Homestead: Champions Johnson, Knaus and team press conference, part 1

Ford 400 Post-Race Transcript An Interview With: JIMMIE JOHNSON - 2009 Series Champion CHAD KNAUS - Series 2009 Champion Crew Chief MARSHALL CARLSON - Series Champion Team: Hendrick Motorsports, General Manager THE MODERATOR: We are now...

Ford 400 Post-Race Transcript

An Interview With:
JIMMIE JOHNSON - 2009 Series Champion
CHAD KNAUS - Series 2009 Champion Crew Chief
MARSHALL CARLSON - Series Champion Team: Hendrick Motorsports, General Manager

THE MODERATOR: We are now very, very pleased to be joined up at the podium by the championship driver. He drives the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, and that's Jimmie Johnson. To his right is general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, Marshall Carlson. Jimmie, congratulations. You made history tonight. Four in a row. Your thoughts about what you achieved and the championship in particular this season.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I am just blown away by the things we've been able to accomplish over the last eight years in the sport. Obviously the last four years have been just unbelievable. To love the sport like I do and respect it like I do, and the history, the pioneers of this sport from Bill France, Sr., to the Petty family, you go through many eras up to Mr. Hendrick and what he's done over the last 25, to look at all of that and to have done something that's never been done in the sport before is so, so amazing and something I am so proud of.

I've always set my marks high and really wanted to try to set high marks and all those kinds of things, but I had no clue this stuff would happen. Just so honored, so happy, so fortunate.

At the same time I've worked my entire life to be in this position. So has Chad, so has Rick. So it's not that we backed into any of this. It's not that it just happened. We've gone out and worked really, really hard and have dedicated our lives to it, and it's paid off. It's extremely rewarding to have that pay off, and we're really going to enjoy this.

THE MODERATOR: Marshall, congratulations. Tonight Hendrick Motorsports also made history as this was Hendrick Motorsports' ninth owner championship, which is tied for most all time in the Sprint Cup Series, and the 12th overall national series owner championship, which is most all time in the history of our sport. Congratulations. Your thoughts about the accomplishment for Hendrick Motorsports.

MARSHALL CARLSON: Well, thanks. I think first off I want to congratulate Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team and Chad Knaus. Jimmie said they work really hard, and that's probably the understatement of the night. This guy has elevated, I think, this sport and certainly our organization to a whole new level. His commitment to his craft and to excellence in what he does in every facet of it is just unequalled among anyone we've ever seen, and I commend Jimmie on an incredible accomplishment tonight, the entire 48 team. They absolutely are unrelenting in their quest for excellence and improvement, and it shows. That's incredible.

I think that for Hendrick Motorsports, I know what Rick would say is that he has been blessed with the opportunity to work with some amazing people, and Jimmie and Chad are among those, and there have been champions before that have earned those championships. But you know, I think maybe this is one opportunity where someone else gets to sit up here and say what an incredible leader Rick Hendrick has been for our organization.

You know, he's pretty unique in that regard. The way that he goes about keeping us going, he's got one requisite, and that is that we race together, and that's absolutely imperative. Beyond that, he gives everyone a lot of flexibility and a lot of autonomy, a lot of as far as the X's and O's, these guys figure that out and these guys bring their game to the track.

And I think that competitive people who want to win are attracted to that. I think that's why Jimmie was attracted to the organization and Chad and why they continue to want to be there, and it's just there's 500 teammates back at Hendrick Motorsports who have built that place, and every single one of us owes an incredible debt of gratitude to Rick for his leadership, for his commitment and dedication for giving us the resources to have these opportunities. It is an accomplishment tonight.

Rick has been talking about that one, two, three finish in the points. It's never been done. And behind the curtain to see how these guys race together in an extremely competitive environment is really phenomenal, and that's a credit to Rick's leadership.

Q: Jimmie, a couple things. One, seeing you out there as you walked back to the stage after your set of interviews, you seemed like the weight of this run had really started to kind of impact you. Can you kind of describe, I guess, all that you put into this, how much of a weight it was to attempt to achieve history and how it's kind of maybe wearing on you? And secondly, just because you had the opportunity for history, were there any unique items that you had in the car with you or any memorabilia for this possible occasion?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Marshall gave me this little shark recently. I have the shark in the motor home. Chad wouldn't let it in the car. It weighs too much. (Laughter.)

There wasn't anything in the car. You know, the pressure of winning the fourth didn't really hit me until I hit the fence at Texas, and then it was like, man, we've you can't relax, you can't hope or think that things are going to be smooth. You've got to go out and earn this thing, and it was a great reality check to step up and go to Phoenix and really race for this thing. And also to come here.

Now that we don't need the points, I look back and can say that I'm thankful for it, because we went to Phoenix, we stepped up and we showed what this team was made of. And here today, we ran fifth. I feel that we could have been better than that, and at the end of the race, I felt like we had a car capable of winning the race.

I'm very proud of what we learned here this weekend. There were some tough moments in qualifying practice and also yesterday in practice, but Chad did a really good job working with the engineers to understand what we need here, and I'm excited for the future coming back here. I think we have a good understanding now of what we need at this racetrack.

So the pressure side of it, I feel that I managed the pressure a lot better this year. That's the most relaxed I've been in the race car. This week, the nights, all of that stuff has been very, very good. There was a lot of pressure, and definitely relieved and the pressure is off, and it's just I feel so light all of a sudden.

I agree with what you saw. But I think I have done a very good job this year of understanding the Chase, understanding the pressure, understanding what I'm capable of, what the team is capable of, what to focus on, and now that I've got a comfortable understanding and so does the team and can operate in this environment that we can continue it the next couple years.

THE MODERATOR: We're also joined now by crew chief Chad Knaus, Chad now with his fourth straight Sprint Cup Series championship as a crew chief, he moves into a tie for second with Kirk Shelmerdine on the all time championship list for crew chiefs with four. Chad, congratulations. Your thoughts about the 2009 championship.

CHAD KNAUS: You know, I think that obviously initially I just got the gut wrenching feeling that 2010 is coming soon. (Laughter.) It just hit me. So wow.

But no, I'm really excited. Man, what a fantastic job by this team this year. I can't say enough about the way that the guys worked. They really focused on what we needed to do to get into the Chase, get ourselves in position to be able to go out there and try to battle for this championship. I couldn't be prouder of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. To have three cars in the top 5, that's pretty amazing. I guess we finished we did end up one, two, three, didn't we? That's awesome.

To have the 24, 48 finishing first and third in points I think speaks volumes about what those guys are doing. I think that with Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports behind us, I think we can go into the next few years comfortable and aggressive and be able to get after it. We're very fortunate to have Lowe's and sign those guys back up. Jimmie just signed back with HMS for a few more years, and that's a great thing. I think we've got some good stuff coming in the future. I'm really, really excited about it. Our team is stronger than it's ever been. It's a bit of a dream, and obviously I won't even know people ask what's it feel like, and I'm be honest with you, and I don't know, so if you ask me I'm going to tell you I don't know. I hope that ten years from now when I'm sitting on my patio retired with my son or daughter or my wife or whatever is going on there, I can sit back and reflect and look at photographs

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have three questions. Retired, son and daughter? You have a lot to do in 10 years, buddy. (Laughter.)

CHAD KNAUS: It's all coming, man. It's all coming. This is my time.

But at that point then I can kind of reflect on it and look and see. But right now while we're in the midst of it, it's exciting, it's invigorating, and we're so fortunate to have an owner like Mr. Hendrick. He is just an amazing, an amazing person. It's unfortunate that he wasn't here tonight, but he truly understands what the meaning of life is, and that's family. He puts family first, and that's why he wasn't able to be here tonight, and we all respect that and understand it and I hope everybody else does, too. That's why he is the person that he is. He doesn't micromanage, he lets the teams do whatever it is they need to do, operate in the means that they need to, and it's just a fantastic place to work. I'm very honored and privileged to be up here.

Q: My question was there were a couple times kind of reminded me of Talladega. There were a couple times it seemed like Jimmie got a little anxious and you had to go down and tell the spotter to tell the 33, no, let's not do that, let's just we're in good shape, let's is that part of y'all's success, that you can focus on big picture, he can focus on the car in front of him, and it just seems to work without you two getting mad at each other?

CHAD KNAUS: We get mad at each other, there's no doubt about it. But I think that is part of the dynamic we've got. Jimmie is obviously typically very mellow, which counters my aggressiveness, I guess you would say, very well. So when he starts when he starts to get upset and we get in the race car and we get in the race, I try very hard to maintain a level head and a calm mentality, and I think that that helps with Jimmie. When he starts to get excited, I know that I need to try to interact a little bit and try to calm things down. But most of the time he typically doesn't get too anxious.

But there was a lot of stress out there today.  It was a tough day.  We had
a lot going on.  He was excited.

The thing that's difficult is this track what a great race, by the way. From a fan's perspective, holy smokes, man, I was I was on the edge of my seat watching it. This track is great for racing. It's very difficult to pass. When you get inside somebody or trying to get that run on them, they can break your momentum very quickly and it takes two or three laps to get it back, and by that time the guy behind you has caught you. It's a very frustrating race for drivers, but yeah, I think we've got a pretty cool dynamic. Long winded story for yes, that's why we're successful, I think.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We've been able to balance each other out over the years. I think there's a level of where he'll see me upset, and okay, got to put the brakes on this. Or hear I should say. He's that way on the radio and will try and help out, too, so we do a good job of balancing each other out when we need it.

Q: Just real quick, congratulations. I don't want to move it ahead, but you guys are on this historic run obviously. How badly do you want to keep it going and just add to what you've already accomplished, I guess?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, it's weird, because in the sport, and you're as good as you were last week, you're as good as you were the year before, there's a few marks that we look at. It's just tough to not want to win or win championships, regardless of how many you've won or if you have not yet. It's just what we do. It's why we put all the time and hours into this deal, and that's the ultimate reward. We think about it.

I don't know what to really think about a fifth. We're certainly going to show up next year and try and go about business as usual. That's just kind of what we do.

But if we can keep it rolling, I mean I can't believe we've made history now, and if we were able to do it a fifth year, even if it doesn't come next year, we've got to be very thankful for what we've accomplished, for what we've been able to experience. We've got a lot of racing left in us; I guess Chad has got ten years before he has kids and a family. In ten more years it will be 18 years in the sport, and I think we can accomplish some great things with the ten years Chad has on the docket.

CHAD KNAUS: I didn't say I was going to be a crew chief for ten years, let's just get that straight.

I'm excited about next year. I think when you get on a wave like this and you get the momentum behind you, you don't want to stop. I think you get excited and you want to continue it on and it's easy to feed off of that fire once it starts to develop.

You know, but the thing is, this sport is so, so difficult. It's a grueling, non forgiving sport, it really is. If we went out there next week, let's say if we started racing again next week and we finished 20th, you know what, that's it, you'd better get to work if you want to beat them. There's no concessions. Nobody is going to give you anything in this industry.

If we go out next year and we run competitive, that's what with a want to. If we can get ourselves in position to make the Chase, that's what we want to do. Once we make the Chase, then we'll worry about trying to win the championship. But to say that our sights are set any further than qualifying for the Daytona 500 next year, they're not. That's our first goal.

Q: Jimmie, you're typically a very mellow, humble kind of guy who doesn't brag a lot. You walked into Charlotte four races into the Chase, you and Montoya and Martin were pretty much neck and neck, and you walked in, it was a cold, gray day, sat down to do your media availability, and you said, Chad and I have talked and we decided we want to lead every practice session, qualify on the pole and go out and lead the most laps and go out and win the race, and you did it. Was that a turning point in the Chase this year, because that's when you really opened up ground on everybody else, and nobody despite what happened in Texas, nobody ever caught back up with you. Was that something you guys planned ahead of time to go public with, and was it the big turning point?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, there was no planning. I'm glad I backed up what I said I wanted to do. I guess I need to think about the season my mind is still so stuck on Texas. Dover was a really big moment for the team internally to win there. The win at Charlotte was big. And I can't remember how the points all played out. But that's probably I guess the case where we took the lead or something.

THE MODERATOR: You were 12 ahead and you left 108 ahead.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Huh. I can't even remember all that stuff. Yeah, that was it. That was the moment. I just can't remember. I'm just so focused on what happened at Texas and the 184 that went to 111. Or I guess we lost 111. But I don't really know. I guess I'm battling up here.

I can think back as far as the team the fact that we went to Dover and really performed well was a big confidence boost for the team internally, and we felt like we had a shot at this thing. In the back of our minds, too, we were very impressed and felt threatened by what the 42 was capable of and how great he was running, the 11, the 5, and then guys started having some trouble. We anticipated, we hoped that some guys would have trouble, and just wanted to make sure that we stayed solid and took advantage of their tough days.

And it worked out.  Kind of the Martinsville time frame I think we felt like
we had a one  or two man race to really worry about.

Q: I wonder if you could go back and talk a little bit about what you thought you saw in Chad way back when when you recommended him when he was at Melling Racing, and Chad, kind of your first impressions of Jimmie back then, as well.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, Brian Weitzel and Ken House set up some meetings. There were three crew chiefs that they were interested in, and I just basically sat down at lunch had some different meetings, and our meeting was a lunch meeting. We sat down, started talking, and before we knew it, we got off on our own little side topic about motorcycles and other forms of racing, the Midwest and where he was from. And I had spent some time up in that area with ASA stuff.

Before we knew it, a good amount of time had passed, an hour and a half, two hours, and Ken and Brian both were like, hey, guys, this is going well but we need to get back to the shop, and I'm sure Chad has got to get back to work.

When we left there it was amazing how much time had passed and how well we connected. I don't think we knew much about each other before that, but we felt like there was a bond there and something we wanted to build on. It was an easy decision then because of the connection we had and the conversation we had just at lunch.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Kirk Shelmerdine , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports