NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
THE COMBAT WOUNDED COALITION 400 AT THE BRICKYARD
INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
JULY 22, 2016
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S RED VEST CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed the progress of Dale Earnhardt Jr., having Jeff Gordon in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy SS this weekend as a substitute for him, the challenges of extremely high heat at Indianapolis this weekend, and more. Full transcript:
TALK ABOUT BEING BACK AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, A PLACE WHERE YOU AND HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAVE HAD A GREAT DEAL OF SUCCESS:
“Excited to be back, obviously. This is such a cool race track. I dreamed of racing here as a kid, but my dreams then, the cars didn’t have fenders on them. So, to come back and still have a chance to race here, and still have an opportunity to win four of these things, hopefully a few more chances to pull into Victory Lane and celebrate. Then even head out to kiss the bricks would be really cool. I guess from a race standpoint, I’m glad that we are here with this package and not the package we had last year. Very difficult to complete passes and kind of get around the race track. It was a much different experience last year, and I was a part of the test last week. It was nice to have the cars drive like they did from the ’14 season.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK JEFF GORDON’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE WILL BE GETTING BACK INTO A CAR AT THIS TRACK?
“I guess the people part. He has so many laps in a race car, and so many laps here, The (digital) dash, they can move it and change it out however they would like. Once the excitement of being on the track the first time goes away, and the butterflies subside, he’ll be out there and do just fine. I don’t see it being difficult for him. Sure, maybe a little rusty when he gets started, but once he gets in the flow of things, his last interaction with a crew chief was will Alan (Gustafson). I think it is really his first time working with Greg (Ives). So I think it is more people-related leading to what he ultimately wants which is to win here. I think he is going to have a great experience. He is going to be fast, and competitive. All of that. But to really find that last little bit, I think is more in relationships and building those relationships in a hurry.”
YOU HAVE WON THE DAYTONA 500 WITH AN INTERIM CREW CHIEF, SO IS IT HARDER TO WIN WITH A CREW CHIEF AND CREW YOU HAVE NEVER WORKED WITH BEFORE?
“Yes, I think it is largely because the group is together; working together and then someone pulled out. For Jeff, he has been away from this side of the garage area. He’s been out of the race car. He doesn’t know these crew guys and as we all know, the relationships that exist between driver, crew chief and engineer is really where the speed lies. I do think it is a different situation. It is now impossible to pull off, but it is different than what I have personally experienced.”
HAVE YOU BEEN INVOLVED IN THIS PROCESS WITH JEFF?
“Honestly, I haven’t been that involved. Rick contacted me and let me know that I would see something soon, and Jeff would be in the car and they thought it would be just Indy. I guess when I was told that Alex (Baldwin) was going to be in the car. It was the Thursday before New Hampshire, and then, if needed, Jeff would be in the car. Honestly the release that I saw the other day said Jeff would be in the car at Pocono too. Things are moving very quickly, and in today’s world, there is very little time between a decision and a press release. Or a decision and the media. If Junior and Jeff and those guys inside the No. 88 team with those individuals, and I haven’t been a big part of it.”
HOW DO YOU CATEGORIZE THE UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY THAT JEFF HAS TO WIN HIS FINAL BRICKYARD 400?
“He didn’t close the door. He said if the right opportunity came along, he would get back in. At the same time, he wasn’t like Mark Martin who thought he wanted to stop, and couldn’t, you know. Special opportunities I think we’ll see him, and I think it is great for our sport. It is great for Hendrick Motorsports. The responsibilities that Jeff is developing outside of the race car, this is a great connection point to see what the drivers at Hendrick have been talking about. The aero package. The power curves. The way our cars drive. All that stuff. So this is a very good opportunity for us in a lot of ways; certainly for Jeff as an individual to try to win a sixth.
“It is big. The way it worked out obviously, but to have Tony Stewart in his final race, Jeff Gordon in his final race – Part Two, it is a big time. Jeff has always been so well supported by the fans at this race track. I can only imagine how loud they are going to be at driver intros; and how bonkers this place would go if he is able to win.”
YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY IN FANTASTIC SHAPE, BUT IT’S REALLY COME-UP FOR A LOT OF DRIVERS. HOW ARE YOU GOING TO HANDLE THE HEAT SINCE IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE SO EXTREMELY HOT OUT HERE? IS THAT SOMETHING YOU FEEL LIKE GIVES YOU A BIT OF AN EDGE?
“Yeah, I do. But heat is tricky, though. I had an issue in Richmond a couple of years ago when the air conditioner that blows cool under my helmet went out and it turned into a heater, actually. I cramped and then the cramping led to me passing out in front of cameras and everybody to see. So, that wasn’t very fun. Really, I find that heat training and trying to cyle or run in the heat of the day, as brutal as it is, does help. It helps me mentally try to win that battle. Also, it helps me to understand it from a nutrition and hydration standpoint what I need to do to function so that I don’t cramp. But it is a very delicate thing. Some people are more sensitive to heat than others. And I truthfully have always been that way in my career, even going back to my motocross days. We would always have a regional championship in Las Vegas in the middle of summer and I was always very sensitive to heat and wouldn’t have good races there. So, it’s something I’ve always had to work on. Chad has been aware of it and has tried to keep me cooler in the car. And then, the fitness has hopefully led to me being stronger in that moment; but also in the knowledge of keeping my body where it needs to be.”
