NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
FEDERATED AUTO PARTS 400
RICHMOND INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER RACE NOTES & QUOTES
SEPTEMBER 5, 2014
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed the teams he thinks are strong contenders to win at Richmond, the challenges of the track for him personally, his view of vying for another championship, the importance of having all four Hendrick teams in the Chase, and more. Full Transcript:
ON THE EVE OF SETTING THE CHASE GRID, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT HOW YOU THINK THE NEW CHASE FORMAT IS GOING? AND THEN TALK ABOUT DEFENDING YOUR SERIES TITLE
‘Chase-format-wise, I think it’s obviously more generous this year with 16 drivers making the Chase. I still feel like once we get in the Chase, the first three segments are very similar to what we’ve had in the past. If you’re winning race and collecting a lot of points, you’re going to transfer. And if you are winning races and collecting a lot of points, you’re in a great position for the championship. So, either way, I think those are very similar. To me, the big difference is Homestead and four drivers with the same point value going for the championship.
“I think there has been a bit of excitement about who is going to make it in these final races of the regular season; which is good. Anything exciting and any good talking points are important. I do feel like we’ve seen all the winners that will be in the Chase. I feel like the winner of tomorrow night’s race will either be the No.4 (Kevin Harvick) or the No.24 (Jeff Gordon) or the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski). So I think points will set the field here at the end, and we’ll get to Chicago and get started.
“So, I’m excited. I feel like from our season standpoint, we started slow; then we got really hot, and we had speed but had some wild luck as we’ve all discussed many times. I feel like that last couple of weeks we’ve been able to at least get to the checkered flag. And when we’ve done that, I think our worst finish with a barrage of problems still, was at Michigan. We were inside the Top 10; and then had two Top-5’s recently. I think we’re trending in the right direction.
“I wish that we were winning racing going into the Chase. It only makes life easier. I think that we had some mistakes on Sunday night in Atlanta that were just due to not racing for a win and not being accustomed to the pressure coming to those final pit stops. So, we’re hopefully working through some of those little issues and we’ll have everything firing right starting next weekend.”
THERE ARE A LOT OF SCENARIOS GOING INTO THE RACE TOMORROW NIGHT. BUT FOR YOU, THERE AREN’T MANY SCENARIOS AT ALL. YOU EITHER LEAVE AHEAD BY 3 POINTS, OR YOU ARE TIED, OR YOU ARE BEHIND BY 3 POINTS. WHAT DOES THIS RACE MEAN TO YOU? IS THIS A RACE YOU CAN GO INTO MAYBE A BIT MORE RELAXED THAN OTHERS?
“It is relaxed due to the Chas situation. I would love to win; I’d love to be racing for the win. But this track has been really tough on us for whatever reason. So, I feel like I have much less pressure on myself due to the Chase-side. But a lot more pressure on myself from the personal side. I need to figure this place out. There was a point in time when I was competitive here. But of late, this has been one of our worst tracks. So, from my standpoint and the pressure I’m putting on myself, there’s more pressure here than you would ever expect because I just hate having these huge weak spots in the schedule and at certain race tracks.”
ARE YOU PICKING THE NO. 4, NO. 24, AND NO. 2 TO WIN THE RACE BECAUSE THEY ARE JUST THAT MUCH ABOVE THE REST OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
“All three are showing speed and all three were really strong here in the spring and at various times. This is one of Jeff’s (Gordon) better tracks and one of Kevin’s (Harvick) better tracks and the same with Brad (Keselowski). So, I just feel this time of the year and the way those three cars have been running in general, those two or three elements just put them up front in my opinion.”
AS AN ORGANIZATION, HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT TO GET KASEY KAHNE INTO THE CHASE FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? WHAT DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE LIKE AS THE CHASE GOES ON AND YOU GUYS ARE STARTING TO KNOCK PEOPLE OUT AND IT’S THE FOUR TEAMS AGAINST EASY OTHER?
“There are many things that lead into my happiness for Kasey and his team and the fact that they’re in the Chase. One is just as a friend. I know how hard Kasey has been working. I know it’s not been the best situation at time over the course of the year. And going on a long winless drought hasn’t been easy on him. And so from a friend’s standpoint, I was just really happy for him to get it done and show up there at the end of the race. The first half of the race when I was around him, Gordon and I were teasing him at our team meeting on Tuesday. There was no chance we thought that No. 5 car was going to win the race. He was dead sideways and going in the wrong direction (laughs). So, I’m happy for him as a friend and for our organization, it’s important that all our cars are winning and it’s expected that all of our cars are winning. I think we also expect all four cars to make the Chase. So, when I look at the Hendrick campus and what it does for our organization, it’s massive for all the people working there. And then you get into the sponsor-side and sponsorship stuff to piece together, and four winning cars, and Kasey’s race car winning; it just helps. It helps on so many fronts. So, when we get in the Chase and get racing, it increases our odds. Now we have four cars that have a chance to win a championship. And if one of our four cars wins it, the up side of that for Hendrick Motorsports is massive. There are cash incentives and sponsor implications and all of that. And trophies don’t hurt either. So, there’s just a domino affect of positive things that can happen and have started to happen since Kasey won.”
