NASCAR Media Conference
August 28, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. We're glad to have everyone on the line today for our weekly NASCAR teleconference.
This is in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race at California Speedway in Fontana, California. The race is the Sharp Aquos 500, the ninth event in the Race to the Chase.
Top 12 drivers in the standings following the final Race to the Chase event, that's at Richmond on September 8th, those 12 qualify for the chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup.
The Chase consists of the final ten races of the season, and determines the series champion.
I have two guests today on what promises to be a great call. Our first guest is the reigning series champion and California native Jimmie Johnson. Driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Jimmie's sixth in the series point standings this week, has a chance to clinch a spot in this year's Chase going into California.
Following Jimmie, we'll be joined by Quebec native Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula 1 World Champion, the 1995 Cart Series Champion, and the 1995 Champion of the Indianapolis 500.
Jacques will be running the final seven NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races of this season for Bill Davis Racing. That is in preparation for running in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in 2008.
He's going to participate in all of the remaining Car of Tomorrow tests this year. And in addition, he plans to enter the ARCA Series race in October at Talladega Super Speedway.
As I said, we're going to open up today with our reigning series champion, Jimmie Johnson.
Jimmie, going back to your home state this week. An exciting time. I know you're involved in a number of activities leading into the weekend. Maybe you can give us a quick rundown of those other activities, then we'll go right to the media for questions.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sure, I'm actually in San Diego right now. Out here, going to go to my high school, Granite Hills High School for a hall of fame ceremony. They're pulling me into the hall of fame there at my high school. Going to visit with the kids and the students and the faculty. Looking forward to that.
It is my first time back, really, since I graduated and walked through the halls. So I'm looking forward to that experience.
That is all leading up to the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and our first annual golf tournament. The proceeds are going to benefit Habitat for Humanity in El Cajon, the area where I grew up. And we'll have a dinner this evening and our golf tournament starts tomorrow.
So exciting times for me and my wife, and all of this is getting ready for a great race weekend at California Speedway. I'm looking forward to that, too. I'm going to run the Busch car and the Cup car.
The Cup car will have the Jimmie Johnson Foundation logo on it. And the Busch car will be the Cobalt Tools Busch car. It will be an exciting weekend with a lot of new things.
THE MODERATOR: It really is. That sounds pretty cool. Going back to your home state, and I'm sure there are will be a lot of people that you've known for years coming to see you race. Thanks for that opener.
We have a big audience today, so we're ready to go to questions from the media for our reigning series champion, Jimmie Johnson.
Q. Jimmie, coming up on this teleconference is Jacques Villenueve. Can you comment with Montoya coming in, and talk of possibly Scott Speed, and now Villeneuve, just what that says about the popularity for NASCAR?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I certainly think it shows that our sport is being respected on a worldwide scale. I think that as Juan has come in and lived the experiences of Nextel Cup racing, it has shown how difficult our sport is.
It's unclear what Jacques will bring, and then if Scott Speed is able to come in and run as well, but it can't hurt. It's only good for our sport.
We all know that NASCAR is built onÃ¢ï¿½Â -- our sport is built on a different premise than F1 is. Our sport is focused on competition and entertainment, where their sport is focused on or F1 is focused on just technology. So it is going to take these drivers some time to get used to the cars and come in. But I think it helps grow our fan base, and also helps take NASCAR to the next level of respect in the racing world's eyes.
Q. Back on the Chase situation a little bit. I guess having escaped Bristol with minimal amount of effect in your eyes, and with Jeff Gordon in a win-or-else mode and Danny Hamlin in a win-or-else mode, and Tony's been running well and different people. It seems like the way this Chase is shaping up, there's maybe five or six people who could be said to have momentum going into the Chase. Do you see it that way? And do you see this might be more of aÃ¢ï¿½Â -- you know, rather than just two or three people seeming to have the mo, could this be a cavalry charge of people with various kinds of momentum as this thing begins to shake out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I certainly do. I think this is going to be the most exciting Chase we've had yet? Most competitive Chase. I think each year as time goes on we all get better for the Chase and better prepared. This new format is making things a little bit more interesting than what we've had in the past.
So, I really see a lot of strong teams, a lot of teams with a lot of speed. And guys, pretty much everybody has a couple of years of experience under their belt now. I mean, Denny's probably the one with the least amount of experience, but has shown a lot through this year that he can run for points. He's obviously fast and wins races. So we've got a deep, deep field of competitors ready for a championship.
Q. Looking at California, almost 3,000 laps completed, you've completed every lap that you've started there with that one win. Number 1, how the heck do you do that? And number 2, would you think that with that many laps completed, you would have had more than one win?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I've had a couple of good runs there, and obviously a win. But that fall race is usually tough on us. I don't know what changes with the track where we don't have, you know, what we need there in the fall. With the spring race we had a handful of seconds and always post well in that event. But the fall race has been tough on us, I don't know why. Certainly hope to change that around. Ten bonus points right now would be real nice going into the Chase. So we're focused on it.
But I don't know why we're good there not only we've only won once, but why we're only good there in the spring and the fall is a little bit harder on us.
Q. Obviously it's been hot the last few races. But this weekend they're predicting 105 plus in Fontana. How do you guys deal with that, and what do you do to prepare? Are you going to start hydrating tomorrow, for instance, to get ready for this weekend?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah at this point in the season it's really each day of the week you're either recovering from the event you had and/or getting ready for the one that's coming up. Even though the outside temperature is changing and it's a much hotter part of the season, inside the car it's pretty hot to start with. It doesn't matter how warm it is outside.
So when you're in the car doing your job, that doesn't change too much. It's the stuff leading up to the race, the practice sessions, and you know, that takes a little bit more of a toll on you. But what we do on race day is really about the same.
And I think humidity makes that uncomfortable than anything. When it's a real humid day, I think you create like a pressure cooker inside the car. With the dry air here in California, hopefully, it won't be as intense as it may be for the fans sitting outside.
Q. Since you're from California, were you happy when the labor day weekend race was moved from Darlington to California?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I love coming home. I've been racing in my home state, there's no doubt about it. But I'm kind of torn, because Darlington is one of my favorite racetracks and a place that I have a lot of success at and love the history of it. So it's a tough balance to come home, and then lose the Southern 500 at the same time. So I have kind of mixed emotions on it.
Q. In about three weeks here your teammate is going to be giving back almost 700 points to Kurt Busch, 600 to Harvick, even 500-something to you. Is it hard for the leader, the points leader at the start of the Chase not to feel a little bit robbed by the format?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, especially in these circumstances. It's Jeff has such a big lead than even over second, so it's going to be a tough one to swallow. But watching his interviews and how he's been carrying himself, I think he's done a good job with that.
We all knew what the system was going into it, and the Chase has been here for a few years, so I guess it's making it a little easier on everyone.
Q. Can you talk about what half of the Chase races will be run in the Car of Tomorrow, can you talk about the balancing act that your team faces in that? And also do you think that the teams that are not in the playoff will get a leg up going into next year? Because, basically, they can kind of write off the five spoiler car races and concentrate on the Car of Tomorrow and give them a boost going into next year? Thank you.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We've been doing it all year long, so it's kind of old hat for us to go between the two cars. The Car of Tomorrow has very, very limited areas in which you can work, so I don't see someone or a team or a group committing to just Car of Tomorrow development. I don't think they're going to get that far down the road.
NASCAR made it real clear with the 24 crew chief and my crew chief, if you touch the fenders or the body what they're going to do to you. So the entire garage area is, you know, really nervous to advance their cars in the working areas, and that is what the Car of Tomorrow was designed for. So I don't see it being a huge disadvantage.
We've been racing the Car of Tomorrow enough this year where I think all of the teams have good balance on it. And it looks like there's good parody between the makes, between the teams and everybody involved right now.
Q. Little different type of question here. I'm working on a newspaper story and magazine story. If you could have dinner with one person in the NASCAR industry, past or present, who would that be and why?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Boy, IÃ¢ï¿½Â -- (laughing) ever have thought. Well, you know, actually, I'm trying to think. I'd love to with Bill France - I've had the pleasure of having dinner with Bill France, Jr., but big Bill - I never met the man, never knew anything about him. So I would go back and like to meet the man who started and founded our sport.
Q. With Labor Day coming up, once upon a time most of the guys in NASCAR, the first time they were ever in the workplace they were hauling moonshine or farming and working in a cotton mill. I doubt that was likely in El Cajon, California. So I was wondering sometimes nowadays people work on their car, work in the shop or try to raise money to go racing. What was your first job and how did it go?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: My first job was working at a company here in the area that built shocks for after market shocks for like lifted trucks. Then they also built shocks for the off-road industry and the race buggies and trucks that were racing in that industry. And I was in the back taking the shocks and boxing them up and putting them in a pile for U.P.S. And then I graduated up to the fact where I could fill out the U.P.S. slips and work the U.P.S. side of it. So that was my first job at $2 an hour during the summer.
Q. Aside from experience, what do you think your team's biggest strength is in the chase right now? And having already won a cup title, how many years do you see yourself battling for these championships?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd hope I can battle for them every year. I think the point system is a little more forgiving with the Chase format, and gives, obviously, 12 guys now a shot, a realistic shot at the championship if you're able to be in that top 12 and make the Chase.
So I hope that I'm racing till 40, 45 somewhere in there and fighting for championships through all of that. That is certainly my goal, and I think that our team has that ability.
Mr. Hendrick has shown his commitment time and time again to the sport, and we've got great personnel around us, so I really think it's possible.
Q. I'm wondering about your confidence level going into the Chase, because you had somewhat of a rocky season for you. Do you see yourself looking over your shoulder a bit more than maybe you have in past years?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think so. I think in the past we've been up on top of the points, kind of looking over our shoulders. Worried about the Chase, worried about people with momentum.
We had a lean summer, and you know, with finishes, I should say, the performances have been strong. So I'm actually looking ahead, and I think there is more pressure on guys ahead of me in points. Especially someone like Jeff, who has led it for so long and dominated the first 26 races essentially. So I think we're in a little bit more relaxed situation than we've been in so far in our Cup careers.
Q. We are doing a preview of the tracks of the Chase, and talking to drivers who have dominated. And you're going to go to Lowe's, and I was just wondering a little bit how that experience might be different for race teams, kind of being in NASCAR's backyard. Will you get more rest, more time off? Just anything, eat at a favorite restaurant, something like that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think for most teams it's nice to be home. You get to sleep in your own bed, be with family. Everybody from the race shop has had a chance to come out and really experience what they've been working so hard on, because there's such a limited group of people that come to the tracks and work the race itself.
So it's a great time for everyone, great energy, great morale booster for the companies and the families that support the people that work in the companies. So in that respect it's for me being the Lowe's driver at Lowe's Motor Speedway, it usually means more responsibilities typically to run the Busch race and have a lot going on. So it is one of the busier race weekends that I have.
Q. In professional sport, it's pretty much a given that it's always harder to repeat as a champion than to get to the championship. Have you felt that kind of pressure this year coming in to defend your title?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think so. I kind of would argue the fact that it's harder to win the first. You hear those phrases about you've got to lose one to win one and how difficult that is. Took six years to get that first one done for me.
So I'm optimistic what the future has for us. I feel that my team's matured, I've matured as a driver, and we should be in this position for many years to come. In the position of fighting for a championship, and that's all can you ask for.
So I'm excited and I think our second championship's out there in the near future.
Q. A little while ago you mentioned the fact that you felt only good could come from the open wheelers coming into this series. But some people said the influx of foreign drivers has a reason for the decline of open wheel popularity in this country. Do you see this as a problem for NASCAR in the future?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't. The heart of it all, we're all racers. I don't see how that could hurt Motorsports. Doesn't matter where you live, race car, gender, none of that should matter. We're all racers and it's all for Motorsports. So in my eyes, I only think it would help.
In another aspect that would help it is we have 50 cars showing up to an event, unlike IndyCar where there are just a handful of teams handful of cars and there are numbers that you don't recognize.
I don't think that it's really comparing apples to apples. And I see great benefit from these drivers coming in from all types of racing.
THE MODERATOR: All right, first of all, Jimmie, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule, busy pre-race schedule for joining us today. Best of luck this weekend as you try to clinch a spot in the Chase.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Awesome, thank you.
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