Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, displayed a remarkable will to win on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) as he scored his second NASCAR Sprint Cup series (NSCS) win in a row, and his fifth win of 2012. Johnson led seven times for a race-high 168 laps; and was able to pass and hold off his closest championship rival, Brad Keselowski, for the win in a furious battle in the final laps after a green/white/checkered finish.
Tony Stewart, No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, rallied from a 21st place start to finish in fifth place. Stewart won this race last year en route to his third NSCS championship.
Team Chevy driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., had a solid day in his No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet and finished today’s race in seventh position. Kurt Busch had his best finish to date behind the wheel of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet and come home eighth while Kevin Harvick overcame a freakish start that saw his team make repairs to his No. 29 Rheem/Budweiser Chevrolet after being hit by a sky diver’s weight bag in the pre-race ceremonies to finish ninth.
Rounding out the top five were: Brad Keselowski (Dodge) in second place, Kyle Busch (Toyota) in third, and Matt Kenseth (Ford) in fourth.
An interview with:
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET
CHAD KNAUS, CREW CHIEF, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the way things have been going, you have to win the race to get points. Reminds me of last year's Chase in some respects. Just a great performance by the entire 48 team all weekend long. To win the pole and lead the most laps, win the race is a big deal. Just excited and really wish we were in Phoenix right now getting ready to start the next race.
Things are rolling. We're enjoying it. The significance of 700 wins for Chevrolet is huge for Hendrick Motorsports. It's also big for myself. The only thing I've ever raced throughout my career has been a Chevy. They gave me my first opportunity back when I was 15 years old and put me in an off-road stadium truck to help develop the new truck that's coming along, and I've been there ever since. Very cool to hit those landmark numbers for Chevy and just very proud of the effort tonight.
THE MODERATOR: Also joined by winning crew chief Chad Knaus. If you could talk about that 700 victory for Chevy and what it means to you and the organization?
CHAD KNAUS: I think it's a pretty big deal. Obviously, we have a long affiliation with Chevrolet, and we've won a lot of races with those guys. Being able to clinch the manufacturer’s championship last week in Martinsville, and then to be able to come back this weekend and get their 700th victory I think is cool. Hendrick Motorsports is extremely dedicated to the product of Chevrolet and to be able to do that is an honor.
Q. Those last few restarts were very physical. Brad and you both leaned on each other a lot. How would you describe what was going on there over the last two or three restarts?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, definitely was. You're going to have that to a certain degree. On these big tracks I was a little shocked by the commitment into turn one. I've joked before about driving in far enough to where I see Elvis, and we went past Elvis. I don't know who was coming next, but that 2 car was coming up the track and took us both to the fourth and fifth lanes.
So, fortunately, we both stayed one-two and didn't crash, didn't lose a spot on the racetrack. But I knew he was serious about the race lead prior to that and that took it to a new level. That last restart I was able to rally around on the outside and finish so fast. I came so close to finishing the pass the restart prior, but I didn't get it done. I made sure I got everything right on that last one and got by them.
Q. You're a guy that's known for being calm, cool, collected, that kind of thing. What was your emotional state after that next to last restart? You pulled up beside him at the end of the backstretch there. Just where were you at that point? Yeah, I just pointed at them. Just wanted him to use his head. There is no sense in taking us both out in the process. If I was -- if he was taking me out, you can count on the fact that I would have been on the gas and trying to take him with me. You know, it just doesn't need to come down to that. Brad, also, after the race, came into victory lane and shook my hand.
The cool thing about it is we walked right up to that line, got right to the edge, and then it stopped. He showed a very classy move coming to victory lane and shaking my hand afterwards too.
Q. Jimmie, Brad feels like he still controls his destiny. He says, even though he's 7 points back. But you've been adamant that the points leader is in control. How in control do you feel right now with two races to go and going into Phoenix a track where you've done so well? It's a small amount of control, but we're definitely in control. We don't have to catch any or make up any points. 7 points is nothing to feel comfortable about and to relax on. We're still going to go into Phoenix and act as if we're behind and go in there to try to sit on the pole and win the race again.
Q. What were you angry about on the next to last restart with Brad? Did you think he went too early or is that just the way restarts are these days? Yeah, seemed really early to me. Caught the 18 off guard and myself. I need to look at the video before I put my foot in my mouth or something here. But it seemed early. We have this gray area exiting on to the racetrack off turn two when you leave the pits. Last week, two weeks ago we had a hard reference point. This week we don't. It's just in the area of. We all know at Chicago the situation that was there.
On the front stretch for the restart, there were two lines there for a reason. I felt like he went really early and caught us both off guard.
Q. Right after the race, you said the gloves are off. It's a bare-knuckle fight. I know those are figures of speech, but is this the hardest you've been pressed coming down the stretch in a title run in your career. The most competition you faced maybe the better way to put it? Yeah, I'm trying to remember with Jeff in '06, no it was '07, '08, I think we finished with a 4.8 average to win the Chase. Had to win four races to win the Chase, and Jeff was at a 5.0 and finished second to us. So it's in line with that year. I can't remember vividly what went on that year, but it reminds me a lot of that year.
Q. On the last restart, did you think Brad spun his tires? It looked like you beat him to the line right there on the last restart. Did he spin his tires or what happened there? Yeah, he spun them pretty bad. I was pedaling trying to let him catch up as we got to the start/finish, and he kind of surged past right at it or just past it. NASCAR has been aware of that in the past and allows you, if you give that nose back, you're in good shape.
Q. Are you a little surprised that the two-tire strategy of Paul Wolfe seemed to work twice?
CHAD KNAUS: Nothing surprises me anymore, to be quite honest with you. I felt as though it was a gutsy call for sure. It worked midway through the race because everybody was kind of just fighting their way and getting to the end. I don't feel like if the caution hadn't come out, it wouldn't have really panned out for them as well as what they had hoped. I felt like we were catching them pretty quickly before that second to last caution came out. We just scooted by him pretty quickly.
But I do think they would have ended up solidly second or third even with that call. So that was a solid call on their part. But we've been racing pretty conservatively the last couple of weeks. Been able to get the laps led and fortunately enough been able to get the victory. So we'll they'll have to continue to be aggressive to swing by us, I think.
Q. At the end of the race you had the tire advantage. Is there any way Keselowski could have stuck with you being any less stubborn and ornery than he was?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think as Chad pointed out, I kind of forgot about it. The restart where we put tires on, they took their two and we took our four, and I was coming fast. Got by the 18, and made up a couple of seconds on them and we were there. So I feel like our car, and certainly the advantage of being on four was the thing. We improved our car because previously I couldn't get by the 18, and I rolled right on by them and was heading after that 2 car.
So I think we were in the offensive situation there at the end. They had to protect because of the two tires those last three restarts.
Q. Is the process of getting through each week and preparing the cars now as it has been throughout the other title runs or are things in some way different or improved upon so to speak?
CHAD KNAUS: I think that's the goal -- I shouldn't say that's the goal. I think it's the good thing for the 48. Everybody thinks once you get to the Chase, you've got to ramp everything up. Being part of the 48 car, you're expected to win every single week, so we really can't prepare any differently. I think going to the racetrack each week, whether it be Martinsville or Richmond or Atlanta, wherever it may be, we put as much effort into the race cars as we can week-in and week-out. Once we get into the Chase, we really can't do anymore.
We're really operating in our comfort zone. Where I think what happens to a lot of the other teams, it takes them out of the comfort zone. They try to do more. They try to push that further. They do things that are outside the norm. I think that's where usually people get in trouble.
Q. Are you impressed with how Paul Wolfe and Brad for their first run at the championship have stayed this competitive at every level physically and emotionally and in the actual preparation of the cars? Oh, yeah they've done a good job. You have to realize that's Penske Racing. It's not like it's a slouch team. Those guys have been building good cars for a long time. You look at Kurt Busch has gone very fast in that race car. There have been a lot of great drivers in that race car, and they've always run competitively.
I think that team is more than prepared to do it. I think Paul's a great crew chief, and Brad is a really good driver. So I think they'll be there through the end. They'll be here for years to come and that's good. That's a good thing. We need that.
Q. It's not the first time that Brad has kind of irked you a little bit during the Chase. Chicagoland and going back to Michigan, it seems like the 2 kind of likes to play games with you guys. Do you expect that gamesmanship to continue over the next couple races and how do you deal with it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not familiar with Michigan. Chicago was just a thing of pulling up on the track early. I said then and there that it didn't change the outcome of the race. So it's not those -- those are more -- I don't know what the word is -- just the flow of the race and different things that go on. But the way we race this afternoon or this evening was that's a different thing. That's the first time that we've really engaged at that level and raced each other that hard.
To his credit, he did a nice job of getting right to the edge, and we brought home race cars. We weren't wadded up to look like a bunch of fools over there and handing the 5 and 15 a big gift. So that's a good thing.
Q. Do you expect that you have the car to do it? (Indiscernible)? Yeah, I don't expect it to be easy to pass any chaser. It's been that way all Chase long. Drop the flag at Chicago and then even in Loudon, the guys that aren't in the championship battle seem to be a little bit more respectable. They'll race to a certain point. But when you're around a guy that you're trying to beat in the points, it's gloves off in a whole different deal.
Q. You were in here the other day talking about not being superstitious even after you had been sitting in the car after qualifying. I heard a story about a lucky charm that was from shooting the gun. Could you expand on that a little bit, and are you going to take that to Phoenix with you? Yeah, when I shot the gun in qualifying, after qualifying and put the shells in my little glove box thing that I have. I'm not superstitious, but I'm just covering that base in case it does weigh into things (laughing). I'm not, but I cover every base.
I've set my alarm to 6:48. I get up every morning at 6:48, if not earlier. Microwave I put at 48 seconds instead of a minute, but, no, I'm not superstitious at all.
Q. (Indiscernible)? I don't know. Again, Phoenix is Phoenix, I don't think they'll stay in the car. We're probably not taking the same car, so they won't go to Phoenix. Now you have me thinking about it, I might have to cover that base and take them to Phoenix.
Q. But you're not superstitious? No, what would make you think that? I have no clue.
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