Chevy Racing–Tuesday Teleconference–Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson

THE MODERATOR:  We are joined by Jeff Gordon.  Gordon is currently sixth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and has one win and a top‑five finish.
            Jeff, going into the final races, what is your approach to finish off your season strong like you did last year with a win at Homestead.
            JEFF GORDON:  That’s certainly one of our goals.  We tested in Homestead last week.  Had a fantastic test.  I’m very excited about that race.
            Certainly disappointing to have the race we just had in Texas.  So doesn’t change really our approach, how we go through these next two weeks.  Just takes us back, you know, in points.  Certainly kind of takes that momentum away that we had.
            But the confidence is still high.  The car was fantastic again this past weekend, felt like we were going to have a great weekend.  We take that confidence in the cars that we’ve been bringing to the racetrack into Phoenix this weekend, on to Homestead.  Finish out the season the best we can and hopefully move up in points again.
            THE MODERATOR:  We will now go to the media for questions.
            Q.  Jeff, could you talk a little bit about the overall importance of physical fitness to what you do as a racecar driver and just talk a little bit about what you do to stay in shape.
            JEFF GORDON:  Yeah, physical fitness is definitely important.  Getting more and more important all the time as the speeds of the cars increase.  The demands on the driver, the competition in general, just getting tighter.  I think being fit is going to help you be more focused throughout the race weekend, through a long schedule that we have with 38 races.
            So, you know, it’s something that I probably haven’t put as much effort into as some other guys out there.  I think there’s some that may take it even a little bit further than it needs to.  But if that is what keeps them focused and enjoying the week or helping prepare for the race, then I think it’s a great routine.
            For me, I’ve had some back issues over the years, so a lot of my routine is just mixing in cardio with stretching, just staying as loose as I can, building up my core to help strengthen my back and stomach to try to keep the pain that I deal with in my back to a minimum.  That’s really helped me get through the races and not really be thinking about my back, so I can just think about driving the car.
            But from a fitness standpoint, other than maybe road courses in the summer months, some of these hot races are more demanding.  I feel like fitness is always something that I’ve been really good at.
            Q.  Jeff, did you guys ever find out what happened to the tire?
            JEFF GORDON:  I know the team was having a meeting with Goodyear today.  I don’t have all the details from that.  I’m planning on meeting with them tomorrow.  I was out in Las Vegas yesterday.  We didn’t get to do our normal debrief.  Plan on getting with them tomorrow to get more detail.  Wish I had more to share.
            Q.  Do you look at that as bad luck?
            JEFF GORDON:  No.  I think that everything happens for a reason.  It’s unfortunate that it happened.  I think there’s a cause behind it.  The question is whether we caused it or did it run over something.  If I ran over something, then I guess you could maybe call that bad luck.
            Until I know more details, I don’t want to say it’s bad luck.  We’ve certainly had our share of that this year.  In order to get up there and be a threat for the championship, you can’t have things like that happen.  It’s unfortunate.  Certainly sort of took the wind out of our sails, the momentum we had.
            But we also know that we came into this thing 13th and we still have a great shot at being third or fourth, and that’s our goal.
            Q.  Jeff, the question I get a lot after a race like Texas where Jimmie dominates so much, with the cars and drivers being so close, how can he be that much better than everybody else?  It happens so consistently with him.  If everybody could figure it out, they would be doing what they’re doing.  I wonder what it’s like to race against the 48 team when they’re running like this.
            JEFF GORDON:  Well, it’s tough.  I think sometimes a lot of people don’t put enough credit into the overall team in our sport.  Jimmie is a great driver. Chad is a great crew chief.  But they’re also surrounded by incredible people and resources at Hendrick Motorsports.
            Not that the rest of the Hendrick teams aren’t, but you have to understand, this is a group that’s been together a long time.  They’ve won championships, they’ve lost championships, they’ve won and lost a lot of races.  These guys know how to step up and win at the right time.
            I would say Texas is one of Jimmie’s best tracks as well.  He has a lot of confidence.  Went to the test there, he had us beat by a 10th, 10th and a half during the entire test.  I felt like we closed that gap slightly over the race weekend.
            But everybody was kind of playing catch‑up.  Especially you let those guys get out front, they had the track position.  They had the one little issue on a green‑flag pit stop that put them behind.  But they had such better tires against everybody else they were up against, everybody was short‑pitting.  It made it that much easier for him to drive up through that.
            I think Matt was the one guy, one team that had something for him.  I think that’s why they’re 1‑2.  He was the only one that could run lap times that Jimmie could.  Once they got behind on the mistake they made on pit road, they never were in a position on those final caution restarts to battle it out and try to get in front of Jimmie.
            So you have to give a lot of credit to the 48.  Other than that one little issue, they were flawless all weekend.
            Q.  Jeff, you’re someone who has raced against Matt Kenseth for a long time.  His numbers rank up there among some of the best in the series, some of the best of all time.  I don
‘t think that people recognize that about him.  Why do you think that he goes so under the radar and is so underrated?
            JEFF GORDON:  I think he’s kind of an under‑the‑radar kind of guy.  He’s a great racecar driver.  He probably hasn’t won as many races as he could have.
            I think this move to Gibbs is just showing his talent, how good that team is.  You might start to see a lot more attention be put on him if they can keep these kind of stats and numbers and this kind of consistency up, especially if they win this championship this year.
            But Matt is just one of those drivers where he’s really good at a lot of tracks.  So you give him the right car and team, this is a guy that can be a major threat for the championship every single year.
            I think he sort of is more quiet and reserved in front of the cameras, and even the way he goes about his racing.  You don’t see him knocking guys out of the way or doing anything over the top.  He’s just solid, always there, knows how to put himself in position when it matters most at the end of the race.
            I don’t know.  I think he’d kind of prefer it that way as well, as long as he’s getting the job done when that checkered flag flies.
            Q.  Would you have been surprised if people said he would win second in the championship race?
            JEFF GORDON:  Yes and no.  I mean, you never know how somebody’s going to transition into a new team.  You look at that team in past years, they certainly haven’t shown to be a threat for the championship.  But at the same time, I feel like from Matt’s talents and capabilities, while they might have been diminished slightly with his results at Roush, I think that a lot of us within the sport knew just how good he was.
            Again, you put him with the right equipment, the right team, the crew chief that he gels with, he can put up some great numbers, and that’s what he’s doing this year.
            So a little bit of a surprise just because they’re new together.  But not so much of a surprise, in my opinion, from what Matt’s capable of.
            Q.  Jeff, this has been a particularly turbulent Chase for you.  You’re in, you’re out, you’re sneaking back into it, then Sunday the letdown.  Talk about the emotions that hit in that very moment you’re in the wall and you know another year has gone by without a championship.
            JEFF GORDON:  Yeah, I remember sitting in the hauler while the team was fixing the car, watching the race, watching the lap times, sort of in disbelief. We’ve been through so much, not just this year, but the last couple years as a team, just clawing and fighting our way to get in the Chase, ups and downs, trying to win races, sometimes just trying to finish races.
            We get in this year, things start to go well for us, we find ourselves in a great position.  It’s all over in a split second.  It’s pretty devastating for the whole team.  You work so hard to get to that point, it’s definitely a letdown.
            Yeah, I was just sitting there going, I can’t believe this.  I felt like I was in a bad dream and I was going to wake up any second.  The longer the time went by, the more and more I realized this is reality.  You have to face it, deal with it, put it behind you as fast as you can and move on.
            Q.  Every year there’s somebody that surfaces and they’re either a contender, win a championship, like Brad.  Next year they’re way out of it or don’t even make the Chase.  Can you maybe discuss just how difficult this is.  Obviously Jimmie makes it look easy because he’s the guy that’s inevitable.  Discuss the level of competition that makes it difficult for anybody to sustain a long run.
            JEFF GORDON:  It’s extremely difficult.  You’re right, Jimmie and the 48 team, they make it look easy.  That just shows you how in tune they are with one another, how confident they are, how good of an organization Hendrick Motorsports is.  They’re setting the bar.
            I think the bigger question is what happened with the 2 car?  Is it just the change from last year’s rules package over to the new Gen‑6 car that got them off track?  Is it some of the issues that went on earlier in the year that took a little speed out of the car that they had to search and find?  Seems like they’re getting it back now.
            It’s hard to say what takes a team from being so good, on top of the sport, winning the championship, a real threat for the championship, like the 99 a couple years ago, and those things that change.  Sometimes they’re internal, teams don’t want to talk about it.  Sometimes they just put everything together in that year and have an amazing year.
            The 48 team, where they separate themselves, you know they are capable of doing that every single year.  I mean, heck, last year I think if they hadn’t have had the issue at Phoenix with I think it was a blown tire, I think they would have won the championship last year, too.  That’s just how good they are.  We’re all playing catch‑up, trying to be that good.
            As long as those guys stay together, stay confident, are able to continue to bring competitive cars to the racetrack, it’s going to be very, very tough to stop them.
            Q.  Jeff, despite the disappointment at Texas, what do you take from the Chase?
            JEFF GORDON:  We did the same thing last year in the Chase.  We were really solid from Chicago all the way to Phoenix.  Obviously we had our issues there that took Bowyer and myself out of being more competitive, higher up in the points.  That was pretty disappointing to us, to have a shot at the top five, you know, not be able to pull that off.
            The same types of things have happened this year where we’ve been really solid, fast racecars.  We’ve come on stronger at the end of the year.  Those 10 races in the Chase have been very good for us up until Texas, and up until Phoenix last year.
            I think it just shows what kind of quality team we are.  We never give up.  It’s a long season.  You want to be at your best in those final 10 races.  That’s what we’ve done the last two seasons.  But we’re still just missing those final little ingredients to get us on top and stay there.
            Q.  I guess throughout the course of a Chase, the ever‑shifting goals that your teams have.  You might come out one week and you’re contendi
ng for the championship like you were after Martinsville, or now where you sit here after Texas.  Talk about the way your goals constantly shift throughout the 10 weeks.
            JEFF GORDON:  I mean, our primary goal always stays the same:  that’s that you go to the race to win the pole, win the race, accumulate the most points. It doesn’t change your thought process throughout the week, how you’re going to execute as you get to that next race.
            A lot of these races are planned out weeks in advance.  Some of it comes from testing, simulation, building the cars.  Maybe it’s a new car.  All these things lead up to a race.  That doesn’t really change.  It’s really what are we capable of accomplishing if we do our absolute best.
            And that’s the thing that’s shifted and changed so much for us after this past weekend in Texas, is that we knew we had an outside shot at making some gains on those guys.  We knew they were both going to be tough at Texas.  A part of it was just trying to maintain as much as we could or maybe make a gain on one of those guys if they didn’t have any issues at all, just go put the best race we can together to show we’re capable of it, show everybody else we’re capable of it.
            I think our best track in the Chase is Homestead.  I really just wanted to get to Homestead with a shot, you know, with a mathematical shot at this championship because I think we could put some pressure on them, have a shot at winning that race.
            Now, yeah, it’s, Okay, how high up in points can we get?  You’re still dealing with the same thing.  It’s just one is the championship and the other one is maybe a third or fourth in points.  That will all be reevaluated after we go through this next weekend’s race in Phoenix.
            Q.  You talked about how at the Texas test you had an idea how fast Jimmie would be.  After the Homestead test, who should we be looking out for?
            JEFF GORDON:  I felt pretty good about our chances and our car there.  We had a great test there.
            Q.  Does having a pretty successful 2013 season serve as motivation at all going forward for 2014?
            JEFF GORDON:  I wouldn’t call it a 2013 season.  I’d call it a 2013 Chase.  The majority of the races that we’ve run this year, I don’t think we’ve even come close to living up to our full potential.  Maybe Pocono stands out.  That’s a race I feel like second and almost winning was a great accomplishment for us at a crucial time in the season.
            But we had a disappointing season on so many levels that, you know, to just be able to step it up to this next level during the Chase has been probably the best motivating thing we could have.
            Again, we went through the same thing last year, by ending the season, by winning the race in Homestead, really pulled our team together, got us excited for 2013.
            The car and some of the changes threw us off a little bit, threw me off a little bit, took us a while to start to make gains on that.  With some of the issues and failures we had earlier in the year…
            We never stopped trying to make our cars better, getting me to feel that I need to go out there and have confidence in the car and have the speed.  We’ve done a great job of that.
            That’s what we’re going to take out of this year’s Chase as well, is that depending on how many changes happen for 2014, that we have a team that can fight, that can find a way to get where we need to be by the end of the season.
            I’m hoping that next year we can get it a little sooner in the season so we don’t have to go through all the drama we had to go through this year and last year.
            Q.  Jeff, consistency is probably one of the most desirable goals in motorsports.  Can you identify the important factors that build confidence leading up to consistency or the lacking that causes a slump.
            JEFF GORDON:  Well, consistency is important when you’re battling for a championship or a place in the Chase.  I say that because you can consistently run 15th, and while you might not be extremely happy with that, that will get you into the Chase.
            At some point you’ve got to turn that consistency and what you’re doing into gains.  You’ve got to continue to progress forward and stay a consistent 15th, make it a consistent 10th.  If you’re running a consistent 10th, you have to move it to a top 5, and then wins.  That’s the only way you’re going to battle for a championship.  You have to start somewhere.
            When you have consistency, it does allow you to fine tune, look to find out where your team is weak, where can you make gains, you as a driver, you as a team, performance, pit crew, pit strategy, everything that’s involved nowadays.  If you can do that consistently, you’re more than likely going to start making gains.
            If you don’t, you’re just a consistent driver, not a winning driver, the frustration is going to start to kick in and you’re actually going to start losing a little confidence instead of gaining that confidence.
            Q.  Can you identify that in your team when that starts to slip away?  Is there anything you can do to stop that, teams going up and down?
            JEFF GORDON:  I mean, for me, I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success, especially the first 10 years of my career, where I can fall back on that success.  I know what I’m looking for in the car to push the limits of the tires, push the limits of the car, to be more competitive out there on the racetrack.
            While that’s been challenged at times and questioned by myself and probably even by my team, you know, I never stop believing that I can do it, and never stop believing in the team that has the answers.  The engineering that goes into these cars these days is so important.  So you’ve got to work together.
            They’ve got to believe in you and you have to believe in them.  I think that’s what turned the corner for us this year.  While we were frustrated, not performing the way we wanted to at times, we never stopped believing in one another, eventually started getting the results, coming together, making big gains. The way the cars were driving, the speeds we had, how we were qualifying, so on.

THE MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today’s NASCAR Cam teleconference with current Sprint Cup Series poi
nts leader Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Kobalt Tools Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.  Five‑time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Johnson has six wins and 15 top‑5 finishes this season.
            Jimmie, you currently sit seven points ahead of Matt Kenseth, and this weekend you head to Phoenix where you sit atop the track’s all‑time wins list with four victories.  What’s your mindset as you approach a possible sixth championship?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Well, there’s still a lot of racing left, and the two tracks that remain on the schedule are very challenging tracks.  Last year we were in this situation with a points lead.  We had a seven‑point lead going into Phoenix and had a very bad race and blew a right front tire.  Actually had a decent race going but blew out a right front tire and hammered the wall.  Really hurt our opportunity and our chance to win a sixth championship then.
            So I’m just not going to put my guard down.  We need to go into Phoenix, race well.  We finished second there in the spring, so we strong about our setup and the performance we should have there, but that doesn’t guarantee us anything, and we need to go out and have a good strong, clean weekend.
            Q.  I asked Rick this before you came in Sunday at Texas, but your stretch of four races right before the Chase, which I think someone at some point said may have been the worst four‑race stretch of your career, but one thing Rick said is during that four‑week stretch neither you nor Chad ever lost any bit of confidence, and that looking at you, you would never know that you had gone through a stretch like that, and a lot of that he said was because you guys understood the reasons for what happened.  I was just wondering, when you have a stretch like that, A, how were you able to maintain your confidence; and B, what was it about what took place during that stretch that allowed you to believe that you would still be just as good in the Chase?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I mean, it certainly challenged us mentally.  We had to remind ourselves the reasons why we had those bad races and issues behind it, and truthfully those issues were two of the tracks aren’t very good for the 48, and I’m so happy they’re not in the Chase.  The other two tracks we were running very, very strong and had, I think, a tire blow at Pocono.  We had an engine issue at Michigan coming from the back and I think had a great chance to win.  Then there was another race in there where we had an issue while having a very strong race‑winning performance.  I can’t recall exactly what happened ‑‑ oh, it was Atlanta, where we were running well but maybe on the first restart everybody checked up in front of me and I ran into the back of one of my teammates and killed the front of the car.
            We could put a lot of stock in the tracks there that we had speed, we had pace, had good things happen, and that helped us out a lot.  And then the other two tracks, we just sweep those under the rug.  That would be Richmond and I think Bristol.  Just move on, forget about them.
            Q.  The Jimmie Johnson 48 team that we see right now would you say is indicative of what you have really been all season long?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I think so.  We’ve shown great speed and pace at a lot of tracks, especially mile‑and‑a‑halfs.  One thing that we aren’t very proud of is the opportunities we let slip by through the course of the year on mile‑and‑a‑halfs.  The win at Texas I guess was our first mile‑and‑a‑half points win of the year, and we were in position to win a lot of other ones and just dropped the ball in a variety of ways.
            Glad that we executed well.  We certainly have another big track with Homestead and need to execute there, and then we’ll go into the short track this weekend and see what we can do.
            Q.  Are you as comfortable and confident at Phoenix since the repave as you were before the repave, or is there still some gap there do you think?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, there’s definitely less confidence in the track that we’re racing on now, and if you just look at our performance over the years, we won so many races with the old configuration and that old asphalt that we’ve had a good run here, it seems like the spring races have been very good for us on the new configuration, but man, if there was one guy sad to see the old configuration and asphalt go away, that was me.  We just had something that worked there and fit my driving style and we were able to win a lot of races.
            Part of our sport is dealing with change, and we always have cars changing and surfaces changing, and I feel like we’re going in the right direction with the racetrack, and hopefully we can capitalize on that this weekend.
            Q.  How often in your career have you had a car that was as dominant as the one that you had this past Sunday at Texas?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Not many.  Usually when you have a car that strong, you find a way to mess it up and not pull into victory lane.  So I was really happy to see it through and close the deal at the end and get the car to victory lane.  But it doesn’t happen often.  The car was flawless.
            Q.  And that success that you had, will that transfer to the finale at Homestead, and I know you guys tested at Homestead Miami, but what works well in Texas, does that same thing work at Homestead?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  The overall concept will, and we were able to validate a lot of that through the two test sessions that we had.  The base, foundation of the setup carried from our Texas test into our Homestead test, so I’m excited about that and clearly want to see the same results once we get down to Miami. But we’ll race hard this weekend and then roll into Homestead and try to take care of business down there.  But it’s going to be a tough two weeks.
            Q.  Last year you were you were battling for the championship with Brad Keselowski who had not won a Cup title prior to that point.  This year you’re battling Matt Kenseth, a guy who has been a Cup champion before.  From your perspective, how do those two experiences stack up against each other, and from your perspective is there a sense of comfort in racing hard with somebody that’s been in that situation before versus someone who hasn’t and may be tougher to predict?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  You know, it’s hard to know what to predict in general, and I’ve found a lot of peace in expecting the best out of a championship contender, and that’s the way it’s been this year and every year to be honest with you.  I felt like last year there could have been an opportunity to put pressure on Brad and his team, and it was Penske’s first championship in Cup.&nbsp
; Same for the driver, same for the crew chief, and no one will ever know, but maybe there was a little opportunity there to put pressure on them and put them into a stressful environment.  We just didn’t do our job, and we had our problems in Phoenix and then again at Homestead.  And honestly in Homestead we had them where we wanted to put them and was really putting the pressure on them to see what they could deal with and handle at that point, but then we made too many mistakes and didn’t follow through on our side.
            It’s really hard to know the truth in it all, but I do feel driver and team competing for their first is dealing with stress and pressure that someone that’s racing for their second, third, fourth, that they just don’t have that same pressure, and I only know that from my own experience.  My first was far more stressful than anything I’ve done in my life.
            Q.  I told John Force last week probably no one knows more about championships at NHRA over there than him.  I can ask you the same question: Probably no one knows more about NASCAR championships than you.  Can you share what it takes to be a repeat champion with others what you think have the drive to be a champion?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  You know, it’s such a team sport, and I think that gets overlooked at times.  Certainly people just think of the driver and the driver’s impact.  Next in line would be the crew chief.  But as you work your way down through the different positions and the department heads and even people back in the shop, I know we always reference these folks and it might get annoying to some, but the ability to repeat comes from the depth in your organization, and it’s certainly led by the driver and crew chief, but it takes everybody in the system to have the right mentality, to be pulling in the right direction.  There’s always rule changes that the entire company has to respond to, and then the end result is what the driver and crew chief do at the track.  But the load and stress and burden is far greater than just what the two guys at track deal with.
            I really put a lot of our success into the depth we have, the systems we have at Hendrick Motorsports, the support we have behind the scenes.  That really lets the race day crew, the guys that go there each and every weekend seen on TV, to do their jobs and handle the issues at hand.  It boils down to depth, I believe.
            Q.  How important is it as far as your momentum that you’ve built up now going into Homestead with only 900 miles to race?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Momentum is nice, and we’re happy to have it.  But I’ve been doing this long enough where I realize that momentum doesn’t guarantee a thing.  It makes a nice Sunday evening until Friday morning when the NASCAR timing and scoring system starts up again, but it doesn’t change a thing about Friday practice, qualifying, Saturday practice, or that Sunday race.  You’ve got to go out and do your job each and every day.  It’s been a nice, comfortable week, but the pressure cooker will start up there Friday morning when we’re on track.
            Q.  This is kind of a strange question, but it’s been talked about by many, many people.  That was a great shot of you, your daughter and your wife wearing the hats after the win at Texas.  Because your daughter has been around many tracks with you, what would you and your wife say if in a few years she says, hey, I think I want to start racing?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  It wouldn’t bother me a bit.  I’m not sure my wife would be on board.  But really at the end of the day, we want to support our children and have them pursue what they’re passionate about and what they enjoy in life.
            I was raised in that environment and so was my wife, and we all think of traditional means of work and providing and starting a family and all that, and we just really want to keep an open mind for our children and help them develop and support what they’re passionate about.
            I feel so lucky and fortunate that my passion turned into my career, and I know the happiness it’s brought me.  So whatever passions my kids have, that’s what I’m going to pursue, and if someone of the two girls we have now, who knows if there will be more kids, but if either one of them want to hold a steering wheel, dad will be happy and ready to go.
            Q.  I know part of this is your natural demeanor, but it seems your success and the team’s success has built an immunity of the kind of stress experienced by those who haven’t won championships.  Can you sense that, and can you compare your state of mind at this stage this year with that same 2004 and 2005, some of the earlier years?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I mean, we’re not immune.  We’re human and deal with all the same stress that anybody competing for a championship goes through.  I feel that through the years of winning championships we learn how to manage stress much better and find a way to enjoy the pressure and enjoy the stress.  We’ve lost some interesting close championship battles which have been interesting character builders, although they hurt badly and it’s not a fun month or two following that experience, but there’s a lesson to learn from everything, and I always try to find something to learn through those downtimes.
            But we’re not immune.  We do have experience on our side, and we’ve been here before, and hopefully that experience will lead us to a sixth.
            Q.  Do you recall what it was like in 2004 and 2005 when it was a fresh experience?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I do.  2004 was a heartbreaker.  We had a tragedy amongst our race team in the NASCAR community with an airplane of ours going down, lost 10 wonderful people.  We rallied through a difficult Chase and got back into striking distance at Homestead, and essentially the championship slipped away from us in the closing few laps as Kurt Busch worked his way back from an issue on pit road and his wheel falling off, and went from the high of highs feeling like it was meant to be to not winning and wanting to win for all those on the airplane and to help heal everyone involved and all the hurt that was around.  We just felt like it was meant to be, and there’s a big lesson in that that what you think is meant to be isn’t what’s going to happen.
            We got stronger from that, and then in ’05 was really the toughest point for us.  We had a very strong start to the season, led by a lot, and then as the year closed out, we slipped and we slid off the map essentially.  Tony Stewart came in, or was there, and the guy we were chasing, and Tony got the job done.  That was really a turning point for Chad and I.  It tested us in our relationship and our bond pretty tough, and put a lot of pressure on us, and we had our milk‑and‑cookies meeting then, and from that point forward we were a stronger driver‑crew chief and have been
very, very strong since and learned a lot from 2005.
            As I mentioned earlier, some of those down moments have been some of the most impactful moments of my career,  and 2005 is really that defining moment for us as a team.
            Q.  Do you sense that Matt is going to be even more of a player now that he’s with JGR?  If anyone can deliver a Jimmie Johnson type season, he might be that guy?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I’ve always known Matt’s abilities.  I’ve raced against him a lot over the years, and just always been extremely impressed.  I’ve known that the JGR cars have been quick.  Denny and Kyle have showed that throughout the years.  Matt’s experience I think has brought in a level of consistency, and matching that with the speed those cars have, he’s taken it to a new level.  And I think the 20 team, there’s a lot of new faces over there, and as time goes on, they’re going to get stronger and stronger and stronger.
            Put it this way:  What they’ve accomplished in year one, there’s no telling what the top is going to be, the peak is going to be.  It’s amazing.  That doesn’t happen often, so they’re going to be a force for a lot of years.
            Q.  Can you talk a little bit about your foundation’s education grant announcement you made earlier today?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yes, absolutely, thank you.  We announced our grant recipients here today in the Charlotte area.  Three great schools, just over $430,000 that we distributed here to the area in which we live in North Carolina, in the Charlotte area.  Each year we hold a big fundraiser in California, and throughout theyear raise more money, and right now is our time to pass it out.  There’s areas where I grew up in El Cajon, my wife grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and right here in the Charlotte area.  We’re making those schools known about their checks and excited to see them put that money to use.
            We also have some stuff that will be announced as we move forward in I guess probably the start of next year.  We’ll be doing more fundraising here in the Charlotte area and trying to do more in the area in which we live and excited about those fundraisers and look forward to sharing them with everybody here soon.