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October 30, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race‑winning team owner, Rick Hendrick.
Mr. Hendrick, congratulations on today's win. Certainly your team has had a lot of success here at Martinsville. With the 48 moving on to the championship, talk about what that means to you and your organization.
RICK HENDRICK: It means it takes a lot of pressure off right now, I tell you, just having the win, just like Charlotte, to advance into that round. We're really looking forward to Texas because that's a really good track for Jimmie. But to win here and know we're locked into Homestead, it's a great relief. It's a special race for us. Think this was our 24th clock here, so they told me. I'm pretty excited about that.
We're just excited about the momentum that we have now going to Homestead. We got a couple good tracks coming up, so looking forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Mr. Hendrick.
Q. This is the first time that Jimmie and Chad, under the new format, have advanced to the championship, and have two races to get ready. What is the benefit for them? Does this make Jimmie a legitimate contender for the seventh championship?
RICK HENDRICK: Sure, I think so. I hope so. We've gained a lot of speed. They found a lot of things and gained a lot of momentum. Confidence is a big factor. Chase had a really good test at Homestead. Jimmie always runs good in Texas.
Just knowing that you get to go to that final race and that you don't have a cut tire, have a part failure, anything else that can happen, you can go race with a lot of confidence, then prepare for that race.
So they've been in that race before. This time, you know, we've been to Homestead a lot of times with a little bit of a points lead, but he understands the pressure of that race. So just getting there and being in position to race the other guys for the win is pretty cool.
Q. We always hear people talk about when one team or two teams from an organization make it into the Chase, that everybody else is going to pitch in and help. What can you guys actually do to help the 48 team going forward that maybe you wouldn't normally do under any other circumstances? Does it differ that much or is it the same?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think, you know, you saw the Toyotas let each other in today, give each other a hole when there was an opportunity. A teammate will let you in if it's a restart. Those things kind of happen on the track.
But our organization has been working really hard together in the wind tunnel and sharing everything. A tremendous amount of respect between the guys. Having Jeff back in the car has helped a lot. Seeing Chase really come up to speed, a lot of time in the simulator, all of the work is paying off. It's all coming together. The engine shop's doing real well. Chase has been so good on the mile‑and‑a‑half's. Alex has done a good job. Jeff has done a good job. Casey has picked up the second half and had a bunch of top 10s.
I'm really proud of them because I can tell you we've never worked as close, shared as much, leaned on each other as much as we have since about June, July. It's good to see it paying off.
Q. In Bristol we were asking you, What's wrong, what's wrong? Could you have envisioned this strong of a performance from Jimmie? Are you going to tap into Jeff Gordon if you need him again in upcoming years or is eight races enough?
RICK HENDRICK: I watched him today. I think he's too good to quit (laughter).
Sometimes you're not as good as you look, you're not as bad as you look. I don't think we were as bad. Now, we were pretty terrible back April, May. We started picking up speed, getting to the front, leading some laps. We could see it coming.
Then right when I met you guys in Bristol, we spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel and it started paying off. We could see it in tests and everything else.
Did I think we would run this good? I thought Chase would be in it. Two of those accidents in Charlotte or Chicago... I don't know if he would have made this round. I have a lot of confidence in our guys when they really put their heads down and we work. Everybody put in a lot of effort.
It's not easy out there. It's a tough business. We got a lot of hard‑working, smart people. When they work together, we can get results, so...
But I felt like we could be at Homestead, but there's no guarantee. There's a whole lot of people in the garage that thought they'd be at Homestead that won't be at Homestead.
Q. Is it starting to feel like the year where Jimmie finally wins his seventh, or with this format is it hard to get that kind of feeling?
RICK HENDRICK: It's so hard. This deal is so hard, this new program. You see guys like Martin Truex that run so good, break an engine at Talladega. It's a heartbreaker. When you get into the playoffs in baseball, the ball doesn't go flat, you don't get a bat that comes apart.
There's a lot of things out of your control that you just can't do anything about. But I think this is an excellent shot for us, for Jimmie, because I think he's got that stride. He showed it today when he was on the outside of Denny. He just didn't give it up.
He knows he's got a tremendous feel. He did at Charlotte. If I've got to race for the win at a track like that, then I'd put my money on him. So I think all the components, engine shop, chassis shop, aero, everything is in a good place.
Then with Jimmie, when all the chips are down, it's for the seventh championship, I think he's going to ratchet it up a notch.
Q. In terms of Jeff's final race, his answer is consistently, You have to ask Rick. If you're in need of a replacement driver, is he still your first call?
RICK HENDRICK: Absolutely.
Q. Does he have a say in that?
RICK HENDRICK: No (smiling).
Q. How do you think he ran today?
RICK HENDRICK: I thought he did a great job. In the middle of the race, he was coming. Man, he could win this thing.
It's really tough to be out of the car and jump back in and race with these guys without having the week‑to‑week input into the car.
Don't you guys agree, he's too young to retire? I mean, he's too good. Maybe we'll vote him back in. Maybe we can come up with a new deal.
He's the one that said I could call him if I needed him.
Q. He didn't make it sound that way.
RICK HENDRICK: Okay (smiling).
Q. Now that Jimmie has his slot, he even acknowledged outside that it's inevitable that talk of the seventh is going to surround him, but he doesn't want to think about it. How does he balance that?
RICK HENDRICK: But if you think back when it was three in a row, four in a row, five in a row, going for six, I mean, he's been there. It's not like somebody that's trying to get their first championship, that's been so close and never won one.
I think he's just really enjoying the moment. I think the pressure will probably build when he gets to Homestead. But he's been at Homestead six times and delivered. So I put my money on him.
It's like some of these teams, when they get to the playoffs, they're hard to beat. I think that Chad is that way. He's that way. They know how to race for that deal.
I really don't worry about that part of Jimmie. I think he will handle that with no problem.
THE MODERATOR: Mr. Hendrick, thank you so much for your time. Good luck next week.
RICK HENDRICK: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winning driver and crew chief, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No.48 Lowe's Chevrolet, and crew chief Chad Knaus. This is the fourth victory and 15th top‑10 finish in 2016 for the team. They will now advance to the Championship 4.
Gentlemen, congratulations. Talk us through your race this afternoon.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you. Obviously an amazing way to finish the day, get a win here, get our ninth clock. To win at Martinsville in the fall, from the Hendrick Motorsports side is a very meaningful victory for us. So a lot of emotions are all coming together.
Obviously the bright spot and the shiny spot in all this is we've got a shot at a championship. So we're fired up and ready to go. Very, very excited for the next couple weeks. Certainly ready to go to Homestead and race, race for this thing.
CHAD KNAUS: Extremely excited, obviously, too. We were really pumped up to come in here with the 48, 88 shop, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. We had an opportunity after winning when we did in Charlotte to really focus on this race to come in here with the best product we possibly could.
It was good. We established ourselves as I think a contender early, running in the top 10. Then we had some problems. Jimmie did an amazing job being able to go out there and navigate through the field, get back up to the front. Then we caught a timely caution, made some good adjustments on the racecar. Jimmie did awesome early on in that last stint, was able to get the lead, go out there and do what we did.
It was a great, great day. A lot of fun. We really enjoyed it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Jimmie, what was the issue with whether it was fuel or not fuel? What happened out there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, we were definitely sputtering and running out of gas. I don't exactly know what happened, but somehow there's a switch for the EC. It was off. When I saw the fuel pressure fluctuate and the engine sputtering, I don't know, I was reaching around. I hit the switch and shut the EC off, which cut the power off to the car. So I came to a stop.
In my mind somewhere there was a voice saying, Recycle the power of the car. So I shut the main power off, counted to three, which was probably only one second instead of three, turned it back on.
In my mind, I am like, All switches on. I went through my checklist and saw the most important switch was off. I switched it on, fuel pressure came up, the car fired, off it went.
Then it was hopefully pit one or two laps from then. It went five or six. It was really scary, hoping I could maintain solid fuel pressure. But I just kept coasting, shutting the engine off, was able to stretch it.
Q. Chad, is there anything any different that you guys will lean on your teammates going forward than you would have under any other circumstances?
CHAD KNAUS: I don't think there's a whole lot that you can do. Thanks for asking that question because I haven't had an opportunity to ask him that. There's not a whole lot we can do, to be honest, than just be good teammates. With what we have with the roster at Hendrick Motorsports, our drivers understand what it is we need to do, our crew chiefs understand it, our teams really get it.
It's been very encouraging over the course of this Chase to watch our teams work together. There's only so much you can do within the bounds of the rules obviously.
Alan Gustafson and Greg and Keith have done a fantastic job of working together with the 48 car, and us with the 24 when they were trying to battle through for the advancement in Talladega.
The drivers on the track, I think you can just watch and see what happens. They're very courteous to one another. That's what you have to have.
Not every team is like that. But fortunately enough with what Hendrick Motorsports does, the way Rick wants us to manage it, that's what we have at HMS, is a lot of respect for one another.
Q. Jimmie, the other day you were in here and said there's no favorites, that anybody can win the title out of the eight. You seem like a favorite to me at this point. What is your mindset going to be going to Homestead with all the experience you have? Are you going to play mind games with those who may dare to face you guys?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I'm just going to do my thing. I mean, if that does something other than, then sweet. But we've got one race, at a track we haven't won at yet, we assume we're going to have to go down and win at.
Us last year being eliminated at Dover was hard to grasp. The 78 not being in the final eight is hard to grasp this year. That's where it's hard to pick a favorite.
I felt like today was going to be a good points day for us. We had Chasers with trouble. We had a timely caution. Restart fourth. We get by those guys. Now we punched our ticket and are in great shape.
I don't know who the other three will be, so at this point it's really difficult to pick a favorite. I still think it's going to be hard to pick one going down there, I really do.
Q. Jimmie, what would you consider would have been more unlikely, that you have three top fives in a 15‑race stretch during the season, you turn around and now are going to Homestead, or the fact you could have your car stall and remain on the lead lap? Can you also talk about the turnaround, if you really thought it was possible during the summer to get to Homestead.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The turnaround, I'm way impressed with, especially from where we came from to where we've ended up. It's one thing to see progress, but to advance and go back to leading a lot of laps and contending for many wins is very, very impressive.
We couldn't have done it on our own. It took all four teams, then it took all the departments at Hendrick. Honestly, it took Rick Hendrick showing his commitment. For him to sit in the wind tunnel for a 24‑hour shift with all the teams, his commitment. He couldn't help being in that wind tunnel, but his presence there, the message that sent to the organization. There's other examples like that, as well. He's led by example. We've come a long way in a short period of time, which is really impressive.
But no, for whatever reason, the stalling on the backstretch is out of my mind. That you bring it up, it's unbelievable we're here with the trophy. We were parked on the backstretch with a hundred to go. Thankfully we had some track position at the time, so the pace car didn't come to me and put me down a lap. That would have been a huge problem for us.
Then staying on track and not pitting, I don't know where the 47 got back to, but I don't think we would have won the race if we didn't start up there in the front two rows.
Q. You have won the last four fall races at Texas. What do you do now? You don't really have a reason to race the next two weeks. At the same time if you do win again, you make it harder for other people in the Chase.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, it's unique, obviously, because that is one of our favorite racetracks. We're encouraged to go there. I really do want to go win that racetrack because it's such a great Jimmie vintage 48‑style racetrack. The tires fall off, there's a lot of moving around, there's pit strategy, there's track position, there's driver line commitments. There's a lot of things that play into that race which is a ton of fun for us.
But that being said, we need to now sit back, look at our car allocation and make sure that we're taking the best product that we possibly can to Homestead. When I get to the shop tomorrow, we're going to get together, look at what it is we've got, we may make a quick decision, maybe make a change.
I don't think there's going to be a big change because I think we've got a bunch of really, really good racecars to take to Homestead. So we go to Texas and we try to do the best we possibly can for Lowe's and all of our corporate partners and everybody on the 48 team.
If we can go and run in the top five at Texas, run in the top five at Phoenix, that just shows the strength of the team and brings us into that last race with a little bit of high stepping.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just the big takeaway for us over these next two weeks could be momentum. If we can run up front or win again, I mean, that's just huge momentum for the team. That's the big thing we have that could work for us going to Homestead.
Q. Inevitably the talk about seven now follows you guys. I assume you don't want that to be an all‑encompassing theme. What do you do the next three weeks? Do you not do any media? Talk about that. How do you handle that because it's right here for you now and it's still three weeks away.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is three weeks away, but I feel like at least now, an hour into it, it's a lot different than if I was sitting here with the old format. We're going to have four drivers with the same points value starting that race. It's going to be different.
There's nothing to protect. We're all in a tie. It's just go out there and lay down your best work. I think that would be helpful from a stress management standpoint, thinking what could possibly happen.
Love to do it. Honestly, just thrilled to have a shot at it. That's all you can hope for, is just have a shot at it.
Q. How do you handle it, so easygoing?
CHAD KNAUS: I'm excited about it. I hear and I see a lot about seven. You've asked me a lot of these questions in the past, honestly. I'm not worried about the seventh, I'm just worried about the next. That's what I want to do. I want to go out there and put our best foot forward as a team and go out there and try to do the best we possibly can to win the next championship. I'm not worried about the seventh or the eighth.
Q. Jimmie, you've had some gremlins that have hit you at Homestead in the past. That's got to weigh on your mind. How do you deal with that going into that race knowing you have a shot, but you have to get past the things that have plagued you in the past?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, there have been a few bad memories down there, but I've got six really good ones. I'm going to go with those, hopefully play that card (smiling).
Q. Do you agree, Chad?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, man. We've had some fun in Miami.
The issues we've had in Miami in the past, look, at the end of a stressful, long season, situations arise, just things that are outside of your control. There's been a lot of weird things that have happened there.
Going into Homestead, we're very fortunate to be able to go in with the mindset we have now. We're a competitive team, the 48 team is strong. We just want to go in there and race our hearts out.
Q. Jimmie, Denny Hamlin was expressing frustration during the race. He talked after the race about New Hampshire, some of the contact there. He said, I raced Jimmie hard at Charlotte, but he expressed frustration feeling like he'd come up on you today and felt like you raced him hard. Talk about that and if things have been kind of building. Chad, for you, did you ever get an answer or figure out how a car that stopped under the caution restarted behind cars that stopped under green?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm puzzled that he had to move me like he did. The inside is a preferred lane. I gave him the inside. I had a little something working on the top. There's a line of cars behind him. I just can't roll over.
I prefer to race people cleanly. I could have easily taken the easy route and moved him when he came back to take over the lead, and I didn't. I hope that showed him that, Look, man, I don't have a beef.
I don't know what he has cooking in his head, what he thinks happened at Loudon, what he thinks happened at Charlotte. Man, I'm out there to win. We got points on the line. We got a championship in the line. I got accused of racing hard? I'll take that as a compliment.
CHAD KNAUS: I was surprised about Denny coming, because I thought you raced really cleanly. I was really shocked. I thought the end of the race went well.
Q. He was talking about lap 200.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: When I gave him the inside of the racetrack, the preferred lap for five laps. Go ahead, go ahead, here is the preferred line. I'd like to be there, but I'm not. Take it. And I get moved...
CHAD KNAUS: So, yeah, that was weird.
Nonetheless, yeah, I don't know what happened yet. I'm looking forward to this week to have an opportunity to talk to Richard or Steve or Scott, the guys at NASCAR, to understand what went on there.
