CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Finding time to relax has never been easy for Jimmie Johnson, especially during a championship chase.
Now that he's got a Nextel Cup title on his resume, and a wife who pushes him to chill out every now and then, Johnson has learned how to take a break every now and again.
So he packed up and headed to Mexico following Sunday's win at Texas Motor Speedway, which gave him a 30-point lead in the standings over teammate Jeff Gordon with two races to go in the Chase for the Championship.
'We figured between going to Texas and Phoenix it was easy to stop off for a short getaway,' Johnson said. 'My wife is really amazing about planning this stuff and encouraging me to get out and do things. It's how I took up golf because last year she really started pushing me to take my mind off the racing once in a while.
'In years past, I spent a lot of time just sitting around overthinking everything.'
There's not much to overthink now, as Johnson has opened a decent lead in this title hunt. A year ago, he took the points lead after Texas and never looked back in winning his first championship. Now he hopes to do it again, and with three straight wins, he has tremendous momentum heading into Sunday's race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Despite the brief getaway, Johnson said he's not ready to relax on the track just yet. Gordon, the four-time series champion, won't let up and will try to close the gap at Phoenix, where he won in April.
'Thirty points is good, and if I can maintain it or stretch it, it would be a lot better,' Johnson said. 'I just know that I won at Texas, he finished seventh, and it was like a 40-point swing. So if I finish eighth at Phoenix and he wins, he's back in the lead.
'I'm not ready at all to say we're in control of this thing.'
Johnson heads to Phoenix on Thursday and plans to race go-karts with his No. 48 crew for one last diversion before the Nextel Cup garage opens on Friday morning.
'Once we get into the track, it will be all business,' Johnson said. 'But I imagine I'll be pretty relaxed when I get there.'
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer conducts a Q&A session with Johnson:
Q: Have you had a chance to speak to Jeff since you grabbed the points lead away from him last week?
JJ: Yes. He came to Victory Lane.
Q: Really? He was so disappointed with his run and still came to see you?
JJ: Oh yeah, with a big smile on his face, too. He congratulated me, congratulated the team. He really is a class act.
Q: It was your first win at Texas, and they celebrate a little different there - with cowboy hats and guns. I heard it took so long, you missed your flight to Mexico and couldn't leave until Monday morning. How was it?
JJ: The hats were pretty cool, but man, I really struggled with the guns. Mine kept jamming. They were six-shooters, with blanks, and I struggled with it.
Q: Who is a better shot, you or (wife) Channy?
JJ: She's a pretty darn good shot. With a shotgun and a hand gun. She keeps me honest.
Q: And you know this, how?
JJ: She's from Oklahoma, and her dad is a big hunter, so she's got experience with guns. We have some friends in New Hampshire who have a shooting range, and we'll get out there with the sporting clay, and Channy is spot on. She can surprise a lot of people with a shotgun. A hand gun, too. She can shoot it all.
Q: So, is she a better shot than you?
JJ: I'll never admit that. I will say is she's a pretty good shot.
Q: How are you enjoying Mexico?
JJ: Oh, it's awesome. We're near Acapulco, a place some friends of us had been to before. And I think Jeff and Ingrid got married near here. We're having a good time just doing a lot of nothing. We're going to explore the little town we are in today, get some lunch, have a few cerveza. It's a lot easier to do coming off a win.
Q: Then I won't keep you. Enjoy your time off.
JJ: Hey, just so you know, I'm drinking a Corona right now and you're not.
Q: No, I'm not. Enjoy it.
JJ: I promise I will.