Chevy Racing–NASCAR–Charlotte Media Tour–Jimmie Johnson

JANUARY 23, 2018

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CAMARO ZL1, met with media at the Charlotte Media Tour and discussed the debut and his expectations of the new Camaro ZL1, stage racing, younger teammates coupled with his desire to win, and more. Full Transcript:

Q. Already consulting with Fernando?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I’ve been a huge Alonso fans for a lot of years. Just mentioned to him out there that the way he came and ran Indy, I mean, certainly did an amazing job in the car, but outside of the car. The friends that I have on the IndyCar circuit, just handled himself so well, did a great job. I think really brought a lot to the table when he raced here.
Worldwide exposure on motorsports is really good for us here stateside.

Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Okay, that’s a little bit better. So I guess I’m going to have to put him in timeout or something the way that’s going.
No, we’re definitely having a lot of fun together. It’s so wild. I went from the young gun. Every time I’d see my name written, it was Rookie Jimmie Johnson. Now I’m grandpa. It’s gone fast.

Q. We’ve seen one season with the stage racing now. How do you adjust your performance, your season?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For us, last year I think we had the right approach entering the season. We just unfortunately couldn’t execute like we needed to. This year with all the changes going on internally at Hendrick Motorsports, the debut of the new Camaro for us, I think we’re going to have a better product. I know we’re going to have a better product on the racetrack.
In order to capitalize on all those points, you’ve got to start towards the front. I’ve made a great career out of winning from deep in the field or the back. But the way these points work, that’s just not the case. We need to qualify better.
We definitely tried last year. Just unfortunately couldn’t get there. I feel that this year we’ll have a better product. I should be able to start closer to the front and make that a lot easier.

Q. Overall you’re concerned about getting stage points and stage wins?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yes, absolutely. The way Martin paved the road to Homestead, everybody would love to have that opportunity. Also, if you do have trouble at Phoenix or wherever it might be, you have another option to get in, which is key.

Q. Given you are grandpa, is there any more urgency about the drive for the eighth title?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, that doesn’t change anything. My desire to be competitive, my desire to be a champion, my desire to win races, has never wavered. That’s who I am, it’s what I am.
Excited to have all this new stuff going on around us, from rules internally at Hendrick, the new car, my teammates. I’ve taken a notebook and pen everywhere I go because everywhere I look, there’s something to learn. That’s exciting.

Q. Do you feel like the stage system has been the greatest reward of consistency for the season for all drivers?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: When I look at the final 10, I guess maybe across the board, but it really speaks to me in the final 10. When I look at Martin’s dominance in the 2016 season, then he didn’t make the final four, although I was so glad to be in it and be the champion, it didn’t feel right in a sense.
I think it is very fair now, really covers the base for a dominant car to be in the final four, which that car should be there.

Q. Are you buying the Carolina Panthers?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: With your money (laughter)? I don’t have enough money for that.

Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, my pockets aren’t that deep. I don’t think they can look at me.

Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: .001%? I would take a chance at it, absolutely. Who wouldn’t?

Q. The age gap between you and your teammate, any stories?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I kind of drew first blood on him last year when I took him to lunch and had him sit in my kid’s car seat. Everything that’s coming back to me is pretty of self-inflicted.
There has been plenty of fun. Through today I can tell with them being out in front of me, they’ve really paved the road of harassment for me. Things have been really been on a serious and technical level, trying to understand the new car, the systems in place at Hendrick, how team meetings work, really the nuts and bolts of the season.

Q. Does it bring some enthusiasm, fresh blood?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Without a doubt. That fresh blood brings great excitement and it also brings just a different vantage point. When you look at William, for the longest time, like using our simulator, I watch something happen with another driver, that’s just a gaming way to go about it, you can’t do that in the real world. Well, it’s starting to happen in the real world. That new vantage point is really helpful.

Q. Do you anticipate a break-in period with the new car or can you roll off really good?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There has to be a break-in period, some buildup for us to understand the car, the aero balance, what we need.
We have modeled it unlike anything else in Chevrolet’s history. If you added up the wind tunnel time, the CFD modeling time, everything that’s happened before the 2018 Camaro, it wouldn’t total the time that’s been put in the wind tunnel and modeling to this point.
The effort has been massive to get this right and be as good as we can be. But with testing being so minimal, for myself there’s going to be an adaptation period. I need to understand the side force, how hard I can lean on it. You climb out of the gas, with less downforce, how much it slows down. Trying to find the sweet spot with the car, some minor handling characteristics that go with it.
Atlanta, it’s such an abrasive track, and the drivers’ style, so many other things play into the performance there, I think we’ll get a flavor of where we sit. Once we get to the West Coast swing, I think that will really tell us where we sit.

Q. You said last season was one of the most frustrating seasons. Did you think you had a championship car last year and where are your expectations for this year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We kept hoping every stone we turned over would help us find our problem. What was so frustrating is I’ve never worked so hard in my life to get such little return. I know Chad can say the same and the team can. The efforts they put in, just mind-boggling. I’m so happy I have a group of guys to do that, to do anything possible. It just so frustrating when you don’t get anything for it. So that was tough.
After a few weeks of the off-season, letting that kind of fall off your shoulders, get recharged and ready to go. It’s been easy to find motivation for 2018. With all the change that’s going on, as I mentioned a couple times, it’s a race to figure out this mousetrap first. That’s what we like to do.

Q. Now going for your eighth championship, do you ever stop and think about what you’ve been able to do together? Where do you think you are in the timeline of your dynasty?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Occasionally we’ll reflect back. It’s easy when you have a championship year to do it. The rest of the time you’re so concerned about the next race, the next whatever it is, at least in our experience we haven’t savored it too often.
I guess we’ll wait to fully embrace it until we both decide to hang it up. I signed an extension last year for three years at Hendrick Motorsports, so I at least have three more.
Chad, I feel like crew chiefs have always lived in dog years, and I’m not sure where he’s going to be. I think his contract is up at the end of this year. Of course I want him to push on. I keep telling him, Man, I started this with you, I want to finish it with you. I’ll try to stretch him as long as I can.
I guess I’m trying to subconsciously prepare that he’ll assume a different role at Hendrick, but I really don’t want to let that in.

Q. What is your approach to teaching or mentoring some of your younger teammates as was done for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Definitely take lessons that I learned along my path. In my entire career, I always had a senior driver mentoring me. I think all the way back to my dirt bike days when I was eight, ten years old, having Rick Johnson there mentoring me along. Obviously most recently with Jeff Gordon. That’s probably the most vivid recollection I have. I remember watching Jeff in moments, then telling him that I just learned something from him.
He was like, What, really? How did you learn something from that? I wasn’t really trying to teach anything.
I think first and foremost, the way I carry myself, leading by example would be another way to put it, is very useful and helpful. Those three guys are very aware and have been studying me for a long time. Surprisingly they kind of know what I’m up to, what I’m about.
They’ve also been in our system at Hendrick and can understand a lot of aspects of the work side. But another thing I also experienced along the way, there’s nothing to get you prepared for the bright spotlight that comes with being a Cup driver. Obviously you end up making a lot more money than you previously have. Friendships, relationships, relationships with family, the grind of being on the road, there’s just a lot of aspects to manage outside of driving the car.
I found that those things were at times harder to deal with and harder to manage than climbing in the racecar, putting my helmet on and going to work.
I’m going to try to be open obviously for them, then not just focused on the car side. They’ve had so much experience to this point, so many reps, all have been very successful, that I think it’s probably less about the in-the-car stuff than it is about the outside stuff.

Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just being honest. I think not overreacting to certain things. My approach has always been to really understand what I’m missing, what I need, and then be vocal. I’ve been very careful with my position at Hendrick Motorsports. I don’t want to send our engineers and teams running in a variety of different directions. Really trying to be right when I speak up and what I’m talking about.
This year with all the change that’s going on, we’re going to make a lot of decisions. Making sure we make the right ones early are going to kind of set the arc that the team is on.

Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: A lot of smiling with her around. She always brings so much positive energy into all situations.
I really look forward to watching her role define. I know with her background, she can help in a lot of different areas. Having Jeff Andrews and Brian Whitesell where they are, Alva in there, Marshall Carlson, our executive leadership group, is very well-balanced, ready to lead everybody else below. So I’m excited about her coming onboard.

Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Chase going I think is a real good move there, the strongest of the Hendrick cars at year end. To be able to build on that, really identify with what that new body wants I think was a logical decision.
At the same time William and Darian and that team have never been together. They flat out need some reps. There’s only one test left. I get it.
Of course I would love to go and get in the car and be the one feeling these sensations, driving the direction we’re going. I think for those two reasons, they’re very justified and needed. We’ll get to work at Atlanta on our downforce stuff.

Q. Do you see any parallels between the two of you guys who have been persistent for so long with Tom Brady and Belichick? Speak about what it takes to stay competitive and relevant past 40, what the commitment is.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think there are some parallels there. I don’t know Tom or Bill Belichick, for that matter. That comparison has been there for a while. To continue to see them succeed, we’ve had our success as well, kind of has opened my mind to that comparison.
I think that Chad and Belichick have some commonalities, and so do Tom and I. Being able to deliver when times are tough, those make-or-break moments, the experience, athletes over 40, really serves an athlete well.
I feel very lucky to be in a sport that I can continue my career and still have that experience on my side. It’s probably more rare for Tom to be in his position doing that than a racecar driver. Those guys just get beat up so badly that they retire in their 30s, unfortunately.
I think over each season of playing or driving, if you’re really committed to your sport, you just reflect and try to bring a better product to the field or the track every year.
I’ve not met Tom, but we do have mutual friends. His commitment to getting better every year sounds very familiar. It’s something I’ve done through this off-season, just trying to figure out how I can be a better member of this 48 car, looking at everything and anything that I can do.

Q. In 2009 you, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon ran 1-2-3 in the championship standings. This year you have three teammates who have little or no experience in the Cup car. How does that dynamic change?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I choose to see the positives that come with it, right? Out of the gate just knowing young guys and their raw desire to go fast, there’s a lot that we’ll be able to take away from there. I think it’s going to be important for me to understand their language, how they describe things, then understanding how to put that into the way I describe a car, the sensations I’m looking for.
Their effort level is going to be really high. We might get some inconsistent feedback getting started until they can dial in at 100% and identify with that. But I’m excited for a fresh perspective. I find myself going in a cycle of looking what worked in different years, from a driver’s standpoint, there’s only a few things we can do to really be prepared.
In talking with William, just as an example, he thinks that driving an RC car, seeing it from a different perspective, working on your hand-eye coordination from that vantage point is helpful. Hell, I’ve never thought of that. I haven’t driven an RC car since I was his age. It’s just a different way to look at things.
I don’t know which ones are going to work for me, but it’s nice to have these different options around. I’ve kind of been through my bag of tricks year after year. Definitely excited to look at some new ideas.

Q. What’s your outlook overall on the car?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Outlook is very positive. When you look what we did with the previous generation car, we had five seasons with no upgrades, still stayed awfully competitive. To have this upgrade, the details we know about the aero balance, side force, all that comes with it, we’re going to be in much better shape. Very excited.

Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, we’ve all had systems in place to have kind of an A and B roster. We’ve had very specific roles to fill and athletes that come in with fast feet, fast hands, a certain weight and size to operate the jack, get the car up off the ground.
To have this change now, essentially somebody has to do two roles, the systems all these teams have built into place are all changing. We’ve been scrambling like a lot of the other teams.
At the end of the day our group is extremely athletic. If there’s an organization out there that can get it right, we feel very confident we can. So it’s been a mental shift to kind of get our heads around it.
At the same time, these over-the-wall guys have had to — tire carriers trying to learn to be a jack man at the same time, or a tire changer at the same time. It’s been an interesting challenge. It’s been hard because it’s changing our systems dramatically.
At the same time we’re kind of through that now and there’s a lot of optimism in mastering this.