NASCAR Media Conference
November 15, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Without further adieu, I'd like to introduce our special guest emcee for the event. He's the 1989 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion. Without a doubt one of the greatest drivers in the history of NASCAR, and now a member of the NASCAR broadcast team for ESPN on ABC. Please welcome, Rusty Wallace.
RUSTY WALLACE: Thank you very much, everybody. And welcome to the 2007 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Championship contenders media lunch, which was a lunch a little while ago. We have 35 races under our belt right now. One to go, and two teammates racing each other. It is just amazing to me that you have a car owner right here who has both guys chasing for a championship. It is amazing.
With only 86 points between these guys, you think about how many races they've run, how many laps they've run, and it's come down to that little amount of points. Just a couple of weeks ago it was down to like 3 or 4. That is just something.
They've both worked for, in my eyes, the all-time gentleman of racing, that is Rick Hendrick. One of the finest car owners I've ever met in my life. And, Rick, congratulations on what you've accomplished this year.
Now I want to talk about Jeff Gordon. Jeff's won six races this year. He's a four-time champion. This guy's cost me a lot of money. I've got a lot of second place finishes because of him. So let's take a look at his year.
RUSTY WALLACE: Jeff, last week you were obviously dejected the way you ran. Which was a Top 10 finish, which is great in my eyes, and you got out and said it was done. And I know you, I don't think you mean that.
JEFF GORDON: You've got to look at what we set out to do. It's been a fantastic year for us. Our goals were to be consistent, to be strong. We had a few failures last year and some mistakes that were made that cost us an opportunity at it.
So we set out to do exactly what we've done, which is to have an awesome average finish throughout the whole year. A shot at winning races, a shot at the championship. And you know, when you go into the Chase and you have an average finish of about a 5.2, and you're 86 points behind going into the final race, there is no doubt that that's pretty frustrating. So it just says what kind of year Jimmie's had.
We're not going to give up. We're going to go into this weekend's race giving it everything that we've got. We want to end the season on a positive note. And no matter what, you know, the outcome is, whether we get it done or not, it's been a fantastic year for us.
RUSTY WALLACE: A lot of other teams that have gone for a championship and are in the position you're in now, they go into this last race with a killer instinct. Like, I've got to sit on the pole. I've got to lead the most laps, I've got to dominate and hope that somebody has bad luck. Are you going into this race with a different mindset?
You sound calm now. Last week you almost sounded a bit defeated. But you do have a chance. Jimmie's got to have a problem, but are you in the kill mode right now?
JEFF GORDON: Well, to me, yeah, we'll certainly accept the trophy and the check and all those things up in New York if we win this championship. But we also know the only way we can win it this weekend is if Jimmie has a problem.
Doesn't stop us from doing our job. Our job is to go out there, try to lead the most laps and sit on the pole and win the race. That's our job every single weekend.
We're not going to change anything. I was at the shop this week with the guys. They're fired up. We're bringing our best car. We're putting everything we possibly can forward to put the best effort we can.
I mean, I guess the only way that things are going to change for us, and how we approach things is if Jimmie has a problem. And we don't wish that upon anybody, and certainly not our teammate.
I'm just proud of Hendrick Motorsports, and the fact that this championship is going to come home to Rick Hendrick.
You know, we've got the best car owners, best support organization. To have two of these teams out there with a shot at it, it's fantastic. Either way, like I said, it's been a fantastic year.
We're not going to lay down and just ride around. We're going to go out there and do our best and see where it all ends up.
RUSTY WALLACE: Thanks, Jeff. Well, Jimmie Johnson is our points leader. He's the defending champion. This guy's on fire right now, guys. You're talking ten wins this year. Nowadays, I was telling a writer a little while ago, when you win ten races now, it's like winning 20 races a long time ago.
He's done an incredible job. He's won four in a row. And if I remember correctly the last time a guy won four in a row is when you did it, Jeff, in 1998. Have you taught the guy too much?
JEFF GORDON: I guess so. I guess so (laughing).
RUSTY WALLACE: Let's take a look at Jimmie's year.
