NASCAR Nextel Teleconference July 20, 2004 Guests: Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus Part 3 of 3 Harris: The test of adversity you guys say about your team, describe that especially for your pit crew at Loudon last year. Knaus: Oh yeah that...
NASCAR Nextel Teleconference
July 20, 2004
Guests: Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus
Part 3 of 3
Harris: The test of adversity you guys say about your team, describe that especially for your pit crew at Loudon last year.
Knaus: Oh yeah that was pretty dramatic, that was crazy. That was a neat deal. I think once again that just showed how strong that this team is. Those guys got thrown up in the air and got taken to the Infield Care Center, got looked over real quick and came back and their next pit stop was a low 14 second pit stop. We went out to win the race. That's one thing about this team that we've got a bunch of guys that are hard core racers and they love a challenge and if you look over history that what a lot these racers are, guys that like challenge. If the guys don't like challenge he's not going to be successful in this business. The rules change weekly, the cars change yearly, the engine evolution, the pit stop gets better and better. Our guys love the challenge and if the car blows an engine, if the car crashes, they get hit on put road, they love bouncing back and going out there and showing everybody that they can do what needs to be done to get the win and that makes them feel good. That's the neat thing about this team I think is, the most important thing about this team is the simple fact that going to Victory Lane is great. They love it, everybody loves that, but what they truly, truly like doing is winning the race. Figuring out how they can take a car that's not capable of winning a race, a back up car or a car with a blown engine that has to start last or an accident on pit road. We enjoy trying to figure a way to win the race. That's what we enjoy the most.
Operator: Our next question comes from Nassau Telegraph.
NT: Is this the same 4877 chassis, did you guys use this in New Hampshire last year and what is the difference in this chassis and the other ones that you guys use in different race tracks?
Knaus: Actually, this is not the same chassis we ran last year. The car that we raced last year was 4847, which is a very good race car and it's kind of sitting back there in the wings right now, ready for action if we need it. Seventy-seven is the car that we raced a Martinsville and we also raced it at Richmond and finished second in both races, I believe. Excuse me, fourth at Martinsville and second at Richmond. We had a shot to win at Martinsville with it. The reason we're bringing this car is we're trying to decide what we're going to do for the first race there in the final 10 events. If he really likes this car up there at Loudon, then we'll race 47 at Richmond before the final 10 races start. If he doesn't like this car, then we know that we'll take 47 to Loudon to start the final 10 races.
NT: Just to wrap up what Michael was saying about that accident in pit lane, do you remember which guys were the ones that were really clipped and basically, as a crew chief, how did you have to deal with that? Because obviously you have to talk to Jimmie and make sure he's not shaken up after that.
Knaus: It's pretty stressful. Not a lot of people remember, but in 2002 at Rockingham, my front tire carrier, David Bryant, at that point in time was hit by Mark Martin and his leg was fractured, it had a compound fracture. When we were at Loudon last year when Cory Quick and Ryan McCray and Chris Anderson all three got hit, our jack man and both our front tire carrier and front tire changer, when they all got hit, the same panic sets in. It's a scary, scary thing, you don't know what's going on, you can't see because the guys are on the other side of the race car. I jumped down off the box. I thought Chris Anderson was just smashed between the two cars. I ran out there and looked on the right hand side of the car to see if he was OK. As he was getting up, the other two guys, they just jumped right up and went straight to work, so I had a pretty good idea that they were alright, but I couldn't see Chris at all, all I saw was him disappear, and I mean, it's tragic. These guys work their butts off for me and give this race team their heart and soul and I don't want anything to happen to them. I feel bad if we work them late much less that them get hurt on pit road.
NH: What was the communication with Jimmie?
Knaus: Jimmie asked if they were okay and I said yeah they're fine. He's said well alright what we are going to do. Well, just get out there and ride and let me figure it out and what we did we did a bunch of different pit calls and pit strategy to get him back up there and it worked out okay, but Jimmie believes me and if I tell him everything is alright with the guys, he knows everything is alright. I wouldn't lie to him, if somebody was hurt, I would say they're hurt and he's pretty good about it. We know we're there to do a job and as long as somebody isn't very, very hurt, it's something we can deal with.
Operator: Our next question comes from Ron Martin from CBS Sports.
Martin: Do you look at other sports and successful operations and try their product in what you do?
Knaus: Yeah, to some degree I do. It's kind of hard because what we do in NASCAR Cup competition is so different from other sports. Our rules are very liquid, they change quite often. Strategies have to change with them. A lot of the ways the other coaches, team owners and things like that do structures for their teams, the way they hire the person to do the job and then let them do it, and then try not to get too involved. Things like that I try to really watch what they do, watch how they do it. A lot of the guys, like your tire changers and your jack man and your gas man and your drivers now are just like true professional athletes. The driver, obviously being the quarterback, the tire changers and guys like that being the running backs. You have to make sure that, as they develop the popularity and the media interest that they conduct and handle themselves properly, not just the driver, but the guys that are on the pit crew. You have to watch and learn and pay attention to other sports, otherwise you won't grow yourself. So, yeah, I pay a little bit of attention, but not a whole lot. How's that? The only sport that I'm involved in is motorsports. If you're asking me who is playing baseball or basketball today, I couldn't tell you.
Martin: There is a fine line and you can agree or disagree between a team being cocky and in some cases and in crew chiefs and they want their team to walk with a little bit of cockiness. But over confidence do you have to find the fine line there with your team?
Knaus: Oh yeah, absolutely. A bunch of my guys are awfully confident, as you would say. Confidence is great, cockiness isn't. I believe if you go out there and do your job and you're confident in your job, you deserve to walk with your chest puffed up and your head held high a little bit. I think that's part of something that you earn and I want people on this team to feel very comfortable in doing their job. When they set out to do their job I want them to feel that they are the best out there and that nobody can beat them. That's just an air of confidence, that's just something that you develop, that's something that you have, and I like that. Now if you're somebody that goes out there and you try to walk with all the confidence in the world and you can't get the job done, that's just cocky and not too smart; I don't like that. We definitely try to keep ourselves humble. When we win a race we know that it's not because of a tire changer, we know that it's not because of a crew chief, we know that it's not because of the driver. It's because of the team. When you associate yourself with the team and not just with an individual, that's how you stay humble because you know that everybody on that team plays a huge, huge role.
Martin: When you sit down with a prospect on the team for a job interview. They're getting one or two things and the obvious is how good are they for what they want to do. Is there something else that you look for in that person that says that's the guys I want?
Knaus: Yeah, most definitely. We don't hire people here at the 24-48 shop based on experience, based on skill, based on knowledge. If it's a mechanic or a fabricator or somebody like that, we hire the people on this team based on personality, based on the way that they walk into the room, based on the way they can communicate, based on their personality. That's so, so important because if you've got somebody that's got a good personality and has a desire to do well, you can teach them anything. When you start dealing with tire changers and jack men and stuff like that, yeah, there's some talent, there's some athleticism you have to have to be able to do that. That's the first thing that attracts us to those kind of people, but if they don't have the right attitude, if you're a great tire changer and you don't have the right attitude, I don't want you because you won't fit in with our guys. We've got a great team, great open communication, there are no superstars, we're all in it together and that's what we look for. We like nice, neat appearing people. One of the things I do with somebody while I'm hiring them is I'll walk them out to the car, whatever car they drove. I can kind of take a glance on the inside. If it's full with a bunch of debris and trash, looks like hell and hasn't been washed in a long time, it's probably not somebody that we want. But if it's somebody that takes care of his equipment and has a nice car and it's nice and neat on the inside, it might be somebody we want.
Operator: Our next question comes from Debbie Spicer from Zoomster.com
Spicer: What are your thoughts about your equipment that you use like the fire suits that saved Dale Jr's life I think, but what are your thoughts on racing suits?
Knaus: Our safety equipment personally is, I think, top notch. We realize that our drivers with the 24 and 48, Jimmie and Jeff, are not only our drivers but they're our friends and we don't want them to get hurt in the least little bit. The fire suits that they wear, Jimmie wears a Simpson, I think Jeff wears a Sparco, but they're both of equal quality, they both work exceptionally well. We at Hendrick Motorsports have taken the additional step to start to develop and build and race our own carbon fiber seats as opposed to aluminum seats in some of our cars, and that's another step towards safety. So it's a continuous thing, we continue to try to improve our safety. We've got a fire extinguisher in the trunk that goes off by heat, much like you would see in an office building, or a hotel room or something along those lines, kind of a sprinkler-type deal. Fire is terrifying. Yes, it's one of our largest fears most definitely. Any accident is my worst fear. I hate it when the kid crashes; it drives me nuts. I hate it, I don't want him to get hurt, I don't care if he gets a paper cut, and I want him to feel 100 percent every single day. When he hits the wall, I don't want him to be bruised, if the car catches on fire I don't want him to be burned, so were going to do everything we can possibly do to make sure that stuff doesn't happen.
Spicer: Is your approach for the second half of the season different from the first half?
Knaus: No, absolutely not. We set out this year to run competitively and strong at every single race track and I think that we've done that. But by doing that we've done it in a way that we haven't had to over exert ourselves. We've been pretty calm, pretty patient, a lot of race tracks let them come to us, there are 43 cars that race every single week, roughly 50 that try to qualify ever week and if you go out there and try to be the fastest car at every race, you're going kill yourself and burn yourself out. We went out there with a different goal and we wanted to qualify in the top 15 every single week at best as possible and position in the top 10 as often as possible. That's really what we set out to do and that's really done all year. It's worked out well and it's been a nice leisurely pace that we feel we can maintain for the rest of the season.
Operator: Our next question comes from from SportsTeam.com
ST.com: I know it's still several races away, if you're still in the position today how upset will you be the your lead is gone?
Knaus: Well, I mean, you can get upset all you want and waste all your energy thinking about it, but that's not going to do you any good, is it? And that's kind of the way it is. We're going to go to Richmond and try to lead the points at Richmond because that's going to get us five points over second place. Then we're going to start over again at Loudon with, hopefully, a five-point lead over second place and try to win the championship. But I'm not going to waste my time worrying about things that I can't control. I like the old format, NASCAR likes the new format, and we'll just see what happens. There's nothing we can do about it in the least and we're just going to go on and try to win the championship.
Operator: Our next question comes from Scott Walsh.
Walsh: Talk a little bit about pit strategies that you guys have and the selection of your pit stall? I've noticed you've been talking that very first spot on pit road, but some of the top qualifying guys might take a spot down pit road a little bit more. What makes you select that because it seems to be working on a number of occasions? What were some of the thinking behind it and some of the reasons to do that?
Knaus: It's just when you pick pits you go off of order of qualifying, so if you're fastest qualifier you pick pits first, and then second, third, fourth and so on. What I try to do is, you always want to try to have an opening in front or behind you. That's an opening in the wall where there's not another car pitting directly in front of or behind you, so that gives you a little bit of breathing room. I like pitting back there because, as cars go a lap down, say if you have 15 or 20 cars on the lead lap, there are not a lot of cars on pit road. You can get in, you can do your pit stop, I'm not going to say comfortably, but you don't have a lot of people rushing by you all the time. You don't have cars coming in, coming out. They get by you relatively quickly. It's safer for the guys because they don't have a lot of traffic coming in and out around them. Its nice being back there, it's kind of, believe it or not, it's not a trick with pit road speeds, it's not a trick with timing and scoring, it's not a trick of any sort. It's the simple fact that my guys get to get back there, it's a comfortable position, they can get their work done and we can get in and out relatively easy because we usually have an opening. You always have an opening behind you so it's easier to get into your pit, and that's what it is, it just gives the guys the security to know that there's nobody going to come in and hit them. It's comfortable back there and it's quiet. I know it sounds silly, but that's the truth.