NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
NOVEMBER 8, 2013
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Phoenix International Raceway and discussed the championship battle with Matt Kenseth, racing at Phoenix and other topics. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT PHOENIX AND HAVING TWO RACES TO GO?
“Eager to get on the track and see where we are, see how our car is handling and excited to be at the race track. When you’re sitting there Monday through Thursday thinking about a race, thinking about how your setups going to be, those are the hardest days. I’m excited to be here at the race track and get out there and turn some laps.”
WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR MIND LAST YEAR WHEN BRAD KESELOWSKI WAS MESSING WITH YOU IN PRACTICE?
“I don’t even remember that. What did he do? I don’t remember it, but Matt (Kenseth) and I in practice this year have been out there and really evaluating ourselves against one another to see what the other has. It’s not uncommon. I’m sure that’s what he’s doing and if you’re the guy that can overtake or I guess Brad (Keselowski) was trying to overtake me, there’s always a little message in that or a little smile from your team if you’re showing a little speed at that point. I’m sure there was a little something in it, but it’s not uncommon.”
DO YOU ANTICIPATE MATT KENSETH TO MESS WITH YOU IN PRACTICE?
“We’ve been sizing each other up pretty good each week. We roll out right near each other in practice each time. Texas, I think I was catching him, he let me by and got up behind to take a look at my stuff and where I was. I can’t remember the exact mindset last year what kind of led to it, but the end result I don’t think is all that uncommon just to size yourself up.”
ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT MATT KENSETH HAS BEATEN YOU AT TRACKS WHERE YOU ARE NORMALLY STRONGER COMING TO PHOENIX, ANOTHER TRACK WHERE YOU ARE HISTORICALLY STRONGER?
“I don’t know if the numbers mean much, especially in championship battles. You look at Martinsville where the numbers skewed my way and Matt (Kenseth) came out with points. Here, we’ve had some good success, but I can’t rely on that. It’s all in the past. They’re great stats, they’re a great reference, but the past is the past and it’s all about today and this weekend and I think especially when you look at the No. 20 car and there’s Matt in general and now that he’s in the No. 20 car, you can ‘t look at stats from the No. 17. I think that there’s been quite a big improvement on a lot of race tracks for him.”
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU DO THIS TIME IN THE CHASE THAN YOU DO THE REST OF THE SEASON?
“No, not really at all. There are systems that are in place and there are systems that lead you to a playoff berth and get you in the Chase and then your systems keep you competitive in the Chase. There’s been more pressure and I’m sure everybody is focused thinking about things a little bit more, it’s hard to say focused, but I’m sure there’s a little more thought in there and a little more emotion, but what we do is what we do and that’s what led us to where we are in the points and we’re not going to change anything there.”
DO YOU BELIEVE MATT KENSETH IS MORE MECHANICAL AND YOU ARE MORE PSYCHOLOGICAL?
“Yeah, I think Matt (Kenseth) with his upbringing and all the years he spent in stock cars, much more mechanically inclined on the race car and understanding the particulars of the chassis and the vehicle, vehicle dynamics and all that stuff. My fifth year ever in a stock car was at the Cup level so I had two years of ASA, two years in Nationwide and then Cup so I was pretty far behind. I remember being in Milwaukee with Howie Lettow as my crew chief just trying to understand what to do. I didn’t know what wedge was so he literally took this little plastic table we had and cut one of the legs down and made it shorter and said, this doesn’t have any wedge in it and it’s tipping over. Just had to go through all the basics and teach me the basics. Matt is much stronger, back to your question, in that area. I agree, I’m probably more on the psychological side. Making sure that I’m buttoned up, trying to create a good energy through the team and keep the guys up and things like that.”
HOW DOES THE SEVEN POINT ADVANTAGE NOW COMPARE TO THAT OF LAST YEAR?
“I think as far as the No. 48, we’re in a very familiar spot, a very similar spot to last year. I can’t remember which race off the top of my head, but competitive winning races, winning races to take the points lead, it’s very, very similar. We got to this point in the year last year and had an issue at this race track and then made mistakes at Homestead. That’s the area that we need to clean up and not repeat that aspect of history. Make sure that we’re focused on doing a great job here and on into Homestead.”
HOW DO YOU EVALUATE THE GEN-6 CAR THIS YEAR AND WHAT NEEDS TO BE TWEAKED MOVING FORWARD?
“There’s a lot going on within the NASCAR offices and all the competition side and then what takes place in the garage area and the race shops. In December there’s a big test session and we’ll know a lot more at that point as to the direction of the rules package and where it’s going. Over the years I’ve learned to not stress about things. There’s only so much I can contribute to in this decision making process. When I’m asked questions by whatever NASCAR official it is, I’m more than willing to give my opinion and try to sound off and be a part of that process. They’ve got to manage so many different angles and now we’re using a lot of data, some of its new data that they’re using to make these decisions. I’m just sitting back patiently waiting where things go. I always look at change as an opportunity and the No. 48 has taken advantage of those opportunities over the years. I don’t care what package the car is, I’m very confident in my skills as a driver and what my team’s capable of, what Hendrick Motorsports is capable of and we’ll race whatever they decide to come up with.”
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES TO THE RACE ON SUNDAY?
“I think the largest issue is track position. We haven’t been able to really work in a second lane around here and create passing opportunities. That means your strategy on pit road and the stops themselves are where the weight really lies. If you back up another step from that, making sure your car is good on older tires is going to be important as race practice develops and you’re not going to want to be on pit road much or very long when it shakes out on Sunday.”
CAN YOU COMPARE AND CONTRAST YOURSELF AND MATT KENSETH AS FAR AS PERSONALITIES AND ON THE RACE TRACK? ALSO, IT SEEMS LIKE YOU GUYS HAVE STRUCK UP A PRETTY DECENT FRIENDSHIP CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW THAT HAS HAPPENED?
“Yeah, I think there are differences between us for sure. I feel like we are both big picture thinkers and inside the race car and understanding the flow of a race, the flow of the Chase, the flow of a year, there is just a broader vision. Being patient in the car at different times, if it’s racing someone in traffic or if mistakes made to not let an issue there destroy your whole race, again more of a big picture thinker and how to work through issues and come out of the race with your best possible finish. We look at Matt over the years. I think the best example of it would be qualifying effort. Qualifying hasn’t been Matt’s strongest suit, but regardless of where he starts when that checkered falls he is there. There is just a differ
ent kind of mindset and I feel the No. 48 is very much in that same line of thought. We find a way to be there at the end of the race. Friendship, yeah we have known each other, gosh, a long time now, probably 15 years with Nationwide included. Just been able to get along from the beginning, there were a few bumpy episodes in the Nationwide series where I was the slow guy in the way. He used me up a couple of times and I like to harass him about that and point that out to him, but we have had a great time. Really since his championship, when we got home my wife and I drove over to his house and had a beer with him and Katie (Kenseth, wife) and his team when he was in the No. 17 car. I would say from that point forward we have always had a strong friendship.”
FOR LACK OF RUNNING FACILITIES WE HAVE SEEN YOU RUNNING AROUND CERTAIN TRACKS. DO YOU RUN UP IN THE HILLS HERE ANYTIME? DO YOU BRING ANYTHING FOR PROTECTION AGAINST RATTLE SNAKES?
“No, I don’t get on the dirt around here not unless I have motocross boots on. I spent too much time in these deserts and know what is sitting in the bushes. I haven’t been on any trails. I considered bringing my mountain bike out to ride, but I will probably just hit the pavement on foot and on the road bike a little later on Saturday.”
THE CARS HAVE CHANGED SO MUCH HERE PRESUMABLY SINCE THE FIRST RACE AND YOU GUYS YOU AND MATT HAVE BOTH DONE BETTER AT TRACKS MAYBE WHERE YOU HAVEN’T DONE AS WELL IN THE PAST. IS THERE ANYWAY WE CAN PREDICT AT ALL GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND WHAT TO EXPECT OR IS IT ALL PRETTY MUCH A CRAPSHOOT AT THIS POINT?
“Yeah, I think it’s a crapshoot that is the way I prepared myself mentally. I look at Martinsville at a track that statistically showed to favor the No. 48 and it didn’t point’s wise when the checkered fell. I’m using that to help keep my guard up. I think he ran eighth or something here in the spring which is a great finish and we were second. They are going to be strong is the bottom line and we have to be prepared for that and do our best.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI WAS SUGGESTING LAST NIGHT IN HIS COMMENTS THAT HE FORCED YOU GUYS INTO THE BLOWN TIRE LAST YEAR. DO YOU BUY THAT? SECONDLY, HE TALKED ABOUT TO BEAT YOU GUYS RUN YOU HARD AND APPARENTLY THERE IS A LINE THAT YOU CAN’T CROSS CAN YOU RESPOND TO THAT?
“I guess we need to ask Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, who else have I raced for a championship, Carl Edwards a lot of those guys how we race. We race hard. That is not a weakness of ours by any stretch. Last year here they were better than us for sure. We worked real hard to play catch up through the course of the weekend. Sure we had a tire failure and yes we overworked the tire. We created an issue ourselves. We were lacking some speed. The No. 2 had us covered the entire time here and that particular run where the tire blew I look back on it and think ‘man if I would have preserved my tire a little bit more and didn’t overwork my equipment and didn’t speed up that tire blowing and create that issue we would go to Homestead with a much smaller deficit and have a much better chance of racing.’ So that is the lesson I take from last year’s race here. Again, we love to race hard that is what we are here to do. I know some want to say we have been to Homestead and didn’t have to race for it, but you look at our last championship with Denny (Hamlin) and we had to come from behind and win down there finished second and won the race. Racing is what I’m good at. I’m not the best at putting up the fastest lap, the best at qualifying or the best at topping the speed charts in practice, but look who passes cars on the race track. I’m good at racing that is my sweet spot.”
YOU GUYS AND JOE GIBBS RACING BOTH TESTED AT TEXAS AND HOMESTEAD. NEITHER ONE OF THE TEAMS PARTICIPATED IN THE TIRE TEST HERE. DOES THAT MAKE THIS RACE MORE OF AN UNKNOWN FOR YOU? SECONDLY, IF YOU APPROACH ALL THE RACES GENERALLY WITH THE SAME MINDSET HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR THE FACT THAT YOU WIN TWICE AS FREQUENTLY IN THE CHASE AS IN NON-CHASE RACES?
“I don’t know how to answer that one. I’ll be interested to see the Chase tracks what my percentages in the spring, we got to a lot of these tracks they have been good tracks to me. I guess what I’m getting at is the Chase tracks are just good tracks for us and we win at them spring or fall. In my opinion, the stats may show differently, but that is the first thing that comes to mind there. Gosh we would have loved to have been here and get some current data and be on the current tire, but when it gets to the end of the year NASCAR and Goodyear are very selective of teams they bring. From what I understand in the conversations we have had with Goodyear not a ton different. A small change I guess to the left-side. Wish we could have been here, but just didn’t get that chance.”
IS IT A LOT HARDER THAN PEOPLE MIGHT REALIZE TO USE YOUR VOICE AND MAKE CHANGES AS A CHAMPION?
“There is definitely a learning lesson in it all. I’ve been through it myself. I guess to summarize it looking back on it all being the champion is an amazing thing and it does change a lot. But it doesn’t change the way you are viewed in the competition department of NASCAR. You are still a driver. You are still one of 43. Sure you have the big trophy, but it doesn’t change a lot there. What it does change is in here (media center) and what happens out there with the fans and people listen more. So you have an opportunity to speak your mind. You have an opportunity to say more and to be heard and your voice carries a lot further that can be good and bad. All champions, especially first time champions go through trying to understand how to use that new power. It doesn’t change a lot in the garage. It doesn’t change a lot in the competition department of NASCAR, but the other areas it does.”
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES