Newly crowned four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson took stock Tuesday of his latest record-smashing season, as he continued his run of press interviews in New York following his triumph at Homestead-Miami Speedway last weekend. Here are some of the highlights of his teleconference with the media:
Q. I was wondering if you could put into some kind of perspective what it means for your team to win another championship. I mean, you've gotten a lot of credit, but how much does the team really kind of factor into everything?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: They're a huge part of it. We are a team. I couldn't do it without them and they couldn't do it without me. It starts with Rick and his vision and what he has given us all to work with in his 25 years in the sport. He's just done an amazing job. I'm happy to make him happy, I'm happy to make him smile.
And I look forward to what the future holds for us, as well. I think the company is only becoming stronger. I think I'm only becoming a better racecar driver, and our team is working really well together. The fact we took one, two, three in the points also gives the company a lot of pride.
Q. You've obviously had a lot of great success on the track, but there's some sort of research out there that suggests you're still not as visible as some of the other guys in NASCAR, and I'm curious whether this bothers you, whether you ever are irked by the criticism that you're too nice or too mellow or not controversial enough.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. I mean, over the last couple years my fan base has grown leaps and bounds. You can read any of the data that's provided and skewed in a variety of different ways, and there's a lot of very favorable data that's out there comparing me to other athletes worldwide and a lot of really cool things that have gone on.
Obviously, Junior's success and Junior's popularity are there for a lot of different reasons. One way people measure things is based on souvenir sales, and our souvenir sales is one of the few that has been showing an increase. But we have had the same paint scheme for a long period of time.
So, I guess the bottom line is there's a lot of factors that play into that. I'm very proud of the fan base that I have. It's a very large fan base, and it's growing rapidly.
As far as being controversial, I do my fair share of stupid things and say stupid things, but in general I try to be a good sport. My parents instilled sportsmanship in me. When I tune in to watch football, I'm not the one who's watching T.O. or Ochocinco or whatever his name is these days; I'm more a fan of Jerry Rice – a guy who's out there grinding it out, scores a touchdown and runs back to the sidelines to figure out how they're going to win the game.
We're all ourselves. I've stayed true to myself and will continue to do that as time goes on.Q. I'm just wondering about the rookies in the Chase this year. In particular, Juan Pablo Montoya started well but he faded the last few races, and then Brian Vickers made it with a three-year-old team and he just never seemed to find his feet anywhere in the Chase. I'm wondering, can you rate these guys and their performance in the first 26 and making the Chase and then in the Chase itself, and what kind of factors do you think played into them not having the success that a team like you did?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I have to say I was surprised that the 83 team didn't have more luck in the Chase. I know, being friends with Brian, he shared with me a few mechanical issues they had that were unforeseen and led to some bad results. But, in general, they were so hot before – I don't know what went on during the Chase. The team has been dealing with some difficulties, financial difficulties and a merger, and there's a lot of something going on, on top of the fact he's still trying to learn these cars and tracks. So I really think that he and [crew chief] Brian Pattie have done an awesome job. They've shown that they're going to be around for a long time and be a team to worry about.
Q. Is this something that time fixes, do you think?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It does. Experience is everything. It took us four years to really hit our stride. I look at the 5 car and Mark Martin and look at what those guys did in one year working together. It's hard to think of Mark as a rookie by any means, but he was with a new team, and they did have some growing pains getting started and came on super strong. I think time is going to help the 5, time is going to help the 42, and really all teams for that matter, especially the longer the team can stay together. The years together really make a big difference.
Q. You've been sort of barraged with all these sort of personality questions, so I'm wondering if you're looking forward to the HBO series that you're doing to answer those questions in a first-hand way. And then, secondly, I'm sure you've had to weigh in on the Danica Patrick to NASCAR issue, but I haven't heard your answer, so can you just give me your perspective on how you think she might do if she decides to jump over to NASCAR?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the HBO stuff is going to be fun. If anybody has seen their “Hard Knocks” show with the football teams, or the boxing stuff, the “24/7,” it certainly does show what goes on in more of a documentary sense. I have no agenda to show, any different than who I am and what I am and what I'm doing to get ready for the Daytona 500. So it's not a reality TV show by any means, and there are not any agendas. I'm just going to do my thing, and I know that they'll do a great job capturing it and putting it together for TV.
Danica, I'm excited for her to come to our sport, and hopefully she can, full time. I think that she will help our sport. More fans will tune in. It will do great things, there's no doubt. Wherever she goes, there's going to be a following, and I want to see our sport succeed. I think our sport is a big sport, and regardless of race or gender, it'll work great.
She's going to need some seat time. There's only been one guy – one person – who's come from open-wheel who's shown success, and that's been Juan. A lot of guys have tried, and it's been a tough road. So she's going to need some seat time.
Q. One quick follow-up, I was just wondering if you could talk about, a lot of people have talked about the physical demands and differences between driving an open-wheel car and driving a stock car. I'm assuming you agree with that. How much of a challenge do you think that is?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have not been in an open-wheel car, so I don't know what they deal with. G forces are higher, there's no doubt about that. But we have copied our cockpit areas, our seats, to mimic what an IndyCar is like because the body is so well supported.
I assume that the arm side with an open-wheel car – I understand that some of them don't have power steering, and in that situation you definitely need some arm strength to muscle that car around.
But our races are longer and there's more of them, so the endurance aspect is probably a little more important in our sport, where potentially kind of strength side for your arms especially would be important, and your core, for IndyCar.Q. Has it been any more, I guess, fulfilling, humbling, odd, what have you, having caught Jeff Gordon so fast, considering his impact on the early part of your career and the performance level he was at when you first got into the sport?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it is humbling. I can remember looking at him with wide eyes, and it was like, “Wow, how did you do it? How do you get there?” And really coming to grips with it in my mind that there's no way I would ever do it. So to be here and to have the same amount of championships and the experience and all the success we've had and race wins, it's hard to believe. When I really think about it, it is really, really hard to believe that eight years ago, I was like, “Hey, man, can you help me win one?' And here we are with all this.
Q: This may be a tough question considering you're still in the middle of a run I'm sure you hope goes for quite a while. But do you have to reassess where you fit in the history of this sport? I mean, there's a certain number of iconic figures who people look at when they come in, and you're putting up numbers that are getting you in a smaller and smaller group of elites.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it is getting smaller and smaller, which is awesome. It's tough for me to really reflect on it when I'm still competing. Toward the end of my career I'm sure I'll focus a lot more on it, but right now we're just kind of in a rhythm of things, and I hope to keep it going. There's no guarantee it will continue. But I'm just trying to keep the same mindset, same work ethic, same focus and just see how long we can keep this thing moving.
Q. Can you explain in some small way how your wife handles your job, with your life actually being on the line every time you jump into that car?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, coming into the sport, I spent a lot of time showing her the safety aspects. It's as simple as showing her the fuel cell in the racecar and how it works, the seatbelts, the seat system, the head and neck device, a lot of different things.
And, since we've been together, the sport has changed a lot more with the new car that NASCAR has brought out and the level of safety that's incorporated into that. Soft walls, you know, there's been a lot of things that have made our sport much safer, and I thought it was pretty safe as it was before.
I'm sure there's an element of fear there, and I guess we don't talk about it too much. But she deals with it very, very well and understands the risks that I take. But, at the same time, we're in a pretty safe racecar today.
Q. Last year we spoke to you after the race at Homestead and you said, “Boy, me and my wife are just taking a nice vacation.” Well, now that this year, you've got four in a row. How are you going to beat last year's nice vacation?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We're going to do the same stuff and relax, hopefully take another vacation, and just let it soak in. Truthfully, anymore we travel so much, I'd kind of like to be home, but unfortunately we have some stuff planned already. I just can' t wait. I'll be home for Thanksgiving. I can't wait to sit there and do nothing, maybe sit in my sweats all day long and fatten up.