NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: TUMS QuikPak 500
Topics: TUMS QuikPak 500
October 19, 2008
KERRY THARP: We are pleased to be joined by the winner today's Tums QuikPak 500 winning for the, I believe, sixth time this year, and the fifth time here at Martinsville Speedway; that's Jimmie Johnson.
Jimmie, certainly you enjoy running here, you're successful here, and with four to go, you're looking really strong; your thoughts?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Very proud of the effort we put up today. We executed. We had a car that could lead a lot of laps, one of the probably top two or three cars all day long, and stops were on the money, car was great, and I did my part and Chad had a great strategy. So very proud of the execution today. That was really what we needed to do.
I'm ready to go to Atlanta. I wish we were dropping the green flag at Atlanta right now. These guys are just on it, great cars. I'm focused and want this so bad, and ready to get to it.
Q. Just to check, is it time to start asking you about Kato (ph) yet?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's getting closer. I'm going to have to answer those questions one of these days, aren't I?
Today was a big step in the right direction. Still, as long as I can stay scared and on my heels and worried about losing this thing, the better this team is going to be. If we start getting comfortable and complacent, we are going to stub our toes and make mistakes.
Yesterday in practice, I knew the 24 was the best car and I was kind of content being second fastest. Felt good about things. Was worried about the 99, 31, 16. Yeah, we were better than those guys and we are good, and Chad was cracking the whip on me and he was like: "Dude, it doesn't matter. Why are you worried about those guys? We need to go out and make sure we are the best car on track. Let's not change what we have done. Let's stay focused on being the best car."
I looked at him; "Thanks." If I worry about protecting something we are going to make mistakes, and he is, as well, and same with those pit stops. We are trying to keep our eye on the prize and go out and get points each week.
Q. What is it about Martinsville? You flat-out dominate here. Jeff Gordon said in college he called you Mr. Martinsville.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have no clue. It's amazing how I've gone from my first year running here and disliking the track and being totally lost on it to getting the rhythm of it and doing well here.
I typically do better at quirky tracks, tracks that need some type of technique. If it's a rough track and an abrasive track, odd-shaped, whatever it may be, those tracks really fall into my style, and I think it's due to my off-road racing background.
The tracks where there is a ton of grip and it easy to go fast, I don't seem to -- I'm just kind of average there. I guess it's probably easier for everyone, and everyone is brave and has confidence and is not scared of much, so they go fast.
But at tricky tracks like this, I do a much better job. I feel good at shorter tracks, and that's leaving Bristol off the schedule but other than that, I feel like I do a great job on short tracks.
KERRY THARP: Shifting gears here for a second, no pun intended, but we have Chad Knaus, crew chief in here, we'll take some questions for Chad and then let him get out to post-race technical inspection.
First, Chad if you can just give some opening comments about performance out here, certainly the 48 team is very, very good right now.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, first off, I just want to say thank you to everybody at Martinsville Speedway for the incredible job they did on pit road and the renovations they did here. The pit road here used to be very, very treacherous. The pit road needed some assistance and they did a good job with that. All of the competitors appreciate that are.
As far as the 48 team, the Lowe's Impala SS, it was good. We went through practice and we had some opportunities to try some different things and they didn't show a lot of fruit for us. So we kind of went back and worked with some of our old stuff, and kind of tuned up a little bit, and used what we used in spring as a baseline and made some adjustments.
And Jimmie did a fantastic job all day today. We were in a position a couple of times where he could have gotten frustrated and lost his cool, and same with the pit stop guys. We had one vacation where our jack-band slipped in the brake dust from the right front wheel, and he was able to recover from that and came back in and not make any more mistakes. It was a total team effort and fortunately enough, we did not get into a position today which would be typical Martinsville to where you get your cautions every 40 laps. We had some long green flag runs that kept the pit cycles, everyone on the same pit cycle, and that definitely worked out for us.
Q. With the car dominating and leading and everything and you on the radio to Jimmie saying that you're making some changes that you're going to like, does that mean you guys are satisfied with just never being good --
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He's never satisfied.
Q. -- as front runners now as compared to catch-up guys compared to the last few years.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I'm never satisfied. You know --
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He'll lie to me on the pit box and say, "Oh, we're a tenth off" and we'll be a tenth ahead. Only way I find out is from my wife and Mr. Hendrick. Mr. Hendrick busts his butt all the time on that.
CHAD KNAUS: (Coughing) excuse me, I'm sorry got a frog in my throat.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Truth hurts, huh?
CHAD KNAUS: Stings a little, geez.
But no, we have to be that way. I think it's real easy in this industry to get complacent. People that stay in a job for a long period of time, you win races and get comfortable, and it's easy to get complacent. And the one thing we strive on at Hendrick Motorsports is to make sure that we staff up with personnel that are competitors. If you're a true competitor, you are never satisfied and you always want more. You can call it greed or whatever you want, but it's the competitive nature that we have at Hendrick Motorsports that makes us do what we do.
If we would have left the car alone, which it was good at that point and the 89 and 99 had made adjustments to their car and got better to their car; and if we lost because we didn't, it would be shame on us. And so we have to continually do that and if we don't, championships and race wins won't come.
As far as being front runner, we are happy to be the position we are in, but there's no room for complacency. We have to continue to push and go for more wins.
Q. You talked about making changes throughout the race. How much does a track change from the beginning of the race through when the shade starts coming over especially through turns one and two?
CHAD KNAUS: It changes an awful lot, and I think if you even watch the way the racetrack develops throughout a run, if you go about 60 laps on a green flag run you'll actually see the racetrack starts to lay down rubber and you'll see big chunks of rubber. And the handling characteristics of the car are going to be different than when you just come back to green flag racing, because when you run around the caution, it picks up all the rubber on the racetrack.
It changes a lot not only from mid-day to evening, but even from 60 laps to 120 laps into a specific run.
Q. Jimmie told a story when we came in about you kind of gut-checking him, reality check after practice, and maybe you could share that story from your side of it. He was talking about you kind of making him rethink things, and also, your crew and team are so used to being around together for so long, that's good; and also, when you talk about complacency, that can be more difficult to manage.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, you know, again, it's the competitive nature that we've got. I think the deeper that fire burns inside of you, the more success you're apt to have.
Yesterday in practice, I felt like we were probably the second best car here compared to the 24. And it's real easy to look at the practice sheet, look at the lap times and the lap count and see where you fall and figure who it is you're racing and say, okay, we are good enough to beat them.
But what will happen is if you sit back and do that, you'll put yourself in a vulnerable situation, and you've got to continue to push. If you've got the fastest car, you've got a Top-5 car and those guys have problems, then you can kind of start to determine your own destiny.
If we would have been in a situation with the 88 pressuring us right there being ahead of those other guys, we could have backed off but if we were struggling to be in the in the top five, we would not have been able to that. We have to continually be able to push and hopefully that will push us on through.
Q. With 50-some laps left, there's a caution flag, and all season long, track position has been so important and you're in the situation that frequently becomes the no-win situation and the leader comes in and nobody stays out and you came in and nobody came in with you. Talk about making that call. As a second-guesser who gets paid to do that, I'm sitting here going: Well, there's no way I'm coming in here and next thing you know, you're all coming into pit road. That seems to have gone against the grain much the season and recent trends. Talk about that decision.
CHAD KNAUS: If you look at the pace of the race and how the speeds had declined and realizing that we pitted on lap 358, and so with 50 laps to go at that point, everybody had -- no, it wasn't 358; that's a lie. But we had about 50 laps and at that point, that's an awful lot. There were other six cars on the lead lap at that point, and if we pitted and all those guys stayed out an old tires, we stayed out on fresh tires, we would have beat these guys on however many laps are left.
I think the 17 stayed out and he was not able to hang on very well; I don't know where he ended up but he felt back pretty quickly. You know you just have to pay attention that. We lost a race here in 2003 in the fall, we were leading the race, and there was 45 laps to go, caution came out, and we stayed out and everybody else, the top 20 cars behind us came down pit road and I think we ended up third, so a little bit of a lesson learned there maybe.
Q. You talk of just continually pushing yourself and racing your competition. For someone like you who has been in the sport as long as you have, how much in a way, and maybe in an indirect way, are you chasing history?
CHAD KNAUS: Well, I don't know. I mean, we are chasing. We are running like hell. I don't know what we are chasing but we are chasing something.
You know, we have got a great opportunity to do a lot of things. I feel like that we and myself, probably primarily, gave away two championships and 2004 in 2005, and I feel like that we had a big learning curve at that point and I'd like to somehow get those championships back.
I feel like if we can go on to win a couple more championships and maybe be status quo and I can fall over and die, because that's probably what is going to happen when I finally quit.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He's also very hard on himself.
Q. Chad, do you ever have fun? You're so driven on this thing, do you sit back on Monday morning or something and actually just grin and realize you came out here and just whipped everybody's butt?
CHAD KNAUS: I love it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: This is fun for him. Today what was.
CHAD KNAUS: This is fun.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He'll be miserable again tomorrow. This is happy. This is good. (Laughter).
CHAD KNAUS: You have to realize, I love racing. And it's like the old saying says, you know, find an occupation that you enjoy and you'll never work a day in your life.
Every day when I go into Hendrick Motorsports and look at the big beautiful buildings and realize the driver and teammates that we have got, it's awesome. And I want to prove it to everybody that we can do what needs to be done. And I owe it to Rick and I owe it to Jimmie and the rest of the team to give it everything I've got. Whether that means I'm grouchy from time to time or whatever, but that's just the way it is, man.
KERRY THARP: Chad, you're clear down here, congratulations. We appreciate it. Now let's go back to Jimmie Johnson. Who has got questions for Jimmie Johnson?
Q. You're talking about complacency, but look back last year, this started your four-race winning streak that clinched the championship. You're going back to these tracks and you have multiple wins on several of them. How can you not be fairly confident going into those, overconfident?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Overconfident would be a mistake. That's the thing that we really want to focus on not doing and we need to carry the momentum and have it work in the right direction for us and we need to be confident in what we are doing and the equipment we are taking to the track. But we can't be cocky. Cocky, we are going to get our hand slammed in the door. It's just not what we are about and how we operate right.
We are going to go in with plenty of confidence. We feel very good about what we are doing and where we are at right now. But the hungrier we can stay, to go out and have performances like we did this weekend, that's what is going to make this thing right and that's how we would want to win a championship.
So the perfect world is do it two or three more times and just lock it up and go to Homestead and hang out and that would be the perfect world. Is that going to happen? Doubt it. But I'm not preparing for it. We are striving for that but we want to win out and do all that we can, but the guys are (indiscernible) awfully damn tough to beat.
Q. We are all going to write a lot of words about how good your team is and how good you were today, but before you came in, Dale and Carl were talking about how good you are and how good your team is. What does that mean to you when your peers are the ones standing in line and waving the banner and saying how good you are check heck?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That truthfully means more to me than anything. Trophies are great. All of the different markers that we have out there that show that you've been success, they are all great. But when you walk through that garage area and I might not know the guy's name and it's a crew member on the 83 team or wherever it may be, and you see people and you can tell that they respect you and respect what you've done, there's nothing that feels better. And to have competitors that I've raced with over the years, it's not easy being competitors, and also respecting someone, that means more than anything to hear that those drivers have said those things.
I remember after winning the championship in '06, walking into the garage area in Daytona and guys that I never met before and new on other teams would shake my hand and say: Congratulations, you won the championship, you've done a great job. That means more to me than anything, it really does.
Q. We always hear competitors say that it's hard to stay on top once you get there. Based on your recent success, your team seems to be disproving that theory. Having trailed in the points for much of the year, which was more difficult getting to the top or maintaining that position through the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Truly getting back in championship form was the hardest for us. We got off to a start we were not accustomed to that start of the season, and that was frustrating. But it made our team stronger and made the relationships stronger inside the team and makes me really proud today to be where we are at knowing that we flat-out sucked at start of the season. There were times where we were terrible.
So to fight through that is a lot of fun and I can say that for the first time in my career I feel more comfortable in this position, in leading and being on top, than I ever have. I think that comes from experience and also just being confident in my race team and what we are doing.
If you look at other pro athletes, there are a few that can do it and can stay on top. We all want to be that guy, and hopefully I can do it and I'm trying to do all that I can and I know my team. Is but you watch somebody like Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, you go through guys that have just dominated year after year, it's out there. Some people can do it. And I would love to be that guy in NASCAR racing.
Q. In light of what you just said, have you had a pinch-me moment that you're winning and tearing it up every week; does winning races come really naturally to you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wouldn't say natural. I do get more used to the situations from time to time and I think that helps, and the team does, as well, and that helps us from having so many peaks and value he's.
We have to go in this stride and we are focused on next week, and I think that focus really helps us in championship battles. Even when you have a bad week, you learn from it and you stay in stride and stay focused on the next race.
So you know, I can say, at the end of the season, last year for that matter, the fact that we won four races in a row, I remember leaving Phoenix and just shaking my head the whole way home, like I cannot believe that I'm experiencing this.
I can go back through major moments in my career from the Brickyard to the Daytona 500, my first win, those moments have really been there for me.
My rookie season was a special year, to finish fifth in points, win three races, and not win Rookie of the Year somehow which is crazy to me; that was a pinch-me year, the first year.
And since then, I'm like, well, I guess I'm awake. Better figure out how to keep doing this.
Q. Earlier in the race, I think you had gotten maybe behind a little bit, we were sitting here watching you and you were three-wide against two lap cars and splitting the middle of guys going in the corner, and second and third place guys are struggling and you had a good race car and you're up 150 points; what in the heck are you trying to prove? Last year we asked you the same question in Texas when you were racing Kenseth. Do you just not have a dimmer switch? Are you set on kill all the time?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I feel that -- I felt like I was making calculated moves and I was in the right position on those three-wides. I feel like maybe I'm crazy, but I feel like I'm doing the right things at that point in time, and it might be risky. But I kind of evaluated the chase going on and I'm in the best position of the three guys that are three-wide.
So there's times where you've got to race, and I feel that I've raced people very fair over the years, and people race me back the same way. So I feel like I can get into situations with guys like Kenseth last year where we can run side-by-side at 190 for five laps and not wreck each other because we have history and respect one another.
I put a lot of faith in that stuff, and I think it speaks a lot to the relationships that I have and the kind of guy I try to be out on the racetrack. Sometime I'm criticized for not being rough enough but at the end of the day, you have to race these guys week-in and week-out. I have guys, lap cars today, being respectful to me that typically aren't. I had some that weren't which drove me crazy. But you've just got to take your chances when you think you can.
Today I was focused on winning a race. I wanted to win a race and get maximum points and tried not to think about the 31, the 99, the 16. I felt myself looking in the mirror from time to time, and the 16 every once in awhile, didn't see the 31 much and saw the 99. I'm still paying attention to those guys but the more I can focus on doing my teal can trying to get the trophy, the better we'll be.
Q. Would you say you're motivated more by a fear of failure or the idea of winning, and if you would just explain that a little bit?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think in 2005, 2006, that period of time, it was failure.
Now I'm excited about what I think we can do, and that transition has been because of experience and going through this championship battle in the past, and having confidence in myself and our team and not having fear. You hear guys hit golf shots that say, you get over the ball if you have any fear, you'll pull it and pull it in the water. It's the same thing, I don't want to be cocky, but I want to be confident with what we can do and go out and race without any fear and just race and do our jobs.
That's changed a lot this year. I think last year we were heading that direction and then this year, we're certainly in that place mentally.
Q. Not just feeling comfortable in the championship situation which you appear to be, but this seems to be a different Jimmie Johnson, if we are talking about Chad not having fun all year, you've been laughing more and I just think feeling more comfortable about yourself and I don't just mean in the championship situation, because of championship experience?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was worrying about saying the right thing, being the right place and doing all that stuff but I do have a personality and over the years, I've grown more comfortable in my work environment to let that come out. Not like I'm trying to hide anything, but I wanted to do this for a long time and realize that two stressed out guys not having fun is not good for this race team. And so I try to keep my crew guys spirits up and take them out for a beer and have fun and keep them light-hearted and that's my job on the team.
Q. Is it the only thing that's going to stop you is if we take every race out here and change it around?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Don't give them any ideas (chuckling) there's still four races, we can have a flat, get a wheel loose, cut an engine, get caught up in a wreck. It's nice to see that we can execute like we feel we can and shown ourselves, like history shows, it's tough to do. And I've never been like this in my career and never had this fortune and been able to do this kind of stuff.
I wish, I hope that we can bottle it up and keep it for many, many more years, but there's something special going on with this race team and just very proud of that and ride the waves as long as it's up.
Q. I wonder if you can talk about the day that Hendrick Motorsports as a whole had.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Good day. Tough circumstances to come back for Rick. It's nice to all four cars run well, so he goes home and knows that we have honored his family and friends in the right way.
Just a great performance. I've always said that I've had better equipment here than what I've been capable of over the years, and I'm certainly doing my part now, and I think Kasey did an awesome job today and same with Junior and Jeff.
It's good when it works like that. I wish these setups, they were much closer here than any other track we run at. I wish our styles crossed enough where we could use and expand that program, but our styles are all different and we end up with different setups trying to get the same result. So here would be the closest that we would ever have the four cars, and it's nice to see all four run well.
Q. You spent a lot of time today racing with Gordon and you had Earnhardt in your mirror. How much give do you have compared to racing with guys like Juan Pablo who you are not affiliated with?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It gets tough out there sometimes. There's sometimes where teammates for whatever reason race me harder than other guys.
I look at Junior trying to win a second race and Jeff trying to win a race, it helps me understand where their mind-set is at. We were joking in our debrief yesterday. Junior and Jeff and Kasey all three said: If you're leading this thing, and I'm behind you, be ready, be ready. And I'm thinking about that when the 88 is behind me, damn, I'd better get back. Jeff was wanting to lead some laps early in the race and kind much got me into a tough situation, where I could have lost a bunch of sports, fortunately I didn't.
At times teammates really work well with you and at other times they have had a job to do, as well. I find that sometimes lappers, you mention Montoya, and Montoya has been great to me, and I give him the different respect at different points in time in the races and we trade that back and forth. Tony, today, the 26, as well, guys that I'm catching them slowly but surely chipping away at it, but they just pulled me over and let me go. So I have done that for them in the past. Each situation is different, and it's nice to have friends out there that will work with you instead of guys taking shots at you all the time.
Q. You mentioned you expected kind of at the beginning of the race to see Jeff and Carl there in contention, but did you expect to see Dale in your rear?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, this is one of Junior's better tracks. Before he was a teammate in all of the years I've raced against him, he's done a great job here. I really felt like he was going to be one of the cars to beat today. I was impressed with Carl's effort and know he's been making gains on this track and today he was rock solid all day. I would say he impressed me the most.
Q. Do you have any emotion one way or another going to Atlanta next week, because it will be the last time you'll have a race in Atlanta; they traded with California next year.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Forgot all about that. Luckily we run well at California. I had completely forgot about that.
It's going to be nice on the West Coast where it is warm and not freezing in Atlanta and raining potentially. I wish I had something for you but I just have not thought about it.
Q. What do you do with all of the grandfather clocks? You have to have a pretty big house for all of those clocks.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I have some at my office, one at the house, and a really cool warehouse that I've been putting together and collecting -- I collected my first off-road buggy, trying to find my off-road trucks that I've raced, I have my IROC car that I won in, '06 championship car, and I even have a jet-ski that I raced back when I was 13 that my brother found and is restoring it.
So I have all of this stuff that I've been collecting over the years and really cool where I've been putting the grandfather clocks so there's room for another one there.
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