NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: AAA Texas 500
Topics: AAA Texas 500
November 3, 2013
FORT WORTH, TEXAS
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by tonight's winning car owner, Rick Hendrick. This is Mr.Hendrick's fifth career victory at Texas Motor Speedway as a car owner. In you could, Rick, talk about the poise that the 48 Team showed this evening?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, it was kind of a perfect night other than one pit stop. You know, we didn't make any mistakes on the track, and the car was really fast. You know, we all tested here and all of our cars ran well. Dale had a good night, and I think Jeff was going to have a good night. When they finished three in the Top 5, that's a good race for us. We knew Matt was going to be tough from practice and qualifying.
It's just good to get out of here with a 7‑point lead. We had that last year when we went to Phoenix and had a problem, had a problem at Homestead. So I'd rather be 7 ahead than 7 behind. But I don't think we're going to know what's going to happen until the last lap at Homestead.
Q. Rick, what is the difference‑‑ like you said, you mentioned the points advantage this time last year. What is the difference with this team this year compared to last year? Because obviously although you had the problems, you guys got beat, and there was a sense of how invincible this 48 Team has been in the garage. So what is different from this year to last year to maybe regain that dominance potentially?
RICK HENDRICK: I felt real good going to Phoenix last year, and I thought we were in good shape and we had a problem. I've never seen it this tight, so I don't feel any better really this year than I did last year. I actually felt like when we went to Phoenix that we put some distance on Brad, and we'd be in pretty good shape. Then we blew a tire and hit the wall.
So I think Jimmie has been very confident, but nobody has said he was unbeatable this year. Really, Matt's been right there the whole year. Scott's got more wins, one more, I guess, than we do, maybe two. I don't remember. But we've led so many laps. I think the thing that pulls us this year is we've been in position and led right up to the end, and on the restart, we've given two or three away on the restarts this year, and the car has been really fast and led a lot of laps, and we didn't close the deal. That's not like the 48.
Matt was right there to take advantage with Kasey in Vegas and Jimmie in a couple of places. So we know that team's not going to make many mistakes.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your feelings about Jeff having problems and basically falling out of a chance to win a fifth title? And Dale Jr., fifth runner‑up this year. They've done everything but win. They've surrounded it a number of times.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, Jeff was leading this race, I think, early this year and had a bearing failure, which we never have. He was really pumped up after getting in the Chase and winning Martinsville and felt really good about this race. I was with him this morning, and I think‑‑ I hated for that for the team because they have really come together and he's put a bunch of good runs together. You know, you just can't help stuff like tire problems or failures or things like that happening to you.
As far as Dale goes, Kasey, we'll talk about Kasey just a second, he started the year off as our best car. I mean, he led everything. Then he fell off. Junior came on strong. He's been running really well. I didn't think Jimmie would get him at Dover, but Dale and Stevie are really clicking. Dale's confidence is higher than I've seen it since he's been with us. You know, if he hadn't had that motor problem early in the Chase, he'd be right there.
But it's, again, I think the engine guys, and I hold our breath for 500 miles when you‑‑ we shouldn't need Jimmie to say he had a vibration with 20 to go. Man, that was a long 20 laps. Anyway, I think everybody's doing a good job. But I feel for Jeff because he really had shown what that team could do, and I hate it for him. But it could be Jimmie next week. It could be Matt next week. You just don't know.
Q. You kind of talked a little bit about it earlier and how the team didn't close. But this is their first win on a mile‑and‑a‑half track this year which seems pretty amazing. Is there anything that you feel they're doing better at this point in the season than they were on the intermediate tracks earlier in the year?
RICK HENDRICK: No, when you look back I think we had an engine problem with 8 to go somewhere. I don't remember where it was. We led all the laps, and then there was a caution at the end on the restart. Couple of guys, we spun the tires. We were really good and ran into each other on the first lap at Atlanta. I mean, we've been fast enough to win races. We just haven't led at the right time. I mean, that sounds silly, but just and the restarts were biting us.
But if you go back and look at the laps Jimmie has led on the mile‑and‑a‑halves, we should have won more races there.
Q. This may be two races early to ask you, but you've always had wonderful combination of drivers and crew chiefs. How does Chad Knauss and Jimmie Johnson rate in all of the different drivers and crew chiefs that you've had over these years?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think if you look at their performance, it kind of speaks for itself. Ray and Jeff were kind of magical when they were together. And Chad and Jimmie, just it's amazing the confidence they have in each other. And I'll tell you, I was here working yesterday at the dealerships, and I called Chad up ‑‑ or I text him. Those guys don't answer the phone. So about 11 o'clock he was saying I was working on the set‑ups and stuff for the day. I mean, the amount of energy that Chad and Jimmie put into it amazes me. I don't know how they continue to come to that level every single week and every single year.
But I look at Jimmie and his workout routine and what he eats and how he runs, and I look at Chad, and Chad is calmer and I think he's more seasoned than I've seen him. He can handle adversity better, and that's made the team better. I'm glad I don't have to race against them.
Q. Does it get easier now that it's essentially just the 48 versus the 20? There is really nobody else to worry about beyond Matt?
RICK HENDRICK: No, it really doesn't. I mean, you just‑‑ everywhere we go we ride together. We qualify close together. We race close together. I thought we went to Martinsville. We had come out of Martinsville with a good spread. I didn't think Matt would run that well at Martinsville, and there he was almost winning the race. It's going to get more‑‑ I think it's just more tension.
I don't know how it could get any harder than it is right now, I mean from the standpoint of being out there and watching the restarts, watching the start of the race and knowing that we're asking a lot of the engines tonight on a 500‑mile race on a cool night where they make a lot of power. I was amazed that there wasn't more engine trouble because we had some real nice green flag runs.
It's nerves. It's not going to end‑‑ I think it's going to be the last lap at Homestead, unless one of them has a major failure early in Phoenix, and then the other guys just got to finish in the Top 10. But I don't see that happening. I think this is just going to be a dog fight there. The teams are that close.
Q. This is about eight straight years Jimmie has done this to be in this position at this point of the year. Do you see him gaining an extra level of confidence or edge each successive year?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, when you win five straight and then you come back and you don't win a couple years, but they prepare and we've been in it. All you can ask the team to do is show up every week and be capable of winning races and leading the points and being there, and he's been in it.
Like last year, Tony was unbeatable, and we were kind of off that year. I don't think anybody was going to beat Tony winning five races out of ten. But last year we were in this position, and we didn't do it. It fired us up. It fired Jimmie and Chad up. But they can't work any harder. I think they're as good as they've ever been and maybe better because they're seasoned. Now they've lost it a couple of years in a row and they want it bad this year.
But they're doing everything in their power, preparation, cars at the shop, at the track, engine guys everybody is working as hard as they can, and so are the other guys. So is the 20 car and Matt Kenseth.
I just think it's going to be, again, it's going to be the best points race. If they don't have any trouble, it's going to come down to Homestead, and it will be‑‑ you won't know until it's over.
Q. This is the 20th Top 10 for Junior and the only one better than that is Jimmie. Would you talk about whether or not you think Junior's getting contract for the kind of season he's having? Seems like so many people still think it's a disappointment. But 20 Top 10s this year seems like a pretty strong season.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, again, if you just go back and give him a top 10 for the motor that he lost in the first of the Chase, then it would be entirely different story. He's finished‑‑ you know, I have this theory. You're not going to win until you you're consistently in the Top 10 and then you've got to be consistently in the Top 5. When you can run consistently in the Top 5, you're going to win races and he's been right there.
Again, I said it earlier, his confidence is as high as it's ever been. We get plenty of questions when he is going to win the race, but he's right there. So I think as competitive as he is, it's answered a lot of questions and I think we're going to build on that momentum. Hopefully, we can continue the next two weeks.
He's really good at Phoenix. He likes Homestead. We had a great test there. I hope he can win a race and carry this momentum into next year. I think he could be right in the middle of this championship had we not lost that engine, and he had nothing to do with that.
Q. When the Chase started, Jimmie had just come off I think it was four straight finishes of 28th or worse. At that time a lot of people questioned whether or not‑‑ what would he do in the Chase? I'm just interested to know what your thoughts were at that time and is the 48 Team performance that we've seen in the Chase what you believe the true indicator of the team has been this season?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, again, you go back and look at what happened. We had some things that happened in the race, and, again, restart on the first lap and you run into the back of one of the other cars and knocked the radiator out of it, engine problem, a broken valve spring, running well. You know, when you see that, you know that's just‑‑ those are things that are going to happen. But the speed has been there. The laps led were there.
Again, you look at the restarts going back to Dover and some of the other races. We just, uncharacteristically we were in the wrong spot at the right time, took four tires, got in the wrong lane. Just the speed was there. I didn't think they'd be rattled. I thought once we got in the Chase, we had a bunch of tracks he was good at.
His confidence was never down. Chad's confidence was never down because we could see what was causing the problem, and it was out of their control, really.
Q. When you have four in a row, do you start getting a little concerned?
RICK HENDRICK: Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, you think you're snake bit. Jeff thought he was snake bit. That's what was so good about Jeff Gordon's run is he just believed something was going to happen. Then he started clicking off good finishes, and that gets in your head.
I think Jimmie is able to cinch it up, man, when he needs to, and Chad has always been able to fire his guys up and work harder. They sure didn't give up and they knew they were capable of doing it.
Q. How do you see Dale's confidence higher? How do you notice that? What examples can you offer that prove to you that his confidence is higher?
RICK HENDRICK: You can see it the way he walks. You can see it when he gets out of the car. You can see it when I talk to him about the race. He'll send me a text and say, man, that car was good. That was really‑‑ I loved driving that car like that. You know, I see it in the way he goes to the racetrack and how he prepares for the race talking to Stevie. His confidence is at an all-time high. You can just see it in his face. You can see it in his interviews. I mean, I can.
But more than anything is his confidence on the radio when he's giving feedback to Stevie about what the car needs. He doesn't just say I'm junk. I need a little bit of this, I need a little bit of that, or I'm good. That was better. He's so‑‑ I mean, that's just a real‑‑ Stevie, the two of them, when you talk about combination and you talk about how Chad and Jimmie are, I think a lot of people overlook the relationship those two guys have developed and how well they communicate and how good they're working together. That's about as good as I've ever seen with a crew chief and driver.
Q. As good as Jimmie has been in the Chase, he's kind of left points on the table at Charlotte and Talladega. Were you concerned or are you still concerned that maybe those will come back to haunt him because he's usually so good at getting the most out of every situation?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, any time you lose one of those things you go back and think about what ifs. I remember when Kurt Busch's tire could have gone a foot the other way and we would have been one‑two in the points. You can go back and second guess all of it and look at every mistake or every opportunity that you let get away. But at the end of the day, all the points, the last one counts just like the first one in the Chase.
Yeah, we would go back and look at some of those restarts and say, man, if we just had that or if we had gotten in line in Talladega we maybe could have won the race because we led a lot. But you can't look at it like that.
I think we're in the position. Now we only have two not to make a mistake, and hopefully we can just race without any kind of failure. But I don't think it will look back. If it happens, we'll look back at the next two. We won't look at the ones way back, I don't think.
Q. You talked about how Chad was able to mature and handle things. You've been through so many close title chases, how do you handle it when it gets this close so late in the season?
RICK HENDRICK: I'm just thankful we're competitive and we've won races. I think you do the best you can and you show up. If we don't win, I can handle that. I mean, we did the best we could. We weren't searching for speed. We weren't searching for horsepower or handling. We were right there, led laps with everybody and anybody. So at the end of the day, I just accept it and go on and get ready for next year.
Come on over here, guys, I need your help. I've never answered this many questions in my life.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sorry to leave you here so long.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by the winner of tonight's AAA Texas 500, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. You become the first driver to win consecutive fall events at the Texas Motor Speedway and are now tied with Carl Edwards for the most Sprint Cup series at TMS with three; for the fourth time in your career you scored a perfect 150 driver rating, led a race high 255 laps, and more importantly, you now have a 7‑point lead going into the final two races in the season. Talk about just the dominating performance you had tonight?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That was a great, great race car. We're really buttoned up, which is the cool thing. We came here and tested. After two days we really honed in on the balance of the car and comfort of the car. We felt really strong about things, but at the same time we're here testing, as are all of our competitors were as well. So it was tough to leave here overly excited because your competition is here getting better and getting data and all of that as well.
So we came back and just kept our blinders on and focused on our team, our race car and got the thing pretty dang awesome.
There were a couple moments in the race where we had to work on the car from a balance standpoint. There was one cycle of pit stops that came out fourth or fifth and had to drive back through those guys. Just got the lead from Brad before the caution came out, so there were a couple of tense moments in there. But when you have a dominant car, it is so stressful because you're just waiting for that thing that can get you, whatever it is. So it was nice to keep a‑‑ Chad said it once on the radio, just keep a positive mindset here, and things are going to work out. We did that. We stayed focused and got the job done.
THE MODERATOR: We also have winning crew Chad Knauss. Chad, you all tested after Talladega here. Talk about how pivotal that test was in tonight's performance.
CHAD KNAUSS: I'm trying to figure out this hat. It's supposed to be‑‑ I don't even know how it's supposed to be. It was a great test. It was difficult for sure. NASCAR allowed us four tests per organization to do, and you've got to take all of your teammates there. So when we first came out here after Charlotte, unfortunately, it rained, and we had to make a pretty difficult decision for everybody to go back to Charlotte before Talladega. Get our Talladega stuff prepared, go to Talladega and race, and then come back out here the next week.
I think it was very beneficial for us. We were able to really kind of break down what the race car was doing. Jimmie was able to go out there and kind of explore a little bit and find the nuances of the racetrack in kind of a more calm environment. I think it paid huge dividends for us from a lot of different levels, and it was good.
Eddie had to be patient with us as we were trying to get him to put the Jet Dryers out there the day that it was raining, and pretty much jet fuelled up, and he did the best to allow us to stay, but we had to come back a week later. It was difficult.
Q. Chad, we had during this race a couple of troubles with other drivers, including with tires. When you saw that, did you modify or change your strategy for Jimmie's race? And question number two: During the test earlier, did you figure out that maybe the tires would be a critical factor?
CHAD KNAUSS: Yeah, well, we were here testing a couple weeks ago. We did realize there was a tire issue. But that's not so unlike the norm. We have seen that in the past here, especially until the racetrack starts to get some rubber built up on to it that we do see tire wear. We saw that while we were here testing. We really focused on the longer runs. 15, 20 lap runs here at the test to make sure we'd get the tires to last as long as what we needed. Not so much worrying about the short run speed and the three, four, five laps.
Fortunately enough, what we were able to get from that is we were able to understand how to make the race car go fast at 20 laps, keep the tires on it, and that actually translated back into a fast race car in the short run as well. So it definitely was difficult to go through all of that. And we didn't really have to change our strategy too much. We were very fortunate that as we were going through that, we knew there were going to be tire problems. The key is to not be the first one with the tire issue, and fortunately enough, we weren't.
Q. What out‑of‑the‑ordinary repairs did you have to make after yesterday's final practice, if any?
CHAD KNAUSS: We didn't make a whole lot of changes. We felt like we had a pretty good understanding of what the racetrack was going to do based on what we saw last fall, based on what we saw in the spring with the new GEN‑6 race car, and obviously taking into consideration what we saw during the test. We didn't have to do a whole lot. We made small modifications to the race car. And, man, I was really pleasantly pleased right out of the box. Jimmie was able to go out there and pass the 99 car with relative ease just a couple laps into the race. So we hit it pretty close.
Q. When you guys win a race like this and you're battling somebody head‑to‑head, this doesn't shatter their confidence, but it's a pretty big blow. Do you think this will put some extra pressure on Matt and his team going to Phoenix and going to Homestead when you have this kind of dominance over them here at Texas?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know. I'd like it to, but I don't. At this point of the season if you're in contention, you've got more pressure than you ever wanted to you. It's just there. So I don't know if this puts anymore. They were able to get some points on us last week. We got some on them this week, so I'm not sure.
But I know where we are and where our team is and our focus and how good of a test we had in Homestead, and we're very excited to get out to Phoenix and go racing again.
Q. Chad, same question?
CHAD KNAUSS: Yeah, you know, I don't know. That's going to be interesting to see. I think Matt's the strongest player on that team. I think he's the glue that holds that thing together, so we'll just have to see what happens. I feel if we stay focused on what we've got to do, then we'll let the chips fall where they may.
Q. You when you all came here to practice, I was here the one day and it looked like you were doing everything that any of the other teams were attempting to do. Do you try to physically hide is the wrong word, but, nevertheless, hide what you're finding? How much did the fact that Kenseth blew a tire on the second day of that test, how much did that help you get to where you needed to be?
CHAD KNAUSS: I wouldn't say that we hid a whole lot. We came here with a plan and our plan was to try to understand this racetrack a little bit better. Try to know what we needed to do when we came back and what adjustments would yield a good result.
I know if I was the 20, and I came here and on my last day of testing I blew a right front tire, I'd be nervous as hell coming back to a racetrack. So that had to have been looming over them. Quite honestly, based on what I saw at Homestead, they're probably pretty nervous about that same thing happening there. But we just came here and just did our thing. I think that's pretty Classic 48. We worry about us and just kind of let everything else go the way it should.
Q. The slow pit stop that left you fifth on that cycle, was there any worry that losing your track position would cost you or that you wouldn't be able to rally from that even with a good car?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I knew we were going to lose some time. I thought if I had a big enough lead I'd be all right and still come out first or second. But I guess those guys pitted laps before we did and made up more time on track than what we lost on pit road, and that became more evident to me as I was getting through them pretty quick.
So I got to second pretty quick, and just as I got by Brad, the caution came out, so that was a challenging point in the race for me. And it was nice to have it because I realized how good of a car we had and got a little experience passing some cars and got an idea if we did lose track position, the adjustment we needed to make.
Q. Jimmie and Chad, a year ago you left here up 7. I'm curious do you feel any better about this year or worse about this year on how you're doing and also considering Kenseth and the competition?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, we learn lessons each and every year. I know when I go to Phoenix the balance of the car and what I had felt last year led to a blown right front tire. So we'll show up there and make sure that from my standpoint and what I feel and what Chad sees with tire pressures and temps and the overall balance of the car that we don't overwork that right front tire.
I feel better about Phoenix, honestly, than I did last year leaving here. Then last year we did not test Homestead and we just came back from Homestead, and that test went really well. So I'm optimistic. I feel good. But, man, it's so weird because I've been in position before where I've had these amazing sensations and feelings that a championship was going to happen, and we were able to do it for those five years in a row.
There were other years where I had those feelings, and it didn't happen. I think 2004, we had everything going our way it seemed like, and it didn't happen. Last year was another good example of us taking control late in the Chase, and then that ended with two bad races.
I guess the lesson in all of that is I'm not counting on anything, and I have to go to Phoenix and race, same as Homestead. It does simplify things a little bit. I'm not going to get too excited about things during the course of the week. I'm going to work real hard and train my butt off. Stay in this little world that I've been living in for the last five or six months, but more so the last eight weeks, and show up ready to go these next two weeks.
Q. Do you feel any different being 7 points ahead this year compared to last year based on how you're doing? And the fact that you're facing this with a guy who has won the title before?
CHAD KNAUSS: No, I don't think there is a big difference. I think you guys have seen it time and time again. We really focus on what it is we need to do. We can all say that Phoenix was the culprit last year why we didn't win the championship. The fact of the matter is we had a mechanical problem at Homestead that took us out of it. If we had won Phoenix and went to Homestead and still had a mechanical problem, we'd have lost the championship.
So I'm looking forward to it. I really am. I think we were in great shape last year. I think we're in as good or maybe just a pinch better shape this year, though I do feel the opponent is a little more formidable than what we had last year. So I'm excited. I really am.
I love this time of year. This is what we live for. This is what we want to do. We want to go out there and do everything we can to try to win Phoenix.
Q. Following up on that, Rick said that you guys were both really fired up after Phoenix last year. That set maybe the tone for even this year to some extent. I guess, what were those emotions like after that race last year? Did you feel like you solved whatever caused you to run outside the Top 5 with that second you had back in the spring? Do you feel like you guys are back to form with that track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I feel much better about Phoenix this year than last going into it. I kind of lost my thought. What was the first part of your question?
Q. It seemed like it got you guys fired up after that weekend.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there definitely was a feeling of it slipping away. I'm trying to recall the exact emotions at the time. I mean, frustrated that we blew a right front, and then rolling into Homestead, we didn't have anything to lose. We had everything to gain. That was a fun way to race down there. We found ourselves with an awesome car, awesome strategy and leading the race, then we had mechanical issues. I think we had a pit stop issue too right before that that started the downward spiral.
But there was a range of emotions, for sure. I mean, pretty disappointed leaving Phoenix to have that slip away like that and lose a big chunk of points. Rolling into Homestead, eager and ready and trying to put as much pressure on the 2 as we could. Man, we were close. We had all the pressure on them and in position, and made some mistakes.
Q. Chad, you just mentioned a moment ago about feeling like this year's opponent Matt is a little more formidable than last year's. Why so? Can you explain that comment, please?
CHAD KNAUSS: I think Matt just from his personality standpoint is a little more controlled. He's a little more mature. He's been in the sport for a long time. I think he's just a little more even keel, so that makes him a little more challenging to get off kilter, off rocker, so we'll have to see how it shakes outcome Phoenix.
Q. Yesterday during the Nationwide race, do you stop and watch the race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I was‑‑
Q. What did do you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was in Dallas. My wife and two kids were at a great friend's house up in Dallas. So once we had our debrief, I hopped in the car and drove up there and played in the little jump house with my daughter and my God children, and tried to teach my daughter how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. She didn't hit the ground, but it didn't go very well. Luckily I caught her.
I went to Mi Casina and got some Mexican food. I was jealous of everybody else having some of those mumbo taxi margarita things that I wish that I could have. I could have one tonight, but I couldn't have one last night. So that was it. I was pretty calm.
Q. So the training wheels worked for the most part. What would you give her, a grade A through C?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, she needs a little more time with the training wheels. At 3, she's not quite there yet, but we had fun for sure.
Q. Chad, what about you? Do you stay and watch the race to see problems like the tire issue and things like that?
CHAD KNAUSS: I try to study as much as I possibly can. I spent some time on pit road and walked up and down pit road a little bit. Watched what some of the other teams were going through and what was happening. I don't analyze it a whole lot because the strategy is so different.
I'm not very good at Nationwide racing, So I don't really understand what they do. But they did have the same tire; it was the same racetrack, so I was able to get an idea of what was happening with the tire wear. But that was really all I paid any attention to.
Q. Johnson, Gordon, it's basically over for him. He's 69 points out now. Finishes 38th, I think. What's it feel like when you're in a situation like he is where he wins last weekend, feels like he's got a Hail Mary chance to win a championship, then you show up here pretty confident. I think Rick said he felt really good after the test you guys had, and then it goes out the door like that with a blown tire?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I haven't had a chance to catch up with him yet, but I can only imagine the disappointment. To be off to a slow start through the year and to rally and showed great speed at different times, and then the whole Richmond thing. He thinks he's out and then he's in. As he said, playing with house money. Things were really going his way. Wins last weekend, so I would assume that it's just been a steady build‑up of confidence and anticipation for a shot at a championship, and then, boom, it's gone.
So I would imagine pretty disappointed, for sure. I'll definitely reach out to him and check on him.
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