AFTER YOUR WIN HERE AT MICHIGAN IN JUNE, TALK ABOUT YOUR THOUGHTS FOR THIS WEEKEND AND BEING LOCKED INTO THE CHASE
“It’s good to be back for a few reasons. We had the craziest luck over the last six or seven races or whatever it’s been. Although we’ve only won here once, it’s been a very strong track for the No. 48 and there is a lot of room on this race track, so I think I can be out of harm’s way (laughs) and get this Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet to Victory Lane. And the other piece to it is obviously having our foundation on the side of the car and the amazing relationship I’ve had with Lowe’s over the years. For the ninth year in a row they’ve allowed us to have a paint out on the car. That paint out has brought a lot of luck a few checkered flags along the way. I’m looking forward to having some fun.”
SPEAKING OF YOUR FOUNDATION, EARLIER THIS YEAR YOU ANNOUNCED YOU WANTED TO DO SOME LOCAL FITNESS EVENTS IN RELATION TO THAT. YOU HAVE ONE COMING UP TUESDAY. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT? YOU ARE DOING ALL OF THEM YOURSELF TOO, CORRECT?
“Yeah, I’ll be able to do three of the four. I missed the excursion that we had, we were racing somewhere, maybe it was New Hampshire, but I’ve had two very successful events so far. It’s neat because we give back in California, Oklahoma, and Charlotte. We haven’t done any formal fundraising in the North Carolina area. So to have these four events, the Jimmie Johnson Wellness Challenge, it’s great to have something close to home with the local media surrounding it, and to have a strong presence in our local community. And at the same time, we’re inspiring people to get fit and in the garage area, to see how many people are pedaling on Saturdays, and running, and swimming, and getting involved and working on their fitness is really cool. It’s not only inspiring; but certainly raising money for public education, k thru 12, is our focus. A lot of good things are happening.”
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE CHALLENGES THAT YOUR TEAM HAS FACED THIS YEAR? CERTAINLY, PEOPLE SAY YOU MAKE YOUR OWN LUCK.
“I want to chuckle when you say ‘make your own luck’ because some feel that I’ve just been lucky, period, and that I have a horseshoe somewhere that’s just brought luck. But in most circumstances, you do make your own luck. Sometimes you’re unlucky and somebody else’s mistake catches you up and I was a part of that last weekend on that restart at Watkins Glen. But some of the other stuff, we can probably trace it back and say it’s self-inflicted. We’re not trying to make excuses or asking for sympathy from anybody, but we can’t ignore the results and fortunately we’re in the Chase era, and we’re sitting in a great position for the seeding process and hopefully get another win or two and come in as the top seed. We’re racing the points as they exist and how they are today. It’s nice to have momentum entering the Chase. If it doesn’t happen, we’ve won championships that way, too. So, we’re taking it as it comes, but it has been a very challenging year.
“We started off without the speed that we wanted. We got the speed back and then the luck left. So, we choose to look at it as we’re getting all this out of the way so we can have ten great races and hopefully it happens that way.”
YOU WON HERE IN JUNE. IS THERE AN ADVANTAGE, SET-UP-WISE, OR DO YOU JUST START WITH A TOTALLY NEW CAR AND YOU SET-UP AND PREPARE LIKE YOU DID IN JUNE?
“Things are really changing. The best example I can give to that with the amount of change that takes place in our sport is the spring Pocono race, where we felt like we had a race-winning car. We even had contact on pit road and came back and had a shot to win the race. We came and unloaded at Pocono a month or so later with the same set-up and we were about six or seven-tenths off the pace. We had to rebuild the car with a whole new set-up under it and a new mindset to get the pace back. We have more time between the spring and the fall race here, so I would say that change is necessary to keep up. And I know that we’ve made changes coming back to make our car faster. Things do change. You do show up with confidence. The week leading into the race is comfortable and nice and you have all these positive thoughts because you won. But as soon as the Timing and Scoring booth is hot, you’re kind of in that moment and reality of what the leaderboard says then.”
NO MATTER HOW YOU VIEW THE TRAGEDY LAST SATURDAY, DRIVER EMOTION CAME INTO PLAY. HAVE YOU EVER HAD A TIME WHEN YOU’VE GOTTEN TO EMOTIONAL IN A CAR WHEN YOU’VE DONE SOMETHING WHERE YOU LOOK BACK AND SAY MAN, THAT WAS UNSAFE? IS THERE ANY WAY FOR DRIVERS TO CONTROL THEIR EMOTIONS MORE, OR NEED TO?
“Yeah, I guess the one experience that comes to mind for me in Cup, was maybe my rookie year at Bristol. Robby Gordon wrecked me on a restart and I got out and shot him the bird. So, I guess that’s my one time of letting emotion get to me and stayed on the race track to show him the one-finger salute. I know it’s a hot topic. I think that NASCAR has made the right move in redefining or better explaining; even making consequences for, letting emotions getting the best of you as a race car driver. Will that stop a driver that’s really upset? I don’t know. It’s hard to say.
“But I can say in NASCAR, one advantage we have versus a lot of short tracks around the country, and this is something that I hope changes. I hope the change that NASCAR made will work it’s way into short tracks, for sure. But another thing that I think short tracks need to look at, dirt or asphalt, and asphalt (tracks) are probably covered under this circumstance; but dirt tracks, a lot of those dirt drivers don’t have spotters. They don’t have radios in the car. And in a NASCAR event, especially if you’re part of the crash and that guy is mad at you, you’re spotter is telling you where he is. And you know as you come upon the scene that the guy is out of his car. So you know those things. I would just say that hopefully short tracks pick up this philosophy and enforce it. But I don’t know if it will change a driver’s mind as they get out of the race car. But it would be nice for the rest of the field to know what has happened and if there is a hot tempered driver on foot. Again, it doesn’t take anything away from the track. It’s just a terrible, terrible tragedy. But as we look forward and how we can make change, spotters and dirt cars, which may not be an option. It’s tough to do with how many cars they run through a show and on and on; but some series do have radios in the cars where race control speaks to the field. And if race control is engaged and says look, you’ve got a crash in Turn 1 and there’s a driver on foot, the entire field would know what’s going on. That’s just one little thing that I’d like to add and some more change that I’d like to see, personally.”
REGARDING HAVING A ROAD COURSE RACE IN THE CHASE, AND MAYBE THAT COULD BE RON FELLOWS’ TRACK UP IN CANADA. YOU HAVE TOLD ME THAT ROAD COURSES DON’T ALWAYS GIVE US GOOD RATINGS. BUT LAST WEEK’S RACE AT WATKINS GLEN, WAS THE HIGHEST RATED RACE OF THE SEASON SO FAR. HAS YOUR OPINION OF HAVING A ROAD COURSE IN THE CHASE CHANGED AT ALL?
“My comment isn’t based on my opinion of road course racing. I’m a fan of road course racing. It wouldn’t bother me to have one in the Chase. But I think the reason there hasn’t been a road course in the Chase has been to ratings and attendance. I’m not sure what all the factors were that led into making the Watkins Glen race such high ratings; obviously there was a lot of discussion leading into the race (with) the tragedy that took place. I’m shocked to hear that because we had at least one red flag and long cautions; two red flags I guess, something like that? I’m shocked to hear that, to be honest with you. But if a road course was in the Chase, I love road course racing, it wouldn’t bother me.”
REGARDING THE BAD LUCK YOU’VE HAD RECENTLY, YOU WENT THROUGH A SIMILAR SITUATION LAST YEAR HEADING INTO THE CHASE. WHAT DID YOU GUYS LEARN AS A TEAM, THAT YOU NEEDED TO DO TO REBOUND FROM THAT AND HAVE SUCH A STRONG CHASE, THAT YOU CAN USE THIS YEAR?
“Honestly, the post-season really is the post-season. We’ve entered with momentum and without. Either way, you’ve got to leave what happened in the first 26 (races) and shut that door and what happened then, and look at the present. In the past, you had a 10-race program to kind of look at, and now you almost have four categories to look at. So, the game has changed, for sure. But I think where I sit today and how I view the Chase and when it starts is the same even though the format has changed. Those ten tracks in the Chase are really probably nine or ten of my best tracks on the circuit. And if we have a slow run entering, we’ll just deal with it and rely on the team that we’ve built and who we are as individuals in each position and step-up as need be.”
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO TONY STEWART YET? COULD YOU CHARACTERIZE WHAT THE MOOD IS, YOURSELF AND OUT IN THE GARAGE, KNOWING THAT THIS IS SECOND STRAIGHT SEASON WHERE IT LOOKS LIKE HE IS FACING AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE AND HE’S A BIG PART OF THE SPOT, PERSONALITY-WISE, AND AS A FRIEND TO YOU. WHAT DOES ALL THAT MEAN?
“I haven’t been able to get in contact with him. I’ve certainly tried. I have not heard back. I would imagine there is still a lot going on and I would assume he’s being advised to keep comments to a minimum right now with all the legal things that are pending. So, unfortunately, I haven’t spoken to him. I just feel for him and for Gene Haas, the team, the uncertainty that lies there, certainly from the Tony-standpoint; and then the Ward family. As much as I’m concerned for Tony and his well-being, the pain and sorrow that the Ward family and friends are going through. It’s such a sad, sad set of circumstances; certainly a hot button for different sides and different reasons and different opinions. I think once Tony is able to talk, or does talk, I think a lot of us and many people out there will feel better hearing his side of the situation. I know what I believe happened. I think it was completely an accident. So, in time we’ll see; when Tony is able to talk and how things go from there.”
WHEN FANS SEE YOU GIVE THE ONE-FINGER SALUTE OR SOME DISPLAY LIKE THAT, IS THERE SOME ENTERTAINMENT VALUE THERE? DO WE LOSE THAT WITH TODAY’S RULE CHANGE?
“I’m sure I picked-up a few fans and lost a few fans. Now, as a parent, if my child’s hero was out there shooting the bird to another ball player, baseball player or football player or whatever it was, I’d probably try to steer my kids away from that. So, it depends. I don’t think that entertainment value should come with any safety implications. Safety is the number one priority for drivers, crew members, and the officials that are out there on the race track. And, if it turns a few fans off, then in my opinion, they’re a fan for the wrong reason.”