An interview with: JIMMIE JOHNSON - Winner CHAD KNAUS - Crew chief RICK HENDRICK - Car owner KERRY THARP: We'll roll into our championship team here at Martinsville Speedway. We're pleased to be joined at the podium by our race winner,...
An interview with:
JIMMIE JOHNSON - Winner
CHAD KNAUS - Crew chief
RICK HENDRICK - Car owner
KERRY THARP: We'll roll into our championship team here at Martinsville Speedway. We're pleased to be joined at the podium by our race winner, that is Jimmie Johnson. To his right is his crew chief Chad Knaus, and Rick Hendrick. Congratulations, gentlemen. Outstanding race.
Jimmie, your 41st career victory in the Sprint Cup Series. Very impressive. Your sixth victory here at Martinsville. Rick, certainly comes on a very special day and year for you this weekend, too. So congratulations to all of you.
Jimmie, everybody is wanting to ask you about that move you pulled on Denny Hamlin. Take us through that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was just chipping away at the little lead he had on me. Through the day it seemed like late in the run our car was really good, and Chad and the guys made a bunch of adjustments to get us quicker at the start. Those last two runs, we came out in the lead, were kind of able to get away from those guys. Really felt like we had a chance at it and had something for them.
Denny got by me, got through the gearbox better than I did, which surprised me, because I felt like I did a good job getting up to speed. At that point just really tried to get him back. But we had a couple quick cautions. Laps were winding down and it was time to go. I just patiently worked away at him and got in an area where I could try to out brake him and get into position in turn three. I got in there alongside of him and he kept coming down to go to the inside line. We made some contact. I think I went up over the curve. We were both sideways. Fortunately nobody tore anything up. You know, just a close moment. I think it's really tough, short track racing. I think Denny was trying hard to protect his lead, winning in his home state. I wanted to get to the front really bad because I want to win one. Also, I want to win for Mr. Hendrick on the 25th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports winning.
KERRY THARP: Chad, I'll ask you about the strategy that unfolded out there today. Looked like you called a very patient race.
CHAD KNAUS: We did. It didn't start out the way we wanted to, for sure. We didn't get a lot of practice, as everybody knows on Friday, because of the rain. The new tire threw everybody for a loop. When we started the race, we kind of went a different direction than what we thought, than what we had in the past. The car, it wasn't what it needed to be. So we caught a couple cautions pretty early. After the first competition caution on lap 40, there were a couple shortly thereafter. We went ahead and took that opportunity to pit and try to make the car a little bit better because we knew if we didn't take the opportunity then, we wouldn't have enough time to get back up through the field. Fortunately enough, we got the car better. It took the whole race to get it there. Jimmie did a really good job, showed a lot of patience, and the pit crew did a great job with the pit stops. I think about every stop we didn't make a major adjustment, they made leads on pit road. Means a lot to win here, 25 years after the first victory for Rick Hendrick, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. Hopefully it's only the first of the year.
KERRY THARP: Rick, you were here earlier with Bodine talking about the first win 25 years ago. I know that's very special for you. Today has to be very special as well.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, you know, I didn't get to take a picture with Bodine 25 years ago, but we got to take one out there today with Jimmie. It was a special day. You know, any time you can win here, it was a heck of a race, it's really neat to be able to win one to celebrate the 25th, so excited.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions now for this race winning team.
Q: Jimmie, were you aware that the 18 car was working with Denny on that restart where he did jump you, and they later kind of figured maybe they outsmarted themselves, maybe they shouldn't have taken the lead at that point, because they became vulnerable? Also, Denny said that you were smart enough that when you did move him, you didn't just move him, you moved him up into the rubber trash stuff so he got trash on his tires and couldn't come back and get you. Were you aware immediately he wasn't going to be able to come back and get you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, the 18, he didn't take off on a start where I got passed. The next restart, he didn't take off again. So I felt like he was being pretty fair. I didn't think that those guys were working against us. If he wanted to, he could have been a big pain in the ass. Could have taken two or three laps to get by. He didn't do that. So I was kind of impressed by his maturity in letting us go race for it. That was that side of it. The other side, you know, Denny, if he wants to think that I tried moving him out of the way, he can believe that. But he should watch the video and I was inside of him. I did everything I could to miss him. I climbed up on the curb, and still coming down. The only reason we touched, the only reason he ended up in the rubber, where he couldn't come back and get me, was the fact that he chopped. With 15, 20 to go, he's been in that position where if somebody is going to chop you, you're racing, you have to fight for your position. I patiently worked to get to that spot, to get the position on inside of him. He crowded me down on the bottom.
Q: Jimmie, is this more special because of the anniversary and it being Martinsville or because it's your first win of the season?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I guess definitely it's the fact that it's Rick's 25th. I don't want to take anything away from how special it feels to win a race. It might sound crazy, and I heard some comments when we were doing interviews on the frontstretch, where people assume and expect us to win. We don't take this for granted. It's a great track for us. We hoped that we would. You never know.
No one would have thought that Jeff would go winless last year. You know, you can't take things for granted. We're very relieved to get the first one of the season. Hopefully there are many more to come. I think it's a huge confidence booster for the new guys that are on our race team. It's a confidence booster for Chad and I. We didn't have an easy day today. We had to stay together as a team, work through a lot of changes, a loss of track position to make the car better and fight for the front, count on pit stops, count on good driving. It took a team effort today.
I'm very proud of that. At the end, when I was trying to get back by Denny, it was in my mind that it would be awfully special to win for Rick here and win the 25th anniversary of his first win. It's hard to put one above the other. I'm leaning towards the fact that it's the 25th anniversary.
Q: Jimmie, I suppose as important as the pass, when you made the pass, you got 10 or 12 car lengths out front, and there was virtually no hope Denny was going to catch up with you and create more activity. Did you expect that to happen when you made the pass or were you looking at Denny being on your bumper the last 10 laps or so?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Anytime there's contact, once you get that position, you go into the next turn and you just wait 'cause you know it's coming. I went in there waiting. I guess there was a big enough gap. I was kind of under the impression that he knew he crowded me down and made contact because of that. I didn't hit him in the back of the bumper, for the four or five laps I was behind him. I was inside and we touched wheel to wheel. In my mind, I was hopeful that he saw it that way, but you just never know. You go into the next corner, you hang on, and you hope you don't get turned around. As I came off of two, I saw I had a good gap. I knew it was about putting in 15 or 18 good laps. I felt good at that point.
Q: In spite of your explanation of all that, do you think since growing that beard it's made you a little meaner on the track? You're showing more aggressiveness there.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. The beard has nothing to do with it. Chad hates the beard, so I'm going to keep it as long as I can because I know he hates it. My grandmother hates it. I don't like to make her mad, but it's fun to have her complain to me, tell me I need to shave, my face is too good looking to have a beard on it. I'm proud to win with the beard. It's going to disappear at some point. I guess I broke the jinx where some people thought it was bad luck. I know Robbie Loomis told Chad a while back that I need to shave. He's one of the most superstitious guys out there. I saw him at Rockingham recently. He said, Man, you got to shave, that thing is bad luck, bad luck. So I guess it's not.
Q: Rick, LA Times is reporting with GMC, Rick Wagoner is supposed to step down. Given that kind of news, with your experience with autos, you had six Chevrolets finish in the top eight, how important is it for Chevrolet to keep winning in spite of this?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, first of all, I hope that's not true. Wagoner is a great leader. I would hope he's still there. But it's important to the brand to win. I mean, that's the heritage of Chevrolet. You know, they've been awful good to us. They've been awful good to me over the 25 years. We're proud to carry that banner. But I have not heard that, so if that's been reported, that's news to me.
Q: Jimmie, Denny is under the impression you did a bump n run on him. He's okay with that, by the way, because he says that's short track racing. But if he does the same thing to you, if he did that to you, would you have any problem with that at all?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, it would be my fault. If the roles were reversed, if I chopped somebody going into the turn, forced them to turn, it would be my fault. We'll see where things go from here. I did not do a bump n run. From my standpoint, we all watched the bump n run from Earnhardt, which probably was a bump n crash, but Gordon did a good job of moving Rusty out of the way. You move the guy out of the lane and you go on. We were inside. I touched my right front to his left rear tire. I was inside of him. So I think it's total different scenarios. If the roles were reversed, it would be my fault. Fortunately we didn't crash. The last thing I was trying to do is crash him. I thought I was out braking him and had the preferred line, I was just going to go on by after a couple laps. Unfortunately, we made contact.
Q: Jimmie, Denny obviously wasn't angry at all. He said the way you've raced him in the past had something to do with that, your credibility with him is why it was easier to take getting birched out of the way. Despite the bad ass beard, people think you're a nice guy. Talk about that. You know you have a reputation that you're well respected, can you make that move, maybe not fear retribution?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, it's not a conscious effort for me to think about and to race people the way that I do. It's the way I like to be raced. And in a sport, you might be the fast guy this week or this month, but before long, whoever you've made mad, they're going to come back by and you're going to have to deal with them. In general, I try to be polite to people and I try to be polite on the racetrack within reason, because obviously it's a competitive environment.
I guess it's why I've taken the strong stance where I'm at that it wasn't a bump n run, it wasn't something that I was trying to forcefully move him out of the way, I was inside of him. Denny and I have gotten along really well over the years, raced each other very hard. I don't anticipate that changing at all. Glad to hear that he spoke of me in that regard. You know, I certainly hold him in high regard as well. Hopefully we can both look at the tapes and kind of sort it out from there.
But, you know, again, I think the biggest thing is that we didn't wreck the racecars. If his car was three feet shorter and he was in the fence, I think he'd be much more upset. You know, it's just one of those racing things. Again, in my opinion, he was trying really hard in his home state, and I respect him for that. He's a tough racer. Led a lot of laps today. He didn't want to give up the lead.
Q: Rick, I know you're happy for Jimmie and the win today. All four of your cars finished in the top eight. Especially for Mark and Dale, how happy were you to see them having a good race today?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, anytime you come to Martinsville and you got four cars and you can finish in the top eight or top 10, it's great. You know, Mark has had a heck of a year. You take where he's run and where he's qualified, without the failures which were our fault, he would be probably top three or four in the points. The 88 team and Dale worked hard. You know, we have a lot of effort behind that. I think it showed today. All the cars were competitive. You know, you ask for that. You strive for just having cars competitive. I think Mark's been competitive every week, and I think the 88. We've worked hard and they've tried hard. They're making some good progress. It was a great day for the entire group.
Q: Jimmie, when you had to pit early and dropped back, kind of what was the mindset there and how confident were you you would be able to get up front?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We felt like if we got to work early on the car we could hopefully catch a quick caution where the leaders needed to come in and cycle back up front and have some type of strategy that we could use to get track position. But the way the cautions fell, we made our adjustments, improved the car, and we were doing the things we needed to do to be a threat at the end. We just didn't get the cautions how we needed them. We had to really go back and pass him on track and in our pit stops and march up through the field. A total team effort to get to the front. I had to drive the car a lot harder than I wanted to at times, and the brakes. I saw guys blowing right front tires. I got nervous a few times because I had my stuff really hot. It's what you have to do to get through traffic. Luckily everything stayed on the car today.
Q: Rick, you've already talked about the guys finishing in the top 10 today. Your first win as a car owner was here. Through the good and bad, you seem to visit Victory Lane. What is it about you and this place?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, first, it's nothing about me. You know, I have very little to do with it. It's the organization. I think Harry Hyde started it. He loved this place. I told some folks, I've been coming here since I can't even remember with my dad and Ray Hendrick, modified cars, getting Petty's autograph in turn four through the fence. You know, it's a special place. But I think over the years we've had guys that just try to figure it out. Jeff came up to me in Victory Lane and he said, I really wanted to win this for you today, but Jimmie's the man. You know, I think Chad will tell you, Chad works really hard on this place. And all of our guys have put in a lot of effort. But I think these two guys right here have just figured out some things, and we've been very successful over the years here.
I've had some really tough races here. I remember running first and second, trashing two cars running against each other coming off of two here. The pit crews started fighting. I got in a van trying to hide from TV. I could probably write a book on experiences I've had here. Probably one of the neatest things here, I have to tell a story about the 25th year. I flew up here with Coach Gibbs one day, Bobby Allison was going to give us a ride through the track. Bobby was drinking a cup of coffee in one hand, eating a doughnut with the other, and driving with his knees. I think Dr. Petty is here, he was with us. The traffic was so bad, we got out and started walking. I'm with Bobby Allison, Joe Gibbs and myself. We would walk, then a pickup or something would pick us up, we would ride with them until it stopped and then get out and walk again. And Bobby left the rental car in the middle of the highway. When we got here, he told the police, and they said, We'll go get it. That's probably one of my favorite Martinsville stories.
Q: Rick, there was a lot of media coverage this weekend about the 25th anniversary of your first win. I was curious how much, if at all, did you and the team talk about that and the chance for a special moment with a win here today?
RICK HENDRICK: We did. You know, these guys, it's a special group and we're all family. We've got a lot there's a lot of mixed emotions when you fly up here. From the loss we had with my family, Randy Dorton and everybody. So you see 25 years, you see All Star racing out there. We don't ever come here we. Don't think about a lot of things. Everybody to the man today told me, I'd love to win this thing. It's for the organization. So it's a special as any win and maybe more so than any win that I can ever remember. So this one was really neat.
Q: Jimmie, I know you talked about the last move there. That being said, if ever there is a situation where Denny was behind you, would you just expect to get some kind of bumping or some kind of greeting from him at the end of a race, regardless of how you explain it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, within reason you're expecting some contact at the end of a race. If somebody is close enough, you know it's coming. We had a great battle with the 24 car here. He must have (indiscernible) me 15 times from turn three to the start/finish line trying to get by us. Within reason you expect some of it. I think once he looks at the video and realizes my right front touched his left rear, he'll have a different opinion of it. I'm over the curb trying not to get into him. You expect stuff on short tracks. If I crowd somebody and come across their nose, then it's one of those things. We all have mirrors in our cars. I'm sure his spotter was saying 'inside' and he kept coming down. I think once he sees the video, he'll have a much better opinion of it.
Q: Rick, in the past 13 races, your drivers have won 10 races and the Gibbs guys have had 14 top 10s, but only two wins. Can you explain the dominance that your teams have had in the past since 2003 here at this racetrack?
RICK HENDRICK: Again, it's Chad and Jimmie and all the crew chiefs and drivers working hard. I think Jimmie and Chad have figured out some things here. It's kind of no different than the way the Gibbs cars have run at Bristol. We just kind of have a little bit of edge here. Certain people have certain tracks they always run good at. I know there's some Roush mile and a half tracks, you just got to beat 'em. I think our group has just figured this place out. But, you know, I've seen their cars run awful good here. But today was a good example. We did not just go out there and dominate all day long. You know, Denny most of the race I think Jeff was good early. Jimmie never got a chance to show his stuff. You know, I'll take the success we've had because I know it won't last. I guess that's the best way to answer that.
Q: Chad and Jimmie, we all know where Rick was when the win was 25 years ago. Chad, I think you were 12. Jimmie, you were 8.
RICK HENDRICK: You had to bring that up (laughter).
Q: Any idea what you were doing that day, a typical Sunday afternoon?
CHAD KNAUS: I was probably somewhere racing with my father, I would have to assume. You know, I can remember the car from being a child and watching the races on Sunday. A lot of times we would race Friday, Saturday nights, Wednesday nights up there in the Midwest. Sundays you would have off. I don't know why. We would watch the Cup races. That was a long time ago. I can't tell you what I had for lunch yesterday. I don't know.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: When I was 8, I won my first motorcross championship. I'm not sure if the season had started yet. I can't really remember. We were just getting ready to start the motorcross season or in the early stages of it.
Q: Rick, basically with Tony third and Ryan sixth, your equipment had six of the top eight positions. Were you surprised at what Tony has been able to do so far this year with a new team, even though you and he have an affiliation?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I think it's hard. That group had our equipment a year ago. They didn't do that well with it. Tony and that team have done a phenomenal job. I'll tell you, to start and rebuild an organization with all new people, Darian Grubb, Bobby, have done a great job over there. I think Tony has put a lot of sweat equity into it. I think he's surprised a lot of people. I haven't been surprised because I know the dedication and what they've tried to do. Where is he in the points? He's got to be about seventh.
KERRY THARP: Seventh in points. Jimmie has actually moved up to fourth.
RICK HENDRICK: But I think the job that they've done is pretty phenomenal, just to the success that the Stewart Haas crowd have had so far.
Q: Moving up to fourth in the points. Second year in a row where you got off to a little bit of a slow start, coming back with a title defense. I assume there's no panic with the team. Do you feel like you're going to be title contenders come the end of '09?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I do. I know Chad does as well. We're in a great position this year. Last year, we had to fight all season long to catch up. Fortunately did in time for the Chase. This year we've had very fast racecars and have been making mistakes. I've made mistakes. The team has made mistakes. The last two or three weeks we've really not made any big mistakes and have hit our stride and got to Victory Lane. I'm very proud of what went on over the off season, the time Chad and the engineers have put into the cars. They really worked hard over the off season. I think it's shown with our speed. We just didn't have clean days to get the finishes that we wanted. But we're doing that now. I think our team's gelling as a unit right now and we're doing well.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations, gentlemen. Great performance out there today. I know it's a very special day for you. Good luck at Texas.