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February 28, 2016

Jimmie Johnson

Hampton, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: We'll continue on with our post‑race availability. We are now joined by today's Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Jimmie, obviously with this win here today, you have tied Dale Earnhardt for seventh on the all‑time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins list. Talk about your trip to victory lane today.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, special for sure. Gosh, it's hard to‑‑ I entered the sport just hoping I could win a race and keep a job for a few years, and to have 76 and tie Dale Earnhardt Sr is something I'm very, very proud of. I didn't have a chance to race against him, unfortunately, but today‑‑ there's been a big void in my mind about not having that chance to race against him, and it was literally a handful of months away from having that opportunity. So to tie him today, for myself personally, it gives me a little something‑‑ it's a little bit of attachment to the great Dale Earnhardt and something I'm very proud of.

Q. Did you ever watch Earnhardt and say, I wish‑‑ I want to be able to do that? And then also, the fact that Dale Jr. is very complimentary of you, Kelley Earnhardt Miller tweeted congratulations and everything, does that mean something? Is it comforting to know that the Earnhardt family is kind of supportive and congratulatory of you at this moment?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, without a doubt. It made me smile more to hear that Kelley sent out that tweet.
You know, I talked to Dale six months ago or a while ago, last year at some point about it, and I also talked to Jeff. I was shocked that he had a little bit of backlash when he flew the 3 flag in Phoenix, and I was like, really, why? So I just made sure that I spoke to Junior a little bit, and he shared with me that he really feels like his dad would have had a ton of respect for me and would have enjoyed racing against me, and we would have had a great friendship. Kind of covering that base with Dale a while ago helped me, and with the confusion of how overtime works, I kind of forgot that that win was 76 and then it hit me after I had taken the checkered flag and was doing my victory lap, so I had to come back around and certainly wanted to pay respect to Dale.
What was the first part of your question?

Q. Did you ever watch anything that Dale did and thought, I want to do that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, as a spectator watching him, I was in shock at Bristol when he got Terry and Terry still won, I thought, wow, that was cool to win that way, and the next time he got Terry, and he won, and I was like, ooh, and I couldn't believe that the entire place booed him.
My younger brother Jarit was a big Earnhardt fan, and I ended up being a Gordon fan, and the banter we had back and forth through all of it was just fun. It reminds me‑‑ I guess it's just what all of our fans do day in and day out and they pick their driver and have their rivalries internally in their own house.
A lot of fun memories of picking on my brother, but he won a lot, so it was tough to always have the upper hand.

Q. Did you know when you were told you weren't doing a burnout, were you sad about that fact and did you understand why you were told you couldn't do a burnout?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I still did kind of a small one. I wasn't told why, but I wasn't sure why. Is there a reason?

Q. Chad was worried about what happened to the 18 on Friday.

Q. So you weren't too upset about it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I still kind of did one. You just get used to doing one. It's so much fun to do it, burn the tires off the car.

Q. Atlanta has been a really special place for you. You won the first race here after the plane crash. You had that moment when you went 13th to 2nd in I think 2008. You've got this today. Is there something about this place that's more special than other places? Do you think about tracks that way at all?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I do. I mean, I don't know why some tracks work that way, but we had some real magic here for a long time, and then we kind of lost it. So until our win last year, I was like, where did it go? I wished it would come back. And then we figured it out last year, and then again, had a not‑so‑good qualifying effort which had me a little worried, and then race practice started and we were right where we needed to be and then had a great race today. I guess more than anything I'm starting to build the confidence back about this racetrack, but I've had some massive moments here, and as you mentioned them, they were all really late‑race moments, and then sure enough here again, the way this one finished out, it was in that same vein, so it's amazing that way.

Q. It's no secret that you're one of the drivers in top physical condition. Given that, how tough is it for someone like yourself to do 210 laps caution‑free with ill‑handling race cars on a track like Atlanta?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's so much fun, you don't even think about it. This racetrack is so fun to drive, you've got to be so disciplined with your inputs. Too much brake creates a variety of problems. Letting off the gas too hard does the same thing. If you miss the painted line by a couple inches, the car drives terrible and is bouncing all over the place, and then that's just getting into the turn. Then you've got to deal with the center of the corner and the bumps and getting off the turn. Those laps did go by pretty quick.
I did find that I was really thirsty, and finally maybe the second or third green‑flag stop, I grabbed my drink bottle and got a drink of Gatorade. But outside of that, it was a nice cool day so I don't think it was too hard physically. I make sure that I cover that base and make sure my conditioning is where it needs to be, but this track is so fun to drive, those laps went by pretty fast.

Q. How comfortable were you with the call that Chad made there at the end to pit when you did? And do you ever say, no, that's not it, we can't‑‑ it's not going to work if we do that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, we've talked a lot that we want to be aggressive, so I knew when he pulled me to pit lane that we were going to be on the early side, and then I made lap after lap after lap and no one else was on pit road, and I was like, are we going to two‑stop it from here? What's going on? I didn't realize how aggressive he was willing to be.
I really felt like that was going to hurt us, and late in the run I assumed Kevin would just run me back down, and we were able to manage that five‑second gap. I got comfortable‑ish with 10 to go and felt like I could manage five seconds at that point, but up until then, being the hunted, it's just a weird position to be in. You just know he's coming. You're staring in the mirror and wondering where he's at, and then also wondering if Chad was telling me the truth about lap times and the gap back to him, and it all worked out.

Q. Did you ever overrule him?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, he's got a much better vantage point of what's going on, and the way I looked at his call, the first maybe three or four laps before I freaked out and thought, wow, we pitted way early, we've got nothing to lose. We've run third all day long. I think I ran third or fourth when I had to pit early because I thought I had a tire going down, so I felt like if we just sat there and ran the same race, we were going to be third. If the gamble didn't work out, we'd still be third.
I didn't think there was much downside to it and a lot of upside.

Q. If I remember correctly, when Gordon tied Earnhardt, the fan reception was not too friendly. It seemed like, unless I missed something, it was quite a bit warmer for you today. What did you see and hear when you were going along the stands there and looking out and holding the 3 out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I saw a lot of 3s coming back. I haven't had a chance to look at social media and see what's going on there, but I felt like there was a warm reception, and regardless of the reception, I know what it means to me, and I know what it means to our sport and everyone in it working, as well. I'll be good with all of that. If there's some fans that have other opinions, then it is what it is.

Q. I've got two for you. First, 76 wins, I know you've said a couple of times already, it's a big deal. You've won the Daytona 500 twice, won the Southern 500, won the 600 three or four times, but this win today at this track, where do you put this one on the list of accomplishments over the course of your career?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think the gamble that Chad made puts it in a special category in the fact that we were able to hold on and get there. And then obviously the fact that it's my 76th and tying Dale, I don't know if it's bigger than my first win, but it's right there with it. This is a very, very special and meaningful day.

Q. And as far as the course of this whole race with the new package and you guys basically having to manhandle the cars the way you did for so long today, do you feel like this puts the cars even more back in your wheelhouse than it seems like they've been over the last six or eight years knowing how good you've been since 2006 when the run started?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think that '14 and '15 the rules package didn't suit my style as much. We still found ways to win, but I think I had a hard time sensing the grip level of the car and knowing how to get that last tenth or two out of it. My background in racing on the dirt, I think really lends to this package, and certainly at a track like Atlanta today and how much tire wear we have lends to my background.
For me directionally I love the direction things are going in and would love to see more.

Q. Most likely with this win you're going to lock yourself into the Chase. You guys have always won early and kind of used the time between now and the final 10 races to really build on your playoff program, but in the last couple years with the new format you and Chad just don't seem to have the magic or haven't quite figured out the format. What have you guys talked about in the off‑season to combat the miscues that you've experienced in the last two Chase playoffs?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's hard to put our fingers on just one thing. I feel that it's tough to maintain the pace or the expectations that we have for ourselves on the Lowe's team, and I think managing that is something that we haven't done as well as we could, and starting the seasons hot and being strong and winning and doing all those things is very important, but it's tough to carry that through the entire year.
I think we've kind of recognized that over the off‑season, and hopefully we cannot overwork ourselves and have peace of mind and patience and not be on a razor's edge through the summer months and carry the right momentum into the fall. And with all that said, I know that we didn't have a great summer last year. I felt like we started the Chase and was very strong and had a weird mechanical get us.
That's where it's so hard to put our finger on‑‑ it's not just one thing, but I feel like managing the pace and the effort that we put in through the year up until the Chase is something that we're going to address and should do a much better job with this year.

Q. You talk about how you're such a good driver when it comes to the Chase. I know it's been a couple seasons since that championship, but you're trying to tie Dale Sr. for seven titles. You've got obviously that 76th tying win today, but the elation that you had today with this victory, how would it feel to tie Senior in championships? It's on a whole 'nother level, but how would that really feel to do that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I wouldn't even know how to go there. It would be massive. The six that I have, I know how special and meaningful they are, and if I have that chance to win a seventh and tie Petty and Earnhardt would be just monumental.
Today's win in tying Earnhardt for the race wins, I mean, it's really deep and a lot of pride, and I feel amazing from it, so I can only imagine what a championship would do.

Q. You were talking earlier about all the things that you had to do in this race, how your team was tested, green‑flag pit stops, getting on and off pit road. I was wondering what your thoughts on how Chase's day went today? It seemed like in a way he was thrown into the fire as far as what you could possibly expect, and the first real race of the non‑restrictor plate race of the season and ran in the top 10 the whole day.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I would see his number up on the pylon going by and I was real happy to see him having a good day. It reminded me of my rookie season run here. I think we raced twice here back then. And the confidence that I had in myself after running in the‑‑ I think I finished fifth or sixth or something, but to see the leaders all day long, to stay on the lead lap, there was a lot of green‑flag runs, at that point in time, I still look back and say that Atlanta race let me know that I could win, let me know that I could race with the best guys in the business, and Chase came to congratulate me in victory lane, and I was thinking all of those things when I heard where he ended up finishing. I knew he had a good day, but I'm not sure how the results turned out, but I can't wait to share that with him because I feel like I had a similar moment, and I want him to be able to build on that and let‑‑ he's a very humble guy. I want him to build the confidence that he can do this.
He had a tough role to come in and fill Jeff Gordon's role in that 24 car, and to win the pole at Daytona and to come here and have such a great run, he's off to a great start.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie, thanks for joining us, and again, congratulations.

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