WITH THE CHASE STARTING NEXT WEEK, HAVE YOU STARTED LOOKING AT THIS YEAR AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO WIN A SEVENTH CHAMPIONSHIP? OR DO YOU JUST LOOK AT IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO WIN THIS YEAR’S CHAMPIONSHIP?
“Right now, it’s an opportunity to win this year’s championship. And it’s kind of been that way for me over the years, even when we had that consecutive streak going. I didn’t feel the pressure of that streak, and I don’t think I’ll feel the pressure to try to tie our two greats in our sport (Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt) until it’s right there in front of me. Right now, it’s just the championship. If I get to Homestead and have a chance and I’m one of the four, as much as I want to push that out of my mind that I’m racing for history, it will be there and I won’t be able to hide from it at that point.”
YOU HAVE HAD SUCCESS AT CHICAGO. DOES THAT BUILD CONFIDENCE FOR YOU AS WE HEAD THERE TO START THE CHASE?
“Yeah, it’s a great track for us so we’re definitely excited to lead off with a strong track in the Chase. I think all ten tracks are really good for us, but Chicago is definitely on the topside for us. I’ve been so close to winning there and my own personal goal and really, kind of a team goal, is to win there for (crew chief) Chad (Knaus). I’ve been able to win at my home track a few times and we’ve been really close in Chicago for Chad. Obviously the focus is in starting off the Chase on the right foot and get a win so we can transfer; second goal would be to run in the Top 5 again and cover the points-side, and then in there as well would be winning at Chad’s home track.”
HENDRICK AND PENSKE HAVE WON 16 OF THE 25 RACES. YOU DON’T COUNT ANYBODY OUT, BUT IS IT ANY FUN THAT IT LOOKS LIKE THOSE TWO GROUPS ARE THE LEADERS?
“Yeah, competition is definitely there and at times I think both sides have a little fun poking at the other side (laughs). I didn’t realize that between the two organizations there are that many victories. Both companies are strong and at different points of the season, I think it would have been easy to call the Hendrick-side a shoe-in for the championship and then it flips over to Stewart-Haas, which is slash-Hendrick, obviously; and then the Penske-side. I would really like it just to stay in the Hendrick family racing for the championship. But I also see Matt’s (Kenseth) side. I know he’s maybe not where he wants to be this year yet, but there is some speed coming out of the No. 20 car lately and I think we’ve got to keep him in our sights as the Chase starts and gets going.”
GEOFF BODINE IS TALKING ABOUT TRYING TO SET UP A FUND FOR DRIVERS WHO HAVE SUFFERED CONCUSSIONS. IS THAT SOMETHING YOU WOULD BE IN FAVOR OF AND CONTRIBUTE TO? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEAS ON HOW THE MECHANICS OF THAT MIGHT WORK OF USING A PERCENTAGE OF THE TV MONEY OR PURSE MONEY OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT?
“I’m unaware of Geoff even trying to set that up. But I’m in favor of giving back to our sport and looking at the things from a charity standpoint. Myself, along with many other drivers, focus heavily on that stuff. And if we could give back to our own community and a very small group of people that experience our sport like they do as the drivers do, I would help as well. But I’m not aware of it and am not sure what the structure is like or where it’s all going. But we need to take care of our own family, in a sense, for sure.”
GIVEN THE CONTEXT OF THE SEASON TO DATE, AND WHAT TRACKS YOU KNOW ARE COMING, WHAT TEAM IS THE CLASS OF THE FIELD AS WE HAD TO THE START OF THE PLAYOFFS?
“I still feel like the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) just has raw speed everywhere we go. If it wasn’t for bad luck that they’ve had, I think they could have eight wins maybe; maybe even north of eight wins. So, I still put the No. 4 as the lead guy right now. At times, I would say the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) has been rolling and has had momentum on his side. I can also say the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) fits in there. I think those are kind of the three favorites in my mindset right now. We’ll just have to get in there and get racing and see how it goes.”
HAS YOUR ORGANIZATION LOOKED AT THE POSSIBILITY THAT THE INDIVIDUAL WHO WINS THE CHAMPIONSHIP COULD GET THERE WITHOUT WINNING A SINGLE RACE IN THE FINAL 10 RACES?
“Yeah, the possibility is real. It can happen. In my eyes, I feel like having the 10-race stretch, there needs to be some kind of reward for consistency. So, against the way the whole premise of the Chase has been created and winning is so important, I feel that it’s good to have an opportunity to reward consistency. Let’s be honest. Everything about our sport revolves around consistency. Our races are marathons. We race however many times a year and to have it not be represented in our championship to some level, I think would be wrong. I know it wouldn’t be a fan-favorite if somebody went all the way through and won the championship and didn’t win a race, but I think you have to have that in mind somewhere. So, I’m not surprised that could happen.”