Q. Jimmie, certainly coming off a very strong performance at the All-Star Race must bode well for you on Sunday here at Charlotte.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It does. The longest run we had was 20 laps. We feel like we’ve got a good direction but we still need to get out in Saturday’s practice session and work on the car balance for a full run.
In our situation, we won’t be able to have our All-Star car to race this weekend. It won’t get released from the tech center till Tuesday. There’s not enough time to turn the car around.
We have a lot to work from, but it’s still a new weekend. Race is much different than before. We feel like we have a good direction and we’ll see where things stack up at the end of the night on Sunday.
Q. Last night at the Hall of Fame, we were debating about whether this might be the greatest era of NASCAR competition, considering parity in the sport and the number of future Hall of Famers that are racing now. Out of that, I’m wondering how you can decide whether one era might be better than the other. How do you judge and stack yourself up, Jeff, those that you race with, against the guys that raced 50 years ago?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That’s a great question. I don’t think there is an answer. I think that’s what leads to great conversation, debate, and harassment amongst friends that think a different driver from a different generation was better.
I don’t know how you do it. You can look at stats. But just a different world for a lot of reasons. I think it’s the same way when you look at a lot of other pro sports. It’s very difficult to pick one.
Stats kind of tell the tale at the end of the day, but we would all love to see – it wouldn’t be possible – but the greatest baseball game with all the Hall of Famers on the field. Same with football.
If we could get Petty in his prime, Earnhardt in his prime, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Jeff Gordon, go on down the list, that would be an awesome list. We can’t do that so we just have the questions and the conversations, which are great. I’m glad we have those conversations in our sport.
Q. Jimmie, Brad was talking a little bit earlier about even though he’s a lot longer and you have to survive to get that far, how Sundaymight be similar to the All-Star Race, in whoever can get up front after that last pit stop is going to have an advantage. How do you feel about the end of the 600 coming up?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I don’t disagree with that. I think it’s kind of par for the course on tracks without a lot of tire falloff or tire wear.
The clean air is more of an advantage in that situation, even if you are abusing your tires and you can hang on. I think a 10-lap shootout, guaranteed, changes the game a little bit. We’ll be hopefully coming in after a 40-, 50-lap run running on old tires to the finish. Maybe there’s a little different scenario at that point in time.
Yeah, I don’t disagree that opportunity could be here, especially if it’s a short run to the finish.
Q. Jimmie, Memorial Day weekend, there will be a huge military presence here. There’s always a lot of pageantry to go along with that. Your thoughts about Memorial Day, what it means to Jimmie Johnson.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s awesome to be a part of it, to be a source of entertainment, and to pay our respects as a race team. We usually have an awesome paint job on our racecar. To be a part of it, to say thank you, means a lot to Lowe’s, myself and our race team.
From a race fan’s perspective, Sunday is the greatest day all over. Monaco Grand Prix, right into the 500, right into the 600.
I don’t miss not racing, but sitting on the couch watching all that, I do have fond memories of watching a full day of racing.
Q. Talked to Doug. He said you haven’t decided where you’re going to do your test yet this season. Is there someplace in particular you believe you need to test more than somewhere else with the new car?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me I think Phoenix is the question mark. We finished second there in the spring, but we didn’t have the confidence the race weekend we wanted to. We raced better than we expected to, finished better than we thought. From the 48′s standpoint, that’s probably the hottest track in our mind.
With the testing format the way it is, might not play out that way. We’ll have to see. Luckily all the cars are running good and we’re able to sit on our test sessions right now and use them in the best manner possible, hopefully on Chase tracks. That would be the ideal situation.
As we get through the summer, if we have a teammate that’s near that cutoff point, we need to get stronger at a regular-season racetrack, we can have that strategy in place, too.
Q. Jimmie, I’ve asked a few people today, your peers, to describe your career. More than one have said ‘greatest of all time’. How would you describe your career, knowing your peers feel that way?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Wow, I don’t know how to quite respond to that. I am honored that they have mentioned me in that way.
I just don’t pay that much attention to it all. It’s very difficult to think about where I fit in while I’m still racing. I think of driver’s careers ending mid 40s. I still have 10 years or so to even think about that, worry about that.
So to be recognized and thought of and even in the conversation with Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon, that’s a huge compliment I’m very proud to have, proud to be a part of that conversation. But I haven’t thought that much about it.
Q. You mentioned earlier about not driving the All-Star car this weekend. Was that ever an option or hope?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: If you don’t go to the tech center following the race, you have that option. You can turn your car around. But we had a brake problem. We won. Weren’t getting our car back for a couple days. In the old days, before the cars would come home with us, they wouldn’t go to the tech center till Tuesday, we would ask ourselves the question, even if we didn’t win: Do we want to turn this car around and use it? When we won here, it didn’t go to the tech center, we brought that car back. You know where the gaps are. At that time the balance, now it’s the splitter. Those heights are so critical, you’ll waste two or three runs on a new tire today where you could use those runs to really fine tune your racecar. You’d much rather bring that racecar back in today’s world. Ideally we would, for sure.
Q. You’ve won this race before, the 600. You know the razor thin line of what it takes to win it, how hard it is to win it, the margin for error is so thin. How difficult or demanding on a driver is it when you have to physically wrestle the car around but also keep in the back of your mind one small mistake you could put yourself to the back of the field?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is a fine balance. Not only is it important for the driver, but it’s also the team. I think the All-Star Race was a great example of how important that last pit stop is. You get the driver who’s been out there, potentially fatigued. You have a team that’s been up and at it early, setting up a pit, doing pit stops all day long. It’s late at night. You come down to the last pit stop. Who has it in the tank? Not only energy, but hand-eye coordination.
In today’s day of racing, when you get to Victory Lane, sure, the driver gets most of the credit for the job well done, but it’s such a team sport. There’s just as much riding on the success of the car on pit road as much as there is on the racetrack.
Q. AJ Allmendinger, qualifying for Indy, do you think if you go to Indy, top driver in the garage, you’d be a contender right away?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don’t think so. I think that the driver we become is a product of what we grew up in. My off-road days, the vehicles I raced, helped lead me to NASCAR. I didn’t grow up in carts. I’ve never been in an open-wheel vehicle, a formula-style vehicle. They just drive differently.
AJ was on top of his game in IndyCar before he came to NASCAR, had to relearn. I think his venture into NASCAR is a good example of what would happen if a driver went from NASCAR to IndyCar. It takes time.
If I just left and tried next year, tested a couple times, I wouldn’t be where Dinger is. I think he’s doing an amazing job and I would love to see him win that thing.