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NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: FOLDS OF HONOR QUIKTRIP 500


March 1, 2015


Jimmie Johnson

Chad Knaus


HAMPTON, GEORGIA

KERRY THARP:  Let's continue with our post race press conference.  We're joined by today's winning crew chief, Chad Knaus.
Chad, congratulations on this win.  It's your 71st win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.  Gets you into the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.  It's got to be a very good feeling knowing that the 48 team certainly flexed its muscles and one more time showed its championship mettle.
CHAD KNAUS:  Thank you.  It was really a lot of fun.  It didn't start off the way I wanted it to obviously with missing qualifying, not being able to go out there and see the potential that the 48 car had at that point.
But, boy, drop the green flag...  It was actually a lot of fun knowing there was going to be a competition caution on lap 25, watching Jimmie and Jeff, Kevin just rally through the field in the first 25 laps.  I thought it was fantastic.  That was a lot of fun.  I enjoyed that.
Then we were able to get up front and have some good runs today.  It was a lot of fun.  We enjoyed it.  Very proud of Jimmie and the efforts he did.  Really super proud of the new guys on the 48 team, especially everybody in the 48/88 shop.
We went down to Daytona.¬† We qualified well.¬† Won both 150s, had a good shot of finishing 1‑2 here.¬† Bodes for good things to come in the 48/88 group.
KERRY THARP:  We'll go ahead with questions.

Q.¬† Chad, your first go‑around with the brand‑new rules package.¬† How was it from an adjustability standpoint?
CHAD KNAUS:  It wasn't a ton different than last year leading up to the event.  Atlanta is a bit of an anomaly with the tire wear, the way the strategy plays out.
Most of the racetracks we go to, you don't have that much of a tire fall‑off. ¬†From our standpoint, it was a challenge.¬† Thursday practice session, Friday qualifying time, and yesterday throughout practice, we didn't have the car that we needed.¬† Fortunately enough, my engineers and myself, we really put our heads together last night, came up with some good ideas, and it worked out for us today.

Q.  A lot of tech issues all weekend.  With your team specifically on Friday, what were the issues?  Do you expect that to continue into Vegas?
CHAD KNAUS:  I hope it doesn't.  How is that?
It was tough.¬† NASCAR right now, they've got a group of officials.¬† Once the inspection process begins, they kind of separate.¬† We have some in the Nationwide garage, some in the Cup garage.¬† Maybe they're a pinch understaffed in getting their rhythm figured out.¬† I think our wheel offset was off a little bit.¬† Maybe our skew was off a little bit with the alignment of the rear‑end housing.
When we rolled out of the garage for qualifying inspection, there was really only an hour left before qualifying was to begin.  The whole day was kind of slow.  I think once everybody gets familiar with what their jobs are, I think that will start to get faster, go faster, where we won't have this much of a backlog.
It's difficult to do that.  NASCAR is trying to provide a level playing field for everybody, but it's something that needs to be addressed.

Q.  There was some talk before the season started that this package would be better for Jimmie than last year's package.  You won Texas.  You finished fourth here last year.  Should we read much into today?
CHAD KNAUS:  I hope so.
We did hit on some things last year that we thought were going to benefit us this year.  Again, like I said, we didn't have the cleanest Thursday, Friday or Saturday.  Things kind of came together pretty well for us today.
But I do think this type of package will help Jimmie.  I think it will be better for him with the lack of grip.  When we go to some of these other racetracks, it's going to be a different format.
Again, the tire fall‑off is a bit different than what we have everywhere else.¬† We have a good package, will have some good things coming.¬† I think we did things over the winter to help us understand the car a little bit better.¬† I think it's going to help.¬† I can't put it down to the aero package, the downforce adjustments.¬† I think it goes to the preparation our guys did back at home.

Q.  There was a lot made outside of your team last year that you didn't win your first race till like race 12.  That said, you won four.  The points finish was way down from what you're used to.  Is there anything we can derive from this?
CHAD KNAUS:  I just know we're going to continue to work and do the best we possibly can.  That's the vintage 48 methodology.  If you win, you just put your head down, keep digging, try to get the next one.  That's kind of how we're going to approach the season.
Just because we won today doesn't mean we're going to go to Vegas and knock it out of the park.  I think we have the ability to, but I don't think there's any givens by any stretch.

Q.  You mentioned before that you kind of praised Jimmie on his driving early in the race.  As long as the two of you have already been working together, do you still find times surprising what each of you is able to do?
CHAD KNAUS:  I definitely do.  When he's on, he's switched on, the car is in his comfort zone, it's amazing what he can do with a racecar.
It was so much fun watching those guys the first 25 laps.¬† I don't know what you guys were watching.¬† I mean, damn, that was awesome.¬† We're talking three‑wide up at the top, down to the bottom, going through the middle.¬† It was just fantastic.
Man, I'm telling you guys, the racing we have in our industry now is the best racing in the world, period.  To see Jimmie do what he did today was just phenomenal.  He just did such a spectacular job.  To come all the way back there, like the 4 did, run up front all night long, speaks volumes about those guys.

Q.  The final 13 laps, did you sit up there and sweat or were you confident that he could get everything done?
CHAD KNAUS:  There was no sweating, I could tell you that.  I was freezing today.  Holy smokes.  Nice and warm in here, I noticed, but it was cold out there.
I was nervous, for sure.  Dale had a super fast car.  He was obviously very aggressive on the restarts.  He had his plan before the green flag ever flew of what he was going to do.  You could see that materializing before we got to the start/finish line.
I had concerns, but, man, getting down through three and four, Jimmie just rocketed through three and four.  Once we got the lead, I felt like as long as it stayed green, we'd be able to maintain it.
But, man, you never know.  Shoot, Dale was running second to us, ahead of Harvick, hit a piece of BearBond on the front straightaway, knocked the front end off of his car.  That could have been us.  Fortunately enough it wasn't.  I hope some way we can address that as an industry where we don't have racecars on the racetracks with parts and pieces falling off them in the middle of a race, especially in a situation like that.  I'm sure that will be a later discussion.

Q.  Can you talk about your all's day on pit road.  Did you have maybe not issues with your team, but getting in and out of the pits?
CHAD KNAUS:  That was a direct result of us not being able to qualify.  Where did we start, 38th, 39th?  Believe it or not, there's only a handful of pit boxes.  We had to shoehorn in where we could.  The 19 ahead of us, they qualified well, ran well, we always had to come in behind them.  The 34 car for the first half the race was doing a good job of maintaining on the lead lap.  We were shoehorned in the middle of two cars.  We couldn't get in.
After we were done with our pit stop, we couldn't get out.  We lost six to eight spots every pit stop for the first half of the race until we were able to get ahead of the 19, then we could get into our pit box cleanly.
Subsequently, at the same time, the 34 car went a lap down.  Once that all happened, the guys were able to knock out some super pit stops.  They did a great job.  I think we beat the 4 car off of pit road one time, maintained a lot of the other times.  They did a great job.

Q.  How frustrating is that situation?
CHAD KNAUS:  Your hands are tied.  There's really nothing you can do.  It is frustrating.
But again, it's a direct result of what happens on Friday.  That's why I've said time and time again, your race starts on Friday.  How you qualify sets you up for the event, for your pit selection, sets you up mentally.  It does the whole thing.
Whoever's fault it was, ours, theirs, culmination of both, it didn't happen for us on Friday.
KERRY THARP:  Chad, congratulations on this win.  We'll see you in Las Vegas.
CHAD KNAUS:  Thank you.
KERRY THARP:  We'll hear from our race winner, Jimmie Johnson.  This is his 71st career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, his fourth victory here at Atlanta Motor Speedway.  He punches his ticket into the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Jimmie, congratulations.  You put on a great show out there today for the fans, coming all the way from 38th starting position and winning this race.  Talk about how you were able to accomplish that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Thank you.  It was just a surprising start to the race for me.  We felt like we were okay in the test session, the practice sessions through Friday and Saturday.  We didn't think we had a dominant car or really kind of a car to race for the win.  Seemed that other guys showed some speed.
But through our process and through getting to know the new folks on our team, the engineers, they understood what I was asking for, found a way to give it to me.
I knew within about two sets of corners when the race started we were going to have an awesome day.  The car was just incredible.  I think where the race really opened up for us was once I was able to get in front of the 19 car.  We'd get close to him, but then we had so many quick cautions at the start of the race, I could never get in front of him.
The way we were arranged on pit road, I would have to come in front of the 19, get blocked in by the 34.  Once I was able to get in front of the 19 and the 34 went down a lap, the race completely changed.  I was able to rely on my guys on pit road to get me out first and things changed at that point and went our way.
KERRY THARP:  Questions for Jimmie Johnson.

Q.  What is the value in winning this early in the season as compared to last year?  Can this be used as an indicator of success further in the season compared to last year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:¬† Yeah, I mean, I definitely think it gives you a sign who's going to be competitive.¬† This track is a little unique with how much tire fall‑off that we have.
This does a lot for us.  We feel really good about coming here and having this kind of showing.  I think what we did here we can take to a lot of the racetracks ahead.
Excited about it.  It takes pressure off in some ways.  We don't have the questions of, Are you going to win this year, the stuff that is from the fans and what goes on in here.  It's nice to dodge that.  We'll have to win again in six to eight weeks or else those questions will come around.  Buys us a little bit of a reprieve.
It's nice to know we're locked into the Chase.  There's a lot of good things that come with it.  We're pumped, excited, and looking forward to going racing next week.

Q.  The final 13 laps, how did the restart feel?  Were you confident every single lap this was checkered flag time?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I felt like if I got clean air, I was going to be in good shape.  When Junior was able to get to my outside, I didn't know what was going to happen down the backstretch.
I felt like I could run out through three and four.¬† I tried it and made it.¬† It definitely took a big commitment throttle‑wise to get that done.
I felt like he might make that move.  I saw him on an earlier restart kind of favor to that side, but I had a car to my outside that kind of held him back.  With the 20 being on older tires, I kind of knew that was coming.  I thought I had it defended, but he still found a way to get to my outside.

Q.  You talked before this season about how this new package might fit your style a little bit better.  The question is, does it?  You were fourth here last August.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  It's hard to say for sure.  Texas and Atlanta, a lot of those tracks with high wear, we seem to shine at regardless of package.
I think next weekend in Vegas will really be a telling sign which teams are kind of geared up for the meat of the season, what our season's based on.
This doesn't hurt by any means.  I'm feeling really good, but I'm not 100% there yet.  We'll figure that out next weekend.

Q.  (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON:¬† Just the way the tires hang on.¬† Here we have, I don't know, maybe a three‑ or four‑second fall‑off in tire.¬† In Vegas it will probably be just a second.¬† Just a different dynamic in how the car works.

Q.  Jimmie, Chad talked about how exciting it was watching you guys race from the back at the start of the race.  How concerned were you that you had to get out from back there?  How hard did you push your car?  Were you worried about abusing the tires trying to get to the front?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I felt like with the competition caution at 25 laps, I felt really confident that I could run hard and not worry.  I felt that way.  Prior to Chad putting the window net up, he said, Just go, go hard.  Those leaders could be coming.  The way practice went, we weren't so sure we were going to be that good.  We felt like we needed to take advantage of things to get rolling and run hard.

Q.  Your teammate Jeff Gordon in his accident hit a portion of the wall that didn't have a SAFER barrier.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Again?  That man will find a spot.
Thankfully there's a lot of people paying attention to it and we can get this addressed.  I'm under the impression that all the tracks are onboard and NASCAR is onboard.  It's unfortunate we're so many years removed from the inception of the SAFER barrier.  I think we're on the right track and have it everywhere it needs to be.
We just need to send Jeff out on the track and find the places to put them.  That guy will find the openings (smiling).

Q.  Coming to the track this morning I was reminded of the 2006 Daytona 500 when it was cold, damp, foggy all day.  I tweeted it boded well for you in this race.  How is it that a guy from California seems to do so well when the weather conditions are so crappy?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I don't know if it has a ton to do with it.  The moisture can make it a little slick at times.  My dirt roots will shine through.  I feel this track favors drivers with a dirt background.  Maybe something in that area.
I didn't see enough precipitation that would account for anything on the windshield.  Just got lucky, I guess.

Q.  Jimmie, Dan Rooney seemed to take time to explain the symbolism of the trophy.  Talk about that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  What an amazing organization.  He did explain the trophy, gave me a bit of a backstory on things.  I had a chance to meet him at Kevin Harvick's golf tournament a year or so ago.
Also up there there were family members who had lost their loved ones defending our country.  It was tough for me because I just had gotten out of the car, was on Cloud9 from a win, and met a woman who lost her husband fighting for our freedom.  I just said thank you.  I even said, I don't know if thank you is the right thing to say to you, ma'am.
There's such a weird juxtaposition of being on Cloud9 from winning the race and the reality of someone losing their husband defending our freedom.
I'm proud this relationship worked out and we were able to say thank you to the men and women serving and say thank you to those who lost a loved one serving our country.

Q.  When Chad was in here earlier, you mentioned before you got to the first competition caution, he said something to you about how impressed he was with your performance driving up through the field.  After all these years that the two of you have spent working together, is it surprising you still find times you impress each other with what you do?
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, today I think we both impressed one another.  It just showed maybe how rough last year's performance was (laughter).
To fly through the field like that, to feel those sensations in the car, the car create that much grip, be that friendly, be able to work traffic from my standpoint was surprising.  I'm sure from his standpoint, sitting on the box watching me pass two to three a lap, was impressive as well.
It is pretty wild after all these years we're able to do that and still impress one another, but we did it today.
KERRY THARP:  Jimmie Johnson, congratulations on your win here today.  Best of luck out in Las Vegas.  71 victories.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Crazy.
KERRY THARP:  Good to see you back in the winner's circle.
JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Appreciate it.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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