Phoenix: Winning team press conference, part 1

An interview with: JIMMIE JOHNSON CHAD KNAUS THE MODERATOR: We are pleased now to be joined by our race winner of the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. This is his 34th career NASCAR Sprint Cup...

An interview with:

THE MODERATOR: We are pleased now to be joined by our race winner of the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. This is his 34th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, his second here at Phoenix International Raceway. Jimmie now moves up to fourth in the points standings for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Jimmie, a very, very thrilling, dramatic finish. What were your thoughts there as you were coming in those last couple laps?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, before that, we restarted I guess 14th, it was real tough to keep track position at the end of the race. We led a lot at the beginning, and a little off on fuel strategy. Just had to fight back through all those cars. With the lap cars and everything, made it really tough.

I can't tell you how good the racecar was and how much fun I had throughout the entire day, one, and then that last run with 80 laps left in the event, restarting 14th with all the lap cars, getting up to the 11 and 8 and be right there on those guys said a lot about the car that we had.

The fact that we were able to save fuel, the car was handling really well. The guys peeled off. Once they started peeling off, Chad was reading me splits. I just kind of maintained and tried to keep the thing alive, keep it running, bring it on home.

THE MODERATOR: Chad Knaus, what were your thoughts there at the end? What were you telling Jimmie?

CHAD KNAUS: I thought that was pretty damn exciting, from where I was sitting anyways. That was cool.

I told Jimmie about 40 laps to go that we were going to be in a position to where maybe we could make it on fuel, just to make him aware of what was going on. We really made up a lot of ground on the guys that were running up front.

Jimmie drove a great race. The whole Lowe's team did a phenomenal job. We got there towards the end, they started peeling off, like Jimmie said, our intervals to the positions behind us started to grow. When that started to happen, we were able to back off the pace a little bit, hang on for the win. If we had to stay full song, we potentially would have run out coming off of four.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Would have been close.

CHAD KNAUS: Probably coming off of turn four. Maybe it would be a different story. But fortunately enough everybody behind us pitted.

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for our winning team.

Q: Jimmie, when he told you you were like 10 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer, could you even just back off even more on the throttle, save more on the last couple laps?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Since I climbed out of the car, I found out he was lying for the better good of the team. First he said like 10. He said, He pitted, you have 20 seconds, let off, two more seconds a lap.

Bowyer I guess didn't pit (laughter).

It worked and he knew what the gap was. I didn't know who was where. There was a lot of cars at full speed trying to get by me. I just tried to stay up in the second lane, be smart with the fuel, and not step on the gas pedal too hard, just kind of coast around.

Q: People have been talking all year about the team maybe being down. How much of a relief is it just to get the first win in the books and not have to answer that question any more?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, in some ways we recognize that we haven't been running how we want. But we finished second at California, second at Texas last week, fourth at Martinsville. I mean, yeah, we haven't won yet, but we're only seven races into this thing.

We know that we haven't been where we wanted to. We kind of knew that when we went to California, Vegas for the test, the mile and a half stuff, we needed to catch up some. We've been working really hard.

We've had some tough races for the team. I think that's made us stronger. The whole organization is rallying together, trying to find what we need on the big tracks.

The sport is so tough. Even with the year that we had last year, it's tough to keep that up over the off season and year after year after year. You know, moments like what we've had, the slow start to the season, make me respect and really appreciate what goes on at Hendrick Motorsports and how good that company is, our company is.

Q: Chad, you said on TV right after the race that you made a mistake leaving Jimmie out there. What were you referring to?

CHAD KNAUS: When the caution came out for I don't know what happened with the 12, all that oil was on the racetrack. We had the red flag right there at that point. I wanted to pit. My first instinct was to pit. The longer we sat there and thought about it, I managed to talk myself out of it and decided to stay out at that point.


CHAD KNAUS: We had 12 laps on our tires. We had had 10 laps on our tire earlier in the day and ran fine. At that run when we took off, we were fine. We were plenty fast. But unfortunately that caution came out seven laps later. And we really needed to go about 15 laps so everybody would have come back down pit road.

We had to pit. We pitted. Obviously everybody else stayed out. We had to line up I think it was 17th or something like that at that point. We were just kind of trapped in the back for quite a while.

Q: Chad, I wasn't plugged in exactly, but on TV was that you yelling at Jimmie to slow down, slow down?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think he stopped talking for three laps yelling, talking, whatever it was (laughter).

Q: Jimmie, did you need to hear that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: My instinct was to step on the gas pedal. That was good. The white lies he was telling me were even more helpful.

When he says something, I might think about it for a split second, but I believe him every time (smiling).

Q: Chad, you were in the box. You were motioning. Was that meaning to tag the crew guys to come back in? Seemed like you were getting ready to call Jimmie in.

CHAD KNAUS: I was saying, Back the hell up, slow down. That's exactly what I was saying. I told him to back up his pace. We had went from 29:20 to a 30:50. I said, Look, slow down another second and a half. He came around again, slowed down to a 31 flat. That's when I said, Look, the next car behind you is 20 seconds back, because obviously 10 seconds back wasn't far enough. He felt like he was going to need to go faster. I was trying to get him to slow down a little bit more.

Q: Jimmie, did you have your doubts?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, we don't play the fuel mileage game. We race for points year after year. If we can't make it, we're coming to pit road. So the fact that we stayed out and rolled the dice, I figured I would probably run out coming off of four. I had enough to do a little burnout, see the guys. I drove around to the backstretch and ran out.

It was figured out to a T.

Q: Chad, was there any doubt? Jimmie just said there wasn't any doubt in his mind you'd make it. Was there some in yours? Seemed like with seven or eight to go, you discussed it a little bit and said, We're going for it. Seemed like a big risk, a huge gamble. Was there a point where you just weren't sure?

CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, the whole run (laughter). You know, when all those guys around us pitted, I told Jimmie, We're getting ready to pit here in a couple laps. He came on the radio and he said, Can we make it? At that point when he said that, you know, I really took notice of where everybody was at on the racetrack. I was like, Well, yeah, I guess. You know, let's go for it (laughter).

So, you know, it was kind of funny. Ron Malec, our car chief, and I had a long discussion today. We were talking about Phoenix being one of those racetracks where we can potentially do something at the end of a race to take a chance to go for a win. Ron and I felt talking earlier today we had a handle on the car well enough. Right now at the intermediate tracks, the short tracks, the flat tracks, we felt like it was early enough in the season if we wanted to take a chance, try to make something happen, go for a win, we would be okay to eat the points right now and still make it into the top 12 with the remaining races before we get to the Chase.

That kind of set the tone.  I didn't think it was going to show up quite
like this.  I was thinking two tires instead of four, something along those
lines.  But we were kind of prepared for it.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus
Teams Hendrick Motorsports