Las Vegas: Jimmie Johnson - Hauler Chat

BEHIND THE HAULER TALK WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE WAY THE SEASON STARTED FOR YOU? "It's obvious that we got off to a rocky start with what happened to (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) at...

BEHIND THE HAULER TALK WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS:

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE WAY THE SEASON STARTED FOR YOU? "It's obvious that we got off to a rocky start with what happened to (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) at the start of Daytona Speedweeks. But this is a very strong and very organized race team. We knew that we needed to make the best of it and go out there and just do our jobs. We've done that and we've been able to produce. We're leading the points and won the biggest race of the season. It's not the ideal situation, but we're going the best we can and actually are having a lot of fun."

TO PERFORMA AT THIS LEVEL WITHOUT CHAD KNAUS, HOW MUCH OF AN ACCOMPLISHMENT IS THAT IN YOUR MIND? "I think it really shows everybody how strong we all are as individuals. It also shows how good a job Chad Knaus has done to prepare this race team and to get everything in order. I can't pass out enough compliments to everyone and what they've been able to do over the last three or four weeks."

IS YOUR SUCCESS MAKING THE TEAM STRONGER? "Absolutely. It's a tough situation without Chad, but it's asked every member of the team to step up and take on more responsibilities and to deal with different things. Everybody has done an amazing job and our on-track performance speaks for itself. We're all learning a lot and we're all a lot stronger. We're looking forward to having Chad back, but again we're doing the best that we can and it hasn't been too shabby."

AS THE DEFENDING WINNER OF THIS RACE, HOW DO YOU LOOK AT THIS WEEKEND? "I'm excited to be here. California was good for us last weekend. We came back and finished second again this year. We won here (last year), so hopefully we can back that up. We have our first victory of the season and we just want to be smart and collect points and understand our race cars. We have a new Monte Carlo SS body that we're trying to learn and adjust to. We have some new suspension stuff. So with the limited testing, we have a lot of learning going on right now. We're just going to do the best we can and see where we come out."

IS CHAD KNAUS ANXIOUS TO GET BACK? "Without a doubt. I don't think anybody understands how hard it is to sit at home and watch your race car go around the track and win and run up front and not be there. "So it's been a very difficult month that he's been at home and dealing with it. At the same time, he's done a lot of reflecting and learning and we're looking forward to having him back.

IT HAS BEEN EITHER A HENDRICKS CAR OR A ROUSH CAR AT THIS TRACK. DO YOU SEE THAT AGAIN THIS WEEKEND? "Based on the way last year ended up and the way Fontana went, I think the Gibbs cars are strong and the Roush cars are strong. We made our car better through the race two weeks ago in Fontana. You can't deny how strong the No. 16 and the No. 20 were at Fontana."

YOU'RE OFF TO A FAST START. DO YOU WORRY ABOUT BEING A LITTLE CONSERVATIVE IN THIS RACE TO PROTECT YOUR LEAD? "I think right now, everybody is focused on making the cut and getting to Richmond. That's something I'm focused on. We've won an event already this year and that's something I like to get out of the way as soon as possible. So personally, I'm very content to just get out there and collect maximum points. If it's winning the race and we have the car that can do it, we're going to take advantage of that. At the same time, we have two points races that we have to worry about each year. The first one is making the cut and then after that is making the championship.

GOING BACK TO ATLANTA -- A RACE WHERE YOU LOST TO CARL EDWARDS BY A WHISKER LAST YEAR -- DO YOU FEEL LIKE THAT RACE OR EDWARDS OWES YOU ONE? "No. Carl did a great job in Atlanta. I can't take that away from him. I looked up in the mirror with two (laps) to go and I thought he was wrecking and spinning out behind me and he still came back and passed me in (Turn) one. So, he did a great job. I have to admit I hate watching that highlight film because I lost it by a foot or so. But then I was able to get one myself that way from Bobby (Labonte) and I know that Bobby is looking forward to getting somebody back in the same way too (laughs). I look forward to Atlanta. The spring Atlanta race is always very strong for us. The fall race is always hit or miss."

DO YOU COMPARE ATLANTA TO ROCKINGHAM INSOMUCH AS IT'S AGED TO A POINT WHERE YOU CAN RACE ANYWHERE YOU WANT TO? "I think that race track has aged and it puts on a fantastic race. I'm happy to see we're going to have some progressive banking at other tracks to really promote the racing, but Darlington and Atlanta are so much fun because the tires wear out and you can actually change your line and your set-up is important and the driver has a lot to do with everything and it puts on a great show."

-gm racing

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Series NASCAR-CUP