NASCAR Media Conference Breakout Session
November 14, 2013
Q. I talked to Chad earlier this week and asked him how long he can keep up this kind of intensity that you guys have. Is it stressful? How do you do that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is stressful for sure, but Kevin brought up a great point in the presser up top, that you work just as hard to run last, 15th, whatever it is. I mean, the shop is always grinding at full capacity. They're always under budget and overworked, and then from a crew standpoint, we're going to have pressure on us if we're not a contender. There's pressure that comes in which is probably more to deal with than being a contender. I don't think any team is immune to it. I'm very proud of the output, the results that we've been able to get over the years and the fact that we've been in the championship battle every year and fighting for a 6th now. But if we didn't change the Chase or we were in eighth right now I think we'd have a brighter light on us and more pressure on us as to why we didn't perform than being here. Might as well deal with the pressure and race for it than not.
Q. Those two years off between what could be a championship on Sunday, did those two years off kind of stick in your craw?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Last year was a good lesson for me, and I think I'm carrying some of that experience now in dealing with this. We felt like things were going our way after Texas. We have the points lead. We go to Phoenix, the wheels fall off, literally. We blow a right front and then had trouble here. But I really felt good about the team's performance and what I did as a driver last year, and you've got to admit it when you've had a good year and you just come up short, and you can't just thrash yourself over that. Last year wasn't that difficult on me even though we lost in a way that wasn't really that much fun. I'd say the hardest year was the year in 2011 I guess it was where we weren't even a factor. I wasn't a part of the press conference. I can remember seeing on Twitter and hearing about it that everybody‑‑ Carl and Tony were at the presser, and we weren't there. That stung more than losing last year. You just want a shot at a championship. Of course you want the championship but they're so hard to get. Having a chance at one and being here for this day is a huge goal in itself.
Q. Have you ever stuck something in your toolbox from your sports psychologist that's maybe a little bit unconventional?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I'm asked that question a lot, and there are different people that carry positions at Hendrick Motorsports from physical therapists and even some sports psychologists that float around and I'm friendly with but no one that I spend time with and zero in on things with. Honestly I'm just not that smart so I don't have a lot to think about, and it's pretty simple. It's just focused on racing.
Q. You're doing obviously it yourself. How are you at hitting the reset button? Is it something that comes naturally to you or is it challenging for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I really feed off of my team. Chad and I have such a great relationship that I think we have some type of therapeutic effect on one another, and then also at home, my wife is an amazingly strong woman, and her help in dealing with emotions, good and bad, to keep things balanced out is very important, too.
Q. You talked upstairs about (indiscernible) has that always been the case for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: They do, but they're more on a surface level and a, man, it would be great if. I'd love to be a back‑to‑back champion, and then Cale is the only one to have won three at the time, so I'm like, man, that would be great. Then after three, I'd love to be a standalone. And then five, I was like, man, this would just be cool. It's there, it's on the surface, but it's not what motivates me. I don't have a win or a championship number in my mind that I feel like I'm not going to be accomplished unless I get to this. Every athlete has a different approach and different things that motivate them. That's just not been it for me. I really fall back on my youth and younger years of racing, I didn't win a lot. I didn't win a lot of championships, and that's not why I competed. I competed because I loved the sport and it was part of me and who I am. I learned and engrained my‑‑ I was just built that way and started at a young age and it's carried through to today.
Q. Who were some of the people that you've heard from or that have reached out to you that you never expected?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, after race wins and after past championships I've always been surprised who's paying attention. Someone I've met along the way and shook a hand with. I've received letters from George Bush and from Bill Clinton in previous years and president Barack Obama, guys I've had the great pleasure of meeting through success. You're not sure they're paying attention and a letter comes from the White House, and you're like, really, this is unbelievable. I've had a few of those moments, other sports figures along the way, musicians, especially country musicians, they're big fans of racing. Chris Robinson from the Black Crows is a huge, huge race fan and I'll hear from him occasionally. Right now it's awfully quiet. Everybody is afraid to talk to me or text me. Hopefully I give them a reason to reach out to me on Sunday afternoon.
Q. With a 28‑point lead how do you approach this weekend and on Sunday are you going to want to know where Matt and Kevin are throughout the race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah. I want to know. Hopefully I'm running strong enough and I can see them and just have it top of mind and right in front of me to take care of. But this week is a challenging one because driver and team just want to do what they've always done, keep things the same, no change. But inevitably this week is totally different than any week we have. I'm at the racetrack on a Wednesday or a Thursday‑‑ I came here last night, so I flew down Wednesday, get to the track on a Thursday, which is not normal, staying in a hotel, which we always do down here, that's not normal. Normally we stay in the bus. There's all these elements around that are not normal, so I'm searching for normalcy. I'm searching for things that keep it normal and keep it simple. Truthfully I've learned over the years the only thing that's normal is on Friday we have a practice session and then we qualify, and Saturday we have two practice sessions, and Sunday we race, so in those moments is where I'm looking for my normalcy because the rest of it is just different. It's champions' week, there's a lot of hype, there's a lot going on, and trying to find my way through those moments and making sure that I'm training hard each and every day so when I hit the pillow, I'm out, I'm not thinking, days keep clicking by at a nice pace, and we can't wait to get on track tomorrow.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I was going to ride Tuesday and decided not to and went to a compu‑trainer class which is where you ride on a Dyno that's bolted to the floor so I couldn't fall down and get hurt. I wanted to go mountain biking, but I decided against it.
Q. Wherever the numbers fall, at what point is it fair to start having a conversation (indiscernible)?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know, and I think some have started the conversation and it's out there. Of course I'm proud to be a part of the conversation, but in the end it's not my place to say or Chad's or any member of this team. It's for the fans, it's for the peers within this sport to have that opinion. And then the other piece is while someone is competing it's tough to stack them up against anyone. It really is. And the last small piece and it's an argument in any sport is different generations. You go through baseball and football, basketball, who was the greatest. It's impossible to sort it out. But if you're in that conversation, which our name has been some, I'm very proud of that and excited to be there. But again, it's just not my place. When I hang the helmet up, we'll see what the opinion is then. Regardless of where it's at, I've had a lot to be proud of over my career. I hope to build more on it for sure, but we'll see where it falls.
Q. Talk about the car. What is special about the car?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, there's just cars that respond well to change and adjustments that you make. There are cars that you put yourself in different aero situations in traffic and the car gets real uncomfortable and wants to spin out, and this car more than anything had that property to it when we pulled it out as a backup in Michigan. I had to start dead last in the field. Before I knew it I was weaving through cars passing three to four a lap and was at the front before we had that engine failure.
In that and the comfort the car brought to me, how secure the car was, that's where I go, man, this thing is amazing. We need to hang on to this car. Chad can't tell me why. He goes through all the hard points and everything that NASCAR officiates is all the same, but there's something about it that just feels different.
Q. You said timing and scoring kick in on Friday. Do you go do something else before the timing and scoring kicks in?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't want to spend too much time thinking about when to do what. I'm really just trying to be in the present and wander through the day and see what it brings, trying to alleviate stress on the personal side of life and even at track we've really simplified my schedule here and tried to streamline things. You know, those first few laps on the track tomorrow will set the tone for how Friday goes and the same thing on Saturday.
Just kind of roll with it. And yes, as I put my suit on and head out to the car for whatever practice session is, that's when the pressure starts to climb.
Q. I was talking to Dierks Bentley today and he was talking about you and the drivers that he knows and he was talking about getting on stage and having that same feeling where that's your comfort zone. Do you feel more calm when you're climbing in the car for practice?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, that is very true, and I'm assuming that most if not all athletes and even down to performers, standing back stage waiting to go out, and I've had the fortune to see some musicians, they're pretty jittery and antsy and ready to go, nervous, and then you get in your space and they belt out whatever they do and it sounds awesome. There is something about being in your moment or being in your space that is important, and for us it's inside that race car.
Q. Are you a worrier, and between now and the time between now and the time you get out for the first practice session what will you worry about?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm definitely a worrier, I'm wired that way. The things I'm focused on are what I can control. That's something I've learned over the years is you have to trust your team and trust the people you've surrounded yourself with. We've all done certain things to get to this point and there's no need in changing that. Pit stop, there's a coach and a hierarchy that exists within the pit stop group and they're covering their bases and I have full trust and belief in that. Chad, Ron, race car‑wise, same situation, and it allows me to just worry about what I do in the car.
That's the good thing about having a strong team around you and really truly believing in your teammates.
Q. Everybody was tweeting about what the mood was like upstairs, and it's like just kind of quiet and calm. Do you think your competition is just resigned to the inevitable?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know. I mean, for Matt and I, and even Kevin, there's really not‑‑ what am I going to say that's going to worry Kevin or Matt? At the same time I would assume they're thinking a little bit of the same. I've got a nice‑sized point lead and I've been here before. When you have an opportunity to get somewhere is when it's close and tight and you can feel the tension in the room and maybe they don't have as much experience and you think maybe you can try something, that's when the opportunities present themselves. I think between the three of us, we've been doing this so long there's really just not much we can do. I think the biggest statement always is what you do on the racetrack, and if the 29 and 20 are running up front and I'm having a bad day, that's going to do plenty at that point.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Now? There's not a lot. I think we're all more concerned about getting through this and letting stuff happen on the racetrack. It's tough to sit here and forecast what's going to happen, how good your car is going to be. We're so used to having all these cameras and the questions coming out. You're just more excited to get through today and get in the car and go to work tomorrow.
Q. Did you expect the 20 car to be that bad at Phoenix?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I had no idea. No, I didn't think with their Loudon performance that they would have that kind of trouble at Phoenix.
Q. You talked about early in your career not having the success. What are the changes you've made in yourself? Obviously I know you have a great situation, but what did you do to put yourself in this position?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think a lot of it is parenting and the way I grew up and examples I had through my mom and dad and through the people involved in my life at that point, racing motocross. The one that comes to mind outside of my parents that was very common through all that was Rick Johnson. He sponsored me. He was a top motocross racer and sponsored me when I was young. He lived with my parents when I was an infant, and my dad was his mechanic and took him around the country racing and then he got his pro ride and sponsored me, and then he helped me meet the folks at Chevrolet and helped work myself in to drive their test truck, which led to a full ride in the stadium and then in the desert, and he wanted to race in NASCAR and was pursuing some stuff there and left manufacturers. As I was leaving the Herzog's off‑road truck, they needed somebody to drive and asked me who to I would put in it, and although he had left Chevrolet, I knew how good of a job Rick could do. So Rick came in and took my off road seat while I did my first year of ASA, and then my second year of ASA was Rick's first and we were teammates again.
He's been a very important part of my life through all the years, very humble guy, very aggressive driver, good balance those two spaces that exist, and it kind of segues into me being the young one, always looking to someone to teach me, so it was Rick, Gary St. Amant was that guy in ASA for me, coming in and driving for Jeff. I've always been‑‑ we used to call it the A and B team. I was always the young kid coming in in the B car, the B team, and looking up to my championship caliber teammate or Jeff's situation was Jeff's the champion and brought me in and just studied and watched and listened and was taught things through that experience.
All those situations, when you're the B guy, you're sitting there quietly. You're not up there pounding your chest, banging drums, being noticed. You're quietly working hard for what you want to achieve and to somehow be that A guy.
In all of that is where I developed my style.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It doesn't change a lot, and I tell myself often that just do what works. Do what feels right. I really believe that's key. I learned also a at young age that being cocky, being arrogant, calling my shot‑‑ I can remember a race when I was a kid, racing an off‑road buggy, I mean, I went to a local race with our factory, if you will, or top flight equipment and thought at this local event I was going to mop up and thought it was going to be an easy day. I didn't make the first straightaway and I was flipping end over end and woke up in an ambulance, knocked out. There have been a few moments along the way where I was obviously feeling a little full of myself and it backfired, and those lessons were important to me. In the end it's just been be yourself, do what feels right, no need to reinvent the wheel and just follow who I am and go about it the way I go about it.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was 17 probably, 16, 17. Cleaned my clock.
Q. I'm curious, you mentioned upstairs the importance of this being a team sport, and it's rare that we see an individual so dominant in any sport. I'm curious, what is it, yourself, your upbringing, your team, that has enabled you to stand out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think the early years of racing, nothing came easy, and I really had to work hard to establish myself, to be noticed. I've been a slow learner through the various steps of racing. I was usually on the older side when success came, and it certainly worked out that way at this level. I've just had to work hard for it over the years.
In some respects I feel like I've had to put more time in than others, and it's really helped me appreciate and enjoy it the right way when the successes happen.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, it's hard to say because there's some years where long green flag runs, competitors are lenient towards the championship contenders and they don't want to mess with what's going on and it's kind of easy to come and go on the racetrack and you find yourself around the guy you're racing. And then I look at what Tony and Carl had to do, and that just came down to straight speed and winning the race.
I guess another example of having to run hard is when we had to race against Denny and come from behind.
I guess, I don't know, I'm lost trying to explain it to you. But over the years nothing has been consistent and the same, and I think that is what I'm carrying in here. Even though we have a nice points lead, you can't count on anything going like it did last year. Other years you have to come in and stay in the present and run the 400 miles. It's not a lay‑up, you can't just think things are going to go as they always have. I've lost it from making mistakes, I've lost one blowing a tire down here, we've had a carburetor failure down here, and then we've had a lot of good ones. We've come from behind, we've been able to manage, so anything can happen is really the lesson.
Q. Does it surprise you that there's only three people that have been around from the get‑go on the 48? Is that surprising to you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, not when you think of the lifespan of the 48. There's usually turnover and change. I thought we had more than that, but I haven't put pen to paper on it.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know, I think Ron has been‑‑ unless Ron was a mechanic. I don't know, they all kind of melt together after a while, all the faces and years. I don't know.
Q. Ron has been around a long time with you. What is it that he brings to the team? What is it that you see in him?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Outside of him being crazy and certifiable, his love for the sport. That was something that he and I bonded on living in a tiny apartment in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, and our kitchen table was a plastic table we bought from Lowe's and plastic chairs. Hamburger Helper was the meal of‑‑ the nice delicacy that we would have a couple nights a week.
And we'd just sit there and share dreams about wanting to race and wanting to race in NASCAR and be champions in NASCAR and win races in NASCAR. That's what really connected Ron and I together was our bond, and that made our bond was racing and the passion for racing.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Rock solid. When Ron nods his head and says the car is ready, it's ready. We have very few mechanics on our race car, and that responsibility falls on Ron's shoulders, and then when we get away from it, if there's any tension or anything lingering with Ron being the nut job that he is, he finds a way to lighten the mood. In his own unique way, as you know. He's got a different sense of humor, but he can lighten the situation up.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is surprising. I think that whole young guns crowd are all championship contenders. But I think the story in it all is how tough it is to win. I remember Junior finishing second, right, one year. Kevin has been close, Ryan‑‑ I think Ryan has been close once, too, no? Something like that? Maybe not, third. It's just so tough to get everything to go right over the course of the year and then for the final 10. That's really the point that sticks out to me. We've been able to take advantage of the years we've been close. I think the only year‑‑ well, there's two: '04 and last year would be the two years where one truthfully got away from us. We could really just argue '04. Brad would probably want to argue just '04. It's tough. It's tough to close. It's so hard to do.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know because it seems like there's been eras where a team and driver has been dominant, and I know that there's been a lot of other very popular household names, successful drivers that came through those different eras. You can clearly think of The King, Earnhardt, Gordon, and then us, but within that you have Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett‑‑ I don't know what I'm trying to say to be honest with you. But I think that there is something to the fact that there have been eras dominated by an individual, but there still has been tons of talent that's come along.
Q. Earnhardt loved being the man inside the garage. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's still a small part of me that does. It's not something I'm real comfortable talking about or hearing about. I mean, it's just not my wiring.
But when my helmet is on and I'm out there racing there is a small part of me that feels that, the ego kicks in a little bit and I feel that at times. But it's really in the minority. It's not something I'm super comfortable, like I said, talking about or admitting to or any of that.
Q. You were sort of picked out as a young driver (indiscernible) looking back can you speculate, any idea why they picked you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think there's a few pieces to it. One, I tested at Darlington, and Jeff saw me at Darlington and was asking around who was in the 92 car that was there, and then heard my name, and was like, wow, has he ever been here before? No. So him seeing me there and then also racing with Jeff, I think it might have been that year or the year after, at Michigan, he was in fifth and I was in sixth and I did everything in my power to get by that car. He was a hero of mine and I wanted to somehow be seen and noticed out there and found a way by.
And as time has gone on, the effect that General Motors, Chevrolet had on a lot of owners and pitching my name as I was a developing off‑road driver, that was a piece, and then I have to say Ricky Hendrick was a big piece and had his father's ear. Little to my knowledge‑‑ I had no idea, and I'd never cross that bridge with Ricky and ask if he'd put in a word for me at any time with his father, but Ricky saw something there that he really liked and was pitching me to his dad all along.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I understand it. I mean, if‑‑ very few people are wired to think badly about others or to wish things badly to happen to others. That's both of them. They're not in that‑‑ that's not them. They're focused on being in position to where if we do have a problem or if we do make a mistake that they can capitalize on it. So it doesn't surprise me a bit. But I am afraid to go to a Port‑a‑Potty prior to the race, so I'm just going to have to hold it. Kevin has made that pretty clear, he and Childress both.
Q. Where does the drive come from for you to continue to recreate yourself in order to keep the edge you need to maintain (indiscernible)?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I honestly think it boils down to my young years in racing and trying to develop as a drive and be seen and noticed, and I had to work so hard to get to this point and to be noticed and get my shot that I'm not going to stop. I'm finally good at something in my life. I'm not going to stop now. I've put so much into it. There's been so many lessons along the way. A lot of years of not winning and not experiencing success. Those years helped me hone in on why I raced and the love I have for the sport.
My whole arc in not really peaking until my late 20s, I wondered for a long time when would it be my turn, would it ever be my turn. I watched guys peak in their late teens, early 20s, guys I hung out with, my friends, their fuse would be lit and off they would go. I kept wondering when is it going to be my turn, and it came in time. Looking back on it, I appreciate the fact that it too so long, and it created a work ethic in me that keeps me going today.
Q. You've been through a lot of these championship press conferences. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: From my position I'm glad no one decided to give me a hard time. It's going to make tonight a lot easier. I'm happy that it was nice and calm and chill because I'm the guy with the bull's eye on his back. It was a nice day for me. I kind of expected a little bit of ribbing up there.
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