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Jun 27, 2014 - 01:51 PM
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2014 Kentucky Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Jimmie Johnson
Posted by: ASkyler on Jun 27, 2014 - 01:51 PM
NASCAR News
2014 Kentucky Q&A: NASCAR Sprint Cup - Jimmie Johnson


JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed visiting the White House last week, how his season is progressing, the rough track at Kentucky, his teammates, and more.

TALK ABOUT BEING AT THE WHITE HOUSE THIS WEEK AND BEING RECOGNIZED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

"Of course it was a huge honor for myself and the team. The fact that I was able to be there with my teammates to experience the tour and those few minutes that we had with the President, was great. Honestly, we’ve moved on from the 2013 season and are heavy into the 2014 season, so it was a nice opportunity to reflect back and to bring back those memories and feelings of accomplishment and to share that with my crew guys. Mr. Hendrick was there, of course, and Chad (Knaus, crew chief) for the first time after all these years. It was just an awesome experience. To look out into the audience and see my daughter there and my wife, it was just a very cool experience."

 

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CAN YOU EXPAND ON THAT? I THINK HE COMPARES YOU TO MICHAEL JORDAN

"Yeah, it was a surreal moment standing on stage next to him and hearing him reference or compare me to Michael Jordan, with the six championships I assume is where he was going with that, and hear our foundation mentioned and all the hard work that we’ve put in there. I didn’t know what his speech would be. But to hear him go through and articulate with great detail, the things that we’ve accomplished as a team on and off the track and what the foundation has done, I sat there with goose bumps, head to toe just hearing all that stuff. It was pretty neat."

TALK ABOUT HOW YOU STARTED THE SEASON AND HOW THINGS ARE GOING NOW AND WHY

"We’ve been learning this new package. We didn’t get off to the start we wanted to at the start of the season. Even though we were slow, I really feel there were opportunities to win. We had flat tires and various issues that kept us from going to Victory Lane. And, starting in Charlotte, we didn’t drop the ball. And when we had the chance to win, we took advantage of it and got it done. We won two or three there pretty quick. Really, I feel like the last five or six; we’ve been in position to win. Pocono, I think we had a car plenty capable of winning the race. Had the contact on pit lane and hurt our opportunity there. And then last week in Sonoma, we were one of the better cars on the track all day long. On one of those restarts and bumping and banging, bent the left front suspension on the car and slowed us down quite a bit. I’m happy that the speed is there and it’s just a little more consistent for us compared to especially the first quarter of the year. But more than anything, we’re taking advantage of opportunity and have been able to pull into Victory Lane."

THE LAST TIME A FULL FIELD DIDN’T SHOW UP FOR QUALIFYING WAS 1996 AT DOVER. TODAY THERE ARE SUPPOSEDLY ONLY 42 CARS HERE. IS THAT ANY CAUSE FOR CONCERN? WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THAT?

"I don’t have any concern with it. When you compare our form of racing to others, we have double the fields compared to a lot of other major auto racing series’. I hate to see it, obviously. There’s that prestige of having 43 since way back. But I don’t think it has any bearing on the strength of our sport. When I look at all the markers our sponsors look at and why they’re partners on our race car, things are going in the right direction. So, I don’t think it’s a real reflection of the strength of our sport, (or) the strength of the competition on the track. The fact of the matter is this is the top form of racing, in my mind, in the world, and some maybe just in North America. And it’s not cheap. I understand why there could be a short field, but there’s no concern on my behalf."

YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO FEEL LIKE YOU CAN TASTE A CHAMPIONSHIP; EVEN THIS EARLY IN THE YEAR, AND KNOW YOU’RE GOING TO BE A FACTOR. YOUR TEAMMATE, DALE EARNHARDT JR., HAS BEEN PRETTY FRISKY BEHIND THE WHEEL THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS. DO YOU THINK JUNIOR FEELS THAT THIS YEAR, AND THAT THESE OPPORTUNITIES ARE FEW AND FAR BETWEEN? IS HE UP ON THE WHEEL THIS YEAR BECAUSE HE CAN TASTE IT?

"I haven’t been around him at some of those friskier moments. It’s hard for me to speak for him on-track. But in a large respect, yes; he is taking advantage of opportunity. What he and (crew chief) Steve (Letarte) have built with the No. 88 team; we all know that the driver/crew chief pairing is the most important part, and Steve and Junior have hit it off. And there’s no guarantees that next year’s crew chief is going to be able to connect with Junior and create the same speed in the cars. In theory, yeah; I’m sure he’s trying to take advantage of opportunity.

"But sitting in meetings and being around him as close as I am with our situation of the No. 48 and No. 88 being in the same shop, I see a guy that knows his race car better than ever; and a guy that’s focused on all the details. He’s thoroughly involved, is much more open and communicating on a far deeper level than I’ve seen him, especially when he started at Hendrick Motorsports. As my years go on, teams slow down when the communication stops. And his team has gotten faster and faster and he is more talkative and involved and engaged and sits in meetings with notes and set-up sheets. He’s really in the game."

WITH THE NEW CHASE FORMAT, THERE IS MORE EMPHASIS ON WINNING RACES. WHAT’S THAT LIKE FOR A DRIVER? DO YOU THINK THAT’S MADE IT BETTER FOR THE FANS AND HAS MADE FOR BETTER RACING?

"Inside the car, nothing has changed my approach. It might open up the door for some other teams, maybe teams that aren’t in the big four or five (like) Hendrick, Roush, and Gibbs-type organizations. But I firmly believe there won’t be 16 different winners. So points still matter in transferring into that first phase. I was saying that when we hadn’t won a race and I still believe it today even after winning three. I still think we’ll get a couple of guys in on points. That’s very similar to what we’ve had in the past. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t have a problem with that.

"I am excited to see how the conversation has changed and that so many people are talking about winning. I think that’s good for our sport. But as we work through the Chase, winning I think gets more important the deeper we’re into the Chase than it ever, ever has been. And then Homestead, we’ve never had that scenario before. We’ve never had four drivers with a chance to win the championship; let alone (be) tied for the championship going into it. As the season wears on, things will continue to heat up. Especially deep into the Chase, it’s going to be a pressure cooker."

EXPLAIN TO RACE FANS HOW ROUGH THIS TRACK IS WHEN YOU’RE BOUNCING ALL OVER THE PLACE AND YOU SAY WE LOVE IT, DON’T TOUCH IT. AND FANS THINK YOU WANT GLASSY-SMOOTH TRACKS. DESCRIBE THIS TRACK AND WHY YOU GUYS LIKE IT SO MUCH

"The glassy-smooth tracks really give us one lane to race on. With the speeds we’re going, in order to pass a driver with one-lane of racing surface to really utilize, you’ve got to be half a second faster. And there really isn’t a half a second worth of speed the way the cars are anymore. It’s so well regulated through NASCAR and so competitive, that you’re lucky to get a tenth, maybe two, is as much as you get. So when you have a surface that throws the cars around and forces drivers to make mistakes, it forces a second lane, a third lane. I don’t think we really have a third lane here. And a lot of it has to do with the grinding that’s been done on the track. Last year I tried to explore outside the black and think about a fourth lane or a third lane near the wall, but the surface just won’t allow it. So we’ve got a good couple of lanes from the three-quarter mark down on the race track that we can use. And the bumps make mistakes out of drivers. They put us in situations where we blow it, and open a door to get passed or look for an opportunity to pass someone."

WITH THESE CARS NOW PLANTED TO THE GROUND MORE THAN THEY WERE A YEAR AGO, ARE YOU GOING TO GET MORE OF A JARRING SENSE THROUGH THESE BUMPS AND PITCH YOU HARDER OR MAKE IT MORE PHYSICAL?

"Yeah, I think so. We hadn’t had ride quality issues at a lot of the tracks leading up to this point with the old car. We show up with the new car going man, the ride quality is terrible. But we’re going so much faster and on and on. So, yeah, the ride quality is definitely going to be compromised here."

FOR JEFF GORDON, THE FIFTH CHAMPIONSHIP HAS BEEN ILLUSIVE. HOW FRUSTRATED DO YOU THINK HE IS WITH THE WAY THE SECOND HALF OF HIS CAREER HAS GONE? AND HOW DOES HE HANDLE IT?

"I don’t know exactly. It’s not something really that we spend time talking about. But, I know that the speed is there. I know that the desire is there. The last few years, luck has really played a factor in him making the Chase and the success in the Chase. I feel like a championship is a real opportunity for him. And this year, this format could really be the one. I know it means a lot to him. I know it’s what he wants. But as far as his mindset and frustration or whatever it might be, I’m not all that sure. But I see a guy that loves his job and is highly committed to it in all of our meetings. He’s got spring in his step and is ready to go racing."

WAS THERE ANYTHING DIFFERENT AT YOUR WHITE HOUSE VISIT LAST WEEK THAN PREVIOUS VISITS THAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND?

"I’ve been there, not for all of our championships but in general. The top 10 drivers that made the stage were able to go. So, I’ve been on that tour and on that trip eight or 10 times. You end up seeing the same stuff. They are only going to give you so much access to look around in the White House. There are only so many rooms you can go in. But, back to my earlier comments, to have my team there was the difference. Before, you were walking around with the other drivers and it was a great experience and fun, but to actually share those moments and watch the tour take place and all those fresh faces that are my teammates; and hear the story, go to all those different rooms, meet different Secret Service folks was fun. They hosted a very nice lunch for us in a private dining hall, which they said was the second most famous dining hall in the world. The first would be the President’s private space. We were able to share and experience a lot of things together and that really was the difference."

YOU’VE COME CLOSE TO WINNING AT KENTUCKY, BUT HAVEN’T CLOSED THE DEAL. TALK ABOUT THAT

"We’ve been close. It’s just on that last run; varying mistakes have kept us from going to Victory Lane. We’ve had a car capable of winning; I think two of them, at least. I’m not sure about the third. So, it’s just executing in that final run."

YOU WERE UPSET LAST YEAR WHEN YOU DOMINATED THIS RACE, BUT WITH THE RESTART YOU DIDN’T WIN. FOR A GUY WHO HAS ACCOMPLISHED AS MUCH AS YOU HAVE, DOES THAT STICK WITH YOU AS MOTIVATION A YEAR LATER?

"Yeah, and a lot has changed since then. Our restart procedure has changed and there were a lot of cat and mouse games going on through last year. That stuff has changed quite a bit now. So I’m happy with the rule changes and certainly still today, feel that the scenario and the games played there is what led to our issue down there in Turns 1 and 2."

ON YOUR JACKMAN, ANDREW CHILDERS, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HIS IMPORTANCE AND HOW IMPORTANT IT IS FOR YOU TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE TEAM THROUGHOUT THE SEASON?

"Those are your guys. That’s your group. They don’t get the credit they deserve. Not only the guys that go over the wall, but everybody back at the shop. We go out there and look good in the race car and pull into Victory Lane if you’re fortunate enough to do that, and smile and get all the accolades, but we’re just a piece of the puzzle. The way today’s racing is, pit road is just as important as out on the race track and creates as many opportunities. Andrew does an awesome job of being the jackman on the No. 48 car. Not a ton of experience; he’s in his second season of being the guy for us and is doing a great job."


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