NASCAR Media Conference
November 20, 2007
DENISE MALOOF: Hello, everyone. And welcome to the last NASCAR NEXTEL conference of the 2007 season. We're joined by our newly crowned champion, Jimmie Johnson, who is a twoâtime champion now. He is the first twoâtime champion, I believe, since '97 and '98 when his teammate, Jeff Gordon, won two backâtoâback. And it is the 14th time in the history of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series that a driver has won backâtoâback titles.
Jimmie, I know it's been a whirlwind since Sunday night, have you had a chance to let it all sink in yet?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It has been sinking in. I'm just so proud of what we've done when I look back on the season and the victories. We turned around our qualifying effort and won some poles this year. We went out and raced the best of the business in this championship. So I'm very, very proud of what we've accomplished this year.
Last year the fact of not losing anything over the offâseason and rolling into this season, I'm really, really proud of the effort that everybody put in. All the teams work hard, and everybody's doing all that they can, but our guys found a little extra this year, and I'm thankful for it.
DENISE MALOOF: Let's go to questions for Jimmie.
Q. Have you gotten a chance to think about this, and maybe this is one of the things you don't do until many years later, but to think about what your place is in this sport?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I can't say that I've thought about it. I feel as I'm going further into my Cup career, and the things that we've done and being a Champion representing the sport, there are some responsibilities that come with that. And I feel that taking the professional approach that I do to our sport and wanting to represent the sport and sponsors and all that stuff in the right manner, I'm taking care of the stuff that I probably should and need to.
As time goes on, I think different drivers grow into different roles. I see Jeff Gordon and a lot of people see it as the guy that, kind of like Earnhardt was to the NASCAR group, in talking to the sanctioning body and dealing with the drivers and stuff. And that is something that Jeff really didn't ask for or isn't comfortable with having, but he's kind of worked his way into that role. So that's one side of it.
It will just develop on its own and take its own shape and form when it does. But I feel that representing the sport like I have isâ ââ I've been doing a decent job at it, and hope that I can continue to do that this year.
Q. One of the things we see on a championship team is that usually there is a little fallout, whether it's fatigue or guys getting pulled away for other jobs, whatever the case. How have you been able to avoid that drop off?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, we made it through last year, we'll see what happens into this offâseason and going into the '08 season. I feel that Rick provides the right work space, and the right work environment for guys to want to stick around and stay.
And if we have crew members that opportunities come their way for them to advance in their careers, we don't want to hold anyone back. We hate to lose them, we don't want to lose them. But Chad and I and Rick have gotten to this spot in our careers because of opportunities that have been given to us, and we wouldn't want to hold anyone back.
Q. I guess what I wanted to ask you about as we now get closer to New York City is I chatted with your team engineer, and it was kind of an interesting perspective. He said one of the reasons that they feel confident enough to make changes is that whether you can pull it off and take the change and make it into a win, or whether they make a mistake and it's not the change or it's a change they've tried but it's not the exact one, that you'll still kind of make it better for them. So that gives them confidence. He also told me he thinks about racing 24 hours a day, and that your entire team does. Can you talk about how you're able to, I guess, give them confidence by what they try with the race car?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, there are so many ways to adjust the race cars and there are some rules and things that keep us from working in certain areas. And it's up to the engineers to find ways to get grip in the car without breaking those rules.
Greg, who you're speaking of is really, really good at understanding that stuff and pouring through the data, and finding way that's we can put grip in the car.
There is not a free lunch, and usually when you make an adjustment to a car it sacrifices in the corner. Very rarely do you find something that helps all the segments of the turn and piece it all together.
So they make changes and get out on track, and I've tried some different lines and different techniques to see if it would work if I changed my style and changed the way I approached the corner. In trying to find maximum grip or maximum attitude in the car. Whatever it may be.
I've got to adjust to it, too. And if I stay confined just driving it to a certain way, I'm going to be limited and I'm going to limit the team to what we can do.
I think my offâroad background helps me with that. I'm not set on a set feeling or stuck on that. I feel I can move around and try things and that helps me a lot with what I do.
Q. He also said that your team never thought they had it in the bag, they kept working. Even when they were far ahead. They were always searching, maybe even more than some other teams, a pretty persistent team?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is. And we knew we couldn't put our guards down. We knew who we were racing and the team and the track are better than anyone else out there, and they had an amazing year. And we knew we had to fight to the very end to get this thing done. That's why I'm really proud of this team and what we've done this year.
We outscored and earned more points than any other year. Jeff, being in second, earned more points than any other champion in the Chase. So we really had to go out and race for this thing and fight for it. That's why we kept that perspective, and tried to keep ourselves in line and not let our minds get ahead of ourselves. We needed to go out there and get the job done.
Q. 23, if my addition is correct, 23 wins over the last two years between you and Jeff. At what point do we call this a dynasty?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think Jeff in what he's accomplished in his career is certainly worthy of what title. The 48, we're not there. We've done something amazing, but we're not in that realm yet. And I certainly hope to be.
But I think Hendrick Motorsports and what Rick has done in the sport without a doubt deserves that title. And obviously the 24 and 48 shops being together, we've been able to be part of that and help in a way, and help get that win total up for Rick, and the championship total up for him. So he is certainly worthy of that, and is one of the legends of our sport.
Q. You talked a moment ago about being a good champion. And I've heard drivers before â and I just paraphrased what you said â I've heard drivers before that have won championships and they're always asked that, What's it take to be a good champion? Is it important that you set the stage as a good champion? And in your mind's eye, what does it take to be a good champion as I ask an ageâold question?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think that to be a good champion you need to be, it sounds crazy, but you need to be proud of what you've done and carry yourself with that pride and let people see that excitement and all that comes with that and how you act through it.
The cool thing about our sport, there are all types of personalities. Jeff's a certain way, Junior, myself, Stewart, Kenseth, we're all different. There is no way to really say one way is the right way. Our fan base is big and broad, so it would be foolish to say that one guy's personality is the right personality for being a champion, because we're all different.
I really think when you can see how excited and how happy that driver and team are and how hard they've worked for it, and how they've carried themselves in their own way the following year, that is what makes the difference.
I feel last year we were very proud of what we did, and this year we're even more proud of what we've done to be backâtoâback. We'll smile all year long, and try to carry this sport in a positive manner.
Q. If I may ask one more, is it being a good champion on the track or off the track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it takes both sides of it. When you are the champion, and you have the spotlight on you, it takes both sides of it.
Q. Once again congratulations, I'm sure you don't mind hearing it. You and I talked around your summer slump around Indianapolis, and you were pretty down in the dumps. How do you bring yourself out of that, and bring yourself into your second championship, and do you know what you did to avoid the summer slump in '08?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We had some tough tracks in there. They're on our radar to pick those performances up and do better at those tracks. We also had some bad luck. We had great races going at Dover and Chicago, And Indy was going well for us. We got caught up in a couple of accidents throughout the day. So I think we had some bad racing luck. And, fortunately, for us it was during that point of the season, and not part of the Chase.
We recognize the weak tracks that we have, and we're trying really hard to pick the end result up there, and hopefully we'll make the right adjustments to do that.
Q. One of the reasons this title was so impressive is because the sport got so competitive. And when I look at next year, I see a lot of drivers that are really going to be on a mission, people like Hamlin and Kyle Busch and Junior and Jeff, for that matter, the whole Roush Team. Can you talk about how hard it would be next year to win a championship again?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Every year it gets tougher and tougher. Teams are getting stronger every year. And you've got guys with more experience. I think we have a great crop of talented drivers that are now years two and three in their Nextel Cup careers. It's only getting more and more difficult as every year goes on.
I think it's a great time to be part of our sport and, hopefully, we bring the action to the fans and everybody. I, in my heart, know it's only going to get more difficult as time goes on.
Q. Smart drivers like you know to not dwell on the rewards of a win. Do you savor the triumph of a championship going into the next season or is it back to work as fast as usual?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think when you win the championship, the team deserves to enjoy that moment and let it soak in. And that is what is so impressive with our team. They were able to do that. I was able to do that, and we still opened up and started the season and were winning races right out of the box. So I'm very, very proud of that.
We'll let this soak in and enjoy it. Chad was already talking about going to work for Daytona and post race interviews. So I know it's on our guys' minds. They love racing, they love winning, and hopefully, we continue to do it.
Q. What, if anything, seems to transfer most from season to season?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think very little. Everybody goes home and wipes the slate clean. I think the Champion enjoys the moment a little longer than everyone else. But right now everyone's home just tearing up last year's notebook and starting over.
Clean sheet of paper with the Car of Tomorrow coming in. There is very limited expectations of what changes should be to the car. There is really not a lot of history with it is the best way to put it. So there are a lot of guys developing stuff right now, and we're not carrying over a car that we have a lot of history with and all that stuff. So I think everybody's working hard at it.
Q. I would think that you'd be a slam dunk for driver of the year this year. Over guys like maybe Dario or Schumacher or maybe Sebastien Bourdais. If you had a vote, would you vote for yourself or would you vote for one of those other guys?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd vote for myself. This is pretty special this year. I know there were a lot of great moments in Motorsports. And I think of was it Casey Stoner on the motorcycles overseas, and at the Grand Prix Series that's done such an amazing job. I think of Lewis Hamilton, the year he's had. Dario had an amazing season in the 500 and the Championship.
There are a lot of great moments in Motorsports this year, so it's tough to break it down, I'm pretty proud of what we did.
Q. I think you're a slam dunk, like I said.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you.
Q. All we hear is that well, the season's over, it's all done. But really, Jimmie, for you, it's not all done. Television shows, teleconference calls, one after another. First of all, when does it all end? And when it does end, what the heck do you and your wife do before next season to settle down, relax and get some enjoyment?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're going to enjoy some time over the holidays. But our sport really is a yearâround sport even though we're not at track racing. Just to get prepared for the next season, there is a lot that's going on from, as you point out, the different media obligations. We also have photo shoots and commercials and stuff to get ready to prepare for next year. So December is full.
I'm taping a commercial for Gatorade tomorrow. Then I have Thursday to Saturday for myself, and then Sunday's obligations start with banquet week.
But once we get into Christmas, I'll have time to be home and enjoy being home. And enjoy the Christmas new year's period of time. As soon as January is here, off to Daytona we go for Cup testing. I hope to run in the 24âhour of Daytona, there is testing for that. Plus in that race we have preseason testing in Vegas and California all in January so, it's going to be really busy.
Q. With that win, let's hope Santa Claus is really good to you this year.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I agree.
Q. I was late joining the conference, and I apologize if this has been asked. But the Car of Tomorrow becomes the only car to work with next year. And that will be one small thing to jump over as you try for three in a row. You've had a lot of seat time in that thing. It's not a new automobile. But has that entered into your thought process as you've tried for three in a row?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It has. I think Hendrick Motorsports has done a great job with the Car of Tomorrow. I think that Chad and I are relatively quick to figuring out what the new car wants or what we need to do when there are rule change that's come along.
With us having the partial season on the smaller tracks, we came out and did very well. I feel taking these cars to the mile and a half tracks or downforce tracks is going to be another opportunity for us. Especially if we continue to do things the way that we have and sort that out relatively fast.
So I'm very excited about next season. I think we'll be a threat for race wins right out of the gate. Then hopefully be there at the end of the year to fight for another championship.
Q. I had some of the fans ask me, Lowe's is going to open up some stores in Canada here next month. And they said do you know if Jimmie's coming up for those openings? And I said I would somehow doubt it. And I checked with your folks, doesn't look like you're going to be. You have a lot of Canadian fans and I know you know that, too?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I sure do. I appreciate it. Canada has supported NASCAR, in general, in a big way. And I know the Lowe's expansion is going to be great. I wish I could make these store openings, but the way they're opening up the stores, there is no way I could attend them. But I sure appreciate it though.
Q. I just wanted to ask you, I read a column at Homestead Miami and it said Jimmie Johnson was going to win the Championship. And how you were this guy without all this personality and things. I don't know how many people know you up close, and then when they do, they find out that you're pretty much fun. And a lot of your focus is not distracted by being a personality or something, which is probably the reason why you're doing so well, that's just your style. However, I'm wondering, given all that, if sometimes you have the feeling when you go to New York if you'd like to swing from the chandeliers or something and blow it all out and let everybody know the real Jimmie, you know?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: All I know is what I know and how I am. And those that are close to me know I can do dumb things, and people in the whole world know I do dumb things. I broke my wrist screwing around on a golf cart, you know.
I work hard, I play hard. Fortunately, depends on how you look at it. We have a very busy schedule, so there is more working hard than playing hard. And I look forward to the banquet this year, and having more fun with my guys and then some downtime over the offâseason. And I just do my thing. I do it my way. I hate that sometimes people don't have a chance to see the real me. But I'm just doing my job, doing my deal.
Q. Probably because you're focused at the racetrack, and you're in the zone and you're pretty focused about that. When you go to New York, this time, when you go, do you think you'll be able to maybe enjoy it more?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think so. I think I'll really be able to enjoy this experience. I did last year, but there was so much going on, and it was such an eyeâopening experience. I don't think I savored as much of it as I wanted to. And before I knew it, banquet week was over and we were on our way back home.
So I'm looking forward to each day that we're up here for banquet week.
Q. You said something a few moments ago when the gentleman asked you who you would vote for for Driver of the Year, and you said yourself. And thing I thought of was it's refreshing to hear a driver or any athlete believe in what they do, and not say what they think is politically correct. You honestly believe you should be Driver of the Year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I do. I guess it's uncharacteristic of Jimmie Johnson to be that way, but we had a stellar year and I'm very, very proud of what we've done. I think that I've earned the title as Driver of the Year.
I'm not taking away anything from what other drivers have done. To be honest, I know my world. I'm not all that up and up on what other drivers have done and wins and things like that. But we had an awesome year.
When I hear stats like I have of us winning backâtoâback championships and it hasn't been done since Jeff. There are only ten people that have ever done that. And 1 of 15 to win multiple championships in the history of our sport, those are all things that help me come up with that conclusion.
Q. Talking about winning two championships in a row, and when that happens, everyone says, well, he wins three to match Kale Yarborough's record. And I've seen this pop up on a couple of articles, comparing you to somebody named David Pearson, and I know that's one of those legendary guys that you hear about. When you hear yourself compared to someone as prestigious as the Silver Fox, that's got to make you proud as well?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's a huge compliment. I wish that I was around to really see everything he did and accomplished. I watched like Junior's show back in the day and learned more about the history of our sport, it was just way before my time.
Growing up in Southern California, I was really limited on the exposure that I had to NASCAR. But I know the name. I know that he was well respected in our sport, and I am honored to be considered in that framework of what he's done. It's really cool.
DENISE MALOOF: Thank you so much for joining us on this last teleconference of 2007. Enjoy your Championship, and we'll see you soon enough in January.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Will do. Happy Holidays, everybody.
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