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November 24, 2009

Jimmie Johnson

DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the second of today's special back-to-back NASCAR teleconferences in advance of next week's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champions Week celebration in Las Vegas, Nevada. Joining us is reigning and now four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who drives the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
Welcome, Jimmie. That four-time sounds pretty good to you, I guess.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That sounds great. I'm so proud of what we've done. Enjoying everything that's coming with it, and it's been really exciting time.
DENISE MALOOF: Jimmie clinched his fourth consecutive series title, something that no driver has done in NASCAR's 61-year history, with a fifth-place finish in last Sunday's season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway. He won his latest title by 141 points over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin, the series runner-up, and he's on the home stretch of two days of national media appearances, first in Connecticut and today in New York City.
Jimmie, it's been a busy 48 hours I imagine.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It has. It's been real busy, but great reason to be doing some -- great chance to talk about what the team has accomplished, what we've done, and to make history here is pretty neat.

Q. I was wondering if you could put into some kind of perspective what it means for your team to win another championship. I mean, you've gotten a lot of credit, but how much does the team really kind of factor into everything?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: They're a huge part of it. We are a team. I couldn't do it without them and they couldn't do it without me. It starts with Rick and his vision and what he has given us all to work with in his 25 years in the sport. He's just done an amazing job. I'm happy to make him happy, I'm happy to make him smile.
And I look forward to what the future holds for us, as well. I think the company is only becoming stronger. I think I'm only becoming a better race car driver, and our team is working really well together. The fact we took one, two, three in the points also gives the company a lot of pride.

Q. What are you expecting from Champions Week in Las Vegas? We've gotten to used to New York over the years, and I guess you're still kind of getting your New York experience this week, but what are you looking forward to next week and kind of what are your expectations?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm excited for it. I do wish -- I do understand the reasons we were in New York, and I'm going to miss that from being here in the Big Apple. But I think from working the banquet like I have the last three years and being the champion and running around town, we're going to have a lot more free time and better use of time in Las Vegas. With the holiday shopping and all that goes on in the city, we spend a lot of time riding in an SUV from obligation to obligation. Maybe it'll allow me to have a little bit more sleep between all the fun that we're having.

Q. You've obviously had a lot of great success on the track, but there's some sort of research out there that suggests you're still not as visible as some of the other guys in NASCAR, and I'm curious whether this bothers you, whether you ever are irked by the criticism that you're too nice or too mellow or not controversial enough.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. I mean, over the last couple years my fan base has grown leaps and bounds. You can read any of the data that's provided and skewed in a variety of different ways, and there's a lot of very favorable data that's out there comparing me to other athletes worldwide and a lot of really cool things that have gone on.
And then within our sport, I'm racing with some of the great, and there's different reasons why guys are -- obviously Junior's success and Junior's popularity is there for a lot of different reasons. One way people measure things is based on souvenir sales, and our souvenir sales is one of the few that has been showing an increase. But we have had the same paint scheme for a long period of time.
So I guess the bottom line is there's a lot of factors that play into that. I'm very proud of the fan base that I have. It's a very large fan base, and it's growing rapidly.
As far as being controversial, I do my fair share of stupid things and say stupid things, but in general I try to be a good sport. My parents instilled sportsmanship in me. When I tune in to watch football, I'm not the one that's watching T.O. or Ochocinco or whatever his name is these days; I'm more a fan of Jerry Rice, a guy who's out there grinding it out, scores a touchdown and runs back to the sidelines to figure out how they're going to win the game.
We're all ourselves. I've stayed true to myself and will continue to do that as time goes on.

Q. I'm just wondering about the rookies in the Chase this year. If you can talk about that. In particular Montoya started well but he faded the last few races and then Vickers made it with a three-year-old team and he never just seemed to find his feet anywhere in the Chase. I'm wondering, can you rate these guys and their performance in the first 26 and making the Chase and then in the Chase themselves, and what kind of factors do you think played into them not having the success that a team like you did?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I have to say I was surprised that the 83 team didn't have more luck in the Chase. I know being friends with Brian, he shared with me a few mechanical issues they had that were unforeseen and led to some bad results. But in general they were so hot before the Chase, I don't know what went on during the Chase. One, it completely blew me away and the think the entire industry the success that he has had. The team has been dealing with some difficulties, financial difficulties and a merger, and there's a lot of something going on, on top of the fact he's still trying to learn these cars and tracks. So I really think that he and Brian Pattie have done an awesome job. They've showed that they're going to be around for a long time and be a team to worry about.

Q. Is this something that time fixes do you think?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It does. Experience is everything. It took us four years to really hit our stride. I look at the 5 car and Mark Martin and look at what those guys did in one year working together. It's hard to think of Mark as a rookie by any means, but he was with a new team, and they did have some growing pains getting started and came on super strong. I think time is going to help the 5, time is going to help the 42, and really all teams for that matter, especially the longer the team can stay together. The years together really make a big difference.

Q. I want to ask you two things. The first is you've been sort of barraged with all these sort of personality questions, so I'm wondering if you're looking forward to the HBO series that you're doing to kind of, I guess, answer those questions in the firsthand way. And then secondly, I'm sure you've had to weigh in on the Danica Patrick-to-NASCAR issue, but I haven't heard your answer, so can you just give me your perspective on how you think she might do if she decides to jump over to NASCAR?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the HBO stuff is going to be fun. If anybody has seen their Hard Knocks show with the football teams, or the boxing stuff, the 24/7, it certainly does show what goes on in more a documentary sense. I have no agendas to show any different than who I am and what I am and what I'm doing to get ready for the Daytona 500. So it's not a reality TV show by any means, and there are not any agendas. I'm just going to do my thing, and I know that they'll do a great job capturing it and putting it together for TV.
Danica, I'm excited for her to come to our sport, and hopefully she can full-time. I think that she will help our sport. More fans will tune in. It will do great things, there's no doubt. Wherever she goes, there's going to be a following, and I want to see our sport succeed. I think our sport is a big sport, and regardless of race or gender, it'll work great.
She's going to need some seat time. There's only been one guy -- one person that's come from open-wheel that's shown success, and that's been Juan. A lot of guys have tried, and it's been a tough road. So she's going to need some seat time.

Q. One quick follow-up, I was just wondering if you could talk about, a lot of people have talked about the physical demands and differences between driving an open-wheel car and driving a stock car. I'm assuming you agree with that. How much of a challenge do you think that is?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have not been in an open-wheel car, so I don't know what they deal with. G-forces are higher, there's no doubt about that. But we have copied our cockpit areas, our seats, to mimic what an IndyCar is like because the body is so well-supported.
I assume that the arm side with an open-wheel car, I understand that some of them don't have power steering, and in that situation you definitely need some arm strength to muscle that car around.
But our races are longer and there's more of them, so the endurance aspect is probably a little more important in our sport, where potentially kind of strength side for your arms especially would be important, and your core, for IndyCar.

Q. Between now and next week, the 20-member media panel of the Driver of the Year committee is going to meet, cast their ballots for this year's award. You won the award in '06 and '07; Tony Schumacher beat you out last year, the Top Fuel driver from NHRA. He's probably your biggest competition this year with his seventh Top Fuel title, six in a row, and I would guess Dario Franchitti is in there, also. I was wondering, with your historic championship, would you have any problem voting for yourself this year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I'd love to see myself as the winner of that great award, but I didn't realize Schumacher has six in a row. That's phenomenal. I also think Donny Schatz, him winning four in a row in the World of Outlaws.

Q. Very good, you know your stuff.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm glad I don't have to decide. It's going to be a tough decision for the panel.

Q. Has it been any more, I guess, fulfilling, humbling, odd, what have you, having caught Jeff so fast, considering his impact on the early part of your career and the performance level he was at when you first got into the sport?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it is humbling. I can remember looking at him with wide eyes, and it was like, wow, how did you do it? How do you get there? And really coming to grips with it in my mind that there's no way I would ever do it. So to be here and to have the same amount of championships and the experience and all the success we've had and race wins, it's hard to believe. When I really think about it, it is really, really hard to believe that eight years ago, I was like, hey, man, can you help me win one? And here we are with all this.

Q. This may be a tough question considering you're still in the middle of a run I'm sure you hope goes for quite a while. But do you have to reassess where you fit in the history of this sport? I mean, there's certain sort of iconic figures that people look at when they come in, and you're putting up numbers that are getting you in a smaller and smaller group of elites.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it is getting smaller and smaller, which is awesome. It's tough for me to really reflect on it when I'm still competing. Towards the end of my career I'm sure I'll focus a lot more on it, but right now we're just kind of in a rhythm of things, and I hope to keep it going. There's no guarantees it will continue. But I'm just trying to keep the same mindset, same work ethic, same focus and just see how long we can keep this thing moving.

Q. Last year we spoke to you after the race at Homestead. You were so happy, you won the championship, you said that, boy, me and my wife are just taking a nice vacation. Well, now that this year you've got four in a row, how are you going to beat that last year's nice vacation?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're going to do the same stuff and relax, hopefully take another vacation, and just let it soak in. Truthfully anymore we travel so much, I'd kind of like to be home, but unfortunately we have some stuff planned already. I just can't wait. I'll be home for Thanksgiving. I can't wait to sit there and do nothing, maybe sit in my sweats all day long and fatten up.

Q. This might be hard for you to explain, but you guys have been married. Can you explain in some small way how your wife handles your job with actually your life being on the line every time you jump into that car?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, coming into the sport, I spent a lot of time showing her the safety aspects. It's as simple as showing her the fuel cell in the race car and how it works, the seatbelts, the seat system, the head-and-neck device, a lot of different things.
And then since we've been together, the sport has changed a lot more with the new car that NASCAR has brought out and the level of safety that's incorporated into that. Soft walls, you know, there's been a lot of things that have made our sport much safer, and I thought it was pretty safe as it was before.
I'm sure there's an element of fear there, and I guess we don't talk about it too much. But she deals with it very, very well and understands the risks that I take. But at the same time we're in a pretty safe race car today.
DENISE MALOOF: Jimmie, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it. And of course congratulations.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you very much.

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