12 Questions with William Byron (2019)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?

I’m an iPhone person. I don’t think I’ve ever had an Android. I feel like it’s such an off-brand version of an iPhone; I just don’t think that’s very good. I think they’re slower. I guess there’s some benefits. But I’ve always had an iPhone.

2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?

I feel like autographs are so generic. Either a picture or just (commenting on) a neat little tidbit about what you’re doing — something that shows they know about what’s going on. I feel like when I was a kid and I came to races, the only way I was really going to connect to a driver was if I knew some fact about them or knew what was going on with their weekend. So I think that’s important to a driver.

So you’d say something like, “Hey, I noticed you were whatever in practice yesterday,” when you see a driver?

Yeah, if you know more about the sport or what’s going on, I think that’s going to connect with somebody, personally, instead of just, “Hey!” Sometimes you hear things like, “Oh, that’s Alex — oh, no, that’s William.” And that’s like, “OK, you’re just looking for an autograph.” But the kids that you see and meet that are in tune with the sport, those are the ones I connect with.

3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?

It does. I think on the track, there’s like a survival instinct that comes into play — so even if there is something that kind of frustrates you or pisses you off, it doesn’t really stick with you. Because I’m trying to survive and get to the next thing. I don’t think it’s going to be beneficial for me to get hung up on that — unless it really did hurt me or really screw me over in that situation.

On the road, especially me, I’m just taking advantage of bad drivers — and it does get frustrating when there’s somebody in your way.

4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?

Not a whole lot. I’d say when I ran Legend cars, the closest thing I had to that was just going out with your HANS clips not clipped in. You start to get into the routine of having those clipped in and you see a lot of drivers do this (shakes head) to make sure. But yeah, it’s sketchy. I mean, there was one time I did that and came back in and I was a little bit caught off guard that I went out there without those. 

5. If your crew chief put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?

Not really. I want to know they’re doing everything it takes to make it go as fast as possible, and I trust what they put on the cars. So I think trust is a big thing with your crew chief or your team, knowing that the car they’re giving you is something fast and competitive. I wouldn’t really care unless it comes to like, “Hey, you know, we gotta crash something to…” (Laughs) Who knows? But no, I don’t really care.

6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?

As sick as I’ve gotten over the offseason with food poisoning a couple times, I would say sushi. I would not eat sushi. Even though I love it, but you just never know.

So you’re kind of staying away after some bad experiences?

Yeah, staying away from that for sure.

7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?

I don’t think so, because they can’t keep the cars on the ground with (no) gravity. Maybe you could, but I don’t know if being loose or tight would be the same for them. Honestly, I think it would be cool. I feel that they’d race, if you’re a Star Wars fan, you know they race those little things that are about a couple hundred feet off the ground, so those would be fun to race.

Like those pod things?

Yeah, I love those.

8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?

Nothing useful. Nothing. I hate that time, honestly. I don’t feel like it really suits my style of talking to somebody right before I go try to beat them. But I try to make off-subject comments like, “How was your offseason? How is your family?” Something like that. It’s a really useless time.

So it’s totally awkward small talk?

Oh yeah. It’s a maintenance conversation that you’re trying to have with somebody that is really not your best friend. Maybe it’s different for other people.

9. What makes you happy right now?

Good question. Honestly, just racing. I mean, that’s a very broad thing, but I guess just competing and being happy with that. I’m not super linked to friendships or things like that yet, but just racing and being in my own space, being able to accomplish things that I’m really just trying to strive for by myself.

10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do forever.” Would you accept that offer?

No, because that’s out of style. It’s gonna kill my vibe too much with people my age.

People your age are not going to think that’s the William Byron brand.

That’s not gonna be cool. I probably wouldn’t do that.

11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.

I’ll pick 24.

This question was “Who will win the Cup title five years from now?” So this would be for 2024. Who wins?

Uh, me. Yeah. (Laughs)

That makes sense. You’ll still be around, you’ll still be young.

I hope I’m still around. If I don’t have a job, that would be really sad. I don’t know what I would be doing. Hopefully racing.

12. The last interview was with Aric Almirola. He wants to know with all the pressure that’s around you to be the next guy at Hendrick and all this hype that comes with you, what do you do in your daily life or your time away from the track to get away from all that and have fun?

That’s a great question. You know, I snowboard during the offseason. My friends at school are completely normal kids. I really don’t get asked a lot about racing outside of racing when I’m with my other friends, so I feel like that’s a great way to disconnect.

And honestly I feel like I’m living something that I never expected to do, so that’s fun for me. I know that ultimately, I’m not attached to this by my family or anything, and that’s a really cool disconnection I have from racing. So my family’s not going to judge me on whether I succeed or fail on the racetrack. They care, but they don’t care for the sake of my life goals. So I think I’m kind of living that lack of pressure from a family perspective.

Do you have a question I can ask another driver?

If you could change the schedule one way, how much time you would spend around the racetrack? Like what do you think is the ideal schedule each week? Two days?

So the weekend schedule?

Yes. It is a one-day show? Show up, have one practice? How do you think we should do that?

Previous 12 Questions interviews with William Byron:

— Aug. 31, 2016

— May 17, 2017

Aug. 21, 2018


12 Questions with William Byron (2018)

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The 12 Questions series of driver interviews continues this week with William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports, who is currently leading the Rookie of the Year standings.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Gosh, I hope most of the time not during the week because I try to get my mind away from it a little bit. But I’d say when I’m at the racetrack, I have nightmares about forgetting something or being late or sleeping in.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

Yeah, I think so — especially in my position as a rookie. When you’re an older guy, maybe you’re more set in your ways. But when you’re a rookie, you don’t want to have enemies out there. I think it’s important just to clear the air.

I can’t say I’ve had anybody call me and apologize, so I usually just remember that stuff. But I try to reach out.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

I’d say “you’re talented,” but moreso that “you work hard and prepare.” That you don’t show up and act like you don’t know what you’re doing. The preparation you have, just giving your maximum effort. Preparation is all that put together.

I played other sports, and it was always important for me to be the kid who hustled the most.

So that’s always been part of your makeup, even before racing?

It’s always been what I tried to do. I played football — which is ironic, because I wasn’t a big guy — but I hustled a lot and was actually able to start. I think the hustle part of it is something that carried over into racing.

What position did you play?

Linebacker, actually. I like to hit people.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?

I would say any of the Panthers players. Luke Kuechly. Greg Olsen would be really cool — he’s come to some races. I feel like those guys are close to home for me.

As a side note — which is not good as a Panthers fan — but Tom Brady is really cool. He likes cars, which I’ve noticed, so maybe we could get him out to a race sometime soon.

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

No. Absolutely not. I eat the worst probably of anyone in here. Just because I’m so young, it doesn’t really affect me that much. I haven’t reached the point where it even stays on me. I burn everything off instantly, so I probably eat ice cream four times a week. I have no shame in that. I wouldn’t change my diet. A lot of my happiness is how much ice cream I get.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2016 Bristol Truck race. Do you happen to remember that one at all?

Yeah. I think I took the lead with 30 to go and I broke a shock, and I think I finished fourth.

Yes, you finished fourth. Ben Kennedy won. I think you led one lap.

I led and made a mistake and got passed. Not fun.

Are you good at remembering races?

Yeah. I don’t have many. As a race car driver, I forget anything else people tell me. But the things in the race car, I always remember. Especially when you’re in the car, you remember everything.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

He’s kind of annoying, but Drake. He consistently puts out the best music. There’s nobody else who really has the same foundation he does.

And he talks trash. Maybe we could get him at a race and have him in the pits or something — like you know how he does at the Toronto (Raptors) games? He’s right on the floor.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

Oh man. I try not to make too many enemies. Who do other people say? Brad (Keselowski)?

Some people have said Brad, yeah.

Yeah, I’d say Brad. Sometimes Alex (Bowman), because Alex gives me so much crap for being so young. I’ll get him back one day. He’s like my big brother.

Does he know it’s building up inside of you?

Oh, I’m sure he does. He’s told me a couple times, “One day, you’re just going to unload.” We’ll see.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

I think it’s an easy choice. Hanks for spotting because of his voice and he’s got that deep tone, which is something you need in a spotter. You don’t want some high-pitched dude up there, because it eventually sounds like white noise. I’ve had a few of those.

And then LeBron for crew chief because he’s physical, he’s built — he’d kind of intimidate all the guys on the team. He’d make the right calls and could probably jack the car up if he wanted to.

And Taylor Swift for motorhome. You’re going to see her all the time and she’s easy on the eyes, so that would be good.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Usually, you get your bus driver to scout it out and say, “Here’s one.” On the Cup days, you try to just go before the drivers meeting or something. But if you have to, usually there’s somewhere on the end of pit road. That’s normally the spot. But I’m surprised they never have any toward the front of the field, so one you get there, you’re screwed.

11. NASCAR decides they miss the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and want a replacement. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?

Man. Probably not much. I’d be pretty excited. I don’t know if I’d land it. I’d say (Daniel) Hemric knows how to do backflips. I ran second to him a few times in Legend cars. We were back and forth and he was doing a lot of backflips then.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week’s was with Ross Chastain. His question for you was: If you were struggling in practice, would you let someone else get in your car to shake it down —and if so, who would you pick?

Yeah, I think it would be good at times. I had that when I ran for Kyle (Busch in the Truck Series). At a test at Bristol, something was wrong with our motor and we were like a half-second off. Christopher (Bell) and I were both there, and I got in Christopher’s truck and was able to run close to the lap times he was — so they knew it was a motor issue with mine. And we fixed the motor and it was fine.

So things like that where you’re just slow and you don’t know why, you can get Kyle Busch or someone to get in your car and at least say, “Hey, something is wrong with the motor” or “The car is doing this.”

Has anyone come to you and asked to hop in theirs?

In different series, like Legend cars or Late Models. Which is good. I think it shows some respect.

But only you know what you’re feeling in the car, so you don’t need to tell somebody else what it’s doing. A lot of people don’t trust their driver as much as they should, and it’s important to trust what they’re saying.

The next interview I’m doing is with Garrett Smithley. Do you have a question I can ask him?

He did iRacing a little bit. Does he still do iRacing and how does it help him or hurt him?

Previous 12 Questions interviews with William Byron:

Aug. 31, 2016

May 17, 2017

The Top Five: Breaking down the Watkins Glen race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International…

1. The Amazing Chase

It’s just one win, and on a road course at that. So we probably shouldn’t view Chase Elliott’s first career victory on Sunday as some sort of watershed moment.

On the other hand, it’s tempting to think this changes everything.

Elliott has been living under a dark cloud — one created in his own mind — when it comes to his racing in the Cup Series. At times he has clearly felt inadequate and undeserving of even having his ride. That might sound crazy, but Elliott possesses a competitive mindset in which he knows what he is capable of — and feels he’s letting people down if he does not live up to it.

This bleeds through in everything he does, because it’s as if he doesn’t feel he’s even earned the right to act like he belongs until he proves he does. And in his mind, he should have proved it a long time ago.

Whatever any of Elliott’s critics have said about him? He already has thought those things about himself, so he’s more likely to agree than be offended. He believes driving for Hendrick Motorsports requires winning races and championships, and anything less is simply unacceptable.

So over these last few years, as wins have slipped away, Elliott hasn’t wanted to hear anyone’s words of consolation. Eight second-place finishes? Nice for some people, but not satisfying for him. He had to win.

On Sunday, though, there was a sense of real relief. He’s now a winner in the Cup Series. He gave Hendrick Motorsports its 250th victory. He is ready to take the torch as the face of the team in the future, ready to seize upon this confidence and win more.

He can and will — and must, in his mind.

“Definitely relief I would say would be one way to describe it,” he said. “I’ve left these races pretty down over the past couple years at times and had some great opportunities.

“I learned a lot about myself the past couple years. I’ve learned a lot racing in general. I felt like the end of last year I was probably (more) at the top of my game than I’ve ever been racing as a race car driver in general. … The past few weeks have been encouraging and I feel like we’ve been running more like we did last fall, which was really nice.

“No reason why we can’t do that more often.”

This really could be the type of situation where Elliott the high achiever takes those almost races and turns them into wins on a regular basis. He’s already elevated Hendrick beyond where its cars were typically running over the last couple years. Now that the team seems to be turning a corner as a whole? Well, it could just be the beginning for him.

Welcome to Chase Elliott’s world, everyone.

2. What if…

As great as Sunday turned out to be for NASCAR as a whole, let’s talk about what would have happened if things had gone sliiiiiightly differently.

Imagine for a moment if Elliott had blown Turn 1 on the final lap, allowing Truex to pass him (and not run out of gas, just for the sake of this scenario).

First of all, it would have been a masssive gut punch for a lot of NASCAR fans. A member of the Big Three would have won yet another race, and while snatching it from the driver who seems to have the largest support in the fan base at that.

Meanwhile, it would have been a tough blow for Elliott’s career overall. His reputation as a driver who was unable to close out races would have had a signature lowlight and it would have become that much harder to overcome those demons.

Honestly, it would have been uncomfortable to watch for both those on TV and in person.

Instead, Elliott not only got a win — but it was a resume-building one. He beat the best in the sport — passing Kyle Busch earlier in the race and then holding off Truex at the end — in a straight-up, non-fluky way.

How he did it is just as important as the fact he did it at all, in Elliott’s case.

“That’s just satisfying as a racer when you’re able to go and race with the guys who are dominating this deal right now — and actually be a legit contender and not back into one,” Elliott said. “That’s pretty cool.”

3. Road courses are back!

A ho-hum Sonoma race in June made me doubt my love of road courses for a moment there, but…phew! Watkins Glen brought it all back in a major way.

Damn, that was some good stuff! I’m not sure how anyone could watch that race and be bored or dissatisfied with their time investment in any way. Even when Busch was out front and building a lead in Stage 2, there was still entertaining and action-packed racing taking place.

As many have noted over these last few years, double-file restarts completely changed the quality of racing at road courses. These circuits put on a phenomenal show these days, maybe the best product NASCAR has to offer. Yes, consistently better than even short tracks at times.

One reason is they check all the boxes fans are concerned about. Fans are tired of hearing about aero (not much of a factor here) and inspection (35 of 37 cars passed on their first try) and they desire close racing (got it), lead changes (yep), passing (oh yeah) and a showcase for driver skill to come through (no doubt).

I’m not sure how the Roval will turn out this fall, but at least we get a shot to see one more Cup race in that style this season — and several more lower-series races. I wish there were even more road races on the schedule, but maybe someday.

By the way, that race was only 2 hours and 13 minutes — the shortest full-distance points race of the year. Do races need to be 3.5 hours to be enjoyable? Clearly not.

4. The remarkable Kyle Busch

It’s too bad so many fans can’t stomach Busch, because that seemingly stops them from being able to appreciate what he can do in a car every single week. I get much of it has been self-inflicted over the years with his attitude, but Busch might be the most purely talented NASCAR driver — ever.

Just look what he did during the final run on Sunday: After a fueling mishap, Busch restarted 31st and then drove all the way back to third. Third! He was passing the best of the best like it was nothing. That is insane!

Imagine if Busch was as well-liked as Elliott and people were going crazy over all his moves instead of hating on them. I honestly believe NASCAR would be a much different place in terms of popularity, because people would be tuning in for the Tiger-like dominance effect.


5. Points picture

As always, the last item of the Top Five looks at the regular season points picture.

Elliott became this season’s eighth different winner, which means there are currently eight playoff spots available on points.

Those are currently held by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman.

Honestly, there’s not much drama in the points right now — and with only Michigan, Bristol, Darlington and Indianapolis remaining, there might not be another new winner to shake it up.

The closest points battle is between Bowman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but they have more than an entire race’s worth of points between them (62!). And Paul Menard is 72 points behind Bowman, so he’s not close either.

Daniel Suarez, for all the gains he’s made lately, is still 89 points behind Bowman. He’ll have to win to make it.

If there were to be a new winner outside the top 16 in the last four regular season races, that would move the line up to Jimmie Johnson as the cutoff. The seven-time champ is currently 40 points ahead of Bowman, so he should be safe either way.

12 Questions with Chase Elliott (2018)

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

Racing’s weird. A lot of times I lay in bed at night — I don’t go to sleep very quickly — and I’ll think about it a little bit before going to bed. Especially if it’s race weekend or something like coming (to Sonoma), kind of running laps around the road course in your head. And when I do that, I never fall asleep, so it kind of keeps me up. So my mind wanders elsewhere.

The last dream I had about racing was, somehow or another I was running the Indy race somewhere. Actually it was an F1 race. Weirdest thing ever. And I get in the race, qualified like third or fourth, and we’re going out to the grid. We’re about to get into the cars and I realize I didn’t have my suit on. I was in my street clothes, and I had to go run and change really fast and I missed the start of the race. Nightmare, basically.

Lewis Hamilton’s not going to let you win when that happens.

No, definitely not.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

I think it kind of depends on the circumstance and whether or not the other person knows whatever drove to that contact in that situation. Sure, if I get into somebody — whether it’s on accident, on purpose, whatever — I do think if an explanation is needed, it’s probably in your best interest to at least say something. You race around the same people every week, so you’re gonna be around that person again and they can make your life easier or harder.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

Within racing, I just think the kind of competitor you are. If somebody’s bragging on the type of competitor you are and how you conduct yourself, I think that’s a pretty big compliment regardless of performance. I just think if you’re appreciated and respected from your peers, I think you’re doing something right. It’s not necessarily a compliment, but if respect is there, I think that’s a pretty big one in itself and you can typically tell whether someone respects you or not. I think that goes a long way.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?

I had a chance to hang out with Daniel Ricciardo from the F1 side (at Texas last fall). He’s not a celebrity — a California celebrity — but obviously a very well-known racer. Had a lot of fun with that.

I think kind of keeping it in the racing community, hanging out with people that understand what you have going on is a lot more fun than hosting somebody that has no clue. I’m a fan of different things. But hosting other people within a type of racing, I think is very cool because they know a lot about racing,

Obviously if they’re invited here, they are well-known in whatever area they race in. And they know a lot about it, they just don’t know a lot about this kind of racing, and I don’t know a lot about their kind of racing. So it’s an easy cross and an easy thing to talk about the differences and similarities as well.

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

No, absolutely not. No. I’ll take my chances.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2015 Kentucky Fall race for Xfinity. It wasn’t really the fall, but second Kentucky race.

Second Kentucky race 2015 — was it repaved yet? No, it was not repaved in 2015. I wanna say we finished either second or third to Brendan Gaughan?

Nope, this was P4.

P4, I was close.

Blaney won this race.

That’s right.

You remember this?

I remember that now. There was another one, we had a real huge race with Brendan Gaughan and I think Ty Dillon, us three raced really hard there at the end for a race. That might have been the first Kentucky that year, maybe it was in ’14. But I remember that one too.

How good are you at remembering races in general?

Depends on the race. If something memorable happens or you’re up towards the front and you’re contending — I feel like I remember a lot more from when I’m contending or am relevant in a race. When you’re back there rooting and gouging for 15th, 12th or worse, I try to forget those really fast.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

I’m a J. Cole fan, so I think he’s pretty good for a rapper. I don’t know a lot about the rapping world, but always kind of liked his music.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

I think it depends on the week. To be honest with you, I feel like that probably changes often. I had a favorite there last fall. You all can figure that one out.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

That’s pretty funny. I’m going to say LeBron on the crew chief side because his ability to remember plays in a game is very impressive to me. I’m going to say Tom Hanks spotting because I think he’ll keep his mouth shut. And Taylor Swift can drive the motorhome just because I would get to hang out with her more in that sense, so that would be a good option for her.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Finding one that nobody else is going to. That’s the key, going off the beaten path. When Dale Jr. was here, there was one in his hauler, so I went there every Sunday before the race. And then this year, for some reason — there’s a lot of people not happy about this, me being one of them — it’s no longer there. They turned it into an IT room to house a bunch of the electronics and whatnot. I always went there. So this year has been tough. That’s an important part of your Sunday is getting that done at the right time.

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

I couldn’t. I cannot backflip off the side of a car, so the price would be high. Real high.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He wants NASCAR to race at Bristol on Wednesday nights once a month as points races. Would you be up for that?

I would entertain that idea. Bristol’s pretty close to me and that’s a fun place, so why not?

The next interview is going to be with Aric Almirola. Do you have a question I can ask him?

To be honest with you, I don’t really know Aric that well.

That’s so interesting to me when drivers say that. I think it was Noah Gragson who tweeted you this week and he’s like, “Chase Elliott knew who I was!” I was like, “Why would Chase Elliott not know Noah Gragson? Of course he knows that.”

Well, I think he was being a little sarcastic. Maybe he wasn’t, but I’m pretty certain he was. But yeah, I thought he did a good job there at Iowa, put on a show. So that was fun to watch for me.

But as far as for Aric, I don’t know. Really the most I’ve learned about him in recent times was his show he did, I guess, he went to Cuba, right?

Yeah, FS1 did a feature on that.

But I think kind of keep it more on a racing side. … Obviously his switch, he has an opportunity to drive some really good cars this year. What does he feel like SHR does as a whole is better or what his favorite part about being there now is? What is the best thing that’s helped him from where he’s been in years past? I think that will be interesting to know.

Previous 12 Questions interviews with Chase Elliott:

April 15, 2014

May 6, 2016

Aug. 23, 2017


12 Questions with Jimmie Johnson (2018)

The series of 12 Questions interviews continues this week with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. The interview was recorded as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I don’t dream all that often, but I do remember one when I was getting ready to race for the Herzogs in ’96 in my very first off-road truck race for them. I had a dream that this brand new beautiful truck he built would only do wheelies — and I couldn’t compete, couldn’t make a turn, couldn’t stay with the pack because every time I touched the gas, it just did a wheelie and I couldn’t turn.

Was this a dream that happened more than once?

No, it was just that one dream, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It’s probably the only one I remembered through all the years of having different dreams.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

Yeah, it does. I think there’s also an unwritten code out there when there’s just incidental contact that happens. And then there’s that next level of, “Wow, that probably looked bad. I should apologize, I didn’t mean it.” And then you have to see if the guy believes you or not.

And then there’s the insult of all insults where you just completely dump somebody and say, “Oh yeah, sorry.” (Laughs)

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

The simple term that you’re a racer. That’s always meant the world to me.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says, “Hey, we are bringing a celebrity to the race and we’re wondering if you have time to say hi.” Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host?

I just had a flashback of meeting Vince Vaughn in our transporter a couple years ago. First of all, he was so tall he could barely fit in the transporter. And then he just of course was rolling the humor and dropping one-liners. So I love to have those opportunities to see people and show them around the transporter and through the inner workings of what goes on in a race team.

5. In an effort to show they are health-conscious, NASCAR offers the No. 1 pit stall selection for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for a month. Would you do it?

Man, I tried it. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but I was just curious and had a three-month run at vegan.

So you made it three months?

I did. I made it three months. Not easy — a lot of planning involved. And I’m sure the first month I made plenty of mistakes because you just don’t know any better. You don’t realize how hard it is to be a true vegan.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I have picked a random race from your career and you have to guess where you finished. This is the 2007 Atlanta Spring race. Do you have any idea where you finished in that one?

I don’t remember ’07. Nope, sorry, I don’t. I hope I won.

You actually won that one.


I was hoping to stump you on one that you won, since you’ve won so many races.

You usually remember the ones you lose. Like losing to Carl (Edwards) at the line or something like that. I wouldn’t know the year off the top of my head, but the ones you lose leave a much bigger mark than the ones you’ve won. (Laughs)

You started third on this one and you led the first 36 laps. There was a debris caution with 10 to go. You took the lead with three to go and you beat Smoke. Does any of this ring a bell?

Yeah, I remember getting by Tony off of Turn 2. We had a little contact, which I know didn’t make him happy. He had a little bit of a tire rub after that, and we were able to get the race won. I remember that now. I just need a little snapshot of what it looked like.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

I’m not all that versed in rap. But I guess I would kind of lean also the old school with Snoop and Ice Cube. I go back to when I was in high school and some of the big names back then, and that’s about as far as I can go. 50 (Cent) is kind of in there, I guess he’s kind of more recent.

But for whatever reason, I remember NWA when I was in high school. That is what all the cool kids listened to for awhile. My parents were like, “This language is unacceptable in the house.” (Laughs)

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

I always think of characters. We were just at Disney World not long ago, and I don’t know why, but I felt like I needed to punch or tackle one of those characters.

One of the mascots?

Yeah, one of the mascots. In general, they have such a punchable face.

Sorry, Mickey!

Right? (Laughs)

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your chew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

I would say Hanks as the spotter, he’s such a good talker. Taylor Swift — I’d much rather look at Taylor Swift than Chad Knaus. And we’ll have LeBron drive I guess. Our bus driver does a lot. You need to know the inner workings of the tracks and help work with crowds. With LeBron’s size, I think that he could definitely help with crowd management.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Experience makes all the difference in the world. Some tracks, it’s just port-a-potty, other tracks there’s a suite that you know nearby, or Goodyear’s tire building — there’s always a bathroom in there. And that is always a high priority when you hop off the truck. You can imagine when you’re gonna sit there for four hours and not have access to a bathroom, that last stop is very much on my mind.

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

It wouldn’t be too much. I always loved jumping off things and I was on the dive team and also swam and played water polo. Most of my dives were forward-facing, but I think I could get the rotation around, especially into the grass. I’d be very comfortable going into the grass.

12. Each week, I ask a question given to me from the last interview. Last week, I interviewed Simon Pagenaud. His question is: When you win No. 8, how will you celebrate differently than your other ones, and what was the most epic moment of your first seven celebrations?

The most epic moment would be Snoop Dogg playing the championship party. That was just the coolest experience ever, and we still talk about it over and over. So that would be the first highlight that pops in mind.

Do differently? Thankfully with winning seven, I’ve learned how to pace myself over the banquet week, so I think I would be yet again more experienced on how to manage the four or five days of continuous partying. (Laughs)

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a general question I can ask?

Do they wear underwear under their fireproof clothing in a race car?

Oh, is that a thing?

I don’t know. That’s where it all came from. I’m like, “Well, I don’t know.” I’d like to know.

Other 12 Questions interviews with Jimmie Johnson through the years:

Oct. 13, 2010

Sept. 14, 2011

July 9, 2013

Sept. 10, 2014

July 29, 2015

Feb. 18, 2016

Sept. 27, 2017


Jimmie Johnson seems unconcerned by looming sponsor search

If you thought Jimmie Johnson was stressed or worried about the future after learning Lowe’s will leave NASCAR following this season…well, not so much.

Actually, Johnson came off the opposite way on Friday — expressing genuine confidence and optimism about what he called the “opportunity” to partner with a new sponsor.

The 42-year-old also made it very clear there are no plans to stop driving anytime soon.

“I guess maybe it’s the eternal optimist that I am,” he said. “I have more to do and I enjoy the process. Hendrick is home and retirement hasn’t been on my mind.

“I want to win. I want to win an eighth championship. … I’m not done yet.”

Johnson was partnered with Lowe’s as soon as he arrived in the Cup Series, so he’s highly curious to “see what’s out there and what we can do from a branding standpoint for a new company.” He said he believes NASCAR is growing and Lowe’s departure is not a reflection on the sport.

“It’s a business decision that Lowe’s needed to make, and that stuff happens,” he said.

Furthermore, the seven-time champion said he doesn’t anticipate it would be any harder for him to find a sponsor at his age because many major corporations operate on year-to-year marketing plans anyway.

Johnson added he plans to be heavily involved in the search process. Perhaps, he suggested, the driver himself could even contribute to some leads after making so many connections with various people during the course of his career.

“This is a really unique opportunity and it’s also a great learning and growing moment for myself,” he said. “I want to be involved in this process and learn along the way. And maybe a relationship or two that I have made over the years will come to fruition and maybe help with sponsorship, too.”

News Analysis: Lowe’s leaving Jimmie Johnson, 48 team after 2018

What happened: Hendrick Motorsports announced Lowe’s will not return to the team next season, meaning Jimmie Johnson will have a new primary sponsor for the first time in his career. Lowe’s, which has been the No. 48 team’s sponsor since 2001, said it will “now look to invest in other strategic initiatives.” Johnson’s contract runs through 2020, and he made it clear he’s “not going anywhere” despite being 42 years old. “I have more to accomplish in this sport,” he said. “I feel the best I’ve ever felt physically. I’m motivated. I’m focused on winning races and chasing more championships. Someone (a new sponsor) will be a big part of writing that story with us.”

What it means: This is the end of an era in several ways. First of all, Johnson, Chad Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports, the 48 car and Lowe’s have all so tied together for such a long time, and now Lowe’s won’t be there. It’s going to be very strange to see Johnson promoting a different company next season (and yes, I think he will race for at least two more years). But perhaps more significant for NASCAR, Lowe’s was one of the last remaining full-season sponsors on a car — something that was once the norm. Kroger and its various brands do all of AJ Allmendinger’s races and FedEx had 34 races on Denny Hamlin’s car last season (Sport Clips did two), so that’s basically the next-closest thing. But other than that, even many of the biggest sponsors only do half or one-third of the season anymore. That has increased demands on the drivers, because it’s essentially tripled or quadrupled the amount of contractual appearances and promotional work they must do, put a financial strain on the teams to constantly chase new money and made it more difficult for casual fans to follow the racing since the paint schemes change every week.

News value (scale of 1-10): Eight. It’s pretty significant when the seven-time champion and perhaps the greatest driver in history loses his full-season sponsor, especially when it was the longest sponsor/team combination in NASCAR. Though this news alone does not mean NASCAR is in trouble or somehow dying, it should be viewed as a significant point when writing about the sport’s history and recent struggles.

Three questions: Will Hendrick be able to sign another sponsor for the full season, or will Johnson be juggling several companies? What made Lowe’s decide to leave altogether, rather than simply cut back or reduce its involvement? What kind of impact, if any, will this ultimately have on how long Johnson decides to race?