LEGACY MOTOR CLUB driver Jimmie Johnson was made available to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday.

JIMMIE JOHNSON, No. 84 AdventHealth Toyota Camry XSE, LEGACY MOTOR CLUB

Did you give any of Kyle Larson’s INDYCAR testing or give any advice on it?

“I didn’t watch, but I checked in on social media and saw that he had a good day. Certainly, excited for him. I didn’t talk to him before or after that specific test, but before Phoenix – maybe after Phoenix – I talked with him, just checking in to see what he thinks on the car and the experience. Looks like he’s off to a good start.”

What do you think will be his biggest challenge?
“Getting back and forth. The stress and time commitment. I was really surprised how much time is required to get through the month of May – which is just a couple of weeks of May at the track in Indy itself. Thankfully, the NASCAR schedule is much more relaxed – I guess he has a weekend of racing before as well. I think travel and being able to spend the time that he would want in Indy – that is going to be compromised a bit. It depends on weather in Indy. If it’s dry and he can get all of the laps that he intends to get, I think that will help him tremendously. If it is wet, and he’s got some conflicts and can’t get on track because of some NASCAR schedule, that track time starts to shrink, and that’s really what it is about – is getting reps in the very unique situations that you see in the race. Practice – I personally didn’t see the aero situations, and the traffic situations that came up during the race, and that is where I wasn’t as prepared as I would have liked.”

Is it good to see the change within the sport when it comes to the points system?

“It’s hard for me not to say the way I won the majority of my championship is the best way. Statistically, there is a lot of evidence that supports the changes we’ve made and where it is. The generation that I think anyone grows up in is the generation that they love the most, and I think our fan base – we are always trying to find new fans – but I think in time, we will know the opinion of the true fans that we are gathering and what they think of it. I think what we live and experience right now is the older generation and their opinion and then balancing that against statistics. I don’t know if I have a great answer. I kind of prefer the Playoffs where the 10 races, the points still totaled up to a champion. I felt like that was a good representation of both, but that is not the world that we are in now, but personally I liked that variation the most.”

What are some of the memories you have when you come back to Texas Motor Speedway?

“It’s funny now, the way the place drives, just have a lot of anxiety about turns one and two. In the previous configuration, that was really the most fun you could have on a mile-and-a-half was turns one and two. Bummed that it’s still not there, but it is the same for everybody – it is what it is. The track, where I’ve had my most success, is a track that you could run from line to wall. The bumps were in the worst place possible, but that was great and that created mistakes for the drivers and technical challenge for the teams, and I thought it made it where you really had to race the racetrack. I recently rewatched the battle with (Matt) Kenseth. We got Matt to come into the shop and relive that moment – and it will come out on social – and just reliving those moments and how racy the track was, and of course, I came out on top of Matt. I love to give him trouble over that. I really miss that old circuit. It was a lot of fun.”

With the new car, do you still have the same level of comfort coming back to Texas Motor Speedway?

“I found last year with the limited races that I’ve run is really, really different. I think the first 80 percent is normal, maybe 90 percent. But that last little bit and where you run the car – I spent a lifetime running a car off the right rear. This car you just cannot do that. From the aero platform, the tire and I believe the side wall stiffness of the tire, you can’t slip and slide this car around like I like to do. It got me in Charlotte – the last mile-and-a-half I was on in Charlotte – it got out front under me and I crashed. I kept telling myself coming into this weekend that I need to drive off the right front, and you drive through the right front and not my typical style of driving on or through the right rear tire. This track is really treacherous, and it is nice to see it widening out. I think last night with the truck race. We had some reports back with how the second groove was coming in and hopefully we are on the right pathway now to really start working in the middle of the track and widening this place out, and just go out and have some fun. Of course, I want to run as well as I can. I want to run all the laps. I want to help our company grow and really work through this first quarter, first half of the season with our change to Toyota. There is just a lot of new things that we trying to get our arms around. We’ve had some speed at times, but consistently having the speed is a big objective for us right now, and I hope that my participation this weekend helps us take a step in the right direction.”

What is your impression of driving a Toyota so far?

“I don’t have a lot of time behind the wheel, but I’ve really enjoyed the relationship with everyone from TRD and Toyota Motor North America. They race in a different way. They have very meaningful relationships and a true definition of a partnership. I’ve really enjoyed the last two years of getting to know them and the last six or seven months of really working hand-in-hand, since the end of last season. I think we have a really bright future together. I’m excited to work with them.”

Is there any way to describe the difficulty level of what Kyle Larson is trying to do?

“I can only speak from the experience that I’ve had. Practice, qualifying – you can get your arms around that and safely find the edge, but when it comes to race time, and you are dealing with guys that drive those cars day-in and day-out and know how to just dance on that edge – it’s tough, and the cars are in a much bigger aero disadvantage deeper in practice. Unfortunately, we lost some track position trying to short pit, and trying to gain track position in the race and we never got it back, and I ran back in the 20s, and you just can’t go anywhere from back there. If you are able to maintain track position and keep him up front – I think he will have a really good day. I think Kurt’s (Busch) experience really showed that. If you keep clean air on the car, I think it helps the lack of experience that a stock car driver would have going in. Thankfully, you do get a fair number of laps with the open test session and the way the two weeks unfold. You do get a lot of laps, and in that environment with some air on the car – you can get a sense for it, but come race day, man, you don’t want to put it in the fence. By the way, that wall hurts in an INDYCAR – there really are consequences for your mistakes made in an INDYCAR.”

What are your thoughts on the charter negotiation process?

“It has been a long road, and I think there is still plenty of road left for all sides. If it is drivers negotiating what they would like to see, team owners and certainly on NASCAR’s side – what they want to see for the future of the sport. I think it is going to come down to deep in the year, when everybody has to – and right now, it is still posturing. The clock is ticking, but if you look and see how much time is left – we are just getting into the eighth, maybe ninth inning of what really needs to happen in negotiating for all parties.”

Where are some of the areas that are hang-ups?

“Drivers probably have a different lens that they are looking through than the owners – but to steal a Mr. Hendrick (Rick Hendrick) line – it’s not about the money, until it’s about the money. Ultimately, there is protections that team owners are looking for, for longevity that would absolutely shore things up for them financially. Sure, there is discussions around monies that come up front from the TV partnership that are important. It has been interesting to watch. This is my first time in this world as team owner, and I’ve done a lot more listening than I have talking and letting the pros do their job, but what’s really ultimately, to me, been the most impressive is how the team ownership group has stuck together, and I think we are a lot stronger as a unified group – carrying a consistent message, and that has been more difficult for owners in the past, but the ownership group has been really committed to that, and I think that has been really useful.”

Do you wish the extended practices would return?

“Without a doubt. The practices are not long enough to make a meaningful change to the car. It is tough to develop. I certainly understand and appreciate the effort for cost savings. We are not going sit still, now we’ve put so much reliance on our simulation, and what is tricky with simulation is trying feed the pipeline of data, and the pipeline of information so that your simulation works correctly and crosses over to the real world, and the simulator that you drive crosses over to the real world. It is just really tough with how little track time there is for all teams to benefit that. As you unload, that is what you have, and so the bigger teams with more resources, just resources far and wide to unload on is where it is at. It affects the smaller teams that are trying to – that don’t have the access that they need, that are trying to feed their pipeline and make decisions. It just continues to make that a more challenging dynamic, and then you think of new teams, new drivers. There is just a lot of layers there, that I think more track time would benefit. I don’t think It needs to be what it once was with four hours of track time, but double the track time that we have now – whether it is was 40 minutes or 45 minutes – I think you could really help the field in its entirety be more efficient with its spending, because right now, you are just throwing darts hoping you are spending the right way, on the right things.”

How important is this stretch of four races in six weeks?

“Super helpful. Last year, I intended to run more events, and the unfortunate tragedy that our family experienced – it put the brakes on that, as it should have. To come back this year – on last year’s agenda, it was much more road course focus, trying to help our program get a bit stronger on road courses. We’ve shifted this year, for a variety of reasons, to run more mile-and-a-halves and the bulk of my schedule is mile-and-a-halves. To have them in close proximately to each other and then to be able to go back to Kansas twice – I think it is really going to help me extract as much as I can out of the car and help me give the best feedback that I can for my organization and directionally help us grow.”

Which up-and-coming driver do you think has the brightest future?

“John Hunter Nemechek (laughter). Were you expecting anything else? (laughter) In addition to that, I haven’t watched the support series races as closely the last couple of years in INDYCAR, sports car racing, but to see the young crop of truck drivers last night duking it out was impressive – and even the Xfinity field. There is some young talent there, and some new faces – at least some new faces for me watching, because I’ve been removed for the last couple of years – just impressed. It looks like there is some hungry and talented talent coming through the pipeline.”

What is your level of optimism going into Dover?

“I ran it in the sim on Thursday, and it drives a lot different. I don’t know how accurate that will be in real life. Given the opportunity to pick a track to go back to, I was like this is easy – I’m going to Dover. I love the area; I love the track and I hope that it will lead to a competitive performance. I’m anticipating that it is going to be quite different. Part of my success at Dover was what I was touching on early is driving a loose car and driving it with my right foot. You can’t do that with this car. The diffuser and the side wall of the tire and everything that is with it. I’ll assume I will have a steep learning curve.”

Do you have aspirations of expanding LEGACY MOTOR CLUB to four cars?

“I would do three first, and then four. Four would be quite the commitment. We don’t have any plans to now. That is not part of our objective. In time, I understand the benefits that come with three cars, four cars and the scaling that comes with it. From a business proposition standpoint, yes, I would be open to it, but we are not in that position now. We need to make sure that our two and a half cars are running the best to our abilities, and our cars are full of sponsorship – all of those economic partnerships are in place before it would happen.”

New partnership

“One last thing – we have a new partnership that I wanted to bring to everyone’s attention and offer you some free OLIPOP over at the transporter. Swing on by and enjoy.”

Toyota Racing PR