Pocono II: Jimmie Johnson pre-race press conference

Jimmie Johnson Teleconference Transcript Tuesday, July 22, 2003 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway in Pocono,...

Jimmie Johnson Teleconference Transcript
Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Pennsylvania 500 at Pocono Raceway in Pocono, Penn.

Johnson currently sits in fifth place in the NASCAR Winston Cup points standings (419 points behind the leader) following his victory in Sunday's New England 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 52 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta. Johnson has competed in three races at New Hampshire, finishing 15th in this race one year ago and 12th there in June.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE POCONO RACE THIS WEEKEND?
"We're going to go to Pocono and see if we can do it (win) again. Last weekend (at NHIS) was a real good weekend for us and obviously that is a tough race track and we're real proud of what we were able to do there. Pocono has been a good track for us and hopefully we'll go up there and have a good run."

WHAT DOES YOUR BOSS, JEFF GORDON, THINK ABOUT YOU BEATING HIM EVERY WEEK?
"I think he's probably happy because he has his own money invested into me and this team. If it's not him winning, I think he would want it to be the No. 48 car or another Hendrick Motorsports team. He's very happy to see us running so well."

WHY DID JEFF GORDON'S CAR FALL BACK SO FAR AT LOUDON?
"I haven't heard exactly what happened, but there has been some speculation that they pumped the tires up. On a long run we'll let air pressure out of the tires so that over a 100-mile run when the pressure builds up the tire will still be at a certain pressure at the end and operate properly. When you only have short amount of laps to run on it, you'll pump it up so that you come into that sweet spot sooner. Rumor has it that the tires were pumped up. But I honestly don't know if that's true or not. I still don't know."

DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A CONTENDER FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP AT THIS POINT?
"Yeah, I definitely think we are. We're a little further behind than where we'd ideally want to be, but we feel very good right now."

DOES THE POINTS SYSTEM REWARD CONSISTENCY TOO MUCH AND WINNING NOT ENOUGH?
"I think the system has worked well. It's good the way it is. But I would like to see the winner rewarded a little more over second place. When I won at California last year, Kurt Busch finished second and led the most laps. We both earned the same amount of points yet I won the race. In that case, I think there should be a little bit more of a separation between first and second or someplace there in the top three or top five. When you have 36 races, I think rewarding on consistency is the way to structure things, but I think we could use a little bit more separation at the top five."

GIVEN THAT, HOW MUCH CONTROL DOES SERIES POINT LEADER, MATT KENSETH, HAVE RIGHT NOW?
"It appears that they are very much in control right now. When it looks like they might have a bad day or we think we might be able to beat up on him a little bit, they have put themselves in position when the checkered flag drops. I commend those guys. They've done a great job and they're there every week. Before you know it the No. 17 has worked its way into the top five or top 10 when the checkered flag falls."

WERE YOU AWARE OF ALL THE BUMPING AND RUBBING GOING ON BEHIND YOU DURING THE RACE AT LOUDON?
"It's a tough race track. It doesn't really look like Martinsville or compare size-wise to Martinsville but the competition aspect of running side-by-side for so many laps reminded me of Martinsville. It's tough out there - especially running side by side with someone. I had an incident with Bill Elliott when I was trying to get inside of him to pass him and I lost some traction and ran into the side of him. So I knew what was going on behind me and was glad I didn't have to deal with too much of it. It seemed like a half-mile race but we were at a mile race track."

HOW WILL YOU ATTACK POCONO? WILL YOU USE ROAD COURSE DRIVING?
"Luckily, this will be my fourth time there in my career and I know the track well now. We can unload off the truck and I'll know what line I need to take and where my shifting and braking points are. So I'm excited to go back. It's one of the tougher places. It does drive like a road course but once you get a few experiences there, it really makes a difference. We just hope everything stays together and we have another solid day."

WOULD YOU RATE POCONO AS ONE OF THE TOUGHER TRACKS TO LEARN?
"It's right around the top. It's also one of those tracks that once you make a lap, you like the track. Casey Mears and some of my other friends that are rookies this year have said the same things I said last year. It's a tough place but it's a blast. They're all different corners and there are some bumps and you have to shift and you have a mile-long front straightaway where you really get moving. There are a lot of fun elements to the race track."

WHAT KIND OF EFFORT DID YOU PUT INTO GETTING BETTER AND THEN FINALLY BEING ABLE TO WIN ON A TECHNICAL TRACK LIKE LOUDON?
"It's really been the overall mindset that I've worked on. That would apply to Richmond or Phoenix or even Homestead. At a lot of the flatter race tracks, I've been trying to learn the rhythm and patience I need to have. Since running in Busch, I'm now in my fourth year of trying to understand how to do it. It's a tough thing. I've been competitive at Phoenix and Homestead and finished ninth at Loudon last fall. So I've been making steady progress. But I didn't look at the schedule and say we have a shot at winning Loudon. Now that I can look at the schedule and say that, I look forward to tracks like that. There are some tracks out there that I'm really excited to go to. I'm happy to make this turn here out of the technical tracks."

DID YOU LEARN MORE BY ON-TRACK EXPERIENCE OR BY TALKING TO OTHER DRIVERS?
"It's definitely on-track experience. As a whole, I keep preaching patience to myself over and over. It carries through a lot of race tracks. I think that mindset just comes from racing in the cars and getting a better feel for the cars and learning what it takes to make them tick."

SO NOW THAT YOU'VE WON AT A TECHNICAL TRACK LIKE LOUDON, IS THERE A PARTICULAR TRACK LEFT ON THE SCHEDULE YOU WANT TO FOCUS ON?
"I'd have to say Rockingham would be the one I'm looking forward to improving on. We've had some good runs going. I think we finished decent there in the spring. But I still have my hands full there. And again, with the track being so abrasive, it's a place where you need patience again. Hopefully, winning at Loudon is a sign of good things for me that I am developing and understanding where that fine line is of pushing hard enough to compete for the win but not too hard to make mistakes and abuse the equipment."

REGARDING RICKY RUDD AND HIS 700TH CONSECUTIVE CAREER START AT POCONO, IS THAT A BIG DEAL?
"Wow. I think so. That's a lot of races. I remember being a kid and watching him race the No. 15 Wrangler car and a variety of different race cars. That is a lot of racing. I respect him for what he has been able to accomplish and how many years he's stuck to the sport. I'm sure he's been through thick and thin and still walk through the garage with a smile on his face like he does. That says a lot about him."

DO YOU THINK ANYBODY IN THE GARAGE RIGHT NOW WILL EVENTUALLY MATCH THAT NUMBER OF 700 CONSECUTIVE STARTS?
"I'm so early in my career, I don't even know how many years that number would take. I would imagine it's quite a few. And I would say in this day and age, and with the stresses and pressures of our sport, it would be hard for anyone to reach that number."

WHICH TRACKS DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE TECHNICAL RACE TRACKS AND HOW DO YOU DEFINE A TECHNICAL TRACK?
"I would say most of the flat race tracks are the technical ones (like) Darlington and Rockingham - places where there is low grip and abrasive surfaces, or someplace where you're not rewarded for being courageous. That would be Phoenix, Rockingham, Darlington, Martinsville, Richmond, and Loudon.

POCONO IS A LONG TRACK, BUT WOULD IT FALL INTO THE TECHNICAL CATEGORY?
"I would say Pocono is one even though it is a long race track. It's flat. There are a lot of them. And to be honest with you, the more races I get under my belt, the more I realize this technical side and learn how to finesse the race car."

WHAT'S WITH THIS GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT WE KEEP HEARING ABOUT? DOES NASCAR NEED TO MAKE A RULE OR DOES EVERYONE JUST NEED TO SHUT UP?
"The thing is that everyone now is looking for anything they can on the race track to exploit in some way, shape, or form on this gentleman's agreement. The agreement is based on letting someone have a lap back. Everything else pertains to racing. If somebody is off pace in front of you and they let off the gas, and you decide that he's slowed down and broken his momentum and that you're going to pass him, I don't know if that falls into the rule but that's just not right. That's just not what you're to do. But what's happening now, and this has gone on in the series for a long time, (is that) when you are racing side-by-side with someone, you race back to the caution. That's what we've done for years and that's what everybody does, and that's common practice. And now that aspect of it is being exploited and falling into this gentleman's agreement category and it's not. It's what we've always done. We've always raced back. And that's where a lot of the concerns have come from through the years of racing through a caution area to race back to the checkered flag. But when you're side-by-side, the guy who's passing has worked to get that position and he doesn't want to give that up. And then the guy who is being passed doesn't want to give it up either. Then you race back. It's something that happens throughout the field. If you sit back and watch the cars cross the start/finish line, there are a lot of times the guys are side-by-side racing back. It's just part of the sport."

YOU TOUCHED ON SOMETHING THERE THAT THE WHOLE REASON THE YELLOW FLAG IS OUT IS BECAUSE THE TRACK HAS BEEN DECLARED UNSAFE FOR RACING.
"Correct."

WOULDN'T THAT MAKE RACING UNDER THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES A BIT RISKY?
"Without a doubt. We have all expressed concerns and have tried to make suggestions for NASCAR to look at different things. I don't know what the right call is on that. But I can tell you at different times when I've been the cause of the accident, they're watching and hoping you're not going to take another impact from another car. It's just part of it. It's not a comfortable feeling when you are the accident and you have cars whizzing by you."

WHAT IF THEY SAID WHEN THE YELLOW FLAG WAVES, YOU'RE FROZEN IN POSITION WITH NO RACING ANYWHERE? WOULD THE DRIVERS BE COOL WITH THAT?
"I think that would be a mixed bag. The reason is that everyone would be trying to hang on to letting a guy have a lap back. In a perfect world or if they could find a way where people somehow get their lap back if the field is frozen. That would make everyone happy. I don't know if that's possible. It might have to be just freezing it. Then you're going to have mixed emotions."

SO THE GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT OF JUST LETTING A GUY HAVE HIS LAP BACK HAS BEEN EXTENDED AND EXTENDED TO THE POINT OF GUYS RACING AND CLAIMING THEY DIDN'T HONOR THE GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT?
"Yeah, and to be honest, there has been a lot of talk in the media about this after the Sonoma incident (with Robby Gordon), and it seems like there has been a lot of focus on it since then. To pertain back to the gentleman's agreement, it is a situation of (1) keeping people a lap down, and (2) when someone breaks their momentum and breaks pace that you don't set them up and pass them after they've let off the gas. I guess that would probably fall into that gentleman's agreement too, but the way I've been taught is that the gentleman's agreement only pertains to lapped cars."

WHEN YOU'RE IN A FUEL MILEAGE RACE, WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE CAR AND WHAT'S GOING ON IN YOUR HEAD?
"Last week (at Loudon), I don't think Chad (Knaus, crew chief) would have put me in the risky situation of running out of fuel. When the caution came out, that put us into our window. We pitted and we were hoping to get a caution. Two cautions really would have put us in the safe zone with nothing to worry about. But when we got the caution, we felt much better about our chances. Personally, I didn't let that creep into my head and let that worry come into my head. I had to work really hard to pass a lot of cars including the No. 29 (Harvick). We had to restart again where I had to pass four more cars and then chase down Ryan Newman for the led and was able to get by him. So, I was pretty focused on racing. There wasn't much I could do about fuel. If we were going to make it, we were going to make it. And we had plenty to do it."

-hm/tlr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Robby Gordon , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson
Teams Hendrick Motorsports