Jimmie Johnson Press Conference Transcript




American Muscle


February 16, 2011

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at Daytona International Speedway and discussed the rule changes, two-car draft, changes to Phoenix, the yellow-line rule, racing at Daytona and other topics. Full transcript:

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS RIGHT NOW ABOUT YOUR RACE TEAM, YOUR STATE OF MIND AND YOUR APPROACH TO THE UPCOMING RACES? “We’re learning and growing with all the other teams in the garage area in general trying to get our heads around the rules that are coming along. How I can drive it and be better than the others and how our team can do a better job. I completely understand the position that NASCAR is in and have talked to Mike Helton plenty about changes and ways to help keep the speeds down. I have certainly seen the process and respect the decisions that have been made and only time will tell. I think in general, we’d all like to have no plate on the car which we all know is impossible. But the biggest plate on there we possibly can. But, the speeds, we know what happens with cars at 195 mph or whatever it was Brad (Keselowski) and Carl (Edwards) at Talladega. You add 10-15 mph to that, that is going to be even worse. So I understand the process and look forward to getting on track and just knowing what these new rule changes are going to do and how the cars are going to drive.”

SAFETY IS A BIG TOPIC THIS WEEK ESPECIALLY WITH THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF DALE EARNHARDT, SR.’S DEATH, HOW SAFE DO YOU FEEL IN THE CARS PARTICULARILY WITH NASCAR CONTINUING TO MAKE ADJUSTMENTS TO SLOW THEM DOWN AND KEEP THEM ON THE TRACK? “We, as drivers know that we’re in a profession that isn’t necessarily safe. To a large degree we have assumed those risks and our families have as well. We’ve come to grips with that decision a long time ago. But, all that being said, in 2001 what went on and the five drivers who we lost including Dale, Sr., turned the world around for us and has increased the threshold multiple times. I don’t even know what the number is, but, to see the impacts with the data recorders on the cars and have drivers NOT lose consciousness; not break bones; walk away, it is amazing where we are today. Hopefully we keep an open eye on the small details that are left. There are weird angles on walls at tracks. I think grass is another area of focus. Fire is always an area and fortunately we haven’t seen anything like that so we seem to have done a really good job as a sport to beat that problem before there really was one, at least in my era. I know back in the early days it was probably different. I think intrusion is an area of focus that NASCAR is looking at in the next step for us as well.”

DO YOU LIKE TANDEM RACING AND DO YOU THINK THAT IS GOOD FOR NASCAR TO DISPLAY THAT IN THEIR SHOWCASE EVENT? “I don’t think that it is fair to say for NASCAR to display that in their showcase event because no one knew this was going to happen from the sanctioning body side. Us as teams and drivers knew at Talladega we could stay together for awhile. We all went home and worked hard within the rules to do it longer. I don’t think anybody anticipated it turning into this. Even at the test session, maybe the track was too green and dirty but all the reports I had from the first test session when Goodyear brought the tire test here was you can’t do it, don’t expect to do it. Well, we come back for the open test and here we all are linked up and going so it is evolving and moving. Is it good or bad? I don’t know. I’ve watched some of the clips and talked to a lot of people, some find it interesting to see all the passes that took place and the fact that we aren’t riding in a big blob and you can’t advance. Others like the big blob of cars and say well this wasn’t all that exciting. So, I don’t where it nets out for me as a driver. I can say it was fun and interesting because there was something new. It was fun for the guys in the Shootout to try and find something before your competitors did. At the end of the day, Kurt Busch did the best job, figured it out and won the race. To be in that space of finding something new.especially at these plate tracks where the rules and the rules; the draft has been the draft To have something new to focus on was fun for us in the seats.”

YOUR TEAMMATE DALE, JR., DENNY HAMLIN AND A FEW OTHERS FELT LIKE THEY SHOULD HAVE GONE THE OTHER WAY, MADE THE HOLE LARGER SO IT WOULD HAVE BEEN TOUGHER FOR YOU GUYS TO GET OUT THERE IN A TWO-CAR TANDEM, HAVE YOU GOT ANY INDICATION TO BELIEVE THAT IS TRUE? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT? “I’ve talked to Junior in detail about it and that’s what he felt like would be a good fix and I guess at the Goodyear tire test, there was a larger plate on the cars and it was more difficult to stay together and guys couldn’t do it. My only counter to that is at 204 or whatever my lap time was, I know 206 mph was the big number, I’ve not been in a position to lose control of my car yet, so I am not convinced that a few more miles an hour is going to change that. I think all we are doing is having the potential of getting more speed in the car and a bigger issue for lift off. With the position we’re in as a sport, with a couple of practice sessions, a race then the 500, I don’t think we have a lot of time to experiment and try stuff. I think we all felt like a smaller plate was coming and understand why so I am not saying I have a problem with the direction it is going. I think everybody would love to see the plates off the cars to start with. It is that necessary evil that we talk about every time we go to a plate track. NASCAR was trying to do everything they could to not go down on plate but they are kind of at that point. At least for the Shootout and see what happens through it.I’m sorry, not the Shootout, but the Duel. I believe they are in a position where they would like to make a big change and then if they can give us something back for the 500, they will. So I know that this pop-off valve for the water pressure in the engine system and the cooling system, that is going to change the game. That valve opens up, you are losing water, so go ahead and push as long as you want, you’re not going to last long.”

WITH THE THREE CHANGES THEY HAVE MADE TO THE CAR SINCE QUALIFYING, HOW DETRIMENTAL WILL BE TO NOT GET OUT IF THE RAIN CONTINUES TODAY AND YOU DON’T GET A CHANCE TO DRAFT PRACTICE AT ALL? “It would definitely be a disadvantage for the drivers that weren’t in the Shootout. Even from the open test, the way we were working the draft in the Shootout than I had seen from the test session. It would be a disadvantage for those folks. For all the teams, in the some ways, it will maybe save some race cars knowing how exciting these practice sessions can get. Then again, I guess at the end of the day, it could hurt the ability a better decision for the 500 if we saw something in practice today, there may be a change; it may stimulate some change or put that thought process in NASCAR’s mind so it probably would be a negative if we didn’t get on track on all fronts.”

YOU WON THE THING HERE IN ’06, BUT THE LAST THREE YEARS, YOUR FINISHES HAVEN’T BEEN STRONG, WHAT HASN’T CLICKED THESE LAST FEW YEARS THAT YOU NEED TO TURN AROUND? “In the plate stuff in ’06, I had a really good understanding on how to drive the old car; where to position myself and how to really defend once I got to the lead. I don’t feel like I’m doing the best job with plate racing and the way the COT drives. Couple of things lead to that: 1. We’ve really tried to make sure we are learning for the Talladega Chase race, so I’ve not been in position in a lot of plate races to race for the win and defend. It has been trying to understand how to be in the right spot and avoid the problems and then go like crazy to get to the front at the end. The other side to it is, if you look at those races, we’ve been caught up in wrecks late in the race each time. That is what reflects those poor finishes. I guess last year I felt like we were in a position to win, we were right there in the thick of things with the leaders and with McMurray obviously cycled out to win and we were caught up in a wreck. So I think our finishes would have been better than what the results show. ”

DOES THAT SPEAK TO YOUR GREAT SUCCESS IN THE CHASE BECAUSE YOU ARE THINKING CHASE WHEN THE SEASON STARTS? “Yea, it does. Sometimes we feel like we make good decisions for plate tracks. Other times it is so tough to tell because quite frankly, there is a lot of luck involved in missing the big wrecks and being in the right line and having the right guy pushing. Whatever it may be. So, there is skill that is involved, but it can be superseded with luck at any point on a plate track.”

PHOENIX HAS ANNOUNCED THAT THEY ARE GOING TO RECONFIGURE THAT TRACK, CHANGE SOME THINGS ON PIT ROAD, CHANGE SOME THINGS ON THE FRONTSTRETCH AND DOGLEG AS WELL, WHAT IS YOUR REACTION WHEN YOU HEARD ABOUT THAT AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CHANGES THEY ARE PLANNING? “Definitely disappointed that they needed to resurface the track. I understand that at some point all tracks need it and they are at that point. We love the tracks that are worn out and on the verge of needing to be resurfaced. I think we put on our best races there. So, disappointed to hear it go but Phoenix has done a good job in speaking with folks, drivers, trying to understand the track from a safety standpoint and to make sure that we don’t have single-file racing starting at the first race after the repave. I’ve been in talks with Phoenix and the crew that is working on the track and I feel good about things and where they are going with it. If we don’t like it, which sounds like the chances are low, in time it will come back, just like a lot of the other tracks.”

HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO READ THE MAXIM STORY ON BRIAN VICKERS AND HAVE YOU EVER MET THAT VERSION OF BRIAN? (CHUCKLES) “I know that Brian, definitely. I did read the article. Felt like I needed to be prepared coming in today. It was an exciting article and certainly read through it. With a year off, I think he pursued as many things off track as possible and certainly had a lot of fun. Everybody sees things a little differently. Brian has always had an interesting point of view on things. He has never lacked confidence either. I felt like that came through in the article too.”

WITH ALL THE DOCUMENTARIES AND STORIES ABOUT DALE EARNHARDT’S DEATH HERE, THEY ALWAYS INCLUDE THAT IT TOOK HIM 20 TRIES TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500, HAVE YOU CONSCIOUSLY THOUGHT THAT YOU ARE GLAD YOU HAVE AT LEAST ONE UNDER YOUR BELT SO NO ONE HAS TO ASK WHY AS A FIVE-TIME CHAMPION HAS NEVER WON IT OR WERE YOU EVEN AWARE OF HOW MUCH GRIEF HE CAUGHT YEAR AFTER YEAR? “Yea definitely but not in those exact words. I wasn’t in the sport all that long and maybe didn’t know maybe what the discussion was in the garage area and what the questions were being asked. I watched intently hoping some day he would win it as a fan. They did a good job of portraying how difficult it was for him and how close he had been. I sat there hoping he would win a 500 just like the majority of the fan base did. So, when I won mine, it was along the lines of WOW, it took Earnhardt 20 years to win his and there is some relief associated with that, yes I did win mine. So, it didn’t have anything to do with championships. I guess now reflecting back on it, if I hadn’t won, it would be a painful question I would have to answer every time we come to Daytona so indirectly we corrected that problem.”

DO YOU FEEL WITH THE CHANGES THAT NASCAR MADE THIS WEEK, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE NOT TRUSTWORTHY ENOUGH TO RUN AT THOSE SPEEDS? “One, we run at over 200 miles an hour around one another on a lot of tracks, California, Michigan, Indianapolis, some of the 1.5-mile tracks we get close to that at the end of the straight aways. It’s not really a trust factor and I honestly believe there is nothing from NASCAR’s side in trusting the drivers to do it, it just boils down to physics. We know these cars are airborne. We’ve seen them airborne in Atlanta, we’ve seen them airborne in Talladega and we’ve seen them airborne here. We can’t have that situation. We as a sport cannot be faced with a car getting into the catch fence and injuring the driver or the fans. We cannot do that at all costs. Even if we are bashed for a boring race, we cannot have cars in the grandstands or injuring people or up in the fence, whatever it may be. It’s just not an option. So that’s the decision that NASCAR’s faced with and it started back in ’85 with Bobby in Talladega, ’87 that’s where it started. They took all of that decision making process out. It’s just a so simple fact. We can’t have them airborne. Even with those attempts of having the wing on the back of the car, and a lot of us actually joked going forward its created down force, what happens when you turn it around then unfortunately we had to watch a couple of cars take off before we made changes to that. But we can’t have cars airborne. At 206 (mph) airborne you’re going to fly for a while.”

DID YOU VIEW IT AS KIND OF A MAN ON THE MOVEMENT MOMENT WHEN JEFF WENT 200 HERE BECAUSE IT’S BEEN SUCH A LONG TIME WE’VE SEEN ANYBODY MAKE THAT KIND OF SPEED HERE? “I knew there was like a 202 mark or something and then it started going and the latest is 206, we can’t really tell inside the car. You know that you are on the top side of the rpm curve, you hit the rev limiter and we have shift lights to warn us when we are too high on rpm’s, and for lap after lap after lap my lights on and I’m on the chip, so I don’t know what that math equals up to for a final gear ratio and rpm range, but all senses are telling you, you are smoking along pretty good.”

HAVE YOU FIGURED OUT WITH ALL THE CHANGES THAT ARE GOING ON AND FROM WHAT YOU’VE SEEN, WHERE YOU WANT TO BE COMING OFF TURN FOUR THE FINAL LAP? “I still think leading is not the position you want to be in to win the Daytona 500 or at Talladega. We will be able to push for some period of time. Even if the cars overheat in a very short period of time for the win as you come off of (turn) two or (turn) four, you’ll find a way to get connected and try to separate yourselves and just run until the engine blows, whatever that threshold is. So as long as the push is in effect, the guy pushing has the advantage. Kurt (Busch) showed us all something in the Shootout that a second group coming up has a fair shot as well as the leaders. I would say you either want to be second or third, that’s really the pay off position as of now. When we had the old cars and the way we would be single file and we couldn’t connect the bumpers, leading was a pretty good position to be in. It took a lot of work from second place of dragging the break to get to third, get a bump draft, to get the momentum to try to make a move. And it took lap after lap after lap just setting that up. If the leader was smart he could just ride the brake and control that energy and never allow a pass to happen. Those days are gone. We can’t do that now. As you drag the brake to stop the energy from taking place the guy just picks you up and pushes you and off you go. So it’s just a different game.”

IN REGARDS TO THE YELLOW-LINE RULE, DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE YOU’RE IN AN UNFAIR POSITION, HAVING TO MAKE THAT DECISION, IF SOMEBODY CAN FORCE YOU BELOW THE YELLOW LINE, YOU EITHER GO AND GET DEMOTED OR END UP IN A WRECK? “The time I feel it’s unfair is mid-race when you’re not willing to knock the right side off your car and somebody is coming, coming, coming and you’re left with the decision and I don’t want the fender pushed in and don’t want the side of my car caved in, I’ll go out of bounds, let off, let the pack go by and get back in line. That’s the time where it’s kind of unfair. Coming to the finish there has to be a boundary line at some point. So at that point I’m willing to knock the fenders in and have some contact but mid-race I’ve been forced out of bounds a few times or chosen to not hold my line because I didn’t want to damage my car and then I’m below the yellow line I have to let off and you can’t get back in line. Before you join the field you’re 25th or something. That part isn’t a lot of fun. I don’t know how you police it any differently. There is an argument from off of (turn) four to the start/finish line have at it but I don’t know if that’s really an option.”

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IT THEM DO AWAY WITH THE YELLOW-LINE RULE ON THE LAST PART OF THE LAST LAP? “In some ways I think the potential is there for an even bigger wreck because now if you’re the leader you’re going to go to the inside to the lowest line to prevent somebody from trying to shoot up the inside. So now, if I’m the leader I’m going straight to the grass. I don’t know if it really changes a lot. I see that there can be some contact and some guys really blocking, now you push the car off in the grass, he’s going to come back out of control across traffic and that can be another issue. At least now when you get shoved out, you’re shoved on the apron and you can still control your car. Where if the apron was the track and the grass was out of bounds, if you get shoved out you are out of control when coming back up into traffic. If that makes any sense.”

ABOUT THE SWAP, IF YOU’RE IN THE LEAD PAIR OR THERE ARE CARS AROUND YOU AND YOU NEED TO SWAP, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO GO LOW IF THERE ARE OTHER CARS AROUND OR GO HIGH AND COMPLETE THE PASS AND SWITCH POSITIONS WITHOUT LETTING THOSE OTHER CARS INTERFERE WITH YOUR AIR? “Yeah, that’s really the interesting part and I think the part that will keep the race entertaining and exciting. You can try to get air in the nose by sticking your fender out on the other side then try to get some air around and into the car to try to cool it down but I think it’s impossible to say that guys are always going to change or switch at the same time. So someone’s car is cooling a little better, someone got connected a lap later or a half lap later, whatever it may be, that change right now is the equalizer I think. I’ve seen more cases in practice and even in the Shootout, well the Shootout we didn’t have to change all that much, in testing and practice we did a lot of changeovers and in those changeovers, two or three times we had done our changeover and were coming and the group in front of us were trying to do it and they weren’t organized yet and we caught them at a bad time and there was nowhere to go. As we caught them our group broke apart because the race track was kind of full and we didn’t have anywhere to go. So that is a tricky part to it and the closure rate of guys coming that could potentially cause some wrecks. The pushing car can’t see unless the spotter is doing a real good job of describing what’s up in front, you can push the car you are up against right off into guys that are running side-by-side trying to cross over. That’s what was so interesting from our standpoint in the cars, was all this new stuff and we would make our switch, connect then here’s a group that was disconnected. It was all this new stuff to try and that’s why it was fun for us in the seats. Then trying to strategize, ok if we can stay together half a lap longer or a lap longer over the period of time we’ll do less changes than anyone else. That’s how we ended up where we did today with the teams working so hard on the cooling. Then we as drivers worked real hard in the test sessions to minimize the amount of time it took for a changeover. We were doing that down here at the test session and were timing our laps and really got our lap time down about a second and a half on how we reattached and got going again. Just trying to find something that we could stack up over a period of time. So it’s been fun for us. That’s why you see drivers kind of enjoying it I would say. I think that’s what I’ve heard. I’m not sure and could be totally wrong, everybody is in here saying they hate it. The guys in the Shootout I thought enjoyed it because there’s a new element of racing that’s involved.”

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