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August 23, 2020

Jimmie Johnson

Dover, Delaware

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by our third‑place finisher, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet.

Q. Jimmie, how do you approach this week racing your teammate for the last playoff spot? Not only are you guys teammates and you guys share information, but you're going to a superspeedway where traditionally teammates work together.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's going to be a really interesting race in Daytona from that respect. But at the same time, it's still Daytona, and in my opinion, "the big one" or all the wrecks that can happen is really going to determine who makes it into the playoffs.
We did the best that we could here over these two days, had two respectable results, closed the gap, but now it's kind of in luck's hands or in fate's hands down in Daytona at the plate rate.

Q. In terms of information sharing, open book between you guys this week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, always has been. It was that way racing my teammates for championships; it's certainly that way going into a playoff race.

Q. Jimmie, the last few laps of this race given what's on the line, how much pressure were you feeling? How much on the wheel were you in those laps on two tires?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Not much pressure. I was so excited and so happy to have the view I did sitting there up front and have control of the restart. I knew when we hit the gas and the 4 car was able to stay with me I was going to be in trouble. I needed to clear him into 1 and quickly I realized that my left sides were pretty exhausted and just didn't have the grip we needed in them. We had a really good car and I really credit Cliff for making that brave call for two tires. I think we were one of the fastest cars if not the fastest car over the last two runs, just unfortunately clawing our way back in from losing track position, and we didn't have the best stop two from the end, so we really just had to gamble.
I really appreciate his courage to do that. It netted a better finish. Certainly wish there was more there, but a great couple days here in Dover.

Q. Matt DiBenedetto is only +9, so there is a path now for the both of you to make it in, so maybe working together, the both of you can climb in. How do you feel about that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, it's so hard to know how things will play out down in Daytona. If you get single file and it's the old track with high tire wear, which it won't be, you can work with a teammate and really try to create some opportunity, but if we're all running in a big group, luck is going to play a bigger role in things for the majority of it. I mean, if you have a dominant car and you can lead the race and control the lanes up front, there's an opportunity there, obviously, but I feel like luck and fate is going to kind of control the outcome of this.

Q. You talked about luck and fate. Does that mean your experience means nothing next Saturday?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's hard to say it would separate me. I look at this weekend and think my experience played into my hand and helped me gain points on the two cars that I needed to. To go to Daytona where you don't really work on your cars, you're in a draft, in a pack, there is some skill needed in the draft to make that work and to create opportunity, but I think it's a smaller window of opportunity than what we have on a traditional race.

Q. What will your stomach be like this week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I've been doing this too long to worry too much. Championship pressure, thankfully I've been through that a bunch of different times. Maybe that's‑‑ I guess actually maybe that's where experience will play through for me this weekend and I'll be able to keep my head on straight, think, keep my emotions in check and really race with a clear and open mind.

Q. With a run like you had this weekend and obviously today especially, I'm curious how much you needed this mentally because obviously we know what's at stake for the playoffs at this point, but to have a solid run back‑to‑back days and to improve on this second day of the double‑header, how much do you feel like you and this team needed this as you approach the next 11 weeks?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, we definitely need it. Momentum really works for you in either direction, and to run good at Daytona, to run decent at Michigan, to take these two races this weekend, top 10 and a top 5, that's all going the right way, and it helps me. It helps every one of us on the team.
Who I think it helps the most is really Cliff and my guys on this team that have been giving me everything they can week in and week out. I sense that they're probably more concerned about me finishing strong than I am. I mean, they really‑‑ we have a great relationship and a great bond, and they want to give me every chance to win going out.
I truly appreciate their point of view and what they're doing for me, and I'll keep willing it as hard as we can, and hopefully we can get it done.

Q. With as meaningful as this racetrack has been to you in your career, how does it feel to end your time at Dover, at least your full‑time career, with the runs that you had this weekend?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It feels good. This place is a blast to drive. I've always enjoyed coming here and making laps, and if the phone ever rings and I can pick the Cup race to come back and run, I would choose this track. We'll see what happens out there in years to come.

Q. With next week potentially being your last NASCAR Cup Series race at Daytona, with the stakes that they are, is this one of the biggest Daytona races that you've had to deal with in your career?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Honestly, I haven't thought about it in that respect. I've kind of felt like that race is going to be the pivotal race for us to make the playoffs or not, especially since I missed the Brickyard 400. Maybe someday down the road I'll look back and think of these last trips to tracks and moments, but I'm just wired a certain way, and I think all competitors are. You keep looking forward and you don't spend much time putting a lot of emotional value into things.
You know, I've been doing that all year long, and I'm running out of races so I guess at some point it'll probably hit me, but right now it's kind of business as usual and just focusing on the job ahead of me.

