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NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: CHECKER O'REILLY AUTO PARTS 500 PRESENTED BY PENNZOIL
November 15, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race-winning team, Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus, team owner Rick Hendrick. This is Jimmie's seventh victory of the season. He now has a 108-point lead over Mark Martin in the championship race. He just needs to finish 25th or better at Homestead to clinch his fourth consecutive championship.
Talk about your race out there today.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Great performance. I just can't thank the team enough for staying focused. Pretty bummed out after last week. Chad did a great job of kind of steering the team, keeping everybody's spirits up, focused on the right things.
We showed up, good in qualifying trim, qualified well. Then once we had that second set of tires on the car today, the car took off. We just made some small adjustments from there, just kept making the car better and better.
Very proud of the team, how we can bounce back, stay focused on the right things, and get the job done. I'm very excited. A great position to be in. But Texas was last week, as we all know, and anything can happen. That was proof of it. So looking forward to Homestead. Yes, I am excited. We need to go down there, qualify up front, run up front all night long, stay out of trouble.
THE MODERATOR: Chad, a strong car all weekend. Take us through the race from your perspective.
CHAD KNAUS: I was really proud to show up the way that we did this weekend. It would have been easy for us to come in here with our tails between our legs, really bow out, try to pull a conservative race, hang out, finish right behind the 5, whatever the situation may have been. We didn't want to do that. We wanted to come in here confident and go after it and attack.
We qualified fantastically on Friday. Very pleased with the way we qualified. The car was great in practice. Then today the team did a great job. I could not have been prouder of the preparation of the car. One thing you may not really understand is those cars left the shop a week ago, we never saw them. When we showed up here at the racetrack, they were prepped solely at Hendrick Motorsports. We took them right on the racetrack without any prep time from the guys that typically prepare the racecars. A lot of great effort came from Hendrick Motorsports' home facility. Couldn't be prouder of everybody's efforts this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, between Jimmie and Mark Martin, you're poised to win another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Give us your thoughts going into Homestead.
RICK HENDRICK: It's an awesome feeling. I really have a hard time explaining how proud I am of the organization, these guys right here, just unbelievable. You know, we thought we would be good this year, knowing that one of our cars is going to win it. I said this morning, Jimmie could be getting his fourth and setting a record that no one's ever done, Mark could get his first one, or Jeff could get the fifth one.
I'm just proud of the way they work together. Chad and Jimmie have just been unbelievable. To watch them, I said this earlier today, I'm just glad I don't have to race against them.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. Jimmie, was today, beyond the racing part of it, a day to make a statement, to say that you messed up last week, but you're still here, you're not going away?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess in the end it could be looked at like that. I could say from living it, it wasn't necessarily a statement, it was, Hey, guys, you know, we need to step up today and get it done.
Chad and I, the conversations we've had, the team meeting, everything was, We need to show what we're made of, we need to get this done today. I guess in the end it could have been a statement that we're sending. But we knew we had to come out today and run well. We knew this was going to be a great track for the 5 and also for the 24. The only way to get any points on 'em would be to lead the most laps and win the race. We did it.
I'm very proud of the fact we looked each other in the eyes, knew what we had to do, and delivered. It wasn't easy. You know, there was a lot of pressure on us to do this. All week long, thinking about this race, wondering if we could come back and step up like we did today, there were just a lot of thoughts that go through the brain. I'm very, very proud of how we delivered and rose to the occasion.
Q. Mark has had championship battles with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, now you. He says out of that group you're actually underrated. When you hear a guy like him say that, considering the guys that beet him for championships, how do you feel about that? How do you feel the whole year, Mark has been out there racing for himself almost more so than racing for a championship?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, first of all, you know, anytime Mark passes out a compliment, it's not often, and you've really got to take a lot of pride in the fact he's passing you a compliment. I really appreciate it and respect it.
You know, what means the most to me is in the garage area, I know I'm respected by everybody. If it's a slow phase from the fans, maybe in a position of not being respected for what I've accomplished, it will show up in due time. Everything runs its course. With winning races, the fact we've won three championships, you know, that stuff is just proving what I'm made of, what the team's made of, who we are, what we're about. In time, we'll have our day in the sun.
Nothing has come easy for me my entire life. I don't expect the fan appeal, some of this perception stuff to come easy. I've always had to earn it. Here I am another year grinding it out and trying to earn it.
I'm fine with it. I'm good with it. In the last year I've seen my fan base, the perception change so, so much. If we are able to win a fourth, I think it would help it even more.
I also think, you know, when I was a kid growing up, Earnhardt was winning a lot of races and championships, but nobody liked him. When I first started driving for Hendrick, Jeff won his fourth championship, won a lot of races, nobody really liked him. So I'm not the only one going through this. It's happened in our sport to other drivers. I wasn't around to see what happened, to see the days of Richard Petty, to see what that was like. Earnhardt and Gordon have gone through the same stuff I've gone through.
Q. What is it like to have Mark Martin in a championship race where you're going to finish ahead of him?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I hope to finish ahead of him. Saw last week, right (laughter)?
Again, when Mark passes out compliments, it doesn't happen often. I've raced against him for eight years I guess off and on. I've always known he's really good. But to have him in the same equipment and to see his work ethic and his commitment, the feel he has for a car, you've got to bring your A game to beat Mark Martin. I'm very proud of what we've done this year, how competitive he's made the organization, that 5 team. It's not easy to outrun him. He makes you earn every inch of it.
Q. Chances are you will be making history next weekend. Have you allowed yourself to think at all about who you're going to thank, how you're going to celebrate? If not, at what point during the race do you think you might start thinking about that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, last week, after Talladega, there was a big relief we made it through, had a good finish. I'd be lying if I didn't feel some things, relief, wonder, Man, maybe this is really going to happen. Went into Texas, had the carpet jerked out from underneath our feet, finished 38th. Maybe there was a good lesson in that. I'm not one to let my mind wander and think about the possibilities. I've always known I've got to go out and race the race, get it done. Maybe it was a good lesson to myself and the team that this thing isn't over.
With that in mind, I'm not thinking about a party, what I'm saying, what I'm doing. I'll driving laps. When I go home tonight, I'm going to be driving laps, what I think I need to do in qualifying trim so I can put my best effort in on Friday. Same thing for race practice on Saturday, and go racing Sunday.
Texas was such a good lesson. And I hope that the points we lost in Texas isn't what keeps us from winning this championship.
Q. Jimmie, you said at the outset that on Sunday you'll be out there racing up front for the win. I guess looking back at the last three times you went to Homestead with a pretty sizable lead, you seemed to play it somewhat conservatively for most of the race. Is there going to be a different tactic?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think if you look at maybe some stats on the company, it hasn't been our best track. We've certainly shown up and tried as hard as we can each time. When you only run on it once a year, you can't test, it's tough to get things just right in practice.
I mean, certainly last couple years we've been protecting something, trying to take care of something. There might be a little bit in that. But, just like the other years, I mean, if we can have a car fast enough to win the pole, you're going to do it. The safest place on the track is up front. If we can lead the race, that's the best position to be in. If not, the top three to five. There's a lot of give and take that takes place on the racetrack. That's where I want to be. From 10th or 15th on back, it is so cut-throat, I mean, everybody is just messing with one another, from aero situations, pinning each other down, even some light contact. That is not where I want to be.
So the goal is to go there, be as competitive as we can, stay up front in that zone where the drivers work with one another.
Q. At the green flag, were you toying with him at the beginning or was your car just not right?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I think the fact we qualified on the top 10, were on the qualifying tires, our car just didn't have the grip in the back of the car that it needed. It was sliding around a little too much. We had a nice, comfortable spot to ride in. I put some pressure on the 1 car, I think finally got by him. After that, we came in and put tires on and the car was great once we had a fresh set of tires on.
I think the scuffs from qualifying just didn't work with our setup.
Q. Jimmie, earlier you mentioned about grinding it out. I think a lot of people will look at what you guys have done and not think of the term 'grinding it out.' Can you give some examples how you guys have kind of grinded things out this year when a lot of people say it looks like it's been so easy, particularly during this Chase, other than Texas?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, it's not easy to win races. It's not easy to score points. Think of the first half of the Chase, how 1 was running, Mark was running. You know, you couldn't give up an inch. In your bad races, you needed to be in the top five, whatever it was. In that respect, grinding it out, not from a negative point that it's been all that tough, things like that, it's just that you can't give an inch. You've got to fight for every single inch around this track, every lap, to win a Chase, to be competitive in the championship.
That's more what I'm talking about. With that in mind going to Homestead, we need to show up, blinders on, focused, qualifying trim, get all that we can. We have to practice, make sure I have that car as comfortable as possible and as fast as possible, so if a caution comes out at the wrong time, we're down a lap, I can work my way back.
