Homestead: Championship team press conference, part 1

No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Championship Winning Driver, Crew Chief and Team Owner: JIMMIE JOHNSON CHAD KNAUS RICK HENDRICK THE MODERATOR: How does it feel? CHAD KNAUS: Has not set in just yet. It was a...

No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Championship Winning Driver, Crew Chief and Team Owner:
JIMMIE JOHNSON
CHAD KNAUS
RICK HENDRICK

THE MODERATOR: How does it feel?

CHAD KNAUS: Has not set in just yet. It was a great weekend for us, a phenomenal season and I could not be prouder of this team, after the Daytona controversy there and bouncing back, leading the points for the majority of the summer stretch, winning Indianapolis and the 500, I just could not be prouder. I'm more happy for my guys than I am for myself because those guys have really worked very, very hard to get where it is that they are today and I'm proud of them.

Q: Jimmie credited you obviously, after the title, and you know, he said you kept to a game plan after the tough start, what kept you together and the team together, and yet also the team did bounce back to a second and a win, in those next races.

CHAD KNAUS: You know, we were in a very fortunate situation obviously leading up to the Chase because we were so high up in points. So we were able to start our developmental work for the final ten races very early in the season. A lot of wind tunnel testing, a lot of testing and a lot of things of that nature and we were able to get our bullets lined up the last ten races. We were prepared and more prepared than what we had ever been. We were rested and fresh and we were really looking forward to it.

It got kind of to the point where it was a bit of a lull in the season as you go through those first 26 races just because ?? we were leading the points. So everybody was really jazzed up and ready to go racing and I was myself and Jimmie was. It was unfortunate we had an issue there but we went to the next race and said, okay, this is how we're going to approach it, and we had some issues there, and I think we went to Kansas, had a phenomenal race car there and had some issues. Went to Talladega, had a phenomenal race car there.

Every racetrack that we had a plan for and stuck by our guns on, we had great race cars and that's something I'm proud of that we were able to plan ahead and that worked out well and we would not have been in that situation if we were not leading the points in the summer stretch.

Q: When things went wrong ?? inaudible ?? and you didn't bounce back, what was the difference this year?

CHAD KNAUS: I don't agree with that completely. We won four races in the final ten races a couple years ago when Kurt Busch won the championship, we were hitting on all cylinders. The big difference between this year and that year is nobody had any major issues in that Chase and we went through our typical fall Talladega race or crashed out or blew an engine or whatever it was and had some issues and had to overcome that.

Last year I think we pushed maybe harder than what we needed to through the summer to try to get some things going and I made a huge transition personally with the help of Mr. Hendrick, as to how I needed to approach this year as a leader instead of just being a crew chief. I think that was a big thing.

Q: Did that transition go easier than you imagined it would be when you and Rick talked about it during the off?season?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, it did, because, you know, I think it would be hard for somebody that did not want to get better; that did not want this. And this is the only thing that I've ever dreamed of my whole life. I remember laying in bed when I was a teenager watching Dale Earnhardt winning the championship thinking one day I want to be crew chief of what was then the Winston Cup, the champion crew chief of Winston Cup. I wanted it so bad that I knew that I needed to make some adjustments to make the feel like they were more a part of it.

If we had won a championship in the first four years the team would not have felt as large of a part of it as what they do this career and I'm happy for that because those guys have worked hard for it and they have done a good job. They all bought into it and there's blood, sweat and tears by every party, not just as an individual, Jimmie and myself.

THE MODERATOR: Right now we are joined by our team owner, championship team owner, and that's Rick Hendrick. It's his sixth NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Championship as a team owner, and Rick, talk about how this one feels.

RICK HENDRICK: You know, they all are really special, and I think this one feels especially good because how close Chad and Jimmie have been the last couple of years and to be able to get this one to Jimmie and then our sixth overall is great, a great feeling here to night.

THE MODERATOR: Opening comments now from our 2006 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup champion, congratulations goes out to Jimmie Johnson driver of the 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Jimmie, how does it feel?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's unbelievable. I've been working my whole life to get in this position to be a champion, it's what I've always wanted to be, and to now be a champion means the world to me. I've got to thank Chad, Rick, Lowe's, everybody for their support, and really growing this team.

Chad and I have been through this, this is our fifth season together and Chad really has steered this team and developed the crew guys and developed what we have as a core race team and I can't think him enough for being not only a great leader but a great friend. I thank Mr. Hendrick, I guess it goes back to Ricky Hendrick, and Ricky talking to Rick about he has a potential driver many years back and I just can't thank Rick and Jeff enough for giving me this opportunity and I'm so happy to be here.

Q: Six titles now ties with you Richard Childress, he did it with one driver and you have yours with three; talk about that accomplishment?

RICK HENDRICK: It feels good. All of them are special and I've been very fortunate to have great talent in the cars and I think it's a credit to the organization for trying to put good cars together. But the way that the organization has worked together, all of the teams working together I think has proved this year with everybody winning the race, everybody winning a pole, and Jimmie has driven at track meetings with the drivers, crew chiefs, and even made the whole deal stronger.

So it's really etch exciting to be able to do that with three different guys, and hopefully we're going to have a lot more to come.

Q: Matt Kenseth said after the race that based on the way you have run the last four years, you guys are deserving of winning this title and that's a sentiment echoed by many of your peers, how does it feel having that burden removed of being the best team not to have won the championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't see it as a burden and I don't think anyone on our race team does. It's our fifth season together. We look at it as a compliment to hear that response. People thought and expected a lot out of us as a race team from the beginning. We never felt a burden. Don't get me wrong, we didn't want to miss an opportunity when we were in the position to become a champion. We've just been happy to win races and have the season we had. We're very proud of what we did, and I'm not saying we wouldn't have been happy if we didn't win the championship but after a couple days went by we would be able to look back and be proud of what we've done. Now that we've won that, title can't linger around any longer.

Q: In November 1996, Rick, you were diagnosed with leukemia and you beat it. You got through the plane crash. In your quiet moments over the next few weeks, how is this title going to be put into perspective?

RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, yesterday the 18th was the ten?year anniversary of the day I was diagnosed with leukemia, and I talked to Jimmie and Chad that night. I said, you know, one of the things we say, I say a lot is, "it's not life?threatening." If we don't win this, we want to be in a position to come back and compete next year and keep your chins up if we don't, if something happens out of our control and we don't win.

I think this one is really special. Everything was very emotional after the crash and in 2004 and losing my son and my family members and brother and Randy who was such a big part, Jeff Turner, everyone on that plane and organization; to give Jimmie and Chad, just give the whole organization credit for pulling together and stronger and more determined to honor those that are not here by working hard and giving me the strength to keep doing it.

And Linda is here, my wife, and we went to (Hendrick) Motorsports I think a week after the accident and when you walked in, you knew that we had to go on. It's been a rough couple of years, but I appreciate all the support from the whole racing community and tonight is a special day for the organization to show that the strength of the ones that are here that can carry on and carry the torch. And I'm real proud of them and I appreciate what they have done.

Q: Chad, a technical detail about what appeared to be a near miss in the pits for y'all, can you just talk about the way things unfolded when Jimmie nearly pulled out that signal when apparently one lug nut was still loose; could you talk about how you sensed it or spotted it and whether if he had gotten out of there, if it could have been extremely costly?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, that would.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we would have lost even more track position than what we had but that's something that happens probably 50 times during the event with various teams, and it was just our front tire changer missed a lug nut and the jack was dropped. Jimmie was about to take off. As he was taking off, I was watching the guy trying to get the lug nut on before the car pulled off and he had "go, go, go, stop, stop, stop," so he had to stop real quick.

We try to be aware of what's going on during the pit stops to make sure we don't have issues. A lot of things can happen during the pit stops that can cost you whether the car is outside of the pit box or a loose lug nut or something along those lines. Those guys very rarely make a mistake and they are a phenomenal pit crew. It was just a little slip up and we overcame it very well.

Q: After the Talladega race, what did you think really your chances were of winning the championship this year?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It was bleak, obviously, but the thing that I can remember walking to the shop the next day, guys were all bummed up and you could see heads hung pretty low and I just went around to all of the guys on the shop and slapped them on the back and picked them up and said, that's a lot going on right now. The competition is so strong in the NEXTEL Cup right now that it's easy for somebody to have to go out there and either drive over their head or have an engine problem, and I knew we had a lot of opportunities and there was a lot of opportunities left. We had overcome a deficit like that before and I knew we could do it and I knew that it wasn't going to be easy. We had the road laid ahead of us and we were very fortunate to be able to go out there and win and get us a couple of seconds and that was nice.

THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, your thoughts about that? And also I'll ask Rick to comment on that, too.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was more disappointed in the opportunity to gain some points on the 31 at the time. He seemed to be in control of the Chase and he had a bad day. I just didn't feel like there would be a lot of opportunities. We can all look back to this Chase and see, it's tough for anyone to be consistent at the beginning. I knew at some point someone was going to be consistent and I felt like that an opportunity existed to gain on the 31.

But we ended up putting the consistency see together and going on a tear after that and took care of the problem ourselves. I was nervous. I just knew somebody sooner or later somebody was going to be on that consistent tear and I was just hoping it was us.

THE MODERATOR: Rick, could you comment on that, too, please?

RICK HENDRICK: You know, I can't say much to what these guys said. Talladega as they recall was a nightmare, that you have a guy in the Chase and one of your other cars takes them out intentionally or unintentionally; in that case it was unintentionally. What I was concerned about, if we could put it behind us immediately and give Jimmie credit, he went to the 25 shop two days later and congratulated the crews and we got that behind us in a hurry. You know, several times during this Chase, we've said, hey, let's just go out there and win races and let it take care of itself because it looked like we were down for the count a couple of times. Just credit to these two guys, just never give up. I think that that attitude and not getting rattled is just maybe the two years that we came close and didn't get it. I think that was our whole attitude.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch , Ricky Hendrick , Jimmie Johnson