Toyota Racing – NCS Daytona Quotes – Jimmie Johnson – 02.14.23

LEGACY MOTOR CLUB driver Jimmie Johnson was made available to the media on Wednesday prior to the Daytona 500.


What was the motivation to join the Extreme E series?

“I think anything that we do as a company in any form of motorsports that we compete in, I intend on it coming back, somehow or some way to benefit our Cup program. NASCAR is our core product, and I think there are many opportunities in Extreme E to reach a new fan base, reach new partners. There’s some new technology coming out in 2025 with those vehicles that happens to align very well with Toyota and their vision of sustainable forms of energy to race with in the future, so there is a lot of layers to it. I think in ’24 they have a smaller schedule. It is easy for us to get in and get our feet wet and see and decide what we want to do for ‘25, but really excited for the opportunity. Going to lean on Travis Pastrana and Gray Leadbetter to jump in pretty late in the game. Gray’s there and Travis will be there soon. He had some obligations to wrap up, but I’m really excited to go get dirty again. It’s been a long time since I’ve been either off the ground or upside down, and I think both things could happen in Extreme E.”

How does the sponsorship work in that space?

“It’s a similar process and I’m trying to understand that landscape better. I can say with my time in the UK the last six or seven months, that I’m just impressed with the amount of fandom around all forms of motorsports, and the corporations that are active in European racing and the amount of interest in what’s going on over here in the States. So, I’m definitely taking advantage of my time in the UK and try to network and expand, and time will tell if it really comes together, but car culture and motorsport fandom in England is impressive.”

You are in the unique position to be a NASCAR Hall of Famer that can win a race. What does that mean to you?

“It’s a good question. I didn’t realize that. I truly am in this race, the nine races this year – will see what comes about for next year, because I just want to race. Of course, I want to win. Of course, I want to add to the win list and the other aspects of what I’ve been able to do in the sport, but that’s not why I’m here. That goes with saying – that when I put the helmet on – I want to win. That’s just how I’m wired. I’ve shared the reasons why I’m out there. The purest of all is that I just love driving. I love racing. I’m excited to be here for those reasons.”

Is your schedule based on sponsorship and is nine the number of races?

“Nine is the number. I was kind of around the 10 number, but for Toyota and my team and what we can do, nine seems like a great number for this first year. Partnerships really did dictate that. I had an open race or two to pick, and I chose Dover and Las Vegas, because I have so many other mile-and-a-half tracks on the schedule, so I thought I’d throw those two in as well.”

Is the second year a pivotal time for LEGACY MOTOR CLUB?

“I don’t know. I physically wasn’t around a lot last year for obvious reasons, but I was still heavily involved and when you look at the partnerships, and Toyota coming on board, I’ve been quite active on the revenue or marketing side of the business. I think we’ve made some great hires in our executive leadership group on the corporate side. We are making some huge strides there. We’ve basically doubled in size in a few short months, so there is a lot of growth, but my involvement has been pretty steady and consistent. It has been really impressive to watch everyone work so hard. There are really so many men and women working countless hours to help us make a huge step forward this year. I think this year, I hope, that we do make a huge step forward and everyone can see it and it’s noticeable. After that, I think after that it becomes incremental. It is going to be tough to chip away at the people at the top and the people that we want to race with and race with on a consistent basis.”

What do you do to knock the rust off with a part-time schedule?

“It’s very little. It’s just the way things play out and work out for all of the teams. I’ve been in our simulator a little bit just to work on pit road and get those reps in place. I ran a couple of single car laps around here, which really doesn’t do much for you. I feel like I’m well prepared for qualifying and my shifting locations and kind of the technicalities of that, but then the Duel is that opportunity to knock the rust off. It’s been since May since I’ve been in a Cup car. I did do some vintage car racing, but a much different animal than wheeling one of these cars around.”

What have you seen of the change of Denny Hamlin through the years and what has been the constant?

“His commitment to his craft. He’s had that from the early days. When we were competitors, it was hard – we still are – but the Toyota family does offer a layer of being on the same team. I’ve spent more time chatting with him on his perspective on many things here recently than I have in all of the years that we were truly competitors on the track. He was nice enough to give me a lift down here today, so we got to chat some more. The competition aspect – everyone is kind of in their own lane – but he was always committed to always growing his skill set and I know he studied my work at Martinsville for many years. Next thing you know he was the guy I had to beat at Martinsville, and watched him kind of evolve and always have that mindset to work and hone his craft, and then spending time today talking to him about the ownership side, and his new building opening up and their vision on where they are going and how involved he is – I’m able to see more of that. He’s constantly evolving and trying to recreate himself as a driver or as a business man.”

When see the role that Denny Hamlin is willing to take now, what do you think about that?

“I think that speaks to part of his evolution. He has his podcast. He is very opinionated and is very honest about his opinion and has certainly been honest about where his motivation is coming from with those boos. It’s not easy to do – I think when I watch, I see an authentic Denny (Hamlin) responding in that way. He’s not making it up and it’s not bothering me, and he goes home and it’s really bothering him – I really think it is fuel for him. I don’t think that Denny Hamlin that showed up in ’05, ’06 – somewhere in there wasn’t at that point. It’s tough to be at that point early in your career, but his evolution has led him to this place.”

