked out, I would have been the champion by a couple points. I ended up finishing second. I think I restarted fourth, got a couple guys, got to second. I guess I was only eight points behind him when it was all said and done.

It was just a weird experience to feel like it was going to happen, the emotions that went with the plane crash, the way we were making up points, the end of the season was going, and then to not get it, you know, to not have it take place was, you know, a great lesson in the end. Certainly not one that was fun to experience, but a good experience.

Q. I know you started on motorbikes, things of that nature. When you're looking at grass-roots racing, California, there's so many good short tracks, do you have any fond memories growing up on any of the neighborhood local tracks when you started racing?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: All of my racing was on the dirt, motocross, off-road trucks and buggies. I've raced a lot here in Arizona. My local track for motorcycles when I was a kid growing up was a track called Barona Oaks.

Then through California, we'd race as far north as a track called Gorman, I guess a little further north of that. I guess we get to Vegas, is where the mini nationals were each year. But there were many tracks along the West Coast that we'd race in, a little bit in Nevada and Arizona.

From a stock car standpoint, the first time I drove a stock car I think was in '97 at the track in Kenley, North Carolina. I drove an ASA car. So I had driven late model nothing. I had a chance to drive Bud Given's No. 4 ASA car that Dave Sensiba was driving. Then Gary St. Amant was leaving to combine forces and drive.

For me, the local short track scene that I experienced was watching my dad. One of his friends from high school had a late model at El Cajon Speedway, a guy named John Dineen, and my dad would work on his car from time to time. I would sit in the grandstands with a clipboard, some stopwatches, eating corn dogs, cotton candy, and watch from time to time. But we weren't there all the time because we had our own racing stuff to do.

Then some of my friends that I went to high school with also raced. Their dads raced. They grew up racing at the speedway. So I'd watch them, you know, on off weekends for ourselves.

But never drove a lap at El Cajon Speedway or any tracks in the area. My first time was at Kenley.

Q. Is El Cajon still there with the Speedway?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. Unfortunately it went away four or five years ago.

Q. Do you know what they put on it?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know. I haven't been back through there to see it. I know it was close to an airport, so I would assume some type of industrial complex.

Q. How do you compare the feeling of this championship to your other three championship runs? I mean, each one has to have a different feel to it. Also the fortune you felt by having a race up on the field when last week happened?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, up until last week, things just seemed to be going really, really well. A lot of positive emotions and thoughts that went with all of that. And then to get through Talladega, I felt like we missed the big one, everything was in great shape. We roll into Texas, lap three we take our lumps there.

So I'm used to leaving Texas with a strong performance, a lot of momentum coming into the Phoenix race with a ton of momentum. I don't really have an emotion for how last week went. I mean, obviously it's a negative one. I'm disappointed to lose the points, but we didn't perform poorly. We didn't have a chance to perform good or bad. So I just kind of have this blank spot about how last week went. Unfortunately, we lost 111 points.

We ran really good here in the spring, overcame a lot of issues to finish well. The fall race has always been good to us. So I'm finding a lot of, you know, positive thoughts, a lot of hope in what we have done here in the past at this track and the way the spring race went. So I can't wait to get on track so I can start thinking about something else. All I can think about is three laps of Texas right now. That's all I've thought about for the whole week. Ready to get that out of the brain.

Q. How does this compare?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's just a big, empty negative feeling right now because last week was just a major letdown, where before I'd leave with a win or very good run with a lot of momentum and positive thoughts.

Q. Did you have an empty feeling when you left Talladega four years ago after Vickers? JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd say in 2006, there was a rollercoaster ride of emotions then. The other two years, there were positive things building as we got to Phoenix. We were able to win here and carry that on into Homestead.

So this year, outside of 2006, it's been much different.

Q. Jimmie, two questions. When you look at the stats, it's like why should anybody show up here, Hendrick is going to win the race. Why do you think not only you but Hendrick cars have been dominant? Last weekend, unsung heroes, guys that names don't get thrown out in the media, talk about what they meant last weekend and to your career.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I can say first of all, when I started driving for Hendrick, I don't think that Phoenix, this track, was one that was circled on the calendar for any of the teams. I think Terry had some luck. Jeff didn't really run well here. So from my time at Hendrick, I think we as an organization, as a group, have figured out how to get around this track, the setups we needed. I think it's relatively new. I'm not sure if the stats show that. I can remember Jeff in 2000 or 2001, something like that, when I first started working with the team, he didn't have a lot of good things in his mind about this track. I think he won a Nationwide race, was his first win here at the raceway. That's a new stat. We hope to keep it going.

I feel like the 2 car is going to be strong, especially off of his win. Those guys have been strong here typically. The Childress cars have been running better. I think this is a great track for Harvick and also Bowyer. There's no telling how it's going to shake out for us. I certainly hope the 48 car wins this thing.

The unsung heroes, those guys worked their guts out to get the car back on the track. The first report I had was, We're going to put it on the truck. That's kind of why I didn't get out of the car. I'm like, I'm not getting out. You guys have to figure out a way to fix it. I'll sit here till you roll it on the lift gate.

Chad was going to put all the effort in, but it didn't look good at first. Our 48 guys, on top of the 24 sent some people over, the 5, the 88, we had a lot of different members from other teams at Hendrick working with us to get that car right. Just can't thank them all enough for trying.

You know, and I know it's tough for the 24 to send someone over to help, and the 5, because, you know, I'm sitting here saying hopefully that work gives us the points to win the championship. You know, it may not work out for them if that's the case.

Q. For your career, how big was that group behind you?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the group of people behind the scenes is everything. I think that's why we bore everyone so much with saying 'the guys back at the shop,' mentioning crew members so often, because it really is a team sport. Through my career, from my dad, you know, prepping my dirt bike to go to the track, all the way through the off-road, ASA, all that stuff, those guys, they make the difference. They put in the hours. The relationships you build with them frame in the driver's mind what it takes to be successful, makes you respect the vehicles, the workmanship that goes into it. I think it's helped make me a smarter racer on the track. I try not to tear stuff up. I typically don't. I think a lot of that's because I have personal relationships with these guys, know they're not at home all the time with their families. They're working to make sure this car is right.

Q. Jimmie, I was curious, it seemed like Sam got a lot of the blame both on TV and in your comments. Then maybe looking later, it seemed like Reutimann was more part of that. Have you evaluated that at all? Do you want to clarify?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I had one quick look at it after the race last weekend. I haven't studied much of it. I had a phone call from David, talked a little bit. I guess it was easy for me to blame the 77 because he was the guy that came up inside and got into me. I think he was the one kind of holding up the line. It's just easy to blame him.

But it did take two cars. And I think Sam had some handling issues, wasn't going all that well. As he got into the turn, checked up more than the 00 thought. The 00 made contact and off it went. So there were a lot of ingredients to what went on.

I try not to blame too much. Once I got back to the media center, four hours of sitting there watching the points disappear, I probably put a little more blame on Sam than necessary. You know, I just wish we could have made it through those few laps and Sam, you know, could have hung onto it. Not placing more blame on him than need be. But he almost had that thing saved, then it wiggled, came back up into me.

I guess now there's not a lot of good complaining about it. It's behind us. Can't wait to get on the track so we can talk about something else.

Q. Looking ahead to Miami, you've done this obviously three times now. When you get to Miami, what's the process? Is there a checklist? Kind of talk about how you're going to approach that weekend. I know you're going to say it's not different from any other, but come on, it's a little different. What's the stress level like, that stuff?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, so much depends on this weekend and how things go. You know, if things go really well for us, it takes a little bit of pressure off, helps the week go by a little faster. The other side, you know, easy to figure out. If it doesn't go well, you just can't wait to get in the car and get things going.

The more we can keep it the same, the better it is. There is a lot of media leading up to the race, of course, a lot of questions that come about, that I don't really think of things in those terms. I find leaving the media briefing, media stuff we do on Wednesday, Thursday, there's a lot of thoughts swirling in the brain that were never there because I really try to keep it simple, keep things the same.

Hopefully I can leave the media get-together and shake all that stuff out, focus on the race and treat it, you know, like I would a typical race. That's really the goal. Don't end up there all the time. It's not as easy to pull off as it sounds. But that's my goal and I would assume everybody else's goal, to try to keep it the same and try to keep the stress down.

Q. Jimmie, if you didn't feel like you did anything wrong, why were you beating yourself up all week? How hard is it to get that out of your brain? How important is it that you're able to do that? Have you ever struggled with thinking and thinking and thinking and not being able to get it out?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I really do a lot of thinking about what I did wrong. I look back on that, I'm not sure I did anything wrong because we were all on the bottom and someone had the inside lane held up. The corner before, I was hit from behind going into the turn. I thought, man, going into one and two, they're going to check up again, I should be on the outside, avoid being spun out from behind.

