NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
AUGUST 1, 2014
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET met with media and discussed his performance thus far, the impact of a crew chief suspension, the Brickyard 400 and Jeff Gordon’s win there, and more. Full Transcript:
WHAT IS YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THIS WEEKEND AT POCONO?
“I’m excited to be back. We had a very strong car here a couple of months ago. Even with the mistake on pit road and the collision with the No. 9 car (Marcos Ambrose) we still had a shot to win the race and had a very, very fast race car. So, I’m excited to come back. Clearly, when we come here we hope the weather cooperates. There is some threatening weather out there. So, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and hopefully get everything in that we need to.”
GREG IVES SAT ON YOUR PIT BOX FOR QUITE A WHILE. YOU CELEBRATED CHAMPIONSHIPS WITH HIM. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON GREG BEING THE CREW CHIEF FOR DALE EARNHARDT, JR. IN 2015? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE HIM AND HIS PROGRESSION?
“First and foremost, I’m really excited for him. I feel that the dynamic in the race shop is going to be a good one. Obviously we’re very concerned about Steve’s (Letarte) departure and who that individual is that comes in and that there is good energy and a good bond between the No. 48 and the No. 88. It’s going to be hard to recreate the magic we’ve had with Steve and Chad (Knaus) to kind of take on different roles and in a sense it’s kind of been a good cop, bad cop in the shop where Chad will whip on the guys and Steve will come by and smooth it out when it’s over (laughs).
“But our shop works very well together and to protect that environment, there was a very short list of guys to take over the No. 88 crew chief role. I was hopeful that it would go Greg’s way and I’m very happy that it did. He’s worked very hard to develop as a crew chief and individual. He’s been a crew chief on Junior’s Nationwide programs and if you look at his stats and what he’s accomplished there as a crew chief, you can say he has definitely earned this opportunity. I’m very happy for Greg and his family and look forward to seeing him more on a daily basis. I went through so many years seeing him all the time and he was such an interregnal part of finding speed in our race cars, and it’s going to be nice to see him a lot more often now.”
YOU HAVEN’T HAD THE BEST OF LUCK SINCE YOUR WIN AT MICHIGAN IN JUNE. HOW HAS THE NO. 48 TEAM STACKED-UP, PERFORMANCE-WISE, WITH YOUR HENDRICK TEAMMATES AND THE PENSKE AND GIBBS CARS?
“So much of it depends on the track. That’s really the most interesting thing as I look back over this year and the rules package change and where things are at; you expect the Penske car to be fast. You expect the Gibbs car to be fast. You expect the Hendrick car to be fast. But it’s not consistent at every track everywhere we go. You look at the speed the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) had at Loudon and the speed the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) had at Indy; each team seems to hit on something at a particular track and can light it up. But to take it week-to-week and track to track, it’s tough. I feel that we’ve been very competitive at a fair amount of the tracks and then we went to Indy and we just didn’t have it at Indy.
“So, it’s been a little inconsistent per team, and also per organization. We have had some bad luck. I feel like at Daytona we would have been somebody there to consider for a win. I feel at New Hampshire I was very optimistic about my day, but after watching things and how they turned out, I would have been racing for second the way it looked (laughs). But we can always be better and we certainly want to be better. I would say speed is a priority, but also consistent speed at all types of tracks.”
WITH THE NO. 11 TEAM PENALTY AND DARIAN GRUBB BEING OUT, THERE HAS BEEN TALK ABOUT THE IMPACT OF A CREW CHIEF SUSPENSION. YOU’VE BEEN IN THAT POSITION BEFORE AND YOU ACTUALLY WON A COUPLE OF RACES WITH DARIAN IN 2006 WHEN CHAD KNAUS WAS OUT. WHAT IT IS LIKE? HOW MUCH IMPACT DOES THAT HAVE ON A TEAM?
“Oh, it’s huge not having your crew chief there. And the fact that we won without Chad at the track is pretty amazing, to be honest. The first portion of the suspension, the first week or two, it’s real tough on the morale. Everywhere you go, you’re answering questions. Today with social media, if you ever tune-in, you’re going to see a lot of stuff you don’t want to see. So, there’s an emotional piece in the beginning that’s really tough.
“And then you can’t wait for the first weekend’s practice to start and to figure out how you’re going to work through this and what kind of speed the car will have and how the team will perform. The crew chief has to fall back on a team that he has assembled. And Chad, being as buttoned-up as he is, has always had depth in an organization. And our engineers have always been very qualified; down through our mechanics, and we’ve been able to pick-up that slack. But I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s such a difficult thing to go through and it also just shows in this sport that it doesn’t matter what team organization, car, or driver; everybody is going to go through some of these bumps in their career. It just happens.”
“Yeah, you are able to do those things like texting and making phone calls and send emails and watch on television and tune-into some of those things our fans use with various apps and all that kind of stuff just to see what kind of input is coming in. But the element of truly having a conversation with someone and understanding how tight the car might be or how uncomfortable you might be, that element is so vital in our sport. And when somebody is in North Carolina and the others are at the track, it’s impossible to get that pulled together.”
AT AGE 18, IF MONEY HAD BEEN NO OBJECT, WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE FIRST CAR YOU WOULD HAVE BOUGHT AS A KID?
“It probably would have been an off-road Trophy Truck or something. I would have bought a race car. There’s no way I would have bought a street car (laughter); or maybe an Indy car because that was a big focus for me back then. But, definitely a race car.”
NOW, AT A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHEN MONEY IS PROBABLY NO OBJECT, WHAT CAR WOULD YOU STILL LIKE TO HAVE?
“I haven’t even thought about it, man. I’ve got a wife and two daughters. And they like shoes. So, I haven’t even thought about it (laughter).”
YOU’VE HAD SOME BAD LUCK OVER THE PAST THREE RACES. LAST YEAR, YOU HAD A SIMILAR STRETCH AT THE SAME TIME AND YOU FINISHED THE CHASE IN THE TOP 10 AT EVERY RACE BUT ONE. WHAT DO YOU NEED TO IMPROVE ON HEADING DOWN THE HOMESTRETCH?
“It’s no secret that the middle portion of the year has always been a challenge for the No. 48. When you look at the start of the season and the end of the season, where a lot of those tracks are the same, especially in the Chase era that has really worked to our advantage. And the summer stretch has been tough on us. It always has. There have been years that we make it through a little smoother than others. This year has been as inconsistent as probably any of them for us. So, we certainly want to stop that and start here with a very smooth weekend and successful weekend, and carry that on through The Glen and Bristol, that’s a tough track for us. There are still a few challenges ahead. But literally, when the Chase starts, we roll into our ten best tracks. So, we’re trying to maintain sanity until then and obviously keep progressing our cars through the end of summer.”
INDY DIDN’T GO AS YOU HAD HOPED. THE NO. 24 (JEFF GORDON) AND THE NO. 5 (KASEY KAHNE) WERE UP FRONT MOST OF THE DAY. YOU AND JUNIOR WEREN’T AS PROMINENT. WERE YOU ABLE TO FIGURE OUT WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED THERE? HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO SUNDAY’S RACE AT POCONO AFTER THAT WEEK?
“When a weekend is over, it’s easy to go back and look at car set-ups and try to find some rhyme or reason why another car had speed. We are definitely trying to maximize our package from an aero standpoint, and looking back, it’s not the direction our teammates, the No. 5 and the No. 24 went. So, when the weekend is over, it’s easy to sit back and analyze things. But we’ve built speed in our cars and have won races and championships by a certain mindset. And it’s not been by looking and digging through others’ information and looking over our shoulder at what somebody else is doing. It’s always about pushing technology and trying to find an advantage. At times, especially with single car speed, we were the fastest in all the practice sessions. So, that kind of sucked us in, thinking we had a fast car. We’d run one fast lap and then unfortunately dropped off too much after that. So, we’ll make notes and go back to Indy next year and try not to make that mistake again.”
WHEN YOU CAME TO HENDRICK, RAY EVERNHAM HAD ALREADY MOVED ON. NOW THAT HE’S BACK WITH THE COMPANY, WHAT HAS HE BEEN ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE ORGANIZATION AS A WHOLE?
“For me, its kind of twofold. One, I love to be around him. As I was aspiring to race in NASCAR, I watched what he and Jeff (Gordon) put together. I just wanted to get to know that guy. I wanted to understand how his mind worked. And I have that opportunity now. And now, he spends a lot of time at a higher elevation looking at our whole program. And sometimes things that are so obvious to a race team don’t cross our mind. And it’s nice to have somebody with true racing experience and success stand back and kind of look globally at your program and give advice. We’ve also gone to him as an individual team and have leaned on him for his knowledge and point of view and stuff like that. It’s great having him around; and even fun. Last week we had a big luncheon at Hendrick and the shop that he won three of the championships in, is where our team center is now. And we heard the story about why his office was where it was and where the set-up plate for the cars was so he could sit at his desk and work and look down on the shop and keep an eye on everybody and make sure nobody was slacking off and that the cars were progressing. To go back through memory lane and see all that was pretty cool.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT RACING OR RACING ON THE TRICKY TRIANGLE?
“For me, the speed factor in the race car or motorcycle or whatever I’ve grown up competing in, that’s been cool. But there’s something about competition that I’ve enjoyed. I’ve always been a better racer than anything. And trying to figure out how to pass someone or get by someone, there’s something in that that gets me going. Again, I always race better than I qualify and things like that. There’s something to that. My real passion is competing.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK THE BRICKYARD 400 WIN IS FOR JEFF GORDON? WHAT IS THE IMPACT ON HIM TO HAVE ACHIEVED THAT?
“For him, personally? Or, the sport?”
“Man, first of all, it’s huge. Twenty years later, the meaning behind that for him, is massive. Seeing him and going to Victory Lane and talking to Ingrid and seeing his kids there, that family piece, and being able to celebrate such a massive win in essentially his home state (is hugs). Emotionally, I think there were a lot of things that worked for him personally and felt good for him personally, with that victory. And then you have the professional side, he won at one of the most difficult tracks in a dominating fashion and all those things, it’s just giving him and that No. 24 team a ton of momentum rolling forward. The Chase is right around the corner.”