This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Teleconference featured Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Chad Knaus. The series moves to Kansas Speedway next weekend for the Banquet 400, round 30 of...
This week's NASCAR Winston Cup Series Teleconference featured Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his crew chief, Chad Knaus.
The series moves to Kansas Speedway next weekend for the Banquet 400, round 30 of 36 points-paying races on the 2003 circuit. A three-time winner this year (Charlotte and both Loudon races) along with The Winston, Johnson enters the Kansas event in fourth place in the standings. He has been in the top 10 for 29 race weeks, and is the only driver to be in the top 10 for the entire season. Dating back to 2002, he has been ranked among the top 10 for 62 consecutive race weeks. Johnson started on the outside pole at last year's Kansas race and finished 10th.
With Johnson's win at NHIS in July, he earned the 400th Winston Cup win for Chevrolet in NASCAR's Modern Era (1972 - present). If Johnson, or any other Chevy driver is victorious this weekend at Kansas, Chevrolet will clinch the 2003 Manufacturers Cup award.
Q&A's with CHAD KNAUS:
WITH SEVEN RACES TO GO, HOW CAN YOU ACCESS YOUR SEASON SO FAR?
"Jimmie and I sat down at the beginning of the year and laid out some goals that we promised we'd keep confidential of things we wanted to accomplish. Oddly enough, we didn't accomplish as many of the goals as we set out to, but we accomplish things we didn't think we would do. So it balanced out a little bit. We thought we'd win a restrictor plate race, but we weren't able to do that since the last one was Talladega last Sunday. But we never in a million years thought that we would sweep Loudon. So we've really had a pretty decent year. We've had a lot of unfortunate luck. And we've had some engine malfunctions that have cost us a lot of points. We really thought we were going to be able to bid for the championship. But with Matt Kenseth's consistency, we're not going to be able to. We started to falter just a little bit at Talladega. If we didn't have our engine problem and not gotten spun and lose the engine as a result, we would have had a chance to capitalize on the points. We feel like we can finish in the top five in points and that's going to be very respectable. I think we've really set ourselves up for a championship bid in '04."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE FIRST CAR GETTING A LAP BACK IN THE NEW RULES?
"You're probably getting the same answer from everybody. If our car is in a position to get a lap back, I love it. If the situation is that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman - two guys that I'm battling in the points - get their laps back for free at Talladega and they're able to make up a bunch of points, I don't like that. Since they've implemented that rule in the last two weeks, Ryan Newman has probably gained over 100 points than he would have if they didn't have that rule. That just puts him closer to us, so I don't really like that. But you can't whine over it because it is what it is. NASCAR will make adjustments as necessary. They didn't make this rule to help a guy who's a lap down. They made this rule to help the guys that are injured and to keep accidents from happening. And that's the most important thing and I agree with that 100 percent."
ARE THERE ANY DRIVER WEAKNESSES YOU'D LIKE TO ADDRESS BEFORE GOING INTO NEXT SEASON?
"As you grow and mature as a team, you always see new things you have to grow and get better at. Jimmie and I have made such big gains on our communications skills and our teamwork. We can identify with whatever each other is feeling - by facial expressions or tone of voice or whatever. To make us better, the thing we're going to have to do is just continue to mature together. That means that when we go out and win, we've got to be sure we maintain a level attitude. Same when with we don't do well. We can't have peaks and valleys emotionally because that's where a lot of strain comes from - whether it's a marriage or a friendship or a working relationship like Jimmie and I have where you've got to maintain some type of level. That's what we're working on that now. They guys that we have on our team are still fairly young and they kind of feed on the emotion that we put out there. That's the biggest hurdle we've got right now. Performance-wise and with on-track actions, I don't think there are really too many teams that are better than we are right now."
SO YOU DON'T SEE YOURSELVES GETTING BETTER ON A PARTICULAR TYPE OF TRACK OVER ANOTHER - INTERMEDIATE TRACK VS. SHORT TRACK FOR EXAMPLE?
"I don't really think we can get much better. I shouldn't really say that. Ryan Newman does a heck of a job. When those guys are out front they're incredible. When they're at the back of the pack, they struggle at times. We've been able to do the opposite. We've been able to start up front and finish up front. We've been able to start dead last and finish up front. There are a lot of places where we've had problems. We blew an engine at Texas and had to start at the back of the pack and drove straight to the front. At Lowe's Motor Speedway, we lost an engine prior to qualifying. We started dead last in the field there and won it. Loudon, a short track which is not typically our forte, we won two races there this year. We ran exceptionally well at Martinsville. So I don't think there's a whole lot for us to work on, we've just got to work on our consistency a little bit more. The road courses are still a bit of a weakness, but we haven't been terrible. Performance-wise, there's not a lot we need to do."
ON YOUR CREW PACING ITSELF BETTER THIS YEAR?
"There are seven races to go and there are some very difficult race tracks. We have some more testing to deal with. Now is the point where we're going to see if our plan worked. I think it did. Our guys are better and more rested. They've maintained a level of intensity the majority of the season that they've been able to carry all year long. To be able to win the Winston Cup championship, we need to do a better job of it next year. But I think we've taken it to the next step over what we had last year by far. I'm not going to say I'm not getting tired because I am starting to get a little bit tired. I think everybody is. A lot of these crew chiefs are sick and worn down. I spoke to James Ince on the phone yesterday and he's got the flu. Its just part of it. Everybody gets tired and worn down. But I think my guys are in better shape at this point in the season now than they were last year."
IT'S DIFFERENT FOR EVERY DRIVER/CREW CHIEF COMBINATION, BUT HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR YOU GUYS TO GEL?
"It varies. You talk to some drivers and crew chiefs and they never get it to work. It just doesn't happen. They don't find that chemistry and it just doesn't work for people. Jimmie and I were fortunate to be able to do it right out of the box. We had a couple of test sessions and went to some social activities before the start of the season and it really clicked. It really worked right away. That's the big reason why we've had success. You look at some of these other guys, like Matt (Borland) and Ryan (Newman), who were together for a long time before they even got into Winston Cup. They had background and time working with one another. They hit the ground running. We went to Daytona and said okay here we go. We tried to make it work. But as far as a timeline for when you get things figured out and understand each other's vocabulary and how to interact with other members of the team, you can't set a timeline on that. Some people never get it. Some people get it right away."
RYAN PEMBERTON HAS HAD TO WORK WITH FIVE DIFFERENT DRIVERS THIS YEAR. CAN YOU IMAGINE HAVING TO DO THAT?
"That would be very tough. And Ryan is a good crew chief. He does a very good job dealing with what they've had to deal with. They had to deal with Jerry Nadeau getting hurt at Richmond. Jerry still wants to get back in the car. The guys want him back but don't know when he's going to recover or if he's going to be able to fully recover. It's hard to deal with that in itself, let alone different drivers and styles. It's really hard for him and I feel for him. I hope I never have to be in that position. I think that No. 01 team could be very competitive and they were real competitive before Jerry got hurt."
WHEN YOUR GAME PLAN DOESN'T QUITE WORK DURING THE RACE, DO YOU HAVE ANOTHER PLAN OR DO YOU JUST GET CREATIVE?
"Everybody asks me what my strategy is. Honestly, I really pay attention to three races (or years) prior to the same one we're going to. I watch those races to see how things unfold and how things come up. That gives you some different scenarios. But you cannot set a game plan in a Winston Cup race because it never works out the way you think it's going to. You always have to shoot from the hip. That's one thing I feel we do very well. We strategize as the race is unfolding. We try to stay on top of what's going on and work on different situations. Different situations breed different scenarios. If you're running first through fifth and a caution comes out, you have one basic set of rules you abide by. You're going to come in and pit. If you're in say 10th through 20th, you're kind of in a limbo state. You have to decide to either do what the leaders do or what the guys behind you do. You're stuck in the middle trying to make a decision. And then if you're from 20th to 43rd, you're going to do whatever it possibly takes to get up to the front. You've just always got to change. You just can't stick to one particular game plan."
DOES IT TAKE A YEAR OR MORE TO GET EVERYTHING TOGETHER TO BE ABLE TO MAKE A RUN FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP?
"When you roll into Daytona next year for the 500, you've got to go there ready and prepared to win that championship. Now that doesn't mean you're going to have a car that's capable of winning the race and sitting on the pole. That's not what it is because we're always like that. We're always prepared. We go to the race track every week prepared to win and wanting to win. What happens is that you have to have the mentality of moving ahead. Last year, we were able to do it differently. We said we were going to run every race as fast as we can until we run out of fuel or run out of tires. We're going to come in, we're going to pit, and we're going to do the same thing over again. It worked for us last year, but what ends up happening is that you lose focus of the big picture and you get caught up in the moment. When you're trying to win a championship, you've got to look ahead to what's coming up - the next race, the next practice, the next 20 laps. That's the mentality we're going to have for next year. We're going to take it to the next level. We're going to play it a little safer and be more strategically placed at the end of the event."
ARE THERE TWO KINDS OF ATTITUDES? RACE BY RACE OR FOR THE BIG PICTURE?
"Because the season is so long, you've got to go out there and try to win every single race. But there's a point where you have to break off if you know that you can't win. From that, you've got to try to get into the top 10. If you're bidding for the championship, that's what you've got to do. The first half of the race, want to make sure you're in position to try to win. If you can't possibly get there, you've got to do whatever you can to get the best finish you can without putting yourself in harm's way because those points are so important."