The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Dover (Del.) International Speedway this weekend for Sunday’s running of the FedEx 400. Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, heads into the race weekend as the Sprint Cup Series championship points leader with a 32-point lead over second-place driver, Carl Edwards. Johnson is also the Dover wins leader among active drivers with seven trips to victory lane there, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison for most all-time.
Earlier this week, Johnson participated in NASCAR’s weekly teleconference, in which he talked about such things as his success at Dover, Oklahoma tornado relief efforts, his workout regimen and the most recent race on the schedule — the Coca-Cola 600 — among other things. Here’s a transcript:
Q. Jimmie, you either hold or are tied for all
-time wins at seven tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. Two weeks ago you became the winningest driver in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race history. Are those records on your radar at all?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: They are now. When you said seven, I had no idea I had that opportunity or that honor taking place. That’s mind
-boggling to me. I knew of the Charlotte stuff and I knew that Dover and Martinsville, but I didn’t know about the others. I’m extremely proud of that. I’ve worked hard to put myself in this position and so does the team, and we’ve been able to capitalize on those opportunities and hard work and get stuff done, so I’m really excited about that.
Q. We also understand that you’ll be making a special trip to Oklahoma this week. Tell us a little bit about that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, thank you for teeing that up for me. We are going to Oklahoma to work with Lowe’s and a little partnership with Feed the Children as well. We’ll be there Thursday passing out really what is needed at the time, essentially food, it could be clean-up items and a variety of things. But we have a big truck full of goods, and I’ll be there with the Lowe’s folks at the Lowe’s store there in town and head on out and help the people in need.
I’m excited to go firsthand to see and help and meet and pass out what is needed. Also a good friend of mine, Bob Stoops from the University of Oklahoma, he and his staff, and potentially some players want to get involved and come along as well. And then to top that off, Chani and I have decided to take my race earnings from this week’s events and donate that to Oklahoma as well.
We’re still trying to let the dust settle some and find out where the best opportunity for us to send our funds will be. Clearly our foundation works with children and there are schools that are affected and a lot of need out there in general. So once we get a little further down the road, we’ll understand where our money can be best used and put at that point, but we’ll donate those funds also.
Q. My question is about your workout regimen. Tell me about some of the things you do to stay in shape and be fit inside the race car, if you don’t mind, thanks?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sure. A lot of it of late has been endurance-based stuff. I’ve always had a focus on endurance base, but maybe a little more strength focused the last few years. I’ve always been interested in triathlons and last year started participating in a few, and I had some time and ran a half marathon, ran some other shorter distance events as well.
But staying active is key and very, very important. I’m proud to say at 37 I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life, and it takes time and commitment to get it all done, but it’s been great for me. I think it’s very important for my profession, and certainly to add longevity and stay healthy long-term as I turn 40 a few years down the road and try to continue my career on past that.
Q. Do you feel as good about things right now as your points lead would indicate your team is that good?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I mean, I feel good about things. We’ve got a huge points lead and things kind of -- we’ve had the wins and there have been tracks that we’ve been really hot at. But I feel like our mile-and-a-half stuff we’ve been really a top 5 car. Our short track stuff and Super Speedway stuff we’ve been a winning car. With the mile and a half occupying so much of the year and especially the chase, we have a little bit of room for improvement there. I do feel very good about our cars and don’t want to undermine that.
But the points lead is huge, and I’d love to keep it that way and roll on into Richmond or the races before Richmond with that kind of points lead so we can lock in.
Q. Jimmie, we talked about this earlier, but you along with Bobby Allison and Richard Petty have the most wins at Dover. Now going backwards in time, I know working with NASCAR for so many years, you guys stay pretty close together. If we go back in time and pick up your win at Dover in 2005, did you ever talk with Bobby Allison or Richard Petty about Dover for just some driving tips?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I haven’t had a chance to talk to them about Martinsville, specifically. The track has changed a lot over the years, and I just saw some pictures recently of when it was asphalt and what it looked like there. So times have changed a lot, and I’d love to hear their opinions and really enjoy any opportunity of talking with them. But it’s usually more of a social thing when I see those two and say hellos and things like that. So that’s really the level of discussion that takes place there.
Q. Question about the Coca-Cola 600. I’m wondering if you think it might be time to shorten the race? I know circumstances Saturday night, you never know when something like that is going to happen. But here’s a race that starts about 6:20 and ends around midnight. Other tracks have shortened their races from 500 miles to 400. I know the Coke 600 has been a unique feature, but do you think it would be as effective if they shortened it back to 500 miles or something?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’m not sure from 600 to 500 changes things much. It wouldn’t hurt from the mindset of keeping your fans captive on television or at the venue for however long. I do understand the history of the 600, and it’s been one of my better races. So I’m torn personally on how I’d want that to go.
