Homestead: Championship team press conference, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: In 2004 and 2005, you had led most of the season in the points, like 26 weeks atop the points, it was always during the month of February, March, April, May, June, July; to have not been able to close it out those...

Continued from part 2

Q: In 2004 and 2005, you had led most of the season in the points, like 26 weeks atop the points, it was always during the month of February, March, April, May, June, July; to have not been able to close it out those years, how hollow did it feel at the end of those and can you compare it with this year where you led and this time you were able to get it done?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: 2004 was tougher on me because I felt we were very competitive had some bad luck but we were racing our way back into it and I felt like 2004 was the year for us. Last year we got a decent start and we kept pace with Tony and those guys were just out performing us and we were ?? it wasn't a big hollow empty feeling and it felt terrible not having a chance to fight for it. But 2004, there were periods in the race out here, where I thought, this is it, it's going to happen, I have a tingling feeling and I look up in my mirror with the closing laps and the 97, I couldn't get rid of him. That year was more painful than last year.

Again, I just want to say it again, we have been building a team to be a championship team, and take the expectations as a compliment. 2004 we were close, and last year we felt we should be there; and that's three of four of our existence. We've done an awesome job in a short period of time.

Q: Being a champion, what does that mean to you not only on the track but now you become the face of NEXTEL Cup next year, doing all of the interviews and stuff, how do you feel about?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's a huge honor to represent our sport and to be the champion. It's going to sink in and I'm really, really going to enjoy this experience. I've been jealous the last four years watching the different champions go through banquet week and the things that go on, and I've just wanted to be in that position.

Now I'm in that position and it's just going to be a huge honor and a lot of fun and I'm going to make the most of it, have a great time and represent our sport to the best of my ability. It would be a huge honor because this is the biggest form of motorsports in our country and the biggest sport here. So it's a huge honor and we have to do a great job representing our sport.

Q: You said something pretty unbelievable, this is as good of a combination as I've had in racing when you look at Mr. Evernham and Jeff Gordon's success. Now when you look at them, as you say that, what do you expect of them, what do you think they are capable of, and in this day and age, can you really not expect what happened before?

RICK HENDRICK: I think Ray and Jeff were a great combination. But the sport is tougher right now. It's more competitive. With the Chase format, you know, putting the ten guys back together and reshuffling the deck, it's going to be harder to win championships. I'm not saying it was easy back when Jeff and Terry won and Ray and Jeff had that run. But to be as competitive as these guys are week?in and week?out with the garage area as tough as it is today and the points system like it is, I think they are as good as I've ever seen.

Q: You came back from the pre?Daytona stuff to win the Daytona 500, you came back from Kansas to win; you remember back in Daytona when you said this ?? I dedicate this win to the 48 team haters; if you haven't turned them into lovers, do you think you've at least earned their respect?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's all that you can hope for and that's all I can hope for. I look forward to next year just in the garage area, just the respect the champion gets. I know as I've looked at the 20 and the other guys, and just the way the garage interacts, that they have a lot of respect for the champion, and I can't wait to experience that.

It was a tough time in Daytona. This one is for all of the 48 lovers for fans. I've had a lot of support and it was a tough time for us, we learned a lot as a race team, a lot of boos, but as the season has gone on, it's really changed and I think people have noticed the hard effort I've put in, myself, Chad, Rick and there's a lot of respect there that I appreciate.

Q: You talked about how Chad things set up this year. After the talks you had with him and Rick during the off?season, are you surprised at the way Chad was able to evolve and take a little of the load off himself?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: In some ways, yeah, because Chad is so dedicated to the sport that it's almost hurtsome at times because he wants to win so bad and he's focused ?? he has not had the easiest road in his career either, working his way up the ranks and being a crew chief with some of the smaller teams with the sport. He's had to do it all through every step of the way and I commend Chad more than anybody could ever imagine for the decisions that he made at the start of the season, finding the right guys to build confidence in and put around him that he could rely on so that way he could have a little time to himself and a little extra space to think about the more important things.

So he's made an amazing, amazing adjustment this year.

Q: Chad, as painful as it was, did those four races, watching on TV, did they help as the season went on?

CHAD KNAUS: What I really think it did is it helped the guys on the team obviously and helped them realize they were capable of doing what was needed to be done. It was tough when we won Daytona it was real tough, but it was probably the proudest moment of my life leading up to that point, above and beyond winning Fontana for our first event, 600s, whatever it was. Because I was so proud of the group of guys that we were able to assemble that they were able to go out there and carry out their jobs and win an event without me. That was really neat. That was very, very cool for those guys to be able to do that, because they took it upon themselves and they all had to buy stock in that deal. It was a total team effort. For those guys to win those races, it was not Jimmie winning the race; it was the whole team winning the race and I think that was pretty cool.

Q: I know your dad has been an important part of your life; what was it like that moment when you were able to finally embrace him in victory lane, that stage there?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's great. I have a lot of friends, family here, and interesting on the friends side of this, knowing people were planning a trip down here to hopefully celebrate so I was trying to put it out of my head. It was very special.

I have to point out that a lot of credit has to go to Chandra for tolerating me the last couple of weeks. I've done my best to put up a nice, calm front in all of you, and it's been difficult and she's done an amazing job supporting me through it's very special to have my family here, my friends here and obviously all of the support and love I have from her for all of this, very special.

Q: You looked like you were about to come out of your skin the last 20 laps when the race would not get over, how difficult was it?

CHAD KNAUS: I wasn't that bad, was I?

Q: You looked bad on TV.

CHAD KNAUS: That's because I could not even blink when there's a TV camera in my face. It was bad. You know, I didn't think it was that bad, it was painful but I tried to keep my composure. Obviously I didn't do a very good job.

The thing was, we were in a position that we wanted the race to be over with because we were solidly in the Top?10 and that was the big thing I wanted to do. I didn't want to back into this championship at all, and I wanted to go out there and race for it. And that's what this team does best is it races week?in and week?out and for us to be able to go out there and run solidly in the Top?10 all day long disregarding minor mishaps that we had, that's how I wanted the race to end and I didn't want us to get into a situation with a bunch of laps down track or something like that to where Jimmie was going to have to back out of it and fall back to 15th or 20th and kind of ride. I wanted to make sure that we ran it to the end. That was my frustration more than anything, because at that point we had identified with the fact that basically all we had to do was be last car on the lead lap and Matt not finish any better than third and we would have been able to win the championship, I think is what it was. So I just wanted to get it done.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: He never told me that; "you can lose a couple spots here in the restart but don't worry too much." When it was over, I didn't know that we had won. I had a feeling that we won but I was real nervous.

Q: Your dad talked here a little bit not too long ago, he saw you yesterday and said he was doing well until he saw you and then he got nervous and he said he thought you were nervous with looking at the lap track. What was it like the last 24 hours like yesterday, today, just the feelings, the unnerveness and how did you combat it?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't really know how I dealt with it. At times I didn't think I was doing too good of a job. You get so caught up in worrying about things you can't control and I'm sitting here telling myself, don't worry about those things, just focus on your job, focus on what you need to do in the race car.

And I had ?? I knew that we had a great race car and I knew that Matt was not going to go down easily and they had a great practice session yesterday and they had a great race today. So I knew we were going to have our hands full and we really needed to run well. So my fears were racing that hard, getting caught up in something. We had all the different small issues that took place today and ask those were the things I was really scared about.

I slept well knowing that I had a great car and I felt good when I got in the race car, and it was calm and at peace and even under the red flag, I was just chilling out knowing I would have a green and white checkered and just needed to get my laps in.

The pressure is really, really tough and it started building up over the last couple of weeks. Best thing I could do is just stay moving, stay active, try to ?? just try to keep my mind off it. It was tough and when I saw my parents, they walked up and everybody's remark, even my friends that are here, "Don't worry about it. It's all going to be good." And I'm telling myself that and they are telling me, but it just doesn't hit that feeling that's in your mind. And I'm like, thank you, thank you, I appreciate it and just walk out, I'm still nervous, still stressing out.

Looking back, it was a fun experience, I really was challenged through all of it mentally. Not only myself, I think the team as well. We did a great job dealing with all of the pressures.

Q: Inaudible?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Today, all of the things I told myself in the week and all of the things my friends tried to help me with I should say, those things are all true in the car. And outside of the car, I could not accept them and could not get rid of that feeling. As soon as I fired the car off and got on the racetrack I was in a different place. I was calm and kept telling myself, it's just another race. I just was really trying to focus on running 400 miles, running smart, running like I would at any other time. I really just ran a smart race and tried to not think about what was going on; opposite of that 2004 season, I could not shake the nerves and excitement at times when I knew we were in position to win. My stomach was knotted up.

Today I was calm and relaxed. During the red flag, set my head against the headrests, closed my eyes for a little bit, took some deep breaths and got back to it and tried not to focus on what was going to take place.

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, to y'all, you're a championship team and happy holidays.

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup