RICK HENDRICK, OWNER OF THE NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS DRIVEN BY JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS DRIVEN BY JEFF GORDON, NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS DRIVEN BY DALE EARNHARDT, JR. AND NO. 5 KELLOGG'S/CARQUEST IMPALA SS DRIVEN BY...
RICK HENDRICK, OWNER OF THE NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS DRIVEN BY JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS DRIVEN BY JEFF GORDON, NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD IMPALA SS DRIVEN BY DALE EARNHARDT, JR. AND NO. 5 KELLOGG'S/CARQUEST IMPALA SS DRIVEN BY CASEY MEARS
He met with members of the media at Homestead-Miami Speedway and discussed the new testing policy, the impact of the policy on the Charlotte community, if he is looking at having to downsize his teams in this economy and much more.
TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT COMING TO HOMESTEAD THIS WEEKEND. "Good to be here and we're looking forward to the weekend and hopefully get Jimmie's (Johnson) third championship. We're just nervously waiting to get started on Sunday."
ON HIS REACTION TO THE BAN ON ALL TESTING AS SOMEONE WHO HAS TO WRITE CHECKS HOW MUCH IT WILL SAVE EACH TEAM. "I wanted to continue testing. That was what we wanted to do but we're going to do what NASCAR tells us to do. It's hard to say. I've heard numbers that could be as much as 700 or 800 thousand dollars to one million dollars a team depending on how much you test. If you've got to have airplanes to get there, tires, it's almost like running a race when you go test. The economy is tough and NASCAR has decided to do that then we'll abide to it and I think they'll see how it goes for the year. I think that's what they said. I didn't hear the press conference in here so that's what we were told this morning. We just have to wait and see how it works out for everybody. It could be a substantial savings with all the motors, tires, rooms and folks traveling around. We haven't really been able to put a pencil to it because it's just hard to try to divide up. You've got the people anyway so how do you look at what it costs if they weren't testing?"
MIKE HELTON EARLIER SAID THAT HE SPOKE TO STAKE HOLDERS ABOUT SUGGESTIONS OF HOW TO SAVE MONEY IN '09, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEAS OF YOUR OWN THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE? "When they asked me what I said was if we're going to be there anyway on Friday, why not go in on Friday and instrument the cars and have the data acquisitions because every team in this garage has got that. You put that on the car like they did the trucks. Have two sessions on Friday, like an hour and a half, qualify on Saturday morning, have to take the data acquisitions off for qualifying and race. That way you've got the tires here and you should be able to figure out in two sessions of an hour, hour and a half a piece what you've got. That would give people a lot of track time. If you've got the data there then everybody in this garage has got data. If a team didn't have it, then NASCAR could furnish it for them then that puts everybody on equal ground. That's what I vote for but they haven't told me what they're really going to do but that's what I think would work. I don't know what you do with a young guy that you've got that doesn't have any experience or very little experience.
"I think if they would dedicate Friday to two sessions it would be a lot of track time with a good bit of down time in between and with the data they could learn a lot more than they could learn at Kentucky or somewhere. That would be my vote but I'm not sure what they are going to do though."
AS JIMMIE (JOHNSON) AND CHAD (KNAUS) ARE ABOUT TO WIN THIS THIRD STRAIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP, CAN YOU REFLECT BACK A LITTLE BIT ON THAT 2005 MEETING YOU HAD WITH THEM? I GUESS HAD THAT MEETING NOT HAPPENED YOU MIGHT NOT BE HERE RIGHT NOW IN THIS POSITION? "You mean the cookies and milk? You know and I've seen this happen many times with drivers and crew chiefs they start to kind of irritate each other and the communication goes away. One day they love each other and one day they hate each other. It was getting to the point where Chad and Jimmie were having more bad days than good days. But then on a good day it was almost a love fest. I called them into my office and we had some of these plates that had Mickey Mouse ears and some cookies and milk and said if we're going to act like kids we're going to have cookies and milk and we'll have some down time where we can talk about what you don't like about each other because they really weren't opening up. You know usually you can't fix those deals but we talked about it, the communication between the two and what irritated them and I'm really glad they both made steps to fix it because it takes both people to want to make it work. From that day on, there's still times but they have learned to kind of live with each other and how they like to communicate with each other so that was a big turning point. Actually the meeting was supposed to be how we split the guys up and which team they were going to go to."
THE TESTING SUSPENSION MAY PUT SOME GUYS OUT ON THE STREET MORE SO THAN WHAT WAS ORIGINALLY PLANNED, YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE IMPACT THAT IS ALL GOING TO HAVE AND THE IMPACT IT IS GOING TO HAVE ON THE CHARLOTTE AREA. "Well you know the one thing I can tell you I'm in the automobile business and nobody is immune from what is going on in the economy and it's been not only in our country but in the world. I can tell you Charlotte has been more stable than any other state that I do business in and I'm in 14 or 15 states. So Charlotte has survived that part of it well. One of the problems I think for our industry is we've been on a steady growth cycle with manufacturer's coming in and new teams coming in. A couple of years ago we were probably at an all time high and now all of a sudden the economy is forcing a lot of people to do things because of sponsorship. So much of what we do is driven by sponsors and if you just happen to be one of those guys that your sponsors ran out this year or the end of this year or you were looking this year you were in an uphill battle. There's so many different businesses around Charlotte that depend on our sport. I think a lot of the guys will move into different areas. It's no different than Wachovia or any of the other deals in any markets so I don't know what it's going to look like next week. The answer is I hate the whole economy is going through this but I feel like we'll survive and I think come out of this hopefully by the spring or summer."
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT JIMMIE'S '04 AND '05 SEASONS YOU CAME CLOSE AND YOU DIDN'T WIN IT, HOW DID GOING THROUGH THAT MAKE HIM WHAT HE IS TODAY? "Jimmie, he and Chad (Knaus) both have really developed this professional approach to racing for a championship. Jimmie and Chad both are willing to do whatever it takes. Jimmie's approach to fitness, to communicating with Chad in the past testing, he's willing to do whatever it takes. He's almost like a computer giving you feedback on what the car is doing and his download during the race and even after the race is phenomenal. Chad is always trying to figure out new stuff to try and new approached to set ups. I think being short both years but also just getting better and knowing what it takes in being prepared every year. The longer you've got good people working together the better they become. They just keep refining what they do every year. So I think the chemistry has just been better but nothing beats experience. Being there fighting for a championship and losing one will motivate you when you lose one close. All you can do is put yourself in that position and they've done a good job of doing that."
THE NO. 48 TEAM KIND OF APPEARS TO ALMOST REPRESENT A PERFECT STORM OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THIS BEFORE IN THE SPORT? "Well you know I was lucky enough to have that with Jeff Gordon and we won four championships in a row. Terry (Lebonte) had one and Jeff had three back in the 90's and Ray (Evernham) and Jeff were kind of hitting every week. Things were kind of clicking the same way. But you know you have to have a lot of racing luck in this business because Carl Edwards had a problem with an ignition in Charlotte, you take that away and he'd be right there. You just have to try to make sure nothing happens. You can't control a broke motor or a blown motor like Jeff had at Phoenix. Those kinds of things are going to happen. You run over something and cut a tire, so we've had good racing luck too in the Chase. But it has been almost flawless outside of that Texas, I think it was Texas."
HOW CLOSE WOULD YOU SAY WAS JIMMIE AND CHAD NOT REMAINING TOGETHER AND WAS IT YOUR PERCEPTION GOING INTO THAT MEETING THAT YOU KIND OF THOUGHT THAT YOU WERE ALREADY GOING TO SEPARATE THEM AND ENDED UP CHANGING YOUR MIND? "You know I've been down that road so many times. I can remember sitting down with Harry Hyde and Geoff Bodine and different situations over the years and most of the time when it gets to a point of conflict you patch it up but it always erupts again but in this meeting these guys really put their heart on the table and they talked specifically about what they didn't like. Instead of holding it in they were able to become closer friends and still respect each other's professional position in the team. I'm real proud of them because I would have bet money that we couldn't fix it. It's kind of like why go through another year and wait until mid year and have it blow up and then have to fix it lets do it now. But after that meeting I felt really good and I think they felt good because there were a lot of little things that they didn't know irritated the other one. They're professional enough that they fixed it. I think in so many cases communication is the key and they've done a great job."
IN YOUR ESTIMATION IN COMING OUT OF THAT MEETING DO YOU FEEL LIKE HAD THEY GONE THEY'RE SEPARATE WAYSTHAT JIMMIE JOHNSON COULD HAVE GONE ON TO BE WHO HE HAS BECOME WITHOUT CHAD KNAUS AND VICE VERSA? "I think both of those guys would be successful in their own right but I think they're stronger together because again they know each other. And what we talked about that day is 80 or 90 percent of what they did was perfect. It's that other piece that was causing the discomfort and just irritating each other. I just think they click. They're both intense and they fit each other well. They understand each other now and they almost know what the other guy is thinking when they're talking. I'm sure both of them would be successful in their own right but I'm convinced that they're better off and I don't think either of the two would have had the success they've had together because there would have been a learning period with somebody new."
ASSUMING YOU SAVE MONEY ON TESTING WILL YOU SPEND THAT MONEY ON OTHER THINGS AND WHAT WOULD YOU SPEND IT ON AND WILL THIS BROADEN THE GAP BETWEEN THE TEAMS THAT CAN SO-CALLED REDISTRIBUTE THE WEALTH AT THE TOP OF THE FIELD COMPARED TO THE BOTTOM OF THE FIELD? "The one thing that I know about this new car is what works for one driver won't work for the other driver. It's got to be tuned to the needs of the individuals. What we learned with Jimmie doesn't do Jeff (Gordon) any good, he can try but he doesn't like it and Junior (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.) or Casey (Mears). The elimination of testing, I don't see how it's going to benefit anybody one over the other, other than saving some money maybe. I can't see what we've been through this year it took us going to the track to get better so I think if NASCAR opens up Friday's with more time and everybody's there. If you're testing in Kentucky with the wrong tire and look I want to test, but we all need to be conscious of what we're spending because if you're lucky enough to have a sponsor today and you've got to renegotiate in 2010 you're not going to get any increase you're probably going to get cut. So we're going to have to make adjustments until the economy comes back. But I don't see a big benefit personally of any one group over the other. I do believe that everybody showing up at the same time, this is my experience for what it's worth some of the better prepared teams when they unload they're the fastest. But then if you get everybody a couple of practices everybody kind of catches up, the gap kind of gets closer. My theory is if you give two hour and half sessions on Friday with the data in the car that will let most everybody, if you can't figure it out in two of those sessions then chanced are you're not going to figure it out that weekend, it will be one down the road."
WHEN YOU STARTED OUT IN THIS SPORT MAYBE YOUR TEAM WASN'T AS BIG AS SOME OF THE OTHER TEAMS LIKE JUNIOR JOHNSON BUT NOW 25 YEARS LATER YOU'RE THE BIG TEAM THAT'S OUT HERE, HAVEYOU EVEN HAD TO MAYBE LOOK AT POSSIBLY DOWNSIZING SOME OF YOUR STAFF MAYBE MAKING SOME HARD DECISIONS AND TRIMMING BACK ON SOME OF THE CREW MEMBERS? "We've had situations where like in the No. 88 and No. 5 shop we were running a Nationwide car and Terry (Labonte) on a limited schedule and when NASCAR changed the rule back to four teams we moved some of the teams up to JR Motorsports with the Nationwide program, we had eliminated some jobs at the end of the year. I think sometimes you get caught up in at the end of the year crew chiefs and folks make changes with personnel anyway. There are some changes to just make the teams better and some positions are eliminated. Then there's some just layoffs. If the guy's not going to do a motor program and he's got another way of doing it he's got engine builders and he's got nothing for them to do. I don't know if I answered your question but in our situation I think we've got to look at where we are down the road because again if you're lucky enough to have sponsors today and you're not out having to look you hope when it's time to re-up you're going to be able to at least maintain and not have to cut back. I think it's going to be hard for any of us to do any new business in probably the first half of '09."
YOU MENTIONED KIND OF JOKINGLY WHEN YOU FIRST SAT DOWN ABOUT BEING KIND OF A LITTLE NERVOUS, YOU'VE BEEN THROUGH THIS SO MANY TIMES AND JIMMIE IS OBVIOUSLY IN A GREAT POSITION GOING INTO SUNDAY BUT AT THIS POINT IN YOUR CAREER AND WITH WHAT'S GONE ON IN YOUR LIFE IN THIS SPORT, HOW ANTSY DO YOU GET IN A SITUATION LIKE THIS? "You know I wish I could tell you that I've gotten used to it but I don't. I think I get more nervous or as nervous as I ever have. In Phoenix that was the longest race that I ever can remember. And then when you have restarts, two or three restarts. You just got so much riding on it. In the past championships you decide them maybe a race early before the Chase starts but then in the Chase anything can happen. It just brings a lot of pressure and a lot of nervousness I guess and I don't get used to it. It hasn't hit me yet. Sunday morning when they line up and start is when I'll wear out my shoes going back and forth down pit road because I can't stand still. We think we've got a really good shot at closing the deal but we could have the motor problem like Jeff (Gordon) did in the first 10 laps and then we're done so I'll rest better Sunday night hopefully."
JEFF GORDON WON THREE OF HIS FOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS WITH RAY (EVERNHAM) AND RAY HASN'T ENJOYED THAT KIND OF SUCCESS SINCE THAT TEAM BROKE UP, HOW IMPORTANT WILL IT BE FOR YOU TO TRY TO KEEP THAT NO. 48 TEAM TOGETHER AND KEEP CHAD (KNAUS) WITH JIMMIE (JOHNSON) GOING FORWARD? "That's the plan. Ray decided to do his own deal and was very successful and we did have success and won a championship after Ray, but when you've got a guy and they've worked together that closely it's hard to get that chemistry back and get that momentum back. Thankfully they're already talking about next year. Chad is like a machine. I think a week ago he was telling me some plans he had next year. I hope that they're together for a long time."
THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT WHERE JIMMIE FITS IN THE HISTORY OF THIS SPORT, BESIDES FROM THAT WHERE DOES HE FIT IN THE HISTORY OF YOUR ORGANIZATION AS FAR AS THE DRIVERS THAT YOU'VE HAD? "I don't understand why Jimmie Johnson hasn't gotten more credit than he has gotten for being one of the best that's been in a car. If you look at the statistics of the races that's he's entered and his top-fives, top- 10's and wins, I don't think anybody has a better record than what he has had. I know in our camp we give them all the same equipment and he just seems to get better. People might not say it today but I think three or four years from now, and I think people are starting to see it and starting to appreciate the talent that he has. In a lot of cases they don't talk about how good a guy is until he's probably in the twilight of his career. I think if you ask the guys in the garage, the other drivers that drive against him, he's pretty amazing and the combination of he and Chad makes it that much even better."
A FEW RACES AGO YOU KIND OF MADE A JOKE THAT AT THE END OF THE SEASON EACH OF YOUR DRIVERS COME IN ONE AT A TIME AND SAYS GIVE ME THE SAME EQUIPMENT AND I'LL BEAT THE OTHER THREE AND YOU SAID YOU ALWAYS AGREE WITH THEM, DO YOU THINK THEY KNOW YOU'RE LYING NOW? "What I said is they were my favorites. When they asked me about that I told them they were my favorite driver when they're apart."
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO KEEP EVERYBODY ON AN EVEN KEEL NOW THAT JIMMIE HAS REALLY ESTABLISHED A TRUE POSITION OF DOMINANCE NOT ONLY WITHIN THE SPORT BUT WITHIN THE TEAM? "I talked to Dale (Earnhardt, Jr.) this morning and last week after the race Jeff (Gordon) and all of them have said those guys are amazing. So all of these guys are competitive, very competitive and I'm excited about Mark Martin coming on board. As competitive as Dale and Jeff Gordon are they're going to step it up to beat Jimmie. So it's that internal competition that's good. I've liked to watch them as long as it's healthy. I mean the respect is there, that's the big deal. They respect each other, they like and admire each other but they're fierce competitors and they don't like to get beat. The No. 24 is making adjustments in their team. We're talking about adjustments with the No. 88. How can we be better? That's the approach everybody has because none of those guys like to lose."
WITH ALL DO RESPECT, TWO CHAMPIONSHIPS THAT JIMMIE (JOHNSON) AND CHAD (KNAUS) HAVE WON ALREADY, NON-JOHNSON FANS HAVE SAID THAT THERE WERE ELEMENTS OF BENDING THE RULES, CHEATING WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL IT, THIS YEAR THERE HAS BEEN NO INFRACTIONS AGAINST CHAD HE HASN'T HAD ANY SUSPENSIONS, IS THIS KIND OF GOING TO BE A VINDICATION YEAR IF YOU WILL BECAUSE THERE HASN'T BEEN ANY PENALTIES ASSESSED? "I think last year when you looked at a fender that was out and in front of God and everybody how anybody could think that was trying to do anything. You just don't do something like that. People if they don't like you or you're beating their favorite driver then they are going to come up with something. They're going to fabricate it if it's not real. I think what's happened this year, I see it around the track and the number of Jimmie Johnson fans that I meet and the ones that I meet that don't go to the race track, folks from all walks of life respect him for what they've done. You have to look at him, he doesn't hold back like last week at Phoenix. He doesn't pull over like that move he made on a restart to go by Jamie (McMurray) was a pretty gutsy move there when you had a lot to lose. I think people respect what he did in Atlanta a year ago when coming through the championship racing (Matt) Kenseth so hard there at the end of the race. I just think he's earning the respect of everyone and you're not going to get everybody to like you and they'll always find excuses for why you beat them. If you find an infraction in one race and you run 35 other races and whip them. He's kind of taken the approach he just shows up and does his job and let his actions speak for themselves."
WHAT'S KEEPING YOU ON SUNDAY FROM MAKING EVERY CONSPIRACY THEORIST HAPPY AND BEING LIKE GO HELP OUT CARL EDWARDS AND PUT HIM IN THE WALL SOMEHOW OR TELLING YOUR GUYS TO PARK THE CARS AND TELLING THEM THE DAY IS DONE AND LETTING JIMMIE WIN IT THAT WAY? "Number one you don't want to win a championship that way. You just wouldn't want to win one that way because you carry that stigma with you and you wouldn't get credit for the championship. I like to win it the way Jimmie's doing it. He's just going out there and racing hard every week and not changing his approach. Just outrun them so that's the plan."
-credit: gm racing