Talladega II: Chevy's Johnson pole interview

Qualifying was canceled due to a wet track and the late hour, even though the sun is shining. Rookie JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVY MONTE CARLO, will start from the pole position, as the leader in Winston Cup points coming into this ...

Qualifying was canceled due to a wet track and the late hour, even though the sun is shining. Rookie JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVY MONTE CARLO, will start from the pole position, as the leader in Winston Cup points coming into this race.

JOHNSON: "If this fuel cell strategy works out that NASCAR's trying and we're able to have a single-file race, starting up front with track position should allow us to get strung out and to hopefully get away and avoid having the big group that we've seen in the past. So, there might be some advantages to it, that we can all run up there, and we're around one another and we know we're going to respect one another and we're all trying to get to the prize at the end. I think it will start off that way, but I think it's going to turn into a typical speedway race. One caution's going to bunch everything back up, and I think it's going to take two or three green-flag stops to separate the field due to the new fuel cell rules. My gut feeling is it's still going to be a race that we're used to always seeing."

AS CRAZY AS THIS POINTS RACE HAS BEEN ALL YEAR, WOULD IT BE MORE BIZARRE TWIST, HAVE A DIFFERENT DRIVER WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP FOR A CAR OWNER THAN THE DRIVER WHO STARTED THE SEASON? WOULD THAT BE A FITTING WAY TO END THIS CRAZY CHAMPIONSHIP?

"I think the fitting way for it to end would be a rookie win the title. The possibility is there and the 40 car is in great equipment. I think Jamie's (McMurray, driving for Sterling Marlin) going to do a really good job in the car. It's going to take him a little while to get up to speed, but I think the possibility exists and I think this race is going to probably be the hardest one for him. He doesn't have much experience racing with these guys and it's going to take him until probably the end of the race to have anyone really work with him and push him through traffic and not hang him out. I think he's going to do a great job, but crazier things have happened all year long and, who knows, maybe that situation will come down and the 40 car can still end up winning the championship. It's very possible."

HAS NASCAR EXPLAINED TO YOU THE NEW FUEL TANK RULE?

"From what I understand the reasoning behind the fuel cell is we will have to pit more; whenever we have the green-flag stops it really stretches out the field due to the difference in pit stops, how you get on and off pit road, it strings things out. And if we have more green-flag stops it's going to continue to string things out more and more. I really think it's going to take three or four rounds of pit stops to get everybody strung out; (that's) how I think NASCAR wants it to work. They're trying to do anything they can to get us spread out a little bit so we don't have these huge pileups."

YOU'RE NEW IN THIS POINTS RACE THING AND YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT THE PRESSURES ARE SUPPOSED TO BE. DO YOU THINK THAT WORKS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE?

"Our whole team is very fortunate to not have been in a points battle before, and we don't have the fears or that at night, when you're laying there wondering about three years ago, you lost it by a few points; whatever those things are. We don't know any better and all we know is that we've tried to have an open mind and a realistic mind of the season and (we have) blown away all the expectations that we set out to achieve and we've got a shot at doing something that's never been done and that makes us smile even more and makes it more fun for us. I hope we're able to continue this mind set in years to come, but I think a lot of it is just due to the fact that this is our first time in a points battle and we're able to kind of play dumb in some respects, that we don't know any better. It's been a lot of fun and the guys are having a great time with it and I know that I am as well."

AT THIS STAGE OF THE SEASON, DO YOU STILL CONSIDER YOURSELF A ROOKIE?

"Yeah, believe me, I feel like a rookie still out there. You make mistakes and do things. I've crashed in qualifying, crashed in practice; I've had some different things go on that when you look back on it you're like, ^ÌOK, if I would have been patient here, if I would have tried this or that.' So, yeah, I still feel like a rookie. I feel, though, out on the race track racing with everybody I'm very comfortable around everyone out there and give them a lot of respect, and I see that respect coming my way now. Maybe in the competition heat of the moment side I don't feel that way, but I know I make mistakes and I put a lot of it on being a rookie. But I'm sure everybody makes mistakes and you just try to find a way to justify it somehow."

A YEAR AGO YOU WERE SWEATING MAKING YOUR FIRST START AT CHARLOTTE. HOW LONG AGO DOES THAT SEEM?

"Actually, it was a year ago today. Leading up to the whole Lowe's week, what happened (was with) my Busch duties and my Winston Cup duties, I was stressed out. I didn't know what was going to happen. To not have any provisionals and anything to fall back on, I'm in the Lowe's car at Lowe's Motor Speedway and my first time trying to qualify and we were able to qualify 15th. So, once we cleared that hurdle that was huge. Today the 4th is the day that I have a lot of happy memories of from qualifying for my first Winston Cup race, but it's also the day that Blaise Alexander died last year. In that same day I lost my best friend and then I made my first Winston Cup race in fine fashion. So it was a very weird day."

YOU HAD A GOOD RUN IN APRIL. WITH THE EXPERIENCE NOW THAT YOU'VE HAD WITH THE DRAFT ARE YOU MORE COMFORTABLE RETURNING HERE?

"With both Daytona races and the race we had here earlier in the year, we were running inside the top five at the end trying to make some moves to get to the front and win. We stayed there all day long. I really learned a lot from the three races that I ran this year. The biggest thing that I've learned is you need to spend 90 percent of your time looking in the mirror, blocking and keeping the guys behind you and the aero bubble that's kind of on the front of these race cars to keep you in front of them. You've got to spend more time doing that than you do looking out the windshield. As the season's gone on and the more experience I've gotten in restrictor-plate racing I've become a lot better at that and I'm looking forward to Sunday. I think we've got a shot at winning the race."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Sterling Marlin , Blaise Alexander