JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the Pocono track conditions, racing at Eldora, the length of the Pocono race, the changes he'd make in the new race car, the Turn 3 patch, and more. ON RACING AT POCONO: "In ...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS met with media and discussed the Pocono track conditions, racing at Eldora, the length of the Pocono race, the changes he'd make in the new race car, the Turn 3 patch, and more.
ON RACING AT POCONO: "In today's world with all the modern changes that have been made to tracks and progressive banking and just the shape of the track, it's tough to really put on a good race here. It really is. It has long straightaways and tight turns. There is only one corner with banking. So from a racing standpoint, we don't feel it puts on the best racing. I think there are some safety upgrades that need to be made. Armco barriers don't need to be there. We need soft walls and real walls all the way around the track. And we can really do away with the grass that we have down Long Pond and down the short shoot. We've seen a lot of problems because of the grass.
"We sound awfully harsh in saying these things, but we're just trying to be honest. We all appreciate and respect the Mattiolis and all that they've done. It's not a personal dig on them. But there is no denying that this is an old, old facility. And as racing has gone on and we're trying to put on a better show, it's just been tough to do that here."
WHAT KIND OF SHOW DO YOU THINK WE'LL GET ON SUNDAY GIVEN THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THESE CARS WILL RACE ON THIS TRACK IN LIVE ACTION? "The bigger the track, the more difficult these cars have been to run side-by-side. And we come to a track where there is really only one lane to run side-by-side, it should be even more difficult to pass and more single file than we've seen in the past."
ON RACING AT ELDORA, WAS THAT FUN? "Oh, without a doubt. That was a lot of fun. I regret the fact that I wasn't able to make it there in the previous couple of years that it's gone on. I had a great time and a lot of fun spending time with (Clint) Bowyer and driving his car and meeting his regular driver Shannon Babb. They are a great group of guys and I felt like I made a lot of progress from my first lap on the track until the end. And so it was a lot of fun."
KYLE BUSCH SAID THIS COULD BE A BORING RACE. DO YOU THINK THAT COULD HAPPEN ON SUNDAY? "Oh, we've seen on the bigger race tracks where aero is more important that things that have been taken away from the teams show up. And so the mechanical grip, the tire, and the aero balance all shows up the faster we go. The next thing that helps us on a lot of tracks is banking. We only have one turn that has any banking. So we have a lot of things stacking up that are going to make it really difficult to race and be competitive. It's not boring in the car. I'm not sure what the opinion is outside. But inside the car, things are a handful. It's not going to be an easy day's work in there."
IF YOU WERE THE NASCAR SCHEDULE-MAKER, WOULD YOU COME TO POCONO TWICE A YEAR? TWICE IN A SIX-WEEK PERIOD? "I wouldn't. There are a lot of fans here, so I do respect and understand that. This track has been a bit part of the sport, but we have a lot of stuff in the area that we race at. And as we try to grow the sport and continue to make it bigger and stronger than what it is, we really need to think long and hard about this track and two dates so close to one another. And obviously there are a lot of rumors floating around about what could be and what might happen, so we'll all just stay tuned and see how it ends up."
ON THE PAVING IN TURN 3 "Yeah, that's one thing that made the test so exciting. We had something new to try here and hopefully another option to pass down in Turn 3 now that that paving strip is down. Otherwise you just wait until Turn 1 and hopefully you can get alongside someone and fight them down through the Long Pond straightaway and get a position on them through the tunnel turn. It made the test fun and unfortunately everybody knows about it now and everybody is going to use it. So it could very well be single file up there up by the wall."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET A GOOD QUALIFYING SPOT HERE? "Qualifying is important every week for your pit road pick, and then the fact that it's so difficult to pass. Qualifying is very, very important."
WHAT IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS HERE? "Go fast (laughs). It's a different track. I'm sure you've heard all the stories about it. It's a different track with three different turns and all that stuff, but you've just got to go fast. If you're not fast, it's not a fun day."
HAVING WON HERE BEFORE, DO YOU LOOK BACK ON THAT FOR SOME IDEAS ON HOW TO WIN AGAIN? "So much has changed since we won here. There's a different car and a different rules package. Things that really worked for us then won't work for us now. I do have fond memories of the track and I've enjoyed the challenges of it with three separate corners, but it's just such a different world. I'm excited to get out because we all had that test session. We were very strong in that test session and I'm hopeful that what we learned will cross over and we'll have a good race here."
WITH WHAT YOU LEARNED IN THE OLD CARS BEING OBSOLETE NOW, IS IT ALMOST LIKE YOU'RE IN A DIFFERENT SPORT? "In a lot of ways, it is a totally different sport. It's a different car with different demands with the car and the different aero balance it has; mechanical balance, and tires continue to change. It's a totally different animal than what we've had in the past. And the notebooks that we've had for the last 10 years are really out the window, even from last year. We ran this car on the small tracks (last year) and it takes a different set-up from a short track to a big track, so we're still learning this thing."
WHAT'S THE BIGGEST THING YOU LEARNED FROM THE TEST? "The paving deal that went on down in Turn 3 is going to make it pretty interesting. Hopefully it brings us another passing zone. Outside of the hope there, you're only real chance is through Turn 1. There is some banking down there and you can run side-by-side. So I think we're all eager to see what's going to play out and if we have two passing zones now."
WHAT'S IT LIKE FOR THE TEAM WHEN YOU GET ON A HOT STREAK LIKE KYLE BUSCH IS ON NOW? "It's a high that you don't want to ever end and you want to experience it. It takes so much to be successful in this sport. I'm sure a lot of those guys are sitting back and savoring the moment and the fact that they are the guys right now. So we've been there and I appreciate it and respect them for all the hard work that they've done to put themselves in this position. But unfortunately after a few weeks of being there and a short period of time of being there, I should say, questions start coming (like) how long is it going to last and can you continue to do it? Eventually another team comes along and how you respond through all of that is what's really challenging. And those guys have been very strong and I would imagine they would rebound well through it all. But it's just the roller coaster ride that we live on week after week."
WHEN YOU'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A STREAK LIKE THAT, DO YOU APPROACH THE WEEKEND ANY DIFFERENTLY? "Oh, you're a lot more relaxed. You really are more relaxed and typically you have some go-to moves set-up wise. And even from the driver's standpoint, certain things that you know you can find some speed with your driving style around the race track, you look for those things and really try to take advantage of them. And you just hope that you produce the same lap time and the same success."
HOW WOULD YOU GET MORE FRONT DOWNFORCE IN THIS CAR? WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST? "There are a lot of things that I would like to change. But to increase front downforce, there are some very simple things you can do from opening up the fender width; giving the cars more front travel would help in two ways. One, it would give you areo, plus it would lower the center of gravity height. So there are a lot of positives based on that. Plus it would take the emphasis of running on bump stops solely away from the teams, so you could get back to a conventional set-up and the coil binding that we used to have. So, it might bring more options, but it's more than just an aero change. I'm not sure if NASCAR is ready to open the book back up and let everybody do that again. But if you're going to give just front downforce, simply opening the fender width up in the front would do that."
BUT THAT WOULDN'T FIX THE MAJOR PROBLEM WITH THE CAR NOT TURNING AND THE AERO PUSH AND THE LACK OF PASSING? "In my opinion, now, the aero balance problem is because the car is so big and it's punching a huge hole in the air, which we've heard them talk about and it's what they want to do. It works great on the speedways, but it's terrible everywhere else. So that huge hole that it's punching in the air doesn't allow anyone behind that car to have any downforce. So I don't know how we make this car smaller because everything about it from safety and even design is to make it bigger for that reason. So we're going to fight that for a long, long time. And then you get into the mechanical grip issues and front travel issues and there are just a lot of things different in this car. A lot of it was to help NASCAR police the sport better. And so there are a lot of positives within it and hopefully we can continue to change and work on the car. But at the same time, I think the tracks have a responsibility to recognize what our cars are doing and to try to make more competitive race tracks. Reconfiguring these tracks and making them progressively banked is a great thing. And we're seeing better racing on those tracks."
SHOULD THEY RECONFIGURE POCONO? "Absolutely. It definitely needs a facelift. This is an old, old track and a lot has changed since the time this thing was designed. You have two flat corners and one banked corner and really our only passing opportunity is down in Turn 1 where it's banked. So, it could be reconfigured or from the sounds of it, there might be something else though, totally taking place."
ON THE LENGTH OF THE POCON0 500, SHOULD IT BE SHORTER? "Hell, I think 200 miles would be better (laughter). And it's not from a visible standpoint, all of us drivers are able to do it and the cars the crews are, I just don't know if you keep your audience captive for 400 or 500 miles. Five hundred miles here is actually four or five hours; especially the TV viewing audience. It's just a long, long day."
ON KYLE BUSCH RUNNING ALL THREE NASCAR RACES THIS WEEKEND: 'I think that he's having fun and that he's racing anything that has wheels. I've spent a lot of time driving other vehicles and thoroughly enjoy it. If he goes out and has success in all three classes, everybody is going to praise him. I guess the bottom line is how he performs in the Cup car. That's where he will get the most criticism. If he has a bad day on Sunday, the whole negative side of it will chase him down."
IS IT KIND OF CRAZY TO DO IT? WOULD YOU EVER WANT TO DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT? "No (laughs). I love racing but the things that I want to drive are different vehicles and really not inside the NASCAR ranks. I enjoy road racing and endurance racing. I didn't realize how much fun I could have in a dirt car until Eldora. So if I was going to run off and race other cars on a given weekend, I would want to experience different things. That's not taking anything away from Kyle and what he is doing. He's doing something cool and neat. If he runs well, he's going to look like a hero. If he runs bad, everybody is going to be on his butt."
ROBBY GORDON RUNS THE BAJA AND A CUP RACE ON THE SAME WEEKENDS "Exactly. It can be done. We are physically strong enough and able to do it and it's not a factor from that side. It's more about outside influences and opinions that pop up when you do it. If your team and sponsors sign off on it, then oh well. Let criticism fall where it may."
ON THE FACT THAT THIS HAS NEVER BEEN DONE, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE TOUGHEST CHALLENGE WILL BE? "I personally think that's it's the travel side of it. If you have any weather at any point in time, not only from the travel side, but from the track side; like say you don't get back to Pocono until 4:00 in the morning because of what goes on in the Nationwide race. I think it's the timing of it all relative to the weather."
IF YOU ARE JUST A COUPLE OF INCHES OFF IN TURN 3, WILL YOU GET INTO THE MARBLES? "Yeah, where the patch is you have 30 percent more grip. If you get any given tire, not just your rights, but even if your left side tires dip below, you lose a lot of grip fast. So it's a finicky spot."
IS IT A SCARY SITUATION TO TAKE TURN 3 A LITTLE BIT HIGHER THAN YOU NORMALLY WOULD? "The first couple of times I went through there and tried to use it. It's not a straight patch, by any means. I don't know what work went on below the surface or why they did it, but it wasn't intended to be a racing line. And the shape of the line, shows that. So, there are points where your left sides are off of it, and then your right sides are and you're just wheeling it hanging on."
ON HIS YEAR TO DATE "It is a long season. We've got a lot of racing left. Our first goal is to be in the Chase and we're looking good there. Of course we want to run better, but hey, this is bigtime auto racing. It's not an easy deal."
-credit: gm racing