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May 3, 2011

Jimmie Johnson


LEE PATTERSON: We appreciate you joining us. We've got Jimmie Johnson with us, the five-time NASCAR champion, defending that title, and also a very good friend of the golf tournament, and he wanted to spend some time with us today just talking about how much fun he's had playing and getting ready to play again tomorrow. We do know that two years ago he won the afternoon session, but the best he's ever done is a runner-up in golf.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the overall thing.
LEE PATTERSON: Maybe just a couple thoughts about that and being here, and we appreciate you doing this.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: First of all, I'm glad to be here and so happy to be in the town where I live when a cool event is going on and a great event like this. For me it works well obviously during the week where I can be a part of things and be around, and just enjoy it. Love seeing the PGA here in Charlotte. This is a great tournament, come out to the course and all this is. This is the only event that I've been to, and I know this is a very special event on the TOUR, but I'm overly impressed and can't believe this is in our own backyard, and just glad to live down the street and be a part of it. Thank you for having me out again.
Two years ago with Anthony we had a great round, and I think that the pros enjoy to a certain degree a high handicap amateur if you can link together a couple good holes, and that particular year I had a couple good holes, and then the other partner did an awesome job, and we came in the money. It was fun. It's the only golfing trophy I have and probably the only one I'll ever have. Well, we have tomorrow.
LEE PATTERSON: Do you remember your best shot out here, coming out from under some holly trees?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Is that a loaded gun? Yeah, on 2 -- I turn left for a living, and for some reason my golf ball goes right all the time. I hit one under the holly bushes, and I thought I was done and the ball was lost, and someone found it. That's the one cool thing about the pro-am is there are a lot of people scouting where your ball lands, and I find that I don't lose any balls when I play this course during the pro-am. There's always flag out there on another fairway or in the rough marking where my ball has landed. But they found my ball, and somehow I punched out from inside the holly bush tree thing up onto the second green, and I got a par there. So I thought I was in big trouble but pulled it off.

Q. What do you want more, a sixth championship or the pro-am?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sixth championship, for sure. I just hope to keep it between the galleries tomorrow and just keep it out there. It doesn't have to be in the short stuff but just somewhere between would be nice.

Q. How often do you play, and what do you like about the game?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me, things have changed so much since becoming a father, and I hate to admit it, but tomorrow will be my second round of golf this year. I think I sent out a Tweet a week or so ago about wearing headgear and shin guards, and I wasn't lying. There's a chance I could spray it a little bit. I played the one round, and it went well, better than I expected. I'll have fun with it tomorrow. I don't play as much as I would like to, and with our busy race schedule as you know, and then being a father, to sneak out for four or five hours of golf, it's just tough to find that time anymore. Hopefully I can through the summer because I really, really do enjoy the game, and for me it's a great way to unwind through a race weekend.
Mondays are usually my off days, and over the last four or five years I've spent a lot of Mondays just hanging out with friends and enjoying the game of golf.

Q. One thing I was wondering, you're kind of famous for having like the blinders on, especially during the Chase and being so focused and not letting any outside interference come in and mess with you mentally. You would think that would be a good asset for golf. Do you have that as a part of your golf game?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I can see it. I can see it in the players and the parallels between racing and the mindset needed and also in golf. Been able to get to know Anthony a little bit over the last couple years, and the things we talk about, there are a lot of similarities. That focus I find really aggravates me in golf because I know how I'd like to hit the ball and I know where I want the ball to go, and when it doesn't go there I can easily frustrate myself and make my round of golf an angry one, and I decided after I got my handicap that it is what it is, and that's what I need to try to be each time out.
And since that, I still get mad from time to time, but since I've established my handicap and have -- I've learned to enjoy the game a lot more since that day.

Q. What is your handicap?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: 21. I had to swallow before I said it. (Laughter.)

Q. Will you be nervous out there, and do you ever get nervous in a car?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Definitely nervous on that first tee box. I've found that the first three or four holes are really the most difficult. And then you kind of start breathing again and relax and get into the swing of things. But that first tee box is as fearful as anyone has ever mentioned; all the people standing around, your friends remind you of bad shots people have made there. My first year with Darren Clarke and Casey Mears, luckily Casey's was so much worse than mine, mine was 80 yards, his went like 20 yards that people really forgot about my shot. It is nerve wracking on that first tee box.
Within racing I find that I'm really motivated by fear inside the car, and if you lose a respect for how fast we're going at the tracks and what we're doing, not only can you put yourself in harm's way but I think you start over-driving the vehicle and not doing things that will lead to race wins and championships.
So fear is something I think most professional athletes have to deal with and learn to live with. I know there are a lot of sports psychologists that try to push it out of your mind, but when I've done that I've ignored important steps along the way, and I've let fear and even failure be a big part of my mindset as I race to help me stay out of trouble and do the right things.

Q. Darlington is probably the scariest or most challenging NASCAR track -- maybe not for you; you're good there. But what's the Darlington hole of this course that is like really tough?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: To me, 8, it looks so easy, but you get up to that green and there is so much that can go wrong. I'd say 8 is probably one of the tougher ones. 14. I should back up and start all the way over at 17. 17 is really my nemesis and I think a lot of people's nemesis. It's difficult. Only during the pro-am you play from that angle, so the other times I've played here it's a much more favorable shot from where the members' tees are than where we are for the pro-am.

Q. So if we're going to hear you cuss, that might be a good spot?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd start at the 1st tee. That might be a good place to start, and it might change a little bit out there. The thing that frustrates me the most is I hit a great tee shot and then you're sitting there where you need to be and you're all excited about your second shot and top it or do something stupid there and waste a good opportunity. That's when I really get fired up at myself.
LEE PATTERSON: That's very common.

Q. Did you ever watch golf as a kid at all or were you always racing or doing something else?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I played a little bit growing up. I knew about Torrey Pines being close by in San Diego, but I can't say I really tuned in and watched. Moving to the Carolinas, it really changed that. A lot of my friends played regularly and brought me into the game that way. I spend a lot of time watching it now on race weekends. Sundays off that we have, it's great to turn it on and watch a tournament.

Q. When Denny was out here yesterday and won the pro-am, he suggested there should be a NASCAR olympiad where you guys compete in other sports, and you would be in the forefront of the golf spectrum. Who do you think are the best drivers in terms of guys who can also swing it out here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Oh, man. Let's see. I know that Casey is not, Casey Mears, that is; myself wouldn't be that good on the golfing side of it. You know, the one that amazed me the most, and now he's retired, is DJ. I couldn't believe how strong he played. Not only did he hit it far, but he was really accurate with his irons in, and that was pretty amazing to me to see him play so well.
I've played a little bit with Elliott and Hermie both, and they can smash it, but I think from that point on they struggle like the rest of us that don't play for a living. I have not played with Denny. I've seen him at different golf tournaments that we do on race weekends that NASCAR puts on and stuff, but I've never seen him swing a club, so I'm not too sure what his game is like. In my opinion if you're in the 80s you're doing pretty good. I think he's far better at this sport than I am.

Q. Not that that matters obviously.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just depends on what your goals are, you know? If you want to be a good golfer, it's the wrong business for me to enter into.

Q. If I could just get a few thoughts on Darlington. I know you've raced well there. Approaching 10 races in, your thoughts on that track this year compared to your years previous?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, with it being a one-time race, it's tough to know how to unload. I was just in some team meetings at Hendrick Motor Sports, and drivers, crew chiefs were all present, and we're trying to figure out what we go back with. When we raced there last year, our cars were completely different; technology has changed so the setups are different. The tire that we're running on is different. We don't really know what to show up with, and with the practice sessions like they are now and the four sets of tires that we get, there's not a clear strategy going into the weekend what to do.
We need to get as many laps as possible and try to work through some things, but we also are very concerned about posting a fast time in practice so that we have a good qualifying draw. With an 11:00 start time in practice, you need to have your first or second lap on the track be the fast one, but then we don't know how the setup is going to work.
So we as a group as HMS, we have a variety of approaches going to Darlington. I'm going to go down and start in race trim, worry about finding my rhythm, making sure that we don't crash a car there. I've crashed quite a few over the last few years there since they've repaved it. So we'll go down and just kind of ease into things and then work on qualifying trim later in the practice session and take it from there.
It's an interesting track, very challenging track. I assume the grip level has gone down a bit since we raced there last, and I think we're all waiting for it to come back to the old track where it's real porous and eats the tires up.

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