Jimmie Johnson's victory last week at Kansas City pushed him into the lead for the Chase for the Championship. In the process, he positioned himself to win the Sprint Cup Series for the third consecutive year.
Johnson talked about his approach to the playoffs and what's ahead for his No. 48 Chevrolet team after the race. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: The top-three finishers at Kansas City also are the top three drivers in the Chase. Is it frustrating to win and not put any distance on the competition?
Johnson: To be honest with you, looking up at the board, the way we finished, man, it's hard to get any points on anybody. Five or 10 (points) here or there is nothing. At this pace, it's going to take somebody having some bad luck to get a gap. You're not just going to outrun people week to week like we're all performing right now.
Question: You're getting closer to matching Cale Yarborough's record for three consecutive championships. Do you think of that?
Johnson: I'm not thinking about it yet. At some point it will hit me like a lead balloon. But as of now, you know, I don't even know what the points spread is over Carl (Edwards). But I think with two, three to go, that's when you really start worrying about your position and protecting. Right now we're all just running as hard as we can, paying attention to who has bad luck, how the points gaps develop from there.
Question: You don't seem to let yourself get too concerned -- good and bad -- with what's going on around you in the Chase. Is that by design?
Johnson: As far as knowing what goes on with other cars, I can say when I started, I was really concerned and worried about every point. Somebody would have a problem, I'd get excited. Even we talked about it on the radio. But somewhere in those first couple years, when we would see something happen to someone, get excited, something would then happen to us. So it's funny; we'll all watch somebody have a problem and we will not talk about it on the radio. You just focus on your game, focus on your car, your stops, your stuff, and at the end of the day on the plane ride home you take the points sheet and look at it. Until then you almost bring something upon yourself if you're paying attention to those things and worried about those things.
Question: How does racing separate itself from the stars from stick and ball sports?
Johnson: All the stars are on the field all the time. You don't have one given game, you have a couple stars. All of them are on the track, and that makes a big difference.
Question: How do you stay so relaxed during the playoffs?
Johnson: I (stunk) my whole life until this level of racing. I took a lot of looks in the mirror, dealt with a lot of kind of looking through my own head, trying to understand what I was doing as a driver. I never wanted to blame anyone else. I just looked at myself. I keep a lot to myself and internalize what I do. The second part of that is I have a crew chief that worries about everything, gets riled up about everything. If both of us were wound up all the time, we would be a disaster. I've found more success in taking a backseat and letting him get crazy from time to time and talking him off the ledge. It's worked well. I mean, I certainly do get upset from time to time, but it doesn't last long. I know it's going to affect what I do in the car. I just know myself, if I'm obsessing over something that went on or mad about a stop or a driver or pit road or whatever it may be I'm not focusing on driving that car to its limit.
Question: Despite being on the cusp of winning three consecutive championships, are you still in the shadow of your teammate, Jeff Gordon?
Johnson: He's a little dude. I don't know how I'm in his shadow. He's kind of short. People that still can't see the differences between Jeff and I, see us as our own individuals, they just don't get it. I mean, we both drive for Rick (Hendrick). We conduct ourselves in a certain way. We care for our sponsors. We care about our fans. We choose to say the right things most of the time. I mean, if that's going in a guy's shadow, then I just don't think those people know what they're looking at.
Question: Are you gaining on his accomplishments?
Johnson: I haven't thought about that. Look at what he's accomplished: four championships to tie him or five to surpass him. That's lofty. I'm looking at it. If we're fortunate enough to get three, obviously you look to four. I think looking at his win total and setting that as a mark to try to break is lofty, but may be a more reasonable goal to try to attain. I've been very fortunate. I've had a lot of success. It means a lot to me to see how I continue to elevate my status with race wins and laps led and the other stats compared to some of my heroes. Jeff inspired me as a kid when I was racing off-road trucks. He wasn't from the South. He grew up racing on the dirt, got a shot. I've looked up to him. He's been one of my heroes as a kid growing up.
-- Compiled by Don Coble