MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
PRE-SEASON MEDIA AVAILABILITY
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
JANUARY 22, 2019
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 ALLY FINANCIAL CAMARO ZL1 met with media and discussed his thoughts on the 2019 season, his new crew chief, the new rules package, and more. TRANSCRIPT:
YOU HAVE A NEW CREW CHIEF AND IT’S A NEW SEASON. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
“I’m ready to get a new chapter for the No. 48 started and get to work. A lot of work has been going on. As we all know, the off-seasons usually challenging, and this one definitely is with the new rules package. And to see all four teams and crew chiefs and our engineering staff grinding and working as hard as they are together has been very, very inspiring and very cool to see. We get our first real shot at a test this year at the end of the week, I guess next week, in Las Vegas, so I’m excited to get to the track and get going. It was fun to announce the paint job of the car. So, we’ve been clipping along and staying busy during the off-season and I’m just excited to get going in 2019.”
HOW DOES A DRIVER AND CREW CHIEF GET ACQUAINTED? HAVE YOU SPENT TIME? HOW DOES THAT WORK?
“A few cold beers help. We’ve done that a couple of times. And, we’ve had some great team kind of hangouts, as well. Nothing overly complicated, but there will be some new faces on the No. 48 you’ll see at the track. So, just some good hang-time, honestly. It’s just been good hang-time. We’ve stayed in communication multiple times during the week and the progress of cars and builds and ideas and the hiring of some new people; so we’re off to a great start. And thankfully, I have some history with (crew chief) Kevin (Meendering), and worked closely with him when he was the lead engineer on the No. 88 car. So, I haven’t had to start from ground zero in building my relationship with Kevin. That’s been a nice thing.”
DOES IT FEEL LIKE YOU’RE STARTING OVER?
“I’ve never been in this position, I know that much. There is a lot of ‘new’ to it, there’s no way around that. But, I do have the history of knowing everybody here at the shop and the history of the No. 48 and all that, so it doesn’t feel totally new, but largely new, for sure.”
DO YOU LOOK AT IT AS A CHALLENGE? IN SOME WAYS YOU MIGHT WELCOME A NEW CHALLENGE AND IN SOME WAYS MAYBE NOT
“It definitely is a new challenge and I welcome it. One thing that I did know was that the way things were going and where Chad (Knaus) and I ended up, that needed to change. It wasn’t bringing the best out of either one of us and we weren’t delivering like we needed to. So, I knew that much, for sure, last year. And then I’m just excited to get this fresh start and see where it takes us.”
WHEN EVERYTHING WAS OVER A NEW YEAR’S, DID YOU WAKE UP THINKING HEY, WE’RE DOING THIS. THIS IS THIS YEAR AND I’M GOING TO FOCUS ON MY TEAM AND GO FORWARD. WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST THOUGHTS?
“I don’t know quite how to say it. I’m trying to think through last year. I guess I’m always optimistic and I’ve always felt like we were still going to win a race last year and sadly we didn’t. We came close and the Roval and had some okay runs, but I haven’t put too much time and effort into analyzing it. Last year is what it is. And, I don’t think we had the best year as a manufacturer and as a company. And then, certainly, on the No. 48, we didn’t maximize what we needed to. But, there is this whole sense of starting a new chapter of the No. 48 that brings a lot of optimism. So, It does feel, like we were talking earlier, like a fresh start.”
WITH WHAT YOU SAW LAST YEAR IN THE ALL-STAR RACE AND THEN AT THE TEST WITH THIS PACKAGE AT ATLANTA, FROM A FAN’S PERSPECTIVE, HOW WILL THIS BE DIFFERENT FROM WHAT THEY GOT TO SEE LAST YEAR ON THE TRACK?
“The speeds are going to be a little bit higher than what we had at Charlotte. And then, I think depending on the track, it’s really going to showcase this rules package and at some tracks, I think it’ll put on a great show and at other tracks the potential is there but it might not do what we want. I think we all new that inside the competition space of NASCAR teams and drivers and even NASCAR has as well. They needed to make a decision. They needed to make a change. We know this isn’t going to be the perfect package everywhere, but I do feel like at the majority of the tracks it will be highly entertaining.”
SPECIFICALLY, WHEN YOU GO TO THAT LAS VEGAS TEST, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE UNKNOWNS THAT YOU’RE LOOKING TO LEARN MORE ABOUT?
“Vegas has so much grip, I think it will be pretty forgiving for the package and I think will put on a pretty strong show. I did the Atlanta tire test last year and there was a lot of tire falloff. I don’t know how the package is going to do in that environment. At California, again a lot of tire falloff. Cars can start close together and then spread out. So, I think the tracks where the tire falloff is low, we will all have grip regardless of where you’re running on the track; and dirty air won’t make that big of a difference, and it’ll be really entertaining and put on a good show.”
WHAT IS YOUR HUNGER LEVEL? WITH SEVEN CHAMPIONSHIPS MAYBE YOU THINK OH, I’VE DONE ENOUGH. BUT THAT’S NOT REALLY YOUR MAKE-UP. AFTER LAST SEASON, WHERE ARE YOU IN TERMS OF YOUR FIRE AND DESIRE AND THE DRIVE FOR EIGHT?
‘It’s honestly never been higher. The past is great and I’ve won seven championships and 83 races, but that’s then and this is now and I’m still as hungry and focused and dedicated as ever. And, having a year like I did last year also ramps-up the intensity some, so I’m just ready to get going.”
FOR THE DRIVERS WHO ARE NOT GOING TO THE TEST IN LAS VEGAS, HOW WILL THE DRIVERS AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS THAT ARE NOT GOING BE ABLE TO LEARN FROM IT? WILL YOU BRIEF THEM?
“Yeah, we’ll debrief for sure. I guess the guys who went to California have current data with the new rules package. So they’ve been able to update their simulators, their simulation, and really get a nice head start on the foundation that builds the year and all the tools that we work off of. So, we haven’t had that chance yet. We’re looking forward to in Vegas. I wanted to go into the GM simulator prior to Vegas. We literally don’t have the aero channel and the technical side locked down to even use it right now with this package. We can rough it in, but it’s not exactly what it would be so I’m not going to go. Once we do and we get the aero mapping loaded and all that stuff right, then that’s where it will be really useful. So, we’re really excited to have the January test and honestly, it’s the first domino for us to really start validating our tools and get them working.”
SO WHEN YOU GET BACK, WILL YOU SIT DOWN WITH THE DRIVERS AND TELL THEM WHAT YOU FELT AND BE A LEADER IN THE CAMP OF HELPING THEM UNDERSTAND IT ALL?
“Yeah, our meetings will start back up and I’m sure my teammates will reach out to me and obviously we’ll be posting the database. The way the weeks work, I’ll have a chance to download with everybody and answer any questions that come up.”
APPARENTLY YOU’VE BEEN UNVEILING YOUR NEW PAINT SCHEME FOR SEVERAL WEEKS WITH INSTAGRAM AND SO FORTH. HOW DOES THAT WORK? HOW DID YOU PUT ALL THAT TOGETHER? IS THAT SOMETHING YOU WORKED BEHIND?
“No, I had to buy in; but Ally had the idea and they just wanted to do something different. They used the phrase that they want to be a ‘disturbing force’ and just do things differently and they did. And, it was fun to watch that play out and read the comments to see if anybody picked-up on it and no one did until the very end. It was pretty cool.”
WHO DID THE SOCIAL MEDIA POST WITH THE FIRE AND FLAMES?
“Oh, Scott Dixon.”
TALK ABOUT WHAT SCOTT DIXON DID. THAT WAS WILD
“Yeah, I made those shirts last year and sent them to a few friends that had mentioned they wanted one. And Dixon sent me a text three or four days ago and it’s like, I finally wore my shirt, take a look (laughs). And, he pulled the shirt up to where my face was over his face and added some cool special effects with flames and all that. So, pretty well done.”
THERE WAS A LOT OF SOCIAL MEDIA BUZZ OVER THE CHILI BOWL RECENTLY AND A LOT OF NASCAR FOLKS GOT INVOLVED IN THAT. I’M CURIOUS IF YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON THINGS FROM IT THAT MIGHT APPLY TO GENERATING MORE BUZZ AROUND THE NASCAR WORLD. GRANTED, THAT’S A ONE-TIME EVENT VERSUS A SEASON-LONG DEAL, BUT WHAT DO YOU THINK?
“I just think that in motorsports in general, we need guys to cross over from a local level; although the Chili Bowl is huge, but their Midgets and more people typically get their starts. Our stars come back down and run and put on such a great show. That helps them and I think it helps us. It also helps that community and there are a lot of young drivers that are trying to find their way up. Hopefully we can get more crossover going, even between IndyCar and NASCAR or NASCAR and Formula 1 or whatever it might be. I feel like we had a lot of heroes that we looked up to and those guys would race anything and everything. And in the last 20 or 30 years, we’ve focused more on championships than we have marque events. And I completely understand why, but it’s really nice to see people trying to move around and race other things. Hopefully we’ll have somebody trying the double again at Indy and Charlotte. There is a lot of good that comes from those opportunities.”
YOU WERE ABLE TO KNOCK OFF A BUCKET LIST ITEM WITH YOUR DEAL WITH FERNANDO ALONSO. ARE WE GOING TO SEE ANY MORE TEASER VIDEOS THIS SEASON FOR SOMETHING ELSE ON THE HORIZON?
“We don’t have anything planned yet. There will be footage coming out soon of the day. We’re trying to get it all edited up now and find a home for it. So, that will come out. But I don’t have anything else planned. I have some great new friends at McLaren and they have lots of things getting involved with, racing-wise. So, down the road there could be some opportunities there for me, potentially. I’d love to go endurance racing with Fernando. We joked about that some. Nothing has developed from that yet, but hopefully down the road we can send some more teasers out and have some more fun.”
AS WE GET CLOSER TO DAYTONA, ARE YOU THINKING THIS IS MY YEAR LIKE SO MANY OTHER DRIVERS ARE?
“We’re all tied for first right now. There’s not doubt about it. And then with the changes that each team makes, everybody is optimistic and excited. We’re definitely in that mix as well and excited to get going.”
HOW DIFFERENT WILL THE NEW PACKAGE BE AT PLACES LIKE POCONO AND ATLANTA AND HOMESTEAD AND DARLINGTON COMPARED TO WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO RACE WEEK-TO-WEEK?
“Power-wise, we’ll be the same. But there’s a variation with the air ducts that come in the front. Internally, we’ve talked about those air ducts and the way they work. They punch a larger hole in the air. So, I think there’s an argument and we need to kind of prove or dis-prove how much that helps or hurts the racing. The bigger the hole, the bigger the weight behind; the harder it is to run behind someone through the turns. On the straightaways in a place like Indy where you have long straightaways, it allows the car to draft up and potentially overtake. But when you have shorter straightaways, are you at more of a disadvantage through the turns and will it hurt the racing. So, I think those are some things we’re going to have to sort out. Obviously the slower speeds and the lower horsepower should keep us closer together and that’s the balance that NASCAR is playing with. How much can we slow them down to keep them together through the turns? And then, how much air can we push out of the way so they draft up on the straights?”
DO YOU FIND IT OFFENSIVE WITH EVERYTHING YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED WHEN PEOPLE SAY YOU NEED TO RETIRE OR THAT YOU CAN’T GET IT DONE ANYMORE? WHERE DO THEY GET THAT RIGHT? DOESN’T YOUR RESUME SORT OF STAND ON IT’S OWN?
“Resume, and then my own; like I get to say when I’m done. It did weigh on me through the course of the year and I can’t wait to win and win often. And I think that would be something really nice to say back to all those people that suggested that I was washed-up and done.”
IS IT COMFORTING TO KNOW THAT KEVIN MEENDERING DOESN’T SEEM RATTLED OR FEELS LIKE THERE’S ANY PRESSURE ON HIS SHOULDERS?
“Yeah, it is comforting. I had that same early observation early in the meetings before we offered the job and he took it. Like he doesn’t seem really worried about this whole thing. As time has gone on, I’ve learned more about him and that’s him. He just doesn’t get rattled easily. He believes in himself and his work ethic and data and we’re going to put our heads down and work in this direction and figure it out. So, it’s really nice to have that and not have to worry about second-guessing. We’re just going to stay focused and work on this thing.”
JEFF GORDON IS GOING TO GO INTO THE HALL OF FAME NEXT WEEK. CAN YOU REFLECT ON HIS CAREER AND WHAT HE’S MEANT TO YOURS?
“I don’t even know where to start. When I just started driving for Chevrolet and was racing their off-road trucks, I was always asked what do you want to do? Where can we help take you? IndyCar was always on my radar growing up on the West Coast. But then, here’s this guy with a really bad mustache making his way in stock car racing and the name that I followed and watched through Thursday night thunder, my dad is a huge Sprint Car/Midget fan, and it’s like oh my gosh, I’m not Jeff Gordon on a big level, but that’s Jeff Gordon, right? The Diet Pepsi car. That’s him. To watch him do all that he did and to firsthand watch the doors that it opened for drivers that did not grow up in the South. They grew up racing in the dirt. He really changed that whole outlook for owners. A lot of opportunities came through those doors that he opened. And then specifically, when he decided to start the No. 48 car and picked me as the driver changed my life forever. So, to work with him, to work under him, to be mentored by him; personally and professionally he’s had such an impact in my life prior to me ever living in North Carolina, just being a fan sitting on the couch all the way to well, he stood up at my wedding and helped me meet my wife. So, he’s been a huge part of my life and I’m really proud of him.”