Transcripts: Jimmie Johnson – Press Conference – Daytona

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by driver of the No. 84 Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson. We’ll take questions for Jimmie.

Q. The weight that’s been lifted off of you just from getting locked in tonight as opposed to having to worry about fighting your way into this race tomorrow night…

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it is a huge relief. Came down here for my rookie season when the 48 team was just started up. We had to get in through qualifying. That was a very stressful moment. So I’ve kind of fallen back on that experience, although it was 20-something years ago now.

But it was stressful. I’m just so thankful that the team put in the effort that they did to really help me. I’m not joking, when I was at the shop last week, the 42 team, the 43 team, were all on my car. Their cars were still sitting there with a lot of work to be done. This was a huge collaboration and effort I owe to the entire shop.

Todd Gordon did a fantastic job of leading these guys. The 42 and 43 teams played a crucial role for our car being prepared and fast enough to get in today.

Q. Was that weird? Did it feel like the Indy 500 qualifying? Since your rookie year, you haven’t had to experience anything like that in a stockcar.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there was a different feeling knowing there’s something bad that can happen, you might not be in the race. Did have that sense at the 500.

But once I rolled off pit lane, fortunately that went away. That’s my first time in a plate car with this new Next Gen car. The experience was way different than I anticipated. The ride quality was much rougher. I didn’t know if that was supposed to happen or not.

Then when I pulled it into fifth gear, which is weird to go to fifth gear, the drag of the vehicle, the rpm dropped really far. I didn’t know that was normal. So the entire lap I made around, I thought something was potentially wrong with the car. The rpm was really low, didn’t feel very fast. Once I crossed the finish line, I heard we had a good lap.

It was stressful out there, more stressful than I intended it to be.

Q. I was watching you on the screen with another driver. It looked like your car was bouncing. The other driver said you were not going to be able to finish a lap. You thought there was something wrong?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah. I didn’t think it was supposed to bounce like that. The bump-stops and the way you run the car now, trying to maintain a certain aero attitude, all the teams go about it a different way.

I felt it a little bit at Phoenix with the test session I had there, but this was way different than what I expected.

Q. There’s nothing wrong with it?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’m not sure it was optimal. I haven’t heard from the guys. There was nothing wrong, yeah.

Q. Did none of that show up in the simulator?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I felt silly to kind of do sim time for qualifying. We did go through it and did some reps, practiced some pit road stuff.

The sim is a great tool visually, but the track content, modeling bump-stop loads, some of those really fine details, are tough to get right. I’m thankful I did it. The sim experience was different than the actual car experience.

Q. When you finished your lap, did you think there’s no way you’re making the Daytona 500?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I did. The experience, because of the rpm being so much lower, with this rules package, I thought there was something wrong with the engine. I didn’t think it was running correctly. Then I saw my name on the pylon when I came around off of turn four. Well, much better than I thought sitting there in fifth (laughter).

Q. Everything is different for you this year, new number, team, perspective it seems. What is that like? Before it’s been you, your team, when you were at Hendrick Motorsports, now you have a vested interest in not just your car but two other cars in the field. Are you finding yourself balancing the driver and owner hat this week? Have you thought about it all that much yet?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it’s been busy. I’m still trying to find my stride, still trying to understand on the team side where I’m best used, how I can help strengthen the team.

At the same time I’ve got to drive and do my job inside the car and represent my sponsors. So it is a balancing act.

Really this is the first experience at track I’ve had, so it is all new to me. But I’m surrounded by an amazing group of people that really have my back and know we’re growing a team together.

Although our workload is intense and we’re maybe not as far as along as we want to be, just because the announcement happened in November, there’s been a lot of change through the winter, everybody is in great spirits, working hard, pulling in the same direction.

Q. Are you enjoying it as something different?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have a different purpose in this experience. Ultimately I want what’s best for this race team. I’m trying to select races and tracks that really help our organization grow.

Sure, I want to win. I get in a car, that’s the standard thing, that’s what I want to do. But this is more about the long game. This is more about being a part of a growing race team than it is really about that fierce competitive side that I’ve always operated by.

I mean, it naturally turns on when I’m in the car. But wearing a lot of hats at this point.

Q. In the Duels, what’s your strategy at this point? Is it still kind of to learn a little bit or do you try to get racy? How will that transfer over into the 500?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we need to learn. There’s no doubt about it. I mean, there’s two practice sessions I think before the 500.

But it is best to get in there and try to learn. So I just need to be aware of these situations I’m putting myself in, be aware of what’s going on around me, if I don’t like it, get out.

But trying to find quality reps in the Duel itself or the two practice sessions, I’ve got to do that. I’ve got so much to learn about the car. Todd has not worked on this car before. Have a new spotter, a spotter I’ve never worked with before. There’s a lot of elements we need to get reps.

Q. Doesn’t matter where you finish?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, that part is behind us thankfully.

Q. Education?


Q. For the past two seasons you said you had to forget everything that you had learned in NASCAR because that car was so completely different. You return to NASCAR and a car that’s completely different than what you had before. How much of that previous experience that you had in the car did you have to forget and retrain yourself with this car?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it is different, but it still is a stockcar. The weight of the vehicle, the amount of downforce it has. I think within four or five laps at Phoenix in the new driver test, I was on pace and felt back at home. Had the big heavy car sliding around, moving around, all the queueing I’m so used to.

Yes, it is different, but it’s way more familiar than what I had in two years driving INDYCARs.

Q. What you were able to do tonight, even though it was a rough ride, did this go better than you had hoped?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn’t know what to expect honestly. I mean, I really didn’t. To be the fastest of the non-chartered cars, be in the middle of the pack, in the situation we’re in, how late this program got off the ground, I’m really happy with where we landed.

Man, it was just about making the race. I’m so thankful I don’t have to race through the Duels. We definitely hit our marks.