Zap2it: What about racing gets your juices flowing?
Jimmie Johnson: The competing aspect of it. I race far better than I qualify. I race far better than I practice. I’m good at passing cars; I’m good at finding a setup that I can go race 500 miles with. When you look at the thing (our team) does and accomplishes, we race very, very well, and we’re able to get the job done at the end of the race, where maybe some people are in the fastest car and make a mistake early that they can’t recover from and just don’t have that racing savvy. Our team has always been good at racing, and that’s the part that I enjoy the most.
Zap2it: At what point last year did you find yourself saying this was a championship year?
Jimmie Johnson: I thought midway through the year. We were on a tear. We led so many laps and unfortunately squandered a few opportunities to win but did win. And I wished the Chase was going to start, like, midsummer because we had such a fast race car. And as the summer wore on, it gets guys caught up, and we knew going into the Chase we were going to have our hands full. So I kind of came in and out of my optimistic standpoint and went into the Chase feeling good. But then [Matt Kenseth] wins the first two races, and I was like, “Wow! So that’s what they’re going to do to us.” (laughs) So we’ve got to beat a won-won to open the season. … But I honestly felt good after we left Phoenix (the season’s penultimate race). I felt good the whole Phoenix weekend; we had a fast race car, and on the speed charts, [Kenseth’s team] looked like they were struggling. … So from Phoenix on, it seemed to be a real turning point in the reality of a sixth championship.