Las Vegas: Race winner interview

Jimmie Johnson (Winner) No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Yeah, it was a great performance for Hendrick Motorsports. The Hendrick cars, at the beginning of the day today, we all were pretty...struggling with the cars. I don't know what the other guys had...

Jimmie Johnson (Winner)
No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet

Yeah, it was a great performance for Hendrick Motorsports. The Hendrick cars, at the beginning of the day today, we all were pretty...struggling with the cars. I don't know what the other guys had for issues but I was really loose. I think by the first pit stop I was near 20th. We got real aggressive at the beginning, pulled some spring rubbers out of the right rear. Actually, we didn't lose many positions. It was an amazing stop. We've got new guys to the team this year and somehow we got both the spring rubbers and changed the new tires and came out where we went in, which was amazing. We were giving him a hard time and thanking him, which was pretty cool. Beyond that, we just had to stay working on the race car. It was very good on the short run, but as the run went on we got looser and looser. Chad started playing some adjustments around. We finally found something that started to work and once we did that, I was just railing through the pack. I could find my way to third, and then from third to first I would get loose again once I got in the clean air and up towards the front. And then I had to find a new line and work on some things. We got that accomplished and then Ryan and I at the end, when we had our car just right, I knew I needed to get by Ryan. He's a bulldog to pass. And I just had to really work hard to get by him. I think we put on a good show, we were side by side for a long time. And got it done, so it was good. We were best when we needed to be, which was the end of the race.

YOU HAD A PIT STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RACE WHERE YOU HAD A PROBLEM AND DROPPED BACK TO 15TH. DID YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF JUST HOW GOOD YOUR CAR WAS TO BE ABLE TO PICK OFF THAT MANY CARS?

Yeah, I felt really good with it. When you can move through traffic that fast, you know that you've got a good car. It's just tough to move through traffic. One time I think I got six cars in one lap, I caught two of them in two-three wide situations. I was just flying by guys. It was amazing with the pit stop, we had some trouble on the right front with the lug nut which bounced off of the tire changer--it bounced off of Shane. And When it bounced off of him, it went back and it stuck itself right on the stud. We saw it on the overhead video, the thing bounces right off of him and sticks right back on and he couldn't get the tire back on. So, it was just a crazy thing. Once we had that, we had to work back from that and things were great.

WHEN YOU SAW THE YOUNGER BUSCH COMING BEHIND YOU, WHAT DID YOU THINK?

Run. He's hungry, he's at his home track, he's in the same equipment I'm sitting in. Run. I just did everything I could to stay in front of him. I really worked hard to get a cushion in front of him, so that if I ran into lapped traffic and had some problems, then I had a little space to give up or to play with there. I did have some trouble. Some guys were trying to be nice and get out of the way and I didn't anticipate it and got into the back of the #22 one time and lost a bunch of time. He was just trying to get out of my way and I didn't expect it. But, he did a great job and I must say that for Rick taking a bold move and taking the #5 and #25 and moving them out of their old shops and moving them up on the hill next to the #24 and #48, building a new 80,000 sq ft shop, putting those guys in there over the winter...You can't tell that those guys made the change like that. They're better than they were last year. Usually a change slows a team down. These guys, it didn't faze them. They're doing a great job and I'm very proud of everyone at Hendrick for what they're doing.

THERE WAS A RECORD NUMBER OF CAUTIONS. WHAT AFFECT DID THAT HAVE ON YOU AND THE RACE IN GENERAL?

It really helped me because we had an ill-handling race car and we needed the cautions to work on the car. So, it really helped us out. I think maybe it gave us the opportunity to win the race. The last two to three pit stops, we had the car where we needed it, but we needed everything before then to get the car adjusted.

WERE YOU AWARE THAT GREG BIFFLE WAS GRIPING ABOUT YOUR QUARTER PANEL BEING FLARED OUT TOO MUCH AND THAT THEY HAD TO TAP IT IN DURING A PIT STOP?

No, I'm not aware of that. What part of the quarter panel?

THEY GRIPED TO THE INSPECTORS ABOUT IT BECAUSE POSSIBLY IT WAS GIVING YOU A LOT MORE DOWNFORCE

Well, I saw it in victory lane, behind the tire the quarter panel was pulled out. And that's just a parachute, that just captures air and sucks it under the car. And that was from some contact. So I don't know why. But if he thinks it's helping me, that fine. That's cool with me.

HE WAS GRIPING IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE RACE WHEN YOU BLEW BY HIM

I don't know. I guess everybody is frustrated when they're getting passed. But, I don't have a clue.

AT THE END WE HAD CLOSE TO A 40-LAP RUN UNDER GREEN. WAS YOUR CAR FEELING WELL ENOUGH AT THE END HAD THE PIT STOP COME ANY SOONER?

We made one run just about to the fuel window. The tires...our left front was wearing out. We were really abusing that tire with our setup. I think we could go almost 60 laps...59 laps or something. And by lap 55 the car would get really tight. So we were getting close to that area. But the car was still driving really good. And even though I was complaining on the radio about the handling of the car, we still at times would have two or three tenths over competition, so even though I didn't have a very good driving car, nobody did. I think that is because of the smaller spoiler and softer tire combination. It's making the cars harder to drive. That's something that I think we've all wanted to see from a drivers' standpoint. It does spread the field out, but it lets the drivers and teams go to work and try to find an advantage.

DO YOU FEEL MOMENTUM NOW AND LOOKING AHEAD AT THE POINTS, DOES IT FEEL GOOD TO HAVE THIS CUSHION?

It's nice to get off to a good start in the Chase. Hopefully we can be in a situation where we were last year. When we got close to race 26 we could experiment with some things and try to find an advantage for the final 10. That's our game plan and hopefully we can have that situation develop for us. It's still too early, obviously, to tell. But, the team...we made some changes over the off season. We've improved our pit stops, we've improved the mechanic situation on the race cars and I don't think we took a step back this year, which is really good. I do believe we've maintained, if not taken a step further from where we were last year. That's good to have.

DOES TAKING OVER THE POINTS EARLY CHANGE YOUR STRATEGY OR CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK AT IT?

Not yet. You know, it's good for team morale. You know, we got $30,000 from NEXTEL for that for the leader bonus, so that's good. We can go to the blackjack table tonite and have some fun. It's really good for morale more than anything. As far as your strategy it's still too early.

IT APPEARS TO BE A ROUSH/HENDRICK BATTLE

Maybe. I hope that it's definitely the Hendrick group that's up there. But you see I feel in our sport, you'll have a team or two that sorts it out or has everything figured out for five to eight race span. And then the other guys that didn't run so good are going to go home, going to test, going to Kentucky or go test at the next race track that we're racing at and try to find something. And then when that happens and we start finishing fifth, tenth, we go back. It's just a cycle that takes place. And right now all the Hendrick cars and all the Roush cars...you can see the hard work that everyone put in over the winter. They've got one and we've got one. So, we're on par with those guys. The whole crucial part of this is to time it for the final ten and make sure that your cycle comes around on that final ten so that you can be the champion.

IT APPEARS THAT THE FEARS OVER HENDICK ENGINES HAVE DISAPPEARED

Yeah, fortunately, we had an off weekend. The off weekend really let the guys work hard and figure out what was going on. All the engines, even mine, I finished and even mine was getting ready to go. It was the same problem on all the engines. So it was really easy for us to see what was going on and look at it and address it. So, we hate the fact that it took so many cars out, took Jeff out. Nemechek had an incredible race car. We hate that, but we did learn a lot because of how it broke. And so many of them broke. So, we feel good about it. A 400 mile race wasn't as long as Fontana, we didn't have as many RPMs for a long period of time. So, with the off weekend and the short race, we could go home and really pull everything apart. I'm sure everything is under control but I'm sure the guys are eager to look inside the engines.

HOW BENEFICIAL WAS YOUR TESTING HERE IN JANUARY?

Really, it's hurt us. We tested the car and had such a great test. We really came back how we tested and thought that it would work. And we really had to go to work on it. Qualifying, we still ran a good lap. But it was a very eventful lap. The first half of the race, the car was really loose, still. We finally got it right at the end. We really tuned in the car during the test session and it hurt us for the first half of the race.

YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT GOING BACK TO ATLANTA?

Yeah, we did a tire test there and coming back inside the gates, driving on the track, remembering the battle at the end of the race battling with Mark Martin, brought back at lot of memories, so I think that was good for the team to go back. At least for the #48 team. The other teams still have to go back and I'm sure will have some emotions. We left there on such a high note, all the Hendrick cars were really running well and I think we're going to have a really good showing.

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Mark Martin
Teams Hendrick Motorsports