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.
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DO YOU PACE YOURSELF DIFFERENTLY FOR TALLADEGA THAN YOU DO FOR OTHER RACES?
"My game plan is to stay towards the front. Obviously, the closer you are to the front the safer you feel. But in recent history, we've had some of the biggest wrecks start at the front. So, it's kind of hard to know exactly where you need to be. But it seems like two-thirds of the race, there are different moves that you know you're not going to make yet. It's too early. It's not worth it. And then as you get to the end there - really the last pit stop - the slack you give people gets shorter and shorter. That whole space between the cars seems to get smaller and smaller. That just seems to be the rhythm of the race I think, rather than my own style. It's just kind of what I've seen go on and take place. It's just not worth it to be too risky too early."
BASED ON YOUR SUCCESS AT THE PLATE RACES, ARE YOU ABLE TO FIND YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT AT THE END BECAUSE YOU'RE A LITTLE BIT BRAVER THAN EVERYBODY ELSE?
"I don't think bravery is really the key. Every one of those guys out there is pretty courageous. I think it's more about smarts. I've found that in general about a lot of race tracks. It's not about courage. It's about using your head. I've been over-drafting the car at other race tracks and it's also a case that you can look a little erratic or be too risky and lose trust between yourself and the other guys out there. You can't work alone there. You have to have everybody trust you and believe in you and work with you. I feel it's more about smarts."
HOW DO YOU WORK THROUGH THE RACE TO MAKE THOSE RIGHT DECISIONS AT THE END?
"At Daytona, I felt like I made all the right decisions and took the right risks at the right time, but I made a move that hurt me in the 125 Shootout and in the IROC race. I got a little anxious and made a move at the three-quarter mark that hurt me. I shouldn't have done it. For the (Daytona) 500, I wasn't going to make that same move again. Really, your smarts come into play in recognizing what's going on behind you in your mirror and how your line is forming -- and making a move when you have such a big push from behind that the guy in front of you can't block you and the guys behind you has no choice but to follow you. Those are the situations you've got to look for. It's really hard to set that stuff up. You've just got to be smart and patient and wait for that exact time to happen. If it doesn't happen, hopefully the guy in front of you is impatient and you can get by him because of a mistake that he makes. But you've got to be smart and give the guys behind you no other option but to follow you. And that's the whole key."
WHEN YOU LOOK BEHIND YOU, ARE YOU LOOKING AT CERTAIN CARS THAT HAVE BEEN FAST, OR CAN YOU EVEN TELL WHO IS MORE THAN ONE OR TWO CARS BACK?) "Your spotter really paints a picture behind you about how tight the formation is and who is back there. From past experiences, when you look in the mirror and see who it is, you know if the guy will work with you or if he's going to try and hang you out. You kind of remember the day's events and what's gone on, plus past races and what someone's done to you before and handle each situation differently."
LOOKING AHEAD TO MARTINSVILLE, ARE DIFFERENT DRIVING SKILLS NEEDED THERE AS OPPOSED TO OTHER TRACKS ON THE CIRCUIT?
"No, Martinsville is a unique animal. In general, flat race tracks are very difficult to drive and take a lot of patience. You have to be very smooth - especially at Martinsville with as slippery and tight as it is. It's a totally unique monster. The second race there (last year), I was really able to find the rhythm that I needed and we were very competitive. I'm really looking forward to going back."
REGARDING BEING SMOOTH, DO YOU MEAN IN THE COCKPIT OR IN PREPARATION OF THE CAR?
"At Martinsville, we use up everything in every department. It's a hard braking track. It's hard on tires and hard on engines and hard on the side of the car. You run out of room and run into the wall. It seems like I always run into the wall there off of Turn 4. You just run out of race track -- even off Turn 2. You have to be smooth on your brakes and take care of your brakes. You have to take care of your tires in the corner, plus exiting in the turn. You can really spin the rear tires easily. So you've got to manage your tires; plus keep your race car in one piece. So, that's what I mean when I say 'smooth'."
DID YOU FIND OUT WHAT YOUR ENGINE PROBLEMS WERE LAST WEEKEND? DID YOU JUST DROP A CYLINDER ON SUNDAY?
"Yes, I knew we dropped a cylinder in Atlanta and in practice they were just freak part failures and weird things happening. But we did drop a cylinder in Sunday's and we're trying to learn why."
ON KYLE PETTY'S ACCIDENT AT BRISTOL BEING ONE OF THE HIGHEST IMPACTS RECORDED ON THE DATA RECORDER
"It doesn't make me re-look at anything. Hendrick Motorsports has been designing and working on a composite seat. It (Petty's wreck) just re-confirms that this is the way to go and that composite seat is the wave of the future. We need to get these seats into effect. We're ready and prepared to be building these seats and put them out there but we still need to get them approved by NASCAR. Hopefully this will help speed up that process."
BY COMING INTO THE SPORT WITHOUT ANY PRE-CONCEIVED NOTIONS, DO YOU THINK YOU'VE HELPED JEFF GORDON?
"Chad Knaus is very responsible for that. He's brought in new fresh ideas and with the way the sport is changing and evolving, he is really aggressive in trying some unique set-ups. Without me being in the sport for a long time and not having strong feelings to a certain set-up on a certain race track, I've been really open-minded. The set-ups Chad has brought to me; I've learned how to drive them. In a roundabout way, I think that's what Jeff Gordon is talking about. These race cars are ever changing and the way you drive them changes with each set-up change. I'm able to get a handle with the new set-ups we're running and learn them relatively quickly because I don't have any past experience. I've been able to teach Jeff a little about that too."
ON JEFF GORDON'S COMMENT THAT DRIVERS WHO ARE NOT OPEN-MINDED WILL BE LEFT IN THE DUST
"It's been documented with other teams and drivers that have said they were struggling because they haven't changed their format and make the old stuff work. Our sport now revolves around a lot of engineers. We've been working hard with them to try to find the best advantages we can. It's important to do that and to stay open-minded. You can credit Jeff and everything the No. 24 team has been able to accomplish over the years for staying successful when the times keep changing. That's what a championship team is made of. It doesn't take Jeff long to figure out something new."