Phoenix II: Winning team press conference, part 1

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts Post-Race Transcript An Interview With: JIMMIE JOHNSON RICK HENDRICK CHAD KNAUS THE MODERATOR: This is the ...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts Post-Race Transcript

An Interview With:

THE MODERATOR: This is the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet driver Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus, owner Rick Hendrick. Jimmie, this is your seventh victory of 2008, your third victory here at Phoenix. You go into Homestead with a 141 point lead, on the verge of claiming your third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. What a dominant performance out there tonight. Your thoughts?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Great night. Just so, so happy to go out tonight and execute and take advantage of having a great car and track position.

Yesterday was a challenge for us in some ways, and we had a decent car, but we knew we needed to be better. Our goals were to come in here and try to win the race. Last night Chad and the guys, I can't thank them enough for their hard work and finding what we needed and then trying to convince me that it was going to be okay.

After last week's performance, and then coming in here and yesterday not being just like what we wanted, I was probably a little more stressed out than I needed to be, and I don't know, how many times did I call you last night and then again this morning? Way too many. He yelled at me one time, "Quit calling me." "Well, dammit, make me feel better about what's going to happen today."

So very, very pleased and proud of this race team. We've got a great points lead, and we'll go down to Homestead and try to wrap this baby up.

THE MODERATOR: Chad, your thoughts about what Jimmie had to say about getting everything ready? I know you're a perfectionist, and certainly you had nearly a flawless performance out there tonight.

CHAD KNAUS: I can't say enough about the whole team. We really came here for qualifying with something a little bit different than what we had run here in the past. We really wanted to try to sit on the pole, and it showed a lot of fruit, obviously, being able to run the lap that we didn't qualify. So we thought we would take the next step and try to apply that to the race, and it wasn't working at the race trim.

So we had to Jimmie did a good job of leading us where we needed to go yesterday. We really, towards the end of practice, we made some adjustments to go back closer to where we ran in the spring, and it started to show a little bit of fruit. Jimmie did a really good job of breaking down the racetrack for us and where he was feeling, where his sensors were, what he was doing with his inputs, and we made some pretty substantial changes this morning. Greg Ives, my engineer, myself, Ron Malec, we dug in deep and changed just about everything on the race car this morning, and thank God we did because it worked out okay.

THE MODERATOR: Rick, you've certainly got to feel good about not only how this thing turned out here today but how the Chase has gone and certainly feel good about going into Homestead Miami next week.

RICK HENDRICK: We really do. Excited for the team, excited for Chevrolet to clinch. I think they told us we clinched the manufacturer's championship, so that was good. Looking forward to Homestead.

Q: Jimmie, can you tell us what you were thinking about during that rain delay? Did you think to yourself, okay, I know I've got the car tonight?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wasn't that confident then. I felt that we were on the right track, and frankly I was trying to chase out all the nerves that I had in my system from yesterday's practice, through the night and then the start of the race. I just took a little me time in the car and didn't bother getting out and just sat there and closed my eyes and just tried to relax and forget about all the things I was worried about and find confidence in how good that race car was.

So that was a good positive time for me, a good time out to sit down, collect my thoughts, relax and get back after it.

Q: Rick, you've had so many other championships and you've been twice down the road with these guys going into Homestead. How do you handle it?

RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, it's it never gets easy. This is the longest short race I've ever seen. I think I put about 100 laps on Pit Road. You get nervous when something happens, like Jeff had a valve spring and immediately the guys said that batch was introduced in June or July, and we've run it and everything is okay.

It's just I have a lot of confidence in these guys. You can't have broken parts or cut tires or whatever. But I'd rather be in our position than be in second.

Jimmie and Chad both have shown nerves of steel. I wish I could say I had the same makeup they do. I get a lot more nervous than they seem to. I feel confident that we'll be good.

Q: Jimmie, you had a huge crowd around your pit box tonight, like El Cajon was out in force. Were they here because it was Phoenix or were they here in anticipation of a celebration tonight?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I usually have a big group when I come close to home. A bunch of friends from El Cajon came out and we'll be getting crazy tonight for sure, so I'm going to look forward to that.

Some friends of mine that play baseball are based here in the Phoenix area during the off season, so it just works out to be a fun race, and I try to spend a couple days before or after and visit everyone.

I'm sure with what's on the line, everybody was interested in showing up today, and I'm sure next week I'll have a lot of requests for passes and things, as well.

Q: Chad, you talked about all the testing that you guys did, finding certain things. I want to ask you about the testing. And Jimmie, how important was it that you specifically personally did the testing and didn't rely on Landon or Brad or David Green or whoever else with all the testing you guys did as an organization? You did it yourself to find the comfort zone in the car. How important was that for you to get a jump ahead of everybody else?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: It was definitely important for me to be in the car. We've had guys out running laps and working on stuff, and it gives us a direction, or we'll look at it and say, okay, work on what they did helped the corner entry, center of the corner, corner exit. So we'll go to a track and try to verify that and try to apply that.

The testing that's gone on by other drivers and other people, even Jeff and Casey and those guys, that's all very, very important information. But our styles are all so different that we've never been able to count on putting someone's setup in and it worked. So we've always had to go out and validate it, get our own experience with it, seat time with it.

In today's world, with this car, how you use the brake changes a lot of how the front geometry works on the car. If I look at Casey's geometry, I cannot run that geometry in our car. It just will not work.

And Chad on top of that likes to take these ideas people come up with and take it a step further and take that idea a little further into other areas. It's been very important, and no one has Jr. has been in that car. I think Casey drove it once.

I've watched a couple guys drive it and I was there and I didn't like it. When that car is at the racetrack, I'm in it. That's my car. Even when I broke my wrist and I came back, we talked about putting somebody in the car in Daytona, and I'm like, as much as I hate sitting down there for three days, nobody is driving my race car; that's my car and I'm going to be in it.

Q: A couple questions for you. Number one, you got off to a slower start this year than usual. Was there a specific point when you realized the team was ready for a championship run again? And number two, you're a guy who early on wanted to lead every lap, wanted to win every race. As you've gotten used to this Chase format, have you gotten more comfortable with the idea of a regular season being more of a test time to turn it on toward the end of the season?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think I understand what you're saying. Yeah, when we showed up in Daytona I knew our team was capable of winning its third championship. You can't predict it, you can't write the story line, but I knew our team was capable of doing that. Jimmie obviously didn't forget how to drive, we didn't forget how to work on race cars or build race cars. I knew going into Daytona that we were going to be capable of doing that.

But it wasn't until Texas that I thought the team was starting to hit its stride and understand what was going on with the car to make proper adjustments during the races, and once we got through Texas which we ran top one, two all day long and I think we finished second to Carl, that's when the confidence, the momentum really started to show up.

We had a timeline that we figured by the time we got to May, we needed to have everything figured out, so we pressed really hard at that point, did a lot of at track testing, tried a bunch of stuff, did testing with our other teammates, as well. And when we got to Lowe's in May, we shocked them at that race. I think from that point on it was press on at that point.

Q: Jimmie, 36th or better to clinch the championship. I mean, I know as a racer it's hard to go into defense, but are you in a position where you can still go out there and try to race for the victory?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I really think where we are in points is going to allow me to go to Homestead and take a little pressure off my brain this week because last week I beat it senseless and just go down and relax and get in the car and set it up, just do what we know how to do, go shoot for the pole on Friday with no pressure. And same thing in race practice; just get the car driving good and comfortable and make sure it has speed in it.

I'm really excited about next week, and there's no need to do anything stupid by all stretch by every way you look at it. But at the same time, how cool would it be to win out? I still think we can do that. I'd love to do that. And that's what our goals are. If we get in the race and I've got to drive at 110 percent to go for the win, there's no need to. But if we can go out there and win the race like we did tonight, hell, yeah, let's do it.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , David Green , Chad Knaus