He is engaged now. Friends know there are times when you have to leave Johnson alone, when he is beating himself up for a mistake or trying to figure out what went wrong or just crawling into himself. But now he's in the moment. He's racing.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"Junior, if he gets a chance, will pass you up on the outside. That's what he wants to do. He wants to pass you on the outside."
Johnson closes his eyes now. He's visualizing. He spends hours visualizing the track, the line he's on, the drivers around him. He never misses a chance to test the car. He never leaves an empty moment. "He will be in bed just staring into space," Chani says, "and I'll say, 'What are you doing?' And he will say, 'Driving laps.'"
"Oh, man. Jeff will always put you in a position where you have to make a decision. That's what he's so good at. He's so calculating, and he's going to put you in a position where you have to decide what to do."
His voice is getting louder, more excited. The 38-year-old Gordon is Johnson's mentor. At a drivers' meeting years ago Johnson, who was racing in the Busch Series, approached Gordon to ask for advice. They hit it off. Before long, team owner Rick Hendrick wanted to add another driver, and Gordon pushed hard for Johnson. And since then Johnson has spent time watching Gordon, studying him, copying him, asking him for advice (and, inevitably, beating him on the track). He loves Jeff Gordon. And he loves beating him.
"Kyle is undependable. You can't be entirely sure what he's going to do. He's really aggressive. He's going to put pressure on you."