But as we look around, times have changed. And to have the fans’ attention for, I don’t know, a 6- to 8-hour period of time is kind of hard to do. So in light of that, I think, sure, we should consider not only the 600 but a lot of races. We can change our format all together and create a really action-packed 4- to 6-hour timeframe and completely revamp things. So I think we need to keep an open mind as a sport and change, and make sure we change with the times so we don’t get passed up as things move forward.
Q. I was curious what you saw when the cable snapped or the rope snapped during the race? And do you worry a lot about the various things, the cameras, and boxes, and things that you carry for TV that you don’t get a chance to kind of inspect that you put in your cars every week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I know the crew chiefs sweat that stuff, and I can recall Robby Gordon having been on fire at a road course years back, the camera box inside the car: So I personally don’t worry about it, to be honest with you, from the cable cam. I wasn’t directly affected by it, so it wasn’t too difficult to kind of worry about. It goes either way.
But I did see -- I saw the black cord, and I didn’t know if a tire came apart and it was like the weave inside the tire came out. Then like my second or third time by I saw a cable hanging really low across the start/finish area, and I was like no way. That’s the camera system. So it was tough to tell because it’s black, and the diameter of that cable is so thin that I didn’t know what it was at first.
Then I didn’t think of the element of the people in the stands and the potential of someone in the stands being injured, and I was shocked to hear there were some injuries following the event.
Q. A totally separate topic, Stewart-Haas is one of the teams that tested at Dover. How much do you learn about what they learned during that test or is that pretty much crew chiefs talking and you’re just go and drive?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It doesn’t hurt. I mean, we clearly share information and we’ll be able to see what they’re doing. Of late our cars have been far different in set-up, so we’ll have to work hard to pick pieces apart and see what we’d like and what we want to try. But it definitely doesn’t hurt. That goes without saying.
Q. Jimmie, I wanted to ask you, it’s been nearly six months since Brad Keselowski said at the banquet as a champion he wants to be a leader. With that in mind, I want to ask you with your success and championships, how do you see yourself? Are you more of a leader for the sport or fans than for the competitors since there are so many type A personalities in the garage? How do you look at that in terms of your leadership?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, we all have hot spots that we think need to be fixed and addressed. I have a great resource in Jeff to go to thoughts and ideas. Some of the things and the opinions that drivers have even though they can be generations apart on the calendar, they’re still the same topics that are discussed at hand.
So I’ve used Jeff as a sounding board, how he’s approached things and the way his voice is heard. Other people have other ideas too. I think Brad tries hard to be that voice and wants to be that voice. Myself, I try to step back and take it all in, understand NASCAR’s point of view, the fans’ point of view, the competitors, and it’s really easy to have agenda in some of these things.
I’m usually pretty slow to react, and then I approach things kind of slow and methodically and try to tee them up in an unbiased manner for what’s right and what’s good with our sport. Truthfully, I don’t care to get a lot of recognition for it, so I don’t bang my own drum about what I say or do or what NASCAR might consider from something I’ve suggested to them or talked to them about. I just want our sport to be strong and healthy. So all of the champions and their advice is helpful and kind of helps build that all up.
Q. When did you feel comfortable expressing yourself or taking a little more aggressive role? From the outside looking in, it seemed like the first couple years you won championships maybe not as outspoken, but then again, I don’t know if you were necessarily doing as much behind the scenes. But when did you feel more comfortable in taking a little more active role when you found something that kind of fit into what was important to you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: My comfort is still developing today. I feel like my relationship with NASCAR is still growing and changing and evolving and being stronger. They have to sit there and wonder when anyone, crew chief, driver, owner, whatever it is, walks into the truck to talk to them, what is their agenda? Are they really looking out for the sport or their team? And that’s trust that you build with the NASCAR officials, with the executives, especially with Helton, and Darby, and Pemberton, that is something you build in time. I’m still today building a relationship with those guys.
I feel like I have a great relationship with them all, but time and working through issues continues to build that confidence in one another.
Q. You and Chad have to be probably the two most-observed people in the NASCAR garage. Other teams just have to keep wondering what the 48 team has that others don’t. Can you define the special relationships the work patterns between you, Chad and your team?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We’re certainly dedicated to our team, and our sport, and we put in the time that’s needed. I guess maybe it’s more about the time that -- not necessarily what’s needed but what we feel is required or helps us feel satisfied and buttoned up. It’s easy to get a car put together and have a set-up under it and take it to the track and unload and see what you’ve got.
But I find that Chad, and especially my crew, everything that’s put in that car is thought through, and if there is something in question there are two or three options that are thought through as well and how we can get them on the car in a timely manner. Will they make the car tighter or looser? What are the pros and cons? What are we sacrificing? It’s all thought out at many, many deep levels. So that’s what I think has helped us stay on top for so many years.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR