Las Vegas: Winning team press conference

Transcripts: Las Vegas Motor Speedway Post-Race News Conference February 28, 2010 An interview with: Jimmie Johnson - Winner Chad Knaus - Crew chief Rick Hendrick - Owner THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the infield media center by ...

Transcripts: Las Vegas Motor Speedway Post-Race News Conference
February 28, 2010

An interview with:
Jimmie Johnson - Winner
Chad Knaus - Crew chief
Rick Hendrick - Owner

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the infield media center by today's winner, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson. This is Jimmie's 49th win and his fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He now sits alone in 12th in all-time wins, just one win behind Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson.

Jimmie, tell us about your day.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Really proud of the car we brought to the track. We had to work on it some through the race. But, you know, it was so fast on the long haul that we could make up ground from the 20th place starting position we had. Worked up into the top 10. Worked up into the top five. At parts of the race, kind of stuck there behind the 24 and the 17. I think we were all very equal at that point in time. Just couldn't get by one another.

It came down to pit stops. I thought the race was going to come down to pit stops and who got a good restart. Kind of turned out that way, although the four tires I think helped us more than anything. I got a good start and got around Bowyer at one and two. Was behind Jeff, chasing him. I'd been chasing him all day. Wasn't sure I'd get by him. Just kept putting a lot of pressure on him, hoping he'd make a mistake, hoping I could get him to overdrive his car and make it tight or do something wrong.

Finally I was able to get inside of him and committed to trying the slide job on him in three and four, was able to get by.

Great day. Pit road, our guys had awesome stops. One issue with the lug nut falling off, and they still recovered from that issue very well. I think we're pretty solid from a team standpoint from across the board.

THE MODERATOR: Also winning crew chief Chad Knaus.

CHAD KNAUS: It was a great day for us. We didn't start the weekend off like we wanted to, qualifying as poorly as we did. Pit selection and track position was a bit of a hindrance at the beginning. The car was ill-handling to say the least at the beginning. Jimmie manned up at the beginning, even with the car handling as poorly as what it was.

When we got to the first pit stop, we were able to make some adjustments to car. It definitely got better. I think it got faster. It was exciting. It was fun to be able to pass through all those cars and work through traffic, get into the top five where we could race with all the guys.

On pit road, the guys did a great job. One pit stop where a lug nut fell off. They rallied back from that. I think our last pit stop was 11.9, something like, that which is just fantastic. Hats off to those guys.

We felt as though coming into that last pit stop if we took four tires and went out somewhere in the top eight, we would have a shot to win the race if everybody else took two. To leave pit road in third position, we were pleased. Great job by everybody.

Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports did a great job on this car. People back at the shop had to get this car prepared, turned over. We were back in California when they were building this car. To send that car out from the shop, it run as well as what it did, they did a great job.

THE MODERATOR: And today's winning team owner, Mr. Hendrick, who watched his two teammates battle most of the race around the track. Your thoughts as you watched that race unfold.

RICK HENDRICK: You know, there at the end, I knew Jimmie and Jeff were going to run each other clean. But like Jimmie said, when you dive in the corner, you try to slide up in front of a guy, I was fearful they were going to get together and we'd have a problem. I knew Harvick was good. He got to start closer to the front.

It was good to get this win and Chad guaranteed me the win. So did Jimmie. So that was going to be good. We had a really rough time out here a few years back. We had all the Lowe's people, and it was the worst we had run as an organization in the history of our company with multiple cars. We had to go in a tent with 2,000 Lowe's people at the end of the race. We got that same deal tomorrow night, and it's going to be a lot better.

THE MODERATOR: Jimmie now becomes the all-time leader winner at 1.5 mile tracks, surpassing Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and Jeff Gordon, who all had 14, Jimmie now with 15.

We'll open it up to questions.

Q: Two different types of races, last week and this week, similar results. Are you starting to feel invincible early in the season?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. I don't know if it's just our makeup or mindset, what it is. If you get off to a quick start, I think we're both sitting here, even though we haven't talked about it, we can't sit still, complacency is going to kill you. We're looking forward to going to Atlanta with new ideas and new things.

We're excited. It's early in the year. It is a relief to know that we worked in the right areas over the off-season. But, you know, Richmond is a long way away from right now. We need to keep collecting points, winning races, make the Chase, then get to work for what we're really here for.

It's great. We don't feel invincible, though. It was nice to go out there today and really earn this one, race Jeff that hard for the win. So, you know, I feel very good about things. But 'invincible,' far from that.

Q: On the last restart, it appeared you might have bumped Clint. Could you describe what went on on that last restart.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we see it a lot at California where you can actually bump-draft down the straightaway and help your lane move like you would at a plate race. I saw Jeff do it with the 17 at one of the restarts early in the race and it worked out well. I knew I couldn't let Jeff land up on the inside, get a big jump on us.

So Clint was starting the race and I just decided when Clint should go and started pushing him before he was ready. Let's go. Just started pushing him. We got to the corner. I think when I pushed him into the corner, he wasn't really ready for me to push him that far, and he kind of checked up, went to the outside and I went blowing by. I was trying to help, but I think I got his attention as we got into the turn and he was going faster than he wanted to.

Q: I'll ask what everybody is probably thinking. Any thoughts about the 'lucky' comments? It had to cross both of your minds. Was there a little bit of attitude to this one? I know you didn't take that well, and you probably shouldn't have, a week ago. Talk about that.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Honestly, last week I agree with everybody, we were lucky. But where I think we were lucky was with the opportunity. Luck didn't allow us to win the race. Luck didn't keep me ahead of the 29 and those types of things. Luck didn't affect the great pit stop that put us in that position. We were lucky when the caution came out. I admitted that last week.

If people are trying to find a way not to accept the quality of race team we have, that's cool. We'll just come back this week and take the trophy again (laughter).

I have to say, that's a smart-ass remark, but truthfully from last week to this week there was nothing in my head that said I need to go prove something to someone. There was nothing in my said that said people are saying the 'lucky' comment.

We knew we went out and won that race last week. Luck put us in the position. We still had to run 20 laps or 30 laps and hold off the 31 and the 29. We slept great after the race Sunday night in California. Very happy to come here and get it done again.

Q: Mr. Hendrick, does it ever cease to amaze you that anytime there seems to be a decision late in a race, no tires, two tires, four tires, that the two gentlemen to your right always seem to get it right?

RICK HENDRICK: You know, I can remember a couple they didn't. But seriously Chad studies the race as it goes along. I'm amazed at how quick he adapts, like the call on pit road in California, to go ahead and change the tires, know where everyone is, what he's got to do, what adjustments the car needs at the end.

And Jimmie, he's the closest thing I've seen to a computer in the car. Two of them together have developed into an awesome combination. You know, really proud of 'em. They very seldom make a mistake.

Q: Chad, when you hear comments about luck, do you feel a little bit disrespected about some of the decisions you make, that people aren't giving you credit for looking at situations, maybe taking a risk, that kind of thing? And, Jimmie, when that caution came out, what was going through your mind, that this is maybe the opportunity we needed with the way Jeff was running at that point?

CHAD KNAUS: You know, I think they can call it luck, whatever it is. It doesn't really matter. You know, I feel that we do a very good job at Hendrick Motorsports preparing our team, preparing our cars, preparing our pit crews to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. You know, if you're prepared and a situation arises that you can take advantage of a top five or a victory, and you do that, I don't think that's luck.

You know, on the converse of that, if we'd had been out there today and wrecked on lap five because we were midway in the pack, that's not luck; that's because we qualified so poorly that we were somewhere where we shouldn't have been.

Texas last year was prime example. We qualified poorly there and we were wrecked in the second lap. So that's not luck. You know, that's just not doing what you need to do to get the stuff done.

I don't think there's a lot of luck. There's opportunities that arise throughout the race. If you're prepared to capitalize on them, then good for you.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, pit stops are opportunities, chance to work on your racecar. I felt like there would be some two-tire stuff going on with not having a lot of laps on those tires. It worked out well.

When I left my pit stall, there weren't many cars on pit road. I'm look, Oh, you're not going to like this one, I think is what I said on the radio. Eventually we lapped so many cars, there weren't many cars on pit road. So I thought we were in big trouble. Then I saw the huge line on the track. That was all lap-down cars we passed with so many green-flag laps.

In the end it obviously worked out really good for us. Anytime a caution comes out, if you're the leader, you're bummed, especially if you have a gap. For everyone else, you're excited because it's an opportunity to make your stuff better and hopefully gain positions on pit road.

Q: What would you accredit the success that you've been having over the past four years with breaking records? Is it the cars that Hendrick makes? Is it the driver? Is it the pit chief? What's the secret here?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's the people. And Rick has built this company, the company motto, what we believe in week in and week out, year in and year out. NASCAR has a very strict rule book. We all have the same equipment. The sport is closer today than it has ever been in the history of the sport.

You go through the big teams, the sponsorships are the same, the budgets are the same, we all have the same tools, we all have the same cars. It boils down to the people that are putting the stuff together and how they're working together. Starting with Rick and the people he's compiled, Chad, myself, the way it all works. It really boils down to people.

Q: Harvick was in here. You know how he gets when he's running well. He said, They know we can run with them. I'm wondering what you see from the 29, if you think he's going to be someone you're going to contend with? Chad and Rick, Jeff was in here and said that Steve was pretty upset after. What do you say to him when you go to work tomorrow and he's upset that you out-smarted him?

CHAD KNAUS: I didn't outsmart him. He did not make the wrong call. I said that a moment ago out there. There wasn't a wrong call to make. They came in first. They wanted to maintain track position because track position is so critical. Only way for us to beat them was to do something different. I didn't know they were taking two tires. He didn't know we were taking four tires.

So, you know, I went with my plan because I thought that's what we needed to do because I assumed a bunch of people were going to take two tires.

Steve is a fantastic crew chief. He has done a phenomenal job with that race team. I think the way he works with me in the shop is unparalleled. He's a good teammate and friend of mine. He did not make the wrong call. He did what he thought was right to try to win that race. They came up a little bit short, just a little bit. So there's no fault to him.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: The 29, they're definitely on it, without a doubt. You cannot ignore the fact that the 31, the 33 and the 29 have a ton of speed. So they've worked in the right areas over the off-season and have closed the gap up a ton. It's going to be an awesome race. I'm glad it's a bunch of Chevy's up here racing for this thing.

Q: For the number thing you like to play, Jeff led all but 48 laps today. To be sure, Chad, your decision wasn't based on what they did; you were going to go with four no matter what anybody else did?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah. I didn't know. I don't have a crystal ball. I felt very confident a lot of people were going to take two tires. With the way the car was running, honestly the way that we typically run on two tires, it wasn't even an option for me. I felt like if we got four tires, we would be in a position because of the double-file restart that we would start in the first three rows and we would be okay. Fortunately enough, we were able to start in the second row. It worked out.

The 24 car was still very strong even on two tires. If it hadn't been for us up there pushing him as hard as what he had to be pushed, the 29 never would have caught him. Jeff had to use his stuff up pretty hard just to try to stay ahead of us.

Q: Chad, as long as the green flag run was going, were you locked into that four-tire call as it was progressing or had it gone longer were you still committed to it?

CHAD KNAUS: No, you just got to go with it. You have to watch the tempo of the race, see what's going on. With the amount of laps we had left, 30 plus laps, I was very comfortable taking four tires. I felt like the people that took two tires, their left-side tires would deteriorate pretty quickly. So at that point I was committed to it.

Now, if it had come out with 10 laps to go, it would have been even more interesting because you would have had less people even hit pit road to begin with. You just got to be liquid and willing to change as the race goes. That's the one thing about our sport I don't think a lot of people understand, you can't set a strategy. You don't have a two-minute waring. You don't have quarters. You don't have periods. You don't have that stuff. You don't know when the cautions are going to fall.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We had two cautions today that were accidental. It's not in the cards.

CHAD KNAUS: Somebody leaned up against the wall and hit the caution button. You don't know what's going to happen in our sport. That's the cool thing about our sport and I think that's why it's so exciting.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: We were told on the radio there were accidental cautions, at least one was an accidental caution. I'm not sure what 'accidental' means, but maybe somebody leaned up against the switch and turned the lights on. Why is everybody slowing down (laughter)?

Q: Once upon a time you won three in a row here, but the two years, Mr. Hendrick said it himself, you were so far off, our story line after Vegas was, What's wrong with the 48? Did you put any extra emphasis on this race in the off-season to try to get back on track here? Maybe talk a little bit about how you can get so far astray at a track you've dominated and how you come back from that.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, in 2008, we tried to come back to win that fourth one in a row, we were just off. Not just the 48 car, but the company. We went to California beforehand and salvaged a good run there, then came here. We were trying new things, trying to advance because we didn't have a lot of testing take place pre-season and we just missed it. Luckily then there was testing allowed. I think it was 26 or 27 test sessions later we found our stuff running how it should and ready for the Chase, just in time for the Chase.

So in '08, we just got off a little bit. It can happen to anyone in the sport.

Last year we were really, really fast. Is that when Jeff missed pit road and... We were leading the race coming to pit road under green. The 24 was trying to follow us in and missed pit in, and flat spotted the left front tire, had to drive around, while he was driving around, the tire blew, got a caution. We were unlucky being on pit road at that point. Then I was trying to come back up through the field, hit the wall off of two. That's why we had such a bad finish.

Last year really doesn't show what the team had in it. But '08, we were off.

Q: When Jeff was in here earlier and asked to kind of contemplate what this might mean for you, considering you won four championships in a row, he said, There's always the fact they could be peaking early. Any concern about that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's legit. I mean, from my standpoint, I love to play devil's advocate. I just don't want us to be comfortable as a race team. Even though we've won these two races, we can't let it affect anything because there's still 23 races to go until the Chase starts.

So, yes, that could be the case. Only time will tell. We're certainly going to do everything in our power to make sure it's not the case.

Q: Rick, what do you think of where the 88 is at right now?

RICK HENDRICK: I think we made a lot of improvements. I think we didn't get to show the car was coming back well at California, broke an axle, and today ran up front that long green-flag stretch. He was good there at the end. What did he end up, 14th?

Q: 16th.

RICK HENDRICK: 16th. But I think to qualify as well as he did, went out first, right behind Jimmie there, broke the track record by 3/10ths, and ran up there, we had a couple of bobbles in the pits with the pit crew. It seems like every time the car is good, the pit crew screws up. If the pit crew is on, the car, something breaks.

So I feel they've made a ton of improvement. I think we're going to have a really good year. I'm looking forward to Atlanta.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Ned Jarrett , Richard Petty , Junior Johnson , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports