|"He needs to matire a little."|
"Watching him on Sports Center following the race trying to drink a beer, I was not sure it was the best thing for our sport,” he said. “As mature as he wants to portray himself, Brad has some growing to do."
“Now he is in the spotlight as the champion. I think we all sit back and chuckle at some of the things he says and does. He is a great guy. He has the best of intentions for our sport; for his sponsor; for his team. He just needs to mature a little. I'm sure people can look back on my '06 year and have plenty of things to point fingers at."
Johnson predicted that the Penske Racing driver "will be more aware of his voice” in 2013. “Once you are the champion, your voice carries much further. The more success you have in the sport, that voice will carry further and further. I had experiences where I would casually mention something, and I didn't realize how far it went. Maybe I wasn't as accurate as I needed to be. I think he'll have a few moments like that which will rein him back in some, make him think about what he says and be more calculated.
Johnson had nothing but priase for Keselowski's ontrack efforts, however, saying, "he and Paul (Wolfe) did an amazing job. As competitors, they are awesome. They put up a heck of a fight.
He predicted that Keselowski will find there is a big difference between winning a championship and defending the title.
“A lot of it depends on how the
season starts,” he said. “If you take off where you left off (as the previous
year’s champion), it’s pretty easy. You get accustomed to what being the
champion is; the perks that come with it, the notoriety, then everything kind
of blends in.
|Keselowski celebrates at Homestead|
“But once you are a champion, when you don’t run like you should for any period of time, the questions will come. That is when any driver and team are tested. Brad (Keselowski) and Paul (Wolfe) are both very strong together. I don’t see it affecting them and preventing them from succeeding, but they will be reminded often that you have to go out there and earn each and every week. It’s not a layup.
“I have had years where we left the Chase successful, started the next season successful, then midway through the year it became really tough. Then the pressure sinks in and your mind starts playing some games on you. Those were moments we just had to learn from and work through. I would expect at some point in the year, they will go through that too.”
Johnson also warned that coming up short in two consecutive championship chases should not be viewed as a sign that his team has lost momentum.
“We haven’t thought of it as a loss of momentum,” he insisted. “It didn’t happen for a lot of reasons, When I look at 2011, I’m disappointed in the way we performed and the way we were involved in the Chase. We really weren’t, past the halfway point. But last year was quite different. I’m very proud of the effort we put in. I think last year showed how much of a team sport NASCAR racing really is. We seem to forget that at times, and (forget) how many variables play into winning the championship.
“We went to Phoenix and (had an) issue. We went to Homestead, a couple of issues. There is a lot more to it than just Chad and I, and what we do in the car. At the end of the day, I’m very proud of what we did last year.”
While fully focused on returning to championship form in 2013, Johnson said his first order of business will be to win a second Daytona 500.“There isn’t a single race larger than this one,” he said. “The Daytona 500 is in the same sentence as the other major auto racing events around the world. When you think of Monoco, Le Mans, Daytona, Indy, those are the staples. A championship does trump that, in my opinion. I was fortunate to win my Daytona 500 before my first championship (and) I was plenty happy. Winning the Daytona 500 was a huge accomplishment for myself.”
Johnson said the new, Gen-6 race car will be different to drive, and also present new challenges to the pit crews.
|"Opportunities are still there..."|
“I think crash damage is going to be something to learn from and understand how to repair the race car,” he predicted. “When those guys crashed on the backstretch during the (Daytona) test, stuff broke apart and disappeared. Before, with the sheet metal on the car, you were able to bend things and put them back in place. I understand that we didn’t have all the parts and pieces on the cars at that time either, but noses would smash in pretty easily. I think crash damage will be something that we all need to learn pretty quick.
"They took so many tools away from us that I don't know what we can really do,” he admitted. “We have far less tools today than we did at Homestead. They have changed the rules for the rear geometry. We still have opportunities to find things, but the reward is so small. You are finding a half of a tenth, at best and you have to stack up four or five things to create an advantage.
“The opportunities are still there,” said Johnson. “It is just more difficult to recognize them and put them in play. There are a lot of changes to the car, but at the end of the day, we have less tools to work with."
“Everybody is excited about the look of the car and the speed in the car,” he said. “It is a race right now for the first quarter. Whichever organization can find what the car likes first, is going to have a nice advantage. It won't last long, though.
“I really have to commend (Chad) for the way he carried himself and handled the ups and downs of last season, then through the off season, building with the team. There's been a lot of change when you look at the car and then some of our personnel change. Chad has been the best at leading that I have ever seen him since we've been together.
"Chad is doing what every crew chief is doing; trying to find areas to find speed in the car. We've learned things over the years (that put) speed in the cars. We all know that skew is important. So, within the rules, how can you get as much skew as possible in the car? We know what camber does. We'll have to see over the course of the year how much rear camber guys can run. We've seen a lot of excessive wear on the right rear tire with the high camber settings that they let us run. Long story short, Chad is doing what all the other guys are. But that box keeps getting smaller and smaller.”