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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 19, 2006
HERB BRANHAM: Welcome to this week's NASCAR Nextel teleconference. This is in advance of Sunday's Dover 400 at Dover International Speedway.
The 400 will be the second event in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup, that's the last 10 races of the season that determines the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion.
Our quick housekeeping note for those media that are going to be in attendance at Dover, the weekly Nextel wake-up call opportunity is scheduled for Friday, 10 a.m., approximately half an hour, in the infield media center. The driver will be Mark Martin.
Today our teleconference guest is Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Jimmie started the Chase in second place in the standings. Little misfortune this past Sunday at New Hampshire, relegated him to a 39th-place finish in the first Chase race, and a drop in the points standings to ninth place.
Jimmie, 139 behind the leader, Harvick. Nine races remain in the Chase. What is your team's mindset going into Dover with Kevin Harvick having that big lead on you right off the bat?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, we just need to get to work and go racing. We've got a great race team. We've been able to score a lot of points all year long. We definitely got off to a start that we didn't want. That's racing. Stuff happens.
We had a problem with a sparkplug wire that got us in that position where we got in the crash. Just a part failure. A couple guys have had this problem this year. We're doing everything we can to correct that and make sure that nothing like that pops up out of our control and hurts us in the future.
You know, we just got to go racing. There's still nine races left in this deal. We're very excited, very pumped up. The guys have great spirits. I have great spirits. Just time to get to work.
HERB BRANHAM: Absolutely, Jimmie. We'll go to questions right now from the media for Jimmie Johnson.
Q. In this situation now, everybody is thinking back to '04 when you just kind of went on a rampage and won four races during the Chase. Considering teams like RCR and the 17 team and others that are building a lot of momentum themselves, do you think the 48 team still has that explosive capability? Could you come up with something like that again, or is the competition just way tougher than it was at that point?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I definitely think we have it in us. If you look at the situation we're in, we're 139 points down. We were 247 down in '04, six races remaining, only lost by eight points. My guys have done the math. We need to outscore the 29 by 15.4 points from this point onto end up in the points lead.
The way I look at it, yeah, it's been a bad race. Something out of our control got us. This team is capable of so much. If we show up, give a hundred percent, do our job, I truly, in my heart, feel like we'll be back in the middle of this thing.
I can't forecast the future. I don't know what's going to happen. All I can do is control my team and what we do in the next nine races. I still think we're in a position to score points and get ourselves back in this points battle.
Q. The last five races of regular season, y'all had not awful finishes but mediocre finishes. You mentioned at one point you were sort of experimenting a little bit. You were driving hard to get those finishes. Is that end of regular season a false read on the 48 team? Was there a lot more experimentation going on? Was that preparation for situations that could arise in the Chase, or was that a true indication that y'all kind of had a rough time those races?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it was a blend of both. If you look at any driver, there's different parts of the season where tracks come together for them and tracks give them a hard time. I think, you know, unfortunately ours is well-noted because we got off to a strong start, for whatever reason slow down, then pick back up.
We tried some stuff at some different races. I think everybody's in that position trying to find an advantage, trying to find something. We had that with a bad run of races for us. Just tracks that we didn't perform as strong as we wanted to. We weren't in bad shape. We were still knocking out top tens, doing better in my eyes than what we've done in August in other Chase battles that we've been in.
I think we're doing fine. I know momentum, it's easy to recognize it. It's easy to watch teams pick it up and have it. At the same time, teams lose it and new teams pick it up. We can trace back, RCR has been slowly coming along. Now those guys are on fire. I've been in that position. The fire's gone out and somebody else comes along. I'm not saying that's going to happen to them.
All we can do is control our own destiny, show up and give a hundred percent. That's the position we're in. We're all in great spirits, really excited about it.
Q. I think the two races you had marked were New Hampshire and Phoenix. Did you get enough time in the car before the sparkplug wire to determine what you thought you might have going into Phoenix?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think we've made a lot of progress. The 24 ran a very similar setup, had a great day, competitive day. I was just taking my time at the start of the race, working my way up into I think third or fourth. Then we had a pit stop. Some guys took two. We were around 10th or whatever after that restart got going.
The sparkplug problem happened. Still running on seven cylinders. I was running in 13th position before we spent some extra time on pit road trying to find the problem.
I really think we had a strong car and could have been in the top three in that event. I'm very excited going to Richmond. We definitely found some stuff that we needed.
Q. Last time you came to Dover, you kind of had one of those rollercoaster experiences with the spinout, actually battling back, finishing I think fourth. You've also been hot at that track. Do you think this is where you can really make that turn, put it on at this moment?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's a good track for me, so I go there hopeful for a strong run. I've won I think three times at the track. I think my overall average finish there is pretty strong.
We're going in with lofty expectations and feel we should be up front.
Q. How was it in June with that rollercoaster experience?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, we finally got the car tightened up for me. It was pretty loose all day long. At the end we got the adjustment right. We had all kinds of problems to overcome that day. I think if we can get in, qualify strong, not have to share a pit stall, deal with the things we had to, we'll be able to run up front all day long and be a threat for the win.
Q. A lot of people have tried to make it out, since you've gotten involved in NASCAR, about how close you've come to winning a title but not coming through with the title. What is your feeling about everyone? You've only been racing now for Hendrick four seasons, yet everyone is expecting you to dominate the world. How do you feel about all this added pressure that some people are wanting to put upon you as a driver?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think actually it's -- I think it's actually my fifth year. But no one can put any more pressure on me than I do on myself. I know what I'm capable of. I know what the team's capable of.
You know, regardless of your situation, if people have high expectations for you or if you've had a bad run, people think that you might lose your job, things are coming to an end, you will experience some form of pressure.
I've been accustomed to it my whole career in one form or another. I just go out and do my job, do my thing.
Q. I know after the race it seems like Tony wanted to get everyone's attention again, even though he's not in the Chase this year. How do you feel about the comments that he made about everyone having to be so careful around those that are in the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn't see it, so I'm not familiar with it.
Q. He was talking about how he felt like he had to be extra careful around the 10 drivers in the Chase, afraid of maybe bumping someone out, touching a driver, and them ending up having a bad finish like you did.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I know Tony, he's got a lot of respect for everybody out on the track. I didn't see the comments. I would assume it's uncomfortable being in this position and racing hard for a win, not wanting to put anybody in harm's way.
I know he expects that respect when he's in the Chase. He's also a guy that will give it back. I think that's all he was probably concerned about.
Q. Hendrick has three drivers in the Chase. How much does that help each of you and are you sharing that much information, or is it a matter of you guys are two individual teams doing as much as you can?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, we got to this point by sharing information and working real close together. It's been a vision that Rick has had for a long, long time. Really first one to start off with a multi-car team, bring the two cars in one house. Just been growing that line of thought, I guess.
We're still doing the same things we've always done. We know when we get on the track, we've got to do everything we can to score points for our individual teams, but we're still working very close together, sharing information, trying to get a Hendrick car a championship.
Q. You need 15 and change to make up on Harvick all the way up. Are there any races in these remaining nine that you have circled as saying, This one we're really going to make a move?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, it's not that we're going to make a move. We don't have that luxury to sit around and be cautious. It's go time. We need to score points, a lot of points, every race.
The highlights and tracks that I look at and feel good about, one would be Dover. Talladega, great restrictor plate program. I think that's a strong race for us. Lowe's Motor Speedway's a great race for us. I think in the whole scheme of things, in the Chase, there are a lot of good tracks for the 48 team. Martinsville is a great place for me. I feel like there's a lot of good chances for me to score points.
Q. (Indiscernible) had said last week on a conference that a team could probably have one bad race and still be in the hunt. Now that you have had yours, how does this change your mindset? Are you still going to be completely aggressive, or would you have to be kind of concerned about making mistakes now and maybe be more cautious for a while?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I just got to go out and race. I need points is the bottom line. You can look at that and recognize there's sometime times where you need to be aggressive, and also times where, if you cross the line and crash the car, you're not going to score any points or enough points. It's just that delicate balance that we really deal with all year long.
I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know if guys are going to have troubles. Frankly, I'm not going to live in a world where I'm hoping for someone to have trouble. I just don't operate that way. I'm going to live in a world where I need to go out and score points. My team and I, we need to do the best job we can.
We had a good meeting today. We had a meeting yesterday. As I've been saying, everybody's spirits are high. Everybody is pumped up. You would think something like this would just crush a team. Myself and these guys, we're fired up. We're ready to go racing.
Q. Head start on Talladega stories. Would you look ahead to that race? You've won two restrictor plate races this year. Obviously that will be a special place for you.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, feel very good about going to Talladega. We all know the concerns that everybody has with scoring points at the track. It's going to be a hair-raising race. There's nowhere safe on the track (laughter). We'll just hopefully get out of there scoring points. Especially the position we're in, we need to score points. We can't afford to have any trouble there.
Q. Do you think drivers will be even more aggressive there than usual with it being part of the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's so hard to say. You go through a wide range of emotions on the track when you're racing. You bounce back and forth between be smart, don't make a mistake, you don't want to crash, and not score a lot of points.
And then five laps later, you flip to, All right, I've got a chance to lead a lap or lead the most laps or pass this guy, be aggressive. You're just battling yourself internally between those two things.
Most cases I think we go out there and forget about points at some point in the race and just get into racing. It's always in the back of your mind, but you just got to go out there and race and do your job. If you're focused on other things, I think you put yourself in harm's way sometimes.
Q. How much of your success in restrictor plate races this year has been the team and the car and how much has it been that you've got some experience now and you've learned a couple things that have really helped you out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, the team and car are extremely important. To my team and car's credit, they've been ready to win a plate race for a lot of years. I think I've learned how to win a plate race and have been able to do it twice this year.
I still feel they're important, but I think I've done a lot of learning and understanding of the draft and how to race a plate race. It's helped us more than anything get to Victory Lane.
Q. Obviously I know it's all about scoring the most points. How does this compare or differ from what the Chase was like for you last year? Even as late as the Charlotte race, you were tied for the points lead. How might this situation this year be similar? Still doing the same things as what you were doing in '05? Does it make kind of the outlook, the mindset, different? Last year you were looking at points, points, points. How does that perspective change when you're at the top of the board as compared with the bottom of the board right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know, to be honest with you. All I know is I'm down by 139. There's no telling who's going to have problems, who's going to have a bad race, who's going to have part failures. It's so early. Nine of these things left. One down. I don't know what my strategy is. I don't know what to expect.
All I know is down by 139. We've got to make it up. I really don't have any insight or strategy. I have all the confidence in my team, in myself, and I know that we're capable of winning this championship still. That's what I'm going to sleep on at night. Just get out there and get to work.
Q. You and your team are known for rebounding. Can you compare the challenge of the task ahead of you now to past challenges?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's what the whole season's based on, is becoming the champion in our sport. We've got a huge challenge ahead of us. I don't think it's an impossible challenge. I don't think it's something that we're shooting for the moon on. It's something we're going to have to go out and work hard for. That's no different than anything else we've done.
Q. Does your team, more so than any other team, seem to feed on adversity, they're so able to come back after having a problem?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's hard for me to give an honest opinion on that because I'm pretty biased. I think the world of my guys. I think they're the best at everything.
History shows that we're good at that stuff. We'll just kind of leave it there.
HERB BRANHAM: Jimmie, thanks a lot for taking time out from your schedule, busy week for you as you get ready for Dover. Best of luck in getting this comeback going.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You got it. Thank you. As everybody knows, this is going to be an exciting Chase, so stay tuned.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks for all the media participating. As always, we appreciate the coverage.
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