NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
MAY 22, 2014
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S PATRIOTIC CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his experience of voting in the Hall of Fame, challenges with the new rules package, IndyCar racing, and more. Full Transcript:
YESTERDAY YOU GOT TO CAST YOUR BALLOT FOR THE 2015 NASCAR HALL OF FAME CLASS. HOW DID YOU LIKE THAT?
“That was a huge honor and an amazing day to be a part of. To sit in a room with so many people that care for our sport and know about our sport and then discuss what took place in eras of time when I certainly wasn’t around. Others, I was on the west coast. But it was a very awesome and unique experience and something I think that is a huge honor and in years to come, it’s only going to help drivers in the garage area understand the history of our sport and grow closer and more attached to the people that built this sport. And in a big way, I wish that the garage area could sit in on that discussion and see the respect that the peers and the people on the voting panel have for our industry and for the people involved. It wasn’t an easy process to work down to five. All 20 on that list were very deserving to be in the Hall of Fame.
“So, to see the process and to see the care of our peers and our industry, it was a very good experience. And again, I think of myself as still kind of young in this sport, and it was huge for me; I think of Kyle Larson and other drivers coming along, how good it would be for them to see and witness all of that. So it was an awesome day. The champion gets that honor and it is a huge honor. I know that the champions behind me will have as great an experience as I did.”
HOW IS THIS RACE DIFFERENT FOR YOU IN THE FACT THAT IT’S THE LONGEST RACE OF THE SEASON? WHAT IS THE PREPARATION LIKE? HOW IS SUNDAY DIFFERENT BECAUSE IT’S THE LONGEST RACE OF THE YEAR?
“It’s not tremendously different any more. The big thing you need to stay aware of is the track changing. That’s the biggest issue that we’ll deal with starting in the day and finishing late at night. I think maybe toward the start of my career we were a little bit worried about equipment and managing equipment. But those all seem to be distant memories now and you can really run every lap like it’s the last. Drivers’ fitness and hydration is kind of a player in there as well and you might see a little bit of fatigue at the end. I feel like I’ve got that base covered if it does come down to that. You’ve got a lot of opportunities to work on your car and that’s what I’ll tell myself all night long. If things don’t go our way, if we’re caught in the pits when a caution comes out, or something doesn’t work in our favor, you’ve got 100 more miles to sort things out. A 500-mile race is already long. And now you’ve got 100 more to work on it. You’ve just got to keep your head in the game and focus on being in the game longer.”
THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A LOT OF CURIOSITY IN THE GARAGE AREA ABOUT THE INDY 500. IF THIS EXPERIENCE FOR KURT BUSCH GOES WELL ON SUNDAY, DO YOU THINK MORE NASCAR DRIVERS MIGHT BE INCLINED TO GIVE IT A LOOK?
‘I think so. I feel like there’s been an open door there. At least I know there has been for myself in discussions with many teams on the IndyCar side. Timing was an issue at one point in time and the engine manufacturer situation that I was dealing with when I had the green light from my wife to go do it. So, there are always some challenges but it might. And I hope that it does. I think it’s great for motorsports to see this happen.
“And maybe I’m not answering your question directly, but the thing that I look at in all this and watching intently for is to see how a driver does from a low downforce vehicle into a high downforce vehicle. Sunday we’ll know a lot more how that transitions, but it seems to be an easier transition to go from low downforce to high downdorce versus open-wheel guys leaving their high downforce cars and coming to our low downforce cars. So, I’m proud of Kurt (Busch). He’s doing an awesome job. He’s put up a lot of speed and fast laps over there and has even found a limit. That’s something you need to do. It’s better to tear them up in practice than on race day. I’m looking forward to the 500 and hopefully he has a great showing.”
SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE STILL INTERESTED IN IT
“My desire to compete in the Indianapolis 500 has not diminished one bit. But I made a deal with my wife. So, a deal’s a deal.”
ON THAT NOTE AND AS SOMEONE WHO TRAINS, WHAT IS IT THAT YOU APPRECIATE MOST ABOUT WHAT KURT BUSCH IS TRYING TO DO ON SUNDAY?
“As a racer, there are just events that you dream of competing in before you ever make a decision that’s you’re going to race on short tracks and end up in stock cars or go-karts that lead to open wheel racing. You just watch events on television; you know the procedures that follow them and you just desire to race in those events. Indy is that for anybody who has had a love for auto racing. So, I’ve had that. I feel like stock car drivers are fortunate now that we get to go there for our Brickyard 400 and it’s a very important race. We’re able to satisfy a large part of that. For west coasters like the Busch brothers and myself; Jeff Gordon and other guys like Kasey Kahne, open wheel was our path. Especially in my era of growing up, a lot of guys were leaving the different off-road and dirt ranks and working their way into Trans-Am and up to indy Lights and then to IndyCar.
“My focus was solely on IndyCar. I knew a little bit about NASCAR, but if it wasn’t for Chevrolet being very honest with me and they wanted me to be a part of their driver line-up in years to come. But they said look, we’re pulling out of open wheel. If you want a career in motorsports and you want Chevrolet’s support, you need to consider stock car racing. And it wasn’t long after that I had a one-way ticket to North Carolina and was on Ron Hornaday’s couch. So, my path led me a different way. With Kurt, I would imagine Indy was very prominent in his mind as a kid growing up.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO DOVER THIS WEEK, YOUR RECORD SPEAKS FOR ITSELF. DO YOU EXPECT ANY OF THAT TO CHANGE WITH THE RULES CHANGES AND NEW SET-UPS?
“Yeah, it’s all different, no doubt. We had a set-up that worked well with a variety of generations of cars and it will be a little different going back. But there’s a rhythm and a style of driving that race track that I think sticks with the driver regardless of car. So, I’m very optimistic about our performance over there.”
REGARDING NOT HAVING WON YET THIS SEASON, CHAD KNAUS SAID ON THE RADIO THIS WEEK THAT YOU STRUGGLED A BIT WITH THE NEW RULES PACKAGE BECAUSE IT FAVORS A TIGHTER CAR AND YOU LIKE TO DRIVE A LOOSER CAR AND THAT THEY ARE TRYING TO ADAPT IT FOR YOU. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT? ARE YOU CATCHING-UP WITH WHERE YOU WANT TO BE?
“Yeah, that’s definitely what we’ve been dealing with. We develop a balance of a car in practice by ourselves in single car runs; and then in traffic situations, find that balance is just too uncomfortable to drive. So, we’re trying to trade off single car speed versus how the car handles in traffic has been kind of our goal. I do like a loose race car and as we get in traffic, the car typically gets looser. So, if you start with a loose car and you end up deep in traffic, you’re not really going anywhere; you’re kind of stuck. And yes, I’m not the best driver of a tight race car.
“A lot of tools have been taken away from us to help the car turn. So, it’s something that I’m trying to adapt to and sort out. There are always different challenges in this sport and I know that we’ll get it. I also feel that eve though we haven’t won a race this year, there are 16 drivers that make it into the Chase, where last year t
here were 12 and two of those were wild cards.
“So, the window is a lot bigger to get into the Chase for the first segment and I feel very confident that we’ll be in there. And I really don’t think there’s going to be 16 different winners. So, as long as we work to make our cars faster, of course we want to win, but as long as we keep a smart mind on points and have good finishes and keep ourselves up in points, we’ll keep our post-season hopes alive. And in the post-season, we have amazing race tracks for us. And I know by then we’ll have things where we need to have them.
HAVING BEEN FRIENDS AND TEAMMATES WITH JEFF GORDON, WHAT DISCUSSION HAVE YOU HAD WITH HIM ABOUT THAT FIRST WIN OF HIS CAREER HERE AT CHARLOTTE? WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT SEEING IT ON THE WEST COAST?
“Oddly enough, maybe we talked about it years ago, but I don’t have any vivid memories or thoughts of our discussions about it. I remember watching it and seeing how he couldn’t even talk. He just broke down and emotion poured through. Being a driver on the west coast and he grew up out there (also) and he raced in a different form of cars giving me a lot of hope. And I think a lot of dirt-related drivers had a lot of hope that they would get a shot at NASCAR. And so, I just remember watching. I was a fan. I owned a die cast car and he was my guy so I was stoked that he won a race. And to look back on that it was obviously a big day for him and just the start of all the great things that came.”
HOW HAS THE NEW QUALIFYING FORMAT CHANGED RACING?
“I feel like you get another opportunity on most tracks if you don’t get your first lap right. Here, we should have a chance for two to go out on a second run on tires and not lose too much speed. So, if you don’t get the greatest first lap, you can maybe improve your starting position. So I feel like this format offers you a few chances to get your best starting position. Most importantly, I think it’s good for the fans. I think having a race of sorts and some type of competition out there is good for them.”
I MEANT THE QUALIFYING FORMAT FOR THE PLAYOFF. DOES THAT CHANGE THE WAY YOU GUYS RACE?
“Oh, I haven’t seen anything totally different yet. I think once we get towards the end of the year, you’ll definitely see some aggression. It really makes a difference between first and second with wins being a priority. There could very well be some heated racing up front, but for third and forth, you’re not going to go in there and dump the guy for third and then have him mad at you the rest of the year. It’s different if you’re racing for the win. But I think it’s built a lot of excitement. I’ve had not necessarily non-NASCAR fans, but more casual fans that I know have been tuning in a lot more and interested in following the winners and the progress of the season. So, I feel like it’s been a good change for our sport.”
ON VOTING FOR THE HALL OF FAME, HOW MUCH PREPARATION DID YOU DO TO CAST YOUR VOTE? DID YOUR CAR OWNER GIVE YOU A LITTLE RIBBING THAT YOU COULDN’T GET HIM IN YESTERDAY?
“No, I spoke to him on the drive up today, just catching up with him; and I’m not sure he feels he should be in there yet. He’s a competitor out there and he appreciates the phone calls he received yesterday and the concern from others, but I don’t think he feels like it’s time to be in there yet, although I voted for him. I just am so impressed with his stats and what he has done, but I still think there are many more to come.”
HOW MUCH DID YOU PREPARE?
“For me it was a lot. I actually read the book. And those that know me know how much I despise reading. And I read the book twice. So, I studied up and enjoyed the entire process.”
WHEN YOU VOTED, DID YOU HAVE A SHORT LIST OF PEOPLE THAT YOU THOUGHT MIGHT GET IN? AND AS DISCUSSIONS PROGRESSED THROUGH THE DAY, DID THAT LIST CHANGE AT ALL?
“Yeah, it really did. There was so much good discussion. I probably had seven going in. And I thought the discussion would help me whittle it down to five. But after the conversations took place, I think my number grew to nine. And then we had lunch and things moved kind of quickly after that and the ballot was in front of me, in front of all of us. And it was time to check some boxes.
“So, I felt like I could have been there another couple of hours with the open microphone format and learning more about the individuals. It was not an easy decision. Just following social media and seeing people reply and being upset that someone they are a fan of or related to even, didn’t make it in. I feel for everybody. And I kind of sensed that some took the voting process lightly based on just 140 characters that come through a tweet. I wish others, especially the people on the outside of our sport looking in, could understand how much thought went into that. I was really impressed yesterday; and the whole prepping process and what went into it and how much consideration goes into each and every name on the ballot. So, those in there know, it’s not an easy process to pick those five.”