NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
BANK OF AMERICA 500
CHARLOTTE MOTOR SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
OCTOBER 10, 2013
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S DOVER WHITE CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed racing this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he currently sits in the Chase and other topics. Full Transcript:
TALK ABOUT COMING BACK TO CHARLOTTE, A PLACE WHERE YOU’VE HAD SO MUCH SUCCESS, AND WHAT YOU’RE HOPING TO GET OUT OF THIS WEEKEND
“I’m definitely excited to be home and sleep in your own bed through the course of the week is obviously nice. Having Lowe’s corporate headquarters just down the road is really cool, too. We’ll have a lot of their executives out. In year’s past, we’ve been able to perform with them right here watching and joining us in Victory Lane. It would be nice to experience that once again with all of them.
“The track is great. We all know the history of the track and have really had some strong runs here over the years. And I think the last couple of All-Star races, we’ve been able to hit the first race really well and then when we come back for the 600 we are competitive; but it’s a little different than it was five or six years ago when they resurfaced the track. So we’re still trying to find that magic where we can separate ourselves each time we come back. But I still feel like we’re in that top 3 or top 5 group, week-in and week-out. As long as Matt (Kenseth) isn’t winning, then top 3 or top 5 wouldn’t be too bad this weekend.”
TALK ABOUT PHOENIX AND WHAT YOU LIKE ABOUT THAT TRACK. YOU HAVE THE MOST WINS THERE.
“It’s changed quite a bit. We’ve struggled there since it’s been resurfaced. Our spring race seems to go well each time, but the fall race is pretty tough on us. It’s a totally different rhythm now through (Turn) 2. I call it ‘Turn 1, then Turn 2, then Turn 3 and Turn 4’, but some call it (Turns) 1 and 2 and the Doglegs. So whatever that little section of road is over there is really different than what we had before. And then the surface is this new asphalt that we can’t get a tire to stick to all that well. It’s obviously an extreme climate area, but hopefully that asphalt will give up and we can get a second lane working. They’ve spent a lot of money to build progressive banking in some areas and on their modeling; they had two and three lanes working around there. But we haven’t been able to see it yet and I hope that we go out there this fall and we get it.”
A LOT WAS MADE OF THE MIND GAMES YOU HAD WITH DENNY HAMLIN IN 2010; AND THEN LAST YEAR WITH BRAD KESELOWSKI. NOW THAT YOU ARE CHALLENGED BY A GUY LIKE MATT KENSETH, HOW DO YOU PLAY THOSE KINDS OF GAMES? OR, CAN YOU PLAY THOSE KINDS OF GAMES?
“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the games. I felt like with Denny, whatever our personalities; we’ve always given each other a hard time in a good way. There was just some opportunity there where I could jab at him. And I think Kevin Harvick, at the champion’s press conference we had, really opened the door for it all to start happening there. Harvick had a very helpful hand in all that and getting it going. Honestly, with Bad last year, I’m not trying to play games. You are asked so many questions over the course of that week and you’re talking about somebody’s experience level; if they are defending something and what are those emotions and those conversations come out of kind of playing head games and stuff like that. But really, I’m just answering questions and stating the facts; and also stating facts that I know I’ve lived through and the challenges that I’ve had to fight through. So, with all of that, Matt has the experience. He’s been a champion. And no one is immune to it, but I feel like with someone that hasn’t won their first (title) you can suggest a few things that make them think more about it. And I don’t know what or if or how or any of that with Matt, if it would develop. And there are other years when I’ve raced Jeff (Gordon) for the championship or Mark Martin, and there really wasn’t anything to really mention there. So, I don’t have an agenda, or plan to. I didn’t necessarily those years, either. But I’m sure there will be something to talk about once we get to Homestead.”
ON HOW WHITE KNUCKLE OF AN EVENT IS TALLADEGA FOR YOU? WHAT IS THE LEVEL OF TENSION, KNOWING YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP COULD GO UP IN SMOKE AT ANY MOMENT?
‘Yeah, it’s tough. With this rules package, riding is not the things to do. You’ll never get back to the front. So, you’ve just got to go race and cross your fingers and go for it. You just hope that Lady Luck is on your side and that you make it through. The guys that we’re racing with right now in the championship historically go and race there. They don’t ride. So even if that opportunity was there, it would have forced our hand to race. So, we’re just going to show up and race. I’ve been able to finish all three (restrictor plate races) so far this year, and I think all three in the top 5. Hopefully we can keep this streak alive.”
THIS IS YOUR 10TH CHASE. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW WITH ALL THE EXPERIENCE YOU HAVE? DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT WINNING ANOTHER ONE OR DO YOU THINK IT’S GOING TO BE MORE OF A CHALLENGE THIS YEAR THAN IN THE PAST?
“It’s never easy. I do feel very good about our chances. Post-Talladega, depending on how things play out there, we’ll see where we stand. But the only thing I can do right now is look back on the races we’ve had and think what points we’ve left on the table. And there really aren’t many that we’ve left behind. So, yes there are a few points out there, but we’ve been very consistent. We’ve been competitive. We’ve won a race. I feel good with that. I know if we keep this pace up, we’ll definitely be a contender come Homestead. The big question is just Talladega; and then you do have some general risks that you take during the course of the weekend. Last weekend we had that engine fail with two (laps) to go and luckily, I limped it home. So you do have that mechanical aspect that’s out there. But again, it’s something I can’t control. I really work hard to worry about the things that I can control and forgetting about the rest.”
YOU MADE YOUR FIRST SPRINT CUP START HERE IN 2001. THAT’S ALSO WHERE YOU STARTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH LOWE’S. WHAT DOES THAT RELATIONSHIP MEAN TO YOU? AND, DOES THIS RACE HAVE ANY MORE SIGNIFICANCE BECAUSE OF IT?
“Yeah, I definitely think about this being my first start. It was a tough week for me. My close friend, Blaise Alexander, unfortunately lost his life on the front stretch here. So it was a weird and emotionally-charged weekend for me. The ultimate high of qualifying for my first Cup race, my relationship with Lowe’s, the Lowe’s car that they had at the time didn’t make the show, so there was that big positive emotion-swing in that direction and the tragedy of my friend, pulling me in another. So, it was a crazy week. And by the time Sunday came around, and I was in the race, my emotions were back under control and I really enjoyed the experience on the track. And I’ll never forget that first ah-ha moment I had was leaving the end of pit road. And I was running somewhere in the top 10 or top 15, and Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett, and Jeff Gordon were all around me. And I still kind of get the goose bumps now, just thinking about it. I just rolled off the end of pit road and I’m like here! This is where I’ve always wanted to be and I’m here.
“Shortly thereafter, I spun out and right in front of my teammate, Jeff, who was racing for the championship and I about took him out of it (laughs). It was a taste for me of how humbling the sport can be. I leave pit road on top of the world and it wasn’t five laps later when I was over there backwards in the wall. It’s a challenging sport.”
THERE WAS AN INCIDENT WHERE A CUP D
RIVER WAS ARRESTED A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO. WITHOUT GETTING INTO THE SPECIFICS OF THAT, SO MANY TIMES NASCAR GETS HAILED AS BEING UNLIKE OTHER SPORTS WHERE ATHLETES MIGHT BE MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO BEING INVOLVED IN A POLICE BLOTTER OR HEADLINES FOR THE WRONG REASONS. WHEN SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS, DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT HOW IT MIGHT COLLECTIVELY IMPACT DRIVERS’ BRANDS AND KNOWING THAT SPONSORS GET INVOLVED IN THE SPORT BECAUSE OF THAT IMAGE-CONSCIOUS-TYPE THING. DO YOU THINK NASCAR SHOULD TAKE ANY ACTION WHEN SOMETHING LIKE THAT HAPPENS?
“I hadn’t thought about it on that level. I was shocked when I heard about it. But it’s not good for our sport, for sure. I think that most realize that it’s an individual situation and nothing to do with the team or the sponsor. It might shy a sponsor away from that particular organization or driver, but I would hope that it wouldn’t impact any further than that. I guess there could be some repercussions there. But again, I hadn’t thought about it too much in a global perspective for our sport. It’s not good press, so it can’t be helpful by any means. And it is pretty rare. I think that’s something that we all pride ourselves on that we don’t have a lot of that drama in our sport. So, I’m sure there is a negative impact to a small degree.”
KEVIN HARVICK WAS IN HERE BEFORE YOU AND SUGGESTED THAT ONE REASON ROOKIE STRUGGLE THESE DAYS IS BECAUSE THE TRUCKS AND THE NATIONWIDE CARS JUST AREN’T AS FAST AS THE CUP CARS AND THE TRANSITION IS SO HUGE. WHEN YOU THINK BACK TO YOUR BUSCH DAYS IN THE EARLY 2000’S WERE THE CARS THAT MUCH CLOSER?
“Man I can’t really remember and I haven’t been in a Truck or a Nationwide car much since. Kevin would really be the perfect one to ask that. My mind quickly goes to how little testing you can have as a rookie. When I came in the sport I think it was 12 two-day test sessions. So I got 24 test days to sort stuff out. As an individual team didn’t race at Martinsville so we went to Martinsville. Didn’t race at, trying to remember the tracks now, Pocono, went to Pocono and tested. So we were able to get me up to speed because when a weekend starts, if you are a rookie coming in and you haven’t had a chance to test. By the time you get up to speed and comfortable on the track the good guys are five, six changes ahead of you. And you are behind that the entire weekend. It’s hard to catch up. That is the part that I can really relate to the most. I’m thankful that in my generation I was able to test a lot. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to open up testing more in general. We are kind of trending that way which is encouraging. With (Kyle) Larson making the move as he has inevitably other drivers their names come along I think Austin’s (Dillon) make the change. When you grow up in a high horsepower vehicle at least from my own experience I struggle in the slower cars. I need the throttle to turn the car. I have a good feeling for both of those guys. It’s certainly going to be a tough road for them, but coming from the dirt, coming from high horsepower cars I think the Cup car is going to fit their style a little better.”
GIVEN THE STRUGGLES THAT YOU HAD LEADING UP TO THE CHASE HOW GOOD DO YOU FEEL? DID YOU THINK YOU WOULD BE SITTING HERE DOING AS WELL AS YOU’VE DONE IN THE FIRST THREE RACES?
“I honestly and genuinely felt like we had a great chance to win the championship when all that was going on. Bristol and Richmond we don’t have any tracks like that in the Chase. The other tracks we struggled at we were running very fast, competitive, fighting for wins and had some weird things go on. It did add a little stress there is no doubt about it. When you have a new stat of your four or five worst races ever in the history of a team it’s not anything to be proud of. There was a bit of, I don’t know exactly what to call it, stress, or frustration that went with that. But we genuinely knew that we would be fine once the Chase started and got back to our tracks, good tracks and had a little luck turn around for us.”
SPEAKING OF THE ENGINE AT KANSAS DID YOU GUYS FIGURE OUT WHAT THE PROBLEM WAS? HAVE YOU EVER HAD AN ENGINE COME BACK LIKE THAT AFTER IT STARTED TO FAIL ON THE FINAL LAP? IT SEEMED LIKE THAT MIGHT HAVE SAVED YOU ABOUT TWO OR THREE CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS AND COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE:
“It really was bizarre. I was trying to manage how hard the car was shaking with my throttle inputs and looking back on it all I just got lucky with the parts that were failing. They decided to work in harmony for another mile and a half or something. I could use a lot more throttle and maintain that sixth position. We had a big meeting on Tuesday and they walked all the drivers and crew chief through and it’s amazing how thorough things are in our engine shop. We feel very comfortable and confident that they have the issue sorted out that was in the valve train. We are feeling good about it.”
YOU SAID A FEW WEEKS AGO YOU WERE ONLY REALLY FOCUSED ON THE PEOPLE IN FRONT OF YOU IN POINTS. DO YOU STILL LOOK AT IT THAT WAY NOW THAT KEVIN (HARVICK) HAS A WIN?
“Kind of the same. Even before when I mentioned looking forward you have to be aware of people behind you. I think any psychologist or type of coaching you would listen to nobody wants you to look behind they always want you to look forward. I’m certainly focused forward and just trying to get that top spot. I was really motivated last week and hopeful that we could leave Kansas as the point’s leader came close, but it didn’t turn out. I certainly have to be aware of the No. 24 and the consistency they have had and the fast cars and great performances and the same thing with the No. 29. Kevin has got it all. He’s won championships he understands the pressure. He is a hard-nosed racer things don’t rattle him. He’s got that all there and the cars have been trending faster and faster and he showed that last week with a dominating weekend. Looking forward but I certainly know who is behind us.”
YOU TALKED ABOUT HOW YOU CAUGHT A LITTLE BIT OF A BREAK THERE AT KANSAS ON THE LAST TWO LAPS WITH THE ENGINE GOING SOUR. HOW IMPORTANT IS IT THAT YOU HAVE BOTH GOOD LUCK AND FAST CARS TO OVERCOME THE BAD LUCK IN THE CHASE? DO YOU LOOK BACK AT THAT AND SEE THAT AS KIND OF A DEFINING MOMENT OF YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP RUN THIS YEAR?
“Well it’s early. Talladega is still out there so it’s tough to look back on four races and spot the defining moment. When the motor first started going I thought it was over and I was looking for white smoke and thought that I wouldn’t finish the last lap. Started to develop the opinion ‘okay I’m going to finish, but I will be 15th.’ I know the No. 20 didn’t have the best day going so I’m not going to lose a ton of points. Then the engine started running smooth again and I was able to maintain sixth. So I went through a variety of emotions trying to get that baby home and was very thankful that it did stay running and it got me back. We’ve still got a little while before we try to look back and spot that moment. I’m pretty sure there will be some other hairy moments out there we’ve got to deal with.”
WHAT ARE THE KEY VARIABLES OR INTRICACIES THAT MADE YOU GO FROM A GUY THAT WON FIVE OUT OF NINE TO START YOUR CAREER AT THIS PLACE AND THEN HAD A 1 OUT OF 15 DROUGHT? OBVIOUSLY I THINK THE REPAVE PLAYED INTO IT, BUT WHAT WERE THE OTHER VARIABLES INVOLVED?
“The overwhelming majority of it is repave I think. We had a set-up there is a line that I ran and you go back and look at the video and I guess guys would have figured it out and explored and probably got better at it. But the old surface, the b
umps, how tough it was to get around this place just worked really well for me. We were able to find a little advantage especially on long runs. Now with the surface like it is it’s just far different. There really aren’t any bumps very little fall off due to the tire, so within that is where I think the majority of it went. Sure, teams get stronger so I guess the other sliver to it is guys getting stronger. I think of Kasey Kahne and how consistent he’s been here. It’s been a good track for the No. 29 at times for Matt (Kenseth) regardless of the car that he’s in. I was going to say the No. 20 but also in the No. 17 you know he’s had some wins here. I think the competition getting stronger and then certainly the track change.”
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES