CHEVY MENCS AT ATLANTA: Jimmie Johnson Press Conf. Transcript

(Chevy)

MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES

FOLDS OF HONOR QUIKTRIP 500
ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY

TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT

MARCH 3, 2017

JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Atlanta Motor Speedway and discussed his past success at Atlanta, the new rules package, pack racing at Daytona and many other topics. Full Transcript:

ON ATLANTA:
“This track is so fun and so interesting and so challenging, I hate that it’s our last run on this asphalt.  But, the practice session didn’t disappoint.  It still threw plenty of challenges at the teams and certainly ours.  We are learning as we go here with this new package, start of a new season.  I’m ready to go collect some points and get some wins.”

DALE EARNHARDT, JR. TWEETED YESTERDAY THAT YOU GUYS SHOULD HAVE A MEMORIAL AFTER THE RACE ON SUNDAY FOR THE OLD PAVEMENT.  DO YOU SHARE THAT SENTIMENT?
“Yeah, I do.  I think we all appreciate tracks with so much character and to have the bad news that two of the tracks with the most character are going to be repaved this year, I think shocked and upset a lot of us.  We get it.  We understand, but it’s just going to take a long time for the track to get back to this condition.  I don’t think Darlington is really even back to where it once was and the challenges that it poses the teams.  It’s got to happen at some point and I’m sure generations before me drivers were bummed when tracks were resurfaced then too.  It’s just part of racing.”

WITH THE NEW TIRE RULE GOING INTO EFFECT THIS WEEKEND, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO APPROACH QUALIFYING IN ORDER TO CONSERVE THOSE TIRES?
“We will just have to see how it goes.  We are eternally optimistic and always think that we have a shot at the pole.  If you don’t think that in the final round you have a shot at the pole you can choose to just sit and save a lap on your tires.  It might be worth it at a track with so much wear like this.  I doubt that will happen.  The competitor in all of us is going to kick in and we are all going to think we can make an adjustment and go out and adjust the car.  It does put us, especially at a track like this one, put us in a position where we have to be conservative with our tire allotment and how we use them and how many laps we put on every set that we can take to the race.”

TALK ABOUT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS GOING TO THE ORGANIZATIONS FOURTH STRAIGHT VICTORY HERE:
“Yeah it’s been a great track for me really when I look back over my career and when I think of Hendrick related race cars and success from (Jerry) Nadeau running well here.  Jeff (Gordon) has obviously always been amazing here.  Kahne, it has been a good track for (Dale Earnhardt) Junior over the years.  It is a good track for all of us. I can say the last two races we have won here we didn’t really get our stuff situated until late in the going and been able to come out on top.  Just because you might have a slow Friday or a slow start to the race I don’t think you can count anybody out.  We have a lot of chances to work on the car and can make stuff happen here, which is really neat.”

THE SPOILER IS A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU RACED AT MICHIGAN AND KENTUCKY LAST YEAR AS FAR AS THE LENGTH OF IT.  DO YOU NOTICE IT A WHOLE LOT?  HOW DOES IT CHANGE THINGS?
“Gosh, it has been so long since I felt that other configuration.  I guess I had a chance to test in Kansas with this downforce package, but the Kansas asphalt is pretty new and a lot of grip.  At that point in time I couldn’t feel a difference and we still ran the same speeds.  Today, though I’ve had a lot of loose and I’m sure the smaller spoiler has something to do with it and our set-up.  But, until we really get into side drafting and trying to free people up from behind them or alongside of their quarter-panel I don’t know if I have a good read on it yet.”

IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TO CHASE ELLIOTT WHO SEEMS TO BE SO CLOSE TO GETTING HIS FIRST WIN IN THE CUP SERIES, BUT KEEPS HAVING IT JUST SLIP AWAY FROM HIM?
“Watching I just keep telling him ‘man you can’t change what you are doing.  You are doing such a great job.’  He has learned so quick.  Such talent that in my heart and from watching from the outside, I know it’s going to happen.  We all know it’s going to happen.  When it starts winning he is not going to stop winning.  I would have to assume in his shoes, it is a little bit different.  I know from my own experience… granted I did win early, but I had a few championship opportunities slip away before we won one.  I just kept telling myself, how many of these am I going to waste away?  These opportunities don’t show up all the time.  So, I’m pretty confident that has been through his mind, but hopefully he is also telling himself and I know that I’m telling him, but hopefully he is telling himself, ‘man I’m young, I’ve got a lot of racing left.’  He is really doing the right things.  Sometimes you are just unlucky and eventually that luck will come around.”

INAUDIBLE:
“He just has such a good sense of the race and adjustments that he needs for the race.  His racing savvy is, I guess maybe a way to generalize that.  To watch him grow over the course of the weekend and Daytona and understand the draft and the strength that his car had, he started to do things in the draft that nobody else was even thinking about and trying and making passes work that way.  So, it’s just an instinctive thing inside of him, that racing savvy that you can’t teach somebody.  They are born with it or not.  You can learn to be courageous, you can learn to go run one fast lap, you can teach yourself those things, but that in-race stuff you really are kind of born with that and he has that.”

ARE YOU HAPPY ABOUT SLIP SLIDING AROUND?  HOW DO YOU ADAPT TO A LOOSER RACE CAR?
“I love sliding around, especially when you are at the top of the (leader) board doing that.  Sliding around in 20th isn’t any fun.  Although, there were a couple of cool slides and it’s fun to be on the edge in your race car.  We want to be at the top of the sheet and we weren’t there today.  Still have some more on-track today that we can sort stuff out.  But, I think we all appreciate watching how hard the drivers have to work on tracks like Atlanta.  I guess that leads to some of the sadness knowing that this is our last race on this asphalt.  The same with Texas, Texas is going to be different.  We will enjoy it this weekend and maybe have that memorial service Dale, Jr. is talking about and come back and go really fast next year.”

WHAT IS THE BIGGER CHALLENGE HERE THIS WEEKEND DEALING WITH THE TIRES GOING AWAY AND TRYING TO FIGURE WHAT LAPS YOU ARE MESSING WITH THERE OR THE NEW PACKAGE OR IS IT A MIX OF THE TWO?
“You know what our conversations really haven’t been package related with the car.  It’s really been about tire allotment if there is a lot of cautions how you can run out of tires quickly and be in a bind.  I think most of us are concerned about tires than the lower aero package right now. I know we are.”

FROM YOUR POINT OF VIEW WHAT DO YOU THINK WERE THE PRIMARY FACTORS THAT MADE A RADICAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE CALMNESS OF THE DUEL LAST WEEK AND THE CHAOS OF THE DAYTONA 500?
“I feel like the rules package has a lot to do with it.  And I don’t know how we get around it because a few rules packages ago the speeds were a little bit higher, cars were lifting off sooner.  They have also changed the way the air comes out from the back of the race car and as you approach somebodies bumper it actually slows the car in front of you dramatically.  Where we used to be able to push them away, so now it slows that car and creates a pretty good opportunity to bump draft or slam draft.  The fact that the trailing car slows down the lead car, the cars kind of get stuck together and you really start hitting that guy in front of you and they are not going anywhere.  The crash that I was in on the backstretch, I had the No. 1 car (Jamie McMurray) hitting me from behind and it is slowing me down and I can’t get away from him to straighten out.  He has people hitting him from behind and it just leads into a big crash.  I feel like a few generations ago as you got close to somebody you really pushed them away.  There was more energy to create passes as a result and you didn’t need to hit each other as much.  But that configuration led to tandem drafting and it led to too high of speeds.  I guess through explaining a long-winded situation I don’t know how we get away from it.  I wish we could have a bigger plate.  Something just to allow the cars to have a big more energy on their own so you don’t have to rely on the bumping to create something to happen.”

BASED ON YOUR PRACTICE OUT THERE TODAY DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE A SHOT AT MAKING IT TO THE ROUND AND MAKING A RUN AT THE POLE?
“Not so much. (Laughs) Not so much, but as a driver and with Chad Knaus as your crew chief, you’ve got to let that stuff roll off your shoulders and climb in the car and pull them tight and think you can hit it.  That is one thing that I have learned through experience is, sure, you might be off in a session, but you let your team make adjustments and work on things.  And then call on your teammates and the other notes that you can learn from.  Stuff can happen.  I think last year the best example for me was New Hampshire.  We won the pole, we were nowhere near the pole in practice and ended up getting the pole.  It can happen.  The odds are low, but I’m going to get in there hoping that I nail that perfect lap.”

INAUDIBLE:
“Faith and then also experience helps.  The crew chief’s version of ‘I freed the car up a little bit’, until you understand what he means by a little bit.  It might be way different on your scale.  Once you get some history with one another you understand, it’s going to be a little free you start to believe that and when he looks at you and says ‘buddy be on your toes’ you start learning that scale.”

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THE RACE IN 2011 AND YOUR BATTLE WITH JEFF GORDON HERE AT ATLANTA?
“Yeah, I mean it’s been awhile, so I’m trying to remember exactly all that went on.  I know we had a race here where we traded the lead back and forth a bunch of times.  Man, you just want to race for the win.  Sure, you want to come out on top, but to be picked by Jeff (Gordon) and a guy that I looked up to and idolized as a young driver and to have a few duels with him, especially that one.  The other one that comes to mind is at Martinsville and I came out on top, so that is probably why it’s more vivid in my mind (laughs).  That is what you want to do.  You want to race against the best and if you lose to somebody you want it to be the best.  I can think of many cool final laps here that I’ve come out on top against Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, there was one I didn’t end up winning the race, but I ended up second behind Carl Edwards that really helped us in the championship battle in the fall.  These old tracks with this much character in them really put on some good finishes.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON DERRIKE COPE STILL OUT HERE PLUGGING AWAY?  THIS WILL BE HIS FIRST CUP RACE IN ALMOST A DECADE.
“You never know you can’t take the racer out of us.  I think Mark Martin tried to retire six or seven times before he finally figured out how to do it.  I have a great deal of respect for anyone in this industry.  We all find our way into this garage area as a crew member or a driver because you love it.  We all sacrifice so much to be here for it.  It doesn’t surprise me that there is a long span from Derrike’s last start until now.  It doesn’t surprise me that he’s out there.  I’m sure he’s probably got the biggest smile in any helmet that is on the race track and that is just because of the passion he has for the sport.”

ON HIS SHOE’S HE’S WEARING THIS WEEKEND:
“We are supporting Chase Elliott’s launch for his foundation.  I have a pair of shoes that have been designed through his foundation.  I have a horse over here on this side which my daughters are going to be really happy to see.  All four Hendrick drivers have them on and we are trying to support Chase and his efforts to launch the Chase Elliott Foundation.”

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