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NASCAR Winston Cup Preview

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Winston Cup

NASCAR Winston Cup Preview

Jimmie Johnson
January 18, 2003


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

Q. Jimmie Johnson joining us. Three of four years ago when Tony Stewart came along and maybe before him with rookies and the success that he had, we said that's it, No. 1 will never been that successful again. That's as good as you can get. It keeps getting better. Last year No. 1 expected Jimmie Johnson to come a long and win three races.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You and me both.

Q. Is there anything there that is making this happen that way?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You can't deny the fact that Tony, Dale, Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and everybody that's come a long and I am leaving people out, have been -- great equipment, great teammates, great people to learn from and every driver has been open-minded to work with everyone. You need those resources around you. You need those people to fall back on for their experience and setups and the Hendrick organization to support you and the sponsors. In all of those situations, all of that was there and it was up to the driver and team to bond and make things work. We have all taken the most with the opportunity that's been presented to us and have all done a great job. Watching Harvick last year, I was blown away by how he did it. I thought I was going to be an exception to the rookie that comes in and I wasn't going to have a good year, but to my surprise - and I know a lot of other people's surprise - we had a great season, competed for the Winston Cup Championship the majority of the year, won some races and poles, so it's been a very cool experience. I've got to pass the credit a long to what I'm surrounded by so I can get in there and do my job.

Q. Jimmie, you mentioned Kevin's first year. Obviously he had the sophomore jinx. Are you worried about the sophomore jinx?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's out there. It happened in sports. I have been fortunate in my career. I haven't been in one series more than two years. Second year I won Championships or improved on the season that we had. So I think kind of what happens starting to get labeled as a sophomore slump, you come in the second year, I know this from my own experience and driving a race car. I don't know if it applies to other sports, you come in, you know, the year before you went in with an open mind, gave 100%, and got a return. This year you know the situation, you know what's going on, and I'm going to drive it in further, I'm going to try that much harder. I think that is where no problem will come along if I have that mindset. But fortunately for me, bouncing around every other year to another form of racing or another solid race car, I learned to hang on to that sweet spot that you hit. I'm trying to remember even back to California, even back to California last year we had five or six races in a row where the only problem we had was ourselves. We should have won a lot there. But remember how that mindset was, that effort level because that was the sweet spot that you need to hang on to. It's not about being the craziest one out there and driving in the furthest. It's using your head and getting everything you can and being smart and racing for 500 miles is a lot different than anything else I have been involved in. So hopefully I have had experiences in the past that will help me with this coming season and we start off kind of how we finished it off last year.

Q. Jimmie, I saw a list of winning somewhere, I can't remember where it was. I think Chicago you finished 4th. Jeff Burton finished 39th. He made more money than you made. Shouldn't it be a more similar form than the winnings go from one to 43 and the guy at No. 1 gets the most and the guy at 43 gets the least?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Being that I just went through that, it shouldn't change because I will feel left out because I could have made more money last year. The way the sport is set up, it's just how it is. I wish the 48 number had been in the top-25 or even been in more races last year or the year before. Look at the money the 12 car earned versus the 48, both being rookie drivers, that 12 car having the points the year they made more money in prize money. There is not much more we can do about it.

Q. Jimmie, the same way you talk about looking at Kevin and how he drove, some of this year's rookies, have they kind of come to you for pointers and have you given out advice about how to drive and what kind of things to look for. And secondly when you look back on your rookie season were there times, I'm just going out there, I don't even know what I'm doing?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I still do that today. Winston Cup is so competitive. When you are sitting there -- especially the first part of the year will be the hardest season for new rookie class, you don't have that confidence inside of you. You are sitting on pit road, even for practice or during the race during a caution, you look in the mirror and there is Dale Jarrett. Oh, boy, here we go. They drop the green flag and we pulled away. You start having moments like that that build that confidence in you. Those guys are going to have it, that lack of confidence at a lot of the racetracks until they start coming back a second time. Maybe tracks that they ran well in the Busch Series. I do know a lot of those drivers from the Busch Series and am good friends with Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, I raced with Biffle, and Strack is going to be a teammate. So I know a lot of them. They are all champions. And they are all very competitive.

Q. During the off-season what did you do most, rest or anticipate?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Rest. I tried to really get away and unwind my mind from racing. It was a great off-season for me. I was able to travel overseas a couple of times. I spent a lot of time with my family and friends traveling around. It was a great off-season for me. When we had that 18-week stretch I thought it was pretty tough when we had a weekend off. You don't realize how much pressure you put on yourself and the type of stress you are under until it all goes away. After Homestead went away and we had the week off after that you feel yourself unwind and all of the pressure coming off of you and you realize I need to take a break here so next year when I walk into those speedways my mind is clear, I'm ready to do it again.

Q. Where do you think the team will be stronger and is it enough to get over that hump to the Championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think so. I personally learned a lot. I know the team has as well. There's a lot of little technical things about different tracks that I know having the experience, how the team does. That will come in and help us. I think the biggest thing is an overview of looking at what we're going to be faced with from February until November. And as a team, knowing how to budget ourselves so when we get to the later part of the year, we can put forth that push that the 20 car did last year and win the Winston Cup Championship. If you look back in the past championships are one from September on. If we are able to manage everything from burn out physically and mentally, people getting injured, anything happening to me, contain all of that, when we hit September we can put that push forward and hopefully win the Winston Cup Championship.

Q. Did you guys get conservative down the stretch or was it more the mental/physical fatigue that threw you off? Jeff said you guys got a head start on his team because you tried a few off-the-wall things; then pulled back a little where his team went in an opposite direction to get caught up?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: At the end of the year we were tired and exhausted but we were still having a good time and being competitive. We didn't lead as many laps or win a lot of races at the end of the year. We were proud where we finished up and looking forward to building on that. What you see happens is a team will find something for a short period of time. If you look back when teams and drivers won events, we won and were very competitive for three or four months the beginning of the year. Then I think it was the 9 car, the 24, then the 20; it comes in waves. When you get that sweet spot and you are the guy to beat week in and week out. Okay, I found the sweet spot, all of those guys are at home and are and have you sitting on their dartboard ready to knock you off. And one of those guys is going to figure it out. Then they are the car to get and you got to start back over. So it's a continual game of leapfrog that's going on. We have engineers that are designing and finding things that make speed -- there is just a lot of stuff going on that a driver and a crew chief can't think about. It is the engineers that are doing it. First team that gets it and puts it on the car they are the ones the win in the period of time. Beginning of the year Chad tried some crazy setups. Had springs that were made from different cases, then the spring rule comes a long, that outlaws that for you. Just finding those gray areas and work on them. As the year went on we feel a lot of people caught up to where we were at and then we needed to find something again. Hopefully with the new body we will have that competitive edge again.

Q. You talk about the pressures at the end of the season. What is it like to be in a Championship run and those pressures?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: There is a lot of pressure there - the sleepless nights or things that go on that you can -- anyone can think pressure will do for you. Wondering if we are going to be top 25, the pressure of that. So as hard as it was, the things we went through and learned, there was a great pressure, there is a lot of pride in being competitive and racing for the Winston Cup Championship and racing for race wins. As hard as it was on me, I enjoyed it, I loved it, I want to be back in that situation again. This year my second time through I'm going to be smarter, know how to budget myself and hopefully work better under that pressure.

Q. How is it harder on you?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You are just being pulled in so many directions. The responsibilities you have for your race team, sponsor, appearances, practice sessions, traveling, there is a lot going on that spreads you out thin. Like anyone, when you got work pulling on you, you have kids at home, wife, paying the bills, when all of that stuff starts pulling on you, you get spread thin and you become frustrated or the pressure starts to get to you. It's the same way in Motor Sports I still have a life outside of that race car. You get pulled in a lot of directions. I'm not saying I don't like it. I'm glad to be in that situation. I wouldn't trade it for any other position in the world. I'm going to be a lot smarter next year and know how to handle it better.

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