JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed racing at Phoenix and Texas, how Chad Knaus had matured as a crew chief, tire strategy, and more. ON RACING AT PHOENIX "We've had a great record here over the years. Leading...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed racing at Phoenix and Texas, how Chad Knaus had matured as a crew chief, tire strategy, and more.
ON RACING AT PHOENIX "We've had a great record here over the years. Leading the points is a great position to be in and we're happy to be at the start of the season with what victories we've had. If you take out Daytona, we've been very competitive at all the races and been doing a great job. Am so excited. Coming back to the race track and walking into the garage area after you go away for a week and relax and charge your batteries up, and when I came in and saw the cars I got the feeling and Goosebumps and got fired up to be back at the race track and am looking forward to it."
THE LAST TWO CUP RACES YOU AND DENNY HAMLIN WON TAKING TIRES LATE AND OPTING FOR THAT OVER TRACK POSITION. DO YOU SEE THAT PLAYING OUT AGAIN THIS WEEKEND AND COULD THAT BECOME A TREND? "It can become a trend. The garage area has been asking Goodyear to try to build a tire that's durable but that also wears out, which is a contradictory statement. But within racing, there is a way to do it and I think they've done a very good job of building a tire that will last the course of a fuel run but that also has a lot of speed drop-off in it. At Bristol, I never in a million years would have thought we would win that race. And I think Denny would say the same at Martinsville. It's just circumstances. I think more people will look at that and you'll see more people taking four tires later. But really makes that happen is two elements. One is which lane you're in and if it gets going. The other part is how many guys do pit? If you're the only one that pits and you have 15 cars in front of you, it's just not going to happen. We restarted sixth in Bristol and was able to make it work. So, I think there are some variables there that you'll take a gamble and hope that it goes your way and it just depends on what the rest of the field does."
GOING BACK TO MARTINSVILLE AND BRISTOL AND WHAT YOU DID WITH THE DOUBLE FILE RESTARTS, SAY THERE'S A YELLOW HERE WITH 10 LAPS TO GO AND YOU'RE LEADING THE RACE. DO YOU PIT OR NOT? "Man, (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) even asked me at Bristol what I wanted to do and I said, 'It's not my job (laughter), and I don't want any part of it.' (more laughter). It is a tough call to make. We've had two examples of guys taking four (tires) and it's paid off. I think the garage area will maybe trend to taking four. If the majority comes for four, and you're the guy left out there, you're dead in the water. If you're in the minority and take four, it's pretty amazing that Denny and I were both able to win, but I don't want any part of those decisions. Every time I've made a call from the seat and whether we needed tires or not, it's completely backfired on me. So I just throw it to Chad and let him deal with it."
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN CHAD KNAUS MATURE AS A CREW CHIEF? AND HOW HAVE YOU SEEN HIM PUSH THE ENVELOPE OVER THE YEARS? "I think Chad has been able to really work on his people skills and getting people involved with him. With the opportunities he had as a crew chief beforehand, he was one guy doing a lot. At Hendrick Motorsports and in today's world of being a crew chief, you can't take on all the roles yourself. And when we first started, he did a lot more than just calling a race and trying to lead his guys. He was in there building shocks and working on the surface plate and helping with bodies and doing a lot more than he really needed to. And it really wasn't until 2005 when we had that milk and cookies meeting, part of the conversation in that was for Chad to let go of some of the control and bring guys in around him that he trusted, and delegate. And that's something that he worked on really hard over the off-season. He built confidence in the guys that were a part of our race team, and released some of that control. It took through 2006 for us to get comfortable with it and I think at that point we saw the benefits and have continued to do that. He has continued to do that. I think that's also why you don't see a lot of turnover. Chad gives these guys a lot of opportunity and they're a big part of the team. The less he has to worry about in the given areas that guys are in charge of and he can focus more on dreaming up cool stuff for the race cars. I think it has allowed us to keep moving forward."
ON DENNY HAMLIN RECOVERING FROM KNEE SURGERY, IS THERE SOMETHING ABOUT YOU GUYS AS RACE CAR DRIVERS ARE HARD-WIRED WHERE YOU TRY TO DRIVE EVEN IF POINTS AREN'T AT STAKE? "I can only imagine what it would be like to watch your race car on track and you're not in it during a race. It's one thing if it's a team test, and it's even hard to see that. It's got to be the most difficult thing to watch. I think that's a large part of it. Even though you know you're injured and you know you probably can't do your job as well as you should, or would be able to if you weren't injured, you just don't want to see anyone else in your car. That's just the bottom line. I know it must have been awfully painful for Denny to have the procedure now. We all assume he was trying to make the whole season and have it worked on during the off-season next year, but he clearly had to get the work done. I just saw him walking through the garage area and he clearly is in pain. It'll be interesting to see his mobility in the car and how he can drive the car and what really takes place over the weekend."
WHEN YOU COME TO A PLACE LIKE PHOENIX WHERE YOU AND THE HENDRICK CARS HAVE DONE SO WELL, IS YOUR CONFIDENCE EVEN MORE THAN USUAL? "Yes it is, but at the same time, you can't take anything for granted. We always look at spring races for Chase races as a chance to work on our equipment and try to bring something new to the table. When we were at Martinsville two weeks ago and we tried some things that just didn't work as we'd hoped they would. But without testing and hoping that we'd be in the Chase and being where we were in points, we decided to take some chances. Coming here, we'll do that again. We can't sit still. We have to keep advancing our race cars. And it's kind of a fine line where you get part way through practice and you're like, does the new stuff show enough promise to stick with it? Or do we bail, and move on and go back to what we ran here last time? We'll be faced with that decision here in a couple of hours when we're on track and see where it goes. So yes, I do come in with confidence knowing that I know what I need to feel. Chad knows what he would like to see, but we're not coming with the same setup and then necessarily hit the race track where we'll start the race. So there is some doubt in my mind of us working through our set-ups and where we need to be."
DURING QUALIFYING TODAY, DO YOU THINK THE SUN WILL MAKE IT HARD TO SEE? "Yeah, without a doubt. Depending on when you go out, there's a really tough spot. It's kind of a catch 22 because the lower the sun it, the more grip there is on the track but the less you can see into Turn 1. You kind of go off into brail in a sense trying to find some reference points when the sun is out for the wall and some other things. There's also a feel, the last couple of times that I've turned in because I was blinded, I just turned in too early. And now I've taught myself some patience and even though you're blinded to still go straight and don't worry about turning yet. There's also that part that, from doing it for a few years now, you kind of get into the rhythm of it. All of us all day long will be finding solid reference points on the wall and trying to figure out how to almost drive in there blind so that if you have the qualifying draw where the sun is in your eyes you're in good shape."
ISN'T THAT SCARY? "No, it's not too bad. What's funny is we're really not scared until we realize we're going to hit something. And that's way too early in the corner to think you're going to hit anything yet. Once you lose control and you realize you can't help the car, that's when you pucker up and hang on."
LOOKING TO NEXT WEEK AT TEXAS, HOW DOES THAT LOOK FOR YOU GUYS? "I'm excited to get back on the 1.5-mile. We've had good stuff at Texas and at the 1.5-mile tracks in general. But the big wild card out there is how is this spoiler going to work? I think that the lead car in qualifying we won't see a lot of difference. But there is still a lot to be learned with the car in traffic. Even though we had the Charlotte test, we really never put ourselves in a racing position and side-by-side and stuff like that. I feel good about things. I know we're going to have a good set-up, but it's a different world in the pack. We're going to need a few months to really evolve set-ups in the cars to handle what's going to go on in the pack."
WILL THE FIRST PRACTICE BE THE FIRST REAL FEEL FOR WHAT IT'S LIKE? "Even then, we still won't get around each other. And if we were smart at least from a teammate standpoint, we'd put four or maybe six cars if you look at Stewart-Hass, in a big group and go out and shoot, we could have even had data on it at Charlotte if we would have thought about it. I don't know why we don't (laughs). It just doesn't make any sense to me. It would have been great to have the data and understand exactly what the car is doing and how much downforce it loses and all that kind of stuff, but we didn't. So the first test will be in the race."
-source: gm racing