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Jimmie Johnson Discusses His Strong Start to The Season And Much More at Bristol

TALK ABOUT BEING OFF TO A STRONG START, WE ARE NOW AT A DIFFERENT RACE TRACK THAN WE HAVE BEEN BEFORE TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK WILL HAPPEN THIS WEEKEND AT BRISTOL: “I think we have gotten off to a great start with all of Hendrick Motorsports and especially our Lowe’s Chevrolet, excited for that.  A lot of work went into it.  As we are working our way through the different styles of tracks we have been competitive.  Bristol has been tough on me years ago.  It has been pretty good to me here in the last two or three years that we have come to the race track.  I’m excited coming back.  I love competing here.  It’s nice to walk through the tunnel and emerge inside the race track with a smile on my face because for years I would walk in here with a frown.  Although I love the race track I just wouldn’t run very good and it makes for a long weekend.  Excited to get on track, the grinding last year I don’t think went as planned for the track.  That is now the place to be it seems.  I assume we will be back up there once the race starts.  The good news is that is where everybody wants to be so maybe we will rough each other up around the top instead of around the bottom as the fans want to see.  We are just plugging along, we feel pretty good about at least the first quarter.  I know a lot of teams are working hard to sort out the Gen-6 car.  As the year develops we will see different teams and manufacturers emerge with strength.  Right now I feel like our No. 48 car is right there at the top.”


YOU ARE OFF TO ANOTHER FAST START WITH A WIN, BRAD (KESELOWSKI) IS RIGHT THERE ON YOUR HEELS WITH THREE TOP-FIVE’S.  IN YOUR CAREER HAS THE COMPETITION LEVEL CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED? “The competition has always been there.  I think the faces have changed.  I think Brad (Keselowski) has shown that he and that team are going to be a familiar face up there week in and week out and year after year.  We have been able to stay in and around the top spot for the 10 years, 11 years we have been around which is staggering to me that we have had that type of staying power.  So, I’m very proud of that.  It’s awfully competitive and gets a little congested at the top.  Again, the faces might change, but it’s the sought after place to be.”


THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF DEBATE ABOUT THE TYPE OF RACING WE HAVE HAD WITH THIS CAR OVER THE FIRST THREE RACES THIS SEASON.  IS BRISTOL A TRACK WHERE YOU THINK THAT WON’T COME INTO PLAY?  IF WE HAVE A RACE LIKE WE HAD LAST AUGUST THAT COULD KIND OF SOLVE A LOT OF THE PROBLEMS PEOPLE HAVE BEEN COMPLAINING ABOUT FOR THE LAST TWO WEEKS? “It’s so difficult to get the recipe right.  This race track is a perfect example.  For the longest time we didn’t think the racing was all that good from a competitors stand point.  But, we had a sold out event here with a long waiting list.  They change it, drivers are happy, the track is very racy, but you can’t sell out the spring race.  Last year’s race we were all fighting for one lane which was at the top instead of the bottom.  Somebody throws a helmet and it’s considered a good race.  So, I’m not sure racing and entertainment kind of go in the same piece.  I do think that racing is top priority for NASCAR and it has been.  They have created a very safe race car and a very equal race car.  I think the next step is to look at the tracks and figure out how to improve the tracks.  The garage area and the competition side of NASCAR has worked so hard to treat equality to make sure that the big teams don’t get away from the little teams.  You just have to think about it a little bit.  If the cars are that close you are probably not going to be able to pass that easily.  That is just one aspect of an equal field.  If we have race tracks with multiple grooves, multiple lanes, high tire fall off I think you will see a lot better racing.  But then there is still a portion of people that want to see fist fights so that is the balancing act.”


IN REGARDS TO TRACK SURFACES:  “NASCAR is aware and I’ve had great conversations with them and I know other drivers have too.  The folks on the competition side of NASCAR that I speak to it’s not ISC (International Speedway Corporation) or SMI (Speedway Motorsports, Inc.).  The suggestions I may have probably are hundreds of millions of dollars to change.  I don’t see anybody jumping at that opportunity.  When a track is resurfaced through the NASCAR competition side coming to some drivers and asking for advice, some tracks will listen others feel that they know what they need to do through their engineers and modeling that they like to use and come back with something that none of us ever talked about. I wish there was a better connection point between the guys on the track and the people that pay for the tracks to be resurfaced and redesigned.  That channel could work a little better and help make the racing better.”


WHAT HAVE YOU WORKED ON HERE AT BRISTOL? WHAT HAS BEEN CHALLENGING FOR YOU PERSONALLY AND DO YOU THINK WE WILL SEE THE BUMP AND RUN COME BACK AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? “On a short-track if you are within bumpers reach you have to expect it’s coming.  I would definitely anticipate that here, especially if there is a green/white/checkered at the end I think it would get exciting as it would anywhere.  Me learning this track for the longest time back when we could test I came here with the No. 24 and he literally got in my car and went three, four tenths faster than I did.  I would look at his data, get back in and couldn’t find the speed.  It didn’t fit my natural tendencies inside of a race car.  I think the new surface has helped.  It has come my direction some, just constant focus on getting better here.  From my perspective and that kind of sends the arch of the team and I would say three years back or so I finally started driving the track right, which allowed us to start working on the set up and it wasn’t uncommon for me to be driving the track all wrong through practice and qualifying and I would get in the race, get into the correct rhythm and now the car isn’t even close to being set up how it needed to be. Over time we have found a good baseline place to start and we will be around that this weekend and hopefully have the same speed.”


WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE WAY THE DENNY HAMLIN/NASCAR SITUATION HAS NOW BEEN RESOLVED:  “The way I see it Denny is still paying right? So he is still paying his fine.  It’s crystal clear to me that if you have an issue about this car you go inside the truck and talk about it.  You don’t use one of these (points to microphone) or this room to communicate that. You go up into the truck and talk about it.”


SHOULD THIS TRACK BE THE GOLD STANDARD EVEN THOUGH WHEN THEY CHANGED IT THEY DIDN’T REALLY DO WHAT YOU GUYS WANTED BUT THEY GAVE THE FANS WHAT THEY WANTED?  SHOULD THIS BE LIKE MAYBE A SHINING EXAMPLE OF WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT THAT WHEN THE TRACKS INVEST THERE CAN BE A GOOD RESPONSE FROM EVERYBODY? “There can be and I do empathize or sympathize with the track owners in trying to create the right surface.  Burton (Smith) did everything in his power to create a racey track here.  We had it.  Driver’s loved it as you know.  Fans didn’t like it.  So, there is that balancing point and I think we have to keep the fans in mind and what is going to keep people buying tickets and sitting in the seats.  I don’t have the magic sauce.  I do know that looking at the competition side of NASCAR and the team owners to make another change or to build newer cars or do something different we have exhausted all avenues.  High downforce, low downforce, bump stops, no bump stops, all these different combinations and the cars are equal.  You are going to have negative affect from equal running race cars on the track.  It’s just how it is.  If we could start focusing there are a lot of smart people in the garage and abroad.  If we start focusing on tracks I think an easy route is to use some of the older aggregate on these tracks.  This new stuff that they have used at a variety of different race tracks it lasts a long time. It doesn’t wear the tire out.  I’m sure it’s a smart decision when you are looking at your book keeping at the end of the year.  You don’t have to resurface the track as often, but I don’t think it’s helpful for good racing.  We need tire fall off and tire wear in order to do that.”


IS THERE ANY OTHER ONE TRACK WHERE IT WOULD BE EASY TO FIX LIKE WHAT THEY DID HERE?  IT WASN’T A COMPLETE OVERHAUL.  IS THERE ONE TRACK WHERE THEY COULD DO SOMETHING EASY TO IMPROVE THINGS? “I think our biggest concern is the mile-and-a-half, the bigger tracks for side-by-side racing.  I would go to the newest mile-and-a-half or the one with the newest asphalt and start there.  Just put down abrasive asphalt.  The old mix whatever that was.”


A LOT OF TEAMS OR SOME TEAMS HAVE LOADED UP THEIR TESTING IN THE FIRST PART OF THE SEASON TO GET USED TO THE NEW CAR.  WITH THE STAR THAT YOU HAVE HAD DOES THAT IMPACT HOW YOU GUYS SCHEDULE TESTING?  WILL YOU PUT MORE TESTING TOWARD THE CHASE?  DOES IT CHANGE THINGS AT ALL? “So far there has been so much testing through NASCAR that we haven’t needed to use our allotment that we have this year those four test sessions that we have for HMS. Our cars are quick so I think our goal is to wait until later in the year and ideally test at tracks that are within the Chase.  That is the best way to play it.  I think every team looks at it that way and tries to save the test dates.  How the team is performing now will affect that and teams will make adjustments.  For Hendrick right now we have been very happy with our stuff and I would expect later in the year is when we will start.”


EVEN WITH ALL YOUR WINS AND FIVE CHAMPIONSHIPS HOW MUCH APPREHENSION DO YOU ENTER A NEW SEASON AS FAR AS WONDERING WHAT YOUR PERFORMANCE OR WHAT YOUR TEAM’S PERFORMANCE WILL BE?  WHAT IS YOUR OWN PERSONAL KIND OF MARK AS TO WHEN YOU THINK YOU ARE OFF ON THE RIGHT TRACK FOR A YEAR? “From the apprehension stand point I usually, every year I’ve started I’ve been concerned.  You don’t know until four or five races in really where you stand.  It’s hard to even leave Daytona feeling too good about things even with a victory because it’s just such a different kind of race.  I think the more time goes on the less concerned I am.  Just years of working with Chad (Knaus, crew chief) and being in the Hendrick system and knowing that we are going to be close and if we are not we will figure it out.  We have been there.  I think ’07, ’08 somewhere in there we struggled pretty bad and tested I think 22 times in one year.  Granted we can’t do that now, but we will find a way to get back and have a lot of confidence in that.  The most apprehension I had was after a championship.  You finish on such a high and for myself I wanted to start that next year right where I left off.  I felt more pressure to have a quick start then than any other situation.  I kind of answered the feel for the new car.  I have always looked at five races in.  We have had a couple of short tracks and a couple of big down force fast race tracks and kind of judge it from there.  I’m feeling like I know what my car is doing, but once we get through California and have one more race on a big track we will have our package pretty much sorted out for now.”


INAUDIBLE “We will start testing for that here in the spring time and get going there.  The downforce is so… the speeds are so low especially at Sonoma that you don’t play the aero game so much.  It’s more about mechanical grip.  The set ups have been kind of the same out there for a long time to be honest.”


IN YOUR ROOKIE YEAR HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO GET COMFORTABLE IN THE CAR AND WITH YOUR TEAM? “It took a while.  We were fortunate to win our 10th start of my rookie season.  That helped speed up the confidence process.  I still today have concern especially starting a new year, will I remember what to do, and how to do it, it’s one thing to be within a couple tenths, but to find those last few tenths and you get to Victory Lane is always a concern.  In a rookie year there was a lot going on.  Not only was on the race track, but understanding the schedule, sponsor obligations.  It takes probably a good three years to fall into the rhythm of being a Sprint Cup driver to manage all that goes on through request from NASCAR, sponsors, team, testing, racing, media obligations, it’s a big thing to sort out it really is.”


HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO GET OFF TO THE QUICK START YOU ARE HAVING? “I think it’s important.  I have been so fortunate to not need to worry about Richmond and making the Chase and hopefully that stays that way.  Leaving Daytona in a hole is something we have grown accustom to.  It takes seven, eight weeks to get back up in the top five in points.  A quick start is important.  It frees up the first half of the year for you.  You can preserve the test sessions that we are allowed to have at real race tracks on the tire we are going to race on.  You can focus on inventory of your race cars which we are all behind with the Gen-6 car.  Just get your car allotment built up which is very important to do at this stage.  Instead of cutting up existing cars and rebuilding stuff and on and on it is important to get off to a quick start.  It helps lighten the work load for everybody.”


SINCE MARTINSVILLE IS NOT A DOWNFORCE TRACK IS THAT SOME PLACE YOU CAN TAKE LAST YEAR’S NOTES WITH THIS NEW CAR AND IT WORK TOGETHER? “Yeah, definitely Martinsville, gosh, it has been the same stuff and also here for a long time.  It’s nice to go back to those tracks it doesn’t matter what shape or design is on the exterior the mechanical grip aspect is still the same.”

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Posted by on March 15, 2013. Filed under Breaking News,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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