Richmond: Winning team interview

Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS - Race Winner Crew Chief Chad Knaus ON HIS DOMINANT PERFORMANCE THIS SEASON: JOHNSON: "We were just strong all day long. I think that we certainly had a good car and it was helpful for me to be around...

Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS - Race Winner
Crew Chief Chad Knaus

ON HIS DOMINANT PERFORMANCE THIS SEASON:

JOHNSON: "We were just strong all day long. I think that we certainly had a good car and it was helpful for me to be around the 29, 11, 24, some of those guys that really know how to get around this race track. The early parts of the race I was able to follow them and just find a little bit in each corner and try to help the handling of my car and having the rhythm of the track, that's something that I've been searching for here. I think once we got to the end I knew where I needed to be. We had good adjustments that fit with how I was driving the line and the car on the track and it really came together for us."

ON PIT STRATEGY AND THOUGHTS ON THE RACE:

KNAUS: "Going from the impound pound procedure to a night race is stressful enough but when we had to come back in today and the sun was shining, the stress was high. Jimmie and I spoke about it yesterday even before they called the race. I said 'Buddy, if we have to race this tomorrow what do you think?' And we started talking about what we were going to do for race adjustments at that point and came in with a game plan of what we thought was going to help the car and fortunately enough it did and it was good. I was really nervous at the end of the race, there was a caution with about 60 laps to go and last year the 29 car pretty much had the race in the bag and they opted to stay out and everybody else on the race track pitted so I had visions of that going through my head at that point but we were fortunate enough that everybody stayed out when we stayed out and Jimmie drove a great race and we were able to bring it."

ON SOME TEAMS SAYING IT'S DIFFICULT TO MAKE ADJUSTMENTS ON THE NEW GENERATION RACE CAR YET THEY'VE BEEN ABLE TO DO IT SO WELL:

KNAUS: "I think if you really watch, the reason people are doing real small adjustments at this point during the races with these cars is because we don't know the cars that well. So you don't want it to step out somewhere to where you can't return if you make an adjustment so we've been actually focusing on making very small changes until we get comfortable with the car. With the other car, a minor adjustment can make a big difference as well but we're more comfortable with that car so we're more apt to go out there and maybe do a Panhard bar and a wedge adjustment at the same time to where with this car, you just don't know enough about it yet. I think that's everybody's approach at this point."

ARE YOU SURPRISED AT HOW SUCCESSFUL HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS BEEN WITH THE IMPALA SS?

JOHNSON: "In some ways I am surprised that we've been able to win as many races as we have. We've had a lot of great competition from other teams but we put a lot into the current car, our restrictor plate programs and also into the Car of Tomorrow. So I am surprised to see at the end of the day Hendrick is still at the front and we're taking trophies but we've had a lot of competition. I think today the 29, 11, 24, there's different points in the race the 2, those guys were really, really strong but they had some issue. I know the 2 pitted early, the 29 had a problem on pit road, there's things that have been eliminating people from fighting for the win. That's one thing that I've been real proud of my team - our pit stops just get stronger throughout the day, Chad's amazing with strategy and not getting us into a hole, we keep making the car better. All the things are building for that finish and we've done a great with that and I think that's why as a whole Hendrick has been getting to victory lane so much. We've been able to close on top of having great cars but there's been other great cars out there than just the four Hendrick cars."

ON DENNY HAMLIN RACING STRONG HERE AND HOW THAT MIGHT CHALLENGE HIM:

JOHNSON: "I can imagine how excited he is to come and race on his home track but Denny regardless of where we are at, he does a great job behind the wheel and he races really smart. That's probably one of the biggest things that I think as a driver and throughout all the drivers, you know the certain situations and he does play the give and take game really well but when it's time at the end of the race to get a job done he's smart, fast, aggressive, really has a good balance on how to race through the course of an event."

ON WHY HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS HAS WON SEVEN OF EIGHT RACES:

JOHNSON: "We're not exactly sure ourselves, I guess is one thing to say. We put a lot of hard work into everything and we're happy to see it working as it is right now. You think back to Roush and what they did a year or so ago and then times change and it's tough to stay on top. I think one, we're motivated because we're afraid times will change and think we'll get caught behind but this is what Rick Hendrick had his vision back when he started the first two-car team that was out there. He has had this vision. You may remember comments 'We don't want to unravel this thing. We've worked too hard to put it together to get to this point.' Rick really has been driving that and us working together and us doing all these things. I think that is a large part of it. You just can't wave a magic wand over it and get it working. All 560 employees have to buy into it and drivers and crew chiefs probably lead the brigade. We've had tense moments racing with Jeff and Kyle and Casey but still the drivers and chew chiefs, we're showing the company that hey we need to keep pulling the same direction and this is why and it keeps working."

COULD A RIVALRY DEVELOP WITHIN HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS? DOES ALL THIS WINNING GIVE YOU ENOUGH PADDING FOR A SIGNIFICANT ADVANTAGE FOR THE CHASE?

JOHNSON: "That could be the case but it's pretty early. To have four wins in any season is a great accomplishment so I think we're off to a great start and that should I imagine keep us in the top two or three if we make the Chase and as long as the season doesn't fall apart on us and we have a lot of back luck, we should hopefully be in the Chase but we just don't know. There's still a lot of racing between now and then.

"I think that when it comes down to the end of the race there's as much competition between us teammates as there is anyone else we race against. I think we'll have more respect for one another on track and I think back to Martinsville and how hard Jeff was trying to get by me and used the bumper but didn't dump me. So that's the only exception is that we have respect but there's no one I want to beat more especially when we're sitting there one-two-three in the later part of the race. I'm like 'I want to carry the banner home. I'm highly motivated right now to win this race.'"

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE TO DO TO GET BY JEFF GORDON IN THE POINTS?

JOHNSON: "The way this works out this year, when you go into the Chase it doesn't matter who's leading, it's all on victories. So that's one aspect to it. We certainly like to be leading the points right now but we've had two DNFs if I remember right and the 24 has been clean for the most part so I think that's really what it boils down to and the way he's been running I don't think us having two DNFs that we're just going to catch him by outrunning him because it's only by two or three spots each week. We just need to keep focused on the Chase - one, transferring into the Chase and two, being ready for those 10 races when they get there."

EVEN THOUGH THE CARS ARE MORE ALIKE NOW ARE THE TEAMS REALLY MORE DIFFERENT THAN ANYONE COULD HAVE IMAGINED?

KNAUS: "I think if you look at timing and scoring over the last few Impala COT races, it showed that the level of competition right now is very, very close. I told Jimmie today at one point first through 15th we're all running within a tenth of a second of lap time. So where that makes a difference now that you've got to make sure you've got the best team around you possible, that's not just pit crews, that's the guys preparing the cars and the guys calling race strategy and spotting and then obviously our quarterback with the driver. I think that the strength of the team right now since the cars are so close is really going to show huge dividends. The teams with the best drivers, the best pit crews and the best strategists - those are going to be the teams that win the races."

CAN YOU FEEL SYMPATHY FOR THE OTHER TEAMS RIGHT NOW?

JOHNSON: "I'm not sure sympathy is the word I'd use, empathy (maybe)? (laughs) We've worked too hard to get to this point. Our biggest job right now is to stay focused and keep advancing our equipment. We're off to a great start but when you get into the Chase it's its own animal so right now we have to keep our goals in check and that's making the Chase and then racing for a championship. If we keep it simple, we won't over think things and make mistakes."

IS IT UNUSUAL FOR A YOUNG DRIVER LIKE KYLE BUSCH TO EXPERIENCE THE SUCCESS HE IS HAVING SO QUICKLY?

JOHNSON: "I think so. It's taken me six years now to understand this place so I'm certainly amazed that. I think after winning the race today and having the success I did on-track, I understand from Kyle's driving style why he's so good here. There's certain things in his driving style that applies to a track like this. I can see why and he's done a great job with it. There's no doubt he's committed to running fast and trying to win for his team. It's great to have him a part of Hendrick Motorsports. He brings a lot to the team and today we raced with a lot of respect for one another and put on a good show."

ON THE LAST RESTART WITH ABOUT 20 TO GO AND IF HE THOUGHT HE WOULD HAVE A HARDER TIME PASSING KYLE:

JOHNSON: "I felt like I had a stronger car after a few laps and I noticed when Kyle was behind me, he was sideways off each corner and then when he was in front of me he was sideways too and I knew at some point the tires would start to fade. But he was so strong on the restarts, I couldn't hang with him on the first coupe of restarts. I made some mistakes and then the last restart I was with him and was able to challenge him into one. I knew we had a good car after three or four laps. I was just hopeful I could clear him and get in front of him since I knew once we had position I felt I could get a comfortable gap on him and we were able to do that."

ARE THERE ANY TRACKS COMING UP THAT ARE UNKNOWNS FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS?

KNAUS: "I think Darlington is going to throw a bunch of challenges out there for everybody. It's going to be unique. It's a tire that we haven't raced with at that track before. Obviously we have a different race car that what we haven't raced there before. But where we sit very, very proud is that we've got the drivers that know how to go out there and race that kind of race. Jimmie, that's probably one his strongest if not his strongest race track just because it suits his driving style so well. Jeff is a great driver at that race track. The key to that place is going to be to go out there run the entire fuel run and keeping the car out of the wall. I know that sounds very old fashioned but that's kind of the way it is. You've got to keep the car out of the wall and you've got to keep the car underneath you."

ON THE DECISION NOT TO PIT ON LAP 280, ON IF HE WAS SURPRISED SOME TEAMS DID PIT AND ON WHY HE EXPECTED MORE CAUTIONS TO COME:

KNAUS: "If you look over past history and this race there's a lot more cautions - 30 to 35 cautions and I think about 10 cautions per event and we hadn't gotten there yet so they've got to come from somewhere but I was nervous. I really thought that some of those guys would pit at that point in time. That's what happened to the 29 car last spring and they ended up losing the race so I was nervous about that but once we got past that window and went the next 10 laps everybody was committed at that point so nobody running first to 15th were going to pit since they were going to lose those next 10 positions so once we got past that window we were OK."

HOW EXCITED ARE YOU THAT THERE ARE FIVE CAR OF TOMORROW RACES IN THE CHASE?

JOHNSON: "I'm excited now that you mention it. I forgot all about it. I know that the Car of Tomorrow is a big part of our sport now and it's something we need to stay on top of along with the current car. I'm excited that we're going to have a good mix of those races but it's so far from now there's no telling what technology is going to come along, what the cars are going to be wanting, tires, there's a lot of variables that can change between now and then. We're doing the right things now. We just need to try to focus in for the next six, seven months to stay on top of things."

ON PREPARATIONS HE DID SINCE THE CONDITIONS CHANGED:

KNAUS: "Well I started by watching the motorcross race. Then I went to Jimmie and Chandra's bus and Chranda was playing Suduko. Then I went over to Stevie's bus and watched the fight and then I went to bed. That was it."

ON IF THERE COULD BE ANY BACKLASH TO HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS' SUCCESS:

KNAUS: "I don't think there's going to be any action taken. I don't know what anybody could do. But I do know that with what we've got going on now our team is in full stride. This is a very circular sport. You get your time at the top and then you fall to some degree. What you've got to do is make sure when you're taking your time at the top that you don't get too full of your self to when it's your turn to fall just a little bit it doesn't break you apart. That's one thing that we really focus on is that the team is very humble, they work very hard, they don't take things for granted because it's easy to do that obviously coming off the championship and then having these victories. I'm not saying we're prepared for failure but we know that it's right there, there's going to come a day where we're going to be running 10th instead of running in the top five and we've got work hard to maintain that."

JOHNSON: "I think that doubt never really leaves any team's mind. I'm not really sure how it works in baseball or other sports what their mindset is but as Chad says it's cyclical and you enjoy it while you've got it but we know somebody is going to figure something else out. We just hope the valleys aren't that low and that the valley isn't in the final 10."

ON IF THE FANS ENJOY SEEING THEM KEEP WINNING:

JOHNSON: "We're doing our jobs. That's what it's about. It's just part of it. We're doing our jobs and I think we put on good races and we've been racing hard for these victories even amongst our teams. I don't think you've seen like you would in F1 where the red car is winning all the time and there's team owners and things like that. We're really racing for these victories and that's why NASCAR is such a great sport."

KNAUS: " You've got to realize the 24 car just not too long ago was winning 10, 11 races a year and the likelihood of that happening is probably pretty slim so I don't think it's going to be quite like it used to be."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports