MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
AUTO CLUB 400
AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY
TEAM CHEVY PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
MARCH 16, 2018
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S FOR PROS CAMARO ZL1 met with media and discussed the announced end of the No. 48 team’s Lowe’s sponsorship next year and plans moving forward, his desire to continue racing, the challenges thus far this season, and more. Full Transcript:
YOU HAVE HAD SIX VICTORIES AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE RACE ON SUNDAY?
‘I feel good about it. This is such a fun track. We’ve all seen this place evolve in the multiple lanes of racing. The character of the track has the bumps, the tire wear, and puts on a great show. So, I’m excited to be back at my home track, as well, the place of my very first win and not a better place to get my 84th.
THE SPONSORSHIP WITH LOWE’S HAS BEEN LENGTHY. THEY HAVE HELPED GROW YOUR CAREER AND CONTRIBUTED A LOT TO THE SPORT. KNOWING THEY ARE NOT GOING TO BE HERE MOVING AHEAD, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS?
“First of all, what a run to have an 18-year relationship with such an amazing company. The friendships, the relationships, the way we’ve been able to deliver to their marketing efforts, the history we’ve made in our own sport, the chance I had to even drive a Cup car because of them. There are so many levels to it that I am very, very thankful for and proud of. Of course I wish we could finish it out together, but that’s not the circumstance. But then, to look forward, I’m very optimistic about the future and myself and our race team have an opportunity we haven’t had before to go out and shop our deal and see what’s out there and what we can do from a branding standpoint for a new company. Now that the announcement is out, we can get to work on that and see what the future holds for our team.”
HOW LONG HAVE YOU KNOWN? YOUR DESIRE TO RACE FOR THE EXTENDED FUTURE IS STILL THERE, RIGHT?
“Oh, the desire to keep racing is absolutely there. Races, championships, and being a part of this great sport of ours; I’m going to be around for a while. I’m excited about that. I just found out recently myself. We’re just going through all the steps now and of course letting the world know. It’s been great to see the reception that people have had. And of course fans hate to see a sponsor leave and the relationship end between the two of us. But all of the well-wishes from fans, and when you look at how long Lowe’s has been in the sport, (which was) way before the No. 48 car, they’ve really supported NASCAR through many, many decades.”
DO YOU VIEW LOWE’S DECISION IN ANY WAY AS A COMMENTARY ON WHERE THE SPORT IS AT THE MOMENT? WHILE YOU HAVE THE DESIRE TO RACE, DO YOU NEED A SPONSOR TO RACE? IF YOU GUYS DON’T FIND A SPONSOR, ARE YOU GUYS GOING TO BE ON THE STREET?
“I wouldn’t be on the street, I don’t think. That hasn’t even been a topic of discussion in the short few days we’ve known what’s going on. The initial feedback since the announcement has gone out, I’d say there’s great optimism that we’ll land a sponsor and really be able to provide for whoever that might be.
“I really don’t view it as a statement of our sport. I see our sport growing. I see many new sponsors coming into Hendrick Motorsports. I see a returning sponsor coming to NASCAR. I’ve seen full grandstands. It’s been an exciting start to the season. I really don’t feel it has a reflection on the sport. It’s a business decision that Lowe’s needed to make and that stuff happens. Again, if you look at how long they’ve been in the sport, I’m not sure there’s been a sponsor that’s stuck around this long. I’m very proud of their contributions to our industry.”
ARE THE ISSUES YOU GUYS ARE HAVING A CARRYOVER FROM LAST YEAR? IS IT THE NEW CARS? IS IT A MIX OF THAT? HOW DO YOU SEE THE PROGRESSION FROM DAYTONA 500 TO HERE?
“Yeah, I feel it’s more of a carryover from last year. I’m fighting very similar issues that I did have last year. Yes we are still sorting out a new car and some new rules, so I think we will continue to evolve that side of it from an aero standpoint, but I feel there is a little more to it than just that. We’re working hard. I feel like we’ve had top 10 cars in the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately some circumstances during the race took us out of the top 10 and we’ve kind of fought our way back close to the top 10. Right now, unfortunately, we’ve just got to have a clean weekend starting on Friday and start with track position and then try to maintain it throughout the race, and I think we can run in the top 5. I don’t have the flexibility just yet to drift back in the field or have a bad starting spot and work my way as far forward as I want. We’re working hard. Also, the ‘new’ this year also includes a lot that’s going on internally at Hendrick Motorsports. When we return from here, we’re able to kind of move back into our new homes. People all reside in one building now. And then I think there will still be a month or two before we can really see the fruit that this is going to provide for us and see what we can produce working even closer together. I still see a lot of growth for Hendrick Motorsports this first half of the year.”
HAS THE LACK OF PRACTICE THIS SEASON FOR THE CUP SERIES MAYBE HINDERED THE CHEVROLET PROGRAM A LITTLE BIT AS FAR AS GETTING THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORK ON THE NEW BODY STYLE?
“Yeah, at pre-season testing, we got a little, which was helpful. For myself, personally, we didn’t get to go to either of those two tests, so that definitely impacted the No. 48. Every time we get on track we try something new and we learn something more. More practice would help us at this point, but that’s just not what we’re going to have. Time in general is just short in the garage area. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a weekend and having a chance to work on your cars during the course of the weekend, or go to the track and test and develop to make them better.”
WHEN YOU COMPARE THE NEW CHEVY CAMARO TO LAST YEAR’S CUP CAR, IS IT EASIER TO SET-UP WITH THE AERO PACKAGE? IS IT SIMILAR? IS IT THE SAME? IS IT IDENTICAL? WHAT’S NEW WITH THIS CAR COMPARED TO LAST YEAR’S CAR?
“From last year to this year, it’s tough to draw any direct conclusions because the rules have changed and we have less downforce on the car to start with. I feel like my car is driving similar to what it did last year, so, I think that’s a perk. That’s a benefit. When you look at the splitter change and the body changes that have gone on, I’ve heard the number 300 counts down of horse have been taken away from all the cars out there. Mine feels very similar. So, I think that is a sign that we do have a better product with the Camaro body. We just haven’t maximized it yet. The No. 9 (Chase Elliott) and the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) Chevrolets have clearly been way closer to the front than we have. So, we need to look at ourselves until we’re the lead Chevy and start looking elsewhere.”
HOW INVOLVED DO YOU SEE YOURSELF BEING IN THE SPONSOR SEARCH? WILL YOU COURT BRANDS YOURSELF OR WILL THEY JUST COME TO YOU WITH SOME OPTIONS? HOW WILL THAT WORK?
“Yeah, in just the day or two that the announcement has been out, I’ve been heavily involved. I’ve met a lot of folks along the way and have great connections myself. And as Hendrick Motorsports ramps on their side, I know that they would like me involved and I know that I want to be involved. This is a really unique opportunity and it’s also a great learning and growing moment for myself. When I started at I guess, 25, and Lowe’s came on board, it was just a totally different environment back in ’01 and ’02, when that all started. I want to be involved in this process and learn along the way. And maybe a relationship or two that I have made over the years will come to fruition and maybe help with sponsorship, too.”
HOW DO YOU CONVINCE A SPONSOR THAT MIGHT BE LOOKING AT YOU AND SAYING WELL, HE ONLY HAS MAYBE TWO YEARS, OR THREE YEARS, OR FOUR YEARS LEFT AND IT ISN’T SO LONG-TERM? IS THERE ANY POTENTIAL FOR A SPONSOR THAT CAN MAYBE BE ASSOCIATED WITH YOU IN YOUR POST-DRIVING CAREER?
“Yeah, the post-driving career side is maybe something that a corporation would look at. I plan to keep racing. It might not be in NASCAR full-time, but I have many other series and types of cars that I want to race in, and a lifestyle that I want to live, and even doing fitness-related events, mountain bike races and triathlon races and stuff like that. I’m going to stay active and busy. There could be a fit for the right lifestyle brand of sorts maybe, or just a brand in general. That isn’t on the forefront of my mind. But marketing today has changed quite a bit. And as much as we all want to think corporations look at a 10, 15, or 20-year run for a marketing plan, they really do look year-to-year. So, regardless of how many years I drive, however you look at it, it’s much in the traditional thought in the way that marketers work. So, I don’t see that being a big issue at all.”
BACK TO RACING HERE, YOU HAVE SIX WINS AT AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY, MORE THAN ANY OTHER RACER. HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF FIGURING INTO THIS WEEKEND WHEN ALL THE TALK IS ABOUT KEVIN HARVICK?
“The conversation is where it should be. When you win three races in a row, that’s a pretty big statement, not to mention that if you’re going to put two races in the same box, Atlanta and Fontana would be the two, based on the surface of the tracks. Those guys have earned that right and deserve it. We’ve been chipping away at things and of course would love to look at a win and capitalize on opportunities there. We hopefully will have a very strong day today and be inside the top 10 solidly and hopefully can run there throughout the course of the race; and come that last pit stop, be in the running. I just want to be realistic about our goals. There isn’t a magic button or an easy button to his that’s all of a sudden going to put us back in our dominant ways. We need to methodically chip away at this and make our cars better and better and execute from the start of a race to the end of a race from where I sit inside the car to what happens on pit road, and race strategy and all that. Yes, I want to win. I want to win right now. But realistically we need to just keep improving week after week. Once we get in the top 5 on a regular basis, wins are right around the corner.”
LOOKING AT YOUR SITUATION FROM THE OUTSIDE, YOU’VE WON SEVEN TITLES, CHAD KNAUS ISN’T SIGNED FOR NEXT YEAR, AND YOU DON’T HAVE A SPONSOR FOR NEXT YEAR. WHY NOT JUST SAY THIS IS YOUR LAST YEAR?
“I’m not done, man (laughter). Do you want me to go away?”
WHY GO THROUGH WHAT COULD POTENTIALLY BE A VERY STRESSFUL NUMBER OF MONTHS?
“I guess maybe it’s the eternal optimist that I am. I have more to do and I enjoy the process and Hendrick is home and retirement hasn’t been on my mind. I want to win. I want to win an eighth championship. If you look at Chad’s contract, it has nothing to do with Lowe’s and where they are. It’s been on it’s own path and it’s own journey. Just because a sponsor is changing doesn’t change his environment. I’m the elder statesman in a company with three young guys. If I was to have this be the end, put Hendrick Motorsports in a very awkward position and I don’t know. There are just a lot of different ways I could look at it and say that it’s the absolute wrong time. But I guess at the end of the day it’s really my desire to compete and to compete at a high level. I’m not done yet.”
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