CHEVY NCS AT ATLANTA: Jimmie Johnson Press Conf. Transcript

NASCAR CUP SERIES
ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY
FOLDS OF HONOR QUIKTRIP 500
TEAM CHEVY PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
JUNE 5, 2020

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 ALLY CAMARO ZL1 1LE, spoke with media via video conference to discuss his thoughts going into the Atlanta race weekend, discussions he has had with Bubba Wallace and other drivers about what is currently going on in the United States, and more. Full Transcript:

JUST TO KICK OFF, WE SAW THE PRESS RELEASE WHERE ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY WAS RE-NAMING A GRANDSTAND AFTER YOU AND YOUR CAREER IN NASCAR. GIVE US A FEW THOUGHTS ON THAT AND WHAT THAT MEANS TO YOU.
“It means a ton to me. To have my name be on the grandstands there at the speedway, alongside all the other greats, is just super meaningful to me. My final full-time year in Cup is a little different than I imagined; our whole world is different than we imagined with Covid. I know there were other plans to kind of go with the events in Atlanta this weekend that won’t be seen through, but it’s still amazing to have my name on the grandstands there. I’ve seen a few pictures and I can’t wait to see it in person on Sunday.”


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I KNOW YOU’VE DONE A LOT OF STUFF THROUGH YOUR FOUNDATION, GIVING TO SCHOOLS, AND I THINK BUBBA WALLACE SAID YOU HAD REACHED OUT TO HIM THIS WEEK. I’M CURIOUS, I KNOW YOU’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RACING SEASON, BUT HAVE YOU STARTED THINKING ABOUT OTHER THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO OR POTENTIALLY COULD DO IN REACTION TO WHAT’S GOING ON IN SOCIETY?
“Yeah I think just generally, that’s the big question I have for myself right now. I’m trying to learn and educate myself and really listen during these times. I find the more I listen, the more I learn. There is a lot of noise out there right now obviously, but when you sit down and listen, you realize a lot of the injustices that take place across a broad spectrum. As a figure of our sport and somebody that’s just a citizen that cares in this country, I feel like for me personally, it’s really time to listen and I look forward to the journey it takes me on and the ways I can be active.”

BUBBA MENTIONED HAVING A CONVERSATION WITH YOU THIS WEEK AND HE MENTIONED THERE WAS AN IMPACT ON HIM WITH HAVING THAT CONVERSATION. HOW DID THE CONVERSATION WITH BUBBA IMPACT YOU?
“We are all so busy – our industry is so busy. You just don’t know what people deal with and Bubba has been a great friend of mine. I’ve been in conversation with him with some of the depression issues that he’s battled over the years that he’s been able to share publicly. Things that drivers talk about and the challenges we have in our teams, our jobs, relationships, life and things like that – he and I have always had an open line of communication and talk on a deep level. To start, I just called to check in with him. I just wanted to know how he was doing. In that phone call, I learned a lot about him, his family and the things that they’ve been through. His cousin was killed while he was young, to learn that story, I just had no idea. I had no idea the challenges he’s been faced with. It’s part of that listening stuff that I mentioned earlier. I have many friends of color and race, and just checking in with them and understanding. Just curious, how are you? How is this impacting you? That’s been a great learning point for me during these times.”

YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT LISTENING AND THAT’S A VERY IMPORTANT THING AT THIS TIME. AS NASCAR BEING ONE OF THE FEW ACTIVE SPORTS OUT THERE, I THINK THERE’S A QUESTION OF IS THERE SOMETHING MORE THAT CAN BE DONE IN A MORE UNIFIED WAY?
“That’s a great question. I think for those of us that ask ourselves ‘is there more that we can do’, that’s the start of it. I think that’s, ultimately, what a lot of the protestors far and wide want to ignite in people – do you think you can do more? And when that really hits inside of you, will you act on it. I do think there’s time to do stuff this weekend. There’s a lot of discussion going on behind the scenes with many drivers with our sport, the leaders of sport. (inaudible)”

AFTER BRISTOL, YOU MENTIONED HOW YOU FELT A YEAR AGO AT ATLANTA WAS A BIT OF A WAKEUP CALL FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, BUT YOU WERE EXCITED TO GO BACK THERE BASED ON THE SUCCESS YOU SAW AT FONTANA. I’M CURIOUS, WITHOUT GIVING AWAY TOO MANY TRADE SECRETS, WHAT IS IT YOU FELT LIKE YOU GUYS FIGURED OUT FROM LAST YEAR?
“Atlanta is just so abrasive that if you have any imbalances in your race car, you’re over-working a particular corner or you have the wrong shock package or aero concept, whatever it is, it’s going to show up. That track is so abrasive. You get one lap with grip and then everything from there is downhill. We were able to really understand just how far off we were. That was in a lot of areas and I think we quickly addressed the mechanical grip issues that we had and our Hendrick cars were more competitive throughout the year. I feel like the 9 car did an amazing job of really putting some speed in their car and being consistent and getting to victory lane. So, they were the high-water mark for the HMS cars and we’re all trying to get there. And then you add in during the off season, how the Chevrolet’s were allowed to build a new car. That was the final piece that we were missing. We were able to get mechanical grip in the car, but it came at a huge penalty for drag and the car wasn’t very efficient. After NASCAR did a lot of research and taking all manufacturers to the wind tunnel, they were able to put some new quality back into the build of the bodies. You add the new efficient race car that we have, the new efficient Camaro that we have, with our journey last year on the setup, we have great cars. I still think that we, as a company, have a little bit to gain on the tracks where we trim out more. Michigan would be an example of that. But when you look at Atlanta, Darlington, Fontana, these tracks with a lot of wear and require a lot of downforce and grip, we seem to have a really strong package right now.”

YOU’VE BEEN SO GENERIOUS, AS FAR AS FUNDING EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS AROUND THE COUNTRY, DO YOU SEE EDUCATION AS ONE WAY PEOPLE CAN GET A SET UP THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN IN THAT POSITION BEFORE?
“Education has been a really important. Chandra and I both grew up in public school systems. We understand the diversity in the public school systems, we understand the challenges in the public school systems. And to us, we’ve always felt that starting with kids is the most important part of the equation. The earlier you start, the more hope you have for change in education and knowledge, and ultimately, better citizens in the country. Citizens of the world, understanding culture abroad. Education has been very important to us and I think, in general, should be a point of focus. It has been for us. As I look into the future at what I do when I’m not a full-time racer, it’s a little unclear right now where I take the Jimmie Johnson Foundation. But our focus has been on children for a reason and we really feel like we can make change and really effect individuals’ lives if we start young enough.”

HAVE YOU FOUND WAYS, DESPITE WHAT’S GOING ON, TO SAVOR THE MOMENTS AT THESE RACE TRACKS KNOWING IT COULD BE YOUR LAST TIME THERE?
“Yes and no. This weekend will be a track that I won’t see again, potentially, as a race car driver. I’m excited to have the moment with the grandstands being named after me, granted there’s no fans there to celebrate it with (laughs). It’ll be interesting to see how I feel being at the track this weekend, but knowing we have so many races left and we’ll be coming back to these tracks, it hasn’t been on my mind. Fontana was out of this world – what an emotional and special moment that was to go back to my home track for the final time, have fans in the stands and the full experience. I guess I’ve been riding that high. I’m just happy to be back at the track. My head space has been back to some normalcy and back to racing.”

BEFORE YOU TALKED TO BUBBA, DID YOU FEEL LIKE ‘I’M JUST A DRIVER, WHY WOULD SOMEBODY CARE WHAT I SAY’? DID YOU RE-THINK YOUR IMPACT IN GENERAL ON ANY ISSUE AS A SPORTS FIGURE?
“No – I feel like I’ve spoken up on issues through my career. I feel like if you speak up on an issue, you really need to believe it in your heart and see it through at that point. You’re going to receive pushback from anyone on any topic on the other side (inaudible). I’ve let my passion, my desire to learn and understand and have a voice kind of lead me through my journey.”

WITH RACING HOW IT IS RIGHT NOW, FAST AND FURIOUS, IS IT EASIER FOR YOU FOR THE ONE LAST TIME OR IS IT HARDER GIVEN HOW THE SCHEDULE IS?
“I’ve really enjoyed it. My job entails just the part that I love the most about my job, which is racing. The corporate obligations have really slowed down; it’s now basically some zoom calls to be with fans or sponsors. Here we are doing media and I’m in Oklahoma at my in-laws. So, I’m able to really enjoy the part that I love the most, which is driving and we’re racing twice a week. I’ve enjoyed the schedule and the challenges that have come with it.”

HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT GEORGE FLOYD AND THE PROTESTS? HOW DID YOU NAVIGATE THE DAYS FOLLOWING?
“I saw it through social media. I typically don’t have the news on with kids and such in the house – we’re just not big TV people. So, I learned through watching on social media. I was definitely pulled to making statements and wanted to share my point of view. I feel like in my position and who I am as an individual, I want to have a voice and I want to stand up for injustices. So, I’ve been trying to find my voice. I think part of that journey is to educate myself. I’ve been very deep in that and trying to learn and educate – on the phone with friends of mine, like Bubba Wallace, other friends of color and race that I’ve known through the years just checking in. Just trying to understand and asking them deeper questions that haven’t come up in our relationship so far. To learn and understand just how far and wide my friends have dealt with issues is helping me find my voice and have clarity in the situation and all the noise that’s out there. I know there’s a lot going on in the media, so I found in my opinion, the best route is to talk to my friends of color and understand their perspective to help me understand my perspective and find my voice, ultimately.”

IS THERE ANY CONCERN ABOUT LOSING FANS OR FOLLOWERS BASED ON WHAT YOU POST OR WHAT STAND YOU TAKE?
“It’s a sensitive topic, but I think you’ve got to follow your heart and post what you believe in. It’s hard to live your life worrying about other people. You have to let your passions in your life shine through and the things that you believe in. You need to follow that. And for me, ultimately, I’ve felt the need to have a voice in this and I’m still trying to find that voice. So, I’m being pulled this way more than I have in other times and there’s just something inside of me that makes me feel like I need to do it.”

WE’RE SEVERAL RACES INTO THE PROTOCALS AND THE DIFFERENT WAYS THAT WE HAVE TO RACE. WHAT’S BEEN THE HARDEST OR STRANGEST PART OF IT FOR YOU?
“For me, it’s been the cadence or rhythm that you have with the individuals on your team. Normally when the green flag drops at a race, as a group, you have a sense of what your challenges are going to be that day. You’ve had practice, you’ve had qualifying, you know what to be prepared for. And to go cold turkey off the truck, you just have no idea where the day is going to take you and what challenges you’re going to deal with. Certainly, I’ve had that on my side as a driver and the crew members that prep on the car and maintenance, the adjustments on pit stops, the crew guys over the wall hitting the lug nuts and how much of a rhythm that is for them – everything is just cold turkey. It’s a really interesting head space that first stage, if not to the second stage, of just trying to find out where you’re at. So, that’s been an interesting one for me.”

WITH THE FANS NOT THERE, HOW ANXIOUS DO YOU THINK EVERYONE IS INSIDE THE GARAGE TO JUST HAVE SOME FANS THERE?
“At least everybody that I’ve talked to, we just want to be safe. Of course, we understand these are trying times and different times, it is awkward at track and we all wish fans were there, but we just want to be safe. So, we’re happy to be in an industry that is back working and we’re able to do our jobs again. So, as long as we’re doing it and doing it safe, we don’t want to regress, so I think everybody’s head space is about doing the right thing and being safe.”

THE CHOOSE CONE HAS BEEN A TOPIC THAT KEEPS COMING UP HERE AND THERE. I WANTED TO GET YOUR THOUGHTS ON IT – WOULD YOU BE IN FAVOR OF SOMETHING LIKE THAT?
“Yeah, I’m definitely in favor of it. We’ve been kicking it around for years back and when we had a more formal driver’s council, it was always topic that came up. We hope that it comes into play and if you watch from about 15th on back on a restart, everybody is just choosing where they want to go anyhow (laughs), so it would be nice to have that be a part of the format. I only see it helping. When you’re on tracks where track position matters in a sense of lanes, it’s going to look like it does right now. You get to Martinsville, you’re going to have cars pick the inside lane for safety. And then someone from deep in the pack is going to try to take the outside lane and see how it plays out. I really don’t see it being a problem. I think it simplifies restarts for us and, honestly, a lot of drivers grew up in a series that has choose cones. So, it’s not something we really have to teach or educate ourselves on. I think it could be a win-win for everybody.”

Team Chevy high-resolution racing photos are available for editorial use.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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