NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 15, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Today we're joined by Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie made his first Sprint Cup Series start at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2001 and he's currently tied with Bobby Allison and Darrel Waltrip for the all?time wins lead at the speedway with six victories.
Jimmie, a win this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway would be your third consecutive All?Star Race win. How would that help with your momentum going into the Coca?Cola 600 the following week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I didn't realize some of the stats. It's really cool to hear. I know the track has been strong for myself and Hendrick Motorsports really if you look at their history. Want to keep those winning ways alive.
If we were able to win a third consecutive All?Star Race, that would be something. I'm not sure if that's happened before. I would love to have that honor.
Momentum is very helpful. A race win does a lot for teams. I think we've been knocking on the door throughout the year. It would be a nice boost, shot in the arm for the team if we were able to do so.
THE MODERATOR: Next week you'll be the first active athlete to vote for a professional sports Hall of Fame. Talk a little bit about that honor.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, that is a huge honor. I've enjoyed studying up on everybody. I have a huge booklet with 30, 35 names in it. It's the Hall of Fame, then there's also another award that we'll be voting on.
It's been a fun process. From what I gather, I guess it's the 21st when we sit down and meet for a couple of hours. It will be a fun and educational meetings.
I'm looking forward to more of the process and I've enjoyed what I've been a part of so far.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now go to the media for question for Jimmie Johnson.
Q. There's been a lot of talk this season about the intensity of the racing given the new championship format. From what you've seen so far, just how aggressive do you think the driving and the overall racing might be when we get into the Chase, especially these elimination races like Phoenix?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it depends on circumstances. Everybody is always racing hard. I think there's been a lot of efforts made in a lot of areas to increase the competition on the racetrack.
Look at rules packages, they're always evolving. We're working on different tires. Tracks are resurfacing. The points system has changed. I think there's a little help from all areas to put on a great show for the fans and have a great product in NASCAR.
I assume it will continue to rachet up, especially if you have drivers trying to move forward in the Chase that are near one another and a win is vital for them to transfer to the next segment. You can get into those circumstances and scenarios as we get late in the year, and it can be exciting, especially like on a short track like Phoenix.
Q. This creates a situation that's basically an unknown. Do you look forward to that kind of challenge or is it something that worries you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we don't mind new challenges. Our team has always adapted well. At times we seem to grab things faster than others, at other times we don't.
We'll take our chances. We've been able to win with all types of Chase formats, all types of cars. We're up for the challenge. We enjoy it.
Q. I'm not sure how much you're following him, but yesterday Kurt Busch was second fastest at Indianapolis Motor Speedway practice, up above 224 miles an hour. Are you paying attention much? Are you surprised or impressed by it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I missed yesterday. That's great news. I'm stoked for him. I've been talking with him some on fitness and hydration and nutrition. He's got a long, active month leading up to the big race next week. He and I have been chatting more about hydration and nutrition than anything. I'm happy to hear that. I missed that yesterday.
I think he's going to do an awesome job. I've always wondered if you take somebody from a low downforce vehicle and put them in a high downforce vehicle, to see how they would do. Yesterday is a great sign.
I feel it's more difficult for an open?wheel guy to come to a stockcar and have downforce taken away from them. I'll be interested to see if that's Kurt's opinion and how that all plays out in the end.
Q. I know you explored it at one point. What do you think the biggest challenge is for him?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, I think stress. Stress takes a big toll on the body. You're stressed about your balance and your setup for your stockcar. You're stressed about your balance and setup for your IndyCar. Practice sessions. Are you eating, drinking, getting enough rest. Media obligations. On Sunday, is it going to affect the IndyCar race. Is the helicopter or plane on time.
I think it's stress. We all know what it does to our system. It wears you down pretty quick. I think it's stress. He's got a lot of stress on his plate right now.
Q. Given your history of success at Charlotte, the All?Star Race in particular, do you bring just as much confidence into this weekend as you would if, say, you already had a couple wins under your belt this season?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, for sure. That's the one thing that I learned maybe year two or three in Cup, is that every weekend's a new weekend. It's a new track. Even if you go from a mile?and?a?half to another mile?and?a?half, they're so different in how they drive and the setup that's required. It is nice. You can start on a clean sheet of paper and hit the racetrack and go.
Momentum that you do carry is I think noticeable maybe on Friday, opening practice, qualifying. By the time you get to the race, you're dealing with that weekend's circumstances. Just because you won the previous race or many races beforehand doesn't change things on that given race day.
Believe me, it's a nice week. I'd say from Sunday evening after the race until maybe Friday, Thursday or Friday, depending on the format, when NASCAR timing and scoring begins again, that's a good period of time and where you feel momentum the most after a win.
Q. In terms of what drivers can do to each other on the track, is there anything that you feel is out?of?bounds in the All?Star Race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It definitely changes things. I think people are willing to take more risks and opportunities if they're there. Again, you're really looking from second to first. I think second place, if he's in reaching distance of the leader, will certainly do what he can for $1 million and no implications in points.
From fifth to fourth, it doesn't pay much. Why are you going to risk making the guy in fourth mad. He's going to come after you the following week.
Given the race format, I think it certainly can make things exciting.
Q. I understand when you were untouchable in the early to the mid 2000s, the car and track are different to what they are now. Do you still carry the same level of expectation for yourself as you did when you were winning every week there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I do. Honestly, I'd say most tracks I carry that same expectation, swagger, whatever it is. We've been able to win at so many tracks, have been very successful for a long period of time, we've set the bar very high for ourselves. Outside of maybe Bristol or Richmond, you know, there's maybe one or two other ones in there where you seem to get beat up on pretty bad and we don't have the performance we want. Those are the only tracks I walk into with a little less confidence.
But Charlotte has been so good to us. Even though our dominance was awhile ago, we've been able to win the All?Star a few times since. We've definitely been in the money and have had a shot to win. I'm carrying good confidence in there.
Q. With two straight All?Star wins, you've had some nice points runs there recently, do you feel you're getting something of an edge back at that racetrack again?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, I want to. But Kasey Kahne, whatever I seem to find, he has and has found. Harvick has been strong there over the years. With their performance of late, I would expect them to be awfully tough. I think more people have figured it out. The surface was so rough and abrasive, we hit on some stuff that just worked. I don't know if you can find that dominance today, especially with the asphalt like it is.
So I think there's a larger group of guys racing for the win now than when I had that dominant streak.
Q. They changed the format of the All?Star Race over the last decade. Do you have a format you prefer? What is your opinion to moving the All?Star Race around to different tracks?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Moving the race around? I get it. I think it would be very entertaining on a short track. But living it like we do week after week, man, it's so nice for us to be home for a couple weekends. 39 races in 41 weeks. The teams are based here. It's nice to be in our own backyard. From a selfish standpoint, I'm happy with it being here in Charlotte so we get time at home and see our families and sleep in our own beds. That's a nice perk.
Format?wise, honestly I've quit paying attention because it changes so much each year. I guess it is semi similar this year, although qualifying is right before the race, which is different for sure. We would do things far differently to the racecar if it wasn't an impound qualifying procedure this weekend.
There are some differences. This many years into my Cup career, you just got to learn to go with it. Whatever changes are thrown at you, you take it, deal with it, move on. I don't have a strong opinion either way.
Q. It's been a different season for you and the 48 team. What has it been like to have to be chasing after it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We've had to chase plenty of times. I think some or many forget that, yes, we do have a lot of trophies and I'm very proud of them, but there have been plenty of slow starts, plenty of dry spells or stretches through a given season.
But one thing that's always constant about the 48 is we're going to work our guts out to figure it out. That's what we're in the middle of doing now. It isn't fun, that's for sure. It isn't a fun experience to work so hard and not get the reward that you want. But that's life.
I love to work and I know my team does, so we'll just keep plugging away.
Q. How about all this about it builds character, you would prefer it be easier?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think we all prefer the easy road. If we all had an easy button, I'm sure we'd push it multiple times a day just to make things better. But it builds character.
13 years being the driver of the 48 car, we've had lots of ups and downs. I think it's safe to say we've probably had more ups than downs with all the success we've had on the team. I take that into consideration, as well.
We're going to work right now. We're trying to be a better race team. That's all.
Q. I know your teammate Dale has his graveyard of racecars, all the wrecked racecars on his property. Have you ever had a car donated to the graveyard? You collect stuff from your wins, but do you have anything from any of your wrecks or would you even want any of that stuff?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I do have a car out there in his graveyard. I can't recall which one it is. He's very up to date on what car from what track and driver, all that kind of stuff. I know there's one out there of mine.
My crash at Watkins Glen in the Nationwide car in 2000, the next year I go up there and there's a guy with a sign on the back of his pickup selling blocks of foam. I bought a couple chunks from him. I have those. Fisher engines, who did our engines, gave us the oil pan that was twisted and mangled. So I had that. I also had a steering wheel from it.
I found out with car was going to be cubed when Herzog Motorsports was going to be shut down. So I found the car. It was rusty and a mess. I don't have a car from that era of competing. I'm going to restore it.
My brother has rebuilt it and restored it. It's sitting there and looks brand?new and great in my warehouse.
It isn't necessarily crashed, but it is the car I hit the wall with and I have it displayed there now.
Q. Why would you want a wrecked car? It's understandable why a driver wants a championship car, but why would a driver want a memory of a car that was severely wrecked?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: My 2000 year wasn't all that stellar. The real highlight in the year, the point in time I was recognized, was in that car stuffed into the foam. I guess there's a little something to that, why I wanted the car (laughter).
Q. I was in Lowe's yesterday talking to a cashier about you. I can remember doing the teleconferences in the past. I got to thinking about the longevity you've had with your sponsor. What effect do you think that has had on your career and on your success?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm obviously very proud of the long?term relationship that Hendrick, Lowe's and myself have had. Truthfully when I look back at the decisions I made, the way my life has gone independent of racing, it's been in the same respect. I've always had long?term relationships with friends, even through dating. I've just been that way. I've only driven for a few race teams. Really the same team in off?road days, then as I moved on, I drove for a long period of time for the Herzogs, then the Hendricks.
It's my style and it's worked out. It's so nice to know the faces, to know the names, and to know we return a value to their sponsorship, the money they put into our race team and into marketing, that we are an important part of their marketing program. We take great pride in it.
I think it's the longest standing driver/owner/sponsorship relationship out there, and I think one of the last singular sponsors of a racecar in a series today.
All those stats mean a lot to myself and I know they mean a lot to Rick, too.
Q. I was there restoring a brass lamp, a 102?year?old lamp. What do you think the chances are that I would find a screw for it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Judging by the tone of your voice, it went well, and I hope that's the case.
Q. It definitely went very well. I was amazed.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Good (laughter). Glad you went there.
Q. In all the years I've covered you, through all the challenges, you're so calm when the craziest things happen. I don't see you riled too easily. What is the one thing that really stresses you out? You seem to have such calm blood going through your veins.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I get plenty stressed. In the moment I guess my mind tries to stay calm and think things through. I've had more success by handling the situation without fear, frustration, anxiety running through my veins. I make better decisions in that space and I naturally kind of go there.
I get stressed out about plenty of things. Speed in a racecar is top of my mind Friday to Sunday. I find that in my personal life I fear and worry about a lot of things now that I'm a parent and have to worry about two little ones.
I would say between professional success on a Friday?to?Sunday routine, and then pretty much the entire week just worried about two little ones running around and their safety. Those would be my two biggies.
Q. With really no time to work on the car between qualifying and the race, will that change your approach at all, how you approach the weekend?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It won't change certain aspects of it. From the way we go out and qualify, get our fast laps, do all that we do, that will be the same. But the way we set the car up is going to be far different.
There are a few big things that you do when it's not an impound race. We take the ballast of the car and push a lot of that weight forward. That really helps stabilize the car. That's clearly an adjustment you don't want to do on pit road. It's pretty timely, as well. We won't have nose weight in the car.
Your goal in setting up your racecar for a race is to have it easy on the tires so they last as long as possible, whereas in qualifying you only need a couple laps, so you're going to work a given corner or all four really hard.
We'll definitely be doing things differently. I don't recall having an impound race this year for an open motor race, so it will be a new little twist on things.
I think it's going to be exciting for the fans and create a little better show, a little more excitement through the course of the afternoon, with qualifying at 7:00 and the race at 9:00.
So I'm for it, but our race setup will be different. The overall mindset will still be similar. Track position is going to be everything and busting out a fast lap in qualifying is going to be key.
Q. How much do you expect teams to be experimenting this weekend, or do you think there will be less experimenting considering that those guys that have wins can experiment throughout the season anyway?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Charlotte is always big for experimenting, largely because when you come back for the 600, the clock ticks so fast in practice, you can't get to your list of things to try.
We practice during the day and race at night. So things that show some promise, you're always concerned to run them in the 600 because the bulk of the race is at night, and you just tried all these new experimental items in the sun. Is it going to work? Is handling going to change?
So it's nice to get a race on your equipment if it's setup?wise or even engine stuff. A lot of teams seem to debut new engine packages at the All?Star Race. They figure if they can survive the All?Star Race, as hard as we run there, that we can take it to other racetracks.
I would say it's safe to say that the majority of the field will be experimenting with something on their cars.
Q. You said you bought the foam from a guy at Watkins Glen in 2001.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I did. I bought two chunks from him. He was out there selling the chunks of foam that were flying all over the place.
Q. Did he realize it was you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, I don't recall. It was so long ago. It was in 2001. I don't know if he did. I believe I would remember that. He wanted five bucks a chunk for foam. I gave him 10 bucks, took two pieces of foam and went on my way.
Q. How did you find out about it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We were roaming around through the campground looking for some trouble, I guess, just cruising around. He had an old blue beat?up pickup truck. He had a plywood sign. On the sign it said, Jimmie Johnson's crash, the foam, all that kind of stuff, $5 a chunk. I'm like, Man, I'm going to get me a few of those.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thanks so much for joining us today and good luck this weekend in the All?Star Race.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Good deal. Thank you. See everybody.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you to the media, as well.