An interview with: Jimmie Johnson, Rick Hendrick, and Chad Knaus
THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome our winning team here from today's Hollywood Casino 400. We have race winner Jimmie Johnson, owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Chad Knaus. This is your 55th victory, which ties you with Rusty Wallace for 8th on the all-time series win list, your 20th career victory in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and you have won at least one race in all eight Chases and the only driver to do so. Talk a little bit about the race today.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, just an awesome performance for the Lowe's team top to bottom. Very proud to have won 55 races and tie Rusty Wallace. That is a huge, huge honor. Very proud, too, to win Rick his 199th win for Hendrick Motorsports, and also we helped Chevrolet clinch the manufacturer's championship today. So huge day, and also just very fortunate to drive for Rick and Chad and drive this race car.
That race car was on the money today. Our pit stops on pit road were phenomenal, and we ran really well at Chicago and didn't get the finish we kind of deserved there because the fuel mileage, and we came here and backed it up with another strong performance on mile and a halfs.
Very excited going forward into the remaining mile and a half tracks starting with Charlotte next week, and we'll just keep fighting. This thing isn't going to be over until Homestead. We came a long way from the opening race, or New Hampshire for that matter, but it's still a lot of racing left.
Q. Mr. Hendrick, we'd like to talk to you and tell us how you're feeling today. You're at 199, just one shy away from that 200th win. How does that feel being here with Jimmie today?
RICK HENDRICK: It's unbelievable to be this close to the 200 mark, but what an awesome day for Jimmie and Chad and the Lowe's team. I thought we were going to get it at Dover, so I'm definitely not going to miss any races coming up here. I missed 150 when we did that; I was in the hospital with my dad.
But I'm just really proud of these guys. A lot of people had said the magic was gone, and you look at Dover and then you look at this race today, and they just put their heads down when it counts and get the job done. I'm really proud of them, and Jimmie said it: I don't think we'll know who's going to win this thing until the last lap at Homestead with this points system. Anything can happen.
THE MODERATOR: Chad, talk a little bit about your strategy today, how far you guys have come in this Chase and how good it feels to be sitting here today.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I'm really proud and happy with the performance we had today. Definitely the car wasn't where it needed to be on Friday. We wanted to qualify a lot better than what we did, and unfortunately we just couldn't get it. Yesterday was a tough day; the wind was blowing and it was difficult to figure out exactly what the car was doing. But Jimmie was very dedicated last night with us to try to figure out the setup of the car, and Greg Iles, who's our lead engineer, we poured over a lot of data and a lot of information and came up with some good solutions obviously.
Ron Malec and the guys did a great job of putting that setup in the race car and making sure that it was going to last the full 400 miles, and it was a great day. Couldn't be prouder of everybody on pit road and everybody back at HMS.
Q. Jimmie and Chad, your eye is always on the big prize, the championship, but how much did the 21-race drought play upon you guys?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I can't say that I've known the number or thought about a number. I look at this year, and there's probably three or four opportunities to win that come to mind that we just didn't take advantage of, and that's on everybody's back. I've messed up, we've had pit road issues, we've had a lot of little things go wrong, and we've had a lot of second-place finishes that should have been wins.
The competitor in all of us, we've known that we've been close. So yeah, we want to win and we want a lot more wins to start the Chase for bonus points, but it's been more about missed opportunity than really a number of races that we haven't won. I'm shocked that 21 is the longest. I didn't realize -- that doesn't sound like many races to me. What was our longest streak prior? Someone will know.
Q. What is it about Kansas here? In 2008 your win really kind of propelled you to that championship, and last year even a second place got you the lead that you held down the stretch. Is this kind of the place that you jump off on?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think on track it's just slick and tough to get the car perfect, and you have to adapt. There are a lot of really good lines that you can choose from around the racetrack from the top to the bottom, and when I have the tools to use on the track, I seem to do a better job in the race car. Trying different lines and braking techniques, pick the throttle up in different areas, there's just a lot that you can do on a track like this. And I think that's a big part of it, what's helped us, especially in race qualifying. I know that we've been able to sit on poles here with the old car, but of late that's not really been our strong suit, but the racing has been just fine for us.
CHAD KNAUS: It's a really fun racetrack. It incorporates a lot of the needs of a real race car. You have to have great horsepower, and fortunately enough we do with the Hendrick engine program, and then when it really comes down to it, you have to have a good aero base and a good mechanical grip base because the tire falloff is high, tires make a difference, so you've got to make sure that the driver and the car is able to go out there and go fast enough and not abuse the tires, and I think we do a good job of that typically. And I think that's part of the reason why tracks like here, the old Darlington, the old Charlotte, Atlanta, tracks like that, that we do pretty well.
Q. I was talking to Pohlman, Montoya's chew chief. He was talking about how long a day it was for their group because of car issues and this and that. By contrast, when you have, as you put it, an awesome day, does your sense of the length of the race seem to shrink, or does it still take a lot out of you emotionally and physically?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: All those cautions at the end tacked on about 200 miles in my book. It just -- you're in a rhythm, we had a big lead that I could manage, and then it's time to start over. The first one we came to pit road, which I wasn't sure what to really do there. I was afraid to give up track position. Chad made a great call to bring me to pit road to get rights. And then we're coming around, and I'm like, all I wanted to see was the white. That's all I wanted to see, and I came around and I saw the yellow, like coming to the white. At that point you've got to buckle down and figure out how to get a good restart and put in two good laps. That whole process makes for a long race.
But speaking to your point with the 42, when the car is off and you're struggling, it just -- the race can't get over soon enough.
Q. I have one for Jimmie and one for Chad. For Jimmie, were you aware at all of the kind of small struggles Kevin was having and the big struggles Carl was having and are you surprised to them up there at the end, and for Chad, Carl's team made an adjustment from final practice to before the race that didn't work. Can you just talk about the balance that crew chiefs face of even if you know you have a good car, making adjustments knowing that everybody else will pass you if you don't?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I lapped the 99, and then we -- 29 was right there in front of me at one point in the race. So for those two to both bounce back and finish where they did did surprise me. I thought we were going to have a huge day on both those guys, and it ended up being just a small day on them.
Q. Jimmie, Kasey said that you surprised him with how early you went on that last restart. Was that the plan or a spur-of-the-moment thing, and were you thinking about that restart given the difficulty that you had with the last two restarts at Dover?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I mean, just win. I made sure I picked the lane that wasn't dirty going into turn 1 with all the kitty litter that we had down. That was it, just hit the gas and go.
Q. I guess for both Jimmie and Chad, you talked about those missed opportunities. What was the difference today? I mean, obviously you had a great car. Was it just that? Was it the pit stops? Was it making the right calls? Could you guys just kind of touch on why you guys were able to maximize it today versus the missed opportunities you've had in the last year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not going to tell you exactly why. I hope you understand why. But it's just -- there's just days when you have the strength across the board, you can control the race, and I think we saw it yesterday with Brad in the Nationwide race, and I think we had a similar situation today.
Kasey was coming. He was on four tires, where we were on two. I didn't know that until post-race, so I feel a lot better about the speed that we had and the way things worked out. It was just one of those days where we had strength in all areas and could capitalize on it.
Q. For Chad, can you talk about the balance of having a good car but needing to make changes before the race knowing that if you don't, everybody else will just catch and pass you?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, it's -- I wish you guys could feel the pain sometimes to be quite honest with you. I'm sure it's a lot easier to write about than it is to actually do.
The race car that we've got now is extremely fickle, and it's very difficult to sometimes get the balance of a race car, and then once you get it, it's very easy to lose it. For instance, Friday, we were extremely, extremely tight, made huge, huge swings with the race car to try to free it up and couldn't do it in practice. So getting ready to qualify, we made just I think three super tiny changes to the car and just said, okay, let's just go and see what happens, and the car went extremely, extremely loose, and obviously qualified 19th, which was obviously subpar.
So it's very, very difficult. Today, for instance, half round on the panner bar and half pound of air pressure would take the car from tight to loose, so it's very fickle, it's very difficult to tune these race cars, and it's very stressful for all the crew chiefs. Kenny Francis sent me a text last night as soon as practice was over with, he said, Damn, these cars are frustrating, and it's the truth, and it's tough. I wish people realized and knew how tough it really was.
Q. Is there a satisfaction in today in the Chase? I know better than to ever count you out, but you've heard some of the naysayers over there, and here you are just four points off, and there's a lot of racing to go. Is there a satisfaction for people who might have jumped to conclusions a little early?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that stuff. I mean, the -- if you're watching and reading all the headlines, you can get caught up in a lot of stuff that just really isn't important stuff, and I've known in my heart the speed that we've had as a race team when we were in Chicago and unfortunately finished 10th because of fuel mileage. I know we were a heck of a lot better than 18th at New Hampshire but the damage to the car put us in 18th, Dover we were strong, and then here.
Again, I don't pay attention to that stuff that's out there, and I live in my little world, and I know what my team is capable of. We showed today what we're capable of when all things -- when we're all performing at the top of our game, and hopefully we can do that for six more weeks.
Q. You've won this a number of times. How much is luck involved? I mean, Carl was talking about a lot of luck that put him where he was today. For you, does that all have to bounce the right way to win this whole thing, too?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, it is involved. At Talladega if you get caught up in something, you can certainly say that's bad luck. If you get a flat tire for running something over on the track you can call it bad luck. But you've got to be careful when you blame things on just bad luck because you do create your own luck, and that's why we're so focused on trying to qualify better because qualifying 19th you put yourself in a bad-luck area. So that's where we try to be honest with ourselves in what is bad luck and what is just not performing right that puts you in that position.
Q. Could you speak to the misfortune that hit the 24 team today and how that may affect your stretch run? And for Chad, what was the thought that flashed through your head --
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn't know the 24 blew up until post-race, so I'm glad these guys didn't tell me during the race.
Q. Chad, I was going to ask you the first thought that flashed through your head in the box when that caution flew?
CHAD KNAUS: Expletive.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, the 24 was really good today, and we have been very fortunate with no engine issues. For whatever reason, the oil temperature went peg to gauge, and we knew we were in trouble. You know, nothing you could do at that point, so something went wrong. And I hate it for those guys because they had some really good momentum, but parts are going to break, and we've got to go home now and figure out what started it and try to make sure it doesn't happen again, and our guys are really good about doing that.
You know, I think Alan and Jeff had some really good momentum, good cars, and there's still a lot of racing left, and there's -- you just don't know what's going to happen. But when I see one of the cars have a problem, boy, it makes you tighten up a little bit. But knowing that the oil temperature was pegged, we knew that there was something else going on. I don't know what happened, but we'll find out.
Q. Chad, I may have this wrong, but at one point near the end of the race did you radio Jimmie about a fuel situation? And to follow up, Jimmie, what did you think when you heard about that?
CHAD KNAUS: It really all depended on how the race was going to play out. We were, I think, four laps short right after whatever caution it was, and we were going to have to save fuel. We were going to have to go. Jimmie jumped out for about five laps, ran pretty hard, and then at that point we were going to start backing him off. But then the caution came out shortly thereafter, so it really was a non-issue at that point.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, and then the 14 was sitting there in second or something at the time, and I thought, man, this is just going to fall right in his lap. This is one of those things that he's really good at. I started right away -- even though we were putting up fast laps, I started early to make sure that if we had to go I could hopefully stretch it as far as the 14 could.
The way I look at it, if he could make it, I could make it. Same stuff, I've just got to get better at it.
Q. We take it for granted now that it's Ford versus Chevrolet, and unless we can poke Jack Roush with a big stick, nobody even pays much attention to Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota and all that, but you won the manufacturer's championship today. What does that mean today in the big scheme of things? What does it mean?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn't hear the first part if it was for Rick or me. I'll take it. It means a lot. Chevrolet is a huge partner at Hendrick Motorsports. We're a marketing tool for them, and the fact that we're out winning on Sundays will hopefully sell cars on Monday, like we've always discussed. It's a proud moment for myself. All I've ever raced is a Chevrolet, so to be part of them winning another manufacturer's championship means a lot to me personally, and I'm a Chevy dealer. Rick obviously has a lot of dealerships, and the pride that -- what we do on the racetrack and how we carry ourselves, how we win races and championships, we can feel that energy in the store. It really does help the brand. So happy to do it.
Q. Jimmie and Chad, both you guys were very complimentary today on the radio about the pit crew, and it didn't seem like there was any stops that were off at all. That's a pretty stark contrast to a year ago. What's it been like to shore that part of the game up and knowing that going down the stretch that doesn't seem like that's going to be an area you're going to have to worry about?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is a very comforting feeling to pull down pit road and know that we have pit road shored up. The confidence that they have in one another now and how well they're working together, all we're hopeful to do is maintain. It's a tough environment on pit road, and we understand, and we're asking these guys to change tires in 12 and a half seconds. Our goal was to stop the bleeding from what we had last year, and then we started this year and we had some issues, and we got that bleeding stopped, and now the chemistry and the ability of these guys that they've had some time together is phenomenal. They've been really, really strong on pit road. It's nice to pull into pit road with a smile on my face and looking for an opportunity to go forward. It certainly changes the race round for you.
Q. Mr. Hendrick, you've got dealerships right here in Kansas City --
RICK HENDRICK: I hope you buy your cars there.
Q. Are you able to get over there like on Saturday to any of them, and what does this mean here in Kansas City for Jimmie to win?
RICK HENDRICK: It's huge. We had a -- I think 200 tickets here, and I came out Thursday night, and I visited the stores Friday and Saturday, and I'm staying over tonight to visit Superior Chevrolet and Superior Toyota and the Acura store in the morning, and it'll be a fun Monday.
These folks here, they have -- I'm real proud of the dealerships here. They do a great job. And it's like they're family, and they love it. You know, we try to get them here and have contests for them to come to the racetracks, and they have banners and all have trophies in the stores. It's huge. This is a great place for us, and I think the fans in our dealerships here are as strong as they are anywhere in the country.
Q. How many stores do you have here?
RICK HENDRICK: I've got -- I have to count them. I think it's about nine.