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TALK ABOUT YOUR FOUNDATION, THE HELMET OF HOPE AND RACING AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY:
“Excited to get things going for the Jimmie Johnson Foundation starting this weekend. Yesterday we were in Iowa at the headquarters for Blue Bunny and had an amazing time there. Really, I guess the phrase of the kid in the candy store was kind of true. Huge fan of ice cream was able to tour their factory, one of their two factories that are there. Saw a lot of cool things and tasted a lot of good things. A lot of fun and just thankful that Blue Bunny is sponsoring the Helmet of Hope again this year. We will start the nominations in Texas and it will go until Memorial Day weekend. The last week will be for the media nominations. Everybody think of their nominations, JimmieJohnsonFoundation.org is where you can find all the information and get that going. Then to expand on all that, this weekend we have the foundation on the side of the car and I’m just thankful that Lowe’s and KOBALT both, during a busy time of the year when they are trying to hit with customers and make them think of their store during springtime when it’s so important, they are willing to give us the race car to go out there and promote the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and the great things that are going on with it. Big weekend for us. This track and our foundation paint scheme have been a great combination over the years and we hope it’s that way again.”
HOW WILL WE KNOW IF THE DESIGNS OF THE NEW CAR ARE WORKING AND ARE THERE SOME THINGS THAT WE JUST CAN’T FIX IN DESIGNING A RACE CAR?
“I think the more I’m in this sport and the more generations of cars that I drive, we alter what goes on from an aero-deficit to the cars that are deep in the pack. It doesn’t appear to me that we can fix it. I’m very happy with all the safety innovations that we’ve had over the years. I think the cars look really, really good, which we’ve all talked about through the start of the year. To a certain degree, it’s a big car punching a big hole in the air and with air moving over the top of it and not having ground effects, it’s very difficult to make things much different. I feel like now that I have been at a few fast tracks and coming here, I think we’re going to see good racing. We’re going to see a similar type of racing that we’ve seen here in the past. I feel like this track has aged very well and will promote a lot of racing. We’ll be under the yellow line in three and four and all the way to the wall in both ends of the race track. There are some fine things to still learn about this car from a balance standpoint to find that last bit of speed for each team and making them competitive week after week, but that’s I think where we’re at right now with the car and the rules package.”
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO START A SEASON AS BRAD KESELOWSKI IS RIGHT NOW WITH FOUR TOP-FIVE FINISHES? DOES THAT GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE FOR THE WHOLE SEASON?
“Yeah, it definitely does. It’s nice when you’re in that sweet spot and everybody is working well together as a team and you can continue to get those top-five finishes and wins. With that stat, I know they (Penske Racing and Brad Keselowski) don’t have a win yet, but I know they are knocking on the door quite a few times. I would imagine that is right around the corner for them. Then from there it’s just how do you harness that and keep your team working like this until the Chase starts and preserve that, whatever that is. Magic in a bottle or lightning, whatever you want to call it. It’s tough to preserve it and keep it for 10 months. That’s the challenging part, but off to an amazing start.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE VICTORY BELL AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?
“I mean a 10 minute break at any work, everybody’s excited you know. We go through every department and everybody gets a little break in the day and we both did it in the same day so they got 20 minutes off, that’s awesome. All kidding aside, it’s something that Marshall Carlson came up with to help instill more team pride. We create a win shirt or hat or some kind of swag that they pass out during the event. We go through each department with this cool little cart that was built with go-kart tires on it and the bell and you ring the bell and they line up, shake the driver’s hand and pass out some swag and then we move on to the next department. Outside of your hearing being destroyed for the rest of the day, it’s a lot of fun and very cool to see everybody inside HMS.”
DOES ONE MANUFACTURER HAVE AN ADVANTAGE OVER OTHERS WITH THE GENERATION SIX CAR AT THIS POINT?
“I haven’t seen anything to lead me one way or the other. I’ve honestly thought more about teams than I have makes of cars. The Gibbs cars at Bristol, all three were very fast. It’s been more about teams to me than really about make. The MWR cars have been fast at different times. It’s been like a grouping of teams than really manufacturers to me.”
KASEY KAHNE CAME OUT TO CALIFORNIA AND MADE HIS WAY TO A TATTOO PARLOR WHILE YOU WERE AT AN ICE CREAM PARLOR:
“Do we have confirmation that he (Kahne) got ink? I saw the picture, but I couldn’t see any ink. I saw his little sleeve rolled up with that little arm of his, but I didn’t see any ink on it.”
HAVE YOU EVER HAD A TATTOO BEFORE OR WOULD YOU CONSIDER DOING THAT AND WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON KASEY KAHNE DOING IT?
“There was one moment when I entered Nationwide racing and we were testing at Indy. We went out with the guys and we ended up at a tattoo parlor and thankfully the guy sent me home and said to come back when I was sober. I had a brilliant idea of ‘WFO’ tattooed on my right foot. I think we all know what ‘WFO’ stands for. I’m thankful that didn’t go through and they sent me home.”
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE TO HAVE AN EARLY WIN IN THE SEASON AND HOW MUCH OF A BOOST WOULD IT BE FOR DALE EARNHARDT JR. SHOULD HE GET ONE IN THE NEXT FOUR OR FIVE RACES?
“There’s a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves to win and for me, to win each year is very important and to get that out of the way and get that pressure off your shoulders is huge. We all carry different pressures with us, Junior (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and Junior Nation as we all know is very vocal and large and anytime he wins, it’s a nice reprieve from the pressure that is associated with that. It would mean a lot to him on many levels and for his team. They’ve been getting so much stronger year after year and week after week. I think they will be winning on a regular basis before long.”
WOULD THERE BE ANY TEMPTATION TO USE THIS RACE AS A TEST WITH SO MANY INTERMEDIATE TRACKS COMING UP ON THE SCHEDULE?
“For sure. We’re still on that fence right now and we have things going on with front suspension on the car where we’ve been racing one way, we’re considering another way and we’ll change it in and out during practice. Even the rear spring rates and such, just trying to get that under control with what the attitude of the car wants to be. We don’t have a deep notebook yet. At Bristol I would say, even though it’s a small track would be probably the best example of all four teams kind of going in different directions. I felt like Kasey (Kahne) and I were pretty competitive throughout the race and he certainly won, but our frontends on our race cars couldn’t have been more different. They were polar opposites, but we were both very fast and competitive all day long. With this new car there are still quite a few things to sort out and so yeah, one of our four cars at least will race with a big unknown just because, why not? It’s that time of the year to explore and experiment.”
IS THERE ANYTHING THAT CAN BE DONE WITH BRAKE DUCTING TO KEEP TIRES FROM BLOWING OUT IN EXTREME BRAKE HEAT?
“I think there was probably seven, eight, nine, there was quite a few tire issues and I think there were varying problems that showed up. I know the 24 (Jeff Gordon) looked more like a traditional bead melting. You know Jeff and you look at his brake temps and what went on with the car, he wasn’t using the brakes. Mine, the sidewall blew right out of it, inches above where the bead was so I did not have a bead problem. The makeup of that tire from what I understand is more like an intermediate tire and the fibers that are used in the sidewall are nylon fibers versus I don’t know what the other stuff is, maybe it’s carbon or something else. I think at least internally and what Chad (Knaus, crew chief) has been believing and thinking is that those nylon fibers created their own heat because of the loading and unloading that goes on at the track. Over time, they made their own hot spot and created an issue. I guess Bristol is the only short track that we run on that runs an intermediate tire, intermediate build. There could be something there for Goodyear. Again, this is all speculation that is coming out of our shop. I haven’t talked to anybody at Goodyear about it. That’s what we’re believing right now and that’s what we’re buying into.”
WHAT DID YOU LEARN AT BRISTOL THAT YOU CAN TAKE TO MARTINSVILLE?
“Gosh, they are so different. The vertical loading properties and banking and all the stuff that happens at Bristol really won’t apply. The one nice thing for us is we did the 2013 testing at Martinsville last October. The cars acted very similar so there were some subtle changes, but I don’t think it’s going to be all that challenging for the teams going back. Martinsville is still Martinsville.”