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Jun 20, 2014 - 06:42 PM
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2014 Sonoma Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Jimmie Johnson
Posted by: ASkyler on Jun 20, 2014 - 06:38 PM
2014 Sonoma Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Jimmie Johnson

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Sonoma Raceway and discussed his recent trip to his hometown of El Cajon, California, his assessment of what qualifying will be like tomorrow and many other topics.

YOU HAVE HAD A BIG WEEK HERE IN CALIFORNIA TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT COMING BACK TO CALIFORNIA AND RACING HERE AT A ROAD COURSE FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS SEASON: "Definitely excited to be back in California. We had three or four days down in the San Diego area. I had an amazing experience on many levels. Very successful Jimmie Johnson Foundation golf tournament we raised $650,000 which we will be able to distribute in Southern California, Oklahoma and the Charlotte (NC) area. We had a new venue at Torrey Pines and played their south golf course over there. To have the views and the golf and the scenery and to know this history of golf on that course and watching some of those awesome battles myself, made that experience all the sweeter. Then Tuesday I guess it was went back to El Cajon and I knew we were having an event in El Cajon, but I had no idea it was going to be that big and they were going to make so many amazing things happen. They gave me a guitar to the city instead of a key to the city. Named it Jimmie Johnson day, the senator was there so it was not only for El Cajon, but the whole state of California. Just a crazy experience and fans were everywhere. I couldn’t believe how many people showed up. It was just an awesome experience. I got up here yesterday relaxing and enjoying this nice warm weather. I’m looking forward to some left and right hand turns."


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CAN YOU PUT FANS BEHIND THE WHEEL AND DESCRIBE THE ELEMENTS YOU THINK OF AND STAND OUT TO YOU WHEN YOU RACE A ROAD COURSE LIKE THIS? "This track is way different than anything we run on because of the elevation changes and then how narrow the course is. Our cars are so big and heavy we need a lot of real estate to slide our vehicles around. It makes a huge challenge and at the end of the day the tires take all the abuse and that is really the magic around here. One - developing a set-up that is easy on the rear tires and then two - being patient with the car and not running the rear tires off of it. Hopefully, we have that magic, but there are blind corners where you crest the hill and you are just looking off into the brown grass or whatever that stuff is hoping you’ve got the right angle. There are marks in the asphalt that you remember from past experiences here where another road ties in and that’s a breaking reference point. Just a very cool track to make laps around. On an oval you probably have three to four moments that really get your attention so corner entry and then occasionally out by the wall. Here with 11 corners around this track every braking zone you are on edge and then with it being so narrow track out points you are usually if your left-side is in the dirt at least once around here a lap. It makes for a fun lap."

HENDRICK IS GOING FOR SIX WINS IN A ROW, WHAT IS THE LIKELIHOOD OF THAT HAPPENING AND WHICH DRIVER DO YOU THINK MIGHT BE ABLE TO PULL THAT OFF? "It’s been such a different race the last five or six years when you look at the winners. People you might not put into that road course ringer category, myself included. I won, Martin (Truex, Jr.), Clint (Bowyer), Kasey Kahne was in there at some point. More traditional oval guys, so I think this is the hardest race to pick yet. Then when you add the fuel strategy that typically plays in that shakes it up as well. I think all four of our Hendrick cars will be capable of it and we certainly want to keep the streak alive, but I can’t pick a favorite here. I could probably pick a favorite, but I don’t think there is a safe bet on a winner. I think there are 20, 25 cars that could win here."

OUT OF ALL THE ACCOLADES, HAVING A STREET NAMED AFTER YOU, JIMMIE JOHNSON DAY WAS THERE A MOMENT THAT STOOD OUT TO YOU? "I guess the moment would have been leaving and getting back on the interstate and driving out of there with all that took place. We all know you go back home the memories come up in your mind and you think of what happened here, what went on there. All these stories start to emerge in your mind. To have that feeling of being back home and then to leave the event with all that they gave me and the huge fan support, friends that were in attendance and old school teachers. A lot of my friends their parents are still in El Cajon and they made a trip out, faces I haven’t seen in 20 years. Leaving there and to feel the pride that El Cajon has for what I have done on the track and the respect they paid me that all tied into driving out of there and had a very cool moment."

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT IN QUALIFYING? THIS IS OUR FIRST ROAD COURSE QUALIFYING UNDER THE NEW SET-UP ARE YOU GUYS DOING A LOT OF BACK AND FORTH STRATEGIZING AND TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO? "This track has a high wear aspect so I think keeping the laps down is going to be key especially to get the pole. The variable that we can’t control is cars on their out lap and cars on their in lap. That is going to be tricky. We do it in practice and we are able to accommodate each other and take care of things. Hopefully, everybody is plenty polite and the spotters are on top of it sending word down where a fast car is."

THERE ARE A LOT OF DRIVERS WHO CAN WIN HERE THAT DO NOT HAVE WINS YET THIS YEAR. DO YOU START THINKING ABOUT THEIR DESPERATION LEVEL? WOULD YOU WANT TO KNOW IF THEY ARE BEHIND YOU? "Yes, restarts I think we know that there is going to be chaos. In (turns) seven and 11 you go in there and you just put your head against the back of the headrest waiting to get drilled from behind. Once you get spread out and get going, this track once you get through the opening lap or two we get spread out and it’s really an individual race. You are challenging yourself and your car and just getting in that zone and go. But restarts just bread so much chaos around here. No one is safe. I have seen guys in eighth or 10th pull out of line to pass and wheel hop and clean out the guy in second or third. There is nowhere safe on this track on restarts."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE AGGRESSIVE NATURE OF ROAD COURSE RACES IN RECENT YEARS? "When there are only a couple of passing zones on the entire track everybody up and down the line is trying to set-up a pass. So there are moments where you have worked hard and been patient and you are making your move and you don’t realize that the car behind you has set-up a move on you. Or maybe in the process of getting alongside someone you have slowed down your section of the road and now everybody back behind you is thinking wow I can go three-wide, four-wide or the line stops too quick just like in bumper-to-bumper traffic. All of a sudden the line stops too quick and the person fourth or fifth in line just the reaction time isn’t there and ‘pow’ you’ve turned somebody around. It’s wild. I think what aggravates most is the blocking. After a restart or two or a few laps of blocking you just have to make that decision. Are you going to tolerate it or are you going to send them? It’s turned into sending them lately."

WHAT HAS BEEN THE DIFFERENCE FOR JEFF (GORDON) AND HIS TEAM AND CREW THIS YEAR? "Honestly, I think they have been finishing where they have been running. The last two, three, four years it seems like fast cars, laps led and running well. But not the finishes that we hoped that he would have or that he would hope he had based on the first half of the race. They are finishing off the races, which there have been small mechanical issues and bad luck. That stuff has seemed to kind of fade away fortunately."

THREE DRIVERS SINCE 2004 HAVE RUN EVERY CUP RACE SINCE THEN AND NOT FINISHED LAST. TWO OF THEM ARE HENDRICK DRIVERS. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DURABILITY OF HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS EQUIPMENT AND HOW IMPORTANT IT IS AT A ROAD COURSE? "It definitely is important and I think championships probably speak more to durability than kind of that finishing stat. In some cases I wish I would have been 43rd so I could have gone home earlier, didn’t have to ride around and finish 42nd (laughs). That stat speaks more to the guys getting the car fixed. I think all these crew members they are supposed to delicately work on the race car and take care of it. When there is crash damage they are looking for the biggest hammer and the biggest saw and just looking forward to cutting stuff up and trying to get you back out. I’ve got a group of guys that love to swing hammers and run saws. They do a nice job of getting us back on the road."

ON A TRACK LIKE THIS HOW IMPORTANT ARE YOUR SPOTTERS? "They are very important for sure. I think awareness inside the car is also important. A lot of us come from a form of racing where you didn’t have spotters. There seemed to be a lot less incidents when you are aware of your surroundings and not solely relying on spotters. Good awareness in the car is important here as well."

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