Q. Jimmie, you said you were excited on that final restart, but after the speeding penalty, you restarted 30th and then you slowly marched your way up to ninth. What was your mindset going into that second stage after such a costly penalty?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I felt like we were going to recover and have a decent finish, and I saw we put the 21 a lap down, so I was encouraged for the points situation there. And then I slowly caught the 24 and I could see that orange bumper on his car and felt like we minimized the bleeding to them, and just hoped for cautions. I knew the only way we'd have a shot to win was a couple cautions to bunch the field up, and hopefully a few good restarts to go with that and pit stops to get me the track position. So just praying for those late‑race cautions and we got them.

Q. How encouraged by the team's fortune turning around, and would you say you attribute that to the 48's new paint scheme?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're not superstitious, but just in case, we changed the color of the car, just in case there was something in that.
I really feel like it's been here for us, and we've just been kind of affecting ourselves or hurting ourselves throughout the last couple of months and losing opportunities to perform and shine.
I still think we're missing some pace and we don't have dominant pace, but runs like today, to run in the top 5, to run in the top 10, we should have been doing this all year long and not having to worry about points going into Daytona. I'm pretty bummed about that, but when I look back at the DQ at Charlotte, got a goose egg in points there and then I missed the Brickyard 400. If we just score some points in those races we're in a much different position right now than we're in.

Q. You mentioned how experience has served you well with handling the pressures of the playoff battle, but what are some of the ways that you've key pressed, kept calm and avoided the distractions that would otherwise serve as a distraction for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I feel as you get older and more experienced in anything you do, you learn what to worry about. When you're young you worry about everything because you don't want to overlook something that's important. But I feel experience really buys you that knowledge, and you know where to focus your energy and not just wear yourself out worrying about everything all the time.

Q. I know even though you've had a year before with Chad on another team's pit box, now that you guys are battling weekly for playoff spot, have you guys exchanged any pleasantries or talked any trash down the stretch?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No trash talking, but we did see each other a few times on pit road. Neither of us want to be in this position. I think we both know that here we are with one race left, and it feels like everything is on the line. But we've had 25 races‑‑ I've had 24 versus their 25, to not put ourselves in this position.
You know, I think we both reflect back on the year and the moments that got away, and we'll just go see how a restrictor plate race can settle this thing.

Q. On Friday you said it felt odd to be in this position fighting with your teammate for the final playoff spot. Now that you've finished these races, now that it's come down to just you and William Byron and Chad Knaus who you had so much success with, how do you reflect on this going into Daytona knowing that in order to get to the playoffs you may have to knock out your former crew chief who you won your seven championships with?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We've kind of seen it coming, right, the last couple weeks. The thing that is very encouraging is we now have the 21 car there in the mix, so we both can get through, and we'll just have to race smart and see how stages play out and then obviously the finish at the end of the race next weekend.
You know, at the end of the day for the 24 car, I wish them the best. They're my teammates. That car and that number, Chad Knaus, William Byron, they're friends, they're teammates, and now that I know there's a path in for both of us, maybe I'll stop thinking so many bad thoughts about those guys and maybe we can both get in.

Q. The No. 48 team has had to go through a lot this season. We had the pause back in the spring, had to go through the driver change back at Indianapolis and of course now there's this playoff push but you guys haven't finished worst than 12th over the past four or five races. My question is how proud are you of the resiliency of this 48 squad?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the resiliency that you see is what I feel and know and live with day‑to‑day with these guys. They are a great group of guys. They're giving me everything that they have and I'm doing the same, and the bond and connection and energy and vibe on our team is real.
It's nice to have it rolling the right direction for us. We've had some positive momentum a few times this year, and then something would derail us for a few weeks and we'd get it back going. It's nice to have it going right now. These guys deserve it, and we certainly hope to close out the season strong.

Q. This past weekend has been basically the story of 2020: Denny Hamlin wins one day, Kevin Harvick wins the next. I know you've had seasons in the past where you've been the one that's been dominant, but when it's the same two guys each and every week, is it almost demoralizing for the rest of the field?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know. I've been there. I've been that guy, and I know how hard it is to get there. I know how hard it is to stay there. And I know how awesome it feels to be there.
My emotions are just jealous it's not me or envious that it's not me. I want to be that team. Those were the greatest moments, to walk into a track at the Cup level and know that there's a pretty good chance you're going to be the guy taking the trophy out. There is nothing that feels like that.
Those guys deserve it. They've worked really hard to be in this position, and my advice to them would be enjoy it. You just never know how long it's going to last. They're both doing a great job. The 4 has been able to link together a lot of years like this, and I again know how tough that is. So I have more respect and appreciation for what they're doing because I've been through that and know the challenges that come with it.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Jimmie. We appreciate you taking the time, and good luck next weekend in Daytona.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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