Calculated strategy earns Jimmie Johnson third All-Star win

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Team Chevy Racing

CONCORD, N.C. – May 19, 2012 – Jimmie Johnson used a carefully planned strategy of driving his No. 48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet hard for the first and last segments, and coasting for the three in between, to capture his third NASCAR Sprint All-Star race plus a cool $1 million. With this third All-Star checkered, Johnson joined the late Dale Earnhardt and teammate Jeff Gordon as the only three-time winners of this annual non-points paying race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour.

Jimmie Johnson, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet
Jimmie Johnson, Hendricks Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

The five-time champion won the first 20-lap segment of the event the then deliberately faded to the back for the next three 20-lap segments at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His plan was to keep the No. 48 Chevy out of trouble, then make his play for the win in the fifth and final segment. Johnson's win in the first segment meant he was guaranteed to be the first driver down pit road. A nice bonus for him was that he had the first stall, which was the prize for his Hendrick Motorsports team winning Thursday’s Pit Crew Competition.

This win also marked Rick Hendrick’s seventh NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race win: Johnson = 3, Gordon = 3, and Terry Labonte = 1.

There were nine other Team Chevy drivers who had earned a position in the 23-car field for this special winner-take-all event. Johnson’s teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won the fourth segment of the night’s event with a solid round in his No. 88 Dale Junior Foundation/National Guard/Diet Mountain dew Chevrolet. Junior secured his position in the star studded event with a win in the Sprint Showdown held earlier in the evening and came home in fifth position. Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Budsweiser/Rheem Chevrolet finished sixth and Kurt Busch was eighth in his Monster Energy Chevrolet.

Kasey Kahne, in the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet, had to go to a back-up car for this event due to a qualifying accident came back to finish in ninth place, Ryan Newman was 10th in his Tornados Chevy, and Regan Smith came home 12th in his Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet. Johnson’s teammate and three-time All-Star winner, Gordon, took a 13th place in his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27 Menards/Certain Teed Chevy, competing in his first All-Star Race, crossed the checkered in 16th position. Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart fought handling problems with his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet came home 17th.

Brad Keselowski (Dodge) was second, Matt Kenseth (Ford) was third, and Kyle Busch (Toyota) was fourth to round out the top five finishers.

Next up for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 27, 2012.

JIMMIE JOHNSON, CHAD KNAUS, AND RICK HENDRICK, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET – WINNERS:

POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:

KERRY THARP: Seemed like we were doing this about a week ago in Darlington. What a week it's been for Hendrick Motorsports. Jimmie, talk about winning the All Star Race. This is your third win. You've tied Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon for the most wins. Talk about what that means.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It means a ton to me. Those are two of the greatest drivers that have ever been in a stock car. I want to set my goals high and be considered one of the best to sit in a stock car. The only way you do that is by winning races and piling up those stats.

I'm happy to have won tonight. I can't say enough about our team, the growth within our teammates, the confidence we have in one another, the bond that is growing between every member of the team, and all of that carries into what we do on race day and how that car performs on the track.

Within two corners tonight, as I was on the outside, which is usually the place you don't want to be, I knew it was on. I was able to get to the lead in that first segment and really set our night in the right direction, kind of control the night.

Everybody knew if you could win that first segment, you could control the night. We were able to do that starting sixth, so it was pretty awesome.

KERRY THARP: Chad, winning that Pit Crew Challenge Thursday night played a role in this win here tonight. Talk about that and how the team performed.

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I'm so proud of the Lowe's 48 pit crew. Last year we made a pretty big transition to a pretty young group of guys, guys that came from another team or two, put these guys together. I haven't seen a group of guys that have worked so hard to have good, solid pit stops in my life. These guys are just fantastic.

We had a meeting after we were able to win at Darlington last week, and we said, Look, if we can go out and win the Pit Crew Challenge, get that No. 1 pit box, get a solid car, win the first segment, the rest would be up to Jimmie, we knew we could win the race. It played out perfectly.

Those guys did such a fantastic job at the Pit Crew Challenge Thursday night, beat the defending champions, not only once. But twice. I think it speaks volumes about how good those guys are.

In practice the car was fair, solid. He did a good job of directing us of what we needed to do with the racecar. Came in today, it was great. Exactly what we needed to do. I was stressing last night about what we were going to do for strategy. Made him come to the transporter, talked about it again. He was like, Man, strategy is pretty easy after you win that first segment.

He said, How do you like me now?

I said, I love you, man, because you made my night easy.

Couldn't be prouder to get that third All Star Race here. That's cool and pretty fun.

KERRY THARP: Rick, what a seven days it's been for you and your racing organization. You took a little spin out there in the 48 car post win. I don't know if I've ever seen that before. Talk about that and also talk just the significance of your seventh All Star win as a team owner.

RICK HENDRICK: That was the dumbest thing I've done ever in racing tonight. That was it. I may have done some smart things, but that was the dumbest one.

I don't know. We just was so excited. I saw Jimmie. When I climbed in, I got my foot hung in the dash, had his knee pinned where he couldn't get to the clutch. I thought, I'm going to be like a busted watermelon out here. It was a neat deal.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You did say, Come get me, so I did what you said.

RICK HENDRICK: Yeah. Like I said, it's the dumbest thing I've ever done.

But I said earlier this year that I thought we had great momentum in our organization. Jimmie has had a really good year, but we had a rough start. To see Dale win the open, then win a segment, and I thought Kasey had won a segment. So all the cars are running well.

I'm just proud of these guys. That pit crew, that young crowd, is just pumped. I think the guys are working together. It just feels terrific. After you win the 200th, that was kind of a monkey on our back for a while. To get the pit crew deal done, then coming here tonight and running this well, just excited about the 600, excited about the rest of the year, proud of little Chase, too. Everything has been clicking for us lately.

KERRY THARP: Questions.

Q. I think we all get why you rode around in the back. Chad, if you can describe for us why that was the strategy. Jimmie, as a racer, what is that like to go 60 laps and not be trying that hard or at all?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, we were trying. We were working on our car. I was making sure I could get a couple good laps in and find the balance of the car. We were in heavy conversation about small adjustments, what we could do preparing for that final segment.

Once we get through that and I catch the back, it was time to ride. That's no fun. My mind is running, Is the track changing. These guys are racing, are they getting stronger.

I had to believe in the system.

I really think whoever won that first segment would have done the same thing. It's just what you do when you can control the race like that. We took great advantage of it.

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I mean, he hit it right on the head. The biggest thing you have to do in any event is you have to limit your risk. That's what we needed to do. We were fortunate, like Jimmie said, that he was able to get out there that first segment and attack and get the win. From that point on, all you want to do is maintain and make sure you're there at the end. That's what we wanted to do.

We took the opportunity, like Jimmie said, to make some adjustments to the racecar. We made some. He didn't think they helped the car where he needed it. We undid those, made some others. He went back out. Felt like it was a little bit better. We adjusted it another time and felt like we were getting pretty close.

Even though it looked like we were just coasting back there, he was pushing it pretty hard. There were a couple runs when we were quite a bit faster than leaders.

It did exactly what we needed it to do. It made a great show for the fans. It mixed it up towards the front, guys with a lot of different strategies. You saw some people stay out, get four tires, two tires, Allmendinger with four tires. I thought it was great, exciting to watch. I think it was a great show. It was a lot of fun to see all of that come to fruition.

Q. Jimmie, 200th win, you pass Rusty Wallace on the all time win list there, now you win your third All Star Race, you're up there with Dale Earnhardt and Gordon, you gave Rick his first window ride. Do you think much about this stuff? Rick, could you also speak to all the stuff that he continues to accomplish.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, this week I've probably thought about things more than most weeks. To give Rick his 200th win and to look at the company, I can go back to when I was racing off road trucks, watching from afar, didn't know how I was going to get into NASCAR, but it's where I wanted to be.

I'd come to races and I would watch the Hendrick guys walk by, watch Rick walk by. That's back when Randy Dorton had the hairdo where you saw the comb go right through it. He's pretty important with that haircut and hairstyle (laughter).

I watched from afar. I just wanted to be a part of this team so bad. To be here and be a part of it and contribute, to have a group of guys like I do in our 48/88 shop, really the entire complex, it's family. I've been there for so many years now, I have pride in the accomplishments I've made.

When I see the Hendrick logo, I know what it means to me and the family, what we are all together. This last week has been really special.

I have a great opportunity here with what I've accomplished to get up there and chase down what Gordon has done, what Earnhardt has done, Petty. I want to do that. I think it's going to be very difficult to do. But I want to accomplish that. I'd love to tie their seven championships and I'd love to win eight. I'd love to chase Jeff down with how many wins he's had. I'm saying I can do any of this.

It's obviously very difficult to do. I've got a lot of years left ahead of myself. I want to leave my mark in this sport when I hang up my helmet. We're doing a great job of that.

RICK HENDRICK: I think I said this in Darlington. You know you're getting close to it, but until you achieve it, your phone blows up, people that you went to school with call you, you get to reflect back. I said this in Darlington, but I'll say it again. I think about Clayton Mitchell and Jack Tant and my dad in the early days going to Trenton in the back of the truck, dreaming about getting to go to a NASCAR race, getting Petty's autograph in Martinsville.

You get in a rush and you kind of forget that you've won a lot of races. When you see the pictures, we put together a 200 win book, I started flipping through it, looking at Victory Lanes, thinking about Terry Labonte, Geoff Bodine, Tim Richmond, Harry Hyde, Robert Gee and all those guys.

I said this before and I'm going to say it again. At the end of the day, I'm going to treasure the people that I've got to be around and be close to, see superstars like Jimmie Johnson, Chad, Jeff Gordon, all those guys accomplish big things.

Again, the relationship we have with our people, the way everybody works hard, we get down, we just dig harder, we're very competitive and we want to win. But we look after each other. It's a team effort.

To see Dale Earnhardt come over and congratulate Jimmie tonight, they work so hard together, Jimmie and Dale, Chad and Stevie.

This week has been like a fog for me. Again, until you do it, people start calling you, people that you haven't heard from in a long time, people that you respect. Richard Childress and I got to spend some time today reminiscing things. Roger Penske tonight before the race started.

I'm very thankful I'm in this position. I owe it all to Max Mulliman, Harry Hyde, those guys that we just stumbled into it, I think, then you just start working hard and refuse to lose. It's just a group of great folks.

That's what it's all about. Any business that's done well, it's just the people.

Q. Jimmie, were you going faster there at the end with Rick hanging out of the car than you were on some of those restarts? Do you like a format that rewards a guy that wins the first segment that much?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's going to be tough for me to knock the system after how our night went because it just worked out exactly how we'd hoped.

First gear on these mile and a half tracks is pretty tall. We're running 50, 60 miles an hour in first gear. That's as slow as I could go in first gear. I had my arm around Rick's leg, trying to hang onto him. I could feel the wind pulling on him. I can't really go any slower.

RICK HENDRICK: Like a big sail.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You said that, not me (laughter).

He mentioned his foot was in the way. I couldn't get to the clutch to push the clutch in to slow down. When you let off the gas in these Cup cars, the way the cam is, it will start loping or jerking real bad. I was afraid if that happened I'd throw him off the side of the car. I had to stay on the gas and keep some decent speed up.

When we stopped, you couldn't get your foot off, had to take the steering wheel off. Three of us trying to monkey your leg out of the car.

RICK HENDRICK: I'm surprised I didn't get called to the hauler.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: What was the other part of your question (laughter)?

Q. The format that rewards the guy that wins that first segment. We talked about it on Thursday. If you win that, you're guaranteed to win this thing.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, no. I mean, we really felt like the 18 was in that guaranteed spot. The way the format went down, we felt like the winner of the first segment had control. Kyle Busch and that team, those guys are on it. We really expected Kyle to check out right away. He checked out. Here we came and ran him down.

That was the key point. Whatever the format is, at the end of the day, I understand it needs to be exciting for the fans. It's hard for me to say anything bad about the format after winning.

Q. Let me get this straight. Jimmie, you were the one that figured out this whole thing is based around this first segment? Chad, when you get the new formats, how quickly do you sit down and say, What is our angle, our shortcut, how are we going to have to out think the format to get to where we need to be?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I can't take the credit for figuring the format out. I think when the rules came down, every crew chief in the garage area realized the importance of that first segment. Chad was the one briefing me. As he mentioned earlier, multiple times. We met three or four times on it again. After the drivers' meeting before the race we went through it again.

If you won the first segment, it was very easy what you could do. There was just as much importance, not as much, but very close, amount of importance to win the second race. We felt like the winner would come out of the front row, unless these guys got crazy and crashed or something.

To make your odds work in your favor, being on that front row is key. First or second segment was the goal to win. We figured starting sixth winning the second segment was our best chance, but we had such an awesome car, we just went up there and won the first one.

RICK HENDRICK: I want to say one thing. In all my years, being on a restart, being on the front row, I can't tell you how many I've lost that way. Dover, Martinsville. It can happen. So it wasn't a laydown. I didn't get excited till you got some distance on them.

I think it's their job to figure out the format when someone comes with the rules. I'm sure there will be a change for next year. I mean, just because you're sitting on the front row with 10 to go, Kenseth spun his tires, slowed down that outside lane, there's no guarantee.

Q. Jimmie, what did Rick first say to you when he climbed on the car?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't remember exactly. He was kind of regretting that he asked me to come over there. What was it like, No, I can't get on here. You told me to get over here, get on the car.

RICK HENDRICK: I really wanted the flag. That's what I was after.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Did you get it?

RICK HENDRICK: Yeah. You said, I'll get in.

I said, No.

You said, Come on.

Once I got my one leg in there, I had no choice. I had to try to go ahead and finish it. But that was pretty stupid. But anyway...

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was afraid somebody was going to throw a beer can at us and hit you in the head.

RICK HENDRICK: I was surprised they were really nice. Maybe they are all customers. They were all waving. I didn't get any fingers. Not one single finger and no beer cans.

Q. Jimmie, Brad Keselowski was very complimentary of your car. Are you going to bring the same car back next week? Does this victory give you a lot of confidence and momentum like in 2003?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it definitely gives us confidence. Even though we won the race, I saw a lot of strong cars tonight. I think track position at the end of the 600 is going to be key. Two or three pit stops from the end, being in the right position, having the right strategy, if it's fuel, two tires, four, none, whatever it might be, that's going to be key.

I really would like to bring this car back, but I don't know if we can necessarily. Back Tuesday? I don't think it can happen in today's world.

Years ago, before the cars went to the tech center, you could turn one around. Now there's just not enough time to do it.

We have a lot of great bullets at the shop. Clearly we learned a lot tonight that we can apply to the car we'll bring here.

Q. Jimmie, in recent years you've talked about how Charlotte hasn't been quite the same for you since the repavement. The experience you had from tonight and this weekend, do you feel you're kind of turning the corner a little bit on reclaiming some of what you had here before?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: In some ways, yes. But I put the weight in the work that took place over the off season, the equipment that we're bringing to the track right now. The old track and the surface and the bumps, you know, there was just a certain way to drive the track, especially in three and four, a line that I somehow developed and found that other guys wouldn't run or couldn't get their cars to run that type of line. That doesn't exist today. So I don't feel like it's exactly like years past.

But what we've had over the last two, three months in our cars, the grip that we've created with the car, my car drove tonight clearly better than I've had here in a long time. I put all that weight in Chad and Greg, really our four teams working together, developing a better package for this year.

Q. Was there ever any debate about what you would do on the last pit stop? Was it always, We're not going to do anything?

CHAD KNAUS: We felt pretty confident for 10 laps, since they resurfaced the racetrack and changed it, the tire that Goodyear brought to the racetrack has been so good, once you cool the tire down, it comes back. You can get back three quarters of a second on the speed you have versus stickers.

We were pretty confident if we could get one of those first two segments, all we would do is a stop and go. We stopped a little too much, compared to some of the other guys. Our stop was a little slower, so it was close.

But, no, we had a pretty good idea what we wanted to do.

If things had been different, maybe we hadn't won a segment or maybe we were sixth or something like that, you just don't know. That was planning, How is that? We had a multitude of plans, but that was Plan A.

Q. Jimmie, you said you figured that the winner was going to come out of the front row. Even with the rule changes, did that make you think there may be a little bit more challenging to hold the lead at all? While you won last week, does this win maybe mean a little bit more going forward because it's an intermediate track?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I've completely forgotten about the side skirt change. When you get in the car and drive, you take the car to its grip level, the limits of the grip level, you just kind of deal with it.

I didn't feel anything huge. But, you know, yesterday in practice, the sun was out, there was a lack of grip, some debate whether the car being uncomfortable was due to the side skirt change or not.

Tonight, I can't say I ever thought about it. Not sure, you know, what's happened there. I understand what they're trying to do. But you can't take away the fact that the lead car is going to have the best situation for air. Any advantage the leader may have, they're going to be able to take advantage of it.

The mile and a half momentum. Last week was very special. That racetrack requires so much out of the driver. Winning 500 miles at Darlington, our 200th, is tough to pick. We've had a lot of good momentum on the mile and a half's. Looking back to Las Vegas, how tough we were racing with the 14. In Texas we were strong. Kansas. I mean, everywhere we've been, we've had a lot of speed.

So I feel like we keep ratcheting things up every week.

Q. Rick, given your current success, also given the fact that it's difficult to stay ahead of the game, so much strong competition, what is your five year plan for Hendrick Motorsports? What will you do to stay up front?

RICK HENDRICK: I think we do the same thing we've been doing for the last 25 years. We count on Chad and the guys. If you give guys like Jimmie Johnson the best equipment, or equal equipment, you look for them to get it done. Then you look to Chad and the crew chiefs to make the right calls. You look at the areas they can work in.

Everybody's working hard. Everybody's got the same tools. It really comes down to the people and the communication and the commitment and the gut, who wants it the worst.

There's a lot of talent out there in both the pit crews. I watched the Pit Crew Challenge. You're talking going through all that, fractions, 10 feet, four feet, two feet, six inches. You saw it tonight.

NASCAR is going to keep it equal. The guys that want it the most and are willing to work the hardest, never be satisfied with where you are 'cause you know when Jimmie does this tonight, everybody else out there is going back this week and working double hard. They're going to come back with more determination than they had tonight.

You can't let up. You can't take your foot off the gas in this sport. You've got to have a commitment, the championships and wins are what you're all about. It's not about the money. It's about the commitment and the will to do whatever it takes.

Q. Jimmie, have you ever been more cognizant of the fact that you better make that car stop completely on that pit stop? Chad, how many times did you have to remind him of that? That was a penalty you couldn't afford.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I was told the officials needed to read the Goodyear label on the side of the car. I guess I was a little too cautious with that. I wasn't going to let it be a questionable call. I made sure that I came to a stop and went on. I'd look like a fool if I rolled through the pit box, took ourselves out of the race win there.

Q. Chad, when the rules came out, how much did you plan right off the bat when you got it? Did you have a plan coming into this as soon as they sent out what the rules were going to be? Jimmie, you're a racer. Is it at least somewhat frustrating having somebody get in your ear and say, Stay behind, when you're dying to go?

CHAD KNAUS: Once we got the rules, we obviously read through them pretty thoroughly. There's always little nuances. If you look in there, you can find little things maybe to find a little advantage. We found a pretty cool advantage for the qualifying that we didn't actually do. I'm a little upset at myself for not actually trying to pull that one.

But that's what we do. I think Greg Ives, myself, the rest of the guys at the 48/88 shop, we dissect that stuff and try to find an advantage. We knew if we got that win in the first segment, we would try to tune on the racecar. Because we didn't get practice in the nighttime conditions, we were only able to practice during the day, we knew that was going to be our best time to try some different things. You go through that and you learn.

I was actually shocked when the 2 car won their segment, how he took off and ran up through the field. I was really confused as to why they were doing that. I noticed seven laps later they fell back with us. I think everybody really understood what the process was going to be, how they needed to approach those last 10 laps.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's definitely hard. Segments two, three, we knew that we could work on the car. I had to drive a hard couple laps and form some opinions because I really felt like the two, three laps of that final segment would determine the winner. I wanted to make sure I had my short run under control.

Like Chad said, we adjusted on it a couple times. Made one adjustment, took that out, went a different direction, liked that, went a little bit more, then backed off something else a little bit later.

We were smart tonight. We used our heads and did a good job.

KERRY THARP: Congratulations to the No. 48 team for a big win here tonight and good luck this week coming up with the Coca Cola 600.

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Tags charlotte, chevrolet, hendrick, johnson