|Horrible Chevy performance has ensured Johnson has zero chance of winning an 8th title|
Hendrick Motorsport driver Jimmie Johnson was made available to media at Daytona International Speedway:
I’M LOOKING AT THE BUSCH CLASH AS KIND OF THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR YOUR FULL-TIME RACING CAREER. WHAT IS YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS GOING INTO THIS RACE?
“Coming down here, I obviously know this is my last full-time season. So, there were mixed emotions. But I’m excited to start my final year. To know that Ally is on board, Hendrick Motorsports getting the team where it is, I really feel like we have an opportunity to have a strong year on track and go out in style, with the goal of the ultimate prize. I’m really excited about that. Once I got in the car and on track, that stuff is all out the window and it’s really about working on the race car, and trying to make it go. I’m excited to be here. I know the year is going to evolve and change for me from start to finish and my emotions with what goes on. But I’m in a very good place right now; just ready to go."
YOU WON THIS RACE LAST YEAR. NOT ONLY ARE YOU COMING IN WITH THIS AS POSSIBLY YOUR LAST CLASH, BUT THE DEFENDING CHAMPION OF THIS RACE. IS DEFENDING THE TITLE IN YOUR MIND?
“Without a doubt. Every time we’re on the track, I want to lead. I want to be first, whether it’s practice, qualifying, the Clash or points race. A trophy is a trophy. Last year, we were able to win the race. It’s different with a small field with half the cars out there and the opportunity to pass; it’s a little different race. We have a new Camaro this year; a new bumper, a new nose to get used to. So, it’s a very useful race to take advantage of and hopefully learn and apply stuff to the 500."
DOES THIS RACE REALLY HELP YOU FOR THE 500?
“Now more than ever. We don’t have a chance to test, so a lot of us haven’t been in a Cup car, except for the guys that did the 2021 stuff. So, two drivers of the 40 have been in a race car since Homestead. Now more than every it’s very useful."
THE KEY IS THIS IS YOUR LAST FULL-TIME SEASON. OBVIOUSLY, THIS MIGHT NOT BE YOUR LAST DAYTONA 500. HAVE YOU LOOKED BEYOND THIS YEAR?
“Nothing yet. I have a long wish list of races and cars I want to drive and experience. NASCAR is not out of the question. If the right situation was there, I would certainly consider it. I do know that it’s my last full-time year. But, as the year goes on, I think there will be some new stuff come out. Just right now, it’s so early. I need to have my focus one hundred percent here on the Cup car. On top of that, contract cycles, budget cycles, planning for any type of racing usually doesn’t happen until August or later even. So, it’s going to be awhile before anything really materializes. I’m excited to start the 2020 season with the 48 car."
I KNOW WE’VE ONLY HAD ONE CUP PRACTICE ON TRACK. BUT LOOKING AHEAD TO CALIFORNIA, YOU GOT YOUR FIRST WIN OUT THERE. YOU’VE GOT THE WEST COAST SWING COMING UP. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE SEASON AFTER DAYTONA?
“I’m eager to get into those other races. The new engine we have, the new aero balance we have on our Camaros, we’re really excited about what it’s going to bring us. There’s been a collaboration with the Chevy teams unlike anything I’ve ever seen or experienced. We are really eager to get to California and on to see how we stack up."
“The nose is a little bit better, but it’s still not as blunt as we probably need to push at Daytona and Talladega. That part, there’s an improvement there. The rest of it, it’s just such a unique race and race track. We don’t know much else yet, not until we get to California."
HENDRICK HAS HAD A REALLY STRONG RUN AT DAYTONA 500 QUALIFYING. IS IT TOO PRESSUMPTIVE TO SAY NOT JUST WHO’S GOING TO WIN THE POLE, BUT WHICH HENDRICK DRIVER IS GOING TO WIN THE POLE?
“It’s hard to say. Last year was so good for us. Nobody likes losing and this garage area is so tough. I woke up this morning thinking something along those same lines; which of the four Hendrick cars. Then, it dawned on me that these guys have had all winter to work on stuff. There are new bodies on the Camaros. I chased that thought out of my head. I hope it comes back and we’re going to find out in this next practice where we’re going to stack up. But you just can’t turn your back on this garage area; it’s just too strong."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR LAST DAYTONA 500? IS IT BITERSWEET ON SOME LEVEL?
“Yeah, it is. I’m not sure if it is my last Daytona 500 or not. If the right opportunity came along, I would certainly entertain it. I do know it’s my last full-time year in NASCAR and, yes, it’s bittersweet. But I feel like I’ve accomplished so much. This will be my 21st year in a NASCAR vehicle and my 19th year in a Cup car. I’m largely satisfied. I won a couple races, won a couple of championships. I don’t feel like I’ve left anything on the table, and it’s really about enjoying this year and what it brings."
WHO WAS YOUR HERO?
“For me, it was Jeff Gordon. But I do vividly remember my first live pit stop at Charlotte in 2001. I left pit lane and Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace were in front of me, Mark Martin was behind me. I was like, this isn’t a video game, it’s the real deal. I am out here right now with these guys. That was a big moment."
YOUR FINAL FULL-TIME YEAR, DID IT HIT YOU GETTING ON THE PLANE THIS WEEK OR DID IT HIT YOU COMING THROUGH THE TUNNEL TODAY THAT THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF THE END?
“Honestly, since I sent out or filmed the release, I sat on it for a day or so. It gets more real the more interaction I have. I don’t expect that to change; I would imagine it’s only going to amplify as I go to tracks for the last time and get to the fall when the end is in sight."
WHAT ABOUT THE PRACTICE SESSION TODAY, WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF IT?
“Nobody was in a huge pack. We played around a little bit. It was nice to be in the car. This is the first time I’ve been in a Cup car since Homestead, so it’s nice to be out there. It’s nice to hear the engines going and seeing the social media channels excited about cars on-track. It’s more about the excitement so far. I haven’t really had a chance to really get into a racy situation yet and with 500 practice coming up, it will be single-car again. That all changes tomorrow during the race."
WHAT IS THE MOTIVATION FOR THE CLASH?
“There’s a trophy at the end, plain and simple. Every trophy counts, every trophy matters. Tomorrow night, someone is going to be the winner and I want it to be us."
DO YOU ALSO FEEL LIKE EVERY TRACK YOU GO TO, EVERY TIME YOU GET IN THE CAR, DO YOU KNOW THAT THERE IS GOING TO BE SO MUCH ATTENTION OF YOUR EVERY MOVE?
“Yeah, the winter has been pretty eye-opening with tracks trying to figure out how to create a unique experience for fans. The media interest, being on track today, I’m aware of it. It’s a bit overwhelming. I’m going to try to leave my bus a little earlier and try to take a little bit more time going wherever I go just to let it in and have some really cool experiences."
“Ultimately, I’m still here for the same reason and that’s to win. So, I can’t take anything away from the performance side. But I have to figure out how to enjoy it. It’s a stressful environment, you guys all know, at the track. I feel bad at times that drivers can’t give the experience to the fans that the fans are hopeful to have. We have such limited work time and work space. We’ve always got somewhere to be and we’re usually always late. So, I’m going to try to work on that and budget in a little more time for a better experience."
YOU’RE LAST VICTORY WAS HERE AT THE CLASH LAST YEAR. DOES THAT BRING BACK ANY MEMORIES?
“Yeah, that trophy is still sitting in my daughter’s room. She asked me to bring her a trophy home and we did, and it’s still sitting on her nightstand in her room. My life suggested that we move it to the trophy room in my man cave, and she said ‘nope, not until daddy brings another one home’, so I have the pressure (laughs)."