Long Pond: Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus interview, Part I

Team Lowe's Racing Media Teleconference Transcript Part 1 of 2 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet and crew chief, Chad Knaus, discuss the team's rookie season and outlook for the upcoming Pocono...

Team Lowe's Racing
Media Teleconference Transcript

Part 1 of 2

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet and crew chief, Chad Knaus, discuss the team's rookie season and outlook for the upcoming Pocono 500.

Jimmie, Can you comment on Chad Knaus as a leader?

"Chad is relatively new to the crew chief role. He's a young guy at the age of 30. Intelligence-wise, with racecars and everything it takes to be successful at putting together a car, he's well beyond his years. He's a very good leader. He's been able to communicate and relate to a very young group of guys. That's one of the biggest things we have working for us. We're all very close to the same age. He's a good leader and a good friend. Right now, we've got the double magic going on and it's working good."

What does it mean when Jeff Gordon says you're running aggressive set-ups?

"The tires change each year and even during the year. We learn more about the aerodynamics of the car. There are things that you can do to the chassis and set-up to give you aero benefits and that also work with the new tire combination. Chad has been extremely aggressive in trying to find some speed in areas where others might not be looking in. Because of past success, it's hard for some to leave set-ups that you won a championship with or that you won an event with the previous year.

"We don't have a lot to lose (in the way of) points and all that. We're just a rookie team that's trying to get going. Chad's been successful in nailing set-ups that a lot of people wouldn't think about running."

Is there a similarity between the ways you and Chad work together and the way Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham worked in 1995-'97?

"I don't know Ray and I'm not too sure exactly how things were run. They won a lot of races and had a successful bunch of years together. Chad and I are off to a very strong start in our rookie year. I don't think Jeff won in his rookie year, so we're doing good."

What were your expectations coming into this Winston Cup ride?

"We're building a team for the future. The way this team has come together has gone past everyone's expectations - Lowe's, myself, Chad - everyone. We just need to be polishing up our game and keep doing what we're doing and not put any extra pressures on ourselves. We've met all expectations at this point. Everything else is gravy. We want to gain experience and learn these tracks so that we can be a championship threat in the years to come."

In thinking about the recent controversial IRL finish at the Indy 500, do you like the way NASCAR does its 'race back to the yellow', or would you prefer to maintain your position?

"The way they're looking at it is different from any form of racing I've been in. It's either used back to the start/finish or it reverts back to the previous lap. I didn't know that IRL would review exactly when the caution came out relative to where you were on the racetrack because I'm sure there were a lot of positions changing hands on that lap all the way through the field. How do you keep up with all of it?

"NASCAR's way of racing back to the yellow eliminates that problem and it's probably why they have that system in place. It's scary at times - especially if somebody is hurt or if you have fluids on the track. Fortunately, everybody has used their heads and we haven't seen any problems that I'm aware of in racing back to the yellow and hitting parked vehicles or anything. It's been aggravating at times when people pass you and break the gentleman's agreement we've all heard about, but I think the systems is working good. Maybe reverting to the previous lap would be a little safer system."

On the key to beating the best and being a contender on the toughest tracks

"I'm going to say it's what I'm sitting in - the cars I'm driving. I don't know. I'm not doing anything different than I did in my Busch career. This early in your career, you see a lot of gains. I'm sure I'm a better driver this year than I was last year. The experience from the Busch Series has carried over and helped me. I learned a lot of good lessons from Herzog Motorsports in the Busch cars. Now that I'm driving for Hendrick Motorsports and have Chad as my crew chief, I've been able to post great finishes at top tracks. When we went to Darlington and finished that race (6th) it was the highlight of my career then. That track is one of the toughest places just to drive around - late alone to race around or go fast at."

On the upcoming race at Pocono

"We tested there and we were really fast. We worked on qualifying runs. It took me a little while to find the speed I needed in qualifying trim. You pick up at least a second - maybe closer to two seconds - from race pace to qualifying pace. It took me a little while to figure that out. But once we did, we put out some good times. I think we'll be a contender up there all week long."

On learning about shifting during the test session at Pocono

"We just got laps and miles underneath me and learned to understand the shift points and when to shift - when to downshift and when to up shift so I hit the power band right to the motor. It's just one of those things where the more times you do it, the better you get. And we put in a lot of laps the first day just getting experience. We should be in good shape."

Do you consider yourself a contender for the victory?

"Yes, I think we'll be a contender."

With the one-engine rule, have you thought about not shifting at Pocono?

"No, we're going to shift - especially when the tires slow down and the pace drops, you fall out of your power bands to really take advantage of the motors. The one-engine rule makes that margin for error even smaller. The motors stay in such a high rpm range there that I don't see how you can't not shift there. The straightaway lengths are pretty different and you've got some tight corners. I think everybody is going to be shifting."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that their team got burned-out mid-way through his rookie year because the season was so long. What do you think of the length of the season and possibly getting burned-out?

"We're just going to hang on and see what happens. The critics were hard on us after we qualified on the pole at the beginning of the season (Daytona 500) and we've just stuck to our game and have been able to have success. We're going to try not to put pressure on ourselves that's not needed. We're a rookie team. I've made rookie mistakes that have cost us wins. It's just racing and that's how it goes. We're just going to take it week by week and see how we feel at the end of the year. With the youth we have and the desire to win, we should still feel very satisfied at the end of the year."

Chad Knaus responds to the same question:

"I think a lot of the time when you see things fall off in the second half of the season is due to the (lack of) preparation back at their home facilities. What we've got going on here with the No. 24 and No. 48 teams is a group of guys who really pay a lot of attention to detail. They make sure our racecars are 100 percent when we take them to the racetrack. If you look back at some of the things Dale Jr. had go wrong during the second half of his rookie season was a lot of mechanical problems. If we can avoid that, and maintain the momentum we've got going on at the racetrack, I think we'll be okay."

By doing that, do you think you'll force other teams into burning out by trying to keep up with you?

"That's the plan. We're trying to go to the racetrack as prepared as we can. We've got enough guys here and we've got a good workflow to keep everybody fresh. We keep everybody in rotation. People get time off. People get rest. That's one of the big keys. When you get into that long 20-race stretch, you get worn down and it's easy for somebody to get sick because they don't have enough rest. You've got to keep all your key players rested and ready to go and bring good bullets to the racetrack every week and have your driver good and healthy. It shouldn't be much different (then) than it is right now."

What was you impression of Jimmie before he drove for you and how has that changed?

"I really didn't have much of an opinion at all because I'd only met him briefly one time prior to our initial meeting. I met him on pit road at Homestead. A mutual friend introduced us and it was just a brief conversation. So I didn't have any preconceived notions of what he was or who he was or what he was about or even how good he could drive because I was busy doing my Cup thing last year and he was busy doing the Busch thing. When you run Winston Cup, you don't have much time to watch the Busch races to see what's going on.

"So I really didn't know what to expect. I knew the guy was talented, otherwise Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick wouldn't have approached him. Jimmie was probably the pivotal person in hiring me. I felt pretty good about that. I knew he must be a pretty good guy if he liked me, you know? But he's turned out to be a great racecar driver and a great friend. The feeling he's got for a racecar is just really good right now. The more he learns the better off he's going to be."

Since you are clearly in the hunt in the points chase now, when do you start racing or preparing the cars differently?

"No, that's when you're going to mess up. Our goal has not changed. We established goals at the beginning of the season that we wanted to maintain a top 15 starting position and a top 15 finishing position every week. We go out there every week and try to make our racecar as fast as we can. We're not going to change it. We're not going to back off or start being conservative or anything like that. When you start doing that, that's when the driver starts getting apprehensive on the racetrack and that's when you make mistakes. That's when I start to get overly cautious on the racecar and start making mistakes. We're not going to put ourselves in a position to beat ourselves."

Would you be disappointed to finish 15th at the end of the year after being currently second in the points?

"No, not in the least little bit. You've got to realize that we didn't even expect to be running in the top five until the second half of the season. Right now, we've already overshadowed and beaten all the goals we set. So if we ended the season 15th in points, we'd know we had a great season. We've already had a better season than some people have in their careers. No matter how it all ends up or plays out for us, I don't think there's any way we can be disappointed."

Because Jimmie is new to everything - including tires and the feel of the car - does that make your job easier because you're not breaking any bad habits?

"Yes, most definitely. Some of the other drivers have been around for all the different stages of the tires and aerodynamics and have preconceived notions as to how the car is supposed to feel and that's something that you have to work out of a driver and a driver has to get used to it. That's one of the keys to some of these other guys going so fast for so long is that they're able to change their driving styles to what the car actually needs. Right now, we have a pretty good idea of what the car needs, it's just making Jimmie comfortable in the car after we get that established. He's got a feel that he likes. But instead of just saying that we need to do this, he just lets us do what it is that we feel the car needs to go faster and I make him comfortable in the process instead of making him comfortable and then trying to make the car faster."

-hm/lowe's-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson , Ray Evernham , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports