Bristol: Johnson, Knaus - GM top ten interview

Weekly Top 10 Comments from Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Monte Carlo SS and Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS *** Chad Knaus, crew chief for the No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS Opening Remarks "I appreciate ...

Weekly Top 10 Comments from Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Monte Carlo SS and Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS

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Chad Knaus, crew chief for the No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS

Opening Remarks "I appreciate everyone coming out so we can get this kinda over and done with so we can move on and start racing like we have always done. It is great to be back, obviously, I have been looking forward to coming to Bristol probably for the first time in my career to be honest with you, it is going to be kind of exciting.

"I want to say that I am really proud of what my guys were able to accomplish, Darian (Grubb), Ron. When those guys came to the race track, they came with a goal, that goal was to uphold the integrity of the team, show everybody out there what this team was capable of doing and they did that. I could not be prouder of that. Each one of these guys I have either hired or worked beside the last four years and to see those guys go to the race track, on their own, step up and do the jobs they have been trained to do, desired to do their whole lives to the ability and stature that they did was incredible. I am really excited about that.

"It something that we had to go through because obviously, I made a mistake. I went out there and did something that wasn't to NASCAR's liking and had to stay home for four races because of that which was probably the most painful thing in my life. You guys know, most of you know me and have known me for a long time. There is nothing in the world that means more to me than this race team. I have been part of it since its inception. Some of those guys were just barely out of high school when I hired them. To see them go there on their own and run those races without me being there was very very painful. It was extremely painful. But it was also very cool at the same time.

"I am glad to be back. I think that we have a jump on the season, just like we did last year. I think it is going to be another great successful season. It is funny; we are 10 points further ahead than where we were last year at this point. I think that is pretty incredible and it shows the strength of this team, and shows what this team can do without any one person. Because it is not always the leader when you go into battle but the soldiers you have fighting for you and those guys fight. I mean they fight hard. I think it is going to be an exciting season.

"Shoot, we always say how many things this team has overcome. One of the things everyone always talks about is how the 48 team always seems to excel when the chips are down. Whether we lose an engine, we crash in practice and have to pull out a backup car or whether we have a tragedy like we had at Martinsville two years ago. The 48 team always jumps up. I just think this confirms that and says it one more time.

"Thank you; ask away because as soon as I walk out of here kids, we are done with it. We are moving on, we are going on to try and win this championship for Lowe's, Hendrick Motorsports and everybody out there. I hate it that everyone is going through this. I know you guys have wasted a lot of ink and a lot of videotape on something that I wish you wouldn't have had to. I am sorry the fans, Lowe's, everybody. But it is part of it. The sport is changing and I have to change with it because I am going to be here a long time.

HAS EVENTS OF LAST FOUR WEEKS CAUSED YOU TO LOOK AT THE STRUCTURE OF YOUR ORGANIZATION AND MAKE ANY CHANGES? KNAUS RESPONSE - "No, not really. One of the things that is very very ironic is Mr. Hendrick, Jimmie (Johnson) and I sat down over the off-season, we were coming into this season with a new plan. It was good. Ron Mellick and I had a long discussion over the off-season. I told him 'Buddy, you are going to have to take on more responsibility, you have to be more than just a mechanic. You have to be a leader to the guys. You have to go out there, hold them in check, hold them in line, and hold them accountable. Because I don't want to have to do that because there are other things that I am trying to do with my future. The engineering side of our team is developing. We are bringing in new people, making it stronger so really, all that happened was all that stuff happened a little sooner than we planned because I had to stay home for four races. We didn't want that, we didn't expect that to come about but we were grooming those guys to step up and take that challenge. Now, in the future, things are going to change. I am still going to be the crew chief, don't take that wrong, this is something that is not going to be taken away from me but my responsibilities are going to change and those guys responsibilities are going to change. It is going to be a good thing."

DO YOU THINK NASCAR WITH SCRUTINIZE YOU IN TECH MORE THAN OTHERS NOW AFTER THE INDICENT AND NOW THAT YOU ARE BACK? "Absolutely not. Shoot, they have been tough on everybody. I haven't been at the race track but I have been hearing about people being late to qualifying, late to the races and all that kind of stuff just because they have been tight on everybody. They have got a very good inspection process. We all know that, that is how people get caught. I don't think they need to try to be any harder on us, I don't think they want to be any harder on us. They know that I went out there and I did something they didn't like, they put the penalty on me. We took it, we bit it, we dealt with it and we are moving on. In my eyes, they are doing it the same way. I don't think they would hold a grudge against anybody."

DOES IT PUT MORE PRESSURE ON YOU COMING BACK TO THE TRACK LEADING THE POINTS AND HAVING ALREADY WON TWO RACES? KNAUS RESPONSE - "Fortunately or unfortunately, we have been in that position since 2002. At some point throughout every year, we have led the points, won the most races, and had the most top-fives. We have been in that situation as a team ever since we began. So it is something you are always guarding against, you don't want that to happen. That isn't what our goal is this year. Last year we wanted to lead the points, we pushed and pushed and pushed. Every week it seemed like we were leading points and we were always in a barrel. Then there was a new competitor coming up trying to knock us off whether it was the 20 car, the 99 car, the 16 car. Every week someone was in second, trying to knock us out of first. It was tough and that is what hurt us last year. This year, that isn't what we are worried about. If we fall down right now and we go back to fifth, sixth, eighth, tenth, it doesn't matter. As long as we get in that final 10 and by the time we get to that final ten, that is when things have to be kicking strong and I think we will be there."

JIMMIE JOHNSON RESPONSE - "Just to add to what Chad had said, I think we have learned some lessons as he explained. It is a long season; we know there are going to be up and downs in a season. We have gotten off to a start that is so hard to keep that pace, and so hard to continue what we are doing. We are just going to ride the wave, work hard to try and make the final 10 and transfer in and hope for our best 10 at that point. We aren't fools, we know that we are only four races in and there is a lot of racing left. When you start out this strong, you are going to have a low spot in the season at some point. We are going to show up, do all we can and see what happens."

WHEN THS SUSPENSION FIRST CAME DOWN, YOU SAID YOU WEREN'T GOING TO PULL ANY PUNCHES WHEN YOU CAME BACK AND YOU WERE GOING TO CONTINUE TO WORK HARD IN THE GRAY AREA. TALK ABOUT THAT. KNAUS RESPONSE - "The pulling punches comment really got used out of context quite often. The deal is, I get paid by Hendrick Motorsports to go out there and build the best race cars we possibly can for Jimmie Johnson, for Lowe's and for all of our fans. And that is what we are going to continue to do. We can't pull back. We cannot not try to deliver the best product out there. If we do that we are going to get beat and if we get beat, I am out of a job. We have got to continue to do everything we can to build the best race car for everybody. That is what we are going to continue to do. There are rules and regulations, we are going to follow those specifications and we are going to abide by that and we are going to do everything we can to stay within NASCAR's bounds. But we have got to build the best race car out there.

"Everybody is evolving. The sport is evolving. This is a much, much different sport than what it was 12 years ago when I first got here. It is a much much different sport than it was five years ago when I first became a crew chief. The thing about this deal is you have got to evolve as an individual within the sport. Otherwise you won't be part of the sport any more for a multitude of reasons. We are going to adjust to it, I am going to adjust to it and we are going to press on"

WHAT WERE YOUR EMOTIONS WATCHING RACES ON TV AND WHAT WAS YOUR COMMUNICATION WITH THE TEAM? KNAUS RESPONSE - "It was tough, it was very, very difficult. When you are sitting there on the couch and you are listening to 'Track Pass', you are hearing the drivers saying this and drivers saying that, you just jump up and down saying out loud 'Pull some air pressure out of there', you just want to say something to somebody but there is no one there to listen. It is tough. Man, it was tough. But it is what I had to deal with.

"As far as the communication level goes, it has been spoken a million times. They would be driving through the drive up at McDonald's and I would be on the phone with Darian (Grubb). He would be up two, or three hours later and I would call him and give him a wake-up call. At Atlanta, I woke him straight up out of bed, he was a little mad about that. We would talk in the morning and we had a plan. We had a very in depth plan before we left to go to the race track. We did everything we could to prepare to take those guys into battle. They fought a great war and that is really it."

HAVE YOU AND DARIAN (GRUBB) TALKED ABOUT HIM GOING BACK TO HIS OLD ROLE AND IS IT HARD ON HIM? "I don't know. I sat Darian down last week and we had a talk. He is obviously a good friend of mine, he has been a co-worker of mine for three years now and I have a lot of respect for him. I ask him, 'Dude, what do you want to do? Do you want to be a crew chief? Do you want to go back to what you were doing before?' He told me he had a taste of being a crew chief and he enjoyed it and said that maybe one day he would want to do that. But right now, I want to do what I was doing. I have a wife, I have yard work to do, I want to go home, I want to do those kinds of things. Right now, he said he didn't have a life and he didn't want that. He said he didn't want to live my life. He said it wasn't any fun and he understands that. He has a new wife, and maybe after it settles down, he will want to get out of the house, I don't know (laughs). All I know is he did an incredible job for us and he is by far a great leader, well respected at Hendrick Motorsports. He has a huge role at Hendrick Motorsports that is growing. He is not only going to only be the guy that is there with me on the pit box, which is a great thing and somebody that has been there for a long time. He is taking on more responsibility throughout the company, he is working with all the engineers. All the guys that are engineers on the 5 car and the 25 car and throughout the organization. He has a full plate, and I think he really enjoys that."

HOW MUCH CREDIT DO YOU THINK YOU DESERVE FOR WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR THIS SEASON? KNAUS RESPONSE - "Boy, I don't know. I worked hard. We worked all winter long and it wasn't just me. It was all of us, it was a combined effort. When you see a product that comes out of Hendrick Motorsports, isn't a product of me. It is a product of the 24/48 race shop. It is a product of the 5/25 shop and all 516 employees we have got there. We all work very hard as a group, as a team, to put the very best race cars out there. So when those guys got to the race track, it wasn't as difficult. I don't know how much credit I deserve, you will have to ask him (nods at Jimmie Johnson). I had a hand in it. That is really about it. We have 75 people that work under our roof. If I was to say that deserve any more credit than anyone else on that team, that would be wrong. I don't think that is true. Because I don't build the cars, you don't see me with wrenches in my hands. So the guy that bolted that control arm on probably deserves a little more credit than I do because it didn't fall off. It depends on how you look at it."

HOW TOUGH WAS IT TO BE AT HOME WHEN YOUR TEAM WON THE BIGGEST RACE OF THEIR CAREERS AT DAYTONA. KNAUS RESPONSE - "The Daytona 500 is tough, tough, tough. I will be honest with you, it was tough. I claim two Daytona 500 wins in my Cup career that I wasn't actually at the race track but I built both cars that actually won both of those races. So to not be there again was very very difficult. I am not going to lie to you, I had a tear in my eye. I was sitting there like everybody else out there, all the big Jimmie Johnson fans that were jumping up and down out there and were all excited and I was right there with them. I obviously had a little more at stake than what those people did. Probably a lot more involvement and to sit there and watch it, that was tough, it was very tough. It really was.

"They were trying to get me a flight down to Daytona on one of the planes for the victory party and I said no, I am not going to Daytona, somebody might get mad at me. So I stayed home and went to be."

TALK ABOUT YOUR EMOTIONS ABOUT CHAD COMING BACK THIS WEEKEND. JOHNSON RESPONSE - " I am really excited to have him back. He started this race team, he has worked so hard over the winter to get everything prepared and ready. He has trained myself, Ron Mellick, Darian Grubb - these names we keep referring to. We really want to drive that point home, how really prepared this team was before the season started. Chad's fingerprints are all over that. It has been his influence, his ideas, his designs. He has really been gracious in not accepting a lot of the responsibility, but from my standpoint, he is very responsible for the success this team has had since the start of the season. I have been looking forward to having him back. I know it was tough for him at home. I feel that we have all grown in our positions, we have all learned a lot more and we are going to be a stronger and better team starting this weekend and moving forward

DID YOU SEE SOMETHING DIFFERENT IN THE RACES YOU WATCHED AT HOME THAT YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE THOUGHT OF OR SEEN IF YOU WERE AT THE TRACK? KNAUS RESPONSE - "Yes, absolutely. But if I told you that might not be smart and they might make a new rule. I shouldn't have made light of that, I am sorry.

"Yes, I did learn a lot, I really did. One of the things that I did early in my career was to start studying the races, really watched them. You know how it is, you are in the job, it is the routine, you go through the paces, and maybe you aren't paying as much attention as you used to.

"But these past four weeks, the fireworks went off in my head because that is all I did for four hours or what ever length of time it took, was watch that race. It brought a lot more things to detail that I may have been letting slip a little bit, so it has gotten me re-fired up again to take this role. To get back at it with the excitement and the drive that I had back in 2001 and 2002 when I was working with Stacy Compton. Because that is what I took it to and it has opened that back up."

WHEN YOU ROLLED OFF THE GRID THESE PAST WEEKS, DID YOU FEEL THAT CHAD WASN'T THERE? JOHNSON RESPONSE - "It was a sense of him not being there. During practice and race, we had a plan in place and it is very hard to have things play out as planned. We worked very hard on the front side to have a plan in place, but once practice started and then the race, it was between Darian and myself to communicate and then the other guys in the pit to work with Darian to share information and talk to one another to come up the ideas.

"I have to admit that Fontana was a big stress for all of us going into it. We didn't know what to expect, we didn't know how it was going to unfold. As the mid part of the race ran, the car wasn't handling like we needed it to, we made the right adjustments and rallied back to finish second. From that point on, I think Darian and mine confidence in ourselves and in working together in our new roles stepped up and we made the most of it and went to Las Vegas and had the success we did there.

"Every weekend more confidence was built in the team at the race track. We all knew going into it that it was going to be hard to follow a plan. Things change, tracks change, what the car is asking for changes, we were really on our own, making the most of it."

WILL ANYTHING CHANGE THIS WEEKEND? KNAUS RESPONSE - "Nothing is changing, it is going to be right back where it was when I was at Daytona. The roles that everyone is playing is the same. You have to realize that the roles were the same, just I wasn't there. Darian stepped up and was calling the race and tuning the car with Jimmie. Ron Mellick was heavily involved in that, our shock guy was heavily involved in that. That is kind of what was happening so it really isn't going to change any. It is going to be about the same. That is what I am so excited about because we are just plugging in another guy that is going to be part of the team that is already out there doing it. It is pretty fortunate you know. The thing you have to realize is, Darian did an incredible job, Ron did an incredible job and they are the two guys getting the hype which they well deserve. But there were three or four new guys on that race team that got thrown into the mix of this deal, I mean WOW. Those guys stepped up. We had guys in new roles that stepped up. This team has done something that you just don't do in this industry. Everybody wrote us off, over the winter, because we had so many new guys, there were about four of them. They were saying this team is going to struggle, they aren't going to run out and win races, they are going to have to adjust and learn each other's tempo. I guess not, obviously the depth and the leadership we have in this organization can pull those guys out and make it happen. As far as my role, it isn't going to be any different than it was before. I am going to be pulling in more input, just like we discussed, stuff we had talked about during the off season and that is what is going to happen."

JOHNSON RESPONSE - "Just to add to what Chad is saying, we were talking the other day and I found that I didn't realize in full detail that before the season started and we were racing then things changes, that we had a game plan over the off season about how we needed to let Chad be in an area as crew chief to overlook everything and have the available space and time to look at all things. To make decision from a high vantage point, we never had a chance before to put than play. We did that in a way, because of the suspension because the other guys came up in their roles but I think what Chad is referring is we had a game plan when the season started and we are working to get back on track with that plan. I think moving forward, that is the role for Chad we all recognize and we have all been talking about. Today, hey, the crew chief doesn't need to be over the tire guy making sure he the sets of tires, they are all measured, they have all had the depth measured. He doesn't need to be hovering over the top of everyone like crew chiefs have had to be in the past. The role is ever changing and I think Chad pointed that out earlier, as a crew chief, as engineers, it is changing. We made a change over the off season and now we finally get to live it as we intended to rather that how we were forced to the first four races."

DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE THAT YOU DID SOMETHING WRONG? KNAUS RESPONSE - "Yes, I did. If it doesn't fit the template at any point in time, it is wrong. It is wrong, I hate that, I regret it. You know sometimes you just push too hard. There are procedures that you follow in our industry. As a competitor, you try to evolve with that, and try to find an advantage on your competition. That is what I did and they didn't like it. So I watched TV for a while and read your papers."

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING TO CHANGE IN YOURSELF? KNAUS RESPONSE - "I am my own worse enemy. I really am. You guys know my passion for this sport and how deep it goes, how critical I am of myself. I am probably my worst critic. What ended up happening last year and it really hit home was we were in such a dog fight trying to continue to lead points and be there at the end and be the dominant team and do all that other stuff, I had done it before, I got tired, I got worn out. By the time we got to Loudon last year, I was spent. There was no more of me to do what I needed to do. I was too busy looking at the body, I was too busy looking at the chassis, I was too busy trying to figure out the pit calls, I was too busy out - 'ok, we are going to get rid of this guy during the off season, we will get this going, we have the car of tomorrow coming, we have a new engine coming in a couple of years' - I was spent, done.

"So what I have to do as an individual from not only my professional stand point, but my personal standpoint as well, is I have to be able to pull back, take a day off. Because just like everybody else in the world, I do need a little bit of rest. That is something I never did. Last year, all year, I was seven days a week, every week. I have to take some time so that means those guys have to take some responsibility. Then when I come in the next day after I have had eight hours of sleep, I am going to be better, our team is going to be better. I realize that, it took a couple of slaps in the face of not winning that championship that we probably truly should of won. So that is the approach we are taking. "

HOW HARD IS IT TO FORCE YOURSELF TO DO IT? KNAUS RESPONSE - "I hate to say it, but I was forced to learn it. The first four weeks. I hate to say it, but I have already learned it. Now it is a matter if I can keep it going. I had to do it. I have had a couple of days off. I mean they were out in Las Vegas freezing their butts off and it was 80 degrees in Charlotte and I was out riding my dirt bike. It was good, I was sending pictures to them on my phone. That is way it is. I have learned that already and I am going to do my best to make sure it happens. It is Jimmie's responsibility, Ron's responsibility, Darian's responsibility and everybody else on my team's responsibility as well as Mr. Hendrick's to make sure I do that. We will be better and maybe we will win the championship if I do that."

"The people who don't like me, won't like me no matter what we do. If they don't like me because we got in trouble for something, they won't like me if we win races. I can't win that battle so I will try and be as friendly as possible and move on."

-gm racing-

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