Chevy Racing–NASCAR–Daytona Media Day–Jimmie Johnson

FEBRUARY 13, 2019

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 ALLY CAMARO ZL1, met with members of the media at Daytona 500 Media Day and discussed running the Boston Marathon, his Clash victory and many other topics. Full Transcript:

If you were going to pick somebody that could maybe take that title away from you, which guy would you pick amongst the younger set that might be able to do it?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think there’s a lot of personality in our sport. You think of the iconic 43 with Bubba Wallace in it. You lean towards Ryan Blaney. I mean, Kyle certainly is known, Kyle Busch that is, is certainly known. I’m not sure he’s the most loved at all times, but certainly well-known, not afraid to get after it.

We have great diversity and I think a real strong young group of guys coming along.

Where does Bubba rate in terms of personality, the character, people can embrace?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I enjoy being around him. He has great energy, very quick-witted, fun. I’ve always enjoyed being around him. He’s done a great job in the car, as well.

(Question about today’s meeting with Paul.)

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don’t know if there’s really anything different. It’s great to have that conversation, talk to him. He knew then and he knew again after today, our phone call, that it wasn’t intentional.

Looking back, I could have given him a few more inches. That way when he came down, there was a bit more margin for error between us. So, there’s always lessons to learn, going back and looking at the tape, talking to someone about those things.
I think where he and I stand, sure, he wasn’t happy after the race, but he knew it wasn’t intentional. It was more of a racing thing than anything.

Lessons to be learned. You’re going for a win. I’m going for a win against you, I’m not going to make it easy on you. I don’t know if you say lessons learned. Shouldn’t you be doing the same thing regardless of who it is?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That was my stance in the media center after. I don’t want to turn a blind eye to what has happened. I think there’s always lessons to learn in anything.
It really was a racing incident. I guess if there was two or three more inches in there when he made his move to kind of try to block, there would have been a couple more inches in between us. That’s the thing I’ll look back on.

At 200 miles an hour in the draft racing for a win, I saw the rain, I knew the rain was coming, I knew we were on the white flag lap, I’m paid to be out there and be aggressive. If we just bump and nobody gets turned around, it’s the most exciting finish we had in the Clash in however long. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way, a lot of cars were torn up.
Given what’s not at stake tomorrow, do you make that move?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I feel like you have to race. That’s all I was doing. I know where my intent was. I know what I was trying to do in the car. Again, I try to be open-minded and aware of things that happen and try to learn from them, good and bad.
I set up a great pass. I saw the rain coming. I don’t think anybody else saw it coming. I knew it was there, it was going to rain. Maybe a couple more inches would have been good to leave between our two cars. But you’re racing.

Tomorrow instincts would probably take over for any driver in that situation, you would try to win?


Risking the Daytona 500 car.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn’t finish the Clash the last six years in a row. I didn’t finish the Duel last year. It happens. It is plate racing.

The thing that everybody needs to get ready for, we’re only used to this four times a year, but this is going to be every week with the rules package. It’s about the draft. You have the draft. But once you break the bumper plane, the side drafting is the only opportunity to propel yourself beside one. The type of racing we see on plate tracks is going to be on every mile-and-a-half track.

Can’t tell if your looking forward to that.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess the statement is more for everybody else. There’s been such a reaction to me racing hard in the Clash. It happens at every plate track. It has since there’s been plates on cars. We’re going to have a lot more of it this year with this new rules package.

(No microphone.)

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It depends. If you watched that race objectively, I think you say it’s a racing incident. Could I have left a couple inches? Sure. Could Paul have not come down? Sure. We’re racing, what is to be expected of us. We’re racing. That’s what we’re out there to do.

(No microphone.)

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Correct, very.

What are some of the things you like to do outside of racing?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We race in a lot of very cool areas. I’ve been able to see the countryside on my bike or even being involved in running. Cycling and running are really my two passions.

My family travels to some of the races. They’re pretty busy at home. So, race weekend-wise, it’s really kind of being on the bike, out exploring. If we’re all together, my family loves to travel. We spent a lot of time traveling this winter.

How important is it for you when your family comes to the races with you?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s great. I wish it could happen more often. They’re eight and five now. Developing their own little schedules. I want them to be able to have their kind of passions and hobbies take place on the weekends, as well.
We have a good balance the way it all works. I’ll take any moment I get with them here at the track.
Tom Brady, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, yourself, how likely are we not to see four people such as you personalities again with the championships you have won?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess I haven’t spent much time thinking about that, to start with.
I think any record can be broken. I think if one man was able to achieve a certain level of success, it’s possible for any man to do it. For that matter, woman. If it’s possible, it’s possible.

I think that’s what makes sports so exciting, is occasionally you’ll have somebody come along and break a record, break the mold, and creates extremely high interest in a sport.
Probably the best example of that was Tiger and all the success he had. Kind of been in his slump, whatever it’s been formally called. He shows a little bit of prowess again, comes back, is in contention, and the golf world lights up.

I think records are made to be broken.

What changes from last year to this year?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: There’s a lot of pieces. I don’t think we’ve really left one thing from being a stone unturned honestly. The new rules package is going to be a big help. We just weren’t where we needed to be with the 2018 rules package. There’s a big gap between our cars and the cars that were winning on a regular basis.

Certainly, the change with Chad Knaus moving over to William, and Kevin coming in for me, I think that fresh start is a weight lifted off of us. We had a lot of pressure on us to succeed. When we weren’t succeeding, that created more internal pressure, had us in our own slump of sorts.

This year is going to be much different. It’s already much lighter in general. I think it’s a lot to do with just the pressure we were putting on ourselves.

You talked about a lot of side drafting, aggression. Will there be more conflict between the drivers, more phone calls between you guys?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: If guys like to handle it that way, yeah. Some may choose other routes. We’ve seen it all.

We’re going to see a lot of aggressive driving with the new rules package. When you’re three- and four-wide in a test session in Las Vegas, it’s just a precursor to what the year is going to be.
There’s 13 cars there in drafting practice, and we were four-wide twice. When you’re playing a game of inches, cars are traveling at a high rate of speed, things happen. There’s going to be some hurt feelings over the course of the year.

Is that good for the sport?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: There’s certainly different camps that want to see different types of racing. At the end of the day, I think we’re trying to make sure that through the rating systems, especially through the Nielsen ratings system, eyeballs on television, if that number increases, I guess we’re doing the right thing.

How chaotic would four-wide be for four or five laps after a restart?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s going to be exciting. If you’re into three-, four-wide racing, that revolving door, the draft working, all of that side drafting, as well, you’re going to enjoy that kind of racing.

I don’t think it’s going to happen at all tracks. When we have tracks that have high tire wear, I think we’ll have a short window at the beginning of a run, then it’s going to spread out.

Michigan is going to look like Daytona. Vegas is pretty exciting. We’re going faster through the corners than I first thought we would be with this rules package. We’re moving pretty good. Then you’re four-wide.

As a driver, is that fun for you?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Winning is fun. I don’t care how we do it. I just want to win.

Atlanta will be a little more spread out?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think when handling comes into play, you’re going to need clean air. When you’re at Michigan and the tires don’t wear out, you can be in dirty air and it doesn’t affect the car. Same thing I think for Vegas.

When you get to Fontana, Atlanta, you’ll have a short window of time to really dice it up, but you need clean air to plant your car on the ground.

Have you given any advice to Byron?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Absolutely. We’ve talked a lot. Chad and I, how Chad should approach William. William and I have. Without a doubt.

I think the situation they’re in, Chad is going to be able to bring so much to the table for William and really help him grow, be the driver that he wants to be.

You have to be there at the end of a race in restrictor plate racing. We’ve seen dominance with the Fords. Maybe the Chevrolet teams don’t work as closely. Does there need to be a closer relationship between the Chevy teams to offset the number of Ford teams and what Toyota has done at plate tracks?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, it’s a tough balance. I know that the Ford guys have done a really nice job in general probably as a manufacturer, probably the best for the last stretch of time.

But when I think of dominance, I think of Joey and Brad doing a really good job more times than not, it’s more inner team dynamics. Certainly Stewart-Haas played it perfectly last year in Talladega, at the fall race.

In some respects, it’s more desirable or maybe easier to hedge your bet that way when you have less cars to worry about. On the Chevrolet side, we have a lot of cars on the squad. It’s tough.

Then there’s really four races, at least until now, four races a year that you want that sharing and openness amongst the manufacturers. Then you go to Atlanta, Hey, Richard Childress Racing, don’t talk to us, we’re in our own race. It’s like a bowtie, we’re back to being selfish.

I think it might be easier for Ford in some respects because they have less teams and personalities to manage and worry about. I think it is harder on our side because there are so many more personalities to manage.

Why did the drivers council fall apart?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’m not sure it’s apart. We’re certainly trying to make sure that it’s doing what it should. Truthfully, being on the council every year, we kind of got to a spot where we worked through a lot of our things that we found important, that were on our agenda.

There’s no sense in just meeting to meet, to just say there’s a council that’s in effect. I know we’re looking hard at what it looks like moving forward because NASCAR does want our input. We certainly want to have a voice. But we just don’t want to waste anybody’s time.

We’re trying to figure out what it looks like next moving forward.

Truex said drivers couldn’t agree on certain things. Do you feel like there’s still a very strong line of communication between the drivers, sanctioning body?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, there is no doubt that NASCAR isn’t in an interesting position because everyone has an opinion and expects them to do what they say. I’ve been on that side. I’ve sat in on driver council meetings where our group was leaning heavily in one direction, we thought NASCAR had bought into it, and that’s where it was going, then to find out three weeks later it moved in a different direction.

I don’t envy their position they’re in. They go to a drivers council meeting, then a manufacturers meeting, then an owners meeting, then to a team presidents meeting. They have it coming at them every way.

I know that creates frustration in all those councils because they think it’s heading in one way, NASCAR goes and talks to another group, it takes another turn in a different direction. That part is frustrating.
I’m just happy we all have a seat at the table, we’re all able to weigh in. Finding a way for the drivers to have a voice is still kind of being defined.

Do you think a series can be run on what the drivers really want? If the drivers got what they wanted…

JIMMIE JOHNSON: If the drivers could have one, unified voice, if anybody could have one, unified voice. I’ve sat on this drivers council meeting, 10 or 11 of us, there’s 10 or 11 different opinions on what should happen.

We have to be realistic here. Everybody has their own opinions, different experiences that lead to different conclusions or opinions. A unified voice is the first step, realistic step, we need to have.

She’s basically asking if the inmates run the asylum.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That’s fair.

How long have you been thinking about the Boston Marathon?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Boston specifically was the year of the bombing. I was watching the race on television, recognized that it was on a Monday. I thought, Man, I could do that. Bombing happens, I could only imagine how special the following year would be with Boston Strong.

I was convinced I was going to do it. NASCAR schedule comes out, the schedule changes, it’s Sunday Bristol, Monday Boston. I’m like, There’s no way. I could maybe limp my way through it, but there’s just no way.

I have been watching ever since, wondering if and when the NASCAR schedule would change, and it did this year. It’s Saturday night Richmond. I’d have Sunday to recover, then try to go run it. That was kind of the key moment in time for me.

What is the plan between now and then? Never done a marathon?


What is your plan to get up to that level?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: The last five weeks I’ve run 70 miles. Two days a week have been speed work, the rest have just been volume, trying to recover from the volume. I’ll probably be at 90 to 100 miles three weeks out. I’m kind of working my way up to that number.

Was with Gatorade yesterday, did a bunch of sweat tests, trying to understand based on temperature and heart rate what I’m going to need for various race conditions. It’s just crazy how I spent yesterday treating my body like it was that racecar, what lubricants it needs, fuel it needs, all the particulars that go with it.

I feel like I’ve got a good plan coming together. As long as I stay healthy, right now I have an IT band upset at me, trying to get under control. As long as I stay healthy, keep the volume up, I think I’ll have the type of day I want to have.

What’s the longest distance you’ve run?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’ve run 22 in the past. I’ve run 20 the last five weeks, each Monday I run 20.

What was that like?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know you’re going to war. It’s going to be a long grind. What’s so amazing to me is how much the body can take if you keep it fueled up. Hiding bottles of Gatorade out on the loop, snacks, just keeping the fluids coming in, the calories coming in.

I run up to my little snack break, there’s no way I can go again. You take a swig, chew on something, get it in your stomach, you get moving.