NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
NEW HAMPSHIRE MOTOR SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
SEPTEMBER 19, 2014
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his favorite upcoming tracks in the Chase, his approach to the new format, looking for speed in the car, the challenges of the New Hampshire track, his 39th birthday, and more. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
TALK ABOUT YOUR OUTLOOK FOR THIS WEEKEND IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
“We ran well in Chicago but just didn’t get the finish that we were hoping for. So, we’re showing up here I think eighth in points and certainly don’t want to fall any further than that. And with the past success we’ve had here at this race track, we’re hopeful for a win to make the next week, at least, very easy. Honestly, we’re just plugging along. We’re running well. We’re hopeful to heat up and find some more speed and be more of a more dominant car, especially as this Chase wears on. But, we’re holding out own right now and I’m looking forward to this track, and certainly next weekend (Dover); my favorite race track and probably my best track on the circuit. So, we’re just plugging along.”
ON YOUR FAVORITE RACE TRACKS, WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE CHASE, YOU’RE THE ALL-TIME LEADING WINNER AT DOVER, AT MARTINSVILLE, AND CHARLOTTE. DOES THAT GIVE YOU A SENSE OF CONFIDENCE AND REASSURANCE THAT YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO WIN ONE OF THOSE RACE. WHAT IS IT ABOUT THOSE TRACKS THAT YOU FAVOR; AND WHAT ARE YOUR LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS IN THE CHASE?
“It’s awesome to have tracks that you love and tracks that you’ve had success at in the Chase. I feel like seven or eight of them have been historically awesome tracks for us. That part is great. Stats are nice to look at, but you’ve got to live in the present. So, just because we’ve been good at those tracks before, doesn’t guarantee us anything going back. It makes the week leading into it feel a little bit better. It gives us some talking points and places to look at and focus on, but we still have to show up there and get the job done. Any benefit that you have really just carries you through the week until you get on the track. And then timing and scoring is what we live by. If you’re good there, then that day is good.
“But the tracks that aren’t maybe our best tracks, statistically, in the Chase would probably be the new Phoenix track and then Homestead. At both, we’ve run in the top five and I think at both we’ve been in a position to win at. I think of the year when Brad (Keselowski) won the championship at Homestead, we set ourselves up for a race win and made some mistakes and cost ourselves the win and opportunity at a championship. At Phoenix, I think we’ve run second or third there, with the new surface. But it seems like it’s easy for a team to have it sorted out in the spring and then come back in the fall and have it not work. Again, the year I raced Brad, we had a great spring race and a terrible fall race. Last year Matt (Kenseth) had a very similar experience as well. So, I’d say those two tracks are probably the most challenging for us that are in the Chase.”
“I don’t know why, but we’ve always had success at quirky race tracks. I really don’t know why. Maybe it’s my off-road background and just having interesting environments to operate in and race in. I’ve just succeeded on those types of tracks. There isn’t another track out there like Dover, and Martinsville. Charlotte, some look alike; but all the 1.5-miles drive differently. And Charlotte certainly has the way it wants to be treated and the way you need to drive that track.”
HOW DID YOU SPEND YOUR BIRTHDAY? DID THE FAMILY DO ANYTHING SPECIAL FOR YOU?
“It was really a mild day. With it being my 39th, I asked the family to just kind of chill out and we’ll save up for next year. So, I had a fun day and hung out with the kids a bunch. I picked Geneviève up from school and went and had some ice cream. She was excited about that. I picked her up early and we celebrated together. So, just some fun little moments like that; nothing too over-the-top.”
DO YOU FEEL 39?
‘No, I don’t feel 39. And the number is getting bigger. It wasn’t long ago I was the rookie, the up-and-coming; and I just watched Kyle (Larson) walk out (of the media center) and it looks like he could still be in high school (laughter). So, time does fly. And certainly, time flies in this industry. It seems like it’s on fast-forward and then those parents out there know that once you have kids, man, it really goes fast. And then it’s hard to believe four years have gone by and Genevieve is four now. I think I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life. I’m the most balanced and happy and all those things are there, but the odometer is getting some miles on it (laughs).”
UNTIL THIS YEAR, THE POINT TOTAL DIDN’T MATTER UNTIL THE END OF HOMESTEAD. NOW IT MATTERS AFTER DOVER. DOES THAT MAKE YOU MORE AWARE OF WHERE YOU ARE IN POINTS? DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY POINTS YOU ARE TO THE GOOD RIGHT NOW?
“Honestly, I look at the first nine races of this new format very similar to how I did with the old format. You’ve got to collect points to be the champion and you’ve got to win races. So, I still feel like it is different, for sure; but the way I feel the field is addressing this new format, and certainly myself, is you’ve got to cover both bases. If you come out of the first two races of any block, with trouble, it makes it very easy to look at the third race. You’ve got to be aggressive on strategy; especially if you’re out of the points. You’ve got to do something different. So, that element will start next week and we’ll see how it’s played and who is in that position.”
“I don’t. I know I’m in a tie with a couple of guys in my point value.”
NOBODY EVER LOOKS PAST SIX-TIME, BUT IT SEEMS LIKE THE LAST FEW WEEKS THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT YOUR TEAMMATES. NOT TO SAY YOU’RE FORGOTTEN, BUT DO YOU FEEL A LITTLE BIT LEFT BEHIND? IS THIS A DIFFERENT CHASE THAN YEARS’ PAST FOR YOU IN TERMS OF THE ATTENTION AND THE TALK?
“No, last year we had a really poor summer and got off to a great start in the Chase and heated-up and went from headlines saying, ‘What’s wrong with the No. 48?’ Here we go again; I knew it. I wish I could explain why teams are good and bad and why it’s so hard to be consistent all year long. But, last year, even though we had a tough end of the regular season, we were in position to win a lot of races. And we did win a bunch during the course of the year. We’ve had one hot spot in the middle of the year this year and we’ve kind of been lukewarm on the other sides. I’m hoping we heat up. I’m hoping we get to that hot spot again.
“But if truth be told, you look at the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) and look at the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) and you look at the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) consistently over the year, those guys have been there. It’s a new rules package. Believe me, we’re working our guts out to find the speed and to be that dominant car. But truthfully, we’re not the dominant car right now. We’re a good car. We still have nine weeks to get our act together; especially the way this Chase lays out, if we continue to get the most out of our good car and have a great car at Homestead, if we’re in that position, then we can get seven (championships). But this is a tough industry. And we’re working as hard as we can and I’m happy to see my teammates with speed. And then there’s a couple of guys out there that aren’t in our camp that we’re chasing and just trying to out race them. But they’re amazing race teams and drivers, as well.”
SO, YOU’RE NOT A DOMINANT CAR RIGHT NOW? YOU FINISHED 12TH IN CHICAGO. WHAT’S THE MOOD?
“It’s not the best mood. To be honest about it, we hold ourselves to a higher and expect to operate at a higher level. But it’s the same that we’ve probably had through the majority of the year, where we’ve been good. We had a small window of being great. But in any competitive sport, if you’re not great, it’s hard to have a ray of sunshine shining through in certain areas (laughs). So, we’re realists. As the No. 48 and in the culture of Hendrick Motorsports, we expect a lot out of ourselves, let alone what any outside pressure would be. And we’re not where we want to be. But again, with this format of the Chase, there’s time. In some respects, it could be a little bit more forgiving for you, where the gross points total doesn’t determine the champion at the end of the year. So, we’re going to play the game that’s ahead for us and get the best we can and hopefully heat-up as this Chase wears on.”
BACK TO WHAT YOU SAID ABOUT DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SPRING AND FALL AT THE SAME RACE TRACK, AND AS GOOD AS BRAD KESELOWSKI WAS AT NEW HAMPSHIRE IN JULY, WOULD YOU EXPECT THAT HE IS THE FAVORITE COMING IN HERE? LOOKING AT THE HISTORY, THIS TRACK HAS HAD 13 STRAIGHT DIFFERENT WINNERS; DOES THAT SUPERSEDE THE FACT THAT HE WAS SO STRONG HERE A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO?
“Yeah, I would expect him to be in a similar position for two reasons. One, he had so much more pace than the rest of the field here in the spring race that it’s hard to believe that everybody could cover that gap and get back to him. And then when we went to Richmond, which wasn’t too long ago as a short track and they had that form there, too. So, I’d definitely say those guys are tough to handle.”
YOU TALKED ABOUT HOPING TO HEAT-UP. CAN YOU DEFINE THAT? YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT SPEED, BUT YOUR TEAMMATES HAVE HAD SPEED AND YOU SHARE ALL THE INFORMATION. WHAT’S DIFFICULT ABOUT RACING HERE AT NEW HAMPSHIRE?
“We all have different styles and we all look for a different sensation in the race car. Jeff Gordon and I lived in the same shop for a long time and even though the same people prepared the cars, and the core of the car was the same, it took totally different set-ups to get our cars fast. And I look at how strong the No. 24 has been and the style in which Jeff drives his car, it’s not surprising to me that he’s hot and I’m not as hot, just because our styles are so different. The rules have changed so much. We feel that in some ways, the opportunity to help the car turn through the corner with this rules package and all the changes that have been made, a lot of tools have been taken away from us. So, I’m trying to get my head around how do I drive a tighter race car? And then, how do we get speed? We had it right for three races this year, so it’s in there. But, you all see how close the times are in practice and qualifying in the race. You’re not looking for a ton, just a half a tenth to a tenth will completely turn things around. So, we’re looking for just that little sliver of speed to get back to a dominant position.
“New Hampshire is just so tough to pass, and that creates an importance for qualifying and it creates an importance for fuel strategy and tire strategy and kind of how that’s played out. And it always seems that at some point there’s a least two strategies playing out. You just hope you’re in the right one. Or, if you have a dominant car, you can kind of create your own strategy at that point. So, we’ll just see where we fall in.”
AS A SIX-TIME CHAMPION IN THIS SPORT, YOU HAVE TO FIELD QUESTIONS THAT A LOT OF GUYS WILL NOT ACCEPT. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE MOST RECENT TONY STEWART SITUATION? ARE YOU STILL QUESTIONING LIKE THE MEDIA IS, OR DO YOU KNOW MORE THAN WE DO?
“I don’t know more. Has there been a statement or anything recently from Tony’s side? I think I saw something last week. So, I’m waiting as well. I think the statement that he made helped me understand things and feel better about things then. The fact that I guess in the state, or whatever went on with the police department and saying there was no criminal issue there that was another step in the direction I think where things are heading. But I’m waiting. And I think the whole industry and the world is waiting to see when Tony is able to sit at a mic and talk. So, I’m like all of you; I’m just waiting.”
WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAVING ALL FOUR CARS IN THE CHASE, WHAT’S IT LIKE AT THE SHOP?
“It’s great during the week to see our entire campus buzzing, knowing that all four cars are in the Chase and all the hard work that goes into it. There’s a small percentage of us that are here at the track and competing against one another and have that blissful like wow, we’re all in the Chase; to man, I’ve got to beat these guys now? So there are a few of us that live that competitive environment. But, in today’s world and in NASCAR and certainly at Hendrick Motorsports, there’s a culture and a way that things are done with a multi-car team and all four drivers at Hendrick Motorsports know and understand that. We work as close as we can together and then on Sunday, it’s every man for himself. So, we’ve been through a lot of challenging moments. I’ve had the fortune of racing against my teammates for championships and have learned how to handle that and I’ve certainly made mistakes along the way. But, I think that as an organization, we do a good job of balancing all those elements.”