Indianapolis: Winning team press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Jimmie, two years in a row we've had one race where you could run 12 laps on tires, and one race where you could run 30 laps, yet your team was successful. What about your team makes you so adaptable? JIMMIE...

Continued from part 1

Q: Jimmie, two years in a row we've had one race where you could run 12 laps on tires, and one race where you could run 30 laps, yet your team was successful. What about your team makes you so adaptable?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd have to say the first couple runs when I was sliding the car around, it was kind of hard not to think of beating up the tire. Took a while to get used to it. I was watching guys around me sliding their cars. Okay, we can beat up the tires. After the first stop, I heard tires looked great. Just kind of lost the feelings and concerns from last year and focused on what we could do.

This track is a really tough one. I'd say in '05 I started to understand how to drive this track, could give these guys the right feedback to adjust the car. Then 2006 we won the race, confirmed, all right, this is how I need to drive it. Once I figured that out, they could adjust the car for me, build the right car.

Yesterday was tough. It challenged my thoughts as a driver and if I was doing the right things because we could post a quick lap, but then there's a ton of falloff. Then we got it to where I liked it, wouldn't go at all at the beginning of a run, was just fair at the end of a run. So yesterday was a challenge.

We had a great team meeting before the race today. We just all agreed that we needed to buckle down and run our race, do what we could. We made the best decisions we could through the night, put the best setup in the car that we knew of, just deal with the circumstances and go out and race.

It was cool to see. It's what the 48 is known for. I'm glad we were able to win today because it gives us the confidence in our approach to the race, what we need to do coming up into the Chase. I feel very good about the way things are going and where we're headed.

Q: Was this race kind of sort of like a microcosm of y'all's season? You've kind of been in the shadows, but doing what you need to do, and you're obviously going to be in the Chase, but at the last minute there's the 48 again doing what they've always done.

CHAD KNAUS: What does 'microcosm' mean (laughter)?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's a big word. I think I know what it (laughter). means Now I forgot the question (laughter).

We were talking about this before we came to the track, that it's good and bad that we've been under the radar. But the reason it's bad is we've led a lot of laps. You look at the last five or six races, I think we've led the most laps. Just not the one at the end that counted to get all the glory and the hype.

So with that in mind, I mean, it has been quiet. That is good because it allows us to focus and not get caught up in all the energy around winning races and leading the points. But we know it's coming. We know the Chase is coming up. Our guys are trying to treat each race leading into the Chase like we are in the Chase.

We're buckled down and ready. For whatever reason that strategy or that style has been placed on this team, and it's not that we try to do that, it's just the way it works. We don't know why.

Q: It's easy to look at this from the outside and say last year was the race that the tires didn't work, and this year was the race that Montoya threw away, rather than these are two races that Jimmie Johnson won. Do you care?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't see it that way at all (laughter). We led the most laps last year and won the race. To finish first, first you must finish. I hate him for it. Mark and I had to fight that thing out at the end. I know it is a story, Juan led so many laps. We come back and look at it two months from now, it's going to be a W next to my name on the stat sheet. That's all that matters (laughter).

Q: Speaking of stats, I'm sure you know this, seven of the last 11 winners of this race have gone on to win the championship, including you. Can you hear the collective groan out there from the other guys?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I hope it does. It doesn't mean much to us in that respect. But I certainly hope that it makes people think and wonder and worry, especially the guys in the garage area. That would be helpful for us.

But this track is so difficult. We run on it once a year. The teams that are on top of their game end up successful here. I think that's why guys that have won this race have won the championship, because that team that given year is on top of what's going on. Short amount of practice. You line up and race for one of the most difficult tracks to race on. I think that's the correlation between the two.

We'll see what happens and hopefully guys in the fenced off area, in the garage area, are worried about it.

Q: Rick, seems for the last hundred years everybody has been chasing Rick Hendrick Motorsports. What do you feel you have for an edge this year? What is that feeling like, to know you're the guy people are chasing?

RICK HENDRICK: You know, to be honest with you, I don't ever look at it that way. I'm thankful when we run well. The reason we run well is sitting right here: the talent of these guys, Jimmie's talent, Chad, and the organization. I know how close, I've watched Carl Edwards a year ago, looked like he had the mile and a half figured out, then we worked, worked, worked. I think it's a tribute to our guys, but I know we know we got to work harder.

I probably don't feel I don't know about you guys but I don't feel as good this year. I never get comfortable. We always try to keep the carrot out there like we got to get better or we're gonna get beat. I just think it's keeping everybody together, keeping everybody focused.

Jimmie has set a tremendous example. Mark, Jeff, Junior has stepped up the game. I think everybody wants it so bad that we realize if we can keep it together, we got a shot, and we know a lot of things can happen in that Chase.

We're gonna try to get all the momentum we can. But I sure don't feel comfortable. But I do realize that these guys are going for four in a row, and it's there in our reach, and we just got to keep working hard. I'll say this for Jimmie, he's had a bunch of heartbreaks. Pocono, different tracks, he had 'em covered. Maybe we were a lap short of gas or things happened, which hadn't been characteristics of the 48 team. But you can't control when the cautions come out. You can't control those things. You kind of have to get prepared. I think for these guys, it was almost a good dose of reality. It doesn't always fall your way. You have situations that come up, and you just have to deal with it.

I like the spot we're in. But this is gonna be a fierce fight this year. I know the fans love it, this double file restart. I'll tell you what, it's nerve wracking to watch the cars and know what can happen. But it's great for our sport. I agree it's great for our sport. Boy, it puts knots in your stomach when you run all day and pack 'em in there together. I think it's going to help the ratings, makes it more exciting for the fans. I know you didn't ask me all that (laughter).

Q: How difficult is it to keep that car on the rev limit to make sure you don't go over the speed limit? Does your adrenaline get going so you can bust after a good stop?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's tough. I mean, you're trying to get to pit road as fast as you can. There's a lot of times where you have the tires locked up and you can tell you're still going too fast. A lot of it boils down to how big the segments are. Wherever there's a short segment, that gets people. If you're speeding, try to give some time back, it doesn't work. I've seen a lot at tracks where there's a very short segment at the end of pit road, and that usually gets guys all the time.

So you just we're doing everything we can to keep the exact rpm. These guys work it out mathematically to tell us exactly where we need to be. Basically on the gas, then riding the brake, just trying to keep the tach at a consistent spot, slowly adjusting your brake pressure to keep it right in the window it needs to be in.

It's tough because sometimes you know, yeah, I was speeding. Other times, there's a short segment, you're just a fraction over, you know, it gets you. You're like, I wasn't speeding. It's a tough thing, it really is. I've been nailed more this year than any, if you added up all the other seasons. I'm way cautious now. I'm tired of making that mistake.

CHAD KNAUS: You know, it's a tough thing to monitor from Jimmie's standpoint and from ours obviously because if you think about it, we've got timing and scoring that each one of you looks at as we're running around the racetrack. That's what we watch and base ourselves off of throughout the event. Once you hit pit road, we don't have any reference. We have mathematical equations based on the tire stagger, gear ratio, the pit road speed we have to work off of. I'm hoping that at some point we'll be able to see the pit road speeds published because that will allow us to work within limits that we're comfortable with.

From a competitor's standpoint, if you don't know your limits, it's difficult to know what it is. You're always gonna try to get to the topside of that limit. So Jimmie does that. We push Jimmie to go as fast as he can on pit road. It's kind of an unknown right now, that you're just kind of I mean, it's kind of a guessing game weekly on that.

I'm hoping eventually NASCAR will actually publish those speeds so we can adjust our times accordingly throughout the events.

Q: Chad, Jimmie talked about his experience here at the Speedway. You brought a first time car here today. How tough is it to bring a new car in to a track like Indianapolis or is it different in Charlotte?

CHAD KNAUS: It wasn't that long ago that you would build an Indy car, and that's what we would do. Back when we were running the old body styles, manipulate the templates, you would build what you call a flat track type racecar, short track type chassis with high downforce body on it. Now with the way the rules are, you don't necessarily do that. Now coupled with the fact that we can't test, you have to introduce new cars at different times. It doesn't really matter where that is.

This car that we're racing here this weekend is going to be a car, one of our primary cars for the Chase. We had to start getting miles on the car and learn how to adjust on it. We took a brand new car to Michigan this year. Ran fantastic with it. Ran the most laps with it in the lead, should have won. It wasn't that we built this car specifically for Indianapolis. We were just building a new car, building that car to the best of our ability, and this is where it ended up. Very well could have been Pocono next week, but this is how it shook out.

Q: Rick, Mark Martin is doing things he was doing in the mid '90s when he was really in his prime. Is this what you foresaw when you went after him a year ago? Did you still think he had the ability to do this?

RICK HENDRICK: I'll tell you, Mark Martin, when he climbed in the Busch car the first time at Darlington, I was blown away. I just couldn't believe a guy could dissect a car. Jimmie does the same thing. But then when you talk to Jimmie or Jeff, ask them about Mark Martin, they say he's awesome, will he do it.

Jimmie said it, he's phenomenal. I don't know any other word for it. You look at this year, what he's done, race in, race out, he's energized all of us. He's appreciative of the opportunity. I can't even imagine. I would love to have had him 10 years ago.

What do you think, Mr. Johnson? What did you call him, Iron Man?


Q: They reported on the broadcast that on the last pit stop you took a big swing at the car to make a lot of adjustments. Can you tell us what you did to it? When Junior's engine blew up, did that give I any trepidation?

CHAD KNAUS: 'Trepidation'. You guys got these big words going today (laughter).

First off, no, I won't tell you what we did. But the car was tight and we made some pretty aggressive adjustments to try to free the car up.

This racetrack, when you get behind somebody, you lose a lot of your front downforce. The car inherently gets tight because you don't have any pressure keeping the front on the ground. We had to do some mechanical adjustments to get the car freed up.

As far as the 88, yeah, I heard after that round of pit stops, he came down into turn one, I heard it immediately. The 77 or the 12 was behind him. Kind of caught my ear. I keyed up to Johnny. I said, Get with Scott, who heads up the tuner department at Hendrick Motorsports, find out if that was the 88. Sure enough, coming off turn four, that thing lit up like a candle.

I was nervous. I was very nervous. Actually Mr. Hendrick came up and was the first one to tell me that Dale may have thought he over revved it a little bit. That was the reason.

I didn't have any trepidation after that. I can't even use it in this sentence (laughter).

Q: Jimmie, you're now second in the standings behind Tony Stewart with this win today. Heading into the Chase, is your mindset more of winning more races to help secure a top seed or would you rather just drive more conservatively and save it for the Chase?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It really just depends on the opportunities. If we're in a position to gamble, which those situations don't come often, we can look at it, if it's a two tire situation or stay out on fuel. Michigan wound up to be a fuel mileage race. Maybe we can take advantage of the situation there. Hope it doesn't. It burns us every time. We've run out of gas twice leading.

CHAD KNAUS: Won Phoenix.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's one. We won one on fuel. Lost many others. If there's a window of opportunity which is small, we'll go it. Other than that, we're doing what we can each week to score as many points, including winning the race. I would rather take the chance with some upside, if it's there. I don't want to just swing, whiff, miss. If we have a good reason to take a chance, I'm willing to do it. Other than that, we need to build momentum and confidence in our guys and myself and Chad, just do things right, finish in the top three, top five. Just keep cranking those out.

Q: Rick discussed a minute ago about how you have had the best car before and failed to close the deal. Obviously you're euphoric now. You've been in his shoes. It's exasperating when a driver faces that type of situation. How is he feeling right now? You've been in his shoes before.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Who are we talking about?

Q: Juan Pablo Montoya.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I've been in that situation. It's painful. Especially when you're on pit road and you swear that you didn't do anything wrong. I mean, I've been in that position before. I think Sonoma was the last time. There was no way we could get busted for speeding, and somehow we did.

I've been there. Certainly it's not a good position. It sucks. I know two or three days now, he'll look back, find positives. Any good team does. You look back on how good you ran, the qualifying circumstances, and you build on it. We're going to Pocono soon.

KERRY THARP: This week.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sweet. I'm on top of things. We'll work there. Those guys will be a threat. They're close. Once he figures out how to get to Victory Lane on an oval, he's going to do a lot of it.

KERRY THARP: Jimmie, Chad, Rick, congratulations. Good luck the rest of the season.

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Hendrick Motorsports