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NASCAR Media Conference

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference

Jimmie Johnson
January 31, 2006

THE MODERATOR: Jimmie first off, out here for the test, this is your first day on the track, just talk about how the morning has gone so far.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: The morning has been fun. Daytona everybody always talks about. It's really about the teams and the driver, doesn't have a chance to challenge himself out there. Today it's been fun to get out in the car and get that racing feeling back. We're working on some things, and today is about getting a lot of things out of the way for the start of the season, and I had my first spin. Thankfully we didn't hit anything. I don't know, there's just something relieving about spinning, definitely not hitting anything, but when you spin out and drive off, like, all right, now that's behind me, now I can go forward. I feel very accomplished this morning.

THE MODERATOR: Jimmie is also the defending champion, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth both have gone back-to-back here; talk about your chances of going back-to-back here in Vegas.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I would hate to screw that up to be honest with you. Hopefully we can do that. Obviously there's a lot to be learned from the start of the season. All of the teams have worked hard over the off-season. Our Daytona tests went well, look to make are a lot stronger. So hopefully tomorrow we'll be able to close the gap and get a little advantage on those guys. But for the first day, first morning really back in the car with new team members, just kind of trying to get everything going again, we're on par.

Q. The new noses and back ends on the 2006 Chevrolet, how long will it take to get those just the way you want them, or might they be a handicap in the Daytona 500 instead of a plus?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: There really is actually more to it than just the nose and the tail on the car. We actually have just as many changes to our car as Ford has for theirs. We just don't have a new name on it. So there's really changes from bumper to bumper. All 13 templates that sit on the car have been adjusted some this year. So we virtually have a new car that we are trying to work through. Everything we saw in the wind tunnel for our downforce stuff was really strong. Typically your downforce stuff carried over to Daytona and slowed the car down. One thing I believe we have a lot of horsepower under the hood and put up some strong numbers in the Daytona test, and then I think our guys have been creative to try to do the right things for the Speedway car to take some drag out of it. So all in all I think we've got a good compromise, and Chevrolet dominating like they have, like they did last year, I think we're building on that and we feel as the year wears on, we'll make this car better than what we had last year.

Q. Talk about the prospect of the new GM engine.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I definitely think there's been a lot of changes. All teams sit here and say we haven't had changes, everybody else has, but we truly have been dealing with the same combination for quite a few years. And obviously everybody is hopeful that we'll be able to make some changes to stay on an even playing field with the other manufacturers that are coming in. I think that's a big concern in general. We're very happy with the changes we're getting this year, but I still think that if we're allowed to have an equal block and an equal engine combination as some of the other makes, we'll really be able to show what our teams are capable of.

Q. You had an unusual winter, you got way out of town, I understand you went to Africa, how was that and did it kind of like open your eyes to like a whole new world and new adventures?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I would say that -- I didn't come home and feel like I could solve the world's problems. But being out on a safari, being completely away from everything like I was, I spent a lot of great, great quality time with my wife, was just able to forget about racing and all of the other things and just enjoy being on vacation, being with her and seeing and following animals. At one point we followed a pride of lions for three different days, just watching them, seeing what they were going to do. Of course, we went with Jeff and his girlfriend, Ingrid, on the trip, and of course Jeff and I wanted to see the lions feed and the girls were scared to death of that happening. So Jeff and I were eager to see that. We didn't see it, but we saw them trap some animals and watched them hunt and do their thing and be lions. It was pretty cool.

Q. Is that a -- inaudible?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, it's total photo of safari. I didn't own a nice camera until that trip, so you can definitely see my photos develop as the ways went by. The first three or four days weren't very good.

Q. We're sitting here, new car, with only six tests this year; this is an extremely important test. How does it benefit you to have three other teammates that you guys can kind of share the wealth back and forth?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Right now, I think all of us, all four Hendrick teams, we just started the morning off with what we felt was the right thing for our individual teams, and we're each on a similar plan but trying different things. I think tonight is when we'll really see the benefit of our four-car team and all of the engineers and crew chiefs are able to get together, look at the data and spend some time and really pour through all of the information we've collected. In most test sessions, it's really tough to react really fast to things that are going on because you've got so many different censors on the car, so many different things to look at; that in our experience it seems that if we go home for a couple of days, sit on it, digest it, we're able to come back -- or we can't come back -- but we come back to that race or the following race the next weekend, bringing something new to the table. So tonight is going to be a very important night for Hendrick Motorsports, getting all of the members together and crew chiefs to sort through everything and really work on a game plan for tomorrow.

Q. Inaudible?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think that they are all really similar. You know, the difference between our two cars, one was an early version car that we built. And then after the complex cycled through building a car for everyone, we had another shot; then it was our turn to build a new car. We learned some things in that period of time and adapted it to the new car. So there are some subtle changes and we do feel that we have one car that's a little better than the other but it's not a huge difference. It's really important to us to make sure that all of the power plans have the same horsepower, torque curves and the cars are as close to one another as possible. So when we head off on our separate agendas, we are actually comparing apples to apples, and you can really take the things that we learn and cross over to the other cars.

Q. What are your views on the car tomorrow? Is it going to be better for NASCAR or is it going to be a problem?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think there's a lot of work ahead of everyone to get that car in place. I definitely respect the hard work NASCAR is putting forward to keep the show improving and make for better racing every year. I do think that there's some things we need to recognize and understand that you're never going to get rid of the aero push. It's not going to happen. The lead car has all of the air, the cars behind it have less air; that's just how it works. I look at that and say, yes, we can improve the cars and I think we've definitely learned things that we can do and shouldn't do. And I think one good example of what we shouldn't do is that five-for-five rule, five-and-five rule that they had. I didn't drive the cars, but Jeff said they are really tough to drive in traffic and that was a direction not to go in. I think over team we've learned certain things do help the cars. One thing I'm looking at is if we are on a racetrack and we know the lead car has all the air and the advantage, what if we make a solid second lane that's just as fast, or a third lane and a fourth lane? I think we've all looked at Homestead and different tracks with progressive banking. Martinsville, the accident (ph) -- to roughen up the inside lane, I thought they were smoothing it out; they roughened it up, gave us an option for a second lane. I think we need to look at the tracks as the next big thing in my opinion and how can -- how can we make two and three lanes on a racetrack. I have to give a lot of credit to Bristol. They are looking at their situation and adjusting it. I think a lot of tracks are looking at that and from what I hear, the Vegas track is as well. I think the more lanes we can provide, the better the racing is going to be.

Q. With that in mind, what are your thoughts on the renovations they are going to do to the racing surface here?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I just heard about it in passing today, so I don't really have all of the --

THE MODERATOR: The banking is going to go from 12 degrees to 20 degrees, and the pit road is going to be moved almost 200 feet out to the start finish line.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know if -- pit road is tough to make under green flag conditions, so that will make it a little easier on the drivers and obviously moving pit road out would help the fans. Now the banking, progressive banking, going into Homestead before they change it, I didn't know what to really think of progressive banking. I raced at south Boston on their little small track with progressive banking and really enjoyed it. I watched a lot of racing at a track in Arizona, used to have Winter Heat racing, Tucson, and they put on great racing. Now after racing on it myself in one are our cars, I definitely see the advantages of it, and it's definitely something that a lot of tracks should look at. I don't think it's a fix for every track; Daytona, Talladega, there's no benefit to really having a progressive banking track. I think once you get to a certain amount of banking, you're in good shape.

Q. Inaudible -- trying to get out ahead in the Chase?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think it's really important and that's been a luxury that we've had each year. We've been able to get off to a quick start and unfortunately right around the 23rd race in August sometime, we slowed down and we've been second a few times in the championship and then fifth last year. Looking back on it the last four seasons, I almost want to get off to a slow start personally -- I'm kind of lying when I say that. I would hope that I can peak in August and on instead of at the start of the season. I wish we could really plan and say, all right, this is when we are going to do our best, blah, blah, blah, but making the Chase is the first priority, and that's something that we have a big focus on for the 48 team and all of Hendrick Motorsports. We want all four cars in the Chase.

Q. Wondered if you can just comment on the development of your teammate Kyle Busch, Rookie of the Year last year, a lot of people picking him as a dark horse this year, talking about how quickly he's developed as a driver?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have to say Kyle and Brian both. When I look at their age, I was the youngest driver at Hendrick Motorsports until Brian came along, and then I felt bad and felt kind of old; and then Kyle came along and made me feel even worse. Kyle has shown so much ability inside the race car. I think we've all seen it with his victories last year at the Cup level, Truck level and the Busch level, he's done amazing things in the car. I think we take for granted that he is, what, 20, I guess now, and that he -- speak of the devil -- and that he has a lot of great years ahead of him; he has a lot of speed, and I think he's definitely in my opinion more than a dark horse. I think the 5 and 25, you'll see amazing things out of them this year and hopefully all four of us in the Chase fighting for the Championship.

Q. How about 48's were in your garage last season, and did you really need that many?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not sure the total that we had. But I can say that Hendrick Motorsports, we're in a fortunate situation where we don't have to -- we don't need to have the big inventory that other teams do because we have a chassis shop on site. If we crash one, we send it down and if we destroy one, we order a new one. Some of the single car teams and teams that don't have their own fabrication shop or chassis shop, they need to buy 30 cars, put them in a warehouse somewhere and use them as needed. We're not in that situation, unless I crash a lot; we don't typically go through a lot of race cars, a lot of chassis.

THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thank you for coming in and good luck with the rest of the test and we'll see you in about five weeks. We'll now bring up Kyle Busch, driver of the Kellogg Chevrolet. First off, your first day here for the test so far just talk about how your car is and how the test has gone so far.

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