Talladega: Winning team interview

Jimmie Johnson Takes Monte Carlo SS to Victory Lane as Chevy Drivers Sweep Top Four Finishing Spots at NASCAR Nextel Cup Aaron's 499 Race at Talladega Superspeedway Chevrolet Scores 30th Modern Era Win (1972 - Present) at Talladega; Johnson Puts...

Jimmie Johnson Takes Monte Carlo SS to Victory Lane as Chevy Drivers Sweep Top Four Finishing Spots at NASCAR Nextel Cup Aaron's 499 Race at Talladega Superspeedway

Chevrolet Scores 30th Modern Era Win (1972 - Present) at Talladega; Johnson Puts Lowe's Team Back Atop Point Lead And Chevrolet Extends Lead In Manufacturers' Cup Standings

Talladega, ALA - Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS captured his second restrictor plate win of the season at the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, Round 9 on the 2006 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series tour.

Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers, and Jeff Burton round out the top four finishing spots for a Team Chevy sweep on the 2.66-mile track.

Chevrolet has now won 30 times at Talladega Superspeedway in the Modern Era (1972 - present). Chevy drivers have now won the spring stop on the tour for the last eight years running. Add the fall rounds to the Talladega stats, and Chevrolet's success jumps to 14 wins in the past 15 races at the Alabama venue.

Chevrolet continues to hold the lead in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Manufacturer's standings through the first nine races of the 2006 season.

The series moves to Richmond International raceway for Round 10 on Saturday night, May 6.

Current NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Manufacturer's Standings:
Chevrolet 65 points (5 wins)
Dodge 53 points (3 wins)
Ford 53 points (1 win)

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WINNER'S PRESS CONFERENCE WITH JIMMIE JOHNSON, DRIVER, AND CHAD KNAUS, CREW CHIEF, NO. 48 LOWE'S CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO SS:

ON TODAY'S RACE:

JOHNSON: "Today was probably one of the best restrictor plate races I've been a part of. The competition was intense and tough but everybody seemed to really do things in a cautious manner. I'm not sure what everyone else saw, but it was an awesome, awesome race. At the end, with the No. 24 and the No. 20 up front and their experience, that they were going to control the race and that one of those two cars would end up winning. Things really shuffled up and everybody was really aggressive and had been saving it up all day long, I guess. Things really worked out for me. I got shuffled and moved around. I got a huge push from the No. 88 with probably four or five (laps) to go and then the No. 20 ended up behind me. After watching the video on the speed stage, I realized that the No. 20 was who really gave me a push from the outside lane where I got a run on the No. 25 and got inside of him. And then he followed me all the way to the bottom and pushed me the rest of the way.

"It was just a great day. I tried to stay smooth and calm on the race track. We had no mistakes on pit road. The race car was awesome. We haven't tested it or had a chance to take to the wind tunnel. Chad and the guys worked really hard and built a new car and brought it to the track and we had this kind of success with it. I'm proud of the team and all the hard work that went into the day's race.

WHAT DID YOU SEE FROM THE PITBOX?

KNAUS: "I didn't really get to see a whole lot of it. I basically just saw the pass for the lead as he was coming through the tri oval. I asked Jimmie how he got that run and he didn't really know. It's so hard to see a whole lot of anything that goes on around here. We had a great race car today and the guys did a great job of assembling this race car. We basically put it in the transporter and the paint was still wet on it (from) just finishing the set-up and getting it here in a rush after we lost our car in the Daytona 500 for Daytona USA. So it was a great day for us. The guys did a flawless job on pit road."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT VINDICATION FOR THE LAST TWO TALLADEGA RACES LAST YEAR? ALSO, TALK ABOUT WINNING DAYTONA WITH ALL THE CONTROVERSY AND NOW COMING BACK AND WINNING TALLADEGA WITHOUT ANY CONTROVERSY:

JOHNSON: "In Daytona I felt I had corrected the problems I had on restrictor plate race tracks and had a very clean race in Daytona and won. I just wanted to build off of that.

"I hadn't thought about the trouble I had last year. I came in here with an open mind and was excited about the race. I'm happy for Chad -- especially since he hasn't had a chance to enjoy victory lane. His cars have been winning races, but he was unfortunately at home. To get him to victory lane means a lot for myself and the team. And well deserved. He's worked his butt off as we all know, for so long, and has put so much into these restrictor plate cars. And to get two (wins) this year and finally be present for one of them means a lot of him. It's something he's always worked really hard on."

EMOTIONALLY, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR FIRST WIN OF THE SEASON BACK WITH JIMMIE?

"Really, it's not my first win of the season. We won the Daytona 500 and we won Las Vegas. So it's actually our third win of the season. Just because I wasn't at those race tracks and Darian (Grubb, substitute crew chief while Knaus was on suspension) wasn't calling this race, doesn't add or take away from anything this team is doing. That's what we've tried to push from the get-go. It was great to be here. Don't get me wrong. I like spraying the champagne and doing the hat dance and all that cool stuff. When I wasn't here, I was just as happy for this team winning races as I am today. I'm just celebrating here instead of in my living room."

HOW RELIEVED WERE YOU TO FIND OUT THAT DALE EARNHARDT JR. WAS OUT OF THE RACE?

"I didn't know he was out of the race. I just now learned."

DID YOU GET A NEW SPOT IN THE MOTOR HOME LOT THIS WEEKEND AS YOU HAD PLANNED? AND DID IT MEAN MORE TO BEAT DRAFTING MASTERS LIKE STEWART AND GORDON AT THIS RACE?

"Yeah, it did to me, personally, to beat those guys at a race and them not have any problems. But nothing will ever be more than winning the Daytona 500. I know the No. 24 had problems in that race and the No. 20 did and some of the guys who are better at drafting. But still, I don't think there will ever be a win to surpass that emotion. But today, to win this restrictor plate race, all the key players were in there and fighting hard. It makes me very proud of what moves I made today on the race track. It's so hard because you're planning out what you are going to do. Everyone else is working on a different plan, and there are no guarantees that your idea is going to work or if anyone is going to believe in what you're doing and follow you.

"At Daytona, I sat there and made the right moves at the right time. But really, people made some decisions around me that helped me get to the front. I had a car just like the No. 20 and the No. 25 and the No. 24 that could have won. Things just worked out in the end for me to surge into the lead. And yes, our bus driver pointed that out in victory lane that our new spot paid off."

AFTER WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR, DID YOU SPEND TIME TALKING IT OVER WITH JEFF GORDON AND STUDYING THE VIDEOS?

"No more than I would typically do. When I first came into the sport, I spent a lot of time with Jeff trying to understand the draft. And then year two or three, we could relate on the same level and it wasn't so much him showing me all the different things that took place. We could talk more in depth about our race cars and how we could make certain passes and do certain things on the track. He's still a huge asset to me and someone that I go to for a lot of advice. Brian and Kyle are really leaning hard on Jeff and myself for advice on the plate tracks. Brian did a phenomenal job today and really had a shot at winning this race."

WHEN YOU WERE PASSING BRIAN VICKERS WITH JUST ONE LAP TO GO, WAS THERE ANY REGRET THAT YOU DIDN'T HELP HIM TO TAKE THE WIN INSTEAD OF TAKING ANOTHER WIN FOR YOURSELF?

"I wouldn't say 'regret'. As a friend and teammate, I couldn't be more proud of what Brian did on the track. I know how hard they're (the No. 25 team) working for a win and know how much I wanted a HMS car to win today. We all know, it's just about when things cycle out and if you time it to lead the last lap. Within the top 10 or top 15, those cars are all capable of winning the race. So I think I said something on the cool down lap when Brian went by and gave me a thumbs up. I said to my crew guys that kid did an awesome job today and deserves to win a lot of these races. So I didn't regret the move, but I feel for him. And he's going to have plenty of wins in the near future."

HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR APPROACH SINCE THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR AND SERVING YOUR SUSPENSION FOR THE DAYTONA PENALTY?

KNAUS: "I wouldn't say we're building the cars any differently or doing a lot of changing that way. We're making sure we're following the rule book maybe a little bit closer to the letter and making sure we stay within the black & white of the rule book.

"It was a tough time going through that and we don't want that kind of controversy surrounding our team because it is such a great race team. It doesn't need that. We did a great job here this weekend and the past couple of weeks. It was tough. We're making sure we stay within the guidelines. It's petrifying to be a crew chief in this sport nowadays because if you don't run competitive, you're going to be out of a job. (But) if you push it too hard, and you get in trouble, you're going to be out of a job (laughs). So it's a tough deal. It's all part of the game. It's frightening after you win a race or finish in the top five just wondering what's going to happen when the car goes over the height sticks and things like that. But I got the thumbs up that everything was fine before I walked in here (post race, media center) so it's all good."

ON THE SOFT BUMPERS HELPING OUT IN TODAY'S RACE:

"I agree with you. The one thing I can't say is that at the end of the race the bump drafting picked up and looking at my bumper and knowing the bump drafting I was doing, the bumper wasn't damaged. I'm not sure that with the knowledge we have if we'd be the same at the next race. We might have to soften them up another step. I think today's race, because of the extra cautions from the drivers on the race track, really led to a good, safe race. I didn't see what caused any of the wrecks. Up front there were some situations where in the past the bump draft would get somebody out of control and people kept from doing that and if they did they'd just give them a little push or shove and really wouldn't slam them."

WHAT THINGS DID YOU NEED TO CORRECT ABOUT RACING AT RESTRICTOR PLATE TRACKS AND HOW DID YOU FIX THEM?

"I got into some situations last year going through Daytona and my experience down there where I felt in my heart I may have been too aggressive on the track. When Dale Jarrett won the fall race here last year, he stayed out of trouble all day long and had a straight race car and at the end everybody else's cars were so beat up he had the fastest car. I took that philosophy into the Daytona 500 and it paid off. Then today again I really stayed cautious. I probably was hung out more times than I wanted to be today. I could have prevented some of those times where I was pushed out of the draft but I didn't want to be aggressive. I didn't want to block anyone. If someone got position on me before the spotter said, I'd just let it go and fight my way back through there. Then at the end we were racing for the win and it paid off. I'm just trying to make small changes in everything I do at every race track not only the superspeedways but on the 1.0-mile tracks and short tracks. As a driver and for the team as well, we're always trying to improve and do a better job."

WERE YOU MORE ANXIOUS FOR THE RACE AFTER HAVING TO WAIT A DAY?

"I probably shared the same emotions that everyone else it. You're here another night. You're ready to get going with it. Everybody gets charged up for the race. From the drivers standpoint we took the three warm up laps essentially getting ready to come to the green and then it started raining. Mentally we were all charged up and ready to go then obviously (there was) the delay and the cancellation of the race. I woke up this morning bright and early. I was ready to go, ready to get on the race track and excited to get out there and get to work."

WILL THE FOUR-WIDE AND FIVE-WIDE RACING BE AN ISSUE AT TALLADEGA?

"From the drivers standpoint, we know if there's available space out there and you have a run you're going to take it. At Daytona it's so much narrower we would never put each other in that four and five-side situation. A lot of drivers have pointed out that bump drafting contributes to wrecks and causes some problems but the majority of the wrecks from the drivers perspective has been trying to crowd into a hole that wasn't there by using your spot mirror and trying to force your way into something or the side draft. It looks like from what you guys have been saying today here is that's what started the wrecks and the bump drafting didn't do that. What NASCAR did with the aggressive driving rule and also with the bump drafting, it's a step in the right direction. There isn't going to be a fix to take it all out of our sport. You're still going to have aggressive driving and there's going to be crashes, it's racing. I think NASCAR has done everything they can to address the issues to make a safer race and trying to keep everybody from being out of control out there."

ON THIS VICTORY PUTTING HIM TWO WINS BEHIND JEFF GORDON WHILE HE WAS AT A SIMILAR POINT IN HIS CAREER:

"I didn't realize that. It puts a smile on my face to hear that. With the organization I drive for and Jeff helping out, I'm very lucky to be in this situation and have made the most of it, raced as hard as I could and proud to be here and be a part of it. I didn't know that stat and hopefully I can keep par with him. It'd be nice to have 60 or 70 victories when it's all said and done."

HOW HARD IS IT TO BUILD A RESTRICTOR PLATE CAR BETWEEN DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA?

CHAD KNAUS - "Oh boy, it's tough. It's real difficult. Obviously you always expect the worse at the superspeedway races that you may potentially lose a race car in a crash. In Daytona when we lost it, the next day we were starting to build a chassis and getting things rolling right after the Daytona victory. To build a good superspeedway car, it will take you about three months time. We used every bit of that to try to get this car built. We've got an incredible superspeedway development program at Hendrick Motorsports. The thing that's most unique about it is when you look at the 5, 25, 24 and 48, all four of those cars are built chassis-wise and body-wise by the same guys. I think that's why you saw today all four of those cars running up front. Unfortunately the 5 car got crashed out and wasn't able to show what he had but the other three cars ran up front most of the day. It's pretty painstaking to get those cars built within the template restrictions that we've got and to find just a little bit of detail that you need to find speed out of those cars. It's very, very hard."

HAS THIS CAR BEEN TO THE WIND TUNNEL?

"No this car has not been to the wind tunnel. It has not been to a race track. It has not been to anything. Literally the paint was still drying on it when we pushed it on the truck Thursday. It was just time restricted. We wanted to obviously to take every vehicle that we take to the race to the wind tunnel, but were confined by having to get the cars to the race track and how hard it is to build the cars today for the race track. We just weren't able to have time. It's almost as difficult now to build an intermediate car or a short track car as it is to build a superspeedway car. The detail that goes into a short track or intermediate car is what went into a superspeedway car about five years ago. It just takes the superspeedway cars up another notch."

WHAT EFFECT WILL WILL FERRELL'S NEW RACING MOVIE HAVE ON THE SPORT?

"I'm looking forward to it. I want to see the movie. I can't wait until it's out to see it. I'm not sure what the overall impression will be from it but anything Will does is pretty funny. I think that any publicity for our sport is good publicity. If we can poke fun at ourselves and certain issues and topics, I think it's good for us all."

-gm racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Brian Vickers
Teams Hendrick Motorsports