Fontana II: Winning team press conference, part 1

California Auto Club Speeway Pepsi 500 Post-Race Transcript An Interview With: RICK HENDRICK JIMMIE JOHNSON CHAD KNAUS THE MODERATOR: We are now joined in the infield interview room by tonight's winner of the Pepsi 500, driver of the No. 48...

California Auto Club Speeway Pepsi 500 Post-Race Transcript

An Interview With:

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined in the infield interview room by tonight's winner of the Pepsi 500, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Jimmie Johnson Foundation Chevrolet. Jimmie, tell us about your run.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just an awesome race car all night long. It was really good in the sun, and fortunately, we tried a couple of things from time to time to see where the track was going adjustment wise, and certainly hurt our car. Really just put it back and we found a direction with some tire pressure that worked and really didn't touch much all night long and the car was really fast and good.

 I think the track came to us.  Instead of us chasing the track, changing,
it came our direction.  The car was just awesome all night long.

More than anything, I'm happy to close the deal. It's very, very rare to have a car that dominant. In most cases, you end up doing something stupid, and I'm guilty of that in the past so. It was nice to close the deal and lead all those laps and win the race.

THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by tonight's winning team owner, Rick Hendrick.

Mr. Hendrick, your thoughts on tonight race.

RICK HENDRICK: Exactly what Jimmie said. Usually when you're that good, you wait for something to happen, and when you have a car that good, it's hard to capitalize every race, especially a 500 mile race here. Hopefully we can take this momentum into the Chase.

Q: Does this victory tonight maybe portend for when you get into the Chase? Could this be the start of something?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I hope so. Just not sure how it's going to shake out. The weak spot for us has been the mile and a half, two mile tracks, and the Chase is loaded full of those tracks. And our results at the start of the season and early summer, there were some flashes of hope in there, but we weren't where we needed to be.

Just before Chicago there were a couple of races where we were competitive and running well. I think Michigan was really the first sign that we were working in the right direction. We've been getting better each week, and this car is still so finicky. The second Michigan we got a little more aggressive with the setup of the car thinking we could get away from it, and it turned away from us and was loose and got into bad position there. The last couple races for us have been odd tracks for us and crashing and all that stuff.

I'm happy to win and win on a big track, because of the bulk of the races are on these big downforce tracks, and I feel like we're doing the right things to have a fighting chance at the championship and that's really all we can ask for.

Q: You said the track came to you; where did it come to you, what part of the race, and how much confidence does this give you going into the Chase?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Really throughout the night as the sun set, typically expect the track to tighten up for you. And the track started off a little tight in the first couple of runs, and the track seemed to free up and was coming our direction to where we didn't have to adjust as much.

At the end of the race I was loose off both ends of the track off the two and four, so I'm glad that we proved it out tonight what went on, because what went on last night in the Nationwide race, we couldn't get the car tight enough; and we expected the car to tighten up all night long, and it never did and we started the car way too loose and fought it. Tonight's race helps my mind set for how to come back here and set cars up going into the evening.

Q: This setup (no mic).

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Looking back on it now, I went back to the bus frustrated and didn't really think there was much to learn from it. Now it kind of seems like there was.

Q: In a race that was so dominant like tonight, do you learn more about your team from this performance tonight, or do you learn more in the races that come right after, as to how you feel the team is going ahead?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's a good question. I think that you try to find lessons in either situation, and tonight being up there with a lot to lose, I think had our guys in a different under a different form of pressure than what they felt in a while.

And to win this Chase, you're going to have to fight for wins every week, and every pit stop is going to count, because you're going to have at least the 18 and the 99 to have to deal with, and I would expect a few others to have their stuff in order.

I think tonight was a really good night for our guys to feel that pressure and to go through that. And for myself inside the car, it's been a while since I've been in a situation to blow it or throw away and to really work on that mental toughness in those situations is important.

We have been working on the other side of the line in finding speed and putting in the hours and dealing with those emotions and not being where we want, but it's hard to maintain when you have your stuff right. And I think that speaks to how impressive the 18 season has been and the 99 and in a way, what we have done over the past few years and it's tough to stay on top of this thing.

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined in the interview room by tonight's winning crew chief, Chad Knaus. Tell us about your view from on top of the box.

CHAD KNAUS: Everything is great. We made it through, to that's cool.

Man, it was a great night. I just couldn't be happier for all of the effort and reward that everybody got from Hendrick Motorsports because we have been working pretty hard. We've been testing a lot, and it's definitely paid off for us tonight.

It was difficult. Like Jimmie said, it was I was sitting there thinking to myself with about 15 to go, if a caution came out what was going to happen, and it had been in a long time since we had been in a situation like that where we had a car that was that dominant and we could have thrown it away.

Q: Of your 36 wins, have you ever had a car that was this dominant and was this good, and you had something for everybody tonight?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think of one other time, and I blew the opportunity. Indy this year, we had a very, very good weekend. At the end, the 99 was putting a lot of pressure on us, so I think we dominated a large portion of the race but not all the way through.

I think this is the most dominant car and victory that we've had. The 609, I think it was my rookie season, right, rookie season or something, or sophomore season, the 300 the one where I slipped through the pits and lost.

CHAD KNAUS: Rookie year.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That was the rookie year. We led 300 laps and I slipped at the end and it cost us the race. Yeah, this is the most dominant one for sure.

Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, but one of the final pit stops you were kind of talking about whether or not to come in, and I think Chad told you, "If the others come in, then you come in." But if you're leading, how do you know what they are going to do? How do you guys determine that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there was a couple from the end I guess, and we just ran a few laps. I think actually that's a stop where we took four and a lot of the guys took two. I just didn't want to lose all the track position (static predominates) you could see that there were a lot of guys wobble and swerve off of pit road and swerving off of that commitment, and I wanted to make sure we pitted and fortunately everybody followed us down. A lot of guys took two because they had only gone a few laps and we went with four.

Q: Rick, the 48 and the 88 have been consistently good for the most part of the year, but the 24 seemed to struggle with some of the setups at tracks they have traditionally been strong. Have you guys got an answer for that, or tell me what you've been going through to try to close that gap.

RICK HENDRICK: It's been frustrating. They are working awful hard. They are testing. The car is just, I think Jimmie said it a minute ago, it's a fine edge, and you can't, what works for one driver doesn't work for the other driver. You have to tune the car to the driver.

We have got some really good tracks for the 24 coming up, but we've definitely got to get better on the mile and a halves. We've had unbelievable things happen, breaking suspension pieces, but we just haven't been as good, nowhere near as good as he was last year, and we've just struggled.

We are going to keep going, keep working, and nobody is giving up on that team, or any of our teams. We work hard together and we'll keep testing. It's almost like the light comes on. When you find a package that's good for that driver, and that's what we've got to figure out.

Q: Speaking for the fans they may say, don't tune the hotrod so well; wondering if at any point you sort of felt lonely out there, because you didn't really run in much traffic tonight.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I just fell into this rhythm with Chad giving me lap times and trying to run as hard as I could to make sure at the end I didn't think we would stay the dominant car for long. These guys on pit road do a very good job of closing the gap, and I didn't want to run around at 80 percent and have them running to 100 percent and tune their cars right and at the end us not having the car where we needed it to.

I just ran hard and there was one segment where we were concerned about fuel, and at that time I kind of slowed down. But other than that, I ran real hard all night long to make sure at the end if there was a shootout, that we had a car that we needed to, to win, so no.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports