Indianapolis: Winning team press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Jimmie, you won the Daytona 500, the All-Star race, you won this race. All that's left is the championship. Can you fathom what kind of year that would be if you were able to cap it off with a championship? JOHNSON: ...

Continued from part 1

Q: Jimmie, you won the Daytona 500, the All-Star race, you won this race. All that's left is the championship. Can you fathom what kind of year that would be if you were able to cap it off with a championship?

JOHNSON: You know, I'm with you, and my mind races. See that (laughter).

KNAUS: Figure.

JOHNSON: See that? But I can't. I can't start commenting on it. I can't talk about it. We got to take it race by race. If I'm lucky enough to be sitting in front of all you after Homestead, bragging about it, I'll have plenty to talk about then. But right now it's just race by race. We just got to stay focused on it.

Q: Two fold question. When did it dawn on you that you would do something special like Dale Earnhardt did in winning both of those races? And knowing that this track is so unforgiving, in the last four laps, did it dawn on you that anything can happen with the experience that you've had before?

JOHNSON: Yeah, I thought about a lot of things on those last few laps. When we had the green-flag stop, came out, was ahead of Matt, he was catching me for a little bit. I was loose, and I was afraid to hurt the tires. I still in the back of my mind didn't want to over-abuse the car and luckily had a nice lead that I could manage. Then on that last restart, it was go time and I still -- I felt like I abused the tires trying to get by Matt and trying to get by those cars that didn't take tires. Once I got in the lead, my mind was just running with, "Did I overwork something; did I hurt something?" Fortunately, I didn't have signs or any feelings what was going on, so I drew some comfort with that. I was thinking in the back of my mind: "We're gonna have a wreck, it's gonna be a green/white checkered finish, something's gonna happen."

As soon as I came down the front stretch to take the white flag, I think, Rick, you came on the radio and said, "Just concentrate and hit your marks." As soon as I took the white flag, I knew we wouldn't have a green/white checkered, I started breathing a little easier, tip-toed back around the track and felt like we'd be in good shape.

Q: This is probably for all three of you. Jimmie, I noticed your expression when you kissed the bricks that you were wiping your mouth. Looked like it didn't really taste too good (laughter). You were spittin'.

JOHNSON: Last time I had dirt in my mouth was when I was fighting with my little brother. I crammed it in his mouth, he probably threw it back in mine.

We were in the position, was right where I did a big burnout, and we came up and our face was covered (laughing), her lips. I'm sure mine were, too, but just black all in her lip gloss. We were laughing pretty good about that.

The first kiss we had out there, you're like, "Wow, this is dirty." The second kiss, you're like: "I don't know if I'll ever be here again. I better enjoy this moment and enjoy the taste of this."

Q: You kind of talked about this already. Did the negative things that happened to you here in the last couple years, did they play an effect on what happened to you after that?

JOHNSON: With the championship?

Q: Yeah, with the championship and the Chase.

JOHNSON: I don't think it prevented us from winning the championship. This is a unique racetrack. The races in the final 10 were much different than this.

So, you know, I do think that it was a negative thing that took place, took some momentum away from us, you know, maybe put us in a position where we were too aggressive following this, try not to lose a points lead or trying to make up ground that we lost in this race. So it would be a small amount, nothing where I could say it kept us from winning the championship.

Q: Jimmie and Chad, Jimmie, first of all, if you could talk about the restart and how you were able to get by Kenseth and the gaggle of cars. That just looked like it was pretty hairy at times, what you recall about that. Chad, also, you mentioned earlier about you guys just wanting to top 10 at this track. That doesn't seem like that's always been this team's motto at a lot of places. How many times or how rare a time is it where you go to a track and say we just want a top 10 as opposed to we want to win the thing?

JOHNSON: What did you ask me? I was listening to what you were asking Chad (laughter).

I'm sorry. I'm in my own world over here, I apologize.

Q: The restart.

JOHNSON: The restart, I knew if I got too close to the cars in front of me going through (Turn) 2, I knew that's gonna be a big speed difference starting with the 17 and the cars in front of him. So I tried to leave myself some room so I could have more momentum on turn two's exit to do something with it. I knew I needed to get by Matt in a hurry.

As I did that, I think the 99 was behind me. Somebody was behind me. And they ended up getting inside of me through the short chute, where I couldn't get down to the bottom. My vision was get a good run underneath Matt and try to have position on him going into the corner. I had such a good run on the outside and I saw two cars, and then I think one car and a third one with Matt, and I knew they were all stalling out. And more cars in that situation, just like at Daytona, the longer the line, the faster they're gonna go. I just tucked up behind Clint and made sure I caught him square and just started bump-drafting him down the straightaway. We just kept trucking right on by everybody.

The draft really helped me down the back stretch. Once I heard clear from the 17, I tried to move down, put him in an aero situation where he couldn't get another run inside of me, through dogleg into the (Turn) 4. It just worked out. Love it when a plan works out.

KNAUS: That was pretty neat, wasn't it? I could see it all happening again.

You know, we've talked about it a million times, you know, this year to everybody. We tried to take this year with a different approach and tried to be a little bit more mature about our main goal, and the main goal is to win the championship.

Just like everybody has said a million times, we come to this racetrack and we've struggled, we've had bad things happen, we've had crashes, we've had blown engines, poor runs. I did see it as a personal momentum-breaker for myself because it's something that we had not been able to conquer. So I just wanted to come here and try to make peace with it, you know. That's kind of what my goal was. I felt like if we could come here and run competitive, it would carry my confidence along with the team's confidence a little while. I'm not saying we're going to go out there, go on a tear and win a bunch of races, that's not what we're going to do. But it helps us as a team because it was something we have always had, kind of like an Achilles' heel. We were able to kind of stifle it a bit here. That's all I wanted to do, is just get a top 10. If we came and run competitive, it would have showed a lot of good stuff for our team.

Q: If this was golf, you just won the third major of the year. What is it about these three races that has allowed you to win? What's been the key to the success? Has it been you got so up for these races? Is it the significance of them or what?

JOHNSON: Maybe after the All-Star event I would give you that impression, but, you know, yesterday's practice session we felt like we had a shot to run in the top 10, but we didn't feel like we had a race-winning car.

We sat down, we spent a lot of time together, talked to the other crew chiefs and really, as an organization, did a good job of communicating what things helped our race cars. So I have to give a lot of credit to the other three race teams and the drivers and the crew chiefs. We spent a lot of time together.

We started to hit on some stuff on the 48 side, the end of practice, and we took that a little bit further. Chad made some other decisions, and we really just fought through it.

But the good thing at the end of yesterday's practice, the car was consistent enough on the track where I could really give some good feedback. We got it in the window where I could walk through each portion of each corner and give Chad some strong ouch, my leg's cramping, sorry (laughter)...

This has been a tough afternoon. I lost my train of thought there.

But we spent a lot of time sorting through what we needed to do, and it paid off.

Q: From a personal standpoint.

JOHNSON: Well, you know, the first two, I would say possibly. I mean, Daytona 500, I've had great equipment. I've had race cars that could win that race, and I just made some bad moves and mistakes on my behalf.

Going into Lowe's Motor Speedway, of course I've had so much confidence going into that racetrack.

Coming here, it just blows that theory out of the water. We really feared coming here. We didn't get to test like we wanted to. We only had a half a day of testing. So we overcame a lot today.

Q: Chad, I'm trying to think back, five or six races maybe in the last two years that you guys have really dominated, you seemed, if you're not in a hole when you start out, you don't seem to succeed like you do. You're always there. End up 40th, people say, "They're done," I'll say, they'll finish fourth. You do it every week.

KNAUS: That's just a testament to a whole group of things, you know. We've got an incredible team that comes to the racetrack with the 48 car every single week. We have what I feel is the best driver in NEXTEL Cup competition right now. But the thing you don't see is our support staff we've got at home. We come so prepared. We've got panels, we've got information, we've got data, we've got so many things that we can fall back on and pull from when something bad happens, that it's there, you know. And I think the biggest thing is we don't make stupid decisions, and that's a big testament to Jimmie because it would be very easy for him today to go out there and try to go three-wide and make some silly passes right there at the beginning of that deal when we were 38th and not make it to the end of the race. I think that's what happens to a lot of guys. They get back there, they get anxious, and don't let the race come to them.

That's one thing that I think we've learned over the years. We used to be the team that would want to go out there sit on the pole, lead the most laps, win the race every single weekend. We kind of learned, about a year an a half, two years ago, that if you just kind of tortoise and the hare bit, I guess -- I don't know, I guess I am getting old, 35 -- I guess you learn after a period of time if you kind of hang out a little bit, the race might start to come back to you. Typically, that's what happened with us. We've been very fortunate it hasn't bitten us yet.

Q: He talked about what I was going to ask you about, the whole tortoise-and-hare thing.

KNAUS: I'm 35.

Q: You're not old, by the way. I resemble that remark. He talked about that whole tortoise-and-hare thing. He's the guy that said at Charlotte one time a perfect weekend was coming to the race, win the pole, win every lap, win the race. When you're 14 laps in the end of the Allstate 400 and you've got eight guys in front of you, you don't know how this is gonna play out, how hard is it for you not to try to make all those passes in the first turn and wreck a car, I mean, as I driver?

KNAUS: Are you talking to me about that?

JOHNSON: Yeah, I didn't leave anything on the table, I can tell you that. I think just through experience, you understand that there's bad positions to put yourself in, and bump-drafting on these types of tracks usually isn't the best thing to do.

So as I was pushing Clint, I was remembering I think Charlotte where the 8 and 15 weren't working with each other down the straightaway, and it caused a wreck. There was different visions in my mind, but, I mean, this is the Brickyard 400. I was doing all that I could to make sure I hit him straight and just got up to his bumper and pushed him, that I didn't really pop him.

I was as aggressive as I could be. Got by the 5. Got position on him, he cut me a break and let me go. Then the 8, his eyes were focused on that. I'm sure with his father winning here, he was extremely focused and committed to doing what he could do to win the race. I got in, got real close to him and the 3, got him crossed up a little bit and got by him.

So everybody had it all laid out there. I'm glad that I looked smooth. I'm glad that I make it look calculated. But inside my head and my stomach, man, everything's in a knot, and it's all on the table.

Continued in part 3

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt