NASCAR CUP SERIES
AUTO CLUB 400
AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY PRESS CONF. NOTES & QUOTES
FEBRUARY 28, 2020
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO, 48 ALLY CAMARO ZLI ILE met with media and discussed racing at his hometown track and what his last year as a full-time Cup drivers means to him, what NASCAR and the state of California mean to each other, advice he would offer up & coming drivers, and more.
Auto Club Speedway president, Dave Allen, presented Johnson with a helmet by Troy Lee Designs, a moto 3 helmet with ‘Too Hip’ written on the back, thanking Johnson for the memories.
JOHNSON COMMENTS: “To give the back-story, we’re talking maybe 1982 or ’83, Rick Johnson was sponsored by Yamaha and then sponsored me on 50’s, 60’s, and 80’s; and I remember the helmet. I have a picture of me at Speedway 117 in Chula Vista, laying on my bike, and this helmet is somewhere in the photo. We used to have Wednesday night races there. That’s where we would go riding and racing on the weekdays. This is super-cool. Thank you!”
WAS YOUR DECISION TO STEP OUT OF CAR PAINFUL?
“I was looking for some feeling to backup which ever direction I went whether it was to extend and sign up with Ally at HMS or if I was going to move on. And the feeling of moving on just brought energy and excitement and I knew in my heart then it was time.”
ARE YOU GOING TO BE DRIVING IN OTHER SERIES POSSIBLY?
“This is really about balancing life. I’ve been in the NASCAR garage area for 20 years, this is my 21st year including my Xfinity days.. I feel really good in my heart of where I am and what I have accomplished and where I am at. I certainly have a lot I want to prove this year and certainly hope to have the ultimate happen. I do want to continue to race, and I am interested in other cars in other series. We will see where this year leads, and what comes around and what options I might have in ’21 and beyond. I wouldn’t rule out coming back for the right situation in Cup. I wouldn’t rule out road courses in IndyCar. I wouldn’t rule out IMSA or the WEC series. Off road racing. I really have a long bucket list of things I want to start checking some boxes on, even down to the New York City Marathon. I have some mountain bike races I want to do. I just want to balance some stuff out. I feel like I’ve got at least five more really good years. I feel very satisfied with what I have done on full-time basis here. I want to get out and explore and live a little bit.”
WHAT ABOUT FORMULA E?
“I would be open to it, but I don’t have any contacts there and haven’t had any conversations on that side, but if it has wheels on it, I’m interested. I’d even think about racing a boat maybe so guess it doesn’t have to have wheels. But I am definitely not going to race airplanes or helicopters, but I would consider a boat.”
TALK ABOUT HOW COOL IT IS THAT CHANDRA, GENEVIEVE AND LYDIA ARE WAVING THE GREEN FLAG SUNDAY:
“Just really excited for it. This year we are really trying hard to enjoy as much as we can and really take any opportunity that comes our way. This is certainly a different one for us and my family. I am very thankful that the track came to us with that suggestion to get my family up there in the stands. I think pre-race will be full of emotions. They will have a chance to come across the stage with me and be introduced with their responsibilities. Being a part of the five-wide salute at the front of the field, and then see those hands up there in that flag stand is going to be cool.”
WILL YOU WAVE AT THEM?
“Probably not, might be a little busy. But I will definitely be smiling though.”
IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND TELL JIMMIE JOHNSON ONE THING BEFORE HIS FIRST START, WHAT WOULD THAT BE?
“It’s going to be okay. It’s going to turn out. I don’t know, I say that, and then I don’t know if I would tell myself anything because my own insecurities and wondering how I fit in the sport; wondering if I was going to survive in the sport, all those things led to my work ethic, my discipline and drive and helped create the opportunities that came for me. It’s interesting now later in my career, the connection I have with fans. That was something I lacked in my earlier years and certainly when I was winning championships in a row. So I don’t know how to really enjoy that piece of it more or have a deeper fan connection. But from the performance side, the competition side, and everything I’ve done behind the wheel, I wouldn’t change a thing. I think there is more of a fan piece that I wish would have gone a little different during my peak years, but who knows what this year and the future holds. Maybe that is all for a reason as well. I don’t know.”
WITH RETIREMENT IN THE WINGS COMING UP TO YOU, HAS YOUR INTEREST LEVEL GONE DOWN ANY? IF SO, WHEN YOU DO RETIRE ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT BEING A TEAM OWNER?
“No. Definitely not a team owner. As a kid, my dream was to take my helmet anywhere and drive anything. Tony Stewart’s and some of these other guys; Tony is hard to use as an example, but the other guys have always wanted to be a team owner and own their own equipment. And it’s just never been in the cards for me. My dream was to show up anywhere, anytime, and race anything. So, I want to do that as I move on into this next phase of life in racing.”
AND YOUR STRESS LEVEL?
“Oh, it’s higher, no doubt. Having a year to still race; I think the way Carl Edwards did it involved the least amount of stress and just show up at a press conference one day, it’s over, answer a few questions and you walk away. To have a full year to plan out and a full year to, in my opinion, enjoy; and I’m very thankful that I’ve chosen this path, but there’s a lot that goes into it and my office would say the same. Stress is higher than normal (laughs). Oh, and then the competition side is still there. That stress never goes away. We’ve just added other stress.”
GIVEN ALL THE SUCCESS AND ALL THE TRIBUTES GOING ON THIS WEEKEND, WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN HERE? WHERE WOULD ANOTHER FONTANA WIN RANK FOR YOU?
“It would be in sane. Home track, first win, you could just go down the list of meaningful talking points that could come out of it. The way last weekend went with the speed that we had in our Hendrick cars and the way mine drove, I’m very optimistic about this weekend and it would just be incredible to pull that off if we could.”
ON THE MOMENTUM OF LAST WEEK’S FINISH, HOW DO YOU TAKE THAT AND BUILD ON THAT FINISH?
“For me, I think we just take a deep breath after that performance. And it’s more than the finish. We ran in the top 10 and the top 5 most of the day. And the car, honestly, responded well to adjustments through the weekend. So, with all the new things we have that are going on, it was really just a deep breath. It’s like all right, we’re in a way better place than we were leaving Vegas last year at this time. So, it’s just a relief and we know we still have a ton of work ahead, but we’re not panicked or overly stressed about what we have in front of us. We can just be calm and relaxed and get to work.”
SINCE THIS IS YOUR HOME TRACK, DO YOU HAVE ANY HIGH SCHOOL FRIENDS OR TEACHERS OR ANYBODY FROM YOUR YOUTH COMING THIS WEEKEND?
“Yeah, we have a bunch of friends coming this weekend from my hometown, L.A. friends, and people just on the West Coast. So, I have a big suite up above us, somewhere, that’s going to be socked full of friends and people having a good time.”
IT SEEMS LIKE DRIVERS WHO COME FROM THE SOUTHWEST REALLY ADMIRE THE PHOENIX RACEWAY AND IT WAS SOMETHING THAT THEY GREW UP KNOWING THAT IT WAS A GOAL TO ACHIEVE TO RACE IN THE COPPER WORLD CLASSIC? WHAT PHOENIX MEMORY STICKS OUT MOST IN YOUR CAREER?
“I think, when you go back through the years, it’s really stood the test of time and you had all forms of car racing through all the big divisions. So, as a kid, your memories still last. Those memories are still being made at that track. I didn’t attend races at a few other tracks, but most of them are gone and aren’t even around. So, I’m glad that Phoenix has stood the test of time and will be around for a long, long time. For me, my first time there was for an off-road race. My dad was a mechanic on an off-road buggy, and they used the infield to put on an off-road race. That was my first time there. I can recall going in the mid-90’s when I was a driver for Chevrolet in their off-road trucks. The NASCAR Truck Series was just coming along and I thought I had my big moment to drive one. I was giving rides in the morning prior to the race in a two-seat truck. So, I remember going there with great excitement and optimism to drive on asphalt for the first time. So, I do have some early memories going there and watching. The first time I ever raced there was in the Busch Series in 2000.”
SO MANY DRIVERS AND SO MANY OF YOUR PEERS HAVE NEVER WON HERE IN SPITE OF 12 OR 15 ATTEMPTS AND DO TO IT SIX TIMES, BESIDES YOUR SKILL, WHAT WOULD YOU ATTRIBUTE THAT TO?
“It is such a team sport and I think the last two years have proved to me more than anything just how important each individual is on the team, the manufacturers’ significance and then being at the peak of their performance and the organization you drive for. And, I came in as an unknown driver and my timing worked out where team, manufacturer, and organization was all at its peak, and I was able to ride that wave for a long time. So, I really attribute my success to the timing of those four key pieces being in the right spot. So, it’s timing and people, honestly.”
THE MURAL OUTSIDE, HOW COOL IS THAT AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
“It is super cool. I was just out there taking pictures with it and the artist did an amazing job. To come to my home track and see the effort that they put in to kind of honor me and my career means a lot to me. It really does. The things that are happening pre-race and there’s a ticket package that sold very well. I just feel a ton of support coming from my hometown track and the fans here in the area, so it’s really neat.”
CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THAT DAY IN 2002 WHEN YOU CAME HERE AND WON YOUR FIRST CUP RACE? WHAT WAS THAT DAY LIKE FOR YOU? DO YOU REMEMBER IT AT ALL?
“Oh, yeah. That’s the day I knew I was going to be employed (laughter). Jeff Gordon handed me all of his championship equipment from the year before and they told me they’d be patient and I had time, but in my heart didn’t think that was the case and I knew I needed to win. So, to leave here with a trophy, mean that I’d have a job for a few years and I was pretty stoked about that.”
HOW IMPORTANT OR UNIQUE IS IT FOR THE WHOLE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA REGION? HOW IMPORTANT IS NASCAR FOR THE PEOPLE OF SOCAL AND THE FANS OF NASCAR?
“I think NASCAR is really important for Southern California. But, I’d even flip it and say that Southern California or California in general is really important for NASCAR. I think there are six drivers now from the state of California that are in the top division. I know at one point in time there were nine. Clearly it was much more of a regional sport. And if you didn’t grow up in stock cars in the south, you really didn’t get a chance in NASCAR. Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart really kind of paved the way for the rest of us. And, as we all know, there is a ton of racing here in the area and a lot of talent in the car mechanics; the engineering side and all of it. There’s just a lot of racing around here. So, to see racing have it’s impact in the south and in NASCAR I think is super cool.”
COLE CUSTER WAS SITTING UP THERE IN THE MEDIA CENTER A FEW MINUTES AGO, A CALIFORNIAN, A ROOKIE. WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE AS A SEASONED VETERAN ABOUT TO RETIRE, TO A ROOKIE, ANOTHER CALIFORNIAN?
“Ironically, I was in the back of a pick-up truck with him in Vegas for the lap around before the race started after driver intros; and he kind of asked me that question. And, we were looking forward at the track and I pointed at the track and said this stuff out here is the easy part. It’s what you’ve been doing. Trust your instincts. Trust everything you’ve done to get here. That’s the easy part. It’s the rest. It’s the stuff out of the car that a young Cup driver just isn’t used to. There’s a lot of stress that comes with all the things outside of the car that honestly take a few years to adapt to and get ready. And, it just depends. It could be media, it could be friends, it could be family, it could be finances, it could be sponsors. There is just so much. And, when you’re a young, aspiring driver, all you do is worry about seat time and your race car, and the race tracks. When you get to this level, it’s a big business. There’s a lot of stuff outside of it that you just haven’t had a lot of reps with. And, some people can balance that well. Others, when you pull them away from the car and away from the competition-side, everybody reacts a little different to that. And that’s the hardest part, I felt, was transitioning from even just a Saturday show to a Sunday show. The amount of work that’s expected of you at the Cup level and the professionalism that’s required, the sponsors, the meet & greets, all the stuff that goes with it, its time. At least times five; if not times ten, what you experience on the Saturday shows.”
Team Chevy high-resolution racing photos are available for editorial use.
Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is one of the world’s largest car brands, doing business in more than 100 countries and selling more than 4.0 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature engaging performance, design that makes the heart beat, passive and active safety features and easy-to-use technology, all at a value. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.