MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES
I LOVE NEW YORK 355
WATKINS GLEN INTERNATIONAL
TEAM CHEVY PRESS CONF. TRANSCRIPT
AUGUST 5, 2017
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET SS met with media and discussed his desire to win at Watkins Glen, hard racing with Kyle Larson, stage racing, and more. Full Transcript:
YOU HAVE THREE WINS THIS SEASON AND WATKINS GLEN IS ONE OF ONLY THREE TRACKS WHERE YOU HAVEN’T WON YET. HOW DO YOU GET A WIN HERE?
“I thought that I would win here before I would at Sonoma. I took to this track pretty quickly in the Busch days and in the Cup Series, I’ve been a top 3 car at times, but probably more often than not, a top 5 car. So, I hope to find that little bit extra to hold on with the long run speed. I seem to be able to be competitive on the short runs, but like many drivers deal with here, I just get the brakes too hot. And on the long runs I seem to give up a little bit of speed. I need to create lap time, I think, without depending on the brakes so much come race time. So, we’re working on a few things in that department. Certainly driver input plays a big role in that and I’m looking forward to getting on track. We had a terrible race here last year and were taken out early in a pretty spectacular fashion off the carousel, and I’m looking forward to a good strong run here this weekend.”
DALE EARNHARDT JR. HAS SAID THAT HE DIDN’T WANT THIS LAST SEASON TO FEEL MISERABLE FOR HIS TEAM. OVERALL, AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, IS THERE ANY ANGST OVER THE FACT THAT HE HASN’T HAD A GREAT FINAL SEASON SO FAR? IS THERE WORRY? WHAT’S THE FEELING AND MOOD ABOUT IT OVERALL?
“I know Dale is living his experience, but from where I sit and what I see going on, I just race teams trying to win races as business as usual. I haven’t been a part of any conversations that focus on that. I’m happy to see Dale so relaxed and enjoying himself and of course, I’m going to take a little responsibility for that in introducing him to the bicycle. I know hoe much happiness it brings to me and I watch that happening in his life. But, I still see a very competitive and hungry guy. He’s always done a very nice job in articulating his feelings and he’s certainly been open about his experiences this year. But inside the walls of Hendrick Motorsports, it’s business as usual. We’re not happy with where we are. We want to be dominating every race as a group. But it’s honestly business as usual there.”
“Again, internally, expectations have been business as usual. We want to win. He wants to win and (crew chief) Greg (Ives) wants to win. That team is preparing each and every week regardless of who was in it last year, to win. I think there’s more outside pressure and I think Dale is aware of his fan base and what’s written and what’s said maybe more than some other drivers. And there certainly has been pressure on that side. Inside of Hendrick Motorsports it’s just been let’s go win races. Nothing has changed there.”
“The big difference for me though is nobody has really liked me outside the car throughout my whole career (laughs), so I’ve never really paid attention to that. Dale has a fan base (laughter). I said that jokingly, obviously.”
SO YOU’RE BEING BLAMED FOR HIS SEASON?
“Oh, yes, obviously; it’s my fault. I’m a terrible teammate (laughter). We all know this.”
YOU’VE GOT THREE TRACKS LEFT. AFTER HIS WIN LAST WEEK AT POCONO, KYLE BUSCH HAS ONE. JEFF GORDON WAS STOPPED AT ONE, BEING KENTUCKY. IS THERE ANY SORT OF FRIENDLY COMPETITION ABOUT COMPLETING THAT CYCLE WHERE YOU’VE GOT ALL THE CUP TRACKS?
“I’m so out of touch with stats that I felt like Jeff and Tony (Stewart) were the only guys kind of in that conversation and then last weekend I learned that Kyle is now down to one. And I’m like well, dang, there’s somebody else in the party here (laughter). And Kyle will get it. I can’t believe he hasn’t won at Charlotte already in a Cup car. It’s safe to say that Kyle is going to be the first one to close out all the tracks, I think, with the way he runs and how good he runs at that track. I still have here, Kentucky has been a disaster for me, Chicago I should have closed a long time ago. I think Kyle, if you’re a betting man, I’d put Kyle as closing out all the tracks first.”
HAVE YOU NOTICED A SHIFT IN ROAD COURSE RACING? THERE WAS A TIME 10 OR 15 YEARS AGO WHEN PEOPLE JUST TOLERATED IT AND WANTED TO GET OUT OF HERE WITH A CAR. NOW, PEOPLE HAVE REALLY STEPPED UP THEIR GAME AND THERE IS OPPORTUNITY FOR A COUPLE DOZEN PEOPLE TO BE ABLE TO WIN THE RACE.
“Yeah, I agree. The days of a ringer coming in and outrunning the regulars just doesn’t happen anymore. I think clearly the teams are more prepared and have leaned on the road course ringers and friends they might have at other race teams to build better road course cars. I think that has been going along behind the scenes. And, at the same time, I also want to believe that the drivers coming into the sport just have a more diverse background than the drivers did 20 or 30 years ago. So, I feel like between those two, and just the pure fact that the competition in this garage area is kind of the third piece that has just equalized things and kind of pushed it ahead to where regulars are the favorites now.”
LAST WEEK KYLE LARSON SAID WHAT’S BEEN GOING ON BETWEEN YOU TWO IS JUST HARD RACING. HE THINKS IT’S FUN. HE DOESN’T THINK MAYBE YOU THINK IT’S FUN. BUT A LINE HASN’T BEEN CROSSED, AND IT’S JUST HARD RACING. WHAT HAS BEEN GOING ON FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE BETWEEN YOU TWO? IT SEEMS LIKE THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS YOU TWO HAVE BEEN ENGAGED IN A PRETTY HARD BATTLE OUT THERE
“It’s been a blast. I’ve loved it. No, honestly, I haven’t said much about it and I was surprised to see everything kind of brew up and I guess we’re always looking for a good story that’s fun to talk about. But, if the truth be told, I just race people how they race me. And it doesn’t matter if it’s Kyle Larson or Martin or Truex or Jeff Gordon or Tony Steward, it doesn’t matter. There’s that environment on the track. Through the course of the year it’s been intense with the No. 42 (Larson) at times, so I’ve been able to race him back the same way. And honestly, it’s not just singled out to just Kyle. In stage racing today, we have to block and maintain and hold position more than ever. And to see the extent that some drivers have gone through, even myself, to maintain track position; I said it after Indy that Mark Martin would have a heart attack if he was racing in this era. The game has changed. And I have had nothing personal towards Kyle. I don’t think he’s had anything personal towards me. You just get in that environment of racing people how they race you and then certain scenarios exist where you need to fight for that position for whatever reason and it is what it is. It’s just a product of stage racing. I think NASCAR should be happy they’ve created a more intense environment because that’s really what it is.”
HOW DO YOU EXPECT THE RACING TO BE MORE AGGRESSIVE THIS WEEKEND BECAUSE IT’S A ROAD COURSE AND BECAUSE THERE ARE LIMITED RACES FOR PEOPLE TO QUALIFY FOR THE PLAYOFFS? DO YOU ANTICIPATE THAT FOR THE RACE?
“I really do. There are two or three obvious areas to make a pass here. And if you know somebody is faster behind you, and you can hold them up for a lap or two and let their tires get hot or overwork their brakes, you throw a couple of blocks to protect your spot, you can keep somebody behind you pretty easily here. So, when that starts to happen, if you’re somebody that needs a win or who is desperate in points, you might have a bumper coming in your direction. So, I think that stage racing in general has really ramped this up. And then the equality in the cars and how difficult it is to pass is another component to that. So I anticipate it being very exciting here. The speeds are higher here versus Sonoma. So moving somebody out of the way is a bit trickier and I don’t think as common. But, it should be a very exciting race.”
THE FANS REALLY SEEM TO LIKE THE RACING BETWEEN YOU AND KYLE LARSON. THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT A MEGA CHAMPION RACING A YOUNG GUY AND EVERYBODY FEELING EACH OTHER OUT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?
“For me, especially with Kyle, I don’t see him as a young guy coming in. I just see him as a fast driver, fast car. My head doesn’t go there. At Indy I had just passed him and then had to deal with some lapped traffic, and then Kyle got back to me and I was defending my spot. The racing, again, just has changed out there. Spotters have a huge role in today’s racing in telling you exactly where the guy is behind you so that you can cut the air off to their car and make it more difficult for them. So, there’s just a lot of little things that drive the intensity and frustration up when you’re in a faster vehicle trying to overtake someone. But for me personally, I don’t see somebody’s experience when I’m staring at their car. It’s really about that moment and how somebody has raced you also comes into play. We’re like elephants out there. We kind of remember things that people might forget otherwise. But, it’s really just a racing thing. And Kyle is an amazing talent. He’s going to win many more races and without a doubt, win championships. So, I’m happy to have those heated competitions with drivers out there including Kyle.”
A FEW YEARS AGO YOU CAME UP HERE AND DROVE A SPORTS CAR TO PROVE YOUR SKILLS. WHAT WOULD A WIN HERE MEAN TO YOU PERSONALLY?
“I love this area. I’ve always been a big fan of this track. And, I really enjoyed my experience with Gainsco up here in their prototype (Sahlens 6 Hours Of The Glen). Running the boot was I think something that all drivers think about or dream about. So to be able to do all that and learn a few lessons along the way I carry over with the Cup car, it’s been a lot of fun. I’d love to win here without a doubt. It’s a very cool track. There’s a lot of history here. And it’s one of three tracks where I haven’t won, so I have a lot of motivation to win here.”
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