Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson is currently 5th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings ...
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Johnson is currently 5th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings (205 points behind the leader), following his 8th-place finish last Sunday in the Samsung/RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 40 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta.
Part 1 of 2
DO YOU MENTALLY PREPARE FOR TALLADEGA DIFFERENTLY THAN FOR OTHER RACES ? IF SO, WHEN ?
"Speedway racing in general, with the restrictor plates and everything that goes on, is probably one that requires the least amount of mental preparation of the events we go to. At Daytona, it's a really big refreshing course to remind myself of what's going on. I find through the practices and Happy Hours and everything we have going on there, that there's a lot of emphasis to remember the draft and to sort out what changes we have for that year's car. But in general, looking ahead to Talladega right now, I'm pretty laid back and I'm expecting a pretty mellow weekend."
ON THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF TEAMING WITH THE USO
"I'm just very thankful that Lowe's has taken the initiative to do this and support the USO and raise money for the USO. I've heard of the USO, but I wasn't familiar with what the USO was about and what it did until I went through my crash course here in the last few weeks. I'm very proud and honored to be a part of it. As I've learned about it, I understand that it's really the only support system for our troops (both) overseas for morale and then when they get back home. The level they go through to take care of our troops families and even the troops in certain cases is a great cause. I'm very proud that Lowe's has taken the initiative to get involved and donate the money they've donated. The donations and proceeds we raise are going to go to the troops and their families. It's a great cause."
DOES BEING INVOLVED MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE DOING YOUR PART IN THIS CRISIS?
"Absolutely. In some respects, people look to what I possibly have to say or what I support being that I'm a figure on TV and the fact that I'm involved with Lowe's and support this operation care package. The package is designed to raise morale for our teams - I mean troops -- overseas. I see that I can be a leader in some respects to show the NASCAR community and the fans that we need to support our troops. Maybe some people don't agree with the fact that we're at war. But regardless, I think everyone agrees that we need to support our troops and that's what this program is designed around. I'm glad that I can use my little bit of clout to raise awareness for it."
BECAUSE YOU SAID 'TEAMS', DO YOU SUBCONSCIOUSLY FEEL LIKE YOU ARE A PART OF THE TEAM?
"I'm just a small wheel in the machine. I'm an American and I'm proud to be an American. I want to support our troops that are defending our country and keeping us free and keeping the world a safer place."
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN RACING AND HOW DID YOU GET STARTED RACING?
"I started when I was about five years old racing motocross. It was just a weekend hobby that my family was involved in."
DRIVE IS MORE THAN SHIFTING GEARS. CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE DRIVE WITHIN YOU?
"It's been a weird thing that I look at now and try to understand the drive that I've had since I was a kid. I've had injuries as a kid - at eight years old I had reconstructive knee surgery. I look back now and wonder why I pushed through and did the things that I did to continue racing at such a young age. I wasn't even racing for a living then. It's just been a passion I've had inside of me. It's been the only thing on my mind and the only thing I've really pursued. It's pretty amazing."
HOW DO YOU THINK YOU AND YOUR TEAM IS DEVELOPING OVERALL AT THIS STAGE IN THE SEASON?
"We're 5th in points right now. We've been in the top 10 since the start of the season. I'm very pleased with everything we've been able to do as a team. We've had some crazy off-the-wall bad luck develop in the last three or four weeks, but we're still 5th in points. With that in mind, once we get rid of this black cloud over our heads, we're going to be in good shape."
HOW MUCH MORE COMFORTABLE ARE YOU IN YOUR SECOND SEASON OF WINSTON CUP RACING THAN YOU WERE AS A ROOKIE?
"Going at the tracks the second time, being in the garage and knowing faces and routines and everything that's going on have made things a lot more comfortable. After the year we had last year, the confidence that has put in me has been tremendous. It's been a huge thing for me and has really made the start of the second year a lot more enjoyable. More than anything, I've got an overview of what to expect of the season and kind of know how it will all unfold based on last year."
DESCRIBE THE RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TEAM AND YOUR CREW CHIEF, CHAD KNAUS
"I don't think you'll find a more dedicated person than Chad Knaus. He really sets the mark for the team to follow. He's incredible focused and dedicated to motorsports and to our race team, and I feel lucky to have the young group of guys that I do because they're all very hungry. We haven't won championships. We all really won our first race together as a team so we're all in a similar spot in our lives where we're hungry for a championship and hungry for race wins. I'm very fortunate to have the guys that I do. They work very hard and we've been able to accomplish some great things."
AFTER QUALIFYING WELL IN THE PAST AT TALLADEGA, WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO GET A WIN THERE THIS WEEKEND?
"It's been very important for me to gain experience in speedway races. I've made some rapid improvement. I almost won the Daytona 500. If we can keep the DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) cars separated, and I can have some help from one of my teammates, I think we have a shot at it (the win)."
IS THERE MORE EMPHASIS ON TALLADEGA DUE TO THE FACT THAT YOU SAT ON THE POLE AT BOTH RACES LAST YEAR AND FINISHED 3RD IN THE DAYTONA 500? AND, IS EVERYBODY LOOKING AT YOU TO BE THE GUY TO BEAT DALE EARNHARDT JR?
"I hope so. I like that position. Paying attention to qualifying there is really not related to the driver. That's something that the team is able to find - the motor shop finding more horsepower - the driver has nothing to do with that. I've been very fortunate to start up front every time I've been at Talladega so far. I think we've made some improvement to our racecars since Daytona. I think I qualified 14th on speed there. I think we'll be top 15, top 10. Chad had his hand slapped pretty good last year trying to find all that magic he gained on the pole in a speedway race. I don't anticipate us really researching those gray areas to find that speed because of what we went through last year and lost 25 points. It cost us some valuable points there. So qualifying-wise, we're not too worried about. But I've gained a lot of experience and made some good friends out there in the draft. Hopefully when we get up there we'll give the leader a run for his money."