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September 28, 2008
KANSAS CITY, KANSAS
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the infield media center by today's winner, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson.
Jimmie, tell us about your run.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, great performance all day long, led a lot of laps. Hopefully we led the most. Did we? Sweet. Just a strong performance, great stops. We had to work on the car throughout the day, make some adjustments. Chad made some great adjustments at the end that really got us on par with the 99.
I thought I was sitting in great shape with two to go. Had a nice, comfortable lead. Next thing you know, that 99 is all over me. I had a battle on my hands.
Just a great day and exciting finish for the fans. Looking forward -- I'm not looking forward to Talladega, but I'm looking forward to everything else after Talladega (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by today's winning crew chief, Chad Knaus. Tell us about your view from on top of the box.
CHAD KNAUS: It was a great day. Everybody on the whole team really played a part in what we had going on today. The engine shop brought something a little bit different this week. That was good. Definitely showed some fruit there. The car is actually a car we raced a couple of times and won a couple races with. So that's good. It's kind of a proven thing. Our pit crew did a great job on pit road. I just can't say enough about Jimmie. He drove his heart out today. It was a great day. It was a lot of fun. Really enjoyed it.
THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by the owner of Hendrick Motorsports, Rick Hendrick. Mr. Hendrick, tell us about your thoughts on today.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think this was probably one of the best examples of a total team effort from Jimmie just driving the wheels off the car, to Chad making the right adjustments when we were a couple or 3/10ths off, and the pit crew getting Jimmie out when he needed to.
I think this was just -- this just kind of shows why they're champions, and I'm really proud of them because it was a hard-fought deal today.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q. Where did you learn how to defend against a slide job? I don't think you get a lot of slide jobs in off-road. Seriously, the last lap, did you see what was happening or did Carl surprise you a little bit?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, in the off-road ranks, stadium trucks and stuff, slide job was a common move, kind of like dirt ovals. To be honest, I was cruising down the backstretch, had a decent lead. I knew he would go to the bottom. My concern was just making sure I was at his quarter panel coming off of turn two. So I was thinking through what I needed to do.
Next thing you know, that car goes flying by. I knew instantly, there was no damn way he's making the turn. Just stayed on the brake, tried to get redirected and turned down. I was so in awe of how fast he drove it in, I watched him pound the wall and jump back on the gas. I thought, Man, he's serious about this win, I better get back on the gas myself (laughter). Got off the turn well and got back to the start/finish.
With two to go, we had a nice comfortable lead. Thought we were in great shape. He found a line or found some grip somewhere, and just destroyed us those last few laps. Just thankful we got it done.
Q. You and Carl were 1-2 in points. Came down to you and Carl at the end. How nice was it to know he was making every move he could on you but you were able to come out with the win and take over the points lead?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'd say winning the race is a huge boost of confidence for the team, for myself. It helps beating the 99, without a doubt. I kind of looked back on that last segment in general to know that -- to feel really good about us closing the gap. We were 2 or 3/10ths off the 99 before that. Chad made some great decisions on the car. Real proud of that, knowing that we could fine tune and find more speed in the car.
To be honest with you, looking up at the board, the way we finished, man, it's hard to get any points on anybody. 5 or 10 here or there is nothing. At this pace, it's going to take somebody having some bad luck to get a gap. You're not just going to outrun people week to week like we're all performing right now.
Q. What does it feel like to know you're very close to matching Cale Yarborough's record of being able to have three championships in a row?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not thinking about it yet. At some point it will hit me like a lead balloon. But as of now, you know, I don't even know what the points spread is over Carl. But I think with two, three to go, that's when you really start worrying about your position and protecting. Right now we're all just running as hard as we can, paying attention to who has bad luck, how the points gaps develop from there.
So right now, I mean, my biggest concern is outrunning the 99 and 16. The 31's hanging right in there as well. I haven't thought much about Cale yet.
Q. When you heard that Montoya's car failed inspection, did you change your race approach at all or did you just figure you've been in that position, just do what you usually do?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, it didn't change anything. The only thing it did was affect our pit road decision. We just moved up to the first pit stall. Didn't change strategy, car setup, any of that stuff. Put a smile on my face knowing we got another pole. Outside of that, same old stuff.
Q. Did you lift against Carl or hold your usual line?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: As I entered the turn, I was running my normal line and rhythm that I had. I was tight. I was concerned about overdriving the entry, sliding up on that last paving seam, not having the right-side grip I needed to. I got in a little cautious, not soft by any means, but made sure that I had the car -- wanted to make sure I had the car pointed for a drag race to the start/finish line.
At that time I think Carl probably recognized what I was trying to do and then took it in way far beyond any sense of normal thinking and was committed to it. I still can't explain to you how surprised I was and shocked, and in some ways thought it was pretty damn cool to see him bomb it in there and see it skipping off the wall.
But it caught me off guard. I didn't expect him to come in there and put the slide job on me with that much conviction. I figured he would stay on the bottom and try to drag race me around to the start/finish line.
Q. When you're plugging along, doing the right things, you didn't seem extremely excited over what had just happened, is that by design that you don't want to get too caught up in the closeness of the Chase, keep focused on what you're doing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think so. I don't know where my crew guys were when I got out of the car. I think they were trying to get to the Victory Lane area. I was just kind of relieved they got the job done. The last few laps, having the 99 run us down like he did, then that big slide job, I was evaluating things in my own head and looking at what I was doing in the car and thinking, Man, I almost gave up 10 points and a win right there.
I was probably beating myself up a little bit and critiquing what I had done in the last couple laps. But still I need to go back and look at the video and understand where he came from because the line that I'd been running, the rhythm that I had, was keeping a nice gap to him. In fact, I pulled away from him a little bit as we got through some traffic. I thought I had it in the bag.
It was more me just kind of evaluating the day and trying to sharpen up for next week, or the next mile-and-a-half, I guess.
Q. Rick, the bottom three cars in the Chase are all Joe Gibbs Racing cars. I know a couple years ago your team got off to a similar rough start, still managed win the title with Jimmie in 2006. What do you think is going on with Joe Gibbs and that organization? How do you get your team back in it?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, number one, I think they're the same guys that won all the races Kyle did early in the year. I think in our position, some of the other guys, we worked hard to try to catch up. They just had some really bad luck. I mean, you know, it's going to happen to some other folks. It could happen to us next week in Talladega. You're going to have mechanical failures. You just can't do anything about that.
I think they just had a run of bad luck. They had a run of good luck for 26 races. So this thing isn't over. It's not just three or four guys that are going to decide it now. Mathematically, you have an accident at Talladega, it takes out five or six of the frontrunners, a couple bad weeks, they run good, anybody can still win this thing.
It's hard when you run good all year. We have done that. We have gone into the Chase, had bad luck, some of it self-inflicted, and then regrouped. You know, there's no way to explain how to do it other than the way they've done it all year. Just go back, work on what they've got, don't change anything, come back and they'll be good again. Tony was real good. Denny was good. I don't know about Kyle, I think he was pretty good in practice. Things just happen.
Q. Jimmie, how close did Carl clear you by? Did it affect your entry or exit in that turn?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It certainly affected my entry. It affected the whole turn because he went by so fast. I quickly recognized that he wasn't going to make it. I needed to get turned, get away from him so he couldn't side draft me. I didn't know how well he was going to be back on the gas.
When he went by, I saw him whizz by, I changed my entire line through the corner, all the way to the start/finish line for that matter. But I think he cleared me by quite a bit. It wasn't close. I mean, he drove in there so hard, he had me by -- it seemed to me by six or seven car lengths, but I'm sure it was closer than that. I mean, I could see all of his car when it went by. Normally when you're close to other people, you can just see the top of their car from the wing up, just from our vantage point when we sit in it. I could see the whole car when he went by, so he had to be pretty far in front of me.
Q. Jimmie, how aware are you of all the issues that are happening, you try to focus on your own program, but the tachometer for Burton, and when people fall back, how cognizant are you of that? There were a lot of incidents on pit road. I'd like to talk about how close it is coming in and out of pit road, how that might figure into the Chase.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: A couple things. One, pit road, when you come to tracks where two tires are an option, you're going to have problems on pit road. The line of cars coming to pit road are so long, somebody comes in for two, they leave, there's guys still trying to get in and out. It's a mess. That's why qualifying's so important. If you can have an opening, be down there at the end of the line, it just takes you out of harm's way.
As far as knowing what goes on with other cars, I can say when I started, I was really concerned and worried about every point. Somebody would have a problem, I'd get excited. Even we talked about it on the radio. But somewhere in those first couple years, when we would see something happen to someone, get excited, something would then happen to us. So it's funny, we'll all watch somebody have a problem, and we will not talk about it on the radio. You just focus on your game, focus on your car, your stops, your stuff, and at the end of the day on the plane ride home you take the points sheet and look at it. Until then you almost bring something upon yourself if you're paying attention to those things and worried about those things.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about the appeal of this sport as opposed to the stick-and-ball sports. What do you think the biggest difference is for you?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I was a part owner of an NBA team when they first came to Charlotte. I think you find a lot of fans that are race fans are also football fans, baseball fans, basketball fans. But a lot of folks are car nuts. I mean, I'm one of 'em. Terrible. I got all kinds of cars. I grew up in the muscle car era. You raced on the street, drag racing, any kind of racing.
I think it's the gladiator-type atmosphere where fans love to see guys kind of rub on each other, race like the last lap here. That's what they come to see. I think it's a love affair with the automobile. That's why you see all these manufacturers here. That's why you see all these guys with Chevrolet or Ford or Toyota or Dodge license plates on their car.
I think that's the attraction. But the drivers are the real gladiators. You see these diehard fans, man. I tell you, you know, I don't know how many football teams there are, pro teams, but all those pro teams have a bunch of ball players. We've got instead of 40 teams or 30 teams, there's 30 drivers or 40 drivers that are really the stars. I can tell you from having some superstars drive my cars, their fans are passionate about their drivers. I hear that a lot. I think that's the appeal.
Jimmie, you tell me what you think.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You did a great job (laughter). The only thing I was going to add was the fact that all the stars are on the field all the time. You don't have one given game, you have a couple stars. All of them are on the track, and that makes a big difference.
Q. The conversation you and Carl had, were you just basically saying, Did you believe I tried that? What was the deal there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He stuck his head in and he goes, How far did I clear you by? I said, Seven car lengths or so. He goes, Damn it, I got in there too hard. I said, You think?
We didn't talk that much. It was kind of a laughing moment at that point. I could see in his eyes that he really wanted to win. I think it probably upset some people that we didn't get out and want to fight and all those things. You can have rivalries and respect one another. I think Carl's going to be one of the guys I've got to worry about. I'll sit there and obsess about beating that 99, beating that 16, not giving them an inch. He made me mad early in the day. I lifted his rear tires up off the ground on the backstretch because he tried squeezing me into the wall. Those are things that still exist, but you still respect each other. I hope and do believe that you will see that throughout the Chase. Maybe some of the hardcore fans won't like it. They want to see us all brawling on the frontstretch. But with the guys that are racing for the championship right now, I think you're going to see just hard-nosed racing and a great deal of respect for one another.
Q. I've noticed you tend to be relaxed with things. There's drivers that get angry, mad. How did you get that mentality to be so relaxed and respectful to the rest of your drivers out there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I sucked my whole life until this level of racing. I took a lot of looks in the mirror, dealt with a lot of kind of looking through my own head, trying to understand what I was doing as a driver. Never wanted to blame anyone else. I just looked at myself. I keep a lot to myself and internalize what I do.
The second part of that is I have a crew chief that worries about everything, gets riled up about everything. If both of us were wound up all the time, we would be a disaster. I've found more success in taking a backseat and letting him get crazy from time to time and talking him off the ledge. It's worked well.
I mean, I certainly do get upset from time to time, but it doesn't last long. I know it's going to affect what I do in the car. At the end of the day, I want to be sitting here talking to all of you. I just know myself, if I'm obsessing over something that went on or mad about a stop or a driver or pit road or whatever it may be, I'm not focusing on driving that car to its limit.
Q. I know this is the kind of question you hate to hear. Two championships in a row. You're going for a third. Invariably a lot of your fans say you're still in the shadow of Jeff Gordon. Would a third championship this year break you out of that shadow? Do you even care when people say you're in Gordon's shadow?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He's a little dude. I don't know how I'm in his shadow. He's kind of short (laughter).
People that still can't see the differences between Jeff and I, see us as our own individuals, they just don't get it. I mean, yeah, we're both -- we drive for Rick. We conduct ourselves in a certain way. We care for our sponsors. We care about our fans. We choose to say the right things most of the time. I mean, if that's going in a guy's shadow, then I just don't think those people know what they're looking at.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I haven't thought about that. Look at what he's accomplished. Four championships to tie him or five to surpass him, that's lofty. I'm looking at it. If we're fortunate enough to get three, obviously you look to four. I think looking at his win total and setting that as a mark to try to break is lofty, but may be a more reasonable goal to try to attain.
I've been very fortunate. I've had a lot of success. It means a lot to me to see how I continue to elevate my status with race wins and laps led and the other stats compared to some of my heroes. Jeff inspired me as a kid when I was racing off-road trucks. He wasn't from the South. He grew up racing on the dirt, got a shot. I've looked up to him. He's been one of my heroes as a kid growing up.
Q. Rick, you have a lot of dealerships here in Kansas City, employees that work for you here. When your team wins at Kansas Speedway, does that mean a lot to you? How many of your employees were up in the stands today?
RICK HENDRICK: I don't know how many were in the stands, but there were 50 in the garage area. I know that. They're still waiting out there to take pictures.
It's really neat. When this race came to Kansas, we had dealerships. Ricky won the truck race. Jeff won the first race I think. It really fires our people up. We got dealerships here, a lot of employees. The pride of being involved with the teams, I can't tell you how important it is to the employees, how proud they are. It's like a basketball team to a college. They have something for their kids to get behind and be so proud of. We used to have family days here. We'd have 2,000 people, kids. We skipped a couple years here, but we try to do other things with them. This is a special market to us. We have a big Chevy store here a lot of other franchises, too. It's been a good place to do business. Our employees take a lot of pride in the race teams.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you and congratulations.
End of FastScripts