Cup teleconference - Johnson and Knaus, part 2

NASCAR Nextel Teleconference July 20, 2004 Guests: Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus Part 2 of 3 Operator: Our next question comes from George Hill from Nassau Telegraph. Hill: You said earlier that the track at New Hampshire you need to show...

NASCAR Nextel Teleconference
July 20, 2004

Guests: Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus

Part 2 of 3

Operator: Our next question comes from George Hill from Nassau Telegraph.

Hill: You said earlier that the track at New Hampshire you need to show a little more patience wasn't really you're thing going into last year. What changed at New Hampshire last year both in July and September? After September people were joking that was your home away from home since you seemed so at ease driving at that track.

Johnson I think realizing the whole serious flow is fast and that was the biggest thing that applies for me. My style was to really attack hard and drive hard and on a track very little banking you can't have that. I think being patient and slowling down and driving the car within its limits was the thing I finally realized and what made that tick for me was New Hampshire.

Hill: You were 22nd around Lap 135 when you had the accident on pit lane and a couple of crew members got hurt. I guess obviously you had to show patience to block the accident out and move up and end up winning the race and how do you do that?

Johnson: Well, first of all, thank God my guys weren't injured. After that our team is a weird team, we have adversity thrown at us. We don't buckle in those situations, we work harder and we always able to step up and it's so cool to have a race team that can do that. If we have a crash in practice we come back we put in hard work and we finish strong that weekend. It's just an amazing thing and that race was the same way and after being set back, we had a great race car, we didn't panic and we just went to work and drove back through there and got the lead. It shows true character of our race team when things like that happen.

Hill: The chassis guys use, 4877, is that the same one you guys used last year at New Hampshire?

Johnson: That's a good question; (laughing) I believe so. I remember having a conversation with Chad (Knaus) earlier in the year about which one we wanted to take and it was hard to argue with the success that one had.

Operator: Our next question Mike Harris from the Associated Press.

Harris: Now that you have a pretty good lead and there are 9 races to go until the top 10 are set, do you approach these races any differently than you have races during the year. Is there a different strategy this year?

Johnson: Yeah, we've definitely changed our testing accordingly. We've had a great first half of the season so far, so we haven't used up a lot of test sessions so we're trying to keep those in our back pocket for later. It just depends on where you're at. It's easy to say alright we can gamble on fuel this week because it doesn't matter or it's not as important to take a risk this week because it doesn't matter. It depends on where you're at in the whole points system. Where we're at, it's been great, we can take some risks, we can take changes. We have a nice cushion over 2nd right now so we can roll it back some. I'm looking forward to not having that pressure on us as a team for these next 8 races and go out and have some fun.

Operator: Our next question comes from Jim Pedley from Kansas City Star

Pedley: There have been a lot of advances in player protection in the last couple of years like the fires and the fuels cells and extinguishers and stuff like that. Is fire still the number one fear for drivers?

Johnson: I say that's the number one fear. We've made a lot of great gains in a lot of areas and I think fire with us having our race course hot and all the vehicles and traveling along the racetrack and the safety vehicles can't respond in a heartbeat to get out and take care of things. It really is a concern that all of us have so that would be the biggest fear that I have safety wise.

Pedley: Some drivers opt not to use all the protection that's available to them in terms of quality. Do you use everything you can?

Johnson: I don't wear the full head sock and some stuff like that, I just support my suit and shoes and socks.

Operator: Our next question comes from Orlando Business Journal.

OBJ: Daytona International Speedway is undergoing its largest renovation in its history. It's about $50 million. One of the reasons for doing this is to bring fans closer to the action and bring them closer to the people that they're paying to watch race. How important is it to you to keep the fans interacting with the race and with the drivers?

Johnson: I think this sport has set itself away from others. Is the fact that fans can be so close and see the inner working of the race teams and watch pit stops. You go to a football game and you can't really see strategy playing out and what's going on in the huddles. Where on a racetrack you see the pit stops, you see the mistakes, you see the good moves. You get a good vision of all of that. I'm glad to hear that. Daytona is our biggest event between the Daytona 500 and the Pepsi 400. Those are probably the two largest events that we have, especially the 500 and maybe the other reasons the changes are taking place is that is the home of NASCAR and we want to have the most modern state of the art, beautiful facility. I'm excited to hear about the changes. I would imagine it's going to be done first class and make that the crown jewel of race tracks.

Operator: Our next question comes from Morris News Service.

MNS: As you talk about some of the strategy with the fuel mileage that comes in with the green/white finishes. Is there any other kind of strategy concerns or anyway you guys will change what you guys do toward the end of the race with the new rule?

Johnson: Until something goofy shakes out, I would have to say most teams are just going to figure the race being three laps longer. Because your fuel window is going to shift and move. If you're at Darlington and the top three cars stay out everybody else hits pit road for tires you're going to have a totally different winner than who was leading that race at that point in time. I could be totally off base here, but I don't know what rules are in effect if you can come in and take tires within that green white checkered or if it's fuel. I don't know what situations exist in there, but if that is the case you can see the outcome of the race change. It's going to bunch everyone up and you may see a different winner just based on racing, but you may see some strategy on a Darlington style race track if the rules allow it.

Operator: Our next question comes from Jay Hart from Morning Call.

Hart: Which track would it affect the most beyond Darlington with the green/white/checkered?

Johnson: If we were going back to Rockingham now, obviously that doesn't count. Even when you go to Vegas, there are a few larger tracks, Michigan, Fontana, where it does make a big difference to have tires, but I think what is going to set the pace is how many cars pit. If you have 10 cars to pass it's probably not going to work, if the top 5 stay out and 5th on back come in, it's going to be pretty close. You're going to have a race on your hands and I don't think you're in the same situation when you're the leader without tires. I think it's going to really depend on the strategy in the teams and the driver even looking in the mirror and see if the drivers behind him are pitting. The last thing you want to be in the first guy with old tires. You don't want a trail of new tires behind you, so if you peel off and you're watching the mirrors right and you can peel off and get the majority of the field to come in you'll have a shoot out at the end.

Dunlap: Good luck this weekend at New Hampshire. Our next guest is Chad Knaus. Chad is regarded as one of the finest crew chiefs in the business. First let's talk about New Hampshire and let's get an idea from you as the crew chief on why you guys seem to race so well there obviously you swept there last year.

Chad Knaus: Our flat track program has really stressed out in probably mid 2002. It shifted to a really good race track, I think what they've done with the pavement is good, I think it's a good a race track because down force does come into play, even though it is only a mile. The straight-aways are so long and the track is so flat, you can really work the aero benefits of the race track and you also have to work the mechanical grip and the driver plays a huge role in the way that he drives the car there. It's just a good race track for us all in all because you need all the ingredients to win there, you have to have a good pit crew, you have to have good horsepower, and you have to have a good, smooth driver. The pit calls are always important because people take two tires, maybe no tires, fuel strategy, all that stuff comes into play, so it's a lot of fun.

Dunlap: Let's talk about the green/white rule that has just come into play. Obviously there are some tracks like Talladega that it might scare a lot of people by the idea of having that kind of finish. In general, Jimmie was alluding to the fact that there was going to be a lot of considerations such as fuel mileage being one and that you might as well consider a race to be 3 laps longer than you might otherwise expect or you have to think that way. What are your ideas on the green/white and how do you as a crew chief prepare for such a thing?

Knaus: Honestly, I'm not going to change anything I do. We're going to run the race to the length of whatever it is, 300 miles at Loudon or 200 laps at Daytona or whatever it is. We're going to figure it that way and then if the caution comes out we just have to deal with it because you don't know that it's going to be three laps. The caution might come out at Lap 300 at Loudon and then run 6 laps of caution to get the mess cleaned up before they send you back to green. It doesn't say they're only going to go three laps more, it just says that you're going to have a green/white/checker finish. So who knows, how do you know what's going to happen. So if you start to play ifs and buts , you're just going to catch yourself way out of the game and end up with nothing. I don't really agree with it, it's like going to a football game and telling the losing team that's on the 5 yard line that okay, we're out of time but we're going to give you one more shot to see if you tie it up before overtime. I don't agree with it, I don't think its right. I understand that the fans want to see the green flag finish, but it's not the way it is. If someone is losing a baseball game we don't give them an extra inning or if their big hitter is coming up next if don't say we'll give you one more pitch. It just doesn't work that way, I don't think its right.

Operator: Our first question comes from Mike Harris from Associated Press.

Harris: How does leading the points and being in this good position now, how does it affect you and your guys over the next 8 or 9 races?

Knaus: I think it's pretty comforting, we're sitting in a pretty comfortable position right now. We got a small lead over 2nd place and we're solidly in the top 10, we'd have to have a lot of things go wrong for us to fall out of the top 10 and what it allows us to do is go to the race track probably a little bit more -- I'm not going to say carefree -- but what I'm actually intending on doing is these next 8 races before we get to Loudon again for the start of the final 10 races is we're going to need a test session. It's 'freebee' test time as far as I'm concerned. We're going to be able to try some different things, we're going to try some shock packages, some spring packages, some aero packages. We're going to work on a lot of different things to try to make sure that when we get to the final 10 races that we're prepared the way we need to be prepared to win the race and win the championship. That allows us to do is not have to test a lot. We don't need to do a lot of extra effort. There are a lot of guys out there right now that are 7-13th in points that are testing every single week, working their guys to death, trying to build all these brand new race cars and do all this kind of stuff and it allows us to be in a position to where we don't have to do that. We can actually use the races themselves as tests.

Harris: But, when you do what's your goal, would you do something really radical?

Knaus: Absolutely, we'll do whatever it takes, if it's something that we think id going to work and has potential to work we'll do it now. To where in another situation we wouldn't do it. We would test it and take it to the race track and test it and do computer simulation, do wind tunnel testing and test it again and before we even race it we would do that stuff. To where now if it's something we think is going to work and we get out there for Happy Hour and the car seems to be best, we'll just do it.

Operator: Our next question comes from Michael Vega from Boston Globe.

Vega: As a crew chief have you seen Jimmie develop into the type of driver where he gets it now as Jeff Gordon would?

Knaus: Yeah, absolutely, I mean Jimmie has always understood racing very well. What Jeff was really leading to was the draft. Jimmie's drafting capabilities, he's always been good at it, but now he's now he's starting to get the respect from the other guys. They help him; they allow him to help them. He understands the pushes, the pulls, what happens when you get up next to somebody, what happens when you get in the middle, he really understands it and everybody else around knows that he gets it now and it makes it a lot easier to race at the superspeedways when you know that you're going to get some help. It works out well.

Vega: Do you see him walking around with a load of confidence now because of it?

Knaus: Yes, absolutely, any time that you're successful in anything that you do you're going to be more and more confident when you roll in there. Confidence is a big thing in motorsports. Just like if a batter is on a hitting streak, he knows when he walks up to the plate he's going to connect and get a hit. That is a good thing when you're walking up there, if you're walking up there and you're in a slump or you're somebody who hasn't won in a bunch of races, you're like, man, I have no chance in heck of hitting this ball or winning this race. You're beaten before you even get there. So it's the good thing with what we've got going on, but Jimmie has been pretty fortunate that he's always had confidence in the equipment that he's been in. Now that he's really truly developed a confidence in his own ability has just coupled into a great thing.


Part 3

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus