Indianapolis: Winning team press conference, part 1

ALLSTATE 400 AT THE BRICKYARD Indianapolis Motor Speedway July 27, 2008 An interview with: <B>JIMMIE JOHNSON RICK HENDRICK CHAD KNAUS HERB BRANHAM: We're ready to start our winners press conference. Rick, open up first and tell us...

Indianapolis Motor Speedway
July 27, 2008

An interview with:

HERB BRANHAM: We're ready to start our winners press conference. Rick, open up first and tell us how it feels today after this race.

RICK HENDRICK: It's an unbelievable feeling to win this race. You know, after practice, Jimmie was so confident, it looked like early on we had a good car and we were just worried about not get in any trouble, finishing the race.

It's a great day here. It's good to win it six times. I mean, he's been on a tear. We needed that, the organization did, to get ready for the Chase. I'm really proud of him and the whole organization. We all ran good. They all ran good.

HERB BRANHAM: Jimmie Johnson, go ahead and tell us about your day today.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: The first three quarters of the race, it seemed that we could really run any pace that we needed to and pass guys, kind of control the race. But at the end, I don't know if the 11 and 99 were just kind of waiting for the right time to get aggressive with their race pace. Those guys really matched our pace and were tough to race with.

I was behind the 11. I thought I could get by him maybe two stops from the end. I blistered the right rear tire, wore it out trying to get by him. Chad had a great strategy to keep four tires on the car, keep those left sides as fresh as possible. I got up to I guess second or third for that last pit stop, we had an awesome pit stop, got us out, off we went.

Carl put a lot of pressure on me at the end there. I have to commend him, how hard he was driving. I think it was a good race there at the end. Those last seven laps were white knuckle, to say the least.

HERB BRANHAM: Chad, your general thoughts on your second victory here at Indy?

CHAD KNAUS: Generally it's pretty cool, to be quite honest (laughter). It's kind of neat, you know, because we did start off a little bit slow this season. We've been working really hard at Hendrick Motorsports collectively as a group, everything from the engine shop to the body hanging department, our chassis shop, everybody in the shop in general. We really focused on this race. We really wanted to come in here and run well. I spent the majority of last week working on it, along with my team. Didn't really take a whole lot of time off so we could come here and try to get this race. To be able to come here and capitalize on a lot of good things was really neat. Like I said, it was big collective effort on everybody's part. Man, the race itself was bizarre, to say the least.

One thing about this team I love the most is whether it's Lowe's Motor Speedway where there's a tire issue, you have to do things as a team to try to manipulate the strategy, win a race, or here at Indy where we're having tire problems, whatever it may be, it seems our team really bites in deep, gets ahold of things and is successful. I was really proud of it.

HERB BRANHAM: Questions for our champions.

Q: Chad, you have been ferocious finishers down the stretch the last few years. As you noted, you started a little bit slower this year. The last few weeks you picked it up. This week from the time you guys rolled off the trailer till now you were the dominant car. Are you ready to make the kind of run you made the past couple years? Are you ready to dethrone the 18 after the year he's had?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think if you look at the races, not necessarily the finishes, but the races themselves over the course of the last 10, 12 weeks, we've been right there. That's everywhere from Loudon to Daytona to Lowe's Motor Speedway, all the racetracks we have run pretty competitively. I think any racetrack we go to right now, I'm very proud to say I think we can run top five speeds. If you can do that, you can do that on a weekly basis, you're going to be in position to try to go for a championship. I think we're there now.

Jimmie and I have spoken about it a lot, the way we want things to develop. I'm not saying we're comfortable and we're going to start relaxing. I can promise you that, we're digging in pretty deep, we're going to get up and test tomorrow at Road Atlanta. We're not stopping by any means. I think we do have a shot to go out there and compete with those guys on a weekly basis.

Q: You mentioned sometimes you guys are good when there's adversity. Is there a trick to that, looking at that as an opportunity?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think when I look at it from a driver's standpoint, at tracks that are unforgiving, repaved, you see a majority of the field is fast and can get it done. I mean, everybody's courageous and brave, committed to going fast. But when you get to technical tracks, technical situations, I think there's a handful of teams and drivers that kind of rise to the top. I wanted to be that guy. I feel like I am that guy and we are that team.

It's just something that it's the way we think, and we're in it for the long haul. We're not looking for quick gains. We took four tires today more than anyone. We went out there, stuck to a plan, and were smart about it, smart about how I was driving my car, not wearing the tires off of it.

For whatever reason, there's just certain tracks, certain teams that can perform in those situations, and I'm proud to say that this team's one of them.

Q: Did you plan to have a car that was going to be good on short runs, knowing you were probably going to come into a day that was going to be a series of quick races?

CHAD KNAUS: You know, we didn't necessarily work on the short run, per se. Really, we didn't have an option to work on a long run (laughter). It kind of worked out that way. But what we did really focus on was Jimmie and him making sure he could tell us when the tires were going away on the racecar. We did that at practice. Second practice session, we had three sets of stickers. Went eight laps, eight laps and seven laps. Each time he said he could feel when the tires were going away. We were able to earmark that, pay attention to what was going on with our tires, adjust our setup to make sure we were getting the most out of our car in those laps in hopes we would have short runs today, and it was.

Q: Jimmie, when you look back to Friday's media session, you look at some things you said, in retrospect it showed an extreme amount of confidence. I said, Will a win here mean you're back? You said, We're back already. In your way, were you politely calling your shot as the favorite?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I didn't feel like I was doing that. I felt like we don't have the results to show for it. Chicago was obvious. We had a great car, ran up front, finished second. If you look back to Loudon, we were running down the 20 car. You go back to Michigan, we led the most laps at Michigan. I can't remember the races before that. Pocono we were up front all day long, led a bunch of laps.

So as a team, we've known that we've been hitting on the right things. We could see the momentum. We just had a lot of races where strategy came into play and it didn't work out for us. We just didn't get the finishes we deserved. But we knew deep down inside we were running up front and making good progress.

That's where that confidence came from. It was just knowing that we're going down the right road.

Q: Jimmie, after Chicago, did you say to yourself, I'm not going to get beat again today?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah (laughter). But it worked out. We weren't going to bring racecars back, the way it boiled down in my mind, on this last restart between Carl and I (laughter).

You know, it went through my mind and the mistakes I made at Chicago. Got a great restart. Got a gap on Carl. Here you can draft better than at any other downforce track we run on. I knew off of two, I needed some ground on him. I was able to get through one and two well. You get four or five car lengths on him, he couldn't suck up to me. That Hendrick power did its job down the straightaway. Stall out at that gap, catch me in one or two of the corners, but the other two corners I'd pull back away. We kind of stabilized, it was all good then.

I just didn't want a caution. I didn't want a green, white, checkered. I just wanted to finish up.

Q: Jimmie, a lot of people are using words like "disaster, debacle" about today. If you look at it, there was passing on the track, there was passing for the lead on the track. You had a story line, a little bit of drama with whether or not you were going to get through, run out of tires, and a battle on pit road. Was today really as bad as a lot of people are making it out to be?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think there was a lot of passing. I know I had to pass a lot of cars. So it had to be entertaining on television when we had the green flag. I can honestly say nobody wanted to be in this position, Goodyear, NASCAR, teams, drivers, owners, nobody wanted to be in this situation. But it's the situation that we had. I commend NASCAR in handling today like they did. I'm sure it was long and boring today, but NASCAR called a great race. They kept us from tearing up racecars for no reason. We had a couple of guys blow tires out.

But I think as an entire sport, we did everything we could today. We've learned a lot. We'll take our lumps, I'm sure, and come back next year and put on a better show.

Q: Chad, Jack Roush said you said this tire would be okay. I don't know what he meant by that. You weren't one of the teams that tested. What is your reaction to that?

CHAD KNAUS: Kind of cool he listens to what I say. I guess we got him thinking, don't we (laughter)?

No, I didn't say that. I mean, we didn't test here. The 88 did test. This place is very difficult to test. One thing I want to put out there real quick. Everybody is going to point fingers at Goodyear and say they did a horrible job of testing the tire and bringing the tire in. Maybe they did make a mistake. You can't put all the blame on Goodyear. This car is a relatively unknown piece, especially coming to a racetrack like this where the surface is so abrasive. Everybody has to realize this car has about 50% of the downforce that we had from the cars we've had here in the past. There's really only five things that keep a car on the racetrack, and that's the four tires and the downforce. To think Goodyear can overcome that much with the little bit of testing they had, I think they did an okay job because they thought they were going on the same path that we had last year.

They're doing a great job collectively, I think Goodyear is. You know, so I don't think people should stick it to 'em too hard. They're doing a pretty good job.

Q: Your job is to win the race, deal with the conditions handed to you. You're a race fan, too. This is the second biggest race of the year. It's a big deal. It came off as an odd day. From the race fan perspective, do you understand why I'm getting emails saying this was a joke?

RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I'm sure. I felt like we had a car that if we could have raced all day hard, I think the results would have been the same 'cause we were really good. But I understand the fans and I think what we may have to do with this car is we may have to test at the tracks with all the cars to find out what we really need 'cause you can't come and just do it with two or three cars and a tire test. A race this big, we should have everybody here and test, I think especially with this car, because this is a different animal.

I can understand the fans. I really do. We didn't want to go through this either. In a Chase with a team that's in a Chase or in the middle of it, maybe not completely safe in points, do you stay out, do you take two, do you run that extra lap, do you take a chance of getting the car into the fence, when they say I know I'm using up the right rear? I don't think anybody had any choice after we got here. This was it.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Jack Roush
Teams Hendrick Motorsports