Chevy Racing–NASCAR–Homestead–Jimmie Johnson

FORD 400
NOVEMBER 17, 2016

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Championship Media Day at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel and discussed a variety of topics. Full Transcript:

Q. Have you talked to NASCAR at all about pit road yet? Have you gotten any clarity from last Sunday?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: There’s been quite a few voicemails back and forth. They were traveling Monday. We were in New York Tuesday. So I haven’t had that chance. There’s been enough texting and voice mails back and forth communicating, so I have a better understanding.

I still look forward to tomorrow and understand what would lead to that again in the future, and how aggressive they’re going to be in calling that week after week, stop after stop.

I think what I got called on happened more pit stops after my penalty. I just want consistency is all I’m after.

Q. If you get the seventh on Sunday, you’re a real humble guy, but do you think you’ll get the respect that we think you deserve?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I hear that phrase, and through the way I experience things with our fans, the great articles I see written, the way people talk about me, I feel like I’ve received a lot of respect. I don’t know what Petty and Earnhardt experienced during their moments in time.

I think anybody that’s winning gets booed. I watched Earnhardt get booed. I watched Gordon get booed. When you get older and don’t win as much, you get cheered a bit more. I watched that for both of those guys. I get more cheers now, so I hope that doesn’t mean I’m running out of wins and championships.

I feel I’ve been very respected for what I do and what I’ve accomplished, so I don’t have a negative impact on the way people think of me and what I’ve done. The question has been asked a lot so I have curiosity wondering what it’s like for those guys and if some level there is a lack of respect for what I’ve accomplished, but I haven’t experienced it firsthand.

Q. What were your first impressions of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt when you were younger? What did you see in them as you came into the sport?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me Petty was out of the car. I remember watch him crashing Atlanta. Was it Atlanta where he did that big crash down the frontstretch? Then his final race. I didn’t have a very good sense. Of course the accolades were there. Even in a town of dirt racers, everybody talked about Richard Petty, so I knew who he was.

With Earnhardt, I had much more experience with him. My younger brother picked him as his favorite driver. Of course, I couldn’t like him. Couldn’t help but respect him and shocked at what he could do behind the wheel.

But I went the Davey Allison, Cale Yarborough route because there was no way I could agree with my younger brother.

But watched his success, watched what he could do with the car. It was more in the black 3 that I saw him. Those earlier years, I was pretty young for one, then the television package, media, I didn’t have a lot of access to it.

I’ve learned a lot more since I’ve moved to Charlotte and been around. Growing up, it was hard to watch much of it. Tell you a lot about dirt racing, but very little about NASCAR.

Q. You’ve had a long career, how do you feel the Latin fan base has embraced NASCAR, and your thoughts on Daniel Suarez?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’m excited for Daniel. He’s come so far in his talents and abilities. I think he has a fantastic opportunity to win a championship. Excited to see him get some incident with this year.

The Latino fan base has been a big section of my fan base. I often wonder if it’s because the years I spent racing in Baja, California, Baja 1000, a lot of the dirt racing I did kind of helps with that.

Definitely excited to know there are many Latino fans tuning in, and excited for the growth of it, especially with a competitor driver like Daniel in the sport.

Q. What is your favorite item to pick up at Lowe’s for the holidays? I always see you in those blow‑up things there.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: My wife is kind of anti‑blowup thing (laughter). Last couple years, Knaus and I have gone to Lowe’s and have bought about six of them and hide them in the backyard in various places for us so she can find them. She’ll be really upset if I’m in the front yard. We had a standup popping out of a chimney with a beer in his hand she was really impressed with once. Blowup stuff is fun.

Q. There’s a lot of talk about your legacy. This would be Chad’s seventh, too. What do you think about his legacy and what he brings?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think statistically he’s ‑‑ and I don’t know the stats of Inman. I think Inman has eight championships. You know, Chad has got to be in that conversation as one of the greatest in my opinion, and knowing what he’s capable of and what he’s been able to engineer without an engineering degree is unbelievable. Like he comes up with ideas and then turns to the engineers and says, all right, now make sense of this, and they figure out through their education how to make sense of it.

He’s a very, very smart, self‑taught man, which I think makes it all the more impressive, so he’s definitely in that conversation.

I wish I knew more about the stats of some of the competitors he would be compared against, but he’s got to be in that conversation.

Q. He says he’s not as mentally tough as you are but you have helped him mature over the years.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We’re definitely different guys. You know, I just seem to be able to maintain a more even temperament through the good and the bad, and I think he gets affected by it a little bit easier than I do. You know, he also came from a challenging upbringing and some tough years in our industry when it maybe wasn’t so clean and straightforward and easy. You know, you’ve got to be a rough individual to survive the ’80s and ’90s in our sport, and being aware of others’ feelings and creating the right environment for somebody else to succeed, which was never on his radar, but that’s just the way the world is today, and he’s really adapted and has learned how to get the best out of people, instead of being really upset and yelling at somebody for not doing the job right, trying to figure out how to help them do a better job.

That’s the stuff I’ve tried to open his eyes up to and help him with, and Mr. Hendrick, too, and he’s done a really good job with that.

Q. He’s a guy who kind of focuses on now, I want to win this championship this weekend. Talking to him, is he kind of sensing that he wants to look at his legacy and his place in the sport, or is that not even on his radar?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s pretty far down on his radar. He definitely truthfully is in the now. Two or three drinks in, he’ll look back and he smiles about it, like yeah, that’s pretty cool. But that’s not why he gets up every morning and is the first one in and the last one out. It’s about the now for sure.

Q. I’m guessing that you look back at your career each year and you can kind of define or describe it pretty easily if something stood out one way or another. How was that year challenging or how did this year challenge you in ways that other years haven’t?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think truthfully just how far behind we were in the summer months. In my opinion where we really took a huge step forward was Indy. You look at mid‑August, late August, whatever it was, July, to now to cover from a ‑‑ I don’t know, we were running regularly in the teens, 15th, to where we’re winning races and leading lots of laps, you don’t do that in three to four months, and that was my biggest fear. I thought we could make it through some rounds and maybe get to the Round of Eight, Round of 12, but I didn’t think I could sit here today and honestly tell you guys that we were a favorite for the championship or had a shot to win it. I believe that in my heart now, and am just very impressed at how much ground we covered from ‑‑ Indy was that starting point, from Indy to now.

Q. Is there anything that you carry in the car or have you carried in the car for this race in the years you’ve won the championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don’t ‑‑ every once in a while there’s something given to me or I’ll find a heads‑up penny that will find its way into a car. So yes, I have. I can’t remember the Homestead races if I have and what that might have been. And again, I claim I’m not superstitious, but if I find something that feels right, I’m not going to take my ‑‑ I’m not going to risk it. But I don’t have anything yet. We’ll see.

Q. I know we keep bringing up seven titles, but are you trying your best to forget about that until ‑‑

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, not at all. I’m not running from it. I’m not hiding from it. It’s just truthfully right now for me to do my job and the preparation and all the stuff that goes into racing and being competitive, it’s just not top of mind. I mean, yes, the championship is, but it’s more about winning the race. I’m more focused on winning the race, trying to qualify on pole, understand in the middle of the day what I need for the car to do, come dusk and when the sun sets. I’ve been so caught up in notes and videos and talking setups and pouring through data and all of that stuff that the seven is there, I’m happy to talk about it. I don’t know what else to add to it, and I am just all in race winning ‑‑ trying to win the race, in that mindset.

Q. You’ve gotten to know Joey a little bit better this week. What’s your impression of him?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: He’s a good guy, and some of the troubles he’s had in earlier years, I’ve felt sorry for him because I’ve known him for a lot of years, and I think it’s easy to get to know him. He’s a good guy, very talented driver, but in my eyes, I’ve always felt that the age factor is tough, and it’s tough to find your identity when you’re that young and put into this sport where there’s so many adults that are out there, and it made me really grateful for my situation, although I thought I would never got my shot at the big time, but I didn’t come into the sport until 25 and then turned 26, and I think he’s 26 now I think I heard him say the other day. It’s amazing how much more mature you are and how much more comfortable you are in your own skin and know how to handle situations with age.

You just ‑‑ he grew up in front of our eyes, and that’s a hard thing to do. I guess it doesn’t happen all the time in our sport. It does in other sports, and maybe people on those circuits get used to it, but for us, it doesn’t happen all that often. He’s certainly matured a lot and is absolutely a threat week in and week out.

Q. How do you stay so humble?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess upbringing probably is a big part of it. And then I think truthfully, the majority of my racing career I was the B driver looking for my opportunity and hopeful I’d get it. Studying under very talented champions, but I never had anybody tell me I was great or kissing my butt along the way, I always had to fight for it, so I think that’s helped me quite a bit.

Q. Petty and Earnhardt and yourself; do you allow yourself to put yourself on like a NASCAR Mount Rushmore, like a top four drivers ever? Do you allow yourself to get to that place where you consider yourself one of the greats?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don’t think that is the individual’s place. If somebody was to write an article on it or make that comparison, I’d be proud to be in that pick, but I don’t think it’s for the individual to state that, at least not my style.