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June 22, 2020

Jimmie Johnson

Lincoln, Alabama

THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thank you for taking the time. Not that you're the specific spokesman for rallying the drivers for this stirring moment, but I know you had a large hand in what happened prerace. Start off with the emotional moment to start the race pushing the 43 to the front of the field.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm obviously very proud of our sport, the drivers and crew members that wanted to stand up today and stand next to Bubba Wallace. That's really the moral of this story.
A lot of people reached out to me in the morning with ideas, wanting to do something like the video we made a few weeks ago. I certainly have been involved in playing a role in trying to help organize, get things executed and done.
This is really a driver initiative. Many drivers chipped in. Kevin Harvick had the idea of pushing Bubba's car down the frontstretch to the front of the field, have the teams follow. I'm happy to play a role in it. I want to. I know I need to.
I feel like to see the garage area stand up as they have, as well, in the last few weeks, then again today, is just sending a very strong message. I'm very proud of our sport.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Jimmie.

Q. Was there ever any doubt in your mind you were going to do something today regardless if the other drivers were going to join in?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I went to bed early last night, was up early. I saw what was going on or what had happened. Like everyone, just couldn't believe what I was reading.
Early on this morning I mentioned to the driver group that I was just going to go stand with Bubba at his car during the national anthem. If anybody wanted to meet me there, I was going to stand with him and be there. When that seed was planted, the group really started coming up with ideas. Everybody wanted to get involved.
After the drivers had a short period of time conversing, I understood that team managers and crew chiefs caught wind, they wanted to be involved. Within a short period of time, there was a plan in place. Of course, NASCAR was behind whatever we wanted to do 100% in support of that. That's really the details leading into what happened today.

Q. How would you describe the feeling of the drivers? Are you shocked? Angry? Pissed off more than ever to do something? How are you all feeling emotionally over this?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me, I feel like I went through all of those emotions. When I woke up this morning, read the news, anger, pissed off, all of that. My blood was boiling. I could not believe that that had happened.
As momentum built and the awareness of the statement the garage was going to make, how many people reached out, how many people wanted to be involved, it shifted to just great pride for our sport.
From when I woke up, I was up early this morning, went for a bike ride, I was probably up at 5:30, saw the news, from 5:30 to probably 10:30 everything took place. My emotions just followed that from complete and total anger and disbelief to then just great pride of our sport, how we were going to support that.

Q. Did you skip the bike ride?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I got up and did the bike ride. Did a lot of thinking while I was on it.

Q. You mentioned the driver group chat that's been used to organize today and the video. Has it been more vocal since this started? How important is it to make your message very clear?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The driver chat has been around for a while. At times it's been useful. Other times there's content on there that, I don't know, just gets in the way, stuff that people aren't interested in. With what has gone on in the last few weeks, interest has been high, people have been paying attention, people have been engaged.
But I can go back to when we first started the driver council, this chat being established. There are times it's been extremely effective to find the voice of the drivers. The lesser items, they just make noise, get in the way.
The chat has been very useful. The chat also starts one‑off text messages or phone calls. Brad called me this morning, Joey called me this morning. It's really a good starting point to get something out there if it's car related or what we've been dealing with the last few weeks. It's been highly effective.

Q. Can you give us a sense of what it felt like as you walked with the car. For people watching, it was a powerful image to see. Was there any type of particular emotion or thing that went through your mind as you did something that's never been done in the sport before?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think after seeing some of the photos the first rain delay, I noticed the magnitude and impact of what we did as a group today. When we all gathered at the racecar, not everyone responds in that chat, so I knew that a lot of drivers wanted to come, but I didn't know how well‑attended it would be.
I also knew that teams wanted to show their support, as well. Until we started walking and I could see every driver there, looked back and saw each team jump off the wall and fall in line. Then to go back to the rain delay, first thing I did was looked at the phone and saw the photos. To see how many people were on pit road showing their support for Bubba, that warmed me up tremendously.
It was hard to really know it in the moment. We're obviously out there on the grid, without fans in the stands, it's a much different environment. As I looked over my shoulder, as I saw the photos afterwards, realized the power of that statement and how many people were involved.

Q. What has it been like the last few weeks to be so socially active? Years past probably not as much so for various reasons. Is this what the sport is going to be now, more and more people be more active going forward?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: When I look back, it depends on the topic. When the driver council was intact, there were things to discuss, report back to NASCAR on, every driver has stepped up and been involved. Then things cooled down. Maybe the topics aren't as relevant or as big in some regards. Things kind of slow down.
The driver group has really helped shape the rules package that we have, race formats. As we've gotten into social issues of recent times, the unity there and the willingness for everybody to be involved has been quite impressive.
I'm not surprised because we have been able to be social and help guide our sport in the past. Certainly this is something new for a lot of us. I do commend their courage and everybody's willingness to listen and grow and to stand up like we did today.

Q. How difficult was it to have the emotional moment on pit road, then go the 500 miles of Talladega?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me it was such a moment of pride that I shifted out of the dark place I was this morning and the disbelief that I had, shifted into a moment of pride. Whoever did what they did is hopefully watching and realizes that not here, not in our sport. It switched to a far different emotion than I really even anticipated. There was just great pride involved.
I know it was tough on Bubba. He was quite emotional at different points. I think he probably had a harder transition from what was taking place on pit road to firing the engine and going to work than myself for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time, Jimmie, to tell a great story. Have a great week. We'll see you in Pocono.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Awesome. Thank you, everybody. See you soon.

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