NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America
Topics: NASCAR Banking 500 only from Bank of America
October 17, 2009
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA
THE MODERATOR: Tonight's winner of the NASCAR Banking 500 Only From Bank of America, Jimmie Johnson. He drives the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. This is Jimmie's sixth victory in 2009 and his sixth win here at Lowe's.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He was real quick. But when he was mired in traffic he didn't have the speed that he needed. So in my opinion I needed to suck it up and get all that I could those first two or three laps to get out in front of him, and once I did that he didn't have the benefit of clean air and it hurt his car and he started slipping back.
But that last restart I had my hands full. I was loose on the inside of him. I had a couple moments, I had to fall in behind him, collect my thoughts and try to find another way by him. Once I cleared him, I knew we'd be in good shape, but if he could have held on three or four more laps in front of me, I could have then got too tight and not been able to get by.
Not that I was able to desperate to get by him, but I was doing all that I could.
Q. One for each of you: Jimmie, you're four wins away from 50, which has always been a magical number in this deal. This will get you up to a tie for 10th for all time. Just speak a little bit to what that will mean and can you actually get it done this year? And for Chad, Jimmie mentioned in victory lane that this was a perfect weekend because you won all three practices and qualifying in the race. Somebody mentioned it to Matt Kenseth before when he was in here, and he said actually to be a perfect weekend you'd have to lead every lap in a race, too. Do you think you can go to Martinsville next weekend and pull that off?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess we've got more work to do.
You know, the last year or two have gone by, I've paid a lot more attention to where I am in the sport and the win total and things like that, and just to hear today that we're tied with Buck Baker in 13th, I mean, that is really, really neat. We'll see what we can do.
We have some good tracks ahead for us. I hope that we can keep winning races. You never know what's going to happen in this sport. I hope to get to 50; that would be awesome.
CHAD KNAUS: We're just going to go and try to do the best we can, I'll be honest.
Q. Jimmie, I think a 90-point lead now with your best track coming up. How much of this basically comes down to you getting through Talladega unscathed at this point?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sure, that's the track that you don't have any control at. But at the same time, I mean, we're only halfway through this thing. So much can happen. Somebody at Martinsville can lose their brakes and clean you out. With the double file restart there's going to be a lot of bumping and banging. Someone can get into you and knock a valve stem out or cut a tire. I mean, it's a nice points lead, but there's no need for anybody to get too excited yet.
We've got good tracks ahead for us, so from a team standpoint we're excited and optimistic, but at the same time there's a lot of danger out there and we've just got to be smart.
Q. Kind of a follow-up on that, the only reason I'm following up is because he asked it ahead of me, but I mean, 90 points is a pretty healthy cushion at the halfway point of the Chase, so you still have to feel like you set the agenda for the last five races of this thing.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: If it keeps going like it has. Again, one flat tire, one mechanical, Talladega, we all seem to know the risks at Talladega, that's just gone. That 90 points is just gone. I'm not trying to downplay where we're at. I'm very very, very happy where we're at. But there's five races left. There's a lot of racing left.
Q. For both Jimmie and Chad, going back to the concept of the perfect weekend, one, this is the ninth time you guys have won from the pole, so I guess how many other times in this past eight instances were you guys close to getting this, and why did it happen this time, and also I guess when did that first become a goal for this team to get that perfect weekend?
CHAD KNAUS: We've been close twice. We've been to the --
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wasn't aware of this going until today, until we won the race. This is a Chad goal.
CHAD KNAUS: This is a personal goal of mine. We were close twice. We had missed it in race practice one time, we had missed it in qualifying practice another time. I kept a tally on that. It's true. We've been close but never quite made it ever, so it's kind of cool.
Q. I guess for both of you, can you talk about what the car was like early, because I think there was a radio transmission early in the race where you kind of got snippy with Chad and kind of said something about maybe coming down pit road and maybe strangling him or something like that. Can you kind of talk about what the car was going through in light of this perfect weekend and just that type of -- the commentary back and forth?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah. I hated going backwards. I could tell in Chad's voice he didn't like seeing the car go backwards. I just hit the button and said what I was thinking. It took two or three runs before Chad's voice came back to normal, so I had to apologize a couple times and smooth that back over.
But truthfully, the fact that I can be a smart-ass to him like that and then come back and win the race shows the faith that we have in one another and the honesty that we have in our relationship, our working relationship.
I was doing all I could, and he was trying to whip me a little bit and get me going, and that was the comment that came out.
CHAD KNAUS: See, that's the problem, what I said and what he heard were two different things probably.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Could have been. All he really said was a lap time, but just the way he said the lap time was enough for me to threaten to strangle him.
Q. Did that comment kind of catch you off guard a little bit?
CHAD KNAUS: No, I knew I was pushing him pretty hard at that point, so I figured he was getting close to saying something like that. He was saying it whether he was going to push the button or not. I know him well enough that he was to that point. But I had a point that I was trying to make at that juncture of the game, and it's just -- it happens.
Look, it's a competitive sport. It's a competitive environment, man. When you're out there and you're doing everything you can to try and make the race car go fast, the driver is doing everything that he can, your pit crew is doing everything that they can, everybody is keyed up at that point. When you try to extract that little bit more out of each person and get them out of that comfort zone or ask them to try to do something that's outside the realm of possibility, it's difficult, and it's just the way it is in a competitive environment.
Q. My question, I guess I want an answer from both of you, you guys said up there you've just won your third of five Chase races and you talk about it's not over and there's a lot of racing to go and anything can happen, and we all kind of sit here and roll our eyes. What will it take for you guys to feel comfortable? At what position will you guys feel like you've got a little bit of breathing room?
CHAD KNAUS: That will probably be lap 287 at Homestead.
Here's the deal: Last year going into Homestead -- first of all let's go back to 2006, at this point in the season we were well over 100 points out, came back to win the championship.
Homestead last year I think we had to finish 23rd or better to win the championship, and the 88 car ran all day until -- the 88 car teammate ran all day until the end of the race and lost a wheel bearing with eight laps to go. If that would have been the 48 car, we would have lost the championship.
Q. That stuff doesn't happen to you guys.
CHAD KNAUS: It does. It happens to everybody. It's all about circumstances and timing. We're fortunate over the course of the last couple years we haven't had a significant failure in the Chase, but it is very, very possible, and the potential is there every time you go on the racetrack.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, not to sound like a broken record, but you just don't know what's going to happen from -- Chad mentioned the mechanical aspect. But what goes on on the track; if somebody spins out, you get caught up in it, contact with another car and there's a tire rub, fender is on the tire, you come down pit road, puncture a tire, whatever it is, those elements are still out there. I feel very good about racing for the championship. If we don't have any problems, I feel that we've got a very good chance to win the championship, racing for it.
But the unknowns is what we can't control. We don't want to get ourselves too emotionally wrapped up in this thing and have something come by and slap us in the face and take us out, so we're just trying to keep our guard up.
Q. Jimmie, did you feel like the 9 car maybe at certain points in the race was as strong as you or even stronger than you, and as a second question, how much do you sit up and pay attention to the fact that your teammate, Jeff Gordon, is now up to third in the standings?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, the 9 car I thought was probably the most competitive car all night long. Maybe a little slow on some of the restarts, but once we got eight, ten laps into the race he'd have three or four tenths on guys often. I thought he had the best car throughout the night.
I'm aware that Jeff is in third and happy for him, happy for Hendrick Motorsports. You know, we got some more points on him tonight, which was good. But even where Jeff is at and the tracks that are coming up are really good for Jeff, as well. I mean, he can win at Martinsville, he can win at Talladega, he can win in Phoenix. He won at Texas this year. If we have a problem, he's going to be right in the middle of this thing, and that's why we just can't have any big problems.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, certainly a very strong performance over the weekend for this No. 48 team. Your thoughts now that we're at the midpoint of the Chase?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, we've got five more to go. I think what I try to keep in mind is the same thing that's happened to the guys that got them behind could happen to us. I'd rather be this far ahead than be behind, but you look at Denny Hamlin has been running great and he had two problems here that put him in the shape he's in.
We've got Talladega coming up. You could have a problem at Martinsville. This double file restart, I don't think you can have enough points. It's just too early into the Chase.
Q. Earlier Matt Kenseth was in and he said that this wasn't a perfect race because you didn't lead every lap. I'm sure that you would probably consider it a compliment because you're a perfectionist, so when you reach your perfect race, do you redefine perfection? Is it now every green flag lap, every lap? I mean, every lap of practice? Where do you go with a perfect race?
CHAD KNAUS: Man, it's getting lofty. I guess I shouldn't have said anything. Geez, I should have kept it to myself. Yeah, they're goals, man. You have to establish goals, and each person, every individual, has to have goals that they try to achieve, and once you achieve those goals you have to try to push to the next.
When Jimmie first started and when we first started, we just wanted to win a race, and if we would have stopped there where would we be? Every goal once you get there, you've got to move on and try to get something more. Leading every lap, that's going to be lofty. I think that goes back to maybe Loudon New Hampshire, maybe Jeff Burton did that at a restrictor plate race or something like that, but that was a long time ago. Difficult to achieve.
Q. We saw Kasey Kahne had that huge lead and then the caution came out and kind of got you guys back in the game and he were able to beat him off pit road just barely. But then later on we saw another caution, and Chad, you kind of closed your eyes and threw your head back. Can you talk about the emotions that go in when those cautions came out, one, to kind of get you back in the game and one to kind of possibly take you out?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah -- I don't remember. It's a rush of emotions that you go through. You try to figure out, okay, is the air pressure right, what's going to happen when the tires go off, do we stay out, do we pit. There's just a lot of stuff that goes on, and at that point I was thinking, man, we've got this thing kind of handled if we can keep it green and then a caution comes out. So then you have to -- I don't even know what I did, I'll have to be honest with you. I'll have to look at the film. I'm sure somebody has got a funny shot of it somewhere.
It's just the way that it is. There's just a rush of emotions that you go through throughout a race.
Q. Jimmie, you had that great streak here, the four in a row that began in 2004, ran through 2005, but that was kind of your last win here. How big of a boost is it for you to get another win at this track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is a big boost. We've taken a lot of pride in the years to run well here in everyone's backyard. The fact that Lowe's is our sponsor and the track sponsor has always been something cool to win and celebrate and spend that moment with the Lowe's executives in victory lane has been special, and to do it here for the last race that the track is sponsored by Lowe's is cool. Glad to be back.
We've always been able to look at this track and feel like we can come here and run well. We've been competitive. We haven't had the results. We've had some difficult -- I think we lost an engine once. We were competitive in the spring race and the rain kind of threw things out the window for us, but it's nice to close on it.
Q. Just as a follow, do you feel this is your track, or do you feel that Martinsville is more your dominant track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I guess Martinsville would be. We've won more races in the last couple years there than probably anywhere. And hoping for another one.
Q. I have one for Chad and one for Rick. First for Chad, can you talk about the development the pit crew and you've had some changes with the tire changer. If I'm not mistaken last week I think a couple times you guys came in first, came out I think third. I think a couple times that was partially because one of the cars was at the end of pit road, I understand that. But it didn't seem to be quite as strong as what we've expected out of the 48 team pit crew and development as far as what you saw tonight.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, Jeremy West, and we talked about last week, hurt his back about two months ago and he had to have back surgery so he's been sidelined and will be out for the rest of the year. We'll just have to see how that progresses.
It's unfortunate -- see, our sport is different than other sports. It's easy to say that you've got a backup, it's easy to say that you've got those people on cue for when you need them, but we don't have the depth in most race teams like you do at a football team or a baseball team. You just don't have that roster.
So we had to go through a couple of different players and we found a new guy and we put him in last week, John Lucas, and he did a fantastic job last week. We got beat a couple of times last week, one we had a lug nut fall off the right front and we lost a few spots, and then really from that point on, those guys really held their own pretty well. I was really relatively pleased. The 24 car was at the 43rd pit stall, we were kind of in the middle, and the 11 car was in the first pit box, so to lose positions to the guys in the 43rd box and the first box, that's understandable. And we're fine with that.
And then today I think they did a fantastic job. I think they held their own for the most part. We had one or two that were kind of fair, and then we had two or three that were great. I think those guys are really gelling, and I couldn't be prouder of them.
Q. And also for Rick, you've got three teams top three in the points. I know you've had teams challenge for the championship, race each other for the championship, two teams. Now you could possibly have three teams. How does that -- does that change the challenge in managing people with more people involved with trying to beat each other for the championship in the same shops?
RICK HENDRICK: No, not at all. I'll tell you, we've been through it with two cars a lot like you said with Terry and Jeff and then Jeff and Jimmie. I'm really proud of the guys. Chad and Alan, for example, at different races here in the Chase have shared notes at 11:00 at night when maybe Mark's car was the best in the last practice. Chad calls him, or it could go the other way, Alan calls Chad. They are completely open, and maybe that guy beats the other guy that Sunday, but they come back and do it again.
But that's what's got us here, and you know, it shakes out -- I hope it's going to end up that way, but I doubt it will. We've got to go to Talladega, and after Talladega who knows where we're going to be.
But I like the idea that -- I mean, that's what you strive for. I'd like to have four cars there. It's impossible to do. I'm thankful to have the three where they are today, but it's a tribute to the crew chiefs and the drivers for working together and being willing to share and understand that you might help the guy that might beat you in the championship, but this is what got us to this point.
Q. Rick, has it gotten to the point at your organization that a championship isn't the goal, it's an expectation?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah. I mean, when you start the year, you -- that doesn't sound -- I don't like to say it that way, but you want to win it, you think you can win it, but you know it's going to be a fight. You folks and the fans expect it. You write about it when we have the media tour. And I'll tell you we're going to enjoy it while we can.
I see teams out there improving more than we're improving every week now. The Childress crowd, they've picked up the pace tremendously. The Roush cars are running much better. You know, Denny Hamlin could have won to races here back-to-back or three races.
So if you think that you've arrived and you're championship material and you're going to do it and you don't try to work harder, I mean, I know for a fact that Jimmie trains for this Chase in a different way than he trains during the year. I mean, the dedication that he has and Chad, the dedication he has, staying at the shop until 11:00 at night, you've got to want it and you've got to want it really bad because the guys that got beat are going to come back next year wanting it more. It's just who wants it the most.
I think what we've got to tell ourselves day in and day out is you cannot -- it doesn't make any difference who won it last year, and it doesn't make any difference that we've won a lot of races at Martinsville. Somebody is going to show up that's better. I think the 42 car is a great example. I mean, basically they're a two-car team, maybe call it a one-car team, for them to come out in this Chase and run like they've run.
I think back, '98, '99, we won four in a row, and I thought, man, we'll get to 10 in a hurry, and then we had a dry spell. You've got to realize that every single race and every single day you've got to work your butt off to try to stay even with these guys.
Q. Rick, question about two of your other cars tonight. I didn't get a chance to go outside and talk to Mark or Alan. They had an uncharacteristically off night. Is that all because of the incident with the 42 on the restart or did something else happen? And then another bad night for the 88. Junior was pretty down in the dumps all weekend. I'm wondering where you stand with that team.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, the damage that Mark got when the restart, they kind of recoiled there, and he had -- we had front end damage, we had a hole in the front of the car we had to fix, and then you get back in traffic and the car is kind of wounded and it's hard to get back to the front. That was uncharacteristic of that team. That was a bad luck situation. I think he would have been in the top 5 for sure.
The 88 team, you know, I'm as frustrated as those guys are. You know, everybody over there, including these guys right here, committed to helping get that car on track. It seems like I thought we had turned the corner at Loudon. It was probably one of our better cars, and then California, Kansas, good car, real good car, and then this week a very disappointing qualifying run, and then we had the problems with the transmission in the race.
Sometimes when you feel like you're snake bit, it's hard to show up and try to pretend that everything is great. But I can tell you this, I met with those guys earlier today, and I'm as committed as I know how to be, and we're all committed to each other, and we're just going to keep digging.
I told them, this can't last. We've got too many smart people over there to not fix it. We've been right on the edge of -- if we could have finished two or three of those races and not have been swept up in a wreck, we wouldn't be really talking about it.
But it's just so much pressure with these guys are running like they're running and you've got three cars that are in the points like that, and we don't hide from it, we just know we've just got to work harder and we've got to -- I think what Dale was saying was sometimes people doubt his commitment, and it's eating him up. But we're going to get it. I just hope it's soon.
Q. Are you at all concerned about Dale's confidence and having to build that back up before it gets too late?
RICK HENDRICK: I have seen, and I think this is a question you can ask Jimmie, if you go through a tough spell, I don't care who you are; every driver that I've had drive for me has had a period somewhere in that stretch where their confidence is shaken. That's just normal. I mean, I feel the same way about trying to know what to do to fix things sometimes. It's like, maybe I need to ask somebody else.
But nothing will help a driver's confidence any more than a couple of back-to-back runs and good finishes. He knows he can do it, and we know he can do it. It's just a -- it's frustration, and it's just beginning to doubt -- everybody doubts everything, and that's just normal.
Q. I kind of have two. The first is, Johnson, what would you say to people that complain that you're stinking up the show?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, I'm just out there doing my thing. People -- I don't think we've been stinking up the show for starters. Tony had a great start --
Q. You've won three races out of five. That's stinking up the show.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, I guess I don't understand why people would have a problem with it. Everybody tunes in to watch Tiger win. Everybody tunes in to watch Federer do his thing on certain courts. I'm just doing my thing. I think there's a lot of fans out there that are excited to see what this 48 car is doing, and a lot of people are happy and rooting for us to win a fourth. The rest of them, oh, well.
Q. This is for all three of you guys. How much added satisfaction is there in doing what you're doing when you're so scrutinized by the sanctioning body?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I don't like it. We were legal. We were on the edge, but we were legal. But in a way I'm kind of glad they're doing it so that nobody is questioning is there anything there, because they strip it. You know, it ties us up in the shop. They're going to take this one anyway, but --
Q. When you win, you take them.
RICK HENDRICK: When you win, you take them. But I guess in a way I'd love to see every car in the garage go through that same routine and see how far off some of these other cars might be. But it's okay; at least this way there are no questions about how straight up we are.
Q. Jimmie, when you're on the final restart, you're going up against Jeff, does it make it easier that it's Jeff, or does it make you want to win that much -- get ahead of him that much more? And Rick, what are you thinking when you've got these two guys battling for the championship going at it like that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I know racing Jeff that we're going to race hard but it's not going to be -- there's some boundaries there, and we're not going to cross some lines. I was excited that it wasn't the 5 or the 42. I knew that we had more points over Jeff. When he got in front of me, I'm like, okay, just focus, get some lines together. I think I can get back by him, but it isn't the end of the world big picture. It depends who you're around and who you're racing with what the circumstances are.
I had a great time racing that hard with him. I certainly had my hands full a few times inside of him and thought I was going to throw it away and had to take a deep breath and recalibrate and go again. But it worked out.
Q. Chad, I want to go back on something that Rick just said about the cars being kept for inspection and everything. One of the by-products of this car was that you weren't going to have to need so many cars. But you've had cars going almost every week to NASCAR. How are you keeping up, and how many cars have you had to -- how many cars do you now have in fleet just to keep up with NASCAR keeping taking your cars?
CHAD KNAUS: We've got it right at 14 cars -- well, actually 13 at this point. We've been fortunate enough to have been in this situation the last few years, and we go through great pains to schedule out and -- in hopes that we have victories and things like that where you can't turn the cars around because we know NASCAR takes them, we don't get them back until late Tuesday, so we've planned in accordance for that in advance. It really hasn't impacted us at all.
We've got our fleet of cars. We came into the Chase with basically three to four relatively new intermediate cars that we had raced one or two times throughout the season to kind of get the bugs worked out of them.
Our short track cars have been solid the last couple of years. We've got two of those cars sitting there, so if something was to happen and NASCAR takes one, they have it until Wednesday or whatever the deal was and we had to go somewhere else, we've got the fleet that we need.
Q. Rick, this car was supposed to make it a little easier financially on teams by not having to have so many. If I remember 20, 25 years ago when I first met you, teams were putting together fleets of 13 and 14 cars in order to make it through the season. Is this just the natural by-product of a championship team is that you have to have that big of a fleet and you have to have a short track and intermediate, that they're that different?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, you just can't control wrecks and losing a car and a couple of bad wrecks back-to-back. You know, it's -- I think they've done a good job making the car safe. I think the teams have done a good job of making the cars competitive. You know, I think if you've got to run this many races, the theory that -- and I think they've talked about it in the Nationwide Series that you can do it with four cars. There's no way you can run that many races with four cars. You might as well say, hey, this is the car we're going to run; let's run it. You can't run every week and have back-to-back wrecks and then get your guys to have a car turned around and ready to go cross country the next week.
I think part of it is a product of racing as many weekends as we race, and again, with these double-file restarts, I've never had a car tore up as bad on a road course as we did out in California. I mean, it was -- we had to cut almost the body off the 5 car to get it in the trailer, and you don't usually get a car beat up that bad. But it's some aggressive racing out there. The answer to the question is I think we need them just so we don't kill our people.
Q. Rick, Hall of Fame announcements were made this week. Sort of in that same vein, where does the guy next to you stack up in your opinion amongst some of these greats that everybody is talking about?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, I think people -- there's some great drivers that have been in our sport, for sure, but you look at his record since he entered this sport, and you've got to say that he'll go down as one of the greatest drivers that's ever been in the series.
Sometimes you don't get that recognition until later on in your career, and I think that's just normal. Looking at what he's done and the commitment he has, he and Chad together as a combination that really understand each other, they've been through some bumps and they want to whip each other, kill each other sometimes. It's not a love-fest all the time. But I think you've got to look at Jimmie's stats and what he and Chad have been able to do, and you've got to give him credit because it's been a phenomenal string of statistics that he's been able to put together here in the last eight years.
Q. Did you have any idea that he had that in him when you put that deal together back in '01?
RICK HENDRICK: No way. I mean, I knew he had a lot of talent. We were kidding the chairman of Lowe's, I thought we had the deal already done, and we were getting ready to sign it with Lowe's, and the chairman and CEO walked in, and he had the veins in his neck popping out, and he said, I want to know can you win. I was like speechless, and Jimmie said, "I can win." I thought, Well, I'm glad you're confident.
It's worked out well. I never dreamed that we'd be looking at Jimmie this short in his career being a four-time champion.
Q. Earlier today you were saying sometimes it's hard to enjoy what the three guys are doing because of the way Junior is running, and I was curious, is the depth of kind of your emotion, of the frustration of Junior versus the depth of the emotion of winning, can you kind of compare the two? Are you a guy who hates losing more than you love winning or are you a guy who loves winning more than hates losing?
RICK HENDRICK: I enjoy winning, but I hate not to see one of our teams reach their potential, because we have everybody in the engine shop, the chassis shop touches that car, and I have to face the sponsors and I have to look the crew people in their eyes, and it's a really hard thing to do to celebrate when you know in the back of your mind there are things that you've got to work on.
But that's just -- you're going to have that. Until four people can cross that finish line tied and you've got a photo finish and declare they're all equal, then it's going to be that way, and you've got to learn to live with it.
I think I'd much rather know that the same guys over there that are winning, we can together get that done. We can make that -- we can fix it.
What's really frustrating is when you are running like three or four of you back there, 10th, 11th, 12th, whatever, and you've got another organization that's just feeding and handing it to you every week. That's really tough.
But yeah, this motivates all of us to fix it, and I lean on Chad, I lean on Jimmie, and we all are committed because we know we're a stronger unit if all of us are doing well.
Q. I actually have two questions. The first one is for all three of you. At the halfway point of this Chase, we've got one, two, three in terms of Hendrick cars, and you've got a Hendrick-supported car in Tony Stewart that's in fourth place. Last year it was pretty even, Hendrick versus Roush, and then at the beginning of the Chase we thought Kyle Busch was going to be in there, so it was Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs. Where do you think the advantage has come from the last 12 months, especially with the ban on testing? How have you guys pulled so far ahead this quickly so that Hendrick is this far ahead of everybody else? And where as an organization do you think you guys have improved the most to get that advantage?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'll consolidate for us. It is all about people. It is the 550 people just down the road at Hendrick Motorsports. The rules are tighter than they've ever been. Without the testing we've had to rely more on our simulation programs and the tools and stuff that we have to measure and build these race cars, and it boils down to these guys.
I mean, Chad and our staff of engineers without going on the track, they have to believe in the equipment we own and use to develop the race car. And in this year we've done a really good job from the start of the season through to end up right.
Last year even with testing we didn't hit it right, so there's no guarantees it'll be right going into next season. But last year we tested 26 times or something, a lot, and this year it worked out for us. This year Roush has been off to a slow start. So much of it is done in engineering, and that's why I say the people, because it's the group of people making those decisions.
Q. Rick, we've seen in this sport manufacturers, when they get so far ahead of the game, NASCAR trying to level the playing field a little bit. I was talking to Brad Keselowski yesterday and he said just for Penske to be able to compete, and that's a top-tier team, he thinks to compete with you they're going to have to add 100 people. Obviously in this economy that's pretty difficult to do in short order. Are you worried that if you finish one, two, three, four in points with your cars, NASCAR might do something to level the playing field a little bit for other owners?
RICK HENDRICK: I don't know what else they could do. I mean, we take our car every week. Tony Stewart and them don't have 500 people. They have a tight-knit group of -- I don't think they've got maybe 100 people over there, I don't know. You know, Jimmie said it, it's leadership and people working together. Matt Kenseth comes out and wins first two races of the year, and then he hits a slump, and now he's back. You know, this thing turns, and it just evolves, and I mean, I don't know. I don't know how we could make it any fairer.
The motors are all so close, the bodies are the same, the chassis are the same. NASCAR is doing a great job of policing it. It's coming down to the guy behind the wheel and a guy like Chad calling the race and a good pit crew, and that's what's going to determine who wins this thing.
Q. Is there any part of you that has any kind of sympathy or feeling sorry a little bit for Jeff Gordon at this point who's doing everything he can and can't just -- just can't gain any ground on Jimmie?
RICK HENDRICK: Y'all have asked me some pretty tough questions here tonight. Yeah, but Jeff has been in this long enough to know that he was that guy that everybody said, I can run second every week but I can't catch him. You know, he's proud for Jimmie, but he wants to beat Jimmie. It's one of those deals that somebody has got to finish second or third or whatever.
But I think -- he's been in that top position just like Jimmie, and one day Jimmie is going to have to face it with somebody else. If you're going to do this long enough, you've got to deal with it.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|