2012 NSCS Aaron’s 499 Pre-Race Q&A with Team Chevy Driver, Jimmie JohnsonBy Official Release
YOU WON THIS RACE LAST YEAR. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS WEEKEND RACING AT TALLADEGA?
“We all know that there have been rule changes going into the (Daytona) 500 and then changes coming here. I feel like, probably like a lot of otherdrivers, that the elevated temperatures here will make it very difficult to keep the cars cool. We will learn a lot in practice. I’m nervous that we won’t be able to race like we would hope to due to thetemperatures. At Daytona when it was cooler even a 15 car draft, guys would need to break out of that to cool their cars down due to a lack of air flow through the radiator. With the elevated temperatures here those packs could be smaller. I do know that NASCAR will have a close eye on things. I’m hopeful they will adjust if the temps are as high as we think they will be.”
YOU’VE GOT TWO WINS AT DARLINGTON. ARE THOSE TWO TROPHIES FROM DARLINGTON, DO YOU CHERISH THOSE AS MUCH AS ANY KNOWING HOW HARD YOU HAD TO WORK TO GET THEM?
“Without a doubt, that was on the old surface which, Darlington isn’t easy now, but there is just something so cool about the surface prior to the repave. It was such a challenge. I am very proud of those trophies. The one, by the time I got it home, it was all made out of glass; it had broken and was destroyed. I was bummed out about that and they luckily replaced it for me. I do have trophies intact now. Very cool race, one I think everybody looks forward to. Mother’s Day weekend is fun and has new meaning to me over the last couple of years. Hopefully, it’s a great performance for us.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHT ABOUT LAST YEAR WHEN DALE EARNHARDT JR. PUSHED YOU TO THE WIN?
“I think we really showed throughout that race what sticking together could do. Junior and I both worked throughout the race trying to understand the order in which the cars needed to be. We knew that with me leading and him pushing that was the fastest combination. The way things unfolded, it was best to be the leader in that particular instance. We were three, almost four wide across the start/finish line and just edged out everybody by a little bit. It was a great performance. I think that the chemistry Junior and I both have, that our shop has it was just another example of how strong that chemistry is and how much it continues to grow. I’m very happy to see how fast the No. 88 car has been week-in and week-out. Naturally, you think of him as a favorite here at this race track, but that No. 88 has been pretty strong everywhere. He is rising to be a favorite everywhere we go.”
DO YOU THINK THIS COULD BE DALE JR.’S BEST CHANCE TO WIN IN A LONG TIME?
“I don’t. I think that his best chance to win is on non-plate tracks to be honest with you. Here there are so many circumstances to deal with. We don’t know if you are going to overheat, get the push at the right time, whatever it may be. What I have seen out of him, if you just look at this year alone and where he is in points and how fast his cars have been and how great he has been driving. I put this lower on the list of where I would expect him to win.”
IS THIS PLACE REALLY UNIQUE TO YOU? IS IT DIFFERENT THAN ANY PLACE ELSE YOU COME TO?“There is so much room on this track and with the cars restricted like they are you have a lot of options, a lot of room to try things. Regardless of how long you’ve been racing when you hear your spotter say ‘four-wide’ it still gets you. That is something this track provides and there are a few spots where you might have five-wide.
ARE THE FANS UNIQUE AT TALLADEGA?
“When I first came here the scene in the infield was second to none. I think it has calmed down a little bit over the years for whatever reason. There are just diehard race fans here. There are diehard race fans everywhere we go. It’s hard to say it’s much different but the reputation of this infield lives strong (laughs).”
JEFF (GORDON) WAS TALKING EARLIER ABOUT WANTING TO KEEP A POSITIVE OUTLOOK FOR HIS TEAM. DO YOU SEE THAT? WHAT IS YOUR IDEA ABOUT HOW FRUSTRATED HE IS ABOUT HIS PERFORMANCE THIS SEASON?
“I feel like it is on the high side. It’s not really exactly performance. I think it is more in the results category. The performance, the effort, there has been a lot of things there and right. At the end of the day when the checkered falls they haven’t been in a position they were running and have had a lot of things take place. That is frustrating for anyone. You go along and tell yourself ‘well at least we are running well’; but that last for a short period of time. We saw that with Kasey Kahne early in the year too where the performance was there but the results weren’t. You can only say that to yourself so many times. I know he is looking forward to just finishing where he should and not have something weird take place to him.”
WE ARE GOING INTO RACE 10; WE HAVE FIVE DRIVERS IN THE TOP NINE IN POINTS THAT STILL DO NOT HAVE A WIN. DO YOU SEE THAT AS CIRCUMSTANTIAL OR GUYS RACING REALLY MORE FOR POINTS THAN TRYING TO GET THE WIN?
“I know from afar it may seem like guys are conservative and more concerned about points, but from the way I drive my car and compete I’m on the track every weekend to win. That is what we are here for. What I see out of my windshield with guys and how hard they are driving their cars. I know cautions don’t show it and maybe there are some other stats that would show towards a more conservative environment on the race track, but what I’m living and what I see with my own eyes, guys are driving. They are really putting the effort in. I don’t know where that falls exactly or what the reasoning is behind it. There are a lot of guys earning their moneyout there.”
WITH JUNIOR PUSHING YOU TO THE WIN HERE LAST YEAR; DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU OWE HIM? WILL YOU THINK ABOUT THAT IF YOU TWO HOOK UP AT THE END OF THE RACE THIS YEAR?
“I don’t feel like I owe him. If the situation was a little different and he had room to pull out and pass me he would have. That is just what racers do. We have made an agreement in our situation that, especially when the pushing was around, that we will do anything to help each other out. It’s only improved our chances to win and give us a better finish. If the race comes down to that, now the racing has changed, we are in the packs now. I don’t know if I will be around the No. 88, but if he is in front of me, absolutely I’m pushing him. The race unfolded in a certain way last time, partly because my car was faster leading than his was. Then we were four-wide at the finishing line or else he would have probably won which I would have expected him to.
“If I’m pushing him and have a chance to pull out, I think he would give me a really hard time if I didn’t try to win the race. It’s racing that is what we are here for. I’m happy and glad to work with a teammate out there on the race track and will continue to do everything I can to help him, but I’m here to win races too.”
DO YOU GUYS HAVE A PLAN FOR THIS RACE?
“No, really after Daytona, really the way speedweeks went, I think all the planning is out the window. You just worry about keep your car cool enough to not blow the engine.”
ARE YOU CLEAR ON EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF LAST WEEK’S RACE? WITH YOUR PENALTY AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED ON THAT RESTART WITH THE NO. 99 AND THE NO. 14?
“Clear enough. From my standpoint, getting home looking at the footage and what went on and the way the rule is written for a tire carrier being in control of the tire getting it back to the wall, we did not follow that rule. I get that. From that point on, we were so confused from our own situation on pit road and penalty. I still don’t know exactly what took place with the restart and the lineup. I knew that I had to fall back and was just trying to fall back and really haven’t paid attention to anything from there.”
DO THEY NEED THE WAIVE AROUND RULE? WHY CAN’T WE PUT THE LEADER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK AND HAVE THEM WORK WITH DIRTY AIR?
“Well, we had it that way for a while and then I would assume from fan perspective, it just seems that everything falls in that category, that it seemed unfair to have the leaders start mid-pack. For some reason we changed that rule and we have the waive around rule in affect now. I don’t care. I will race either way. It is what it is. It makes sense to me though to have the leader start the race and not be 10th or 15th in line.”
YES, BUT THEY (THE LEADER) RUNS AWAY BECAUSE THEY HAVE CLEAN AIR…
“But, you’ve earned that spot. You have been the heat all day long.”
DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR C-POSTS THIS WEEKEND?
“Hopefully, they are still on the car (laughs). Outside of that I have no idea. I haven’t had a phone call yet, so I think we’re cool.”
ON SUNDAY YOU GUYS ARE GOING TO BE IN A MEGA HORSEPOWER RACE. THE KENTUCKY DERBY IS SATURDAY. DO YOU EITHER AS A DRIVER OR A SPORTSMAN HAVE AN AFFINITY FOR THAT ONE HORSEPOWER KIND OF RACE?
“I haven’t been because of the racing thing. It is an event I would love to spectate at some day and experience. I don’t follow horse racing, but any major event that takes place in sports I have an eye on and respect. It’s the best of the best doing something. I stop and watch even if it is other forms of stick and ball sports that I’m not regularly following. When it comes to the big stuff I’m going to try to watch.”
IS THERE ANY CORRELATION BETWEEN THAT RACE AND THIS ONE YOU WILL BE COMPETING IN ON SUNDAY?
“I don’t know much from the competition side but I have heard that their infield seems pretty good. The infield of the Kentucky Derby and the infield of Talladega, it’s a good weekend for sports fans (laughs).
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOUR EMOTIONS AND FEELINGS WERE COMING TO THIS TRACK FOR THE FIRST TIME BACK IN 2000 WHEN YOU COMPETED IN THE NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES EVENT HERE?
“I remember being really excited to be in the draft and to be at a big track. The Daytona race we missed, we didn’t qualify for. It was my first plate race. I went in with high hopes and just thought you could hold it wide open and create moves and things would happen. I quickly learned that there is a specific art to work the draft and to be competitive here. I didn’t find those skills that day. I have been working on them ever since. It’s just a different deal. I really was excited to be in a big pack. I grew up watching this stuff. I enjoyed watching the plate races and all that went on with it and I wanted to be one of those guys. I finally had my chance to here.”
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