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Mar 28, 2014 - 02:20 PM
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2014 Martinsville Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Jimmie Johnson
Posted by: ASkyler on Mar 28, 2014 - 02:20 PM
NASCAR News
2014 Martinsville Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Jimmie Johnson


JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Martinsville Speedway and discussed his opportunity to get a win this weekend, his past Martinsville memories and many other topics.

TALK ABOUT MARTINSVILLE SPEEDWAY WHERE YOU HAVE HAD SO MUCH SUCCESS OVER THE YEARS:

"Always exciting to come back to Martinsville and with this being the site of Rick Hendrick’s first win, 30 years of Hendrick Motorsports and obviously 2004 with the plane crash there is a lot of motivation when we come to this race track. It’s great to be back and it’s nice to know that this track is strong for the Hendrick cars and very strong for myself. We would love to check the win column box. We are certainly close and we were knocking on the door last weekend and I think we have had a couple other looks at wins. I think we are really understanding this 2014 package and getting some speed out of our cars and we should be contending and racing for wins I believe."

FIVE DIFFERENT WINNERS IN FIVE RACES. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE SPREAD THIS YEAR AND ARE YOU SURPRISED YOU HAVEN’T WON THIS YEAR CONSIDERING THE SUCCESS YOU HAVE HAD EARLY ON?

"Last week was a real bummer to not pull into victory lane with how strong of a car we had. We have had some other good top-three runs with a chance to win and didn’t capitalize on that. But it’s not uncommon for us to get a little deeper in the season before we start winning. Statistically I think the end of the year is where we heat up the most. So you know what? We have a good track here and Dover is coming up soon and there are a lot of big opportunities coming along and with the new rules package that we have - I think that has allowed for the five different winners at five different tracks. It’s just a challenge right now to figure out what you need and what you want and it’s nice to see so much parity with different teams and drivers winning. I guess it would be nice if the Hendrick guys were walking away with it and we had won all the races, but there is a lot of parity out there."

 

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AS A FRIEND OF BRIAN VICKERS, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HIS RESILIENCY IN BOUNCING BACK TO WHERE HE IS NOW?

"Yeah, he has definitely dealt with a lot of issues and certainly at a young age. The emotional and personal side with Ricky (Hendrick), and professionally with the challenges of his health, and even the loss of sponsorship and looking for a ride when Red Bull pulled out….those are tough things to handle. He is a young guy and he handled it all well. I am glad that he is healthy and is in a great car and he has been running great."

I KNOW YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN WIN AT ANY TIME AT ANY TRACK YOU GO TO, BUT IS THAT FEELING ANY DIFFERENT FOR YOU WHEN YOU COME SOMEWHERE LIKE MARTINSVILLE WHERE YOU HAVE HAD SO MUCH SUCCESS? AND IS IT ANY MORE DISAPPOINTMENT WHEN YOU DON’T WIN WHEN YOU COME SOMEWHERE LIKE THIS?

"It kind of depends on the circumstances. With this being our first trip to Martinsville with the new 2014 package, I am very confident because I know the track and Chad knows the track and we will figure it out. But I don’t know how we are going to unload.

"Last year we had a refined package, we knew where we would be and we could play the game the way we needed to, and we had a good feel for things. So there is a bit of uncertainty and some questions that we need to answer today on the track. But no doubt as far as a mental aspect of walking into a track from a team standpoint and a driver standpoint, when you walk into a track where you have had success, it does put a spring in your step."

WITH ALL THE EMOTIONS FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS WHAT IS IT LIKE WINNING HERE FOR A HENDRICK DRIVER AS COMPARED TO OTHER TRACKS?

"It’s a very deep emotion and something you take deep pride in representing the company. To see Rick and his face and the expression that he has and you can sense in his voice and in his eyes - you can see how much it means to him to win here. It is a cool, amazing experience to go through. Rick is a very competitive guy and he likes to win races. But with all the emotion that you have here I think we are in a good place here. Absolutely we are sad that the aircraft went down and we lost everybody that was on the airplane, but I am finding today that there are a lot more happy stories as we are reflecting back. Especially of thinking about little Ricky and the crazy stuff he would do and the stunts he would pull on his dad. There’s a lot of laughter, and I would assume if one of the Hendrick drivers get to victory lane, it would be a very joyful celebration and emotion. Rick and Linda would probably shed some tears later in private, but from a team standpoint, and everybody at HMS, it would be a very uplifting experience."

WHAT IS THE VIBE OF THIS PLACE FOR YOU? AS YOU’VE SAID BEFORE, THIS HAS BEEN THE SCENE FOR SOME INCREDIBLY GREAT THINGS FOR YOU PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY, BUT ALSO SOME VERY SAD THINGS. WHAT IS THE FEELING WHEN YOU COME HERE? WHAT ARE THE THOUGHTS THAT POP IN YOUR HEAD WHEN YOU SEE CERTAIN THINGS OR HAVE CERTAIN MEMORIES?

"It just depends on what activates my mind. Like today, I flew up. It’s overcast. It’s cloudy. The whole week leading into Martinsville, I’ve been excited about coming here to race and feel like we have a great chance to win. I wake up this morning and it’s overcast, and I can’t help but think of the airplane incident. It just kind of depends on what triggers the thought process. Generally speaking, race time here, there’s a lot of very good positive vibes flowing around. I’ve had great fortune to honor and remember our friends in victory lane. Certainly, the day that it happened, I look back on that day a lot and think about how things went down. NASCAR called all four cars to pit lane. We get to pit lane, and there are police officers standing around our cars, and I’m like ‘What in the world has happened?’ Normally there are NASCAR Officials not police officers. I walk through that from time to time. I hope to never ever go through anything like that again."

IT SEEMS LIKE IT’S A LONG WAY AWAY, BUT TALLADEGA ISN’T THAT FAR FROM NOW. IT WILL BE THE FIRST TIME THAT YOU GUYS QUALIFY WITH THE NEW SYSTEM. HAVE YOU EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT WHAT THAT WILL BE LIKE, WHO YOU ARE GOING TO DRAFT WITH OR IS IT YOU GET TO THAT WEEK WHEN YOU GET TO IT?

"A lot of guys paid attention in Daytona to what the Nationwide cars did, and there is a way to run a fast lap, but it’s out of your hands. It just depends on who’s trying to team up, who’s trying to work together, how far somebody is laying back. You know you are getting up to speed and the group behind you, you are pulling them along at a faster rate, do you abort on your lap and trying to catch somebody else and tag on to the back of their draft? So, it is going to be extremely - you can’t predict it. It’s just going to be out of control, in a good way. There could be some wrecks event because there’s going to be a lot of cars coming and going and blending and things like that. It will be a very interesting, I don’t know, 40 minutes of television, whatever it ends up being."

YOU’RE AS GOOD AT TALKING ABOUT TRACKS BEFORE YOU GOT THEM AND LEARNING TO GET THEM. IT’S INTERESTING, YOU TAKE A DALE EARNHARDT JR. WHO’S GOT ONE OF THE BEST DRIVER RATINGS HERE BUT HASN’T ONE OR KASEY KAHNE TALKING ABOUT IT. SEEMS TO THE AVERAGE PERSON IT SEEMS TO BE A MENTAL THING AS WELL AS GETTING THE TRACK BUT NOT SURE. HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THIS TRACK? ONE OTHER THING, EARNHARDT JR. SAID THERE’S MORE FREEDOM NOW WITH THE NEW POINTS STRUCTURE TO NOT BE SO WORRIED THAT SOMETHING MIGHT HAPPEN HERE. MAYBE THAT WILL HELP HIM WIN HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME. I DON’T KNOW. BUT WILL YOU TALK ABOUT WINNING HERE AND LEARNING IT? WHAT COMES TO MIND?

"I don’t know exactly. First off that came to mind, when you go to a racetrack and your concerned about how you’re going to run there and you start protecting a nice top-five run or a top-two, top-three, whatever it might be. Maybe you don’t race as open as you should and take the chances that you should to win and be as aggressive as you need to. I was fortunate to get a win fairly early in my Cup career here and I’ve been able to race here with an open mind and not worry about protecting. As I’m on the track, I see a lot of different drivers, they get to the top-five, it’s a tough track to get around and they’re very defensive and worried about every little inch on the track and protecting and blocking and I’ve been able to get so much experience here and understand how to pass and how to set our car up that I’m just thinking offense the whole time. Maybe there is a small mindset there that is the difference."

SPEAKING OF LEARNING THE TRACK, I KNOW YOU HAVE CREDITED JEFF GORDON WITH HELPING YOUR PROGRESSION IN LEARNING THIS TRACK. WHEN YOU COME TO MARTINSVILLE, IT’S HARD NOT TO MENTION YOU AND JEFF. WHAT SPECIFICALLY DID HE DO TO HELP YOUR PROGRESSION AND YOUR SUCCESS HERE?

"With Jeff, we were very fortunate at that point in time to test. We had a lot of test sessions we could use up. I think I had 12 as a rookie my rookie season. With data traces and even just general testing rules and procedures, it was very easy to get Jeff here and work with him and understand what to do. We took every step we could to get me prepared and get me right, and I still was kind of in the way. And truthfully, I think our second trip here, so the fall of my rookie year; I got lapped by Tony (Stewart). So then all of the verbal stuff that Jeff said and all of the mechanical stuff, we basically just put his set up under my car and go figure it out type of thing, it all came together when I followed Tony and could pick up the rhythm. This is a track where a half-tenth per end of the race track is huge. And it’s so hard to even quantify that or see that. It took me following Tony and getting into that rhythm where I picked it up. I was fortunate enough to get my lap back and then I think we ran a top-15 or top-10, and from that point on I’m like ‘OK. I see it. I get it.’ Or maybe more so I feel it and understand that rhythm."

HERE AT MARTINSVILLE WE ALWAYS SEE A LOT OF FRONT SHOCK TRAVEL ON THE CARS. WITH THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NEW FRONT END RULES, THE HEIGHT RULES, THAT NASCAR HAS BROUGHT OUT FOR 2014, ARE WE GOING TO SEE A LOT LESS TRAVEL AND IS IT GOING TO BE A BIG DIFFERENCE IN FEEL FOR THE DRIVER.

"Definitely. The straightway height versus the corner height will change. That gap will close up quite a bit. Some guys still may elect to let the nose pop up some and transfer weight to the rear tires for forward drive. In general, you will see the cars on the deck and sealed up straightaway and corner. It’s ultimately the goal. Every now and then, especially on a small track like this, you’ll allow the front to transfer a little weight to the back for grip but we’re just going to have to see how the day goes on. This is one of the tracks where you’ll notice a big difference in the car’s ride height."

YOU MENTIONED IT WASN’T UNCOMMON FOR YOU TO START WINNING LATER IN THE YEAR. DO YOU KNOW WHY THAT IS? CONSIDERING MARTINSVILLE AND TEXAS ARE BACK-TO-BACK, ISN’T THAT A GOOD SPRINGBOARD TIME FOR YOU TO START THAT WINNING?

"It’s a great lineup of tracks. Truthfully, every team has good tracks and bad tracks. I think on the calendar our good tracks are placed kind of spring and fall - the Dover’s, Martinsville, Texas, those types of tracks, and we’re getting into them. Hopefully, we can get something here early to check that box and progress through the regular season and make sure our car’s right because there’s a lot of change going on and a lot of speed to still find in our race cars and then buckle down in the Chase. We’ve always operated well in the Chase, and again, a lot of it is because those tracks are really our strong tracks."

YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF CHALLENGES WITH JEFF GORDON THROUGH THE YEARS HERE AT THIS TRACK. HOW DOES THAT CHALLENGE OF RACING HIM FOR A WIN - HOW DOES THAT CHALLENGE YOU? AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM RACING SOMEBODY ELSE OR ANOTHER TEAMMATE?

"When I first got started here, the short run really hurt me especially late in the race, and that was a strength that Jeff had. So, from a car setup standpoint and even driver technique, I kind of focused on that area so that I could kind of cover that base. And now, Jeff certainly still has his short run speed, but he’s figured something out on the long run and runs a much different line. The last couple of times we’ve been here on the long haul, his car has been better than just about anybody. I’ve been the leader and watch him come and run me down so it’s kind of ever-changing. I don’t know if Jeff has consciously worked on changing from short run to long run or if it’s just circumstantial with car and tire and track. Whatever it is. Fortunately, I can identify with it and try to make a change and try to protect myself. I think from a trend standpoint, we usually end up with a lot of short runs at the end of a race here and that’s probably been better suited for us to be focused there."

OF THE LAST 19 RACES, ONLY SIX GUYS HAVE ONE - MAIN TEAMS BEING THE 48, 24, 11. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT IT IS ABOUT THIS PLACE THAT IT SEEMS TO BE SUCH AN EXCLUSIVE GROUP? DO YOU SEE ANYBODY CREEPING INTO THAT ECHELON? COULD WE SEE SOMEBODY NEW BESIDES YOU OR DENNY (HAMLIN) OR JEFF (GORDON) OR MAYBE TONY (STEWART) OR KEVIN HARVICK? IT SEEMS LIKE THOSE ARE THE NAMES THAT EVERYONE EXPECTS WHEN THEY COME HERE.

"It seems like, I don’t know why, when somebody sorts this place out, they’ve got it and you can hang on to it for a while. The 20 (Matt Kenseth) I think surprised us all last fall so I would definitely put him in that expect to win category. The 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) has always been strong here. I’m surprised he hasn’t had a shot at victory lane. The 5 (Kasey Kahne) has shown a lot of speed here. So, I think there might be those - the 11, the 48, the 24, at first thought but not far behind there is a whole lineup of cars including the 4 (Kevin Harvick). He’s always been strong here, too. I can’t answer why only six guys in 19 races have been able to win here. It’s kind of interesting."

CAN A DRIVER’S SKILLS - YOUR SKILLS IN PARTICULAR - AT A TRACK LIKE THIS NEGATE ANY OF THE CHANGES THAT HAVE COME WITH THE NEW SETUP. DOES THE NEW SETUP MATTER AS MUCH HERE AS IT DOES AT AN INTERMEDIATE TRACK WITH THE AERO AND EVERYTHING?

"I think so. The biggest factor you have here working for you is your center of gravity height. To be able to start the car inches lower will just help put grip and speed in the car. And of course, some small aero implications will come. I think braking will improve because you don’t have the cars that rely on the straights slamming down on the nose and then you’re able to get the whole car lower not only from the front ride height changes but also the open book we have with our rear heights now, you can get the car awfully low, and pick up a lot of speed."

INAUDIBLE FOLLOW UP:

"At the end of the day, it’s still a race car and the teams and drivers - NASCAR works hard to make sure that the people make the difference and the teams and the drivers really instigate that and drive that. A good driver won’t be able to take a 20th-place car and win with it, but he’ll finish better than 20th. The most important thing you can expect out of a good driver is to lead the team in the right way and make the right changes to the car and get it in the ballpark."


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