Charlotte II: Winning team press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Rick, has it gotten to the point at your organization that a championship isn't the goal, it's an expectation? RICK HENDRICK: Yeah. I mean, when you start the year, you that doesn't sound I don't like to say it...

Continued from part 1

Q: Rick, has it gotten to the point at your organization that a championship isn't the goal, it's an expectation?

RICK HENDRICK: Yeah. I mean, when you start the year, you that doesn't sound I don't like to say it that way, but you want to win it, you think you can win it, but you know it's going to be a fight. You folks and the fans expect it. You write about it when we have the media tour. And I'll tell you we're going to enjoy it while we can.

I see teams out there improving more than we're improving every week now. The Childress crowd, they've picked up the pace tremendously. The Roush cars are running much better. You know, Denny Hamlin could have won to races here back to back or three races.

So if you think that you've arrived and you're championship material and you're going to do it and you don't try to work harder, I mean, I know for a fact that Jimmie trains for this Chase in a different way than he trains during the year. I mean, the dedication that he has and Chad, the dedication he has, staying at the shop until 11:00 at night, you've got to want it and you've got to want it really bad because the guys that got beat are going to come back next year wanting it more. It's just who wants it the most.

I think what we've got to tell ourselves day in and day out is you cannot it doesn't make any difference who won it last year, and it doesn't make any difference that we've won a lot of races at Martinsville. Somebody is going to show up that's better. I think the 42 car is a great example. I mean, basically they're a two car team, maybe call it a one car team, for them to come out in this Chase and run like they've run.

I think back, '98, '99, we won four in a row, and I thought, man, we'll get to 10 in a hurry, and then we had a dry spell. You've got to realize that every single race and every single day you've got to work your butt off to try to stay even with these guys.

Q: Rick, question about two of your other cars tonight. I didn't get a chance to go outside and talk to Mark or Alan. They had an uncharacteristically off night. Is that all because of the incident with the 42 on the restart or did something else happen? And then another bad night for the 88. Junior was pretty down in the dumps all weekend. I'm wondering where you stand with that team.

RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, the damage that Mark got when the restart, they kind of recoiled there, and he had we had front end damage, we had a hole in the front of the car we had to fix, and then you get back in traffic and the car is kind of wounded and it's hard to get back to the front. That was uncharacteristic of that team. That was a bad luck situation. I think he would have been in the top 5 for sure. The 88 team, you know, I'm as frustrated as those guys are. You know, everybody over there, including these guys right here, committed to helping get that car on track. It seems like I thought we had turned the corner at Loudon. It was probably one of our better cars, and then California, Kansas, good car, real good car, and then this week a very disappointing qualifying run, and then we had the problems with the transmission in the race.

Sometimes when you feel like you're snake bit, it's hard to show up and try to pretend that everything is great. But I can tell you this, I met with those guys earlier today, and I'm as committed as I know how to be, and we're all committed to each other, and we're just going to keep digging. I told them, this can't last. We've got too many smart people over there to not fix it. We've been right on the edge of if we could have finished two or three of those races and not have been swept up in a wreck, we wouldn't be really talking about it.

But it's just so much pressure with these guys are running like they're running and you've got three cars that are in the points like that, and we don't hide from it, we just know we've just got to work harder and we've got to I think what Dale was saying was sometimes people doubt his commitment, and it's eating him up. But we're going to get it. I just hope it's soon.

Q: Are you at all concerned about Dale's confidence and having to build that back up before it gets too late?

RICK HENDRICK: I have seen, and I think this is a question you can ask Jimmie, if you go through a tough spell, I don't care who you are; every driver that I've had drive for me has had a period somewhere in that stretch where their confidence is shaken. That's just normal. I mean, I feel the same way about trying to know what to do to fix things sometimes. It's like, maybe I need to ask somebody else.

But nothing will help a driver's confidence any more than a couple of back to back runs and good finishes. He knows he can do it, and we know he can do it. It's just a it's frustration, and it's just beginning to doubt everybody doubts everything, and that's just normal.

Q: I kind of have two. The first is, Johnson, what would you say to people that complain that you're stinking up the show?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, I'm just out there doing my thing. People I don't think we've been stinking up the show for starters. Tony had a great start

Q: You've won three races out of five. That's stinking up the show.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, I guess I don't understand why people would have a problem with it. Everybody tunes in to watch Tiger win. Everybody tunes in to watch Federer do his thing on certain courts. I'm just doing my thing. I think there's a lot of fans out there that are excited to see what this 48 car is doing, and a lot of people are happy and rooting for us to win a fourth. The rest of them, oh, well.

