Daytona 500: GM - Johnson, Knaus Tuesday interview

CHAD KNAUS ,CREW CHIEF, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO: HOW HARD HAVE YOU WORKED ON YOUR CAR THIS YEAR? "We've worked exceptionally hard. We came down here, we tested and didn't test very well. We took the car home and, boy, we cut it to...

CHAD KNAUS ,CREW CHIEF, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:

HOW HARD HAVE YOU WORKED ON YOUR CAR THIS YEAR? "We've worked exceptionally hard. We came down here, we tested and didn't test very well. We took the car home and, boy, we cut it to pieces, just trying to find a little bit of speed - to get every little ounce out of it that we could. We came back and we picked up eight tenths of a second, so we were pretty pleased about that. It's just unfortunate that we were a little bit off the pole, yet, so we're going to go back home and work on it some more. After sitting on the pole last year it's a little disheartening to come down here and qualify 16th. But, the guys put in a good effort. We were almost as fast as Joe Nemechek. We're right there with the Hendrick Motorsports complex. If we can get a little bit more before we go to Talladega it will be good."

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU'RE ABLE TO DO THAT HAS PRODUCED SUCH STRONG SPEEDWAY CARS DURING YOUR CAREER? "The attention to detail that I've been able to put into the superspeedway programs - whether it be at Melling, where we really focused on superspeedway programs because knew that was one of our only chances to really shine throughout the year - a place that we could stand above the rest - and then last year, the focus that we put on our superspeedway program just because we knew we had to qualify for the Daytona 500 because it was Jimmie's third or fourth race, so we had to qualify to make the show, so we really put forth a lot of effort into that. The detail that we put into the cars is what makes the difference. Quite honestly we didn't work on the qualifying as much this year. We wanted to go out and race well. We really wanted to focus on the 2003 Monte Carlo for the intermediate style racetracks. I think from our Las Vegas test and the way things went out there that it showed that we really put the effort into that."

JIMMIE JOHNSON , NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO:

WITH FOUR PLATE RACE UNDER YOUR BELT, WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO ACCOMPLISH THIS YEAR? "You don't realize the bad decisions you make until you make them out there and you're hung out in the draft. In the four events last year and all the practice sessions and everything I've done, I made those mistakes. Sometimes they aren't really mistakes. It's just that there is a lot of energy in that draft. There are a lot of things going on that I have to get used to recognizing before it happens. When you're traveling 200 miles per hour and spending 90 percent of your times looking in the rearview mirror, it's really hard to see those things. I've gotten a lot better at that. The biggest thing I've learned is the race that goes on through the pack. From about sixth to 20th, it's cutthroat. Everybody is making moves and doing anything they can to get out of that area because they're afraid of the 'big one' and that is where it's going to start. But, once you get inside that top five is where I'm really having to focus now. I've learned how to race through that environment and know the moves that I need to make and the moves that I need to have to block what is going to come from behind. But, running up front is a little different race. The other night, Dale Jr. got by me and I watched him set it up for 10 laps. But, I didn't know what he was doing because I hadn't been in that situation. Sure enough, he passed me, hung me out and I slipped back a couple spots.

JOHNSON:

"It's more about learning the race and understanding the race within the race out there on the track and what you need to do."

KNAUS:

HOW DIFFERENT WILL YOUR CAR SETUP BE FOR THURSDAY AS COMPARED TO QUALIFYING? "From what we did in qualifying to what we changed just for the 125 and race practice is the complete car suspension package...absolutely everything on that car has been changed except for the exterior shell. We even messed with that a little bit. It's pretty extensive, the changes that we make. It seems as though the body attitude wants to be just a little bit different from qualifying trim to race trim, so we have to be a little aggressive with the changes that we make."

HOW ABOUT AFTER THURSDAY? "I guess it depends on how we run in Thursday's race. If we go out there and run exceptionally well in the 125s, we're probably not going to do a whole lot of changing. But, once again, with the brand new 2003 Monte Carlo, if we go out there and we feel like we're not where we need to be and we need to make some major changes we'll do whatever is necessary to make it happen for the 500."

JOHNSON:

ON CHOOSING SETUPS "It's really hard, especially if you use last year as an example with the '24' and the '48.' The '24' was the dominant car at Dover (in '01) and won one of the events there and had a shot at winning the other one. When we came back last year to run there, they had no choice but to run the setup that they had in their race car that won the event there with. Chad, my 'mad scientist' here, has got some new ideas, tried some stuff and we go out there and we have the dominant car. Technology changes from year to year and, even at these track where we run spring and the fall, (it changes. It's a challenge to stay open-minded, move with the times, but still remember what had you successful before. It's a fine-line of what is right or wrong there. I think we went through that experience - some good decisions and some bad decisions - last year, just from being conservative. Out of that we learned to stay aggressive and try to keep moving with the times from a driver's standpoint and from a car setup standpoint."

KNAUS:

"At Charlotte, we ran exceptionally well (in the spring). When we went back we tried to run something very similar and it just didn't work out for us. We had to get outside that box. We found that the way the tires change and the speeds change and the tracks change that if you try to stay in any type of box or setup notes or anything to try to fall back on, it's not necessarily going to work and then you're just going to hurt yourself. You have to be willing to go outside that box. That's one thing that we really had.

"We felt like we knew what was going to make the cars fast and Jimmie was able to drive them like that and we just had to continue to try to make the cars fast and Jimmie was able to adapt to them. That's what makes us successful, is he's able to drive these cars that are a little different at time, I guess."

HOW CLOSE ARE YOU PLAYING YOUR CARDS? "I can tell you right now that we're doing everything we can. I would hope they (DEI) are doing everything they can, as much faster as they were than we were in qualifying. But, qualifying is a totally different ballgame than it is when it comes time to race. I think, when you watched the Bud Shootout the other day, the two Hendrick cars (24 and 48), we were up front most of the time, right there with Dale Jr. I think when you watch the 125s, you're going to see the '8' car the '15' car working together almost the whole race. Unfortunately, we're by ourselves. We really don't have any teammates to play with, but once we get into the Daytona 500 and we get a couple of our guys in there you'll see us working together. That's when it's going to make a difference. But, in qualifying, everybody puts it out there and tries to cut the fastest laps they can and whoever comes out on top is the guy that really paid a lot of attention to detail."

JOHNSON:

"Everybody has put their cards on the table. From here there is nothing to hold back. It's all for that front row. The things that you do to make a car fast in qualifying, you can't race that. That is just impossible. You're trying to hide the spoiler and to get the car as low as possible - do a lot of things there that will make the car impossible to drive in the draft. All those tricks and things for the most part don't apply to the race. The race is going to be a much different situation. The whole card-holding game is leading up to qualifying."

ON THE ROOKIE RACE THIS YEAR "I think it's going to be a great battle. It's amazing to me to see how each year the rookie battle keeps getting bigger and better. This year I think you've got four or five guys that are all in great equipment and are all great drivers. It's going to be interesting. It's going to be a very good rookie battle."

ON AGGRESSIVE SETUPS AND RUNNING HARD "The tires that we have to run on now are virtually indestructible. You can abuse them and beat them up. They don't fall off, so I think us new drivers coming in don't know about pacing ourselves, in a sense, relative to the tires. We're charging every lap as hard as we can and that is what it takes to win races these days.

"As far as the setups go, we don't know any better, in some respects. I don't have a feeling that I have to have every time I'm at Rockingham or a certain set of springs that I've won there four times with that I just know will work. I don't have any of that. I'm starting to develop that and I'm trying stay open-minded as I come back to these tracks a second and third time. But, it's a fine line to hang on to, to not be content with your driving style and your setup. I guess I've got to stay wise of that and Chad does as well."

HOW WAS THE LEARNING PROCESS OFF THE TRACK? "I would say that is where the majority of the new things came from and the stuff that I needed to learn about. There are obviously little things in the race car, but the racing aspect has really been the same for me through a variety of cars that I've driven. You've got your team and your guys and, to an extent, your sponsor that you need to take care of. But, that is racing.

"Outside of the race car, the media stuff that we've done - it went up five times. The sponsor obligations - five times. And the fan aspect of it - the recognition there - went up at least 10, so it's been a huge learning experience outside of the race car that I've had to learn. Now, I even understand my house is in the back page of the (National) Enquirer. They've gone around and taken a bunch of shots of young drivers' houses, so now I've got to worry about people showing up at my house. It's just a whole new world that is going on outside of the race car that I'm having to learn about."

ON EXPECTATIONS AND HOW THEY'VE CHANGED "I've noticed that outside of the team - fans I should say - I hear a lot of comments about 'this year is your year, you've got a shot to win the championship, bigger and better' - so, I guess that aspect there is where I see that. Inside the team and from Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports and everyone we deal with on a regular basis, I think it's business as usual. We haven't changed our expectations. I think we're a lot calmer and more confident with the season that we have coming up and everything that we do day to day. It's a lot calmer environment - and a more fun environment, for that matter, because we all deep down that we have the ability to be successful out there."

ON HOW YOU AND RYAN NEWMAN MAY HAVE CHANGED THE ROOKIE LANDSCAPE "I just think we're just the latest landscaping team to come across. You look at Tony Stewart, Dale Jr., and Matt Kenseth's battle, what Kevin Harvick did the year before. There was no way in the world that I thought we would be able to beat that - to step in and have that success. You look at the crop that is coming along...it's going to be interesting. I can't believe how each year it keeps stepping up and these major teams that are taking the risk and the chance to go with young guys. It's nice to be a part of it. I'm glad I helped the road for younger guys to possibly come along, and I think it's going to keep changing."

DO YOU EXPECT THE MOVEMENT FROM THE BACK TO THE FRONT ON THURSDAY AND SUNDAY? "I think there is going to be a lot of movement, especially with us pitting so many times. If somebody has a bad pit stop or they choose four tires - however that works out - that is going to play a huge role in the race. I think something you'll see as you start to break it down and look at the race, from somewhere between fifth and 10th to the back, that is the cutthroat area and nobody wants to be there. Once you get inside that area, everybody gets really comfortable and wants to ride and you don't really see the aggressive moves. So, that's my goal in this race...get inside the top five and ride. If you look at the same few guys that always make it to the front, they stay there because they know that is the game and that is what they want to play. They're all comfortable with one another to be there. When you get to the closing laps, everything will get out of control then. But, I think there is going to be a lot of shuffling around."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Joe Nemechek
Teams Hendrick Motorsports