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April 24, 2017

Jimmie Johnson

Chad Knaus

Bristol, Tennessee

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winner, Jimmie Johnson, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, who comes in here and wins his 82nd career race. He's one away from Cale Yarborough for sixth all‑time on the wins list. Jimmie, take us through the end of that race.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, just a really solid performance all day long, great pit stops. It was just very solid. Same thing at Texas.
I think that was the piece we were lacking to start the season. Don't know why, don't know what it was, but our cars have been very capable of running up front, and it's been nice these last two weeks to execute from the start of the race qualifying. Was saved by the rain this week and the week before. I spun out after I took the flag.
We're getting closer there, but the race itself, execution has been flawless, great race cars. I feel like we did a nice job on Saturday. I feel like Chad did a really nice job on Saturday of listening through my frustration and how to get the car a little bit closer, and his open‑minded approach I really think found something that we've been looking for for a while here and made a huge difference today. Just a lot of fun. There were so many competitive passes and so much racing going on over the course of the event. Of course I was happy to get away at the end and not have to worry about Clint or anybody else behind me, but I think the bulk of the race they did a nice job with the VHT on the bottom, second lane finally came in, and very exciting race.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by our winning crew chief, Chad Knaus. A pretty strong team effort to get you guys' second in a row. Can you talk about that, Chad?
CHAD KNAUS: It was a fantastic weekend. This is an awesome trophy, by the way. Look at that. It was great. We had a lot of fun. After securing a win last week, it obviously takes a huge load off of your shoulders, and being able to come in here this week confident, relaxed, we had a weekend off, we really came in showing that the track was going to be significantly different with the way they applied the traction compound on the bottom of the racetrack, and we knew we were going to be chasing it, so coming in here with a preconceived idea of what it was that we were going to need to have on the race car was really not what we needed to do, and we didn't.
We had a very open approach. Jimmie had an open approach. He had to adjust and change some things that he was doing. We had to change the way that we were setting up the race car, and man, Saturday afternoon it was really nice to see what we had going on, so it was a lot of fun. We had a great time. It was a great weekend. I think, again, hats off to the‑‑ it doesn't always work, but man, this place, they do everything they can to try to put on a fantastic show for the fans, and they did it today. That was a fun race to watch and a fun race to take part in.

Q. Jimmie, after the checkered flag you were screaming on the radio and you were probably about as excited as I think I've ever heard you. You were really ecstatic and said some things we can't repeat. What is it‑‑
JIMMIE JOHNSON: My wife won't let my children listen to me, either, on the radio.

Q. What is it after 82 wins that you can still get that excited of continually going to Victory Lane?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, there's two parts to it. One, you know, this is what we work so hard to do, and I truly feel like NASCAR drivers are the best drivers in the world, and any time you can ring the bell and win one of these shows, you've done something. You really have.
There's that element, and then the second piece, which led to probably some of the profanity, was this place, you know, personally, to win here and to run that competitive all day means a lot to me. I've loved this racetrack from afar, made my first laps here in 2000 in a Busch Car, and was like, where am I, what's going on, how do I get around this racetrack, and it's been a journey since 2000 until now.
I know we won here one other time, but I think from a consistency standpoint and competitive standpoint, this is the best we've ever been, and I've been looking and trying to figure this place out, and I've come here with the identical race car that Jeff Gordon wins with, and I run 15th. That's where a lot of that emotion came from is more in the personal category today and getting that win.

Q. Jimmie, I don't know if you're superstitious at all, but do you feel like you have to go to México for like a day to celebrate this?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We can just do some shots and say we were there. I'm good with that. I came back with a cold that I've been trying to get over.

Q. And also, we asked Clint what it was like kind of waiting‑‑
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think I could hear him cussing for my right front tire to blow out as I was leading those last five laps.

Q. He felt like you wouldn't make a mistake, and I'm curious in your mind, when you're out there, do you feel like you're not going to make a mistake, or is there still any sort of fear that, man, I'm going to make a mistake and it's going to slip away?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's plenty of fear. You're on the razor's edge around this track. I kind of got into an interesting rhythm of using the top of 3 and 4 and the bottom of 1 and 2, and I felt like every time I came off of 2 I'd look in the mirror and I could see where he was and I'd come off of 4 and I would see. I fell into a comfortable rhythm when Clint got into second, and then was just hoping I wouldn't see a cautious. But you've got to drive it 10 tenths around here all the time to make lap time. It's really an interesting track. If you lay off and don't drive the car as hard as you need to, the vertical and the lateral forces aren't in the car to make it turn, so your handling completely changes if you try to soft‑foot it around here or soft‑pedal it. You've got to stay committed and run the heck out of the car.

Q. Chad, we've asked every driver out here about the surface on the track, and while you don't get out there and know what it feels like in the car, how big of a headache is it for you to know how to adjust‑‑ make the adjustments you talked about on Saturday to get the car good and how did you rack your brain to come up with a winning strategy for Jimmie in the race?
CHAD KNAUS: Again, I think what helped us the most this weekend is that everybody else was lost. I don't know if that makes sense or not. But you didn't have a standout at our company that was maybe the car that you needed to pay attention to that was really fast, so you kind of look at their notes and look at what it is that they do. We just stepped back, there was a lot of frustration from Jimmie, honestly, after midway through the first practice session‑‑
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Was track was just constantly changing. That was the variable to chase.
CHAD KNAUS: And we were able to just be like, look, let's just do what conceptually we think is correct, and we threw a lot of the convention away from it that we had done in the past and we had seen in the past work, and just made some things happen.
Now, the thing that's difficult is he drives a race car way different than other people do, and what he likes to feel in the race car is significantly different than what a lot of other drivers like to have. The track surface being the way that it was I think is exactly what we needed because everybody was searching, people were sliding all over the racetrack, they were complaining and nobody was really in a comfortable state of mind, and that's when I think the 48 team excels is when there's chaos. I think between Jimmie's experience, his driving ability and what we can do with the race car, that's what we excel.

Q. It didn't seem like anybody was afraid to apply the bumper today; what do you think that was about? Is that just sitting around for 48 hours, or was it because the way the track was, that was pretty much your best strategy?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it's Bristol. You know, I think the track intentionally tried to create the need to be on the bottom and in the bump‑and‑run that we've seen for so many years in the past here. You have such a small window to make something happen on the short run, and if somebody is blocking or holding you up, you're just going to lean on the guy and get him out of the way.
There was some pushing and shoving going on, but I'm glad that we're all comfortable doing it. I don't know if there was any altercations after, but we need to be able to lean on each other and push each other around out there.

Q. And for a kid who once went into Hardee's looking for his childhood racing hero, Cale Yarborough, what does it mean now to be catching his record?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's mindblowing. I cannot believe that we're sitting here with 82 wins. That is such a big number. Yeah, and to be seven or eight years old, whatever I was, traveling around the country racing dirt bikes and walking into my first Hardee's, and I thought it was a race shop for Cale Yarborough and then I realized it was a hamburger stand, there's no way‑‑ I didn't even really pay attention to NASCAR. I had no idea what it was. All my heroes were on two wheels. To be in this position is quite an honor. But I honestly wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for Chad Knaus and Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, Lowe's, all the consistent things that I've had through my career. This has really been the environment for me to thrive in, and I don't know how many different teams Cale drove for, Earnhardt drove for a couple but then Cale moved around some. DW is just ahead of us but I know he moved around. It's just different environments worked for different people, and for myself this has been really I think the only environment for me to succeed like this.

Q. Kind of a follow‑up about the track; there's a lot of people talking about how great the racing was, particularly in the third stage today. Is that in your opinion due in part because of the various changes, the track changing so much, and while it might not be a good thing for Chad or you that the track changes a lot, do you think it's a good thing for the sport, just to create what it created?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, and I'll try to not be too long‑winded, but when there's all these consistent things that take place, this garage is too good. Like we're all going to figure it out in a couple practice sessions and run nose‑to‑tail, very close on speed and single file. So to have changing elements I think gives us an opportunity to pass. You have comers and goers, you have people figuring it out, people making mistakes, somebody needs an adjustment to get there, and it creates movement in the pack.
This race without a doubt would have been single file around the top if the VHT wasn't on the bottom, so that is a huge help to create multiple lanes of racing.
So you know, roll those two things together, I think we all joke about the more practice, the closer the field gets. I know we do inside the transporters. Seems like the less practice we have puts on some of the better races. To have ever‑evolving track conditions all weekend long, nobody could nail the setup and roll in here on past notes, so I think those variables really produce better racing for us.

Q. Jimmie, I've asked you and a few people have asked you before about reaching that 100‑win mark and we're sitting here talking about 82, and you have been adamant that nobody will break the 100‑win mark, and I'm just curious why you think that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I just‑‑ from watching Gordon, what's he, 93, 95? A whole bunch. He had a 13‑year‑‑ 13‑win season one year. It just seems to far out there that I don't think that the 100 is achievable. I hope I'm wrong. I really do. I would love to clearly do that. But again, I've always felt that that's just such a big number, and with as competitive as our sport is, the new twist with stage racing and what it's done to our series, that's going to be a hard number to get to.

Q. Chad, do you think you guys can get to it?
CHAD KNAUS: Where are we at now?

Q. 82.
CHAD KNAUS: I wasn't expecting that question. Yeah, I think we can win every race. Now, the likelihood of us winning every race is pretty slim. But in all actuality, the ability to go out there and win every single race is there.
I think that‑‑ yeah. Yeah. I don't see why not. Why not win 50, right? Honestly, there's no‑‑ from what I've seen out of this team and what I've seen out of the ability of Hendrick Motorsports and Jimmie, I don't think there's really too much that can't be reached.

Q. Based on what you were just saying earlier about the track conditions, maybe not this exact thing, but is this the type of thing that the sport needs to look at for doing at some of the other shorter tracks or even all tracks? How can you take what happened here and transfer it to other tracks, or is this just too unique?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I think we can transfer it to other tracks, and I think it's difficult for all the stakeholders to really understand where things are at, and I feel like with the forming of the RTA, the different councils that exist, we're all at a point now where there's open conversation, and the open conversation led to trying the VHT, and now we've seen a second race with it.
I feel like the competition side and inside the garage area, we've had a very competitive product for a lot of years, and the rules continue to change, and it doesn't make that big of a difference. I don't think there's as much to change inside the garage area, and when you sit behind the wheel of one of these cars, we're driving our butts off. And really racing hard.
I think that multiple lanes at these tracks are something we really need to look at, and you've probably heard rumblings over the years of drivers mentioning that. We've been very focused on tire falloff, and that's just a tough thing to achieve with how heavy our cars are and the surfaces we run on, but I think we're stumbling onto something here with intentionally creating other lanes of racing that have put on a good show, and I don't know how we incorporate it into bigger tracks. I hope we start experimenting soon because there's no way we'll try it in the Chase, but I feel like we can start looking at other tracks, and I don't know if you make the painted lines little grip strips around the track. I don't know it would be, but just adding something for us to have a reason to leave the preferred line to go racing.

Q. Or with a softer tire, is that another option?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It definitely could be, and I don't think we would have ever ended up with an option tire if the councils and RTA and all this collaboration didn't start two years ago. So I think what we've‑‑ the distance we've covered in a couple years, I don't know exactly the timeline, in a few more years we're all building trust and faith in one other in understanding how this stuff plays out, we're going to hit on some stuff that's going to work really well, between maybe stuff that's on the track or maybe option tires. We're getting close to creating the right racing environment.

Q. Chad, you talked earlier about coming up with a game plan and a strategy, some changes you guys were thinking through on Saturday. When you look at stuff like that, how much thought do you have to give to, okay, Jimmie likes this or doesn't like this, or he runs well with this type of package and doesn't. How much does what he does behind the wheel impact what you guys can do to the car?
CHAD KNAUS: It's huge. The driver inputs in these race cars are‑‑ the box that we operate in now is so tight and narrow that the inputs that the drivers use are what change the pitch, the heave, the roll, the longitudinal, lateral movement of the race car. What they do is really key. Jimmie uses all of his tools very, very well. He drives with feel. He's not a guy that says, okay, this is the fastest line, and that's the way I'm going to get around the racetrack. I've tried for years to get him to drive like that, and he won't do it. He's a driver that wants to adjust, manipulate the car with his inputs, and that's great. That's what makes him such a fantastic driver. So paying attention to what he says is a very, very important part of getting the most out of your race car.
Again, that's why coming in here this weekend with an open mind, even though frustration did come in a little bit, that's what allowed us to get the car as what it was today, and I think our car was great. I saw him be able to do some things with the race car that we haven't been able to do with our cars here in the past. Not just that it was fast but the way he was able to drive it, and all that was a direct result of what he was giving us for input.

Q. When you look at today's race, what was the one thing that made the difference that allowed you guys to win today's race?
CHAD KNAUS: You know, there were so many contributing factors. We had a fast race car. The car was solid. Jimmie did a great job. Our pit crew, I think, today really helped us a lot. We were able to gain positions, maintain positions on pit road, get us into spots where we were able to actually restart up towards the front, and I think we saw the comers and goers really happen on restarts the most. So not that we always had the preferred line on a restart, but at least we were close enough to the front that when something bad happened, we didn't fall back. So the pit crew kept us in the game and allowed Jimmie to do what it was that he needed to do on the track. So I think that was one of the big, big factors where we were today.

Q. Jimmie, when the 88's engine expired early in the race, was there any cause for concern that you had, engine issues or your teammates would have engine issues, also?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: So I knew the caution came out and I knew there was a lot of oil down, it was a handful of laps before Chad mentioned that it was the 88, and then the question‑‑ where questions were coming from, the whole thought process started in my mind, and I just didn't want to ask, so I didn't ask, and he didn't give me any more information or anything to worry about, so I was just hoping it was bad racing luck on their behalf or maybe some contact. I was under the impression maybe the oil cooler had a problem instead of just an engine failure.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I don't know that we've‑‑ I haven't confirmed that it was an engine failure. Maybe our people can tell us. Yeah, I don't know that that was the case, so I'd be cautious putting that out there until we know for sure.

Q. Chad was talking about how maybe everybody being in a panic or not knowing what was going to happen kind of helped you guys. I'm curious, did you feel that way, too, or when you come to a track where you've won once in 30 starts, are you like, it's not going to happen?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Honestly, I was in a panic, and Chad did a great job of coaching me up and seeing through some of my animated descriptions and my frustration and really controlled the group. It didn't let my emotions affect his thought process, and he did a great job of calming me down and saying, look, this is changing, this is the situation, let's just keep working on it, we'll get it, we'll get it, and he really‑‑ from an emotional standpoint and kind of mindset standpoint kept the wheels on the train, or I guess the train on the tracks. What the heck, wheels on the train? I sound like Kurt Busch, making up stuff. (Laughter.)

Q. Did you ever figure out what happened to your drink system at Texas, and did anything need fixing and did it work today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it worked great all day. The line came off the pump. I could see some fluid splashing around inside the car when I'd hit the button, but I knew none was getting up to my valve in the helmet, and unfortunately the line came off just due to the heat. It's so hot in the car that the soft tubing just came off.

Q. Did you have to use a stronger or different tube?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: They made about seven or eight changes to make sure that never happens again. (Laughter.)

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