Johnson, Hendrick, Knaus - champions press conference, part 1

Ford 400 Post-Race Transcript Homestead-Miami Speedway November 16, 2008 An Interview With: JIMMIE JOHNSON RICK HENDRICK CHAD KNAUS THE MODERATOR: We're going to roll right into our series champion press conference. Joining us on the stage...

Ford 400 Post-Race Transcript
Homestead-Miami Speedway
November 16, 2008

An Interview With:
JIMMIE JOHNSON
RICK HENDRICK
CHAD KNAUS

THE MODERATOR: We're going to roll right into our series champion press conference. Joining us on the stage right now is Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. He's going to be joined by his chew chief, Chad Knaus, and team car owner, Rick Hendrick.

For the third straight season, the 48 team wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup series championship, equalling only Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to win three straight titles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

Jimmie, how does it feel to be the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion? And, also, how does it feel to become one of only two drivers in the history of the sport to win three straight championships? Congratulations.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you. It's just unbelievable. I haven't had a chance really to let it sink in yet. And I intentionally dodged as much press stuff before for the last really the entire Chase as I possibly could. Just to stay focused on what I needed to do.

It's worked out well, but at the same time it's kept me from really understanding what could take place. I look forward to resurfacing again tomorrow and watching TV, and reading some of the articles and stuff.

So I just don't have words to express how proud I am of this race team. How thankful I am of this opportunity to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, the sport of Lowe's, and to do this together with them since the start in 2002. To be with Chad through the start of this deal through 2002. And driving this race car is a great honor.

I'm just at a loss for words on the whole experience. It's been awfully amazing.

THE MODERATOR: Chad Knaus, you make history tonight. You become the first crew chief in the sport to win three consecutive championships. How does that feel? And your thoughts about that accomplishment?

CHAD KNAUS: Well, it hasn't really sunk in yet, obviously. We've been very fortunate. This has been an incredible ride we've been on since 2002. You know, you say that, but it's a lot different than what it used to be. The crew chief used to have to get out there and build the shocks and set up the race cars and do all that stuff himself.

I'm very fortunate that Mr. Hendrick allows me to employ the people that we need to and have teammates like what we've got that we're able to delegate to very smart people, and they kind of feed me the information, and we adjust as we need.

So it's really not me the one that's it, it's all the guys. It's all the people we've got at HMS, we've got at the shop, the guys we've got to travel weekly with the 48 team. I don't know what it feels like yet. It will take a little bit for sure.

But once we get behind closed doors and get all the cameras and microphones out of our faces, we'll be able to sit back, relax and reflect on the season and enjoy it and realize what it's all about.

THE MODERATOR: Mr. Rick Hendrick, your eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, championship for Hendrick Motorsports. Second only to Petty Enterprises' nine. Just your thoughts in general, Rick, about what this No. 48 team has been able to accomplish?

RICK HENDRICK: These guys have just been phenomenal. I'm amazed at how they refuse to get down when things don't really go right, and they really click. And to see Jimmie tie Cale's record, which has been there for, I don't know, what, 30 years or so, then for Chad to do it and no crew has ever done it, I'm really proud of the guys.

It's not without a lot of sacrifice and effort and unbelievable talent that these two have and the whole group that's around them. I'm really proud. I never thought I'd win one of these things. To be able to celebrate tonight with three in a row for those guys and eighth for the company is really special.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q: You guys built up a big lead early and had to hold on against a team that finished fourth or better in eight of the ten Chase races. Was there a little bit of deja vu to what you guys went through in 2004 being behind early and putting the big rush on the end, watching the 99 guys do the same thing?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, from my perspective from '04 is so different, with the plane crash, and we picked up a lot of points in the later stages of the Chase, and then lost by such a small margin. I guess I don't see a lot from then from what Carl went through. But I can see what the 99 team has done, and the speed that those guys have, and the maturity that Carl has shown and Bob and the relationship and how it's grown, these guys are the real deal. They are spot on.

A couple of races got them behind, but, you know, we didn't sit back and ride at any point. We raced the entire season. I feel like we did all that we could. We got every point that we could. We're I don't know where I'm going with this, to be honest with you. I'm babbling.

But those guys, they're quick. They're going to be here for a long time. We're going to have to race those guys for a long time.

CHAD KNAUS: The thing I wanted to say real quick about that, as racers, there's only one thing you want to do and that is race. That's what those guys are. When we come to the racetrack every week, we know we've got to race those guys, and that added a lot of satisfaction to be able to win this championship, because they felt the same pressure that we did the whole Chase.

That we had to go out there and win races and lead laps and lead the most laps. If either of us didn't do that, the other one was going to hand it to the whole team.

For me, personally, I like racing guys like that, to have the guts for race strategy calls. And that's much respect, a lot that goes to that.

Q: I know Jimmie is probably too modest to answer this, so I'll ask Rick and Chad. But with what Jimmie's accomplished in such a short period of time, could there be a strong case made that he's the best driver ever?

RICK HENDRICK: I don't know how you can doubt the talent that he's got and the competitiveness of the sport and the things that he does in the car and the coolness, the communications. The way he describes the chassis and works with Chad. I don't think he's gotten the respect he deserves.

I think this is kind of serving notice that what he's really done to win three of these in a row. If you go back and look at '04, since he stepped into the series, what he's accomplished in his record speaks for itself.

I'm just glad I don't have to race against him.

CHAD KNAUS: I've been fortunate to work with really great race car drivers. I worked with Jeff Gordon in the 24 car. I've seen what Jeff can do with a race car and I've got a lot of respect for what Jeff can do.

To be able to work with Jimmie, he's definitely brought it to a new level. But I'm also a lot more intwined than I was back then, with what's going on. In my eyes he's the best that there's been. That may be a little whatever you want to say. People are going to say Richard Petty is, Dale Earnhardt and all those guys. But with the competition level the way it is today with what you've got to do working, racing day in and day out, no time to take time off, in my mind, he is the best.

Q: Listening to you guys pretty much all day, the word I would use is there was almost a serenity about the way you guys approached this race. Maybe that was the big lead. Maybe that was having been here before. But there was very little. You told me as soon as the first lap you knew you had a car that was in the ballpark. You talked very much about the first championship about how just nervous you were, how last year was different. This is like a third different integration of your team and your championship. Was it just a calmness about you all day? Is that how you felt about it?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I really did. Experience helped me with this. The points lead certainly helped, and knowing after yesterday's practice and how good of a car we had helped as well.

You know, when it fell into the experience role, it helped me sleep last night. It helped me focus on the right things to do and not stress about things I couldn't control. I wouldn't have been able to overcome those fears if I hadn't been through it before.

So all three of those things really, really did help and made a difference. That's the most comfortable I've been in the car in here at Homestead racing for a championship, and the most competitive I think we've been. A lot of it has to do with the comfort that came from experience and the points lead and all that stuff.

Phoenix, Chad was telling me last week, the first pit stop or two, he could still hear in my voice. He knows me so well, he knew I was still wound up and worried because we had a tough Saturday and came off a tough weekend at Texas. So this week it's been good.

Qualifying wasn't fun. The one bad lap we ran all weekend happened to be in qualifying, and we got into practice yesterday, and we knew we were going to be good. What would keep us from winning this would be things out of our control. And experience helped us not worry about that stuff.

Q: I guess my question's for Chad and Jimmie. Last year you had barely crossed the finish line and Chad's notes flew away, and he scrambled to get them. He didn't want to get them into anybody's hands because he was already thinking about this third championship. I don't think anyone doubted that he was probably going to go to work on Tuesday and start getting ready. Now that you've got three, do you start are you already thinking record breaking fourth? How much time do you take to enjoy this one? Because Chad probably wants to go to work tonight.

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, we want four, why not? That's why we're here. We think with the team that we've got, the resources that we've got with Hendrick Motorsports and Team Chevrolet behind us, we can definitely go and bid for four championships in a row. Why wouldn't we? Give me a reason why not to. I think that's the mentality we've got to have.

We're very fortunate to have a group of people at Hendrick Motorsports that all they want to do is win races. It's difficult for people to understand we don't have a lot of 9:00 to 5:00er's. We don't have people like that. We have people that try to win races and try to win championships. That's what we want to do.

To get four championships in a row you have to get three. And we're fortunate to get three. If we buckle down and do what we need to do, we'll be in contention for our fourth championship next year. If that means I have to get up at eight o'clock tomorrow morning and go to work to do it, I'll do it.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think from a driver's standpoint I could go race again next week and start the season and go for four. From their standpoint, these guys need a break. I think every team out there has worked to the bone, and I can speak on our team's behalf. They have tested and have worked so much that they need some time off to recharge.

It's on our minds. It's not that we're chasing a number, it's just what we're capable of this year we got it done. There are times we look back and say there are tracks and weekends we didn't get all we could. That's more of what's left behind in us. We know we can do better. It's that search for trying to be the best we can more than it is a number and that kind of thing.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR-CUP