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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 28, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. We're glad to have everyone on the line today for our weekly NASCAR teleconference.
This is in advance of Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race at California Speedway in Fontana, California. The race is the Sharp Aquos 500, the ninth event in the Race to the Chase.
Top 12 drivers in the standings following the final Race to the Chase event, that's at Richmond on September 8th, those 12 qualify for the chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup.
The Chase consists of the final ten races of the season, and determines the series champion.
I have two guests today on what promises to be a great call. Our first guest is the reigning series champion and California native Jimmie Johnson. Driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Jimmie's sixth in the series point standings this week, has a chance to clinch a spot in this year's Chase going into California.
Following Jimmie, we'll be joined by Quebec native Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula 1 World Champion, the 1995 Cart Series Champion, and the 1995 Champion of the Indianapolis 500.
Jacques will be running the final seven NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races of this season for Bill Davis Racing. That is in preparation for running in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in 2008.
He's going to participate in all of the remaining Car of Tomorrow tests this year. And in addition, he plans to enter the ARCA Series race in October at Talladega Super Speedway.
As I said, we're going to open up today with our reigning series champion, Jimmie Johnson.
Jimmie, going back to your home state this week. An exciting time. I know you're involved in a number of activities leading into the weekend. Maybe you can give us a quick rundown of those other activities, then we'll go right to the media for questions.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sure, I'm actually in San Diego right now. Out here, going to go to my high school, Granite Hills High School for a hall of fame ceremony. They're pulling me into the hall of fame there at my high school. Going to visit with the kids and the students and the faculty. Looking forward to that.
It is my first time back, really, since I graduated and walked through the halls. So I'm looking forward to that experience.
That is all leading up to the Jimmie Johnson Foundation and our first annual golf tournament. The proceeds are going to benefit Habitat for Humanity in El Cajon, the area where I grew up. And we'll have a dinner this evening and our golf tournament starts tomorrow.
So exciting times for me and my wife, and all of this is getting ready for a great race weekend at California Speedway. I'm looking forward to that, too. I'm going to run the Busch car and the Cup car.
The Cup car will have the Jimmie Johnson Foundation logo on it. And the Busch car will be the Cobalt Tools Busch car. It will be an exciting weekend with a lot of new things.
THE MODERATOR: It really is. That sounds pretty cool. Going back to your home state, and I'm sure there are will be a lot of people that you've known for years coming to see you race. Thanks for that opener.
We have a big audience today, so we're ready to go to questions from the media for our reigning series champion, Jimmie Johnson.
Q. Jimmie, coming up on this teleconference is Jacques Villenueve. Can you comment with Montoya coming in, and talk of possibly Scott Speed, and now Villeneuve, just what that says about the popularity for NASCAR?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I certainly think it shows that our sport is being respected on a worldwide scale. I think that as Juan has come in and lived the experiences of Nextel Cup racing, it has shown how difficult our sport is.
It's unclear what Jacques will bring, and then if Scott Speed is able to come in and run as well, but it can't hurt. It's only good for our sport.
We all know that NASCAR is built onÃƒÂ¢Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã‚Â -- our sport is built on a different premise than F1 is. Our sport is focused on competition and entertainment, where their sport is focused on or F1 is focused on just technology. So it is going to take these drivers some time to get used to the cars and come in. But I think it helps grow our fan base, and also helps take NASCAR to the next level of respect in the racing world's eyes.
Q. Back on the Chase situation a little bit. I guess having escaped Bristol with minimal amount of effect in your eyes, and with Jeff Gordon in a win-or-else mode and Danny Hamlin in a win-or-else mode, and Tony's been running well and different people. It seems like the way this Chase is shaping up, there's maybe five or six people who could be said to have momentum going into the Chase. Do you see it that way? And do you see this might be more of aÃƒÂ¢Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã‚Â -- you know, rather than just two or three people seeming to have the mo, could this be a cavalry charge of people with various kinds of momentum as this thing begins to shake out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I certainly do. I think this is going to be the most exciting Chase we've had yet? Most competitive Chase. I think each year as time goes on we all get better for the Chase and better prepared. This new format is making things a little bit more interesting than what we've had in the past.
So, I really see a lot of strong teams, a lot of teams with a lot of speed. And guys, pretty much everybody has a couple of years of experience under their belt now. I mean, Denny's probably the one with the least amount of experience, but has shown a lot through this year that he can run for points. He's obviously fast and wins races. So we've got a deep, deep field of competitors ready for a championship.
Q. Looking at California, almost 3,000 laps completed, you've completed every lap that you've started there with that one win. Number 1, how the heck do you do that? And number 2, would you think that with that many laps completed, you would have had more than one win?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I've had a couple of good runs there, and obviously a win. But that fall race is usually tough on us. I don't know what changes with the track where we don't have, you know, what we need there in the fall. With the spring race we had a handful of seconds and always post well in that event. But the fall race has been tough on us, I don't know why. Certainly hope to change that around. Ten bonus points right now would be real nice going into the Chase. So we're focused on it.
But I don't know why we're good there not only we've only won once, but why we're only good there in the spring and the fall is a little bit harder on us.
Q. Obviously it's been hot the last few races. But this weekend they're predicting 105 plus in Fontana. How do you guys deal with that, and what do you do to prepare? Are you going to start hydrating tomorrow, for instance, to get ready for this weekend?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah at this point in the season it's really each day of the week you're either recovering from the event you had and/or getting ready for the one that's coming up. Even though the outside temperature is changing and it's a much hotter part of the season, inside the car it's pretty hot to start with. It doesn't matter how warm it is outside.
So when you're in the car doing your job, that doesn't change too much. It's the stuff leading up to the race, the practice sessions, and you know, that takes a little bit more of a toll on you. But what we do on race day is really about the same.
And I think humidity makes that uncomfortable than anything. When it's a real humid day, I think you create like a pressure cooker inside the car. With the dry air here in California, hopefully, it won't be as intense as it may be for the fans sitting outside.
Q. Since you're from California, were you happy when the labor day weekend race was moved from Darlington to California?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I love coming home. I've been racing in my home state, there's no doubt about it. But I'm kind of torn, because Darlington is one of my favorite racetracks and a place that I have a lot of success at and love the history of it. So it's a tough balance to come home, and then lose the Southern 500 at the same time. So I have kind of mixed emotions on it.
Q. In about three weeks here your teammate is going to be giving back almost 700 points to Kurt Busch, 600 to Harvick, even 500-something to you. Is it hard for the leader, the points leader at the start of the Chase not to feel a little bit robbed by the format?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, especially in these circumstances. It's Jeff has such a big lead than even over second, so it's going to be a tough one to swallow. But watching his interviews and how he's been carrying himself, I think he's done a good job with that.
We all knew what the system was going into it, and the Chase has been here for a few years, so I guess it's making it a little easier on everyone.
Q. Can you talk about what half of the Chase races will be run in the Car of Tomorrow, can you talk about the balancing act that your team faces in that? And also do you think that the teams that are not in the playoff will get a leg up going into next year? Because, basically, they can kind of write off the five spoiler car races and concentrate on the Car of Tomorrow and give them a boost going into next year? Thank you.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We've been doing it all year long, so it's kind of old hat for us to go between the two cars. The Car of Tomorrow has very, very limited areas in which you can work, so I don't see someone or a team or a group committing to just Car of Tomorrow development. I don't think they're going to get that far down the road.
NASCAR made it real clear with the 24 crew chief and my crew chief, if you touch the fenders or the body what they're going to do to you. So the entire garage area is, you know, really nervous to advance their cars in the working areas, and that is what the Car of Tomorrow was designed for. So I don't see it being a huge disadvantage.
We've been racing the Car of Tomorrow enough this year where I think all of the teams have good balance on it. And it looks like there's good parody between the makes, between the teams and everybody involved right now.
Q. Little different type of question here. I'm working on a newspaper story and magazine story. If you could have dinner with one person in the NASCAR industry, past or present, who would that be and why?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Boy, IÃƒÂ¢Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã‚Â -- (laughing) ever have thought. Well, you know, actually, I'm trying to think. I'd love to with Bill France - I've had the pleasure of having dinner with Bill France, Jr., but big Bill - I never met the man, never knew anything about him. So I would go back and like to meet the man who started and founded our sport.
Q. With Labor Day coming up, once upon a time most of the guys in NASCAR, the first time they were ever in the workplace they were hauling moonshine or farming and working in a cotton mill. I doubt that was likely in El Cajon, California. So I was wondering sometimes nowadays people work on their car, work in the shop or try to raise money to go racing. What was your first job and how did it go?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: My first job was working at a company here in the area that built shocks for after market shocks for like lifted trucks. Then they also built shocks for the off-road industry and the race buggies and trucks that were racing in that industry. And I was in the back taking the shocks and boxing them up and putting them in a pile for U.P.S. And then I graduated up to the fact where I could fill out the U.P.S. slips and work the U.P.S. side of it. So that was my first job at $2 an hour during the summer.
Q. Aside from experience, what do you think your team's biggest strength is in the chase right now? And having already won a cup title, how many years do you see yourself battling for these championships?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd hope I can battle for them every year. I think the point system is a little more forgiving with the Chase format, and gives, obviously, 12 guys now a shot, a realistic shot at the championship if you're able to be in that top 12 and make the Chase.
So I hope that I'm racing till 40, 45 somewhere in there and fighting for championships through all of that. That is certainly my goal, and I think that our team has that ability.
Mr.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã‚Â Hendrick has shown his commitment time and time again to the sport, and we've got great personnel around us, so I really think it's possible.
Q. I'm wondering about your confidence level going into the Chase, because you had somewhat of a rocky season for you. Do you see yourself looking over your shoulder a bit more than maybe you have in past years?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think so. I think in the past we've been up on top of the points, kind of looking over our shoulders. Worried about the Chase, worried about people with momentum.
We had a lean summer, and you know, with finishes, I should say, the performances have been strong. So I'm actually looking ahead, and I think there is more pressure on guys ahead of me in points. Especially someone like Jeff, who has led it for so long and dominated the first 26 races essentially. So I think we're in a little bit more relaxed situation than we've been in so far in our Cup careers.
Q. We are doing a preview of the tracks of the Chase, and talking to drivers who have dominated. And you're going to go to Lowe's, and I was just wondering a little bit how that experience might be different for race teams, kind of being in NASCAR's backyard. Will you get more rest, more time off? Just anything, eat at a favorite restaurant, something like that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think for most teams it's nice to be home. You get to sleep in your own bed, be with family. Everybody from the race shop has had a chance to come out and really experience what they've been working so hard on, because there's such a limited group of people that come to the tracks and work the race itself.
So it's a great time for everyone, great energy, great morale booster for the companies and the families that support the people that work in the companies. So in that respect it's for me being the Lowe's driver at Lowe's Motor Speedway, it usually means more responsibilities typically to run the Busch race and have a lot going on. So it is one of the busier race weekends that I have.
Q. In professional sport, it's pretty much a given that it's always harder to repeat as a champion than to get to the championship. Have you felt that kind of pressure this year coming in to defend your title?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think so. I kind of would argue the fact that it's harder to win the first. You hear those phrases about you've got to lose one to win one and how difficult that is. Took six years to get that first one done for me.
So I'm optimistic what the future has for us. I feel that my team's matured, I've matured as a driver, and we should be in this position for many years to come. In the position of fighting for a championship, and that's all can you ask for.
So I'm excited and I think our second championship's out there in the near future.
Q. A little while ago you mentioned the fact that you felt only good could come from the open wheelers coming into this series. But some people said the influx of foreign drivers has a reason for the decline of open wheel popularity in this country. Do you see this as a problem for NASCAR in the future?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't. The heart of it all, we're all racers. I don't see how that could hurt Motorsports. Doesn't matter where you live, race car, gender, none of that should matter. We're all racers and it's all for Motorsports. So in my eyes, I only think it would help.
In another aspect that would help it is we have 50 cars showing up to an event, unlike IndyCar where there are just a handful of teams handful of cars and there are numbers that you don't recognize.
I don't think that it's really comparing apples to apples. And I see great benefit from these drivers coming in from all types of racing.
THE MODERATOR: All right, first of all, Jimmie, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule, busy pre-race schedule for joining us today. Best of luck this weekend as you try to clinch a spot in the Chase.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Awesome, thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by yet another international open wheel star coming to NASCAR. Jacques Villeneuve. Thanks for joining us.
Want to start off by just asking you what an exciting time, how exciting a time is this for you? The opportunity to follow up on all your open-wheel success and getting a chance to drive stock cars in NASCAR.
JACQUES VILLENUEVE: Well, it's very exciting because it's very different than anything I've done before. The speeds are high, and I was missing driving on ovals in Europe, so it's nice to get back into ovals.
THE MODERATOR: Absolutely. Thanks for that opener. We're ready to go to questions now from the media.
Q. Listen, to some people this is a surprise that you are coming to NASCAR. But I would suggest that you have been thinking about this for several years. When was the first time that you actually looked across the ocean, saw NASCAR and said, you know, that's something that I want to do?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: A few years ago was the first time. I think it was 2004 when I took a year off from Formula 1. But at the time I knew I wanted to go back to F1. So I didn't look at it that seriously. I just waited until I got out of F1 last year.
And I needed to do something in racing that was at an extremely high level, which NASCAR is, but something different. And I was missing the ovals also, so it sounded like a great challenge. I really wanted to get into it.
Q. Could you give me your take on why there seems to be a sudden migration of so many open wheeled drivers like yourself to the NASCAR series?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Well, I think because NASCAR is becoming stronger and stronger every year. So it's getting everybody's attention even internationally. So I think that's what it comes down to. But a lot of people in Europe don't actually know what oval racing is all about so they will find out.
Q. I guess you've been following somewhat Juan Pablo's progress through this. I don't know if you've been following the media reports of how much complaining that some of the veteran NASCAR drivers have been doing about his very aggressive style. Do you look at that and say, well, if they think Juan Pablo's aggressive, I'm going to face the same issues when you get in? Or seems like your style in Formula 1 was always more of a matter of controlled aggressiveness. Do you say well, maybe I've got to prove that my style is different. Do you think that you're going to have similar problems to him? Or when you get there that your styleÃƒÂ¢Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã‚Â you're going to have to kind of live down some of the wild reputation he's developed?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Apparently no matter what you're driving nobody likes the new boy. Any time anybody got into F1, we didn't like it, and we made their life hard. So that's a little bit natural.
But he was like that in Formula 1, extremely aggressive and got on people's nerves. I guess he kept the same personality going into NASCAR, which once he settles in, it will be all right. He's driving hard, he's fast, and he's making a name for himself. Now he's earning respect, so that's fine.
But I've never been as aggressive as him, I would say. But at the same time, NASCAR is a different ball game. So if and when I get in there, I'll figure it out.
Q. We've talked to Juan a little bit about you, and he's very excited you're coming. He says he'll help you in any way that he can. But I remember back to when he first got into Formula 1, you and he didn't always get along. Where did it sort of shift and what changed in your relationship?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Well, we had a hard time, I would say early in our careers, then we mellowed down. But off the track, outside of the car, we always got along. Just there were a few high-spirited moments in car on the track.
You know, when everybody's a little bit on the limit and got the pressure and everything, I guess you tend to blow up a little bit easier, and I think that's what happened between us on a few races, that's all.
Q. I don't know if you'll be able to answer in English and then in French. But anyway, could you tell me as accurately as possible how you felt in the car, in the truck yesterday, and how you felt this morning? Have you been able to progress from yesterday to this morning?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Yeah, we've made some steps forward overnight, and just it feels more natural. I'm more comfortable sitting in the car in the truck and going into the corners and knowing what to expect when I turn the wheel and how much to turn it and so on. That makes the driving easier, so I can get the lap time in the first two laps now instead of waiting for the fourth lap. So getting up to speed is easier to maximize the grip of the tire. (Speaking in French. )
Q. Again, in Formula 1 you certainly were very well known to speak your mind no matter what, and no matter how much trouble it might have gotten you into with the FIA. Do you see Tony Stewart and people like that who say what's on their mind and say, well, maybe I'm coming into a land of free speech? Maybe there are penalties for it, but do you enjoy seeing that your kind of outspokenness is already somewhat commonplace in NASCAR?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Yeah, I think it's a great thing. I think it shows it's still human and down to earth. It's not robots driving, it's human beings with feelings and they say what's on their minds. So I guess I won't be lost in that. I won't have to change to carry on like that.
Q. I'm curious, you said F1 fans don't really know what oval racing is all about and the appeal and maybe why we're so mad for it. How would you sum it up for folks, maybe, who don't get why we love it?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Oh, it's really hard to explain for the European fans, because in their mind it's only two corners and it looks like it's easy driving and flat out and that's it. What they don't realize is there is a lot of fine tuning to do on the car to gain that extra stability in the car. And also driving in traffic, and all that happens during a race, it happens on the track. A lot more than in open wheel racing like in Europe, where a lot of it happens in the start and that's about it.
So it's just a different type of racing. I guess unless, and just watching it on TV won't give you the whole picture. I guess you just have to come to a race and feel the atmosphere to get it.
Q. Could you go over what your timetable is to getting to Nextel Cup a little more specifically, please?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Well, we've got this test to finish. And then we schedule in a bunch of things, but we still need to get the deal going. So right now it's a question mark. But it would be busy until the end of the season, something every week. Testing in some cars and some different race to go get race mileage on the ovals and the speedways.
Q. I have a two-part question. One is how fast did this come together with Bill Davis? When did you start talking to him? And when did you finally reach a deal? And the second part as a Quebec driver, is it possible that we might see some Quebec companies that are already peripherally exposed to NASCAR, like Bouchard and Bombardier, involved in your program?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Well, it happened really fast, this contact with Bill Davis Racing. From then on, everybody seemed to be excited and open minded and wanted to give it a go. So it happened really fast. Just had to fly in, make a seat and come testing.
For the second part of the question, it would make sense to get some Quebec or Canadian companies involved in the program. But we're just working hard on that.
Q. Just a question: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã‚Â Why Bill Davis Racing? They're not one of the more higher echelon teams. And what do you think now is theÃƒÂ¢Ã¯Â¿Â½Ã‚Â -- can you give a percentage on the probability that the deal will come together and you will be in Cup next year?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Why Bill Davis Racing? Well, you have to look at the truck racing. They're leading the championship and doing really well. So that is the best place to start to get mileage, and to get used to running at those speeds in traffic. If you look at the Nextel cars, they're going better every race, they move up, and it's better than a team that's going to move down.
Q. Have you ever raced at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? And do you think you might contact Patrick Carpentier and Tagliani and maybe get some tips?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I've not raced there. I've raced on a few ovals, but there was no race there when I was racing in North America. So, yeah, I'm sure if I end up racing there, I'll have to get some tips from people. They've been helping me out here and testing as well, so that is very useful.
Q. When you were looking to come back to North America, was NASCAR the only series that you looked at? Or did you look at the other two series, especially IRL, considering you wanted to run ovals?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: No, I didn't look at IRL. NASCAR, I only concentrated on NASCAR.
You know, after Formula 1, when you want to carry on racing, you want it to be at a tough level. And in North America, the top level is NASCAR.
Q. Now that you have two days of testing, how much more testing do you need before going on a first race in truck racing, do you think?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No idea. The team would know better than me what is required. I've been told it's quite bumpy and it's a little bit different than testing here. But the main thing would be running in traffic, that's what's needed now.
Q. We all know that you beat Michael Schumacher for the F1 in '07. With that in mind is the thought of competing in NASCAR at all intimidating to you?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Well the good thing is I've already raced on ovals in a speed race in IndyCar years ago. So I know what oval is all about, and what, you know, the dangers of ovals as well. So it's not something that can be a surprise. So I've already had a few crashes on ovals, so I kind of know what to expect.
But it's true, when I was talking with other European drivers in F1, they were dumfounded when I was telling them about ovals. They were would call me mad wanting to frive ovals.
Q. I would certainly never suggest that there's no politics in NASCAR. But I would assume it pales greatly to what you experience in Formula 1. And that is something that Montoya talks a lot about. He just got tired of all the B.S. and wanted to get back to racing. Does that at all, do you agree with any of that?
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: I don't know how it is in NASCAR yet, but I'm sure there's politics everywhere. But it was hard to beat the high level of politics of Formula 1. It is true that it's extremely high, and most of the time it overshadows the sport. This is a shame as a racer.
As long as you're winning, it's great. But as soon as you're not winning, then the politics take over, and it does make racing not fun at all. So listening to what Juan Pablo is saying, it sounds like NASCAR is where racing should be.
THE MODERATOR: All right, well, thanks to Jacques Villeneuve, thank you for joining us. Welcome to NASCAR.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: We're glad to have you and really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to join us.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE: It was a pleasure.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks as always to all of the media who took part in our teleconference today. As always, we truly appreciate the coverage.
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