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NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Daytona 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Daytona 500

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Daytona 500

Darian Grubb
Rick Hendrick
Jimmie Johnson
February 19, 2006


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Just won NASCAR's most prestigious race. How does it feel?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's going to take a little while to sink in. I think as tomorrow unfolds, putting the car in the museum, on the way to New York, I just found out I guess I get to go to New York, be on some great shows, be a part of everything up there. That's when it will start to sink in.
Right now I just have so much pride in my race team, what we have accomplished today with the circumstances we've been through. This is a well-prepared team, a team that was very hungry and wanted to make a statement today. We stepped up and got the job done today and I'm very proud of my guys.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for our champion.
Q. Do you know how Chad enjoyed this experience, where he was?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not sure where he watched the race. I talked to him briefly in Victory Lane as I was doing the hat dance. I look forward to talking to him soon.
He was pretty emotional on the phone. Very proud of this team, very proud of what we accomplished today.
Q. Do you feel like this victory has any sort of a mark attached to it in any fashion, any sort of a black mark, given what's happened in the last week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Not at all. This is the opposite of that. If you think about what we overcame, and the pressure that's on any team, in any sport, if they were faced with something like this, this is a huge, huge statement, something that I'm very proud of.
We play within a set of rules. Chad broke the rules. He's admitted that. He's in Charlotte watching the race today. He missed the event. We're serving our penalty. We're doing everything we can do. We stepped up today and won the biggest race in our sport, and it is something that I am so proud of.
Q. This morning when you were talking to the race fans, you had a note in your pocket. What was that note and what was your word of the day for the team?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The biggest thing today for us was patience. Chad actually faxed down something he wanted me to read to the guys in the transporter today in our meeting beforehand since he couldn't obviously be there. I read his statement to the guys.
Six-time winner of the Daytona 500, guy that's batting a thousand, first race as crew chief, wins the Daytona 500.
Anyway, I really just read something that was from Chad to the crew today, just telling them to do their best job, just the normal stuff to give everybody a shot in the arm, get them excited, get them fired up for the race, something from his side saying, "I believe in you guys, I've trained you well, do your job today," and everybody did.
THE MODERATOR: Crew chief Darian Grubb and team own Rick Hendrick. Gentlemen, could each of you let us know how you're feeling.
DARIAN GRUBB: I just wanted to thank Chad for building this team the way he has. This job is very hard. I don't want to kid anybody on that. Chad always has done a great job, but he has trained me very well. I've worked with him for three years straight. I think I've learned everything I've ever learned from him.
This is unbelievable. I mean, first time out, win the Daytona 500. I think the only other person that batted a thousand was Randy Dorton. Those are some huge shoes to fill. Very honored and very happy to be given the opportunity to do this.
THE MODERATOR: Rick.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, every one of these things is sweet, and this one was kind of double sweet. You know, I just really don't know. You work so hard for Daytona. It's such an important race. You never know you're going to win it until the last lap and the checkered flag. A lot of things can happen. I've been disappointed down here a lot. It's been really good to us and we've been lucky enough to win six of these things.
Just proud of the organization. Jimmie drove a smart race. Darian did a super job. We're just happy to be here, happy to be in this position.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Rick, you know as we go forward this week there's going to be a lot of questions about what happened last week, this happening in light of it. Jimmie already answered the question, so I'll ask it of you. Do you believe that it's fair to say this has any kind of a taint or black mark or cloud over it because of the fact that the car that was going into the Daytona USA last week was found to have some kind of rules violation on it?
RICK HENDRICK: Are you talking to me? Was that for me?
Q. Yes.
RICK HENDRICK: It had a template -- it didn't meet the templates. The car, the window, back glass, was changed. I think it's a non-issue. As far as we're concerned, we went out there and we had to start in the back of the 150, raced our way to the front. We've been through inspection I don't know how many times. It's not the first time a template didn't fit, and I don't see that -- it's kind of a non-issue. When NASCAR did what they did, and we came back, went through inspection with the car, then went out and ran a race, then two races, I think that was history.
That's the way I look at it.
Q. Jimmie, last year in restrictor plate races, you were often the focus of attention for maybe the wrong reasons from both your point of view and our point of view. It looked like it might start out that way again this week with what happened on Sunday. Is it vindicating that you can kind of fly under the radar in this race, sort of come up late, take a win like that, not have all the normal controversy?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You have no idea how proud I am to be sitting here as the winner of the Daytona 500. There's been a lot of hating on the 48 team over the last year with some restrictor plate issues and an that issue I caused at the second Talladega race. There was some stuff before that that I didn't think was unfair, a lot of criticism on this team, me personally for driving the car, and then what took place this week with this team.
We keep talking about someone's curious if we feel there's a black mark next to this win. I think it's the complete opposite. There's a black mark next to qualifying. But the race, with the circumstances we've been through, and the situation that we're in, we overcame everybody against us - I mean, every single media person, every single crew member. We deservedly had it. We were wrong in qualifying. We came back through all of that and won the Daytona 500. That's something I am so proud of.
We looked as bad as we could ever look, and we stepped up and got the job done.
Q. Ryan Newman brought up that he felt there was some conflict in three of your last three wins or three of your last four involving rules. Any concern over just your image being associated with rules violations?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. I kind of view it as jealousy, and he doesn't have a crew chief in there working hard enough to make his cars as good. If you look at what took place last year, we had an appeal overturned, which has never been done in the sport. We were complimented for the shocks that we built and designed at Dover. So it just depends on how you look at it.
This team has worked way too hard to even have those kind of comments thrown at them, and I'm going to be very defensive over it. This team works way too hard, all the teams do in the garage area. I'm disappointed that Ryan has to come in here and make some different statements and try to tarnish what we accomplished today. I'm very proud of this team, and we've worked very hard for what we've got.
Q. Jimmie, you kind of answered my question. You mentioned twice guys hate on your team. Why are people so jealous of you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wouldn't call it jealousy in all situations. You know, some of it's deserving. Some of it there's been some mistakes I've made. Chad has made mistakes. You know, there's consequences that come with that.
I just hope that through what took place over this last week, everyone can see what my true intentions are, what this team's intentions are, and how hard we really work to be successful in this sport. You can't deny the fact we won the biggest race, we've worked our butts off to get to this point, and we're very proud to be here.
Q. You did not put a mark on your race car, and your peers seem like they hit everything but the Florida lottery out there. How difficult was it not to get caught up in all that aggression?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It was tough, believe me. Today was one of the hardest races for me mentally because the racer in me wanted to push and wanted to be aggressive out there. There were so many times I just told myself to stop, "Don't get caught up in this. Sit here on the bottom. Let these guys pass you. You have a good enough race car, you'll work your way back through here. Pit stops are coming up here, you'll have a great pit stop. Once again, come out towards the front." So I really did a lot of talking to myself, learned some lessons today.
Ultimately, I hope that I learned something today that will help me win a championship. In my eyes, I wonder if I've been trying too hard, this team's been trying too hard. If we just sit down, be calm and relaxed, do our job a hundred percent, not at 105, 110, if we do our job at 100%, that we will accomplish what we want to, and that maybe at 110% that we've been making mistakes along the way.
Q. You said that your team overcame so much this week. Can you elaborate on that? Are you talking about not having Chad here or are you just talking about -- people sniggering or saying things behind your back, saying things, bother you, affect you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd say all of the above. From the negative press that comes with it, you know, Rick and I both, Lowe's as well, we don't -- none of us want these things to pop up and be associated with what we're doing, what we've accomplished.
The team had a huge burden, huge amount of pressure put on them, and they've been able to step up. So really across the board, anything you could dream up, we've had as much pressure on this team for this weekend's race that we've ever had. I would say even more than the championship races that we've been in. We really needed to pull ourselves together and come out and do the best job that we could do here for the Daytona 500, and we did it.
Q. You've come close to winning a championship and perhaps you've been overshadowed by your teammate, Jeff Gordon, Tony's championship, maybe even Junior. Do you wonder what it takes to establish a Jimmie Johnson era?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I'm trying hard. You know, you're talking about the greats of the sport. In my eyes, it's not an overshadowing, it's just means that I've needed to go out and try harder and work harder and perfect my abilities, and the team as well, to work on some things. We've been able to step up and do it.
When you talk about Jeff Gordon, his accomplishments, Tony Stewart, Dale, Jr., that's great company. I'm honored to be up here as a champion of the Daytona 500 with these guys.
Q. Are you superstitious? At the start of the week, did you realize it was a good omen that it was the 48th Daytona 500?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, Chad mentioned that before we came down, thought that the numbers may bring us some luck. Then the way the week started, I completely forgot about that, didn't pay a lot of attention to it until I talked to my dad in Victory Lane, and he reminded me of that on the telephone.
I don't think there's really a lot to it, but it's pretty cool it's worked out, being the 48th running of this race, and we're the 48 car.
Q. How did it change what your input was today, how did it change your role in this? How did you have to step up in Chad's not being here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Chad is such a leader, spends so much time really being around the guys, not only putting a setup underneath the car, but really keeping the morale up, keeping everybody focused on what they're doing.
I had a small piece of that, trying to be at practice as early as possible, around as much as I could be, to build confidence in the guys, tell them they're doing a great job. When the driver's around, the crew guys really just feed off that, take things a little more seriously.
Just being around, trying to be there for those guys, support them, talk to them, make them realize, "Hey, we're going to be okay. We've got a great team. Let's just do our jobs and do what we need to do and we'll be okay."
From there, really Darian, Ron, those guys really stepped up. Darian had a whole new set of responsibilities. Ron already had a lot of responsibilities, took on some more. It was really just a great team effort.
Q. Darian, first you were interviewed near the end of the race about what you thought your chances were, and you didn't seem overly nervous at all. A, were you? B, do you ever get that way? You don't seem like you barely have a pulse. C, if you could expound on what you said a moment ago about Randy Dorton batting a thousand?
DARIAN GRUBB: If you think I'm that calm, you must not have seen me out in the grass when they started interviewing me there (smiling).
I honestly really wasn't that nervous up until the checkered flag fell. I just sat there and I just knew I had faith in all the rest of the team, the team that Chad built, this Hendrick Motorsports Lowe's team. Everybody did their job. The pit stops were absolutely incredible. When they interviewed me on TV, I told them we had the best car and best driver out there and he was in first, why would I be nervous?
Q. Can you talk about how the chemistry and communication was over the radio between you guys today? Was there ever any instances where you weren't on the same page just because you don't have a lot of experience working in this role together?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, the great thing about the decision we made with Darian to come in and crew chief this was his involvement with the team for so many years. He's worked alongside Chad as our race engineer, and was involved in all the conversations when Chad and I would talk about. You know, the handling of the car, the different things that I communicate to Chad, Darian is right there in the window with him documenting things and a part of that conversation.
Then the race strategy from the box, Darian's looking a little more in depth at everything because Chad has so many things to look at on top of the box. Darian and Chad communicated about calling the race and what needed to take place there.
So really to put Darian in was, in my eyes, the best thing to do for this team because the communication has already been started. We've been working together for three, almost four years. We know each other. Darian has a lot of respect inside the 48 team. So it really was the best decision.
We have some other great crew chiefs at Hendrick Motorsports that could have stepped up, been involved, helped the 48 team out, but we just felt that it would be easier and better for the race team to have Darian step up without this experience as being a crew chief because we already know each other and have that working relationship.
Q. Jimmie and Darian, sort of related to that, can you talk specifically about you've been with Chad for a long time, you get used to hearing a certain voice in your ear, can you talk specifically about how different that is? Does that affect you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, believe me, it was a much different week. The great thing about Speedweeks, we had quite a few practice sessions, and then the duel to break ourselves in and get used to one another.
All of that really helped out and helped us, you know, break the ice and get things rolling with the team. If we just went into the race, I think it would have been more difficult.
But, again, we had such a great working relationship beforehand that I wasn't worried about it, but the duels and the other practice sessions we had really helped out.
Q. Mr. Hendrick, six Daytona 500s, you've won them at different times in your career. In '86, with Geoffrey Bodine, you didn't know what you were doing. '97 you had the one, two, three finish, you were going through the illness. Then you have this one this year with all the different things that attend to it. Do they all feel the same or is there really a big difference?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I think the first one is always really special. Each one of them has been special. You know, I said it earlier, the Daytona 500 is such a special race, and each one of them have been -- it's been a nail-biter with Darrell and Schrader down here, when it looked like we might run one, two. I was home sick. They ran one, two, three.
Today when we were out there, they were running one, two, three, I was hoping it would rain. It's just such a prestigious race. I was talking to Channie right after the checkered flag. You know, you just can't hardly speak. It's just such an exciting thing in motorsports when you work hard, and there's over 500 people back in Charlotte that have put a lot of effort into it, running motors through the weekend in simulation, all the guys that built all these cars. I mean, it's hard to get four cars to come down here and run this well.
It's not with just a little bit of effort; it's a lot of effort. This race will carry us. When you win the Daytona 500, it kind of goes throughout the rest of the year. It's just such an important race. But they're all super special.
Q. Jimmie, even with the problems Jeff had, you spent a good deal of the race with two teammates right with you up front. That was all gone by the end of the race. I just wondered how you managed to hold on, how concerned you were when you had the Dodge drivers behind you when the end came down.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, my teammates did an amazing job. I saw where Jeff and Tony kind of slid up the track and got into the wall. I was surprised to see the 20 back so soon, really kind of working his way through the field. I knew the 24 had some damage, unfortunately was probably going to affect his race. But the 5 and the 25, those guys were doing a great job. Kyle really worked with me and helped me get some huge pushes to work the outside lane and get to the front.
There at the end, I was behind Brian. I worked with Brian throughout the race. Brian was doing a great job. I'm so proud of him and the effort he put up. His driving abilities tonight, he really proved a lot to me. His car was probably the only one that was really loose out there. That thing was dead sideways at times. Vickers was wide open, hanging onto it, driving his butt off trying to win his first Daytona 500. So it was nice to have him up there. Once I think I got to his outside, I saw the outside lane coming, I moved up to block it, and got ahead of him right when the caution came out.
I felt very good having him behind me. But once I was in front of him and dirtied the air up for him, I could see him getting real loose behind me. I kind of felt like Ryan was going to set him up at some point and get underneath him because Brian was real loose up off the corners and couldn't hold it down and that happened. I wish that he could have been up there and we got a one, two finish. Like I said, he did an amazing job tonight.
Q. Jimmie, you mentioned Jeff and Tony going into the wall. Where were you when the thing happened with Tony and Kenseth? Are you surprised that the guy who had been preaching about driver safety and using your head is the one that sent somebody off into the grass?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know what, I didn't see any of that. I was curious where the 17 went. He was so strong all day. I didn't even see what took place. That's all new to me.
Q. Jimmie, you said in Victory Lane that your off-road buddy gave you a bit of help at the end. Can you talk about your history with Casey, how he's coming on right now in NASCAR.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Casey is one of my closest friends. He actually stood up in my wedding when Channie and I got married. He is a very close friend of mine. Was one of my groomsmen. We started off racing together in the off-road ranks. His dad, Roger Mears, was one of the legends of the off-road series.
I had the pleasure of racing against Roger, his dad, and then Roger Jr., his brother, in the off-road ranks. Casey lied for a few years about his age. They kept having his 15th birthday for him. You had to be 15 to race in the series. Then I think after his third one, I'm like, "Casey, really, how old are you?" He's like, "Man, I'm really 15 now. I started off at 13." He was fast and winning races. We were teammates at a very young age in the super light division in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series.
He pursued the open-wheel world. Had a lot of success there. Made it to the top, was driving in the Champ Car division. We'd see each other maybe once a year, maybe every other year. He called me one year and said, "I'm going to come and race in the Busch Series with the Cicci Welliver team at the time. Nice to have him back, to be around one another. Moved to the East Coast, into Charlotte. We've been very close through that and even closer since we're now living in the same area ever since. I was happy to see him back there.
Just at the end of these races, if you go to the outside, no one's going to take that bait, nobody is going to go out there. When Ryan pulled up, I knew to block the bottom. Ryan pulled up. I saw Casey just stay in line because he knew he could benefit from third to second. I felt very good about that, was happy to see him come around and finish second. I owe him a lot for staying in line and giving me a big push to the end.
Q. Rick, Tony Stewart was very vocal after the shootout about aggressive driving, bump-drafting, all that. Today he had a scrape with your 24 car, maybe hurt its chances for contending. Had a scrape with the 17 car. Do you feel his actions were somewhat hypocritical, considering how vocal he was last week after the shootout?
RICK HENDRICK: I think the incident with Jeff I don't think was intentional. Jeff might have taken the air off the front of his car, I'm not sure. A lot of times you go in the corner like that, that could happen.
But I can't really comment on that because I didn't see. I watch our cars. If our car's involved, you know, I think I'm familiar with it. But I think if Jeff said that he thought they took the air off the front of the car, got into the wall, he said it was probably partially his fault. I don't think in that situation that was the case.
Q. Darian, I wanted to find out what your normal race day duties would be and what was the toughest decision you had to make today?
DARIAN GRUBB: Normal race days, I hang out in the two seats over from Chad. We have an engineer in between us that runs fuel mileage, keeps up with the race, keeps up with all the laps, green and yellow laps, things like that. I just kind of try to pay attention to what's going on in the race, see who takes two tires, how they work out, who takes the four tires, who can make it on fuel, who can't, pay attention. I scan other teams, see what they do for track bar adjustments, weight adjustments, see how it's affecting their cars.
I try to pass that information along to Chad so he can use it and make his decisions for the adjustments.
Q. What was the move of the race, as far as you're concerned?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess what got me the lead, which was the 2 and the 12, if I remember right, were on the top lane making the top work. I got up to block it. Brian stayed on the bottom. Just edged me ahead in front of Brian before the caution came out. Once I was at the point -- that was my goal, if we could get the lead after the last pit stop, be leading late in the race. I feel like the racing that takes place in the closing laps, everybody prefers the bottom. Things happen from second on back that really protect the leader. I wanted to be in that position, be the leader in the closing laps. It really worked out. We were able to get our nose ahead of Brian. The caution came out, got the lead, I could control the race at that point.
Q. Were you happy to see Newman pull out and try to go with you? They had no momentum at that point, you could just take off.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: When he pulled out, I was nervous. Once the 42 got inside of him and they stalled out side by side, at that point I felt pretty good about the victory. Trying to understand what Ryan was going to do, he was trying to get me off the bottom so he could take that spot. I was trying to block him to a certain degree, but not leave the inside open. So it was pretty nerve-wracking at that point. I was just waiting for his move looking in the mirror. He made it. The 42 stayed with me.
Q. You said that maybe you guys would be better well-served to not give as much, maybe you were pushing too hard. Do you mean you didn't give 110% because you didn't think after the challenges of the weekend you would have these opportunities? Why did you hold back or did you just soften up?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, the hardest thing being a driver, especially on a plate track, is when you have some momentum and you feel like you can pass someone, you want to take advantage of that and try to pass. But there's more to the pass than the energy that you have in your excitement, your desire to win and race.
Today I just really, you know, slowed down the pace of the race, in my eyes, from what I was doing, made sure that I made smart moves that wouldn't have me hung out of the draft. In some ways, I just didn't try to lead the race as much. I didn't try as hard to be the guy that led the most laps, made the most aggressive moves. I stayed committed to the bottom, worked with a few cars throughout the day, worked on the handling of our race car, so at the end of the race we had the best driving car. I think we did.
I was able to get by two or three cars just on the green flag lap after a caution because my car had so much speed on the inside and I could hold the yellow line. I just focused on different things and didn't focus so much on being aggressive and leading laps. That's hard to do as a driver. That's what we're trained to do. On normal tracks, you can go out there and push as hard as you want and pass somebody on your own. These tracks, it's completely different.
Q. Jimmie, how big a role did patience play in today's victory? Obviously I think it did. Would the Jimmie Johnson of three or four years ago have been able to exhibit that patience? Is that something you've added as you've progressed?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I've been trying to learn from my mistakes and learn from the experiences in different races. Today I really felt like I drove a much different plate race than I've driven before. You know, everything worked out.
You know, I did take a different approach to today's race - even the practice sessions, after we got out of the duels. I didn't worry about speed in the car, I just worried about how it drove. That's a different thing for what I've looked for before. I wanted a car that really sucked up good, had a lot of straight-line speed. The car that Darian and I worked on that's sitting in Victory Lane, we just really focused on making it handle and turn and stay on the bottom to protect the bottom, hoping that at the end of the race, we'd be in a position up front to defend the bottom.
It worked out. We had the lead. The car was doing the right things. Looking at Brian Vickers' car, he had a car with a lot of speed in it, but it couldn't hold the bottom as well, it would get loose up off the corners. We a vulnerable spot that the 12 took advantage of. I felt good about our car. We had a really good-driving race car.



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