Homestead: Champions Johnson, Knaus and team press conference, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: Do you do that, go back and read? JIMMIE JOHNSON: The last few years I meant to, I just for whatever reason didn't get to, but this year I really need to. Q: Jimmie, setting the record you did tonight, the...

Continued from part 2

Q: Do you do that, go back and read?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: The last few years I meant to, I just for whatever reason didn't get to, but this year I really need to.

Q: Jimmie, setting the record you did tonight, the possibility of improving upon that record, kind of puts you in a class of other pro athletes that have set records throughout American sports history. Think in terms of Roger Maris, so on, so forth. How does that feel to be in that select group of American athletes, and what do you think it says for NASCAR as a sport, which is credited with becoming the most popular or fastest growing spectator sport in the country?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm I don't know much about other sports unfortunately, because I've been so engulfed in our sport. But you know, to as I say, I flip when certain things pop on television, so I wouldn't watch it, but maybe I'll a little slow to flip the channels sometimes, and I saw some things on ESPN where they were showing different pro athletes and what they've accomplished and what dynasty means and winning multiple championships in a row and some footage in there from us, and just to see us linked to that, I really look forward over the next few days to follow it and read about it and understand some of the comparisons of what's gone on and what we've accomplished.

I know what we've accomplished here at the track, but to understand the spectrum, how deep it goes. You know, I can say that watching the fans over the last two years, the respect they've had for this team, myself, the cheers when I got out of the car tonight, the place was going nuts. I really, really appreciate our fans and our sport and know what it means inside our sport, and I think over the next few days I'll do a better of job of understanding where it fits within sports. Four in a row, it doesn't matter if you're racing bathtubs or go karts or playing baseball, football. It's tough to do, and I'm awfully proud of it.

Q: You have a unique opportunity that you might not be aware of. Your winning percentage with 41 wins, there's only three people in history that have won a higher percentage. Back in the '90s Jeff once had the highest percentage ever, but it's not really fair to tally those things up until a career is over because almost every driver in history has tailed off late in his career. One of the chief exceptions is one of your teammates. In this great era of sharing information, is Mark Martin a resource that you can tap into in that area?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know if I exactly follow you. Help me

Q: Well, can Mark Martin help you keep up your productivity as you grow older since he's one of the few people who ever has?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yes. I think Mark Martin this year has raised the bar at Hendrick Motorsports. What he and Alan have done together has brought a lot to the group. And then as you break off into Mark's what Mark is about, what he thinks about, he's the first guy in line for practice when we call for our team debriefs. He's already on the phone. The guy, this is what he does.

I've always been committed to my sport and to what we do, but it's great to see someone else that shares that drive. And I think we've learned from each other a lot this year and have found other ways to maybe focus a little more intensely in look in different areas and go about things differently.

Mark has already helped me this year a lot, and I think there's a lot to learn from him over the years. It might not even be setup stuff and techniques in the car, but the way the man carries himself, you know, there's just a lot to learn from him, and I feel very fortunate to have him at the company and look forward to tapping into that and using it in the years to come.

Q: For Chad and Jimmie, you got Jimmie, you have drivers looking up to you, and Chad, you've got people at the Saturday night tracks looking up to you as the chief wrench and things like that. What did you guys learn from the Chase that you might want to share with those people that look up to you as role models?

CHAD KNAUS: I guess, you know, you have to look back and see what we went through. But I think the thing that you always learn as you're going through a point situation, whether it be a 22 week points championship at Rockford Speedway or Elko, Minnesota, or wherever it may be, Slinger, Wisconsin, you've got to realize that you've got to be consistent; you've got to go through and you have to pay attention to details.

I think that's the one thing we've continued to push with our organization at Hendrick Motorsports, to pay attention to the little things and not leave a lot of stones unturned.

I think that you can learn that and apply that at the local short tracks, absolutely. I think that that's a commitment that you have to your sport and what it is that you want to do. So I think that's definitely a lesson learned.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I also think, too, that it's tough for everybody to make it to Cup, but Chad was the guy at the local short track, and granted, I didn't run late models all that much, just a couple races and stuff, but I was in a little pit area at a not that professional race, very similar situation with the dirt stuff, and I walked in the pits, and I was a kid scraping mud off of buggies and just trying to act like I was a crew member, and they'd let me drive the car out to an autograph session. I was all excited I was able to drive the race car out to the autograph session on the racetrack in first gear.

With that all being said, we were there, and it wasn't all that long ago, and we committed to the sport, and it worked out. I'm not saying it will work out for everyone, but you can get a lot out of this sport. If you're committed to it and it's what you're about, the sport will give back to you in many, many ways.

I think from Rick's standpoint, Chad, mine, really everybody in this garage area, it all started off as a hobby and something that we enjoyed doing, and it brought us here. But at the same time, there are a lot of guys having a lot of fun on Friday and Saturday nights. Racing is a great sport.

Q: Jimmie, for most of your career Jeff Gordon was kind of up here with the four championships. Even though you were winning two in a row, three in a row, he was still kind of one step ahead of everybody else in the sport. Now you and him are equal. How does that feel, and with the relationship that you have with him, describe that a little bit.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm excited to be four time and share that position with him. You know, and the fact that we were able to do ours in consecutive years, which has never been done before, somehow links me in a way to the greats that I haven't had a chance to race against. So on many, many levels this fourth is extremely special to me.

You know, I don't think Jeff saw it, Rick saw it, none of us really knew what would come from all of this. You know, it's been a wild ride, and I've just Jeff, I looked, I saw him tonight, and I'm like, could you ever have imagined we'd be here, and he was like, not a chance. So we're both kind of taken aback by where things have turned out. I'm very grateful for the opportunities he's given me, Rick has given me, and it'll be fun trying to see who can get to the fifth championship first.

Q: Another gut wrenching moment must have been when Jimmie said, I think I could go for the lead. We know your reaction, but what went through your mind? Did you think he was nuts?

CHAD KNAUS: No, I wish we had a few more laps in the race because I would have loved to let him loose. The car was so good, it really was. It was one of the few cars out there that you could see could manipulate traffic and go through and do some of the things we needed to do. Obviously that has a lot to do with Jimmie and the way he drives the vehicle, as well.

But at that point when we were running two, three tenths of a second faster than the leaders, I was like, man, how special would it have been. If they were only a straightaway ahead of us we could have gotten in there and diced it up with those guys. But still, we have to look at what the bigger picture is. If it had a situation where we came down pit road took the lead on pit road and got ahead of those guys, I think we would have won the race for sure. But to go up there and try to battle with those guys, it wasn't the smart thing to do, and even if they had been within grasp, it wouldn't have been smart to get up there and mess with those guys.

You don't walk up to a hornet's nest and poke it with a stick.  It's just
not real smart.  I think we found a spot that was comfortable to run and
played it out there.  I think that was the wise thing to do.

Q: When you were sitting out there in the car and they were setting up the stage and you just were sitting out there, I'm guessing it was in turn 2, what was happening in the car? What was going on with you? Were you talking to people? Were you just alone with your thoughts for a while, or what was happening there?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I was Darby talked to me as I was driving through 1 and 2 to get in position, got all my stuff off, and it was a hot night so I made sure that I kept the helmet blower hose close by and stuck it down my suit to cool down some. Just a couple of thoughts, different things I've raced, the different people along the way, and then I started getting antsy. I'm like, let's go; I want to see my guys; I want to have some fun.

Then I got fired up, drove around, and I just kind of sat there. It sounds odd and weird and at times and even tonight I look forward to just a quiet moment to sit and just feel what's going on and how awesome this feels. It was neat to have a few minutes over there just to smile and be proud of what we've done, and then my ADD kicked in and it was time to get going, and luckily we started coming around.

Q: This one is actually for Marshall but I'd like to hear all three of you answer if you could. Since 2002, since Jimmie came in, Jimmie and Jeff are the only two drivers to have the same primary sponsor combination and be with the same team. During that time, that shop has only had one crew chief change. How important is it to you guys in terms of your overall philosophy to keep the core personnel together, and how has that contributed to the dominance as of late, because looking at Kurt Busch, he finishes fourth in points, he's going to have to deal with a new crew chief, they're going to have to deal with some adjustments in the off season. You guys can snap your fingers now and hit the ground running for 2010 and not have to worry about any major changes.

MARSHALL CARLSON: You know, I think it's absolutely critical. This is a people sport. This is a people business. We talk a lot about widgets and technology and gizmos and test fixtures and all these things, but it's people driving all that. That stuff is only as good as it is while it's fresh, and it's going to get stale pretty quick unless you've got really, really sharp people pushing every bit of the car technology wise, the pit crew, the training of the driver, the driver himself. It's all about people.

And one of the things that Rick has done in our organization is built an environment where extremely talented, competitive and driven people are able to come in, and like Chad said, race the way they want to race. Chad builds his team, and he and Steve together built that 24 48 shop. We're a crew chief led company. Jimmie and Chad are the tip of the spear we talk about, and everyone behind them is support. That's how we built our organization.

So these two guys are the guys who are getting it done on the track every weekend, and they have total autonomy to build the right people behind them. And I agree with you, it is absolutely a differentiating factor for this team and hopefully we feel our organization, the quality of the people and the longevity.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: He nailed it. That's the perfect way to describe it. Chemistry is everything, and it took us a couple years to to really gel, and even in bad moments. I think as in any relationship, when you go through some tough moments, you figure out what each other is about and why they're in this situation in this relationship. We've been through a lot of good and some bad, and in the bad moments we've probably learned more through those than anything. I'm glad that it's all buttoned up and we don't have sponsorship worries, crew chief worries, driver worries, any of that stuff.

Q: I wanted to ask you, Jimmie, about a quote recently from New York giants quarterback Eli Manning, who talked about athletes have to have short memories, even after winning something like the Super Bowl or having success because there's always the next season right there upon you. When do you start looking, thinking about next season, even after something like tonight and something like this year? How short does your memory have to be about this historic occasion before you start focusing? And also you may want to talk about it, too, Chad.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me I probably get quite a bit more time than Chad does. I'm not really going to be called upon until Daytona for that matter. I'll race in the Rolex 24. But Cup related, there's no testing unless we go to do something else. Until I'm really called upon, I don't know what I can really do. For him it's probably Tuesday morning he's back at it, and he's already been working on Daytona stuff and ideas for next year.

So the driver is in a much better situation to enjoy it. Once we're on track in Daytona, it's about that moment.

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, we're already well in motion for 2010. We've been working on that for a couple of months now. So we've got Daytona cars in the queue, one of them almost done, and we've got Fontana/Las Vegas cars rolling up through the system right now. So we're well into preparation for next year.

Q: Marshall, could you update us on Rick's niece? Is there any update?

MARSHALL CARLSON: I haven't got any update. I did get one mid race and she was in surgery, and the family had been told things are progressing like they were supposed to. Haven't got any updated information beyond that. I thank you all for asking and for your thoughts and prayers with them. Thank you.

Q: Chad, was there a point with the team where you could over the past four or five years when you could identify, say, this is a championship team, or did it just kind of evolve in the past well, obviously four championships.

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think if you look at it, I think honestly in 2002 we knew we had the ability to win a championship, but I don't think we had the team to win it yet. I think rolling into 2005 we truly felt like we had a team that was capable of winning the championship. That was probably one of the most obviously disappointing years for me personally because I felt like we let that one get away from us.

So I felt like 2005 was probably the year that we were really at the level that we needed to be to compete with the Tony Stewarts and the Kurt Busches and the guys like that, even though we had been in the hunt before that. That was the first year that really came to a point where I felt like we really had something special.

Q: Chad, before you get busy with the wife to be named later, what in addition to that do you see yourself doing professionally down the road? I mean, would you like to do you think about getting into something like what Ray Evernham did? What do you think?

CHAD KNAUS: I don't know, they just had Dancing With the Stars on. That looked kind of fun.

I don't know, man. I don't know what I'm going to do when I grow up. I hope I never have to grow up. I love my job. I can't be a crew chief forever. I'll be honest, I can't run at this pace for ten more years. It's impossible. But I love what I do. I engulf myself in what it is that I do, and there's nothing I'd rather do.

I have yet to get out of bed in the morning and not want to go to work, and that's a fact. I truly love what I do. Even the things that you don't want to do, the salaries, the personal reviews, the things like that, termination of employees, it's not enjoyable, but I love my job. In the future we're just going to have to wait and see.

To think that I could go out there right now and start a team and be competitive with Hendrick Motorsports or Roush Racing or Richard Childress Racing for that matter, or any team in the industry I think is foolish. I think we saw what happened with Ray Evernham's team. It's disappointing to see a man's dream of owning a race team like Ray had turning into what it is right now. You know, it's so difficult to maintain the level in this industry without years and years of toolage and people, and I just don't think that I could do that right now.

Tony came into a great situation with the Haas Racing deal and kind of rolled up into that and was able to take full advantage of that and they did a great job this year with support from Hendrick Motorsports. But me, I don't know, man, we'll just have to see. I always said I was going to open a scuba shop in the Caribbean, so we might do that.

THE MODERATOR: Terrific job by the 48 team, Hendrick Motorsports, congratulations on another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Ray Evernham , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports