Talladega: Johnson Friday media visit



HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE 'BIG ONE'? YOU'VE BEEN ABLE TO MISS IT BUT YOU'VE GOTTEN CAUGHT IN IT AS WELL. "You just have to race your race. When you see stuff that's going on you're not fond of you can try to get out of the way but when you're three and four wide here it's hard to really drop to the back. I've been caught up in wrecks and I've also started wrecks. It's something that's very, very easy to do here when you're racing at these speeds so close. I've certainly decided to be more cautious inside the car and try to wait until those closing laps to really get aggressive. When you're a racer and you're out there on the track it's hard not to race; it's hard not to try to squeeze into some positions. It's a tough thing and when you're running four wide at 200 mph, 30-40 cars deep, stuff happens. And we're not talking about big mistakes, I'm talking about an inch that makes the difference between an accident and not having one."

HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS BEEN GREAT WITH THE NEW CAR. WHAT KIND OF RACE DO YOU THINK WE'LL SEE NEXT WEEK? "I think you'll see another good race. The track itself seemed to allow a second groove last time we raced there and in the test session there were a lot of guys up high already. So we're hopeful we'll have good side-by-side racing. I think the Richmond test got us ready for the Phoenix race and now going back to Phoenix I think the competition will be closer and I do think Hendrick has done a good job of getting off to a really fast start. But if you look around, I think Gibbs has been awfully tough, the No. 17 showed a lot of strength last week so I think all the big teams certainly are figuring this thing out. Guys who run well at Richmond I think you'll see back up front again."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON TONY STEWART'S COMMENTS ABOUT NASCAR? "Well, we all know and love Tony for having an opinion and speaking his mind and he certainly has done that again. I think in any form of sports when you have officials making calls there are always questions. It doesn't matter if it's here, in baseball, basketball, whatever it may be and I think that's what you're seeing here. Sometimes situations develop and you're like 'where is it, what is it?' That just comes with any sport that has officials involved.

"Tony certainly was quite outspoken and made a lot of headlines. It was shocking for me to see how far a simple radio show. that voice could carry and be heard all around the country."

WOULD IT BE PRODUCTIVE IF THERE WERE A WAY TO DISCUSS THESE THINGS WITH NASCAR? "It's hard to say. To find the right settings to be able to talk things through with NASCAR and get all the drivers there that have the same opinion. Everybody has a different opinion on how things should be run; why and when cautions should come out. At the end of the day, it's NASCAR's sport - they've done a great job of being in it until this point. They were questioned for not throwing a caution at the end of the Daytona 500 and they're questioned for throwing cautions for debris and stuff so it's tough. We could sit here and pick them apart left and right but it's tough. A tough job that they have, they've done a great job growing our sport year after year."

WOULD YOU HAVE LIKED TO HAVE THAT CONVERSATION WITH THEM AFTER CALIFORNIA? "There's certainly times where calls are made and you have questions about it. As a driver, you go to the truck and you sit down and you talk about it and try to get a resolution. That's really the right way to handle it. I've been up in the truck asking lots of questions including the California debris caution that we had and its just part of the cycle."

DID THEY SHOW YOU THE DEBRIS AT CALIFORNIA? "No, I didn't see it but they expressed fact that there's stuff on the track and they need to keep the track safe and clean so you don't run something over and puncture a tire or have any issues. Again, when it comes to a sport, which has officiating there's always question marks. I don't think our sport immune to it, I think all sports have that."

WHAT IS IT ABOUT JEFF GORDON THAT MAKES HIM SO CONSISTENTLY SUCCESSFUL THIS SEASON AND WHAT'S IT LIKE WORKING WITH HIM? "It's been awesome working with Jeff from the year I started. To be a part of that and to have that person to fall back on to help me with what I need to do in the car and the setups was a huge help for me getting started. To Jeff's standards, he hasn't had the years that we're used to seeing or that he's wanted but they've still been amazing years. This year it's the Jeff that we all know and expect to see and he's doing an amazing job. It's really shocked me, working with him, to see the feel he has for this car and the way that he can find speed in it with his driving techniques. And also the way he's able to feel exactly what he needs and relay that to (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and have Stevie fix it.

"So I really think the Impala SS in particular is something that fits his style. Maybe it's more like the 1990s car that he was so used to racing and driving and having a lot of success with. At the same time the current car, he's been up front and fighting for wins too. So you can't ever count him out. The guy is awesome and it's a pleasure working with him."

YOU HAVE YOUR OWN RADIO SHOW. DO YOU SOMETIMES FORGET THAT YOU'RE SPEAKING TO THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE FROM YOUR OWN HOME? "Oh, yeah. Without a doubt. That's one thing that Marty Smith and I joke about all the time. It's like 'wow, we're getting paid to do this and carrying on and voicing our opinion' and then later we'll hear things come back to us through fans or whatever it may be. You're like, 'whoa, there's a lot of people listening.' You've got to recognize that and try to be responsible with that, that tool that you have. It's a Catch 22 because a lot of the fans really want to hear what you're thinking and that's why these companies we're getting involved with are giving us shows. At the same time you've got to be smart and recognize the fact that you're a part of the media at that point and you have a responsibility to do it."

ANY FEEL FOR WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE HERE IN OCTOBER WITH THE NEW CAR? "When I had the test here, the cars weren't a lot different and we really found a gear and restrictor-plate combination that resembled what we have in today's draft. Granted, we only had six cars but just by the size of the vehicles when we're here with 43 cars on track, in a draft, we'll be able to suck up a little bit more, more like a Truck. But NASCAR doesn't want us to be too fast and too aggressive with these, the bigger cars, so I think you'll see a little bit more of a competitive race but really all in all, a very similar race to what you expect at Talladega."

WHY DO YOU THINK HENDRICK AND GIBBS HAVE AN ADVANTAGE WITH THE NEW CAR? "I think that you're seeing the top teams rise to the occasion. It doesn't matter if it's the current car or the new one. These race teams are about people. All the big teams have equal dollars, the manufacturers have the box that they are put in, the cars are all very similar and it boils down to people. I think the teams you see succeeding right now in the new car are the same ones you see succeeding with the regular car. It's kind of the way the sport is - the cream still rises to the top.

"I feel very lucky to be a part of Hendrick and know all the hard work that's gone into it. We have won all the Car of Tomorrow races but when I look around I see a lot of other teams that are very, very close. When I look at Phoenix, the No. 20 seemed like it was his race to win and then the No. 11 probably had the fast car and had a problem on pit road and had to come back from that. The same guys are going to come to the top, that's just the way it is."

THIS IS THE LAST DAYTIME RACE UNTIL JUNE. DO YOU ENJOY NIGHT RACING? "I do, I didn't even know that, though. Night races are fun. I think that for myself, the hotter the track is, the slicker it is, the better I perform and the better our team does. The night races seem a little bit more forgiving so that's the only side of it where I go 'well, I wish it was a day race.' Still, I think it puts on a good show for the fans and the cars look better at night too."

DEI USED TO DOMINATE AT TALLADEGA AND NOW HENDRICK IS AT THAT POINT. WHAT HAS BEEN THE TURNAROUND FOR YOUR PROGRAM? "It's just been a lot of work over a few years. We've really ramped up to try to catch up to the DEI cars and for the last few years it seems we've been equal to if not better than them. The hard part is to continue to do that and we're still working really hard on all of our programs including restrictor-plate racing. Daytona didn't really turn out like we wanted it to. We didn't have the speed down there like we thought we should and we didn't have that edge like we were used to. So we put a lot of work into this weekend's race and hopefully we'll get it back."

IS RCR STARTING TO CATCH UP IN PLATE RACING? "I think so. Childress has always had an amazing plate program. It seems like again, the guys that are good with the draft and the good teams still end up at the front. I don't think you can count out the Gibbs cars. I think Childress has been strong. Roush cars typically aren't known for their restrictor-plate stuff but Matt Kenseth has done an awesome job, regardless of the circumstances or track and is always up front at the end. I think there's a blend of car and talent there and an ability in the draft to be able to mess with it and these guys are figuring it out."

HOW MUCH FUN IS THE ALL-STAR RACE? "It is a lot of fun. When you have a million dollars out there to chase down you want to relax, you want to be laid back but that purse drives that competitive spirit back into you and it feels like a points race. If you crash out and something weird happens you go 'oh, well, no big deal'. No points on the line. When you're fighting for the win, there's just as much pressure as a points race to get that job done."

DO YOU THINK YOU WILL EVER REACH DALE EARNHART'S AND GORDON'S WIN RECORD? "I don't know. I look at that number and it is so far out there and in conversations with Jeff in the past, the years have gone by so fast and he had some big years winning a lot of races that he's shocked that he's been able to match Earnhardt with the wins. That's a huge number. I don't know what to expect. I certainly would like to but those guys have done an amazing job to get where they are and I just think its harder in today's world to win. I don't think you can see someone getting on a 10- or 13-race winning streak in the course of a season to get to that point. It's tough to do... I need to get to work. I'm only at 26 right now."

WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF WHAT TONY STEWART HAD TO SAY? "We know that Tony is opinionated and we're used to seeing him speak his mind. A lot of people love him for that and some dislike him for it. Tony is Tony and he's always been himself. It's hard when you have a radio show. You're not sure who's listening and you want to speak your mind and it looks like he certainly did. I haven't been too close to it all to know what's going on. I understand he's in a bit of a position."

IS HIS ISSUE VALID? "I think we question things all the time and I think not only in our sport but in other sports, when you have an officiating group calling a race or a ball game or whatever, there are question mark. Judgment calls were made into that and everyone has opinions. At Fontana I had something that I didn't necessarily agree with and you handle it the right way - go to the truck about it. There's certainly ways to handle it and ways that you can get in trouble taking care of it. You just have to be careful and recognize those things."

DO YOU THINK NASCAR CALLS COMPETITION CAUTIONS? "It's hard to answer. There are things that we question and you just have to go to the truck and talk them out and handle them the right way."

SO HOW TONY HANDLED IT WASN'T THE RIGHT WAY? WAS IT HARMFUL TO THE SPORT? "Tony has an opinion and we all love him for that. I don't know his exact comments and what he said but I do know that our demographic, from what I've been told in the past, we have a similar fan base. I'm not sure that it might be offending the wrestling world by saying it's not in the same category. I don't really know. I'm not really sure of what he really said, all I know is that there's been a lot of discussion about it and everybody's been saying he's in hot water. I just don't know."

DID IT TAKE YOU A LONG TIME TO FEEL COMFORTABLE TO GO TO THE TRUCK WHEN YOU HAVE AN ISSUE? "I don't think so. You've just got to be respectful and talk to people. You can't walk in there upset and demanding certain things. If you go in and have a conversation those doors are always open."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth
Teams HART