JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO was the fastest in yesterday's afternoon segment and today's morning segment. TALK ABOUT BEING FAST TODAY AND YESTERDAY AND ON THE IMPORTANCE OF MAYBE WINNING YOUR FIRST DAYTONA 500 "There...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO was the fastest in yesterday's afternoon segment and today's morning segment.
TALK ABOUT BEING FAST TODAY AND YESTERDAY AND ON THE IMPORTANCE OF MAYBE WINNING YOUR FIRST DAYTONA 500 "There is so much that goes into qualifying. It seems like there is such a build up to what goes into it. Everybody gets focused on that. But Chad (Knaus, crew chief) is great at the restrictor plate races - especially on qualifying. So we are trying to find speed like everybody else is. But really, we've got a workhorse car and a car that we're trying to get speed out of. And we're really focusing on getting a good driving car for the 500. It's great to be able to be on the pole and we were able to do that in our rookie year and we really want to come back and have a shot at winning the race. We came close last year."
HOW IMPORTANT WOULD IT BE TO WIN THAT RACE AND HAVE THAT TROPHY ON YOUR MANTLE? "That would obviously be our biggest event. Coming out as the first race of the year, it supercharges everybody's emotions and nerves. To be able to start off the season with that win and have the trophy for my mantle would be a huge accomplishment. It does not mean that the season is going to be a championship season. There's so much other racing that goes on and other types of racing that it's a nice twist but it doesn't mean everything."
ON TESTING FOR AND COMPETING IN THE ROLEX 24 HOUR "I'm really excited to drive the Daytona Prototype car. I've never been in anything that's driven like that. The braking ability and the downforce is quite an experience. I'm real thankful that Rick (Hendrick) and everybody at Lowe's is going to let me drive this car. Not only is it a great experience, but I think we actually have a legitimate shot at winning the race. That would be another great addition to the mantle."
ON COMPETING WITH RYAN NEWMAN "We have been competing against each other since 1999 when we were both trying to get into the NASCAR world and competing for Busch rides. We've always had a great relationship. We really respect one another on and off the track. That has carried through to today. We had a great season last year and a lot of battles together. When you race with him, he's not going to give you much room. He races you hard and doesn't give an inch. But he doesn't cross the line. You can race hard and know that you're not going to have demolition derby out there with him."
ARE YOU STILL ON INFORMATIONAL OVERLOAD ON THE PROTOTYPE? "Yeah, I'm still in that state. I was hoping to be able to test the car again on Monday before we came down. They wanted to do another shakedown test. But it's ended up being later in the week and I'm obviously here so I can't do it. I don't know how many laps I'll get before I climb in the car and drive it (at the Rolex 24 Hr). But the pace that I ran and what I was able to do in the car is all that they want out of me. They feel they've improved the car since then. So I'm coming back feeling good about it. But that first segment that I'm in the car I'm going to be watching myself and making sure I don't mess anything up."
BEFORE RACING HERE IN BUSCH & CUP, DO YOU HAVE ANY HISTORY AT DAYTONA? "I grew up in Southern California and it was hard to catch any NASCAR races on television. But one of the ones you could always count on was the Daytona 500. I remember being pretty young and watching this race with my dad and only a few others. I've watched it for a long time and have always wanted to be a part of it. I have great memories so far. We came out in our rookie year and won the pole and finished 15th. Last year we finished third. Everything has been really strong for me here and I hope to win it someday."
ON HIS SCARY EXPERIENCE OF SWIMMING WITH THE SHARKS DURING A SCUBA DIVE IN THE BAHAMAS WITH JEFF GORDON "Just before New Year's we went on a dive. I had never been in the water for any length of time before but I took a quick (scuba) course. Before I knew it, we were swimming around a ship that they sunk there. Jeff spotted a shark and then chased the shark, which I thought was a bad idea (laughs). As he is chasing the shark, it led us to probably 15 more sharks. It's weird on how calm you are when surrounded by one of your biggest fears. I realized there wasn't anything that I could do to get away from them and if they wanted to they would just swim over and take a bite out of me. I hung on to a rock on the bottom and watched for a little bit and then left. I climbed out of the water basically speechless. But Jeff was high-fiving one of the guys who was with us on the dive. They thought it was one of the best dives they'd ever had and I couldn't really see or understand that (laughs).
ON IMPROVING THE '03 SEASON IN '04 "The first thing that comes to mind is the $5 million difference between first and second place. It's something like that. It's a huge amount. As far as the season goes - especially with the way the rules look like they're going to turn out for the points - you don't know until the end. We all had a feeling that Matt Kenseth was in control and would stay in control. But when it was all said and done, it was only 90 points (between first and second). There were some mistakes that I made. We had some failures and bad luck. If one of those races had been different, maybe we would have been the champions. But everybody looks back on their season and looks at a few things that changed the outcome. This coming season, we will try not to make those mistakes again. I was too aggressive early in the race a couple of times. I'm going to really work hard at not driving outside of my means and not take unneeded risks and be there all year long and hopefully be the champion."
ON AERO CHANGES FOR '04 "With my off-road background, I don't mind a loose race car at all. Taking three-quarters of an inch of spoiler off the back definitely will free the car up. With what we know and what we've been dealing with aero-wise, I think we'll be able to get the balance back after some time. The crew chiefs and engineers are working hard to try and get us back to where we were. Eventually I think we'll end up with cars as stable as they were before by themselves. In traffic, you can't deny the fact that the spoiler is missing back there. So it's going to make the cars a little unstable and hard to predict. I don't know what that's going to turn into on the race track and how races are going to play out. But I'm hoping that it gives us an upper hand. We're looking forward to going to Las Vegas. We tested in Kentucky at the end of last year --- took some spoiler off just to see what it would do - and it changed it a little bit. But we knew enough to get it back at that point."
CAN YOU HANDICAP THE FIELD? "It's hard to say because there's such a shake-up during the winter. You've got key personnel moving around. It looks like a new tire is possibly coming out and a new spoiler. It's really who hits it first. The teams that have been up front and that are able to respond quickly to rules changes will continue to be there. I certainly feel that my team is going to be one of those. Yates didn't have the type of year that they wanted to have last year and I think those guys will be up front a lot more. I still think it'll be the same guys."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500? "I don't know. I really haven't thought about it. I can say all the things that everybody else would say - that it would be the greatest thing. But I don't anybody can really appreciate it until you're there the next day watching your car be put in the museum. That's when it probably finally hits people. I just look forward to that experience."
WITH THE POINTS REVISION, WILL YOU ADJUST YOUR TESTING SCHEDULE? "We've adjusted our road course testing a little bit. We're not going to go out to Infineon. We're going to try to save that test and try to use it at the end of the year. Hopefully we're in the top 10 or wherever that cutoff is. Then we'll have a test leftover for then. I think that's the only big change that's been made in the test schedule. It is changing the way the crew chiefs look at the season and the way they plan out their tests, definitely."
ON THE NEWCOMERS/ROOKIES COMING INTO NEXTEL CUP "It's amazing to see the talent that keeps coming up from the Busch Series and other series into the NEXTEL Cup Series. Brian Vickers showed what he could do in qualifying last year and he also had some great races. When I came in as a rookie, I definitely knew about Ryan Newman and his track record. He was going to be tough to beat. I thought he would win the Rookie-of-the-Year battle by a long way and that I would be struggling. I was surprised that we were one of the guys who led the rookie battle at times and won more races and finished higher in points.
"With that being said, I think you can't rule anyone out. Maybe these guys will raise the bar again. I didn't think I would be able to do it. And it happened. It's just having the right people in the right places. All the rookies that are coming in have great backing and good teams. They're going to be tough."
DOES BRIAN VICKERS SEEM YOUNG TO YOU? "He does. In a lot of ways he does. But when you're around him on the track and you see his professionalism and commitment to racing, I think he's 30 or older. But when you step out and look you think, yeah, he's 20. But somewhere along the line, he's picked up a great deal of maturity and commitment to racing and it shows. To be able to win the Busch championship and be as competitive that I know he's going to be in Cup, he definitely has his act together."
ON THE SOFTER TIRES "Here at Daytona, until you have about 20 cars in the draft it's hard to get the car moving around enough. With the restrictor plates on the cars, they're very limited on the speed and really how the cars react. It's going to be hard to tell anything from that aspect. But what we have noticed in years past is that when you are testing or getting ready for qualifying, you'll run four or five runs on your tires to take some of the grip away because it slows the car down and binds the car up too much. For some reason, stickers are picking the cars up a little bit here. It doesn't make a lot of sense. They're softer, so they should grip more which in the past has slowed us down. But in the last two days they've picked up the speed of the car a little bit. I think you'll see more guys qualifying on stickers than on scuffs."