Jimmie Johnson generally saves his best for last. He had four second-place finishes and a win in a five-race stretch last year to win the Chase for the Nextel Cup. This year he's taking a three-race winning streak -- and a 30-point lead -- into Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway.
Johnson talked about his season, his rivalry with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon and his late-season surges after winning last Sunday's race at the Texas Motor Speedway. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: Why are you so strong in the second half of the Chase every year?
Johnson: That is the most-asked question and I don't have an answer for you, I'm sorry. I think tracks have something to do with it. There are good tracks that we see in the spring and fall and that has a lot to do with it. I feel that we have no idea. We just show up and we do the same job every week that we always do but there are certain tracks that we are better at. I think we respond well under pressure. It's something we've always been good at. And I also think that the tracks at the start of the season and the end of the season are good for the 48 team and that helps us out a lot.
Question: What kind of pressure is your crew chief, Chad Knaus, under?
Johnson: I don't think it's any different than what it's always been and the more simple we keep things, I think the better it is for myself and really anybody racing for the championship. It's just three races. We've been doing this a long time. We're all good at our jobs and really we're equal in the points so it's just three good races. Chad needs to do the same thing he's been doing that put him in this position and I need to do the same things with the car so if we can keep it simple and easy we'll be fine.
Question: Do you feel like your team has the momentum right now?
Johnson: I think so. I think that we've been on quite a roll here and going to victory lane does something for the crew and the shop that you didn't do it any other way. When you go to victory lane, there's just a buzz that goes through all of Hendrick Motorsports and really on the 48 team. So we have momentum going our direction right now but it's only 30 points and if you look at the last two weeks, I've been able to make up roughly 60 points and with ten races left, and Jeff hasn't had bad races the last two events. He's had strong he finishes. So it's not like he's had bad nights so I can finish tenth and he can win and I'm back in second. So we have a lot of work ahead of us and are happy to be in a position to race for the championship. With good racetracks coming up for us, good race cars in the lineup and momentum from the victories, and our guys are showing up hungry every week trying to get as many points as we can.
Question: Do you feel bad that your roll comes at the expense of your teammate and friend, Jeff Gordon?
Johnson: No. This is racing. You have to check your emotions at the gate when you come in here. Motorsports is such a humbling experience and I've been very fortunate to experience in my career a lot of great things but the road getting here was a tough one and I think a lot of people know the career that I've had, and things that I've had to do to get to this point and it's been a long battle. Motorsports will eat people up and spit them out, and I just want to capitalize on this opportunity that I have. Jeff is a great friend and great teammate, but he's also the most challenging guy out there for me to beat. And that's with all the respect in the world. But I don't feel bad for him and I know he wouldn't, either. If something happened where he had bad luck and we ended up winning the championship, that's where I would feel bad. But the fact that we are racing as hard as we are for it right now, it's racing.
Question: Does the pressure of the Chase strain your relationship with Jeff Gordon and his race team?
Johnson: I think they're really having a good time with all of it. There are a few guys that are 48 and a few that are 24 just because of the years. Those guys work on the cars on the weekend but for the majority of the team they work on the 24 and 48 all year long and they're busting their butt regardless of the car number. I think they're just happy and proud to be in this position and the two cars they're working on are fighting for this championship.
-Compiled by Don Coble, Morris News Service