A Few Words With: Sammy Johns
Sammy Johns is a veteran crew chief who is working this year with a driver who is not all that young, but is newish to NASCAR, A.J. Allmendinger. This week, Johnson answered some questions about himself, Richard Petty Motorsports, Allmendinger, Dodge and racing.
Question: Any relief in moving from the half-mile tracks of Bristol and Martinsville to the mile-and-a-half of Texas?
Johns: A little bit. All the tracks are tough now-a-days. I just want to say one thing; I couldn’t be any prouder of AJ (Allmendinger) for Bristol and Martinsville. We can do basically a little bit of front bumper work and rear bumper work and basically take those cars right back to the race track. He ran really smart races and kept himself out of harm’s way all day and had some decent finishes. But yeah, there’s a sense of relief getting to a mile-and-a-half track. Texas is fast. It will be good racing.
Q: What’s been the key to AJ’s success this year; the 44 team’s success this year?
A: We’ve really just been trying to communicate and stick to basics. We got the whole thing started really late. We put a really good group of guys together who wanted to come out here and do it with us. And, we’ve really just been growing together; growing our communication from AJ to myself to our race engineer Mike Wolf, and just really trying to focus on top 15s. That’s really been our focus every week. Let’s get a top 15 and anything better than that is icing on the cake. AJ has been doing a great job with the race car during the race….making the right decisions like at Bristol and Martinsville. He’s made the right decisions at the right time. I’ve got to give credit to our spotter (Tony Hirschmann) who does a great job with AJ all throughout the race; when to make the moves and he’ll really settle him down when he needs to be settled down. The whole team has just really come together and communicating well.
Q: What are the keys to success at Texas Motor Speedway?
A: You’re going to have to have a good handling car for sure. The cars always want to be loose in the corners there and tight off as the banking flattens out. Having your car get into the corner real comfortable for the driver and then turn well getting off the corner is going to be real important come Sunday.
Q: What’s it been like for you to be back in the crew chief’s role?
A: It’s been fun. It’s been fun because we’ve been meeting our goals and we’re doing well right now. For the first five races, we wanted to make sure that we made the races and establish ourselves well in the points. So we’re getting that done. It’s been a bit of a homecoming. I’m getting used to being back on the road and being a crew chief again. So far, it’s been fun.
Q: Is the 44 team really just racing week-to-week versus trying something that may help you down the road because of the uncertainty of your sponsorship status?
A: Right now, the last that I heard was we’re going to the Coca-Cola 600 unless we can pick up some sponsorship. Our feeling right now is that if we can keep doing what we’re doing on the race track, someone is going to come along and want to sponsor us and keep us going to at least the Chase, if not the whole season.
Q: In regards to decisions at the race track on the car, are you more focused on just that weekend or changes that might help you down the road at another race?
A: Right now, we’re racing it just like any other team would be racing it and adjusting the car the same way. We’re trying to get the best finish we can that week and continue our points. If we can be near the Chase or in the Chase come that time, somebody is going to have to come along and sponsor us and we can keep this thing running full-time. That’s our ultimate goal, to run this car the full-time this season. We’re treating it (the season) right now like we are; that’s the way we’re operating.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about Allmendinger and what makes him successful?
A: A.J. is just a great communicator. He’s a really fun guy to be around outside of the race car, but once he gets in the race car, he’s all business. From the time that he came on board with us last year, I think that everyone in our organization saw the talent that AJ has and recognized it. So we’ve been trying to keep piecing that along. He’s a really neat guy to be around. He’s very playful when he’s outside the race car, but when he’s in it, he’s all business.
Q: What makes AJ a good driver?
A: He’s got a great feel for the race car. What he tells you, you can adjust something and he goes out and goes faster with it. I feel like his feel for the car and what the four tires are doing is real good and that’s key to the crew chief getting that proper information back and not have to second guess (the driver). When he tells you what he needs, you can give it to him and he’ll go out there and go faster with it.
Q: Can you talk about qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway?
A: It’s going to be really fast. Texas is always fast and you’re going to have to have your driver comfortable getting into the corner and across the middle. There’s a pretty big bump going into Turn 1 that usually upsets the car. If you can get your car comfortable over that where he can keep his foot on the floor, you can have a good, fast lap. It’s going to be fast.
Q: What might race fans not understand about the job of a crew chief?
A: I guess the stress involved. As a crew chief, you’re responsible for everything that happens with the race car, race team. One mistake made by a guy (team member) and you’re ultimately responsible for the performance of the car. When you’re outside the top 35 in points like we were the first five races, it doesn’t get any more stressful showing up and having to make the races; standing out there on pit road on Friday just hoping that you get that one good lap in. I guess just the stress level of it.
Q: Do crew chiefs have a different skill that makes them better off for the position?
A: I don’t think that you have any more skill than the next guy. Everybody in the garage area at this level is there for a reason… they’re all good and they all belong there. It’s the people that you surround yourself with, the team that you build around you, and the communication that goes along, that is what’s important. It’s not a one-man show by any means. Without my engineer, Mike Wolf, and my car chief Brian (Dantinne) and all the guys under them, I’m nobody. I’m just the guy who’s managing the chaos. You have to have a strong team around you. Everyone got to this level for a reason.
Q: Radio communication is always a topic of discussion. Do you think that radio communication should remain in the public domain or become private within the teams?
A: That’s a tough one. The fans are what make our sport. They love to hear that stuff. They love to hear the radio communication. I know that when I was a kid going to the races, I would have loved to hear that stuff. I think that it’s up to us….that if we do have dirty laundry…we need to iron it out off air, off the radio. It’s an emotional sport. Drivers are going to show their emotions. Crew Chiefs are going to show their emotions. We laughed a little bit this weekend because I showed a little bit of emotions over the radio during the race at one point and the spotter was not only calming AJ down, he was calming me down as well. It’s good for the sport. It’s healthy. It helps attract fans. That’s a tough one.One Comment