JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET – FINISHED 36TH IN RACE; 3RD IN FINAL NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES STANDINGS:
KERRY THARP: Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion joins us, finished third in the points.
So there was oil under the back of the car. I'm not sure if a fitting busted or was hit by debris or line but something back there allowed the car to puke out gear oil. So as I was saying, there was oil all over under the back of the car, so something happened from either a line failure or a fitting was hit by debris or something and it puked all the gear oil out and burned up the gear. So again, disappointing, and we were right there in position and putting pressure on like we needed to.
But I have a lot to be proud of this year and so does this race team, and I can't thank everybody -- I need to thank everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. Every man and woman there put in countless hours giving me great equipment, the support from Lowe's, my fan base, Chevrolet and my family. We did all we could and came up a little short.
Q. Do you have any idea whether the oil line, or whatever damage occurred, occurred after you had to come back in? Was it something that could have been related to the missing lug nut? I don't think so. When I returned to the track, I could smell gear oil, and my experience is you never smell your own, you smell someone else's. But clearly, I was smelling mine. And maybe something coming down pit road like a loose lug nut or some debris on the apron as I was getting on the track could have. But again, that's just speculation. I don't know if a line failed or exactly what went on. But putting a lug nut back on like we had to come down for would not create the problem.
Q. So maybe the mistake on the pit road was irrelevant, maybe your situation was doomed anyway? Yeah, I guess if we find out if a line broke, that could be the case.
Q. You came into this thing with people not giving you much of a chance. Would it have been easier to take if you had just never had a chance all day long? Does it hurt worse when you surge and you can almost taste it again? In a lot of ways, yes, but -- I would have hated to come out here and do the trash talking I did to start the week and run 25th all night long. You know, I'm proud of the fact that we went out there and backed up what we said we could do and we put the pressure on. It doesn't take the sting away from losing the championship. It helps in some ways and stings in others, so it balances out, I guess.
Q. If you could just talk, all of this happened within what felt like a five-minute period. You were leading, Brad had his trouble, you were ahead in the points, and then boom, the lug nut, and then boom, this. If you could just speak to your emotions, because this all went down in a very tight time frame. Yes, it all unraveled pretty quick. You know, the pit road thing, I was just kind of dealing with it, the first two or three laps I got on the track and trying to think through what was going on. Chad had some optimism left in his voice. I wasn't sure why or what. Maybe he was just doing a good job of being a cheerleader.
But I ran a handful of laps and then I could smell some oil. And when the gear failed, I mean, there was a lot of shaking in the car. I knew it was big and going to be fatal.
First I thought it was the engine, but it was the gear. It was still running. We came in the pits and I fired up the engine and the engine was running.
Definitely disappointing, but again, I feel that we had the speed; we had 80 percent of the Chase that we needed to have. So it's hard to be real down on myself or real down on where we finished. These championships are special, and it takes an entire 10-race -- clean 10 races to win one of these things. We hurt ourselves in Phoenix, and then today didn't help.
Q. (No microphone.) You know, I felt so calm and relaxed all day long because I didn't have anything to protect. But it was as much like a normal race for me as ever. And that's something that I enjoyed, it allowed me to stay loose in the car and communicate what I needed and we made the car better.
I didn't see Brad, but I wasn't -- I didn't have the tingles of a championship feeling. I didn't even know where Brad finished and had to ask Jamie before we went on the air, and at first she said 21st, and about lost my lunch when I heard that. She said, Well, he got to 15th. I said, well, it would have been interesting.
Q. You guys, the crew even after you went to the garage worked until the very end and you wouldn't get out of the car. Kind of go through what's going through your mind at that point and what's that say about the team that they just wanted to get the car back out on the track? Yeah, it's just one of those things that teams do, and certainly the 48 team does, to get back out there and try not to have a DNF. In the event that somebody has a problem or if the 2 did, we could capitalize on it. But our troubles were pretty big, and there weren't many laps left.
It was more about going through the motions and trying from a pride standpoint to get out on the track and run the final lap of the season.
Q. In Brad's earliest introduction to this sport, did you have any run-ins with him at all, and can you talk about the progress he's made over his three years and just your impression of what he's done this year? No, I haven't had any run-ins with him. We were teammates for a handful of years. He was in Jr.'s car, and when you're teammates with someone you get to know someone on a different level and your guard is down and it's much more friendly than meeting somebody out on the racetrack door to door for the first time. We had a good relationship then, and I can't go without saying congratulations to Brad and the entire team. I've known Paul for a lot of years, and through my disappointment, I'm happy for him. I'm happy for Brad, and very good friends with Roger and happy that he was able to come out with the championship.
Q. Assuming career-wise seven or eight championships is something you want to achieve, how tough is it to finish so close this year and come short? You know, to be close is just -- it sucks to be close and not get it. That's just the way it is. The statement I made about the eight championships is on that big wish list that -- we all have a wish list. The reality of that isn't something that motivates me, and I'm not focused on it or think about that number. It was really to give everybody an answer because everybody would ask me, What next?
So I thought it would bide me some time to have to come up with some type of answer.
But I'm just disappointed that we came so close. We had 80 percent of the Chase that we wanted to have, a ton of momentum late in the season, and then those final two races bit us.
Q. You said you almost lost your lunch when Jamie (Little) told you Brad had finished what she thought was 21st. How did you feel when you had the lug nut issue, and is there any sort of consolation that even if you didn't have that issue that that gear would have broken anyway? That's hard to say on the gear. We lost the oil, so until I understand why we lost the oil or the gear grease, I don't know. But we were in position to win the race. We were ahead of the 24, and the 24 won the race. We had a great strategy, called me to pit road to top off, and it seemed like we were definitely in the catbird seat.
Q. (No microphone.) Yeah, I was eerily calm for whatever reason. Flat lined. Had the lug nut on, came back out and then we had our other problem.
Q. The same strategy that you were on ended up winning Jeff the race, and just wondered if you were surprised or Chad was surprised that Brad didn't cover your move when you came to pit road to top off. Yeah, I was surprised, and they I think were trying for track position and probably a little frustrated with being stuck in the middle of the pack. You know, it's tough to really race hard when you come down here and you have something to protect. I've been through it enough, and I definitely think those guys were feeling it today.
Maybe outside of their game a little bit and going for the fuel mileage perspective, and it gave us an opportunity. It was definitely going to make things interesting. Unfortunately we couldn't execute at the end.
KERRY THARP: Jimmie, thank you so much. You've had a good season, five-time champion. Thank you for coming in.
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