NASCAR Media Conference
September 10, 2007
DENISE MALOOF: Denny, thank you so much for joining us.
Okay, let's proceed with Jimmie Johnson. Our reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion.
Jimmie, how was your morning out there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Really wasn't a lot going on. The amount of cars we have here at the test session makes it tough to get out for a single car, drafting practice. But not drafting practice, but single qualifying runs. I think I made four laps all morning long, so it's been quite boring. I'm looking forward to in drafting practice having fun.
DENISE MALOOF: You might catch up on that excitement this afternoon, huh?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yes, I'll catch up on it this afternoon.
DENISE MALOOF: Tell us about your mindset going into the Race for the Chase this week in Newâ Hampshire being the top speed?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Being the top seed is certainly an advantage. We've got a 20-point margin over the 24 and it goes on down from there. I'm not sure how helpful that's going to be. I'm hoping that that works in the right direction and helps us out and helps us win the championship.
But I'm excited about what we have going on at Hendrick Motorsports, the car that's we're bringing on the racetracks. And really the racetracks coming up on the schedule are great tracks for me.
I know they're really strong tracks for Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and a lot of these guys that should be fighting for the championship. I really don't have a clear cut strategy. It's more about getting in my own head. Getting in my own world and putting together the best ten races that I can and that my team can.
DENISE MALOOF: Sounds good. Let's take some questions for you.
Q. I know you haven't had a chance to have drafting practice yet. Denny talked about the new COT, punching a hole in the air. What are you expecting here in the draft at Talladega. Are you expecting more draft, more pack racing, less pack racing? What are you expecting at Talladega?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was part of the test session last fall here. I think we had 12 cars out there. And we found packages that would really let the car suck up well and create a lot of passing. Problem was it pushed that threshold for the speed up too high, and we had to come down on restrictor plate and other things to get the cars back where they needed to be speedwise.
My opinion of that test was when we had the cars at the right speed for safety, it took out some of the passing. So I'm hopeful today with almost a years time gone by now that NASCAR's been able to find a little better package, and together as a whole, it's a better drafting package here where we can still have passing, but keep the speeds down where they need to be.
Q. Kind of a follow-up to that. Are you getting any sort of feel of what the speeds are out there yet?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I can't say that I have an idea where we even rank up right now compared to our old cars here. I'm not really sure. I haven't been paying that close attention.
We really only got out today and made sure the telemetry was working on the car, and went out and made a back-up run to revalidate that stuff. So it was really a boring, slow morning to be honest.
Q. If testing is as important as everybody says it is, why are you not out there more often?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, there are so many cars here for an open test session. In the morning, practices are slated for single car. We can only squeeze four to five cars out there at a time depending on the space to go get a true lap in. When they open the track up for everybody and we can go out and draft, it won't be a problem then.
But what you have at a speedway is just tough. You think about the way we handle the preseason testing at Daytona, we have three days. Split the field even, and you still barely get enough runs over three days to work through all the stuff that you need to.
So it's really just about the volume of cars and how the single car practice session works on Super Speedways only.
Q. The explosion of engineers and laptops in the garage for testing is incredible. I noticed when I went through the garage earlier today there was a lot of painful expressions on those engineers' faces looking at the data. I noticed you sat down and looked at the data, too. Are you at a point where you're comfortable looking at that data? Or are you relying on the guys with all those ugly faces on in the garage right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have found that I need to understand what they're talking about and know how the systems work on the computers and the direction we're going with the cars. But the particulars of it, that's not what I do best.
I know there are some drivers that are very, very involved in that. I've just had bad luck doing that. And I've been caught up trying to put a feeling to a line on a computer screen or to an adjustment and it takes my focus away from doing my job. And I just kind of let those guys do their thing.
I can say that with the Car of Tomorrow by design from NASCAR, there is much less to play with and to tweak on the race cars. And again, that's by design. So those long faces are from crew chiefs thinking how do I find something, because there is nowhere else to look.
Q. Years and years ago the NASCAR drivers, a lot of them said they WANTED to become Indy drivers, and now that's changed completely. What is the difference now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think the IndyCar world and really you look at F1 and guys showing interest now, I think worldwide people recognize how strong our sport is and how competitive the racing is.
We've unfortunately had an issue where people haven't felt like our cars are that technically advanced or maybe not that fun to drive. And I think as guys have hopped into our stock cars out of open wheel and other vehicles they realized yeah, they might not be the most technical cars, and again, but that's by design by NASCAR to keep it an even playing field. But they're a lot of fun and you really race one another.
And it does come down to the driver and the crew chief to win a race. It's not all done by laptops and it's not all done by, you know, engineers. We still have a good element of communication between the driver and the crew chief, and the ability to sort stuff out.
So I think in general, the competition really brings everybody into NASCAR. That's why everybody's here.
Q. So many times this time of year and in the past opening Chases you've talked about how well the 48 team sort of works from behind, catching somebody else. Do you, deep inside, have any qualms about being the frontrunner instead of the hunter this time going in? Or do you say, Hey, we'll take this just fine. Where in the past you may be putting the best possible face on the situation at the time?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think I like the mindset I've been in before where I'm in a hole and we need to dig out. I think I've shown we're capable of operating well in that pressure and that situation.
I guess in my mind I still feel like Jeff had such a great year that, he's probably the guy to keep our eyes on the most. And I guess more than anything, I just like to operate in that mindset and not being in a place to defend. We need to stay aggressive. We need to continue to do the things that the 48 does fast and not get off our game. So mentally I think we're just keeping that same mindset.
Q. I know the COT cars lineup so much more evenly nose to tail than the old cars. With that in mind, do you think bump drafting becomes even more prevalent in the Talladega race? How do you see that working out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think so. I think that the cars lineup better, and you can get away with a lot more pushing and shoving. The cars have a lot of downforce and they're real comfortable to drive, So I think that will lead to a little more aggressive driving.
I can say though the thing that I've done on other tracks, because I haven't raced one here, but on short tracks, if you use the bumper too much, the way that the front bumpers have the struts attached to them that hook to the splitter, if you hit someone too hard t will pull the splitter up and actually change the shape of it and create lift in the car, which would be a big problem.
So hopefully that will discourage a lot of the real pushing and shoving that goes on. I'm sure NASCAR will keep a close eye on things so we have safe racing. But the potential is there for more rough driving than in the past.
Q. You guys race 26 races to get into the Chase. Just talk about what is the difference in the mindset? Because you guys got ten races to race for the championship, how much more pressure or more intensity is there to race those final ten races once you get there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The pressure intensity and intensity really ramps up in the final ten. And your whole season, everything that you've done was to get in position to race in those ten races to make the Chase. Get your car s right, pit crew right, all that stuff. So the pressure really, really magnifies.
The one thing that I've learned is you look at it on paper and you think ten races, that's a short period of time. But when you're living it day-to-day, that's a long ten races. It's two, three months of racing.
So it's long, and you've got to set a pace that you can maintain and keep. And I think that's something that the 48's good at doing
DENISE MALOOF: Jimmie thank you for joining us today. We appreciate it.
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