NASCAR Media Conference
January 31, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We have our second driver here, Jimmie Johnson, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion.
Jimmie, can you tell us how your first morning testing has gone out here at California Speedway.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We haven't had any fun yet. It's been a pain in the butt, so we're hopeful that after lunch we hit on some things.
Vegas was difficult. At the end of it we got on the right track and finally found the speed that we needed for the car and the balance, but we're still searching this morning. And have had a long morning already.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. What's the problems? Speed?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's not driving worth a damn (laughter). If I had the answer, we'd fix it. We're working hard on it. The car has had a major push in it. It's early. We've got a lot of time to figure stuff out and teammates to lean on now that were on break and try to figure out what's going on.
I think Casey is in a similar boat. Jeff seems to be a little bit better. Junior will be on the track this afternoon. We get all four teams out there working together, we'll cover more ground, and try to get things working in the right direction.
Q. There's been talk about increasing the age limit of Cup drivers, going to 21. When you got your Cup ride, did you feel you were ready for it, or do you feel you could have used some more seasoning at the Nationwide Series? What do you think about changing the age limit?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I feel that today I could still use more experience and do a better job where I'm at in the Cup Series. I think that 18 should be the limit. You can vote. You can go to war for your country. Why couldn't you drive a NEXTEL Cup car or Sprint Cup car?
I don't see why that would be of anyone's concern or interest to say now 21 is the legal age. I don't understand that.
Some of our best drivers that are coming along are young and they're in that age bracket. Yeah, they make mistakes, but that's part of being a rookie. You have kids going right out of high school to play in the NBA and to play in other pro sports. I think the age limit of 18 and the format we currently have is fair and works really well.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I can't say that we've had any big issues with the tire. If your car's working well and the tire matches up to your setup, you love it. If it doesn't work out, you're upset, making comments.
So even through the tough times that may have existed last year, there still were teams that were happy throughout all of that. It just depends where you're at.
The things I look at, are the tires consistent? Do they repeat? Are we blowing them out? No, they haven't done any of that. I think they brought a good product. Could I use a tire that gave me more front grip right now? Oh, yes.
It just really depends on where you're at in the scheme of things. But so far, so good.
Q. I know Chad Knaus isn't going to take any time off. Coming off back-to-back championships, how do you think that affects this year, raising the bar for other teams, whether it's you having more confidence? Any impact?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it does build more confidence in us that we're doing the right things, working the right areas, all the pieces are in place. It does build confidence there.
At the same time, we'd be foolish if we let it carry over much more than that. Last year was last year. January 1 we had to close the books on it and leave that there. This is a new year with new challenges.
The Car of Tomorrow is full-time, and there's no guarantees how it's going to work out. It's our jobs to stay focused, and in some ways have the desire and hunger as if we haven't won a championship. Because the hungrier survive in this sport. That's just the way it is.
Q. I've talked extensively to NASCAR about the Car of Tomorrow last year. If you could convince NASCAR to change anything about the car, is there anything would you ask them to change?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the aero balance is really the thing we're struggling with the most. There's been a lot of changes. I understand it it's to slow the cars down. We'll end up with these cars being as fast as the old cars, which is hard to believe.
If you asked me a year ago if we'd end up there, I'd say, There's no way. So in a year's time working with the Car of Tomorrow, we found a lot of speed with it. We're going to continue to do that.
From my driving style, the way we used to build bodies on our old cars, had a lot more front downforce. Right now with the wing on the car, the fenders placed the way that they are, there's very, very little front downforce.
It's been a big challenge for us through the two days in Las Vegas and so far here.
Q. Texas is going to be the first track you get to where you haven't had either a test or race experience. Kevin just said he thought that Vegas answered a lot of questions about how the car is going to behave on downforce tracks. Do you agree with that, or do you think it going to be more challenging at a place like Texas?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I agree, we did learn a lot in Las Vegas. The one thing we're trying to be prepared for is right now, when you're testing, it's easy to look at the suspension travel of the car, the right height of the car, and to really fine tune that.
The splitter hits the racetrack every lap somewhere. With the old car, we had a very good understanding of when the valance would touch. Was it on the corner? Was it on the straightaway? We just had a lot of experience with it and could science that out and get the car sealed up and around the track.
Well with the splitter heights, just driving in and out of the garage area you hit the splitter. It's very tough for us to know where the contact is being made, where the attitude of the car is, the right height of the car is. Moving into the season, that's going to be the challenging thing: keep the car off the ground so the tires have the weight on them and can work and do what they need to.
We are a lot smarter after these test sessions. I think as we go to new tracks, that's going to be one of the biggest hurdles to get over, is is the splitter on the ground? Is the height right? Then you start perfecting that and getting the car right, and then you start working on the handling characteristics of the car.
Q. What are your thoughts on the sport's moving to an international level with international drivers and Toyota coming into the sport all at once?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it's exciting for our sport to have all these international drivers come in. Diverse backgrounds, different nationalities. NASCAR, in my mind, has been the best form of racing worldwide. To see these guys commit to our sport, come in and compete, says a lot for what we're doing here, the level of competition that we have.
I'm excited to see them come into the sport and the challenges that they're going to face.
Q. You said in the past that you don't like to get comfortable in a race car. Is that cautious approach common at this level, and is it a big factor in winning also?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's not necessarily a cautious approach. In the car, it's more of a mental thing that I focus on, that the times in my life where I've been confident, felt like things were going to come easier, I had it made, I had it figured out, I'd go out there and just the opposite would happen: things wouldn't work out; I wasn't fast.
So I try to keep myself mentally sharp with that tool or mechanism that goes on in my head.
But as far as on track, you have to go out and find the speed. There are times when the car has the speed in it, it's comfortable to drive, and you can protect yourself or protect things, protect your equipment at that point.
There's other times where you've got to go and the car is not driving right. You've got to suck it up and drive on that other side of that line of comfort. So it just depends where the car is at.
Q. How much different do you think the February race is going to be from all the rest with this new car? Are we going to see a close race for a change?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I really think with the experience we've had with the Car of Tomorrow, every track raced the same way. Bristol is still Bristol. Dover was Dover. Loudon was Loudon. You go down the list. Phoenix was Phoenix. Just a different car out there.
I think the racing you'll see will be the same. There's nothing to really change that.
I feel that you may have your hands full in traffic, and I haven't been in a big group of cars. But this car punches a bigger hole in the air. We saw it in Daytona in the draft, where it's really using a single-car draft to handle well and hang on. That the third and fourth cars in line had a hell of a time hanging on.
The cars were really out of control at that point. So that's telling me there's a lot of turbulent air, not much air for the cars deep in the pack to have on them to give them balance.
I feel that one area that we need to look at of moving forward at all the tracks is how do we create more lanes of side-by-side racing. The shortest distance around is always the fastest way. But if you make a track that's really abrasive to where running a wider arc saves the tire, does that put on a better race? Is it progressive-bank racetracks?
I know there's a lot of arguments, a lot of thoughts out there. Some tracks have had success with progressive banking. That seems like the best option as of now.
But we've worked hard on these cars, put a big strain on these teams to convert from one car to the next. The product is still very similar. I think NASCAR has closed up the gap in the garage area. That was a big goal that they had.
If the concern is on the action on the track, I think we got to look in a different direction than the cars. We've been changing a lot. Teams are tapped out. They spent a lot of money, a lot of resources and things just to get prepared for this Car of Tomorrow. We've got to start looking elsewhere now.
Q. What is the difference in this car as opposed to last year on this track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Getting the right height of the car, the front of the car, has been really difficult. Probably the biggest challenge that we've experienced so far. I think what we're now getting into as practice wore on there is that the setup that we've had here before, our line of thought here before, we had a lot more front downforce so we were able to do different things with the car setup.
Now we don't have that front downforce, so we're trying to learn that balance of how do we get the car balanced aero-wise, then find mechanical grip. Where before we knew the aero balance we had. It was kind of a given factor. We knew it and we just worked on drivability.
Now it's kind of the reverse order now: we're trying to find that aero balance and then work on mechanical grip. So it's a little out of sequence of what we're used to. It's a new car, so it's not surprising to me that we're going through all this.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for coming in, Jimmie.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Cool.
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