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November 20, 2016

Jimmie Johnson

Homestead, Florida

THE MODERATOR: We now welcome the champion of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series, Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie, tell us how you feel coming in here after what was obviously a very, very eventful evening.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Wow. Just overwhelmed. I mean, I had this crazy weird calmness through the last couple of weeks and then even through the race amongst all the chaos we dealt with, and the fact that we ran like behind those guys all night long, fifth, sixth, wherever we ran, there was just some calmness that was in me, and then we restart and the 22 and the 19 wreck, and I'm like, oh, okay, we've got a shot at this thing. I don't know why I've been so calm, but maybe it's in the cards.
The next restart works out well, we get the second, and I'm like, you've got to be kidding me. There's really a shot at this thing. Then I get the restart of my life at the end and I get clear off of Turn 2, and it just all like‑‑ I got the goosebumps down backstretch. I'm like, you've got to be kidding me. I looked in the mirror and the 22 is fading, and I don't know where that calmness came from. I mean, I want to say that the dedication of the #se7en to Little Ricky, there's something in all of that. But there was just something really interesting and different about my calmness and the relaxed nature that I had in the car. I didn't know what the outcome would be, but I was very content and peaceful with whatever was coming my way, and then it ended up being the greatest thing in the world. So it's just wild.
So yeah, I don't know if I answered your question. I went off on a tangent, but there you go.

Q. When do you get number eight?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: (Laughing) I knew that was coming.

Q. On the restart, you've seen Joey make great restarts all year, and you saw what he did with Carl. Were you concerned there, or did you just get, like you said, the restart of your life, you just moved away quickly and there was never a threat?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Oh, the last one? The last one he actually got to me before the stripe and didn't have a choice but to push me, which was interesting. I was ready for him to bail out, but the way his run timed out with me, he didn't have a choice but to push me. I could see the 42 kind of fading by, and his run was kind of over at that point. I was just hopeful the 42 wouldn't run me tight through 1 and 2, and he was very aware of the championship situation and left me space and room.
I heard the magic word, clear, and couldn't believe that it was unfolding as it did.

Q. Jeff Gordon said that you and Chad are the best he's ever seen in his NASCAR career; what does a remark like that mean for you going into the future?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, it's something I take a lot of pride in. Loyalty is a huge thing with me. To have‑‑ we've had our bumps in the road, but he's a brother, and I'm so proud of him and so thankful that whatever drew us to one another and created this opportunity for us to start the 48 team and work together happened.
It's amazing. I would not be here today as a seven‑time champion without Chad Knaus. He deserves so much praise and so much credit for my success, for this team's success, for the success of Hendrick Motorsports and where it is and what's going on with it right now. Over the last 15 years, my gosh, it's crazy to say that. I guess I'm getting old. But he's something special.

Q. With the 2013 championship, is there any way we can see the return of those trophy hats for this one?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I don't know‑‑ yeah, that was a pretty cool hat. I don't know where it is. I think we missed our chance.

Q. Just being in this format, what was it like going into today's race being under this current format, the first time that you've been in the Final Four race since NASCAR started this?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's different for sure, to come in with equal points and know that you've got to beat the competitors. I don't know, in some ways it took a little stress off because it's pretty simple what you had to do. Although I looked at their rear ends most of the night and wasn't able to mix it up with them. I think this format creates a lot of stress, a lot of drama, and we certainly felt like‑‑ I'm sure the world felt like anybody but Jimmie Johnson was going to win the championship with 20 to go, and then it changed so quick with a green‑white‑checker at the end.
It's a pretty crazy format to say the least.

Q. You had the helmet, the photographer, you ran seven miles, right, last night?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know what, I skipped it. I'm lazy. I did. I had the best of intentions, and then the sun started to set, and I'm like, you know what, I'm going to eat some pasta (laughter).

Q. You changed the whole story.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sorry. I'll buy you all a beer. Let's bring the beer in. I'm a failure, sorry (laughter). I've got seven trophies now. I mean, s‑‑‑.
No, I had the best of intentions, and then I got really lazy. And Chad is wearing me out, "Don't wear yourself out. Hydrate, hydrate, eat!" Like he tells me every stop on the radio to hydrate, so I just‑‑ I didn't. It was tough.

Q. You had the commemorative helmet, you had the photographer. Did you feel it? Did you know that this was the year way back when the Chase started?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. No. I mean, this summer‑‑

Q. You felt‑‑
JIMMIE JOHNSON: This summer, no chance. Chase started to build some hope, but the helmet was out of respect to Dale and Richard, and then some calm, peaceful confidence showed up after Martinsville, and that calm, peaceful confidence has stuck with me through an okay race in Texas, a race we should have won in Phoenix, and then 395 miles here, and then uncorked itself. I don't know, just a wild scenario.

Q. Have you ever had a race that meant so much where things looked so bleak? And there's always been the joke about the horseshoe. If there was a place for it, where would it have been tonight?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess the horseshoe goes in one spot, but there's no room. What's wild is I never thought it was a bleak night. There was this weird, comfortable confidence I had all night long. Maybe weird is the wrong word to use, but I was just‑‑ I felt like something was going to happen, and I was going to be okay with it. For a while I came to grips with the reality of it being third, fourth, somewhere in there and shaking somebody else's hand and being happy for them, and then it changed so quick at the end.

Q. Your dad said that you sent him a text last night, and he talked a little bit about it was thanking him for being there, doing things through the years. Can you talk about that? He was surprised to get something like that. He says, "He's never done that for me before." And were you aware that it brought him to tears?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I sent my dad, my mom, my brothers and Rick Johnson a text last night, just thanking them for their love and support, and I'd make them proud today. I didn't know what that exactly meant as I was sending it, and all the texts were a little bit different. But I don't know why, and as he mentions, it's the first time I've done that. It was funny getting a response back from him because I think he still has a flip phone, so no telling how hard it was for him to punch back what he did.
Yeah, I took the time to do that last night. I just wanted those five to know that I was thankful for the love and support that they've given me over the years.

Q. What did you tell your dad in your text, and what was his response?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He's always had this yell, this "Yooow!" And I think somebody else typed it for him because it actually said that, and there's no chance he did it. But as a kid going off a jump on a dirt bike, I could always tell where he was on the racetrack because I could hear him scream that. That's what he texted back.
Q. Winning races and winning championships is not easy. Everybody knows that. But some years you've seemed to have been on a roll and you were the man and you were the one to beat and you were the favorite, and the fans‑‑ there was like a polarizing kind of effect. Tonight when you were introduced, today when you were introduced, there was more cheering than anything, and of course it was kind of because it seems like you were really fighting for this one. You weren't on top all the time. You weren't always the favorite. You weren't always out there, much like this race tonight, "Well, maybe next year for Jimmie," but yet there you are, so you really fought hard for this one. Does this one feel any different than some of the ones in years past in terms of maybe a little tougher than some of the other ones that you got in the past?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I guess, first of all, to speak to the point of the fan reaction, honestly, when I jumped in the back of the pickup truck after driver intros and they had the four of us and we were going around the track, I usually get flipped off a lot. They shoot me the bird everywhere we are, every state, everywhere we go. I kept looking up and seeing hands in the air thinking they're shooting me the bird again. It was actually seven. All they way around the racetrack everyone was holding up seven, and it just gave me goosebumps, like wow, what an interesting shift in things.
So I think the fact that we were in the position we were today to tie history, you know, even people wearing other hats and other tee shirts that normally shoot me the bird were holding up seven. It was really cool.

Q. Recalling an earlier victory celebration at the Brickyard, little Evie didn't want to kiss the bricks, but tonight even Lydia seemed to hold up seven. What did that mean to you to have your daughters there, and Evie obviously didn't appreciate 2013. What did it mean to you to have them there and realize you've done something if not seven championships?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's‑‑ they're so young, it's hard to know exactly what's going on, but it means the world to me to have them there, and honestly, the reaction that Chandie had on her face was a lot like the reaction what I had and what I was experiencing. I've seen‑‑ we've been through some emotional stuff over the years, two children and all these great professional things that have gone on. I've never seen my wife with that expression on her face, and it said the world to me.
She said she was in the fetal position in the motor home as the laps were winding down. Kids were going nuts. They could see the race, what was going on on TV but didn't know why mom was in the fetal position, so I guess it was pretty chaotic in the motor home.
But they make such sacrifice to let me go out and do my thing, so I'm very thankful, and in those moments‑‑ sharing these moments with them mean everything.

Q. This question has been asked a little bit, but does this feel like the most dramatic way that you've clinched a title? Certainly it's a different format than you've had before, but does it feel as dramatic to you as it appeared to us?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Without a doubt. I mean, when I was coming to the checkered flag I had to really look closely at it going by to make sure it was. Like is this really happening? I don't know what I screamed on the radio, but I know it didn't sound like my voice. I was thinking, you'd better take your finger off the button. That didn't sound like you. Yes, that was as dramatic and as crazy as I've ever experienced in my racing career.

Q. Getting back, you talked about the celebratory thing with your family that was very special. What about having Jeff there, Dale Jr., Tony; can you kind of go back and relive those moments and what you were feeling during that time?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the respect from peers is truly one of the things that has always motivated me and has always hit me the deepest through my racing career, even back when you're a young kid at a local track and one of the local stars of the track, like hey, good job, I saw what you did. I can remember feelings then, and it's the same feeling today.
Before my car‑‑ before I even came off of Turn 4, Aric Almirola was running off of pit road, like running out there to congratulate me. I was like, holy cow, this is awesome. But all of my teammates, Jeff, Jr., Richard Childress, you know, the nod from your peers, that really hits deep, and it means the world.
Q. Back in January you told me that you weren't in favor of the title format, the points, because of your early exit the past two years. What about now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I still have six the other way, so I think I'm fond of the previous Chase. This track hasn't been our best, but somehow we won tonight. I think we definitely stepped up our game running here and could run in the top 5, but for a 400‑mile race, so 395ish miles we were on the ropes. Fifth wasn't going to cut it.
So I think the old format still does benefit me. I think on paper, this format is good for me to make the Championship Four, but I guess we've won here now, so we can scratch that off the list.
But I would love for this thing to end at Dover. I should start politicking for the final race at Dover.

Q. You were speaking of the calm I think was the term you used that you were experiencing in the latter parts of the race. Does any of that derive from ‑‑ you have a lot of championships in the bank, your place in history is only going to be argued up. If everything went wrong there, okay, maybe you come back next year and try, everything was kind of gravy there; does that all contribute to a sense of ease of, let's just see what happens here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think so, and that was the thing I was trying to come to grips with during the red flag, and at different points of the race even, is the calmness, because I'm comfortable with where I am in the sport, and there's nothing wrong with six, or am I comfortable because there's something else that's going to happen. I really couldn't sort that all out, and honestly, as those final three restarts unfolded, it started coming together in my head, and I'm like, you've got to be kidding me. This is where it's going. I didn't see that. I thought I was going to go shake someone else's hand, and I was content with that, and then it kept changing, and I'm like, no way, this is really going down. It was pretty wild.

Q. I just need to know more about the greatest restart of your life. How did you pull it off with a car that was fifth fastest all night?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think there were a few things. I didn't spin the tires. The 22 got to me before he had a chance to pull out and take us three wide, and the 42 gave me room. The 42 could have been very difficult and hung on my quarterpanel and made life tough for me, but he gave me the space to get through 1 and 2, and those three pieces were key for it taking place, me getting the restart of my life.
Q. Take me through the cool‑down lap. Once you had crossed the start‑finish line, everything was sealed, you took your finger off the button, when you had those moments to yourself in that cool‑down lap. What was that like?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just incredible because I'm trying to get the window net down, and I noticed that Kyle and Joey both quickly came up alongside the car and gave me a thumbs‑up. My teammates, and again, that nod from the peers, it was just such a cool moment that hits deep, and to see everybody's arms coming out the window, guys revving engines, that was a pretty awesome cool‑down lap.

Q. I would like to ask about number eight. Rick said you can't get to number eight until you get to number seven, so now you have that and you're tied, and he's looking forward to seeing you and Chad get number eight. What do you think the chances of that happening are?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know what the chances are, but let's go. I'm so excited to put that in front of myself and the team has a hurdle to get over and an accomplishment to achieve.
I had a lot of fun racing for the sixth. This one and the calm nature and the way we went about business and got it done only gives me more confidence for the future. I honestly feel like I'm playing with house money. I never aspired to be famous. I never aspired to be a champion. I just wanted to race.
I've found a way to put it in that simple mindset here the last couple attempts, in '13 and now in '16. I think it makes us really dangerous, and I look forward to the challenge of trying to get number eight.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Jimmie, for coming in.

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