BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS: WHY ARE YOU SO GOOD AT POCONO? "I like the fact that the corners are different and challenging. I think with my background and all the different things that I've raced,...
BEHIND THE HAULER CHAT WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS:
WHY ARE YOU SO GOOD AT POCONO?
"I like the fact that the corners are different and challenging. I think with my background and all the different things that I've raced, it maybe helps with that. We attack each turn a little differently. We've got to compromise the setup in general around the whole track. You can't just focus on one focus of the turn. You have to deal with some issues in other turns. I think that really plays into it."
WHAT'S THE TOUGHEST CORNER AT POCONO?
"I'd say the one that produces the best lap and makes you competitive would be turn three but going through turn one can be hair raising at times but I definitely think turn two is a more intense turn for all the drivers, the tunnel turn. You carry a lot of speed in. You don't really spend a lot of time out of the gas or using much brake. You're back from the gas early and the car isn't comfortable at all. With that kink back there it's pretty much on edge all the way through."
YOU GUYS AREN'T SHIFTING AT ALL HERE ANYMORE. IS THAT A GOOD THING?
"From a drivers standpoint, I think it's a little less challenging around the race track. I feel that we maybe put on a little bit better show when were shifting. You could race and had the gear up to get you up off the turn and put on a little better show. From my standpoint inside the car, I think we're missing a little something here since we're not shifting."
YOU AND JEFF GORDON RUN WELL. NOW KYLE BUSCH IS RUNNING WELL. DO YOU THINK BRIAN VICKERS PUT A LOT OF PRESSURE ON HIMSELF TO MATCH UP WITH YOU GUYS?
"He definitely is a very strong critic of himself. He tries to get everything that he can out of the race car and the team. I'm not really sure if he's been too hard on himself or not. I know that he takes his job very seriously. He's been doing a lot of personal searching to come up with the decision that he has made and to work out the things he has. He's going through a lot right now and I can only wish him the best."
NOW THAT YOU'RE AT ABOUT THE SECOND HALF OF THE REGULAR SEASON, WHEN DO YOU START THINKING ABOUT POINTS AND POSITIONING?
"I'm thinking points all along. One, to make sure you get in the Chase. Two, I think the top two or three drivers, it's their responsibility to keep this a 10-person race to get in the Chase. We need to keep control of that 400 mark and not let there be 12, 14, 15 cars in the championship battle."
WHAT'S THE KEY TO YOUR SUCCESS IN LONG DISTANCE RACES?
"I can't go without saying I've had great equipment and great people working behind me so I put a lot of weight in that. I think the longer the event the more challenging the event, the slicker the race track, all the different things that really make it tough on the driver inside the car fit my style and I just seem to do a better job with it."
DO YOU LIKE THIS TRACK?
"I do. It was a lot more fun when we were shifting. Now I just run around in high gear. The engine is pretty lazy up off the corner but it still is a fun track. It's definitely challenging having three different corners."
DOES THE NO SHIFTING MAKE IT THAT MUCH TOUGHER?
"No, I think not shifting made it a little easier for us."
DID IT MAKE YOU CHANGE YOUR STRATEGY AT ALL?
"I don't think it did. I'm trying to think back to last year. I don't recall anything changing because of that."
ON BRIAN VICKERS BEING A GOOD FRIEND:
"He certainly is a good friend. Obviously a lot has gone on this week at HMS (Hendrick Motorsports). I know that they're going to be working hard to find somebody to come in there and get in the 25 and do a great job. I'm not sure where that will end up. It's been a tough, busy week at HMS. I think as we get into next week, we'll really start looking at all drivers, who's available, who is in contract years and make some decisions based on that."
DO YOU THINK CASEY MEARS IS TALENTED ENOUGH DRIVER FOR HMS?
"Yeah, I definitely think so. In the free agent market I think he is one of the few guys that doesn't have anything signed up for next year. He's by far the best one out there. Then on top of that, if there are some other drivers in contract years that all has to be decided." HOW DO YOU THINK CASEY MEARS AND KYLE BUSCH WOULD GET ALONG IF THEY WERE TEAMMATES?
"Rick Hendrick has a great way of helping everybody get along. If we are in that situation, I wouldn't see it as being an issue."
DO THE DRIVERS AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAVE ANY INPUT ON THOSE KIND OF DECISIONS?
"Maybe Jeff (Gordon) does. From my standpoint, I don't see my role as that or my responsibility being inside the 48 car. Jeff with his ownership situation probably has a little bit more involvement."
HOW IMPORTANT IS TRACK POSITION HERE?
"Track position is big here. Pit stall isn't the biggest situation. The pit stalls are nice and big with lots of room here but track position is very important."
AS THE SEASON CONTINUES, DO YOU SEE MORE GUYS TAKING CHANCES TO MAKE IT INTO THE TOP 10?
"Yeah, that's the goal that everybody is shooting for. You've got Greg Biffle and (Jamie) McMurray, some very good cars. I know there are some others I'm forgetting but you've got some very strong teams right there on the fringe from the outside looking in on the top 10. If you take chances and don't finish, you're not going to collect points and it's not going to do you any good. You're going to see a lot of hard racing."
DO YOU THINK THIS IS YOUR YEAR TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"I think so. We'll just have to see. It's our fifth season and we've been right there in the hunt. I definitely feel like we're one of the favorites but we've learned lessons over the last five years and make the right adjustments. We'll hope for 10 good ones and see what happens."
WHAT ONE OF THE BIGGEST LESSONS YOU HAVE LEARNED?
"There's just a ton of them. I think in general one thing that is going to help us this year over the other years is that we're still refining the new body on the Chevy Monte Carlo. We're still working out the setups of the car where in the past we started the season with the finished product. As the year wore on a lot of people caught up and surpassed us and we were trying to play catch up. Even though we've won a few races this year I think we still have a lot of improvement in our cars and that's what I'm excited for the most."
THESE NEXT TWO RACES, IS IT KIND OF A RELIEF TO OPEN IT UP ON BIGGER TRACKS?
"No, from our standpoint the intensity is still the same at the short track or superspeedways. There's still a lot of points out there and every point counts at this stage. It's really not a vacation for us."
DO YOU LIKE TO RUN MORE FLAT OUT HERE RATHER THAN WHAT YOU HAD IN CHARLOTTE OR DOVER?
"I love them all. I really do. The only one I didn't like was Rockingham and that isn't on the schedule. When I look ahead I have a smile on my face for all the tracks."
HOW MUCH DOES IT HELP YOU TO RETURN TO A TRACK WHERE YOU'VE HAD SUCCESS AND TO HAVE THAT CONFIDENCE FOR PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?
"It really helps. I think in '03 we won both races. I came back last year and didn't have the success that we wanted or thought that we would have. Now coming back this time I don't know what to think. I had one good one, one off year and I'm just looking forward to getting on the track. But it is nice in the back of your mind knowing that you know the line around the race track. You know how to attack. I know what is important. You just need to package it all together."
WHAT SURPRISES YOU ABOUT YOUR SUCCESS AT PLATE RACES?
"Just the way the race unfolds at the end. I've spent so much time in the past racing at the wrong time. This year I just really waited as long as I could. It's challenging for a driver to wait that long but it's really paid off. It's been a big shock."
MICHIGAN IS A FAVORITE TRACK OF MOST DRIVERS. WHY DOES EVERYONE LIKE THAT TRACK?
"There's so much room to race. If you car is not handling great you can't move around. But more than anything if you've got a good car and you can get some track position, you can get outside and start passing people."
ON POCONO BEING A LONG RACE:
"Yeah, it's a long day. Inside the car goes by a lot faster but I know from the crew watching, my wife sitting on the pit box, my friends watching, it's a long day."
DID YOU EVER WATCH THIS RACE ON TV BEFORE YOU STARTED RACING IN THIS SERIES?
"I can't say I have."
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE INCREASING TREND OF DRIVERS ASKING TO GET OUT OF THEIR CONTRACT?
"From the owners standpoint, they want to lock down their driver for as long as they can to have that security so they go out to shop a deal and find a sponsor. As we all know things happen in shorter periods of time than what these contracts are. There's a couple of ways you can handle it. One, you can sit down and talk to the owner and try to resolve something and get a release. Or two you can sign a contract right the end of one (season) as the other (season) approaches, which is what we saw last year. It's a small garage area.
"There are only so many owners and so many sponsors so you've got to be very delicate in how you work through those things. But at the end of the day an owner doesn't want a driver in their car that doesn't want to be there. If things aren't working it might be better for everybody to go their own way. You might see some more of that coming up not just what is going on at Hendrick Motorsports right now. As time wears on, as sponsors apply pressure, as drivers and teams get pressure, you're going to see people just try to resolve things and almost move on and say if it's not working, let's change things up and get on down the road."
ON TONY STEWART DRIVING INJURED THIS WEEK. WHAT WILL HE PHYSICALLY HAVE TO DEAL WITH DRIVING THIS WEEKEND?
"Luckily we're not shifting so he won't have to worry about the upshifts and the constant battle that went with that. He got some laps at Dover, one of the more physical tracks and slamming your body into the seat, and got out of the car there and felt good and didn't want to get out of the race car. I think he's going to be fine. It's a decision that he's making. We see football players and baseball players playing with broken bones, casts on, whatever it may be. This isn't any different. By no means do I see there being a compromise in safety or putting any driver in any bad situation. There's nothing negative out there to it. You just have a racer that says 'Hey, I'm insured but I don't care. I want to get out there and win a race.'"
WILL TONY STEWART BE ANY LESS COMPETITIVE SINCE HE WILL BE DRIVING INJURED?
"No, no. He's mad. He's going to be out there mad and that's going to be bad news for the rest of us."
DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE MORE ROAD RACES?
"I think so. I think when we leave Watkins Glen everyone is finally in the swing of things. From my standpoint, I'd love to see a few more on the circuit. I'm all for it. I really enjoy road racing. I think I'd like to even see one in the Chase to mix things up, to have the Chase represent what the season is really about."
ON TONY STEWART BEING MORE CONTENT AND THAT POSSIBLY HELPING TO LEAD HIM TO A TITLE. ARE THERE LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM THAT FOR YOU?
"I think so. I think if you look at, it's not an exact parallel, but if you look at Tony and the way he stayed focused last year on the right things and didn't let anything rattle his cage, I think there are a lot of lessons in that that I can apply to myself and that my team can apply as well. I feel a little different this year. I feel like things do look like a championship year for us. We've lost it a few times. We've been so close. We understand the pressure. We understand what we need to do to be a champion. Hopefully we'll take that mature standpoint and work through this thing and get it done."
HAVE YOU APPLIED ANY OF THOSE LESSONS THIS YEAR?
"Yeah, I think so. If you look at Dover last weekend and everything that we went through. We used to get frustrated and let things explode at that point. Our team isn't known for that but we still did a better job than we've done than any other point in time with any set of circumstances so we're still improving it and doing better in our own eyes and what we see.
"My outlook is more simple as the years wear on and we get into the Chase. It's really all about making the Chase. Then once you're in the Chase, we need 10 good ones. I can have the best 26 races and a 500-point lead and none of it matters. You get to the final 10 and it is what is. You need 10 good ones. The pressure that I put myself through and what I focus on is a lot more relaxed this year than my rookie or sophomore year before we went into the Chase."
WHAT'S SO COOL ABOUT NIGHT RACING?
"Everybody has documented the different things. I think what makes them appealing to the fans is that at night the cars looks a little bit faster. It's lit up. You see sparks. The track has more grip in it so you can race harder. I think that's what puts on a better show for the fans."