Jimmie Johnson Relives Daytona 500 Victory on NASCAR Race Hub
Five-time Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, fresh off his Daytona 500 triumph, talked about it on NASCAR Race Hub this evening at SPEED’s Charlotte (N.C.) studio.
Co-Hosts Danielle Trotta and Steve Byrnes joined Johnson in recalling the different aspects that steered him to lead the final 10 laps, grabbing the second ‘Great American Race’ triumph of his career.
Here are some highlighted excerpts of what he had to say…
Danielle Trotta: What has it been like since you won the Daytona 500 yesterday.
Jimmie Johnson: It’s been a fun eight to 10 hours, basically, out with my crew guys. It’s a special day for me and my family.
Trotta: That was the question we got more than any other for you on Twitter. How did you celebrate? And have you slept yet?
Johnson: We did get a few hours of sleep, better than other championship years. In the 500 before, I think I went without sleep, and that didn’t work well for the work day following. I’m on a few hours of sleep and feeling well, spent a lot of time with the crew guys, as we kept the security guards at Daytona International Speedway busy last night.
Trotta: Saw the tweet last night, ‘We’re having fun.’
Johnson: Yeah. We had plenty of fun last night. The security guards were good sports, so I appreciate that.
Trotta: A lot of people want to know the differences between your first win, and your second. Of course, in 2006, your daughter ‘Evie’ (Genevieve) wasn’t born yet. Before we started this interview, you ran over to the big video board, and said, ‘Oh my, God, my daughter’s getting so big.’
Johnson: Everybody says it. I mean, I’m with her every day, and when I saw the image behind us, she is really big. She changes so quick and fast. She’s a lot of fun.
Trotta: It had to change the element of win too. I saw your father holding Evie, you guys had a big embrace. That had to be a really special moment to have your family there.
Johnson: It is. It’s overwhelming, all of the emotions that run through your mind. Team, family, friends, fans, there’s so much going on when you’re in victory lane. The cameras are there and the magnitude of the Daytona 500 sets in. It’s a lot to take in. I have to say, my first win in ’05 until now, I have learned how to slow things down and enjoy the moment. When you’re a young driver and experiencing a lot of this for the first time, it goes by so quick, and you might not appreciate it as much as you would later in life, if it happens again. I’m certainly enjoying this, a lot more on many, many levels.
Johnson: I know my guys work hard, but the whole garage area is impressive, and that each team puts in. And everyone at Hendrick Motorsports really focuses on those fine details; it’s what makes a difference.
Steve Byrnes: Brad Keselowski said when that final caution came out, (that) you beat him back to the start-finish line by an inch. He said, when that happened, I knew Jimmie had me. Did you feel the same way?
Jimmie Johnson: I did, that was a big momentum shift. I was on the bottom with very few cars and holding my own, which was impressive to show the speed of my car. I had to aggressively use the side draft to stop the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and stop the 16 (Greg Biffle), playing the game when we have to. Then I’d look in the mirror, and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) couldn’t really break through that next car length and get to me and help me get by the 2, or gain control. I hung on down there far longer than I had seen with other cars. When the caution came out, I knew I was just ahead by a nose, and I was like, ‘yes!’ Now, just don’t mess it up, but I had control at that point. Then that next restart, I had lane choice and that was very helpful.
Byrnes: Describe the role or the competition, or however it worked between you and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Johnson: Throughout the race, we weren’t around each other much, and as a restart would happen, it was a quick scramble to get in line. The green flag pit stops also led to hitting your marks, getting to pit road and pit stops had to be flawless. Then you had the strategy, whether you took four, two or none (tires), played a key role in track position. So, through all of that, I didn’t see a lot of Junior… and I’m coming down the backstretch, and I’m focused on the 16 (Greg Biffle) on the last lap, then I hear, “88, down low, big run.” Where’s he been? I knew he was in the top five based on my spotter reading me the running order. I knew he wasn’t in the top three, and as I pulled down to defend, he had a good run coming. I don’t know how he got that much momentum but he played it right. Fortunately, I was able to get down and defend and get it around to the finish.
Byrnes: People will never remember that Matt Kenseth led the most laps – 86 laps.
Johnson: I remember… he had a strong, strong car.
Byrnes: I’m curious, if you’re in a race, do you size up your competition? The reason I ask, you talk all the way through Speedweeks about putting yourself in the right position. You knew the 20 (Matt Kenseth) car was good. In your mind, do you think you would have known how to beat him, had he not had engine trouble?
Johnson: It really would have come down to the lane you’re in on the last restart. That played a big role in things. If we didn’t have that caution, the strategy beforehand on the green flag pit stop was key; we set ourselves up for a fuel-only stop which got us out in front of everyone. I feel like we played the game exactly how we needed to. (Crew Chief) Chad Knaus called a great race, and we were in position. Depending on the lanes and how you lined up, that was going to set the tone. Coming into the 500, the 29 (Kevin Harvick) showed all the speed, but he just got caught up in that first wreck, and we didn’t get a chance to see him in action really. But through the day, not only did the 20 have a good car, but Matt is really sharp with the draft. He knows how to play it. We worked together on the inside lane a few times, and made stuff happen down there that I didn’t think was possible.
Byrnes: You did very little drafting during testing. Was it a confidence thing, that you knew you had a good car and didn’t want to put it in harm’s way?
Johnson: Truthfully, we just didn’t think the risk was worth it. It’s hard to know the changes you make when you’re on track down there - if they are making the car faster or slower – if you are in the draft because the draft, and the size of the draft, dictates the speed. By yourself, you have a stopwatch to tell you if you’re faster or slower. Now, wind conditions play into that each day and you’ve got to factor that in, but with the new car… out here in a six-, or a, 10-car draft, you don’t learn what you really need for the race. So, we just looked at it from a risk factor standpoint. Said it wasn’t worth it, stuck to our game plan and our 500 car made it through the week fine and we were able to win with it.
Byrnes: Do you think the (Gen 6) will be a good race car for Phoenix? It’s going to have a much bigger spoiler in the back. How do you think it will race in Phoenix and then maybe, Vegas?
Johnson: I feel really good about it. I wasn’t sure what to expect coming to Daytona. But I know that the styling of the car was a big winner for everybody. But the shape of the car still allows us to create a lot more down force. The car is very comfortable to drive, very fast, I think you’ll see track records fall everywhere we go. Hopefully, that comfort allows us to drive harder, and put ourselves in positions that we just couldn’t before. With all of that in mind, Phoenix is still evolving, and it will be tough to really tell, but when we get to Vegas, it’s a very seasoned track. The lanes have opened up; we can run all over the race track. I think we’ll see some great racing as it progresses.