Talladega: Johnson - Friday media visit

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed competing with teammate Jeff Gordon, racing at Talladega, and more. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT SUNDAY'S RACE? "I think we're all eager to see what the cars do with the new ...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed competing with teammate Jeff Gordon, racing at Talladega, and more.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT SUNDAY'S RACE? "I think we're all eager to see what the cars do with the new spoiler and how the package works out. I guess there's got to be a level of curiosity on what will happen when a car turns around backwards and if it's going to stay on the ground. We'll learn a lot over the course of the weekend. I expect a fairly action-packed race throughout the entire event; certainly at the end you'll get everything you would hope for.

"But the spring race seems to be pretty exciting and then the fall race when the championship is on the line; I kind of lead the way in this category where I'm just trying to protect and trying to be smart and end up riding in the back. And I think the overall feeling in the pack kind of turns out that way and leads to a race that's less desirable to some. But then we all take our heads off and drive like fools and tear up stuff (laughs)."

HAVE YOU AND JEFF GORDON TALKED? ARE YOU SENSING GORDON DRIVING WITH MORE HUNGER THAN BEFORE? GORDON SAID NO DOUBT THERE IS RIVALRY BETWEEN THE NO. 24 AND THE NO. 48 TEAMS "Sure. Did you guys (the media) hear about the fight we got into? (laughter) Man, we just got into a hell of a fight."

YEAH, HE WAS WEARING DARK GLASSES "I caught him good with the right hook and am glad he's wearing those shades (laughs). No. Honestly, we are out there racing and it doesn't matter, teammate or not, you're going to race really, really hard. And that's what we do. Jeff and I have been racing each other really hard because we've both have had really good race cars and race wins and of course there is a very intense rivalry through the Hendrick teammates, especially in that 24/48 shop. But being that it's a rivalry, it's always been a very good one and it will continue to be that way. We push each other really hard and ask a lot and we're both greedy in ways and have probably put each other in positions on the race track that he (Gordon) hasn't liked and I haven't liked and found myself in that position in Texas and decided to express myself a little bit. We've talked, for sure. Everything is fine and in good shape and we'll just keep racing.

"Unfortunately from our standpoint this stuff comes to a head and it's on national television and everybody asks questions and then we've got to come back and patch it up behind that. In the past, it hasn't come to a head like this so we've done a lot of it through conversations and in person. This stuff has been there I guess is what I'm getting at. We've dealt with this before and we're going through it again. A lot of it is just because we're both very hungry and racing hard for each position."

IS THIS THE MOST AGGRESSIVE YOU'VE SEEN GORDON SINCE YOU'VE BEEN AT THE CUP LEVEL? "No, not necessarily. When he's in a position to win a race, he is one of the best I think at putting other guys in compromising positions. He's very smart at doing that. That's not a knock on him. I don't like what he's done to me at times; that's kind of like the thing the other day. But think of the bump and runs with Rusty (Wallace) at Bristol. I can remember an incident with the No. 18 car (Bobby Labonte) in it at Martinsville. He doesn't wreck guys but he knows how to just get in there and upset you a little bit. And that's a very good quality to have, especially trying to close a deal on a race. So it's not a knock. I guess to answer your question, I've seen that aggression in years past and now that everything is really buttoned up on the team and those guys are competitive, he's taking those opportunities. And it's just part of racing."

ARE THERE OLD STRATEGIES REGARDING WHAT TO DO WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS THAT JUST DON'T WORK ANYMORE? "Man, it's really tough because with today's three attempts at a checkered flag finish, it obviously mixes things up. The tire strategy has been pretty chaotic and there haven't been any trends in it. Then you get to double-file restarts. And that adds a level of excitement. All those things have been brought along because the fans wanted to see something more exciting. So if the overwhelming majority are now like well the guy who should have won the race didn't; I mean we're trying to keep them happy. So I feel a lot of the time we're just chasing our tail in this sport. The fan council and the other things that we have to show what the fans want to see and do led to double-file restarts and the multiple attempts and that's really what creates this. So we're just really the monkeys in the cage. We're just out there racing. Whatever the opportunity we can find to take advantage of, we're going to do it and we're going to try to do it. But it's very tough today. There are so many variables that make it inconsistent. It's just tough."

GIVEN THE RULES AND THAT PEOPLE ARE ON THEIR HONOR, WHY, IF YOU WERE LEADING BY ½ LAP WITH FIVE LAPS TO GO, WOULD THE GUY WHO IS RUNNING SECOND NOT SPIN SOMEBODY OUT AND CAUSE A CAUTION? "It could happen. It really could."

ON THE RADIO THERE HAVE BEEN CONVERSATIONS WHERE PEOPLE HAVE SAID BUMP THE HECK OUT OF HIM AND IF HE CAN'T HANG ON WE'LL GET A CAUTION OUT OF IT "I guess anything is possible. That thought doesn't go through my mind or my team's mind. I don't know how you regulate that. I guess you just hope that karma comes into play or the racing gods eventually somehow balance things out. We have a way of regulating what goes on on the race track. You'd have to think in time, that if that was a deliberate thing that took place, that whoever lost in that situation would find a way to balance the scale out."

AFTER THE TIRE TEST AT INDY THIS WEEK, GOODYEAR SAYS THEY INTEND TO BRING BACK EITHER THE SAME TIRE OR A VERY SIMILAR TIRE. DO YOU THINK THAT'S A GOOD MOVE? "Yeah, we had a really good test with them. I feel that they did a really good job of bringing a lot of cars and a diverse group of teams and drivers to put the tires they were serving up to us through every situation they could be in. It was weird because at the test the control, which was last year's race tire, was better than the other stuff that they brought. And you could feel the energy. It was like man I know you've worked really hard on this new tire combination but I like the old one better.

"So at the end of the first day, you could see where Goodyear was like all right, we're coming to grips with the fact that we built a really good tire here and maybe this year we can't make it any better. I feel that the stuff they brought for us to try, another attempt or two at it and they'll have it right and it'll be the next generation tire we go to. I know from their standpoint, there are some huge gains in durability with the tire that had hoped we would like. We just didn't get the comfort out of it that we had with the control and the tire we ran last year. So it was a great test. We made a lot of laps. There were a lot of cars on track. The track rubbered up real nice. We made long runs and didn't see any issues. So I think we're in good shape."

YOU STARTED OFF TODAY SAYING THAT THERE'S A CURIOSITY ON WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN THE CAR GOES BACKWARDS, WILL IT GO AIRBORNE? IS THERE A FEAR INVOLVED IN THAT CURIOSITY? DO YOU THINK NASCAR HAS DONE ALL THEY CAN DO TO PREVENT THAT FROM HAPPENING? "There's always fear associated with crashing here. Things can happen. I feel like we're a heck of a lot safer than we've ever been here. Directionally, we know that this is better and all that kind of thing. In a weird way too, and I've always joked around and I'll say this and be the guy that's upside down this weekend, but if you're going to wreck and be out of the race, you want the damn thing to be spectacular. Just smashing the wall and losing the right front, is kind of not spectacular. If you're going to go out, you may as well go out upside down, on fire. And I'll say that, and I'll be that guy. I think that we made big steps going to the spoiler that should keep the car on the ground. If you think about it, the wing going one way creates down force, going the other way creates lift and we don't have that situation anymore."

OBVIOUSLY YOU'VE RACED WITH JEFF; IN 2007 YOU HAD TO FIGHT FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP, SO THIS IS NOTHING NEW. AS THINGS GET RAMPED UP HOW DO YOU KEEP THIS AS JUST A HEALTHY RIVALRY WITHOUT ESCALATING TO ANYTHING ELSE? AND HOW DO YOU KEEP THIS FROM SPREADING INTO THE TEAMS AND CAUSING ISSUES THERE, IF ISSUES ARISE BETWEEN THE TWO OF YOU? "That's a good question. I really believe that it boils down to communication. Jeff and I talked and I quickly realized that there are two sides to every story. Through that and communicating, if you feel wronged in a situation, he reminds me of something that he felt wronged by before and I'm like, 'Ok, well then this happened.' So it's like what came first, the chicken or the egg?

"Where did this start. At the end of the day, it really boils down to when something irritates you, you need to go say something about it and you need to communicate in order to preserve the team, the company, and the big picture of things. It was good that we had our conversations and I think it shows us that we need to continue to communicate as time goes on."

IT'S STILL GOOD TO EXPRESS YOURSELF IN THAT WAY ON THE TRACK TOO, ISN'T IT? "Yeah, you have to stand up for yourself regardless of the situation. There comes a point that if you don't stand up for yourself, people are just going to continue to push you around, teammate or not. I'm not just speaking to our particular situation. I think there's been a lot of conversation with Joey Logano, and where is that point for him? So it doesn't matter, who you are, what you are. It's just kind of the society on the race track. At some point, you need to stand your ground and say, 'That's enough.'"

IN A COUPLE WEEKS WE HAVE THE ALL-STAR RACE COMING UP AND YOU'VE WON IT A COUPLE TIMES. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT THAT MEANT TO YOUR CAREER, WHERE IT RANKS WITH SOME OF THE OTHER RACES? WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE ATMOSPHERE AND HOW MUCH FUN DO YOU HAVE THERE? "To me the All-Star race is right there in the top three or four when you look at the Daytona 500, the Brickyard. If you look from a paper perspective, it's probably the second largest race to win. It leaves a feeling inside of you that you're so proud that you won our All-Star event with everything that's on the line with it; the purse-side of it also helps rank it some more. Those two wins that I have there are really, really special to me. I'd say top three or four."

THE CLOSING RATE, YOU GUYS HAD A BIG PLATE AT DAYTONA AND YOU LOOKED PRETTY GOOD THERE. WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CLOSING RATE HERE, COULD YOU DEAL WITH MORE CLOSING RATE, A BIGGER PLATE OR WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE A SHORTER CLOSING RATE? WHAT'S YOUR THINKING ABOUT THAT? "So in the test, we had a variety of combinations and it worked backwards than what we had all thought. The higher drag package would create more closing rate, and you'd think that the more drag would allow the cars to meet a threshold and create opportunities to pass, but at the same time since you had all this drag it would slow the car down. The other combination would be less drag and a larger restrictor plate. So out of those two, you'd think bigger restrictor plate equals faster speeds. We saw the opposite. The smaller plate with the bigger spoiler allowed the cars behind to have less air on them because the spoiler was bigger and pushing air up higher that the vehicles behind would propel the leader and we ran really, really fast speeds that way. They put the bigger plate on with the less down force and yes we ran a faster lap by ourselves, but in the pack we were much more controlled and contained. It was a really interesting discipline to go through and I'm thankful that they had so many cars here so we could figure this out because it worked backwards than what we really had all thought."

DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE GOING TO BE HAPPY WITH IT, AND DO YOU THINK IT'S A GOOD PACKAGE? "I've heard this phrase before and I believe it's true. You're going to have 30% of the people that love it, 30% that hate it and 30% that don't care. If you create the opportunity to pass, the speeds are going to be really high. We're going to see a lot of crashes and you're going to have the garage area disliking that. If you create the other scenario where the cars may run a little faster speed, don't have the closing rate, then the drivers are going to love it and the fans are going to think, 'ah, we didn't see the race that we wanted to.' We're really stuck in a spot here where I feel we have to look and say what is the safest race that we can put on for the drivers and for the fans. At that point, yes I think people aren't going to be happy because I think there's going to be less energy in the draft, but we have to put a stick in the sand somewhere and say this is why we're doing it. I believe that's where we're at. It is the safest combination; we might be criticized from people that want to see more action, but at the end of the day, we have to keep the cars on the ground, we have to keep the drivers safe and the fans safe. I think that's where we're at right now."

-source: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte