NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Ford 400
Topics: Ford 400
November 16, 2008
THE MODERATOR: We're going to roll right into our series champion press conference. Joining us on the stage right now is Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. He's going to be joined by his chew chief, Chad Knaus, and team car owner, Rick Hendrick.
For the third straight season, the 48 team wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup series championship, equalling only Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to win three straight titles in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series.
Jimmie, how does it feel to be the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion? And, also, how does it feel to become one of only two drivers in the history of the sport to win three straight championships? Congratulations.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you. It's just unbelievable. I haven't had a chance really to let it sink in yet. And I intentionally dodged as much press stuff before -- for the last -- really the entire Chase as I possibly could. Just to stay focused on what I needed to do.
It's worked out well, but at the same time it's kept me from really understanding what could take place. I look forward to resurfacing again tomorrow and watching TV, and reading some of the articles and stuff.
So I just don't have words to express how proud I am of this race team. How thankful I am of this opportunity to drive for Hendrick Motorsports, the sport of Lowe's, and to do this together with them since the start in 2002. To be with Chad through the start of this deal through 2002. And driving this race car is a great honor.
I'm just at a loss for words on the whole experience. It's been awfully amazing.
THE MODERATOR: Chad Knaus, you make history tonight. You become the first crew chief in the sport to win three consecutive championships. How does that feel? And your thoughts about that accomplishment?
CHAD KNAUS: Well, it hasn't really sunk in yet, obviously. We've been very fortunate. This has been an incredible ride we've been on since 2002. You know, you say that, but it's a lot different than what it used to be. The crew chief used to have to get out there and build the shocks and set up the race cars and do all that stuff himself.
I'm very fortunate that Mr. Hendrick allows me to employ the people that we need to and have teammates like what we've got that we're able to delegate to very smart people, and they kind of feed me the information, and we adjust as we need.
So it's really not me the one that's it, it's all the guys. It's all the people we've got at HMS, we've got at the shop, the guys we've got to travel weekly with the 48 team. I don't know what it feels like yet. It will take a little bit for sure.
But once we get behind closed doors and get all the cameras and microphones out of our faces, we'll be able to sit back, relax and reflect on the season and enjoy it and realize what it's all about.
THE MODERATOR: Mr. Rick Hendrick, your eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, championship for Hendrick Motorsports. Second only to Petty Enterprises' nine. Just your thoughts in general, Rick, about what this No. 48 team has been able to accomplish?
RICK HENDRICK: These guys have just been phenomenal. I'm amazed at how they refuse to get down when things don't really go right, and they really click. And to see Jimmie tie Cale's record, which has been there for, I don't know, what, 30 years or so, then for Chad to do it and no crew has ever done it, I'm really proud of the guys.
It's not without a lot of sacrifice and effort and unbelievable talent that these two have and the whole group that's around them. I'm really proud. I never thought I'd win one of these things. To be able to celebrate tonight with three in a row for those guys and eighth for the company is really special.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. You guys built up a big lead early and had to hold on against a team that finished fourth or better in eight of the ten Chase races. Was there a little bit of deja vu to what you guys went through in 2004 being behind early and putting the big rush on the end, watching the 99 guys do the same thing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, from my perspective from '04 is so different, with the plane crash, and we picked up a lot of points in the later stages of the Chase, and then lost by such a small margin. I guess I don't see a lot from then from what Carl went through. But I can see what the 99 team has done, and the speed that those guys have, and the maturity that Carl has shown and Bob and the relationship and how it's grown, these guys are the real deal. They are spot on.
A couple of races got them behind, but, you know, we didn't sit back and ride at any point. We raced the entire season. I feel like we did all that we could. We got every point that we could. We're -- I don't know where I'm going with this, to be honest with you. I'm babbling.
But those guys, they're quick. They're going to be here for a long time. We're going to have to race those guys for a long time.
CHAD KNAUS: The thing I wanted to say real quick about that, as racers, there's only one thing you want to do and that is race. That's what those guys are. When we come to the racetrack every week, we know we've got to race those guys, and that added a lot of satisfaction to be able to win this championship, because they felt the same pressure that we did the whole Chase.
That we had to go out there and win races and lead laps and lead the most laps. If either of us didn't do that, the other one was going to hand it to the whole team.
For me, personally, I like racing guys like that, to have the guts for race strategy calls. And that's much respect, a lot that goes to that.
Q. I know Jimmie is probably too modest to answer this, so I'll ask Rick and Chad. But with what Jimmie's accomplished in such a short period of time, could there be a strong case made that he's the best driver ever?
RICK HENDRICK: I don't know how you can doubt the talent that he's got and the competitiveness of the sport and the things that he does in the car and the coolness, the communications. The way he describes the chassis and works with Chad. I don't think he's gotten the respect he deserves.
I think this is kind of serving notice that what he's really done to win three of these in a row. If you go back and look at '04, since he stepped into the series, what he's accomplished in his record speaks for itself.
I'm just glad I don't have to race against him.
CHAD KNAUS: I've been fortunate to work with really great race car drivers. I worked with Jeff Gordon in the 24 car. I've seen what Jeff can do with a race car and I've got a lot of respect for what Jeff can do.
To be able to work with Jimmie, he's definitely brought it to a new level. But I'm also a lot more intwined than I was back then, with what's going on. In my eyes he's the best that there's been. That may be a little -- whatever you want to say. People are going to say Richard Petty is, Dale Earnhardt and all those guys. But with the competition level the way it is today with what you've got to do working, racing day-in and day-out, no time to take time off, in my mind, he is the best.
Q. Listening to you guys pretty much all day, the word I would use is there was almost a serenity about the way you guys approached this race. Maybe that was the big lead. Maybe that was having been here before. But there was very little. You told me as soon as the first lap you knew you had a car that was in the ballpark. You talked very much about the first championship about how just nervous you were, how last year was different. This is like a third different integration of your team and your championship. Was it just a calmness about you all day? Is that how you felt about it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I really did. Experience helped me with this. The points lead certainly helped, and knowing after yesterday's practice and how good of a car we had helped as well.
You know, when it fell into the experience role, it helped me sleep last night. It helped me focus on the right things to do and not stress about things I couldn't control. I wouldn't have been able to overcome those fears if I hadn't been through it before.
So all three of those things really, really did help and made a difference. That's the most comfortable I've been in the car in here at Homestead racing for a championship, and the most competitive I think we've been. A lot of it has to do with the comfort that came from experience and the points lead and all that stuff.
Phoenix, Chad was telling me last week, the first pit stop or two, he could still hear in my voice. He knows me so well, he knew I was still wound up and worried because we had a tough Saturday and came off a tough weekend at Texas. So this week it's been good.
Qualifying wasn't fun. The one bad lap we ran all weekend happened to be in qualifying, and we got into practice yesterday, and we knew we were going to be good. What would keep us from winning this would be things out of our control.
And experience helped us not worry about that stuff.
Q. I guess my question's for Chad and Jimmie. Last year you had barely crossed the finish line and Chad's notes flew away, and he scrambled to get them. He didn't want to get them into anybody's hands because he was already thinking about this third championship. I don't think anyone doubted that he was probably going to go to work on Tuesday and start getting ready. Now that you've got three, do you start -- are you already thinking record-breaking fourth? How much time do you take to enjoy this one? Because Chad probably wants to go to work tonight.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, we want four, why not? That's why we're here. We think with the team that we've got, the resources that we've got with Hendrick Motorsports and Team Chevrolet behind us, we can definitely go and bid for four championships in a row. Why wouldn't we? Give me a reason why not to. I think that's the mentality we've got to have.
We're very fortunate to have a group of people at Hendrick Motorsports that all they want to do is win races. It's difficult for people to understand we don't have a lot of 9:00 to 5:00er's. We don't have people like that. We have people that try to win races and try to win championships. That's what we want to do.
To get four championships in a row you have to get three. And we're fortunate to get three. If we buckle down and do what we need to do, we'll be in contention for our fourth championship next year. If that means I have to get up at eight o'clock tomorrow morning and go to work to do it, I'll do it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think from a driver's standpoint I could go race again next week and start the season and go for four. From their standpoint, these guys need a break. I think every team out there has worked to the bone, and I can speak on our team's behalf. They have tested and have worked so much that they need some time off to recharge.
It's on our minds. It's not that we're chasing a number, it's just what we're capable of this year we got it done. There are times we look back and say there are tracks and weekends we didn't get all we could. That's more of what's left behind in us. We know we can do better. It's that search for trying to be the best we can more than it is a number and that kind of thing.
Q. Darrell Waltrip said the other day -- for both of you, and if Rick could give his overview of what he thinks. Darrell Waltrip said that if they keep harmony, they could just about go on forever, there is no reason they couldn't win four or five. And Darrell compared it to sort of like a rock band situation where if one guy decides to go out on his own and be a star, that that's the only way things like this are broken up. Could y'all talk about your bond and your harmony? And, Rick, could you talk about just how permanent you think that could be for them?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, Rick, how permanent could it be, buddy (laughing)?
RICK HENDRICK: Pretty hard to do with Chad.
CHAD KNAUS: Oh, geez.
RICK HENDRICK: I'm just kidding. We had to hit him one time. No, I think I know how bad -- I know how bad both of these guys want it. I know what they go through when I watch them in comparison to other drivers and crew chiefs. I've never seen anyone in my 25 years that are willing to sacrifice any more or as much as they have just because they want it so bad.
Usually sometimes when guys get it one time or twice, they maybe back off a little bit. They've gotten there. This just makes these guys even hungrier. So the chemistry between them and the respect they have, I think, I don't see them -- I hope there's nothing in the future that would separate them.
I think I agree with Darrell. As long as they have this burning desire, with their talent, that they'll be a force every single year.
Q. You mentioned earlier about constantly striving to be the best you can be, and I know you don't think you're perfect. But how close are you to being the best you can be after this season?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There's still always room for improvement. I don't think any driver can say they had the perfect season or the perfect race. I guess when you do think that you've accomplished that it's time to do something else. Maybe the hunger's gone at that point.
But there are so many things that go on on the track. So many adjustments we have with the car, so many corrections, based on comments with my emotions, how we drive the car. With Chad and the guys and what they develop and start working on. It's just always a moving target. New tires, new cars, new tracks, no testing. It just never ends.
So I don't think you ever quit learning how to do a better job as a driver or as a crew member in today's world of racing. You just can't stop.
The day that desires fades and you aren't willing to put in the time and work for that, I think that's when it goes away. That's what I'm so excited about when I look in my guys' eyes. They're ready to go racing. They want to do it again. That is something special. That's something you can't put together. We've been fortunate to have the right guys, the right leadership, and the right support to bring the best out of all of us, and we're on a roll.
Q. After the race, Darby was congratulating you and you reminded him this was the first time you've made it through a championship season without being suspended. Does that add any significance to it for you? And does it say anything to you, Rick, and, Jimmie, about him?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I realized after that we hadn't gotten through Tech yet. I was like maybe that was a little quick. Yeah, Larry McReynolds stopped me yesterday and he said I was going to ask you if you were really worn out. And I said I'm tired, yeah. And I said why? He said, you worked six weeks longer this year than you have any other year.
I don't know, hell. You get suspended. It happens. I don't like it. It's part of the sport, unfortunately. But, yes, I have gotten in trouble from time to time, but it doesn't stop me. I think that's something that I'm very fortunate to have these guys and Lowe's as support that they know that everything I do isn't blatantly wrong. There's always an out. If I get out with that out, then I'm good. If I don't, then I get in trouble.
But you've got this rule book and there's a lot of pages, and there's a lot of black in between those white lines. And if you can find something in between those lines, you need to take advantage of it, otherwise you're not going to win races.
Q. There are some uneasy moments. Chad asking you what is your weakest spot right now, you said your nerves. There are some points where people were racing you hard and you sounded pretty upset. Can you just talk about that and how you kept your cool, if you were nervous? Also, did you sleep well last night? What was last night like? Can you talk about what your morning was like as well?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I did sleep well last night. There are guys out there that continue to drive like idiots week after week and are in the way and cause wrecks and cause problems every single week. You think in the course of what's going on tonight that people would show some respect, and they don't. I guess it's my fault for expecting them to show respect.
And sure enough as the night went on, the guys that I'm having trouble with, the right sides are knocked off the car and they're laps down. So I guess it's my fault for expecting something more out of some of these guys.
I was mad at different points. I cannot believe how stupid some of these guys can be out there. It just shocks me. Then I got around some cars that have an affiliation to the other side, to the Roush side. And I'm like, oh, now it makes sense. It took me to recognize that and realize that it's not that they were doing anything wrong, but they're going to race as hard as they can to try to just race. Try to force me into making a mistake.
So at points when you're in the car and buckled in, the emotions get the best of you. I certainly was animated a few times tonight. But outside of that, the stress coming into the race was minimal because we came off such a high in Phoenix. Then such a good race, I'm sorry, the high in Phoenix, and the practice session that we had yesterday was really strong. So all of that rolled into a good time today.
Q. You guys always show up to on win every weekend. Before you guys qualified, did it change your game plan any at all? And did you run the race differently than you had any other race this year?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I'd say a little bit. We wanted to win this race. We really did. I think we had a car capable of doing it. If we could have been up front and on the same tire cycle as the guys that were up front, I think we could have run with them all day long. I don't think it would have been an issue.
Unfortunately, you have to be a little cautious or apprehensive working your way up through traffic. We got up into 9th at one point. A caution came out, we opted not to pit at that point. A bunch of other guys pitted and another caution came ten laps later. With everybody else pitting and those guys staying out, we came back, I think it was like 15th. That's when he got mad and there were all these people and it was just chaos, you know.
We came back in at that point and took on new tires and drove being up there well, up to 12th or so on green and getting after those guys.
I was a little disappointed that we didn't get the opportunity to race with those guys, I really was. Because if we could have gotten up front, I think we could very well have raced with these guys if not contended for the win. And that hurt a little bit, because it seems that there's always something holding us back the last few years here that we can't let it all loose.
So I didn't make the two-tire call early on like I could have to get track position. I just didn't think it was the right time at that point. We did it later on, and it worked out okay for us. We were able to get up there in and run in the Top 5.
So we did run the race a little bit different just because of that. But we ran the race that we needed to run, and the race we needed to run was to win the Championship.
Q. Considering the box that you guys are in in this sport and how small it is and the fact that NASCAR goes out of its way to legislate parody, almost, can you put it into perspective how difficult it is to dominate a sport, to win three in a row at this time in this sport?
CHAD KNAUS: It's tough. It's really, really tough what we've got going on. The industry is as close as it's ever been with people running similar cars, same cars. It's going to be even worse next year where the majority of the components on the race car has to be approved by NASCAR.
It's not like you can show up with something and run it and nobody else has seen it yet. That's kind of a racer thing. You always try to make the coolest little widget and take it to the racetrack and beat everybody with it.
Unfortunately, that stuff's going away. Those days are gone for the reasons they deem necessary, whether it be cost effectiveness or closer competition or whatever it may be. But for us to be able to lean on our drivers like Jimmie, and Jeff and Dale and Kasey, and next year Mark and Brad will be involved in there some, that's going to help us out tremendously.
The people that we've got -- you can have the best race car out there, but if you don't have the right people assembling it, the best team and the best drivers, it's not going to work anyway. So we can focus on better pit crews, better mechanical stuff, and better maintenance regimes and do that kind of stuff, and we'll continue to run well.
Q. Congratulations, the first two years you won the Championship, a lot of fans said it's because of the chase format. You were the best of the best in the final ten. Will this Championship and winning three in a row finally put that to rest?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn't know there was an issue with our first two wins. I guess there's always opinions and people trying to draw parody or parallels to different things. But all 43 guys had a shot at each championship from '06, '07, '08.
We'll have to see overtime if what we've done is easy or not with the Chase format. Only time will show. But from our side and talking to other drivers and teams and the respect that we've seen, it's been no fluke.
You know, it pops into my mind when I won in '06. Tony came to me and said to me, You should have won at least one if not two more by now. In '04 and '05 we had a shot at it and had some problems here. I don't think it's a fluke. I think it's good stuff.
Q. You won four in a row in the '90s. Is it harder now, much harder in today's era of parody? Can you either make a fair comparison to what Jimmie has done relative to Cale's three-peat?
RICK HENDRICK: I think in NASCAR, Chad mentioned it, I think it kind of narrowed the box. And they have so many well-funded teams out there, so many guys that are capable of winning. As Chad says, they've taken every bit of it, they're trying to take all the creativity away.
I was hoping we'd go somewhere this year and get a little more downforce on this car and make the racing a little bit better. But now we've got new rules coming and with no testing. If they change any rules this winter, then we'll be -- everybody will show up the same way.
But, you know, it's just definitely harder now. I'm not taking anything away from the four in a row, because Jeff, 3 out of 4 years, and Terry won one. Everybody working together, it was really good back then.
But we had a lot more flexibility. The teams could flex more of their talent to try to get an edge on the competition today. It's just so much harder and so many more, you know, quality guys driving. Again, not taking anything away from those years, but this is a tougher deal.
Q. Over the years you've been compared to the Yankees. I was wondering how Hendrick Motorsports had been compared to the Yankees. I was wondering how comfortable are you with that? How do you feel when your name comes up in search engines along with George Steinbrenner?
RICK HENDRICK: I'm not a Yankee fan (smiling). It's like a lot of other things. I'm flattered that the Yankees are compared -- I guess that's winning and a team that's always supposed to be there.
I think the difference in our organization than the Yankees is we've grown our guys. And Chad's a guy that worked on the 24. He told Ray one day that I want your job. And he had to leave for a bit and come back. Jimmie just like Jeff came in kind of unknown soldier and he really proved his worth. He and Chad together, and Jeff and Ray together.
I'm flattered that any time we're compared to any football team, baseball team, anyone that's won multiple championships. I do think when you win one and win two, it breeds a lot of competition inside the company, and everybody wants to win. But I think having everybody on the same page really helps. It motivates us.
I know that Jimmie winning is going to motivate the other three. But it's also motivated Carl Edwards because I shook his hand tonight, and he said, "It's going to be different next year" or something like that. So nothing motivates you anymore going to New York and sitting in the audience.
But, hopefully, we can do this a lot of times, you know, more times. Love to see us get over 10 and win over 200 races. Hopefully we can get that done. But I still don't like the Yankees that much (smiling).
Q. What means more to you guys? Does it mean more to win the Championship or write your name in the record books?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess it's similar. Rick mentioned it. I think it feels kind of the same, the same thing. I don't know. I can say from my standpoint I have wanted to be the champion, and what a champion's about. Always have raced and watched other guys be that guy and have been close, and won a few along the way. But that's what I've grown up and aspired to be. I didn't aspire to be in the record books.
I think I'll appreciate that much more as my career slows down or I retire. But right now it's really about the act of winning a championship. Right now we've been fortunate to win three. So over the off-season I'm going to be drooling about a fourth. It's not really where I fall into the books, it's more about what I want to be as a champion.
Q. You were very vocal about the driving out there tonight. There have been times in NASCAR history where the sanctioning body has listened and made changes when its champions have been so outspoken. Particularly those with seven championships. Are you hoping to gain a bigger voice in the sport and maybe get some of the accompanying clout that might go with being one of only eight guys to win three championships?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's not a role I'm eager to take on, to be honest with you. I do know that in the right setting if I talked to Mike or talked to Brian Darby, as you win championships and more than anything that you're around the sport long enough and people know that you're coming to them about a non- bias or from a non-bias position, that your voice will be heard.
I look more at that than I do of championship rankings and having more clout from that point. Frankly, I say a lot of stuff on the radio that I probably shouldn't. And in the scheme of things, I think my stuff's pretty mild compared to a lot of the guys that are out there.
I get animated from time to time. Lot of times I don't push the button and I'm thankful for that. But a lot of times I do push it and want to share my feelings.
Q. Because of the historic significance of this evening, are there mementos or things that you're going to keep and store away? Personal items or are there certain particular memories from this journey or even from tonight that will stand out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I haven't thought about that yet. I don't know. But typically, yes. Like we hang on to different things. He's keeping the car, he said (laughing). I haven't put any thought to that.
Q. What did you keep from other championships?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Suits, helmets, gloves, shoes, things like that that I've had. Great photos. The experience in New York. You know, a lot of my -- as I think back to proud moments that I've had as a champion, a lot of those moments were the pre-season testing when I'd seen a lot of the crew members and drivers that I didn't see when the season was over.
Typically it's a low-key event, and everybody's testing, hanging out. The respect that you feel and shaking hands with guys that some you know, some you don't. But just that respect there was really probably in my head more than anything. But any memento that Rick doesn't claim, I'll try to claim.
Q. Rick says you're always looking ahead. So I'm going to ask you a forward-looking question. Last year you guys skipped the Atlanta test to concentrate on the Chase. You came out and you were behind in Las Vegas and you said I believe it was to the first Texas race before you felt you were up to speed on the mile and a halves. With testing now taken out of the equation, on-track testing out of the equation, what will you guys do differently strategically or tactically to make sure that doesn't happen?
CHAD KNAUS: Well, obviously, we've got to wait to see how it all shakes out. There is nothing down in print yet. We've got to see exactly what the restrictions are 100 percent. See what that is. Once we see that, we can identify it, see what we can and cannot do.
Obviously, our simulation programs are going to have to get a lot more efficient. Our wind tunnel testing will have to get a lot more efficient. Our seven-post facility will probably have to be -- not that it doesn't run all the time now. But it's probably going to have to have some modifications to correlate more to what we see at the actual racetrack.
It's going to be tough. We all understand why this has been done. We really do. I hope that the economy takes a turn, and we can get back to testing at some point next year, because I really feel like it's going to hurt the smaller teams.
You know, there is nothing that helps a small team -- when I worked at Melling, we only had 20-something guys. So I know what it's like to have a small team to compete against the Hendrick Motorsports guys, and the Roush guys. The only way you can get better is to be on the racetrack.
You know, just because you don't have the other resources to use. So I'm hoping the economy takes a turn, and we can get these guys back on the racetrack where they need to be.
Q. After the first five races this year, you guys were 13th in points. Lot of people were asking what's wrong with Hendrick Motorsports. At that point how confident were you that you could be sitting here tonight? What steps did you guys take individually and as a team to rebound from that and be where you are right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think we felt like we wouldn't have a shot at the Championship. But we knew we needed to get things together. It just took a team effort of testing, of R & D from the engine shop, from chassis, body, all the departments. Just everybody had to buckle down and find out where the speed was. Just keep it simple. We had to really find out where to work and what to work on.
It takes a while. When you're off base, it takes a while to one, recognize when you're off base, two, find out what the problem is, and three, start working in new areas to find speed. It just took us a little time. We got things turned around and got into a comfortable position to transfer into the Chase.
As the season went on, we just kept getting stronger and stronger and understanding the car better and better. From my standpoint of driving it to setting it up. The power and the engine, all the things we needed, it was just a group effort.
Q. Jimmie, you're talking about wanting to win another championship and that drive already. It's just the night of winning your third back-to-back championship. How do you bring yourself down and ramp yourself back up? You can't possibly go into the off-season that hungry already. How do you mentally do that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think for a driver it's definitely easier than for the crew chief and the crew guys. I get to get away from Monday to Wednesday. I have some responsibilities. But I don't have to get back into the pressure cooker until Friday morning. Whereas these guys are the most important. At the track extremely important. But a lot of the stuff is Monday through Thursday.
From a driver's standpoint, you know, yeah, I'd like some time off. But if Daytona was here tomorrow, I'd be ready. These guys, the teams need a break. We've worked very, very hard all year long.
I'll take some needed time off as well, but, you know, when things are going well, you just want to keep going. Maybe if we didn't finish like we did, we'd want some time off. But we're on a high. I would be eager to go, but these guys need some time.
THE MODERATOR: We are clear. Congratulations to the No. 48 team.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you, everybody.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|