I don't feel like I could have done anything differently. But it doesn't help that, you know, the feelings of losing 111 points. Those are still there. I don't know where to equate it. I don't know how to fix it. But that negative feeling's there. That emptiness is there. Man, I just lost 111 points. That part is there. I've thought about it enough. I know I couldn't have done anything differently. So I'm just like, Get me in the car again. I just need to get in the racecar here for practice and start focusing on today, the handling issues of what we experience here, and it will help me get through it.

Q. Even after losing 111 points, do you take some comfort that these two tracks are left for you, you still have the 73-point lead? Is there some comfort factor there?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Definitely. I feel that a 73-point lead is a very, very healthy lead. With today's racing, the competition, the year that Mark Martin and Jeff have had in the Chase, I feel very good about our points lead. But it's hard to look back at the week before at 184, the comfort that that brought. You know, it's like, Wow, we could have left here with a 184-point lead. Different story. Homestead would have been a very enjoyable experience.

That possibility still exists. I mean, the 5 could have trouble this week. You never know. This is racing. Anything and everything will happen.

Q. Jimmie, you mentioned earlier you had guys on the 5 and 24 working on your car. You got three drivers from the same team battling for the championship. How do you guys at Hendrick keep it on an even keel and not have toxic relationships from team to team when you're all battling for the same thing and you're all fiercely competitive?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I really think that from my experience I look at how Jeff handled things from the beginning. Mark's been doing this a long time, operating from an area of respect that it didn't need much work on it to fit into the group. I mean, it just didn't. But with the way Jeff handled things from the start, taught me how to respect my teammates, how to work with my teammates. That all comes from Rick, as well.

So from the highest one in command all the way down through Jeff, who is a boss in a sense for me, I believe in the system and I know what we have done before the Chase as a team got us where we are, and we need to keep doing that stuff.

The other thing is experience. There are weeks where we've had the fastest car in the Chase and our teammate that we're racing with for the championship can take our setup and make their car better and put up, you know, a good finish. And we've been doing this long enough to where we have needed the help. So through time, it just kind of balances out. We found a way to do it.

I don't think it's easy. It's challenging for all of us. I don't think that if you put Roush in the situation or Childress, some of the other teams, I'm not sure how they'd handle it. I think that we do a really good job of dealing with all of the issues that come from it and respect one another. I think bottom line is respect. We respect each other enough to have this thing work.

Q. I don't know what it is that you're feeling, what emotion it is, if it's pressure or desire or excitement or whatever that emotion is. What is the difference in the emotion of trying to win your first championship compared to trying not to lose your first championship in four years?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: So hard to think back to 2006. But all those emotions exist, and I think my mind goes through different scenarios where, okay, don't want to lose it, so you feel the pressure of that. Also, Why am I thinking about these emotions? I need to think of being aggressive and playing offense. So I think of it in a way where it brings excitement. What I find is I go through two or three emotions and it just keeps looping back around, just the brain doing its thing. From the past three years of being in the situation, I understand the peaks and valleys of the emotional rollercoaster I'm on. I try to find a middle ground to relax and be comfortable with, look at the tracks, how you're team has been performing, build confidence in a lot of the tangible things instead of the emotions that fluctuate from day to day, hour to hour. I mean, we all go through it. It's a rollercoaster ride, to say the least. I do feel like I'm chasing my tail day to day, yup.

Q. You are so good here. But because of what happened last week, are you feeling vulnerable at all? Are there guys out there that you get around, although I'd like you to name names, you probably won't, that you want to get away from them and just be out of the line of fire?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, there's definitely a handful of guys that you're concerned about. But in the end, when you're on a short track like this, you'd lap through people and you're in traffic so often, the double-file restarts, it's not so much a car number or a person, it's kind of the situation.

I don't think, you know, anybody's really safe, especially how you can run side-by-side here in one and two, one line is preferred, three and four another is preferred. It's going to be tough to get single-file. So I do have concern and worry about contact or something out of my control taking place again. I mean, I think we all fear that. But I find some confidence knowing that everybody's going to deal with that. I don't think lightning can strike two weeks in a row. I'm certainly hoping it doesn't.

THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thank you. Good luck this week.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you.

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson