Q. REGARDING RICHARD PETTY COMMENT
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I just caught wind of that, so I’m not so prepared.
Q. HOW CLOSE DO YOU FEEL LIKE DANICA IS TO WINNING A RACE AND HER CAPABILITIES?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think her most immediate opportunity to win would be plate-wise. What she’s shown down here, especially in the 500, look at what she did in Indy, she had a really good chance of winning there at the 500 once or twice, and last year was in a great position through the course of the race.
I’d say plate racing is probably the first opportunity for her. It’s just going to take time to sort out of the other areas. We have the ability to see open-wheel drivers coming to NASCAR. Outside of Tony, we haven’t seen
I’m still interested in watching, if whatever happened, a (indiscernible) car guy going that direction. You need at least five years over here to figure out what’s going on, understand these cars, be competitive.
Regardless if it’s Danica, a male driver, whoever it is, you really need five years to kind of get yourself where you need to be in this sport and find those last few 10ths. It’s one thing to get within a couple seconds, but the last few 10ths are the hardest thing to find.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s experience. When you come off the truck, you have to know the line you’re going to run, where your braking points are, your turn-in, on throttle, the fuel you’re looking for. You need all those things because if you don’t and you need an hour of the two-hour practice session to find your way, you just lost an hour to the fuel, you lost an hour to the 48, to Tony, to the 24, guys that unload that way. That is the hardest part.
I can remember my Nationwide days, at the end of the Nationwide race, I was like, Man, if I came back now, I would be so much better. I just didn’t have the repetition and the time. That’s a big part of succeeding in NASCAR.
I think for most open-wheel drivers, they don’t get a five-year window to figure it out. I was telling this to Travis Pastrana, to Ricky Carmichael, guys from other disciplines that come in, you need five years.
Go run ARCA for two or three years, go run Trucks, but you get to Nationwide and on, you get one year. If you’re lucky, you get two or three. Most people get a year and then move on. It’s a tough industry to come into.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I had no clue what they saw. My fifth year ever in a stock car was in the 48 at Hendrick Motorsports. Man, I was still busy knocking down a lot of walls, trying to figure out where to be, what to do. I didn’t even know where the gas pumps were at all the racetracks. It was a running joke among the 48 team whether we were coming in, Jimmie, turn in here on pit road, the gas pumps are over here. I didn’t even know where to put gas in the car.
Q. DOES THE (INAUDIBLE) FEEL DIFFERENT TO YOU THIS YEAR?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, not yet. It’s been out of mind for sure. That could be due to the addition to the household. It’s very busy at home with two. So many parents with more than one kid tell me how much busier it was going to be. I’m like, Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s far busier than having one.
There’s some of that, and the other part is I haven’t been in that mental space yet racing or competing. I think as the year goes on and if we are to make the Chase and get down to the race at Homestead, that’s when it will be top of mind. Right now it’s so far away, such a process to get there, I haven’t put much thought into it.
Q. ANY TROUBLE GETTING DOWN HERE?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, we got out this morning. We were smart, repositioned our plane to Charlotte-Douglas. The trip from the hangar to the runway was exciting. They hadn’t plowed any of that. I thought I was in an off-road truck for a while trying to get out to the runway.
Q. DO YOU GAME PLAN DIFFERENTLY THIS YEAR KNOWING YOU’RE PROBABLY GOING TO GET INTO THE CHASE?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, it certainly will. People will. We haven’t talked about it amongst the 48 team. We’ve always felt, especially when the wild card program came in, if you were to win one or two races you could play for a while. As you get close to September, we always believed you had to fine tune and be done with major concept changes and really pick your package and refine it.
2005 we thought we were real cute and smart and locked in early, had a big points lead, did all this experimenting, kind of lost our way and got confused when the Chase started and it backfired on us.
We prefer to have a package and move forward at that point. But the start of the year, you just got to be open to it. If you’re off, you’ve got to go test, you have to go work. If you’re on and competitive, you can probably be a little patient and preserve your test sessions. It’s going to be an ever-changing and evolving process.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I still think the way you win a championship is the same: you’ve got to win races. I think it builds more excitement with the fact that you’ve got to win the transfer, there’s that elimination process that works its way down.
I still feel very good about it. When we look around at sports, everything’s changing. The Olympics look far different than they used to. NFL is considering change. All sports. The world is changing. Our viewership is changing, so the sport has to change.
I’m not sure if this is the exact thing, the right thing. Only time will tell. But I do support NASCAR and I do commend them on making a bold change and think that it’s — I know it’s going to bring excitement, especially those final 10 races.
I still think there’s some more change out there that can be done. You can argue the first 26, what’s going on there. I think you can argue the overall premise that maybe there’s a little too much NASCAR at times. Maybe we race too many times, our races are a little long. I think there can be some format changes and procedure changes during the course of an event to kind of compact that.
We know it’s a major time commitment to come to the racetrack. You got a two-hour commute with traffic in and out, you have a five-hour event. That is just a daunting task for a lot of families.
In my opinion, there’s some other areas where we can work in as well. Kind of where the conversations were before this announcement cam out.
When change was to come, I felt like it would change in other directions and our process to crown a champion was going to stay intact, but it ended up being the opposite.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, granted, I don’t own these tracks. It’s very easy for me to sit as a driver over here and say it. We race at a lot of tracks twice. I know from the Auto Club Speedway side of things, I had friends when there was one race, they went religiously every year because it was the only opportunity to see me race and other drivers race. When there was two, it gave them an out. I’m not in the position in the spring, I’ll go in the fall. The fall comes around, I’m busy, I’ll go in the spring. That’s my one example of it. I think there is some of that that goes on. I think when there’s venues that can’t sell out both events, maybe one race would be better for them.
So I think that’s the way to limit the amount of races we run and shorten the program. We have started that. We have shortened some of the distances at races. I think that’s been helpful.
I thought there was going to be a big shake-up there. I felt like we were looking at maybe heat races and a feature, some type of format change like that for our Sunday show. I was shocked to hear the changes that were coming.
Q. REGARDING CONSISTENCY
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it’s great for a work environment. That’s where I thrive and do my best work. If you look at my personal life, always being in relationships, there’s always consistent things going on.
The world we created at Team 48 is perfect for that. It helps us hold things down because we’ve got a strong nucleus of people. As things change, and there’s a lot of change this year, when you look at qualifying procedure, the way the champion is crowned, rules package, officiating, they’re parking the transporters different. Every time I hear something, something is different. It’s going to be nice to have a familiar foundation to work from.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I really don’t believe it in the bottom of my heart. When you look at you got to win, win in the Chase, that all suits the 48. That’s what we’ve done. The only catch is making sure we’re buttoned up in Homestead. The couple times we’ve needed to be, we’ve had the speed and been able to go down there and be competitive.
I don’t see it as an attempt to stump the 48. I really think it’s to build excitement. I felt like there would be change. We were talking about it earlier. I didn’t know this would be the change. But we need to evolve. We need to change. Hopefully this is the right thing.
Q. IN SOME WAYS WE’VE NEVER SEEN HOW GOOD YOU CAN BE AT HOMESTEAD BECAUSE YOU’VE NEVER HAD TO BE.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah. We respond well to pressure. That’s one thing that the 48 has done a nice job with. First things first. We got to transfer through the different segments, make sure we’re not eliminated and have a shot at it.
Q. YOU HAVE TALKED ABOUT THE CHANGES THAT HAVE TAKEN PLACE. WHEN YOU LOOK AT ALL OF THAT, THE CHAMPIONSHIP, QUALIFYING, THE APPEALS PROCESS, THAT’S A LOT IN ONE YEAR. AS A RACING FAN, IS THAT A GREAT DEAL OF CHANGE FOR THIS SEASON?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, fan or participant, it is a lot of change. In certain aspects of it, NASCAR has worked hard. I think it was a third party that came in and evaluated the business in a variety of aspects. They’ve come up with these changes that they’re making. I really think they’re for the betterment of the sport. I think the infractions, there’s a category that it falls into, the appeals process, the rule book changing, having CAD drawings really shows what’s approved and what’s not, the approval process.
There’s a lot of areas there that needed to be updated, perfected, be black and white, crystal clear the way things happen and work. I’m happy to see all that coming.
I think from an approval process they asked from all our parts sometime in January. I don’t know how they’re going to go through all the stuff. They have our stuff, Penske’s, Childress’. I think it’s going to take a year or so to get everything ironed out as it needs to be.
Brian’s made it clear: the success of this sport is on his shoulders. He’s going to make change and not be afraid to make change. Then we get into the way we crown the champion, that aspect. Definitely a bold move made. I’m supportive of the move and hope that it’s the right move.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We got the five in a row. I felt like we could maybe get up there to Richard or to Dale. Man, it’s so tough. It is so tough to do. I’m not taking it lightly or for granted. I wanted to see six come and then worry about seven. Now we’re here. Hopefully we’ll have another opportunity at it.
Q. IS IT MY IMAGINATION OR DOES THE BODY TYPE OF DRIVERS SEEM TO BE SHRINKING NOWADAYS?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Under the circumstances because we’re not athletes (laughter).
If you drove the car at your capability for the entire race, you’d break it. You’ve heard these stories of guys, David Pearson, even Junior Johnson stories, laying back, being smart, not worrying about your equipment, going when you need to.
It’s changed. It’s changed so much in the 12 or 13 years I’ve been in the sport. The weakest link is the driver. That’s why the fitness is so important.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We’ve had a few things, I can’t remember which exact rule it was, but Junior was new to Hendrick. It took us a while to sort it out.
I’ve watched the 88 and watched Junior grasp things, really kind of help the company pull in and find the direction where to go. So there have been moments where we’ve been slow to figure it out.
But in general, when the rules stay the same, the top finds all the magic, then they run out of places to go, which allows the bottom to catch up. The whole world of equality being the desired thing, I don’t understand why there’s always so much change. Because just when the top reaches and finds all they can get, the bottom catches up, we open it up, the top gets away. There’s an opportunity there, and one that we typically find and exploit.
Q. REGARDING WINNING CHAMPIONSHIPS WITH A DIFFERENT FORMAT
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It does. I mean, I feel regardless of car or points system, we’ll be a threat. It would be nice to win one, two, whatever, with the new format.
Q. WHEN YOU’RE AT THE RACETRACK YOU’RE KNOWN FOR BEING CAREFUL. WHEN YOU’RE AWAY FROM THE RACETRACK, ARE YOU A LITTLE CRAZY AT TIMES? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CRAZY THINGS YOU DO?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, definitely the work hard, play hard mindset. I felt like the guys I grew up with, the area I grew up in, ‘Jackass’ style stuff was very common. We would camp all the time, crash stuff, break stuff. It’s the way we grew up in the local deserts and at the river. We’d find ways to stay entertained doing things we shouldn’t. The golf cart surfing being in that category. That’s for sure.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: From a technical standpoint, we definitely do. Even now just from venting, having an issue with another driver, it isn’t worth the mess that follows if you say something bad about someone. No offense, but all of you come asking questions, then you have to deal with that instead of working on your racecar.
You attempt to regulate yourself, but there are moments when you can’t help yourself.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We all learn along the way. I said things in different championship years, especially my first year. If you think about it, Brad has always been very vocal, has always had a strong position on things. What’s changed is the effect of the microphone. When you’re not a champion, people hear it, they may not write it, print it, whatever it is. When you get the trophy, boom, it’s everywhere.
I learned from my broken wrist. I couldn’t believe that anybody cared that I broke my wrist at a golf course not during racing season. It was beyond me that this was news. It was on the ticker at SportsCenter. Why does this matter?
We all learn in a variety of ways. Brad and I made comments last year that he’s going to find a way as a champion, learn how to insert himself, understand how his voice will be magnified. He is learning that. And he does have a very good point at times.
The thing I respect about him the most is his passion for the sport. I may not share the same view, but he loves the sport and wants the sport to succeed and I respect that.
Q. WHEN IS IT OKAY TO BE OUTSPOKEN AND WHEN IS IT NOT?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It just depends on who you’re trying to make happy. If you want to get something done within NASCAR, saying it through the microphone is not going to help you any. Make some fans happy. Fans appreciate hearing those outspoken words.
There’s politics in everything. Turning to the microphone and bashing anyone or someone or anything or a procedure or a car, I mean, it’s going to make some of the fans happy, but it’s going to hurt the overall cause of advancing the sport.