NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Subway Fresh Fit 500
Topics: Subway Fresh Fit 500
April 12, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased now to be joined by our race winner of the Subway Fresh Fit 500, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. This is his 34th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, his second here at Phoenix International Raceway. Jimmie now moves up to fourth in the points standings for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Jimmie, a very, very thrilling, dramatic finish. What were your thoughts there as you were coming in those last couple laps?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, before that, we restarted I guess 14th, it was real tough to keep track position at the end of the race. We led a lot at the beginning, and a little off on fuel strategy. Just had to fight back through all those cars. With the lap cars and everything, made it really tough.
I can't tell you how good the racecar was and how much fun I had throughout the entire day, one, and then that last run with 80 laps left in the event, restarting 14th with all the lap cars, getting up to the 11 and 8 and be right there on those guys said a lot about the car that we had.
The fact that we were able to save fuel, the car was handling really well. The guys peeled off. Once they started peeling off, Chad was reading me splits. I just kind of maintained and tried to keep the thing alive, keep it running, bring it on home.
THE MODERATOR: Chad Knaus, what were your thoughts there at the end? What were you telling Jimmie?
CHAD KNAUS: I thought that was pretty damn exciting, from where I was sitting anyways. That was cool.
I told Jimmie about 40 laps to go that we were going to be in a position to where maybe we could make it on fuel, just to make him aware of what was going on. We really made up a lot of ground on the guys that were running up front.
Jimmie drove a great race. The whole Lowe's team did a phenomenal job. We got there towards the end, they started peeling off, like Jimmie said, our intervals to the positions behind us started to grow. When that started to happen, we were able to back off the pace a little bit, hang on for the win. If we had to stay full song, we potentially would have run out coming off of four.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Would have been close.
CHAD KNAUS: Probably coming off of turn four. Maybe it would be a different story. But fortunately enough everybody behind us pitted.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for our winning team.
Q. Jimmie, when he told you you were like 10 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer, could you even just back off even more on the throttle, save more on the last couple laps?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Since I climbed out of the car, I found out he was lying for the better good of the team. First he said like 10. He said, He pitted, you have 20 seconds, let off, two more seconds a lap.
Bowyer I guess didn't pit (laughter).
It worked and he knew what the gap was. I didn't know who was where. There was a lot of cars at full speed trying to get by me. I just tried to stay up in the second lane, be smart with the fuel, and not step on the gas pedal too hard, just kind of coast around.
Q. People have been talking all year about the team maybe being down. How much of a relief is it just to get the first win in the books and not have to answer that question any more?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, in some ways we recognize that we haven't been running how we want. But we finished second at California, second at Texas last week, fourth at Martinsville. I mean, yeah, we haven't won yet, but we're only seven races into this thing.
We know that we haven't been where we wanted to. We kind of knew that when we went to California, Vegas for the test, the mile-and-a-half stuff, we needed to catch up some. We've been working really hard.
We've had some tough races for the team. I think that's made us stronger. The whole organization is rallying together, trying to find what we need on the big tracks.
The sport is so tough. Even with the year that we had last year, it's tough to keep that up over the off-season and year after year after year. You know, moments like what we've had, the slow start to the season, make me respect and really appreciate what goes on at Hendrick Motorsports and how good that company is, our company is.
Q. Chad, you said on TV right after the race that you made a mistake leaving Jimmie out there. What were you referring to?
CHAD KNAUS: When the caution came out for -- I don't know what happened with the 12, all that oil was on the racetrack. We had the red flag right there at that point. I wanted to pit. My first instinct was to pit. The longer we sat there and thought about it, I managed to talk myself out of it and decided to stay out at that point.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: 12 laps.
CHAD KNAUS: We had 12 laps on our tires. We had had 10 laps on our tire earlier in the day and ran fine. At that run when we took off, we were fine. We were plenty fast. But unfortunately that caution came out seven laps later. And we really needed to go about 15 laps so everybody would have come back down pit road.
We had to pit. We pitted. Obviously everybody else stayed out. We had to line up I think it was 17th or something like that at that point. We were just kind of trapped in the back for quite a while.
Q. Chad, I wasn't plugged in exactly, but on TV was that you yelling at Jimmie to slow down, slow down?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think he stopped talking for three laps - yelling, talking, whatever it was (laughter).
Q. Jimmie, did you need to hear that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: My instinct was to step on the gas pedal. That was good. The white lies he was telling me were even more helpful.
When he says something, I might think about it for a split second, but I believe him every time (smiling).
Q. Chad, you were in the box. You were motioning. Was that meaning to tag the crew guys to come back in? Seemed like you were getting ready to call Jimmie in.
CHAD KNAUS: I was saying, Back the hell up, slow down. That's exactly what I was saying. I told him to back up his pace. We had went from 29:20 to a 30:50. I said, Look, slow down another second and a half. He came around again, slowed down to a 31 flat. That's when I said, Look, the next car behind you is 20 seconds back, because obviously 10 seconds back wasn't far enough. He felt like he was going to need to go faster. I was trying to get him to slow down a little bit more.
Q. Jimmie, did you have your doubts?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, we don't play the fuel mileage game. We race for points year after year. If we can't make it, we're coming to pit road. So the fact that we stayed out and rolled the dice, I figured I would probably run out coming off of four. I had enough to do a little burnout, see the guys. I drove around to the backstretch and ran out.
It was figured out to a T.
Q. Chad, was there any doubt? Jimmie just said there wasn't any doubt in his mind you'd make it. Was there some in yours? Seemed like with seven or eight to go, you discussed it a little bit and said, We're going for it. Seemed like a big risk, a huge gamble. Was there a point where you just weren't sure?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, the whole run (laughter). You know, when all those guys around us pitted, I told Jimmie, We're getting ready to pit here in a couple laps. He came on the radio and he said, Can we make it? At that point when he said that, you know, I really took notice of where everybody was at on the racetrack. I was like, Well, yeah, I guess. You know, let's go for it (laughter).
So, you know, it was kind of funny. Ron Malec, our car chief, and I had a long discussion today. We were talking about Phoenix being one of those racetracks where we can potentially do something at the end of a race to take a chance to go for a win. Ron and I felt talking earlier today we had a handle on the car well enough. Right now at the intermediate tracks, the short tracks, the flat tracks, we felt like it was early enough in the season if we wanted to take a chance, try to make something happen, go for a win, we would be okay to eat the points right now and still make it into the top 12 with the remaining races before we get to the Chase.
That kind of set the tone. I didn't think it was going to show up quite like this. I was thinking two tires instead of four, something along those lines. But we were kind of prepared for it.
Q. Jimmie, are you surprised at how much ground Roush Fenway made up on you guys? Chad, do you want to speculate where they made up the ground on you in the off-season?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I saw them coming, but I really saw the 17 coming at the end of last year. The 99's been strong and good. But Matt won at Homestead. Matt and I had some great races at the end. So I'm not surprised, but I just assumed the 17 would be rocking out of the gate.
They've had some bad races and some bad luck. But Carl does a great job. I think Bob is a very sharp guy. I think the relationship that those two have together is a very strong one. Those guys have got some experience under their belts and are doing a really, really good job.
I'm happy that we're closing that gap. Last week I chased them at the end of the race and he looked like he wasn't pushing as hard as I was to run, so I know we have a little bit more to make up. But we closed the gap on the mile-and-a-half stuff quite a bit. Excited about the races to come here in the near future.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, you know, based on what we've seen here in the course of the last few weeks, I think where we've made our ground up as a team, the 48 team, isn't necessarily on where to find the speed in the car, but more so what not to do to the racecar. It's a new book. It's a new thing that we're trying to learn.
You know, you have a playbook. Any time that you can take and cross off something that list that says, Okay, you know that's not going to work, well, that's an area that you don't go to. That saves you time in practice. That saves you from mistakes during a race. It saves you a lot of things. I think that's what we're learning at this point.
Q. During the race, could you talk a little bit about how you felt your car was. A lot of times when people see 'fuel mileage win,' they think somebody pulled one out of the hat. Aside from maybe the pit call, you seemed to have a car that was pretty strong and comparable to everybody else leading.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think there was one run where we were a little too loose. But outside of that, I want to say that it's probably us and the 99 that were probably the fastest cars, because Chad was reading me laps where everybody was. The 88 was real fast, especially two-thirds of a run, then it seemed like his car would kind of fall off at the end.
We had a very, very competitive car. I think the story from us restarting in 14th with 80 to go and being in second or third I guess right there when those guys started pitting says a lot about the type of car we had.
I'm not sure if we led the most laps, but I know we led a ton at the beginning of the race. But we had a very, very competitive car.
THE MODERATOR: You led 120 laps.
CHAD KNAUS: We had a great car. I was real happy with the whole Lowe's team. Everybody really stepped up. You know, I think this race, if I hadn't botched it up, we'd have been up front all day. It was just that one pit call got us relegated to the back.
We didn't win it on fuel mileage. You know, like we could have pitted right there with everybody. Say if everybody came down pit road and took two tires, everybody came down pit road and took four tires, I think we would have been in position to race for the win.
So, you know, I think it was good, yeah. It was exciting for me. I don't know about everybody else. I don't know how it looked on TV, but it was fun from my pit box.
Q. Jimmie, was there a point on that last lap where you figured it could run out right now and I can coast to the win?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I was watching my fuel pressure gauge. Usually when it bobbles, you get a quarter of a lap or half of a lap where you can coast at a decent speed. With him telling me I had a 20-second lead, I figured if I ran out of gas coming off of four, I'd be okay. When I went into three, I still had great fuel pressure and came off of four and I was still looking at it, I'm like, Heck, yeah, it's a done deal.
Again, we've had fuel mileage bite us a couple times. It wasn't like we were trying to stretch it. Just something went on that run where we consumed more fuel. So for Chad to say, Let's give it a shot, I knew it was going to be right there.
Q. I don't know where you were when Earnhardt was battling Mark Martin and Martin Truex. But was there a period where you thought he could be the guy that could end up winning the race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Mark? Earnhardt?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He led a bunch today. 87 laps. When we were back restarting 14th and I saw the 88 up front, I thought this could be the race for him. Those guys have been all around it, very fast, had a great car today. I know they had some issues yesterday that they were trying to work through. Earlier in the race today I saw them in the mirror coming. I knew it was going to be a factor.
Happy for their performance. I don't know where they ended up in the end.
THE MODERATOR: Seventh.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Seventh. He's going to be pulling into Victory Lane soon. Those guys have been doing a great job.
Q. Jimmie, in Victory Lane they mentioned you kicked off the weekend with your foundation, then ended up in Victory Lane. A little bit of karma there. With your foundation kicking off on Thursday night, what are your thoughts about that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it was cool. I wanted to do a burnout down there in the backstretch, try to get the smoke going for a cool photo of the car and stuff near my banners on the backstretch, but ran out of gas and couldn't do it (laughter).
Really I have to thank PIR for giving me the opportunity. Bryan Sperber and the whole staff came to us with that idea. It's just a great way to get exposure for the foundation. We brought in a bunch of kids and let them enjoy the races and their families.
So, you know, didn't raise a lot of money that we could distribute, but it brought great recognition to the foundation. We were able to have some local kids, actually more than local kids. We had local kids plus kids from Florida, a couple other areas, come in and enjoy the weekend.
Q. In two weeks you go to Talladega. Is it going to be strange to go there and not see it be a sea of red for Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? Now it's going to be a sea of green or blue, whatever color that Amp car is.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I can tell you, it's been an interesting year because at first the Earnhardt Nation didn't really make any noise at driver intros. Now I hear them kind of cheering for me. I see guys decked out in 88 wishing me luck, where before they were wishing other things and throwing beer cans at me and other stuff (laughter). There's still a few diehards that refuse to I think be a fan of Hendrick or myself or Jeff. But as a whole, you know, there's some respect there, which is good to see. If we have a clean racecar, it will save hopefully some beer can dents when the race is all over with.
Q. Chad, Dale Jr. thanked you and the 48 crew afterwards. They said they didn't practice well and got some setup information and help. Could you give us a sense of how that came down and was that stuff that he was able to use or you shared with before the final practice or was that today?
CHAD KNAUS: He must have stolen it from us. I don't know where the hell he got it (laughter).
No, we do a very, very good job at Hendrick Motorsports of exchanging information. We have a team debrief. We have a competition meeting every two weeks at Hendrick Motorsports with the crew chiefs, with the competition directors, with the department heads, the chassis and aero department, so on and so forth. We communicate there.
Once we get to the racetrack, our line of communication is extremely free. They're able to look at everything that we're doing, dig in as deep as what they want, use it, don't use it, whatever they want. Then after every Happy Hour practice session, all of the crew chiefs and all the drivers and the competition directors get together in a centralized location and we discuss what it was that we went through throughout both practice session, both race practice sessions.
The one thing that I have actually been very, very impressed with Tony Eury, Jr., is the fact that he is very, very receptive to information. He uses tools. He does not sit stagnant and wait for the information to come to him. He goes in, digs, tries to find it. I've been very impressed with that. It's refreshing to see. It's nice to see another crew chief come to Hendrick Motorsports with that kind of ambition and that kind of desire to run up front.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. Enjoy the victory.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you.
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