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Extra Newsmaker Q&A

Posted: Friday, April 30, 2004

JIMMIE JOHNSON

FONTANA, Calif. Jimmie Johnson loves racing at the California Speedway because it's only 90 minutes from his home in El Cajon. Racing at California, where he won his first NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race, not only means a lot of friends and family are in the stands, it means he can finally get some home-cooked meals burritos delivered to the track every day.

Johnson talked about coming back to Southern California and what he expects the rest of the season.

Question: You're going to a track you like and a good finish this Sunday could vault you into the points lead. Does any of that matter right now since it's so early in the season?

Johnson: You always want to be on top. Even with the point system this year where it all starts over and there's not a huge advantage to being on top, there's a lot of pride and a lot of work that goes into it. You want to be up front all the time. No matter if it's practice or qualifying or points, you want to be at the top of the board. There is a lot of motivation to do that. California has been a good track for us for a few reasons. Chad Knaus is one of the smartest crew chiefs out there who understands the aero vs. the mechanical balance needed on a race car. He does an incredible job of putting a solid car underneath me. We have great power from the engine shop it seems like at every California trip. We usually end up debuting a new package. We're going to take some more horsepower with us this year. It's a great combination. It's a track that I like. My hometown (El Cajon) is all fired up to be there. All that stuff clicks and makes for a good performance.

Question: You saw the way fans reacted to running the final four laps last week at Talladega under the yellow flag. Should Nextel Cup Series races finish under green?

Johnson: The thing that I look at as a competitor is consistency. NASCAR has set a mark that if there is a caution after a certain lap, they won't red flag the race in order to finish under green. So, from the competitor's standpoint, we need something to build our strategy on and know what is going to take place. What they've been doing, they've been doing consistently. I don't think you'll find a driver who complains about it just as long as it's the same. I know the fans were upset because we didn't have a green-flag finish, but the sport was founded on being a certain number of miles per event. It's my assumption that the sport was founded on each race being a certain amount of miles. When they say it's a 500-mile race, it's going to be a 500-mile race. That's the way it was designed and they are still following that mindset. If it's a green-white-checkered finish, that's fine with me as long as it's the same all year long. We're calculating fuel mileage to the last drop to finish these races. We just need a consistent format.

Question: Since NASCAR now is more concerned with entertainment than sport, shouldn't races end under green?

Johnson: I would think there would be a change. The reason I say that is because that the decisions that have been made such as our point system and many other aspects of the sport are based on the entertainment value. In some respects, it really isn't about racing anymore. It is racing, it's what we do, but our sport is driven by corporate involvement and fan viewership and there has to be a good show to watch. With that in mind, it wouldn't be outside my thoughts that there would be a change to that. I don't anticipate it happening during the season, but maybe next year.

Question: How important has Jeff Gordon been to your career?

Johnson: I've talked about this a lot. He's been one of the major reasons why I've been able to step into the top division of our sport and be competitive on the track and know how to handle things off the track like the business side, the fans and the mental aspects. When you have somebody who is as humble and good as Jeff Gordon to pull from and learn from, it's been one of the biggest assets I could have ever hoped for on top of the fact of driving for Hendrick Motorsports. There are a lot of mental things that take place. I know I can go to Jeff and get a straight answer from him -- even if it's a competitive advantage that might result in my beating him in the race. He's completely open and honest with me about what he's doing with the race car. I reciprocate with the same things. It's a unique teammate situation in NASCAR. I don't think there are many teams that work as close together where literally our teams are in the same shop. It's been a huge asset.

Question: Why is California so special to you?

Johnson: It's great. I'm going back to my home state where I got my first win. It's very special. It's usually a lot more work because there are more friends and family and fans that I need to see. It isn't a relaxing weekend because there are a lot of demands on my time. But it's nice to go back and, hopefully, I can leave there with another new trophy that I can bring home to my new home in North Carolina.



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