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January 9, 2007

Jimmie Johnson

Ricky Rudd

RICKY RUDD: Looking forward to it, having a good test so far.
It's good to be back, had a nice vacation and kind of refreshed a little bit. And burnout factor was setting in too much, took a year off and just sort of cleared my head and figured out what I wanted to do.
I was fortunate enough that first of all, the risk that I knew that I was taking when I did that was if I decided I might want to come back, there might not be an opportunity for me because the seats would have been filled. As it turned out it worked out good that Robert Yates was looking for someone to fill the seat in the 88 and the Mars candy company, Snickers, was good enough to step up and sponsor the car and looking forward to it.
Down here at Daytona for about the 900th time I think and trying to test and figure out what it takes to go faster.

Q. I hate to start out this way, but Bobby Hamilton, you raced with him for years, talk about him as a driver and as a person.
RICKY RUDD: Well, Bobby is just a super guy, he's a great competitor, came back up when nobody was making any money in the sport. He was here because he loved the sport. He worked hard to build his race team, but even before that as a competitor, he was just very good. He was very aggressive when he needed to be.
He was very smart, a real good setup guy. Really good on getting his cars dialed in and setup, and I think that's what sort of separated him from a lot of the competitors is he was good at setting his own cars up. Not really sure what happened, the Cup deal is kind of crazy. If you're in the wrong car at the wrong time all of a sudden your career can sort of be over. And I'm not really sure what happened to Bobby but he went over to the Truck Series and started his own team, and as everyone knows he did well over there. Bobby did well over there. He was a great guy, great competitor and he'll be missed, I'm sure.

Q. Inaudible?
RICKY RUDD: Bobby worked for that. He put a lot of effort into it, his own money time and effort he could have walked away and put his money into savings somewhere. But he sort of put out there for risk and invested heavily in that Truck team and it paid off dividends. Hopefully financially it made sense for him and his family is taken care of, because these things involve large amounts of money. But a lot of respect for Bobby not only as a driver and car owner but a setup guy.

Q. What was it like the first time you sat and watched a race on TV last year and how long did it take to you get the itch to come back?
RICKY RUDD: Well, I don't think the itch to race ever really left. I tried to keep it in check and tried not to watch too many broadcasts, tried not to listen to it on the radio. We did a lot of things that Sundays there was not a whole lot of free Sundays to watch the TV even if we wanted to.
But occasionally it worked out where I could see the race, and I just said I'll watch the start of the race and usually that was the case. But sometimes if the race was really good, I could watch the whole thing, but not too many times did that happen, we were doing other things. We were busy and working hard at playing and catching people up and seeing people I had not seen in many years and doing a lot of maintenance, unfortunately, that was not necessarily the pretty thing.
I was sitting by the wayside there, and you know back when you race, you've got enough money to pay somebody to do all your maintenance stuff. When you quit you have to do your own stuff and that's probably the biggest reality check. I was good about trying to keep that in perspective because I knew the day would be coming somewhere and we would not always be spoiled like we are today and you have to cut your grass and all that. So I was never really too far away from that because I knew that day would be coming.

Q. You mentioned the burnout factor. What do you think led to that for you, and when you come back into this, do you have a different frame of mind or perspective on what you want to get accomplished now?
RICKY RUDD: Well the burnout factor, I think it's probably not too hard to figure out. 30 years, 31 years of nonstop going from really they call it an off-season as you can see is not a whole lot of off-season. Just one reason rolls into the next and the next one rolls into the next. And before you know it you look around there's 10, 15 years gone by. And the biggest thing for me is to really sit back.
My father passed away last year, and he was 81 years old and still alive and I'm sitting there thinking, man, how did he get to be 81? I don't think that's no different than anything else that you do in life, whether you have your own business and put your heart and soul into it and time does have a way of getting by and flying away from us.
I think that was sort of a reality check for me, to, hey, gosh, he's 81, how did he get to be that age, and I'm looking at my son, he's coming along and before I know it, he's 12 years old. I don't feel like we got a chance to spend the time together that I would like to have had.
Kids go to school nowadays. He goes to school when it's dark and he comes home with it's dark, so you don't see him during the week. Drivers are off some weekdays, but to spend time with your kids and your family, the weekend is what we do. And he's not particularly a huge race fan, so he doesn't go to the races so I've not seen much of him.
It was just a chance to get to know everybody again and take a little time off and really figure out what I really wanted to do. Since I was a kid, this is all I wanted to do. You work and you work and you work to try to get to the top of your sport, and again, time gets by, but is that really what I wanted to do; 50 years old, is this what I want to do and how much longer can I really do it.
Just thoughts on life and what you want to do I guess when you grow up. It was good for me. I got a chance to clear my head and found out what I really wanted to do is I wanted to race and I wanted to be in competitive cars and the opportunity sort of presented itself. There was some great opportunities early on like February, March with some of the startup teams that you have that are going to be pretty darned good out of the box. And I talked to a couple of those owners and, really, I was not ready to make that commitment, to be fair to myself. And to be fair to the teams, I wasn't able and ready to commit to a full-time schedule at that time.
So that was February, March and didn't make too much of those conversations. They need to move forward with their race teams, and they need to put plans together to know who their driver is, even as early as February of last year or March.
So the opportunity with Robert Yates Racing came along. And Robert, I hated to see the downfall of that team, how far the performance had gotten off in a fairly short period of time but there's many different reasons for that. And Robert's bound and determined to try to build this thing back up to where it was and he's there every morning opening the doors of the shop.
And I'm working with a great guy, Butch Hilton, who is a crew chief. It's got a lot of the right chemistry that I think can come along and we can be good. David Gilliland, I've never had an opportunity to really work with a driver before. I was more or less when I was in multi-car teams was years ago and they were not successful at that time. They worked harder to beat each other in competition and that's changed drastically. David is a good guy to work with. He's my size and we can get in and out of each other's cars.
There was many good things that I could see on that team. And sometimes the public just looks and says, oh, look at the performance on the team, it's in the tank. I'm not going to fix it by myself obviously, but I feel like I can bring some tools to the team that can help benefit them that necessarily a young guy can't really bring. He doesn't have that tremendous amount of background experience in all of these racetracks like I do and there's no question that these guys can drive.
David Gilliland can drive as good as anybody out there, but he has not seen these racetracks, some he has never been to before so I can help him on that. There's many positives there, and I was kind of excited about the challenge and I'm back.

Q. You basically answered a question about David Gilliland, what are your first impressions? I know you've been working with him in the off-season, does he have what it takes to win at the Cup level this year?
RICKY RUDD: Well, you know, I haven't seen him in race conditions. I've seen him in a race car. I've seen him roll into Rockingham, North Carolina and he's never seen the place before, and same with Ravenel, South Carolina (ph) a place we tested. And right off the truck I'm impressed and right off the truck he's right up to speed. It's not like he had to work at going fast. He's able to go fast and that's a good thing.
I know he's had a couple accidents and wrecks along the way but that comes with time. To me, that's the right ingredient. It's easier to take a guy that can run fast by nature and work at slowing him down and getting him to be smart and knowing when to run than to take a guy that's not up to speed and getting him to go fast that. Sometimes can be an impossible task where you can work with a guy that can go fast.
He needs to learn how to race a 500-mile race, and I'm sure he's come a long way since he first stepped in the car in the middle of the season. He's got some ways to go, but I think those are mental things you go through as a driver to put a 500-mile race together, and I think he's definitely going to come into his own this coming season.

Q. I want to ask you about Jimmie Johnson, perception sometimes that you walk into a really great situation when he came into the NEXTEL Cup, hooking up with Hendrick and some people wondered how he would do on a team with less resources. What are your thoughts on his success so far in his career, and do you think speculation like that is fair?
RICKY RUDD: Well, you know, I guess people always are going to compare today's racers to yesterday's racers. I mean that's probably going to always go on.
Jimmie, he's great. He's proven himself. He's a champion. He's won races by being smart and his team has been very good and it takes the whole thing. The whole operation with 455 employees, it's a different deal. I was over there in the late 80s and early 90s, it was just a different era. They were just getting going and taking advantage of resources they had back then.
They are smart and you look at these organizations and one versus the other, it really gets back to there's smart personnel in all of the organizations. But you start looking at the depth of the organization, and that's when you look at a Hendricks and you look at how much depth they have, where some of the organizations, you know when they are at the racetrack, they have gotten a lot of their key people at the racetrack. So sometimes back at the shop, maybe they are spread a little thin and maybe the R&D side of it is a little weak.
So two programs -- there's not time for the R&D because they are full-time racing where an organization like Hendricks has figured out to make the R&D side run 24 hours a day seven days a week. A lot of organizations are probably trying to model themselves and copy that.
But it gets back to the depth of the people that they have working for them and the leadership they have on the team is second to none. Certainly Jimmie Johnson, what driver wouldn't like to step into an organization that isn't a fine-tuned machine? Not to take anything away from him, but you could take Jimmie out and plug any one of 15, 20 guys in there and they could do the same job.

Q. We're compiling together some of your favorite stories of Benny Parsons?
RICKY RUDD: Benny, hopefully he's going to come back from this thing he's got the cancer with, but I guess he's got some injuries due to the nature of it, I guess they are treating him. He's a class-act guy, been around a long time, won races, won a championship. He's well respected in the garage for sure.
If you watch Benny, I've noticed him, I never heard him say anything negative about anybody. Sometimes he might elect maybe not mention certain people but that's not always a bad thing. They always say if you can't say something good about somebody, don't say anything at all. That's kind of the philosophy that Benny has gone by and I don't know of anybody that will say that Benny Parsons is their enemy because he's had that strategy all the way through his broadcast year.
I'm not going to say anything too much more because I don't want to think about the negative but I think Benny is going to be back. He's a tough guy.

Q. There were times last year when Robert was pretty deep down, do you see the enthusiasm is back?
RICKY RUDD: Well, actually that had a lot to do with my decision to come back. And I started talking on the telephone. And really from outsider looking in I'm saying gosh, they have probably the most successful motor program in this business. Why would Robert want the headaches? He's not 20 years old. Why would he want the headaches of trying to keep this organization going?
Why would he want to rebuild? It's not easy to rebuild. It's a tough job and a lot of staying awake at night and thinking about different situations, different management, different people, and I'm thinking, why would Robert at this stage of his life not go ahead and enjoy himself a little bit. I thought maybe Robert might go the other way.
I knew it was going to go one way or the other. I knew he was either going to step back and sort of retire and let Joe run the motor shop or be involved with that, or he was going to say: I'm tired of being embarrassed I'm going to roll my sleeves up and come back and make this thing better than ever.
That's the Robert I saw when I met with him. It was not the Robert that was tired and worn out and I don't know what to do. He's got a plan and he's got some really key people that's helping him put this thing back together. It doesn't happen overnight but the encouraging thing for me that I saw is I watched and listened to the Homestead race and I saw the performance of the 38, came off the truck fast, qualified fast, ran fast through the race until about 3/4ths the way through the race. And I'm not sure what happened or David made a mistake or something broke, I'm not really sure, but anyway he didn't finish the race, he got wrecked.
But I think the key is the car was competitive on the track, but on a track that's difficult to get a hold of. I didn't find out until after meeting with these guys that they built a couple of cars and B.J.'s got wrecked off the truck, didn't get a chance to show what he had. He had been running the cars he had been running in the off-season, one ran good and one didn't. That's optimistic going through the winter; you know you have a model to clean going into the downforce tracks, so these guys have been busy building cars like that one that ran well at Homestead.

Q. Yesterday Dale Junior was in here saying he would like to own DEI. What advice would you give him, and why is it so hard to drive and own a race team?
RICKY RUDD: I wouldn't discourage him. I guess if he's -- it's really a personal commitment. To me the only way when I did it and the way Bill Elliott tried it and everyone else to that point, they sort of put your heart and soul and everything you've got into that thing and being very hands-on and that's the way I ran our deal.
We had some success but you know, you learn a lot, too. You learn a lot about business. You learn about people, and I think before it's over with, you probably have a psychology degree in dealing with people because that's what it's about.
If he does go do that, he definitely needs to surround himself with great people and he needs to delegate. He can't do it himself. If he tries to do it all himself, his performance is going to suffer. His performance, there's no way you can step in and understand all the business aspects as big as these things are today.
If he can get the right people to surround himself, go for it. If he doesn't get the right people -- and getting the right people is one thing, keeping the right people that's the toughest part about this business and that's the mistake I made. I figured, okay, I'm going to be really smart and recruit these guys and bring them together and we have a nice, happy little team.
But as you start having more and more success. People come in and they raid your organization, they take the key people so you're constantly rebuilding. It's not like I'm going to hire these people once. It's a constant struggle to hire good people, as long as he's up for those headaches and understands that, he knows what the challenges are and is going to set his personal life on the side, then I think he can do it. But a lot of sacrifices have to be made to do that.

Q. There's a handful of guys that are going to be competing this year, yourself included, along with Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin is going to be running part-time, Sterling; you guys are not exactly spring chickens but do we make too much of the age factor in the sport?
RICKY RUDD: Well, I'll be honest, I came up, it was in a sport I was in both spectrums. I've been the young guy. I was 18 years old when I stepped into the Cup garage for the first time, and at that time the guys to beat were in their 40s. They were 45 years old and they were strong and 50 wasn't impossible. You had guys like Teddy, Baker, Pearson, a lot of these guys I remember the first time I was 18 years old racing motorcycles professionally, motorcross which I was in the best shape that you could ever be in, coming into this sport of Cup racing.
And I remember going through the garage looking at the old men and I'm thinking, gosh, there's no way these guys can compete, they are not in shape, there's no way. I remember going into Rockingham, the 500-mail race, Donny Alice (ph), he had to be 45 or 50 at that time and he lapped me for probably the 10th time that day. I remember Donny going by, I'm halfway through the race, dead physically; no question I was in the best shape of anybody in the garage at that time coming off the motorcycle circuit. Here comes Donny Alice (ph), my tongue is hanging out, he's waving with one hand as I go by and he's waving to me, and I'm white knuckled up on that steering wheel thinking I'm missing something here, what am I missing.
So to answer that question, if we're talking about going out and playing in the Super Bowl and you're starting lineup is the guys -- you had a choice of guys in their 50s or 20s, no question I would line myself up with guys in their 20s because you have just the physical beating that your body would take.
Race cars are not like that. A lot of this stuff is mental. So to make a long story short, the big trend really changed when television came into this really big when everything went national television, the big push for the young guys came on board.
Can they get the job done? No question about it. Can the old guys get the job done, the right ones? No question about it.
Anyway to make your -- to sort of sum that up, I don't think it's age as much as it is ability. There's a lot of young guys and old guys and a lot of young talent, a lot of, you know, now the world is not looking for 45 and 50-year-old experienced drivers, are they out there? I don't know if you can take a 45- or 50-year-old guy from another form of racing and put him in a Cup car and expect him to go good today. I don't think that could happen when the young guys could be brought in and be trained.
That's probably the biggest difference is young guys that are stepping in are trainable, and they had better get it done. They have the pressure, too, because if they don't get it done, there are ten young guys standing behind them ready for the seat to open up.

Q. Can you give perspective on how you can achieve this year, what is realistic for the fans to expect, and if you could chat about the Car of Tomorrow?
RICKY RUDD: To be honest I've never been good at putting -- everyone likes to set their goals out. If you talk to everybody, everybody is going to win every race in the season and they are going to make the Chase and they are going to win the championship and that's just the nature of everybody this time of year. They are putting a fresh outlook on everything.
I look at it, I don't really know, there's some big challenges in front of us. I certainly see good things happening. How quickly will it happen, I really don't know yet. I would not have taken this job if I thought we were going to go out there to run 10th or 15th or 25th every week, I would not have taken this job.
I'm very optimistic. I see no reason that if we don't beat ourselves, the Top-10 is getting to be a tough deal now to make at the end of the year. A lot of people are predicting with he won't make the Top-30 or whatever it is, but I've always enjoyed the challenge and liked proving people wrong. Everything is within my control and I'm going to go out and do the very best we can and settle for what we get, and hopefully there will be some good finishes along the way and I wouldn't rule out anything.

Q. When you first came to Robert in 2000, they were first off a championship and really doing very well, and their performance waned a bit in the years to come and especially the most recent couple of years. How bad of -- do you think Robert was really close to shutting down? There was speculation about that late last year before you came on board.
RICKY RUDD: Well, really, the way I look at it, when I came on board I guess it was in 2000, 88 had won a championship and 28, performance wasn't there. I'm not sure, Owen tried his hardest and had a lot of talent. But that's a good example of really wasn't probably truly ready for that Cup ride when it came to him. No question he has as much talent as anybody in the garage area but it never clicked.
When he stepped in, yeah it was a 2-car operation, but at that time, Roberts organization, not only Roberts, the Hendricks camp had not really totally gelled yet but they were coming along. At that time in history you had the 28 that was in a separate building, a rented building, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and you had the 88 that was at that time they had the big budget behind them.
So I guess Robert being an owner, he shored up where the money -- he didn't take the money off one organization and put it in the other. He kept them separate so the 88 outgrew the 28 and when I came on board, Robert didn't know what he was going to do with a 28 then. He seriously thought about possibly shutting the operation down and wasn't getting the results where it used to be.
I came in and it started clicking and I brought a lot of people with me when it came at that time they had good personnel but they had enough of it and I was able to bring some guys with me and shore that program up; all of a sudden Robert had two teams equal with each other, and a lot of days the 28 out performed it.
Anyway, I saw Robert in a very similar situation this time as I did at that time. Only difference being is that now both teams were not performing the way he wanted them to be. Again, and in all fairness to what Robert had going on, he's trying to figure out how to expand 13, 14 and all that so he had to step back a little bit to be able to, you know, to look at how to create a plan and add more teams and such. But he steps back, he hires general managers and he hires crew chiefs and people that are well respected in the sport, but it just didn't click it, didn't gel.
So Robert, handing the keys over to somebody else and it didn't click, it didn't happen and the team goes down in the hole. Robert could have bailed out and it will be the easy way out but he tries to fight and come back and build it up again, and that's the fight I saw in Robert when I met him. That's the same thing I saw when he was trying to get the 28 going again is what I saw here.
I don't think it's a question of if it will; it's just a question of when.

Q. You talked earlier about you needed that break to get home and reacquaint yourself with everyone and hang out with Landon, and now you're back and you say, Landon you don't see him at the week because he's at school and he doesn't like the racetrack so how do you reconcile that? How do you juggle both now and make it work for you?
RICKY RUDD: Probably the only thing I've got going and it's part of me coming back is we've got a sponsor in the Snickers candy people that they are real -- they are very accommodating.
Part of for me to come back there's a lot of demands on drivers, not just personal appearances. You see them here, you see them there, there's a lot of things that go on behind the scenes, a lot of corporate functions and things of that nature that drivers attend. That's great. That's not about separating the young guys from the old guy. It's more about the married guys and families versus the guys that are being married without any children is one thing. Being single without any responsibilities or anything, that's the big difference. I guess that's what sort of separates things.
What's the best way to say this. I guess I cherished that time enough and the sponsor recognizes that I cherish any day that I can steal instead of being at some function shaking a few hands, which don't get me wrong, I understand the importance of that, but to me, I waive the two and that's one reason I didn't step aside.
Now I have a sponsor that's willing to give me a few days here and there to spend moment time that I would not have gotten in the past, that's a big plus for me. That's one of the reasons that I'm here today, having a sponsor that's very accommodating in that area. It's not going to be the same as being at home every day seven days a week, but it's a lot better than it used to be.

Q. There's an old saying that the mark of a good person is how forgiving they are, when you left Yates in 2002 it was not under the best of circumstances. Can you talk a little about that?
RICKY RUDD: We had two and a half years at Yates when I was there, it was a great situation there. Everybody got along great and then when it turned sour. There's many reasons it turned sour and probably don't want to get into all those, but I was letting Robert know that he needed to have a heads up. We're not going to be here forever, and he has no youth in the organization to take over B.J.'s job or my job and we needed to bring somebody along.
It snowballed and sort of got out of control and the next thing I know, instead of this thing being held together, now it's just trying to blow apart.
And so the last half of the year wasn't real pleasant. The sad thing, unfortunate thing is we were on the verge of probably winning the championship. They say we could have won it, but we were second up until the very year one year. And that was the sad thing to see that even though we ran well we had the championship or a good championship contention year sort of blow up midway through the year.
I think time has gone by and I think probably after leaving and looking from the outside looking in, there's a lot of thinks that were right about it. You know, a few things were off but there's a whole lot of things that were right and Robert sat back and he evaluated it and he sort of came up to the same conclusion. Sort of put bygones be bygones and work to the future and we had that that we clicked, and let's see if we can get it back, and it's all about people and chemistry and no question about it. Even when it blew apart there's always been a respect for Robert's and Doug's abilities to put together a winning race team.

Q. If somebody would have said to you after you left in 2002 that you would be in this spot now, what would you have told them?
RICKY RUDD: Probably never happen. Like I said, time has a way of dealing with things like that. I mentioned the other day, you have some pretty bitter spats with my brothers and sisters again, and I'm not going to speak to them ever again, I'm not going to see them for years, and I'm not even going to go the Thanksgiving deal get-together, that's how mad I am. And out now all of the sudden, a little time goes by and everything is back to normal again, that's kind of how this is.
THE MODERATOR: Ricky, thank you very much.
Defending Daytona 500 champion, reigning series champion, driver of the 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, you rolled into Daytona this year, what are the first impressions to come in as the defending champion?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I am excited to get back to the track and being in the garage area and the competitors and to be the champion inside the garage area.
I'm glad it's here. I'm glad to be back in the track and glad to be in the race car, and it's been a good off-season for me. Spent a lot of time enjoying the championship we won, reflecting on it and just happy to be back at the racetrack.
I rolled in thinking, man, I won last time we were here for this race, and same time I thought, man, also the champion coming back.
So it's been a great emotional ride for myself and the team. Last night I took the guys to dinner and we just sat around and had some fun and talked about the season, last season and what we want to do this year, and that's go out and try to win another championship.

Q. Can you tell us exactly what happened on the golf cart, and how are you now, I guess you're okay to drive?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm good. As you guys know, I'm screwing around at the golf course having some fun after a long season of racing, just having fun with the boys, and I was up on top of the golf cart and came off and popped my wrist in the process.
I've had that off-season to heal up. The timing could not have been better. Got the cast cut off last week, wearing a splint here at the racetrack just to be smart and make sure that I don't injure it or do any damage. But when I get back Friday, should go right into strengthening my wrist and all of the things I need to do to get ready for the 24 hours at Daytona, and I think we go to Vegas and we're just right back in the middle of it.
So the timing could not have been better and bottom line, out screwing around having fun and it got the best of me. (Laughing).

Q. How is the testing going so far, and did the rainout yesterday mess your team up? Are you going to be able to work through that and get the full day in today? And did we make a big deal about this wrist thing in do you think it was overblown?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Truthfully, I'll start there, yes, certainly. If it impacted the season, if it impacted my duties as a driver, then of course, you know, there's a huge story there.
But screwing around, broke my wrist, doesn't impact anything. It is a funny story. I'm happy to see the humor in it is turning around and coming out and it is what it is.
So the other side of it in testing, if we look at the hours, we might end up getting more on-track time due to the rain. Today the weather conditions have been very predictable and we've been able to go out and repeat and yesterday the wind were really changing and messing with us as the storm moved in.
Today is going to be a solid day for the teams doing their single-car stuff and we'll just see how the week unfolds. My team, we're hopeful that we work through all of our test matrix and we can leave maybe midday Wednesday or the end of Wednesday if that's the case.
But we'll just see. The track is starting to fill and everybody has their A and B cars on the track, so you're sitting in line with 10 or 15 cars in front of you, so the progress is kind of slowing down now.

Q. At one point people wanted you to loosen up and when you loosened up and had fun on the golf cart, it's like has he just gone crazy. The question is, is that kind of you, just now having more fun, and as you project to the season, do you think or the team will change at all as you head into defending the championship?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: As you know I have the show on XM; you learn a lot about myself and drivers in general. We all do things that are quite humorous. Maybe things that are not the safest within our profession isn't the safest thing, so it's normal to us.
I grew up racing motorcycles and one of the cool moves was to jump the bike through the air and hang on the handlebars and put your feet behind you like Superman, and that was a cool trick and that's what I grew up doing. We're a little skewed that way as drivers and competitors.
And I can guarantee you that all of the men especially in this room have been on a golf cart and have done something that's quite humorous or have could flipped it over possibly, right? I hear a laugh. Just on the golf course, screwing around.
As far as next year going into it, we really just want to go out and fall back on the confidence that this race team how has. I mean, we've always been confident. But winning the championship I feel will really change the way we approach the year. You know, through last year we were as low as low could be, fought back and still won the championship.
So I think we learned more about ourselves through all of that and we're excited to get into '07. We feel like the Car of Tomorrow, what it brings and challenges for that car, it's going to help the 48 team and help Hendrick Motorsports and the current car that we have we feel like we're on top of things there as well.
So we're really excited internally with the 48 team, with Casey Mears coming on board, Jeff has another year with Steve -- I really expect those guys to be contending for the championship and Kyle is growing and maturing as every day. So hopefully we get all four of those guys in the Chase for the Championship this year.

Q. You had some fun with the golf cart before you fell, did you do any other things during your break that were fun?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Nothing on top of vehicles by any means. I did go over to Paris and watch Travis Pastrana in the Race of Champions, and I have to give him a ton of credit for the job he did over there. It was really, really amazing to watch him, a guy that really has a background on two wheels, to go out and race against the best drivers in the world and beat some of these guys in their own cars was amazing.
So spent some time in Paris and enjoyed that with my wife and we went down to the islands where we got married through Christmas and New Year's and just relaxed, reflecting on the season. Some friends came on their own vacations and spent time with friends and relaxed and recharged the batteries really and now we're back to it.

Q. Since Jeff won back-to-back championships in '97 and '98, the highest a champion has finished the following year is fourth.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thanks for the bad news.

Q. Any time. Obviously that's a pattern that you would like to break, but have you had the conversation with Chad and the guys with the team yet about, okay, that was great, wonderful, we had a great time, now time to go back to work or is that coming, is that something you're going to have as the season starts?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wouldn't say that we've had that conversation yet. I just think we don't assume it. Last year looking at who was in the Chase, the dynamics in the space and the points varied and everything going on, I think we are aware of the fact that that was last year's championship, and this year, especially this point, it's a matter of getting into the Chase and you have to cover that base before you look any further.
We know it's time to get back to work. Last night at dinner with the guys, we talked about it, hey, this is it, Daytona is here, we're testing. It's time to look forward to 2007, fall back on the confidence of 2006, but we have a whole new set of circumstances to deal with and a whole new year to worry about.

Q. You probably got tired of answering runner-up questions last year. How did you keep your team focused on winning the championship?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Our guys really do a good job of staying focused on the job at hand. I think we do a good job of looking after every practice session, qualifying session, every race, at not looking at too many outside influences. It's easy for us in some respects to stay focused. We just have that ability and that's what our team is about. We all wanted a championship so bad and we've all been close as you point out. That motivation, it just kept us focused I guess.
This year going through the celebration and the highs of winning the championship, I want to do it again, and that's the thing all the guys are saying. It's like, man, one was great, but I want to sit at the table again in New York, I want to go through the photos, the different places, I wants to go through the celebration again and that's the motivation for 2007.

Q. Talk about your experiences from last year and how they will carry over personally for you in racing this year and getting back to the championship?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think something I needed to work on has been the restrictor plate program and then last year with the victories we had, I feel confident that I know what to do on the plate tracks. I still think that I need to work on Bristol and the road courses. Those are great tracks that if you're having trouble at the start of the season, there are tracks where you can make up some points and that's something I want to focus on.
I've run well and I can finish in and around the Top-5, but I just hate the fact that I can't race for the win with Jeff and Tony on the road course and Kevin this year when he won and Bristol, that I can't race with Matt and Jeff. Usually Tony and some of those guys that win at Bristol, it drives me crazy that I'm a distant third, fourth, fifth or whatever it may be.
So those are the areas I'm really going to focus on and really the way I look at it, try to bring up the low spots and our low finishes. I think those tracks probably are our low spots.

Q. When it comes to your success early on in your career for a few years, people tend to point to the team you're with, the support you have around you, maybe not always pointing to your driving ability. Do you think that's something you'll always find as long as you're with Hendrick, or do you think based on last year maybe you'll start getting a little more credit individually?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't mind taking that heat. It's kind of a double-edged sword because if you succeed, first response is, well, he's driving for Gibbs or he's driving for RCR or he's driving for Hendrick and if you don't make it, it's like, wow, we're not touching, you didn't make it at Gibbs, you didn't make it at Hendricks. It's a double-edged sword.
I'm glad to be on the side of it I am. Without a doubt, if you're coming into the cars I did or the equipment, if Jeff just came off a championship year, I was given a lot of his cars that he won a championship with and that's the way I started my rookie season.
It's a great problem to have, and I'm happy to be in these shoes.

Q. Curious about your wife and the role she played in keeping you together during the Chase as far as keep you from blowing your hair out with all of the pressure of that and being so close.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, she really did an amazing job, she always does, but through the Chase, I just needed to get away from myself in a sense and just stop thinking about racing. And she would encourage me to go places, do things, kept me busy, kept me occupied.
And on the other side, she was just as nervous as I was, and she wouldn't let me see it. She would put it on in a convincing manner, put on a smile and encourage me and help me and when I would be a little bummed out about a practice session or didn't think we had the speed she would help pick me up. So she was rock solid through the Chase and just, you know, can't thank her enough for the support she's given me.

Q. This is the first time we're seeing Toyotas out there, do you see them as a curiosity or a threat in defending why are title?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think over time they will become a threat without a doubt. I think NASCAR does a great job in creating the sandbox that we all need to play in and they do a great job regulating the rules.
I think it's going to take those teams some time. A lot of them are start-up teams. To build up the resources, to get the right personnel in place, to really succeed and compete against the big teams in the sport.
Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, all of these teams have been in the sport for a long, long time. They all have money. Mr. Hendricks has his finances and program in place. It takes time. You just can't come in, we know Toyota wants to succeed and they will spend the dollars to do it, but it takes time to get the people, equipment, the staff put together and get the momentum going.
I definitely feel that they are going to be up there fighting for wins and a championship, but it just might take them a little time is all.

Q. Reports you were here Saturday driving Daytona prototype?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, Jeff Gordon called me and said, "Man, you're here driving?"
Evidently they know you're in the race car by your helmet and they have a code on your helmet and they plug it in and it sends a signal out to the scoring tour and my name kept popping up.
I was not here, but the car was fast, so I'm thankful whoever was driving, but I was not here.
THE MODERATOR: All right, Jimmie, thank you very much.

End of FastScripts…

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