HAVE YOU TALKED TO DALE JUNIOR AT ALL? WHAT’S THE IRONY OF JEFF GORDON SITTING IN AN EARNHARDT CAR, GIVEN THE FAN RIVALRIES THROUGH THE YEARS?
“I haven’t thought about that aspect of it. I did talk to Jeff. And I said, ‘Man, at least you’re going to be in a familiar looking race car. Different number and all, but with Axalta on the side. And then, that is one of the rare phone calls I’ve had in the last month. Everybody texts now, so Junior and I have texted often. I’ve even texted with Amy a few times just checking on her and how she sees things through her eyes. They’re doing well. And we also saw the Tweet this morning from Junior. So, it’s kind of a day-by-day thing for him. And to read those encouraging 140 characters was pretty neat to see. Hopefully he is healing quick.”
WHEN IT WAS ANNOUNCED THAT JUNIOR WASN’T GOING TO RACE, YOU RESPONDED THAT IT JUST WON’T BE THE SAME WITHOUT JUNIOR THERE. WHAT IMPACT DOES HE HAVE ON HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS THAT WE DON’T SEE?
‘That’s a great question. For starters, we all look for different things in our race cars. I hadn’t spent a lot of time with Alex (Bowman) before, but there’s certain characteristics that I can apply from Junior’s feel and from his set-up to my car; and right away I felt like man, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that now. I won’t have him in a team meeting. I won’t be able to really get in his brain and understand why that shock works or whatever it might be. That part was missing. And our friendship and respect for one another has just grown over the years and I just enjoy being around him. At times, it can be a little quiet in our truck and it’s fun to head next door and climb in the truck and just shoot the breeze with him. He definitely keeps things light-hearted and fun and has an amazing wit, which we’ve all seen. It was different leading into the weekend and Friday. But once we got into the car on Sunday, and I had a change to be around Alex…..i thought he did an amazing job filling in for the race team and then there was that unfortunate situation with the tire going down and him crashing. But, you learn people and I’ve really enjoyed having him as a teammate. I miss him and can’t wait for him to get back.”
HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS HAD A ROUGH PATCH HERE RECENTLY, BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO COME HERE, A PLACE WHERE YOU’VE OBVIOUSLY DONE WELL.
“We love big events. That’s one thing about Hendrick Motorsports. We look at the 500 and the 400 and all big races as an opportunity; and are excited for it. And I guess last week is kind of a good example of some of the difficulties we’ve had. We had competitive cars all running in the Top-11 and in one corner we lose two of them. It’s been tough, but I think we have a good foundation to build from. We have respectable finishes in our cars, but nobody wants to be a decent finisher or a respectable finisher. We all want to dominate. And, we’re working real hard on all fronts; from our engine shop, chassis shop, aero, teams, pit stops, and all of it. But we’re all highly inspired to get back on top of the mountain, as is where we feel we should be at Hendrick Motorsports. I guess we’re tired of looking through the silver lining and hey, we did have four in the Top-11 with 30 to go before a crash happened. And, I’ve lost a bunch of cars here recently. I’ve been in the wall a bunch. So, we’ve got to quit that. I slid through my pits last week (while) running near the Top-10 and had to start 25th or something and got back to 13th. So, we’ve just got to clean it up on all fronts. Hopefully we have it all together here and can win.”
RAY EVERNHAM SAID IT MIGHT BE GOOD TO HAVE JEFF GORDON BACK IN ONE OF THE HENDRICK CARS BECAUSE OF THE INPUT HE CAN GIVE YOUR ENGINEERING STAFF. DO YOU AGREE THAT HE MIGHT PROVIDE A FRESH PERSPECTIVE TO HELP YOU IMPROVE?
“Yeah, I totally agree. We’re months in, and I feel like all the drivers have expressed where we could be stronger and what we might need, but a fresh set of eyes and I guess it is kind of biased, but versus the four drivers in unbiased evaluation of the car and where we stack-up and how the engine feels compared to others. And Jeff has had a unique opportunity to see the sport from a totally different angle; and certainly watching cars and I know he’s formed some opinions watching other race cars and where the Toyotas might beat us. So, to be able to sit in the car and look for those opportunities and moments, I think will be helpful for us, for sure.”
YOU MENTIONED SLIDING THROUGH THE PIT STOP. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE PRESSING AT ALL?
“Oh yeah. And that’s the problem. I’ve been at 110 percent and you make too many mistakes there. I think our team has too. And I think our team has, too. So, that’s one thing we have recognized and we’re going to really try to dial back and make sure that we run where we should. If we have a fifth place car that week, let’s be sure that we at least finish fifth. Maybe there’s some opportunities to give us a chance to win, but stop making mistakes. And, I’ve got to do that, first and foremost.”