Johnson, Hendrick, Knaus - champions press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Darrell Waltrip said the other day for both of you, and if Rick could give his overview of what he thinks. Darrell Waltrip said that if they keep harmony, they could just about go on forever, there is no reason ...

Continued from part 1

Q: Darrell Waltrip said the other day for both of you, and if Rick could give his overview of what he thinks. Darrell Waltrip said that if they keep harmony, they could just about go on forever, there is no reason they couldn't win four or five. And Darrell compared it to sort of like a rock band situation where if one guy decides to go out on his own and be a star, that that's the only way things like this are broken up. Could y'all talk about your bond and your harmony? And, Rick, could you talk about just how permanent you think that could be for them?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, Rick, how permanent could it be, buddy (laughing)?

RICK HENDRICK: Pretty hard to do with Chad.

CHAD KNAUS: Oh, geez.

RICK HENDRICK: I'm just kidding. We had to hit him one time. No, I think I know how bad I know how bad both of these guys want it. I know what they go through when I watch them in comparison to other drivers and crew chiefs. I've never seen anyone in my 25 years that are willing to sacrifice any more or as much as they have just because they want it so bad.

Usually sometimes when guys get it one time or twice, they maybe back off a little bit. They've gotten there. This just makes these guys even hungrier. So the chemistry between them and the respect they have, I think, I don't see them I hope there's nothing in the future that would separate them.

I think I agree with Darrell. As long as they have this burning desire, with their talent, that they'll be a force every single year.

Q: You mentioned earlier about constantly striving to be the best you can be, and I know you don't think you're perfect. But how close are you to being the best you can be after this season?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's still always room for improvement. I don't think any driver can say they had the perfect season or the perfect race. I guess when you do think that you've accomplished that it's time to do something else. Maybe the hunger's gone at that point.

But there are so many things that go on on the track. So many adjustments we have with the car, so many corrections, based on comments with my emotions, how we drive the car. With Chad and the guys and what they develop and start working on. It's just always a moving target. New tires, new cars, new tracks, no testing. It just never ends.

So I don't think you ever quit learning how to do a better job as a driver or as a crew member in today's world of racing. You just can't stop.

The day that desires fades and you aren't willing to put in the time and work for that, I think that's when it goes away. That's what I'm so excited about when I look in my guys' eyes. They're ready to go racing. They want to do it again. That is something special. That's something you can't put together. We've been fortunate to have the right guys, the right leadership, and the right support to bring the best out of all of us, and we're on a roll.

Q: After the race, Darby was congratulating you and you reminded him this was the first time you've made it through a championship season without being suspended. Does that add any significance to it for you? And does it say anything to you, Rick, and, Jimmie, about him?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I realized after that we hadn't gotten through Tech yet. I was like maybe that was a little quick. Yeah, Larry McReynolds stopped me yesterday and he said I was going to ask you if you were really worn out. And I said I'm tired, yeah. And I said why? He said, you worked six weeks longer this year than you have any other year.

I don't know, hell. You get suspended. It happens. I don't like it. It's part of the sport, unfortunately. But, yes, I have gotten in trouble from time to time, but it doesn't stop me. I think that's something that I'm very fortunate to have these guys and Lowe's as support that they know that everything I do isn't blatantly wrong. There's always an out. If I get out with that out, then I'm good. If I don't, then I get in trouble.

But you've got this rule book and there's a lot of pages, and there's a lot of black in between those white lines. And if you can find something in between those lines, you need to take advantage of it, otherwise you're not going to win races.

Q: There are some uneasy moments. Chad asking you what is your weakest spot right now, you said your nerves. There are some points where people were racing you hard and you sounded pretty upset. Can you just talk about that and how you kept your cool, if you were nervous? Also, did you sleep well last night? What was last night like? Can you talk about what your morning was like as well?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I did sleep well last night. There are guys out there that continue to drive like idiots week after week and are in the way and cause wrecks and cause problems every single week. You think in the course of what's going on tonight that people would show some respect, and they don't. I guess it's my fault for expecting them to show respect.

And sure enough as the night went on, the guys that I'm having trouble with, the right sides are knocked off the car and they're laps down. So I guess it's my fault for expecting something more out of some of these guys.

I was mad at different points. I cannot believe how stupid some of these guys can be out there. It just shocks me. Then I got around some cars that have an affiliation to the other side, to the Roush side. And I'm like, oh, now it makes sense. It took me to recognize that and realize that it's not that they were doing anything wrong, but they're going to race as hard as they can to try to just race. Try to force me into making a mistake.

So at points when you're in the car and buckled in, the emotions get the best of you. I certainly was animated a few times tonight. But outside of that, the stress coming into the race was minimal because we came off such a high in Phoenix. Then such a good race, I'm sorry, the high in Phoenix, and the practice session that we had yesterday was really strong. So all of that rolled into a good time today.

Q: You guys always show up to on win every weekend. Before you guys qualified, did it change your game plan any at all? And did you run the race differently than you had any other race this year?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I'd say a little bit. We wanted to win this race. We really did. I think we had a car capable of doing it. If we could have been up front and on the same tire cycle as the guys that were up front, I think we could have run with them all day long. I don't think it would have been an issue.

Unfortunately, you have to be a little cautious or apprehensive working your way up through traffic. We got up into 9th at one point. A caution came out, we opted not to pit at that point. A bunch of other guys pitted and another caution came ten laps later. With everybody else pitting and those guys staying out, we came back, I think it was like 15th. That's when he got mad and there were all these people and it was just chaos, you know.

We came back in at that point and took on new tires and drove being up there well, up to 12th or so on green and getting after those guys.

I was a little disappointed that we didn't get the opportunity to race with those guys, I really was. Because if we could have gotten up front, I think we could very well have raced with these guys if not contended for the win. And that hurt a little bit, because it seems that there's always something holding us back the last few years here that we can't let it all loose.

So I didn't make the two tire call early on like I could have to get track position. I just didn't think it was the right time at that point. We did it later on, and it worked out okay for us. We were able to get up there in and run in the Top 5.

So we did run the race a little bit different just because of that. But we ran the race that we needed to run, and the race we needed to run was to win the Championship.

Q: Considering the box that you guys are in in this sport and how small it is and the fact that NASCAR goes out of its way to legislate parody, almost, can you put it into perspective how difficult it is to dominate a sport, to win three in a row at this time in this sport?

CHAD KNAUS: It's tough. It's really, really tough what we've got going on. The industry is as close as it's ever been with people running similar cars, same cars. It's going to be even worse next year where the majority of the components on the race car has to be approved by NASCAR.

It's not like you can show up with something and run it and nobody else has seen it yet. That's kind of a racer thing. You always try to make the coolest little widget and take it to the racetrack and beat everybody with it.

Unfortunately, that stuff's going away. Those days are gone for the reasons they deem necessary, whether it be cost effectiveness or closer competition or whatever it may be. But for us to be able to lean on our drivers like Jimmie, and Jeff and Dale and Kasey, and next year Mark and Brad will be involved in there some, that's going to help us out tremendously. The people that we've got you can have the best race car out there, but if you don't have the right people assembling it, the best team and the best drivers, it's not going to work anyway. So we can focus on better pit crews, better mechanical stuff, and better maintenance regimes and do that kind of stuff, and we'll continue to run well.

Q: Congratulations, the first two years you won the Championship, a lot of fans said it's because of the chase format. You were the best of the best in the final ten. Will this Championship and winning three in a row finally put that to rest?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn't know there was an issue with our first two wins. I guess there's always opinions and people trying to draw parody or parallels to different things. But all 43 guys had a shot at each championship from '06, '07, '08.

We'll have to see overtime if what we've done is easy or not with the Chase format. Only time will show. But from our side and talking to other drivers and teams and the respect that we've seen, it's been no fluke.

You know, it pops into my mind when I won in '06.  Tony came to me and said
to me, You should have won at least one if not two more by now.  In '04 and
'05 we had a shot at it and had some problems here.  I don't think it's a
fluke.  I think it's good stuff.

Continued in part 3

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Series NASCAR-CUP