Atlanta: Winning team interview

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Monte Carlo SS Chad Knaus, crew chief, No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Monte Carlo SS Rick Hendrick, team owner, No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Monte Carlo SS ON HIS RUN TODAY: Johnson: "We had a really strong car. We had...

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Monte Carlo SS
Chad Knaus, crew chief, No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Monte Carlo SS
Rick Hendrick, team owner, No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Monte Carlo SS

ON HIS RUN TODAY:

Johnson: "We had a really strong car. We had solid race car drivers, solid pit stops and then at the end when it came time to race for the checkered flag, Chad make some great adjustments to help me on the short run. That was the one thing I was lacking compared to the 20 was at the beginning of a run he had a little bit more grip and could drive a little harder. At the end the adjustments that Chad made, I can't say that I've driven a race car that hard before. It really was challenging internally in my own head to drive that hard and get on the gas pedal that early and to try to chase Tony down and get by him so just a great, great race."

ON WINNING TWO IN A ROW AND WHAT HE SAW OUT THERE TODAY:

Knaus: "It was a great day. It's always great to come to Atlanta because this race track just promotes such good side-by-side racing. It was neat. We had a good car on the long haul like Jimmie said all day long, but on the short runs guys would definitely start to find an advantage on us. We really anticipated the track tightening up and it really didn't tighten up the way we had anticipated initially so we had to make some pretty big steps to try to tighten the car up and then it seemed like the track too a big switch and then finally did tighten up and then we had to work back out of that just a little bit. This whole team performed flawlessly today and it's great to be able to win with the Kobalt car at the Kobalt race."

ON BACK-TO-BACK WINS FOR THIS TEAM:

Rick Hendrick: "It was an unbelievable win. Early on we were so good and then that last run, when Tony got out there it was a nail biter. Like Chad said, this is a track we really like to run good at for Lowe's and the Kobalt race so it was a little bit of added pressure. I don't think I've ever been any more nervous than I was the last three or four laps of this one."

ON HIS FINAL LAPS AND THE RUN HE GOT OFF TURN FOUR AND MAKING THE PASS AND IF HE FELT LIKE HE GAVE TONY ENOUGH ROOM:

Johnson: "The race was developing and I was shocked with the grip that we had and the closing rate I had on Tony. I didn't want to be on the inside of him. I just felt it was a harder road to hoe on the inside but I didn't have any options and we were running out of laps. I got a good run off of four inside of him and I knew that I had to clear him getting into turn one so that I could try to find my way back on the outside and carry the momentum. So I drove it in further than I should have into turn one. The car stuck. I got to the gas and at that point I was clear and kind of focused on the exit where I was going to drift the car out to pick the throttle up to wide open and then laid off the corner. Tony had a good run coming on the outside and when I heard he was there coming, it was just too late for me to adjust and I certainly squeezed him in the wall and didn't leave him a lot of room. It wasn't intentional. When I heard clear in the center of the corner, I opened the steering wheel and focused on my corner exit and really didn't think much of it until the last second when I heard that he had some momentum coming back into that tight spot off of two. I certainly apologize and have the utmost for Tony Stewart as a racer and I think we showed that in the laps leading up to that in racing side by side. (He's) a true champion and somebody that I truly enjoy racing with."

TONY FIRST SAYING HE WISH HE HAD MORE ROOM TO RACE FOR IT AND THEN THINKING ABOUT IT AND SAYING HE DIDN'T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES WERE LIKE IF JOHNSON'S SPOTTER MAYBE TOLD HIM IT WAS CLEAR. WERE YOU GOING BY YOUR SPOTTERS WORD? WERE YOU REALLY CLEAR? OR WAS IT TONY COMING BACK AND SURPRISING YOU AND THE SPOTTER?:

Johnson: "I think so and when you get down to the end of the race, I think the margin that the spotters deal with shrinks as well. Early in the race there's big gaps and it spreads you in and out of them. So at the end with the competition building up, when I got to the center of the corner I heard clear and just started moving up the track focusing on my exit. Watching the video I certainly was clear for a large portion of turns one and two until the exit when Tony lying on the outside really brought some extra momentum. When I heard 'He's looking, he's coming in' I couldn't turn the car. My vehicle set in motion to go out to the wall at that point and unfortunately squeezed him so it was just too late. Hard racing at the end of the race, that's what I'd really call it. I certainly wish I would have given him more room. The last thing I want to go is squeeze him into the wall but it sounds like from being in the car he understands the situation as well that it wasn't intentional."

WHICH WIN WAS MORE SATISFYING - WINNING THE WAY YOU WON LAST WEEK OR WINNING THE WAY YOU WON THIS WEEK?

Knaus: "They're both pretty great to be honest with you. A victory is what you want to get you. Anytime you can put a W, a check in the win column, that's great but we don't like to have problems that we have to come back from obviously. We had some pit stop situations last week. This week we really didn't have any time and it was nice that maybe we've corrected that issue and we're going down the path where you won't have those problems once again. It was a great win. It was very dramatic. It was very satisfying to go out there and run in the top five all day long and lead some laps and be there at the end of the race. That's what you want to do. Last week was a completely different situation with a new race track and new tires. It's fun to go to a place like and have to figure it out under the same circumstance as everybody else and then to come out on top. They're both very, very gratifying."

AT THIS MOMENT WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THIS YEAR AND THE REST OF THE SEASON?

Johnson: "Well right now it's easy to feel good about things and there's no doubt that the championship is what's on our minds. I think when you come into the sport you focus on victories and top 10s and now the Chase is a big mark for the teams to make and rookies coming along but after you win a championship I think it changes you a little bit and that's what you really focus on and what you want to do again and again. Race wins are very, very important and an important step of that but since we came into '07 and the team meetings and discussions, everything we've talked about is trying to win another championship. Right now things are going well. We're doing the right things but it's just way too early to get excited. We've got to stay focused on the goals and that is making the Chase and then once we are in the Chase deal with the circumstances at that point. I feel confident that we're off to a good start."

DOES THE RACER IN YOU TAKE OVER AT THE END? DOES TIME SLOW DOWN OR IS YOUR HEART IN YOUR THROAT AT THAT VERY MOMENT?

Johnson: "It's pretty intense especially for how hard we had to drive. There was no finesse in the closing laps today. It was just stand on the gas racing and I found myself holding my breath through the corners, get on to the straightaway and kind of shake out my arms and take a breath and go on the next turn and almost grunting in a sense (saying to myself) 'Here we go again' and try to make it through the corner. It was really, really hard driving."

WHAT DID YOUR TIRES LOOK LIKE AND WERE THERE ANY CONCERNS ON WHAT YOU SAW?

Knaus: "We really didn't have any concerns probably the first two-thirds of the race. We were feeling pretty good about it and then really anticipated the tire wear to get even better as rubber was laid down on the race track. But as the intensity level picked up and the guys had to start driving a little bit harder, we did start to see some small cording issues and a little bit more severe blading than what we had seen. The very last set of tires we took off the car, both right front and right rear were showing some pretty significant wear but that's what you're going to have when you're going 200 mph into a 180 degree turn. Something's got to try to keep you there. Goodyear does a fantastic job with the tires that they bring to this race track. I think it's one of the better race tracks similar to Darlington that you go out there, the tires wear out, the drivers have to adjust their line. You have to have a car that's good for the long haul, not just for the short run or the long run. It's really a good tire they bring here, I feel."

WHEN YOU WERE THINKING WHAT TO DO THE LAST RESTART, DID THE TIRES PLAY A BIG ROLE IN THAT? DID YOU THINK YOU HAD TO MAKE YOUR MOVE SOONER RATHER THAN LATER BECAUSE OF THE TIRE GIVEAWAY?

Johnson: "With 11 laps I knew it was going to be a sprint. Tire conservation really didn't come to mind. It was really just trying to get what I could when I could. I really expected the 20 to drive off the way he had been driving off. He was so strong on new tires I expected him to check out. I got the 17 and then was chopping off a lot on the 20 each lap and then got position along side of him once. Once I got alongside of him the first time I thought 'All right, I can get here. I just need to time this right and get the right position so I can clear him' and was able to do it so tire management really was out the window at that short format at the end."

YOU SEEMED TO GET BURNED ON A DEBRIS CAUTION IN CALIFORNIA AND THE CAUTIONS HELPED HIM AND MANY OF THE TOP 10 DRIVERS IN THIS RACE. DID YOU SEE WHAT THE DEBRIS WAS TODAY?

Johnson: "I think it was the 9 wasn't it? Or was that the one before?

