Q&A with Jimmie Johnson from Bristol

Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed the addition of the SAFER Barriers and how it has affected the track, his history of racing success at Bristol, the effect of crashes on a driver and many other topics. Full Transcript:

TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON SO FAR AND NOW COMING TO A SHORT TRACK AT BRISTOL AND YOUR THOUGHTS AND COMING INTO THIS RACE ON THE HEELS OF A VICTORY:
“It’s always great to come back to the race track after a win. When I look back on the season I think that our 1.5-mile and restrictor plate programs at the bigger tracks we were very competitive and very proud of where we are there. The short track stuff has been a little bit of a challenge.

Phoenix was challenging for us. Martinsville, I don’t think we ran long enough to really have a chance to work on our car. We started the race and weren’t as fast as we had hoped to be. It’s been a fun Friday for us so far. That is kind of typical for me here at Bristol. Saturday, Sunday seems to go a lot better for me once I kind of get into the rhythm of the track and get in race conditions. I feel that we are doing good. I feel that we are stronger than we were last year. The two wins are great to have that under our belts. Good head-to-head battles with the No. 4 car in both situations. Vegas was going to be another really good performance for us and we ended up blowing a tire. California we ended up running much better than where we finished. Some restarts at the end kind of got the best of us. All-in-all I think we are having a good year. We recognize that we have had a couple of high spots and then some low spots as well. We want to get that consistency dialed in and perform on all shapes and sizes of tracks week-in and week-out."

YOU HAVE WON A LOT OF RACES, BUT ONLY ONE HERE AT BRISTOL. DO YOU THINK ABOUT RACES THAT GOT AWAY OR WHY YOU ONLY HAVE ONE WIN HERE?
“I honestly can’t say there is one that got away from me here. This has just been a tough track for me. I feel like what it takes to drive here would really fit my driving style and suit me. But it just really hasn’t over the years, even when I go back to the XFINITY car that I raced here. We have been a top five car typically and then that one weekend we had a race winning car and were able to take advantage of it and get the win. When I look at this track I love what this track is about. I love the history of it. I love to watch races here. I had a blast once out there. I mean it’s always fun in the car, but when you have a chance to win races it kind of spoils you. I want to be more competitive here, just because I think so much of the track. But there are some tracks that just don’t fit driver’s styles as well as others. 14 years later – I’m still and add two years of XFINITY, 16 years later I’m still trying to find what I need around here."

SO FAR THIS YEAR IT HAS BEEN LARGELY YOU AND THE NO. 4 CAR. DO YOU THINK WE ARE GOING TO SEE THAT ALL SEASON?
“I think the 1.5-mile stuff there has been – I think there is going to be more, yes. It seems like at the end of at least a few 1.5-mile races it has been us and the No. 4. But I have seen some strength from the Penske cars. I know that my teammates at Hendrick have been strong. The No. 41 has been strong. I think the year is still a little on the early side. I feel like more will be competitive as we get into the summer months and get even more company up front."

COMPARE THE INTENSITY YOU WILL FEEL HERE SUNDAY DURING THE RACE VERSUS OTHER RACES ON THE CIRCUIT:
“It’s really weird and a ½ a tenth makes all the difference in the world. If you are a ½ a tenth off and the guys are coming behind it is so frustrating, so stressful. It’s a very difficult point in the racecar and kind of dealing with all of that and the anxiety is high. If you are ½ a tenth faster than the cars around you, man, it’s great. You are having a blast. It’s amazing how little will make a huge emotional impact or emotional difference."

WITH THE ADDITIONAL SAFER BARRIERS HAS THAT CHANGED YOUR ENTRY OR THE WAY THIS TRACK DRIVES?
“No it hasn’t. We talked about it a lot before we got here. The way the barriers came onto the straightaways we had a good register of the width of the barrier and where they would kind of tie in. I haven’t seen it as a problem yet. I think where they ended in the past it was far enough onto the straightaways that our lines and the vision and what we are used to doing nothing has really changed in that department."

DO DRIVERS SUBCONSCIOUSLY LET A BAD ACCIDENT AFFECT THEM GOING FORWARD? TONY (STEWART) SINCE THE SPRINT CAR WRECK IN IOWA HE HAS JUST BEEN AWFUL. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THAT MIGHT DO TO HIM OR WHAT WOULD THAT DO TO YOU MAYBE?
“When you first mentioned the question I was thinking of a particular crash. For me there have been big crashes where I have made a mistake and I have thought about what I did there and had to learn from it and maybe flinched a few times in that situation again. There are other crashes where something broke and you hit real hard and take a nap, whatever it might be. And then you just brush those off, like ‘oh that’s cool I can move on I didn’t have much to do with it.’

“The situation Tony (Stewart) has found himself in with the sprint car accident and the tragedy I have no experience with that. I have no idea how that wears on you. I have to believe Tony like all racers, when you get in the car and put your helmet on and you go to work. We have that ability to forget about the outside and drive the car and do your job. I can only imagine what he goes through thinking about the tragedy and the loss and all of that stuff. I don’t even really know how to answer it; because that is a situation I haven’t been in. God I hope I never experience."

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FOR THE DRIVER DEALING WITH AN INTERIM CREW CHIEF LIKE THE NO. 31 TEAM WILL BE DOING FOR THE NEXT FEW WEEKS?
“The first week or two is really the toughest trying to build confidence in whoever is leading the team. You get into a flow of one another. You take for granted the things you don’t need to do with a driver/crew chief pairing that is long standing. When that dynamic changes you have to go through every single step and kind of build the confidence in one another. I think the first couple of weeks are the hardest. Then you kind of get into a flow and get going. Todd (Parrott) has a lot of experience, so I don’t see it being a limiting factor. It’s just learning the lingo, how loose, how tight, kind of those little details you pick up over time with one another."

IS THE PROCESS OF STAYING SHARP AND INTO THE RACE ANY DIFFERENT ON A SHORT TRACK?
“Your focus is always there. This race track puts a larger physical toll on the body. When you are on a 1.5-mile track you have the straightaways to worry about the draft is so important. You are still very alert and aware where the cars are behind you if you ran a higher line and how to protect and block. I think from a mental standpoint you are still firing as often on a short track versus a big track. But physically I think you just go through a lot more here than anywhere else. You might get some fatigue later in the race and then that kind of dulls the mind and you can make some mistakes later mentally. But I think it is more physical than anything."

WITH THE TWO WINS LOCKED INTO THE CHASE AND THE SPEED THAT YOU HAVE SHOWN THIS YEAR SO FAR, HAVE YOU ALLOWED THE PROSPECT OF A SEVENTH CHAMPIONSHIP TO CREEP IN AT THIS POINT?
“No, and I don’t think with this format you can until five to go or two to go at Homestead or something. It is just a different animal these days. We feel like we are one step closer to that opportunity, but once we get in the Chase there are still so many things that can go on. And the fact you have to work your way through all the elimination rounds really changes the game."

WOULD IT BE BETTER IF THERE WERE MORE OFF-THROTTLE TIME WITH THE NEW HORSEPOWER PACKAGE IF THERE IS A WAY TO DO THAT? OR, DO YOU THINK IT DOESN’T HAVE ANY IMPACT ON THE RACING AT ALL?

“No, I agree. I think if you polled all the drivers, they would agree that we need more off-throttle time. You’d think that if you take some horsepower away and take some downforce off the cars, that the car would be slower through the center of the turn, and it’s not. It’s a wild deal. It’s to the point where we need more downforce to come off the cars. It was kind of really a trade-off of power versus downforce to where we are in the 2015 package; and if they could peel off another big chunk of downforce, we would then have more off-throttle time. I think that NASCAR is dealing with quite a few issues. I believe they want to head towards a multiple race engine package and that’s why we have the reduced power and the reduced gear. And now you’ve got car owners that are tired of rules changing every year and wanting some consistency. So, I don’t know where we’re going to end up in 2016, but if the drivers had a vote and the drivers would have their wish, it would be more downforce off the cars to create more off-throttle time.

“Honestly I’d rather put the big horsepower back to this package. All the drivers feel that you have more options inside the car with more power. And the center of the corner speed would come down. Oddly enough, if we put the 900 horsepower back in the cars, we’d be slow in the center of the turn right now. It’s just the inertia that you carry into the corner. All that extra speed, you’ve got to stop it and get it to change directions and you’ve got to go slower to do so. We’re entering the corners slower so it’s easier to maintain a speed and more efficient through a corner. So, we’d love to see them throw the power back to it, but the long-term plan of a multiple engine rule doesn’t fit it."

HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO SEE JAMIE MCMURRAY’S TWEET THIS WEEK ON A DIGITAL DASH THAT THEY WERE TRYING AT KENTUCKY? WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?

“We had one in (Dale Earnhardt) Junior’s car and I was able to sit in his car and kind of get a feel for things and it’s been a high priority for us to try and get the layout right and implement it into the four cars. I’m familiar with it. As time goes on and the teams all have an adequate allotment of the dashes, we’ll be able to run them in our cars ourselves. And then I think, over time, they’ll continue to open up options for us to use. Right now, it’s set-up pretty basic. But I think in time, it will open up the options and we’ll have plenty of buttons to push to get lost in there."

WOULD IT BE MORE OF A LUXURY?

“Yeah, it will provide things to us that we’ve not had before. I’m not sure how far NASCAR would take it, but we’d love to have lap times in the car. You could have a page just for pit road and then take your tach and really spread the hash marks out on the tach mark, if you will, and fine-tune and nail it to exact pit road speed. There are just infinite options. It just depends on what NASCAR will allow us to use and put up. The track bar display could be on there right now on a separate little device somewhere else. I think long term, we’ll end up with a lot of great functionality. But they are just going to walk us into it."

DOWN THAT SAME ROAD, DO YOU WORRY THAT ALL THIS STUFF COMING INTO THE COCKPIT, THAT IT’S ALMOST TOO DISTRACTING IN THE CAR?

“Man, we’re just driving in circles, right? It’s pretty easy in there? When you look at motorsports, especially four-wheel motorsports around the world, our cockpits are pretty tame compared to an F-1 steering wheel or even the sports car stuff I’ve driven. They’ve got more knobs and switches that I even know what to do with. So, I like to see the technology coming, and I think it’s relative. I think the demographic of younger race fans and the technology-driven world that we live in, it would be relevant and I think it’s a good move on NASCAR’s behalf to give us these tools and the upgraded technology."

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