Chevy Racing–Indianapolis–Jimmie Johnson

JULY 25, 2014

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed changes he would make to the 2015 schedule, his favorite Brickyard 400 memories and many other topics. Full Transcript:

MODERATOR: We are now joined by Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48, Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet for Hendricks Motorsports. Jimmie, big weekend here at Indianapolis at the Brickyard for the Brickyard 400 and a big weekend for the Helmet of Hope. Could you talk about that a little bit?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Absolutely, and thank you for the opportunity to bring everybody up to speed on the Helmet of Hope. We’re in our seventh year and things have gone exceptionally well over the years. We’re so proud of the difference that we have made in a lot of small charities across the country.

I can’t go without mention approximating Blue Bunny and their amazing support of the foundation and all that they have done. Once again, they are the sponsor of the helmet, also providing the $25,000 grant for each of these five charities. The five winners are: Crayons to Classrooms in Dayton, Ohio; Champions for Learning in Naples, Florida; HEART Tutoring in Charlotte, North Carolina; Le Mars Community Schools Foundation in Le Mars, Iowa; and Reading Partners in Denver, Colorado. All the votes totaled up to 438,658 votes. So we’re just extremely proud of the way everybody got involved and supported these five great charities and helped them stand out from the rest. And again, just thank you to all of you in this room over the years. You’ve been a part of the voting process along with the fans that have helped build this to what it is today. So to change the voting process and be on our own this year and to have so much awareness and success, so just a big thank-you to everybody involved.

Q: Why do you think — so many winners in NASCAR at Indy have been champions and/or Hall of Famers and why do you think that is? And second of all, what’s your most remarkable memory of having won here and kissed the bricks?

JOHNSON: There’s certain tracks that are very difficult to get sorted out and to know how to lead your team. For me this was one of the toughest ones I came to. Took me a long time to get it. The light finally turned on in my head, I think maybe it was ’04, ’05. Mid-race I’m like I’ve driven this track wrong since practice opened, set the car up wrong and led my team in the wrong direction. In the race it really dawned on me. I just think this track is so challenging that the best teams have a chance to stand out, the best drivers. Nowadays the teams that are best at pit calling and strategy and also knowing that strategy before you get to the racetrack and know that you might end light on fuel or on two tires or no tires and how to work that balance and know what that balance needs to be throughout our practice sessions here I guess today. So that’s that part.

And for me, it’s really twofold in the fact that you get to go around the racetrack when the race is over. And having my entire crew jump onto the Corvette and make a lap around this track and see the fans in the stands, that is unique to this racetrack, along with kissing the bricks, but that is something that I didn’t know about. And it meant so much to me when I won my first time and the other couple times since that a lap around the track is just an awesome moment to take in and absorb. And clearly kissing the bricks is something special. I saw some photos before I got here of Genevieve kissing the bricks a year or two ago, how special that moment was for me. As a lot of you might remember, she wouldn’t kiss the bricks when everybody was out there, and it dawned on her that she missed an opportunity. As I went through the media, she asked if we could go back out there. There was just a couple of us there and she knelt down and kissed the bricks. So that was really, really cool.

Q: Hi, Jimmie. If you could change anything on the schedule for 2015, what would it be?

JOHNSON: I’ve always felt like we could use an off weekend before The Chase starts just to leave us an opportunity to have a make-up race. I know it’s a pretty severe event if it would take place. And the last unfortunate situation that was created was 9/11, but I think that was good to give the teams a break and give everybody a break that deep in the season before The Chase starts. Ultimately, you know, I buy into the philosophy that we have a bit of oversaturation with race distances and how often we compete. I think we could trim that stuff down. I don’t know where I would go to first, but I think adopting a little bit of less is more would be beneficial.

Q: When people talk about attendance and the Brickyard, a lot of times they talk about 2008 and the Goodyear Tires and everything. Do you think this event is still kind of recovering from that?

JOHNSON: I thought it was my fault. (Laughter) I thought it was because I’m in the sport, nobody shows up. Blame JJ, right?

I guess it was so long ago, I don’t even remember. It’s hard to say. I don’t think we’ll ever trace it back to what it is but that didn’t help by any means. I feel like we did a nice job recovering coming back the next year and everybody handled it the best they could that weekend. But it didn’t help by any means. But I don’t think that was all of it. If this was the only track on the schedule that had that issue, it would be easy to point a finger at that.

Q: Jimmie, I would never try and describe racing a car like riding a bike, never forget how to do it. But what do you expect from Juan Pablo? He’s been out of the stock car for a little while, he’s been in IndyCars, and now he’s going to try and jump back in and do it. Tough task or just a transition?

JOHNSON: I think it is a tough task. I think we all know and understand how talented he is in a race car, and recently in IndyCar. You look at the time it took to get back up to speed there, it took half a season or something to get going. It will take him time here. Hopefully he can get the laps that he needs to get up to speed. I think he’ll be towards the front. It’s just so tough to be the guy and to find that last half a tenth it takes to succeed when you’re out of the seat and not in the seat. That’s the part that he might not have, but with strategy and other opportunities that this racetrack provides, I’m not saying that he can’t win because he absolutely can win here.

Q: Jimmie, Chevy has won this race eleven years in a row. There’s a million reasons why you win a race but that’s quite a streak. Is that just coincidence or does Chevy actually have an edge over Ford and Toyota here?

JOHNSON: Yeah, I think we have an advantage. I know the relationship I have with the Chevrolet folks and how hard Hendricks Motorsports works with Chevrolet to bring the best cars to the track that we can. But I think — like Michigan has historically been the other brands’ track, there’s just tracks that just turn out that way and I can’t really explain it. I think in the ’70s and ’80s, you could have easily pointed to the manufacturer and said why. But I think there are just a lot of factors in today’s world.

Q: Jimmie, I think you started to touch on it before. What was the lightbulb that went off in terms of how to get around Indianapolis and has that still been the same thing that’s carried you all these years, through the years and the success that you still have?

JOHNSON: The success here, my natural tendencies just didn’t work around this track. I had to make a conscious effort to drive differently. I’ve been playing that movie in my head coming here getting ready for this weekend’s race. So there are tracks that your natural driving tendencies to and this just isn’t one of them for me. So I’ve got to change my game coming here. And I’ve been able to identify with it. I think that’s half the battle, is just to understand that don’t do what you think you need to do, try to think in an opposite manner to find speed.

Q: Jimmie, Jeff won this race 20 years ago and now 20 years later I don’t think many people would be surprised if he went out and won on Sunday. As a fellow athlete, what does that performance and longevity mean to you and how do you see it?

JOHNSON: It’s awesome. It’s hard to believe we’ve been coming here 20 years, too. It also speaks to how young Jeff was when he got started and when he started winning. He’s not much older than I am, and we look back 20 years and he’s won a lot over those years. So it’s just awesome. I do think he’ll have an amazing opportunity here this weekend. The team has been fast. He’s hungry and been on and definitely will be a threat.

Q: (Inaudible – off mike).

JOHNSON: Absolutely, to stay at the top level is one of the most difficult things to do. I’ve had to go to great lengths to challenge myself physically, mentally to try to stay where I want to be and perform like I want to. I’m only at 13 years, and so Jeff has been doing this a long time and has definitely been the top of the sheet, that top percentile of drivers year after year. So hats off to him for that.

Q: This is a preview question for Pocono. In June you guys went there, you had a really fast car. Ran into some unfortunate situations on pit row, which may have prevented you from getting a win. Are you at all hungry to get back there and fight for that win considering you may have had the fastest car that weekend?

JOHNSON: Very excited to go back. Even with a damaged car, we still had a chance to win. We took a gamble on strategy late in the race and I really think it was the right move if we had a straight race car and a car that didn’t have some bent suspension on it. So we still had a good finish, but I am very excited to go back to Pocono. Love that track.

Q: Jimmie, Tony Stewart said Wednesday at Eldora Speedway that he’d like to see maybe a Cup race eventually get there. He’s talked about Nationwide and a Cup race.

JOHNSON: Would he say anything different?

Q: Probably not.

JOHNSON: I don’t disagree, but —

Q: In your eyes, do you think that would be good for the sport? And do you feel like he could pull it off if anybody could?

JOHNSON: Yeah, and I think that track and the history of the track. There’s a couple mile tracks that have the type of history that would make sense to go to. But from a short track standpoint, Eldora, that place is known nationwide regardless if you’re an asphalt or a dirt guy. So I think it would be cool. With my background, there’s no complaints. I’m just going to start lobbying for a few jumps. If we start racing on the dirt, then we need to add a couple jumps to make things exciting.

Q: You were talking earlier about longevity in terms of Jeff, but you’re on the verge of making The Chase every year, to be the only driver to continue that streak. How challenging has that been? Obviously, I know the championships mean more but what value is there to you from a personal side of being in The Chase each of the years and how did you get there? Because, you know, obviously there could always be that one bad year to ruin the streak. Kenseth missed it just the one year, so how —

JOHNSON: Yeah, I take a lot of pride in it, especially when it was 10, 12 or 13 drivers in The Chase. In today’s world it’s loosened up to bit more, we’re up to 16. The way you enter has changed. So when I look back to the original Chase format, I take a lot of pride that we made each of those years. And still, you know, to keep the streak alive and keep it going, it’s something you earn to be in that top division of our sport and to make our playoffs, and it’s something I take very seriously.