Indianapolis: Winning team press conference, part 1

2006 ALLSTATE 400 AT THE BRICKYARD PRESS CONFERENCE Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick Sunday, Aug. 6, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined in the first-floor Media Center here at the Brickyard by...

Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick
Sunday, Aug. 6, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined in the first-floor Media Center here at the Brickyard by race champion, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, and team owner Rick Hendrick.

For Jimmie, this is his 22nd career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series victory. He's our points leader for the 2006 season. This is his fourth win of this year.

This is the first time and only the second time since 1996 that a driver has won both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard in the same season. Dale Jarrett is the only other driver to have accomplished that feat.

For team owner Rick Hendrick, it is his fifth win as a team owner here at the Brickyard.

Congratulations to both of y'all. Jimmie, take us through your championship run out there today.

JOHNSON: When I walked in, David said he doubted me. I have to admit, I shared that same doubt. This track's been so tough on us, a tough session. We had rain, and we weren't able to really work through the things that we intended on working through. Left the test session in a little bit off the pace, but had a direction which was good and comforting to a certain degree.

We came back, started in race trim and wasn't really happy with it. But as soon as we switched to qualifying trim, the car was very competitive. Felt like I had a shot at the pole. We were all so close, the first five, six cars on speed. We knew that we brought the right product, it was just trying to get everything dialed in right on the race car.

We made ground through practice yesterday, through both practice sessions. Then last night Chad really, really, really racked his head. We spent a lot of time sorting through the data from the test, thinking through adjustments to be made, and took a swing at it again today.

Second or third lap on the racetrack I knew we had a car that was capable of running in the top five. From that point, it was just trying to maintain it.

The issue we had with the tire, I have to admit, myself personally, it really deflated me inside the car. I thought, "Man, it's going to be impossible to pass here." The tire started coming apart when I was trying to get back to pit road. I thought it destroyed the fender and really took us out of contention.

Things were on our side. Luckily, no major damage. We didn't lose a lap. Caution came out. From then on, next two pit stops I took it, you know, kind of easy, trying to get through traffic. I was afraid of that tire, that front tire, having another issue with that. Chad worked with the Goodyear engineers, made some changes, and got the tire to where it would survive and make it the whole run.

After I got two good runs without Chad being nervous over the radio telling me about the left front, I just got really aggressive and drove the heck out of the car after that and got the job done.

Sorry I'm not over-the-top with emotion. I am internally. Inside, I am just so proud of this race team. This is such a satisfying day and accomplishment for this race team. I couldn't be more proud of everybody involved.

MODERATOR: Rick, you've won here before. I'm sure they keep getting sweeter and sweeter. Talk about today's victory.

HENDRICK: Yeah, the day didn't start out too well for us. Jeff had a problem, then Jimmy had a flat, and, you know, you're trying to battle back at that point because it's so hard to pass here. But then when we looked at the lap times, Jimmie was really making some great time, and we felt like when he got back to the front he'd be good.

This place is kind of like Daytona in a way, you know. You think we're pulling away two or 3/10ths a lap faster, caution comes out, you know that eight or nine guys are gonna probably not take any tires, then two tires, and you're gonna be caught in the traffic.

I think Jimmie just -- I've never seen anybody take them on the outside, the inside, loose. I mean, he just drove the wheels off the car. I mean, he made some moves that, you know, I've never seen at this track before.

So it was a great day for the Lowe's team, but it was a great car, and he battled back. But he absolutely put on a show, I thought, watching him on the outside, the inside, and the car was awful loose there at one time and he just drove it.

This is a special place. Every time you get to kiss those bricks, you don't take it for granted, you know. It's just special. Everybody works hard. I'm sure a lot of those guys were so good early in the race are trying to figure what happened here at the end of the day. It's just a great effort by this team.

MODERATOR: Rick, I believe we also have another trophy that we need to bring up here. Joie Chitwood has a presentation for you.

HENDRICK: Thank you, appreciate that. Thanks.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Joie. Right now, we're going to take questions.

Q: Jimmie, I think this is an obvious follow-up. You said internally you're happy, but not "over-the-top." I mean, you looked like you were trembling when you got out of the car. Kind of seemed dazed. What's going on? What are your emotions, and why so reserved?

JOHNSON: Uhm, I'm just so proud of what we've done today that it's really left me speechless. I'm just full of pride. I'm full of joy. But it's not like...

I don't know how to describe it. I have doubted this racetrack. I've doubted my ability to get around this track. I know the team's doubted what we've been able to do here. Chad has been hard on himself. We've been kicking ourselves for years coming to this track from test sessions to races, whatever it may be. We just haven't been competitive and have been very frustrated in the process. This has been that critical time leading into a championship, battle with the Chase format. This track has been an emotional disaster for us, some type of disaster from blowing an engine to hitting the wall, running bad, whatever it is. We've left here and it's taken the wind out of our sails.

To get over this hurdle, to get past this, I'm just so proud of what we've done that I'm just full inside, and I just want to go sit down and reflect, think about it. I just want to sit in a quiet corner somewhere and chill out and relax (laughing). I just can't believe we overcame all the things we have at this racetrack and the challenges we had today and won.

Q: Rick, you touched on Jeff briefly. From talking to him, he thought he had a really good car. Just for kind of a freak accident, he thought he'd have a shot today. Just comment on his day. Did you kind of have the same feeling that maybe you guys with that car had a little bit of bad luck?

HENDRICK: Yeah, you know, again, when Jeff had that problem and then Jimmie blew that tire, you know, I figured that if we could come back and finish the race, I was glad to see the fender not tore off of the car.

Then when you see, you know, we made the recovery, and then you see the cars out there with no tires and two tires, and 12 or 14 laps to go, you figured it was going to be an accident. And trying to get through there without being involved in it, it's just one of those -- the competition is so tough today, you sit there, I'm glad I don't have to make the call. I tell Chad on Monday he should have taken two or four (laughter). I'm glad I don't have to make the call on Sunday because you see guys gamble, and we did with the 5 car, and it paid off.

If you had told me halfway through this race or a third through this race we were gonna win it, I would have told you "no way."

Q: Jimmie, you dropped back to 38th with the tire problem. NASCAR announced competition yellow at Lap 40, which is right when you had the problem. How fortunate were you that the two kind of coincided like that?

JOHNSON: Yeah, I was lucky on that respect. I knew the competition yellow was coming soon, but I couldn't turn the car down on to the -- on the access road. I could see in my mirror, see the chunks flying. I felt like a caution was gonna come out. Fortunately, it did.

Then I kind of had some joy inside, like, All right, caution's out, I'm not gonna lose a lap. As soon as that thought went through my mind, the tire really came apart. It started tearing the fender off the car. I'm like, "Oh, man, slow down."

It was a stressful two--and-a-half-mile trip back around to get my four fresh tires.

MODERATOR: We're also pleased to be joined by our championship crew chief, Chad Knaus. Tell us about what you saw up top today.

KNAUS: I don't even know where to begin, to be honest with you. It was obviously quite a whirlwind day. Got to start off by saying this whole Lowe's team did an incredible job all weekend long. For us to be able to come to a racetrack where we have typically not run as well as what we've wanted to, for us to be able to qualify fifth, which is very difficult on the team and on the driver, the schedule here is not very easy to get up first thing in the morning as a driver and go out there and try to bust off a lap to get your starting position. But Jimmie did a great job, and the guys did a great job preparing the car.

Then the race trim, the car was good. When we got into the race today, there was some magic somewhere. I honestly can't tell you exactly where it came from, but we'll figure it out when we get home, that's for sure.

The car was great. We had the flat tire. We knew the car was fast, but we didn't really know how fast it was until we got back there and had to start passing some cars. It was a good deal. Jimmie did a great job of keeping the rest of the car clean for the rest of the event. For us to be able to come home like this, it's pretty incredible.

Q: You guys have touched on this. This place last year was like a House of Horrors for you, the whole weekend was awful. The year before that, you finished 36th here, 40th the next two weeks. You have talked all year about how that pattern was something you really wanted to break. Are you ready to say now, "OK, we've got that pattern broken?" How big is this in terms of the huge, larger picture of the whole season for you?

JOHNSON: It's way too early to say that we have broken the pattern, but, you know, this is a great start. I think we're all going to learn together as these next few weeks unfold and as we get into the Chase.

It's nice to speculate and to, you know, take that as team morale and within our own race team and tell our guys we got over a big hurdle today, one that really plagued us in the past.

But there's just too much racing, too much racing going on. The 17 is showing a lot of strength. Jeff Burton is showing a lot of strength. So the momentum is important for us right now to get into the Chase, but when we get in the Chase, the points re rack, it's going to be a tough Chase. You're going to have some very experienced, very talented drivers, great race teams, and it's going to be a shootout for those 10 races. It's just too early now to get too confident in anything really.

Q: This is for Chad. Jimmie almost alluded to the fact that he was surprised to be here considering all the bad luck he's had at this racetrack. When you saw this race on the schedule, did you look at it as, "Let's just try and get through it as best we can," or did you actually have a game plan and say, "Maybe we can make some changes and really do well here?"

KNAUS: We do that every time we go to the racetrack. We go there with the want to win, but I'm not going to lie to you in saying that we came here and what we wanted to do was top 10 out. We wanted to top 10 qualify, we wanted to top 10 race, and finish in the top 10. That was kind of our goal and mindset.

I'm babbling. I can't believe we won it; I'll be honest with you (laughter).

It's pretty amazing. You know, the thing that's bizarre about it, and you guys may not know about this, but it started right again, first thing. We're out on the starting grid and the two batteries in our two radios inside the race car were dead. So we had people running back to the garage area, getting batteries, going down to the pits, getting batteries, getting push-to-talk buttons, doing all this kind of stuff at the start of the event before we ever even got off the starting grid. Then Lap 39 or whatever it was, 38, we have a flat tire. I just sat back and I was like, "Man, this place has got it out for me -- bad." I didn't know what to do.

But we just buckled down. Guys did a great job. We continued with that mindset that we wanted to finish in the top 10. We were calm, patient about it. Jimmie picked to choose his passes, and that's why we're here. If he went out there and had gotten real aggressive right after we had that tire issue, we could have had the same problem once again. He was smart enough to lay back a little bit, let us get a good look at the tires before we really took off and got after them.

Q: You started to answer the question, Chad, what exactly did you say to Jimmie after the tire blew, if anything? What did you say, and was that necessary?

KNAUS: I told him, "Everything's going to be OK, buddy."

JOHNSON: The scary thing is he said it in a very convincing nature (laughter).

In the back of my mind, I'm like, "We're in trouble." I've got to go, I'm in bad air, work the tires harder. He had an idea. I think he (indiscernible) the engineers a little bit from Goodyear. I'll let you keep going.

But I have to give him a lot of credit. I think his reaction to what took place kept my head in the game and kept the team's head in the game.

KNAUS: Yeah, I just told him. I think we've been working on it. We saw some signs of this yesterday. We knew if it happened, we knew how to react to try to counter it. We were hoping that it wouldn't show up. We saw some things in the tires we weren't liking in practice and kind of set up a game plan if we started to see some signs of that.

The first 15 laps we saw a couple of issues with it, but obviously from the first 15 laps to the next one, you can't make an adjustment during that run because you're already stuck with what you've got going on. Unfortunately, we didn't make it to the last -- to the second stint all the way through that, and we had the flat tire.

We had a good idea, plan of what we had to do, how we were going to react. We were pretty fortunate it all worked out, because if what we thought was gonna fix it didn't fix it, then we could have been in a world of hurt.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus