NASCAR Media Conference
August 26, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Sunday's race will be the ninth event in the Race to the Chase, the ten-race lead in for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The Chase, that amounts to the season's final ten races during which the series champion is determined.
First guest today knows all about winning championships. He's the driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, the two-time defending champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Jimmie Johnson. Later in the call we'll be joined by Reed Sorenson who is going to talk about his new plans for the 2009 season.
First up we have Jimmie Johnson, fourth in the points going in to Auto Club Speedway, and it looks like he should clinch a Chase spot this weekend. He clinches if he finishes 40th or better Sunday.
Before we get started, I know you're out in California involved in a special event. Why don't you tell us about that event to open up and then we'll go to the media.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you. It's great to be opponent the call today. I'm out in El Cajon, California where I grew up. The Jimmie Johnson Foundation, we have an annual golf tournament that's taking place tomorrow, Wednesday out here. Today is a special day for us. We are heading out to the build site where we are building four homes with Habitat For Humanity through the Jimmie Johnson Foundation.
It's an exciting day. My wife and I are all dressed up and ready to have a good day today and then we have
Dinner tonight with some auction stuff that's going on, a lot of stuff participating and I want to thank them for that, and that helmet will be auctioned off tonight and I will be wearing that on Sunday afternoon.
Happy to finish that if I finish 40th or better in California, I clinch; that's the best news I've heard all day long.
Q. Talk about on the Car of Tomorrow, how far do you all feel as far as Hendrick Motorsports goes, are you behind with the Car of Tomorrow? Now that they have caught up where do you guys feel you are in the development?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think we are close. What's confusing is you see the 8 team and the 99 and their teammates are respectable or fair but not even close to the success that those two have had.
Company in different weeks, the 88 has been the car, the 24 was the car early, we were, and it's just tough to really say where we're at. Some weekends I feel like we have a dominant car and other weekends I feel like we're a fifth-place car or even a tenth-place car. With the strong team that we have, we seem to be able to rally back and get finishes out of it.
So I still think that we are maybe behind, and especially where we want to be, we want a nice cushion and we want to be well ahead of the competition and without a doubt, we are not there. We are on par if maybe just not a little bit behind right now. We have been testing already this week and been working as hard as we possibly can to find more speed and to better understand this car. Every time we are on track, we learn something and we can apply it.
I'm excited for this weekend's race and we were a little smarter yesterday in the test session that we had and hopefully bring that out to California this weekend.
Q. I was talking to Chad the other day and it seems like he's having to find new ways to channel his creativity, things like pit strategies and that sort of thing. How hard on Chad do you think personally it is to be sort of straight jacketed when it comes to working on the car? Is it that taking a toll on him?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wouldn't say it's taking a toll on him. It's been tough for him and it's been a huge, huge challenge for him -- (static interference) -- but more importantly, the go-to moves that we've always had with the old car do not work with the COT. And to re-kind-of-train his brain and look at things in a different way, that is the hardest part for him.
We showed up at Vegas and Fontana at the start of the season with what we thought was the best downforce package on the planet. California went well -- we were slow all weekend but went with the 24 setup and it ran well. Then we went to Vegas with.
Latest, greatest moves and the stuff we thought was going to work based on the old car, and we were not even in the same race. We were out there seven-cylinder class it seemed like. That has been the hardest part to find out where to work and that's what we've done all season long.
There is not anyone smarter than Chad but the way he has thought about setting these cars up and what we have done in the past does not work with this new car. We are trying to find the right direction in the right areas to turn him loose and let him work. There are not any big areas anymore. It's a lot of small areas and we are now I feel getting the rhythm of this car and understanding what to work on.
Q. Wondering from a driver's perspective any thoughts on the shuffle between Atlanta, Fontana and Talladega, is that a positive or negative for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't see it being a problem for us. All of the tracks are good for the 48. When I heard of the changes, I understood with the weather and things like that how they would make the change.
So I don't see any big impact on myself. I think that it's going to be nice for the California fans to have a race a few months later so the climate is better and things like that and the Atlanta race, it will certainly be hotter and hopefully we won't have any weather.
Q. Both Carl and Jack Roush have said that they think Carl is in a better position to win the championship this year than he was in 2005 when he almost won it. Jack didn't feel like he was mature enough then and ready to handle all of the ramifications that come with being in a title Chase. From your perspective, what changed for you the last two years when you won the title compared to the years before when you came so close and didn't quite get there? Was it a process that you go through as a driver? What specifically can you say was different for you, that made the difference in the last two years?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Experience has a large part of it. I agree with Jack's comments. I think Carl today, and his entire team, is much stronger, refined, mature, and you only get there through living there day-to-day and having good times and bad times and everything in between.
I feel that Carl is definitely a big threat for it, and the more opportunity these guys have, that everyone has in the Chase, in these high-pressure situations; they are just going to get stronger and stronger and be very competitive in the championship for years to come.
Q. As you prepare to defend another title, how do you like the top two guys in the standings in a possible rivalry with each other rather than you and everyone else they have to beat in the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, the rivalry stuff, we all have it. Especially as the Chase gets closer and everybody that has a shot at this thing is going to find ways to motivate themselves and areas they can potentially play mindgames in or be out on the track and try to intimidate someone, and that stuff is just is part of any championship battle.
I look at what took place at Bristol, and I look at Carl and Kyle, and they both know what they have to lose. So I don't think it will last much larger. It's just competitive racing. Kyle didn't like the bump from behind, but at the same time, if you look at what Carl did, it was a pretty smooth bump-and-run to get him out of the way and something you typically see at Bristol.
I just think the competition is going to continue to increase. You're going to see the pressure really do its best and worst to everyone in the Chase. It's just going to be part of it.
Q. You've had close finishes at the end with both, especially Carl as I recall. Which one of those two guys has the better claim to be that gentlemanly, but fierce, competitor that they both claim to be?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think Carl has a little more age, a little more maturity on his side. It's not taking anything away from Kyle, but I think Carl has just been there, done that, a few more times. I've all along said I would put the championship -- if I was to see the championship, I would go off the experience, and he's won more championships and on down the line. And with that kind of ranking system in my eyes, Carl would be a step ahead of Kyle. But everyone needs to win their first and there are going to be guys out there breaking records, and Kyle has done that this year.
So it's tough to really say in my opinion. Carl is a little more laid back. Kyle seems to be a little more high-strung from time to time. But that doesn't tilt it one way or the other.
Q. You used to race out here at Glen Helen in San Bernadino when you were younger, do you have any memories from that course that stuck with you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think the class 8 truck, tool-drive truck, beat the four-wheel drive trucks in the winter series championship. I've won championships in -- I can't remember what it was called at the time, but we used to race the super lights during the off-season, the Mickey Thompson stuff and won races and championships out there. So a lot of good memories of winning to be honest with you.
I can also remember camping out between races and stuff up there and just a great atmosphere at the track and camp fires and barbecues and all that kind of stuff as well.
Q. Going back to Carl's bump-and-run on Kyle, is there a protocol in there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think there are any rules. You race people how they race you, and you also factor in that if you do this now, you know you have one coming. So you factor that stuff in, and I don't think there's a right or wrong.
It seems to be public opinion which makes it right or wrong. If you're a Carl Edwards fan, you love the move and if you're a Kyle Busch fan, you hate the move.
I don't think there is a right or wrong. You just have to know at the end of the day, the way you race people, that's how they are going to race you back. If you can live with that and respect other people on the track, you won't have a lot of problems.
Q. But that's completely legal, right? And NASCAR never comes up to anybody and says we don't like you doing that; anybody can do that at any time within reason if they wanted to?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: What Carl did, that was absolutely within reason. If you're intentionally trying to crash someone and cause harm and take them out of a points earning position, NASCAR will get involved at that point. What took place was just good racing.
Q. Just based on the number of wins this year, it looks like Carl and Kyle are the favorites going into the Chase but you are the ones with championships, you and Jeff and some others. So when the Chase starts, do you give any thought to the fact that they have won so many races this year, or is everything equalized as far as you're concerned once the Chase begins?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's a lot closer to equal to what we have now, so I think it's a great opportunity. We get into the final ten, and it's great tracks for myself and the 48 team.
You look, Bristol wasn't a good one for us, and then whatever was before, I guess Michigan, those two races, and even parts of Michigan we were the fastest car on the track, but it's amazing how momentum shifts from week-to-week. We were not on the radar last week. You look at the weeks before that, the win at Indy and what we have done at Pocono, we have a lot of forward momentum and progress with this race team and I feel like we are one of the guys to be considered a favorite in the championship and look forward to getting started.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us. Appreciate you working us into the schedule. Best of luck this weekend.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you.
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