MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
HOLLYWOOD CASINO 400
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
OCTOBER 20, 2017
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO.48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS, met with members of the media at Kansas Speedway and discussed how he’s feeling going into this week’s Playoff cutoff race, his confidence in his team and pit crew, the youth of Hendrick Motorsports and many other topics. Full Transcript:
WHAT TO YOU DRAW FROM YOUR PAST EXPERIENCE TO HELP YOU DEAL WITH THE PLAYOFF PRESSURE THIS WEEK?
“Yeah, I mean it’s a tough position to be in. In some ways that crash also impacted other guys that I need to be concerned with. It kind of is what it is. We did fall a few spots in the points, but thankfully, we did score points in both of the opening stages. So, I mean I look back at Talladega and I think we all know and feel like there is going to be a ‘Big One’. I think there were only six (cars) running at the end, so, there were only a few people that actually made it through to see the checkered flag at all, which isn’t unexpected. But, coming here, this has been a great track for us. We have had a ton of speed here. I think back to this spring and how many cars we passed through the course of the day. We will have a great performance here and we are going to need to have a great day. It would be great to get back to Victory Lane and get that momentum going in the right direction, but more than anything we want to make sure that we advance and get to that next round of eight.”
HOW ARE YOU FEELING? ARE YOU FRUSTRATED? ARE YOU STRESSED OUT?
“It’s honestly everything. During the week it’s easy to get frustrated at the start of the week reliving what happened. But, we are a team and a group that thrives on adversity. Whenever we have been backed into a corner we have always stepped up and have delivered. All the members of this No. 48 team love a challenge and we are not even close to losing that desire and that fight to be out there and compete and race for the win and race for the championship. Depending on the moment in time, sure, frustration, pressure, stress, all those things run through us, but that is part of pro sports. The position I’m in, chasing my eighth championship and the desire I have to be competitive week in and week out and be part of that final four the same for my team, it’s as high as it’s ever been. We really want to be there. It’s been a tough year in some respects. The speed department has been a little tough on us. I think we have been frustrated through the summer months and that yielded poor results and we really seem to be on the right track here the last few weeks and running competitive and collecting points, which is important.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT ALL THE CHAMPIONS THAT ARE ON OR NEAR THE CUTOFF LINE?
“It really is challenging. And then you think of this track and the speed that the (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) cars have had, this has been a great track for Matt (Kenseth) and Kyle (Busch) both. I could go out there and put myself in a nice position in the points and maintain this eighth-place on the bubble and Matt or Kyle wins and shifts that whole thing down. So, it’s going to be a challenging weekend. We need to hit the track with the mindset of winning largely because of the two, speaking of Matt and Kyle, those guys are both capable of winning here and shifting the points all around.”
IS THERE ANY LESS PRESSURE NOW THAN WHEN THIS FORMAT WAS FIRST INTRODUCED?
“Yeah, it is much more circumstantial now than before when you had a 10 race, Chase, to worry about or the entire season, there was a different flow to it. Now you’ve got to stay alive and move to the next round and then within that round of races or Homestead itself there is just so much that can change. It’s all circumstances. I think that gives us some optimism we haven’t had the exact year that we’ve wanted. The No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.) has really kind of been in control of the year and I think we are all jealous of the situation those guys are in. But, I keep telling myself, what happened last year, we have to make the final four and then in Homestead who knows what will happen in that race and last year is proof of that.”
AFTER SEEING THE DIRECTION THAT TOYOTA TOOK BY REALLY BEEFING UP THEIR RECRUITMENT PROCESS AND GETTING THESE DRIVERS READY, DID HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS FEEL THEY WERE PUT IN A SITUATION WHERE THEY REALLY HAD TO START THINKING ABOUT THE FUTURE?
“I haven’t heard or seen a concerted effort on that front. When I think of or any conversations I’ve been a part of on that front, we kind of thought Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.) would still be here and then he made his announcement mid-way through the year. So, it’s not the focus of the team, we have watched the Gibbs guys develop crew members and drivers. You even look at Kyle’s (Busch) race team that he owns and how he has been able to identify and find these young guys and bring them along, which is very impressive, kind of focus that whole group has and I think it’s benefitted them really well. Hendrick Motorsports has had a driver development program in years past and it just didn’t work out as we had hoped and took a lot more time and effort than we were really able to give. The JR Motorsports relationship for us has kind of helped fill that to a certain degree. But, I think that Gibbs/Toyota and I don’t exactly know who is largely responsible for it, but the combination of their focus in that area, it’s impressive what they’ve done. Like it or not they have done a really nice job with it. We are in a position I think where it is just circumstances and young guys are surrounding me. Chase (Elliott) has been on an arch to move in through our JR Motorsports system. Alex (Bowman) now called up and then the opportunity to put William (Byron) in. We have some young guys and I think… what I was trying to get to in the beginning of my long-winded comment here, was Rick (Hendrick) has always been very good at finding young talent. You look through the years and he has been able to do it. So, I think Rick enjoys the process of finding one person, but setting up the full development program has been something he is not overly excited to do and spend a lot of time on.”
HAVE YOU GOT ANYTHING SPECIAL PLANNED FOR QUALIFYING EMPHASIS THIS WEEK? AND IF NOT, DO YOU THINK YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO USE STRATEGY TO TRY TO GET SOME STAGE POINTS GIVEN THE FACT THAT KYLE (BUSCH) IS THE GUY BEHIND YOU?
“Strategy is tough to put into place when you have these short segments that we do. So, it really does fall back on qualifying. It hasn’t been a strong suit of mine and over the last couple of years, it has slipped even more. This year we knew before the season ever started that the importance of qualifying well was going to ratchet up and be two to three times more important essentially. Even with all that awareness and the thought process and attempts to raise our qualifying performance, we haven’t yet. And we are looking at every option possible. Again, here this weekend, I personally am trying to find the right rhythm that is needed out there on the track to put up that lap time. Through practice and the three rounds of qualifying at some point I can sneak the speed out of the car and post a good lap and for whatever reason trying to back that up or do it lap after lap just hasn’t been able to pull that off. If it’s track conditions changing, over adjusting, overdriving, whatever it might be there really isn’t a clear answer. We have spent a lot of time focusing on it and we are almost to a point now where we over thought it. Are we slowing ourselves down from over thinking it in some regards? We are aware and trying hard and have been trying hard to get that right. Hopefully, we get it that is going to be really important to get it.”
HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU IN YOUR TEAM AFTER THE MISHAPS THE PAST COUPLE OF WEEKS?
“Yeah, I mean there are lessons learned in everything. When I think of the Charlotte pit stop itself and I think of Talladega and the mistake there that Earl (Barben, spotter) made and really all mistakes come from guys trying as hard as they can. I personally have sympathy for that. I mean, the guys are just trying to do the best job they can and everybody makes mistakes. I mean, I make plenty of them and I think Friday’s show that on a regular basis (laughs). It’s hard for me to jump on somebody over that. What I ask of myself is to learn from those lessons and try not to repeat them. I know that my teammates do the same thing. Last week at Talladega there is definitely a lesson in that. And just to make light of it a little bit the process of the flag being withdrawn and the lead in and NASCAR’s communication to the teams to start engines and all that. I think we took for granted how fast our crew members are. And that they were so cued up and ready and literally it seemed like three seconds time, maybe even less, gosh it was even less, the lugnuts are off and we are in trouble we are in violation. Like it just happened so fast and it came from a good place and unfortunately, it was a mistake and we will try to clean that up. But, it came from a good place.”
HOW ESSENTIAL IS QUALIFYING TODAY SINCE IT ALSO DICTATES PIT SELECTION FOR MARTINSVILLE NEXT WEEKEND?
“For Martinsville, yeah, this is huge. We all know how important that first pit box is. I’ve won plenty. I think I maybe won one or two from that first pit box, but I know it’s really useful and helpful when you have it. The few times I have been in that pit box, I mean you just need an okay pit stop and you roll off ahead of everybody. I mean it is a big advantage and everybody is aware that today counts for that pit box. So, it does put a premium on today’s efforts. I know it’s not a double points day, but it’s a double something day for sure.”
YOU’VE SAID IN THE PAST THESE TRACKS ALL LINE UP WELL FOR YOU GUYS AND YOU HAVE WON EVERY YEAR IN THE PLAYOFF FORMAT IN THIS STRETCH. NOW THAT YOU HAVEN’T HOW DO YOU NOT LET THAT FRUSTRATION FOR YOU OR EVEN FOR YOUR TEAM CREEP IN BECAUSE THE EXPECTATION IS THAT JIMMIE JOHNSON IS GOING TO WIN A RACE AND NOW YOU ARE IN A POSITION WHERE THERE ARE SOME QUESTIONS OR IF NOTHING ELSE THERE IS DOUBT?
“Yeah, expectations are an interesting thing. I mean what we live and experience within the team is usually different than the outside expectations. We are very focused on our jobs and if we stop and pull back and think as maybe the big collective group does we could get caught up in that and essentially go down the road of as you point out the 10 best tracks, the pressure to win a race and so forth and so on. As a general statement, we want to win every race. We show up at every track with the intention to win. We know that we are capable of it, some weeks are more challenging than others. We are very optimistic for here based on the past handful of races and our speeds. We have all that with us, but at the same time talking about those things, as that all goes on, the topic of doubt, the psychology between the team, the driver and the race weekend itself, we spend the majority of our days and weeks doubting what we do. That just kind of comes with the territory. We are always experimenting with new set-ups in the cars. So, in some ways the season kind of goes by quickly and you are like dang, myself, I haven’t won since Dover. It’s been a long time. We have been through a couple of good tracks and it is amazing how fast time goes by because you are so caught up in the moment and trying to find your way through and make your cars fast. Expectations they are high, we feel like we have been playing a little catch up through the course of the years, so we are managing, I guess is probably the best way to do it. Trying to manage the emotions. We know we won’t execute well if we are really frustrated. So, we are just trying to manage all of that and move forward.”
HOW DO YOU DO THAT?
“Time, experience, and different stages of trying to manage the frustration. I think that the collective group can maybe limit or hinder the growth in trying to find the solution. Where we are at right now in the openness, the talking the discussions, the way we are all working with each other, I think we have definitely hit the bottom side for ourselves this year and are in a very good place to kind of grow and end up where we want to. I really do feel that we are heading in the right directions in a lot of ways. The car is kind of the car with the speed, but through a summer of trying to find big chunks of speed, we are in a spot now where we feel pretty good about the foundation of our set-up’s we’ve just got to go race. People make mistakes, we just have to go out there and finish where we are supposed to and if somebody gives us a chance, man we’ve got to knock it out of the park then.”