JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS, DISCUSSES WITH THE MEDIA HIS WINNING STREAK, THE STRENGTH OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, AND WHAT TO EXPECT AT TEXAS THIS WEEKEND THIS IS NOT AN EASY TRACK FOR YOU: "No, it's not. But if I remember right,...
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS, DISCUSSES WITH THE MEDIA HIS WINNING STREAK, THE STRENGTH OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, AND WHAT TO EXPECT AT TEXAS THIS WEEKEND
THIS IS NOT AN EASY TRACK FOR YOU: "No, it's not. But if I remember right, we have a second place here. But it wasn't like we were fighting for the win. And that was at the end of last year, so I'm encouraged. We've made some gains during the off-season that we should hopefully be able to be in a position to win. We've been strong in Las Vegas and California and Atlanta, so I think, as a company we're coming in more excited for this race than we ever have before."
IS IT GOOD TO GET BACK TO A TRADITIONAL RACE CAR OR DOES IT CREATE MORE PROBLEMS TO SWITCH BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN THE IMPALA SS AND THE MONTE CARLO SS? "I have mixed feelings because we've been running good in both cars. At the end of the day, they're going to drop the checkered flag and I want to be the guy getting that checkered flag first."
NO PROBLEM FOR THE TEAM TO ADJUST? "There certainly is an adjustment going from car to car and this will be our first time going back the other direction. So I think it's safe to say there will be an adjustment period in getting the right mindset with this car."
SOME OF YOUR TEAMMATES ARE RUNNING THE NEW CHEVY RO7 ENGINE THIS WEEKEND. WHY DID THE NO. 48 TEAM DECIDE NOT TO RUN THAT ENGINE? "I thought we had the intention of coming here and running it, but through management they made some decisions to send half the cars out with the RO7 and the others with the other package. The engines are very similar in horsepower, so we don't feel like we're giving anything up. We're just trying to have an executed plan to take to the race track and work through the new motor program."
FOR SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T KNOW ABOUT THE RO7 ENGINE, WHAT IS NEW ABOUT IT? WHAT IS CHEVY TRYING TO DO WITH IT? "The old engine has been around since 1955. There have been a lot of technology advancements since then -- materials are one. But NASCAR's got a real tight control on the materials and things that we use.
"I think the biggest thing that we're going to see is that we can cool the engine more efficiently. We had some areas in the cylinder walls that we couldn't get enough water to and we couldn't keep the pistons in a stable situation. The walls in the cylinder were getting too hot in some spots and we were seeing scuffing of some pistons and things like that. So I really think the new engine is going to let the engine cool more efficiently and we're going to have a little bit better reliability."
WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO RUN THE NEW RO7? "I tested one at Richmond. And we have them in a couple of cars here, and I'm sure that if things check out here, we'll be putting them in every week."
WITH THE SUCCESS OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS SO FAR THIS SEASON, HOW TOUGH IS IT FOR THE SENIOR DRIVER, JEFF GORDON, TO BE IN THE RUNNER-UP SPOT? "I'm not sure it's hard on him that the company has been winning. I think it's harder on Jeff Gordon, the racer, because the guy wants to win and he's a very competitive person, as you all know. He has had a lot of seconds. I think he's happy to be where he is, but the guy likes trophies. He's won more than 70 of them and the guy wants more."
HAVE YOU TALKED TO HIM SINCE MARTINSVILLE? "Oh yeah. That was just good, hard racing. And I think once Jeff was able to think about things, he realized it was just great short track racing."
IS HE KIND OF GLAD, IN RETROSPECT THAT YOU RACED HIM HARD AND GAVE IT EVERYTHING YOU HAD? "I think so. We haven't talked about that angle or that thought. But I think I was able to show not only Jeff, but also the racing community and the fans out there that I'm serious about winning races. We race to win and we raced hard for that win."
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS TEXAS TRACK THAT IS SUCH A CHALLENGE FOR YOU? "I don't really know. This hasn't been one of our better tracks. I think trying to get from the corner entry to the center of the turn, there's a real big transition; and we haven't been able to get the car real stable and comfortable through that transition into Turn 1 and into Turn 3. We've made it better over time but other guys seem to have that part figured out a little bit better."
SINCE 2002, HAVE YOU SEEN MANY CHANGES IN THIS TRACK OR HAS IT PRETTY MUCH BEEN THE SAME? "I've seen the grip level changing and a second lane working and even a third lane at times really getting up high in Turns 1 and 2 and trying to get up high around that bump. And now since they've been shaving the bump down, I'm eager to get out there and see. But as we all know, the more time these tracks get on them, the better they become."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR HMS TO WIN FIVE RACES IN A ROW AND WHAT WOULD THAT MEAN TO THE COMPANY? "It would be a great thing to accomplish, but I'm not sure that we're sitting back saying we've got to win five to keep the streak alive. We're all coming here with our agendas to run well and do well in the points. If we can get a victory and more points toward the Chase, we'll work toward that, but it's just really business as usual and if we're in a position to do that, we'll celebrate in victory lane."
IF YOU AND JEFF GORDON WERE TO GET IN THE SAME SITUATION HERE ON SUNDAY THAT YOU WERE IN AT MARTINSVILLE, WOULD IT BE EASIER TO HOLD HIM OFF, HARDER TO HOLD HIM OFF, OR WHAT? "I think here there is more room to race and I'm sure he'd try in a second or third lane to get by me. But if it was like you saw it in Martinsville, I'd be in the fence. There's no doubt about it."
WHAT DID YOU DO FOR YOUR SPRING VACATION? "I went down to the islands and worked on a sunburn. I don't think I tan all that well. It was great. And as I was flying home I was thinking okay now, we've got a bunch of races in a row and not another off weekend until July and then we've got to buckle down again. So I very much enjoyed the off-weekend. It was a little bit short because I had to test at Richmond."
WHAT COOL WOULD IT BE TO KEEP THE STREAK ALIVE AND WIN HERE AT TEXAS? "We would have a couple different streaks to celebrate -- the 13th different winner at Texas and five in a row for Hendrick and back-to-back wins for us if that was to take place. So there are a lot of things out there that we'd like to take advantage of, but it's a new race a new weekend and we're back with the old-style car. So there are no guarantees and we'll have to get into race practice here and see how everybody shakes out."
DOES A STREAK LIKE THAT HERE DEFY LOGIC? "Well, streaks come together and we can't explain why it goes on or what causes it. But we certainly don't want to change anything in case it's something that we don't notice. But we show up every week and do all that we can to win and put ourselves in position to win and sometimes things just click for a month or two and you're able to knock them off."
DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE SEATING FOR THE CHASE JUST YET? DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE EXTRA POINTS FOR A WIN? "I think as the season wears on, we do. To have the victories that we do right now could be a good advantage for us. It just depends on how the season unfolds. It might be a nice advantage that we have or you never know. Somebody else could go on a tear and it would just be a wash."
REGARDING REPEATING AS THE CHAMPION, DID YOU EVER THINK YOU'D START OFF THIS SEASON THIS GOOD? DID YOU SEE IT COMING AND FEEL LIKE YOU'D HAVE A JUMP ON PEOPLE? "No, I really don't try to get ahead of myself -- especially during the off-season and show up at Daytona with the fear of making the race or making the Chase for that matter. And I think our team does that as well. We try to refocus and not take things for granted. So winning was good. We're relaxed. We're thinking, we can win. Now to get three of them is like we really have held on to that momentum and speed that we had and we just happen to be taking advantage of that right now."
DO YOU NOTICE ANY DIFFERENCE IN RUNNING THE UNLEADED FUEL? "I see a lot more exhaust coming out of the cars -- especially going into the turns. You can see some black smoke flying out. In the current car, I really didn't notice much. But when we tested at Richmond, for whatever reason I was getting a lot of fumes in the car. I don't know if it was a problem we had on our end, with the test car not being sealed up enough in the crush panels, or if the design of that car let fumes in the side window and filled the car up with fumes."
YOUR AVERAGE FINISH AT TMS IS 6TH, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF LAST YEAR. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE DUE TO WIN AT THIS TRACK? "I wouldn't say we're due. But we keep getting better each year we come to this track. We come in with more and more confidence and this year is another example of that with the 1.5-mile wins that we have right now. I feel that this is our best chance so far for us to win -- not only for the No. 48, but for the Hendrick Motorsports."
YOUR TEAM IS ALWAYS ON TOP OF THINGS ANY TIME THERE IS CHANGE. DID IT SURPRISE YOU TO BE ON TOP OF THE NEW GENERATION CAR AS WELL? "There is always a little doubt in your mind starting the season. But to sit back and watch the effort that's gone into the new car and to keep on top of things with the current car, I'm not surprised. It's just been a lot of work and preparation to keep both cars up front."
DOES IT FEEL STRANGE GOING BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN THE TWO CARS? "With this car, you can be more aggressive, I think. I'm excited to get out there and really drive the car hard. The new generation car seems to need a little bit more finesse. It's got a higher center of gravity, so it isn't as crisp and as racy. I'm looking forward to getting in the car and having some fun here."
WHAT IS IT ABOUT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS THAT MAKES IT SO DOMINANT? "I just think that Rick (Hendrick) has done a great job of assembling people who are really focused and dedicated to the sport. We might not have the speed all year long and we may even have a down year, but over time, the commitment that Rick has and the organization has in running up front, we seem to find our way back. I'm proud to be a part of it. It's really about the people at Hendrick Motorsports that make it happen."
THE HMS TEAMS SEEM TO REALLY CLICK "Rick is really great at putting people together. He can see relationships and how they work -- not only with the driver and the crew chief, but also with management, the engine shop, and the chassis guys. It's hard to explain it. I'm not sure we could recreate it. But it's worked for a lot of years."
DO YOU HAVE ANY SUPERSTITIONS ABOUT FRIDAY THE 13TH? "No, I don't. But I was thinking of Ray Evernham and hope we get qualifying in so we can have this field determined on speed and not based on points."
CAN YOU DEFINE THE WORD TEAMMATE? "A teammate is someone who you can work with and go to and count on to further your organization and your team. As drivers, it's our job to be honest and communicate about everything you feel in the cars and make post race notes and be involved in all the meetings and debriefings we have and put it all out there. I think over time, we've been able to prove that we can work together as teammates and it helps the organization. And when you're having a problem, they're willing to help you.
"So it's really about having a partner in this deal and not being a single car team out there on your own. I think that's what happened in years past and why there are multi-car teams."
WHEN, OR AT WHAT POINT IN COMPETITION, DOES THAT END? "I don't think it does. Rick preaches this to us all the time. We've worked years and years and years to get the company to where it is. With one wrong move, you can unravel all of that. I think there is a line that you need to pay attention to, and some respect that you have to have with your teammates on and off the track. But there's a fine line. You have to get up there and lean on the line but you can't cross it."
YOU USED THE NO. 24 CAR SET UP AT MARTINSVILLE. WILL THAT APPLY AT TMS TOO? "Here, we have some notes and history about Jeff Gordon likes in a set-up versus what I like, so I'm not sure we'll be that far off. At Martinsville, we unloaded with the No. 24 set-up -- really, all four cars did. I didn't like what I felt. So we went a completely different direction and tried that and it failed miserably. So we put in the refined set-up that the No. 24 had been working on. We were kind of experimenting and trying some things out at Martinsville and realized that it wasn't working and so we went the other way."
SO IT DEPENDS ON THE RACE TRACK? "Well we have some history here. Jeff likes things certain ways and I like certain things. With the new generation car we don't have any history. We were just taking a shot in the dark and it didn't work."
HOW DO YOU FEEL THAT THE CAR YOU'RE MOST LIKELY TO HAVE TO BEAT MIGHT BE YOUR TEAMMATE? "I think it's great. To be one of the top five guys week in and week out is great. Jeff is certainly one of them. And to be able to work as closely as we do with our crew chiefs and teams is something we're real proud of. There is nobody else I'd rather race against or lose to than my teammate. I hate losing, but I'd rather have it be to Jeff, or Kyle (Busch) or Casey (Mears) than anybody."
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HAVING YOUR TEAMMATES AS THE MAIN COMPETIION? "Unlike F-1 or some other forms of racing where teammates are so focused on beating each other, we're worried about taking care of the company and making sure we have good cars for a long period of time. And if you get too selfish and look at the short-term gain, you can unravel what's been put together and hurt everyone. We all understand that. There's a line we can get up to and push against and race each other hard and challenge each other, but one race isn't worth unraveling an entire season."
IS THERE ONE THING YOU CAN POINT TO THAT'S MADE THE NO. 48 TEAM A SUCCESS? "It's maturity for the No. 48. We've been able to grow more and refine what we have as a team. It's been a lot of hard work and focus for everyone."
-credit: gm racing