Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus Post Race Press Conference: JOHNSON: "We had a strong car. We could hold our own in traffic. I could maybe get a spot or two on restarts. But the pit stops were and the teamwork on pit road was what really got us...
Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus Post Race Press Conference:
"We had a strong car. We could hold our own in traffic. I could maybe get a spot or two on restarts. But the pit stops were and the teamwork on pit road was what really got us in position to lead the race. We led through two cycles there. In the long run we would loosen up a little bit and I'd burn the rear tires off the car and we'd have to work on it some.
"When we were sitting in third before that last caution came out, before we were able to hit pit road and get the lead, I wanted a caution to come out in a way, because I felt with the pit stops we'd been having that I could maybe have a shot at winning the race. But at the same time, I was hoping that everything that would turn out all right and we'd at least finish third or better.
"Luckily we had a great stop. The guys were on the money all day long. And then I just had to deal with Bobby there at the end. He was really fast. He was probably one of the best cars at the end of the race. We were as good as he was on the short run, but on the long run he was one of the better cars. The way it shook out it was a sprint race at the end. With our track position, we were able to hang on."
"It was a really good pit stop. The guys did a great job. We'd been a little bit off on our pit stops all year long and the guys have been focusing really hard with their foot speed, hand and eye coordination, and the weight training. We've really tried to step that up. They've been practicing at least twice a day every day that all the guys are at the shop. It's really starting to pay some dividends. They're back into the swing of things the way they used to be. I'm really proud of them. The biggest thing we tried to do today was to maintain an even keel playing field. That's what they did. They showed that with consistency by having three consecutive 12.6-second pit stops. That was just awesome."
GOING INTO THAT LAST PIT STOP, DID YOU SENSE YOU COULD WIN THE RACE?
"Absolutely. It was show time and they really stepped up to the plate and they hit a home run. That's what this team is so good at. When the money's on the line, they really shine."
ON THE TRACK BEING TIGHTER DUE TO THE SAFER BARRIERS
"It was tougher. This place is one of the toughest tracks already. Usually you'd have four or five laps out of 10 laps where you'd take a big deep breath after you slid into a turn because you missed the wall that time. Well now it's six or seven out of 10 laps. That last two feet is where the grip was - what was left in the race track. I had a really hard time off of Turn 4 running the high line, where I've always had good luck. But I just couldn't get it right the whole day. I had to turn off the wall a little early to get a straight run off the bottom because for whatever reason, I couldn't make the top work. It definitely narrowed things up. It made it even tighter when you caught cars that were off the pace. That was the biggest scare for everyone. When you were by yourself and you're racing for position, it made a small difference. But when you had somebody off the pace, it was a nightmare."
ON THE PIT ENTRY AREA STRATEGY:
"We really looked at it. Pit road here is very difficult. It's hard on entry. With the way they've got the access tunnels on pit road, it gets really congested. We wanted to make sure we were in position so that when we got out of our pit, we had a clean race track. What made that possible for us was being able to stay in the top five all day.
"We could run up there toward the front, come in and have a nice clean entry, and then get out there close to the wall. That was really important. You could see that in that last pit stop when Bobby Labonte came out. He was not able to accelerate all the way off the way he would usually and, and that slowed him down a little bit and we were able to hold the position. Typically, what you try to do is to get a good 'in' and a good 'out'. It was fortunate for us, unfortunate for our teammate, Jeff Gordon, that the No. 80 car fell out and we had an opening in front of us and behind us."
"Because we qualified 11th, we looked for holes so that we could either have an easy exit or an easy entry and get the car positioned so you're not trapped. All the spots were gone. Really, the first part of the race it was hurting us because you've got a lot of cars on the lead lap and I'd have to leave my pit stall in traffic that was still trying to come in. It worked out better in the second half of the race. We wanted to make sure we could control our own destiny."
WHEN YOU LEAVE YOUR PIT STALL, ARE THERE WAYS THAT YOU CAN PLAY WITH THAT TO CUT ANOTHER SECOND OR TWO OFF?
"You try to. But they'll ding you if you get too aggressive. Really, you just accelerate to the line in front of you and when you hit that line, you've got to do your pit road speed and hope that everybody else is. Sometimes when you have everybody peeling off into their pits in a tight pit area like we have here, I think they get a little congested as they start to turn in, and lose some time. I had a clean in and a clean out - especially when the traffic was gone. I'd just accelerate out and hit my line and hold it at the right rpm and hope it all worked out."
KNAUS: "Just to add on that, NASCAR did come down and tell us that they were watching us to make sure we weren't doing that, saying that we were. And NASCAR was timing us throughout the whole pit road and we did not have an issue there."
"If that were the case - speeding up and slowing down - the way they time it is from line to line. So, if I sped up and slowed down to be legal in time, it would be the same amount of time. I think people were not anticipating us having such good stops. When you have three 12.5 second stops, it's hard to beat that."
LATE IN THE RACE, IT LOOKED LIKE THERE WERE SOME TIMES WHEN BOBBY LABONTE MIGHT BE ABLE TO GET UNDER YOU BUT HE COULDN'T GET BY. WHAT WAS GOING ON THERE?
"Being the lead car, you're definitely in a better aero situation. We were a little tighter than what we were before, so I think he may have been a little bit better at the start of that run, but I had the advantage because of the track position. He'd stick his nose under me. I knew if I blocked him, he wouldn't appreciate that and probably would have tried moving me. So I'd leave him a lane to race in. After I'd left him a lane to race in, and I was on the top and on new tires I could be really aggressive, my momentum would carry me back by him on the straightaway. I saw the green nose inside of me and I thought I'd better not lose this thing now. But I was able to carry it up off the corner and clear him back down the straightaway. I think if the race would have been a 20-lap shootout at the end, I'm not sure how it would have ended. Bobby was pretty strong. But I think we were definitely making a lot of progress on our car and we would have been there battling with him either way."
IN VICTORY LANE, YOU SAID YOU FELT THIS WAS THE BIGGEST WIN OF YOUR CAREER. WHY?
"I hope this isn't the last win of my career (laughs). But this is such a tough race track. From the moment I drove a lap around here, I thought you'd have to be the most incredible driver to be successful here. When you look at the people who have had success here, they're the best in the business. Just to be able to win here and overcome this track, is awesome. I didn't put a mark on the right side of the race car. I got two of them in practice, but in the race I never touched the wall. I hit my marks and was there all day long. This is one of the toughest tracks we go to, if not the toughest. I set a goal to Chad and the guys last year that I wanted to win one at Darlington, Rockingham, and Martinsville. In my opinion, those are the three toughest tracks we go to."
DID THE NEW WALLS MAKE IT EVEN TOUGHER?
"It was tougher. I think it was tougher to work traffic more than anything. By yourself, you just adjust. You just find the groove. It's not that big. In traffic, it's a lot tougher."
WITH THE LOSS OF SPACE ON THE TRACK, DID YOU HAVE TO ADJUST THE CAR ACCORDINGLY OR DID YOU LET JIMMIE DO THE ADJUSTING?
"That's the trickiest thing about Darlington is that it's ever-changing. Whether they put the walls up or not, the set-up you had from the previous year wasn't going to work. It wasn't a big adjustment for us. Jimmie, personally, had to do some adjusting. The grip level that everybody talks about up close to the wall, the grip that everybody was afraid was going to go away, was still there for a lot of people because everybody was running down in that 10 - 12 inches away from the wall. But really, that's kind of up to the driver. We just adjusted accordingly with whatever the track called for."
HOW MUCH OF A CONCERN TO YOU ARE FIELD FILLERS?
"It's a big concern, not only with guys not up to speed, but when you've got crashed cars out there. Michael Waltrip and Dale Jarrett did an incredible job out there today. Those guys were tore up and finding a way to get out of the way. When you have guys who are off the pace and tore up cars in the way, that's why they set a minimum speed so you don't have these problems. Maybe that minimum speed needs to be closed up some more. Maybe they need to raise that speed so we don't have those problems. It is a problem. I'm glad Jeff Gordon is okay and that the driver of the No. 80 (Andy Hillenburg) is okay. It was quite an impact. As I went by, I felt the concussion inside my race car and I was 10 - 15 feet away from them. It was pretty big."
COULD YOU TELL YOU BEAT BOBBY LABONTE IN THAT LAST PIT STOP, AND WITH THE WAY THE TRACK IS NOW, WILL MORE RACES BE WON OFF OF THE PITS?
"I did know that I was ahead of Bobby at the end of pit road. When you go out on the race track and have to pass somebody on your own and abuse your tires and worsen your aero situation, you wear yourself out faster. But if you're in a situation where you can pass guys on pit road, that's the importance of pit stops. For every track you go to, you can say it's more important. But it just seems to be important everywhere."
SINCE YOU ARE FROM CALIFORNIA, WHEN DID YOU COME TO REALIZE THAT DARLINGTON IS A RACER'S RACE?
"I came here in 1996 and watched. I wasn't even racing stock cars yet. The track was flipped. I watched Jeff Gordon win that day and how crazy it looked from standing these shoot up next to the wall. And then I watched Ricky Craven crash the day before in a Busch car and I realized how hard you can hit the wall. So there were a couple of things that really popped out at me that make me respect this race from just watching. I was more than impressed."
BEFORE AN IMPORTANT PIT STOP, DO YOU PUMP THE GUYS UP?
"Our guys are really good about knowing when it's time to really pull one out. But the biggest thing that you have when you're dealing with a pit crew - just like any other professional team - is nerves. When those guys stand up on the wall, they get nervous and they get anxious. There's a bunch of excitement and the pressure is on the line. It would be just like you're a wide receiver going out there trying to make a touchdown in football. So we try to tone them down a little bit and get them to relax and take a deep breath before the car actually gets down pit road. We try to get them to focus on the job at hand and pay attention to only what they have to do. I think that helps. We have a couple of guys on our pit crew that are just animals. They go flat out 24 hours a day. That's great in some cases. But when you're out there doing a pit stop and you have to be smooth and methodical and follow the choreography of the pit stop, you've just got to calm down a little bit."
ARE THESE THE SAME GUYS YOU'VE HAD SINCE 2001?
"No. They are the same guys we've had since mid-season 2003 until now."