Knaus: "I think that there was a piece of side skirt that was flying on the race track at that point and I think somebody brushed the wall and you could see the debris on the backstretch.

Johnson: "I just caught the 20. I was a little upset and wanted to race with him and I guess somebody did brush the wall."

BEFORE YOU PULLED AWAY FROM TONY DID YOU START FLASHING BACK TO 2005 WITH CARL EDWARDS?

Johnson: "It was in the back of mind. I knew that the position I wanted to be in was on the outside and as I mentioned early the bottom was just tough. You can find some gains into the corner but as you come off the corner, if you don't clear that guy he's going to rock it right back by you down the straightaway. I didn't want to go that route and it reminds me somewhat of when I was trying to work over Bobby Labonte a few years ago at the 600 and we got down to the last lap and I finally had to get around him on the outside. That was in the back of my mind and out of experience I knew I wanted to be there, I just had the 20 car in the way. He was there so. If I could have been in his position I would have done the same thing and been running the middle. He defended the bottom in three and four and ran kind of the middle line through one and two and was certainly doing the right thing."

ON HIS DAY AGAINST JUAN PABLO MONTOYA:

Johnson: "I think he did a great job. He should be very proud of the effort he put in and the team certainly seems a lot stronger this and the cars they're putting on the tracks. I know those guys have been working very hard so it's great to see that for him. Juan on the short run was one of the better cars. On the long haul he seemed to fade a little bit but today is something he should be very proud of. This is a tough race track, a long race running the top, the bottom. When I looked in the mirror and saw him catching me at times, he was rim riding the top of the track. For an open wheel guy to come in and feel comfortable to do that, I think that says a lot about his talents."

ON DOUG DUCHARDT SAYING BEFORE THE RACE HE WAS IN ONE OF THOSE ZONES WHERE HIS WHOLE GAME HAS BEEN ELEVATED. DO YOU AGREE WITH THAT?:

Johnson: "I would say that the championship has brought a lot of confidence to myself and to the team. Granted we still have a lot of racing left so I don't want to get too far ahead of myself and toot our own horn about things. Through last year even in the final races of the Chase, we've taken another step as a team maturing. I think that's shown in a lot of ways. Then getting the job done and winning the championship has helped coming into this season. At Las Vegas we didn't have a very good car on Friday but we didn't panic. Chad and I know each other. He knew the areas he wanted to work on and I knew I just needed to drive the same lap on the track and give him good feedback and we worked through it. Same with this weekend. Granted this weekend was a little bit easier for us. We were strong right off the truck but we kept perfecting the car each time out there and I think just comes with experience. We know each other really well. The championship brings a lot of confidence to the team, myself and Chad."

YOU'RE SURELY HAPPY ABOUT THIS WIN BUT IS YOUR MIND ON THE CAR OF TOMORROW?

Knaus: "It's just focused on Bristol, man. It doesn't matter what car we're taking. To go to Bristol you're always on pins and needles wondering what's going to happen; what the outcome of the race is going to be. Our team at Hendrick Motorsports has done a phenomenal job with Jim Long or Rex Stump preparing our Impala SS for competition. We went to the test at Bristol and we actually had one of our best tests ever. I'm really excited about going there for the first time and think that we've got a shot at having a very successful race."

LAST WEEK IT WAS THE 150TH WIN FOR HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS AND YOU WEREN'T ABLE TO BE HERE. JIMMIE AND THE OTHER GUYS HAVE SAID THAT YOU ARE THE LEADER OF THE ORGANIZATION AND TO MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT THAT. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT?

Hendrick: "I knew that if I had a conflict with the automotive group. but I wanted to see the win. I wasn't there for the 100th win either. I'm real proud of them. It was good to see them all in victory lane together. The race today, I thought we were so strong and then at the end I thought we were maybe a tad off with Tony and Chad made the right calls and the right adjustments. Jimmie just amazes me when I watch him drive. It's exciting. I think we're at 198 on totals and 151 to date on Cup so I guess this just means we've been doing this a long time. But I'm real proud of the guys. They've worked hard and we had situations. yesterday I thought we were going to win the Busch race and we had a problem. Today Jeff (Gordon) had a problem and Kyle (Busch) did too. All these guys are working extremely hard and working together and I'm really proud of these two guys here."

-credit: gm racing

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports