Charlotte II: Winning team press conference, part 1

NASCAR Banking 500 Only from Bank of America An Interview With: JIMMIE JOHNSON - Race winner CHAD KNAUS - Crew Chief RICK HENDRICK - Team Owner THE MODERATOR: Tonight's winner of the NASCAR Banking 500 Only From Bank of America, Jimmie ...

NASCAR Banking 500 Only from Bank of America

An Interview With:
JIMMIE JOHNSON - Race winner
CHAD KNAUS - Crew Chief
RICK HENDRICK - Team Owner

THE MODERATOR: Tonight's winner of the NASCAR Banking 500 Only From Bank of America, Jimmie Johnson. He drives the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. This is Jimmie's sixth victory in 2009 and his sixth win here at Lowe's.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: He was real quick. But when he was mired in traffic he didn't have the speed that he needed. So in my opinion I needed to suck it up and get all that I could those first two or three laps to get out in front of him, and once I did that he didn't have the benefit of clean air and it hurt his car and he started slipping back.

But that last restart I had my hands full. I was loose on the inside of him. I had a couple moments, I had to fall in behind him, collect my thoughts and try to find another way by him. Once I cleared him, I knew we'd be in good shape, but if he could have held on three or four more laps in front of me, I could have then got too tight and not been able to get by. Not that I was able to desperate to get by him, but I was doing all that I could.

Q: One for each of you: Jimmie, you're four wins away from 50, which has always been a magical number in this deal. This will get you up to a tie for 10th for all time. Just speak a little bit to what that will mean and can you actually get it done this year? And for Chad, Jimmie mentioned in victory lane that this was a perfect weekend because you won all three practices and qualifying in the race. Somebody mentioned it to Matt Kenseth before when he was in here, and he said actually to be a perfect weekend you'd have to lead every lap in a race, too. Do you think you can go to Martinsville next weekend and pull that off?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess we've got more work to do. You know, the last year or two have gone by, I've paid a lot more attention to where I am in the sport and the win total and things like that, and just to hear today that we're tied with Buck Baker in 13th, I mean, that is really, really neat. We'll see what we can do. We have some good tracks ahead for us. I hope that we can keep winning races. You never know what's going to happen in this sport. I hope to get to 50; that would be awesome.

CHAD KNAUS: We're just going to go and try to do the best we can, I'll be honest.

Q: Jimmie, I think a 90 point lead now with your best track coming up. How much of this basically comes down to you getting through Talladega unscathed at this point?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sure, that's the track that you don't have any control at. But at the same time, I mean, we're only halfway through this thing. So much can happen. Somebody at Martinsville can lose their brakes and clean you out. With the double file restart there's going to be a lot of bumping and banging.

Someone can get into you and knock a valve stem out or cut a tire. I mean, it's a nice points lead, but there's no need for anybody to get too excited yet. We've got good tracks ahead for us, so from a team standpoint we're excited and optimistic, but at the same time there's a lot of danger out there and we've just got to be smart.

Q: Kind of a follow up on that, the only reason I'm following up is because he asked it ahead of me, but I mean, 90 points is a pretty healthy cushion at the halfway point of the Chase, so you still have to feel like you set the agenda for the last five races of this thing.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: If it keeps going like it has. Again, one flat tire, one mechanical, Talladega, we all seem to know the risks at Talladega, that's just gone. That 90 points is just gone. I'm not trying to downplay where we're at. I'm very very, very happy where we're at. But there's five races left. There's a lot of racing left.

Q: For both Jimmie and Chad, going back to the concept of the perfect weekend, one, this is the ninth time you guys have won from the pole, so I guess how many other times in this past eight instances were you guys close to getting this, and why did it happen this time, and also I guess when did that first become a goal for this team to get that perfect weekend?

CHAD KNAUS: We've been close twice. We've been to the

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wasn't aware of this going until today, until we won the race. This is a Chad goal.

CHAD KNAUS: This is a personal goal of mine. We were close twice. We had missed it in race practice one time, we had missed it in qualifying practice another time. I kept a tally on that. It's true. We've been close but never quite made it ever, so it's kind of cool.

Q: I guess for both of you, can you talk about what the car was like early, because I think there was a radio transmission early in the race where you kind of got snippy with Chad and kind of said something about maybe coming down pit road and maybe strangling him or something like that. Can you kind of talk about what the car was going through in light of this perfect weekend and just that type of the commentary back and forth?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah. I hated going backwards. I could tell in Chad's voice he didn't like seeing the car go backwards. I just hit the button and said what I was thinking. It took two or three runs before Chad's voice came back to normal, so I had to apologize a couple times and smooth that back over.

But truthfully, the fact that I can be a smart ass to him like that and then come back and win the race shows the faith that we have in one another and the honesty that we have in our relationship, our working relationship. I was doing all I could, and he was trying to whip me a little bit and get me going, and that was the comment that came out.

CHAD KNAUS: See, that's the problem, what I said and what he heard were two different things probably. @!JIMMIE JOHNSON: Could have been. All he really said was a lap time, but just the way he said the lap time was enough for me to threaten to strangle him.

Q: Did that comment kind of catch you off guard a little bit?

CHAD KNAUS: No, I knew I was pushing him pretty hard at that point, so I figured he was getting close to saying something like that. He was saying it whether he was going to push the button or not. I know him well enough that he was to that point. But I had a point that I was trying to make at that juncture of the game, and it's just it happens.

Look, it's a competitive sport. It's a competitive environment, man. When you're out there and you're doing everything you can to try and make the race car go fast, the driver is doing everything that he can, your pit crew is doing everything that they can, everybody is keyed up at that point. When you try to extract that little bit more out of each person and get them out of that comfort zone or ask them to try to do something that's outside the realm of possibility, it's difficult, and it's just the way it is in a competitive environment.

Q: My question, I guess I want an answer from both of you, you guys said up there you've just won your third of five Chase races and you talk about it's not over and there's a lot of racing to go and anything can happen, and we all kind of sit here and roll our eyes. What will it take for you guys to feel comfortable? At what position will you guys feel like you've got a little bit of breathing room?

CHAD KNAUS: That will probably be lap 287 at Homestead.

Here's the deal: Last year going into Homestead first of all let's go back to 2006, at this point in the season we were well over 100 points out, came back to win the championship. Homestead last year I think we had to finish 23rd or better to win the championship, and the 88 car ran all day until the 88 car teammate ran all day until the end of the race and lost a wheel bearing with eight laps to go. If that would have been the 48 car, we would have lost the championship.

Q: That stuff doesn't happen to you guys.

CHAD KNAUS: It does. It happens to everybody. It's all about circumstances and timing. We're fortunate over the course of the last couple years we haven't had a significant failure in the Chase, but it is very, very possible, and the potential is there every time you go on the racetrack.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, not to sound like a broken record, but you just don't know what's going to happen from Chad mentioned the mechanical aspect. But what goes on on the track; if somebody spins out, you get caught up in it, contact with another car and there's a tire rub, fender is on the tire, you come down pit road, puncture a tire, whatever it is, those elements are still out there.

I feel very good about racing for the championship. If we don't have any problems, I feel that we've got a very good chance to win the championship, racing for it. But the unknowns is what we can't control. We don't want to get ourselves too emotionally wrapped up in this thing and have something come by and slap us in the face and take us out, so we're just trying to keep our guard up.

Q: Jimmie, did you feel like the 9 car maybe at certain points in the race was as strong as you or even stronger than you, and as a second question, how much do you sit up and pay attention to the fact that your teammate, Jeff Gordon, is now up to third in the standings?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the 9 car I thought was probably the most competitive car all night long. Maybe a little slow on some of the restarts, but once we got eight, ten laps into the race he'd have three or four tenths on guys often. I thought he had the best car throughout the night.

I'm aware that Jeff is in third and happy for him, happy for Hendrick Motorsports. You know, we got some more points on him tonight, which was good. But even where Jeff is at and the tracks that are coming up are really good for Jeff, as well. I mean, he can win at Martinsville, he can win at Talladega, he can win in Phoenix. He won at Texas this year. If we have a problem, he's going to be right in the middle of this thing, and that's why we just can't have any big problems.

THE MODERATOR: Rick, certainly a very strong performance over the weekend for this No. 48 team. Your thoughts now that we're at the midpoint of the Chase?

RICK HENDRICK: You know, we've got five more to go. I think what I try to keep in mind is the same thing that's happened to the guys that got them behind could happen to us. I'd rather be this far ahead than be behind, but you look at Denny Hamlin has been running great and he had two problems here that put him in the shape he's in. We've got Talladega coming up. You could have a problem at Martinsville. This double file restart, I don't think you can have enough points. It's just too early into the Chase.

Q: Earlier Matt Kenseth was in and he said that this wasn't a perfect race because you didn't lead every lap. I'm sure that you would probably consider it a compliment because you're a perfectionist, so when you reach your perfect race, do you redefine perfection? Is it now every green flag lap, every lap? I mean, every lap of practice? Where do you go with a perfect race?

CHAD KNAUS: Man, it's getting lofty. I guess I shouldn't have said anything. Geez, I should have kept it to myself. Yeah, they're goals, man. You have to establish goals, and each person, every individual, has to have goals that they try to achieve, and once you achieve those goals you have to try to push to the next.

When Jimmie first started and when we first started, we just wanted to win a race, and if we would have stopped there where would we be? Every goal once you get there, you've got to move on and try to get something more. Leading every lap, that's going to be lofty. I think that goes back to maybe Loudon New Hampshire, maybe Jeff Burton did that at a restrictor plate race or something like that, but that was a long time ago. Difficult to achieve.

Q: We saw Kasey Kahne had that huge lead and then the caution came out and kind of got you guys back in the game and he were able to beat him off pit road just barely. But then later on we saw another caution, and Chad, you kind of closed your eyes and threw your head back. Can you talk about the emotions that go in when those cautions came out, one, to kind of get you back in the game and one to kind of possibly take you out?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah I don't remember. It's a rush of emotions that you go through. You try to figure out, okay, is the air pressure right, what's going to happen when the tires go off, do we stay out, do we pit. There's just a lot of stuff that goes on, and at that point I was thinking, man, we've got this thing kind of handled if we can keep it green and then a caution comes out. So then you have to I don't even know what I did, I'll have to be honest with you. I'll have to look at the film. I'm sure somebody has got a funny shot of it somewhere. It's just the way that it is. There's just a rush of emotions that you go through throughout a race.

Q: Jimmie, you had that great streak here, the four in a row that began in 2004, ran through 2005, but that was kind of your last win here. How big of a boost is it for you to get another win at this track?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is a big boost. We've taken a lot of pride in the years to run well here in everyone's backyard. The fact that Lowe's is our sponsor and the track sponsor has always been something cool to win and celebrate and spend that moment with the Lowe's executives in victory lane has been special, and to do it here for the last race that the track is sponsored by Lowe's is cool. Glad to be back.

We've always been able to look at this track and feel like we can come here and run well. We've been competitive. We haven't had the results. We've had some difficult I think we lost an engine once. We were competitive in the spring race and the rain kind of threw things out the window for us, but it's nice to close on it.

Q: Just as a follow, do you feel this is your track, or do you feel that Martinsville is more your dominant track?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess Martinsville would be. We've won more races in the last couple years there than probably anywhere. And hoping for another one.

Q: I have one for Chad and one for Rick. First for Chad, can you talk about the development the pit crew and you've had some changes with the tire changer. If I'm not mistaken last week I think a couple times you guys came in first, came out I think third. I think a couple times that was partially because one of the cars was at the end of pit road, I understand that. But it didn't seem to be quite as strong as what we've expected out of the 48 team pit crew and development as far as what you saw tonight.

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, Jeremy West, and we talked about last week, hurt his back about two months ago and he had to have back surgery so he's been sidelined and will be out for the rest of the year. We'll just have to see how that progresses. It's unfortunate see, our sport is different than other sports. It's easy to say that you've got a backup, it's easy to say that you've got those people on cue for when you need them, but we don't have the depth in most race teams like you do at a football team or a baseball team. You just don't have that roster.

So we had to go through a couple of different players and we found a new guy and we put him in last week, John Lucas, and he did a fantastic job last week. We got beat a couple of times last week, one we had a lug nut fall off the right front and we lost a few spots, and then really from that point on, those guys really held their own pretty well. I was really relatively pleased. The 24 car was at the 43rd pit stall, we were kind of in the middle, and the 11 car was in the first pit box, so to lose positions to the guys in the 43rd box and the first box, that's understandable. And we're fine with that.

And then today I think they did a fantastic job. I think they held their own for the most part. We had one or two that were kind of fair, and then we had two or three that were great. I think those guys are really gelling, and I couldn't be prouder of them.

Q: And also for Rick, you've got three teams top three in the points. I know you've had teams challenge for the championship, race each other for the championship, two teams. Now you could possibly have three teams. How does that does that change the challenge in managing people with more people involved with trying to beat each other for the championship in the same shops?

RICK HENDRICK: No, not at all. I'll tell you, we've been through it with two cars a lot like you said with Terry and Jeff and then Jeff and Jimmie. I'm really proud of the guys. Chad and Alan, for example, at different races here in the Chase have shared notes at 11:00 at night when maybe Mark's car was the best in the last practice. Chad calls him, or it could go the other way, Alan calls Chad. They are completely open, and maybe that guy beats the other guy that Sunday, but they come back and do it again. But that's what's got us here, and you know, it shakes out I hope it's going to end up that way, but I doubt it will. We've got to go to Talladega, and after Talladega who knows where we're going to be.

But I like the idea that I mean, that's what you strive for. I'd like to have four cars there. It's impossible to do. I'm thankful to have the three where they are today, but it's a tribute to the crew chiefs and the drivers for working together and being willing to share and understand that you might help the guy that might beat you in the championship, but this is what got us to this point.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , Denny Hamlin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports