NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Dickies 500
Topics: Dickies 500
November 4, 2007
FORT WORTH, TEXAS
KERRY THARP: We're going to roll into our post-race winner's press conference with the Dicky's 500. Our congratulations goes out to Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Cobalt Chevrolet. Jimmie takes over the points lead in the Chase. He's up 30 over Jeff Gordon. This is his third straight win. I believe it's his first win here at Texas Motor Speedway.
And Jimmie, congratulations, you're on a roll. Take us through this win here today.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you. It was a night where we started off and had a decent race car. Things got a little funny at the beginning with two tires and no tires and stuff like that where we lost track position.
But we still had a good car and was able to work outside the Top-10. And then at the end, we were on pace with everybody's strategy and never really lost track position and I was able to keep working our way forward.
Really at the end it came down to a full-blown brawl with Matt in a good way. I don't mean that in a bad way. We both wanted that win really bad. I think it was evident but how close our race cars were. It was a lot of fun and knowing I didn't have to worry about him putting me in a bad position because of the championship and he also knew I wouldn't come in there and clean him out and take him out and both of us were racing at a shot for the win, so it was really good racing. Glad to win here in Texas. It is my first win -- Mr. Hendrick doesn't have a lot of trophies from here so I'm happy to start the momentum and it's really good.
KERRY THARP: Rick, congratulations. Yet another victory for the organization. Your thoughts about the way things panned out today.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, it was a good race but like Jimmie said, early on, you had people taking two tires and we take four tires and then you would have a lot of guys up front and when we got the lap cars there, it just, you know, made for exciting times trying to get back through the field.
But it worked out. It was a great race. We had a good day. Jimmie, I talked to Jimmie yesterday after happy hour, and he felt really comfortable. Said his car was balanced and really felt good about it, and Jeff did.
Really, all of them ran good today, ran real well and led a lot of laps. You just figured somebody at the end of the race with two tires might win it and it worked out four tires was the way to go with 30 laps left. So Jimmie drove the wheels off of it, and that was pretty exciting to watch he and Matt. We're just glad to get the win here. It's been a long time since we won here, since I think Terry won.
Q. Jimmie, Matt was saying he kind of took advantage of you in situations to stay with you as long as he did. He said: 'I didn't think there was a guy leading the points, going to give him all kinds of room' -- 'I'm going to see if I can crowd him and race him as far as I can and see if he'll think better of it and maybe get him to back out of it five to go or something.' He also said one reason he was able to stay is because he thought you were being careful. It didn't look like you were being really careful from up here; were you? And also, did you see what was developing that he was trying to bluff you down because you were the points lead, or near the points leader at that point?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I didn't think of that angle to be honest but I knew that when I got inside of Matt, that he was crowding me and in doing his job to protect the win, and I could see what was coming as I got closer to him and as he moved up to the top and left the bottom for me and I knew that I was going to have to somehow find a way by; and if I didn't clear him in the corner, he was going to side draft me and blow back by me on the straightaway and be in a position to win the race. And in Vegas he blew by me on the outside, and once I got inside of him with probably eight to go, I tried for a couple laps, got real sideways and backed out of there. And I knew he was trapping me down there and backed out, gathered my thoughts and made another run and fortunately the next time I was able to clear him and get going.
I felt comfortable racing Matt. I knew he was going to do everything he could to keep me from getting by, but he's not going to run into me or side-draft me and make me get into the corner and get my car loose. He's going to race my car and he certainly did that and fortunately I was able to blow by him at the end.
At times I thought about the points, but Jeff, I knew he was getting better as the night went on and I knew I needed every point I could get and I had to go for it. That's really the position that I feel and Jeff and I are both in the remaining races. Every spot counts. And you've got to go for it and that's what I was doing tonight.
Q. With about 20 laps to go, you're about a second and a half behind, but it was almost like these races that you win all the time, you can see that you're sort of coming, sort of here you come again and here comes the 48 again. Can you tell that it's going to be your night that early on? Can you look back at that and say, yeah, you know what, this is my race if I just get up there. Can you tell that sort of thing or is it just that you've won so many times that we start to think that way
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There are times when I feel like I've got such a good car that it starts to lose -- especially when you get to the end, the last run, everybody is looking for that feeling that is going to take the run and I felt like I had it tonight. I was shocked once I got by the other cars and I got to Matt that I didn't get by him sooner and couldn't get to his bumper sooner. When I was trying to chase him down, I got to a point there that I thought, well, maybe I'm not going to get the job done. And then you started leaving me the bottom which let me understand that his stuff was start to being tighten up, the two tires weren't working and he was running for defense than really offense.
At that point, it gave me knew hope and I just started charging the bottom and trying to make something work and got it done
Q. It seems like the second half of the Chase every year is Jimmie Johnson time. What do you think it is that you guys, if you could sum it up, what is it that changes with your team or that you focus somehow more at this point or what is it that makes you guys so good in the second half of the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That is the most-asked question and I don't have an answer for you, I'm sorry. (Laughing).
I think tracks have something to do with it. There are good tracks that we see in the spring and fall and that has a lot to do with it. I feel that we have no idea. We just show up and we do the same job every week that we always do but there are certain tracks that we are better at.
KERRY THARP: We are also pleased to be joined by our winning crew chief, Chad Knaus. Chad, briefly your thoughts about today's performance.
CHAD KNAUS: It was a great team effort today. I feel like that the guys on pit road did a phenomenal job and Jimmie obviously did a great job on the racetrack with the way he drove the race car. It was nerve-wracking at the beginning with the caution flags following, you had some people on two tires, you had some people on four tires, some people staying out and on different schedules. And at one point I think we were back to 31st or something like that.
It was a little scary but we knew if we with those long green flag runs we could get back up there in the Top-5 and fortunately enough we got up there and the guys did a phenomenal job on pit road and that last pit stop, we needed to be the last race car on the track with four tires; and some people were taking two and we opted for four and went out with pit position with four cars on two tires and Jimmie did the rest.
Q. A lot happened for you today, you take over the points lead, you have that crazy finish there, does this in any way, do you think, give you any boost or momentum going into the final two races?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think so. I think that we've been on quite a roll here and going to victory lane does something for the crew and the shop that you didn't do it any other way. When you go to victory lane, there's just a buzz that goes through all of Hendrick Motorsports and really on the 48 team.
So we have momentum going our direction right now but it's only 30 points and if you look at the last two weeks, I've been able to make up roughly 60 points and with ten races left, and Jeff hasn't had bad races the last two events. He's had strong he finishes. So it's not like he's had bad nights so I can finish tenth and he can win and I'm back in second.
So we have a lot of work ahead of us and happy to be in a position to race for the championship. With good racetracks coming up for us, good race cars in the lineup and momentum from the victories, and our guys are showing up hungry every week trying to get as many points as we can.
To point out the other stuff, I just found out the purse was a nice number, 486,000. So 48, things are going the right way.
Q. The roll that you're on right now, you are on quite a roll but is there a side of you that feels for Jeff and that team because you continue to get on this roll and continue on this roll that you're hurting your teammate and your friend?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. (Laughter) This is racing. You have to check your emotions at the gate when you come in here. Motorsports is such a humbling experience and I've been very fortunate to experience in my career a lot of great things but the road getting here was a tough one and I think a lot of people know the career that I've had, and things that I've had to do to get to this point and it's been a long battle.
Motorsports will eat people up and spit them out, and I just want to capitalize on this opportunity that I have. Jeff is a great friend and great teammate, but he's also the most challenging guy out there for me to beat. And that's with all the respect in the world. But I don't feel bad for him and I know he wouldn't, either.
If something happened where he had bad luck and we ended up winning the championship, that's where I would feel bad. But the fact that we are racing as hard as we are for it right now, it's racing.
Q. Last year you were here, you were trailing Matt by 26 points and you lead by 17. Does this feel like dejavu in a way, and how does that experience last year help you psychologically going into the last few races this year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's more of a coincidence than anything. This year is so much different than last that it's tough to find enough similarities or parallels to the racing as what's gone on.
So it's tough to say. If it all works out, I guess we can look back on it and say, yeah, this is like 2006 but it's such a different year and different team that's racing for the championship. It's just totally different.
Q. You certainly have made a habit of winning races late in the event. Is this, can you rate, how challenging, how difficult or can you kind of put us in the seat in the sense of what it felt like, and how it compared to other late race battles in the past?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I would say this one's -- I'm trying to think of different events. I remember at Atlanta, after the plane went down and how hard I drove the car against Mark Martin and to win that race; I think that's probably the hardest I ever have driven a car.
Unfortunately I had a couple last laps or a couple last corner passes, and this one right there with it so I would say it's in the top three or top four of victories, only because I've been fortunate to be in this position before that I have three or four of those there. But any difficult situations, this is the top of the list. If you saw on television, I was dead sideways, Matt was sideways, and he was crowding me and trying to move him up a little bit and trying to do all that at 190 miles an hour around here, it's pretty intense
Q. Is there a point where common says back off because of points situation or does that not even enter your mind?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It enters my minds, and I feel like I was doing a good job balancing those emotions in the car and when I got inside of Matt and I tried for a lap or two to get by, I actually let him go if I felt like he was crowding me and then I would try to get back inside him -- I tried to recheck those wheels and went back after him. After seeing the video, I felt like I was more sideways than I was coming off the corners.
Q. But you being in such a tight points battle, did you ever think about backing off and just letting Matt get the win so that you didn't wreck yourself? And Rick, was there ever any talk about telling Jimmie just to back off?
RICK HENDRICK: Thought about it. I was thinking, we've got an awful lot at stake here and Jeff was running seventh, we don't need to do this, but I felt like Jimmie was under control and I was nervous and wanting to hit the button -- I was thinking it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I really didn't think about it too much. There was a time where I decided to back out and stop racing side-by-side when Matt tried to get me -- inaudible.
Q. How many drivers can you race that hard with that much on the line in the big picture, and how much trust do you have to have in the guy that you're racing because as you just stated, you're completely sideways at 200-mile-an-hour.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's only a handful. There's only a handful of guys that I would feel comfortable racing that hard with at the end being in the position that we're in.
So there's not many and Matt certainly is one and I've had a lot of great racing with Matt over the years and I think we both have respect for one another that we can get in there and do it all without running each other over.
Q. Chad, I want to ask you, he said it occurred to him to hit the button to tell Jimmie to slow down. It didn't cross your mind, did it?
CHAD KNAUS: I didn't say that
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You told me to pull out my cape and get to work.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, 39 to go when we stopped to take those tires there, I said, "Man, ready to pull out your cape?"
He said, "Man, I've been waiting all night."
I wanted to get this win. I felt like it was good for us. I didn't want to put ourselves in a compromising position obviously before he got up to the 17th, passed us relatively easy. I was a little nervous aches little tentative, but Matt is a great driver as well.
Q. You know, you're sitting there and you've got -- you said you saw the video sideways. Does the kid in you take over there? Does the kid that's been racing since he was this high, and you just live for those moments? Is that what takes over and sort of Chases common sense and reason to the back, is that where the kid takes over?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's something that takes over. I'm not -- I don't look forward to those pressure-packed situations. It's not like I sit up late at night and hope that that's a situation that develops but when I'm in them, I do a decent job in those moments and I think that's something that our team has done a really great job with, too and that's part of the makeup of this race team that when the pressure is on, for whatever reason we do a good job in those moments.
As a kid, I crashed a lot. So I hesitate to say the kid came out inside of me but I was having fun in dirt track and the car and racing, like a free spirit of sorts, just having a good time and racing hard and focused only on the win. I had a good time out there. It really was a fun experience
Q. Is there a situation where because you've raced him so many times, especially in the last lap wins or last few laps to victory that you have a comfort level that you know that this is going to be playing out the way you want, as opposed to another guy that may bang into you, that part? And the second part of the question is, Matt paid you one of highest compliments another driver can by saying the last three or four years you guys have been the best. He really appreciates that as a driver and as a competitor. Can you talk about those?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That is a huge compliment and I appreciate it. And I think the 48 team, we have looked at the 17 team as one of best, as well. So they keep us on throughout the year and collecting points and racing for a championship. I know this year it has not worked out for him but we have a lot of respect for him as well.
What was the other one?
Q. That you have a tendency, you know you can do what you want to do, as opposed to other guys who may do something you don't expect to do, like bang into you.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I knew Matt was going to race me clean and I was actually shocked he crowded me as much as he did, but it's for a win. He wants to win for his team as bad as I want to win for mine.
So I do have a level of confidence, if that was -- a lot of other drivers, there's only three or four that I would put myself next to with where we are right now in racing at the end of the race.
And also, in another way, if it was someone I didn't trust running side-by-side with, there are things that I can do to get them out of the way and I didn't have to run side-by-side with them but I didn't take that route with Matt, take back a bunch of air in the back and move him out of the race. If I do that to him, there's two more races where he can get back at me, and I don't want to do that or get into the next corner and he can do it, and we have such a great history together, we were just racing hard with each other.
Q. This is for Rick and for Jimmie. Big picture question. Fans are already IM'ing and saying Jeff is racing conservatively and Jimmie is racing aggressively and that's what he has to do to beat him. And Rick, if you could start, the weekend with Jeff struggling in practice and leading into this win, it would be maybe unfair to say that Jeff sent racing as aggressively as Jimmie and talk about the weekend and how the two matched up.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, Jeff was really fast unloading and in practice. He had a good draw and he was fast. But in talking to all of the guys on Saturday, his car just wasn't balanced. He couldn't get it like he wanted it. Jimmie was the guy that felt like his car was balanced. And so he had to chase him a little bit.
Jeff was good early on and he was even good on two tires, but then they felt like the track was going to change a lot and sun when down it had a lot of possibility -- inaudible -- and on some of those pit stops the car got in the back or running 12, double-pile restarts and the car just did not work in traffic where Jimmie's or Kyle did.
But Jeff, I've been around Jeff a lot of years and been on the radio with Jeff a lot of years; he was awful aggressive. He was in a position back there that he was having to thread the needle a couple of times and got out first. But he knows that he can't win this thing by being conservative; that's a dead issue now, especially after today.
Q. And Jimmie, were you able to help him at all over the weekend and did he come to ask you about it -- you said you might help him out and you would be more equal on the track.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think certainly on the practice that we had yesterday, a lot of teams took things that we found to help our race car in practice.
And I look at Jeff's performance, there was a time where I know how hard it was to get through traffic, I think he was as aggressive as could he have been to stay up there and after the teams sharing stuff certainly took its place last night. I think the 5, even the 25 had a great day and Jeff ran strong, too.
So I think based often what we did yesterday, we helped out the whole organization.
Q. I know it's probably not as easy as it seems from your position but seems like you guys have this timing thing down where guys work on the car, work on the car and bring it to the front at just the right time. Can you just sort of talk about how you guys managed to do that on such a consistent basis?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Rather start up front and stay up front. But long races work well for us. I don't know why, I don't know what it is, but if we focus on the right things during the race and get the car to drive well for me, get to the end, if I can get in there and race for a win and be there at the right time -- we've won a lot of races in different situations.
This week I picked up four tires and had to race up there for the win and we've had extremes the last two weeks but I really don't no what that is.
CHAD KNAUS: A lot of it has to do with the configuration. He does a very good job of training on a weekly basis, he pays a lot of attention of what he's doing to get prepared for a long race. And honestly I thought a lot of guys, if they get towards the end of the race, they start to fall out of the seat a little. I think it has a lot to do with him for sure.
Q. Matt came on the radio right after the race and apologized to his guys and said, "Did everything I could, and when he passed me, I think he was playing with me a little." Would you say that's a fair sentence?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. My four tires were better than his, too, that's for sure. But I couldn't clear him and he did the right thing to slow me down and keep me from passing. I knew if I could clear him I could check out and get away from him, but I couldn't get the pass. I tried twice and the second time I got it.
Q. There was one point where Matt was very sideways. He said he thought he was sideways the whole time. Did you see it either at that time or maybe on the replay, and what was going through your mind when he got that sideways with about ten laps to go?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I saw it on the replay what I was just giving an interview in victory lane and he was really sideways and I had no clue and he still was able to sidedraft me and slow me down and get to my outside.
So it tells me when he was crossed up like that, he never checked up -- so he was doing everything he could to win it, too. I think he wins the award for being the most sideways if that's even a way to phrase something. I had some good, long slides but he had that thing crossed where you could see the number on the side of the door.
Q. What was the problem that you had with the glue on the visor and how did you get that taken care of during the race? And last week you won with a two-tire call and this week with a four-tire call. What were the factors that made you choose those different ways?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I couldn't really do much about it and we were afraid if I had a rag with something on it that would -- it would faze (ph) the shield itself and I just had to run with it. I think all of the years I've spent racing on the dirt and not really having best vision kind of helped and worked out for me. But the flat, vertical stripes across the visor when I pull off, first time I've had a problem. It usually comes off pretty easy and when I was pulling on it was real tough to get it off and I was concerned it was only two behind and sure enough it left a bunch of stripes right across. But I got used to it once I got in the car and got going, I kind of got ahead and it all worked out.
Q. Tire call?
CHAD KNAUS: Two completely different dynamics. Atlanta, it was going to be a very, very short run. So we felt confident that we were playing the card that with only four laps to go when we took the green flag that track position was going to pay off and fortunately it did
Here with 30 laps to go, four tires was going to be king and so we were, like I said before, we were fortunate enough to be the first one with four tires on the racetrack and it worked out
Q. Three straight wins, can you put into perspective momentum, what that means for a team, I'm guessing it doesn't give anybody a tenth of a second but can you explain what momentum can mean for a team especially now you've got two more races left?
CHAD KNAUS: It's a great thing. It's a very powerful tool obviously as long as you're able to keep it in check. Momentum can just as much be an enemy as it can be an asset because you'll see guys go out there and they will start to gain momentum, get a little cocky, a little lax and have a mistake.
I think our team does a good job of taking momentum and turning it into a good thing and using it to almost like an energizer. When you go to the racetrack feeling comfortable with the decisions that you make it, makes me feel more comfortable when I'm making the pit calls on the pit box that the guys actually have good pit stops; so it boosts everybody's energy level up a good bit and obviously with the way Jimmie has driven the last few weeks, it helps.
Q. Anybody who wants to take it, we have a lot of talk these days about points and points racing and points this and points that. You get this sort of buzz from the fans that the drivers don't necessarily race that hard for wins, and I know that drives drivers and crew chiefs nuts but no evidence of that tonight. To me this was a good race for this sport at this time of the year because it showed the points leader, basically giving, just putting it all up on the line to win this championship. Do you have any sort of extra sense of pride that not only you took the points lead the way you did, but just basically lay it all out there.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was really excited and the checkered flag fell, the win with everything on the line like it is right now, being pushed so hard by my teammate and me needing to perform -- again, I don't look forward to this but now that I'm in the situation, this is what -- this is what I want to be a part of. I want to win a championship by out racing the best in the business.
So I agree with you, I think it is good for the sport, and I think that these final two races are going to be the same way. Jeff is trying as hard as he can and I'm doing the same and hopefully we can do that all the way to Homestead.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, when you see guys like Martin Truex running hard all day, and Junior running hard -- inaudible -- had a problem on pit road and he was fast. He had to run hard all day and then he had to make the right cars and then the cycles that he got off, cycle a little bit and he had to pit a few laps early and then the caution came out what couple went down, so he had to run hard.
When I looked at the 11 car and Matt Kenseth, Matt drove him and ran him hard and Denny made a mistake, or they touched, I don't know whose fall it was but he broke loose and cost him -- and I had replays of that when I saw Jimmie up there with Matt. But again, like he said, if it had been the 12 or the 1 for a win -- they have to back off.
And I think coming into the Chase, I thought this we were going to have to race hard every week and run the Top-5 or Top-10 and the guy that ran in the Top-5 that one -- just don't have any bad luck. I think the fans got their money's worth because I know our cars, Kyle was running the wheels off of it. One are the scary moments was when he went around you on the outside, three-wide and one down there and took the lead and came in and took four tires and they came out a couple of spots behind Jimmie. This Chase deal, everybody is going to have to bring their A Game.
Q. I think some people may not remember how taken aback a lot of people were when you decided to hire a guy that not a whole lot of people really knew how good he was, six or seven years ago. How much better is Jimmie as a driver at this point than maybe you thought at the time he would be when you made -- when you and Jeff made that addition to put him in a start up team like that.
RICK HENDRICK: To be honest with you, I think he drove far ahead -- in the Busch car, he was impressive. But I remember meeting with Lowe's and Lowe's chairman was sitting there saying, "Can you win?"
Jimmie said, "I can win." We went to Charlotte and saw some things right out of the gate that were phenomenal, car control and feedback, and Chad being -- not having any idea how good Chad was going to be, so to sit here today and tell that you these two guys -- Jimmie just gets better and better.
I think if you ask other drivers in our camp, they will tell you he's a student of the sport, and I love to listen to him break the corner down and he will break the corner down in five sections and talk about it when he's running 190 miles an hour about how the car lands. It's phenomenal, you have no idea. And we're very fortunate, give both of them a lot of credit. We had a rough start.
Q. Kind of a two-part for Chad and Jimmie. Can you talk about how opting out of the Atlanta test earlier this week affected this weekend performance and how you guys performed for the rest of the season?
CHAD KNAUS: I think that obviously, we've worked all season long to get to the point to battle for the championship and that that's where our focus needs to be right now. We're fortunate enough at Hendrick Motorsports to have teammates that our teammates in the 25 or 88, I don't remember the numbers how they had them jumbled up but basically Kasey and Dale were testing and we can go back and poor over their data and see what they have and apply what they have learned at their Atlanta test to our Las Vegas test to prepare for next year.
So it's really helped me getting prepared for Texas and it's a short turnaround from Phoenix, as well. So we had to prep our Phoenix and Texas cars to come out west and needed to get that done.
Q. A lot of guys in the Cup series who use the Busch Series to get extra time on the track, but you and Jeff, don't really do a lot of the Busch races but leading the points and running away with it and making it a two-man race. What are your thoughts on that whole situation and would you like to be run are more Busch Series races or a nationwide next year? How does that play into how you guys are successful throughout the Cup series?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think that Busch racing -- as much horsepower they have and the shorter wheel, it just doesn't work and I would go out on a limb and say not really -- inaudible -- and just finally got two more recently. It's a great place to cut your teeth and great place to get recognized, but there's a big difference between the two cars, and I'm just much better with the higher-horsepower Cup car than the Busch car, and I think Jeff is in the same boat.
So I'll run a few during the year and have fun with. I'll go run the Busch race and run my guts out to run eighth or ninth or whatever it is and they be hop in the Cup car. I think you look over history and see guys that dominate Busch and get in the Cup car and doesn't necessarily work out and you have guys like Stewart and myself, that didn't have the best Busch career but have had a great Cup career.
KERRY THARP: Thanks a lot, congratulations, have a good week, we'll see you in Phoenix.
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