Homestead: Championship team press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Mr. Hendrick, over the last decade a lot of things have happened in NASCAR that have tightened up competition, made the cars run closer and sort of taken things out of the teams' hands a little bit. Is it ...

Continued from part 1

Q: Mr. Hendrick, over the last decade a lot of things have happened in NASCAR that have tightened up competition, made the cars run closer and sort of taken things out of the teams' hands a little bit. Is it more frustrating as a team owner or tougher to know that you simply ?? that there's less in control than there used to be in?

RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, definitely, I think in the past, if you had an advantage, you could probably keep that advantage through the year or maybe at least four or five, six races. Today the competition is so, so fierce. If you take a car to the track that you just won the race and dominated with four, five, six, eight weeks ago, even back to the same track, you may be a couple of tenths off. I mean, everybody in that garage area, there's 25 teams that they are capable of winning a race. And when you see guys like Tony that didn't make the Chase or the 12 and the 2 and Greg Biffle, the 16, look how he ran today; it's just, you've got to be on your game every single week, and you can't be ?? as good as you were is not good enough. And NASCAR is going to make sure that box stays tight and the Chase just even adds to it even more.

So you just can't count anything until it's over.

Q: A couple of years ago, you talked about that when you were a boy dreaming of a racing career, you really didn't think about NASCAR. You said even your dreams were based a little bit in reality and that seemed to be way out there. Could I get you just to comment a little bit on this path that you've come from, so far away from a NASCAR background to where you are today?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I look back and I remember as a kid, I was racing dirt bikes and I wanted to be like Rick Johnson and Bob Hannah was big at the time and Jeff Ward and those guys, and that was my goal, to race motorcycles. I did that for awhile and through all the broken bones, got off the bikes and found my way into the off?road buggies through a lot of work for my dad, he gave me that initial start. Once that got going, I really had to reform to get my next break and keep things moving on. It just seemed like such a long road ahead of me.

NASCAR was not on the network television stations like it is now. I went to Riverside once when I was young, actually watched Mr. Hendrick drive, walked all the way around the track, hung out around the fence and eight hot dogs as kids do. It seems so far away, in southern California, I watched Rick Mears, Bobby Gordon with Indy cars. With Chevrolet's guidance my career started to develop and they were pulling out of IndyCar, and at that point, I thought, wow, I'm going to go into stock car racing but I still didn't realize I had eight years ahead of me still, maybe nine years, before I found my way to where we are today.

So it's just been a long road, and I'm a realist and I have high hopes, but I just didn't really think that I could get this car from where I came from. It's just such a long, long road, and it's been a lot of people that believed in me. Just looking back on this, celebrating and moving forward, I'm going to continue to thank and remembering names, it's been a long, long road and a lot of people have believed in me and given me this chance.

Q: At one point you said something, you knew this was never going to go smoothly for you guys, you had the hole in the radiator, and you and Chad, I heard you guys on the radio back and forth with each other but the process of trying to stay calm?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I just casually mentioned it, I wanted somebody to look at the balance and make sure we didn't knock the balance off the car, I'm not sure if it was a spring rubber or what it was, but it was something dense. That was the start of it and we had the little error on pit road with the lug nut and then the two tire stuff that was going on made life tough as well and finally again, whatever the 17 does, we're going to do the same. Because it was so tough and draining to try to figure out what to really do at that point.

I think our pit pick was a very smart decision on Chad's behalf, the guys could come in and start making their stops and we had a little bit of time to react to what was going on. He changed the call a couple of times and keeping that track position was very important and we didn't have it early but as the race went on we did a good job.

Q: What did you say to these two at the end of last year to keep the ship sailing, because it's no secret that the relationship had soured and obviously, it was for good reason; that they stayed together?

RICK HENDRICK: Why did you ask me that question? (Laughter) No, seriously, any time you try hard and you come up a little short, and it was kind of the first time for both of them, and it was a decision we had to make, they really had to make it; did they want to be together. And if we were going to come back and compete, Chad had to pace himself, and I'll say this about Chad, he is the hardest?working guy I've ever seen. He works night and day. When he's in that couch, he's studying shock charts, he's working, working, working, and I was afraid that Chad was going to burn himself out.

So Jimmie, you know, wanted to get along, the pressure was getting to both of them and it wasn't any sense in starting the year if they were not committed to making it work.

So we sat down and tried to look at what had happened to us and how we can be better and giving more guys responsibility and trying to take a deep breath and I just applaud both of them. They made that decision, and they have just ?? when things got tough this year, they cinched it up between the two of them. I've seen Chad tell Jimmie, "Hey, man, things are going to be great." And I've heard Jimmie tell the same to Chad. I think it's just one wanting to make it work and making that decision at the end of the year last year, and I'm real proud of them because we went through some pretty tough times and some times where you could point fingers or get just ?? let the pressure get to you and they never did this year. I think that's why they rebounded so tough in the case, and that's as good of a combination as I've ever had in racing.

Q: Jimmie, the last two winners of the Chase have struggled to defend their title. This year you managed to win the sport's three biggest prizes; The Championship, Daytona and Indianapolis. What do you guys do for an encore, how do you keep that fire burning, and not let what happened to the last two champions happen to you and not defend your title?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Better answer that that question in Daytona. Right now I'm just worried about getting a cold beverage and celebrating. I'm not even considering next year. We are going to enjoy this and just focus on what we've done tonight and this season.

Q: From the very beginning, actually before the very beginning, you have repeatedly said, this was your year, and even when you fell down in the Chase, you didn't concede as so many people did wrongly. Is this the way you feel every year, is it a matter of if at first you don't succeed, try, try again, or is it something beyond that in this conquest that this is your year that you've expressed all season long?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not sure I necessarily called it as my year, but I can say that our fifth season being together, and maturing together, Chad and I, last year at the end of the season, we just pushed so hard that there was no question that we were going to come back and work together. Just we needed to figure out a new format to do it. He has the utmost trust and faith in me and I have the same in him. This year we needed to have a different approach.

As the year went on, Chad did a phenomenal job of pacing himself, building a crew of guys around him that he trusts and believes in that could take some pressure off of him and let him focus on right areas and when he got to the Chase we had the speed that we hoped for and that's really where my confidence came from, that we had our cars lined up, our patch figured out, we were not on our heels, we were applying pressure and racing for the championship instead of just trying to hang on. That was just ?? it's been five years preparation to get to that point, maturing as a team, maturing as driver, crew chief, pit crew, all of the details that it takes. That's really where my confidence came from was we did things right.

We got a slow start to the Chase but we still fell back on the fact that we were fast in all of those races and we were not on our heels. We were putting pressure like we needed to and we were racing like we needed to. That's what kept us motivated and kept us going because we knew we were playing everything out right.

Q: Did you set the car up specifically to run best on the bottom of the track, and at what point did you decide that that would be to your advantage?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: In the test I found the bottom was a little bit ?? a little bit more comfortable for me for whatever reason and I'm not typically a bottom?chaser or bottom?feeder or whatever it's called. At times today when I moved up, I didn't feel like I have made up a lot of time or picked up a lot of speed so I just went back down to the bottom and ?? and I wasn't losing a lot in front down there. I think some guys were making, were a little faster than us around the top but for what I needed to do today, the bottom was where I wanted to be. A lot of guys could not run down there, so I had a lane where I could keep air on the nose and keep the car turning like I needed to.

Q: There's always the risk of the wrong guy winning but the last two years, the best team and the best driver have won the championship. What does that say about the Chase and what they should look into doing going forward?

RICK HENDRICK: You know, it's worked out, I believe in my personal opinion, the Chase needs to pay more points for wins. That's my opinion. And I would like to see a bigger spread between tenth and first, the guy that gets in tenth, versus the guys first; more points there.

But it's hard to argue with the success that we've had with the Chase, but I do think it's all about winning races, and I think both in the regular season and in the Chase, I think that there should be more points for wins.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it's tough to really evaluate. I mean, you look back to Kurt Busch's season, he didn't have the best getting started but in the Chase he was rock solid. I really think that if you have ten cars and you rerack, and you give all ten an opportunity, or next year it opens up to 15 or whatever it may be, there are a lot of great race teams in this sport and when you start it over after 26 races and such a small spread, anybody is dangerous, anybody has potential to win.

Continued in part 3

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Jeff Ward , Rick Mears