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July 26, 2009
KERRY THARP: We are happy to be joined by today's race winner of the 2009 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, the 16th running here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson for Rick Hendrick Motorsports, and crew chief Chad Knaus. Jimmie, this is your third victory here at Indianapolis, back-to-back wins here at Indianapolis, 43rd NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. I could go on and on. Your thoughts on winning the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you. It's just a great day for us. We had a competitive car throughout the day. It was just very tough to come through the field. We started 16th. Kind of fell into fifth for a while, got to fourth, then to third. At the end with Juan having his problems, the caution coming out, it gave me a chance to really race with Mark on the restart. That was really my only opportunity. Maybe after one or two laps, things just kind of evened out and you really didn't have an opportunity to pass.
I did everything I could on that restart. It worked out. I cleared him. At the end he was coming a little bit on me. Got a little loose in one and two, but the car was really good in three and four. We were kind of trading off the distance. He caught me, stretched it out. Game was going on on and off throughout the race.
Very proud of his effort, what that 5 team has accomplished. All four teams were working very close together. It's nice to have Mark onboard and working so closely with all of us.
Last night we also had to work on the car a little bit. Chad did some great things to the racecar to start the race. I knew within about two turns that we were going to be very competitive today. Then the adjustments throughout the day were exactly what we needed. . Great pit stops. It was nice to have it all come together. We've been very fast, have led a lot of laps the last couple months, but haven't been able to be in the right spot at the end. It's been a little frustrating. But we've been happy with our performance.
So to have it all come full circle today, lead at the right time, win this thing, meant a lot to us.
KERRY THARP: Chad, what were your thoughts out there today, some of the calls you made, some of the strategy you put forth during this weekend here at Indianapolis.
CHAD KNAUS: Well, like Jimmie said, when we unloaded on Friday, we definitely weren't where we needed to be. We had to dig pretty deep. It was a couple long days to try to get the car prepared. Obviously, we didn't qualify as well as what we would typically want to, especially at a track like this with qualifying being so important, with pit selection and track position.
We had to dig pretty deep. The guys really did a good job. The 5 car guys, the 24 guys, the 88 guys, they really chipped in. We bounced a lot of ideas off one another. Alan Gustafson, the guys on the 5 team, were a big help to us. We took some lead on some of the stuff they were feeling throughout Friday and Saturday. We were able to apply it through the Lowe's car, which was awesome.
We had a fantastic engine today. It was really good on restarts. You could see it. You could see it when Jimmie was able to get underneath people coming down straightaways. First race for this car actually, as well. It was a great way to break it in, for sure. So the guys in the chassis and body shop did a fantastic job to get this car built in a very short period of time. It was kind of a rush to get this car here.
As far as the way the race went, kind of actually how we anticipated. We thought we were going to have a lot of green-flag runs. The field gets spread out here typically. You get that. Green-flag pit stops came in. Started to be really, really important. We got stuck behind the 83 after a round of green-flag stops, weren't able to get by him later in the run. That one pit stop right there, if he would have slowed up just a little bit, we had been a little bit faster, he would have been up challenging for the lead a little bit faster.
Things really played out the way we anticipated them. Good day for the Lowe's team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsport, especially with the 5 car finishing second, I think the 24 finished eighth, and the 88 ran very well until they had an issue. I'm very proud of our team.
KERRY THARP: Rick, congratulations on yet another victory here at Indianapolis. Your thoughts about the win and about a strong 1-2 finish for your race teams.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, any time you come to Indianapolis, it's almost like sacred ground. Reading about it and growing up in racing, never thought I'd ever go to a race here, but have an opportunity to win this thing, it's just phenomenal. It doesn't get any better than this.
These guys, I was talking to Chad last night, he said, Don't come up here expecting us to win. We'll probably be about a 10th-place car. I enjoy it when he tells me that because I know he's wetting my leg. It was a really good race. All the cars ran well. Junior had a problem. But I still get chill bumps when I walk out Gasoline Alley and see all the people on both sides of the track.
Real proud of Jimmie because he drove the wheels off that car. It was hard to come through the traffic, like he said. It was a great way to finish it. Mark was a gentleman. He came to Victory Lane. I know how bad they wanted to win this race.
KERRY THARP: Questions now for the three.
Q. Jimmie, probably annoying but necessary question of today. Had Juan Pablo been able to go on like he was going before he got the penalty, do you think you would have had enough to get up there with him toward the end, and would you have had something for him?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't have a clue. I didn't run around him all day long. I know on lap times that we were on pace with what those guys were doing. I just don't have a clue. Didn't have a chance to run with him all day long.
I do know I have the trophy. It's going home with me (laughter).
Q. Jimmie, Helio Castroneves is called Spider Man. Mark Martin has anointed you as Superman. How do you react to that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He did say that to me today. I don't know what to call him. Bionic Man or something. I wouldn't know. I got him on the restart. He put a ton of pressure on us.
The way he is, what he asks of his team, the way he interacts, his dedication, it's contagious. Brings out the best of all of us on the race team. I could see Gordon, myself, Junior, all of us looking at ourselves in the mirror, doing a better job, pushing ourselves harder. Look at Mark, the guy is non-stop.
I'm really proud to call him a teammate and a friend. The fact that he said those great things is pretty cool. We've got to think up something for him. He is one unique individual. I think he's almost happy, too. He's getting there. Scary, right (laughter)?
Q. Looked like you had to change your strategy as Mark gained on you that last run. Seemed like you were trying to break the draft.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: On the straightaways, these cars punch such a big hole in the air, I was trying to move around and slow him down a little bit. If I could move and let the raw air kind of hit his car, it should slow him down. Was weaving all around on the straightaway, didn't seem to make a difference. At least I felt like I was doing something.
The biggest thing for me was to get one and two decent because he was faster than me at that end of the track. I just couldn't make a mistake and give him an opportunity. Then three and four, my car was better. I could get some back.
So it was kind of protect and then just try to nail it to get something on him. Some laps I'd do everything right, get a gap. Other laps, he'd do it right, close the gap. It just kept going back and forth.
Q. Rick, we touched on Dale, Jr. In spite of his illness, he ran well in the race. Do you feel the 88 team has turned a corner this year? You're inching up on Roger Penske. He has 15 wins here. You have seven.
RICK HENDRICK: I don't think I'll live long enough to get 15 here (laughter).
The 88, I can tell you those guys are really working hard. And Junior is putting forth a ton of effort. I mean, I can see it, he and Lance are really working well together. It seems like if they get good momentum, something happens. Could be a caution at the wrong time.
I think today, this race, the way he qualified, as sick as he was, I mean, I was talking to him on the phone, saw him this morning, and as ill as he was, I had no idea he could run that race, and run as well as he did.
I feel like those guys have turned the corner and really the chemistry is good. I think these guys here will tell you, it's a tough deal out there. You've got guys that won a lot of races last year that haven't won races this year. But he's just got a big spotlight on him. I'll tell you, we're not happy with the way the car has run. But I am very happy with the chemistry and what's happening right now. I think we're just getting very, very close.
For anybody that says that he's not working hard, you can ask these guys, because he's putting in the effort, in the gym, doing everything that anybody asks of him. But it's just a tough, tough hill to climb out there. But I'm very happy with that team.
Q. Jimmie, you talked how reverent Indy is for you. Having won here back to back, three times now, put your place in history here a little bit. Coupled with that, the question about Juan. You might not have been near him, but this guy was going for a Brickyard and an Indy 500. I don't know if you feel bad for him, but can you empathize with him a little bit?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No (laughter). We're all so selfish. I could say if you want, I would have gone to Victory Lane to congratulate him. I would have been proud of him. I'm sure happy I got the trophy.
That would have been an amazing story. Those guys were quick all day long. Really, look at every practice session, qualifying. Not only is that team getting better, but racing with Juan on the track, the guy is really a great talent. I think if you look at guys that have come from the open-wheel world in, he's by far done better than anyone.
Then he's becoming a stock car driver. It's got to be tough to forget everything that's brought you to this level, you've built your success on, forget all that and start over. He's jumped into this thing head first. He's committed himself to doing a great job. That team is getting stronger. I think we'll see a lot more of Juan. He's putting himself -- I know today didn't work for him for points for the Chase, but I see him making the Chase and I see him being a threat. He's doing an amazing job.
For us, this track, it's so tough to say which track is more important and which race from the 500 to this 400. To be so close to the fans, the fact that I wanted to race here as a kid in the Indy 500, then to come back and now win here, it is the coolest, coolest feeling ever. To ride around just the lap in that Corvette, all the crew guys were piled on it, that is one of the coolest moments to experience and just absorb the energy of this place, the history of this track. At that point you start thinking about what this place is and what's gone on here.
It means the world to me. The things as far as how I feel I fit in history, I've never been one to think I can put myself there. It's something that comes from all of you down the road, as you get close to retirement. I got a lot of years left in me. Hopefully four, five, six-time race winner here would be awfully cool.
Q. Chad, obviously tires weren't a problem today. In fact, they were so much not a problem it didn't appear anybody was willing to gamble on two tires or no tires. Could you talk about how this race was different for you compared to last season.
CHAD KNAUS: Obviously it's two completely different story lines. Last year was a bad situation. I think everybody needs to realize that everybody put a big finger on Goodyear, saying that was their fault last year. Ultimately, it wasn't. The testing was limited last year. We actually came up and did the test for them. There was rain. So it wasn't a very good test for them to try to bring a car up here and get the thing going.
I think they were put behind a big eight ball coming up here. To come up here cold turkey, expect them to develop and have a tire prepared to race at a track like this, as coarse as the surface is, make it all happen, it wasn't fair to them.
I think we've got to realize what a great job they did coming up here testing and getting everything squared away. Goodyear, they love racing. They love what we do. It's a neat thing they've got going on.
From our standpoint, from a team, that last 30 laps there, 36 laps we had to run after that pit stop, it wasn't gonna be a situation to where we came in and took tires for sure. I think the way the cautions fell, we had an early caution flag three laps into that run, nobody was going to come in and pit at that point. If there had been a caution 15 laps into that run, I would venture to say 10th to probably 20th would have pitted. The guys 20th and back would have stayed out, jumbled it up a little bit.
Unfortunately, Goodyear made a tire a little bit too good and we didn't have much falloff. There again, it's kind of something happens at this racetrack, race position is so important, so key. Once you get behind somebody, it's very, very difficult to pass someone. That's one thing I was happy about our car today, we were actually able to pass people. Catch people on the racetrack and then pass them.
Q. Jimmie, two years in a row we've had one race where you could run 12 laps on tires, and one race where you could run 30 laps, yet your team was successful. What about your team makes you so adaptable?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd have to say the first couple runs when I was sliding the car around, it was kind of hard not to think of beating up the tire. Took a while to get used to it. I was watching guys around me sliding their cars. Okay, we can beat up the tires. After the first stop, I heard tires looked great. Just kind of lost the feelings and concerns from last year and focused on what we could do.
This track is a really tough one. I'd say in '05 I started to understand how to drive this track, could give these guys the right feedback to adjust the car. Then 2006 we won the race, confirmed, all right, this is how I need to drive it. Once I figured that out, they could adjust the car for me, build the right car.
Yesterday was tough. It challenged my thoughts as a driver and if I was doing the right things because we could post a quick lap, but then there's a ton of falloff. Then we got it to where I liked it, wouldn't go at all at the beginning of a run, was just fair at the end of a run. So yesterday was a challenge.
We had a great team meeting before the race today. We just all agreed that we needed to buckle down and run our race, do what we could. We made the best decisions we could through the night, put the best setup in the car that we knew of, just deal with the circumstances and go out and race.
It was cool to see. It's what the 48 is known for. I'm glad we were able to win today because it gives us the confidence in our approach to the race, what we need to do coming up into the Chase. I feel very good about the way things are going and where we're headed.
Q. Was this race kind of sort of like a microcosm of y'all's season? You've kind of been in the shadows, but doing what you need to do, and you're obviously going to be in the Chase, but at the last minute there's the 48 again doing what they've always done.
CHAD KNAUS: What does 'microcosm' mean (laughter)?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's a big word. I think I know what it means (laughter). Now I forgot the question (laughter).
We were talking about this before we came to the track, that it's good and bad that we've been under the radar. But the reason it's bad is we've led a lot of laps. You look at the last five or six races, I think we've led the most laps. Just not the one at the end that counted to get all the glory and the hype.
So with that in mind, I mean, it has been quiet. That is good because it allows us to focus and not get caught up in all the energy around winning races and leading the points. But we know it's coming. We know the Chase is coming up. Our guys are trying to treat each race leading into the Chase like we are in the Chase.
We're buckled down and ready. For whatever reason that strategy or that style has been placed on this team, and it's not that we try to do that, it's just the way it works. We don't know why.
Q. It's easy to look at this from the outside and say last year was the race that the tires didn't work, and this year was the race that Montoya threw away, rather than these are two races that Jimmie Johnson won. Do you care?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't see it that way at all (laughter). We led the most laps last year and won the race. To finish first, first you must finish. I hate him for it. Mark and I had to fight that thing out at the end. I know it is a story, Juan led so many laps. We come back and look at it two months from now, it's going to be a W next to my name on the stat sheet. That's all that matters (laughter).
Q. Speaking of stats, I'm sure you know this, seven of the last 11 winners of this race have gone on to win the championship, including you. Can you hear the collective groan out there from the other guys?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I hope it does. It doesn't mean much to us in that respect. But I certainly hope that it makes people think and wonder and worry, especially the guys in the garage area. That would be helpful for us.
But this track is so difficult. We run on it once a year. The teams that are on top of their game end up successful here. I think that's why guys that have won this race have won the championship, because that team that given year is on top of what's going on. Short amount of practice. You line up and race for one of the most difficult tracks to race on. I think that's the correlation between the two.
We'll see what happens and hopefully guys in the fenced off area, in the garage area, are worried about it.
Q. Rick, seems for the last hundred years everybody has been chasing Rick Hendrick Motorsports. What do you feel you have for an edge this year? What is that feeling like, to know you're the guy people are chasing?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, to be honest with you, I don't ever look at it that way. I'm thankful when we run well. The reason we run well is sitting right here: the talent of these guys, Jimmie's talent, Chad, and the organization. I know how close, I've watched Carl Edwards a year ago, looked like he had the mile-and-a-half figured out, then we worked, worked, worked. I think it's a tribute to our guys, but I know we know we got to work harder.
I probably don't feel - I don't know about you guys - but I don't feel as good this year. I never get comfortable. We always try to keep the carrot out there like we got to get better or we're gonna get beat. I just think it's keeping everybody together, keeping everybody focused.
Jimmie has set a tremendous example. Mark, Jeff, Junior has stepped up the game. I think everybody wants it so bad that we realize if we can keep it together, we got a shot, and we know a lot of things can happen in that Chase.
We're gonna try to get all the momentum we can. But I sure don't feel comfortable. But I do realize that these guys are going for four in a row, and it's there in our reach, and we just got to keep working hard. I'll say this for Jimmie, he's had a bunch of heartbreaks. Pocono, different tracks, he had 'em covered. Maybe we were a lap short of gas or things happened, which hadn't been characteristics of the 48 team. But you can't control when the cautions come out. You can't control those things. You kind of have to get prepared. I think for these guys, it was almost a good dose of reality. It doesn't always fall your way. You have situations that come up, and you just have to deal with it.
I like the spot we're in. But this is gonna be a fierce fight this year. I know the fans love it, this double-file restart. I'll tell you what, it's nerve-wracking to watch the cars and know what can happen. But it's great for our sport. I agree it's great for our sport. Boy, it puts knots in your stomach when you run all day and pack 'em in there together. I think it's going to help the ratings, makes it more exciting for the fans. I know you didn't ask me all that (laughter).
Q. How difficult is it to keep that car on the rev limit to make sure you don't go over the speed limit? Does your adrenaline get going so you can bust after a good stop?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's tough. I mean, you're trying to get to pit road as fast as you can. There's a lot of times where you have the tires locked up and you can tell you're still going too fast. A lot of it boils down to how big the segments are. Wherever there's a short segment, that gets people. If you're speeding, try to give some time back, it doesn't work. I've seen a lot at tracks where there's a very short segment at the end of pit road, and that usually gets guys all the time.
So you just -- we're doing everything we can to keep the exact rpm. These guys work it out mathematically to tell us exactly where we need to be. Basically on the gas, then riding the brake, just trying to keep the tach at a consistent spot, slowly adjusting your brake pressure to keep it right in the window it needs to be in.
It's tough because sometimes you know, yeah, I was speeding. Other times, there's a short segment, you're just a fraction over, you know, it gets you. You're like, I wasn't speeding. It's a tough thing, it really is. I've been nailed more this year than any, if you added up all the other seasons. I'm way cautious now. I'm tired of making that mistake.
CHAD KNAUS: You know, it's a tough thing to monitor from Jimmie's standpoint and from ours obviously because if you think about it, we've got timing and scoring that each one of you looks at as we're running around the racetrack. That's what we watch and base ourselves off of throughout the event. Once you hit pit road, we don't have any reference. We have mathematical equations based on the tire stagger, gear ratio, the pit road speed we have to work off of. I'm hoping that at some point we'll be able to see the pit road speeds published because that will allow us to work within limits that we're comfortable with.
From a competitor's standpoint, if you don't know your limits, it's difficult to know what it is. You're always gonna try to get to the topside of that limit. So Jimmie does that. We push Jimmie to go as fast as he can on pit road. It's kind of an unknown right now, that you're just kind of -- I mean, it's kind of a guessing game weekly on that.
I'm hoping eventually NASCAR will actually publish those speeds so we can adjust our times accordingly throughout the events.
Q. Chad, Jimmie talked about his experience here at the Speedway. You brought a first-time car here today. How tough is it to bring a new car in to a track like Indianapolis or is it different in Charlotte?
CHAD KNAUS: It wasn't that long ago that you would build an Indy car, and that's what we would do. Back when we were running the old body styles, manipulate the templates, you would build what you call a flat track type racecar, short track type chassis with high downforce body on it. Now with the way the rules are, you don't necessarily do that. Now coupled with the fact that we can't test, you have to introduce new cars at different times. It doesn't really matter where that is.
This car that we're racing here this weekend is going to be a car, one of our primary cars for the Chase. We had to start getting miles on the car and learn how to adjust on it. We took a brand-new car to Michigan this year. Ran fantastic with it. Ran the most laps with it in the lead, should have won. It wasn't that we built this car specifically for Indianapolis. We were just building a new car, building that car to the best of our ability, and this is where it ended up. Very well could have been Pocono next week, but this is how it shook out.
Q. Rick, Mark Martin is doing things he was doing in the mid '90s when he was really in his prime. Is this what you foresaw when you went after him a year ago? Did you still think he had the ability to do this?
RICK HENDRICK: I'll tell you, Mark Martin, when he climbed in the Busch car the first time at Darlington, I was blown away. I just couldn't believe a guy could dissect a car. Jimmie does the same thing. But then when you talk to Jimmie or Jeff, ask them about Mark Martin, they say he's awesome, will he do it.
Jimmie said it, he's phenomenal. I don't know any other word for it. You look at this year, what he's done, race in, race out, he's energized all of us. He's appreciative of the opportunity. I can't even imagine. I would love to have had him 10 years ago.
What do you think, Mr. Johnson? What did you call him, Iron Man?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Bionic Man.
Q. They reported on the broadcast that on the last pit stop you took a big swing at the car to make a lot of adjustments. Can you tell us what you did to it? When Junior's engine blew up, did that give I any trepidation?
CHAD KNAUS: 'Trepidation'. You guys got these big words going today (laughter).
First off, no, I won't tell you what we did. But the car was tight and we made some pretty aggressive adjustments to try to free the car up.
This racetrack, when you get behind somebody, you lose a lot of your front downforce. The car inherently gets tight because you don't have any pressure keeping the front on the ground. We had to do some mechanical adjustments to get the car freed up.
As far as the 88, yeah, I heard -- after that round of pit stops, he came down into turn one, I heard it immediately. The 77 or the 12 was behind him. Kind of caught my ear. I keyed up to Johnny. I said, Get with Scott, who heads up the tuner department at Hendrick Motorsports, find out if that was the 88. Sure enough, coming off turn four, that thing lit up like a candle.
I was nervous. I was very nervous. Actually Mr. Hendrick came up and was the first one to tell me that Dale may have thought he over-revved it a little bit. That was the reason.
I didn't have any trepidation after that. I can't even use it in this sentence (laughter).
Q. Jimmie, you're now second in the standings behind Tony Stewart with this win today. Heading into the Chase, is your mindset more of winning more races to help secure a top seed or would you rather just drive more conservatively and save it for the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It really just depends on the opportunities. If we're in a position to gamble, which those situations don't come often, we can look at it, if it's a two-tire situation or stay out on fuel. Michigan wound up to be a fuel mileage race. Maybe we can take advantage of the situation there. Hope it doesn't. It burns us every time. We've run out of gas twice leading.
CHAD KNAUS: Won Phoenix.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's one. We won one on fuel. Lost many others.
If there's a window of opportunity which is small, we'll go it. Other than that, we're doing what we can each week to score as many points, including winning the race. I would rather take the chance with some upside, if it's there. I don't want to just swing, whiff, miss. If we have a good reason to take a chance, I'm willing to do it. Other than that, we need to build momentum and confidence in our guys and myself and Chad, just do things right, finish in the top three, top five. Just keep cranking those out.
Q. Rick discussed a minute ago about how you have had the best car before and failed to close the deal. Obviously you're euphoric now. You've been in his shoes. It's exasperating when a driver faces that type of situation. How is he feeling right now? You've been in his shoes before.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Who are we talking about?
Q. Juan Pablo Montoya.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I've been in that situation. It's painful. Especially when you're on pit road and you swear that you didn't do anything wrong. I mean, I've been in that position before. I think Sonoma was the last time. There was no way we could get busted for speeding, and somehow we did.
I've been there. Certainly it's not a good position. It sucks. I know two or three days now, he'll look back, find positives. Any good team does. You look back on how good you ran, the qualifying circumstances, and you build on it. We're going to Pocono soon.
KERRY THARP: This week.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sweet. I'm on top of things. We'll work there. Those guys will be a threat.
They're close. Once he figures out how to get to Victory Lane on an oval, he's going to do a lot of it.
KERRY THARP: Jimmie, Chad, Rick, congratulations. Good luck the rest of the season.
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