JIMMIE JOHNSON , NO. 48 CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - MEDIA Q&A's REMARKS ABOUT THE UPDATED DAYTONA RACE TRACK "They've definitely face-lifted the racetrack. It took me a while during the Rolex 24 practice to figure out where to go and what to do.
JIMMIE JOHNSON , NO. 48 CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO - MEDIA Q&A's
REMARKS ABOUT THE UPDATED DAYTONA RACE TRACK
"They've definitely face-lifted the racetrack. It took me a while during the Rolex 24 practice to figure out where to go and what to do. I've noticed that going into Turn 1 the track looked different. Now, being on the track and going over that, there's a little bump. I think that's good for our cars. It looks a bit different going into Turn 1 now.
"As far as '05, we finished up strong last year and had to overcome one of the biggest challenges with the airplane going down. Professionally, personally and the range of emotions that go along with that...we've had a winter to heal some more. Everybody has a spring in their step. We're looking forward to a great season. With the rules changing coming, it's going to really mix things up. The first 6-8 races on the intermediate tracks, it's going to be hard to know who's going to be up front. There will be an opportunity to have multiple winners. Different winners. No one really has a grasp on this thing yet and granted we are going to have some test sessions coming up for everyone.
"I was in a tire test in Atlanta last week and it's a totally different animal. It's going to be very interesting. A quarter of the way through the season, you'll start to see the usual suspects rise to the top. But in the beginning I think it's going to be a mixed bag. It's going to be a real interesting start to the season."
REGARING THE PENDING RETIREMENT OF RUSTY WALLACE AND MARK MARTIN
"It's amazing to look at the stats that both of them have and to be on the track racing with them. I can remember my first race at Lowe's Motor Speedway and being around Mark and getting onto the radio and talking to the team and telling them how fired up I was to be racing with Mark Martin and Rusty. I raced in ASA and the impression that they left and the people that they were around still talk about Trickle, Rusty, Mark and Kilwicki. So, I felt like I knew them before I came down. I was able to get to know Mark first. I think the world of him. When I left the drivers meeting at Homestead last year, I grabbed him on the shoulder and he looked at me and I said, 'Buddy, when I grow up I want to be like you.' I truly meant that. The guy has so much class, so much fire.
"We're all intrigued to watch Mark and be around him and hear him speak. I think the world of him. I've recently got to know Rusty better. I think he's had an incredible career. He's been able to accomplish things on the business side in being an owner in our sport. I think that's going to be a wave of the future for drivers, possibly, to have a different role in their race teams. Both of them are going to have a great final season and they'll never be forgotten in our sport."
COMPARE YOURSELF NOW TO COMING INTO THE CUP SERIES IN 2002
"I had two good years I Busch but I was really, really nervous coming in. I had no idea it was going to turn out like it has. From that point until now, the biggest thing is confidence. I know my abilities. I know that if I'm out there and put in 100%, I have a shot at winning the race and that's all you can really ask for as a driver. Each crew member looks themselves in the mirror and feels that same thing. You just want to know that if you go to the race track and put in 100%, you have a shot at winning. I feel that now. It's the first time in my career where I've felt that. I've always moved up the ladder really quickly and I've never spent a lot of time in any one series or vehicle. So, I never really was comfortable in the vehicles in the series I was racing in, because I was moving on every two years from the time I started driving four-wheeled vehicles. Now to be on year four, I know everyone and know the cars and tracks and it's a comfortable position to be in. And, with comfort comes confidence, so that's the biggest thing."
WHAT IS YOUR IMPRESSION OF THE NEW TIRES?
"The ones we ran at Atlanta...I know there were some small changes made to them but nothing major. We tried some compound changes to work with the new spoiler package and that's what I think they'll settle in with. What's amazing to me is how different the cars drive and how much movement you have in the cars now without that inch of spoiler in the back. We've had to take downforce out of the front of the cars as well to balance some things out. Just standing on the top of the transporter watching the cars go through the turn, you'll be surprised to see how much movement you can see out of the cars. Because of all the movement, Goodyear is worried about a wearing issue and maybe a temperature issue.
"And that's what they were trying to sort out between the tire we ran last year in Atlanta to a few versions we tried from that. When it was all said and done there will be a small change in Atlanta. I don't know what they have planned for the other tracks. It's going to be a handful."
ON THE OFFSEASON AND HIS WEDDING
"I was married on Dec 11. We had a kind of a destination wedding down in Caribbean and honeymoon in the Caribbean. It was so nice because for two weeks I didn't answer the phone or check emails-I didn't do anything. For the honeymoon, no one could find me. It was great. I really enjoyed it. Now we're just getting back to the grind. When you're gone for that many days-the off-season is a very busy time for us-I came home to a lot of stuff I need to get caught up on. Now I'm caught up and back to the normal routine. I had an incredible off-season."
HOW DO YOU BUILD ON LAST YEAR?
"We always feel that there's more to win and I think that's just the competitive nature in everyone. To be second two years in a row - we really, really want a championship. From growing up around the sport, watching it, and working in it--it's not something you sign up for and get. We understand how hard that is. We're grateful to have two great years-really three great years in the sport. We hope we're able to win a championship. Last year was a very special year for us to win 8, overcome the tragedy of the airplane, and win four in the final ten. That's going to tough to beat. A championship will beat that. We're always moving our goals. I'd love to win a plate race, especially the Daytona 500. I'd love to win at Bristol. Last year I said I want to win at Darlington and Martinsville. Those were my two tracks that were the most demanding on me and I struggled. We were able to win at both of them. So, I've now set some new goals with a plate race and Bristol. Hopefully we're able to do that. If this year is a championship year for us, we feel like we're ready for it. And we'll definitely be smiling ear to ear in New York when it's all said and done. But that's so far from now and it's going to be an entirely new year with the rules changes and everything.
"It's going to be a very exciting year. We probably won't know who the champion will be until the final race, like last year."
HOW LOOSE WILL THE CARS BE WITH THE NEW RULES CHANGE?
"It's definitely looser - especially if you kept the aero shape of the front end of the car the same as last year. If you have a background of off-road (racing) or dirt (racing), I think that might work in your favor. The car moves around a lot. There are a lot of times when you're really looking at the center of the corner and trying to get there, but you just can't because the car is in a four-wheel drift. So there is a lot of movement. And I wouldn't just say it's just loose. We've taken total down force out of the cars to balance them out. You just have a lot more movement. The car isn't as stuck in the track. I think when you're by yourself or in qualifying; you're not going to see a lot of troubles. In traffic, it's going to be more difficult than what it's been."
ON CLEAN AIR
"Personally, I think the clean air theory is always going to be there. That's going to be a constant. You can't take away what you know and we know that aerodynamics is key in our sport. We're making left-hand turns all the time on a consistent oval and aerodynamics is what you've got to focus on. That's going to be the same if the cars have a lot of downforce or if they don't have much downforce at all. The biggest thing in my opinion is to have the cars slow down and give up over the course of a run. In order to do that, Goodyear has asked NASCAR to take the downforce out of the cars so we don't abuse the tires as they make them softer. So I think the balance is going to work itself out. We need cars and tires that slow down and give up so that you have to pit. It makes the set-up of the race car more important and brings the driving aspect into it. That's what I think the goal is. I think we're getting closer to it. But the clean air theory? It's going to be here forever. You can't take back that information in my opinion."
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION OF THE POINTS SYSTEM FROM LAST YEAR UNTIL NOW?
"I've been on a roller coaster ride with it. I think there are more positives than negatives.
"So in the end, being that I work in our sport, anything that makes the sport grow is what we have to look at. The old championship system really declares the champion in the manner that it should be. With the new system in place, just watching what it did to the fans and our viewership - and people I see in the streets when I'm up in my apartment in New York - it's amazing what it's done for our sport. There are more positives in that. So, I'm for it. But the purest side of me still wishes that old championship system was back. But that thing is long gone as far as I see it."
DO YOU REPLAY THE LAST LAP AT THE '04 HOMESTEAD RACE IN YOUR MIND?
"I don't really replay that too much. There have been some other parts of the final 10 that I have. That last lap, I think I started in fourth or fifth and I came out in second. I was shocked to get past Jeff to second position. I knew the No. 16 was real strong. Unless something happened to him, I was just riding along. I look back and think if the course workers at Homestead could have moved those barriers in an inch or two more (laughs) it would have made a big difference. No, there were other parts of the season where we made some mistakes. We lost an engine at Talladega and crashed at Kansas. So I look more at those things. The last five races, our team put in an amazing effort. There's nothing I regret about those last five - really the last 10. We learned a lot about last year and we'll be better this year."
COMPARING YOUR TIME TODAY TO JEFF GORDON'S QUICK TIMES OF LAST WEEK, HOW DO YOU STAND AT DAYTONA?
"We're in good shape. I think all the speeds are down compared today versus than last week because the conditions are a little different. But from a driver's standpoint, you don't have any input with the car here. I know that the first half of today - really all day today - we're doing engine stuff. So we haven't even had a chance to work on the car yet. And I'm not sure what test matrix ran through. But we usually end up right around each other. And at this race, handling is so much more important than at Talladega - and a fast lap - that we've learned our lesson and we want to make sure that we race well.
"We actually came here knowing that we're probably gong to sacrifice a little bit of speed in order to make sure that we've got a car that will draft well and stay on the bottom of the race track. So, we're fine. We're having fun and getting back in the groove of things. We're having fun. Not a big deal."
ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH CREW CHIEF, CHAD KNAUS
"I truly believe that the driver/crew chief relationship is probably one of the most important things on the team. If you look at all the major rave teams with three or four teams, what separates the teams? I really think it's the people. The driver/crew chief relationship is the one that's magnified the most. If I can't describe what the car is doing in a way that Chad can understand it, we're not going to make any positive gains. Ever since the first time I was in one of his race cars and I explained what I felt on the track, he could visualize it and adjust to it and it was one of the most amazing things I've ever been a part of. I've had a lot of crew chiefs in a lot of different forms of racing and it took a lot of effort to make each other understand. For whatever reason, Chad and I can verbalize to one another what's going on and we understand each other. It's a very important part - especially since we don't have telemetry in our race cars - it puts greater emphasis on a driver/crew chief relationship. That's something we have that works really well for us. We're trying to use it to the best of our abilities all the time."
WITH THE DEI SHAKEUP, IS THERE AN OPPORTUNITY TO OVERTAKE THEM HERE AT THE PLATE TRACKS?
"We all know they've put a huge effort into their plate racing. I find it hard to believe that they came down and didn't have a good test. Everybody tries to set a constant throughout their complex. We try to make sure all our Hendrick cars come down with the same amount of horsepower and with the same restrictor plate and try to make as many constants as possible so we can learn through our cars. But when you come down for the race, everybody is bringing their best and everybody mysteriously picks up. So I would expect them to pick up. I wouldn't expect them to be as poor as everybody says. I don't even know where they ended up. I didn't pay attention last week. I was in Atlanta.
"But the race is really the important thing. The DEI cars have always qualified well, but they're almost unbeatable at times in the race. So it wouldn't surprise me if they came down and didn't have an incredible qualifying effort, but I would expect them to be at the front of the race. Those guys are always up there."
WHAT IS THE MOOD AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?
"It's moving along. We have a new building that's going up and the No. 5 (Kyle Busch) and the No. 25 (Brian Vickers) are moving into it. So there's a lot of restructuring going on to make our teams bigger and better. Everybody is doing a good job. We have new people in new positions. They're still feeling their way in those new positions. But when I see the family members that were associated with the plane crash, it puts it all back into perspective -- the people that were acquaintances and who knew them. You can find a way to move on and you can look forward. But every time I see Rick, I just see the hurt in his eyes...and Linda...and Diane Dorton....you can just go down the list through everyone who was on the plane. You just hurt for them. It brings you back. We're fortunate enough to go home and be with our loved ones. Some of them are going home to an empty house. When you see them it puts it in perspective. Anybody involved in the plane crash - directly - I don't think it's something they're ever going to get over. My heart goes out to them."