CHEVY NCS AT DAYTONA 500 MEDIA DAY: Jimmie Johnson Transcript

FEBRUARY 12, 2020


JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’m just open. I have so many friends in that garage area, great friends that live in Austin, as well, to have the day off and go out there Monday afternoon, have dinner with some friends, went to the track, saw more friends. It was just kind of exploring and looking around. I don’t have anything planned. There’s really no plans formalized. Just kind of hanging out, looking around, seeing what it’s like, seeing what kind of develops as the year goes on. Of course, my focus and priority is here. There’s going to be a fine balance of making sure I can do everything I can on the Cup side while looking at some opportunities that should develop through the course of 2020.
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Q. Has anyone specifically reached out to you already and said they would be interested in you doing X, Y and Z for us?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There haven’t been any specific plans thrown at me. I’ve had everybody from sanctioning bodies to team owners far and wide. I’ve been saying this for a lot of years: I’m open to all other forms of racing. Now that there is an ending near at the end of 2020, those calls and texts and stuff are coming in more often.

Q. Is there a particular type of racing, IndyCar, track that you want to try?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’ve gone in circles enough, and granted a road course is still a circle, but I’m not interested in ovals really. I think the windscreen on the IndyCar certainly creates a huge upgrade in safety for those cars. I don’t want to say that an oval would be completely out of the question. The right oval would be important. I want to do some road course racing. After driving that F1 car a couple Novembers ago, just blew my mind what that experience was like. IndyCar is an option. Sports cars. I could see a situation where the WECS Series has an eight-race schedule, there’s a lot of off weeks an eight-week schedule. Travel the world, take my family with, school, experience the world. I could see a neat opportunity there. Clearly the IMSA Series racing here in North America would be a lot of fun. Those divisions would be probably my first focus in ’21 or ’22. In my heart, I still want to go back and do some off-road racing. I think opportunities like that will be around for a long time. I feel like there’s probably a shorter runway on some of these other series. With that being said, I’m just open. We’ll see what develops over the year.

Q. Chase said earlier that he considers you the greatest driver of all time. Obviously people make the comparison, everybody has their favorites. Does that matter to you about where you would be considered in the overall pantheon of drivers?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s cool to hear. I’m not going to lie. It’s great to hear. But that’s not a box I need checked. That’s not who I am, what I’m about, what I set out to achieve in my life in racing. I don’t have any attachment to it. Sure, it’s wonderful to hear it. I’m just stoked to be in the conversation. Whatever the argument is, whoever one day is decided is, just that I’m in that conversation is pretty rad.

Q. When you were 17 years old, Joe Gibbs went from NFL head coach to coming into racing. What did you think at the time?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I’m still pretty far away. NASCAR was not the national sport that it is today, especially from a media standpoint. I could see it. I read about it. I didn’t know what it really meant. I thought it was cool, certainly added a layer or level of, I don’t know, credibility. In some way there was something really big about Joe Gibbs coming into NASCAR. I didn’t know how long it would last, with my limited point of view. It certainly has lasted. He’s a Hall of Famer in our sport, has three drivers that are Hall of Famers. I mean, pretty dang amazing.

Q. As far as this week, how have the emotions going into this what could be your last Daytona 500, been different than the emotions going into your first Daytona 500?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Difference between? Wow, yeah. I was going with one answer in my head of just emotions, period. It’s not the end of the year, so I’m very excited. All the emotions are just fun and excitement for myself, my family and team. But comparing to my first year I showed up here not knowing if I was a Cup driver or could fit in here or was going to have a career in this sport. Insecurity was maxed. Not self-esteem but self-confidence was low. I not only had to prove to the world, but I’m still trying to prove to myself that I could do it at this level. Much different head space.

Q. Back to Chase, you’re leaving Hendrick with three drivers who are 26 or younger. You’ve been through this with Jeff and Dale leaving. What advice do you give those guys? Do you talk about this as far as filling your void? Do you think Chase is kind of the next face of Hendrick?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I definitely think he’s kind of the leader in the group moving forward. Sure, they’re young. Chase and Alex to me, the amount of years they’ve been in racing, working on stuff, around it, clearly Chase with his dad and all the experience there, I just don’t see them. On paper the stats they’re young, but they’re old souls, been around racing so much and so often. I don’t feel them as being all that young. Surrounded by very smart people. I just think we’re in a great spot. Their youthful point of view, what they bring to the table, being able to watch them describe their cars. It’s one thing I felt as a veteran is I had a more heightened sense of the car, I could give better information or my experience could lead the team in a better way. They feel all the same stuff. We’re in there bouncing ideas off each other all the time. It’s really impressed me what they feel, how they can articulate it, how they can help the team use that information. I think Hendrick Motorsports is in a great spot.

Q. How much input do you want to have on your successor?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: A lot of people want me to put in a good word. A lot of people think that I probably will have a big say in who goes in the car. I’m sure I will when the time is right. I think we’re all so focused on 2020, the burning question is not getting answered or is hard to even really lead on anything. Our heads are down on 2020 trying to make sure we have the best year here.

Q. Does Chase remind you of anybody coming up through the ranks?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Through the ranks? No, I feel like he’s in a unique situation. I don’t know. I mean, I guess a little bit to Dale with his father’s success in the sport, being so popular. But still Chase has kind of been on his own path. I still see him as the seven-year-old kid in Vail when I went skiing with his parents. Every time I fell, he showed up with a snowball and hit me with it. I don’t know. I think I’m his biggest fan. I’m so proud of what he’s accomplished, who he is, how he goes about business. I know he’s going to be a champion in our sport. I felt that way for a long time. He’s been in the Hendrick system for a long time. He’s tested cars for the 48 team when I couldn’t make test days, when we were just kind of doing stuff that Chad didn’t think I needed to be there for. I’ve just been around him so much, probably one of his biggest fans.

Q. What is your most memorable moment with Blaise Alexander? Would you ever consider running a throwback of him or memory of him with the ones you do right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I would love to. I haven’t really put much thought into a throwback. I feel like I’ve honored him really well over the years in the fact that he’s been on every single Cup car I’ve ever driven. His initials have been on the left front bumper. Meaningful to me, I know it is to his family. I’d say the most memorable moment I have of him is the first time I met him, he was trying to pick my girlfriend up at the bar, then we became best of friends. He had a certain swagger to him. When I came back from the bathroom and saw him trying to pick up my girlfriend, I was like, Really, man? He just handled it in such a way. Hey, you know. Just Blaise, the way Blaise could only handle things. We were great friends ever since that day.

Q. How prepared are you to see somebody honoring you and your career at Darlington someday?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Haven’t thought of it. That would be cool, sure. That would be super cool to see.

Q. With other forms of racing you might do, might you ever get in a truck at Aurora?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wouldn’t rule it out. I’m open. I love dirt racing. I wish they’d put jump or two on the track. That would go back to my roots. I’d be open to it.

Q. Any special guests on Sunday?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I have a lot of friends coming. From a celebrity side, big-name side, there’s no one to this race that’s coming. Certainly some friends, some high school friends are coming out, some other friends from L.A. I guess doesn’t quite qualify, but Darius Rucker is a great friend. He’s obviously here and said he took the — told me he took the job so he could be here for my last Daytona 500. In a working sense, Darius is here, will be here.
Q. Did you drive anything on the track the other day when you were in Austin?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Rent a car. Max Papis wouldn’t let me drive it. He was too busy being Max and showing me around. I didn’t drive anything there, but rode shotgun and felt like I was going to get sick.

Q. Is Austin a track you wouldn’t mind racing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, any road course race, especially an F1 track. Drove the one in Bahrain. Was able to go around the one in Abu Dhabi with Fernando in a McLaren production car, which was really rad. To see it even in a rent a car yesterday, there’s just a unique feel that TV doesn’t carry over. The tracks are awesome. I mean, they look big and nice and wonderful. From the driver seat, the way they shape turns really, really complicated angles and corners, a lot of elevation you can’t see from television which is very intriguing as a driver.

Q. Is it a different mindset at all compared to any other race going into Sunday, what could be your last 500?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it certainly could be depending on how the day goes, where I am in the closing laps. I can see my brain taking it in a million different ways. I certainly hope I’m in the lead, holding the guys off, the weight of the moment on my shoulders, all the nerves that would come with that.

Q. How differently does Jim France go about things than past leadership?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’ve been around Jim so much, I’ve raced in his series before, clearly he’s at the helm now. He is so connected to the garage area, the owners, the team managers, the racing itself, the quality in the racing. Watching him through GRAND-AM and IMSA, he’s a two-wheel guy with all the AMA stuff he’s a part of and owns. He’s just a racer at heart. I really respect that about him and have enjoyed working with him over the years.
Q. You know him pretty well?

Q. Do you go fishing at times?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have been. I was pretty young when we went on the fishing trips. We caught some stuff. But I was a little quiet and afraid to kind of let it rip back then.

Q. Every driver out here had a story about you, how you helped them at one point or another. Even Stenhouse, who wasn’t even a Chevy driver at the time. Where do you find the time to mentor all these guys?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I feel like it’s because I’m really friends with these guys. What takes time is when someone is trying to get to you, you don’t know them, you have to work through the initial part of the relationship, schedule a call or schedule a meeting or grab a beer with someone. That stuff takes time. But in this garage area, as we all know we’re around each other so often, so much, if you want, you can form a relationship and a friendship pretty quick. I just always have. I’ve always had people be open and available for me. I know how it’s shaped my career. I’ve just wanted to do the same. So I’ve just been open to it and available. As things come along, I would see something, doesn’t matter if it’s in our garage area or I have friends that race Supercross, IndyCar, all that, I just sent them a text or gave them a call, kind of reached out. That’s just been me. I just blow people up all the time, especially in the era of texting, text messages going out. Just tried to share my experiences with these guys.
Q. You don’t have to do that stuff.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I guess I don’t. It’s just me. It’s funny because I keep hearing about it, and I don’t have a really good answer worked up yet in my head because it’s been so fresh today. It’s just me. I value friendships, I value relationships. I’m proud of the ones that I have. It’s just been me. Coming up through the ranks, one blessing I think I had is that I didn’t have this crazy successful start to my career. I think I fell in love, stayed in love with this sport for the right reasons. That was the relationships that are built and the respect that I have for my peers and the people in the garage area. I got my first chance when I was 25 to really shine. You got guys now sitting waiting to turn 18 to come in and have their shot, they’re already shining. I just had a little different arc. That whole journey made me who I am today.

Q. You mentioned earlier you would be open to maybe a part-time or some select Cup races if the opportunity was there. I have to believe there would never be a consideration to do it with anybody other than Rick, no?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I couldn’t see it any other way in the NASCAR space. That’s family. It’s home. I take so much pride in knowing that I’ve only driven a car in Rick Hendrick’s equipment. That would be the case.

Q. Is Rick going to get you involved after 2020 in some capacity? Is that something you want to be involved in?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I know Rick is going to come calling. It’s just the way it goes. I feel like I don’t know what it will look like, but absolutely. It’s home. It’s family. I’ll be around.
Q. Any other drivers expressed interest in driving NASCAR? I know Dixon wants to try it out.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there’s a lot of guys that are interested in it. Even yesterday at the IndyCar test, a lot of guys talked about it. I even heard guys talking about wanting to do an oval test. I was chatting with the Penske drivers. They’re the first ones to really say, What is it like to run an oval? Would that be a good first step? I’m like, You have to do it, it would be fantastic. You really get to see our cars in their environment to thrive. You take an IndyCar guy and put him in a Cup car on a road course, it’s going to be a little underwhelming. Totally different vehicles, totally different disciplines. You put them on an oval, let us get our aero magic working, put them at a track like Dover, Bristol, let them experience the banking in one of our cars, I think they’d really enjoy it.
Q. Who do you feel is kind of the face of NASCAR right now if there is one?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Chase Elliott, yup. I do. I feel like he’s the one that’s connecting to the largest fan base and is the face. I feel that there are many other drivers that play very important roles with how the sport is developing. I think Denny Hamlin has done an amazing job to be available to NASCAR and to help lead in the right way, collect the drivers’ voices, help articulate that to the car owner group, to NASCAR, to the television partners, really help evolve this sport. Joey has made a big effort on that front, as well. There are a lot of guys playing a key role. The pretty face would be Chase.

Q. You talked about always having relationships with different drivers. As you get toward the end of your career, is there one driver that something just never got resolved with and they left the sport that you wish there would have? What was the toughest situation in rebuilding a relationship?
I wouldn’t say there’s anything unresolved. I’ve always been one to try to resolve right away. It’s led to Harvick shoving me after a race to other things. I just want to get it wrapped up. I don’t feel like I’ve left anything there. The competitive spirit in the era or time when Jeff and I were fighting for championships, that was probably the trickiest point in time, the trickiest thing I’ve had to deal with. Thankfully Jeff and I both got heated a couple times, but we never let it get too far. There was always a lot of respect within the fierce competitive environment that we were in. That would probably be the trickiest thing I’ve had to deal with.

Q. Was it Martinsville where it was the beating and banging?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, that one he was frustrated with me. On my end, I’d say my low point was at Texas. I don’t exactly recall how that all comes into play. Either Texas or Atlanta, but I think it was Texas. Things were heating up. He got to me and put a pass on me. I thought he moved me out of the way, and he didn’t. I just got loose and got out of the way. Come on the front stretch, I door-slammed him. That was probably my low in dealing with it.

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