American Muscle


MAY 6, 2011

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/KOBALT TOOLS CHEVROLET met with media and discussed last week’s frustrating race at RIR, the upcoming Dover race and the All-Star race at Charlotte, tempers on the race track, and more. Full Transcript:

KERRY THARP: Next up is our five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson. He’s got two wins here at Darlington. Average finish is 9.3.

Jimmie, talk about racing here at Darlington. You have that one win under your belt. You’ve moved up obviously in the points, up to second. Been up there a couple weeks. Talk about racing here at Darlington.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think every driver, veteran or rookie, coming in is really excited to come to this racetrack and compete. With only running here once a year, I think there’s more of a focus on trying to take a trophy out of here. It means so much to our series, to the drivers, competitors, the history of our sport, that we’re all very excited to come here and compete.

Things change a lot. This track, I’m eager to get onto it. There’s been so much grip since they repaved it. There’s been a tire test. Heard some mixed report. We’re not sure what to expect until we get out there. One of my favorite tracks, along with a handful of other drivers, I’d say a lot of other drivers. We’ll just get out there and let it rip here in practice today.

KERRY THARP: We’ll take questions for Jimmie Johnson.

Q. I wanted to ask you about last week. You were pretty miserable for a long stretch of that race; still were able to salvage it. How difficult is it to stay focused like that? Last week there were a few certain drivers who couldn’t do that and they became unraveled and so went their day. How were you able to do that, pull that out?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, I was coming unraveled. I guess we’re all wired differently and have higher thresholds. My fun meter was pegged. It was not a good night.

We never lost our heads completely, and that’s what led to the good finish. So proud of that. Just not a night we expected to have, especially leaving Happy Hour strong as we were. Then to start the race, we go in the wrong direction was frustrating.

I’ve always had that ability to keep my cool longer than others. But I still snap. I started to in the car late in the race.

Q. You’ve won here a couple times. Last year you probably had as miserable a night as you had all year, wrecking two or three times. Does that speak to the nature of this place, how it can be so Jekyll and Hyde? Every night is different at this place.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it is. The speeds we run around here, it’s really mind-boggling. There’s some tracks we go to where you don’t feel you’re running 210, like at Michigan or California, going into a corner, there’s so much room, it’s so wide. But at this track, the sensation of speed is probably the highest of anywhere we go. If you look at the average lap time, I think Greg Biffle at a tire test was like 206 into turn three which is crazy to think of at a mile-and-a-third track.

That leads to my point, which the speeds are high, narrow, narrow racetrack. And last year there were a few things that went on around me, guys crashing. I slid into the 56 down here in three and four. A lot of other things went on. I think there was a wreck in the front of us. I got into the back of the 14. I didn’t get stopped in time. A.J. had his brake issue going down the back straightaway. I never saw him. It was like a missile coming out of the infield that hit me.

So, yes, it was a miserable night. I think we would have been decent. We ran well up until then. It’s always been this track, too. When things start working against you, or the lady starts working against you, it’s over.

Q. Jimmie, you follow other sports as well as racing. In your mind, other than the million dollars to win first prize, what differentiates the All-Star event in NASCAR races from All-Star events in other sports?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’d have to say the mindset of our All-Star event is a lot different than others when you look at the Pro Bowl, you look at the baseball All-Star Game, basketball’s All-Star stuff.

No one in our sport is really concerned about saving something or getting hurt, playing at 80%, whatever it may be. You hear that stuff all the time. You watch the Pro Bowl. The guys aren’t hitting like they normally do. Our series, the hits are actually probably worse, harder, stronger. The intensity and commitment for our All-Star event seems to be a lot higher than others. So that mindset is the difference to me.

Not to take anything away from those athletes. I should then say we’re surrounded by a steel cage so it’s easier for us to dish some stuff out and take some hits.

Q. Looking ahead from one tough oval to another, next week Dover, you had a lot of success there. Can you talk about the track? Been described as a rollercoaster that’s also self-cleaning.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it’s a fun racetrack. I think it’s a track that really suits my style, and the stats show that. There’s a certain rhythm there. You have to be comfortable with typically the racecar at least into the corner, then you have to figure out somehow to make it turn the center, fight forward grip up off the corner to run a good lap there.

The rubber, I understand we’re going back to the same tire as we had there in the fall. That tire laid a lot of rubber down and caused a lot of handling issues for teams. We did a good job of working around that. So I’m excited going back. I think it will be a strong race for the Lowe’s team.

Q. You and Chad have won five championships together. You obviously work well. You don’t always see eye-to-eye. On a week like last week when you were starting to have a meltdown in the car, he kind of pushes your buttons sometimes. How much does it help you come back from the brink when he does that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it just depends. That environment, we forget that everyone is scanning and listening sometimes, act like idiots, grade school kids at times. So it’s always embarrassing, especially walking in the bus, to see my wife post-race. Then friends at times will mention stuff. Then come back to the media center to be reminded about stuff I forget about or wasn’t informed of. It’s tough. That is the cool think about our sport. Everyone can listen and hear what’s taking place, what’s going on.

You know, a driver/crew chief relationship is one that is unique. It’s a lot like a marriage in some ways, which we’ve all joked about and talked about. You know how to push your wife’s buttons. We all know how to push our spouse’s buttons. So when it comes time in a race, in a driver/crew chief relationship, you can do the same. Then there’s also buttons you can push to whip someone into shape. All of that takes place.

Chad and I have done a good job over the years of not having complete meltdowns. We certainly have our moments. We get right to the edge and then realize, Hey, this isn’t good for the team, we’re going to give up a good finish, we shouldn’t do any more damage than we’ve already done, let’s get our heads on straight and go from there.

Q. Jimmie, you’re good buddies with Brian Vickers. This is the last race he ran last year before he had his medical issues. Just talk about the year, what he’s been through. That kind of wake up everybody in the sport? You can be doing anything and all of a sudden having something like that happen.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I know it did me being around Brian, looking at someone that was, to the eye, certainly young but healthy and in shape, having those issues. It was spooky for a while. In the beginning, there was some hope and we’ll find out what the problem is, why the clots are taking place. There was a dark period where they didn’t know why. All the tests came back negative from a hereditary standpoint, all these other issues. That’s when it really hit him, which would have been probably midway through his year off or three-quarters through his year off. Didn’t really have a solution.

That’s when I really saw Brian looking hard in the mirror, trying to figure out what he was going to do. All of us drivers, racing is us. That’s what we’re defined by, what we’ve always done. Then Brian is sitting there at a point wondering if he’s going to be on thinners the rest of his life and if he’s going to go back to the sport that defined him as a man.

I know he went through some really tough times. Glad to see him back. He’s shown some great runs this here. Hopefully those guys can get some luck going their year and get some good finishes.

Q. Last weekend wasn’t the first time you made chicken salad. You’ve had bad nights. Charlotte last year you spun in the opening laps, finished second or third. Atlanta race a couple years where you finished second at the very end. You guys have the ability to work through really serious and bad problems, and other teams don’t. How come you guys can do it? Is it you? Is it Chad? The combination of being together? Is that the defining competitive advantage you guys have that you can work through this where maybe other teams can’t?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, we didn’t really know this about ourselves. If that race was a hundred laps shorter, we were right in the middle of our meltdown and wouldn’t have had time to rally back. We’ve always found that longer races suit us, just work better for our team from an opportunity to win a race or even from an opportunity to take a 30th-place car to the top 10. It’s within us somewhere. It’s kind of in our makeup, in our DNA.

I feel that you don’t see me in a lot of issues on track, and it’s so easy to get caught up in that stuff when you’re angry and mad. A lot of times you watch guys take care of themselves. They’re frustrated, mad, start running into another one. That energy just breeds more of it. Before you know it, you turn around, cars wreck. There’s that part inside the car.

If you give Chad long enough on pit road making adjustments, he’ll find out what it needs, so it’s a combination of those two.

Q. The one thing I’ve noticed most about you is the sheer self-control. You seem to have more self-control when stuff like that happens than 99% of the people out there, including your crew chief. Has this been a characteristic of yours or have you had to work at maintaining that kind of composure when it starts to hit the fan?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it’s a characteristic. I mean, I felt like I was completely out of control last weekend. Maybe I wasn’t in comparison to other drivers and the way they act. But as I said earlier, my fun meter was pegged. I was so mad inside the car that anything would send me into a tailspin.

I’m happy to hear that; that I am in control.

Q. Do you have to work at it?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, it’s just always been there. To me there’s something going out starting off racing bikes, then into off-road, on and on. When you act like a fool on the track, there has always been something when you come off the track that hits me and I feel guilty about acting that way. I can remember some instances early when I was a kid racing dirt bikes. There’s one kid that I was racing for the local track championship. He fell in the corner in front of me. I followed him into the berm and I went down. So now as I’m going to pick up my bike, he’s shoving me so I can’t get to my bike so he can get to his bike.

We end up in the wrestling match out there. We’re like 11, 12 years old. We end up in this wrestling match out there. We both get on our bikes. I get up before him. I shove him down. Got off the track. When he got off the track, I launched my bike over towards the pit area and knocked him off his bike.

At that moment, when I turned around and saw my parents, my dad’s shocked face and my mom’s shocked face that I acted that way, I think there’s something from that moment that kind of stuck with me.

In most cases, I feel bad or guilty after acting like that. It’s been that way through school and racing and all kinds of other things.

But there’s just something in that moment when I was 10, 11 years old, I realized I didn’t like how I felt after that. I was kind of embarrassed of it.

Q. I didn’t know you were a hooligan when you were little.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We’re all brats sometimes.

Q. Should we expect more of acting the fool tomorrow night? Is it that part of the season when tempers snap?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is. And this track is going to breed that. As narrow as it is, track position being so important. If you look at tracks where it’s tough to pass, I think you can set up some sort of temper scale, and it will parallel it. Michigan, tons of room, easy to get by people, it’s not a problem. Here, Richmond, other tracks where it’s really tough to pass, that’s when tempers fly

KERRY THARP: Jimmie, thanks a lot. Good luck this weekend.

FastScripts by ASAP Sports

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