NASCAR Media Conference
January 29, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We've got with us now Jimmie Johnson.
You're going to be racing a little different car, talk about how the test has gone so far and coming back here to race, trying to go for four.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's really the first test that the 48 team has had on a downforce track, big like this. We've been learning a lot, from myself learning about this car, how it feels, what it does. Chad has been learning a lot about it and what adjustments work and don't work.
We still have some question marks in our heads. We haven't sorted things out like we had hoped, but we're getting closer. And I think by the end of the second day in Fontana we should know a lot more about the car and have a better idea of things.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Jimmie.
Q. Are you surprised that Toyota is as good as they are at a downforce track like this?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I really truly think - we've talked about it a lot - that this is the best year for a team to move over to a different manufacturer. We don't have the flexibility, manufacturers don't have the flexibility, to show what they can engineer, build and bring to the track. Everything is common and the same.
With that in mind, I think you have to unfortunately rule out some of the manufacture influence and think of the race team. We know that Gibbs is strong. I think the Hendrick cars, we've been good. But I don't think we're where we want to be yet. We're still learning and developing some things.
The ones that have impressed me is really the 99 car with Carl. Those Roush cars have been good, especially Carl here. He's been real fast, not only for one lap, but over the course of the run he's been really impressive and I think the best car so far.
Q. It's got to be hard, you dreamed and hoped all your life to get where you're at. You won two championships, now everyone is like, Can we beat him? Can we get him out of here? Get another guy in there? Is it hard in the mindset to come back, even though you want to win three in a row, to hear the opposite side of it, which is the same guy again winning the championship?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Possibly. I haven't been around or really cared if people have liked or didn't like the fact that I won two championships. I worked my ass off to get here and I'm happy to be doing what I'm doing.
But every year's a new year. I know that this year is going to be a totally different discipline. I saw a lot of teams at the end of last season coming on strong. I think Roush is going to be somebody to worry about. I think that Gibbs, I don't think Tony had the year that he wanted. Denny had two-thirds of the year that he wanted, but the end didn't turn out how he would have liked. Kyle is going to be fast, we know that.
I think this is going to be an exciting new year. Regardless what we've done in the past, I'm not carrying any of that over. The sport is so humbling. We're struggling our butts off right now to be 18th on the board. So we've got a lot of learning to do. I've got to figure this car out.
There's a couple things that feel different, car acts different than the old car. We're still working through some changes. We'll just keep plugging along. I hope at the end of the year we can win a third and if it does bother people, make them madder (laughter).
Q. Do you feel other people shooting for you, watching you? Do you feel people coming on stronger?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't feel it any more than I would in any year. I think when you drive for Hendrick Motorsports, Rick has a history of setting a high mark. The company has a lot of expectations of its drivers, its crew chiefs. There's a lot expected of us. I feel more pressure from that environment than any outside environment.
Yeah, as far as feeling other teams coming on, I really do. I think I mentioned a second ago the Roush teams, Gibbs, Childress was very strong last year, I don't expect them to lose anything. I really think that Evernham's cars are going to be there.
Kasey and Elliott and that whole program, they're way too strong to suffer through another year like they did last year.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: As far as the cars on the track, I think what I saw in our test session, it's gonna be a handful. Typically the cars end up tight there. My car and my teammates, once you were three or four cars back in line, the car was really loose and really uncomfortable to drive.
So I think there could be a lot of crashes. There could be a lot of ill-handling cars. Daytona always does challenge us over like Talladega. It's just such a different animal. So I do expect it to be its typical Daytona: be difficult and tough.
But the fact that the cars were so loose there in the test session had me a little nervous. I look forward to the shootout and also to drafting practice when we have more cars out there to really see what they're going to do. I hope that they're better. I don't think it will be. I'd be foolish thinking that. Once we all get out there in the big pack, we'll learn more. I expect the car is really difficult to drive.
The next 50 years for our sport, specific to Daytona, I think that our sport has done a great job of remembering the people that brought us here, the people that built the sport, made it what it is. And the venue, the track, Daytona, it made NASCAR what it is today. I really am proud of everyone before me, and look forward to doing my part to carry that tradition on.
You still listen to every driver but maybe an Indiana native that says that Daytona is the biggest race. That's just keeping history alive. I only think it will get bigger and bigger as years go by.
Q. Coming up on the 50th anniversary of that race in Daytona, is there any way for you to summarize - I don't know how much of a history buff you are - but what the history of that race and track has meant to racing in general?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Kind of feel like I'm the wrong guy to ask that question. I've only been in the sport, this is the start of my seventh season. You know, like I'm sure you've heard from other drivers, it's what our sport was founded on; it's what it was built on. It was Bill France, Sr.'s vision to build that Superspeedway and have it be the race that it is today. It certainly is that.
It's the only race that has a title. When I won the Daytona 500, it was announced in media interviews and other things - I won a lot of other races - but that's the one that had a title. People recognize that and register with that.
It is our largest event. I'm happy to see the tradition there. I think the tradition is going to continue. The desire to win that race will never diminish. It's just going to stay at the top.
Q. Last year you had the new 20-degree banking to deal with here in Las Vegas. It wasn't a problem for you. This year it's the Car of Tomorrow. How is the Car of Tomorrow dealing with that banking? How are you finding it running on this track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The track seems the same in a lot of ways. The cars drive differently. The feel of it, looking for it, it's tough to get that same feeling back to the car we ran here last year. We have a different tire. There's some other variables in there that are challenging us right now.
But at the end of the day, it still drives and acts like it did last year. That's been one thing that's been surprising to all of us. We've all had issues with the Car of Tomorrow, thinking it's going to be less of a car to drive.
The competition and the show we put on for the fans I think we all we all felt would be there. But if you're driving the car, if you go from one or the other, it's much less vehicle. It's got less downforce and all these things that make it harder to drive.
But we still end up with the same race. Martinsville was still an awesome race. Dover was the same. Talladega was awesome. You get back to that same thing. It's still a race car on that track, and we're still seeing that same stuff here.
Q. What would you find of is the biggest advantage of the Car of Tomorrow and the biggest disadvantage?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For the teams or?
Q. For you personally as a driver and for the teams.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think the challenging thing for us -- for the teams, your hands are tied. There's only so many areas you can work. In the past, there were five ways to figure out how to make your car do whatever you needed it to do better. And now with the aerodynamic rules that we have, the common body, the chassis, the way that it is, the limited travel we have to travel the cars in the front, we're all kind of boxed in.
It's frustrating at times as a competitor. NASCAR is smiling. That's exactly what they want. So they've done what they wanted to do, and they've achieved that. When you're working on them every day trying to find speed, trying to find things, that's the challenging part.
I think the of positives for it over the long haul will be that the smaller teams can find speed faster. They can be more competitive. The top isn't going to get as far away. Again, that's by design from NASCAR. It's serving its purpose.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it is early to tell, but I can say, after working with him yesterday and today, that I'm extremely impressed with his abilities behind the wheel. I've always been around him and raced with him, but you just don't know what's going through someone's mind when you're not a teammate.
I think Tony Eury, Jr. is a very, very smart man. I think you're going to see a lot of great things out of him. I think DEI last year showed last year they had some speed. Junior had some bad luck. Ran well but blew some engines and had some other issues that we knew about. Truex went on and ran really well.
So I don't think it's going to be a clear, defined, you know, moved to Hendrick and picked up X amount of speed. But my impression in working with him, I'm very impressed. He's done a great job.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: One, he puts a smile on everybody's face when he gets in there and starts talking about things and the race car. He just has a great sense of humor and keeps everybody lighthearted and laughing.
But inside of that, when he's describing what the car is doing, he has a very clear understanding what the car is doing. And that's something that you just don't know unless you work with someone. And he can break down the corner, know what his inputs are doing to the car. He knows how the car is talking back to him, the direction he wants to go in.
He's not making it up. I mean, you can see a conviction in his eyes how he's describing it. That's what he's feeling. And that's what you need in our sport without data at the racetrack, the other modern tools that can be used. You need to be strong and have a good feel for the car and lead your team down that road to make it better, and he has that. That's something I didn't see or know of before.
Q. Brian France made the announcement last week he was going to get NASCAR back to its roots. I know you said this is just the beginning of your seventh year, but do you think that's the right move? Do you like the fact maybe they're listening to the fans a little bit more? Has NASCAR had too many changes in the last several seasons?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I didn't see the press conference, but I think time will tell what that means. I'm not sure exactly what that statement means. I know that they're not going to come down on drivers as harshly for expressing their minds and being themselves.
But I didn't think we had a problem with that anyway. Some guys I think have smartened up because they made their lives awfully tough on themselves being overly opinionated. But I didn't feel it was the sport coming down on those drivers and keeping them from speaking their minds.
I don't think the stuff I've seen and heard is going to affect me or make me drive any differently, make me act any differently inside or outside of the race car. So only time will tell what that really means, and we'll just have to see how that plays out.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thanks for coming in. We'll see you in a few weeks.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You got it. Thank you.
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