Has anything changed in your desire to compete?

“There are aspects of it – the grind of it, certainly wears on me. I know that is why I didn’t extend to run INDYCAR and sports car last year. I had an opportunity to do so, but the commitment it takes to run a full-time season in any championship, I just knew that I didn’t have that amount in me to run 17 INDYCAR races and a handful of sports car races. But the desire to drive and to race and compete and to have the nerves in my stomach, or butterflies, the focus that racing requires, I truly long for it. There are aspects of it, I think we all know it being on the road, there are certain aspects of it that you wish weren’t there, but to truly do the job. I love it. I’ve chase it my whole life. To put in the context of a musician or something, it’s like asking a guitarist to put down their guitar at 48 or 45. Even stick and ball pro sports, late 30s is when most of them have to hang up the cleats. When you spend your lifetime doing your passion for a job, and then you have to put it away, it just doesn’t seem realistic to me. That’s the thing I keep chasing.”

What do you think the perception is going to be when you roll off in a Toyota tonight?

“Everybody has just been so kind on Twitter, I’m just going to have a standing ovation out there.”

What do you recall about this race in 20 years when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won?

“I don’t know. It was my first real trip to the transporter to meet Bill (France) Jr. and Mike Helton. Mike showed up with a VHS tape and put it in about an hour after the race had finished. I had to stand up in the hallway with (Greg) Zipadelli and (Tony) Stewart and (Chad) Knaus and myself, just glaring at each other – no one really wanting to say anything. It was really uncomfortable. That’s honestly what I remember most about that race. I’m glad Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.) had a good time and was able to win. There with what happened to his father, I recall the magnitude of the win.”

What has the transition process to Toyota been like?

“It’s been overwhelming in the greatest of ways. The amount of data that we have. The tools that are included with that, tools that we need to design and create. We literally had to hire software coders to create the tools that we need because this is a new system, new software for us and we have a lot of responsibilities on our side to receive all of this information, but it has been a great journey, a great partnership. We are thankful that they believe in us, and we look forward to taking a big step forward that I mentioned earlier. We know it is going to be tougher as we go here, but it is truly a partnership, and we are very thankful for it.”

You’ve won this race twice. Does that take the pressure off coming in here?

“For my 19 consecutive years, I’ve wanted to win. It added more pressure to win again. It is the only race that you can win that bestows a title on you, so it is the single largest race that we have. The biggest resume builder. It might be the opportunity to get you in the hall of fame. There is so much that hinges on the Daytona 500 for our sport.”

How does not having a guaranteed spot change your perspective going into the race?

“This will be my third time going through it. My very first Daytona 500 I had to go through and (Chad) Knaus brought a killer car down here and we won the pole, which made life very easy. Last year was quite nerve wracking. We assumed we didn’t have pole speed, and then the whole guessing game on will we outrun the other non-chartered cars, and here we are again. I do feel like I have less stress on me this year, than last, but when I’m standing on the frontstretch and watching cars go by and see the lap times, I’m sure that will ramp back up, but it is a serious moment. We really hope that we can put our best foot forward here in qualifying and be one of those fastest two cars, and not have to worry about anything else.”

How do you contrast the two things of being the race that has the most eyes on it, but it may not take the most talent or skill to get the win?

“It is tricky as we all know. The thing that I see in recent years is just how important track position is and that doesn’t mean that the big one won’t happen and somebody that wasn’t at the front of the field or someone that was being more cautious setting themselves for a good finish or a chance to win – that still can happen, but I feel now more than ever that people are now racing every lap. I didn’t necessarily ride here, but I would in Talladega – trying to protect championship points for the Playoffs. It wouldn’t necessarily win me the race, but I could run top-five and I could hold court with whoever I was racing against or sometimes pull out on them because they were caught up in the big one, but there is nobody who can race that way anymore. It’s not possible, and the way this car drafts – the last car in the group has the most downforce on it. There is less aero benefit of being back there than ever before. Everybody is afraid of being the last car in line, so it really does create a racing environment versus in other years.”

Is there anything about Toyota psychologically that is different or distinct compared to what you are used to?

“I’ll touch on that. I have to start with that the way we race today is much different than my last year in 2020. The demand that is on the manufacturers today – they really control data, and the progression of the technology is different. All of the years that I was at Hendrick, Hendrick really led all of that. Of course, GM helped, but there was less of a technical demand on GM, and it was much more of a marketing relationship, not all marketing but Hendrick did the heavy lifting on the technology. It is so different now, so it is tough for me to compare, because I am with Toyota now and the manufacturers are required to provide so much, so it’s not true apples-to-apples comparison, but the thing that really stands out to me spending time with Toyota like I have is why they have the specific car count and their laser focus on the teams that they have and how they can provide and their philosophy behind that. It really is amazing, and we are fortunate to be on receiving all of the rewards on that. It is very tough to be in that and the family and the partnership, and we are there and I can see how special that is now that we are in there.”

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