Phoenix II: Winning team press conference, part 1

JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver, CHAD KNAUS, Crew Chief - No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS Race Winner's press conference JAKE HARRIS: We're now joined by race winner, Jimmie Johnson. This is Jimmie's 33rd victory in 200 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races, and his ...

JIMMIE JOHNSON, Driver, CHAD KNAUS, Crew Chief - No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS
Race Winner's press conference

JAKE HARRIS: We're now joined by race winner, Jimmie Johnson. This is Jimmie's 33rd victory in 200 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races, and his tenth victory in 2007. Jimmie, why don't you tell us about your run out there today?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think we had a third place car most of the day. I think the 17 and the 1 were probably the best two cars.

I was really impressed with Matt. I think at one point he had 30?lap older tires than I did, and I had fresh tires and I couldn't catch him.

I think everything worked with the 1 staying out, the 17 with two stops with just rights, and the 20 car, and then we're there with new or less on the right side like those other two cars.

Everything just came together for us. We finally figured out what our car wanted, to roll the center a little bit better without sacrificing corner exit. So we were just coming into our groove, and circumstances on tires worked out and off we went.

JAKE HARRIS: We'll go with questions

Q: Jeff said out there "it's over." The only way he can win is not to beat you for the title but for something to have to happen to you. So what are your thoughts on that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: The lead that we have, it's a nice, comfortable position to be in. But we've got to go down there and run 400 miles. That's bottom line, we don't run the full distance of the race, we're in trouble.

It takes some pressure off, it certainly does. But we're going to go down there and try to keep it simple like we've done at this point. Go out there, run our race, do our thing. I just heard a stat outside where no one's won five in a row. Let's try to get that. 10 in a row? That's wrong? Oh. Yeah, that's not going to fall (laughing).

Q: You seem kind of subdued for the guy that got out of the car and just won his fourth straight race, and the other guy is conceding the title. Is it just your nerves, you don't want to say it's mine yet or are they old hat?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm just trying to keep it simple and not get caught up in things. Last week was a good example disappearing and going on vacation for a couple days. Not reading or seeing any highlights on TV, nothing, I was completely out of the loop. I hope I can do that this week. Show up, keep it simple, and get in the race car and go.

I don't want to act like it's our championship yet. We have a nice margin in the points right now. But 400 miles, that's my goal. I have to run 400 more miles, and we'll get nuts after that.

JAKE HARRIS:

We're now joined by Crew Chief Chad Knaus. Why don't you take us through the race from your point of view.

CHAD KNAUS: It was obviously a phenomenal race. The Lowe's Chevrolet did great all day, And Jimmie did a great job of driving. We were in a position where we could have had some misfortune racing some other people and maybe been back in the back than we'd like to have been.

But right now our mindset is to try to be in position for the end of the event, and that's what we did. And the pit crew did a phenomenal job. We took two tires on that last pit stop, and it worked out well for us. So it was a great day.

Q: I heard you say just doing my job. You talked about keeping it simple. Has that been, for both of you guys, probably, just a key thing without getting caught up in all of this stuff, just go out there and get to work every Sunday?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think that's true. We've all learned that as the years have gone by and we've become more experienced in this deal. When you're a new team coming along and going through the experience and success and all that, it's tough to not keep it simple. I think that's what experience has done for us. We're able to, at least as of now keep it simple, and we've got to do it one more weekend. Then I think we'll get what we're after to this year

Q: You are the first guys since Jeff in '98 to win four straight. It's the most wins since Jeff won 13 in '98 and about to become the first two?time champion since Jeff. Why don't you guys points race? What makes you so confident to go after these wins? Why not play it safe?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I need every point. There's no telling how things are going to go in Homestead. And I know how good Jeff Gordon is, and I know how good his team is. If we put our guard down and don't try to score maximum points every week, we're going to get beat. That's just how good he and that team is.

We've been in the right position, we've had a race land in our laps in Atlanta. We got one right this week, we got one right last week. We're getting it right and we've been very fortunate to have that. We're just rolling.

Q: With the accomplishments you've racked up in NASCAR'S playoff type thing, it's almost like you've become Tom Brady?like. I don't want to call Chad Bill Belichick, but I guess that would be your title. When you think of the accomplishments you've racked up, it's pretty phenomenal, because nobody's as close to the amount of victories as you are in the Chase?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wish I understood more about football (laughing). That's what my wife tells me. I know Tom Brady's hot, and they've had great success. But we're just doing our thing.

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, what he said. We're not doing anything different than anybody else. Quite frankly, the biggest reason we're successful in the Chase is the work regiment that we have at Hendrick Motorsports. The time we're able to give them (the crew) to give them time off to get rested, and the work ethic that Jimmie has, I think that pays dividends.

Q: In New Hampshire almost under your breath you talked about your driving, almost embarrassed to take any credit. How hard is it to take any credit for your driving?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'll let other people talk about it. I'm not one to bring it up and pat myself on the back. I've been doing my part for the team and giving 100%. That's one motto we always talk about on the team.

If everybody gives 100%, we'll get what we want. That is the confidence we have in one another. Keeping it simple. I don't want to get caught up in any of that stuff. I'll just go up there and drive my butt off.

Q: This season they always become strikingly similar to Gordon's season in 1998. Some might say you're beating him by racing like him when he was at his very best. Is it ironic for you how similar the seasons are?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We haven't talked about it or thought about it. We felt like today we had a good car. We felt through the team meetings we had, we felt the 24 would get some points back on us today.

So we're just entering each race optimistic, and giving 100%. We haven't drawn any comparisons to Jeff's season to our own success in the Chase and how we've been able to outrun that now we haven't thought about it or talked about it. We're just focused on maximum points and trophies at the end of the year

Q: On similarities between Jeff and Ray and now you and Jimmie.

CHAD KNAUS: It was a great dynamic back then. With the 24 and Ray. And I think we've got a little magic to that right now. If somebody could bottle it up and sell it, it would go for millions. When everything's going right, and your driver is switched on, and your team's switched on, and the engine's going right, and all that stuff is gelling the way it's supposed to.

It seems like this can't happen. We're just fortunate to be here and take full advantage of it. We've got to thank Rick. If it wasn't for Rick, neither one of us would be together, so it's all up to him.

Q: I wonder if you felt the tension, Jimmie. You guys went early in the week, and I asked the team if you were stressed and they said you went driving shifter cars at the Bondurant School. Just helping with the stress?

CHAD KNAUS: That was for fun. That wasn't stress relief. We go to Bondurant, Jimmie and I have been there several times driving Vets and stuff like that. In the spring I went to Bondurant with the guys. And this fall Jimmie was able to go.

No, we're having fun. There's not a lot of stress right now. Everybody's doing everything to the best of their ability. And as long as you're doing that, you feel good inside. The stress doesn't build up as bad, but when you start to doubt yourself, you get stressed.

I think that starting last year, really the last three years, we've been understanding the balance how to give ourselves a break mentally so we don't get into a stress situation. Taking time to go karting shows ?? and this guy (Chad) never takes vacations. I think he took one this year, right? So that's good it was a step in the right direction. Well, I forgot about the six?week vacation. Never mind.

CHAD KNAUS: You're the only one that didn't get that.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I forgot about that one. But over the years we've learned that you will burn yourself out. Chad has admitted that I have, and within our team we've worked to have second back?ups and third back?ups and you have to be take a weekend off.

We remember a shop guy take a week off and went on vacation with a deal that Lowe's put together for us when we won the championship last year, when you give the guys a break and let them let go of everything, it really helps.

Q: Jeff Gordon conceded out there. It wasn't just a concession speech. He sounded befuddled, almost broken. Here's a guy who had a 300?point lead wiped away, and he's averaged a fifth place finish through these nine races. And it looks like he's not going to win the championship. Can you emphasize what he's going through what that team must be going through to look so good all year long and come up short?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think we all knew it was going to be a great Chase and competitive Chase. You were going to have to win races to be the champion. Including us. None of us expected this. So it's hard to really understand.

I can imagine the frustration. They've been running well and strong. They haven't had terrible races. We've just been on a roll that's unheard of. We're going to take full advantage of it and try to do it one more time.

Q: No one has reached double figures in victories in frontline years. The drivers that finished second and third both said they would not have considered it possible in this day and age. Would either of you have considered this possible?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think so. I think when we won the eight in '04. I think we even talked about it and said that was probably going to be the high win number for this decade from here forward. So to have 10 really is a surprise to us.

Q: Go back to 2005, and it seemed like you guys wanted to kill each other for a couple weeks. Since then, it's been as strong as it ever was. You always talk about turning points and cross roads and do either one of you sit back and say if Rick hadn't let us work our way through that, look what we might have missed? Has that hit you yet?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: There was never any discussion of us splitting up. Rick was afraid we were going to kill each another at one point. I can say from my side since Chad and I started working together. I want to drive his race cars. From here on out, there is just bottom line. There is something that we have and the way we communicate and our backgrounds in racing and the way we look and describe a car. I've never wanted to go anywhere. We never wanted anything to take place before we'd split.

But being as close as we are, it's like a brothers relationship from time. And after '05, we both wanted it so bad, and when you want something so bad, and it slips through your fingers, doesn't matter where what it is, you're watching it slip through your fingers.

And we're watching the 20 car and it slip through our fingers and just outperforming us, and it was boom, boom, boom, just driving us nuts. And Rick saw it, and sat us down, like what? You guys don't want to go anywhere, you want to be together, so let's get this on the table and talk about some stuff.

So he wanted it so bad, and I wanted it so bad, we're butting heads in the process. So the core values are what we always wanted, and once we understood that, it's just the frustration of wanting to win, and my voice, my frustration, we kind of work through it.

CHAD KNAUS: Wherever the rumors came of us splitting or going to another team were false. That was something that just got brewed externally, I don't know where that came from we're great friends, we have a great relationship. And we wanted to work through things back then.

Like Jimmie said, we wanted it so bad we were blinded. And sometimes you can't see the forest through the trees. We had Rick. If you had some other team owners they would have taken me, put me somewhere else. And taken Jimmie and put him with another crew chief at the first sign of turmoil. It just shows that Rick's pretty smart.

Q: After last year and this performance, you've put down the stretch, are you liking the Chase better, and does it take away from some of the pain of a couple years ago?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think the Chase after the first year came to an end, and I could see what it did for our sport and growing our sport, that helped me a lot.

I have, I think one year if the Chase was in effect, I would have been the champion. The next if it wasn't, I wouldn't have.

But when you start the year, you know what the rules are. You've got to go out and race them. And we just got beat those years. So I don't feel like I've got anything back from winning last year. We know what the rules are when the year starts and just race for them.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports