NASCAR Media Conference
November 18, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teleconference for the 2008 season. We have a special guest today. Three-time series champion Jimmie Johnson captures his third consecutive title not quite two days ago at Homestead Miami Speedway. He becomes the first driver in 30 years to win three consecutive titles and joins NASCAR Cale Yarborough.
Has it sunk in quite yet?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's starting to. I haven't had a chance to go home yet. I can't wait to get home and relax and slow down and catch up on phone calls and things like that with friends. But it's been a whirlwind and something I'm very proud of and I think it will hit more when we go back to Daytona.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. With three championships now and you look at the battle that you and Carl had coming down to the end, he had a couple of races where he had problems, you guys went without problems and in fact won some races, how much was this due to experience that you all didn't experience those problems or how much was it just simply the luck.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think the crash at Talladega , I was around three or four crashes, I guess, that day and fortunate to miss them all. And certainly luck was in that. The wreckage, how it all got started, I can't say it was bad luck for him. It started from where his car was not trying to hammer the guy but, I guess, kind of creating your own luck, I guess.
But the deal he had with ignition boxes, I've never seen that happen and I hope to never have that happen where both boxes go dead. He certainly did have bad luck, there's no doubt about it.
I think we both showed we're great drivers and race teams and go out to compete for this championship, and I feel regardless of what other people's luck is, that we have a performance in the speed of the car and the team to go out and win this thing regardless with luck being involved or not.
Q. People are talking about the possibility of a fourth championship. Have you allowed yourselves to talk about that possibility?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's great to be part of history, but I'd certainly like to go out and make it. It's going to be tough. Amazing we've been able to do three and not be so focused on tomorrow or next year.
The team's been doing a great job and I feel like with the changing times we've had with the old car, then a combination of the two cars in '07 and the new car this year, we can stay on top of the change in the sport and stay competitive. So I feel like we have a lot of good years ahead of us.
Q. Jimmie, just wondering, what have you been doing the last day and a half.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Left the track around midnight, with the obligation, post-race obligations and stuff like that. And then went out with my guys, went to a bar and they had a big party to celebrate the year and saw a bunch of drivers and team folks there and all my guys were there as well. It's nice to celebrate with them for a while.
And maybe an hour and a half of sleep and was up and at it and on a plane to Bristol, Connecticut, to do the Car Wash at ESPN Studios. That was pretty much all day yesterday. And made it into New York City by about 8:00, I think I saw on the ride in on the clock.
And got up again this morning at 6:30 and had a full day of media obligations so far and have a few more this afternoon. And then on a plane back to Charlotte, and we're hoping around 5:00 tonight. And I guess I'll be home about 8:00.
Q. Do you know who your sponsor is going to be next year.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're still sorting that all out. We've got some ideas. Worked with some great guys in the past. But now that the year is up, we'll let it all fall into place and see who is available and those kinds of things.
But certainly worked with some great guys.
Q. Have you had a chance to talk to Cale Yarborough yet and, if not, are you going to try to meet with him or talk with him before the banquet.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I've not spoken to him. I'd love to. I guess I haven't had time to stop and think about any of it to come across that thought. But I would love to talk to him. I talked to him earlier in the year a couple of times and he couldn't have been more gracious and excited for me. When I have a chance to speak to him, I'll be real happy about that.
Q. Jimmie, congratulations. I was wondering if with this test ban that's coming up, a lot of people are hypothesizing that this might be of some help to you next year, or that you might get the most help out of it next year because others might not be able to catch up as quickly. How do you sort of address that issue.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I still feel like we're chasing 99 on some of the tracks, so it's going to be preventing us getting better on the bank mile and a half tracks, and I think we're good on short tracks. Super Speedway stuff has been fair. We haven't been as dominant or had the fastest cars out there. I think some other guys are showing a little more speed. So it's going to limit us to catch up in those areas.
I really feel like there's a happy medium that we can find here that would benefit the small teams and also the big teams. And, more than anything, give everybody a chance to work on their cars.
It's going to be very difficult. I don't care the size of the team, to go on a Friday and worry about qualifying for a race -- especially if you look at a small team, they show up on Friday, they're only focusing on qualifying runs, hoping they'll make it into a race. Once they do, they don't have any data or -- they have two 45-minute practices at best to get on track to work on the race setup.
I think the potential is there for it to separate the field and have the big teams get further away from the smaller teams because no one has a chance to work on their cars.
Q. The follow-up question, does it seem apparent to you -- this has been asked a lot over the past ten weeks, but your place in history now, in a larger sense, not just within the sport, but within professional sports itself.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's pretty big. To win three of anything is pretty special. Two cool moments at ESPN yesterday. I walked in and the first person I saw in the hallway of ESPN was Mike Ditka and introduced myself to him and he said, I know who you are, champ, and, by the way, you are a dynasty.
And it just shocked me that he had been paying attention to NASCAR and seeing comments where I've mentioned I couldn't say where I placed, it wasn't my place to say that. That one caught me off guard. Cris Carter was in the hallway a little later that day and he walked up to me said, I don't really follow NASCAR, but winning three titles in anything, in a row, deserves a lot of respect.
So when people like that notice what we have done and compare us to other teams in sports history, that's special. I'm so proud to be a part of this and so happy for the team and myself.
Q. Jimmie, what did you think of the rookie class this year? And, second, can you imagine being Rookie of the Year.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's tough. We know the pressure and it's difficult with the markets like they are and the troubles in Detroit. It's hard to believe that EI is not a front race team and the EI is looking for a ride. Hopefully it will turn around.
Q. Thank you very much. Congratulations again, Jimmie. I don't know if you remember, back in August before the race at the Michigan International Speedway I talked with you in the garage area and you said if you did win this year's championship you wanted to go on a really special vacation with your wife. First of all, how in the heck will you have the time and, second, have you decided where you'd like to go on vacation?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're not testing until January. So I can probably expand on some type of trip. My wife and I have been interested in Eastern Asia to explore and see Thailand and Bali and a bunch of areas we're interested in seeing. I don't know much about these areas, but I see them in the magazines and have heard from friends who have traveled. I can't pronounce them now, but I know I'll come home much more in tune with it all and enjoying the experience.
Q. Could you go into a little more detail on how this economy you think will affect NASCAR next year, how would it affect your team and how it's just going to affect what you do.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's tough. There's a dominos here and if one does fall, I don't really have an idea what the impact could be. You look at the worst-case scenario and it could really affect teams financially and put a lot of the smaller teams out of business.
I'm not sure it would put a large team out of business, but it's going to make it really, really tough. And from there you need to generate revenue somehow. So I don't know what that looks like, if sponsors have to give relief to allow other sponsors on the car to raise the money the team needs, but then at that point sponsors can't really afford marketing budget right now. How do they get involved? So I don't know what's going to happen. I really don't have that vision, but I thought of something yesterday that I thought was encouraging and something worthy of talking about.
The fans trying to attend these races, they don't have the money they've had in the past to come and watch the sport in person. But it puts a bigger focus on our TV package, and we've got great TV partners, and a lot of advertising that comes through events and the fact that these cars have the sponsors on the side of them.
So hopefully through our great TV partners we're able to show a great value for these guys and they realize that they need to stay in NASCAR and continue to support the race teams.
Q. You're caught on both ends because you also own a dealership. You're on the dealership end, too, of this.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I am. It's a tough time in Detroit, as we all know. And I don't know how we fix it. It's way beyond me, but I'm just hopeful that our fans and people that follow this sport stay brand loyal and especially support what's going on up at Michigan, support our auto dealers.
It's a tough time and everybody needs to be buying American-made products to help our country out.
Q. What do you admire most about champions in NASCAR and other sports and what are the most important traits that you think you share with past champions?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Doesn't matter what it is. Doesn't have to be on the highest levels of NASCAR or NFL or NBA or whatever it is. A champion is a champion. You're in a special club. The pressure is the same for a guy on the short track on Saturday night for what I've had at the Sprint Cup level. The stage is bigger and there's a lot of obvious differences, but being a champion is so special and such an elite club and it takes passion that we all share together.
And at the end it doesn't matter sport, gender, nationality, none of that. You have to have a certain passion to separate yourself to be a champion.
Q. In 2005 -- actually Mr. Hendrick talked about this over the weekend. Kind of go back to 2005 when you and Chad were having problems. Just talk about that cookies and milk meeting and what you remember most about it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Chad and I -- it's not that we were having the problems, we just were getting our butt -- we were in the champion hunt and the 20 car just beat us. And we were frustrated from getting beat. And we were at a crossroads as to how we were going to deal with that and the frustration built up to where it was affecting the team.
And Rick just sat us down and pulled out the milk and cookies and helped us kind of put it all in perspective in a Rick Hendrick type of way and just understand it.
He's so good with dealing with people and bringing up the issues that are important and delicate and then dealing with those issues. And I looked back at 2005 and think that's the year that defined us as a race team. That's the year that we were very frustrated and had to change our ways and change how we operated, change -- and Chad, change what he did. He was doing too much and he was burned out and he needed to delegate.
And I needed to be more patient in different areas and I needed to work on what I'm doing in the car and describing things better to Chad.
So we really just worked through that moment, through that period of time and left there as a stronger race team.
Q. How would you rate Chad as crew chief as far as in history? Obviously, he talked about it. He said the other day that you were the best that he's seen. How would you rate Chad as a crew chief.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think there's a question of where he ranks. If you take his seven years and compare him to any crew chief, no one is better. He's by far the best.
Q. When you look back at this year, was Talladega really the turning point for your Chase? And, secondly, next year with Talladega moving deeper into the Chase, race No. 7, how is that going to change your approach to the race.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Talladega was a big part of it. At the end, when things kind of turned out like they have, I look back at a couple of parts. I look at Talladega. I look at Phoenix as a place where we went in, came off a bad race, and we needed to be aggressive. We had to get the job done. We had to send the message back to the 99 guys that this thing is far from over.
They're making up ground on us after the Texas race. Won at Atlanta. Rallied back after the second. I think there's a lot of different statements in there that 99 was delivering. We had to answer and we did. And at times we were setting pace and putting it out there, then 99 stepped up.
So it was a very competitive battle. And just a lot of hard work went into it. So I kind of -- when I look back, like I said, I think of Texas and the fact that we lost some points there to Carl, and truthfully we could have ended things in Phoenix if we finished where we should have in Texas.
So I kind of look at -- not as a turning point, but that's the part I look back and say we need not to make that mistake in the future.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for your time today.
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