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

Team Lowe's Racing Media Teleconference Transcript Part 2 of 2: Jimmie, on those rare occasions that you have free time, what are your interests and what do you like to do? "Lately, it's been chasing geese off my grass. It's a lot of work....

Team Lowe's Racing
Media Teleconference Transcript

Part 2 of 2:

Jimmie, on those rare occasions that you have free time, what are your interests and what do you like to do?

"Lately, it's been chasing geese off my grass. It's a lot of work. I live on the lake and like to go out on the boat and wakeboard, water ski, swim, and relax out there when we have a day off. Sitting at home and getting caught up - it feels good to actually get organized every once in a while because we're so busy and on the road (all the time). Just paying bills, cleaning house, doing laundry, and normal life stuff makes you feel good. I find some enjoyment in that.

"My younger brother (Jessie) races a Bandolero. He's 13 years old. Going to the track and watching him is probably the most fun I've had at the racetrack ever. Watching him and all the kids running around in their drivers suits with their little race faces on getting ready to run. I like to do things like that with my family and friends. More than anything, I like to sit slow and slow down a little bit more than anything."

How do you feel about rookie records and Tony Stewart winning three races in his rookie year?

"When I was watching Tony Stewart, Dale Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and those guys, I thought I was going to be the rookie that came into Winston Cup and didn't win a race or a pole. I had no idea what was in store for us when all this chemistry came into play. I don't know what the future holds for us. If we just keep our mental effort the same and remember who we are and where we are and keep it all in prospective, we should be happy regardless of what happens. I don't know how many neat things are gong to happen for us, but when they do we'll just enjoy them."

On having his dad there when he won at Dover

"I didn't take the motor home out to California and that's why he wasn't out there. And he decided to stay home because he's on the road more than I am (drives the coach). My dad was there. Unfortunately, my mom wasn't. She was at LMS when we qualified on the pole. But I was able to get that victory lane photo standing next to my dad in Dover. That's neat. He's obviously been a big part of my career and my life along with my mom and my two brothers. He quit his job in California and moved the family out to Charlotte to be on the road with me and come experience these things. I felt terrible that he wasn't there for California (his win), but luckily he was back on the road with me in Dover."

What was his reaction in victory lane?

"Well, I couldn't see him. He was floating about six feet off the ground. He was above my head and when I looked up and saw him floating, by I realized he was there. That's a joke. But he was so happy. There was a big grin on his face. He didn't really say much. He was just grinning ear to ear. He was real proud and it's neat to have your family there with you through these experiences. A lot of people don't get to have their relationships with their family for whatever reason."

On having his dad travel on the road with him

"He really tries to give me my space and let me relax and unwind. He's just like any father. He's a critic and he's always there when you step out of line and you need to do something differently. He's my motorhome driver, but at the same time he's my dad. We get to spend a good amount of time together. Usually on race day morning, he'll cook some breakfast and we'll sit there and have coffee and breakfast and get caught up and talk. But the rest of the time, it's pretty busy. We do what we can."

Can you talk about the rhythm of the race and explain what that means and how you've learned about it?

"It's something that I learned a lot about in the three races I ran last season - the length of them, the rhythm of how long four, five, or six hundred miles takes. And then each particular track has it's own rhythm in the limits you can push the car. In Happy Hour (at Dover), we knew we could cut good laps and be consistent time-wise, but I just didn't have a good feel for what the rhythm of the race was going to be. I spoke with Jeff (Gordon) about it. He filled me in with what years past had been like and how the line moves around. And then as the race unfolded, the rhythm even slowed down more. The groove was even wider than what we talked about. But with that little insight from him that evening before the race, it let me recognize this stuff early in the race so I could search out a line and start setting up the car for the rhythm that was needed to be there in victory lane at the end."

Any desires to run the Indy 500 sometime?

"No, I don't have a desire to race open-wheel stuff. I'd love to drive one. They're neat cars. But I just don't have any ambition to race those cars."

On his quick success in Winston Cup

"I've always tried to be as realistic as I can be and not fool myself about anything. My two years in Busch were very strong. I ran in the top 10 in points both years and won a race the second year. Didn't win any poles. I just tried to qualify for every race and finish on the lead lap. I am extremely blown away by the success that we've had at this point."

How much has Jeff Gordon's success at a young age played out in giving younger guys an opportunity to race Winston Cup?

"It definitely started a trend. Car owners are in a tough position in trying to find the right driver for the right sponsor - a driver that can be there for a long time. But at the same time, a driver that has enough experience that can come in and get going. Guys like Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Dale Jr., Kevin Harvick, and now myself are more stepping stones being laid down to bring young guys along - and guys from other forms of racing. This is my fifth year in stock car racing. It's pretty easy to add it up. It's not many over a hundred races I've ever driven in a stock car. It's neat to see owners looking around, but they're in a very tough situation to be able to keep the sponsor happy and look for finishes immediately. Hopefully we've been able to find that balance."

What does Lowe's have to say about all this?

"Lowe's loves competition and that's why they're in the sport. Tony (Stewart, sponsored by Home Depot) and those guys are their competition. Lowe's enjoys the success that we're having. Our race team is in place for the employee/owners at Lowe's to feel proud that they have a program to get behind and to know they have a team and a driver out there representing them. It's not something that's directly put in place just to go beat Home Depot. There are smiles on everyone's faces when that happens, but Lowe's loves the competition with everyone."

On his feel for the racecar and his style

"I'm searching to find the feelings I need. I haven't been in these things that long. I know the set-ups and know how to set the cars up. I understand the technology that's coming in the way everybody is thinking the cars go, but Chad's got ideas and wants to try them and the stopwatch is telling me it's faster, and consistent and I can hang on to it, that's got to be better. I'm just trying to stay open-minded and not be set on a certain feeling. I've got to make sure it's drivable. But if it's faster, we'll stick with that package and then try to build some comfort into the drive for me so that I can hang onto it for 500 miles."

On trying to get back through the field on re-starts

"It's a tough situation - especially when you have double file restarts. I was trying to get on everyone's bumper and loosen them up aero-wise (at Dover). Dover is a tough track where you can get extremely aero-tight behind someone and there's a lot of air moving around and I was trying to slow them down so I could get by. I was trying to get my nose inside of people in the center of the corner so their spotter would say something and get them to check-up off the gas so I could have position on them down the straightaway. That's how I got in the side of the No. 7 there. But it's a tough situation to be in when you have a car that fast and you line-up 10th on the outside and before you know it you're the 20th car in line and laps are winding down. All you do is stare ahead and look at cars and start trying to pick them off and hope the leader doesn't get too far away. When we were back there, I thought we'd be lucky to finish fifth. I just figured we'd get extremely aero-tight and be stuck. But luckily, I looked up and the only thing left was the No. 28 (Ricky Rudd) and we were able to get by him and win."

Why do you race on Father's Day and not on Mother's Day?

"I'd like to hand dad the trophy in victory lane on Father's Day. That would be good. But I guess dads like to watch racing. On Mother's Day, everyone is making sure she is having a great day and there probably wouldn't be anybody watching the races."

What advice has Jeff Gordon offered you on how to handle the pressures of success in such a short time?

"You've got to find a way to stay balanced in your personal life and media-wise and sponsorship-wise. And your primary job is driving the racecar. I just try to get some time away so that you're fresh and you can handle all the obligations with an open mind."

Because of your early success, have you thought about re-negotiating your contract with Hendrick Motorsports?

"No. You'd have to know Rick (Hendrick) and Jeff (Gordon). I know things will take care of themselves. If you're out winning races and doing your job, everything will take care of itself. Realistically, I should be paying for this opportunity myself - let alone making a great living doing it. I've got a long-term contract, but I hope to be at Hendrick Motorsports with Lowe's for my whole career. I'm thinking about how I can secure as many years as possible so I won't have that pressure."

What does a driver look for in a crew chief?

"I haven't had many crew chiefs in my career. But with Chad (Knaus), it's a relationship that we haven't had to work at. From the get-go - our first meeting - we started talking and didn't shut up for hours. I don't think anyone felt we were going to nail this thing. There was a lot of room to grow between Chad and me, but it's definitely clicked and it's working great."

What's the difference between your team and some of the veteran teams and your success and their non-victories?

"So much of it is the situation you're in (like) equipment and people. People are the biggest thing. The reason for the success we have is all the people involved. You see team owners shaking things up and moving people around to re-fire that chemistry. The sport is driven by the people that are involved in it; and I'm surrounded by a lot of great people. That's what has set me out ahead this early in my career. (Guys like) Kenny Schrader knows how to drive a racecar. In the right situation, he'll win races. I wish I had their (veterans) years of experience. They are so much smarter and advanced than I am as a driver, but just maybe not in the right situation for whatever reason."

On the Lowe's sponsorship

"They have been in motorsports for a long time and have been looking to have a winning race team. We've been fortunate enough here to have those wins early in our career. But as important as that is for Lowe's, there are 120,000 employee/owners that wanted to feel like this program was for them. When they started over with us to come one board, it was very clear that it was important to them to have this program be embraced by their people. They've made us part of their family and we are part of the people and understand how important this program is to them. It's accomplishing a lot of things for them that they never expected outside of that original goal just to have it back for the employee/owners."

Is that the kind of feeling you have when you visit a Lowe's store and talk to the people?

"I'm kind of scared to go into a store. They're just so excited about the program - especially around here (Charlotte area) and how big NASCAR racing is. It's neat."

You're one-win away from breaking the rookie record of three wins by Tony Stewart. Does Lowe's bring that up about beating Home Depot?

"No, I don't think so. I think we'd tie them for the record. If we were to win one more, we'd tie them for the record. So we'd have to win two more to beat them. But I wasn't even aware that he held the record. I knew that he'd won some races in his rookie year - that he'd won three - but I thought there had been some rookie in the past that had won more."

-hm/lowe's-

Johnson and Knaus Part I

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports