Q. Just talk about this season, talk about the Chase, talk about winning the sixth championship.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: When I look back on the year, I think about the Gen-6 car, the race to figure out what the car wanted for speed, the hard work from everybody at Hendrick, the way we’ve been able to connect through the 48 team, find speed in the car, develop the car, innovate in the garage area with the setups that are in the car.
I give Chad all the credit in the world for honing in on those things, finding speed and building me fast racecars.
We were in position to win a lot throughout the course of the year. Unfortunately we gave a bunch away. I think we could be sitting here with a higher win total. At the end of the day we won the big prize.
That helped us through some of those races that got away, focusing on the big surprise,knowing we had speed, making sure we were organized, had our inventory of cars, test setup ready to roll.
Just a well-executed year top to bottom, especially in these final 10 races. We didn’t leave many points on the table. I can look back on a few tracks and think we could have had a few more points, but it really was a strong 10 weeks. Last year we had eight great weeks, didn’t come up with it. Matt had nine. You have to have 10 great weeks to be the champion and we got it done this year.
Q : Certainly, Jimmie, this is a huge accomplishment – not only in NASCAR, but in the sports field. Congratulations on this.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you.
Q. Jimmie, I heard you say out in Victory Lane you really don’t think we should start this whole discussion about seven or eight, who’s the best of all time, until you hang your helmet up. Fortunately or unfortunately, the discussion has already begun. Denny Hamlin said he thinks you’re the best that’s ever been. Richard Childress said on Friday you could go down in history as one of the greatest if not the greatest. Richard Petty thinks you could go and win eight or ten championships. With all that going on already, how can you avoid this discussion? Seems like for the rest of your career you’re going to be chasing history in some form or another.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I agree. That reality I’m fine with, look forward to the opportunity, hope that I can certainly accomplish more.
I feel like this team is capable of a lot of great things. There’s still great years out ahead of us. But all of that is in the future, a seventh, an eighth. Richard said eight to ten. That’s all ahead of us.
I don’t want to focus on that yet. It’s not time. I want to unplug, enjoy the sixth, let it soak in. We’ll get to Daytona for testing soon enough. I guess by then it’s probably appropriate to ask the question.
I’m humbled by the nice things that have been said by competitors and owners, my peers in this industry. I think their opinion is very important. I don’t think my opinion matters. It’s not for the athlete, the driver. It’s bestowed upon you, it’s passed down from others.
If others are saying it, I’m not going to deny it, chase it away. Sure, I would love to be considered that. If you look at stats, there’s still numbers out there that I need to achieve. That’s why I say, Until I hang my helmet up, it’s not necessarily a fair conversation to have.
Honored to be in the conversation and I know I will have to face it, especially being this close to seven and having a shot to tie those guys.
Q. Jimmie, you came into the night needing only a 23rd. It would have been difficult for you not to get that. You could have blown an engine or crashed. Could you start the race looking at it as a normal race because of all that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I truthfully and honestly did. It’s my first time in 11 starts down here. All the championship opportunities I’ve had, this truly was the most calm and normal weekend that I’ve ever had in the racecar.
A few things go towards that. Experience. I think maturity, being prepared as a team, the steps that we went through to be prepared. Testing at the tracks in Texas and here late in the year helped with that as well. The vibe we had going, the energy. We had a lot of things going in the right direction.
It allowed me to enter this entire weekend as stress-free as ever. It felt like a normal race. It really, really did.
With 74 to go, everything hit the fan out there on the frontstretch, it got serious. I’m not going to lie. Up until then, it was the most calm and relaxed environment I’ve ever had down here.
Q. We know how hard you worked for this. In years past not every fan was a fan of what you did. Tonight, however, I don’t think there was any disdain or boos. How did that feel in comparison to some of the years past?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s awesome to hear the cheers. I guess I haven’t been close enough to it all to feel it. I’m sure there are people that aren’t so happy with the 48 winning the championship. That’s just how it goes.
I don’t frame into my day, week or year anything based on that. We’re a very tight-knit race team. We do our job. If people want to hate on us, hating is technically whining, so they can whine all they want. My hardcore fan base that supports me, I love them and appreciate it.
Q. Jimmie, we’ve talked about the possibility of winning seven or eight championships. You’re only 38 years old. Have you given any thoughts of reaching 105 wins? How does it finally feel to have everyone on Twitter on your side?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I did have some great support over the last couple days, which is awesome. And, yes, I am an athlete, and so is every driver in one of these racecars. Even Tony Stewart, even though he’s carrying a little (laughter). He’s an athlete. That’s just fuel for his engine.
I don’t know if the 105 is attainable. With all the wins Jeff has had, Jeff is going to set the mark for the current era in race wins. I don’t know how you can get there. The number is way too big. Triple digits is insane to think of.
Q. Jimmie, you talked a little bit about wanting to enjoy this one more than maybe you had let yourself enjoy some of the previous ones. Was it as enjoyable or more enjoyable going through these last 10 weeks than past championships? What have you done in the last two hours to make it more fun and enjoyable as far as the celebration?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Last year I think I was in a very similar space. The last two races didn’t go well, so that kind of changed things. We made it eight races through with a similar and enjoyable mindset. Racing hard, not feeling the pressure, being in the moment. Able to answer the bell at times. We won at Martinsville last year, Texas, had ourselves in the thick of things. That was similar to this year in how things felt.
The last couple hours, I don’t know how to describe it. Just looking around, soaking it in. I kind of do care how long I’m here tonight, but I really don’t. I want to enjoy the moment. I watched my guys tear down the pit box and the pits as I was doing another interview a few minutes ago. They got in a huddle. I’m not sure what they said. I’m watching it from affair, soaking it in, That’s my boys.
I’m trying to enjoy it, soak it all in. I don’t know really how to describe it, to be honest.
Q. I was here when you won number four and five. I asked you this question. People compare you to some other NASCAR greats. Even more so now they’re comparing you to other sports greats, TigerWoods, Michael Jordan. Do you see yourself as to type of world-class athlete? How do you see yourself?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’ve never thought of it. When you mention Michael’s name, he’s given me a hard time that I only won five. I can’t wait to send him a text and say, Hey, buddy, I’ve caught up (laughter).
It’s not like me to think in that light. It’s just not me. I guess I need to open my mind to it because the numbers speak for themselves. I find myself in a touchy situation at times where my quiet approach can be looked at as arrogant or cocky, and that is the furthest thing from the truth in what I’m trying to portray.
Honestly, I’m just trying to, I don’t know, say the right things and keep my mind in the right space. I haven’t let a lot in and it’s led to more success. It’s kept my work ethic intact, kept me honest and humble. I like that about myself. I really, really do. I don’t know if I want to open my mind and let it in, where I stand in the sports world. It’s not time for that in my eyes.
Q. Earlier Chad pointed out that other than a few key people, you have virtually a newteam this year. Did you have any apprehension at the beginning of the year? What do you do with your new crew guys to gel?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We got off to a quick start with the Daytona 500, opened up at the other tracks with strong performances. We could see where things were going.
Chad has a great vision on the support system that needs to be in place so we can make the right decisions. Dave, our engineer, was with us last year for a race or so when Greg Ives had to take leave for his child being born. We got a taste of Dave then. Transitioned well. There’s another new engineer. Well, Pete moved up. New faces and new places to say the least.
But Chad has had a great vision on how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. That’s really his department, world. He’s not afraid to make a change if need be. We did make a change earlier in the year, on top of off-season changes, just to get the ingredients right, and it certainly paid off.
Q. You touched on this in Victory Lane. Talk about the emotions of your grandmother passing, those that have unfortunately gone in your life.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, these moments, I wish I could share them with so many I grew up with, from friends, people that worked on my off-road trucks, my dirt bikes, ASA cars, on and on. It’s hard to thank everybody.
But through it all, my family has been my biggest fan, my biggest support. My mom and my dad. I lost my two grandfathers and my grandmother on my dad’s side through the last 10, 15 years. They were just so proud of what I was chasing. They were there for me, supporting me.
Then my grandmother unfortunately passed away last month. She was 92, and the biggest 48 fan out there. She didn’t like the beard too much. I feel bad about that. But I stuck with the beard. Outside of the beard, I haven’t done a thing wrong in her eyes, which is kind of crazy.
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the funeral either, which stings a little bit. We were here testing. I knew she would want me to work on my car and make sure I got to Victory Lane. Again, she was my biggest fan. I know she was riding around there on that racecar with me tonight.
Q. You talk about not letting things in your head, the challenges you may face. What have been the biggest challenges through the years past you’ve had to overcome? What would be the challenges you foresee at this point as you move forward in repeating this, continuing this type of success? Maybe it’s too early, but if you look ahead, what’s the challenge? Is it against you or the garage or what?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think keeping the 48 in its sweet spot. People, the connection, the bond that we have, it’s a big part of our success.
Where our sport’s heading is the other piece. There’s change coming. Don’t know exactly what it looks like yet. From the competition side, we know the rules package is going to change. You hear rumbling about format changing. Our sport is ever-changing, trying to adjust to an ever-changingworld. The target is moving on us. I feel like we can chase the target pretty darn well, especially if we stay connected and united as we have. I don’t see why that would change any.
Q : Jimmie, you have become the first athlete, and notice I say ‘athlete’, to host SportsCenter on ESPN this Tuesday night at 6:00.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I am scared to death. It means I have to read something.
Q : Can you talk about that. How are you going to prepare for that? That’s a daunting task.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We’ve been working on it for a while. With Lydia’s birth, we weren’t able to pull it off earlier in the year. I was relieved of my obligation. But it’s shown back up.
Honored to do it. I have a hard enough time at the podium reading a simple acceptance speech. To be on a live show trying to read a teleprompter is one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ll do.