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NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: DAYTONA 500 QUALIFYING


February 15, 2015


Jimmie Johnson


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

THE MODERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, we've been joined by our second place starter in next Sunday's 57th annual Daytona 500, Jimmie Johnson.  This is Jimmie's fourth career front row starting spot for the Daytona 500.  Obviously he'll be starting up front alongside Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon.  This is the fourth front row sweep for Hendrick Motorsports in the Daytona 500.
Jimmie, congratulations on a front row starting spot.  Just tell us maybe how important it is to share that front row with your teammate, know you're locked in for next week already.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, it's nice to be locked in on Thursday for the Duels.  You don't have to take any big risks or chances.  It's nice to know we've got a great starting spot for the 500.
We'll enjoy the week.  More so on an emotional level this sends a big thank you back to all our folks back at Hendrick Motorsports at all the different shops and departments.  They've been working hard to get our cars ready for the season.  To get a front row sweep says a lot.
The only way the drivers can really thank everybody for their hard work is to go out and stand on it.  We did a nice job working the qualifying sessions like we needed to to advance and knocked down that front row.
THE MODERATOR:  We'll open it up for questions.

Q.  Jimmie, four Hendrick Chevys and four Gibbs Toyotas in the top eight.  Is that who it will be on Sunday?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Hard to predict.  We saw last night with all the chaos.  I feel amongst those eight cars, you have eight really good drivers with the draft.  I think our eight cars over the last few years have been maybe just a little step ahead of the competition.
Traditional thinking, yes.  We just don't have a clue.  I think last night's the best evidence to support that.  Although one of those eight did win that race, so...

Q.  When you realized that you got the last position there coming off pit road, did you think you were in the catbird seat at that point?  Conversely, did you think you might have waited too long?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  We had some cues, timing marks, what we thought we needed to leave pit road at.  That time came and went.  I really felt like no one was going to get back in time, and I would be on pole position, 11 would be next to us.
As we were making the lap, we got up to speed, through the gears, covered so much territory, they're giving me my cues, I think most are going to make it and I'm in a position where I'm not going to make it.
We knew what the risks were.  In order to get the pole, you've got to take a big chance.  That could be front row or 12th.  But 12th at a plate track is not the end of the world.  We were willing to take the risk and gamble to be there.  We made it around faster than we could.  I thought I was out.  I thought I was going to miss the cutoff on the time.
It was very easy for me to wait the majority of that time because I thought they were going to run the clock down and no one was going to get a timed lap.  At one point I'm sitting there thinking, Sweet, let's wait each other out.  I'm going to end up with pole, no third session.

Q.  We've heard a lot of drivers talk about how hard the teams worked to prepare Daytona 500 cars, all the engine work, then what a waste it is to come here now and go through this format.  We didn't just hear about it today from people that were angry, we heard about it Thursday when people were talking about what they could expect.  Do you feel any better about the way the format is here or would you rather it all be about the one car, the one shot?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Man, it's tough because I think everybody's trying to keep an open mind on what's best for the sport, what creates the most interest.
I guess maybe we should look at viewership numbers and attendance numbers to see if this format supports the risks that the teams are taking, drivers are taking in the cars.
On a side note, they're probably happy there wasn't any testing.¬† If we had any more days of single‑car testing in the cars they'd really be mad, the guys that tested today.¬† We say all that, we're frustrated about today, but we got to race on Thursday.¬† That doesn't seem to bother people.¬† Maybe it's just because it's always been there.
So trying to think about the car owners, the expenses that are into all of this, that Thursday race could be frowned upon in a certain situation.
I don't know what the right thing is.¬† Fortunately, I drive for a big team, a well‑funded team.¬† I would be bummed if we lost our 500 car, but we have good backups.¬† Maybe I don't have the best point of view on it.¬† Trying to do what's right for the sport.¬† That's why I go back to stats.¬† Not trying to take a soft way out.
At some point in time in order to grow the sport, somebody has to be unhappy.  I don't know where that falls.  Hopefully we can look at facts and stats and say, yes, this is better and it is worth the five cars we lost.  If it didn't move the needle, then we should try to rethink things and the five cars we lost wouldn't be worth it.

Q.  I know you probably wanted to sit on the pole, were hoping that the clock would run out on everybody with you sitting on pit road.  How meaningful is it for you to be starting alongside Jeff in his last go around here at Daytona?  How fitting is it he'll be leading the field to green on that day?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  It didn't go through my mind that way.  Sure, I wish I was a few hundredths faster and got the pole.  But I just haven't thought of it in that light.  I guess I should.  As the year goes on, it will become more of that.
To start next to him in his final Daytona 500, it's really cool.  Depending on how the results turn out, it could be a bigger storyline yet.
Again, just to take it back to the team, there's so much time and effort that goes into this, to have the front row locked down, I don't know where Mr. H is, but I know he's smiling pretty big.

Q.¬† Some of the drivers have said under the single‑lap format it was really showcasing what the team and the engineers and the car could do.¬† Today put the driver into the equation with the pole.¬† Elaborate on that, please.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  We definitely have to drive the cars today.  It's maybe borderline a chess game, too, because you're playing the clock.  You definitely don't want to be the first car off pit road.  It's kind of a waiting game.  Who is getting impatient.  Who can afford to wait.
The way we were positioned, really through all three segments, we knew the 48 was in the 500, so we were playing with house money the whole session.  As we got to the third one, it was first or 12th, didn't matter.
So our point of view might be a little bit different on all of that.¬† But we have the single‑car runs, we get all these things that it's boring, like watching paint dry, but you don't tear up cars.¬† Now we have something a little more exciting, but we tear up cars.¬† Doesn't seem to be the popular way to go about it, but I don't know what the solution is.

Q.  Seems like most of the drivers who didn't make it into the final round did not like this today.  We heard a lot of that at Talladega as well.  Ultimately don't you guys as drivers control how that's going to go?  I don't necessarily mean the wreck, but who goes when.  Isn't that all in your hands and you guys can control how this plays out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  No, without a doubt, it really is on us.  The thing that most aren't thinking about is restrictor plate racing is so different.  If this was at Atlanta next week, you wouldn't have the same dynamic, count on the draft.  The fact that this is a restrictor plate track and you have to work with others creates all this frustration.
But it really is in our hands.  We're the ones steering and standing on the throttle.

Q.  Can you understand how some people think this would be confusing since you and Jeff were the 11th and 12th cars in line and you were the two fastest, and the first car in line was the slowest.  Does it seem like it goes against everything that's supposed to make sense in racing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Man, in the dictionary, restrictor plate racing equals what you just asked.  I mean, it's just so backwards, you know.  I mean, it's just plate racing.  It's physics.
Diehard fans get it, for sure.¬† They understand the draft.¬† Went on a big bike ride that were pro cyclists and tri‑athletes the other day.¬† They came here, and the draft exists in their world, and they got it.¬† They were like, The guy last in line is going to be less energy on the car, they can go faster.¬† I'm like, Yes, you got it.
I hope everybody gets it.  I doubt it.  But it's just physics.  I guess it's hard to explain all that sometimes.

Q.¬† Is there any part of this that is more fun for a driver than single‑car qualifying?¬† Everything we ever heard was, Anybody can get in the car, hammer the gas.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  We were bitching then, we're bitching now, aren't we?  Must be racing (laughter).

Q.  Is there any part of the chess game that is enjoyable?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I've had a decent amount of success with it the last two or three plate tracks.  I feel like I'm understanding how to work it.  So I don't have the worst opinion of it.
It is weird, the waiting game.  I get it.  That part is frustrating.  But I don't know how we make entertaining restrictor plate qualifying.  Unless they run us through the chicane on the backstretch or something, I don't know how we make it entertaining.

Q.¬† Taking out the random nature of a wreck in a restrictor plate race, which is more challenging to you as a driver, single‑car qualifying or going out in these packs?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  These packs are definitely more challenging.  On a single car, you just get it through the gearbox and follow the yellow lines.  The speeds are slow enough that the car is well under its grip level, the limits of the vehicle.
Once you get 40 cars around you, low air, speed goes up 20 miles an hour, then the car is tough to drive.  That's what we have with this group qualifying session.  You're actually in there driving the car.
There is some luck involved, where you are in line, why the car creates a faster time.  But there is much more driving required in the group qualifying session.

Q.  Carl was in here and said the Duels on Thursday will be insane.  Is he right?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I don't think so.  I've expected stuff to go haywire in the Duels every time, and I don't know if I've seen a crazy Duel yet.
The fact of the matter is there's six cars that need to be crazy, and maybe it's four and two or three and three in a race, however it works out.  Those are the only ones you really have to worry about.  The bulk of the group plays it smart.  We don't need to lose our cars, no need.  I think they will be tame, personally.

Q.  Is it ever disconcerting that the perceived entertainment value of your sport seems to go so far in determining the rules of competition for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  At times it seems like it's in question, for sure.  I feel like we got to try, though.  We've had a lot of change over the years.  Look at the last two or three years, there's been a ton of change.
As long as the needle is going in the right way, I guess we're doing it right.  There certainly are plenty of chuckles about that.

Q.  You mentioned the clock running down at the end.  Is there anything in this type of format that prevents you going up to the front, simply stopping, but not letting anybody else around you get that last lap in without the time expiring?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  There's only so much you can do to block, and NASCAR made it known if you would do that, they would penalize you.
So, again, you don't want to get spun out, run into, damage your car.  I don't think you could really block all that effectively.  You might hold someone up for a beat, but it wouldn't be too long.
One thing I was just thinking about, pull it back a second.  We were in Talladega, qualifying we all thought would be based on a practice session result.  This was a couple years ago before group qualifying.
If I remember right, everybody loved that practice session, how we had to race for our lap time.  Then that's the stuff that NASCAR heard.  Then group qualifying came into play.
So after a bunch of positive input through a practice session that led to a rule, now we're having second thoughts.
I don't know how we keep everybody happy.  It's just a tough, tough balance.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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