NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Championship Contenders Conference
Topics: Sprint Cup
November 19, 2009
RAMSEY POSTON: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Ramsey Poston, NASCAR's managing director of corporate communications. On behalf of the France family, everyone at NASCAR, welcome to Ford Championship Weekend, this championship contenders press conference.
Sunday history will be made. There's a good number of story lines in that regard. Jimmie Johnson could possibly make history by being the first four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Mark Martin could be NASCAR Sprint Cup's oldest champion. No matter what happens, Mr. Hendrick will make history. On Sunday he will tie Petty Enterprises for nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ownership championships. He will also be the all-time owners champion for the three national series with 12 championships.
Along with our special guests today, we have a special host. He is a broadcaster with Sirius NASCAR Radio and the Motor Racing Network. I'm proud to say he's recently dedicated his life to living shootout style, the Postman, Steve Post.
STEVE POST: Thanks, Ramsey. It is great to be here. Welcome onboard, everyone, for the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship contenders press conference here at the Hyatt Regency, Coral Gables. Great hotel, great city. It is going to be an awesome weekend of NASCAR racing down at Homestead-Miami Speedway. We're glad you kicked it off here with us this afternoon.
The 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has boiled down to one race between duelling teammates. Yeah, there may be nearly two decades in age difference between our two guys that are going to battle for the crown on Sunday afternoon, but the way they handle themselves, there's a lot of similarities between them.
They both set the standard of excellence on the track with their racing and they both set standards as far as their sportsmanship off the racetrack. It just makes it a fascinating battle that we're going to see play out on Sunday afternoon. We've been watching it actually all season long.
With all the pleasantries out of the way, let's get down to the facts of what we're going to see at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson, the three-time champ, is going to try to do something that has never been done in the 61-year history of the sport of NASCAR. He is looking to become a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion.
And Mark Martin, he is looking for that first crown, after finishing in the runner-up spot four times, and a tremendous career. Both drivers looking to make history Sunday afternoon. Jimmie has a 108-point advantage over Mark. While that may seem daunting, it is not insurmountable. Just look a couple weeks ago at Texas where Mark gained 111 points on Jimmie.
Since 2002, Mark as out-pointed Jimmie nine times by a margin of 108 or more. So we'll see what happens on Sunday afternoon.
The veteran Mark Martin, he may be on the ropes, but he's not down for the count. Ready for a good fight on Sunday afternoon.
These two Hendrick Motorsport teammates have been battling all year long, and the stage is set for one more round on Sunday.
STEVE POST: I'd like to take this moment to introduce you to our guests today formally. Starting to my immediate right, one of NASCAR's true all-time greats, he's the driver of the No. 5 Kellogg's Carquest Chevrolet, Mark Martin.
The man in the middle will become the all-time leader in NASCAR national series championships this weekend with 12, the owner of Hendrick Motorsports, welcome Rick Hendrick.
And finally the driver who is chasing a title and chasing history, trying for the fourth consecutive championship, we welcome our three-time defending champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Jimmie Johnson.
We'll start off with some opening comments from our guests.
Rick, I guess I'll start with you. So many great seasons you've had in NASCAR racing, obviously with all the crowns. How has this season compared to others that you've had so much success during?
RICK HENDRICK: I would have to say this is probably as good as it gets. You know, to have the three cars in the points where they are right now, having the championship as owner going into Homestead already secured, we've won a lot of races, and this has got to be as good as any season we've ever had.
STEVE POST: It is amazing. I have two young daughters. Some of the homework we do is compare and contrast. I'll ask you to compare and contrast Jimmie and Mark.
RICK HENDRICK: No one ever asked me that before (smiling).
I'd say that the thing that is almost identical with these two is the devotion to excellence, not only in what they need to do in the car with the race team, but the way they take care of themselves outside of the car as far as the way they train, the way they eat, and the way they think.
They're as close to being identical as any two I've ever been around. They are both students of what it takes both in the car and outside of the car. And their dedication to excellence, it's remarkable. Their talent speaks for itself. I think that's the reason that they're sitting where they are today. They just are never satisfied without everything around them being as perfect as it can be. They put all of the load on their shoulders.
STEVE POST: Thanks, Mr. H. Congratulations on a fantastic season.
What a season it's been for Mark Martin. A series high seven pole positions, five victories, that's second best in the series. When you think about it, not bad for a guy who was a part-timer last year. Mark, this is your 27th season of racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Could you ever have dreamed a year ago that you would be doing what you do or did you think you'd be running for the championship this year?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I want to say that Rick and Alan certainly thought so, but I didn't. You know, everybody knows and have heard me say this, and I'll say it one more time. The reason I took this deal is because I get close to winning a race or two in 2008, and I could just taste it. I really wanted a chance to try to win again before I wasn't able to ever experience that again. That was the motivation for me, taking this opportunity.
It definitely has turned out to exceed my expectations. I knew that the race team would be awesome. I knew the car would be fast. I just hoped that I would be able to get the job done. One of my biggest goals coming into this year was just to be considered a good teammate, to make a contribution to Hendrick Motorsports so that when the season was over everyone involved would be glad that I, you know, was a part of the organization. That was probably as important as maybe squeaking out a win for me personally.
But I want to take this opportunity to say it's really cool to see Bobby Allison here. It's been my understanding for 20 years that he recommended to Jack Roush that he hire me to drive his car, so I owe a little part of what I'm doing today to BA.
STEVE POST: Pretty cool stuff, no doubt. Absolutely.
Mark, you have talked to many of us over the year of in the past you've let points battles make you not a happy person. Are you having fun this year?
MARK MARTIN: I'm having lots of fun this year. This has been obviously the best year of my life professionally as well as personally. The personal part comes from being happy. I was a very, very happy person in 2008. But that little bit of extra performance that we have been getting on the racetrack in 2009 even made it more awesome. An opportunity to be around Mr. Hendrick and all the fine people, teammates and people at Hendrick Motorsports, has really made my life rich this year with people and with quality relationships above and beyond any other year that I can ever remember.
STEVE POST: Talk about memories. You've made a lot of them for us this year. We appreciate your success. Congratulations on that.
Now we'd like to turn to the points leader going into Sunday's event, the final event in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Jimmie, in Major League Baseball, Reggie Jackson was known as Mr. October because of his clutch performance in the playoffs, then in the World Series. I guess since NASCAR has implemented the Chase, you can be Mr. Autumn with your clutch performance in the Chase. Dating back to 2004, you've won 18 races in the Chase. How have you been able to establish such dominance late in the season as you guys have?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's tough to really say it's one thing. I feel that the tracks are good to us. And at the same time I feel Chad Knaus and our whole group of guys, all that we have at Hendrick Motorsports, we get stronger throughout the year. When the pressure is on, myself, the team, Hendrick Motorsports, everybody involved has really performed well under pressure time and time again. Rick would not be in this position, winning so many championships, if he didn't kind of build that into the work environment at Hendrick Motorsports. Chad and I have been able to be a part of the culture and keep that alive here lately.
Very proud of what we've done since this team has started in 2002. We've done a lot of great things. It's hard to believe in some ways it seems like the eight years have flown by, in other ways it seems longer. But it's been a very, very special eight years. I'm thankful that Lowe's took that chance with me years back. Rick and I tell a story about sitting at the table trying to ensure them that I was going to be able to win a race back in the day. To see where we are now as a team and a group is really special.
I'm glad that we have this late-season push each year, especially with the Chase in play. I think it would be helpful if it was the old points system, as well. I know we were close to winning a championship with that system also.
STEVE POST: We all know the numbers. We've all ran the numbers 10 thousand times since Sunday afternoon. How has your week been? Have you thought about finishing 25th, how you're going to accomplish that on Sunday?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, luckily Texas is still really close in my mind and something that I think about. And because of what happened in Texas I'm just not letting my guard down. I'm not letting my mind wander and think about the 'what ifs.' I'm trying to keep the same focus and mindset that I had in Phoenix. Things obviously went really well there for us.
So it's really that mentality. I am just dying to get in the racecar. I'm pouring through my notes. I've driven hundreds of laps in my mind before I go to bed each night, worrying about qualifying trim, worrying about race trim, all the things I can do to prepare myself on my side. I'm there. I'm eager for tomorrow. It will help getting in the car, getting a feel for the track, the tires, what our challenges are. Tomorrow morning when we get on track, it will be a real good time for me.
STEVE POST: Jimmie, best of luck on Sunday as you go to rewrite the record books here at NASCAR.
At this point I'll turn it back to NASCAR's Ramsey Poston. He's going to conduct the Q&A portion of the conference here.
RAMSEY POSTON: Thank you, Postman. Great job.
We'll start the Q&A session.
Q. Mr. Hendrick, Martinsville in 1984 you almost didn't make it to the race. Turned out you won your first race. In the 25 years since then, you've seen the best the sport has had to offer and the worst. Can you talk about what it's like being at the point where you have more championships than anyone else has and you have the best team you've ever had. As a follow-up to that, can you talk about having two guys up here, because you know one of them is going to be happy and one of them is going to be disappointed. Is that harder or easier than if you're racing another team?
RICK HENDRICK: I think to answer your first question, I never really thought I'd win a race. I wanted to win a race, but I never thought I'd win a championship. I was just happy to compete.
I grew up, and it was almost in the modified racing with my dad. It was an honor to go to a Cup race. It just so happened I was a big Rex White and Bobby Allison fan. To think I would be able to do it, to compete in it, was an honor for me. I'm kind of stealing one of Mark's lines, but I'm actually living the dream because I grew up, and that's all I knew, was racing, cars, working on cars. You didn't get paid to do it; you did it because you loved it. You'd take whatever you made to do it.
So to be able to look back and see what we've been able to accomplish, I've just been really fortunate to be around a lot of great people. It's hard for me to believe that we're sitting here tied with Richard Petty. I don't feel worthy of that. I don't know how to explain that, because when I was nominated for the Hall of Fame, I don't think I'm even in that category in my mind with a Bobby Allison, a Richard Petty, that group.
I hope one day when we look back that we can say we've accomplished some pretty neat things. So I'm just very fortunate to be at this place in my life with this organization. I owe it all to the people. I really can't explain how it happened, it just did.
Going to a race when you've got two guys battling, I'm not going to be as nervous Sunday as they are. I kind of got over that little bit of a hump. But I'm going to be as nervous for them. It's going to be nice to know we're going to bring it back in the organization.
The thing that I'm probably going to be the proudest of is that what got us here is the fact that Alan and Chad will talk on Saturday and Saturday night and they will share information. Jimmie and Mark will talk on Saturday and Saturday night, and they will share information. They'll go out and compete against each other. That won't change. At the end of the race, they know that what they've done all year has got us here. That's the part that I'm so proud of, that Chad in a meeting at Motorsports on Tuesday will give Alan credit that he got the setup on Saturday from Alan, went out and won the race, when Alan will give Chad the credit. When you've got everybody working together, it makes a big difference.
Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt said, if Mark Martin will join our organization, he will make us all better. And he has made us all better.
Jimmie, I mean, I'll tell you, I would hate to have to race against these two guys. I don't know how this guy here hasn't won a championship. I thought about it the other night and, you know, he has raced and finished second to some of the all-time greats when they were in their prime, from Jeff Gordon to Dale Earnhardt. If you kind of put it on a graph and you said, Has anyone ever raced against that many champions in their prime and finished second? He would have to be considered one of the all-time greats.
I'm just fortunate. It feels kind of strange for me for him to call me Mr. Hendrick. I want to go on the record, I'm only 10 years older than he is. I want it to be Rick (laughter).
I'm so proud of what these guys have accomplished. And I think that's a part of our organization 'cause as soon as I talked him into one year, we've got him for two more. So, I mean, we went to work right away.
Unanimously from our drivers, they said, He will make us better, he will just help us. So, anyway, I'm very fortunate. Whatever happens Sunday, we've had a heck of a year. Both of these guys are champions.
Q. Jimmie, I thought you said something interesting just a little bit earlier when you said you're on the verge of maybe also wrapping up the points under the old system. Is that something in the past three years has sort of eaten at you? Is it something you feel like you need to do in order gain some of the respect from some of the people who think you haven't won it under the old system?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, not necessarily. I've said all along that I feel that the old system is kind of the toughest way to win a championship, and I wish I had won, just to say that I had won. You talk to Gordon, he says just the opposite. So it's a matter of opinion. Drivers all have different opinions and impressions of it. So that's really all it is. I wish that I had. I feel like I'm very fortunate to say in 2004 I had a real good shot at winning the championship. Same with '05. I think back to really each year we've led the points at some point. So it's more looking back, saying, We had a chance at a few more of these things.
Q. Mark, at Phoenix you said something I thought was interesting about how you think there's a little piece of Rick or Mr. Hendrick, as you call him, in everyone at the Hendrick organization. Can you speak to that a little bit more? Jimmie, could you also talk about that?
MARK MARTIN: Well, I know that Rick handpicks his people, and he probably picks people that have the capable people skills to do each job. But to me it seems like it's more than that.
You know, when I deal with everyone there, no matter what it is, everyone that works there that I have dealt with on a personal basis had a little bit of, you know, the little qualities of being interested in doing a better job. What is it, how can we do this better? There's just no arrogance. Just good communication and people skills.
Just to tell you something. I went to the shop, you know, quite a bit after we made this deal, some before the season ended and some, you know, after the season even started this year. My wife, I'd come in after being there, and she'd say, You're always smiling when you come back from that shop, you know. I said, Heck yeah, you would be too. It makes you feel that way. I'd just come back from being there with a permanent smile on my face. It's good people with great attitudes. Everyone there has treated me, you know, like gold. It's been amazing, the respect that I've been shown there. It's very humbling.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: To kind of expand on Mark's thoughts, I think relative to Rick, the company and stuff, but just to add to something Mark was saying and came up in my mind.
Over time, I've been able to be a part of a few big decisions at Hendrick, even starting with who the crew chief was going to be for the 48 car. Now we look back and it's pretty easy. The decision at the time, Chad Knaus was working for Melling, it was a tough decision to make. Rick had to make a decision on bringing me in. Rick has had to make a lot of decisions for a variety of employees at every level. Somehow, some way, what he possesses in connecting with people, looking for the right skills, the desire, the drive that an individual may have to perform well and do well, there's something that he can see and recognize. I think it speaks volumes to the company and the success of the company.
He can pick something up, pick something out, know how to weave it into a group of guys that are all very good at what they do as well, kind of piece everything together.
Again, I don't even know if this comes close to answering the question you asked, but he has a great ability. We talk about people skills. We all know and respect him and enjoy what he's about. But there's something he can see and pick out in people and make stuff happen. I think over time, over 25 years of building this company, finding the right people, massaging all the details, we've been able to put ourselves in these positions.
Then if you look at the challenges we've had, the plane going down, key personnel that were on that aircraft, the backups that were so well-trained, had these qualities in them to step up and keep the company moving forward, it's amazing. It's all on his gut reaction and feeling of what he needs to do with the company.
MARK MARTIN: I want to add one more thing, too.
You know, I've said this once before, but I've never known an organization that wants to win for the boss. It feels like to me they want to win more for him than they even do for themselves. You know, that's just a testament to what a guy Rick is.
Q. Watching that videotape, it had the emotion of One Shining Moment. Mark and Jimmie, do you allow yourselves to feel the emotion right now or if you sort of have to cut that off, not allow yourselves to get emotional over it? And for Mark, are you doing hundreds of laps in your head before you go to sleep at night, as well?
MARK MARTIN: I've run some laps (smiling). He's not the only one.
Q. Do you have to kind of not allow yourself to feel the emotion of this at this time?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me personally, I left Talladega with emotion and felt very good about things, that we missed the big one. Damn if we weren't in the first caution on the third lap at the race in Texas. So I am out of emotion. There is no emotion. It's all business. It's about showing up tomorrow, putting in the best lap I can, driving the car as hard as can I on Saturday, making sure the car is set up right, and doing my job on Sunday. I am not allowing my mind to slip any. It's not that it slipped after Talladega, but it was hard to look at a 184-point lead and have something positive come through my mind. Lap three it was gone. It was like, Wow, I'm not going to let that happen again. So it's all business this week.
MARK MARTIN: Pretty much the same thing for me. You know, I have focused the same every race all year. I'm excited about going to Homestead because I can't wait to go to work with my team, to compete in each practice session, and to compete in qualifying, and compete for the race. And if we do a good job, then we'll do well.
I'm not looking over my shoulder or looking ahead, either one. Definitely, you know, I'm sure that we could wind up fourth in the points, which is something no one has even considered. But I'm not thinking about that. I'm neither worried about that or Jimmie. I'm excited about going to work and competing in every event there, which to me a practice session is one. I try to win those, too. Every time I strap in that racecar, I'd like to be the fastest dude out there.
Q. Mark, throughout your career you've been Mr. Clean. I think that's probably something that you take as much pride in as much as anything you've done. You race people fair and clean. Do you see that you've passed that mantle along to Jimmie? He's considered for the most part to be a very clean driver.
MARK MARTIN: No, but he is that way. I don't really think that he got that from me. I might have had some influence on some drivers out there today, but I'm not sure that, you know, Jimmie and I were ever close enough for my style or my logic or my thought process to really influence him.
The thing is, if you go out there and you race people the way you want to be raced, and you do a really, really good job, you don't have to use a mask and a gun. That's not how I want to come out ahead, with a gun and a mask, you know. I'd rather go out there, work hard, earn it.
Q. Jimmie, Chad said the other day that he might have underestimated Mark a little bit, especially through the grueling Chase. Was there ever a point where you had that same feeling?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I can't say that I did. Mark and the team showed so much before the Chase started, that I knew. First I was really excited to get the 5 car in the Chase. Then once I watched them overcome the points deficit they had, lock themselves in, I realized, Man, we're going to have our hands full. That's who we're going to race for the championship.
I've known all along. I'm really impressed with the 5 team, how they started the season and where they ended up. If you really look at what they've accomplished in a year's time, they had some unfortunate things take place at the start, they rebounded. They've won a lot of races, a lot of poles. It's all in 10, 11 months.
Next year, I mean, this year they're already this competitive, next year it will be real tough.
Q. Jimmie, Mark, you guys have probably been asked this question many, many times: How does it feel to be in the position you are in right now? I want to know, looking into 2010, after this weekend, the two of you on very special ground right now being that you have the chance, Jimmie, to go four in a row, and Mark, you might win the first one, the two of you being where you are right now, what does it feel like with this chance for 2010, no matter what happens?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I can't tell you that I've thought about it yet. I've been so worried or so focused, you know, on the job at hand, worrying about a championship for this year, that I haven't thought much about next. Very secure in, you know, my job, sponsor, Hendrick Motorsports, all those aspects. I guess in a lot of ways I don't have to stress like some other guys may stress about, is the sponsor coming back, do they have a ride next year, what that may be.
In general, there isn't much there because of the security that Rick provides for us. I feel that, you know, we'll be a contender again next year. Look forward to it then. But today it's just about, you know, this weekend and the 400 miles we need to run on Sunday.
MARK MARTIN: You know, I just have exceeded I think my expectations. The race team has done everything that I knew that they could. I just didn't know, you know, if I could -- I really didn't know if I could compete against Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. coming into this season, for sure. But I knew that I was going to give it everything, my whole heart. But I didn't know for a fact that I could measure up to those guys really in their prime.
I will say that I knew how good Alan was. I watched close for multiple years I've watched him close. I listened to him and Kyle on the radio. I've been a fan of his. I think, as Jimmie says, it's really, really special to see those guys. They showed what they could do with Kyle Busch, Kyle, at an early stage in his career. I think that Kyle got a lot of the credit for what they were doing because of his talent, and now this is the year that they really had a chance to shine, Alan and that group, especially after, you know, having a tough time last year, for them to come up and show everybody that not only are they a great race team, but they can give the best in the business a run for their money, it's huge for me. I'm very, very proud.
Q. Jimmie, obviously it's not a bad thing to be known as a three-time champ, possibly a four-time champ. What else do you want? What else matters to you? What else beyond this weekend and this sport? Is there something within the sport or beyond that matters that's going to drive you beyond this weekend, beyond this year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, we're going deep (laughter).
I've wanted my whole life to be able -- to be a champion, to compete against the best drivers in the world. With what we have going on in our sport, the competition, I don't see where else there is to race. You know, this is it. This is home. Hendrick Motorsports is home.
Of course, I want to be successful and win more races and contend for championships, that kind of thing. But it's really kind of what it is. I mean, on a personal note, you know, my family life and being at home is very important to me. I'm enjoying that, all that that has to offer, friends, that kind of thing. But the schedule being as busy as it is, there's not a lot of time for that. I'm not at a point where I'm craving that time, and I wish that I had it, because I love my job and I love what I'm doing.
Racing's it. It's all I've ever done. I'm glad it's worked out because I don't know what the hell I'd be doing otherwise. I'm finally good at it, and I want to keep it up, I want to keep it going.
Q. Jimmie, how much redundancy and backup have you built into this weekend? Are you bringing like 20 axles, pieces and parts? What do you know about the history of the car that you're running?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wish I knew which car it was. I don't know the car. I would suspect it's the car we ran at Charlotte. It's just another mile-and-a-half track, or two-mile. What is it? Something like that. Details (laughter).
As far as the parts and components and everything that goes with it, you know, we prepare for every race the same. I know you hear it from time to time, but every race anymore, with what Rick gives us to prepare with, the level of equipment we have, it's the same stuff. It doesn't matter if it's Martinsville, Daytona 500, final race of the season, even down to the responsibilities on the car, what guys do, the check systems that they go through, wire things, lock things, all those things are really the same. That's really what we strive for, is to treat every race the same, so that when you get into these pressure-packed situations, it's just the same old thing, that nothing affects you and things should work out as you would hope. So it's really the same stuff we've been doing all year.
Q. Jimmie, we've all seen what you can do in a racecar. We've seen Chad make great decisions up on top of the pit box. There's been a core group of guys behind this team, not just this year but from when you first started finding success. How important has it been that that group really hasn't had a lot of turnover and you've been able to keep those guys together?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's a really big part of the success, especially of the 24 and 48 shop. You know, at the track you may see some different faces year to year, but the guys that came off the road, typically for family reasons, they want to start a family, be home more. They've been on the road for so many years, they're ready to settle down and have a job at the shop. But those key players, even guys that I started this team with, they're still at HMS. They're still in that race job. The engine tuner, Danny Emerick, he's still there in the engine shop working. He was my engine tuner from the beginning. He's still contributing to not only my efforts but all my teammates' efforts. That culture comes from Rick. People have left and have worked at other places to get experience, try to increase their possibilities. In most cases, they've all come back, come back on great terms and really contribute to the company.
Not only just on the 48 team and the core group of guys that you see every year, you know, it's just the culture of the company. It starts with Rick.
Q. Mark, I'm guessing you're not going to want to answer this question. A lot of people refer to you as the greatest driver never to win a championship. Where do you think you stack up in terms of this sport, the history, what you've achieved?
MARK MARTIN: That might be a misuse of that first word. What was that first word you said?
MARK MARTIN: Yeah. Probably a misuse there. My record does not stand up against the greats in this business. It was funny, I think Dustin asked Jimmie what does he want. I thought about that a little bit myself. I just want to be a winner, just a winner, you know. That doesn't mean a career or at Monopoly or Scrabble. I just want to be a winner. I worked really hard and I try pretty hard to be that.
Q. Why do you think people hold you in such high regard, if you don't think you're among the greatest?
MARK MARTIN: Because I'm the worker. I'm the guy that rolls up my sleeves, and I never put that mask on that I talked about and pulled the gun out. I work real hard and try to win the game, whatever it is, you know, fair and square.
RICK HENDRICK: Could I ask a question? Jimmie, would you answer that for Mark, if you think he's one of the greatest.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: My answer is yes. He's too humble of a man, and doesn't understand what he's done in this sport, for this sport, how many young guys have respected what he's done. You mentioned earlier how we weren't around each other for me to look at your style and want to drive like you. But coming up through ASA, everybody knew who Mark Martin was. I aspired at that time to have people speak of me as they did you. When I came to race in the Busch Series at the time, you were wearing us all out week in and week out. That was our chance to race against Mark Martin and to learn something from him.
So as she suggested, I'm sure all of us in this room, you are one of the greatest. We all think the world of you and respect the hell out of you.
MARK MARTIN: Thank you.
Q. Jimmie, what has your week been like since Phoenix? As a guy who will do things like set his alarm clock for 48 minutes after the hour, do you try to stay in the same places, do the same things when you get down here, given it's worked out for you for three years in a row?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I got home I guess, what, early Monday morning, just stayed at the house, really trying to distract myself from the sport. If SportsCenter is on, something comes on about the Chase, change the channel. If the local news is talking about it, change the channel. I just want separation from it because I can really control my own thoughts. What gets me, leave here today, I'll have to go home, try to flush the brain, it's when all the other questions come about, you start thinking about things, maybe getting excited, maybe doubting. Before I know it, the brain's doing things I don't want it to.
So I've really tried to remove myself from that all week, do things I enjoy to do, also do things to wear me out, because sleeping at night is typically difficult in the Chase. So plenty of working out, just trying to wear myself down so I can get a good night's rest.
Q. Jimmie, during your run, by the time you got here, you haven't really had to win this race or really go all out, just play it safe, clinch the championship. Your recent comments about going for it this weekend suggest you want to win this race. How active is that approach for you compared to playing it safe and how much have you looked forward to that opportunity?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I really look forward to it. In years past coming down here, it's really been a goal then as well. I don't think that we have had this track under control as a company. I feel that we've been close, but Hendrick Motorsports has not won here yet. We hope to change that on Sunday.
But that's been a big factor. There's a window in which I'm willing to take a risk. You know, if I'm driving to the edge of the car, I know that I can slide it around a little bit more, I'll take that. If it's gonna give me seventh, I'm going to take it, or eighth I think we finished one year. If I can slide the car around a little bit and be within my comfort zone, have a shot at winning the race, I'm gonna take it. There's no doubt about it. But I'm not going to push it over that limit and spin this thing out on my own or put myself in harm's way. That's the same as any other race.
The safest place to run on the track is up front. You think of double-file restarts, the safest place to be is being the race leader, picking which lane you want to be in and set the pace coming to the green. Everything in my eyes points towards trying to win the race. That's what we're here to do.
Q. Given your expertise on mile-and-a-half tracks, how have you looked at this track compared to some of the other ones? More difficult? Whatever quirks have worked against you, things you feel can work for you this weekend?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: This track is so different than any other big track we run on that it's tough to take Texas or Chicago, Charlotte, any of those tracks, take that setup and apply it here. The progressive banking, the way it works is different than any other track we run on. The entrance to turn one is really flat for a long period of time, and then the banking finally kicks in. Then in turns three and four, it looks more like other tracks, but it still is real different in how we run through there. The banking seems to be early, but you almost run downhill, at the center of the corner you turn around and run uphill, instead of it being a normal dish like we see at a lot of tracks.
The subtle differences make the setup totally different than other places we run. We're working hard to get that under control and to really have a very stable and comfortable car that we can run here. But without testing and not racing here a couple times a year, it's tough to really advance your program.
Q. Jimmie, just wanted to ask you about the success that you've had with this organization. To what extent would you credit the stability and continuity that you've enjoyed with those people who have worked on your team? How much do you rely upon that and how much confidence do you get from that when you strap yourself in, knowing that these guys have been through the wars with me, won championships with me? How much confidence do you get? Do you think you would have had the success you had without that and maybe even without the resources driving for Mr. Hendrick?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: As Rick said earlier, he wouldn't want to race against us. I wouldn't want to race against him. I wouldn't want to race against these cars, knowing what we have there. I'm not sure how things would turn out. I don't even know if I would have had a chance to race in Cup if it wasn't for Rick. I don't know what he and Jeff both saw in me back in 2000 as I was a mid-pack Busch driver. They saw it, offered me a job. Nobody else was calling offering me a job. I don't think I'd be where I am today without Jeff and Rick, what they've put on the line for me.
I do believe having guys on this team that have been in this pressure-packed situation before is a big advantage. I know from my own experience it helps me out a lot to understand each weekend the type of pressure I could possibly be expecting, the sleepless nights, what the brain does to you, how you think about things, worry about some things, get excited about others. Experience has helped me manage those emotions.
The same thing, when I climb in the car, coming down pit road, if we're off and we need to adjust on the car, there is a lot of confidence in my mind knowing that Chad has been here before, our engineers have been here before, they're going to be less sensitive to the pressure hopefully. It's been that way so far.
So I think it is a big plus. I think experience, you could chalk it up to experience in a lot of ways. We've all been through it probably in our professional careers. The more experience you have, the more you think things through are maybe not easier, but things seem to slow down and you can make better decisions because of experience. I feel having this core group of guys over these last really eight years, and it's changed a little bit over those eight, but the core group, I know Ron Malec on the mechanical side, it's not going to faze him that it's the final race of the year. Greg Ives is our race engineer. He has been here. It's not going to bother him. That gives me the comfort to sleep at night.
RAMSEY POSTON: Thank you, everyone. Thank you, gentlemen. For closing remarks, I will turn it over to Steve Post.
STEVE POST: You know, I'm becoming a history buff of this sport. History is going to be made on Sunday afternoon. 1983, the great Bobby Allison, who we're so happy to have with us here today, won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, becoming the oldest driver to do so. History could be made on Sunday. Mark Martin could best that by winning the crown on Sunday.
This date, November 19th, 31 years ago today, at Ontario Motor Speedway, it was the Los Angeles Times 500. Ironically enough, Bobby Allison won that race. But Cale Yarborough cinched up his third straight championship. That is a mark that has been matched but not been surpassed in the 61-year history of the sport. That very well could happen on Sunday afternoon. No matter what, history will be made on Sunday.
Guys, thank you for allowing us to live it out. It's been a blast. What a season it's been.
To wrap it all up, we would like to on behalf of NASCAR, Sprint, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Ford, thank everyone for coming out and joining us here today at the championship contenders press event. We're getting geared up for Ford Championship Weekend.
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