Charlotte: Winning team interview

WINNER PRESS CONFERENCE Lowe's Motor Speedway Jimmie Johnson Rick Hendrick Chad Knaus No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet WHY IS YOUR TEAM SO DOMINANT? IS THAT SOMETHING TO COME FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON? Hendrick: No, I don't think you can look at one...

WINNER PRESS CONFERENCE
Lowe's Motor Speedway
Jimmie Johnson Rick Hendrick Chad Knaus
No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet

WHY IS YOUR TEAM SO DOMINANT? IS THAT SOMETHING TO COME FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON?

Hendrick: No, I don't think you can look at one race and say that you're going to be dominant everywhere. This is best that we've done as an organization with all the cars. I think everyone led and they led more than one lap. You know, it was a great night, and I think it was a tribute to the guys working together and you know, we had some awesome cars there and we had some bad luck toward the end. Had an egnie problem there with Kyle, which concerned us all after Riggs had a problem. So, we were a little nervous there toward the end.

THE #24 AND #48 TEAMS HAVE MULTIPLE WINS. WHAT ARE THE PROGRAMS FOR THE #5 AND #25 LOOKING LIKE ?

Hendrick: Well, I think if you go back to Richmond and some of the races leading up to Charlotte, the #5 and #25 were actually as good as, maybe better than, the #24 and #48. So, I think Brian Whitesell has done an excellent job of bringing that team along and I think you're going to see those guys win a race here before the year is out.

FANTASTIC FINISH THERE AT THE END. HOW WAS IT FROM THE DRIVER'S SEAT?

Johnson: It was great being on that end of it. In Atlanta, I lost one like that. I knew that I was really strong off of turn 4 and I was trying to set Bobby up. But, Bobby had a good car and he knew where to be and position himself. But, I got a run on him coming off of turn 4, coming to the white and I didn't think he'd leave me the top in 3 and 4, so I went for the bottom in 1 and 2 and was just going to try to be side by side with him and see what happens. And I almost lost it in 1 and 2 and he cleared me and got back in front of me. I went into turn 3 and decided not to lift and before I knew it, I was to his quarter panel and I could see at that point, his spotter told him that I was on the outside of him, and he left me a lane that was on the outside of him, and I got it. So, the only thing he could have done a little differently was maybe to arc it into turn 3 and little bit more and protect the top side, but he was looking for-and committed-to the bottom. You know, somehow the car stuck. I didn't expect to get alongside of him, but when it did, I was smiling and knew we were in great shape.

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A RACE UNFOLD LIKE THIS, ESPECIALLY AT CHARLOTTE?

Hendrick: In all my years of racing, never seen anything like this. Thought we were in such good shape if we could just stay out of trouble, and then the caution got us. So many cautions. Usually here you see a long green run, but everybody's trying to plan a strategy based on that. It just was a crazy race. There were just a few laps to go and we could have finished 10th or 11th. I thought we were happy. So, it was a strange race. A great race as it turned out. But, very strange race tonight.

TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE ACCIDENT BETWEEN BRIAN AND JEFF

Hendrick: Yeah, it really is tough. As I mentioned a minute ago, putting the #5 and #25 together and watching them come out and run like they did. Brian's been very sick. He's run a fever of like 103 degrees. And ran the Busch race and this race tonight. And you hate to see him run that long and be that good, both Brian and Kyle. But the way I look at it and what I said to the teams afterward, you're 20-21 years old. If you run like that and show this kind of potential, you're going to win races. You've got to be able to run up front before you win and I think it's a good display of how those two teams are running together and how they've kind of closed the gap on the #24 and #48.

THERE WAS A STORY ABOUT YOU BEING ONE OF THE BAD GUYS

Johnson: In our sport, you have so many people watching, so many different things taking place. And everybody has an opinion and everybody is entitled to an opinion. I said it a month ago when everything took place and ran its course. And, I'm here today with the respect of everyone in that garage area. And I had it through what went on. It's an intense sport. And as long as I have the respect of the people in the garage area, that's all that matters. And it's there, it's always been there. Any press is good press, I guess.

MANY ACCIDENTS OUT THERE ON THE FRONT STRAIGHT. DO THE FANS THAT PAY MONEY DESERVE BETTER RACING?

Johnson: I think the fans like to see the crashes, personally. They like to see hard racing and it's part of it. I think that, it's easy to sit back and say that the competion is being too aggressive. You have to look at the fact that the competition is so intense. And we had a car to win the race tonight, and when we started back in 20th a couple times, based on pit strategy, it's impossible to pass people. You have to drive over your head, and beyond the team's ability, just to get position on someone. That's one car and you have good air position and you can get side by side. But if you get multiple cars, the slightest bump puts anybody out of control. And we have to race that hard. The reason you're seeing more cautions is because, to stay competitive, you have to drive that hard every lap. You know, it's just racing. We need to stop pointing figures and realize it's just racing and hard racing.

WAS THERE ANY POINT IN THE NIGHT WHERE YOU THOUGHT YOU'D GET A TOP 10, DESPITE ALL THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED?

Johnson: Yeah, when we got going, I think it was 29 to go and I think we were 14th, 15th, I can't really remember. I knew the cars that were in front of me that we were much better than them throughout the night. Probably get in the top 10, and before I knew it I was inside of the #12 when Joe spun, racing for fourth. So, at that point, I knew there were a few laps left. I wasn't sure how many. When Joe spun, that's when it dawned on me that, man, I have a shot at really winning this race. Because, 20-30 laps before that, we were caught pitting and then we were a lap down. So, to rally through all of that and to be in victory lane, it's just amazing what we've come through in such a short period of time in the race. I didn't expect it, I love it and am very proud of this race team for what we did tonight.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM CARL EDWARDS IN ATLANTA (COMING FROM THE OUTSIDE TO WIN)

Johnson: If you can come into the checkered flag, you've got to be on the outside. The momentum will carry you by him. At least the nose by the inside guy's nose on the start/finish line. Got it out there. And once I got to his quarter panel on the outside of the turn, I knew we were in good shape. And sure enough, we edged by him at the end.

DID YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON POSSIBLY YOU AND BOBBY GETTING TOGETHER IN THAT LAST LAP?

Johnson: No, no way. Especially with Bobby. He came to victory lane and congratulated us. And I have to just say that I respect him so much and then to see him come to victory lane and shake my hand and shake the team's hand, and tell us a good job, tells us a lot about his character and what kind of character he has. I knew that it was going to be a good race. He had the top in 1 and 2 which was the preferred line when we took the white flag. I tried to get underneath him on the inside and it didn't really work out. And then going into 3, I just really made a last-ditch effort just to get out there. Get to his outside and I got there. And then once I got there, I was like, oh my goodness, we're in good shape. We're going to get this done.

HOW FRUSTRATING WAS YOUR LAST MONTH?

Johnson: No, it hasn't. We're a stronger race team. Life is good. We're in victory lane.

ON WINNING AT HOME AND ON CAPTURING 5 STRAIGHT WINS ON MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND COUNTING THE BUSCH RACE AND THREE FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON

Hendrick: We have so many employees and our shop is a mile from here. Charlotte is home. I want to win this race. I've always wanted to win this race. But with the competition like it is today, to think we could win three in a row or win two Busch races back to back like that, you've got to be prepared, but you never think you're really going to get to do it. But these races rank right up there with the biggest of our career.

ON THE TRACK SURFACE AND ALL THE WRECKS

Johnson: When you make the track faster, the racing groove is narrower and it's harder to pass. Then, in order to pass for good position, you just have to try that much harder. And you run out of space. We're running so fast around here. If the car breaks traction, for a split second, the car moves three or four feet. And when you're racing within inches, three or four feet - it's all over and you cause a wreck."

WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN THE CAUTION CAME OUT RIGHT AFTER YOU PITTED AND YOU WENT A LAP DOWN?

Johnson: At that point, we were just trying to get a solid finish out of it and just bring the car home. Whatever the pit cycle was that was going on, and the adjustments everybody made, before I knew it I got through a huge group of cars and had great track position. Fortunately I missed the big wreck that happened going into Turn 1. And then from there, we got going again and the car was on rails. It was flying. We were able to get into position to win the race from there.

HOW IS TERRY LABONTE?

Hendrick: He's okay. They went to the hospital because they had a problem with his foot. I think he's fine.

THE LAP SPEEDS WERE MUCH SLOWER TONIGHT THAN IN QUALFIYING. WAS THIS JUST THE DIFFERENCE IN RACE SET-UP VERSUS QUALFIYING SET-UP, OR WAS IT ACTUALLY A DIFFERENCE IN THE TRACK AND THE WEATHER?

Knaus: It's absolutely just qualifying set-up versus race set-up. When we're not at an impound event, you're qualifying speeds go up tremendously - especially at tracks like Lowe's Motor Speedway. Anything that's a 1.5 mile in length, the speeds are quite a bit faster in your qualifying trim.

DID YOU SEE THE #22 LAPPED CAR ON THE WHITE FLAG LAP?

Johnson: I don't remember another car. I didn't even know there was another car.

HOW CLOSE WERE YOU IN ALMOST GETTING INVOLVED IN JOE NEMECHEK'S WRECK?

Johnson: It was close enough to where I closed my eyes and ducked my head, because I thought I was hitting him. We've learned that if you know you're going to have an impact, if you lean into your restraint system, it's the best thing you can do. So, I ducked my head and closed my eyes and didn't feel anything, so I looked up, and around I went. I don't know how much room there was between the cars, but there wasn't much.

WITH THE STRING OF BAD LUCK, DID YOU START DOUBTING YOURSELF A BIT?

Johnson: No, and the thing that I've learned in this sport is that it's very humbling. And we hear that phrase a lot. There was some controversy, there were some races we wish we could have back, we didn't perform like we wanted to. It's just been challenging, and in any professional sport, it doesn't matter if it's race car driving, football, baseball, whatever, you're going to have runs like that. We had it. And tonight, hopefully, is a good step in the right direction to get ready for this championship at the end. I'm stronger, smarter, understand the politics of our sport, understand the fans a little bit better and have a deeper respect for the drivers and I think they do for me. Through what's gone on in the past month. So, it may have looked bad with the controversy from the outside, but if you could have been there when I talked to Jeff Burton, been there when I talked to Tony Stewart, after the big one in Talladega, all the guys-all the drivers involved-even the ones that called me an idiot, said, Man, this is just racing. People don't see that. It's okay, because I know I have the respect of the guys in the garage area, and that's all that matters. So, to answer your question, it didn't make me change anything. Sure, it's tough on you. I didn't like it, but I know who I am. I've worked my whole life to be where I'm at. We've got the best team in the business. We dug in deeper and are just going to kind of ride it out. There's nothing you can do about it.

DO YOU BLOCK OUT THE POSSIBLE BOOS OUT THERE?

Johnson: Not at all. That's the great thing about our sport. Fans have an opinion, fans can share their opinion. They can buy their t-shirt, wear their color in the stands, root for whoever they want, and that's fine with me. That's why our sport is as big as it is, because our fans can be involved. I wish they wouldn't throw beer cans at our race car, and I know Chad and the guys at the fab shop don't want beer cans stuck in the side of the race car, but that's the best thing about our sport.

TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THIS WIN AND YOUR OTHER VICTORIES HERE IN THE PAST

Johnson: No, the feelings are totally different. In a way, the way we had to get to the finish line this time was totally different. I was screaming so loud in the car after we won that I think I've blown my throat out. So, I apologize. But, the track is much different. With the griding that's gone on in the race track, it is a totally different track. I've had to learn a different way to drive this race track. Takes a totally different setup. It's just a whole new race track. And I learned a lot throughout the night. I think after the final pit stop I finally learned how to drive the track. Chad made some adjustments that hit right on what we needed, and off we went. So, tonight was a very, very tough night in that mentally, we couldn't stop. Moreso than what I remember from the track before. Maybe it was because we had the track figured out real well. Tonight was a very mentally draining track for myself, and I know for Chad that with all the cautions, to do with strategy and whether to pit, not pit. And we only had 22,000 cautions tonight.

Knaus: Yes, what we were able to do here in the Coca-Cola 600 last year was exactly what we wanted to do. Here tonight, I didn't know if we were coming or going half the night. We would pit, the caution would come out, we wouldn't pit, the caution would come out again, some guys would pit. It was a crazy strategy day and we kind of got caught behind there for a little bit. Lost a lap, but everybody dug in deep. But, I'll be honest with you, I thought we were done. When we lost that lap, I came on the radio and said, Boys, we've just got to finish this thing, there's no way we can win this race. Once we got back on the lead lap it was completely different, but who would have throught that being on the tail end of the lead lap with 40 laps to go, that we'd have a shot to win it. These guys did a great job and we made some incredible adjustments to the race car. And Jimmie drove the wheels off it and a completely different end of the spectrum.

DOES HAVING TO WIN IT THIS WAY MAKE IT MORE SATISFYING-TO PULL IT OUT OF A HAT?

Johnson: I don't think so. It's cool to win a race like this. I lost a race like this, in Atlanta, and that stunk. It's cool to win a race. That's actually, probably, my first win like that ever-coming to a checkered flag side-by-side like that. So, it's my first one like that. That's what you dream of, that's the way you want to win races.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO GET OVER ATLANTA?

Johnson: No, it didn't really stick with me. I was doing everything that I could to keep Carl behind me. I was watching in the mirror, and he was doing everything he could to try to get by me. And if I could have had that final turn back, I think I could have worked something out to stay in front of him, but you just have to give it all you've got. I tried and just came up a little short.

ON THE TRACK SURFACE

Knaus: I don't know if Humpy actually did it to try to improve the racing so much as to get guys to quit complaining about the track because it was so bumpy and rough and course before. I thought the racing was pretty good. Obviously we won the race, so I thought it was better than some. But he might have been appeasing a lot of people who were saying the track was too rough and too difficult to drive and hard on equipment. I just don't think the grinding of the course plus the tire that we brought back was the best choice for side by side racing. When we come back in the fall, it might be a different story.

WHAT DID YOU AND JIMMIE TALK ABOUT WHEN YOU DROVE OVER HERE IN YOUR PERSONAL CAR AND TOOK A LOOK AT THE NEW SURFACE FOR THE FIRST TIME?

Knaus: Yeah, we did to that. We came down in my Tahoe and made some laps around the race track just real quick - about 55 mph. We just looked at the track to determine if we needed to test. What we saw there, we opted not to test and to use the All-Star event as a make-shift test. That's the same route we took last year and it paid off and obviously it paid off again this evening.

ON HOW WELL ALL THE HENDRICK CARS RAN TONIGHT

Knaus: It just shows once again what we've got at Hendrick: Motorsports and how well all of our teams are working. The No. 5 and the No. 24 and the No. 25 all came and tested. We compiled our data. When we showed up, all the

Hendrick: cars were up toward the top 15 - even in qualifying trim. Once we got into race trim, it was the same thing. Everybody communicates and works together. It's just an incredible thing we've got going on right now.

ON WINNING THE COCA-COLA 600 THREE TIMES

Knaus: If you put our guys in a situation where they've got time to work on a race car and Jimmie has time to learn about a race track, we can beat anybody out there. Six hundred miles is a long time. We can make a lot of pit stops and a lot of adjustments. We can make a lot of cool things happen that maybe other people might not be on top of as well as we are. I think quite honestly, that's the truth. If you look at a lot of our races here, we haven't always been the fastest race car. At the end of the event, we're always running in a very competitive spot and ready to take opportunity when it arises.

Johnson: I agree. With two pit stops and about 80 or 60 laps to go, it clicked in my head as to how to really get around here now with the new surface and the line and how to drive the car and off we went.

ON THE SUCCESS OF HENDRICK TEAMS WORKING TOGETHER

Knaus: When I started at the No. 24 and No. 48 shop in late 2001. It wasn't really told to me that I had to go in there and really communicate with Robbie Loomis to make this deal successful. It was something I really took initiative in and something they wanted. I knew if I was going to make a living racing at Hendrick: Motorsports, I was going to have to communicate with absolutely everybody there to be the best of my ability. We all want to be successful and help the company. We all want to keep working there. The way to maintain that is to win races and communicate. We know that right out of the box. We know that. The biggest thing is that we all like each other. We all enjoy each other's company.

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus , Robbie Loomis