Chevy Championship Contending Team Owners NASCAR Teleconference Transcript Part One Ford 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway NASCAR Teleconference Transcript with Championship-Contending Car Owners An Interview With: RICK HENDRICK - Team Owner, No. 48...
Chevy Championship Contending Team Owners NASCAR Teleconference
Transcript Part One
Ford 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway
NASCAR Teleconference Transcript with Championship-Contending Car Owners
An Interview With:
RICK HENDRICK - Team Owner, No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS driven by Jimmie Johnson
RICHARD CHILDRESS - Team Owner, No. 29 GM Goodwrench Monte Carlo SS driven by Kevin Harvick
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway. This is the finale for the 2006 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup with drivers still in contention for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Championship.
Today we have a very special teleconference lineup, and we're talking to the team owners whose drivers are in championship contention. That's Rick Hendrick, J.D. Gibbs, Richard Childress, and representing Theresa Earnhardt, Richie Gilmore. We're going to be moving along here today having each of these gentleman on for approximately 15 minutes.
So let's get right to it and welcome five time car owner Series champion Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports and the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet driven by Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie takes a 63-point lead into Sunday's finale. Rick, thanks for joining us today. I guess your team is somewhere between being excited and anxious this week.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I'll tell you, it's been quite a roller coaster ride. We thought we were out of it, then we felt like we were back in it and it's good to be able to go into the last race a little ahead rather than being behind.
Q: I wanted to ask you, just looking back on what happened at Daytona at the start of the season, how concerned were you with the reputation Chad had acquired, and after all that happened back then, did you think he would get here today to this point?
RICK HENDRICK: I was real proud of the team, how they rallied at Daytona, and to win the race and come out and have a couple of good races right there back to back. Chad has done a great job of building a good organization. This team has got a lot of depth.
You know, once we got Daytona behind us, it was kind of - been a good year all year long, and so I was more concerned here when we just started having bad luck trying a few things right before the Chase and then early in the Chase with just the unfortunate situation we were in falling behind.
But the momentum all year has been real good, and right now we've kind of peaked again, and I feel extremely good about our competitiveness on the team, so we just don't need to have any bad luck here this Sunday.
Q: I was just wondering your thoughts on if you think after three years the Chase is really working like you think it should. Do you think even though there are five guys who are within 115 points that for excitement that it should be closer? And do you think that the system rewards consistency versus - do you think it should reward wins more?
RICK HENDRICK: Actually I do. I would like to see a guy that wins the race in the Chase get at least probably ten more points than we're getting now, and I think that's what it's all about, winning races.
It's hard to argue with the system. I thought we were out of it, now we're back in it, and actually leading it. But Jimmie has had a heck of a run with wins and a couple 2nds back to back.
But I would like to see more points for wins.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about what you saw with Jimmie when you first brought him on board and how you've seen him mature to where he is today?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, actually I've known Jimmie since he was probably 17 years old. Herb Fishel with Chevrolet called me about Jimmie way back, and we put him in a Late Model car. My God, I can't remember how many years ago it was. He was 16, 17 years old, I think.
You know, he's just been such a neat guy. I guess when I really started watching him a lot was in the Busch Series when he came back, and he was actually part of Ricky down in Darlington, and Jeff Gordon was helping Ricky, and Jimmie was like second fastest, I think. So we went over to ask him something about what his car was doing, and he said, well, I've only been here - this is my eighth lap on the track.
You know, just watching him and the kind of polished guy he was - we thought he was going to be really good but really was pleasantly surprised when we got him in the first test in a Cup car. He just really could handle the additional power and drive a car really loose and under control. Jimmie has just got the whole package.
I think, again, watching him mature now, and I think from last year to this year after kind of a heartbreaking end to the Chase in '04 and then again last year, coming back with kind of a different attitude, getting to be a smarter racer. Early on in the year if he had a 6th place car, don't push it, and I think Chad matured as a crew chief right along with him, I think not only this year in racing as the team kind of hit its stride, I think the two of those guys kind of hit their stride in learning how to deal with pressure, in learning how to focus on what they were looking for at practice, and it's just really neat to see them both mature. Jimmie, his feel for the car now, sitting in meetings and listening to him talk to engineers, he can dissect a corner as good as anybody I've ever heard.
Q: Just curious if Jimmie were to pull it out this weekend, he would be the third driver that you have won a Cup championship with. You've won with Jeff Gordon of course and also with Terry Labonte. That must say something pretty good about your judge of talent and also the run of drivers that you've put together at Hendrick Motorsports.
RICK HENDRICK: Thanks. We've been very fortunate to have guys that can - and I think the organization has learned how to run for championships. It would be really nice to see Jimmie - he's just been so good the last three years - ever since he's been in Cup he's been competitive, but to be there, I'd like to see him kind of close the deal this year.
But no, I think when Terry Labonte came on; he helped us a lot with just his gentle nature and sharing information.
Of course Jeff was so good, has been so good and won those championships, and then he helped Jimmie, and I think it's just trying to keep people around and keep them together and just coming back every year and having the core, the company to know what it takes.
You know, again, you've got to have talent, though. If you don't have the right talent in the car, you're not going to be able to do it.
It's super competitive today, and just to see so many guys that are capable of winning races and winning championships, I'm real proud of the organization. I think they have done a good job of learning how to be prepared to enter this kind of deal.
Q: Thanks for coming on and congratulations on a wonderful season. Considering how far Jimmie was back and his struggles trying to get to that first championship, how much would this championship mean to you as an owner compared to your past ones?
RICK HENDRICK: I think they're all pretty special. You know, you win three or four in a row and then all of a sudden you think it's easy and then you go through a drought, and then you have a year like '04 where you come so close, and then last year with both cars or two cars, and to have three of them in the Chase this year and then to have all the bad luck we've had just with all of the cars really, to see Jimmie come back, we were kind of - we said, hey, we're just going to race to win. Let's see how many races we can win. Then things started clicking. They didn't get frustrated.
It's going to be special because we were just so frustrated to be right there at the door a couple of times, three times, and just not close the deal. It's going to be special for Jimmie. I think he's going to make a great champion. He's just a great guy, and I think he'll be a great spokesman, and I know he is for our company. He's just assumed a leadership role with some of the younger guys. I just hope he can close the deal and we don't have any bad luck.
I think you're going to see him be one of the best champions that NASCAR has had.
Q: I'm wondering as a car owner, to what extent are you aware or concerned about the downturn in TV ratings this particular Chase and if you've given it any thought? Do you think it has to do with anything that could be solved with a tweak in the Chase itself or a broadcast or is it just the maturation of the sport? Have you given - any obvious reasons to you for it, I guess?
RICK HENDRICK: I really don't know. I think the races have been good. There have been some races that were not as good, I guess, but you're going to have that every year.
You know, I look at it from a sponsor standpoint and the feedback I get from our sponsors and how the program is working for them, and it's working really good for all of our guys. Everybody that we're associated with has been real happy with the sport and with our organization.
I'm not that in tune with what's causing it, or I really haven't paid much attention to it. I feel like the racing has been good.
I think, too, sometimes you just can't sustain a rocket ride all the time. Sooner or later it's going to peak a little bit.
You know, I've had more people calling me that want tickets this week, and I don't have any. So I guess it's a good sign.
Q: If I could ask one quick clarification on something you said previously, when you talked about feeling that the win should be valued more, do you envision that as just the win for the chasers during the Chase races or all 36 races there should be a bigger separation between the win and second place?
RICK HENDRICK: I think through all 36, I really do. I think people go to the races - they like to see people compete but I think they like to see people win. I think a guy that puts five or six races together, I just feel like it ought to be more than ten points. I feel like it ought to be at least 20. That's just my personal feeling.
I'm not sure how the rest of the world feels about that, but I just don't think there's enough spread - I just think it ought to be more points there for every race in the year, not just the Chase.
Q: I'm curious about your very first meeting with Jimmie Johnson. Where and when was it and what was your impression of him at that time?
RICK HENDRICK: He came in to drive in the Late Model car. I had heard so much about him from Herb Fishel. I guess Chevrolet has had their hands on Jimmie since he was 14 or 15 years old in motorcycles and getting into the stadium trucks and off road trucks. He was just a neat guy.
I can remember Ricky was running St. Louis - this is one of the neatest deals. Ricky had to go out in the first 50 laps, so I had told him he could ride home with us that night. And he didn't drive for us then, of course, and I sat on a plane for three and a half hours waiting for him to finish the race. He hadn't had anything to eat, so we went by and got him a Whopper.
The neatest thing about Jimmie Johnson is he's really no different around me and around people and fans than I remember him when he first started. He's still real genuine, super nice to kids, just a perfect gentleman everywhere you see him.
You know, I'm just very fortunate to have him in our car.
Q: There haven't been many constants in NASCAR over the last ten years, but I think every championship since '94 has been won by either you guys, Gibbs or Roush, and here it is the last race and it's those three teams and Childress, which had a good year this year, as well. How difficult is it the way things keep changing to stay on top year in and year out like you guys have?
RICK HENDRICK: I'll tell you, that is my - I look at that as my responsibility and job, and I think the key to that is keeping people together. It's hard to do. It is really, really hard to do because you have people that have opportunities. Your car chiefs get opportunities to be crew chiefs other places.
I think that is - if you ask any owner, keeping the chemistry right and keeping people together and not having constant turnover and growing your people, I think - I credit a lot of Roush's success this year to having three guys in the Chase to the fact that we kind of raced all of our guys that are crew chiefs. They all started in the shops, and Stevie, Jeff Gordon's crew chief, started cleaning up the shop when he was about 17, 18 years old. Growing up in the organization, feeling a part of the organization, keeping him there I think keeps that chemistry in play. That's a critical thing.
To me that's the single most important thing that I look at right now is if we can't win this thing, can we keep everybody together, fired up and come back next year more determined and at least with everybody working toward that same goal.
Continued in part 1b