Las Vegas: Winning team interview

JIMMIE JOHNSON AND (CREW CHIEF) CHAD KNAUS, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS - Winner ON THE RACE: Johnson: "It was obviously a good day for us. We had some issues. We had a tire roll away on a pit stop that caused us some trouble. And then I...

JIMMIE JOHNSON AND (CREW CHIEF) CHAD KNAUS, NO. 48 LOWE'S MONTE CARLO SS - Winner

ON THE RACE:

Johnson: "It was obviously a good day for us. We had some issues. We had a tire roll away on a pit stop that caused us some trouble. And then I tuned on the car a little bit off of Turn 4 on the wall and bent up the suspension a little bit. Over the long haul, I don't think I really had the speed to run with Jeff Gordon or Jeff Burton. But at the end, we put right side tires on and make a tire pressure adjustment that really brought the comfort back to the car. I had that edge I could lean on and really push hard to get by Gordon and Burton and then hold off Gordon at the end. It was a great day for us. To overcome the adversity this weekend of coming back on a new tire and not having any experience on it, and working through all the issues we did, it was a very good weekend for the Lowe's team."

ON BOUNCING BACK FROM BAD SITUATIONS

Johnson: "I don't know why it works out that way. I said this at Homestead and at Indy and I'll say it again today. When I have a great race car like that I can work traffic and take my time. Plus, the problems happened early enough in the race where we could overcome it. The timing of it's worked out and on top of that we've had great race cars."

ON WINNING FOR THE THIRD CONSECUTIVE TIME ON A RE-CONFIGURED TRACK, WHAT WAS THE KEY?

Johnson: "One thing I'm very confident and proud of is that the No. 48 team and Hendrick Motorsports in general seem to figure thing out on a fast pace.

"We might not be the first or the fastest with certain rules changes or on new tracks, when that happens, we always smile and think all right, this is a chance for us to step up and figure things out before other teams do. We've done that before and we were able to do that this weekend. Nobody had any new tire data to work with. So it was really between Chad and I to talk through the issues and the sensations I was having and we do a good job with that. A weekend like this allows that strength to show up."

GORDON TALKED ABOUT WHEN BURTON GOT OUTSIDE OF HIM, YOU POUNCED ON THAT OPPORTUNITY TO GET BY. DID YOU SEE IT THAT WAY?

Johnson: "In clean air, from third to second spot is a big difference with the air. Burton had the top working. I followed him through (Turns) 1 and 2 and stayed on his bumper and when he got to the outside of the No. 24 and was able to capitalize on that and get up there and work on Burton. The No. 31 (Burton) was pretty consistent all day long. The No. 24 (Gordon) had a big advantage on the run before and it seemed like something changed. I'm not sure if the track cooled down and affected their set-up, but they kind of lost a little and we made the right adjustments that helped us out. And it really put our car where it needed to be."

HOW FAR BACK WOULD YOU HAVE TO BE TO COUNT YOURSELF OUT OF A RACE AND FIGURE YOU CAN'T WIN IT?

Johnson: "Laps down are really tough to get back from. If you're on the lead lap, you can work strategy. The fortunate thing is when we've had bad luck, we've had a good car. There have been days when you're two laps down because you don't have the speed and there is just no way you're going to adjust the car enough on pit road to get it back. But after yesterday's practice we felt really strong and we knew we could be patient starting 23rd and prove to ourselves we can work through traffic. When you have a good car, it makes it look easy. It's not all that easy, but it worked out."

HOW MUCH OF THE TRACK CRITICISM WAS DESERVED AND HOW MUCH WAS OVERSTATING THE CASE?

Johnson: "There were discussions of wanting to save money as a sport and we try to put that into place. We had a test session out here and spent three days working on a certain tire and fuel cell and then we go home and it changes. I think that's when the frustrations started. If we could have tested with the small fuel cell and foreseen the problems and knew what was coming - and we had the three days that we had before on this tire with this configuration, it would have worked out and there wouldn't have been any frustration. But when you go home and work on your data and try to sort everything out and then it all changes, it really complicates things. You don't know what to do. You don't have any data. And it's really trial and error. When you have a short amount of practice like we don on race weekends, it continues to ramp up the frustration."

DID YOU WATCH THE BUSCH RACE TO SEE ABOUT THE TIRES? WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET TODAY?

Johnson: "No, I didn't see the race. This morning I turned on the TV and saw the highlight of the finish and that was really it. There have been times when I've been in the Busch race and thought I learned something - and took it to the Cup race and it didn't work. So I don't put too much into it. With Alan Gustafson crew chiefing Kyle's car, there is some really good information that comes out of that to the Cup side. I believe in that more than anything."

ON MAKING CONTACT WITH THE WALL

Johnson: "I saw Jeff Burton up on the top in Turns 3 and 4 and he was really making some ground. I was trying to find the right rhythm up there. I tried to get a little bit more aggressive and made a late exit and the car lost control and started sliding on me and I didn't have a lot of room left and got into the wall a little bit off of Turn 4. I think I bent something, I don't know. The car started hopping and bouncing under a heavy load through the corner and I had a tight condition in the center of the turn, which I didn't have before that. I gave Chad the information and apologized on the radio that I killed our chances of winning this thing. He said don't give up and don't even say that and he made the right adjustments to get me what I needed."

ON TODAY'S STRATEGY

Knaus: "It all changed as soon as we had that unfortunate pit stop and had to get a little more aggressive than we wanted to at that point to get back to the front of the race. The car was really good yesterday in practice. Coming into the day, we had a pretty good plan of what we wanted to do and how to maintain track position. Once we got to the back we had to get a little aggressive for a couple of pit stops, but once we got back in the top five, we felt pretty confident that we were going to stay in the top five and then we just had to fine-tune and work on the car to get him comfortable for the end of the race. I thought the sun was going to set a pinch sooner than it did and was surprised about that, so we had to adjust a little more midway through the race. But it all worked out okay."

WAS THIS RACE WILDER THAN THE CAUTIONS MIGHT HAVE INDICATED? JOHNSON:

Johnson: "I had two or three incidents myself where I lost control of the car. With the sun beating down on the track and this hard of a tire and the lack of practice, it's just tough. If we continue to work with this tire, we'll figure out how to make it work. But when you don't have much practice, and you don't have any data, you're just shooting in the dark. That's why the ill-handling cars.

If we stay on this tire, everybody is going to be smarter and the issue will go away. But when you're thrown this issue on race weekend, you don't have time to prepare for it."

WHAT IS IT ABOUT YOUR TEAM THAT YOU CAN KICK IT UP A NOTCH IN ADVERSE SITUATIONS?

Knaus: "I don't understand what it is. We had some issues and these guys really ramp up when it's go-time. We've got a team that's full of racers. That's something you don't see on a lot of other teams. These guys go out there to win races. We had a meeting before the race started today and we just reminded them that the reason we're here is to win races and championships. Everybody on our team is the same way.

When the chips are down, that's when these guys buckle in the hardest because they want to try to win the race. When the caution came out at the end of the race and we were talking about pitting or not pitting and the tightness you feel in your stomach is why we race. Everyone on our team is the same way. I felt like I was going to throw up trying to make the decision of whether or not to pit.

And those guys are right there along with it. They have a deep desire and pull from their inner-depths to try and do it."

ARE YOU COMMUNICATING SOMEWHAT SECRETLY WITH YOUR TEAM ABOUT YOUR MOVES DURING THE RACE?

Knaus: "Yeah, it's tough because of the media, the TV and everybody is listening every time we want to make an adjustment - whether wedge or air pressure or whatever - and you're going to say it on TV. So we've pretty much completely gone away from that unless it's a last minute call. We do it through hand signals and play calling and passing notes. The competition is so tight right now, a small adjustment can take you from a fifth place car to a car that can potentially win the race and we don't want to let anybody else know what we're doing."

THREE YEARS AND THREE HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BELTS - ONE OF THE MORE UNUSUAL TROPHIES OTHER THAN THE GRANDFATHER CLOCK AT MARTINSVILLE. IS IT A FITTING SYMBOL OF THE RACING EXPERIENCE HERE?

Johnson: "Yeah, it certainly was a fight this weekend to get through it. I really can't say I had a perfect car and that it was comfortable to drive. You really had to be on your toes all day long and fight hard for it. It was a lot of fun racing with Jeff Burton. I knew he was going to leave me room and I knew he wasn't going to cut me an inch. But I knew we could race hard and put on a good show. It was a good fight, but very rewarding."

WHAT ARE THE LESSONS THAT NEED TO BE LEARNED REGARDING THE TIRE CHANGES AND PROBLEMS?

Johnson: "I think Goodyear is learning more and more each time. It's clear that the speeds the cars are running is something NASCAR is focusing on bringing down and also Goodyear going with the harder tire. We look at the COT and the higher center and the heavier vehicle and less downforce - internally, looking at the sport, we're at a point in the sport of bringing the cars down a little bit and then let us, with technology, build it back. As that process goes on, it's frustrating to go through the teething pains. But I think when we go to new surfaces, they've got to be on the conservative side and we need to be able to test it. To show up and not test what you're going to race, is where all the frustration comes from. I do understand that Goodyear wants to build a strong and safe tire and not everybody is going to agree with building a hard tire.

"But if we can test it, I think we'll find a way to be comfortable. On Friday when we were out there, I was afraid to hold it wide open down the straightaway. I could spin the tires..even today in the race, I was inside of the No. 01 car and we were racing real hard. With the side drafting he did pulled me sideways and I almost spun out on the straightaway. That's how slick the combination of the new track and tire is. We need to get some data on that so I don't feel like I'm going to bust my butt out there.

"I know Goodyear is working very hard, but we've got to bring the right tire. I don't know how we get there - if it's more tire testing or bringing more cars to the track for tire testing. Right now they bring three cars to the track. Something needs to be addressed to where we know we've got the right tire. The sport is too big to be making last-minute changes. We need to focus on getting it right for the new surfaces."

Knaus: "Goodyear and their engineers and tech reps do a great job of trying to adapt to a race track that nobody gets on. That's the big thing. I understand what NASCAR is trying to do to limit the testing and even out the field. But when Goodyear is forced to develop a new compound or new construction, they need to get track time on it. And a lot of these race tracks we go to, there is no testing involved. We're going to have similar situations at the race tracks with the new COT. They have no idea what's going to happen. When you only have three cars (at a test) it doesn't do you any good. We have to get back to the point somehow, someway so there is more testing for Goodyear. It's not the tires that are bad. You don't get bad sets of tires. It's bad information as to how the tire adheres to the race track and that's something we need to get better at as a sport."

GIVEN THE NEW CHALLENGES THIS SEASON AND THE FACT THAT YOU LIKE TO FIGURE OUT THINGS AHEAD OF THE OTHER TEAMS, AREN'T YOU GOING TO HAVE FUN THIS SEASON?

Knaus: "We're very fortunate to be able to do that. If you look at the schedule and the races we're going to be going to with the new COT, the team that wins the championship is the team that runs the best in the final 10 races with the COT. That new race car is going to be a turning point. I think our team does a very good job of looking forward and building cars that are prepared well. We've got a good opportunity. I think this will be the easiest championship for anybody to win. I really feel like the person who hits it is going to hit it and run away with it."

WAS THIS A RACE OF SURVIVAL? TALK ABOUT THE 150TH WIN FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS

Knaus: "It's been a long time since we've gone to a race track and we've seen a difference in race car speeds like we saw today. Guys were two seconds off the pace compared to the leaders. We had a new race track and a new tire and a lot of obstacles to overcome. It's funny though. The cream always rises to the top. I think that's cool. The guys you usually see up front did the same thing. But it was a day of survival."

Johnson: "Before I had a full-time ride at Hendrick and I was running my three races for them, I was on campus to celebrate the 100th win and I thought man, I hope I can win a race for Mr. Hendrick some day. And now 24 wins later and winning his 150th is special and a real honor. I think you could see the team spirit that we have with all the crew guys and drivers in victory lane."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon
Teams Hendrick Motorsports