That's the part where we just can't coast. We can't chill out. We have to stay focused and keep our heads down on the job at hand.
Q. Chad and Jimmie, each of the last three Chases, you've had races that were really kind of turning points where you came back. Texas in 2007 you could have finished second to Kenseth, you almost wrecked trying to pass him, came back to beat him. 2008 you were down in Atlanta and came back to finish second with that miracle charge in the last few laps. Now today. Where does this rank relative to those two? Can you amplify a little bit what you talked about the mentality you need to do this?
CHAD KNAUS: I think probably the race with Kenseth was one of the coolest ones we really had. That was awesome. That was a lot of fun for everybody. Ron Malec, our car chief, still talks about that race today. He thinks that's the best race we've ever had. I'd have to say that one is probably the best.
It's a different situation coming in here the way that we had to reestablish our motivation to come in and run this race. You know, it's difficult 'cause everybody is like, Oh, you'll be fine. You have a 70-point lead, you'll be fine. I don't think people really understand how difficult it is to be fine in this industry. It's really hard. There's a lot of guys out there trying to be fine. To do what it is that we're trying to accomplish, man, it's a lot of hard work. Everybody's got to dig. You can't sit back and you can't rest and you can't think what ifs, what happens now. You've got to just go in there and attack.
That's kind of the mentality we have. We prepare the cars to the best of our ability, we pump up Jimmie, the pit crew. I push Jimmie throughout practice. If we're half a 10th slower than whoever the fastest car in practice, I push him to get where we're a half a 10th faster. That's how we prepare. That's how we do it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: One thing to add to that. I think Texas will be a big point in the Chase for us, but it's hard to know until everything's done. We could look back at this race and say, That was the key point to rally back, if we do win the championship. And if we don't, we'll look at Texas and say that was the mark. It just depends on how things turn out.
I'm certainly hoping it was a strong comeback at Phoenix that got us back on solid ground.
Q. Rick, congratulations for tying your own record for four championships in a row. How do you get a balance out of all this? If you were betting on a horse race, you bet three different horses, for one to win, the other two have to lose. How do you juggle that?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think the important thing is in the organization for everyone to believe that if we work together and share information and make each other better, at the end of the day one's gonna out-perform somehow the other three.
I want to give these guys a lot of credit. It's Chad and the driver, Jimmie, that do the debriefs. On a weekend when you're in a Chase with a guy you're trying to beat, you're giving him your setup, he comes back and beats you the next day, or you got the guys that are running against them in Texas trying to help them get the car back on the track.
But they all know that that's what got us here. The task at hand is to try to make sure that we don't forget how we got here and working together. Jimmie's got to believe that if he's even, he's going to outrun the other guys. And Chad, the same deal. But, you know, on any given day, you look at the points, the other guys have had good days, too.
I think the mentality of working together and being able to work under these kind of conditions when you're battling each other for the same goal, but you go into a room together on Saturday and you break it all down and you open up and you share, it's taken us a long time to get here, to get to that point.
They've got to believe, and they do. I think it's been good for us. I love the way the crew chiefs work together, complement each other. The drivers, you hear Mark on Jimmie, Jimmie on Mark. This group here and the rest of our guys said, Hey, if we can get Mark Martin to run a full season, he will make our organization better, and he has.
All of us, everybody pulling the same way, has helped us to get to this point where we are battling three cars against each other for the grand prize. But I think all of them will say that's what got us to the party.
Q. Do you have three different speeches prepared on Tuesday where you tell Jimmie good job, you have to tell Mark you have to go get them, you tell Jeff that it's not over, you can get the other two? How do you do that?
RICK HENDRICK: You can't ask me that in front of these guys.
I can tell you what I'm going to do already in Homestead. I'm going to go to the loser first, then I'm going to go to the guy that finishes second, and I'm going to tell them all that next week so they know. The worst thing in the world would be if I'm doing high fives in the pits, Jimmie broke, Mark won, these guys are going to say, Hey, he wanted Mark to win anyway.
I try to give them a snapshot of I'm going to be on neutral ground. I love 'em all. I want to settle it on the track. But I'm going to go to the third place guy, the second place guy, then the champion.
Q. Chad, to be in this position for the fourth consecutive year, it must be somewhat satisfying to not only be here four years in a row but also for having a completely different car introduced into the sport.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think that's one of the things, to be in a position to battle for the championship going into the last week at Homestead with a lot of different scenarios. A lot of rules have changed since the time we started in 2002. The car obviously is a lot different. We've got different engine rules. There's a whole multitude of things that's difficult for you to even know because you don't have a clue how many rules changes we've gone through. They change weekly. We got another bulletin this week. There's so many rule changes, things we have to address, tire changes. There's hundreds of things.
As we evolve, even with this car, the reins get pulled tighter. You can't do that anymore. You have to go back and restrategize.
I think for our team to be in this position, it says a lot about what Jimmie can do, it says a lot about what our 48 team can do as a unit. But I think you have to look at globally what we've been able to do at Hendrick Motorsports speaks volumes about the dedication we have, the research and development we put in getting our teams right. It's not just a flip of a switch. You can't forget everything you knew and felt comfortable with, try to interject something new into your racecars. It's just not that way.
Q. Jimmie, can you put yourself in Mark Martin's shoes, imagine what it feels like to know the guy in front of you is just dominating and pulls away, how frustrating that might be? Rick, when Mark says it really doesn't matter to him if he doesn't win a championship, do you buy that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I can say I don't buy that. That man wants it. We've all seen it. I think with his experience, he's done a very good job separating the emotions of wanting to win it. He's just out there giving a hundred percent.
I respect his ability to separate the two. But he wants it. Definitely wants it.
I can say that in 2005 we did everything we could, and the 20 car just inched away from us. The feelings that I had then during that season, I guess Mark would be going through a lot of those, as well, and I assume more, because of his experience, amount of years driving in the sport and stuff.
You know, I don't know really how to answer it, but I've been there once, and I know I'll be there as my career goes on. This stuff isn't going to last forever. I learn a lot by watching guys, how they handle themselves. I commend Mark and his attitude. Jeff as well through the years. I really look at how these guys carry themselves.
Right now things are great, but we'll be there someday, too. I want to make sure I have the composure and class that these guys do, as well.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I think I'm going to try this on Mark. But Mark's happy in his skin. He's comfortable with his life. He's comfortable with his family. I think what drives him is not the desire to win the championship, as much as anything he wants to do, he wants to do it with perfection, whether it's the way he eats, whether it's the way he works out, the way he dedicates time away with his family. He's got his stuff together.
I'm 10 years older than Mark. But there comes a time when you've been through enough things in life, you want to do the best you can, but you're happy to be where you are. And Mark is really happy. He wants it. I can guarantee you this, he wants it more for Alan and that team than he does for Mark Martin. It's hard to explain. I don't care what he does, when he sits down and talks to a sponsor, if he's in a debrief, you got 110% of everything he's got.
But he's just real happy in his life right now with both his family, his team, being in the organization. He's won a lot of races. He's kind of shown everybody how talented he is. Boy, we're just very fortunate to have him in the organization.
I was concerned when we had two DNFs and a tire, he was 35th in the points, and I had talked him into coming back. I was eating myself up on the inside. I said, Mark, I promise you we'll do everything we can. You won't be sorry. And I've used his phrase a lot: I'm living the dream. I think it's being comfortable in your skin, and he is. But he is a perfectionist. I think that's what you see in everything he does.
Q. Rick, one of the things that Mark also said on pit road was since he got in the sport in 1981, he has never seen a single team sustain performance over a long period of time like the 48 has. He said people have great seasons, people have good runs, but never has he seen a team that just had sustainable great results year after year after year. You've actually been part of several teams like that. How do you rank this team since its inception in that area?
RICK HENDRICK: I don't know how good these two guys can get. I really don't. But they're two of the best I've ever worked with and the best I've ever seen, at a time when this sport is probably more competitive than it has been at any time that I've been racing.
But these two guys have the most awesome amount of talent I've ever been around. And they also have the most dedication of anybody I've ever been around. So when you're one of the best or the best that's ever done it, and you don't leave any stone unturned 24/7, it's hard to beat that combination.
I said this earlier, I'm just glad I don't have to race against 'em. But Jimmie is such a student of how to race, when to race, what the car needs. And Chad is 24/7 trying to figure out how to make anything better, and never satisfied, never satisfied.
They will debrief going home. I'll be going home with Chad. He will be talking about where he was weak and what he should have done to be better. That kind of commitment is hard to beat when you got the talent to go with it.
THE MODERATOR: All right. Congratulations. Job well done, gentlemen.
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