Indianapolis: Winning team press conference, part 1

Allstate 400 At The Brickyard Post-Race Transcript An interview with: JIMMIE JOHNSON - Winner CHAD KNAUS - Crew chief RICK HENDRICK - Owner KERRY THARP: We are happy to be joined by today's race winner of the 2009 Allstate 400 at the...

Allstate 400 At The Brickyard Post-Race Transcript

An interview with:
CHAD KNAUS - Crew chief

KERRY THARP: We are happy to be joined by today's race winner of the 2009 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, the 16th running here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson for Rick Hendrick Motorsports, and crew chief Chad Knaus. Jimmie, this is your third victory here at Indianapolis, back to back wins here at Indianapolis, 43rd NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. I could go on and on. Your thoughts on winning the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you. It's just a great day for us. We had a competitive car throughout the day. It was just very tough to come through the field. We started 16th. Kind of fell into fifth for a while, got to fourth, then to third. At the end with Juan having his problems, the caution coming out, it gave me a chance to really race with Mark on the restart. That was really my only opportunity. Maybe after one or two laps, things just kind of evened out and you really didn't have an opportunity to pass.

I did everything I could on that restart. It worked out. I cleared him. At the end he was coming a little bit on me. Got a little loose in one and two, but the car was really good in three and four. We were kind of trading off the distance. He caught me, stretched it out. Game was going on on and off throughout the race.

Very proud of his effort, what that 5 team has accomplished. All four teams were working very close together. It's nice to have Mark onboard and working so closely with all of us.

Last night we also had to work on the car a little bit. Chad did some great things to the racecar to start the race. I knew within about two turns that we were going to be very competitive today. Then the adjustments throughout the day were exactly what we needed. . Great pit stops. It was nice to have it all come together. We've been very fast, have led a lot of laps the last couple months, but haven't been able to be in the right spot at the end. It's been a little frustrating. But we've been happy with our performance.

So to have it all come full circle today, lead at the right time, win this thing, meant a lot to us.

KERRY THARP: Chad, what were your thoughts out there today, some of the calls you made, some of the strategy you put forth during this weekend here at Indianapolis.

CHAD KNAUS: Well, like Jimmie said, when we unloaded on Friday, we definitely weren't where we needed to be. We had to dig pretty deep. It was a couple long days to try to get the car prepared. Obviously, we didn't qualify as well as what we would typically want to, especially at a track like this with qualifying being so important, with pit selection and track position.

We had to dig pretty deep. The guys really did a good job. The 5 car guys, the 24 guys, the 88 guys, they really chipped in. We bounced a lot of ideas off one another. Alan Gustafson, the guys on the 5 team, were a big help to us. We took some lead on some of the stuff they were feeling throughout Friday and Saturday. We were able to apply it through the Lowe's car, which was awesome.

We had a fantastic engine today. It was really good on restarts. You could see it. You could see it when Jimmie was able to get underneath people coming down straightaways. First race for this car actually, as well. It was a great way to break it in, for sure. So the guys in the chassis and body shop did a fantastic job to get this car built in a very short period of time. It was kind of a rush to get this car here.

As far as the way the race went, kind of actually how we anticipated. We thought we were going to have a lot of green flag runs. The field gets spread out here typically. You get that. Green flag pit stops came in. Started to be really, really important. We got stuck behind the 83 after a round of green flag stops, weren't able to get by him later in the run. That one pit stop right there, if he would have slowed up just a little bit, we had been a little bit faster, he would have been up challenging for the lead a little bit faster.

Things really played out the way we anticipated them. Good day for the Lowe's team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsport, especially with the 5 car finishing second, I think the 24 finished eighth, and the 88 ran very well until they had an issue. I'm very proud of our team.

KERRY THARP: Rick, congratulations on yet another victory here at Indianapolis. Your thoughts about the win and about a strong 1 2 finish for your race teams.

RICK HENDRICK: You know, any time you come to Indianapolis, it's almost like sacred ground. Reading about it and growing up in racing, never thought I'd ever go to a race here, but have an opportunity to win this thing, it's just phenomenal. It doesn't get any better than this.

These guys, I was talking to Chad last night, he said, Don't come up here expecting us to win. We'll probably be about a 10th place car. I enjoy it when he tells me that because I know he's wetting my leg. It was a really good race. All the cars ran well. Junior had a problem. But I still get chill bumps when I walk out Gasoline Alley and see all the people on both sides of the track.

Real proud of Jimmie because he drove the wheels off that car. It was hard to come through the traffic, like he said. It was a great way to finish it. Mark was a gentleman. He came to Victory Lane. I know how bad they wanted to win this race.

KERRY THARP: Questions now for the three.

Q: Jimmie, probably annoying but necessary question of today. Had Juan Pablo been able to go on like he was going before he got the penalty, do you think you would have had enough to get up there with him toward the end, and would you have had something for him?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't have a clue. I didn't run around him all day long. I know on lap times that we were on pace with what those guys were doing. I just don't have a clue. Didn't have a chance to run with him all day long.

I do know I have the trophy. It's going home with me (laughter).

Q: Jimmie, Helio Castroneves is called Spider Man. Mark Martin has anointed you as Superman. How do you react to that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: He did say that to me today. I don't know what to call him. Bionic Man or something. I wouldn't know. I got him on the restart. He put a ton of pressure on us.

The way he is, what he asks of his team, the way he interacts, his dedication, it's contagious. Brings out the best of all of us on the race team. I could see Gordon, myself, Junior, all of us looking at ourselves in the mirror, doing a better job, pushing ourselves harder. Look at Mark, the guy is non stop.

I'm really proud to call him a teammate and a friend. The fact that he said those great things is pretty cool. We've got to think up something for him. He is one unique individual. I think he's almost happy, too. He's getting there. Scary, right (laughter)?

Q: Looked like you had to change your strategy as Mark gained on you that last run. Seemed like you were trying to break the draft.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: On the straightaways, these cars punch such a big hole in the air, I was trying to move around and slow him down a little bit. If I could move and let the raw air kind of hit his car, it should slow him down. Was weaving all around on the straightaway, didn't seem to make a difference. At least I felt like I was doing something.

The biggest thing for me was to get one and two decent because he was faster than me at that end of the track. I just couldn't make a mistake and give him an opportunity. Then three and four, my car was better. I could get some back.

So it was kind of protect and then just try to nail it to get something on him. Some laps I'd do everything right, get a gap. Other laps, he'd do it right, close the gap. It just kept going back and forth.

Q: Rick, we touched on Dale, Jr. In spite of his illness, he ran well in the race. Do you feel the 88 team has turned a corner this year? You're inching up on Roger Penske. He has 15 wins here. You have seven.

RICK HENDRICK: I don't think I'll live long enough to get 15 here (laughter).

The 88, I can tell you those guys are really working hard. And Junior is putting forth a ton of effort. I mean, I can see it, he and Lance are really working well together. It seems like if they get good momentum, something happens. Could be a caution at the wrong time.

I think today, this race, the way he qualified, as sick as he was, I mean, I was talking to him on the phone, saw him this morning, and as ill as he was, I had no idea he could run that race, and run as well as he did.

I feel like those guys have turned the corner and really the chemistry is good. I think these guys here will tell you, it's a tough deal out there. You've got guys that won a lot of races last year that haven't won races this year. But he's just got a big spotlight on him. I'll tell you, we're not happy with the way the car has run. But I am very happy with the chemistry and what's happening right now. I think we're just getting very, very close.

For anybody that says that he's not working hard, you can ask these guys, because he's putting in the effort, in the gym, doing everything that anybody asks of him. But it's just a tough, tough hill to climb out there. But I'm very happy with that team.

Q: Jimmie, you talked how reverent Indy is for you. Having won here back to back, three times now, put your place in history here a little bit. Coupled with that, the question about Juan. You might not have been near him, but this guy was going for a Brickyard and an Indy 500. I don't know if you feel bad for him, but can you empathize with him a little bit?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No (laughter). We're all so selfish. I could say if you want, I would have gone to Victory Lane to congratulate him. I would have been proud of him. I'm sure happy I got the trophy.

That would have been an amazing story. Those guys were quick all day long. Really, look at every practice session, qualifying. Not only is that team getting better, but racing with Juan on the track, the guy is really a great talent. I think if you look at guys that have come from the open wheel world in, he's by far done better than anyone.

Then he's becoming a stock car driver. It's got to be tough to forget everything that's brought you to this level, you've built your success on, forget all that and start over. He's jumped into this thing head first. He's committed himself to doing a great job. That team is getting stronger. I think we'll see a lot more of Juan. He's putting himself I know today didn't work for him for points for the Chase, but I see him making the Chase and I see him being a threat. He's doing an amazing job.

For us, this track, it's so tough to say which track is more important and which race from the 500 to this 400. To be so close to the fans, the fact that I wanted to race here as a kid in the Indy 500, then to come back and now win here, it is the coolest, coolest feeling ever. To ride around just the lap in that Corvette, all the crew guys were piled on it, that is one of the coolest moments to experience and just absorb the energy of this place, the history of this track. At that point you start thinking about what this place is and what's gone on here.

It means the world to me. The things as far as how I feel I fit in history, I've never been one to think I can put myself there. It's something that comes from all of you down the road, as you get close to retirement. I got a lot of years left in me. Hopefully four, five, six time race winner here would be awfully cool.

Q: Chad, obviously tires weren't a problem today. In fact, they were so much not a problem it didn't appear anybody was willing to gamble on two tires or no tires. Could you talk about how this race was different for you compared to last season.

CHAD KNAUS: Obviously it's two completely different story lines. Last year was a bad situation. I think everybody needs to realize that everybody put a big finger on Goodyear, saying that was their fault last year. Ultimately, it wasn't. The testing was limited last year. We actually came up and did the test for them. There was rain. So it wasn't a very good test for them to try to bring a car up here and get the thing going.

I think they were put behind a big eight ball coming up here. To come up here cold turkey, expect them to develop and have a tire prepared to race at a track like this, as coarse as the surface is, make it all happen, it wasn't fair to them.

I think we've got to realize what a great job they did coming up here testing and getting everything squared away. Goodyear, they love racing. They love what we do. It's a neat thing they've got going on.

From our standpoint, from a team, that last 30 laps there, 36 laps we had to run after that pit stop, it wasn't gonna be a situation to where we came in and took tires for sure. I think the way the cautions fell, we had an early caution flag three laps into that run, nobody was going to come in and pit at that point. If there had been a caution 15 laps into that run, I would venture to say 10th to probably 20th would have pitted. The guys 20th and back would have stayed out, jumbled it up a little bit.

Unfortunately, Goodyear made a tire a little bit too good and we didn't have much falloff. There again, it's kind of something happens at this racetrack, race position is so important, so key. Once you get behind somebody, it's very, very difficult to pass someone. That's one thing I was happy about our car today, we were actually able to pass people. Catch people on the racetrack and then pass them.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus , Roger Penske , Mark Martin