JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway and discussed the championship Chase, racing at Texas, the final three races and other topics. HOW DO YOU FEEL WITH A THREE-POINT LEAD HEADING INTO...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Texas Motor Speedway and discussed the championship Chase, racing at Texas, the final three races and other topics.
HOW DO YOU FEEL WITH A THREE-POINT LEAD HEADING INTO THIS RACE?: "It's a lead -- that's all I'm concerned about is we're up. It's an exciting year, there's no doubt about it. To have three drivers fighting for the championship right now, as close as it is, it's a good time for our sport. I certainly would like it as I've experienced in other years, but that's not the case and it's time to go racing."
DOES IT FEEL DIFFERENT TO HAVE THE CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE SO CLOSE?: "I don't necessarily feel more pressure. I think I feel more pressure trying to defend something. The small margin that we have, it's really easy to know what I need to do -- I need to win the race. I need to finish ahead of the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and the 29 (Kevin Harvick) and I think that's going to mean me winning the race. The week has been really easy for me where other weeks coming into Texas concerned the mind in more of a defensive mode trying to protect and worrying about things. It's all offense right now so I feel really good about things and feel less pressure for this Texas race than I did last year."
ARE YOU AWARE OF ALL THE SCENARIOS?: "Yeah and it was that was last year and year's before. That' the difference, I am realizing and experiencing it this time around. I didn't think it would necessarily be this way, but it's turned out to be this way."
DO YOU TRY TO NOT FOCUS ON THE 'WHAT-IFS' IN THESE FINAL RACES?: "We all have different strategies and what works for each team and driver. The 'what-ifs' are always in the mind and they find their way in especially when you're just about to fall asleep and they find you when you just wake up. Over the years and through experience, I've found ways to deal with those thoughts. I'm in a standpoint of just thinking offense and myself and this team, we're trained to go out and perform. We know we can go out and win races. We know these are three really good tracks for us. We need to go out and do what we should do and need to do. Those thoughts are there and you need to learn how to deal with those emotions and understand how that pressure makes you respond and act. Again with the last four years and how they've turned out, I have a lot of confidence in those areas. I'm in a great place and ready to go racing."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO SET A TONE WITH TODAY'S PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?: "On a funny note, we will make the most of the day and if we qualify 43rd we'll find a way to find some silver lining and put a spin on it. It might not necessarily come today, but it might come in tomorrow's practice session or you finish the race well and build some confidence in the fact that you recovered from a poor qualifying position. Without a doubt, winning the pole today and getting that first pit box, having a good day today starts things out on the right foot. We've seen, especially these three Chase drivers respond well to qualifying bad.
"We've all qualified poorly at a race in the Chase and driven to the front. I think the teams are strong enough and smart enough to not let a poor Friday affect their weekend. The one thing it does do obviously is put you in harms way so you need to get through the first 50 or 100 laps without any incidents and it increases the risk factor, but I think mentally the teams are all probably strong enough to tolerate a poor day today, but I'm certainly hoping for the best day I can have."
DOES THE CLOSE CHASE MAKE IT EASIER ON YOU?: "Fun -- you have fun when you have good results and we've had good results so the fun factor has been high. Texas and Phoenix have been really good tracks for us and we've always raced at those race tracks. Then you Homestead we've been a little more conservative. I don't think we'll have that luxury this year at all. I feel like over the years we've prepared for this situation and the way we operate as a team, we never want to leave any points on the table -- I think we're geared up and ready for the final three and can race for it. It is making things simple.
"To expand on that some more -- I have to expect the best out of the 29 (Kevin Harvick) and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and the way they've been running and average finishes and the finishes they have at the final three tracks -- I have to go out and win races. It's real simple and almost comforting in a way. It's real easy to know what we need to do and there's nothing to protect."
HAVE YOU AND CHAD KNAUS HANDICAPPED THE OTHER DRIVERS AT THE FINAL THREE TRACKS?: "I'm not sure Chad (Knaus, crew chief) spends a lot of time going through that stuff. I know he watches a lot of tape and understands how races unfold. I don't think he spends a lot of time -- myself, I've preached this for years up here, yes, you may have had a great year or great race the week before and the past is the past. It's all about the present. It's what you do at this point in time. If I look at the past, I can find things that give me confidence in my records and in my opponents records and I can find a lot that would freak me out so I'm not even going down that road. There's just no need for it. Live in the now and do everything I can today."
WHY DO YOU THINK PEOPLE FEEL SOMEONE ELSE NEEDS TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?: "If the roles were reversed, I would be saying the same thing. As a competitor, you're tired of the same guy winning. I guess I understand where they're coming from and what they're saying -- I don't necessarily agree with it. I think it would be great for someone to win five straight. It's just a little humor on each side there. He (Kevin Harvick) and his fan base and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and their fan base -- they want to see their guys win and they want to see a change at the top. I know myself and my fan base, we like how things have been and hope to keep it up."
WILL YOU TAKE MORE SATISFACTION IN WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP THAT IS A TIGHT POINTS RACE?: "I don't know. Initially I react and say not really because the reason we had a lot of points is because we went out and won races and the amount of wins we had in the Chase -- it's not like we backed into a championship and just kind of stumbled upon four in a row. I don't want to take anything away from the stretches we've had and the races we've won. We've won a lot of Chase races. I guess I'll know more if that comes together and I can look back on my emotions then. Right now I'm really proud of how we won these races and taken a lot of pride in winning 19 of 64 Chase races right now. That is pretty tough to do so I don't want to take anything away from the past."
HOW DO YOU VIEW LAST YEAR'S TEXAS RACE TO PREPARE FOR THIS RACE?: "Everything that goes on in a driver's career, you learn from, especially the mistakes that you make. In my opinion, last year's crash started on Friday. I went out and had a very fast car and drove a conservative lap and ended up 12th. If I would have gotten the car fully committed to running a hard lap, I could have been maybe on the pole or fifth or wherever it was and wouldn't have been where the issue took place on the race track. You learn those lessons and those lessons have worked for me and are good for me, but every driver has his own style. It's just that stuff that works for me might not work for the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and may not work for the 29 (Kevin Harvick) or anyone else out there. Over the years, I've picked up my lessons along the way and know what I need to do and feel very confident with where I am mentally and what I need to do this weekend."
DO YOU WORRY ABOUT THE WRECK HERE AT TEXAS?: "That's the reality we live with every weekend. In previous Chases, when I had a big points lead and Bruton Smith has a fat lady singing over on the balcony, nobody wants to believe me and say that this thing isn't over and you have to run the race. You have to play the game. That's the reality drivers and teams deal with all the time. It may seem predictable and stats may show something, but until you go out there and take the checkered flag, nothing is guaranteed."
HOW MUCH ARE YOU A CREATURE OF HABIT THIS TIME OF YEAR?: "Every year has been different. I would say in '06 and '07 I used golf to really distract my mind from the racing stuff and just get out and unwind from the weekend and kill some time and things like that. Training has been a really good outlet for me through '08 and '09. This year the training is still very much a part of my work week, but I've found a lot of great experiences and time and a distraction in a very positive way has been my daughter. To spend time at home, to figure out how to make bottles, how to feed and just all the things to go along with being a parent has been an amazing distraction for me.
"At the end of the day, you have to make sure you go to the race track recharged and refocused and really nothing present on your mind. The way this year has gone, I've showed up at the track in a great place mentally, refreshed and ready to go. I'm very fortunate that my daughter sleeps through the night and I hope that continues through the Chase especially. That's the goal for any athlete is to show up to your race or your game with a clear mind and ready to go. I've been able to find things over the years. It's been different each year and it's been working well."
HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE KEVIN HARVICK AND DENNY HAMLIN ON THE RACE TRACK?: "In racing situations, I would say both are very respectful in the give and take of the race. When push comes to shove at times, I think the tolerance that some people have is a little different. I would consider Denny (Hamlin) maybe more patient in some situations than Kevin (Harvick). I would put myself more on the patient side as well. You learn the rhythm on the race track and how each driver works. You know if you're holding someone up, you look in the mirror and you know how long you can hold that guy up and how patient they will be with you. With Kevin, I probably need to give up the spot a little earlier than someone else. That flow not only exists for those two guys, but with everyone. Once you get out there racing door to door with the 11 (Hamlin) and the 29 (Harvick), I've had great races with both of them. There's a list of guys that you get side-by-side with and you know they're going to steal the air off the side of your car and we do that in general, but they're really going to make life difficult for you. Those guys are going to race you hard, but they're going to give you room to race."
IS DENNY HAMLIN ONE OF THE LAST SOUTHERN LATE MODEL DRIVERS TO MAKE IT BIG IN SPRINT CUP?: "I've never really thought about it. I guess you asked the question because there's some facts behind it. I guess he's the most current, I don't know if he's the last. There are a lot of great short track drivers still in the Carolinas and in the South running and certainly hoping to make it through the ranks. I am drawing a big blank as far as the other guys. I feel very fortunate to have had guys ahead of me like (Tony) Stewart and (Jeff) Gordon have opened the eyes of owners and sponsors to say, 'Hey, you don't have to grow up in these vehicles to make it.' It certainly opened up the world for me to come here. I am just drawing a big blank."
-source: gm racing