Johnson, Martin, Hendrick - NASCAR press conference, part 1

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 'Championship Contenders' Press Conference Transcript November 19, 2009 An interview with: JIMMIE JOHNSON - Points leader MARK MARTIN - Second RICK HENDRICK - Owner RAMSEY POSTON: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Ramsey...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 'Championship Contenders' Press Conference Transcript
November 19, 2009

An interview with:
JIMMIE JOHNSON - Points leader

RAMSEY POSTON: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Ramsey Poston, NASCAR's managing director of corporate communications. On behalf of the France family, everyone at NASCAR, welcome to Ford Championship Weekend, this championship contenders press conference.

Sunday history will be made. There's a good number of story lines in that regard. Jimmie Johnson could possibly make history by being the first four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Mark Martin could be NASCAR Sprint Cup's oldest champion. No matter what happens, Mr. Hendrick will make history. On Sunday he will tie Petty Enterprises for nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ownership championships. He will also be the all-time owners champion for the three national series with 12 championships.

Along with our special guests today, we have a special host. He is a broadcaster with Sirius NASCAR Radio and the Motor Racing Network. I'm proud to say he's recently dedicated his life to living shootout style, the Postman, Steve Post.

STEVE POST: Thanks, Ramsey. It is great to be here. Welcome onboard, everyone, for the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship contenders press conference here at the Hyatt Regency, Coral Gables. Great hotel, great city. It is going to be an awesome weekend of NASCAR racing down at Homestead-Miami Speedway. We're glad you kicked it off here with us this afternoon.

The 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season has boiled down to one race between dueling teammates. Yeah, there may be nearly two decades in age difference between our two guys that are going to battle for the crown on Sunday afternoon, but the way they handle themselves, there's a lot of similarities between them.

They both set the standard of excellence on the track with their racing and they both set standards as far as their sportsmanship off the racetrack. It just makes it a fascinating battle that we're going to see play out on Sunday afternoon. We've been watching it actually all season long.

With all the pleasantries out of the way, let's get down to the facts of what we're going to see at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson, the three-time champ, is going to try to do something that has never been done in the 61-year history of the sport of NASCAR. He is looking to become a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion.

And Mark Martin, he is looking for that first crown, after finishing in the runner-up spot four times, and a tremendous career. Both drivers looking to make history Sunday afternoon. Jimmie has a 108-point advantage over Mark. While that may seem daunting, it is not insurmountable. Just look a couple weeks ago at Texas where Mark gained 111 points on Jimmie.

Since 2002, Mark as out-pointed Jimmie nine times by a margin of 108 or more. So we'll see what happens on Sunday afternoon.

The veteran Mark Martin, he may be on the ropes, but he's not down for the count. Ready for a good fight on Sunday afternoon.

These two Hendrick Motorsport teammates have been battling all year long, and the stage is set for one more round on Sunday.

I'd like to take this moment to introduce you to our guests today formally. Starting to my immediate right, one of NASCAR's true all-time greats, he's the driver of the No. 5 Kellogg's Carquest Chevrolet, Mark Martin.

The man in the middle will become the all-time leader in NASCAR national series championships this weekend with 12, the owner of Hendrick Motorsports, welcome Rick Hendrick.

And finally the driver who is chasing a title and chasing history, trying for the fourth consecutive championship, we welcome our three-time defending champion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Jimmie Johnson.

We'll start off with some opening comments from our guests.

Rick, I guess I'll start with you. So many great seasons you've had in NASCAR racing, obviously with all the crowns. How has this season compared to others that you've had so much success during?

RICK HENDRICK: I would have to say this is probably as good as it gets. You know, to have the three cars in the points where they are right now, having the championship as owner going into Homestead already secured, we've won a lot of races, and this has got to be as good as any season we've ever had.

STEVE POST: It is amazing. I have two young daughters. Some of the homework we do is compare and contrast. I'll ask you to compare and contrast Jimmie and Mark.

RICK HENDRICK: No one ever asked me that before (smiling).

I'd say that the thing that is almost identical with these two is the devotion to excellence, not only in what they need to do in the car with the race team, but the way they take care of themselves outside of the car as far as the way they train, the way they eat, and the way they think.

They're as close to being identical as any two I've ever been around. They are both students of what it takes both in the car and outside of the car. And their dedication to excellence, it's remarkable. Their talent speaks for itself. I think that's the reason that they're sitting where they are today. They just are never satisfied without everything around them being as perfect as it can be. They put all of the load on their shoulders.

STEVE POST: Thanks, Mr. H. Congratulations on a fantastic season.

What a season it's been for Mark Martin. A series high seven pole positions, five victories, that's second best in the series. When you think about it, not bad for a guy who was a part-timer last year. Mark, this is your 27th season of racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Could you ever have dreamed a year ago that you would be doing what you do or did you think you'd be running for the championship this year?

MARK MARTIN: Well, I want to say that Rick and Alan certainly thought so, but I didn't. You know, everybody knows and have heard me say this, and I'll say it one more time. The reason I took this deal is because I get close to winning a race or two in 2008, and I could just taste it. I really wanted a chance to try to win again before I wasn't able to ever experience that again. That was the motivation for me, taking this opportunity.

It definitely has turned out to exceed my expectations. I knew that the race team would be awesome. I knew the car would be fast. I just hoped that I would be able to get the job done. One of my biggest goals coming into this year was just to be considered a good teammate, to make a contribution to Hendrick Motorsports so that when the season was over everyone involved would be glad that I, you know, was a part of the organization. That was probably as important as maybe squeaking out a win for me personally.

But I want to take this opportunity to say it's really cool to see Bobby Allison here. It's been my understanding for 20 years that he recommended to Jack Roush that he hire me to drive his car, so I owe a little part of what I'm doing today to BA.

STEVE POST: Pretty cool stuff, no doubt. Absolutely.

Mark, you have talked to many of us over the year of in the past you've let points battles make you not a happy person. Are you having fun this year?

MARK MARTIN: I'm having lots of fun this year. This has been obviously the best year of my life professionally as well as personally. The personal part comes from being happy. I was a very, very happy person in 2008. But that little bit of extra performance that we have been getting on the racetrack in 2009 even made it more awesome. An opportunity to be around Mr. Hendrick and all the fine people, teammates and people at Hendrick Motorsports, has really made my life rich this year with people and with quality relationships above and beyond any other year that I can ever remember.

STEVE POST: Talk about memories. You've made a lot of them for us this year. We appreciate your success. Congratulations on that.

Now we'd like to turn to the points leader going into Sunday's event, the final event in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Jimmie, in Major League Baseball, Reggie Jackson was known as Mr. October because of his clutch performance in the playoffs, then in the World Series. I guess since NASCAR has implemented the Chase, you can be Mr. Autumn with your clutch performance in the Chase. Dating back to 2004, you've won 18 races in the Chase. How have you been able to establish such dominance late in the season as you guys have?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's tough to really say it's one thing. I feel that the tracks are good to us. And at the same time I feel Chad Knaus and our whole group of guys, all that we have at Hendrick Motorsports, we get stronger throughout the year. When the pressure is on, myself, the team, Hendrick Motorsports, everybody involved has really performed well under pressure time and time again. Rick would not be in this position, winning so many championships, if he didn't kind of build that into the work environment at Hendrick Motorsports. Chad and I have been able to be a part of the culture and keep that alive here lately.

Very proud of what we've done since this team has started in 2002. We've done a lot of great things. It's hard to believe in some ways it seems like the eight years have flown by, in other ways it seems longer. But it's been a very, very special eight years. I'm thankful that Lowe's took that chance with me years back. Rick and I tell a story about sitting at the table trying to ensure them that I was going to be able to win a race back in the day. To see where we are now as a team and a group is really special.

I'm glad that we have this late-season push each year, especially with the Chase in play. I think it would be helpful if it was the old points system, as well. I know we were close to winning a championship with that system also.

STEVE POST: We all know the numbers. We've all ran the numbers 10 thousand times since Sunday afternoon. How has your week been? Have you thought about finishing 25th, how you're going to accomplish that on Sunday?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, luckily Texas is still really close in my mind and something that I think about. And because of what happened in Texas I'm just not letting my guard down. I'm not letting my mind wander and think about the 'what ifs.' I'm trying to keep the same focus and mindset that I had in Phoenix. Things obviously went really well there for us.

So it's really that mentality. I am just dying to get in the racecar. I'm pouring through my notes. I've driven hundreds of laps in my mind before I go to bed each night, worrying about qualifying trim, worrying about race trim, all the things I can do to prepare myself on my side. I'm there. I'm eager for tomorrow. It will help getting in the car, getting a feel for the track, the tires, what our challenges are. Tomorrow morning when we get on track, it will be a real good time for me.

STEVE POST: Jimmie, best of luck on Sunday as you go to rewrite the record books here at NASCAR.

At this point I'll turn it back to NASCAR's Ramsey Poston. He's going to conduct the Q&A portion of the conference here.

RAMSEY POSTON: Thank you, Postman. Great job. We'll start the Q&A session.

Q: Mr. Hendrick, Martinsville in 1984 you almost didn't make it to the race. Turned out you won your first race. In the 25 years since then, you've seen the best the sport has had to offer and the worst. Can you talk about what it's like being at the point where you have more championships than anyone else has and you have the best team you've ever had. As a follow-up to that, can you talk about having two guys up here, because you know one of them is going to be happy and one of them is going to be disappointed. Is that harder or easier than if you're racing another team?

RICK HENDRICK: I think to answer your first question, I never really thought I'd win a race. I wanted to win a race, but I never thought I'd win a championship. I was just happy to compete.

I grew up, and it was almost in the modified racing with my dad. It was an honor to go to a Cup race. It just so happened I was a big Rex White and Bobby Allison fan. To think I would be able to do it, to compete in it, was an honor for me. I'm kind of stealing one of Mark's lines, but I'm actually living the dream because I grew up, and that's all I knew, was racing, cars, working on cars. You didn't get paid to do it; you did it because you loved it. You'd take whatever you made to do it.

So to be able to look back and see what we've been able to accomplish, I've just been really fortunate to be around a lot of great people. It's hard for me to believe that we're sitting here tied with Richard Petty. I don't feel worthy of that. I don't know how to explain that, because when I was nominated for the Hall of Fame, I don't think I'm even in that category in my mind with a Bobby Allison, a Richard Petty, that group.

I hope one day when we look back that we can say we've accomplished some pretty neat things. So I'm just very fortunate to be at this place in my life with this organization. I owe it all to the people. I really can't explain how it happened, it just did.

Going to a race when you've got two guys battling, I'm not going to be as nervous Sunday as they are. I kind of got over that little bit of a hump. But I'm going to be as nervous for them. It's going to be nice to know we're going to bring it back in the organization.

The thing that I'm probably going to be the proudest of is that what got us here is the fact that Alan and Chad will talk on Saturday and Saturday night and they will share information. Jimmie and Mark will talk on Saturday and Saturday night, and they will share information. They'll go out and compete against each other. That won't change. At the end of the race, they know that what they've done all year has got us here. That's the part that I'm so proud of, that Chad in a meeting at Motorsports on Tuesday will give Alan credit that he got the setup on Saturday from Alan, went out and won the race, when Alan will give Chad the credit. When you've got everybody working together, it makes a big difference.

Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt said, if Mark Martin will join our organization, he will make us all better. And he has made us all better.

Jimmie, I mean, I'll tell you, I would hate to have to race against these two guys. I don't know how this guy here hasn't won a championship. I thought about it the other night and, you know, he has raced and finished second to some of the all-time greats when they were in their prime, from Jeff Gordon to Dale Earnhardt. If you kind of put it on a graph and you said, Has anyone ever raced against that many champions in their prime and finished second? He would have to be considered one of the all-time greats.

I'm just fortunate. It feels kind of strange for me for him to call me Mr. Hendrick. I want to go on the record, I'm only 10 years older than he is. I want it to be Rick (laughter).

I'm so proud of what these guys have accomplished. And I think that's a part of our organization 'cause as soon as I talked him into one year, we've got him for two more. So, I mean, we went to work right away.

Unanimously from our drivers, they said, He will make us better, he will just help us. So, anyway, I'm very fortunate. Whatever happens Sunday, we've had a heck of a year. Both of these guys are champions.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Bobby Allison , Jack Roush , Chad Knaus , Mark Martin , Rex White
Teams Hendrick Motorsports