Indianapolis: Winning team press conference, part 3

Continued from part 2 Q: I like the idea about majors in golf, there was a Tiger Slam. Maybe this could be like a Jimmie Slam. Would you put the 600 in there to be a Jimmie Slam? Is 600 bigger than the All-Star? Can we complete that, figure...

Continued from part 2

Q: I like the idea about majors in golf, there was a Tiger Slam. Maybe this could be like a Jimmie Slam. Would you put the 600 in there to be a Jimmie Slam? Is 600 bigger than the All-Star? Can we complete that, figure that out?

JOHNSON: I'm not sure that has a good ring to it, the "Jimmie Slam" (laughter).

You know, if you look back to, you know, what was it called, the Crown Jewel, was that the deal? Southern 500, I guess was in there. It's changed around. There's different ways to look at it.

The 600, that's another big, big event. But I think the three biggest-paying races, we've been able to win. So I think that just depends on how you look at it.

Q: Chad, you dodged the radio issues and the tire problems, then you have a pit fire. Are you at a point there where you're wondering, "What's next?"

KNAUS: Oh, absolutely. I was like, Is it Lap 160 yet?

I didn't know what was going to happen next. Obviously, there was a million things going through my mind, wondering if the tire was going to make it to the end of the next stint, and, you know, just you just don't know.

We're back there behind all those cars, is somebody going to get crossed up, is there going to be an accident, are we going to get caught up in somebody else's mess? Or even if when we got back there in traffic, was our car going to be able to work its way back? There was a lot of guys that got marred back in traffic, and they could not move forward.

So, yeah, I was pretty much -- I wouldn't say I was ready to give up, because we don't do that. But I was -- I had my guard up waiting for the next blow, I can tell you that.

Q: Jimmie, you talked a little bit about respect on the pace car after the race. Do you ever wonder what you have to do in the court of public opinion because I'm sure you have respect in the garage. And for Rick, to follow up, do you see a similarity in Jeff's early years and the respect issue?

JOHNSON: Uhm, the way the question was asked was in fact, I can't even remember it now exactly but I was getting at in my comments, our sport is very big, and it's big because there are, you know, 50 different drivers and 43 on every weekend that are out there racing. Our fans support their fans. If you're not their driver, they're gonna let you know that. That's what I love about our sport.

What's helped me realize that is going to other sporting events. I'm sitting there, rooting for the Braves in an Atlanta Braves game, and I think the New York Mets came out, and I'm booing those guys straight away when they walk out. That's what sportings about. Once that clicked in my mind, I'm like, "That's all that it is." You root for your guy.

I think the accomplishments that we've been able to have as a race team, and we might not have all the fans out there, the majority of the fans, that's not what I'm after. As I said in the car, it's about respect. I think what we've been able to accomplish, the way we've carried ourselves, how we've handled things, I think that we're gaining more and more respect. That's all I can ask for.

Q: Rick, do you see similarities to Jeff's early years?

HENDRICK: Yeah, I guess when you have a young driver that does well and sometimes wins a lot and leads points, some of the veterans, you know, maybe say things and turn folks against them. I think a lot of the fans want to see guys earn respect. I think Jimmie has done a fantastic job of, you know, racing people, you know, good and clean and running, winning without having to run over them. I think a couple of accidents, you know, superspeedways that he got a bad rub and then that kind of carried on a little bit.

But I think if the drivers -- and my experience in the sport, is, you know, if you get to win it a lot, you have a lot of everybody, all the other fans together are, you know, like Jimmie said, there's 40 other drivers, you add all of them together and maybe you don't see your fans.

But I see a big change walking into the garage now, looking at the fans in the stands and wearing the shirts and looking at the support he's getting, and I think he's earned that respect from not only the drivers, but I think the race fans see how competitive it is out there. These guys right here haven't had a cake walk; they have worked hard, you know, to put it together in a bad day.

I think we got together before the year started this year and looked at all of the things that have happened to us that we didn't get to the championship and took a different approach and trying not to get too excited and to, you know, let a guy go race, race everybody, and take the spot you got and come back next week and the points would add up, and then build the momentum toward the end.

I think the maturity that these guys have built together, there's been a lot of respect in the garage area. When you see other drivers complimenting them and talking about them, then the fans start saying, "Yeah, look what they've overcome."

I think they've had to earn it. Jimmie has been a great spokesman for the sport. It's kind of nice when people don't say anything bad about you. I think it's OK for the fans to root for their guy, like Jimmie said. You know, when you get blamed for something that you really didn't do or maybe you were a little aggressive at one point, I think you just earn it every single week.

I watched the fans out there today, and they appreciated the job he did and the way he drove and the good show they saw at the end of the race. So, you know, it was nice to see that in the stands when we were kissing the bricks because sometimes when you've -- I've had to turn my shirt inside-out to leave the track before, back in the Bodine days, 20 years ago (laughter).

So I've been through it all.

You see so many of these young guys come along now that break into the sport that have got so much talent. And I think Jimmie mentioned it a little while, it's so competitive. It's really neat to watch drivers mature and go through different stages. I'm not just talking about my guys; I'm talking about other guys we've seen in the garage area.

Q: We know you're thrilled for the win and you talked earlier about that calm demeanor. Could it be you've trained yourself not to overreact, to learn patience, that you've trained yourself almost to not have that emotion in a way as you go through this?

JOHNSON: I think it's around the corner. The longer I sit here and think about what we did today, I'm getting riled up. It's just a delayed reaction. I can't believe we accomplished what we did today. It was just phenomenal. Unbelievable. New experience for me.

Q: It's your fifth Brickyard victory, Rick, but a first for a driver other than the name of Jeff Gordon. As a five-time winning team owner here, has Roger Penske come and asked you what the secret is to winning at this place?

HENDRICK: No, I was actually talking to Roger before the race and said, "Be easy on us today."

It's really neat to see, you know, Jimmie. I think you guys have touched on it. When you win Daytona and you win 600 and you win the All-Star race and then you come win this race, it kind of does something to your resume. It's races you want to win and it's races your sponsors want to win. So it's neat to win this race -- whoever's in the car, you know.

I think these guys have worked hard. You hear it from all the teams, but today you've got to work together. I think Jimmie helped the other guys after practice, he and Chad. And the way they're communicating and working with each other and all of the knowledge and all of the talent that's there, these things are hard to come by. At my age, I like to collect as many as I can.

You know, I was worried more about getting up after the brick-kissing in front of all those people. That was what was on my mind after I was right in the middle of the burnout rubber when I got up. I didn't want to see all those folks watching me struggle to get off my knees after so long (laughing).

Q: As you're sitting here, are maybe some of those early thoughts of you in Southern California starting to come back to you and do you say, "How did I get here?" The second part, Mr. Hendrick, are we starting to lose the dirt-track breeding ground for young drivers, and are you starting to look at the motorcycle, two-wheeled world?

JOHNSON: You know, I do think about the background, my background, in a couple different ways. Because growing up, Rick Mears and the whole Mears gang for that matter with Roger Senior and Junior, all we needed was to have Casey, be part of Hendrick Motorsports -- but they were who I looked up to. They started in off-road and went to Indy car.

When I was coming up through the ranks of off-road racing, I was working with Chevrolet and they picked me up at 16 years old, put me under contract. And we were heading down the road toward open wheel. I'll never forget one summer off-road desert race that we had, sat down and they said: "Look, we're pulling out of Indy car, we're not gonna support it. If you want your career to go any further, you need to think of stock car racing."

At that point, I started to drive for Herzog Motorsports, and they had the same vision of going stock car racing, and things all kind of came together.

So my early vision of coming to Indy, I always hoped that it would be an Indy car and not be in a stock car and win the Brickyard 400. I'm glad I at least made it here, sitting here with this trophy, kissing the bricks.

I think my off-road racing background and motocross background, especially on the dirt bikes, when you made a mistake on a dirt bike, you hit the ground, it was like, "Wow, that hurts, don't do that again." So I think it taught me a lot about winning and how to be aggressive. The dirt racing, I noticed today the track, the grip level really changed a lot. I think dirt drivers like Stewart and Kahne and Jeff, you see us really looking around and trying to find asphalt that isn't as slick in other parts and really changing lines and being aggressive with that.

Today I had to use that a lot, even as narrow as this racetrack is, my line changed quite a bit throughout the day searching for grip like a dirt track.

Q: Rick, this is your fifth time kissing the bricks. Does it taste better, still bad, or it's good? Is there any secret?

HENDRICK: You know, it's an unbelievable experience, and every time you get to do it, it's just as special as the first time. You know, I think the thing that I've done is just try to treasure, you know, this is Indianapolis, that's kissing the bricks.

And each time, I've had this guy that I went to high school with that is one of my friends I grew up with, he's been here every time. He doesn't go to probably five races a year, but he's been every time we won Indy. I'm definitely gonna put him on a plane next year (laughter).

Again, it's just good to see a guy like Chad and Jimmie work hard, and they're two of the most unselfish guys in our organization. I know both of them, when Chad went to work in the 24 in the body shop, and Jimmie when he drove a late-model car I supported back when he was 18, I guess. They haven't changed. My relationship with them and the way I've seen Jimmie and Chad are the same people.

When I waited for him in St. Louis and bought him a big what was it -- a Quarter Pounder with my son and scolded my son because we had to wait three hours for this guy Jimmie Johnson to finish up a Busch race and come home with us, and the man goes to France and doesn't invite me (laughter). I'm trying to figure out how these drivers make all the money and us owners spend all the money.

Anyway, this is really a special deal. We try real hard. I think Chad said it, it's not just this race, it's every race. But, man, when you can win one of these, you don't take it for granted.

Q: Jimmie, before the race, I think Rick Mears and Bill, his dad, were there with you. Did they give you advice or anything? Rick had won there four times.

JOHNSON: I didn't see Rick. I saw Roger and their father. It was kind of late, trying to get out to the race car.

I know how special this race is to the whole Mears family, and the history and what Rick has been able to accomplish here. On our off weekend, talking with Casey, I know Casey really, really came into this event hopeful that he would have a strong performance and that his family would be here.

Q: Jeff turned 35 on Friday. Chad turned 35 on Saturday. Was this your birthday present?

JOHNSON: As I crossed the finish line, I said, "Happy birthday, Knaus." All he wanted was a top 10 for qualifying on his birthday; I delivered there, then got him a trophy.

MODERATOR: Thank you all very much. Congratulations.

-ims-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Rick Mears , Roger Penske
Teams Hendrick Motorsports