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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Auto Club 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Auto Club 500

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Auto Club 500

Jimmie Johnson
Chad Knaus
February 21, 2010


FONTANA, CALIFORNIA

KERRY THARP: We're joined by race winner Jimmie Johnson. This is Jimmie's 48th career win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. That ties him with Herb Thomas for 12th on the all-time list already. His fifth win at Auto Club Speedway.
Jimmie, certainly a great move you made coming off pit road, grabbed the lead at lap 227 and never relinquished it. Talk about those last few laps. You had the 29 and 31 breathing down your neck.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The deal on pit road, we got lucky. We were in our pit box and the caution came out. We were able to just beat the 31 car off of pit road where the scoring line is at the end of pit road. You know, certainly got lucky. We were running third or fourth or fifth at the time, so it's not like we totally backed into this thing.
We got a really nice gift with the way things worked out, then it was kind of up to me to hang onto it.
I got away from the 29 and 31 and thought I was going to be able to motor off, have a nice smooth ride till the end. I started losing the handling on the car a little bit. The 29 was really coming on. All I could do was kind of change my line of what he was running because I hadn't really run there yet over the course of the race, and I started working my way higher in turns three and four, trying to find some more grip and anything to help myself out. I guess he got into the fence at one point, did some damage to his car.
Great race. I think today was a great race for NASCAR, great race on this racetrack. I know it's big and spread out from time to time, but in every situation I was in, there was a lot of great racing going on.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Jimmie. We have Chad Knaus, winning crew chief for the No. 48 team. Chad, talk about today's win. Sometimes you got to be lucky, like Jimmie said, but the talent shows up.
CHAD KNAUS: I got to say, this is a first. I've never seen a little dog in the media center before (laughter). That's funny.
KERRY THARP: Might ask the first question. We'll see.
CHAD KNAUS: It was neat. We did have a little bit of good fortune coming down pit road when the 12 car spun out. When that opportunity arises, that's when you have to have the team that's capable of reacting. Our guys executed a great pit stop right there. We made some significant changes to the car and were able to beat the 31 car out of the pits.
That proves the quality of the pit crew that we've got. The heads up by Jimmie to not panic and do what he needed to do. Obviously it was a close thing, but we felt confident we could get out there in front of those guys.
We led I don't know how many laps. I believe a bunch.
KERRY THARP: I believe 110.
CHAD KNAUS: We lead a bunch of the race so it was obvious we had a fast racecar. We just had to try to get back some of that track position that we had lost during that two-tire debacle. It was a great day for the Lowe's Chevrolet. Jimmie did a fantastic job of driving the racecar. It's on to Vegas.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions now for Jimmie or Chad.

Q. In early days in Daytona, they called the weather down there Bill France weather. Kevin Harvick came in here and said you have a lucky horseshoe up your butt, using another word. You've been able to turn adversity into victory so many times. Talk about that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: About a horseshoe in my ass? Is that what you're asking (laughter)?
No, you know, yes, we were lucky today. But you don't get lucky and win four championships and 48 races. Things went our way today with the pit stop. But I had to go out there and hold Kevin off, 31, all that kind of thing.
I'm not discrediting the fact we were handed a huge gift when we were on pit road and the caution came out. It is what it is, and we've had plenty of races go the other way on us. From how consistent we've been from the first races we've been in from eight seasons ago till now, it's 'cause we're a good race team.

Q. How difficult was or how important was track position out there? I think maybe early in the race you had a little bit slower pit stop than you wanted. When you got out there, could you work through traffic?
CHAD KNAUS: It was weird. Early in the race, I felt like we could maneuver through traffic pretty well. As the race progressed, for whatever reason, I don't know if it was the rubber laying down on the racetrack, what the situation was, we couldn't seem to make it happen.
Track position is king here. It always has been. Anytime you go to any of these mile-and-a-half, two-mile racetracks, it's very important to have good track position.
Typically we have a car that's capable of making its way back up through there. Today we weren't able to pull that off. I messed up when I did that two-tire call midway through the race. Shouldn't have done that. Should have just stuck with four tires. I think we would have rallied our way up through there pretty quickly. Instead on two tires, we were kind of stuck. Car got tight. Lesson learned there, especially for the fall.
But, you know, it's the way it is.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think Chad told me that last run we were 9/10ths of a second faster than we were the run before on stickers. It was all because of track position. It makes that big of a difference.

Q. While everybody is talking about the good fortune you had today, apparently we seem to forget the bad luck you had last week. How important was it for you to bounce back from that as quick as you did today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, I can't say it was really on my mind. I don't know about you, Chad. I guess I was thinking big picture in the points and knew that 35th wasn't a good position to be in.
But the races are so different that I couldn't put a lot of weight in what failed in the performance of the race, the performance of how we ran in Daytona because it's so different here. It was more of a small aspect of, Well, hate being in a hole this early points-wise, but we'll just roll on. It wasn't as much of a mind game as you would think.
Now, if we finished 35th here today, that would be a different story.

Q. Also talk a little bit about the symmetry of getting your first victory here and your 48th victory here with the 48.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: So weird how things work out. Look at the first win, then this win. We come back here with the foundation paint scheme on the car and have won a bunch. There's just something with this track, being in California for me. I wish I could explain it. But it's nice to come out here. I always love racing in my home state, being this close to the San Diego area where I grew up is really cool. To keep taking trophies out of here, there's nothing better.

Q. Jimmie, would you replay how that caution broke in your favor?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: So we were in our pit box, doing the pit stop. The caution came out. We completed our pit stop, then left pit road. Where we were positioned on pit road, we had to beat the leader to the scoring line at the end of the pit lane. We got there just about the same time and beat him by a car length or half a car length or something.
I think the 18 was in the pits, and the leader of the race passed him a few seconds before the 18 was able to get that line. That's why we were able to be on the lead lap still. Then everybody pitted and we were the leader.

Q. Chad, everybody talks all the time about how this place is tough on engines. When you saw Gordon have his problems, were you concerned at all it might be a Hendrick issue? Why is this place so tough on engines?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, we were pretty nervous actually because Jimmie made a couple of comments that he felt like the engine was just a little bit down on power. Then when the 14 had their engine and the 24 had a miss, then it cleared up, then it came back, I guess they ended up with a miss, we were pretty concerned.
But this track is so difficult because it's not really the amount of rpm you turn, it's the amount of rpm you turn for the duration that you turn it. You're on throttle for so long here. Especially once you start to move up the racetrack, your minimum rpm drops considerably, you carry a sustained rpm all the way down the straightaways. Obviously with the fluctuation with ambient temperature, track temperature and air quality today, that played a contributing factor in that. That racetrack is really, really tough on engines. Plus you have to realize it's 500 miles. It's a grueling place.
I honestly don't know what happened to the 24 and the 14 yet. I'll have to talk to Jeff Andrews and Scott and find out what happened there.

Q. Jimmie, are there a lot of friends of yours or fans who make this trip to Fontana and don't follow you the rest of the year as much just because of proximity? Do you sense a different crowd here, different level of support?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Oh, yeah, without a doubt. Some of my friends I grew up with come out to the race. It's tough to get passes for everyone. I can't get everyone passes and see 'em all, but I know they're all here. Get text messages from 'em.
Some different friends that live in L.A. that have access to passes and things like that come in and hang out. I think our pit box, pit area, was pretty full of friends. I know they're all waiting at the motorhome with a cold beer for me right now. Look forward to getting over there and celebrating a little bit with them.

Q. Jimmie, what do you do to usually prepare for these races? What is your race strategy?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Strategy-wise, you know, Chad and the engineers do a lot to understand trends and cautions, you know, the way races play out. Then again, it's just statistics that are showing that. It's difficult to really base a lot on that. I leave a lot of that to them.
I just really focus on doing my job, make sure I'm well-rested, well-hydrated, energy is up, in shape, do a very good job of explaining what I feel in the car.
Without having data acquisitions on the car, I'm responsible for telling them what's going on, good and bad. I just really have to work on my communication skills and then being sensitive enough to understand what the car's doing.

Q. Chad, in the movie 24/7, you made a reference to seeing familiar numbers in common day place, referring to the fact this is the fifth win for Jimmie Johnson.
CHAD KNAUS: It's all in the numbers, man. It's all in the numbers. We've been saying that for years. It gets out of hand from time to time. We'll be sending a text message and you'll look at it, it's 5:48. Hey, it's 5:48. You throw that out there to Jimmie, he'll throw it back. I think I sent him one the other day 8:48. It's kind of neat. I think actually in that show it was 5:48 in the morning as we were driving down. We got our fifth win for the 48 car. We're hoping the numbers all work in our favor. It's a fun game if nothing else.
We don't believe a heck of a lot in luck. But, you know, if it's out there, we'll take it.

Q. Non-restrictor plate race. Richard Childress Racing had three cars that were incredibly fast out there. Do you notice things like that after a race when you go back? Is it a concern, the gap is shrinking?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, absolutely. We always pay attention to how the competition is running. We took notice of that last year. We knew that those guys were coming on strong towards the end of last year. They found some significant gains in the horsepower area. That's obvious. They definitely found some gains in the handling of their cars. We're doing everything we can at Hendrick Motorsports to continually evolve what it is we've got.
We're typically relatively slow in our change. If you watch the 48 car, we don't make big, big changes. There's a lot that we could do to try to make the cars better. But to go out there and make wholesale changes to come out to this race that we just won the year before would be foolish. So we put a little salt, a little pepper, mix the ingredients up a little bit and try to get a little better slowly.
I would have rather come out here and finished top 10 than come out here with some unproven commodity and finished 20th. We're okay. We've got some more left.

Q. Chad, what else do you take away from today's race? Everybody talks about this is the first regular-season race. What else stood out other than the RCR cars? And, Jimmie, I think somebody made the comment that your race uniform only has you listed as the three-time champion. Is that an old uniform?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'll find out. It does. It's an old uniform.
CHAD KNAUS: Hand me down.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It was in the closet. I put the last one on in the class set.
CHAD KNAUS: That is awesome. That would have been Kristine Curley's job to get the right fire suit, by the way (laughter).
You know, honestly, we obviously learn every time we go to the racetrack and try to make our packages better. We've got a new car going to Las Vegas that's got some new things we're excited about. Every race is a learning opportunity. You know, if we go away from any race and we don't learn something, it's our own fault. We know that the Childress cars are running a little bit better. There was somebody else running pretty good, I made note of, I forget. Should have taken better notes.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Hope I have all the right sponsors on this uniform.
CHAD KNAUS: I don't know if you do.
Yes, we learned a lot and we're excited about Las Vegas. Thanks.

Q. You're a California guy. You figured out everything else about this place. I'm sure you noticed that the stands were a little bit sparse today. Do you have any thoughts on why and what it's going to take to turn this place around?
CHAD KNAUS: Global warming. It was too cold (laughter).
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know. I mean, attendance and viewership has been obviously a hot topic. I don't know what else we can do in the garage area to make it more entertaining. I mean, the cars are as equal as they've ever been. The racing has been awesome. If you look at the Daytona 500, that's the best plate race I've been a part of in a long, long time.
Today I felt like there was a lot of great racing for the lead, which typically you don't see. So I don't know. I don't know why people are doing different things. It's not only our sport, but all sports. Then when you turn the television on, people aren't watching TV as much anymore. I don't have the answer. I wish I knew. I wish we all knew. Because we have one helluva racing series and put on a great show. Our drivers are more accessible than any other sport. The fans have more involvement. The sponsors get a better bang for their buck here than anywhere else. We have everything here. I just don't know why it's declining.
Is there an attendance number? Are we speaking correctly it was down on attendance?
KERRY THARP: I haven't seen the figure.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd hate to say we had a lower attendance than before and we actually didn't. But that's my two cents. I don't know why.

Q. Jimmie, take us through the sequence where Harvick tried to pass you high there down toward the end. What did you see? What are you hearing? Are you sensing he's going to go one way?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The laps beforehand, got away from me and the 31 by running the bottom of three and four. That was where he was a large part of the race when I was racing with him. So I really stayed on the bottom and tried to make it work as long as I could.
Then I heard from my spotter that he had moved up. Nothing really happened for a lap or two. And then he really started making gains up top. At that point I was in panic mode and I needed to find a different lane, so I started working my way up the track more and more and more. When he finally got to me, I heard he was at the top of the track. I still didn't get all the way up to the top. I left him a lane at the top. I was in steps trying to get higher and find out if there was more grip up there. I guess he got into the wall off of four.
I was just trying to go where he was running because clearly he was faster than me running there. Then I thought also if I'm on the outside and he gets next to me on the inside, you have a few more options on the outside in the closing laps than you do on the bottom. So I figured if he's gonna pass me, I'll give him the bottom and let him have that opportunity. I would have my best chance to win at that point.

Q. What's on your list of accomplishments? What else would you like to accomplish besides five wins here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me there's a few tracks on the series that have given me a hard time. The track in Sonoma. A road course race in general is something I want to win at. Plate stuff I feel like I'm doing better. It's taken me a while to learn the COT and plate racing. I feel like winning one of the duels, making right adjustments for myself. So I want to do better on the plate tracks.
But when you come to the short tracks and mile-and-a-half, two-mile tracks, we've been really, really strong on those. You know, not to be corny, but just keep winning. It's great to win the big races. I'm here to win races. I love winning races. The only way you win championships is by winning races. If we're winning races, we're going to win a championship.
KERRY THARP: Chad, Jimmie, congratulations. Good luck at Las Vegas. Thank you.



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