Atlanta II: Winning team press conference, part 1

An Interview With: RICK HENDRICK CHAD KNAUS JIMMIE JOHNSON THE MODERATOR: We have from the No. Number 48 Lowe's Chevrolet team, Jimmie Johnson driving, he has the lead cut in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, trails his teammate, Jeff ...

An Interview With:

RICK HENDRICK
CHAD KNAUS
JIMMIE JOHNSON

THE MODERATOR: We have from the No. Number 48 Lowe's Chevrolet team, Jimmie Johnson driving, he has the lead cut in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, trails his teammate, Jeff Gordon, by nine points; Chad Knaus, crew chief; and owner of both the 48 and the 24 car, Rick Hendrick.

Gentlemen, congratulations, maybe we can just start with brief openers from each of and you. Rick, give your honors.

RICK HENDRICK: Well, it's a tight race and it was a good day for Jimmie and the guys and just a good finish. It was a wild finish. We've got three more to go, and see if we can, if our nerves will stand three more events here.

But it's looking good right now.

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, it was a great day. You know, we really love coming to this racetrack. It's a great facility and it's a fun racetrack to race and prepare a car for. We didn't probably do the best job of preparing the fastest car, but we were fortunate enough to be there at the end and to be able to get the victory and it was a great day for everybody in the 24 and 48 shop. We got two Top-10s, and that's kind of what we were here today to do and it was nice.

THE MODERATOR: Our race winner's winnings will be donated to Red Cross Wildlife Relief Effort. We don't have the exact figure yet.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, today is a great day on a lot of fronts, in so many ways. We had a good car today and as Chad pointed out, probably not the fastest, but his pit call at the end was really what put us in contention to win the race and got the job done for us.

I think that -- I just think that it's going to be a fight to the end. We took a good bite out of Jeff's point lead today, and it's going to come down to a position or two in the next three races.

And now I feel really good about where we are in the points and we can go lead laps, we can try to lead the most laps and really race for this championship over the next three events. So I'm very excited about that.

And then also with the California Wildfire Relief Fund, Mr. Hendrick and I were speaking last week, beginning of this week and we talked about donating the purse, Lowe's has jumped on board, Mr. Smith, Mr. France and I've heard of a few other corporations matching the purse today.

So we feel confident over a million dollars would be raised and sent out to the Red Cross and hopefully it encourages other people to get involved. Lowe's is using their other stores (inaudible/line static) and whether it's a special paint scheme, if it's for a charity like today, we seem to deliver and get the job done, and I'm happy about that.

Q: Last week you said it was your goal when you started the team to have two teams battling for the championship, but three races to go, is that going to happen?

CHAD KNAUS: Looks that way. When I sat down with Mr. Hendrick and Jeff Gordon and Jimmie, and Brian Lewis and Tom Whitesell in 2002, wintertime of 2001, we said that that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to build a team that was capable of battling for wins, battling for championships on a weekly and on a yearly basis. And, you know, I think this is the first of many years to come that hopefully we can continue to do that.

We've got a phenomenal staff with our engine development program, they have had the duty and task of developing the R07 engine as well as maintaining the SB2, and the guys in the chassis and body program and maintaining the Monte Carlo and improving it and testing and improving the Impala. So it's not just what we have going on in the 24 and 48 shop, but what we have going on throughout Hendrick Motorsports, and it's a great feeling.

Q: How much of a testament to the crew chiefs and everybody on the 48 and 24 teams, when Jeff was having a day that could have been tough for him as far as the points goes and he was in the 20s and Jimmie was able to come out with the win; what does that say about the people with those two teams?

RICK HENDRICK: I think what we have learned in racing is that you can't give up and you've got to continue to work on the car. And I think when I looked out there at one point and all three of the cars were in the top six, and then Casey (Mears) was 12th, you know, that's our goal is to try to run up front and you know, only one car can win a championship.

But we were fortunate enough to battle to the end with Terry Labonte and Jeff (Gordon) at one time, the last race that was decided and Jimmie's was awfully close in '04 and so we're used to not giving up, and you have to count every point.

And I think one of the strong suits of our organization is the relationship between crew chief and drivers. And they talk during the race and Jimmie kind of dissects the car and tells Chad what he needs, and Jeff and Stevie the same, and Alan and Kyle the same, and Casey and Darian.

So the communication is great, and it's not over until it's over. And we've had some breaks that don't go our way. I think Kyle had it rough, if the caution hadn't came in, probably would have won the race. You just have to be ready, and again, communicate and try to make the car better and not just give up. So that's a testament to these two guys and the other crew chiefs and drivers in the organization.

Q: Chad, can you explain the thought process behind that last pit stop, and is that a situation where you are always looking for an experienced position in that case?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think so. We are real fortunate that Friday started out with a good qualifying effort and got it where we wanted it.

And obviously you cannot perceive what's going to happen throughout the event. It's not like football or basketball where you know the cautions or innings are going to be done or when the quarters are going to end. When that caution came out, we knew we didn't have a car capable of winning the race at that point. But usually late in the race when cautions come out, cautions breed cautions, so track position was going to be important.

So we were fortunate to see guys taking two tires and made a call to take two tires and went with it.

Q: For Chad, maybe with about 30 laps left, you and Jeff running pretty close together on the track, was the thought to try to save fuel by just running together instead of real racing? And probably the last thing, do you think you would have made it?

CHAD KNAUS: At that point we weren't really running with the 24. We were ahead of them, I believe, I don't remember what was going on there. I think we would have made it or very close. The fuel mileage was getting better as the pace was slowing down. So I think we would have made it.

I can tell you this: We were not going to stop and it would have been exciting to see how it would have played out, and if the caution came out we were in a position to win and would have gone for it for sure

Q: Do you feel the fact that the championship is being pretty closely fought between two teammates, two guys out of the same race shop, it's taking a little bit of the drama and out of the championship for the public?

RICK HENDRICK: I don't think so. I think the guys are racing each other really hard. Each one wants to win, and I think to the Jimmie Johnson fans and to the Jeff Gordon fans, it's a battle. And they have put on a really good show at Martinsville and they raced each other hard and they raced each other clean. It sure has not taken any drama out of it for us, so I hope it hasn't for the fans.

Q: Can you just tell us what you saw on Denny Hamlin with the restart when his car didn't go and how you managed to get through, around, over, between, or whatever happened?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, coming to the restart, I saw him swerving the car a little bit. And looking back on it now, I think he knew early off of (Turn) four that the car was running out of fuel, got an air bubble in the line or whatever it was.

So I guess looking back on it now, I know what he was doing, and as we got up to the restart line, he didn't take off but he left the right lane open. So I was looking out there thinking, all right, he's taking us deep into the starting area where NASCAR kind of lets the leader take that control, and he wasn't going. And I could see everybody stacking up and I was starting to ease by him at that point and I saw the flag man throw the green, and he never accelerated, so I took off and realized at that point that he had a problem with the fuel pickup. And everybody stacked up after that.

So I have to give Denny some credit because he could have made that one big mess, and he did pull down and leave me a lane to get by on the outside.

Q: Just how aware were you throughout the day of Jeff's struggles, because he was as far back as 21 at times. And also, for Rick, tomorrow the Car of Tomorrow test, what are you hoping for out of that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We struggled today, as well, and it seems when we were struggling, the 24 was running well and then it kind of flipped at the end. We didn't have the best of days. As the race went on, we got much stronger. Chad was making a lot of great adjustments on the car. I think the first three or four adjustments we were trying to find direction with the car and what would wake it up and then Chad got on to what was working for the car and bringing the comfort for me to drive it and we improved the car a lot throughout the event.

I paid very close attention to where the 24 was and I saw his struggles but I knew just deep down inside that those guys would fight back and be in the Top-10 when the race was over.

RICK HENDRICK: You know, tomorrow is going to be an important day for not only Junior, Tony (Eury Jr.) and Dale Junior, but Casey and Alan. They are going to be working together for the first time, trying to decide what they like and just starting the communication process.

So tomorrow is going to be a big day for those two guys, and we are glad to see it get started, because Tony has been there working with the guys and has some ideas, and they have a lot of things to test and there will be a lot of information brought back for the 24 and 48.

So it's a real important day, and it's kind of a day we've been waiting for, so we're pretty excited about it.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Terry Labonte , Jimmie Johnson , Denny Hamlin , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports