NASCAR Media Conference
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to the NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference today. The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series takes the chase not NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series to Kansas Speedway this Wednesday. The banquet 400, presented by ConAgra Foods will be live on NBC beginning at 2 p.m. eastern and following its final off week of the season, the NASCAR Busch Series returns to action on Saturday, also at Kansas. The Mr. Good Sense 300 will be live on TNT also starting at 2 p.m. eastern time. And the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is off this weekend. The NEXTEL wake-up call is set for 8 a.m. on Saturday in the media center at Kansas. Tony Stewart is the scheduled guest to join in about 8:30. Our guests today are Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson. Carl will be up first with us today, and Jimmie is scheduled to join our call shortly when he takes a break during his testing at Martinsville. Carl Edwards is pulling double duty at this stage of the season, driving the No. 99 Roush Racing Ford in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series. And also the No. 99 Super Chips Ford in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Carl took over the No. 99 cup ride at Michigan seven races ago and posted a 10th place finish in his first career series start. He has two other Top 10 finishes in his six races since, six places at California and Richmond respectively. He was currently third in the points in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings, only 146 behind leader Bobby Hamilton and 90 in back of second place Dennis Setzer. Carl has three wins in the Truck Series this year matching his 2003 total, and one of those wins is at Kansas Speedway. That was back in July. He also has eight Top 5 and 13 Top 10 finishes, and he has one pole this season and that was at Dover. Carl, welcome and thanks for joining us today, especially as you're taking some well-deserved time off during your vacation.
CARL EDWARDS: Thanks for having me on. Yeah, I'm having a blast. I'm back home in Columbia, Missouri today, just enjoying it a little bit,
THE MODERATOR: As you said, you're back home in Columbia. A native of Columbia. That's not too far from Kansas Speedway. You've got a win at Kansas already this year in the trucks. You should have a pretty high level of confidence going into this weekend, after all there have only been three previous cup races at Kansas all together.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, that's one of the things that's going to help us lot with our 99 Cup team. You know, that win with the Super Chips truck earlier this summer, that was one of the highlights my career. They built this racetrack, and it's, like you said, it's really close to my home in Columbia. I'll never forget when they first, you know, started putting that whole thing together. You know, I thought, "Man, that's just the neatest thing in the world." It's kind of saddening a little bit, because it's like here is a NEXTEL Cup Series racetrack this close to home and I felt like I was a long ways from being in the position to get to race at that track. So it's one of those things I'd drive by and see it and think, wow, it would be amazing to race there. So, you know, winning that race in the Truck Series this year, I think that helps the confidence a little bit going in, and we also had a great test there a couple weeks ago. I feel really good about this race.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please, for Carl Edwards.
Q. No one can argue with the success you've had in that Roush ride in the NEXTEL series. What has been the biggest challenge and I guess the easiest part of that transition from the Truck Series for you?
CARL EDWARDS: Well, you know, it's been kind of both ways. We've had great days and we've had some ones that were pretty tough. I think the hardest thing about the move to the Cup series is just how -- the hardest thing about it is the level of intensity that those guys race with. If you make one little mistake, it's really hard to make that ground back up. I never looked at the races like I do now. When they drop the green flag till the checkered flag, every inch you can advance yourself on the racetrack is very valuable. So that's been pretty tough. It's been easy in the respect that I've got great teammates over there, and the information and all of the testing that they've done, you know, it's really been able to help me. So we go to the racetrack knowing that the car and the equipment is race-winning equipment, and all I have to do is develop my skills as a driver.
Q. Correct me if I'm wrong, you haven't visited the Martinsville Speedway since its repavement, have you?
CARL EDWARDS: No, I have not. Jimmie Johnson is testing over there. That makes me a little nervous (laughter).
Q. Are you aware of the penalty that Junior got after Talladega?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, I just heard about it from my PR person this morning.
Q. Especially driving for a guy like Jack Roush, is this something that has been sort of pounded into your head as far as awareness, or is it just a lesson that you really came home to this weekend?
CARL EDWARDS: Well, it's something that I've tried really hard, just like all the drivers, you know, I've tried really hard to be aware of just, you know, from the very beginning, even racing at the local level, and that's that you always have a wide variety of people watching. You know, it's just one of the those situations where NASCAR, they have these rules. It's really hard in the heat of the moment to sometimes keep everything in perspective. I guess it's something that we all hope that we don't slip up. Just as long as it's the same playing field for everybody, I guess it will be okay.
Q. I remember your high enthusiasm at Homestead last year. What has this year done for your enthusiasm?
CARL EDWARDS: I don't think I could have any more enthusiasm. I mean, it's the neatest thing in the world. I get to drive race cars at the upper levels of the sport, and I get to travel all over the country and race with the greatest racers in the world. It's just the most fun thing I could ever imagine doing. You know, every time we go to a racetrack, my crew chiefs always joke around with me. They say that I tell everyone that my favorite racetrack is the racetrack we're at every weekend. That's just how I feel about it. I feel like I'm very fortunate to be doing what I'm doing, and hopefully -- the enthusiasm that you see is really, that's how I feel about it.
Q. Has Jack ever approached you about a Busch ride at all?
CARL EDWARDS: Well, we've got a bunch of things in the works for next year. The main thing is we're trying to find a sponsor for that 99 car so that can run full-time in the Cup series next year. We've got a couple sponsors for one race. At Charlotte we're going to have Canteen Vending combined with Kraft Foods, at Atlanta we're going to have World Financial Group. We're trying to get it so we can go run for that championship in the Cup series next year. But in combination with that, it's possible that I would run Busch races for Jack also. You know, it could be a full-time Busch ride. We've definitely talked about it. It would be awesome to go run some Busch races or go run the whole season, whichever way it happens.
Q. How much have you talked with Kurt Busch, your teammate, to jump from the Truck Cup to the Cup?
CARL EDWARDS: I've talked with him a little bit, both him and Greg Biffle have had a lot of experience in the trucks. They've been really helpful. You know, that's one of the really neat things about driving for Jack is that there's so many drivers I can go talk to. It seems like all of them have really -- they have their strong points. There's not one track or one situation that I could go to that one of those guys hasn't been through. They've all been very helpful.
Q. On the sponsorship thing, has your early success here opened up any doors that maybe were previously shut?
CARL EDWARDS: I hope so. I don't spend too much time in the marketing department. But I feel like my job is to do the best I can. I feel like if we have a little bit of good luck and we run as well as I think we can, I hope that someone out there feels like they'd want to align themselves with us. I'd really enjoy representing someone for a full year next year.
Q. You mentioned talking a little bit about driving for Roush. Can you talk about the atmosphere there with so many guys involved in the championship. Talk a little bit about the strong points you see in Kurt Busch. Have you had enough race experience against him to talk about his strengths are?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah. You know, the atmosphere overall at Roush is really an exciting one. Everyone's really pumped up about the chances of a Roush car winning this NEXTEL Cup championship this year. You know, it couldn't be a better situation for me coming in. Everybody's on a huge upswing. Mark Martin is running great. Kurt Busch is obviously spectacular. Matt Kenseth is having another one of his great years. So for me to come in, it really helps the most when we go testing because I know, hey, these are the guys who are going to be right there at the front of the pack. Here is all their data laid out in front of me, their setups, everything, all I have to do is go out and learn to do my job. That's kind of the general feeling for me as I work with all these guys at Roush. As far as Kurt is concerned, that guy is unbelievable. He can drive a race car just unbelievably well. The success he's been having lately is really neat. It's really neat to see. At our Kansas test, he was in the garage stall right next to me, last week, he was someone I could just sit there and talk to and relate to very well. We're about the same age. We came into Roush Racing the same way. You know, he's a great driver. Like I said, he's someone I can just go and talk to and get feedback from. He's a great guy to be leaning on right now. He happens to be at the head of the field.
Q. I've been told he's real good at getting a feel for the car. Has he discussed that with you at all?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah. It's really neat. You know, I have the same kind of relationship with John Wood, my teammate in the Truck Series. I can walk over to the window of their car when they come in from a run at a test session or during race practice, and it's amazing to stick your head in the window and start talking to a guy and realize, man, he feels the exact same things I'm feeling out there on the racetrack. That's a really good feeling. Both those guys are amazing. They can go in the corner and tell you anything about the way the grip of the racetrack is changing throughout the corner, the way the tires feel. It's neat to be around guys that are that proficient.
Q. How is the doubleheader weekends gone for you so far, like last week when you were flying across the country? How big a challenge will next week be with Charlotte and Texas?
CARL EDWARDS: Man, I'm having the most funny could possibly have. I look forward to those doubleheader weekends so much. It's just the neatest thing in the world. I think it's so neat because all I have to do is focus on racing. It's like I just wake up in the morning, we've got so much to do as far as traveling and racing and practice sessions that there's really no time to think about anything else. If I could have it any way, that's the way I'd have it every day. It's really neat. I've enjoyed it a lot. I'm really grateful that Jack's letting me do it because it's taking a lot of energy and a lot of money to get it to work. The one I'm really looking forward to is in a couple weeks, and that's where we're going to run Texas in the afternoon in the truck, then go straight to Charlotte. I'm really lucky we've got a guy as good as Dave Blaney that is running the qualifying sessions, helping me out. I can't wait for that one, it's going to be really neat
Q. You don't think it will be too long of a day or too much margin no error with the weather or anything?
CARL EDWARDS: Well, the weather is something we can't control. The primary focus is to win that Truck Series championship for Super Chips. That's the primary focus. Dave Blaney will be there. He's going to run Happy Hour in the car at Charlotte, I believe. If something happens with the weather, I think that he will represent Canteen Vending and all our sponsors really well at Charlotte in the race. Man, I don't know. I'm hoping so badly that we run really well at Texas and everything works out and we show up right before the drop of the green flag and then have another good race at Charlotte. I mean, I don't know, as a fan growing up, when guys would do the double duty from Indianapolis to Charlotte, I just thought that was the neatest thing in the world that drivers would race that much in one day. In a way it kind of makes me feel like I've finally gotten to that point where I'm getting to do some stuff like that and it's really fun.
Q. You talked about the intensity of the Cup Series compared to the trucks. As hard as they race in the Truck Series, that must really say something for the intensity level of the Cup Series.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah. It's something, to be honest with you, that I wasn't really prepared for as well as I thought I was. When they drop the green flag in that race at Michigan, those guys took off, it was like, "Whoa, did I miss something here?" It's a 400- or 500-mile race and these guys are racing this hard from the beginning. Yeah, it is tough. I think it's different from the Truck Series in that the field is less -- I don't know if you would call it stratification, but there's less of a spread from the slowest guy to the fastest guy. The competition's closer. So sometimes you don't see maybe the same amount of passing or whatever going on in the Cup races. But I'm telling you, it's very intense. You can't slip up or those guys will get you.
Q. You still have a realistic shot at catching Bobby and Setzer, don't you feel?
CARL EDWARDS: Oh, yeah, I feel really good about it. I don't remember how many points we were behind a month ago, but it was more than we are right now, and we almost closed it up. If we didn't have that engine failure at Vegas, I think we'd be almost tied for the points lead right now. I feel great about it. Anything can happen.
Q. When the opportunity was first presented to you, I know there was no way you could say no, but was there some thought that you were so close in the championship for the Truck Series that you might hurt your championship opportunities by just wearing yourself out in the stretch run?
CARL EDWARDS: You know, that's a good question. I look at it a little bit differently, though. As a person, I feel like it would take a lot more than one or two races a weekend to wear me out physically. You know, it's a little bit more stressful running in the Cup Series just because there's more at stake and we don't have a sponsor right now. In that respect, it's a little more stressful. But purely from a racing standpoint, I don't think there's a better thing that could have happened than to get the opportunity to run in the Cup Series. If you ask my crew chief, Kevin Starland in the Truck Series, he tells me that it's like a whole different driver driving his truck. I feel more confident in the truck. I feel like I'm more patient. I feel like most of that's come from running those Cup races.
Q. What is it in the Cup races that gives you that? What is it by racing in the Cup Series that made you a different driver in the Truck Series?
CARL EDWARDS: Well, I think, number one, deep down, I don't really want to cause anybody any trouble in those Cup races. I don't want to be the guy who causes the wreck and takes somebody out of a hard-fought championship battle. Then also purely from the driving standpoint, it's just closer. The competition is closer over there in the Cup Series so you have to drive so much harder and for so much longer of a time period during a given race that when I get in the truck, it feels like a sprint race. It's very short. There's more of a difference between the trucks that are set up really well and the trucks that aren't, and you can slip up a little bit in the truck races and not lose so much ground. I get back in the truck, number one, it feels like home because I've raced them for so long, so it feels a little more comfortable. And it's like I can just kind of take a deep breath and relax a little more because the guys -- it's just not as intense.
Q. You are a guy I think that you could say if you dream hard enough and work hard enough, your dreams come true.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, I'm telling you. I'm the luckiest guy in the world. Literally two or three years ago, I mean, I didn't have a dime to my name. I was living at my mom's house, working on our dirt car in the garage. I had never driven a new race car until I drove for Jack Roush. I'm more proud of that than anything. It wasn't a sad time in my life. It was the most fun thing I could have ever done. But realistically I never thought, not in a million years, I've been on the same teleconference call with Jimmie Johnson in 2004 as I sit here today. It's definitely a testament. There's a lot of really good racers out there. The bottom line is they should just never give up if they want to do it.
Q. The Craftsman Truck Series racing has been frequently described as the most exciting NASCAR racing. Your thoughts on that. Also after hearing you say that the competition in the Cup is so much more intense, do you see that as a discrepancy?
CARL EDWARDS: You know, I don't know. I think there's a couple things that make the Craftsman Truck Series races so appealing. One of them is that they're pretty short races, so they're relatively easy to pay attention to for the whole race. It's kind of a novelty item. We're racing pickup trucks, which is pretty exciting. There's a history of some pretty serious bumping and banging and stuff. But at the same time, I mean, the NEXTEL Cup racing, it's been around for so long, there's so much history with it, the races are true marathons. It's more of a test of man and machine for endurance and stamina. For that reason it's really exciting to me. Part of that challenge is really neat for me. So I think it's just -- you know, it's kind of that standard debate. Is short track racing or Saturday night racing as good as the racing you see on TV? I think it's all racing. I think there's enough space for all of it. I know as a fan, I watched both of them. I watched the Truck Series and the Cup Series. I got a lot of enjoyment from both
Q. You seem equally comfortable. The transition seems like it's something not only that you feel comfortable with but look forward to.
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah, it's a lot of fun. I just really enjoy racing. I race as many different types of vehicles as I can. I'm going this evening to get fitted up in a seat for a dirt late model that I might do a little bit of running in this weekend over near the Kansas Speedway. I just love racing. That's why I started doing it. To me I don't really mind what the vehicles look like or what the name of them is. I just like to race.
THE MODERATOR: Carl, earlier in talking, a comment was made to you about intensity level, not just in the Cup Series obviously but over in the Truck Series, as well. I'm curious as you've taken the seat in the Cup car recently, in the middle of the chase for the NEXTEL Cup Series, not just wanting to maintain driving well necessarily, but your teammates, you have three teammates in the chase as well. Talk about the pressure and intensity level associated with coming in at this particular point in time in the Cup where you've got those teammates running for all of it right now.
CARL EDWARDS: Right. That's a good question. You know, as a race car driver, when out there racing, especially towards the end of the race, it's very easy to become very self-centered, and sometimes it's very beneficial. You want to do the best you can to get every position you can. You don't necessarily think about the other guy too often. But in this situation, this is something different than what I'm used to or what I'd ever thought about. If towards the end of the race here in these last 10 races I'm racing really, really hard for a position, and the guy I happen to be racing with is Mark Martin or Matt Kenseth or Kurt Busch or even a guy like Ryan Newman, someone who's got so much on the line, as a person I feel like it's kind of my obligation to show them a little bit more respect and give them just a little bit more room. And that's something that has taken me just a little while to become conscious of, but I'm definitely conscious of it now.
Q. You were talking before about sponsorships. With the costs of these things going up all the time, do you think partial sponsorships might be the way of the future?
CARL EDWARDS: You know, I can see the benefit to partial sponsorships just because it's less of an investment for a marketing partner. But when you look at the sponsors that I feel are very successful in motorsports and NASCAR in particular, I feel like Dupont and Home Depot and these sponsors, you really equate them to the driver, and they seem like they're one. I think you only get that true feeling from a long-term sponsor, when the sponsor can build all that equity into a driver and a team. To me, I think that's really the best-case scenario.
Q. How much did you drive against McMurray when you were back here?
CARL EDWARDS: You know, I don't think I've ever raced against Jamie McMurray except in the Truck Series and the NEXTEL Cup Series.
THE MODERATOR: You talked earlier about the possibility of racing in the NASCAR Busch Series next year, the possibility also of that being a full-time ride. Greg Biffle, your teammate, is doing that this year. He's the only Cup driver running a full-time schedule in both. He's handling that pretty well. Will your experience in the Truck Series as far as running full-time in that series and now taking on this last portion of the season in the Cup Series, is that going to assist you in that venture? How much are you looking forward to the opportunity to run in Busch
CARL EDWARDS: Well, I'm really looking forward to it. I'll tell you what, running these truck races, it's definitely shown me the reality of, hey, there's a lot of travel and scheduling, you know, demands for a guy like Greg Biffle. It seems easy when you hear about it or in passing, you say, "Hey, he raced the Busch race here on Saturday, the Cup race here on Sunday." Those races take a lot out of a person. Now that I've done just a little bit of it, I have a lot more respect from Greg Biffle, what he's doing, running both full schedules. He'd be the first person I'd go and talk to before we'd really set up a plan for next year, before we went out and did something like both of them full-time. I'd talk to Greg Biffle first.
THE MODERATOR: Tell me a little bit about how you prepare when you're talking about the fact that this can be draining obviously going back and forth, with Greg doing the same, Kasey Kahne doing the same for the bulk of his Busch and Cup schedule. What do you do to prepare in this latter stages of the Cup season, and going full-time in trucks going for that title, trying to catch up, make up the points? Are you doing anything differently as far as physically, as far as rest, maybe working out, things along those lines, to better prepare yourself down the stretch for both series?
CARL EDWARDS: Yeah. The thing I've been most conscious about is just getting enough sleep. There's so many exciting things going on, it's easy to stay up all night talking on the phone with people, going to events and doing stuff. I've just tried to make sure I get a bunch of rest. You hear these Cup guys running these races while they're sick or something. That would be very tough. So try to keep the immune system working well by getting plenty of sleep. But as far as working out or whatever, that's something that I've always tried to do. You know, my whole team, my whole Super Chips truck crew has been really great this year. Every morning we go work out at the shop, lift weights and stuff. I think that's something that's helped me a little bit, even if it's just for confidence, feeling that I've prepared the best. I like that feeling.
THE MODERATOR: You're talking about preparation. How are you going to be able to relate the notes from your win at Kansas a couple of months ago, taking it onto the track for the Cup race this weekend? As we talked about earlier, there's not a lot of races running Cup for anybody here as far as on the Kansas track, but you do have a win in the Truck Series. How are you going to relate and compare those and utilize those to your advantage at Kansas this weekend?
CARL EDWARDS: You know, in the truck race there that we won, I ran into the wall pretty hard on the first lap. I think that might actually have helped us. But I don't plan on trying that. Other than that, I think we're just going to -- I mean, if anything, it's just the confidence from doing that well there. Maybe the shame factor. I don't want to look bad in front of that many people I know, because it feels like when I go to Kansas, I personally know half the crowd. That's a big motivating factor, seeing that many people up there that I know. I want to perform well in front of them. I hadn't thought of the fact that they haven't had very many Cup races there. That will definitely play into my hands just because there will be less of a difference between my experience level and theirs. That's something that is evident every week. These guys have been to these tracks in Cup cars so many times that going to tracks like this or going to Homestead, the new Homestead Speedway, tracks that are new to everyone, that's a helpful thing.
THE MODERATOR: Carl, we appreciate you taking the time to join us again with this being a bit of time off and a short vacation for you, to join us today. It's been very enlightening discussing truck and cup with you. Best of luck to both 99 teams in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and NEXTEL Craftsman Truck Series during the final stages of this season. Good luck to you at Kansas this weekend and enjoy the rest of your time at home.
CARL EDWARDS: Thanks a lot. Maybe I could stay and hear some of the secrets Jimmie is learning over there with the new pavement at Martinsville.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's basically the same. It's faster and smoother.
CARL EDWARDS: Cool.
THE MODERATOR: Joining us now obviously is Jimmie Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Jimmie is in the chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, currently ninth. 159 points behind leader Kurt Busch. Jimmie's got four wins this season, most recently at Pocono, bringing his career total to 10. He has a series leading 15 Top 5s to go along with 17 Top 10 results so far this season. He's got one pole this year, back at Charlotte this spring. Jimmie, like Carl, has had great success at Kansas Speedway. He won the pole there last year and finished seventh in the race. And he started on the outside pole in his first Cup race at Kansas in 2002, finishing the race in 10th. Jimmie, thanks for joining us during your break at Martinsville. We appreciate you taking the time today.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No problem.
THE MODERATOR: As we talked about, Kansas has been a good venue for you in your runs at the track. In looking at this maybe as a right place, right time situation for you in and the 48 team, especially after your bad luck at Talladega.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah. We're just taking it race by race. This has kind of been the philosophy I've had with the guys, we're all trying to live by it. If we all go in and put in our 100%, and know at the end of the day, we sleep well at night, that we put up everything that we had, that's all we can do, that's all we can control. Kansas has been a great racetrack for us. Talladega for that matter has. It just didn't work out. It wasn't in the cards for us. We had some bad luck and lost an engine due to, you know, cooking it, because we couldn't get any air to the radiator. Just a bad set of circumstances. Timing is absolutely off to have a slump or some bad luck show up for us. But there's still seven races to go and we're going to work as hard as we can and hopefully get things turned around and be the first NEXTEL Cup champion. We're going to work really hard. All the tracks remaining on the schedule are good for myself and the Lowe's team. Kansas has been great to me. We've had great finishes, but our performance during the race has really been stronger than what we've ended up. We just have had some things happen to us at the end of the race that have taken us out of the mix for the win. But I'm looking forward to going back and I think it's going to be a really good event for us.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Jimmie Johnson.
Q. Could you take us briefly through what happened in the pits at Talladega. Keeping in mind that Stewart has gone from ninth to sixth in one race, could you maybe expand on what you said earlier about having seven races to go.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, if you think back to the beginning of the season and how fast you can jump positions, you can make up four or five spots per event. That's very, very possible with seven events, there's a lot of things to happen. There's only a handful of guys that have had a clean event so far in this chase. There's still seven opportunities for them to not have one. It's going to be tough to outperform those guys, it's not impossible, but it's going to be tough, just to outperform them without them having any bad luck, you know, being where we're at. But crazy things happen. This is racing. Two months ago this Lowe's team was on rails, we didn't have any issues. Looked like a possible shoo-in, a favorite for the championship, but now it's changed dramatically (laughter). Seven races, anything can happen. We'll just take it from there. On pit road, when I was leaving my pit stall, made some contact with the 9. Just tight trying to get out around the 1 car, kind of had me blocked in. I think the 9 had some people on the outside of him. We just couldn't fit four or five cars on the pit road at the same spot. Unfortunately, it made contact to the right front fender. When it did that, it shifted the nose over. All the air duct ducting that hooks to the nose and to the radiator, that seal is very important to keep the airflow up through the radiator, was kind of busted. The aluminum was bent and twisted. It didn't really allow a high pressure area to build up inside the radiator ducting cavity to push the air through the radiator. It just wouldn't cool the car. Unfortunately, I was in the draft, after running along without a lack of air, period, and with a bad radiator ducting system, and due to the contact, it just cooked the engine.
Q. With NASCAR's decision to take points away from Earnhardt, do you think their credibility was on the line with that decision?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, I think -- I feel for NASCAR and for Junior on this deal. I mean, everybody wants a colorful driver, speak what's on your mind. But there's obviously laws and rules in place that we all have to abide by. I know that all sporting events, everything from baseball, basketball, everything, including the racing, we've been under a lot of pressure from I guess -- what is it called? The FCC. You know, there's been things brought up in the drivers meeting about watching how we even use language on the radio across the board. With the precedent they set earlier in the year, they weren't left an option in my opinion. I feel that they don't want to affect the championship based on this. I wouldn't want to see the championship affected by something somebody said outside of the race car. This deal needs to be settled on the racetrack. But, again, we have rulings and regulations that we have to abide by and a precedent that has been set that they didn't have a choice but to fall in line with what they did earlier in the year.
Q. Is that taking away points for something like that an overreaction on NASCAR's part, do you think?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: In this situation, they didn't have a choice in my eyes. Earlier in the year possibly, you know, but now once it's in play, they've got to handle each situation the same. You know, one thing, I think that they could do is expand a little bit more of the importance of things in the drivers meetings. We try to get through those drivers meetings quickly to let everybody get going. But I think sometimes we don't really understand the whole picture. Obviously, if Junior knew how important it was to not flip and say something he shouldn't in Victory Lane, I know he wouldn't have. It sent a message to the rest of us, for sure. I don't think you'll ever hear another four-letter word again.
Q. When did Victory Lane become like the hardest part of the race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Within the last couple years (laughter). There's a lot to do, a lot of hats to put on, a lot of people to remember. It's no secret. The success of our sport, the reason we have these major sponsors, because we're moving billboards. The drivers do and say the right things, everybody is on camera getting exposure. There's always a trade-off for something. When you have the money in the sport like we do, you're going to lose something somewhere. It's pretty obvious to everybody kind of what happens.
Q. About the upcoming race, what are your prospects?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think we should be good. A lot has changed since last year at Kansas. You know, we can't take the same setup over there. Really partway through this year things changed a lot when NASCAR implemented the rear shock rule. I think we'll look to Chicago and kind of baseline some things from Chicago. We qualified well. I think we ended up running second to Stewart over there. I feel like we'll be good. Hopefully we can get the momentum on the upside of things, upswing for us. We're definitely needing that at this point in the championship. Hopefully Kansas can be that springboard for us.
Q. Is there any sentiment among the chase contenders that if it can't be me, let it be Mark Martin?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I would say to a degree. You know, I would look to say for my own selfish reasons within my team, for Hendrick Motorsports, all the people working so hard to build great race cars for us. But there definitely is something out there that you'd love to see Mark win one. The man has tried so hard for so many years and has been so close that it wouldn't hurt my feelings, I should say, if he was the champion this year.
Q. Looking at the points, you're pretty close on both sides, under the old system and the new system. We know your feelings about the points system. Do you think, is there something that changed? You talked about how you guys were experimenting quite a bit when you were in a virtual lock. Is there something that maybe stopped your momentum to the point where you are now and having to crawl back up into the points versus where you were before, where you were kind of the dictator, the leader of what was going on?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Momentum's a weird thing. You know, you try -- it's hard to really evaluate it and know what really is momentum or energy, personality of the race team, what everybody's outlook is. It's really hard to quantify that. But I think that there is something to that. I mean, some people may say there's not; others do. I'm one of the believers that there is such a thing at momentum, team morale and energy. If it's all on a positive, you know, good things happen. If you're down and out, bad things just seem to keep happening. So I believe in that. But when we look back at the points, if it was under the old system, we would have defended our points lead differently. We're not under that system, so we did try some things. And going into this final 10, we've been back to the basics trying to take all the information that we've learned and apply it to have the best package possible. You know, we've been better than where we finished. At Dover, the pit road call with us, supposedly speeding, killed us. Then at New Hampshire, we finished where we should have. We didn't have the best of days. Talladega hurt us. So I think we -- if we had clean races, we would have been somewhere, you know, third or fourth in points right now and a lot closer to the points leader. You know, our momentum's there. The team morale is up. It is definitely turning a corner and climbing back up, which is important. You know, hopefully -- there's nothing like a win or a good run to put it back on par. We haven't had one since Bristol. We really need a good, strong finish to keep that momentum moving in the right way.
Q. You say you would have defended the points lead differently. Obviously, you and Chad talked about it, you were taking some chances. Looking back on it, would you do things differently?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think you're going to see a different type of points racing take place for the years to come with this, I would assume with this points system staying in place. I wouldn't see it leaving. I've been against it. But, you know, in the big picture, it spreads the love out further throughout all the race teams. You have more people being focused on throughout the season, more exposure for everyone as a whole, which is only going to help our sport. So I see the positives to it. And knowing that, I know it's going to be around next year and for years to come. You're going to entirely change your season based on where you're at in points. If you're looking like a shoo-in for the cut, it's time to experiment, time to try, to do new things, recoup your guys, build that energy up, and get everybody up for that final 10 shoot-out so you can be the champion. I really think you're going to see things changing as time goes on.
Q. Several other sports mandate a short cooling off period, five or ten minutes, particularly to avoid something like what happened last Sunday. Would something like that work in NASCAR?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think so. I mean, not in Junior's case. I mean, he was out on the frontstretch. I don't think how long his burnout session lasted. You're usually to Victory Lane, you've got to wait for TV to come back from commercial before you can get out, all that. So you have a fair amount of time. For his case, I don't think so. But in other cases, I think it's not a bad idea to give the driver a chance to get out of the car. I didn't even get out of my race car this weekend after it had blown up, and there's microphones trying to be stuck in the window before I was even unbuckled. That stuff wears thin on drivers' patience. I think some respect in that area would be nice. But what took place in Victory Lane, I think he just got caught up in the moment and felt like he was talking to a friend holding the microphone, and something slipped out.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about qualifying in the chase and whether your team is focusing more on qualifying. I was looking at the numbers, I'm not sure you're going to get much better than the average starting position that you've had of ninth. A guy like Kenseth has qualified in the Top 10 three weeks in a row probably for the first final in his career. Could you talk about the importance of qualifying during the chase.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is important. It guarantees -- especially if you're in the Top 5 at most tracks, some tracks probably Top 4, your pit stall pick works out to where you have an opening. An opening to Martinsville, even Talladega last weekend, is pretty important. In that aspect, it's an advantage. But if you qualify and you take your shot at -- if you qualify, say, 10th, and you just randomly pick a pit stall, and the guys around you have problems and go out, now you have an advantage or now you're even with the guys who qualified well. So it's really hard to say, you know, how important qualifying is. As far as track position, I don't put a lot of weight in that. It is nice, you possibly will avoid a problem, but I don't think there's a lot of weight in that. I think the majority of the weight falls onto the pit road pick.
Q. You were at Martinsville Speedway. How does the track feel? How do you think it's going to be different after the big late model event they're going to have, getting some more rubber down on the track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it's going to work the surface in a little better. First of all, they did a very nice job of repaving everything. The track is much smoother. The seams, everything, where the concrete meets the asphalt, they've done a great job with it. In my opinion, they've made the track almost too nice. It is very, very comfortable. It's not as demanding to drive as what we had here in the past. I think you're going to have a variety of comments from drivers. Some are going to love it. Some are going to think, you know, it's going to hurt the racing at Martinsville. I don't think it's really fair to judge it one way or another yet. After they ground the bottom lane I guess two years ago, everyone thought it was going to be the end of Martinsville and they killed it. And it made it some of the best racing possible at this racetrack. Now the new surface, they have a different theory in mind. They did try to promote the two- and three-wide racing, making some multiple lanes. But it's a little different approach than what we had here before. The bottom lane is actually the smoothest, the second lane is a little rougher, and the third is the roughest. They feel the tire will grip that part of the track better and allow us to have a second lane. I'm not sure it's going to work out that way. Based on what we had here before, the rougher inside lane chewed the tires up and allowed us to move up to the second lane, where it was smooth, and conserve our tires. That's what allowed for the two-wide racing.
Q. Have you and/or Chad calculated what you need to gain in points in order to stay within striking distance? On the racetrack now, are you pinpointing or is someone pinpointing where the guys are that you're battling?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think you're going to be pinpointing anyone until you get down to a race or two to go and you know who you have to beat for your position in points. Calculating out what we need from here on out, that's typically something we don't do. We may hear of a number that maybe the media brings up, "You need 68, whatever it may be, 30 points to close the margin by the end of the season." There's too many variables in our sport to put a lot of weight in that. We just try to go out and get all we can and take it from there.
Q. When you look at what occurred last weekend at Talladega and then what occurred earlier, is it frustrating sometimes to know you're running well, but something totally out of your reach steps in and you're screwed, for lack of a better term?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, it is. It is frustrating. I think one thing you learn after growing up racing your whole life is that bad luck is out there, and it does show up at some point in the season. I was a little nervous of how well the season started off for us. I used the term "I don't want to peak too soon, and we need to have this in the final 10." But you can never control that. You can never decide when you're going to peak and why and all those different things. It just happens. You know, we hope that we can get it back and have it finish out these final 10 like we want to. But when you're in the sport long enough, you learn not to be frustrated at many things. I think over the last couple months, it's been pretty frustrating, and I've been through quite a few emotions on and off. The thing I'm sitting with right now is that if my team goes out and gives their 100%, and I do the same, that's all we can do. And if it's meant to be, it's meant to be, because we've stressed over things, worried about stuff inside and out, and it doesn't change anything. As long as we go out and we give it everything that we've got, we know we're trying. If we're not the champions, we can look back and say, "Man, we did everything we could." If we are the champion, then it's meant to be.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, we appreciate your time, as well, taking the time out of your important test session at Martinsville. Thanks to you and Chad and the 48 team for allowing you to join us for a few minutes. Best of luck to you this weekend at Kansas.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to thank all of you for your participation on our NASCAR NEXTEL teleconference. Have a great weekend, everybody.
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