RUSTY WALLACE: It's been an incredible year for you, buddy. You flat rock 'n' rolled throughout the year. But last week Chad was saying we have to race every race the way we've been racing which is what got us here. But I guess my question to you is how are you going to race this particular race different, because this is a different race?
JIMMMIE JOHNSON: It certainly is a different race for us, but I really feel that if we try to do anything different, we're going to make mistakes. And we've got a great race team. I feel that we can come down and work well on Friday and qualify well. That will make life a lot easier to get track position, and get pit stall pick, and get into the race and do what we've been doing.
Keeping in mind that there is a certain spot where we need to finish, and pushing the envelope in certain situations may not be the smart thing. But leaving Phoenix in the roll that we've been on, in my heart of hearts, I feel we can come down here and have another shot at winning the race.
So I feel very confident in what's going on with those 48 team. And hopefully, we can come down here and really run well. Have an event without any problems and be the champions again.
RUSTY WALLACE: A lot of drivers go into the championship hunt and they're racing another fellow. They're racing a guy that's, you know, I'm not going to say don't care about them, but they care about their own team. They're to win the race for their owners, their sponsors, themselves and stuff like that. How tough is it to race against a guy that is your owner?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's tough in some ways, but in other ways it might be easier knowing the respect we have for one another, and the goal of making sure we win the championship for Hendrick Motorsport. It's complicated, and it is tough at times. But having someone you know so well and have so much respect for has made it easier in a lot of situations.
RUSTY WALLACE: Have there been times where you wanted to rough him up a little bit, but thought twice?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, think we've both shown that we're willing to race hard and aggressive with one another. You know, Martinsville is always a good place to use the bumper. I don't think this track this weekend is the best for that, but we certainly race hard.
The one thing I pointed out to all of us, I think Jeff and I both, outside of racing each other, we have a lot of respect for what we do and what we race with. You don't see us caught up in a lot of pushing and shoving matches. Not only does that work racing as competitors on track, but it's also the way we race each other.
So we've been able to carry that respect with the other race teams, and obviously, through our situation and how complicated it is racing for a championship.
RUSTY WALLACE: Well, both of you, good luck. Hopefully, you have a great race. May the best guy win. I know it will be sleepless nights the night before the race, that's for sure.
Rick Hendrick, one of the sport's greatest owners. Real smart guy, and personal friend of mine in the industry. Rick, congratulations on what you've been able to accomplish, buddy. Lot of people would love to be in your shoes, that's for sure.
Well, you've won four races, four championships with Jeff Gordon, you won a championship with Terry LaBonte. You've won a championship with Jimmie Johnson, and now you've won your seventh title. No matter what happens, you win either way.
I think everybody in this room, including myself, would like to know how do you make all this happen? What do you do, and what is your philosophy to get all these guys winning all these championships?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think it's 7 and a half, isn't it?
RUSTY WALLACE: It's all about you.
RICK HENDRICK: No, it's what you work for. It's what you plan for. You don't really expect to establish it. And every year when you start out, you tell all the guys and all the teams that if it comes down to us, that will be a good thing, but we've got to worry about everybody else out there.
I think it's just an example of how all of the teams are working together, the crew chiefs. I've been really proud of the 24 and the 48 coming down the stretch, because of the 95 people in that one building, about 70 of them work on both cars, and the road crews are different.
But they have continued to share, the crew chiefs are sharing. The 5 and the 25 want to see one of these cars win. And those guys are trying to help all they can. So the organization has really worked hard.
But these two guys are the leaders. They've set the example for the rest of the guys. I'm just proud, I'm just honored to have the talent that I've been able to be associated with, because these two guys are class acts. All the rest of the folks there feel the same way. We're just really blessed to be in this position.
I look at the stats, and it's been an unbelievable year. But the guys have sure worked hard to get here. Somebody's got to lose Sunday night, but with the kind of year both of these guys have, it's a shame they can't split the trophy. I don't think they want to do that, but it would be easier on me.
RUSTY WALLACE: There are a lot of car owners paying a lot of attention, for sure. But we see you at the track a lot of all the different teams you own. I'm watching you pacing back and forth, a little nervous looking. But it looks like you're really into the game, more than most people I see. How much time do you spend with people at the race shop? They might hear you quite a bit.
RICK HENDRICK: I do spend a lot with the crew chiefs. And there is an awful lot of planning involved. You know, when you're looking at the future, you're trying to stay at least abreast or ahead of the pack. And it takes a lot of commitment from the engine shop and the chassis shop.
We've really tried to look every year at our competitors and see where we're short. One of the things we practice all the time is you want to be just a little bit better every time you go to the racetrack. Even though you're running good, how can you be better?
I love what I do, and I look back to everything I've ever accomplished in my life to racing, and feel very honored that I'm in this position, and a lot of people have worked really hard. But it's something that I've always loved, and it comes easy for me to be involved with the guys. I like to work with the guys.
It's all about the people. It's not anything about me. It's the guys whether it's Jim Wall and Jeff Anders in the engine shop or the chassis guys or Ken Howes, and Marshall Carlson who is a GM. It takes in today's sport, it takes so many qualified people to make this thing happen. And I'm amazed that we've been able to, you know, put this much together.
Then you look back at guys that have been there from the very beginning. It's something easy that we all want -- I don't want to say easy. That didn't come out right. Working with people is easy, trying to keep abreast of what's going on in the sport.
I'm just real proud of all of the folks back there. Because I think these guys will tell you, it's not about the 48 and 24 shop, it's about every single person that's there, contributing, working hard, being on the same page and having a common goal. Just being proud of whichever guy wins it out of either one of the shops.
RUSTY WALLACE: Jimmie, Jeff, you guys are truly remarkable. No matter what happens, you're always winners. I'm going to turn this over for some questions and answers now.
THE MODERATOR: We're going to have our Q & A session
Q. Last week Chad said the thing that elevated your team from championship contender to championship winner was the decision that you didn't have to lead every single lap of every race. You really slowed down and paced yourself. Who was the first one on the team that realized that? When did you realize it and how did you adopt that as a strategy?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Personally, I think a lot of it focusing on the right things had to do with Mr. Hendrick's advice and leadership. As a driver and crew chief, that's what you want to do, you want to win every practice and qualifying session and race and on and on. And we were probably focusing too hard on some of that stuff, and got into some ruts. And Rick, with his people skills and ability to look over the entire program and see where we need to be better, could see that.
Still today, he helps us look at the right things and understand that, you know, you need to be there when the checkered falls. It's not always about the other stuff. You need to be good, and you need to be strong.
But you can't whip the people day after day. You can't whip yourself to perform at all times. You've got to take some time to develop people, develop the program, and that's, I think all of that especially directing it, and helping us channel it in the right way is because of Rick.
Q. As you've watched each other through this Chase probably closer than you've watched each other race before, perhaps, has there been anything about what you've seen each other do that's surprised you or you've noticed different? Or you've noticed a guy that you've been impressed by? As you've raced head-to-head like this, have you picked up anything about the other guy that you never noticed before?
JEFF GORDON: I feel like all year long it's been very similar to what was seen in the Chase. All year long, the 24 Dupont Chevrolet Team has been very solid. Qualifying better than we have before. Consistent in knocking down those Top 10s, Top 5s, and getting the wins when the opportunity presents itself.
The 48 team has outperformed us throughout most of the season, but they didn't have the consistency. You know, they had some problems along the way. So they weren't up where we were in the points after the first 26 races.
So it's no surprise to me when we get in the final ten that they have been able to perform the way they have. I maybe wouldn't have predicted four in a row like they've done. That's been very impressive. And I stood in with the other drivers, the crew chiefs and engineers in our meetings and debriefs every weekend. We know their set-ups and they know our set-ups. We know the times in practice and everything that goes into it.
I think the job that Jimmie and Chad have done on that entire team is phenomenal. I can say that because I've been part of a team like that, and I know what it's like. Our team is so close, but they're not quite there. And that's where we've had a great, solid year. And if it comes down to being consistent, then we're the guys to beat.
But if it comes down to being on top that have leaderboard at the majority of the races then the 48 team, they deserve to be where they are, because that's how they've performed.
I really, honestly, we've lived up to every expectation that I felt like we had going for us in our team. We came into those final ten knowing what our strengths and weaknesses were. And our strengths were that we're solid and consistent. We don't make mistakes, but we're not as fast as the 48 in a lot of the tracks. And we hoped that that would get it done. And so far to this point, it hasn't.
We've got one left. And we don't want to wish anybody any bad luck. So if those guys keep doing what they've been doing, which I don't expect them not to. I think it's going to be very, very difficult to see anything different happen than what we've been seeing the last several weeks.
I mean, Jimmie, he's impressed me. The reason why I suggested him to Rick Hendrick is because he impressed me before he was ever in a Cup Car. And I really thought if we put him in the kind of car and equipment that I had been in for all the years, that he could have the same type of success that I had. And to me, he has the capability of having more success.
So it is pretty awesome to see it come from way back then to where it is now and to see how he's matured. He was always fast, but he had to control that. And it took for the first year I saw huge improvement. For the second year I saw him become, you know, he was battling for the championship. And he started to become aware of what it took to be a champion.
In the next several years, he had all the qualities to win the championship, and finally last year, he pulled it off.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think I've been in a fortunate situation, even through my driving career before coming into Motorsports where I've been paired with a championship team, and a driver that is a champion or was a champion the previous year where I could study them and try to learn from them.
If I go back to my off-road days, I was very fortunate in desert and stadium, even through ASA, and working with Gary. I've always had someone to look up to, and to try to learn from coming into Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff was certainly that for me, and I feel it's been good for me. And maybe now I'm at a point where Jeff can start looking at my stuff.
But I've been so trained to look at my superior or my teammate's driving style and what they do, that under the last five or six years I've been studying Jeff and his driving style, and I've learned a lot from that.
I think of Martinsville, and Phoenix, and I've been studying Jeff's driving style so much that it's helped me go to those tracks that weren't so strong for me and were better for him, and I could apply the things that I've learned to that. And help my team go in the right direction with set-up, and the things I do inside the car.
One thing with Jeff, that this year, I've always been impressed with him, but this year he's done a great job in leading Hendrick Motorsports and helping out with the 48 Team is with the Car of Tomorrow. Since the first time we were on the track with that car, Jeff has had a an amazing feel for what that car is doing.
How the bump stop works, how the car feels underneath him when the weight is transferring, he's had a good feel for that car. And early stages of the Car of Tomorrow, Chad and were a little frustrated with it. Didn't really find a clear direction. And I think Jeff and Stevie picked up on it right away, and got us going in the right direction with that. So that is really the biggest thing through the year, on top of the other great things that those guys do.
Q. With Jimmie looking to go through and winning the final race, I think back to Texas when you said that you thought about hitting the microphone button and playing "Slow down" when he was hot and heavy into it with Kenseth. Are you any more likely because it is this race, would you be anymore likely to hit that button and say slow down? Or are you just going to let these guys rip and do what they want to do?
RICK HENDRICK: A lot of times I want to hit the button and say something, and I do. But this race is going to be between the two of them, and how they want to approach it, and how they want to drive. That race we didn't have the comfort that we had going into this race. It is just going to be one of these two. So I'm just going to watch.
Q. Same question for each of you guys, if you don't mind.
Since we've seen you, you've always sort of done the right things and said the right things and neither of you swings a helmet or cusses on TV and has to apologize the next day?
JEFF GORDON: Why are you looking at me? What did I do? He's going to tell the real story when you get down to answering your question.
Q. It's to the point where it's almost perfection that's almost not real. So to help us believe us that you are sort of human. Because you each say what you find the most annoying thing about the other guy is, in all sincerity? Like his most annoying trait? Thank you.
JEFF GORDON: Jimmie annoys the heck out of me because he wins all the time (laughing). I mean, I think the biggest difference between me and Jimmie, he's a morning person. He's a morning person. That is like I don't know if he does the coffee thing anymore, but he used to do four or five cups of coffee, and be wound up at the first practice. And usually I don't get going until the second practice.
So I'm more of a night owl. But, no, the only thing he's irritated me with is the four wins lately. I've got a 5.2 average, and I'm 86 points down going into the final race. That irritates me.
No, I mean, that's the thing about Jimmie and I, we became friends before we became teammates. Even though the whole time we were talking about racing Hendrick. But no, I don't think there's really anything irritating that you do that I know of. Rick knows the irritating things about both of us, I'm sure. He should be answering this.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't really have, with Jeff, I don't have a lot to say on that front. But we are human, we go through emotions. We get frustrated. We've had moments where we didn't agree with what was going on on the track. But we've always been able to talk through it and have that respect for one another. And it's funny you bring that up, because on the car ride up we were talking about that.
JEFF GORDON: By the way, we rode here together. I know that ruins your story even more.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think a lot of it has to do with our up bringing. I'll share my story and let Jeff share his. But when we were kids growing up, I think our parents set the tone. Yeah, you can be mad, but there is a way to carry yourself and be a good sportsman and have sportsmanship in anything.
When I was a kid, I was riding -- I was young enough, I was still on the 60cc class, which is a smaller bike. But I could ride the 80cc bike, and compete with the kids even though it was an older class than what I could ride in. And I was riding both classes that day. And I was riding the big bike, and I fell down, and I couldn't pick it up. And I was mad I couldn't pick the bike up. I was running well, and I kicked the gas tank of the bike. And little did I know my dad was standing there and watching the whole thing and how I handled it. And when I kicked the bike he yelled at me and said, Hey, what did that bike do to you? You don't treat your bike like that.
So I had to sit there and watch the rest of the races going on. So my parents teaching me sportsmanship at a young age has carried on through this. It doesn't mean I don't get mad. I think we've just learned how to carry ourselves growing up through the ranks of racing, and how to be respectful to people.
I know it stinks from time to time.
Even when I watch other sports you want to see hatred, and fights and juicy stuff for television, but I guess we're just not doing that, and we're sorry. We don't want to do it either (laughing).
Q. Can you talk about the trust that you have developed with Chad through the years here, as you have evolved into a championship contending team? And to what degree do you think that the championship you won last year kind of elevated him into a crew chief that people look at and say, hey, you know, he's a champion as well. And has he become a household name just like yourself. And Jeff, could you talk about Steve in that regard?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think through the six years it's been racing together, we've always been committed to Chad can and stay staying together and working together. We've had tough times and that comes with any relationship. I feel like the tough years of losing championships and leading into last year's championship for us made us stronger. Helped us sort out the positive qualities that we see in one another. And that allowed us to work on the things that we weren't happy with each other on. And through that we've formed a great bond, great friendship, and great respect for one another, and created a great working environment.
With winning last year it kind of solidified all of that and validated what we were doing. It's given us a clear direction to focus on now. I think before we won last year's championship, we didn't know where to apply things, and where to work on things. We knew we had speed and could collect points.
But until you win a championship, you have a lot of question marks, what's important? After winning last year's championship, it was easier for us to see the direction we need to go, and the direction we need to follow. And I think that's due to experience. We've had a great run, and I don't see it changing any time soon. We're working really well together, and understanding each other well.
JEFF GORDON: I think the thing that Steve and Chad have in common is both of these guys work at Hendrick Motorsports early in their careers that they were a part of a championship teams. Or the 24 Team when they were winning their championship. So they got to work from the ground up, and see how teams run, you know, the positives, the negatives. You know, what it's like to battle for a championship. What it takes as a team to battle for a championship, and so they've been able to take that experience that they've had and utilize it.
For Steve, he's a guy that's worked for us for a long time, but I just a long time ago I felt like this is a guy that has the quality of becoming a crew chief one day. And that was able to become a reality a couple of years ago. And he's just done a phenomenal job. He's stepped up in more ways than I ever thought he could.
I thought he had the ability, and he's even surpassed what I thought he was capable of at that time. He's just a sponge. He's a quick learner. He knows people, he knows how things are done at Hendrick Motorsports. He knows what it's like to be part of a championship team and what it takes.
Last year, we didn't qualify as good as we felt we needed to. We had some issues to pick through. He took the team on and said, you know what, I'm going to make these decisions.
It's hard for a young guy like that to come in and make those types of crucial decisions and have the confidence in himself, you know, to be able to follow through with them, and yet he's been able to do that.
He and I, we click. We work together very well, and I think we're only going to get better, because this is our first year of battling for the Championship, our second year in the Chase. I think we've learned a lot this year, and there is only more we can learn to be better for years to come.
Q. After your Charlotte win, you said I don't care what happens. If I don't win the championship, this is my year. And we all look at that and understand that. But isn't there a twinge of disappointment that that championship could have made this year even -- it could have completed it for you and now if you don't get it, there is no void. And if Rick could talk about the changes with Jeff as a father, and speaking to his year personally?
JEFF GORDON: Well, when you go through becoming a first-time father, there is nothing that's going to top that. It is the ultimate. I've won championships before, and as bad as I want to win this one, I know that even that can't top becoming a dad and that whole experience.
So, yeah, of course I want to win. I agree it would make it just kind of put that cherry on top, and that would be a year almost too good to be true, to be honest: To me, if Jimmie wins it, we've both won, because I've had something to me that means the world to me by becoming a dad. And I know how badly he wants that second championship. So either way I'm not going to be disappointed.
Sure, as a competitor, you want it. As a competitor, I'm pushing as hard as I can every weekend to get it done and so is this team. I feel like the team deserves it. They've really done a phenomenal job putting themselves in position to win this championship.
So from that standpoint, we don't want to hang our heads and feel disappointed because it's been a phenomenal year on and off the racetrack, and we'll see what happens on Sunday. But this is a young team. I feel like there are more championships left ahead of us if this one, not me the driver, I'm not. I'm getting old. But this team has a lot of championships left in them in years to come. So if this one slips away, we go for it next year.
RICK HENDRICK: First off, he's as competitive as I've ever seen him. He wants it as bad as I've ever seen him want to win this championship this year. But I have never seen him as happy as a person as he is right now with Ella and Ingrid. And I've never seen him in Victory Lane as excited as he was in Talladega, because Ella was there, it was her first time.
And it was -- so I think from my standpoint watching him. As competitive as he's ever been, wants to win the championship as bad as he ever has, but he's happier in his life as a whole than I've ever seen him since I've known him.
Q. You sort of answered my question before, but I'm wondering, do you feel sort of hour glassed to your career, sort of running down? And is there a frustration that your opportunities are limited going forward and getting this close? One other thing I wanted to ask you about, you mentioned a few weeks ago it's hard to compare different eras. And I'm wondering, is this becoming the Jimmie Johnson era?
JEFF GORDON: There is no doubt that I look and one of the reasons why I think this championship was so important to me this year is because as you do get older, you look at your opportunities as becoming slimmer and slimmer. So here's a great opportunity for us to get it done.
I feel like I've got more good years left in me. But I've got to admit, we've put together one heck of a year. It's going to be hard for us to top this type of year that we've had. Six wins, all the Top 10s, Top 5s, consistency, you know. A great, solid team. I feel like, well, maybe I haven't had the speed at times that Jimmie's had. I feel like I've made really good decisions on the track as well as Steve on the box.
So this has been one heck of a year. And to have a year like that at this point in my career and not be able to get it done, there is no doubt in the back of your mind there is some frustration and thoughts of how many more of these opportunities are going to come our way? How many more years like this?
So, yeah, I hope there are more.
But it's hard to say. Yeah, you know what, Jimmie is -- I mean, I can't speak highly enough about this guy. Again, I know the equipment, I know the people, I know the set-ups, I know everything, and he flat out can drive. He's been showing it ever since he came to Hendrick Motorsports. And while he's been there, he's been learning from me. I'm going to have to learn from him now if I'm going to step up to what he's put out there on the racetrack.
So this is definitely, if you look at the last five years, nobody has performed five or six years, however many it is, nobody has outperformed Jimmie if you look at wins you look at championships. I guess Stewart has maybe won more, but he's been in the sport longer.
But I really think nobody has been able to step up to what Jimmie's been able to do. And I think Hendrick has played a big role in that.
I remember in '98 when we won our 13 races and the championship that year, you know, everybody wanted to question or find who is the greatest? And I always said no matter how good you are, there is always somebody better. No matter how great your team is, there is always a team that can be better, and you have your time. And I've enjoyed my time. I hope it's not completely over. I don't think it is. It's been a great year, and I think we've got more left.
But Jimmie is definitely on top of his game. He sets the mark. And he's the mark that we all have to aspire to and look towards. I'm just glad that Hendrick Motorsports, and I can see his driver data and try to learn from it.
Q. At Phoenix Jeff talked about when you're blistering craft he likes to go check out your set-up, but he's terrible at it. To what degree do you do that now versus what you maybe did earlier in your career looking at his set-up, and how has that worked for you through the years?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The set-up side probably doesn't cross over as maybe when we first got started. When I came in, we rode through the first year, and Chad had some ideas and wanted to move the cars in a different direction, but we would have been foolish to do anything different.
So we patterned ourselves after the 24 car. So once we got comfortable, and kind of figured out what I needed, and going down a little different road but that road is dictated by our driving styles. And the tracks where I've adapted, really studied Jeff and thinking about how to drive a car. I've seen the set-up of the car gravitating in that direction.
So there are different techniques you can do in the car, the way you use the breaks, how hard you turn the car and what you look for in those instances that I just know how. Even when Kyle Busch is running strong, I know what Kyle does and how I should change my style. I try to do t it doesn't always work.
But I look at his data and understanding that. So Martinsville, Phoenix, Loudon, places like that, Jeff has as little different style or a different set-up, and I've tried to go in that direction mentally, and I've had some success with it. And that's probably what takes us down our different roads.
Chad has a unique way of looking at a car and wants to maximize grip in different areas. He gets aggressive, and sometimes I struggle with it. And he sticks with it, so we sort it out. And I have my style of driving, and Chad's in his own little world from time to time trying to develop a better car and a better package, and a different way to do it. I think he thrives on those opportunities. Give him a couple weeks, he's going to sort it out and figure it out how to make that work, and that keeps us moving forward.
Q. Jeff, last I looked, you're the owner of the 48 car. So if you wanted to not enter it in the race this week could you do that?
JEFF GORDON: Well, unfortunately, they don't allow you to put on the entry blank co-owners, because I think Rick would definitely have something to say. I went over there this week to the shop and looked at the 48 car, the engine a little bit, made sure everything was nice and tight (laughing).
You know what, to me, this surpasses when I think back when Rick and I were talking about the 4 teams of Hendrick, I don't think, and I know for a fact he wasn't thinking that this opportunity would ever present itself or he would have never included me in on it.
But I think, yeah, we all thought about this and tried putting this together, this would surpass having these two teams battle for the championship and, you know, certainly as a competitor, I want to win more championships. And really, the whole reason that we wanted to bring this team on is because we looked at the way Gibbs is doing it, and a couple of other teams out there where had he had two teams under one roof, and it's not like that was the future, and that's what was going to help continue the 24 Team to battle for championships.
As well as the 48 has done, they've outperformed us the last several years, here we are battling for a championship. And I don't know we could say we'd be battling for this championship without that 48 Team being in there and continuing to take it to the next level and pushing all of us at Hendrick to excel and be better. It's a good problem to have, let's put it that way.
Q. Just want to ask you, if Jimmie wins the championship a second year in a row, how does that impact the sport? In a sense of what does it do for a driver? How do you try to beat this guy? What does it do for crew chiefs and opposing teams you earlier talked about how he's setting the mark, and the question about this being the Jimmie Johnson era. So looking beyond this weekend to 2008, this guy wins it two years in a row, how do you top it? What are the challenges out there for drivers, crew chiefs and owners?
JEFF GORDON: It's funny, because from that side of it is it is -- you're in a better position one because you know every single detail about their car, their set-up, how Jimmie drives it, because you have all the data right there. On the flip side of it, you have all that right there, and you're still running second.
So I think that most of it is going to come down to Steve and myself of our communication. How we can break down the segments in the corner, each racetrack, each race car, and get the most out of it. And I think that is one of the things that Jimmie and Chad do very, very well. Is how they break it all down to his driving style, to that set-up.
Certainly Chad is bold and pushes the limit there. And Jimmie's, you know, a driver that can push the limit of the car with the set-up. So, obviously, I think one thing that we worked on this year from last year was to be more consistent. To qualify better, and run up front more.
We've done that, now we've got to perform even better. We have to make the cars faster. And I'm going to have to look at all the details. Things that I'm doing, thing that's Jimmie's doing. Any of our teammates that they're finding success with and see how we can push those limits as well. From the performance standpoint of the set-ups.
Obviously, we've got Car of Tomorrow next year, so a lot of things are going to change. But there is definitely room for improvement, because we've got the mark right there. And we can use that to only benefit ourselves
It goes back to the whole reason why we have four teams. You know, it's because we want these teams to push one another in order to make all of us better. In order for at least one of us to be the champions at the end of the season. And here we are, back-to-back championships. Hopefully we can utilize that to come back next year and make it three in a row for Hendrick.
Q. First you've had ten wins this year, the most in your career. What is left for you this season? Are you going after that fifth straight victory? What is left for you? Are you chasing Jeff's four titles? What are you talk hoping to accomplish in the future?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, we want to come down here and have the same mentality that we've had, and hoping that we can leave here winning a fifth race in a row would be the plan of the championship. But we've got to take the race as it comes and be realistic about this weekend's race.
The situation that developed during the event, every championship battle I've been in in the final race, there's been some type of drama, and we're trying to prepare for that. I never in my life thought that I would be in this situation.
I had no clue I would be here with 33 wins, 32 wins, I'm not sure what it is, something like that. Whatever it is, it's a lot. And fighting for a second championship, and being part of this great organization, it is so far above and beyond any and I've always had high goals. It's so higher than any goal I've set in my life, and I'm like all right. What's out there?
And I would love to be in position to have a race win like Jeff does or championships. And that's kind of where I guess I would set my mark, even though it is so far above where I thought I'd be. I'm kind of laughing about it. I'm saying, yeah, let's go for those goals. And I feel like I have a lot of years of driving ahead of me. And being part of Hendrick Motorsports, I know I'll have a chance to win a lot of races and championships.
So I don't have a specific goal ahead of me. But I'm looking at the record books and would love to try to reach Rusty's goal with wins. Jeff's goal with wins. There are a lot of guys up there that have had amazing careers in this sport. And I'm honored to be where I am, and I'd love to get up there and raise my ranking in those situations.
Q. You suggested that the decision to restart the race, and whether that came in, could you talk about that a little bit? What do you think was the role of that race in the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Looking back now, I think the 20 car is dominating that race. I don't think it would changes today point situation. If I remember right, Jeff, we were both a lap down at that point, right? So it would kind of keep us the same.
JEFF GORDON: It depends how you look at it. I'm sure from the 20 car standpoint they're thinking all of our momentum was lost, and it changed everything. But if you look at the races since then, they certainly hasn't been able to put up the numbers to match Jimmie or even myself.
So it's easy to say had that been done different, that maybe we'd be looking at a different chase contend error championship contenders now. But I don't know. I was on the flip side where I wanted it to go back racing, and some guys were on the other side of it not wanting it to go back.
So to me it came down to the fans and what they deserved to get, which was racing is until the sun went down, and that is pretty much what they got.
Q. Rick, you've won championships in the old points format, and you've won a championship under the Chase now. What is your feeling about the Chase format? And do you think it's lived up to expectations now that we're in the fourth year of it?
RICK HENDRICK: I think the Chase format has made it real exciting for the fans. And it's done what it's supposed to do. I personally am an old fan of the old format, because it just (laughing) -- because it just you look at the last ten races there is so much racing luck involved. And we haven't had any bad racing luck in the Chase.
And Matt Kenseth has run well, but he's had some bad luck. Not taking anything away from what our two guys have done, because they've been phenomenal. But you can't help a cut tire, and you can't help rain and all the thing that's can help to you in that situation.
So I guess this is a phenomenal run by these two cars to be in this position with the average finishes they have in any other year, in any other way, in any other chase scenario probably would have been a lot closer with a lot of other guys. But they were almost picture perfect every week. So I think the Chase has worked for them.
RUSTY WALLACE: There is one thing we don't know, who is going to win the championship, that's for sure. One thing we do know is you two guys are going to be looking at each other a whole lot more than you've ever looked at each other in your life this weekend. And we know Hendrick Motorsports is going to bring themselves a championship.
So Ricky, congratulations with that. With that said, thank you for helping us kick off the championship this weekend.
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