NASCAR Media Conference
May 22, 2007
DENISE MALOOF: We're pleased now to welcome the reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie, 2003 you have finished either first or second in every Lowe's Motor Speedway event, and last year you were the runner-up to Kasey Kahne, who was our previous guest today in both 2006 races. No wonder you call that racetrack your house.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, it's been a great place for us. I'm not sure where the exact title came from. I think I may have said it just joking around on the radio one time and now it stuck (laughter).
It's been a great racetrack for us. We had a great performance in the All-Star race. I think that we'll be even better with our 600 car and the package we're taking over there. So I'm really, really excited for the race coming up.
DENISE MALOOF: Let's go straight to some media questions for Jimmie.
Q. Jimmie, being a partner of Jeff Gordon, what is it like going out to the track with him and then having to compete with him perhaps for the win at the end of the race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I mean, in some respects I think we look at each other as competitors and know that we're going to need to race one another for the victory. I think that's kind of the beauty of the 24/48 shops. We're both able to win races and compete for championships.
We understand that competitive spirit, but at the same time we have a lot of respect for one another. The teams are really one until we go to the track. They got to separate out into their own independent jobs. But, you know, we work hard together, but then we race each other hard as well.
I think it's worked out well for us. We've had some heated finishes, short-track bumping and banging. We've made it through all of that stuff. It's been a great relationship. I really put Jeff in the lead role for responsibility on that, the way he carries himself, the way he kind of put these teams together, the way we exist between the two teams is largely his part.
It's great to race with him and fight for wins with him.
Q. Do you think there's going to be much change with the Car of Tomorrow here at Dover compared to Bristol a couple weeks ago?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's going to be challenging, a lot like Bristol. I think Dover, a lot of people say that it's just a bigger Bristol. I agree. I think it's going to be a tough exercise for all of us, especially without a test. The transitions into the corners are going to be real hard to figure out with the splitter heights and the bump stops that we have on the cars. It's going to be a big, big challenge for us.
Q. Pocono in a few weeks here. Can you talk about what makes that track unique from other tracks on the circuit? What makes it enjoyable for a driver and what makes it difficult? Obviously it's a pretty long race.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it is a long race. I know you know the track, the three different corners that it has. That's the challenge, is to balance the car out and make that run consistently through all three different types of corners that we have.
It was a lot more fun when we could shift. Now that we don't shift, it's probably one of the more boring races from the seat unfortunately. It used to be one of the most intense and complicated tracks to get around. Now it's kind of boring, to be honest with you, from where we're at.
Q. Going back to the traditional car this weekend after running a few Car of Tomorrow races, any one or two particular things that you have to kind of tell yourself, remind yourself that are going to be different between the two cars?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Fortunately the tracks that we run the Car of Tomorrow on are pretty small in size. You don't have that feeling you're looking for from one track to the other. With the All-Star race under your belt, going into the 600, we're going to switch back into the current car configuration for the crew chiefs and also the drivers.
But I think it's harder on the Cup drivers that are running the Cup car on a Car of Tomorrow weekend and then going into a Busch car. I think -- it works out having enough time from week to week from a driver standpoint to know what car you're getting in, mentally adjust going to each track.
Q. I want to ask you about Kasey Kahne. When you went into this season, was he on your short list of guys you figured were going to be your main competition this year? How surprised are you that he's way back where he is these days?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, without a doubt I thought he was going to be a contender for the championship and race wins like he was last year. I know they're working hard, trying to sort out their stuff. I think it's been a shock to myself and I'd say most of the racing community, especially to them. I know they're not real happy with where they are right now and working hard to fix that.
Q. You're one of the few teams, Hendrick, that's able to be consistent year to year. Kasey is about as inconsistent as any. How hard is it really to maintain it year after year after year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's tough. I think it's more than just the race team. I mean, a lot of that falls back on the organization. As you get into chassis development, engine development, there's a lot of components that make up the effort that we have at the racetrack. From year to year with rule changes, body changes, they got a new nose and tail this year which has thrown them off. To stay ahead of the curve on that stuff, to really think those things through, takes a lot more than what you see with just Chad and I. It goes back through all of Hendrick, the manufacturer itself, a lot of work there.
I just think through time and experience, Hendrick Motorsports knows what they're looking for. They know how to maintain, work the relationships with the manufacturers, just making steady forward progress all the time.
Q. I hope you don't cringe if I ask a Dale Jr. question. Assuming he does end up with a team that has won championships and consistently does so, could you draw on your own experience when you joined Hendrick Motorsports and talk maybe even in general terms about the pressure that a driver faces when he steps into a first-rate car that everybody says, If he doesn't win here, he's no good, rather than slowly progressing with teams that people don't expect quite so much from?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it just depends on the circumstances, to be honest with you. I think it depends on the personality type, kind of the luck that comes -- the luck that you have, the performance you have getting started.
In my situation, I certainly had a lot of expectations and a lot of people wondering why Rick Hendrick was putting this kid that just won one Busch race in a car. But from my perspective, I'd been living it year after year. I felt like I had what I needed to be competitive and to race at the Cup level. I was given the shot that I needed.
In my mind, I was excited for the opportunity. I knew that if it didn't work out, I was going to be in trouble. But I would rather have that chance, have that opportunity than anything. I had a positive spin on it.
Q. It wasn't like this crushing weight of anxiety or expectation?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You have that crushing weight, but you can I think choose to have a positive feeling with it or a negative one. I was able to find the positive in it. The weight's there, the pressure's there. But I went to work with that pressure and smiled through it because, man, I was driving for Hendrick Motorsports, I was getting my chance. That's all I could ask for as a driver. Give it a shot. If it doesn't work, I'll go figure out something else to do. If not, I'm going to win races and championships, my dreams are going to come through.
I think it just depends on your personality type and then also we got off to a good start so it was easy to build confidence in what we were doing, what we had built. That helped.
I think if you get off to a slow start, the pressure starts working its way in, you're at this team, it hasn't worked, why. The negative side starts coming in.
Q. Given all the success you had at Charlotte, not winning the last couple races there, what sort of mindset do you go into this race with now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Still the same. We've been unfortunately running second for the last three attempts at Lowe's Motor Speedway. I feel good. We've been there knocking on the door for a win. If we're putting ourselves in position consistently like this, we'll get back to Victory Lane there. I'm excited.
Q. Do you feel there's anything you have missed on in the last two points races there when you ran second to Kasey?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We were a little too tight at the end of the night. We just didn't have the car loose enough for us. The track conditions changed. We worked real hard on that finishing mark for the setup of the race car during our test session. I think we'll be in good shape.
Q. Finishing second is nothing to complain about, but given how much you have won at that racetrack, is it a disappointment to finish second?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. I mean, of course we want to win. But to finish second against the competitors, the competition that we have, it's good to finish second, there's no doubt about it. A lot of hard work that goes into it. Running second is still a big thing, big honor. We want to win. We feel like this is one of our best tracks to win at. The statistics show that. We're eager to leave here with a victory. If we don't, end second, we still did a good job.
Q. This is an Earnhardt question, too. Can a race team have too many big stars on it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know. I think people have watched Jeff and I and have expected to see some type of breakdown in the way the 24/48 works together, our friendship, working relationship. That hasn't happened. I think it really depends on the people, how that works, how everybody buys into the program.
I have no clue if that situation would ever present itself at Hendrick. But if you think of Joe Gibbs Racing, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, he's going to be a big star, that situation could also be there. It could also be at Childress. I just think it depends on the people involved. It would be tough to predict if it would be a problem, whatever team he would end up.
Q. Not necessarily saying he would go to Hendrick, but how do you think your people would respond were somebody like Junior to come into the shops?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't have a clue. He is a hot commodity, we all know that. I don't know how he would fit in at a Hendrick. In my mind, I think it would be a great fit for Gibbs with the relationships with Tony and Denny that he has. Then Childress is a no-brainer for all obvious reasons. Again, it just depends. I think Junior's done a lot of soul searching and growing through this whole process. He's ready to buckle down and get to work. Regardless where he ends up, he's all in, he's going to make it happen.
Q. You're clearly dominating this season. Certainly raising the level of competition. What is it that you're doing differently this year than past years?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think we've intentionally done anything different. We're prepared. We're putting good race cars on the track. We have our team behind us. Our focus is still the same. The direction that we're working in as a company is still the same. I think we've been in position and have capitalized on some victories, have shown some sort of dominance here. We've all been talking about the different cars that were so competitive in certain events, then a Hendrick car won. We've been able to close the deal here at the start of the season. I'm not sure it's going to continue that way. There's a lot of teams real close with times better than us on the track. We'll ride this wave as long as it's here.
Q. Talk about your teammate Kyle Busch. Seems to be wrecking every week. Is he too aggressive, needs to learn some patience?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He's certainly aggressive. That's why he's a big help to Hendrick Motorsports, he's not going to leave anything on the table, if it's in qualifying or practice. He's had some difficulties here in races. But he's a young driver that's still learning a lot. He's winning races, so it's hard to argue too much when you got a guy out there winning races.
Q. Because of the way NASCAR has grown, you being one of the more popular drivers, years ago in NASCAR it used to be you'd race on Sunday, go home for a couple days, head to the next track. Now it's race on Sunday, do a hundred sports shows Sunday night, Monday you're on various television shows, Tuesday other commitments, finally get back to the next track. How do you keep up with all that stuff?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It really just depends on the week. Some weeks are much more packed full of responsibilities than other weeks. In all honesty, it seems that when we get to the track and climb in the motorhome on Thursday evening, it's almost the part where we kind of -- my wife and I spend some time together, catch up. We shut the phones off, just kind of slow down and get ready for the race weekend because the week is so busy really starting with Sunday's race all the way back to Thursday, a very packed time for us. We get to catch up at the racetrack.
Q. You haven't been asked to star in any movies yet, have you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No movies. Not my deal.
Q. You're probably used to being cheered and booed at the same time during NEXTEL Cup introductions. When it happens, do you know what emotions your wife and mother feel?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think we're all getting used to it. I know from my own experience, talking to both my wife and mom, it's tough to hear the boos because they know me, know what I'm about. People that are booing haven't had a chance to get to know me and know what I'm about. Once we all got some experience and time in dealing with it, you realize they're just sportsfans, they're going to root for their guy, boo the opponents, everything's good. Just part of being in sports.
Q. Did it take you long to get accustomed to that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Not really. Driving for Jeff Gordon, there's certain parts of the country where they boo you just because you know the guy. Out of the gate I had to learn how to accept this at a fast rate.
DENISE MALOOF: Jimmie, that does it for you today. We appreciate you giving us a call and being with us. Good luck this weekend.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You got it. Thanks so much.
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