Jimmie Johnson quotes from Wind Tunnel
Jimmie Johnson appeared on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain on SPEED Sunday night following his victory in the Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Johnson gained some points on Jeff Gordon in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championship by winning the race with Gordon finishing six spots back. Johnson is now nine points behind Gordon in the series standings after entering the race 53 back. Following are Johnson's quotes from the interview:
Despain: Chad Knaus says you're the best in the business at searching and finding where the car works best and driving it there. Were you able to do that at all today?
Johnson: "Not really, I could hang on inside the top 10. But being a threat for the win really was out of the question. Jeff was having some trouble and running near 20th and I was up near the top 10 and I was trying to think 'big picture.' But the car was a handful and I almost threw it away a couple of times and I had to have a couple of conversations with myself about how important the big picture really is and not to drive over my head. With the strategy at the end and the way it worked out, I really didn't have to race for anything at the end. It worked out."
Despain: Getting emails from fans that they're so sick of seeing Hendrick cars win. What do you say to those people who are a little frustrated that it looks like it's turning into a two-man race between two teammates?
Johnson: "I'm so happy to make them mad. I've watched guys in different forms of motor sports be that guy and I even booed them and said I was tired of watching the red car win an F1 race and I was tired of watching Jeff Gordon back when he was winning 13 a year. At the same time when I was saying that, I always wanted to be that guy, so I'm very happy to be that guy."
Despain: Since you brought up Jeff's record ... we sicked the "Stat Rat" on that and came up with some numbers that compare the time you've been racing against Jeff Gordon. You've raced together 216 times. You're ahead of him in every single category that matters and you've got a championship while you've been racing together and he doesn't. But we should add that he had four before you got there. So, who is better - you or Gordon?
Johnson: "I'm going to step off to the side on that one and let the Stat Rat talk. It's been a great run for me, and Jeff has done so much for the sport and he's been doing this for a long time. I find that after 16 or 17 years, he impresses me day after day being as competitive as he is. His 'Drive for Five' is something he takes seriously and I'm going to have to work hard for it. I'm happy to race against him and be his teammate and I'm very fortunate to have my stats be what they are. I can't believe we've won 31 of these things and I'm a champion. In all the years leading up to NEXTEL Cup, I performed and had a lot of people believe in me and give me a chance and help me move to the next form of racing. But I'd won a race or two races from time to time and finished in the top five in points. So, to have my career come together in the NEXTEL Cup Series, it couldn't have been a better deal for me and I'm just so thankful for it."
Despain: Given the Roush Racing teammate story that got a lot of play this weekend ... got an email here ... how has the experience of you and Jeff battling for the championship affected your relationship?
Johnson: "You're right - there has been some effect and I think Jeff can say this as well. It's hard to continue being as open as we are with our setups and at times, it's tough to be as friendly as we had been. There's no doubt that competition breeds certain aspects of teams that aren't fun and enjoyable. But he has a lot of respect for me and I do for him. It's the same for the teams. There have been times when I've been down and out in this Chase and Jeff has won. Jeff has been the bigger man and came to Victory Lane ceremonies at Martinsville last week and congratulated me. It really is something we're working for and we know that if we're able to keep this together during these tough times, which aren't really tough - it's a good problem to have - that we're only going to make the team stronger and our effort stronger. I also look at other situations out there. There are plenty of teammates out there that are friendly and get along and if they were in this position racing for the championship, I think they'd handle it the same way. I think Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton or all three of the Childress drivers, they all race each other hard but they're not going to tear apart their teams. Neither are Jeff and me."
Despain: You're getting a new teammate next year and the obvious question is how does he fit into this? When Junior comes in, is it a three-way 'lovefest' or is he over there in the other shop with the other guys?
Johnson: "First and foremost, the way the shops are laid out, the 24 and 48 are in one shop and the 5 and 25, and next year the 5 and 88, are in another. So, that dynamic between crew chiefs and drivers between Casey Mears and Junior is a very important piece. Monday (at the Atlanta test) really is important for Junior and Tony Eury, Jr., to work with Casey and Alan Gustafson. That whole dynamic starts Monday. We finally get to see Dale Jr.'s driving style and what he's looking for in a race car. It's the same thing for Tony Eury, Jr. Monday and Tuesday are really big days for us to figure out how we bring in Dale Jr., how we start this team, what type of cars we build for them and where all that goes. We really think that at Hendrick Motorsports, we can have four teams racing for a championship and not affect any of the teams. Rick manages things in a way where all four cars should be, and hopefully ill be, racing for a championship."
Despain: When your book came out, I liked your story about how an incident at Baja and being stranded for a couple of days with the locals had changed your approach to racing. When you look back from victory lane at Atlanta to that moment you were a Baja racer, how did that change you?
Johnson: "I was way too aggressive and living on the wrong side of the line lap after lap, moment after moment and almost hurt myself. That's what really got my attention. You can drive a car or motorcycle or bike, you can flirt with that line but if you step over that line, it's going to bite you. I played on the other side of the line too long and learned my lesson down in Mexico sitting there for two nights trying to sort things out in my head. I've been a different driver since that day. I feel bad for my car owners that I had before that moment because I tore up a lot of stuff."