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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Toyota/Save Mart 350

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Toyota/Save Mart 350

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Toyota/Save Mart 350

Jimmie Johnson
Chad Knaus
June 20, 2010


THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the interview room by today's winner, driver of the No. No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson. Tell us about your run.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Obviously great day for us. Very proud of really the entire weekend. We unloaded, had a plan, stuck to it. I got some laps, got a little more familiar with the setup, the car and the track. We made good adjustments throughout Friday and Saturday.
I think we kind of found our direction early in the weekend. Just made small changes and kept making it a little bit better. I would drive the car a little different. Just on and on we went.
We led a lot of laps today, which was really nice to do. Had to make some good passes at times. Feel like it was a complete day, complete weekend. Very proud to see all the hard work that Chad has put into our road course program, Hendrick Motorsports, what they have done, all those test days we left frustrated, mad. We just had one three or four weeks ago. I don't think we talked for a day or two after that one. It's so frustrating trying to find a little something that makes a difference. To have that all come full circle and be here is really cool.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Chad Knaus, as well. First road course run after a lot of hard work. Your thoughts on today's race and how you got there?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think it was a great performance by the whole team, like Jimmie said, all weekend long. Collectively from Hendrick Motorsports team standpoint, I think we probably test, practice, prepare for the road course races probably 50% more than what we do for the ovals. If you look at comparison ratios how many road course races we run versus ovals, it's been an amazing effort.
We knew we were behind. We had to get our product better. We felt like our drivers needed to get better. We put a lot of effort into it. Jimmie personally has put a lot of effort into upping his road course racing capabilities and he's done a great job. Working with the GAINSCO guys has helped him tremendously, with the 24 hours down there, and going into Watkins Glen, learning some stuff up there. I'm very proud. I couldn't be prouder of the effort from the company's standpoint, 2-4-8 shop and from the 48 team in particular.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go to questions from the media.

Q. Jimmie, Friday you talked about how cut-throat the last 20 laps of this race can be. How cut-throat was it today from beginning to end? Was the aggression more than you expected?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Man, I was so thankful to be up front. I still got hit a few times. I could hear our spotters saying, They're off in four, they're off in seven. When you come back around in one, there's going to be dirt on the road. It is like listening to PRN from my two spotters telling me where all the stuff was. I mean, there was stuff all over the place.
Obviously, I had a chance to see the wreck on the front straight the way they parked us over here. There was a jumbotron there. That was a huge mess.
When you get to the closing laps and you're deep in the field, it's just nasty. You hope you can be on the inside and you don't care if you get close to your braking marks. You just go in and make 16 tires better than four. I heard eight are better than four. You just go in there and blast people. I think there was some of that going on.

Q. You said on Friday as well that you wanted to recapture your youthful enthusiasm for this track. Talk about that. Also answer what happened to Marcos in front of you. Did you realize he was stalling out? Were you surprised when you passed him?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, this weekend I've done a very good job of not being too intense about things. I knew that we had a good package. I knew that we would work as hard as we could. I just didn't want to overthink it and put too much pressure on myself and take that pressure and aggression out onto the track and overdrive the car, make mistakes.
I think when I mentioned that on Friday, driving in, going by the hotel that I saw when I was 15 here, pulling back in the gates, that whole thing was a good way to start the weekend. Maybe I should think about doing that some more as the year wears on.
But with Marcos, you know, came around through turn one. Normally guys shut the car off downhill coasting to save fuel. I didn't think at first that he had shut the car off going up the hill. That's just the last place you would probably do it. So I thought maybe he ran out of fuel or had an electrical problem, you know, something major, because the car just came to a stop. I'm like, Wow.
So at that point I'm thinking, How does the procedure work? I know if you come to a stop, you're clearly not maintaining a reasonable speed. It will be interesting to see where they put him.
One respect I felt like if they put him back up in front of me, I could kind of see that as okay, although I'd be raising hell on the radio and cussing like crazy, trying to fight it. It's not like the car broke. He had it shut off.
The way the rule reads, you have to maintain a reasonable speed. Coming to a stop on the racetrack is no speed. So NASCAR followed their rule they have set in place. Once he got going again, I guess they slotted him into that spot.
All that being said, I feel bad for him and his team owners. His team owners gave me my chance in Nationwide in '98 maybe it was. So I'm very familiar with the team.
I think Marcos had a very fast car in the short runs. I had a try or two at him before that, couldn't get by him. So I'm not sure I would have gotten by him.
It was definitely a gift kind of handed to us, as Chad said on the radio to me. From that point on, I just needed to get a good restart and get away from those guys.

Q. You left the tower and talked to the official, Chad. What did he say?
CHAD KNAUS: I was just going to make sure they knew their own rule, to be honest with you (laughter). By the time I got to the official, he got up, they had come on the radio and said that the 47 was going to be behind the 9. So I really didn't have to say anything. I just kind of waved and said, Thanks for coming over. Walked off.
Like what Jimmie said, I hate it for those guys. They had the best car today, especially on the short runs. Once the laps wore down, we were gaining on them slowly. But I hate it for them. They did a good job, they really did. It's tough to lose 'em like that sometimes. But we'll take it for the victory for us, for sure.

Q. Jimmie, did you ever envision this day would come, considering the frustrations of the past? Are you surprised it was today, considering what happened?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, there's other times I've shown up and we've tested and came in with a lot of confidence and just kind of had a bad day, maybe tried too hard, overdrove the car, created issues, things like that.
So today I really wanted to drive within my means and to the level of my racecar. At the end, I wanted to not do that. When the 47 was in front of me, I thought I had pace to run with him and I was getting pretty loose. I could catch him through the slow stuff, but through kind of the S's and 9 and 10, my car at the end of the day just got really loose through there. I was coming close to making a mistake.
Chad was preaching to me to take care of your tires, it's a long race, just be careful, take care of 'em, take care of 'em, take care of 'em. Once I finally came to grips with that, you know, then I was content in second. Didn't really like it, but I didn't have anything for the 47.
Then with his problem, you know, it gave us the opportunity to win the race.

Q. Obviously you know the rules on championships. Denny had five wins coming into this weekend. You only had three. All of a sudden that put more pressure on you to win at these road courses. I was wondering how much did that figure in? Aside from getting your first road course win, not giving away any extra bonus points.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, we want the bonus points. But there are times, I look at Charlotte, trying to really hustle the car when the car was loose, thinking I want bonus points, I want bonus points, then I'm wrecked and finished 38th. Those 10 points don't mean a damn thing now because I just lost a hundred something points. So when you can take advantage of things, you need to.
At the beginning of year, we were clicking them off. Right now Denny has been clicking them off. All that said, it's a long time until September.
And, yes, right now we're 10 points behind him now. And 10 points is leading a lap, leading the most laps. So it's a good carrot out there. But I can't chase that. I can't chase that and make mistakes and lose hundreds of points in the process.
So I think in May, I was just not on the wheel and trying a little too hard worrying about bonus points. I've kind of recalibrated now and doing a better job with that and got the 10 points.

Q. Why was it so important to you to get a road course victory? I've read things that speaks to what kind of all-around driver you are, maybe larger than that, you're maybe too young to talk about a legacy, maybe not. Were some of those things tied to getting a road course win for you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd say the bottom line to it is I love road course racing. I always have. I grew up racing off-road trucks, they were on road courses with jumps. Made a name for myself in that style of racing.
To come into the Cup Series and not have success early irritated me. Chad in general, if there's a track on the schedule, doesn't matter what design it is, if that's our weak spot, he's gonna make it better. So we kind of got in this routine of road course, road course, road course.
That's why today is so special to us, why it has meant so much. I just truly enjoy road course racing, doesn't matter if it's our stock cars, the Grand-Am Series I run in. I'd love to run in an IndyCar someday, F1. The test that Jeff did was insane. Hopefully somebody watching can set that up for me (laughter).

Q. Last 10 races coming into here, Gibbs Toyotas had won seven of them. People have been asking, What's wrong with the 48 team, what's wrong with Hendrick in general? How big is a victory like this for you? Is this a big momentum swing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think this win is important and good for us as a team. But, you know, it's not what it's going to take to win the Chase. Totally different racetracks. You can't deny the fact that the Gibbs cars are quick on short tracks, big tracks. They have their package refined and working really well right now.
We've been competitive. We're a top-five car. We're not where we want to be yet. The good thing is that we have time. We feel we have a lot of time to get our stuff right.
On the flip of that, we want to believe there's a lot of time for them to lose their way. We know that we haven't been as dominant as we'd like to be. I think the mistakes that I made and just some bad luck that we had in May made things look a lot worse than they were.
Look at the last two weeks. We've been in the top five, running well, running good. Maybe not dominant, but we're not as bad as it appears. So we just need to work a little bit. Luckily we have some time on our side to get things right for the Chase.

Q. Jimmie, oftentimes at road courses the only way you're going to pass a guy is if he makes a mistake. Were you hoping for a mistake to give you an opportunity to win? Is the mistake that happened the last kind of mistake you would expect?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, for sure, it's the last type of mistake I would expect to see. And that was -- I had two or three turns where I could hopefully stay alongside of him and try to get by him. One restart we had some lap traffic. I was hopeful I was going to catch him with a loss of momentum. It didn't work out. I really never got along side of him. But wanted to put as much pressure on him as I could, force him into a mistake.
You can kind of count on mistakes with some guys. I just didn't really think that he would be the one to make a mistake. Was going to push and do what I could. To see the mistake happen as it did was totally off the wall. I don't know if I've ever seen that eliminate a guy from winning a race.

Q. What were your recollections of 2007 at Kansas? Biffle appeared to run out of fuel. Jimmie, you passed him, were confused at the end.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, you've got to maintain a reasonable speed. I thought it was pace car speed. So when you look at him coming to a stop, I think it really eliminates the gray area or the discussion of, What is a reasonable speed?
NASCAR, if you look at Kansas, they didn't want to take the win away from a guy in that fashion. So, you know, he maintained a reasonable speed and that was it. But when you come to a dead stop on the racetrack, I think that changes things, makes it black and white, very easy to read the rule at that point.

Q. Chad, Jimmie mentioned you guys took it off the trailer and had a plan. What was it other than to win?
CHAD KNAUS: We really wanted to come out here and just kind of feel out what our new product was. We had shown up in qualifying trim. We wanted to have Jimmie go out there and get a feel for the track, an aggressive feel, as opposed to getting a feel for the car in race trim. Two totally different types of mentality you have to have here for qualifying and race.
We did that. We were able to make a significant amount of laps in qualifying trim. So I think that really worked out well for us. Found a direction. We were a little concerned after practice because we weren't quite as fast as what we wanted to be. Jimmie did a fantastic job of qualifying, really laid down a good lap. In race trim, we really wanted to stick to our guns of what we had laid out for a plan as far as setup, mileages, things of that nature. And fortunately enough we were really fast in both race practice sessions.
We were able to just kind of cruise on through and really refine and nitpick as opposed to making big changes.

Q. You backed him down a quarter of a second during the race. Was that on plan?
CHAD KNAUS: You don't know what's going on with fuel mileage, race pace. At that point, the track, if you look, the pace was high. We were kicking it pretty hard. Our mileage was a little bit lower than what we wanted it to be. The traffic was really spread out. You have to read the track a little bit. We had at that point a 17-second lead or something like that over second place. I was like, Look, we need to back it off because if this does continue to go green, we could put ourselves in an awkward situation come the end of the race. You have to read that and call it as you can.
Fortunately enough we were in a position we could do that, and ultimately it was for naught because the caution came out.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you for your time. Congratulations.

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