Q: This is for all three of you guys. How much added satisfaction is there in doing what you're doing when you're so scrutinized by the sanctioning body?

RICK HENDRICK: You know, I don't like it. We were legal. We were on the edge, but we were legal. But in a way I'm kind of glad they're doing it so that nobody is questioning is there anything there, because they strip it. You know, it ties us up in the shop. They're going to take this one anyway, but

Q: When you win, you take them.

RICK HENDRICK: When you win, you take them. But I guess in a way I'd love to see every car in the garage go through that same routine and see how far off some of these other cars might be. But it's okay; at least this way there are no questions about how straight up we are.

Q: Jimmie, when you're on the final restart, you're going up against Jeff, does it make it easier that it's Jeff, or does it make you want to win that much get ahead of him that much more? And Rick, what are you thinking when you've got these two guys battling for the championship going at it like that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I know racing Jeff that we're going to race hard but it's not going to be there's some boundaries there, and we're not going to cross some lines. I was excited that it wasn't the 5 or the 42. I knew that we had more points over Jeff. When he got in front of me, I'm like, okay, just focus, get some lines together. I think I can get back by him, but it isn't the end of the world big picture. It depends who you're around and who you're racing with what the circumstances are.

I had a great time racing that hard with him. I certainly had my hands full a few times inside of him and thought I was going to throw it away and had to take a deep breath and recalibrate and go again. But it worked out.

Q: Chad, I want to go back on something that Rick just said about the cars being kept for inspection and everything. One of the by products of this car was that you weren't going to have to need so many cars. But you've had cars going almost every week to NASCAR. How are you keeping up, and how many cars have you had to how many cars do you now have in fleet just to keep up with NASCAR keeping taking your cars?

CHAD KNAUS: We've got it right at 14 cars well, actually 13 at this point. We've been fortunate enough to have been in this situation the last few years, and we go through great pains to schedule out and in hopes that we have victories and things like that where you can't turn the cars around because we know NASCAR takes them, we don't get them back until late Tuesday, so we've planned in accordance for that in advance. It really hasn't impacted us at all.

We've got our fleet of cars. We came into the Chase with basically three to four relatively new intermediate cars that we had raced one or two times throughout the season to kind of get the bugs worked out of them.

Our short track cars have been solid the last couple of years. We've got two of those cars sitting there, so if something was to happen and NASCAR takes one, they have it until Wednesday or whatever the deal was and we had to go somewhere else, we've got the fleet that we need.

Q: Rick, this car was supposed to make it a little easier financially on teams by not having to have so many. If I remember 20, 25 years ago when I first met you, teams were putting together fleets of 13 and 14 cars in order to make it through the season. Is this just the natural by product of a championship team is that you have to have that big of a fleet and you have to have a short track and intermediate, that they're that different?

RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, you just can't control wrecks and losing a car and a couple of bad wrecks back to back. You know, it's I think they've done a good job making the car safe. I think the teams have done a good job of making the cars competitive. You know, I think if you've got to run this many races, the theory that and I think they've talked about it in the Nationwide Series that you can do it with four cars. There's no way you can run that many races with four cars. You might as well say, hey, this is the car we're going to run; let's run it. You can't run every week and have back to back wrecks and then get your guys to have a car turned around and ready to go cross country the next week.

I think part of it is a product of racing as many weekends as we race, and again, with these double file restarts, I've never had a car tore up as bad on a road course as we did out in California. I mean, it was we had to cut almost the body off the 5 car to get it in the trailer, and you don't usually get a car beat up that bad. But it's some aggressive racing out there. The answer to the question is I think we need them just so we don't kill our people.

Q: Rick, Hall of Fame announcements were made this week. Sort of in that same vein, where does the guy next to you stack up in your opinion amongst some of these greats that everybody is talking about?

RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, I think people there's some great drivers that have been in our sport, for sure, but you look at his record since he entered this sport, and you've got to say that he'll go down as one of the greatest drivers that's ever been in the series.

Sometimes you don't get that recognition until later on in your career, and I think that's just normal. Looking at what he's done and the commitment he has, he and Chad together as a combination that really understand each other, they've been through some bumps and they want to whip each other, kill each other sometimes. It's not a love fest all the time. But I think you've got to look at Jimmie's stats and what he and Chad have been able to do, and you've got to give him credit because it's been a phenomenal string of statistics that he's been able to put together here in the last eight years.

Q: Did you have any idea that he had that in him when you put that deal together back in '01?

RICK HENDRICK: No way. I mean, I knew he had a lot of talent. We were kidding the chairman of Lowe's, I thought we had the deal already done, and we were getting ready to sign it with Lowe's, and the chairman and CEO walked in, and he had the veins in his neck popping out, and he said, I want to know can you win. I was like speechless, and Jimmie said, "I can win." I thought, Well, I'm glad you're confident.

It's worked out well. I never dreamed that we'd be looking at Jimmie this short in his career being a four time champion.

Q: Earlier today you were saying sometimes it's hard to enjoy what the three guys are doing because of the way Junior is running, and I was curious, is the depth of kind of your emotion, of the frustration of Junior versus the depth of the emotion of winning, can you kind of compare the two? Are you a guy who hates losing more than you love winning or are you a guy who loves winning more than hates losing?

RICK HENDRICK: I enjoy winning, but I hate not to see one of our teams reach their potential, because we have everybody in the engine shop, the chassis shop touches that car, and I have to face the sponsors and I have to look the crew people in their eyes, and it's a really hard thing to do to celebrate when you know in the back of your mind there are things that you've got to work on.

But that's just you're going to have that. Until four people can cross that finish line tied and you've got a photo finish and declare they're all equal, then it's going to be that way, and you've got to learn to live with it.

I think I'd much rather know that the same guys over there that are winning, we can together get that done. We can make that we can fix it.

What's really frustrating is when you are running like three or four of you back there, 10th, 11th, 12th, whatever, and you've got another organization that's just feeding and handing it to you every week. That's really tough.

But yeah, this motivates all of us to fix it, and I lean on Chad, I lean on Jimmie, and we all are committed because we know we're a stronger unit if all of us are doing well.

Q: I actually have two questions. The first one is for all three of you. At the halfway point of this Chase, we've got one, two, three in terms of Hendrick cars, and you've got a Hendrick supported car in Tony Stewart that's in fourth place. Last year it was pretty even, Hendrick versus Roush, and then at the beginning of the Chase we thought Kyle Busch was going to be in there, so it was Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs. Where do you think the advantage has come from the last 12 months, especially with the ban on testing? How have you guys pulled so far ahead this quickly so that Hendrick is this far ahead of everybody else? And where as an organization do you think you guys have improved the most to get that advantage?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'll consolidate for us. It is all about people. It is the 550 people just down the road at Hendrick Motorsports. The rules are tighter than they've ever been. Without the testing we've had to rely more on our simulation programs and the tools and stuff that we have to measure and build these race cars, and it boils down to these guys.

I mean, Chad and our staff of engineers without going on the track, they have to believe in the equipment we own and use to develop the race car. And in this year we've done a really good job from the start of the season through to end up right.

Last year even with testing we didn't hit it right, so there's no guarantees it'll be right going into next season. But last year we tested 26 times or something, a lot, and this year it worked out for us. This year Roush has been off to a slow start. So much of it is done in engineering, and that's why I say the people, because it's the group of people making those decisions.

Q: Rick, we've seen in this sport manufacturers, when they get so far ahead of the game, NASCAR trying to level the playing field a little bit. I was talking to Brad Keselowski yesterday and he said just for Penske to be able to compete, and that's a top tier team, he thinks to compete with you they're going to have to add 100 people. Obviously in this economy that's pretty difficult to do in short order. Are you worried that if you finish one, two, three, four in points with your cars, NASCAR might do something to level the playing field a little bit for other owners?

RICK HENDRICK: I don't know what else they could do. I mean, we take our car every week. Tony Stewart and them don't have 500 people. They have a tight knit group of I don't think they've got maybe 100 people over there, I don't know. You know, Jimmie said it, it's leadership and people working together. Matt Kenseth comes out and wins first two races of the year, and then he hits a slump, and now he's back. You know, this thing turns, and it just evolves, and I mean, I don't know. I don't know how we could make it any fairer.

The motors are all so close, the bodies are the same, the chassis are the same. NASCAR is doing a great job of policing it. It's coming down to the guy behind the wheel and a guy like Chad calling the race and a good pit crew, and that's what's going to determine who wins this thing.

Q: Is there any part of you that has any kind of sympathy or feeling sorry a little bit for Jeff Gordon at this point who's doing everything he can and can't just just can't gain any ground on Jimmie?

RICK HENDRICK: Y'all have asked me some pretty tough questions here tonight. Yeah, but Jeff has been in this long enough to know that he was that guy that everybody said, I can run second every week but I can't catch him. You know, he's proud for Jimmie, but he wants to beat Jimmie. It's one of those deals that somebody has got to finish second or third or whatever. But I think he's been in that top position just like Jimmie, and one day Jimmie is going to have to face it with somebody else. If you're going to do this long enough, you've got to deal with it.

-credit: nascar

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Brad Keselowski , Denny Hamlin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports