Jimmie Johnson On Nascar Win

Jimmie Johnson captured his fourth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with a fifth-place finish in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson needed only to finish 25th or better to claim the driving title. Johnson says his strategy was to stay out of trouble and be smart.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now to someone who makes his living driving on the edge at speeds up to 200 miles an hour. Jimmie Johnson's name is mentioned in the same breath as Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong; an athlete so dominant in his sport that he's come to define it. And yesterday, Johnson put an exclamation point on that by doing what no driver has done in NASCAR's 61-year history: He won his fourth consecutive championship.

Johnson won his title at NASCAR's final Sprint Cup Race of the season, 400 miles around the track in Homestead, Florida, in his Number 48 Chevy.

As he crossed the finish line, he exalted over the radio to his crew.

(Soundbite of a crowd)

Mr. JIMMIE JOHNSON (Race Car Driver, NASCAR; Champion, NASCAR Sprint Cup): Oh, my God. I can't believe it. History, boys, no one ever, ever - thank you.

Chad, you rock, brother.

Mr. CHAD KNAUS (Crew Chief, Johnson Team): It's all you. Thank you very much, man. I love you, brother.

BLOCK: Jimmie Johnson had to finish in the top 25 to win the title. In the end, he came in fifth. And he joins us now to talk about what he's done.

Welcome and congratulations.

Mr. JOHNSON: Thank you very much. Incredible year, incredible night last night and certainly enjoying every bit of it.

BLOCK: I bet. It sounds like you were enjoying it quite a bit after the race. You took a little victory spin doing doughnuts. Is that right?

Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely. It's one of the great honors. And when you win a race or the championship, for that matter, at the end of the season, the engine shop and the crew doesn't really care what you do to the car at that point.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JOHNSON: And you're able to beat up on it a little bit.

BLOCK: I want to ask you about a radio exchange you had with your crew chief, Chad Knaus. With 11 laps to go, you're six and a half seconds off the race leader. So you know your title is already in the bag. You've got your fourth championship, but I guess you wanted more. You asked him if you could catch the leader, and he told you no.

Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah. You know, we've done such a good job staying focused on, you know, each individual race and not paying attention to the outside pressures and what's been going on, and I was hopeful to win the race. I could see a few cars in front of me. You know, I knew I wasn't running in the top five, but the leader was a little too far away to go after at that point.

BLOCK: So why weren't you thinking, though, Mr. Johnson, you know, I've got four consecutive titles, I'm making history here, I don't need to be first in this race?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, I mean, there's a trophy�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JOHNSON: �and I'm out there to win. It's really difficult when you're driving a car that's capable, and I can feel that the car has more speed in it. To not take advantage of that is a tough thing to do as a competitor.

BLOCK: What was your strategy in the race yesterday, knowing what was on the line?

Mr. JOHNSON: Biggest thing was to keep the five car of Mark Martin close by, and from about the midway point of the race on, I knew we were much better than he was, and he was in my rearview mirror, and at that point, it was about staying out of trouble and being smart.

BLOCK: Being smart, which means what?

Mr. JOHNSON: Not crashing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: It should be that easy, right?

Mr. JOHNSON: Totally.

BLOCK: I want to go back a couple of weeks to a race in Texas where you wrecked, on the third lap of the race, your car I guess had to be pretty much rebuilt. It took more than an hour, and you lost more than 100 points off your cushion. I wonder if when, you know, you were sitting there watching your car get rebuilt, were you thinking, you know, well, that's it, there goes my shot at a fourth consecutive title?

Mr. JOHNSON: I was. I was very nervous about it. It was the first time in the championship battle I felt like I had to defend and felt like something was taken from us. We had so much great success before that and after that obviously, but that one race, man, it was - everything was gone in a matter of minutes.

BLOCK: Well, here's the kicker for me. I was reading about you in Sports Illustrated, and the reporter says that you get carsick when you're not driving, when you're not racing. You've always suffered from chronic motion sickness.

Mr. JOHNSON: I have, and if I'm in the backseat of a car, it does not take long. If I'm in a cab in New York, it's only 10 or 15 blocks�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JOHNSON: �and I'm in trouble. It has something to do with controlling the vehicle. If I'm in control, I'm fine, but if I'm in that right seat or especially at the back seat, it just gets progressively worse from there.

BLOCK: So we have to let Jimmie Johnson drive?

Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah, some people might call it a control issue, but - I don't disagree, but the nausea is something else.

BLOCK: Well, Jimmie Johnson, congratulations, and have a great Thanksgiving.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JOHNSON: Awesome, thank you. You, as well.

BLOCK: That's race car driver Jimmie Johnson. Yesterday, he won a record fourth consecutive NASCAR championship.

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