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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Samsung 500

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Samsung 500

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Samsung 500

Jimmie Johnson
April 5, 2009


THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our race runner-up, that's Jimmie Johnson.
Jimmie, you moved up to second now in the points. Congratulations on your showing today. I know you really came from some adversity and finished second. Your thoughts?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, just very proud of the composure we kept today to fight through the ill-handling car at the start. We just didn't have it right for some reason. We made some changes last night, and yesterday the car was so comfortable and predictable, I think it took us a couple stops to kind of recognize that the track wasn't going to come to us.
And we did make some changes that we did need to last night. We had to get to work with tire pressure, wedge, track bar. We put stuff in, out, tried different combinations of those against one another. Finally at the end, we got it close. I was able to start working my way up through traffic. Had some good pit stops that got me track position, as well. And then there at the end, when I had clean air, we picked up a ton of speed just by being close to the front. A lot of the handling characteristics improved at that point. Just kept trying to find a way by Gordon. I was chipping away at his lead, but kind of ran out of time.
The cool thing about those last 28 laps, there was nothing left out there. My foot, it feels like I was at the go-kart track. Push on the gas pedal so hard, your foot is asleep. My foot is still tingling from the pushing the pedal so hard. It was fun, fun to drive that hard.
Glad that Jeff got his win. If we're going to finish second, I'd want to finish second to him.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Jimmie.

Q. Along those lines, not to suggest or imply that you wouldn't try to pass Jeff, but how aware were you that Jeff was in front of you? Did you even think about any of that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I don't think about those aspects of it. I see the 24 up front, and I just -- you know, it's Jeff Gordon to me. I don't see a dry spell or winless streak. Last weekend with Denny, Denny was so strong, I just saw the 11 car. I knew how good he was at that track. I saw that again today.
I ran Jeff's line, put pressure on him. He didn't make any mistakes. I could only get so close. I tried the topside. Nothing really panned out. I went back down to the bottom and started making up a little bit of time again, hoping that that would put pressure on him and force him into a mistake.
But he drove a perfect race.

Q. Talking about what you were saying about the changes in the setup and trying to do different combinations, how much of a factor did the weather, the change in the weather -- it was warmer yesterday, then the wind we had today, how much of that affected the challenges you faced early on?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You can really feel that wind coming through the center of one and two. You could feel the wind hit the front of the car and really plant the want nose of the car. Then all the way down the back straightaway, it felt like you had an engine going away on you. It almost felt like it was running out of fuel a few times because the gusts of wind would kind of slow the car down, and it would accelerate again. It was pretty noticeable down the back straightaway and into turbine three. Frontstretch wasn't bad.
I don't know if the wind really hurt our car. I'm not even sure if cooler conditions today affected it either. We made some changes last night. I don't think they were all that big. Maybe it was more the track than our changes. But we have to think this one through a little bit and understand why we were so far off at the beginning. We're a little confused on that right now.

Q. You've won two of your three championships since Jeff won his last race. What kind of effect does that have on your relationship on a guy you looked up to when you came to Hendrick Motorsports?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, Jeff is so good at holding his composure, being a team leader, knowing him like I do, I could sense that it bothered him. And Stevie and his guys, they've really held together as a tight unit. You've never heard any of those guys talk negatively about the team, the performance of the team, anyone on the team. It's always been about, We've got it, we just need to perfect a few things and get it right.
I'm really impressed with Stevie's composure. It's not easy crew-chiefing four-time champion, the pressure that comes with it. He's kept his cool, built the right team around him. Those guys really stepped up. They dealt with a lot of pressure and answered today.

Q. Winning one championship is tough. Winning two is an extremely tough task. Winning three seems like you've climbed a mountain that only one other man has climbed. Jeff Gordon struggled a couple of those years. This year he's really on his game. Is he actually making your job of possibly getting four easier because he is running better, because there's more positive input into the organization that way?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, it doesn't hurt. The better all four cars run, the more quality information we're going to get, quality data that we're going to get.
You know, I think it does elevate all of Hendrick Motorsports. Maybe my vision is limited because I see him more as, you know, a guy that's in the way of me winning a fourth than a guy elevating the team.
I'm sure that Jeff would say the same about me. That's just the competitive nature that I have to go out and try to win my fourth championship.
But Jeff is gonna be strong. If you look at, what was it '07, '06, he led so much of it, got to the Chase. They had their stuff organized and ready. We had to race hard for that championship.
His early success this year I think is building confidence within his team. They've had the right equipment. They've had the stuff. It's just about getting everything to fall in sync together. They've hit their stride and they're doing it.

Q. You could close the gap to Jeff during the last laps in the race. It's the impression you were running identical speed. How identical are the cars set up?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not sure where we started today, but yesterday in practice the cars were on opposite ends of the spectrum. We have a different feel for our car and what we look for in the car is different, and it leads the crew chiefs to different geometry packages, spring packages, shock packages. We were pretty far apart yesterday.
I'd say the 5 and the 24 have been similar in setup. Probably the closest cars. And we've kind of been off on our own island for quite some time. I think Chad likes it out there. Then the 88 has been closer to what the 24 and those guys run.
We've just developed our own style with the COT that is much different than the rest of our teammates.

Q. Jimmie, I know that's just the 24 car. I know you're just going for the win. But after the adrenaline stopped, if you had passed him and won, his winless streak had stretched to 48, would you have had any remorse about that? I guess the translation is, you've won three straight championships. How cold do you have to be to do that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, as a friend, I would have felt bad. As a competitor, I would have been excited. The best thing I can try to do, just from the competitor's standpoint, would be to try to break any momentum that anyone's putting together. And the 24's leading the points right now.
So if I could have, I think it would have been helpful for me, and kind of the mental side of me, racing the 24 for the next few months. It wouldn't last forever. But, you know, everybody chalks up these little victories against one another. If I could have made the pass and won, it could have been helpful for a couple months.
But then, again, on the friendship side, if I'm not going to win it, I want one of my teammates and especially one of my friends.
As a friend, definitely happy for Jeff.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Jimmie.

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