An Interview With: RICK HENDRICK JIMMIE JOHNSON CHAD KNAUS KERRY THARP: We're going to roll into our post-race winner's press conference with the Dickies 500. Our congratulations goes out to Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt...
An Interview With:
KERRY THARP: We're going to roll into our post-race winner's press conference with the Dickies 500. Our congratulations goes out to Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Chevrolet. Jimmie takes over the points lead in the Chase. He's up 30 (points) over Jeff Gordon. This is his third straight win. I believe it's his first win here at Texas Motor Speedway.
And Jimmie, congratulations, you're on a roll. Take us through this win here today.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you. It was a night where we started off and had a decent race car. Things got a little funny at the beginning with two tires and no tires and stuff like that where we lost track position.
But we still had a good car and was able to work outside the Top-10. And then at the end, we were on pace with everybody's strategy and never really lost track position and I was able to keep working our way forward.
Really at the end it came down to a full-blown brawl with Matt (Kenseth) in a good way. I don't mean that in a bad way. We both wanted that win really bad. I think it was evident but how close our race cars were. It was a lot of fun and knowing I didn't have to worry about him putting me in a bad position because of the championship and he also knew I wouldn't come in there and clean him out and take him out and both of us were racing at a shot for the win, so it was really good racing. Glad to win here in Texas. It is my first win -- Mr. Hendrick doesn't have a lot of trophies from here so I'm happy to start the momentum and it's really good.
KERRY THARP: Rick, congratulations. Yet another victory for the organization. Your thoughts about the way things panned out today.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, it was a good race but like Jimmie said, early on, you had people taking two tires and we take four tires and then you would have a lot of guys up front and when we got the lap cars there, it just, you know, made for exciting times trying to get back through the field.
But it worked out. It was a great race. We had a good day. Jimmie, I talked to Jimmie yesterday after happy hour, and he felt really comfortable. Said his car was balanced and really felt good about it, and Jeff did.
Really, all of them ran good today, ran real well and led a lot of laps. You just figured somebody at the end of the race with two tires might win it and it worked out four tires was the way to go with 30 laps left. So Jimmie drove the wheels off of it, and that was pretty exciting to watch he and Matt. We're just glad to get the win here. It's been a long time since we won here, since I think Terry (Labonte) won.
Q: Jimmie, Matt was saying he kind of took advantage of you in situations to stay with you as long as he did. He said: 'I didn't think there was a guy leading the points, going to give him all kinds of room' -- 'I'm going to see if I can crowd him and race him as far as I can and see if he'll think better of it and maybe get him to back out of it five to go or something.' He also said one reason he was able to stay is because he thought you were being careful. It didn't look like you were being really careful from up here; were you? And also, did you see what was developing that he was trying to bluff you down because you were the points lead, or near the points leader at that point?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I didn't think of that angle to be honest but I knew that when I got inside of Matt, that he was crowding me and in doing his job to protect the win, and I could see what was coming as I got closer to him and as he moved up to the top and left the bottom for me and I knew that I was going to have to somehow find a way by; and if I didn't clear him in the corner, he was going to side draft me and blow back by me on the straightaway and be in a position to win the race. And in Vegas he blew by me on the outside, and once I got inside of him with probably eight to go, I tried for a couple laps, got real sideways and backed out of there. And I knew he was trapping me down there and backed out, gathered my thoughts and made another run and fortunately the next time I was able to clear him and get going.
I felt comfortable racing Matt. I knew he was going to do everything he could to keep me from getting by, but he's not going to run into me or side-draft me and make me get into the corner and get my car loose. He's going to race my car and he certainly did that and fortunately I was able to blow by him at the end.
At times I thought about the points, but Jeff, I knew he was getting better as the night went on and I knew I needed every point I could get and I had to go for it. That's really the position that I feel and Jeff and I are both in the remaining races. Every spot counts. And you've got to go for it and that's what I was doing tonight.
Q: With about 20 laps to go, you're about a second and a half behind, but it was almost like these races that you win all the time, you can see that you're sort of coming, sort of here you come again and here comes the 48 again. Can you tell that it's going to be your night that early on? Can you look back at that and say, yeah, you know what, this is my race if I just get up there. Can you tell that sort of thing or is it just that you've won so many times that we start to think that way
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There are times when I feel like I've got such a good car that it starts to lose -- especially when you get to the end, the last run, everybody is looking for that feeling that is going to take the run and I felt like I had it tonight. I was shocked once I got by the other cars and I got to Matt that I didn't get by him sooner and couldn't get to his bumper sooner. When I was trying to chase him down, I got to a point there that I thought, well, maybe I'm not going to get the job done. And then you started leaving me the bottom which let me understand that his stuff was start to being tighten up, the two tires weren't working and he was running for defense than really offense.
At that point, it gave me knew hope and I just started charging the bottom and trying to make something work and got it done
Q: It seems like the second half of the Chase every year is Jimmie Johnson time. What do you think it is that you guys, if you could sum it up, what is it that changes with your team or that you focus somehow more at this point or what is it that makes you guys so good in the second half of the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That is the most-asked question and I don't have an answer for you, I'm sorry. (Laughing).
I think tracks have something to do with it. There are good tracks that we see in the spring and fall and that has a lot to do with it. I feel that we have no idea. We just show up and we do the same job every week that we always do but there are certain tracks that we are better at.
KERRY THARP: We are also pleased to be joined by our winning crew chief, Chad Knaus. Chad, briefly your thoughts about today's performance.
CHAD KNAUS: It was a great team effort today. I feel like that the guys on pit road did a phenomenal job and Jimmie obviously did a great job on the racetrack with the way he drove the race car. It was nerve-wracking at the beginning with the caution flags following, you had some people on two tires, you had some people on four tires, some people staying out and on different schedules. And at one point I think we were back to 31st or something like that.
It was a little scary but we knew if we with those long green flag runs we could get back up there in the Top-5 and fortunately enough we got up there and the guys did a phenomenal job on pit road and that last pit stop, we needed to be the last race car on the track with four tires; and some people were taking two and we opted for four and went out with pit position with four cars on two tires and Jimmie did the rest.
Q: A lot happened for you today, you take over the points lead, you have that crazy finish there, does this in any way, do you think, give you any boost or momentum going into the final two races?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think so. I think that we've been on quite a roll here and going to victory lane does something for the crew and the shop that you didn't do it any other way. When you go to victory lane, there's just a buzz that goes through all of Hendrick Motorsports and really on the 48 team.
So we have momentum going our direction right now but it's only 30 points and if you look at the last two weeks, I've been able to make up roughly 60 points and with ten races left, and Jeff hasn't had bad races the last two events. He's had strong he finishes. So it's not like he's had bad nights so I can finish tenth and he can win and I'm back in second.
So we have a lot of work ahead of us and are happy to be in a position to race for the championship. With good racetracks coming up for us, good race cars in the lineup and momentum from the victories, and our guys are showing up hungry every week trying to get as many points as we can.
To point out the other stuff, I just found out the purse was a nice number, 486,000. So 48, things are going the right way.
Q: The roll that you're on right now, you are on quite a roll but is there a side of you that feels for Jeff and that team because you continue to get on this roll and continue on this roll that you're hurting your teammate and your friend?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. (Laughter) This is racing. You have to check your emotions at the gate when you come in here. Motorsports is such a humbling experience and I've been very fortunate to experience in my career a lot of great things but the road getting here was a tough one and I think a lot of people know the career that I've had, and things that I've had to do to get to this point and it's been a long battle.
Motorsports will eat people up and spit them out, and I just want to capitalize on this opportunity that I have. Jeff is a great friend and great teammate, but he's also the most challenging guy out there for me to beat. And that's with all the respect in the world. But I don't feel bad for him and I know he wouldn't, either.
If something happened where he had bad luck and we ended up winning the championship, that's where I would feel bad. But the fact that we are racing as hard as we are for it right now, it's racing.
Q: Last year you were here, you were trailing Matt by 26 points and you lead by 17. Does this feel like dejavu in a way, and how does that experience last year help you psychologically going into the last few races this year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's more of a coincidence than anything. This year is so much different than last that it's tough to find enough similarities or parallels to the racing as what's gone on.
So it's tough to say. If it all works out, I guess we can look back on it and say, yeah, this is like 2006 but it's such a different year and different team that's racing for the championship. It's just totally different.
Q: You certainly have made a habit of winning races late in the event. Is this, can you rate, how challenging, how difficult or can you kind of put us in the seat in the sense of what it felt like, and how it compared to other late race battles in the past?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I would say this one's -- I'm trying to think of different events. I remember at Atlanta, after the plane went down and how hard I drove the car against Mark Martin and to win that race; I think that's probably the hardest I ever have driven a car.
Unfortunately I had a couple last laps or a couple last corner passes, and this one right there with it so I would say it's in the top three or top four of victories, only because I've been fortunate to be in this position before that I have three or four of those there. But any difficult situations, this is the top of the list. If you saw on television, I was dead sideways, Matt was sideways, and he was crowding me and trying to move him up a little bit and trying to do all that at 190 miles an hour around here, it's pretty intense
Q: Is there a point where common says back off because of points situation or does that not even enter your mind?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It enters my minds, and I feel like I was doing a good job balancing those emotions in the car and when I got inside of Matt and I tried for a lap or two to get by, I actually let him go if I felt like he was crowding me and then I would try to get back inside him -- I tried to recheck those wheels and went back after him. After seeing the video, I felt like I was more sideways than I was coming off the corners.
Q: But you being in such a tight points battle, did you ever think about backing off and just letting Matt get the win so that you didn't wreck yourself? And Rick, was there ever any talk about telling Jimmie just to back off?
RICK HENDRICK: Thought about it. I was thinking, we've got an awful lot at stake here and Jeff was running seventh, we don't need to do this, but I felt like Jimmie was under control and I was nervous and wanting to hit the button -- I was thinking it.
Continued in part 2