Texas II: Johnson - GM Top-10 interview



WHAT AFFECT DO YOU THINK THE ROLLBAR PADDING INCIDENT LAST WEEK AT ATLANTA WILL HAVE ON THE CHAMPIONSHIP? JEFF BURTON CERTAINLY FELT THE BRUNT OF THAT: "Oh, I didn't realize that. I know that he was down a couple of laps, but I didn't know what led to that and why he was a lap down. That's unfortunate. And that's part of what we've all been talking about in this Chase. Everybody has had crazy luck. A lot of the teams have been strong. The No. 31 (Burton) is a great example of it. Those guys have been flying the whole Chase and really been scoring points rock solid. But luck is dictating this championship this year and it's really weird to see that happening week after week."

DOES HAVING EXPERIENCE HELP IN THIS CHASE? "Experience does play a big part in any race team. The more knowledge you have, and the more things that you go through helps. You learn from it. We (the team) are open minded guys and we're learning from those lessons and trying to do better. We've made mistakes in the past years and we've made mistakes this year, but we're learning from those lessons and trying to do better."

DO YOU FEEL SNAKE-BITTEN IN THIS CHASE? "No, I don't feel snake-bitten. I think in the previous two seasons, we did a good job in being consistent in the Chase. Maybe we didn't have the best performance. But this year, I feel like we're real competitive and we've earned our way back into this points battle. I feel real strong about the races coming up. I remember last year and my feelings here, I felt more on my heels trying to deal with Tony (Stewart) because he was so strong and was scoring so many points.

"This year I feel the opposite. I feel like we have been scoring a lot of points and performing well and closing the gap. I feel much more confident about this year's Chase than I did last year or the year before."

IF YOU WERE TO MAKE CHANGES TO THE CHASE, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE DIFFERENT? "I don't know how to change it, but I think you should have more of a reward for performing than you do for losing a race. You've got a lot more to lose in any given race than you can win and control and score points. I'm hopeful that they'll review that for the entire series - not just inside the Chase, but for the 26 races before that as well. If we can focus more on performance than on bad races, I think it would be a good thing for it."

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THE PHOENIX TRACK? "It's always been a good track for me. Our short track program and mile program have been getting stronger and stronger, so I carry a lot of confidence going in. And it's close to home. So I get excited for going back."

LAST YEAR, HOMESTEAD WAS A BAD WEEKEND FOR YOU. DID THE TEST THIS YEAR FIX THAT? "Well, we had the performance last year at Homestead and we were running strong in the race and then had a tire explode. So I think we've improved on our Homestead program when we were at the test. We left the test really, really competitive. Last year we left the test maybe tenths off the pace and scrambling when we went home.

"So it's nice to go home this time and just fine-tune and try to bring a little better product down. So I feel like we're going to be very competitive."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE FLYING UNDER THE RADAR NOW OR DID THAT END AFTER ATLANTA LAST WEEK? "No, the public's eye is drawn to different things. For our own race team and the way we're respected in the garage area, we've been on everyone's radar all along. The public eye looks in different areas. From Sunday to Sunday, the hype that goes on between each event and there are different things that dictate that. But hopefully we can apply some pressure now."

HOW IS THIS CHASE DIFFERENT AT THIS POINT THAN PAST CHASE RACES FOR YOU? "I feel like we're in a much stronger performance situation than we've been in before. Our equipment is better and the team is stronger and we're really ready to race for a championship. Last year, against Tony, he was outscoring us each week just by a little bit. We had some panic in our system at that time. I was trying to catch the No. 20 (Stewart) and trying to find something. This year I feel like we're more the aggressor than we were last year."

ON THE BUMP IN THE TRACK AT TMS, WHY ARE DRIVERS JUST NOW COMPLAINING ABOUT IT? "I think the set-up of the cars now makes for a much more harsh bump. All of that hype and discussion of it, and from what package we had here in the spring, that bump was a lot bigger in the spring for me than it is for me now. I think that's all based on the handling of our race car. I think bumps are good for our sport on the various race tracks because it lets you search for different lanes. The one thing about that bump is that it goes from the white line to the outside wall and you can't go around it and find an advantage. But my car is driving a lot better this time than it did in the spring."

HAS DENNY HAMLIN SHOWN A LOT OF MATURITY FOR HIS AGE? "He's done a great job, there is no doubt about it. The Gibbs organization has done a great job of supporting him in giving him the tools he needs and also teaching him NEXTEL Cup racing the right way. Tony (Stewart) has had a big influence on that as well. He shows more maturity largely because of the situation he's in with his crew chief and his team. Yeah, he's mature, but they're teaching him how to be a champion. He doesn't need to go out and prove anything from week to week. They're teaching him how to be a champion."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT ALL THE OPEN-WHEEL CHAMPIONSHIP COMING INTO THE SPORT? "Bring e'm on. I love it. I can't wait for these guys to get in and get a taste of NASCAR and see what we've been bragging about for so long and for our sport to get the respect - not only nationally, but worldwide - that it deserves. So I'm excited. Bring 'em on."

UNDER THE OLD FORMAT, IT ALWAYS CAME DOWN TO JUST A COUPLE OF GUYS AT THE LAST RACE. DO YOU THINK IT'S COMING DOWN TO THAT AGAIN THIS YEAR? "This Chase has been so unpredictable. Whoever the leader is, or the front guys, if they have a problem, it's a nine or 10 car race for the championship. So it's really hard to predict anything and I think everybody has realized that. I haven't attached any emotional value to trying to predict anything or try to understand it because it's been totally off the wall. It's been completely crazy all year long. So, I'm just going to go out and just try to control the things that I can touch and that I'm involved with and see what happens."

CAN YOU COMPARE WINNING A BIG RACE LIKE THE DAYTONA 500 OR THE BRICKYARD TO WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "I've never won the championship, but I would trade all my victories for a championship. In my life, everything I've done has been all about being the champion. That's been my goal."

WITH RICK HENDRICK'S SUPPORT, DO YOU FEEL CALMER THIS YEAR? "I think so. We've been through the ups and downs of the seasons with the disappointment of not winning the championship and all the different trying things that really try relationships in our sport. We've stuck by each other's sides and found a way through it. Believe me, there were times when it was tough to work through it, but Rick so good at that and he is a great people person. That's one of his biggest assets. Through the discussions he has had with myself and Chad, we were really able to focus on the right things and take a lot of pressure we're putting on ourselves off of us and have a great season so far. Rick is great you know, if you look at what he's done with Kyle Busch and bringing Jeff Gordon in and getting him his start and all the different characters he's had at HMS along the way; he's made winners out of all of them. That's just because of his skills to work with people."

DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT RUNNING BOTH MONTE CARLO SS AND IMPALA SS NEXT YEAR? "I haven't thought a bit about it. We're going to have great equipment. We tested the Car of Tomorrow. I feel very good about the current program we have in our race cars. But going into the COT, it's really going to be a question mark. We need to see what the final package will be so we can start working on it and trying to find speed and hopefully we'll know what the perimeters are soon so we can address that and get to work on the race cars."

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO RACE AT PHOENIX "In the race, Turns 3 and 4 at times have second lanes. Turns 1 and 2 definitely have outside lanes so you can work on someone and try passing him. I would love another lane or two at that race track. If there was progressive banking in 3 and 4 it would really help that. But I still think for a mile race track it puts on a great race. It's more competitive than what we have at Loudon and I'm excited to go out there. I think we'll perform well."

HOW TECHNICAL IS PHOENIX COMPARED TO OTHER TRACKS IN THE CHASE? "Every race track has it's own area that you've got to focus on so I still end up giving 100 percent if it's Darlington or Martinsville or Talladega or Phoenix - they're all different disciplines but you've really got to focus hard on the right things."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kyle Busch