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NASCAR SPRINT CUP CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS' MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 13, 2008
KERRY THARP: On behalf of everyone within NASCAR, I want to thank you for attendance today and helping us get the Ford Championship Weekend off to a rip-roaring start.
We think we have a great program on tap, one that showcases both the exciting present and the proud past of NASCAR. Gentlemen, we appreciate you all being here today very, very much.
Now, at this time I'd like to introduce our very special guest emcee for today's event. Please welcome from Sirius NASCAR Radio and the Motor Racing Network, Mr. Mike Bagley.
MIKE BAGLEY: Thank you, Kerry, and hello, everyone. Welcome to the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship contenders' press conference, here at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Coral Gables.
The 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has come down to one race and two contenders, Carl Edwards comes into Sunday's season finale, the Ford 400 at Miami Homestead Speedway, trailing Jimmie Johnson by 141 points. Carl described his challenge this past Sunday after the race at Phoenix when asked to assess his chances of a last race come back improbable but not impossible.
Carl is reminding everyone that there will be no quit in the #99 Office Depot Ford Fusion team this weekend, as if anyone thought otherwise.
The #48 Lowe's Chevrolet team meanwhile is on the precipice of history. Jimmie Johnson is trying to become only the second driver in the history of this sport to win NASCAR's biggest championship three times in succession. Cale Yarborough is the only other driver to accomplish the feat. He did that in 1976, '77 and '78.
No matter what happens on Sunday, Carl Edwards has had a fantastic and a dramatic season, highlighted by eight victories, 18 Top 5 finishes and 26 Top 10 finishes. Let's take a look.
Q. What's it going to take on Sunday to pull off what would be an unbelievable comeback?
CARL EDWARDS: I'm hoping Jimmie forgets how to drive or has some sort of trouble between now and Sunday. We're just going to have to have great luck. We saw what happened with Jeff's engine last week. If something like that were to happen, we just have to make sure that we're there to capitalize and do the best -- Bob and I talked about it this week, and if you were to go out there and have trouble on the first lap, the most excruciating thing would be to finish eighth or ninth and still not go make it happen.
We have to go out there to try to win this thing, and that's our plan is to go lead the most laps and win the race. That's what we're hoping for.
MIKE BAGLEY: Seven victories, 15 Top 5s and 22 Top 10s tell the statistical story for Jimmie Johnson's season, but there's obviously much more behind this remarkable run of success than just sheer numbers. Johnson and his team are winning both races and titles at a time in NASCAR where it's tougher than ever to do so. Excellence does not come easily in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Here's some quick glimpses of the #48's season.
You're very close to an historic achievement this weekend. Your thoughts knowing you have to finish 36th or better in the race Sunday to win your third consecutive title.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're definitely in a great position, but at the end day, we've still got to run the race and still have to go out and get the points needed to win the championship, so we're approaching it like we would any other race weekend. I do feel less pressure, at least as of now. We'll know about that a lot more tomorrow when practice starts, but knowing that we're in a great position in the points, I feel and hope and think it's going to give me a lot of confidence in tomorrow's practice session, along with Saturday's, to just focus on the right things, worry about the car, and really find the rhythm that way.
I know in the past, we've been here and we've had a decent points lead, and you're still worried about every move you make, every round of wedge in the car, the track bar adjustment, is it the right one, this and that. So I think it should bring a calming sensation to the team, and what we needed. There's a lot of pressure on us and what we hope to do this weekend.
And then really we've got to go out and run 400 miles. I feel the safest place to be would be up front. Our mile and a half stuff has been decent, so if we can get up there and race for the lead would be ideal and lead laps is what we're really after. But at the end of the day, I think we need to be towards the front and just do our thing, do what we do as the 48 team.
KERRY THARP: Mike, thank you very much. We will now move into our Q & A session. I think you all know the drill. If you have a question, please raise your hand, and we'll get over to you with a wireless microphone. We'd like to limit you to one question, so if you have a follow-up we'll certainly try to get back to you as quickly as we can. We've got 30 minutes allotted for this session. Please state your name and affiliation prior to asking your question.
Q. For both of you, in the past some of the championship fights have been very contentious where guys clearly didn't like each other. You guys both have a lot of respect for each other and for each other's race teams. Can you talk about the satisfaction you get racing and beating the other?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's the way I've grown up in racing is respecting the people that you race against. There have been times when competitive spirits exist in your heads, and you might not think of things like who's leading at Texas, I wish they'd run out of gas. I know last week when Jeff's engine blew, he was wishing that ours would blow, too.
But outside of that, it's the way I was brought up and I'm sure Carl, as well. You just have a great deal of respect for the guys you race against. I've always been one that has wanted to win races and win championships, not fall into them.
I think this year it's been a challenge from the beginning of the season for us, and we worked very hard to get ourselves in contention. One time it looked like the 18 and the 99, then the 18 flipped off, and these guys have been rock solid all year long.
The thing I'm impressed with is how the 99 team shows up regardless of the racetrack. The mile-and-a-half stuff they've been strong at, but you go to Martinsville, he was running there in the top three all day long; Phoenix, also. So road courses, you go through it all, and they are a very well-rounded team that we know we're going to have our hands full with, and this year has worked out a little better so far for us.
CARL EDWARDS: Racing with people, it's great -- the competition is the most fun part of this, and it's great to race with guys like Jimmie and Chad and their whole team, so when the race is over, no matter what happens, you can respect one another, be friends off the track and still race hard on the track. I think it really adds a lot. It makes it a lot of fun. The guys I grew up racing with, that's how we raced, as well.
I feel like if I needed some advice or some help or something like that, I could go over to Jimmie and he'd be right there helping me out, and that's cool. So it is enjoyable. It's more fun to race with folks like that, that you don't necessarily harbor any ill will towards or whatever. But yeah, I was kind of praying a little bit that you'd have the same valve springs as Jeff or whatever (laughter). But it's cool to race with Jimmie.
Q. I want to ask you, Jimmie, last weekend you were calling your crew chief like crazy. This week, what has the week been like for you stress-wise, your third championship on the line? Have you found it any easier, and are you still calling the crew chief every other hour?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I really haven't had a lot to talk to him about yet. Tomorrow is the real test of my nerves and how I manage them when we get on track. Phoenix Friday went well; Saturday didn't go as we had hoped, and I knew that we needed -- if we could, we needed to get points on the 99 team at Phoenix because this is really a good track for Roush in general, especially for Carl. I was feeling the pressure, I was feeling the squeeze and was all over Chad trying to make sure we had our stuff right, and we made some really good adjustments and changes to the car.
But this week has been busy. I've had an active week, but it's not been related to the race car yet. It's been nice to be this busy and it's kept my mind off of things. Tomorrow is really the start of the workweek for me, and we'll see how things go from there.
Q. Jimmie, there were some points earlier in the season where you guys were clearly trying to find it a little bit; Las Vegas kind of comes back to memory. How much concern was there then, and when did you guys really feel like you had righted the ship, so to speak?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We were definitely worried at the start of the season. There were points where -- trying to be a realist, looking at where we were in the points and the speed that we had, of making the Chase. We turned things around, spent a lot of time testing, and I look back -- Chad mentioned Texas and Michigan, and I think those are very key points.
But in my heart where I knew we were back and we were going to be a contender was at Chicago. That's the first time on a mile and a half that we really raced for the win. At Texas I think we ran second to Carl, but they still had us covered by three or four tenths. But Chicago was the race where we went and took the lead from the 18 and unfortunately gave it back to them at the end on the green-and-white checkered. But at that point I knew we were on par and had speed in our cars again.
Q. In the 156 times you guys have raced together in the Sprint Cup series, there's been no time that Carl has made up 141 points on Jimmie, but there was one time that he made up 127 points on Jimmie at Homestead in 2005. So the question would be, coming into this track, knowing that there's been some history here where Carl has made up a lot of ground, does that give you maybe a glimmer of hope going into this thing on Sunday? And for you, Jimmie, with you on the precipice of winning your third straight title, is that sticking in your mind a little bit?
CARL EDWARDS: Have you heard that statistic? All right, good. You'd better be nervous (laughter).
That's good. I mean, this is racing. We've all raced long enough to know that anything can happen. It does make me feel good. That's the short answer. That's a good confidence booster for me.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I forgot what you exactly asked me.
Absolutely. The thing I'm focused on the most is how we could lose this championship, and last weekend we did a very good job of getting some more points to take it out of a situation where if we just weren't running right that the 99 team would have a chance. Now we're in a position where if we make a big mistake or have a parts failure is what it would take.
I feel good about things, but at the same time, I know that that possibility exists. This is motorsports. Things do happen. Like they say in football, you've still got to go play the game. We've still got to go run the race. I know that.
If I can just stay in my routine and approach this race like any other race, I feel in my heart that we'll be just fine and do what we need to.
Q. Jimmie, we saw Kyle run away with the regular season and hit the wall at the start of the playoff. Two things on that: First of all, can you talk about how humbling in the sport it is to see that happen; and secondly, what were your thoughts when you saw him hit that wall, and talk about what it did for your confidence.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is a very humbling sport, without a doubt. I've been very fortunate to experience great fortune through my career in Cup, and it's something I'm very thankful for. But at the same time, with all the success that we've experienced, there still have been moments where it just saws you off at the legs. That's racing, and that's what makes our personalities in this sport and the people and the champions who they are is because this sport can eat you up and spit you out the other side.
I watched Kyle this year in total shock and amazement like everyone else and just couldn't believe what he was doing and wanted to be a part of it. I look at the 99 car and say those guys, if you look at consistency over the whole year, they matched Kyle's pace. Kyle did win some more races at the start of the season, but if you look at what these guys have done all year long, they've really been the team to beat and the team we've been focused on all year.
We didn't have our stuff together at the start and then caught up and got there, but I think in the years to come you're going to see a lot more of that 18 fighting for championships and Carl, and there are some other teams out there, as well. But looking at those highlights this year, the guys -- I was shocked to see -- I knew Kyle was good. I don't think any of us knew he was going to be that good. And then the pairing of he and Steve just skyrocketed. And at the same time, when the Chase started and things didn't work out, I was equally shocked that they had the problems they did and weren't able to be up there fighting for the championship.
Q. Carl, I have to say, as someone who once taught the youth of Missouri, I was pleased that you knew the definition of precipice. My question is you've got nine former champions sitting here in front of you. Do either of you have any stories or anecdotes about growing up and watching any of them, that you wanted to be like any of them, or even from racing against any of the ones that you did race against?
CARL EDWARDS: I know for me, you mentioned Missouri. Missouri is a long way from places like Daytona and Charlotte, and to me, watching you guys race on TV, that was something that we'd go over to my dad's buddy's house and watch the races on Sundays and see you guys like Richard Petty and Rusty Wallace and Bobby Allison and guys that to me were just these mythical figures.
It's so amazing to be sitting up here and realizing that even though it's a far chance, I still have a chance maybe to put my name on that list this year, so it's an honor.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I look through the room, and I see the guys here, and it's impossible to say how much I respect and admire all these guys and what they've done for our sport and have looked up to all of their names and faces through the years. Some of the ones -- it was tough for me in San Diego to really catch NASCAR racing at a young age. But I remember being so impressed that a father and son did what the Allisons did, to be out there racing, and how cool that must have been to race against your dad or to race against your son and fighting for wins at Daytona and things like that. That was amazing.
Richard Petty didn't really have a good career, so it's hard to really talk much about him (laughter).
But I mean, these guys are heroes to all of us in the sport, and I think that it's tough, we don't get asked that question that often, but I feel I can speak on behalf of a lot of the drivers, not all of them, that these guys are the heroes of the sport and made it what it is today, and we've got a big responsibility on our shoulders to not screw it up and to help it continue to grow. It's a cool sport that we love, and we're trying to do our best with it.
But these guys are -- they ran without HANS devices, they ran without power steering. I mean, there's a lot of different things that these guys have been through that we all admire.
Q. For Carl, a lot of times in sports, people are defined by those they defeat to win championships. Teams have to go through other champions to win that first title, and that elevates their own title. Whether you do it this year or whoever does it, whenever somebody finally beats Jimmie in this business, will the accomplishments of that team elevate the accomplishment by whoever it is that eventually tops them and knocks them off the precipice on which they now sit?
CARL EDWARDS: I hope he's on a precipice. You could fall off at any moment, Jimmie (laughter). Remember that.
I think that you're right; I think in any competition, I know I can only speak for myself, but when Jimmie started gaining speed and ground, you realized, man, this guy could win three championships. You try really hard not to be jealous or spiteful because of his success.
But Jimmie makes it easy to respect what they're doing, and I think in the end, yes, his success and -- if he was to win this championship and make it three in a row and do what he could do, it would just make it literally more fun to beat him when we beat him next year. That's our plan.
But yes, his success does, I think, elevate the game, and I think Kurt said it really well last week after the race. It's amazing to see what he's doing right now.
Q. Almost from the time the Chase starts at Loudon, those of us who cover it tend to look at how every race affects the championship chase, and we don't really look at each race individually. How tough has it been for you guys to focus on each race and put the battle for the championship kind of in the background? Is that difficult at all?
CARL EDWARDS: You know, with the way that the 48 team has been running, I definitely have understood the weight of every lap, everything that goes on. That's what made Talladega so excruciating, to be -- I will never forget sliding down that banking with the mangled up car thinking, wow, I have really screwed us here. That was a bad feeling.
And then the next week at Charlotte, it was just like a bad dream where we were sitting there changing those ignition boxes, and I'm watching the field go by thinking, I can make up one lap, maybe two, then three, four, five.
I think that through this season or this Chase, I've learned a lot about the value of every point. I thought I really understood that well, but I think I understand it maybe just a little better now. It hasn't really been difficult to focus on it, but we have been focused on every lap because of how well these guys are running, and you know if you give anything up, it's hard to make it back up.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Kind of adding to that, too, is I think it simplifies things just to focus on each race. You don't know where the points are going to come from. If you do get an advantage, you don't know if you're ever going to lose them and how, and I have just found that the more I look at each race, and as Carl said, each lap, you just stay focused on the present and do what you can then. It's been helpful.
Then in '06 when we won the championship, we got off to a bad start, and it helped me then to realize that you can only do what you can do and you can only control the things that you touch. You can't control parts breaking or getting caught up in wrecks and different things that take place. So you just focus on the now. If it comes together, it comes together. That's been something I've learned from '06 and have carried through '07 and this year, as well.
Q. Jimmie, you've been a little bit reluctant to really talk about the historical significance of winning three in a row. If you do this, do you feel like you would belong with this group of gentlemen sitting in front of you? And also, Carl, if you could just talk about the historical significance of if he would win three in a row?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, first you've got to do it, and that's why I haven't talked about it. And two, I don't think I have, or any driver, has the right to proclaim their spot in history. That's not for that person to decide. That's for the fan base, the guys that have done it and are in that club and were accepted into that club. I don't comment about it because I'm 33 and still racing, and I don't feel like it's my spot to say those things.
I also feel that I have a lot of years left in the car to really make my mark in the sport. So I just -- if we are fortunate enough to win the championship, I'm sure some things will come along at that point and I'll have some comments then about what it means to me. But I don't think it's my place to say where I fit in.
CARL EDWARDS: I still plan on beating him hopefully (laughter), so I'd rather not comment on it.
Q. Carl, you've had a great season, a season that in other years may have resulted in a championship. If it doesn't work out for you, as you look back on it, will this be a season you view as a success or one that got away?
CARL EDWARDS: Well, like I said, I mean, it's not over, so it's hard to say. I mean, I guess we just have to see what happens on Sunday.
I can say with certainty, no matter what happens on Sunday, our team has become stronger, and I do feel like we can win at almost any racetrack we go to. We ran really well at places like Daytona this year; the road courses were great; Martinsville, a place that I had struggled a lot at. So no matter whether it works out, the Cinderella story for us, or if Jimmie gets this thing, I feel very positive and excited about the years to come. I think we're going to be great. That's how I look at this year, no matter what.
Q. I just wanted to ask you guys a little bit about your reflections on -- the relationships you guys have cultivated with your crew chiefs and how important have they been in where you are right now, and do you suspect that Sunday might become a chess match between the two of them?
CARL EDWARDS: The only way this thing could get extremely dramatic is if they had some sort of trouble, and then they would have to recover from that and do a good job with that, and we at the same time would have to go out and try to dominate this race. That I think would be the most exciting thing that could happen, and it would really showcase our crew chiefs' talents to try to take advantage or make the most of the day.
I know my relationship with Bob Osborne, I'm really grateful that Jack put Bob and I together. He's a really, really smart guy and a great racer, great competitor. I have a feeling that Jimmie and Chad have a similar relationship, and they seem to work really well together, as well.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think relationships make everything -- make it all happen, and it goes down to many levels, through your crew guys and the relationships with guys that go over the wall, car chiefs, crew chiefs, and the guy that puts that all together is the crew chief. My relationship with Chad has been unlike any relationship I've had before with a crew chief. We're close in age, which is a first for me, and we share a lot of things in common. We have two completely different personalities, and his strengths fit my weaknesses, and my strengths fit his weaknesses. So I think the pairing of us both has been really good.
You know, those relationships, especially as time goes on, make things -- not necessarily easier, but they just build people's confidence in what you can and can't do as a team. I have a lot of confidence in Chad and the cars he's bringing to the track, and he has that same thing in me in what I can do in one of his cars. It doesn't make it any easier, but I guess you sleep a little better at night because you have that history together and you know each other so well.
Q. Jimmie, I'm not going to talk about this year's championship. I'm going to take you back to 2004. It seems like we've compared every Chase from that one because that was the first one and the way it finished on the last lap, et cetera. What did you learn from that Chase, how close it was, how it finished, the competitiveness? You were in the Chase and you didn't really know what was going to happen over those ten weeks. What did you learn that whole period that you can apply this year or that you've applied the last two years?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Truthfully, that anything can happen. With the plane crash and the emotions we had as a race team going forward, the run that we got on and were making up points on the field and guys are having trouble and we were scoring points and doing well, and then the race starts, and Kurt has his trouble and we're sitting in position, and it's like -- I was convinced it was ours. And then when the checkered flag fell, I looked in the mirror and there's the 97. I was like, oh, it wasn't meant to be.
So that's a very good thing to go through. It's a very good thing to experience at the time. You know, it's painful, and I think we were a little more emotional than probably we should have been because of the situation with the plane crash. But at the same time, those guys went out and earned it, and it was their year.
It took really '06 for me really to look back and understand that when it's your time, it's your time. As I look through my career, I've done well in other forms of racing and other levels of racing, but it wasn't my time yet. And when it's your time, you've got to take advantage of it.
I've built some confidence in that, because there's a lot of voices in all of our heads about what's going on and pressure and all those things. So as I've worked through some of these experiences, it helps me stay a little more calm, and I'm just trying to stay in the mindset that if it's meant to be this week, it's meant to be, and we're in a great position to do that.
Q. Johnson, you hear a lot, you have to lose one in order to win one. You have to kind of learn that process. How much does a team mature? What does a team learn when they fail?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think you learn about your fight and who you are and what you want to accomplish. You just learn a lot about yourself and the fight and character that you have and that your team has. You know, I personally learn more when I make mistakes than I ever have when things go well. It doesn't matter if it's personal life or professional life. When you make mistakes and things slip through your fingers, that's when I learn the most.
Q. Jimmie, in the sport I've noticed for a long time the drivers get certain personalities. For the King (Richard Petty), it was driving hard in his hat and his glasses; for Darrell (Waltrip) it was a hard-driving guy that they nicknamed Jaws; for Dale Jarrett right here, The Ultimate Gentleman; for me it was Rubber Head With a Big Mouth. It was wide open. Everybody gained personalities. We did a piece on you last week with ESPN where we followed you around, and you looked like you were having fun in the limousine, and you jumped up and said, "People don't get me, man. I'm this jackass from El Cajon. When I came to race at NASCAR I had to learn that I've got to be polished, I've got to be a corporate guy, I've got to say all the right things, I've got to dress right. I've got to do the whole thing." With you about ready to grab your third championship right now, is that enough, that you can open up and be the jackass from El Cajon and have some fun and be your own personality?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, sure. I don't know what it is about going to my work space and taking it seriously and maybe not letting that personality come through. But at the end of the day, I am that jackass from El Cajon deep down inside. It's not that I'm not trying to be there, but I'm just focused on what I've got to do. I wouldn't feel if I was to win a third that now I'm empowered and now I can be someone because through it all, I've been myself.
If it's hard to figure out, I guess I'm hard to figure out. It's not that I'm trying to be anything, I'm just being myself. I just roll with it, you know, and see where it goes.
Q. Do you often think about the Intimidator, how he had that atmosphere around him, and how Tony Stewart is controversial, mad at the world all the time it seems like? Everybody has got their own different personalities. And have you thought about creating that for yourself and the fans, or are you happy with what you're doing right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I haven't. I'm very happy with what I'm doing. I'm proud of who I am, I'm proud of what I've done in the sport. I think things come a little later. I didn't race against Dale, Sr., but I know he knocked the crap out of everyone every chance he had. I think the Intimidator part came later if I'm not mistaken.
I look at different personalities in the sport, and those are things that -- I mean, the guy has to act that way, but they're kind of given to them. I'm not one that's going to sit up at night and say, wow, I need to be the funny guy or I need to be the Intimidator or I need to be any of those things. I'm just doing my thing. I guess I'm the confusing guy. It is what it is.
Q. You guys have won so much, and you've got your unique ways of doing things. Carl, you do the backflip when you win, and Jimmie, you spin out, and you do a great job of doing that. Have you guys ever thought about, hey, when I go into the '09 season I'm going to try something a little different for the fans? Are you going to stick with what you've been doing, or are you going to change it up?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think Carl should go for a double backflip personally.
CARL EDWARDS: I can get maybe one and a quarter and straight to the hospital. The problem is I come out of that backflip and that's about all I've got. I've got to stick with it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I can't do flips, so I'm just doing doughnuts.
Q. Jimmie and Carl, as a student, I was wondering, how has being a NASCAR driver helped you build character, and would you recommend this sport for someone around my age?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You're in high school (laughter)? Wow, sometimes we don't act any older than that. I really enjoy it. I mean, the competition is the best part for me. The idea that -- when you're in regular life and you're driving down the road or something or you're doing whatever, I know for me I have to have an outlet for that competitive fire, and I feel so fortunate that every week I get to go out and compete and race against these guys, and my job is to be a competitor.
So I think that's helped me in my life just to have something to focus on and a goal. So that's good.
As far as recommending it to someone that's younger, I think that the people in the sport, the people that I've met, I've met a lot of really great people, and being able to go compete like that is really fun and rewarding, so if there was an opportunity for you to be involved in it somehow, I would recommend it.
Q. Carl, you've had this incredible year competing in two divisions, maybe the best team start to finish in Cup. If you don't come away with either one of these championships this year, do you worry a little bit that history will kind of forget what you've done this year?
CARL EDWARDS: Boy, no, that's something I haven't worried about. That's good.
No, I think that the joy really and the thing that I've learned is this sport is, like Jimmie said, it's very humbling, it'll chew you up, and I've learned to try to take joy in our performances and the things that I've become better at and the driver that I've become, and I feel like the wins and the things we've done this season, by themselves, they kind of hold me up and make me feel good about this season. Whatever happens, happens.
I'm 29 years old, and I feel like our team is the best it's ever been, and I think we have a lot to look forward to. No, it's not a worry that I've had.
Q. Guys, I've got a question for you. Here we go: It's the end of the 2008 season; we're at Homestead. We've run the Car of Tomorrow the entire season now and it's gone through the stages of finding out what's wrong with it, what made it great. What is you guys' opinion on it as we head into 2009, on the Car of Tomorrow, now the Car of Today? Has it become more of a racy car? Has it really brought a lot of fans back? Or does it still need a little more work?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I think that we've learned a lot about the car over the year, and I think that the teams have spent a lot of time and money to make the cars more comfortable to drive, to put on a better show.
We're doing all that we can. The cars are exciting to drive. I think that the hard part -- the difficulty in driving the cars helps myself, helps my team, I know it helps Carl. I think it separates some of the competitors. I mean, it's one thing when the car is driving perfect and you've got a ton of grip to go fast. But this car really requires you to think a lot, to be smart, to attack in the right areas, and then it's challenging to get this big, boxy car with very little downforce and very little mechanical grip to handle right.
There's been a lot of challenges. I'm not keen -- it's not my decision to run the car, but we're making the most of it and I think we're putting on good races. I think the car on short tracks has shown a lot of promise, and we've had some good finishes. I even look at Dover and the racing that took place at Dover at a faster track.
I still think we need to do some work on the intermediate tracks to make the cars a little more comfortable to drive side by side and to really work your way up through traffic. But NASCAR has more interest in these cars being racy than anyone, and we believe in where they're taking things and what they're going to do.
CARL EDWARDS: To add to that, I think that every racer all around the country racing at local, dirt track, wherever, there's nothing worse than not knowing -- if it's a guy's car that's beating you or if it's that driver. I think NASCAR has done a good job of making these cars -- putting you in such a tight box that you really feel like you're racing crew chief to crew chief, driver to driver. It's good competition. It does make it hard to pass at some of the tracks because so many guys are the same speed. But man, it's sure cool to know that you've got a really good chance; you're not going to get beat by some guy's magical fender or something.
Q. You guys have some guys sitting in front of you that really didn't like each other on the racetrack and almost hated each other at times. Was that something that attracted you guys when you watched the sport on TV at a young age? And when you think about now, you two guys seem to really like each other a lot. Is that good for the sport, or do you think it would be better if you two guys hated each other like Pettys and Allisons?
CARL EDWARDS: I don't know. I mean, sport is what it is, and I think that Jimmie is a good guy. That's just the way it is. Sometimes I wish I could hate him a little more, make it more fun. But I just think he's a good guy. He's got a lot of respect for me and a lot of other guys. I don't know; you never know, though.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it's good to have people that respect each other and teams that do, as well. I think we get warped into reality television shows and perspective that you need to be in fist fights and all these different types of things. What's wrong with good competition and people that respect each other and teams that respect each other? You'll see it in pro sports in football games or baseball games where guys are commending the other team on how prepared they are and how good a job they do. It works. I don't know why we have to be a circus act to make it a good show. Good competition and respect for one another should be plenty.
Q. Jimmie, I think it's safe to say that when you came into the sport full-time in 2002, you were not a heralded driver or phenom like some of the kids that are coming in today that everybody is expecting so much from. Looking back from that point to now, being where you are on this great precipice, could you ever have envisioned being where you are now, and is it at all surprising to you to be where you are?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Absolutely it's surprising to me. There's no way I could have dreamed this big. I remember just being scared to death that I wasn't going to have a job in 2003. I mean, I'm getting into Jeff Gordon's cars, just won a championship with him, startup team and all the expectations that come with the situation that I was in. I was just worried about keeping a job and running well.
I remember going to Atlanta and I think we finished fifth at Atlanta, and I took a big deep breath and said, okay, I'm going to be okay. The three races I ran the year before didn't go so well, and I think I finished on the lead lap and tore up some cars.
The start of the season went okay, but nothing like I felt the expectations were. I didn't have a ton of confidence in what my abilities were because I had only spent two years in any division or car before that and won a race or two from time to time and usually finished in the Top 5 or Top 10 in points, but nothing with the hype that you see guys get today.
Definitely shocked and excited, and at times on my heels taken aback by what this team has accomplished, by what I've accomplished, because there's no way I could have dreamed this big.
Q. Jimmie, the 48 team seems right now it has a lot of common characteristics with some of the great all-time professional sports teams, the New England Patriots and New York Yankees. One difference is they had mascots, they had theme songs, fight songs. If you could pick a mascot and a theme song for your team, what would they be?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The song that we continue to play over and over is Metallica's song "Nothing Else Matters," so that would be our song. The mascot I'll have to get back with you on. Does someone have an opinion? Jackass (laughter.) A lot of the guys like Captain Morgan, so we could make Captain Morgan's bottle out of it. Bud Light is not bad. I don't know what that mascot would be.
Q. I guess what kind of drew you guys together when you first were in Cup or the early days, or how did you guys get to meet in the garage? Carl, I think you've talked about times where you won races where Jimmie has texted or congratulated you afterwards. How did that start, and has this Chase brought you closer or created a little bit more of a divide because of the competition?
CARL EDWARDS: I wasn't paying attention to the first part of that. But I think that for me it's been -- I think something that brings us closer together as competitors competing like this. You know, it's cool. The first time I met Jimmie Johnson, it was at Lisa Kennedy's house for that get-together she has before the season starts, and I don't remember if it was '01 or '02, but I think you were getting ready to start your first Cup race. What year was it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: '02.
CARL EDWARDS: I didn't know anybody there, I didn't belong there. I don't know how I got invited. And here's this guy Jimmie Johnson that I guess was on the pole or something for the 500.
Man, we just kind of sat there on the steps, and we didn't really have anybody else to talk to. It was kind of cool. He was a really nice guy, and I thought, Man, that's a cool guy. It's neat to see someone like that succeed. To this day when we have a good run, Jimmie is one of the first people to come over and congratulate me, and when he has a good run, as much as it hurts us in the points sometimes or whatever, it's still good to see good people succeed.
As long as we got this relationship the way it is and we get along and respect one another, I think it's a good thing, and I enjoy it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I remember at Lisa's there we sat down, and like Carl said, there wasn't anybody else for us to talk to. We were just two guys that got an invite and didn't know anyone. And through it all, I'm a fan of racing, and Carl has raced anything and everything. I respect what he's done in all types of vehicles, and Joe watched him on Saturday at the Nationwide race and stuff.
I love racing. I love the people in racing. And as a fan of motorsports, I like knowing everybody. I like getting along with everyone.
And at the same time, I've had a lot of people -- the reason I am here today is because a lot of people went out of their way to help me. A lot of people that had made it in their form of racing or in business, whatever it may be, somebody was nice enough to spend a little time to talk to me and work with me and show me the way or help me learn how to drive a car.
I remember Gary St. Amant when I was racing ASA cars, before I was racing I was going to test and I hadn't driven one yet, and I kept the poor guy up all night long asking him questions about Lucentite was, what was stagger, what was wedge, and I had no clue. He was patient and sat there all night long explaining stuff to me.
That's kind of where my personality comes from and why I find myself engaged in having friendships and stuff. One, I'm a fan; and two, I've had a lot of great people work with me, and if somebody has a question, I'll answer truthfully, I'll help out, because that's helped me get to where I am today.
Q. Jimmie, you said earlier you don't know how nervous you're going to be because you haven't worked yet this week. So I guess for both of you, what did you do this week, and did it include sobering up the Giles brothers?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thankfully it did. Thankfully they left Sunday night or else Monday would have been much more painful for me. I personally stayed Sunday night, had some fun in Phoenix and then flew home Monday. Got up in the morning on Tuesday, got a workout in and packed and came down, attended Juan's event Tuesday night. And then yesterday went and ran on the beach and stuff and just tried to wear myself out.
I've found that the more energy I use up during the day, the easier it is to sleep at night. So I've been working out a lot more in this Chase than others.
Last night I went and ate at Joe's, which was awesome. I saw DJ there having some dinner, and I went to the Black Crowes concert last night, watched that for a little bit. Then this morning shot a commercial, and then we have this and then I have a photo shoot after.
Tonight it's going to be very easy for me to sleep and roll into tomorrow's stuff.
It's been a busy week outside of the car, and I just want to get in the car and get to work. That's really when things kind of fall into place.
CARL EDWARDS: You've had a much more eventful week than I have. We flew back to Missouri and spent a couple days at home and got to hang out with my family and my friends a little bit, just a normal week. Came here for an Office Depot appearance yesterday.
The number one thing is we don't really have anything to lose. We just have to go do it and give it 100 percent. So it's been a pretty easy week for me.
I did try to take a moment and think about how I would feel if I were in Jimmie's position and to understand that that could be where we're at next year or the year after hopefully, or hopefully someday, and it made me take a moment and respect the stress level and what that might be like.
But definitely an easy week for me. We're in a fortunate position where we've got everything to gain.
Q. What is really going through your mind right before you get in the car and get ready to race? What is going through your head?
CARL EDWARDS: First thing, you have to find the closest restroom. That's key to getting a solid race in. The second thing is to -- for me personally, I just try to remember where I came from, what I'm trying to accomplish, and that that race is going to end with the checkered flag, and what you do between now and when the checkered flag falls is going to dictate how it went. You don't get a second chance. That's what goes through my head.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Mine is one, find the bathroom, and two, how did all these people get credentialed to be down here on the grid right now (laughter). Get away, let me get in the car and do my job. Then finally the National Anthem is over and I get in the car and I'm like, whew, put the net up so they can't take pictures, either. And then you go to work.
THE MODERATOR: That concludes the Q & A part of our event, and now for closing remarks, please welcome back today's guest emcee Mike Bagley of Sirius Satellite Radio.
MIKE BAGLEY: On behalf of NASCAR, Sprint, Ford and Homestead Miami Speedway, I want to thank everyone for attending today and helping us kick off Ford Championship Weekend.
We are on the precipice of breakout sessions out in the lobby. Kerry Tharp has more information on that, and also thank you to the hundreds of thousands and millions of fans tuning into the radio and television around the country. It's been a great 2008 season, and no doubt you two will make it even better on Sunday when you fight for the championship in the Ford 400.
End of FastScripts