Jimmie Johnson's victory last Sunday propelled him five spots in the Chase for the Championship standings and into the lead heading into the UAW-Ford 500 at the Talladega Speedway.
Johnson talked after the win at Dover, Del., about his season and what's ahead for his Hendrick Motorsports team. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: How much pressure is there week-to-week for the Chase competitors?
Johnson: It's going to be like that in a 10-race battle. You've got to believe that anybody is a threat. We've had some guys have some bad luck and slip back some. If anybody can make it clean, I don't know who it will be. I hope it's us. If anybody can make it clean and have a clean race car and not have a D.N.F., and not finishing in 30th, they'll probably be the champion. It's been our goal. We lost one last year by eight points and we had some troubles at the start of the Chase. And this year, hopefully, we'll make the right decisions and not have any weird things happen to us, and I won't make any mistakes on the track and stay clean throughout.
Question: You've struggled in the past couple months so it was easy to overlook you once the Chase started, especially with the way Tony Stewart and the five Roush Racing cars came on during the summer. Do you feel like you made a statement at Dover?
Johnson: I'm not really sure what the perception is outside of the team, but I know the perception inside of the team and that's we are a championship team and we've been waiting for the final 10 to get here. We've just got to do our job. That's all there is to it. We can't focus on what other teams are doing, who is doing good, who isn't. We have all the tools at Hendrick Motorsports and resources. It's up to us to do our job. If we give 100% at the end of the year, we may be the champion, we may not, but at least we know we gave 100%. That's all we've done every year and that's all we'll continue to do.
Question: As you and Chad Knaus (crew chief) continue to work together, do you have a better idea how to win 400- and 500-mile races?
Johnson: Yeah, I think that experience in our sport really, really goes a long way. And if you watched Mark Martin today, I had my eye on him all day long considering how strong his car was in practice. And he's been there, done that. There's no need to get too aggressive and tear stuff up. At the end, once we had the long runs.and in fact Chad came to me before the race and said, look, there's going to be some long runs at the end of this deal, so stay safe until then. Then at the end we can make up time and we can be aggressive and we can race hard. It played off like that. That's exactly what Mark's strategy was and due to experience and being through some mistakes, being too aggressive at times.
Question: Mike Helton issued a warning before the race at Dover that NASCAR won't tolerate any more reckless behavior. The Dover race was very clean. Do you think Helton's warning had an impact?
Johnson: I don't think it had to do with the first blow, but if somebody was crashed I think that the second part of it, or the retaliation, wouldn't have been there. You know, everybody is out there racing hard. I didn't see a big difference in how everybody was racing out there, to be honest with you. Once we put our helmets on, it's all about racing at that point.
Question: Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin are lurking in the standings and neither have a win this year. What do you think about their position?
Johnson: I think Mark Martin last year showed that it doesn't matter what your age is that you can still be competitive. And I respect both of them so much. I noticed all day long, The Number 6, I chased him for quite a bit and then under cautions and when we got strung out I'd see the blue hood coming up behind me and see Rusty back there. Those guys -- they are great race car drivers. It doesn't matter their age. They know what they are doing. They have experience and I think they are a serious threat for the championship.
Question: The five Roush Racing cars came into the Chase on a roll, and all five have struggled once the playoffs started. Are you surprised?
Johnson: It's tough to have five cars run well all the time. If you look at their performance and speed today, I chased four of them for a long time and I thought they were up to speed and doing a great job. I'm not sure what led to each problem for those guys at the end. So, I can't really comment on it too much. But they seemed plenty fast to me.
Question: What are your thoughts about Sunday's UAW-Ford 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway?
Johnson: I'm excited to go. I think when you're the points leader you want the season to be over right then and there. It doesn't matter how many races in the Chase you are, so from here on out as the points leader, there is some pressure being on you in that position. But I don't think we're going to think about it too much. It doesn't do us any good with a track like Talladega where there is so much on the line. We have Martinsville coming up. The truth is you can't control what's going on around you. So, we'll go to Talladega. I know we'll have a great race car. I know my teammates are going to be strong. And I know I'll have some good help out there from my teammates and we'll be in good shape.