NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Allstate 400 at The Brickyard
Topics: Allstate 400 at The Brickyard
July 27, 2008
HERB BRANHAM: We're ready to start our winners press conference. Rick, open up first and tell us how it feels today after this race.
RICK HENDRICK: It's an unbelievable feeling to win this race. You know, after practice, Jimmie was so confident, it looked like early on we had a good car and we were just worried about not get in any trouble, finishing the race.
It's a great day here. It's good to win it six times. I mean, he's been on a tear. We needed that, the organization did, to get ready for the Chase. I'm really proud of him and the whole organization. We all ran good. They all ran good.
HERB BRANHAM: Jimmie Johnson, go ahead and tell us about your day today.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The first three-quarters of the race, it seemed that we could really run any pace that we needed to and pass guys, kind of control the race. But at the end, I don't know if the 11 and 99 were just kind of waiting for the right time to get aggressive with their race pace. Those guys really matched our pace and were tough to race with.
I was behind the 11. I thought I could get by him maybe two stops from the end. I blistered the right rear tire, wore it out trying to get by him. Chad had a great strategy to keep four tires on the car, keep those left sides as fresh as possible. I got up to I guess second or third for that last pit stop, we had an awesome pit stop, got us out, off we went.
Carl put a lot of pressure on me at the end there. I have to commend him, how hard he was driving. I think it was a good race there at the end. Those last seven laps were white knuckle, to say the least.
HERB BRANHAM: Chad, your general thoughts on your second victory here at Indy?
CHAD KNAUS: Generally it's pretty cool, to be quite honest (laughter). It's kind of neat, you know, because we did start off a little bit slow this season. We've been working really hard at Hendrick Motorsports collectively as a group, everything from the engine shop to the body hanging department, our chassis shop, everybody in the shop in general. We really focused on this race. We really wanted to come in here and run well. I spent the majority of last week working on it, along with my team. Didn't really take a whole lot of time off so we could come here and try to get this race. To be able to come here and capitalize on a lot of good things was really neat. Like I said, it was big collective effort on everybody's part. Man, the race itself was bizarre, to say the least.
One thing about this team I love the most is whether it's Lowe's Motor Speedway where there's a tire issue, you have to do things as a team to try to manipulate the strategy, win a race, or here at Indy where we're having tire problems, whatever it may be, it seems our team really bites in deep, gets ahold of things and is successful. I was really proud of it.
HERB BRANHAM: Questions for our champions.
Q. Chad, you have been ferocious finishers down the stretch the last few years. As you noted, you started a little bit slower this year. The last few weeks you picked it up. This week from the time you guys rolled off the trailer till now you were the dominant car. Are you ready to make the kind of run you made the past couple years? Are you ready to dethrone the 18 after the year he's had?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think if you look at the races, not necessarily the finishes, but the races themselves over the course of the last 10, 12 weeks, we've been right there. That's everywhere from Loudon to Daytona to Lowe's Motor Speedway, all the racetracks we have run pretty competitively. I think any racetrack we go to right now, I'm very proud to say I think we can run top five speeds. If you can do that, you can do that on a weekly basis, you're going to be in position to try to go for a championship. I think we're there now.
Jimmie and I have spoken about it a lot, the way we want things to develop. I'm not saying we're comfortable and we're going to start relaxing. I can promise you that, we're digging in pretty deep, we're going to get up and test tomorrow at Road Atlanta. We're not stopping by any means. I think we do have a shot to go out there and compete with those guys on a weekly basis.
Q. You mentioned sometimes you guys are good when there's adversity. Is there a trick to that, looking at that as an opportunity?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think when I look at it from a driver's standpoint, at tracks that are unforgiving, repaved, you see a majority of the field is fast and can get it done. I mean, everybody's courageous and brave, committed to going fast. But when you get to technical tracks, technical situations, I think there's a handful of teams and drivers that kind of rise to the top. I wanted to be that guy. I feel like I am that guy and we are that team.
It's just something that it's the way we think, and we're in it for the long haul. We're not looking for quick gains. We took four tires today more than anyone. We went out there, stuck to a plan, and were smart about it, smart about how I was driving my car, not wearing the tires off of it.
For whatever reason, there's just certain tracks, certain teams that can perform in those situations, and I'm proud to say that this team's one of them.
Q. Did you plan to have a car that was going to be good on short runs, knowing you were probably going to come into a day that was going to be a series of quick races?
CHAD KNAUS: You know, we didn't necessarily work on the short run, per se. Really, we didn't have an option to work on a long run (laughter). It kind of worked out that way. But what we did really focus on was Jimmie and him making sure he could tell us when the tires were going away on the racecar. We did that at practice. Second practice session, we had three sets of stickers. Went eight laps, eight laps and seven laps. Each time he said he could feel when the tires were going away. We were able to earmark that, pay attention to what was going on with our tires, adjust our setup to make sure we were getting the most out of our car in those laps in hopes we would have short runs today, and it was.
Q. Jimmie, when you look back to Friday's media session, you look at some things you said, in retrospect it showed an extreme amount of confidence. I said, Will a win here mean you're back? You said, We're back already. In your way, were you politely calling your shot as the favorite?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I didn't feel like I was doing that. I felt like we don't have the results to show for it. Chicago was obvious. We had a great car, ran up front, finished second. If you look back to Loudon, we were running down the 20 car. You go back to Michigan, we led the most laps at Michigan. I can't remember the races before that. Pocono we were up front all day long, led a bunch of laps.
So as a team, we've known that we've been hitting on the right things. We could see the momentum. We just had a lot of races where strategy came into play and it didn't work out for us. We just didn't get the finishes we deserved. But we knew deep down inside we were running up front and making good progress.
That's where that confidence came from. It was just knowing that we're going down the right road.
Q. Jimmie, after Chicago, did you say to yourself, I'm not going to get beat again today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah (laughter). But it worked out. We weren't going to bring racecars back, the way it boiled down in my mind, on this last restart between Carl and I (laughter).
You know, it went through my mind and the mistakes I made at Chicago. Got a great restart. Got a gap on Carl. Here you can draft better than at any other downforce track we run on. I knew off of two, I needed some ground on him. I was able to get through one and two well. You get four or five car lengths on him, he couldn't suck up to me. That Hendrick power did its job down the straightaway. Stall out at that gap, catch me in one or two of the corners, but the other two corners I'd pull back away. We kind of stabilized, it was all good then.
I just didn't want a caution. I didn't want a green, white, checkered. I just wanted to finish up.
Q. Jimmie, a lot of people are using words like "disaster, debacle" about today. If you look at it, there was passing on the track, there was passing for the lead on the track. You had a story line, a little bit of drama with whether or not you were going to get through, run out of tires, and a battle on pit road. Was today really as bad as a lot of people are making it out to be?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think there was a lot of passing. I know I had to pass a lot of cars. So it had to be entertaining on television when we had the green flag. I can honestly say nobody wanted to be in this position, Goodyear, NASCAR, teams, drivers, owners, nobody wanted to be in this situation. But it's the situation that we had. I commend NASCAR in handling today like they did. I'm sure it was long and boring today, but NASCAR called a great race. They kept us from tearing up racecars for no reason. We had a couple of guys blow tires out.
But I think as an entire sport, we did everything we could today. We've learned a lot. We'll take our lumps, I'm sure, and come back next year and put on a better show.
Q. Chad, Jack Roush said you said this tire would be okay. I don't know what he meant by that. You weren't one of the teams that tested. What is your reaction to that?
CHAD KNAUS: Kind of cool he listens to what I say. I guess we got him thinking, don't we (laughter)?
No, I didn't say that. I mean, we didn't test here. The 88 did test. This place is very difficult to test. One thing I want to put out there real quick. Everybody is going to point fingers at Goodyear and say they did a horrible job of testing the tire and bringing the tire in. Maybe they did make a mistake. You can't put all the blame on Goodyear. This car is a relatively unknown piece, especially coming to a racetrack like this where the surface is so abrasive. Everybody has to realize this car has about 50% of the downforce that we had from the cars we've had here in the past. There's really only five things that keep a car on the racetrack, and that's the four tires and the downforce. To think Goodyear can overcome that much with the little bit of testing they had, I think they did an okay job because they thought they were going on the same path that we had last year.
They're doing a great job collectively, I think Goodyear is. You know, so I don't think people should stick it to 'em too hard. They're doing a pretty good job.
Q. Your job is to win the race, deal with the conditions handed to you. You're a race fan, too. This is the second biggest race of the year. It's a big deal. It came off as an odd day. From the race fan perspective, do you understand why I'm getting emails saying this was a joke?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I'm sure. I felt like we had a car that if we could have raced all day hard, I think the results would have been the same 'cause we were really good. But I understand the fans and I think what we may have to do with this car is we may have to test at the tracks with all the cars to find out what we really need 'cause you can't come and just do it with two or three cars and a tire test. A race this big, we should have everybody here and test, I think especially with this car, because this is a different animal.
I can understand the fans. I really do. We didn't want to go through this either. In a Chase with a team that's in a Chase or in the middle of it, maybe not completely safe in points, do you stay out, do you take two, do you run that extra lap, do you take a chance of getting the car into the fence, when they say I know I'm using up the right rear? I don't think anybody had any choice after we got here. This was it.
Q. Jimmie and Chad, talking to Rick earlier, he was saying I guess you guys tested at Nashville, canceled your plans to do that. He canceled his plans to be there with you. What did that mean for the organization, not only to have you guys there, but the owner there behind you?
CHAD KNAUS: I actually thought it was pretty cool. We had a 48 car there. We had seat molds made for all of the drivers. All of the drivers drove the 48 car. They all drove the car within I think it was like a couple hundredths of a second of lap time. I got the data sheet that shows all their lap times with the 48 car. I got it framed. Kind of cool.
As far as showing the dedication of Hendrick Motorsports, we talk about it time and time again. The resources we've got there, although not unlimited, they will buckle down and do whatever they have to do to make things happen. That's something that Rick called, asked us to do something collectively to try to get our organization running better. Man, everybody dug in deep. We had the R&D people there, getting tires set up, people working day and night to try to assess everything we had for driving style, cars, setup style, shocks absorbers, everything.
I think it's definitely paid off. It's paid off for everybody. All those guys were able to get in each other's racecars, it kind of gave them a little bit of a security feeling saying, you know, I'm feeling the same thing he is, I've got the same complaints he does. He's adjusting this way. I can go and talk to Alan Gustafson, What's going on there, what are you doing to get it to work? Alan could tell us what they were doing.
It was great to be there. It was a good call by Mr. H to have us all there.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That test session was great to see the company work together as a whole. I can also say individually the teams have been doing a lot of testing. I've tested more this year than any other year that I've been at the Cup level. It's just been a full assault from every angle at Hendrick Motorsports to get it right.
The tests we did have at Nashville, as Chad pointed out, to get in each other's cars. I can't fit Jeff's car or Casey's car. But I hopped in Junior's car and drove it. I understand his driving style a lot better and I think it's helped our relationship. The other three guys could get in our car.
It's just good stuff to have. You don't have that opportunity. After all the years of driving for Hendrick, I've never driven the 24 car, never felt the 24's setup. I don't think I will, because Rick is a small guy, I can't get in the seat. At least he can get in my car and we can try to bridge that gap.
RICK HENDRICK: I think, to give these guys credit, too, Jimmie and Chad had friends. They were going to Florida. He and Shanny decided they were going to test. The friends went on and Shanny went on. I happened to be down there. He tested every day. It rained here. They moved from Nashville to Kentucky. They did whatever they had to do. He flew in at night, got up early, took off in the morning.
Then this last break, Chad had lined up to go fishing with us. He called me up and said, I can't go. I'm going to stay here and work.
I think we had Coach Jerry Moore from Appalachia come and talk to us last weekend. It's about desire and dedication, who wants it the most. I called Chad out in front of Coach Moore. I said, Chad, you gonna win this championship for us like Appalachia? He said, I'm going to do my best. Coach Moore said, That might not be good enough. Then Chad said, You better be glad I'm not coaching football in this league (laughter).
Q. Chad, at the beginning of the year, the crew chiefs were asked to vote on where they would run the open test. You were one crew chief with one vote. Could you give us some insight as to how that voting went among the crew chiefs, why they didn't come here?
CHAD KNAUS: Quite frankly, even though this is a big event, a lot of prestige, a lot of history, everything about it, it's a very individual type racetrack. So to come here and to test, use one of tests NASCAR is going to allows us to have, really doesn't allow us any other fruit but for this facility. From a crew chief standpoint, not real smart to come here and test. You want to go to a place where you get to actually take some of the information you're getting from the tests you're doing and apply it somewhere else. For instance, if you want to go to Richmond, you can use it at Phoenix, Phoenix you can use at Loudon, Lowe's Motor Speedway, go to Texas and Las Vegas. Those are the types of things you want to do.
We went to Pocono, because nobody tested at Pocono for quite some time. A lot of what we learn at Pocono does apply here at Indianapolis. I think that's why the garage decided to do what it did, because we had come to Indianapolis for so many years in a row. Quite frankly, when you come here and test, you have the same problem every year. About five laps, run the tires, you're done. If you came here and you had ten sets of tires, you can only get five laps at a time, it would be a waste of a lot of time and a lot of money for the same result.
Q. (No microphone.)
CHAD KNAUS: It would have to be more than a handful of cars. But the thing is, you don't know what the tire's going to do till you get here because circumstances and conditions change.
Q. Do any of you know anything different that NASCAR could have done sitting back on the couch and looking at it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: From my perspective, I don't think so. We didn't realize until the end of practice yesterday or the end of the first practice yesterday that the track really wasn't taking any rubber. Look back through your notes in past conversations, this track, there isn't any sports series racing. The track does not take rubber all that fast. This tire and this car, for whatever reason, just didn't work like it did last year. I don't think we realized and knew we had a problem till we were way, way too late.
Q. Jimmie, Mike Helton always says you're the best drivers in the world. Talk about how close you were able to tell how your tire was doing. A lot of people thought the tires would start blowing seven laps in. Is there any time you were worried, that you got on edge?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Every lap. Every lap I was concerned about it. Every corner, for that matter. You could almost feel the tire life being taken out of it if you leaned too hard. The start of the race we were running 54-second laps. Everybody was taking care of their stuff. At the end we were running like 51s. As a group, we all knew, hey, we can't push the envelope. As the runs went on, I could hear on the radio our lap times kept coming down. The last three or four runs, we were running as hard as we could. Just after the 10 laps, I would have my right rear gone. I knew at least at the end of a seven-lap shootout, I could blast it off in there and be okay.
Q. You've won two championships, the 500, now two of these. I don't imagine that gets old. Talk about the emotion after you've been there and done that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think having a chance to win the second one, now it's just an hour old... I can speak on the second championship. The first one, everything goes by so fast. You don't have a chance to really sit back and enjoy it, savor the moments. I would assume as the next couple days go by, we finish up here, it will really sink in and I'll be able to savor and enjoy this second win.
As we all know, the year has been a little slow for us at times. We've been working a lot of hours. So this win is extremely rewarding in a lot of ways. We're very proud of what we've done, to say the least.
Q. Once you guys realized what teams like the 11 were doing with the two-tire stops to gain track position, how much of a concern was that for you to continue to come in and take four until the end?
CHAD KNAUS: We knew that was going to happen. Jimmie and I actually spoke about it last night. We felt the Lowe's Chevrolet was going to be good enough today that I could reference back to a race we had in Michigan to where a lot of guys were taking two tires there. We would leave, come in, take four tires, go out fifth, be able to pass those guys back in the first six or seven laps, caution came out, we would do the same thing again.
Like I told Jimmie last night, I thought that's the way the day was going to play out. What we wanted to do was just kind of see. What happens is as your left side tires get hot, as they start to build up, they lose grip. What ultimately that does is when you come in and take right-side tires, you leave your hot left-side tires on there, that takes total grip away from the car, wears out your right-side tires faster.
We wanted to be very conservative, make sure we were here for the end of the race. We opted to do the four tires every time except once just to see what it would do midway until the end, save it for the end of the race.
Q. A lot of us in here have really been impressed with what Kyle Busch has done this year. We've given him a lot of credit for that. Some of us maybe think he's running away with the season. You guys are coming on. Carl Edwards is impressive. How wide open is in championship Chase right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Wide open. A hundred percent. It's wide open. You look at Jeff's start last year. I think we were second. He was a couple hundred points, somewhere around there, up on us leaving Richmond. We had more wins, ended up seeded higher than he was.
This thing is wide open. I think you have to look at momentum of teams. The 8 team has been awesome. The 99 has maintained and been awesome all year long. We're gaining a lot of momentum. Two or three weeks of racing up front for the wins I think we'll be right where we want to be when the Chase starts.
The 24 has made a lot of progress. Started good, had some slow times, they've been really strong. There's a lot of racing left. We've turned things around in maybe a 10- or 12-race stretch. We can lose it in a 10- to 12-race stretch. Technology changes so fast in this sport, then you couple the Chase into that. It's a 10-race shootout at the end.
It's not just like the sport used to be. If it was the old points system, it would tough to catch the 18 right now. We'd all have to start wrecking him before the race started to catch him. Some guys might want to do that now because he's so fast. The Chase is a totally different world.
Q. Chad, did you give your crew any kind of encouragement talk heading into the last pit stop? Jimmie, what are your thoughts during that six-second period getting the tires on?
CHAD KNAUS: I didn't really have to give them any big pep talk just prior to the pit stop. We had a pretty good meeting before the race. We do a lot of things together. We work together. We learn together. We grow together. My pit crew has really had to develop. They started off the season very well. We had two new tire changes, a couple of other people kind of moved around. We got about four races into it and, man, the wheels just fell off.
These guys have dug in so deep, practiced so hard, hit the gym, done pit stops, everything you possibly could, to try to get better. They have really been switched on the last couple weeks. I just called it out for the guys in the last pit stop. I said, Guys, we need a five-and-a-half-second right-side tire stop here. Man, they did it, nailed it.
I could not have been prouder. On-call, they did what they needed to do all day long. They were very precise, very consistent action no mistakes, did a phenomenal job.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was just sitting there looking in the mirror. I left the pit box, I didn't see anybody real close to us. As they're doing a right-side stop, I'm just waiting for the jack to drop to put it in gear, staring in the mirror, waiting and hoping that we're beating those guys out.
Q. Jimmie, could you talk about trying to break the draft on Carl there toward the end. Because this is a flat track, does draft play more of a factor here than generally recognized? Also, where a lot of guys used to at Daytona really zip back down, you were cutting in, but didn't cut out, would was that to make sure Carl couldn't get under you going into the corners?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The draft is more effective on a straightaway here because the length of the straightaway. These cars, if you get within a car length of the guy in front of you, the lead car punches such a large hole, you suck up really fast. I was just trying -- I was hopeful I could get like a two or three-car gap on Carl and I knew I would be okay. In the turns, the draft is the worst thing for that guy.
So as long as I could let him get close enough for me to adjust the air over my wing, make the car loose, I knew I was going to be all right. Let me make a couple moves. I zigzagged around a little bit. But then I'm like, you know, I'm probably wearing my tires out more and scrubbing speed if I keep snaking around on the straightaway. I would try to pull it off the wall really fast. Just kind of rode down the inside. I don't know why, that's just what I did.
Q. (No microphone.)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, mainly because I think I would have looked like a fool just driving back and forth. I made a move. He followed me. First few times, he didn't follow me. The first two or three laps he didn't follow me when I moved down. I'm like, All right, this works. Then he started following me. I'm like, All right, I'll just make a move and be done with it.
Q. Rick, I know they put a stop to it, but early on you had Dale Jr. come in before the mandatory caution flag, then everybody else came in. Was that a strategy you were maybe to use throughout the day, having one or two of your cars pit off sequence from everyone else?
RICK HENDRICK: He came in because he had a flat tire I think. Then he stayed out 'cause he just -- that wasn't planned. We was going to come in with everybody else. But he had a tire going down so he had to pit.
Q. Jimmie, Formula One race here a couple years ago is remembered for the tires. When do you think it comes to the point where people remember today at Jimmie Johnson's second Brickyard victory in three years rather than that race that got all screwed up because of tires?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess I'll have to see what the fans' reaction is. We had short runs without a doubt, but I felt like there was a lot of good racing today. I'm not sure what's overall impression is from the fan base.
But I don't know who won that race with six cars, but the trophy is sitting at his house and he's a happy man. This is going to be sitting at my house and I'm a happy man. Both made a million bucks, too (laughter).
HERB BRANHAM: Guys, congratulations. Great day for us. Thank you.
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