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NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil

Jimmie Johnson
Chad Knaus
November 11, 2007


AVONDALE, ARIZONA

JAKE HARRIS: We're now joined by race winner, Jimmie Johnson. This is Jimmie's 33rd victory in 200 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races, and his tenth victory in 2007. Jimmie, why don't you tell us about your run out there today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think we had a third place car most of the day. I think the 17 and the 1 were probably the best two cars.
I was really impressed with Matt. I think at one point he had 30-lap older tires than I did, and I had fresh tires and I couldn't catch him.
I think everything worked with the 1 staying out, the 17 will two stops with just rights, and the 20 car, and then we're there with new or less on the right side like those other two cars.
Everything just came together for us. We finally figured out what our car wanted, to roll the center a little bit better without sacrificing corner exit. So we were just coming into our groove, and circumstances on tires worked out and off we went.
JAKE HARRIS: We'll go with questions

Q. Jeff said out there "it's over." The only way he can win is not to beat you for the title but for something to have to happen to you. So what are your thoughts on that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The lead that we have, it's a nice, comfortable position to be in. But we've got to go down there and run 400 miles. That's bottom line, we don't run the full distance of the race, we're in trouble.
It takes some pressure off, it certainly does. But we're going to go down there and try to keep it simple like we've done at this point. Go out there, run our race, do our thing. I just heard a stat outside where no one's won five in a row. Let's try to get that. Ten in a row? That's wrong? Oh. Yeah, that's not going to fall (laughing).

Q. You seem kind of subdued for the guy that got out of the car and just won his fourth straight race, and the other guy is conceding the title. Is it just your nerves, you don't want to say it's mine yet or are they old hat?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm just trying to keep it simple and not get caught up in things. Last week was a good example disappearing and going on vacation for a couple days. Not reading or seeing any highlights on TV, nothing, I was completely out of the loop.
I hope I can do that this week. Show up, keep it simple, and get in the race car and go.
I don't want to act like it's our championship yet. We have a nice margin in the points right now. But 400 miles, that's my goal. I have to run 400 more miles, and we'll get nuts after that.
JAKE HARRIS: We're now joined by Crew Chief Chad Knaus. Why don't you take us through the race from your point of view.
CHAD KNAUS: It was obviously a phenomenal race. The Lowe's Chevrolet did great all day, And Jimmie did a great job of driving. We were in a position where we could have had some misfortune racing some other people and maybe been back in the back than we'd like to have been.
But right now our mindset is to try to be in position for the end of the event, and that's what we did. And the pit crew did a phenomenal job. We took two tires on that last pit stop, and it worked out well for us. So it was a great day.

Q. I heard you say just doing my job. You talked about keeping it simple. Has that been, for both of you guys, probably, just a key thing without getting caught up in all of this stuff, just go out there and get to work every Sunday?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think that's true. We've all learned that as the years have gone by and we've become more experienced in this deal. When you're a new team coming along and going through the experience and success and all that, it's tough to not keep it simple. I think that's what experience has done for us. We're able to, at least as of now keep it simple, and we've got to do it one more weekend. Then I think we'll get what we're after to this year

Q. You are the first guys since Jeff in '98 to win four straight. It's the most wins since Jeff won 13 in '98 and about to become the first two-time champion since Jeff. Why don't you guys points race? What makes you so confident to go after these wins? Why not play it safe?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I need every point. There's no telling how things are going to go in Homestead. And I know how good Jeff Gordon is, and I know how good his team is. If we put our guard down and don't try to score maximum points every week, we're going to get beat. That's just how good he and that team is.
We've been in the right position, we've had a race land in our laps in Atlanta. We got one right this week, we got one right last week. We're getting it right and we've been very fortunate to have that. We're just rolling.

Q. With the accomplishments you've racked up in NASCAR'S playoff type thing, it's almost like you've become Tom Brady-like. I don't want to call Chad Bill Belichick, but I guess that would be your title. When you think of the accomplishments you've racked up, it's pretty phenomenal, because nobody's as close to the amount of victories as you are in the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wish I understood more about football (laughing). That's what my wife tells me. I know Tom Brady's hot, and they've had great success. But we're just doing our thing.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, what he said. We're not doing anything different than anybody else. Quite frankly, the biggest reason we're successful in the chase is the work regiment that we have at Hendrick Motorsports. The time we're able to give them to give them time off to get rested, and the workout that Jimmie has, I think that pays dividends.

Q. In New Hampshire almost under your breath you talked about your driving, almost embarrassed to take any credit. How hard is it to take any credit for your driving?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'll let other people talk about it. I'm not one to bring it up and pass myself on the back. I've been doing my part for the team and giving 100%. That's one motto we always talk about on the team.
If everybody gives 100%, we'll get what we want. That is the confidence we have in one another. Keeping it simple. I don't want to get caught up in any of that stuff. I'll just go up there and drive my butt off.

Q. This season they always become strikingly similar to Gordon's season in 1998. Some might say you're beating him by racing like him when he was at his very best. Is it ironic for you how similar the seasons are?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We haven't talked about it or thought about it. We felt like today we had a good car. We felt through the team meetings we had, we felt the 24 would get some points back on us today.
So we're just entering each race optimistic, and giving 100%. We haven't drawn any comparisons to Jeff's season to our own success in the Chase and how we've been able to outrun that now we haven't thought about it or talked about it. We're just focused on maximum points and trophies at the end of the year

Q. (Indiscernible)
CHAD KNAUS: It was a great dynamic back then. With the 24 and Ray. And I think we've got a little magic to that right now. If somebody could bottle it up and sell it, it would go for millions. When everything's going right, and your driver is switched on, and your team's switched on, and the engine's going right, and all that stuff is gelling the way it's supposed to.
It seems like this can't happen. We're just fortunate to be here and take full advantage of it. We've got to thank Rick. If it wasn't for Rick, neither one of us would be together, so it's all up to him.

Q. I wonder if you felt the tension, Jimmie. And if you feel like it's destiny that fuel this is evening. You guys went early in the week, and I asked the team if you were stressed and they said you went driving shifter cars at the Bondurant school. Just helping with the stress?
CHAD KNAUS: That was for fun. That wasn't stress relief. We go to Bondurant, Jimmie and I have been there several times driving Vets and stuff like that. In the spring I went to Bondurant with the guys. And this fall Jimmie was able to go.
No, we're having fun. There's not a lot of stress right now. Everybody's doing everything to the best of their ability. And as long as you're doing that, you feel good inside. The stress doesn't build up as bad, but when you start to doubt yourself, you get stressed.
I think that starting last year, really the last three years, we've been understanding the balance how to give ourselves a break mentally so we don't get into a stress situation. Taking time to go carting shows -- and this guy never takes vacations. I think he took one this year, right? So that's good it was a step in the right direction. Well, I forgot about the six-week vacation. Never mind.
CHAD KNAUS: You're the only one that didn't get that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I forgot about that one. But over the years we've learned that you will burn yourself out. Chad has admitted that I have, and within our team we've worked to have second back-ups and third back-ups and you have to be take a weekend off.
We remember a shop guy take a week off and went on vacation with a deal that Lowe's put together for us when we won the championship last year, when you give the guys a break and let them let go of everything, it really helps.

Q. Jeff Gordon conceded out there. It wasn't just a concession speech. He sounded befuddled, almost broken. Here's a guy who had a 300-point lead wiped away, and he's averaged a fifth place finish through these nine races. And it looks like he's not going to the championship. Can you emphasize what he's going through what that team must be going through to look so good all year long and come up short?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think we all knew it was going to be a great Chase and competitive Chase. You were going to have to win races to be the champion. Including us. None of us expected this. So it's hard to really understand.
I can imagine the frustration. They've been running well and strong. They haven't had terrible races. We've just been on a roll that's unheard of. We're going to take full advantage of it and try to do it one more time.

Q. No one has reached double figures in victories in frontline years. The drivers that finished second and third both said they would not have considered it possible in this day and age. Would either of you have considered this possible?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think so. I think when we won the 8 in '04. I think we even talked about it and said that was probably going to be the high win number for this decade from here forward. So to have ten really is a surprise to us.

Q. Go back to 2005, and it seemed like you guys wanted to kill each other for a couple weeks. Since then, it's been as strong as it ever was. You always talk about turning points and cross roads and do either one of you sit back and say if Rick hadn't let us work our way through that, look what we might have missed? Has that hit you yet?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There was never any discussion of us splitting up. Rick was afraid we were going to kill each another at one point. I can say from my side since Chad and I started working together. I want to drive his race cars. From here on out, there is just bottom line. There is something that we have and the way we communicate and our backgrounds in racing and the way we look and describe a car. I've never wanted to go anywhere. We never wanted anything to take place before we'd split.
But being as close as we are, it's like a brothers relationship from time. And after '05, we both wanted it so bad, and when you want something so bad, and it slips through your fingers, doesn't mat he were what it is, you're watching it slip through your fingers.
And we're watching the 20 car and it slip through our fingers and just outperforming us, and it was boom, boom, boom, just driving us nuts. And Rick saw it, and sat us down, like what? You guys don't want to go anywhere, you want to be together, so let's get this on the table and talk about some stuff.
So he wanted it so bad, and I wanted it so bad, we're butting heads in the process. So the core values are what we always wanted, and once we understood that, it's just the frustration of wanting to win, and my voice, my frustration, we kind of work through it.
CHAD KNAUS: Wherever the rumors came of us splitting or going to another team were false. That was something that just got brewed externally, I don't know where that came from we're great friends, we have a great relationship. And we wanted to work through things back then.
Like Jimmie said, we wanted it so bad we were blinded. And sometimes you can't see the forest through the trees. We had Rick. If you had some other team owners they would have taken me, put me somewhere else. And taken Jimmie and put him with another crew chief at the first sign of turmoil. It just shows that Rick's pretty smart.

Q. After last year and this performance, you've put down the stretch, are you liking the Chase better, and does it take away from some of the pain of a couple years ago?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think the Chase after the first year came to an end, and I could see what it did for our sport and growing our sport, that helped me a lot.
I have, I think one year if the Chase was in effect, I would have been the champion. The next if it wasn't, I wouldn't have.
But when you start the year, you know what the rules are. You've got to go out and race them. And we just got beat those years. So I don't feel like I've gotten anything back from winning last year. We know what the rules are when the year starts and just race for them.

Q. Jimmie, there's always this talk about this being like '98. You're turning into the new Jeff Gordon. Now, he's still your team owner. He was instrumental in you getting into cup. And you've learned a lot, I guess, by racing in the same shop. What would be the keys that he's instilled in you that you're using at this level of suck he is?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, first of all, he would say it, too, and I don't want to be called the next Jeff Gordon. I'm Jimmie Johnson. I've always done it my way. You talk to him, you look at our driving styles and anything we do, we're on opposite ends.
So we do have some common interests. We've been close friends, but I'm not Jeff Gordon. So get that part out of the way. He has, I think when business men or yourself maybe with your career, you look at the guy that gave you that first chance.
It wasn't really my first chance, but it was my chance, it was my shot, it was Jeff. And Jeff was put in a position by Rick to say I want this guy to drive our race cars. They were talking about the fourth team and what was going on. And Rick came to Jeff and said you believe him that much, put some skin in the game. Let's start up this team, and put some partners in it and get Jimmie Johnson and put him in the car.
So I look at that and he gave me my shot. For him to be as open and honest about what things take place on track, and what to expect off the track and business and fans and sponsorship side, he has been a big part of my success. And I'd say, keeping me between the lines.
I've still got to get in the car and do my things. I still have to beyond with my team and do all the things that take place. But he's got to understand the parameters of the sport so I didn't get off track to make any mistakes.

Q. Earlier you said that every point is valuable. Did you learn that lesson more than anything in 2004, that final race? Because at one point in that race you would have had the championship if you split by 8 points. If you lose next week, a or win next week, a lot of people are going to say this is a dynasty in the making.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Every point matters. Being so close at the end of 2004 or whatever, 5. I certainly do remember that. The other side of it and what we're becoming, we're not focused on that. We're just trying to get victories and trophies. We think trophies look cool in our office. We keep it simple. The rest will fall into place.

Q. You were probably four races into the Chase, a lot of people thought it was going to be a crime if he didn't win. But since that time you've stepped to the plate, and now it looks like it would be a crime if you didn't win the championship. Talk about how late in the year you've kind of taken over the role as a driver who has had the best season?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not sure what it is, why, or how it works out. But it's been what the 48 team has had through the 6, 7 years, whatever it's been that we've been around. We've had an amazing year, and regardless of how this shakes out, the 24 and 48 could not have done more this season.
All the victories we've had, and Jeff's been leading the points, I've been leading the points. I'm not sure if the 07 mathematically has a chance. So it's going to be a Hendrick car (laughing). With that funny comment, I lost where I was at.
CHAD KNAUS: I think that 50% of the victories that are possible for this year have been won by a Hendrick Motorsports car. So I think that's a pretty phenomenal stat. So that is a pretty cool stat for Hendrick Motorsports

Q. What is the history of the car you're using next week?
CHAD KNAUS: We go with the same mentality. We'd love to win at Homestead. We've never won there. So we've got to go there and try to win the race. The car that we're taking is the same car we won with in Atlanta. Same car we won with in Texas. It's one of Lowe's. It's a pretty phenomenal race car. We took the cobalt paint off of it, and put the Lowe's paint on it, and we'll take it to Homestead.

Q. One thing Brian talked about is when they looked at hiring you, you didn't think you were doing differently things in cars that they wanted to. When you came into the sport, you seemed that you raised the bar going out on a faster pace. Now into the Chase everybody figures you have to be top 8, top 9 type of finish. And you guys just got a top 5, and he's still not winning it. How challenging is it to raising the bar and staying ahead of game? Because it seems that you guys have kind of changed the sport in a lot of ways?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I'm really glad that -- I don't know, it's kind of cool that Brian would say that, and I'd like to be that guy. I'd like be the guy that's pushing obviously. But we always try something.
We unloaded here on Friday, and we had some stuff that was a little bit different, and we tried it. Showed some promise. Didn't quite think it fit the situation we were needing right now, so we changed it before we started racing. This morning we did some stuff that was a little bit different that we hadn't done in the past for the car.
So we're always trying to push and make our race cars faster. I don't know if it was Texas or wherever we were. And Jimmie came on the radio and said you must be pretty good, you're happy. I want to be the best race car, and I know we have the fastest driver out there, and I want to do my best to give him the best race car.

Q. What did you not like on Friday (Indiscernible)
CHAD KNAUS: I'm not going to tell you what I did, but?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We got scared.
CHAD KNAUS: No, it was good. We maybe pulled the plug earlier than what we should have. We talked about that. But there is a proper time and a proper place for everything. And it wasn't the proper time and the proper place. If we had been a half second faster in the field, it would have been like I guess we got him this week, but we try to be smart about everything.

Q. Before last season you guys got so close so many times. You won the championship last year. And now this. What you're going through, Chad, for you. I know you're in the office, in the shop every day working. What's it like for you to see all this come together and see how much success you're having week in and week out?
CHAD KNAUS: It's great. I love it. I've said it many times, I love my job. I do. I love every aspect of it. The thing I'm proudest of if you look over our history as a team is we've been able to battle for the championship every year. The thing that is the coolest about it is we haven't battled the same team.
We've battled, the 17, the 97 the 24. Everybody's had their turn out there, and we've been the team that's been the most consistent over there and been able to battle for the championship every year. I love that. I love that we've got staying power. We can continue to do that.
That's got a lot to do with guys back at the shop. They continuously work. And evolve with what we've got. They talk about how I like to learn new things, but we have 560 people all trying to figure out the next new thing. So it's a pretty cool thing?

Q. How do you explain four in a row?
CHAD KNAUS: Very fortunate?

Q. What will this coming week be like? Will it be easier to get your guys to concentrate on the job or tougher? How will you approach the week?
CHAD KNAUS: Our guys do a pretty solid job. When the chips are down and the pressures on, our guys step up. It's been a trademark of our team. Whenever something bad happens or if we get behind in a race, they rally and want to do well. They want to prove their worth.
I think going into Homestead, it's going to be a business as usual weekend. It is a great racetrack for us. It's a track that we could potentially win at if everything pans out properly.

Q. To win this you're going to have to score -- if Jeff leads the most laps you'll have to score 1620 points in the Chase to win it. The highest before this is 1483. It's just been that kind of a year. Everybody in the world has their own point system. Anyway you add it up, except the old way was to come out with you guys in any chase you would win it. Do you feel like this system, that you've mastered something about this system? Or does it just reflect sort of the way -- you don't have any secret here, it just seems to add up in your favor because of your pattern? And by the way, next we're bugging you about having that lull, just tell us to go to hell.
CHAD KNAUS: We know we've been in this championship hunt for a long time for a lot of years. We've learned, we've observed. We've paid attention. We've watched what other people do. If I could say that we had set in plan in motion at the beginning of the year and we knew we would come into the Chase and win four races in a row, there is no way.
I had a meeting with guy guys before we went to loud on, and I said we need to have an average finish of 9.0, to have a championship, and that was way flipping off base, obviously. But this team responds to pressure.
Jimmie responds to pressure. He's a great race car pressure, and the best out there. And we've got the best equipment out there. We're just peaking at the right time with everything we've got, and it's our job to make sure we continue.

Q. Not a lot of crew chiefs have one championship, very few have two. I think Zippy is the only current crew chief that jumps out at me real quick. Where does that put you? Where do you rate yourself? And maybe, Jimmie, you've got some thoughts on that?
CHAD KNAUS: I can't rate myself. I don't know where I stand. I think there are a lot of guys that are a lot smarter than I am. There are engineers out there, chemical engineers, flow dynamists, and a lot of people that know a lot.
I've been fortunate to work with Rick Hendrick and learn the most valuable thing you can learn, and that is simply use the people you've got. Use the people you've got to the best of your ability, and the success will come. As long as the people have something at stake, you'll end up with a better product.
And since 2005, I tried to live by that and work by that daily. And it's obviously working.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's always tough to talk about yourself, it's easy for me to talk about him. It's early in our career, and we have a lot of years ahead of us. But when Chad hangs up his hat. He'll be considered one of the best.
In six or seven years that we've been racing, only the worst we'll ever have been will be fifth in points. In all the racing that's gone o he's going to go down as one of the best

Q. This year NASCAR changed the Chase to try to include more guys. Try to make it a little more dramatic. Imagine what your lead would be if they were giving bonus points for wing races now. But the question is are you kind of afraid they may go make another knee-jerk reaction and change the Chase yet again? Because this year is probably been, of the four chases, the one we're going into the last race is about the most dominant the guy's been ahead of the other?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think from what I've heard going on, I don't feel that we have any changes ahead. But I feel with performances like we've had in the Chase over the last few years, that regardless of the format, we'll be in contention.
And if there are any changes, we'll look at those things and try to prepare in any way possible to maximize that situation and those opportunities and just take it as it comes.
I think with race wins and things that we've been doing here lately, I don't think it would really matter.

Q. Out in the garage the last thing Jeff Gordon said after he got out of the car and did his interview was maybe he'll have to change his style. He can't drive the way you have the car set up and he's thinking about it. Is that him thinking about having to drive with the car set-up that you have? Is that an advantage for you? Should they go the direction you are going?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It might be. And what's funny is here in Martinsville, I think he's one of the best. I've changed my driving style to go more his direction. So maybe it's somewhere in the middle where we need to be. He's a very smart driver.
And if you look at the different generations of body styles from big front springs now to coil bind, you look through all the different generations of cars, Jeff Gordon has been completing for championships and race wins for all of that.
I don't think you can look at any driver that's been it for 16 years like he has, and been as competitive, Jeff is a smart race driver, and we'll change his style if need be to do a better job on the car.

Q. (Indiscernible)?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: As Chad said, 9.0 was the number we needed to have, and we've gone on a terror here lately.

Q. We've been told that you do not like to be compared to ray Evernham. And if so, you're going to be pissed off for a really long time. Ray used to say years ago, he used to talk about football coaches and football with leadership styles. How important is leadership to being crew chief, and do you try to make yourself a leader in any kind of a formal academic sense?
CHAD KNAUS: No, I'll be honest, I do. I do read, I pay attention. I don't follow a whole lot of sports people. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of time. I'll be quite honest with you. I don't have a lot of time to read a lot of books, I'll throw an audio book on my iPod and listen to it now and then.
But the person I try to model myself after is Rick Hendrick. Ray's a great guy. Ray's a good friend. I've got all receipt suspect in the world for ray. He's somebody that's accomplished a lot. We were walking through the garage earlier today.
And I was signing an autograph and somebody yelled out cheater, and I looked over at him and said was she talking to you? So we've got a great relationship. But Rick is the guy that I really want to be like. If I could somehow develop the family value and the sincerity that that man lives by on a daily basis, I'd own it in a moment.



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