NASCAR Sprint Cup Series post race press conference at Texas Motor Speedway
An Interview With Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus
KERRY THARP: Let's roll into our race winner for today's 42nd Aaron's 499 here at Talladega Super Speedway. And our race winner Jimmie Johnson. He drivers the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports and is joined up front by crew chief, Chad Knaus.
We had a plan coming into the race, and stuck to it and learned a lot as the event went on...
As I mentioned earlier, the margin of victory of the margin of victory of .002 seconds ties the closest margin of victory since the history of electronic scoring previous .002 was in Darlington, 2003, and the 88 lead changes ties the all-time series record.
This is Jimmie Johnson's 54th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, his first in 2011, his second here at Talladega. Jimmie, talk about the closing laps and when you were making your way up through the pack and that last part of the race where you got to the lead.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we really Junior and I did, on how we would communicate, on what runs we could make, how we could set them up, how we could pass, how to have the guy push and could cool his car. Really there was a lot of learning that went on through all of the laps throughout the race.
Once we got to the end, Junior started getting warm and had to pull out a couple of times with three or four to go and at one of the points we got disconnected, and a bunch of guys went buy. But we stayed committed to the top and had our momentum wound back up and somehow trucked by a bunch of guys on the bottom. I don't know if they had to switch lanes or what, but before we knew it, we found ourselves in third after we took the white and a decent gap from us to the leaders.
And they got side-by-side, which allowed us to really close up and as we went into turn three, I had a big run, and was thinking about the bottom, and the 5 and 24 defended that, and then I kind of wandered to the middle and didn't have an option then and knew I still had probably a mile to go.
So I just chilled out and sat in their draft and as we came off of four, those two groups were occupied trying to side-draft each other and racing each other at the top, covered up. As we started rolling up on them, I shot down to the bottom, and we were able to surge by out of the triangle (ph) coming out of the bottom because they kind of left it open there. Just worked out.
So very, very proud of the effort Hendrick Motorsports has put in as always. I think it showed in qualifying and here are our four cars fighting for the win at the end.
So very proud of that; Chad and Stevie, and the growth of the 48/88 shop, and the way Junior and I worked together today. So very proud of the effort.
KERRY THARP: Chad, talk about the performance of the 48 crew.
CHAD KNAUS: I thought it was a really good day. To hit on what Jimmie was talking about, it was much more than just the 48 car that was able to pull off this victory. We worked really hard. We have a collective group of guys at Hendrick Motorsports that work on our Super Speedway program and they do a fantastic job of putting a very good product out there. And I think that started to show signs on Friday. Definitely started to show shines in Daytona when we were able to qualify with the 88 car on the pole and bring some of that momentum back here for qualifying at Talladega.
You know, we have been working a while to try to get to where we could get the drivers to really commit to one another and work together, and I think it was really nice to see the 5 and 24 work together the way they did today. I thought it was nice to see the 48 and 88 work together. It made it a lot easier on Steve Letarte and myself to call the race when you have that kind of strategy going on.
I think it was a good race for Jimmie and Dale to get a lot of experience work together and learning how the draft works and hopefully we can apply some of that to the race when we come back here in the fall. So it was a very collective effort on a lot of people's parts and it was really nice to see.
Q. In watching the replay, it appears that your left wheels had come across the yellow line; were you concerned at all that NASCAR was going to call that on you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Someone mentioned that to me outside, and my eye line was on the 5 and the 24, because they were coming down the track trying to protect the inside lane. I have not seen the video yet, and I was not focused on where that yellow line was. I was more worried about causing a big pile up and luckily the 5 quit coming down and then the 24 pulled back up.
So I don't know where my left side tires were, but I've heard that a statement has been released and everything is cool. So I'm glad I'm not sitting here having to worry about that.
Q. You kind of answered this but a follow up to the question about the yellow line. Were you surprised the 24 and 33 didn't crowd you so that it became an issue possibly that you were near the yellow line?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, the way it's working with the tandem situation, the spotter calls you in a way that like if I'm inside the 5, the 24 thinks that a car is in the side of him. So in some ways I guess Jeff could have come all the way to the bottom and blocked me and it may have worked out for him.
You know, as soon as he heard I was inside the 5, I could see the 24 pull back up, and maintain his line with the 5 connected to his bumper. So, I don't know. There's still so much going on at the end of that thing coming to the stripe, I haven't seen it yet, either, like I mentioned and I don't know what anybody could have done differently. When you're four-wide across a start/finish line, I think that's a pretty damn good race.
Well, I have to give you something for the push and working with me.
Q. You pulled up and gave Dale Jr. the checkered flag at the end, class move on that. Can you tell us the exchange and why you did that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just came to mind. I handed it to him and he said, "Man, I don't want that. "
I said, "Well, I have to give you something for the push and working with me."
He said, "No, that's what teammates do."
I smiled and I said, "Take the damn flag. I'll give you the trophy, too."
He says, "No, I don't want the trophy. I'll take the flag, though."
Man, he's a riot. You guys scan all the time but to hear him on the channel and Stevie and the things he talks about -- can I have this channel more often just to listen?
CHAD KNAUS: No.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean there's some entertaining stuff going on. On a serious note, he was committed, and as was I, and it showed today. We were -- neither one of us were selfish and we worked as a group. And at the end, he felt like the 48 car leading was faster; we agreed.
Looking back, it could have gone either way if we were single file and he was in the catbird's seat and could have pulled a move like the 29 did to the 1 that we saw in the in the fall or spring -- spring, at some point; but the way the race unfolded, the leader had the spot, and he pushed me to victory. So just proud of the effort and hope to do more and continue to work like this it as time goes on.
Q. How far back in the race did you decide that you were going to be the one that was leading and that Junior was going to be the one that was pushing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We kind of traded responsibilities off so that we could each learn and get a feel, just know -- we didn't know what would unfold at the end, and after the last pit stop I was pushing him for while and we were getting disconnected pretty easily. And at that point, he just said, hey, you need to lead, it works better with you leading and Chad and Stevie confirmed that our lap times were faster with the 48 in front of the 88 and we made a swap going into turn one and just kind of stayed that way from there on out.
Q. Was it fairly evident to you as you crossed the finish line that you had won or was there some mystery left?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There some mystery. I didn't hear anything on the radio and the first voice I heard as we went into turn one was Junior and it was something like, "Hell, I think the 48 won."
And then I started going nuts. Chad didn't know what radio to talk to me on, and I didn't know whether I had won or not, so I was going to stay in the throttle until I heard different. But he was the one that broke the news to me. But it was close. I knew in my mind that if it that was the checkered, it was close, and I didn't know if I had it won.
Q. At one point Jimmie waited in his box for Junior to come out; how much against the grain is it for you guys to do that and what were you thinking at that point?
CHAD KNAUS: It's tough. It's tough. You know, you have to change your mentality when you come to a track like this, and I think we have done as a team a good job of changing the mentality of how you run a racing organization at Hendrick Motorsports and being committed to the team and the betterment of the organization.
We had to carry that to the Nth detail today to make that happen. If you saw how we were working on the car, we were taking four tires; so was the 88. We had damage, the 88 hung out and made sure their stuff was right; and they took two tires, we took two tires and vice versa.
It's different. It's different. Usually you're going for the win every single one, but today we wanted to get one of those cars in victory lane.
Q. The last lap, the two different tandems came up and side drafted each other and stalled them out; is that how you saw it and it also looks like watching the videotape, you talk about being high, you make a very big moving to down two lanes. I'm guessing you normally wouldn't do that, or how dramatic of a move was that, and were you able to give any warning to Dale Junior or he just has to follow you in a situation like that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I was on the radio with him going down the back, and just trying to explain what I saw in front. We had a good run coming into three, and I talked him down to the bottom, and then the 24 and 5 defended that.
And so then I thought I could get up to the middle and was telling him on the radio, and the 29 and the 33 had that kind of covered where there wasn't a move.
So I just stayed in the middle of the track and those two side-by-side, those four cars side-by-side punched such a big hole in the air that I kind of let off the gas a little, let Junior really to me and create some energy and as we came off four, worked my way back to wide open, we were rolling.
...today we wanted to get one of those cars in victory lane.
From my perspective, they were up there worried about each other side drafting and really stalling each other out, and I had such a run, I was talking to Junior, I was like, low, low, low, and off we went. We got down there and the 5 and 24 were trying to defend it, but we just had a little too much speed coming, and we were able to get by them.
Q. For you, you and Junior obviously worked really well today but there was a point at Talladega like six years ago where he was pretty upset with the way you used to draft. Was there a moment when you guys sort of like learned to work well together and sort of change your style and became to the point where you guys could work so well to go today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, in plate racing, you go out there -- before we could push all the way around the track, we would kind of bump on the straights and different things. I'm learned, coming up through the ranks, learning at the Cup level, made some mistakes. Certainly caused some big wrecks here at this track. That's where one of those comments came from.
As you race and as time goes on, watch the best guys in the business make mistakes and cause big wrecks and watch guys that don't have a lot of experience make wrecks; they end up causing wrecks.
So there's really nothing consistent about it. You're mad at the time and you leave the track and you go on and next time you come back to a plate race, you're mad at someone else and a whole new group of people. You see it week-in and week-out with the interviews after plate races. There's a lot of blame floating around, a lot of guys mad when they are wrecked. That's what it was, and I'm glad that I haven't been the root cause of anything major lately.
Although, I've been in a ton of wrecks. Seems like each plate race, especially Daytona we are in wrecks and we did that again this year. So I have climbed out of the car upset at plenty of guys, as well, just part of the game.
Q. I heard you say on the radio you told Dale, "Next one is on us, brother." Do you approach the rest of the season differently and try to turn it around and try to help Stevie and Dale Jr?
CHAD KNAUS: I think we take the exact same approach and see how it shakes out the end. You have to be aware as to which situation is faster, and definitely today, we would have been pushing the 88 car if Dale had not come on the radio and said, high, guys I don't think we are fast enough the way we are right now, we need the 48 in front. If we get to Daytona and the roles are reversed that will be it, we will follow him across the line with sparks and fire ablazing.
Q. Jeff Gordon earlier came in and talked about the fact in his estimation, this has always been a 15 or 20 lap race in, his words. He said that either you can run up front or you can run in the back but you're crazy to run in the middle, which of course is difficult to see how you would have a race without someone in the middle. But what I'm saying it, your methodology was different from his today, and why do you do it your way, as opposed to his hanging back, and he and Mark roared up front near the end. Why do you do it your way as opposed to theirs?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: To be honest I've tried it pretty much every way and had plenty of issues take place. Today we had our Jedi senses in order. If you look at -- we were up front at the right times; we road at the right times; there were wrecks around us; in front of us; the leaders wrecked one time down the back with the 18 in that mess that took place; and we just sensed something that didn't look right, and between Junior and myself and the spotters we backed off and put some distance between us and them.
There are other times where it was thinned out and we wanted to lead a lap and we marched up there and I led a lap we switched roles and marched Junior up there and got him his bonus points. It's really a gut feeling and it's good working with someone all day long so you can understand what they are thinking and you can work together and before you know it, you're thinking more alike than you ever thought you would.
So as a group today, that's how we -- when we decide it and how we decided to race and when to ride.
Q. Can you remember any time during the race where you were not with Junior? Was the only time that he wasn't pushing you or you pushing him was when you went down pit road to victory lane and he made the left into the garage?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Pretty much. There were a couple restarts where we were separated, but we didn't go more than half a lap before we found each other again. In that last restart, I was a handful of spots ahead of him on the outside and he was on the inside and I just went to the wall on the outside and just was waiting and he found a way to get out of the inside lane and the next lane and to my bumper before we were at the center of one or two. I don't know how that all worked out for him but we made it happen quick and got it done -- we only had 11 to go or something at that point. We knew it was time to find each other quick.
Q. Are you guys far along enough in your knowledge to know what makes a car a better pusher or what makes a car a better pushee? Yeah, just leave it at that.
CHAD KNAUS: That's about the answer as well, I hate to say it.
We are not. We do know -- in years past before you had the restrictions that you did on your water capacity, your air inlet, things of that nature. You could begin to delegate who would be a good pusher or out front.
For instance you would take a car and put the car with maybe less grill inlet opening and the smaller radiator in front and the car with the bigger radiator and larger radiator grill in the back, and he then could push for a much longer period of time. And that would work out pretty well for you.
Now, it's just not quite like that. NASCAR has got us in a pretty good little box to where everybody has got pretty much the same equipment when it comes to that.
So there's, what it boils down to is a little bit of set up, a little bit of the body dynamics on the car and things of in a nature, and the way the lead guy draft. So I wish I could say we were smart enough to be able to do that but we can't really anymore.
Q. Wondering how much you and Dale worked together on it practice on Friday?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: This weekend we didn't get any time together on the track. We had a good plan in place before practice started and with the weather moving in, we just rolled out and the car behind us when we left pit road was 18 and he didn't have a teammate to work with and we went to work together and got a handful of laps and that was that.
In Daytona we waited for each other because we didn't have weather as a problem and worked together a lot during the race, or tried to in the race but didn't have the overall commit many. It was more of, when I see you, I'll work with you thing. But today, we knew what we were doing from lap one.
Q. There's been a lot of different thoughts on this kind of tag team race, great finish obviously but maybe not the greatest racing to get to that finish. I know you're happy with winning the race but what's your thoughts on this style and does NASCAR need to do anything to kind of get the drivers away from this a little bit?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: From my perspective, we were complaining with the old package and riding side-by-side and not enough passes for the lead, and there was always the big wreck. Now we have a ton of passes for the lead and statistically you look at the race and it looks pretty awesome.
So I think we're evolving as teams and drivers, and continuing to put on a better show, and from where I was all day long.
From a driver standpoint, we have a lot more control now with what we can do. Yes, it is still plate racing, but race. You can make stuff happen and there is a technique required to stay together and to work traffic together and to communicate and it puts it back in the driver's hands a lot more than the old combination of racing.
So I think it's entertaining. And again, I don't remember people excited about the way it was before. So I think we're evolving as teams and drivers, and continuing to put on a better show, and from where I was all day long, I thought there was a lot of racing that took place. I thought it was a great race.
Q. On that last lap, did you feel like you had enough time to make the move to get to the front? And do you think that most of these races will now come down to like three-wide packs of two rather than a guy trying to pull out from behind another and making a slingshot pass for the win?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The two or three to go, Junior and I got separated and I felt like we were in big trouble. We got together quickly and found ourselves back in third. And at that point, I felt like we still had a shot. When I went into three and didn't have anywhere to go with my run I felt like I was out of moves. But then it's still such a long distance from the exit of four to where the finish line is here that a whole new environment or whole new opportunity opened up for me, and I had a shot and got it done.
So in my mind, I felt like I had missed my chance a couple of times before the end and I was still too anxious and too eager worrying about the win; whereas that didn't really need to place, instead of much later. And opportunities presented itself in a way that I could take advantage of it. Those guys were really side drafting hard.
I think the way this is evolving now, the lead car, unless you can get out pretty far, you can't stay there long. The two-car tandem situation punches such a big hole in the air that if you're 20 back, you're able to pick up a draft and close, quickly.
So those four cars racing side-by-side punch such a big hole in the air, Junior and I were running a quarter of a separate away back, we were able to have two shots at the win. So I think you will see the side-by-side racing at the finish like we did, especially at Talladega. Daytona a little bit more narrow; we'll probably end up crashing before we get to the finish line but here there's enough room that we can run four-wide.
Q. Following up on what Paul and Bob asked, can we now expect to not see anybody running second, try to pass for the lead on the last lap? Was there any chance Junior was going to try to pass you? Was there any chance Mark was going to try to pass Jeff? Was there any chance that anybody was going to try to pass anybody in the last five or six laps today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: In the situation that we had today, no. If for some reason we got by those four cars and they were bumping and banging and slowed up and we had a gap coming to the triangle, absolutely, Junior would have been in the right situation and would have been the race winner. It just did not unfold that way.
McMurray or Harvick, was it in the spring race last year, for whatever happened there, it worked out to be a two-car break away, Kevin got around the one and won. We just didn't have that today.
Q. Everybody very controlled this afternoon; as you do more of this tandem drafting and become more familiar with it, will drivers take more chances out on the speedway?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we are all getting wiser and I don't know --
CHAD KNAUS: Hmmm, he always is wiser.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Seems like it. I don't know. It's hard to say. I mean, I can work up an answer to both sides of it. I felt like today there was a lot of control from the drivers. We gave each other enough room. We had respect for guys that had big runs coming.
I felt like today there was a lot of control from the drivers.
Daytona, there's less room so it's a bit tighter and more of an issue. But today guys were real respectful and smart. I don't know what caused a couple of the wrecks, but we didn't have big, big pileups like we typically see.
Q. Can you just talk about getting a win and what it means for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we have been knocking on the door. We had Bristol and Martinsville and California and was not able to get it done, a variety of little situation that is popped up. I've always said it, when you run in the Top-5, you're going to have your opportunities and today we did that and certainly had a Top-5 car if not the fastest car and opportunity presented itself and we got the job done.
Q. Depends who you talk to, some drivers say it was a lot of fun others of course saying it was completely different perfect what they have ever experienced. How would you describe the race out there today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sounds like a plate race to me. The guys that run well are happy and the guys that are crashed and don't run well are mad.
It is different. In some ways I thought it was cool to see -- I don't even know who is in 32 but the 32 and 71 were up there running in the Top-5. It's good for those teams.
You know, there is some technique required now, instead of just running wide open all the time and just sitting there in a guy's tire tracks, now there's some work required and some skill. I think that this racing is fun, and certainly easy for me to say because I won, and probably if I crashed I would be bitching and moaning. But it was a good day. When you have this many lead changes for a Cup race, that's a good thing.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations, enjoy the win, happy Easter.