It's a challenge, man. When you have 40 cars going around a half‑mile racetrack, people start to pit, one guy is 12 seconds back, the other guy is three seconds back. It's still very, very confusing to me right now.
I really don't want to talk a whole heck of a lot about it because in my little world, I have one perspective. They're up in the deejay booth up top so they can know what's going on. They have a better perspective than I, so I'm sure we'll get some clarification.
Right now I'm happy as hell. How is that?
Q. Jimmie, did you have that much damage after the contact with Denny? You also had contact with Almirola.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It didn't help. The contact with Denny, my left front, when I hit him, it moved my steering, so something in the steering did bend.
The deal with Aric, I guess we touched tires. I had no intentions of getting into him. We touched tires. The tires kind of make the vehicles jump and climb up on one another. That also happened with the 47 off of turn two. I got inside of him. I guess with the soft front fender I had from the damage, it made it easier for the right front to get into somebody's left rear. That happened twice where I was stuck on somebody and climbing up the side of them.
Glad it didn't do more damage than that.
Q. There are days where you guys come here and have been dominant. This was not one of those days. You had to beat fenders out, the whole fuel issue. You still come back, win, clinch your spot. With everything that you went through today, does this make that win maybe a little bit more special than some of the other wins you've had here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, gosh, they're all very, very special. To be here in the fall, pay respect to the people that we lost in the plane crash is one aspect when we show up here, to see Rick in Victory Lane, have a few moments talking about little Ricky and his brother and the plane crash, the people on it, there's a moment we take. I'm not sure if others do. It definitely hits something inside of us that lived through that. Then to punch our ticket, know the chance at seven is alive is pretty damn awesome.
Q. Chad, the win ensures that JGR can't have all four cars in here. Does that make a difference at all that their numbers will be down, I guess?
CHAD KNAUS: I hadn't thought of it, honestly. No, I hate to say it like this, but I don't care who we're racing because anybody that's in this stage of the game has the potential to go out there and race really, really well, or manipulate the outcome of the race by pit strategy, anything, all the elements.
If you made it to the final eight, you're capable of winning the championship. They're definitely all good competitors.
Q. Chad, we're all going to be talking about Jimmie going for seven, first time he's been able to make it to the championship round in this format. Getting there, did you view it as a challenge? If you never had a chance to win a seventh, did you feel like you'd have unfinished business?
CHAD KNAUS: Man, kind of like what I said earlier. It's not about the seventh. How many wins do you have?
CHAD KNAUS: Thank you.
I mean, I hate to be that broad about it, but it's not about the numbers. It's not about seven. It's not about tying Dale. It's not about tying Richard. It's not about beating Dale or Richard, beating Jeff for most wins. I think you guys miss what we're about.
We want to go win Texas. You follow me? We want to go win Homestead. We want to go win Phoenix. Then, guess what, in a few months Daytona is rolling around, we want to win that one, too. That's the way we approach every single race. It's not about what we're eclipsing.
Q. Chad, we've heard you before when you have questions about a NASCAR decision sometimes get on the radio and say, If NASCAR is listening, or voice your displeasure over the radio. Is that something you've experienced in the past with NASCAR, they've listened to you and that's how you get it across or is that a way of venting some frustration?
CHAD KNAUS: They don't listen to me but they might be listening. Does that make sense? Two different things. You can hear Jimmie, but do you really hear Jimmie? You know what I mean? I guess the white man can't jump quote.
Yeah, man, I'm just putting it out there. Really, with the way the structure is inside the pit road area now, to talk to a NASCAR official, then have him try to relay something to the tower, it's just really not even worth your time because there's too much noise, there's too much going on trying to locate that official, then making sure your message is conveyed properly to the people out there. It doesn't work out.
He does the same thing. He's like, NASCAR, you guys need to pay attention to this.
They listen to a lot of people. I mean, heck, you guys tweet it all out anyways as soon as we say it. We know they follow tweets, so we know it's getting up there to them.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations. Good luck at Texas.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports