NASCAR Media Conference
June 20, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR video teleconference with Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No.48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. The sixth annual Jimmie Johnson Foundation Golf Tournament and Dinner Auction Presented By Lowe's took place last night and all day today in SanDiego, California. The golf tournament and auction has raised more than $500,000 each year and is on track to do so again this year. Funds raised goes towards Jimmie Johnson Foundation Lowe's Toolbox for Education champions grants awarded to K through 12 school in the area where Chandra and Jimmie grew up and currently reside.
Johnson will wear a special helmet in Sonoma, the Blue Bunny Helmet of Hope. Each charity also received $10,000 and an ice cream party from Blue Bunny.
Johnson currently sits fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings heading into Sonoma, a track where he has one win and five top‑10 finishes.
Jimmie you've always been very active with your charitable efforts. Can you talk about that and what these causes mean to you.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're excited to be here again. As you mentioned, it's our sixth year for the golf tournament. It's grown, been so successful over the years. I couldn't do it without the great support from clearly Lowe's being the presenting sponsors and then the folks that come out, participate, play golf, attend the dinner.
Last night's silent auction was very successful and the live auction took off and went crazy as well. You mentioned that $500,000 figure. We're well above that. I hear at the end of the day we'll have a figure we can share with everyone. We feel this will be the largest event we've had so far from a fundraising standpoint. We're able to put that into the three areas we're focused on with educational grants.
It's beautiful here in SanDiego. We have a big group of people here to golf and looking forward to a good day.
THE MODERATOR: Our Twitter question today: Is there a different setup on your car from oval tracks to road courses?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, it's a totally different game. On an oval we do anything and everything in our power to help the car turn left from a mechanical standpoint and aero standpoint, even where weight is positioned in the car. So now that we're turning right, the majority of the corners are right‑handers, all of that changes. Plus the setup of the car to turn left and right, you need things more at a 50/50 balance than favors a certain corner.
Long story short, they're really different. You could take a short‑track car to a road course, but all the teams focus and build a road course car.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go to the media for questions for today's guest, Jimmie Johnson.
Q. Richard Petty, he has a significant birthday coming up, 75. Obviously you know him and know of him. Did you have any personal connection or story you can share about either meeting him or something on the track that happened that stands out in your mind?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, for me, obviously he's Richard Petty and we know him from everything he's done in racing from a NASCAR standpoint.
I was able to see him and connect with him through Adam Petty and Kyle as well back in the ASA days when I was trying to learn stockcar racing as well. Adam and I competed against one another for ASA RookieoftheYear. We moved up through the ranks together. I was able to see him away from the track in a few instances, just was always impressed with how he treated everyone with such respect and had the patience and team to connect and hang out with everybody he was around.
My interaction meant a lot to me when I was younger.
Q. Landon Cassill is going to be making his Cup road course debut on Sunday. If you could offer him any advice, what would it be?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Who is that?
Q. Landon Cassill is going to be making his debut on the road course on Sunday. If you had any advice for him, what would it be?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He hasn't been on a road course with us yet?
Q. No, not in Cup.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Hard to believe. He's actually been out there for a few years, so I didn't realize that.
He knows what he's doing. He's been in these Cup cars for a while now, understands the horsepower, what goes into it. He focuses very hard on showing up at the track prepared.
I think he'll be ready to go. He's probably on one of those sim games trying to understand the track, how the flow of the racetrack works. He'll come out there and try to do a great job.
Q. Jimmie, Kasey Kahne is in a little bit of a slump. Before that he was on quite a roll. He was talking about how in the debriefs he and Kenny Francis have become more outspoken. He notices he gets better feedback from you, Jeff and Dale. Can you talk about how Kasey has gotten more involved on the debrief side of things.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, he might feel like he's now becoming comfortable. I've been really impressed with his feel of a racecar, the direction he's kind of led our team in on a variety of things. The same with Kenny. They've been a great asset for us and through the off‑season have helped us find some speed in our racecars.
Certainly it's a new environment. At Hendrick we have a lot of steps each week at what we go through, how we try to share information, make sure that everyone has all the tools they need to make the cars go fast.
I can see them becoming more comfortable with our system. He's not giving himself the credit he deserves. We're still talking about Jeff and his luck at times. Both of those guys have a ton of speed and are doing a great job.
Q. Obviously Dale Jr.'s win Sunday represented a long process for Rick Hendrick in terms of turning around that team. I think it was in 2009 when Hendrick said something to the fact like, I can't let this fail. It took him a while to get there, but two crew chief changes later he made it happen. Can you talk about what Rick Hendrick has where he's able to be so persistent in making things work with the team.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He does. I mean, he is so good at managing people in general. I think that's one of his strongest attributes, being successful in motorsports, also what he's experienced in the business world.
He hires the right people. But at times they may not fit together or in the right situations. He has spent a lot of time massaging the different areas of all the teams.
I think we have a strong driver/crew chief lineup with all four cars. The pairing of Steve and Junior couldn't have been better. Those two have built a great friendship, relationship, lot of respect for each other. Rick had that vision. Rick is the one that moved that around and made it happen. It's been a great pairing. They're showing what they can do now. There's going to be a lot more success to come.
Q. I don't know if you heard, but they're raising the side skirts again by half an inch starting with next week at Kentucky. I was curious if you thought that would have any impact?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, it will take away downforce. It will be another step of what we've been through around the Charlotte time.
They're taking it away. I'm not sure it's changed much on track. It's just a tough dynamic to try to make the lead car in clean air to drive as poorly as somebody in dirty air. I appreciate the process. I know we're trying to create better racing, side‑by‑side racing on the mile‑and‑a‑half tracks, but the aero deal is tough to get around. I don't know what the answer is. I don't feel this is it. I appreciate and respect the effort being made.
Doesn't matter what form of racing. The guy who is leading is in clean air. Our sport, that's a huge advantage. In IndyCar, those cars can suck up and have a different way they work in the draft, they can get a tow, get around someone, where leading in some cases isn't a good thing. In our racing, leading is everything.
Q. Another rule change they're making is both right side and left side rear sway bar arm connecting links must be perpendicular to the ground when the car is at ride height. Is your team working in that area and will it have a big impact on you guys?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You used a lot of big words on me (laughter).
Q. They're trying to keep the sway bars as anti‑roll bars rather than being used for other things. I assume some teams have been working in that area.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there's teams always working hard to find ways to make cars go faster. That's the game that exists. The rules continue to change and evolve. We'll adjust with the times and see what happens next.
Q. We hear you guys talk often about give and take on the racetrack, racing around other drivers. Now that we're coming to Sonoma, a tight track, is it fair to say there's a whole lot more taking at this track or a whole lot less giving?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You're absolutely right. As you started your question, that's exactly what I was thinking, there's a lot more taking than giving anymore.
It's just a tough environment. The cars are big and heavy. There's only a couple passing zones around the track at Sonoma. Guys will block like crazy to maintain track position.
After a few laps of being blocked, patience runs thin. Guys start running each other over and sending each other off the track.
The starting up front, being in the top two or three there's a lot more give and take. When you're mired in 10th in the back, it's a mess. It puts on a good show, but I certainly don't want to be a part of that show.
Q. Can you give a quick lap around the track, where you can actually make some things happen.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, there's a lot of places to lose time. But you have really just a couple passing zones. I call it turn four where you come up over the hill out of three, a lot of people call it three A. If you get over the top of the hill well, top of the ground, you can get down inside of that corner. People don't typically block too much there. That's typically not a bad zone to pass.
There's a lot of room into what I call turn seven. The guys behind you can set you up and pass you going into seven. You have to be smart about when you make your move there.
Then you make your way through the S's, work your way down to turn 11, and at that point we all know what can happen there.
There's only really three passing opportunities around the racetrack. If you make a mistake, there's plenty of opportunities to give up time and position. On the offensive side there's really only three passing zones.
Q. I'd like to know what do you prefer to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I'm talking about a typical day at home, not at the track.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Probably breakfast burritos in the morning. That's a pretty regular deal for me. Then it's really just chicken, fish, a bunch of steamed vegetables throughout the day. Good carbs from brown rice to sweet potatoes, things like that. I've been pretty focused on the diet side lately.
If I'm home and in control, that's kind of the lineup. But on the road, it changes dramatically. I've been out for dinner a few nights since we've been here in California so the wheels have shot off since I've been on the road.
Q. What are your favorite snack foods?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's really the same stuff. I try to get food in me every three hours, a smaller meal every three hours. If I'm on the run, a power bar, Gatorade has these good bars to eat as well. Just focusing on lean protein five, six times throughout the day.
Q. With the new points system, points are precious. Can you describe the strategy now for the top 10 drivers and then the drivers in the 10 to 20 spots going into the summer stretch with 10 races left before the Chase.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think everybody knows there's a spot where you feel comfortable in the points if you don't have wins. I don't know where exactly that is. If you're a race away from that cutoff, that's kind of an area that I feel comfortable and feel like I can manage and have some points to give up towards Richmond.
At the end of the day, winning races is what everyone wants to do, really gives you a chance to have some bad days. The guys from 10th on back, they're looking for wins. A few that are close to that cutoff at 10th, they have two options. I think the 24, where he's at in points, really his only option is to win races, and he needs to win two or three of them to guarantee himself a spot in the Chase.
Where I am at in fourth with a couple wins, we feel we have our bases covered and we can gamble on things and try to stretch fuel mileage, try two tires, try some stuff at the end of the races that lean more towards offense instead of defending something. Happy to be where we're at and hopefully it leads to a few more wins.
Q. I noticed in the other day you could really hit a golf ball. Did you take a lot of lessons growing up? Just that good hand‑eye coordination that champions all have?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There was no one more surprised about those three golf shots I hit the or day. I haven't picked up a golf club in three years because of how busy my schedule has been, my family, spending time with my daughter.
I was actually pretty nervous about the tee shots at Disney. I striped all three. I hope today out on the course I have some of that magic with me.
Q. What are some of the things you do differently going into a road course race than maybe an oval race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, a road course race is to me a lot of visual things you need to be focused on. On an oval, you're more concerned about just keeping your momentum up in the car. It is a bit line specific on some tracks. We can run from the white line to the wall at the majority of the racetracks.
When you go to a road course, there really is a specific line through sections of the track. Sometimes you need to sacrifice a little speed in some areas to set you up for something two or three turns down the road.
The flow of that, the line, really where you look in the visual aspect to road course racing is big. I try to remind myself of that. Running on ovals all the time, you develop some bad habits and don't use your eyes as you need to on a road course.
That's the thing I tell myself first practice session on, use my eyes. From my braking point, turning point, apex, tracking point.
Q. How much more confidence have you gained in yourself since you started being a little bit closer to your family?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Definitely confident in my abilities. Having a solid family, a balanced life in general, just makes it easier for me to commit my time to my sport, time away from home. It all balances out. In the end, the performance on the racetrack and running well there gives me the confidence that I look for and need, same for the team, to build on, come back and repeat.
Q. You came out of Victory Lane at Michigan. I yelled, Sonoma. You smiled and pointed up. You seem to have confidence going into Sonoma. Does that make Sonoma one of your favorite tracks?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm scared to say 'favorite' because I just recently took it off my hated list. The win at that racetrack turned things around for me.
I've always loved the track. The first time I ran on the asphalt was in a Skip Barber car. I love being at the racetrack in Northern California. I was terrible at the race. It took me a while to understand what I needed for a long run, save the tires, to have the team and develop the setup to do that.
The last three or four times we've been there, we've been competitive, got a win. Last year we had some trouble we had to overcome during the race, but still have a respectable finish and a very fast racecar.
I've been pumped up for it. With my background in racing off‑road trucks, virtually road course racing, I've always been mad at myself that it didn't come to me right away. I'm happy I have the speed now and look forward the two times a year I have the chance to show those skills.
Q. In the past you've done some GRAND‑AM races to get ready or hone your road course skills. I don't think you've done one yet this year. I was curious if you're concerned about being sort of rusty?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I'm not concerned. I had a chance to get in the Red Dragon, the GAINSCO car, to test, compete at the Indy Rolex race coming up. Just been so busy, want to spend time with my family, that I haven't had a chance to do any extra road course racing.
But we still do a lot of testing with the Cup program. We have tested our Cup car on a road course. I feel like the rust is knocked off and I'm ready to go.
Q. Are you going to do that Indy race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. I just turned it down. We're coming back from a trip that off weekend we have. I don't think I'll have the time to commit to it and do it right.
Q. About the road course and the guys that seem to be able to pick it up. Obviously Marcos Ambrose brings a lot to the table, Tony Stewart. Do you figure, These guys really get it and kind of wonder why?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, when I look at road course racing in general, the car is never perfect. It's really about compromises. You have high‑speed corners where certain adjustments fix your issues there, but they turn around and kill the slow‑speed corners. You have to find a happy medium, make the difference up yourself as a driver.
I think that guys that grew up on the dirt excel. That's why I was frustrated with myself for a long time. I could qualify good, go fast for a lap or two, but couldn't hang on and compete for a win in the race.
I think dirt racing in general teaches you how to compromise in a vehicle and kind of close the gap as a driver yourself.
Marcos has amazing talent and a ton of experience in the closed‑wheeled sedan cars with all the racing he did in Australia. He's just on it. The guy is going to be super fast once again. I think going in there, he's the guy we're all focused on beating.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thank you so much for joining us today. Best of luck at the golf tournament and this weekend in Sonoma.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Also thank you to the media for joining us.
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