NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Pep Boys Auto 500
Topics: Pep Boys Auto 500
October 28, 2007
THE MODERATOR: We have from the No. Number 48 Lowe's Chevrolet team, Jimmie Johnson driving, he has the lead cut in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup, trails his teammate, Jeff Gordon, by nine points; Chad Knaus, crew chief; and owner of both the 48 and the 24 car, Rick Hendrick.
Gentlemen, congratulations, maybe we can just start with brief openers from each of and you. Rick, give you honors.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, it's a tight race and it was a good day for Jimmie and the guys and just a good finish. It was a wild finish. We've got three more to go, and see if we can -- if our nerves will stand three more events here.
But it's looking good right now.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, it was a great day. You know, we really love coming to this racetrack. It's a great facility and it's a fun racetrack to race and prepare a car for. We didn't probably do the best job of preparing the fastest car, but we were fortunate enough to be there at the end and to be able to get the victory and it was a great day for everybody in the 24 and 48 shop. We got two Top-10s, and that's kind of what we were here today to do and it was nice.
THE MODERATOR: Our race winner, whose winnings will be donated to Red Cross Wildlife Relief Effort. We don't have the exact figure yet.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, today is a great day on a lot of fronts, in so many ways. We had a good car today and as Chad pointed out, probably not the fastest, but his pit call at the end was really what put us in contention to win the race and got the job done for us.
I think that -- I just think that it's going to be a fight to the end. We took a good bite out of Jeff's point lead today, and it's going to come down to a position or two in the next three races.
And now I feel really good about where we are in the points and we can go lead laps, we can try to lead the most laps and really race for this championship over the next three events. So I'm very excited about that.
And then also with the California Wildfire Relief Fund, Mr. Hendrick and I were speaking last week, beginning of this week and we talked about donating the purse, Lowe's has jumped on board, Mr. Smith, Mr. France and I've heard of a few other corporations matching the purse today.
So we feel confident over a million dollars would be raised and sent out to the Red Cross and hopefully it encourages other people to get involved. Lowe's is using their other stores -- (inaudible/line static) and whether it's a special paint scheme, if it's for a charity like today, we seem to deliver and get the job done, and I'm happy about that.
Q. Last week you said it was your goal when you started the team to have two teams battling for the championship, but three races to go, is that going to happen?
CHAD KNAUS: Looks that way. When I sat down with Mr. Hendrick and Jeff Gordon and Jimmie, and Brian Lewis and Tom Whitezel (ph) in 2002, wintertime of 2001, we said that that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to build a team that was capable of battling for wins, battling for championships on a weekly and on a yearly basis. And, you know, I think this is the first of many years to come that hopefully we can continue to do that.
We've got a phenomenal staff with our engine development program, they have had the duty and task of developing the R07 engine as well as maintaining the SB2, and the guys in the chassis and body program and maintaining the Monte Carlo and improving it and testing and improving the Impala. So it's not just what we have going on in the 24 and 48 shop, but what we have going on throughout Hendrick Motorsports, and it's a great feeling.
Q. How much of a testament to the crew chiefs and everybody on the 48 and 24 teams, when Jeff was having a day that could have been tough for him as far as the points goes and he was in the 20s and Jimmie was able to come out with the win; what does that say about the people with those two teams?
RICK HENDRICK: I think what we have learned in racing is that you can't give up and you've got to continue to work on the car. And I think when I looked out there at one point and all three of the cars were in the top six, and then Kasey was 12th, you know, that's our goal is to try to run up front and you know, only one car can win a championship.
But we were fortunate enough to battle to the end with Terry Labonte and Jeff at one time, the last race that was decided and Jimmie's was awful close in '04 and so we're used to not giving up, and you have to count every point
And I think one of the strong suits of our organization is the relationship between crew chief and drivers. And they talk during the race and Jimmie kind of dissects the car and tells Chad what he needs, and Jeff and Stevie the same, and Alan and Kyle the same, and Kasey and Darian.
So the communication is great, and it's not over until it's over. And we've had some breaks that don't go our way. I think Kyle had it rough, if the caution hadn't came in, probably would have won the race. You just have to be ready, and again, communicate and try to make the car better and not just give up. So that's a testament to these two guys and the other crew chiefs and drivers in the organization.
Q. Chad, can you explain the thought process behind that last pit stop, and is that a situation where you are always looking for an experienced position in that case?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think so. We are real fortunate that Friday started out with a good qualifying effort and got it where we wanted it.
And obviously you cannot perceive what's going to happen throughout the event. It's not like football or basketball where you know the cautions or innings are going to be done or when the quarters are going to end. When that caution came out, we knew we didn't have a car capable of winning the race at that point. But usually late in the race when cautions come out, cautions breed cautions, so track position was going to be important.
So we were fortunate to see guys taking two cares and made a call to take two tires and went with it.
Q. For Chad, maybe with about 30 laps left, you and Jeff running pretty close together on the track, was the thought try to save fuel by just running together instead of real racing? And probably the last thing, do you think you would have made it?
CHAD KNAUS: At that point we weren't really running with the 24. We were ahead of them, I believe -- I don't remember what was going on there. I think we would have made it or very close. The fuel mileage was getting better as the pace was slowing down. So I think we would have made it.
I can tell you this: We were not going to stop and it would have been exciting to see how it would have played out, and if the caution came out we were in a position to win and would have gone for it for sure
Q. Do you feel the fact that the championship is being pretty closely fought between two teammates, two guys out of the same race shop, it's taking a little bit of the drama and out of the championship for the public?
RICK HENDRICK: I don't think so. I think the guys are racing each other really hard. Each one wants to win, and I think to the Jimmie Johnson fans and to the Jeff Gordon fans, it's a battle. And they have put on a really good show at Martinsville and they raced each other hard and they raced each other clean. So I don't -- it sure has not taken any drama out of it for us, so I hope it hasn't for the fans.
Q. Can you just tell us what you saw on Denny Hamlin with the restart when his car didn't go and how you managed to get through, around, over, between, or whatever happened?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, coming to the restart, I saw him swerving the car a little bit. And looking back on it now, I think he knew early off of four that the car was running out of fuel, got an air bubble in the line or whatever it was.
So I guess looking back on it now, I know what he was doing, and as we got up to the restart line, he didn't take off but he left the right lane open. So I was looking out there thinking, all right, he's taking us deep into the starting area where NASCAR kind of let's the leader takes that control, and he wasn't going. And I could see everybody stacking up and I was starting to ease by him at that point and I saw the flag man throw the green, and he never accelerated, so I took off and realized at that point that he had a problem with the fuel pickup. And everybody stacked up after that.
So I have to give Denny some credit because he could have made that one big mess, and he did pull down and leave me a lane to get by on the outside
Q. Just how aware were you throughout the day of Jeff's struggles, because he was as far back as 21 at times. And also, for Rick, tomorrow the Car of Tomorrow test, what are you hoping for out of that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We struggled today, as well, and it seems when we were struggling, the 24 was running well and then it kind of flipped at the end. We didn't have the best of days. As the race went on, we got much stronger. Chad was making a lot of great adjustments on the car. I think the first three or four adjustments we were trying to find direction with the car and what would wake it up and then Chad got on to what was working for the car and bringing the comfort for me to drive it and we improved the car a lot throughout the event.
I paid very close attention to where the 24 was and I saw his struggles but I knew just deep down inside that those guys would fight back and be in the Top-10 when the race was over.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, tomorrow is going to be an important day for not only Junior -- Tony and Dale Junior, but Kasey and Alan. They are going to be working together for the first time, trying to decide what they like and just starting the communication process.
So tomorrow is going to be a big day for those two guys, and we are glad to see it get started, because Tony has been there working with the guys and has some ideas, and they have a lot of things to test and there will be a lot of information brought back for the 24 and 48.
So it's a real important day, and it's kind of a day we've been waiting for, so pretty excited about it.
Q. Carl said a couple of times that he thought it would have been a heck of a race if the green and white checkered had gone on through green, can you describe how you saw it? Were you confident you would have held him off anyway?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think so. We got a really good start at the end, and, you know, I had four or five car lengths on him getting into turn one. Our car was the best it had been, and I'm not sure where he had been running before the caution.
I do know that Carl would have been committed to running wide open and doing whatever it would take to win the race. I assume it would have been a great battle but confident we would have been able to hang on and win the race
Q. I was struck by Rick's comments on Jeff Gordon's fans and Jimmie Johnson's fast, because don't you think some people like Jimmie and some like Jeff, and that for those fans, there's really no loser here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Is that to me or Rick?
Q. Jimmie will be fine.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think the potential is there but there's more drama that you have two teammates racing for a championship anything. I think there's more people paying attention because of the drama and what team is going to race each other and what's going to happen. It's not like we are out there just giving each other position and pulling by, "Hi, Buddy, go on"; "no, sorry you go through." It's far from that and I think that is putting a lot of drama in our sport.
Q. I was talking about the fans, not and you Jeff.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I go ahead booed so much, I don't know if I have any fans.
RICK HENDRICK: If you remember Talladega, it was a Jimmie Johnson fan with a 48 shirt that was throwing beer cans at Jeff. There's a lot; they are diehard fans and they are don't care if they are teammates. They are Jimmie Johnson fans and they are Jeff Gordon fans, and they are not going to be happy if the other guy wins.
So, you know, I think the fans appreciate hard racing no matter who it is, and they like it when the cars mix it up and get up front, and nobody is cutting anybody any slack. You know, there's a lot of racing left, so I think you saw today, the fans appreciate good, hard racing.
Q. Jeff said earlier that there were quite a few drivers having tire problems. What's your opinion?
RICK HENDRICK: Do you want to repeat that? I'm not sure I can understand what you were saying there, something about tire problems is
Q. Jeff Gordon said earlier that GoodYear must design a new tire for the Speedway because a lot of drivers are having tire problems so what's your opinion about the subject?
RICK HENDRICK: I think this is an older racetrack, and I think I kind of like it when, you know, it wears the tires out and different cars hit the setup get to run up front. I didn't see that many blown tires today. I guess there was a few, but I think they were getting into the fence first.
I think GoodYear for the Car of Tomorrow test, that's one of the things it's all about. This car won't be back next year and we'll have the Car of Tomorrow. They have already done a tire test here with the Car of Tomorrow and then we'll have a lot of cars out here tomorrow testing on that tire.
And the difference -- it's going to be totally different between the car we ran today and the car we run here next year. So I think GoodYear has done a good job and they are going to continue to work on it and we'll probably know more tomorrow night than we do today.
Q. Could you explain what the thought process was in putting Junior in the 5 instead of the 88 when he goes out for the test?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, the 88 is not until next year and the 5 car is now and it's a 5 team and the 25 team, and the 88 is next year. So actually Junior wants to do it and we're bringing back the All-Star racing car. And it's exactly like it was when we started with the same 5 and the same logos and City Chevrolet, my dealership, that was a lone sponsor on it at the time.
It's a little bit of history coming back, and, you know, again, the cars that are out here to race now are the teams, the 25 and the 5. So that's why we are going that way.
Q. Jeff sort of mentioned this but I'll ask you, we've been trying to make this a two-guy race for a month now, but the point of the matter is, all you really have to worry about for three races is him beating you and you beating him and it will take care of itself. Is that the mentality that you have or do you have to think about other things?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, we both need to finish in the Top-10 I would say, would be the first goal. The 07 had a good run today and then three good tracks coming up for him. So we can't get to another where we're making mistakes and having issues and running 15th because the 07 can close up if that's the case. If we're running the Top-10, and then look for the 24, going to start outscoring him from there. Just so we don't end up in a situation where it's a three-guy race, I know the fans would love it to be a three-, five-, six-guy race come Homestead, but for us, Hendrick Motorsports would like to keep it a two-car race.
Q. At this point you guys have just sort of beat the Hendrick -- inaudible -- do you have any advice for them or should they just start rooting for you now or wait until next year? What would you say?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know how to answer that one. I've always been one that wanted my stats to speak for me and have always been focused on racing and what I need to do for that and whenever I needed to do to get my shot to win races, to be a part of a company like Hendrick; I sacrificed it all.
So I've never really been very good at playing into the fan base and getting that energy going, so I feel that over through time, that winning races and winning the championship last year has brought a lot of respect to the team and myself. Even if it's not a 48 fan, I think people respect the fact that we have been able to win races and fight for a championship so that's the road I've been going down and just let my stats speak for me;
Q. This is the last race here on this track for this generation of cars and with coil-bound suspension, and with some of the tire issues that we have here, it's pretty fast and pretty scary in these cars. Down the road, will you look back on this race with any special pride with this last generation of cars?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Without a doubt. I didn't realize it until you brought it up. Things will be much different years to come. I'll be excited to see how tomorrow's test plays out and get it rubbered up and get some great information on what the Car of Tomorrow will do. It's an intimidating racetrack, and it will be interesting to see how the next few days go for everyone. But that's a great perk for today and it's a victory that I didn't think of until you brought it up.
Q. For Chad, you're obviously a great strategist out there but it got to be more than just strategy for you and Steve. There's got to be anticipation and luck, even when you have a bad day, you can find a way to turn it around and make it a good day at the end. How do you explain that?
CHAD KNAUS: I don't know. I can promise you that neither one of us give up, and that's been instilled in us from day one with the crew chiefs that we work for in the past, working with Ray Evernham and paying attention to the way that Rick runs his lifestyle. He never gives up on anything and he's a mentor of mine for sure.
If you ever get to the point where you feel that you're in a submissive position, then you're going to be beaten, and we really don't allow that to happen.
You know, we never stop working on race cars throughout an event and we've been in races where we've crashed and practiced and got to the back of the pack, and we always try to look for the upside potential; and that's the way we live and that's what we go by. The day that we stop doing that will be the day that things like today stop happening for us, so we can never give up.
Q. The second to last restart, Kyle Busch had a slow pit stop and was caught on the radio saying, a bit saltier, "Don't say another word to me if it comes back wadded up." Just wanted to get your thoughts on that; seems to suggest that he might not have less than the highest regard for your race cars. Any thoughts on that? Did you hear it or anything like that?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I did not hear that. I'm sure he was frustrated as good as he was running, and, you know, to be leading the race and kind of have it going your way and then a caution comes out and you come in and have a bad stop, but there were good stops that put him in that position earlier.
I kind of look at things like that as when guys are frustrated and some of them handle it better than others; it's just one of those things that we'll all talk about it next week. But I think Alan and the guys put him in a great car and he drove his butt off today and he's just disappointed. I think that's just the way it goes sometimes.
Q. As we get further into the Chase, you and Jeff have talked about your friendship, but can you have a normal friendship or relationship in the next three races with so much on the line?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't see any more challenges ahead of us than kind of what we have now, what we've been dealing with. You know, we're both very competitive and we've been through this a bunch already. But there's a level of respect that I think Jeff has for people he races against, including me, and I have the same.
And we are racing each other for a championship, but if it was Tony Stewart Jeff was racing for the championship or Kurt Busch, he wouldn't race any differently, nor would I if it was me in that situation. It just the same challenge that we've had. We need to go out now and perform one another. Whoever outperforms the other guy is going to be the champion the way this things is shaking out. I know his weaknesses, the weaknesses of his team, and I'm going anything I can to exploit any weakness I can find and capitalize on that and I know Chad is doing to do the same thing and that's what the 24 guys are doing to us
So we are really bringing the best out of one another and we are being required to step up our games to both the 24 and 48 shops and keep just keep duking it out. It is not impossible to -- I was thinking about this earlier. If you look at Skinner and Hornet and the battle that they have going on on the track, two pretty intense drivers, but great friends. And it's not impossible and I don't think Jeff and I are the only ones in this situation to be racing for a championship and be friends with one another.
I think there are some teammate situations out there where there is not as much love flowing around and guys are not being as good as they need to as teammates. But at Hendrick, that's something we work really hard on. And I can think of other really great teammate situations that exist out there, and if those guys were in the situation, it would be the same thing. It's just a level of respect that everyone likes to operate with.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, gentlemen.
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