NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
TEAM CHEVY DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
November 21, 2010
JIMMIE JOHNSON, CHAD KNAUS, AND RICK HENDRICK, NO. 48 LOWE’S CHEVROLET
FIVE-TIME STRAIGHT NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES CHAMPION – TRANSCRIPT:
KERRY THARP: Joining us up front is our 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship team, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, driver Jimmie Johnson, team owner Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus is on his way. For Jimmie, it’s his fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, and it puts him in sole possession of third place on the all time list, only two behind two Hall of Famers, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
He is also the first driver in the Chase here to overcome a points deficit going into the season finale. And only two other drivers have overcome a points deficit since the inception of the current points system, Richard Petty and Alan Kulwicki in ’92. For Rick Hendrick, it’s his tenth series others championship, breaking a tie for most all time and overall across the three national series of NASCAR, his 13th owners championship.
Jimmie Johnson, congratulations on this championship. This one was hard to get.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it really was. You know, I have to give a lot of credit to the 29 and the 11. Their teams, the effort they put up, it was not easy by any means. You know, after all of the years of the Chase, to have it really come down to this final race was really cool to be a part of. I’m proud to be a part of it and very proud of what we have done as a team. I think from where we started nine years ago, I think the headlines read before my first full season when Rick hired me was, what the heck was Mr. Hendrick thinking, somewhere along those lines. To have it all come full circle, when we were sitting there with Lowe’s and trying to convince them that we would have a good team and I would win a race and we would continue to win races and trying to sell, from that point on in 2000, 2001 to where we are today, it’s just amazing.
It’s cool that we have done it together from Lowe’s side with the sponsor, Chad and I, there’s a lot of guys on the team that have been there for the whole ride, and we are just very, very proud to do this and to have the fifth championship.
KERRY THARP: Five straight for Chad, as well, championship crew chief. Chad, talk about some of the ups and downs of today’s race, points going back and forth, back and forth, I’m sure you’re emotionally spent.
CHAD KNAUS: Yep. Sure am. It was definitely a taxing day. You know, we didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the points. We knew what we needed to do was to go out there and run competitively.
You know, it was not shaping up exactly how we wanted it to early on. The car was not quite as good as what it needed to be. And we just had to stay focused on what it was we needed to do and have good pit stops and have some track position back and tune in on the car. At the end, the race car was really good. We didn’t even worry about the points.
At one time I had asked my engineer how many points the 29 was behind us coming into the race, but that was about a third a way into the event. But other than that we didn’t look at the points. We didn’t worry about it. We knew what we needed to do and we just stayed focus on that, and we knew if we stayed ahead of the 11 and beat the 29, that we would be able to pull it off and real fortunate to be able to do it.
I think it speaks volumes about what this organization can do when we work together collectively. The 248 shop has a one team fielding two cars since 2002. And I think if you look at the performance of that shop, it’s second to none, and I’m real proud to be a part of that, real proud to be a leader of that organization and just to be a part of it.
So it’s a lot of fun and well deserved because there’s a lot of hard work that went into it and I think it’s definitely going to give Jimmie some of the praise that he needs for the type of driver that he is, fantastic driver and really has not gotten the praise that he deserves. Coming in here today and doing what he did, I think that shows an awful lot of talent.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Chad. Rick, congratulations on this championship, and certainly what your organization has accomplished, we said it last year and we’ll say it again this year, it’s just a dynasty all across sports, and congratulations again. Your thoughts about winning in 2010.
RICK HENDRICK: Chad didn’t any attention to the point, I sure did. I thought we were done two or three times today. I guess back in ’04 we lost by eight points I think it was, and this was I guess the tension from going into Phoenix to today, I wasn’t nervous until about the middle of the race.
You know, Denny had a tough break there, and then he came back, I think he came back really strong for the problems they had. Kevin looked good, and then he got the penalty and then Jimmie’s car came alive at the end. It’s unbelievable for us to get, as an organization, ten championships and I cannot believe as competitive as this sport is that these guys could pull off five in a row.
But this is definitely a tough one that they got done today.
Q. When you came across the finish line, your celebration was more exuberant than I can remember; does this rank as the best one or does it equal the first one? Where would you put it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, gosh, I’ve always told you guys that the first championship, first win, that stuff has meant the most to me.
This one, I think this takes the lead. Just the circumstances, it’s not that the other Chases weren’t competitive. We were stronger I think in the previous two Chases, at least. Maybe all four. But this one, I’m just so proud, because there were times on Saturday nights when we would get together and discuss our race car after practice, and we would have some tough conversations, and just struggled to get what we needed.
Some races, like Kansas, we had a tough practice session, came out, had it right, went up and finished second or third. Martinsville, we thought we were going the right direction, started the race a little out of our norm with the setup and didn’t have the performance we wanted.
So we have had the highs and lows of the Chase, but to have it all come around, and to look every single one of my crew guys in the eyes on that stage tonight there’s a different feeling about it. It is so cool. I think we were very relieved for the first one, and it was super, super special. But this has a different feel. And even coming in, even through the race, the final races of the Chase, I’ve been saying all along, I’ve had a good time with this. This has been fun. I was, one, so happy to be a part of three guys racing for the championship, then obviously going for five in a row. I have really soaked in this experience and enjoyed it and just so happy to come out on top.
Q. Based on what Chad said, do you feel like you haven’t gotten your due? Second of all, just wonder if you think Denny is feeling the way you might have felt in ’04 and ’05 right now.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I feel like I have received a ton of respect for what we have done. I’ve watched our fan base grow leaps and bounds. People tell me they hate me, but they respect me, and that’s always cool. A guy that had an “I hate 48” t shirt on when I was on the SPEED stage, but was giving me a thumbs up and said congratulations.
In the moment, I think it’s tough for fans to maybe look at what we have accomplished, because they want their guy to win and I understand that. But I know what they have done today is respected sports wide, not just in our little bubble we live in, but sports wide, and it’s something I’m very proud of, and I feel great for what we have accomplished and I feel that we have been very well respected for what we have done. If this it takes it to the next level, then right on. But I don’t need it to make me feel better about what we’ve done. I’m totally content based on our performance. I know my fan base is extremely proud right now and they are going nuts right now.
The second part?
Q. Denny, is he feeling the way you felt?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I wouldn’t doubt it. Rick mentioned ’04 earlier, and at parts in the race, I felt good about things and I thought, man, in ’04 I felt good about it until the last two restarts and there that 97 was. Sure enough towards the end of the race, there the 11 was and I was chasing him for a couple restarts.
It was an interesting mind thing that was going on for me, because I had been there before, and I think the experience really helped me stay relaxed and calm and just go to work and we stayed I think it was one of our most calm events on the radio, period and we kept our heads where it needed to be and made the right adjustments and went on.
I’m sure Denny is disappointed and Kevin, as well. Those guys put up a great fight and when it’s not close, it’s got to stink. So I respect those guys. I respect those two drivers and their teams and what they have done and how competitive they are.
Q. You come in talking about you’re at a deficit, but as soon as that green flag drops and that monitor starts, you’re so far ahead and staying so far ahead that you’re up in points right away. You’re no longer trailing in points, and it seemed like that from that point on, the 48 team was like, this is where we are supposed to be, this is where we are supposed to be running, we are back to normal and we are sort of in control, in charge of the situation. Did it feel that way? And were there times that it creased to feel that way and did you get it back?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it felt good to be in control, but again, ’04 was playing in my mind at least and I didn’t want to get too comfortable with things. Our plan in what we wanted to do was go out and lead the most laps and win the race. Leading the most laps, that opportunity didn’t seem like it was really there. We were a good car there, we would run third to sixth or whatever it was.
But I just didn’t want to feel like we were in control. I just expected the 11 to show up at some point and at one point there they were there and then they slipped back.
You just never know until it’s over, so I just tried to keep an even mind set through the whole day.
CHAD KNAUS: We didn’t really approach any different than we do any other weekend as far as trying to gain control or there wasn’t really an opportunity to force anybody’s hand. I think one pit stop, we stayed out and the 11 stayed out when other guys pitted. They probably stayed out because we did. But other than that, we tried to run our race, and really focused on what we had going on with our organization, our team.
And that’s usually when we perform the best. When we start letting outside influence penetrate our shell, that’s when we make rash decisions and don’t perform properly. So we really just worked within our comfort zone on our team, and just the kind of mind set. We had a couple of pit stops that weren’t the best, lost a bit of track position, but the guys rallied and came back and did a great job at the end. We are more worried about ourselves than anybody else.
Q. You seemed caught off guard when you stepped out of the car in front of the Sprint stage and got a raucous cheer from the crowd. What was going through your mind there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, when I see my interview, it was pretty cool to see everybody go nuts over there. I mentioned the fans in my interview and they stood up and made a bunch of noise.
Our sport wouldn’t be obviously for the fans and to get their applause and stuff climbing out of the car was really cool.
Q. And I heard you say on the SPEED interview that you especially enjoyed this Chase when the media started Thursday. Did you have a plan this week to come in and mess with guys heads or just go with it when you were getting some especially Denny?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think in Phoenix, or actually, backup to Texas, the gloves came off amongst the team. Rolling forward from there, it’s not my deal to play games. But it’s not out of my line of thought to tell the truth in what I think is going on, and that’s all that I did. If it worked and it played mind games on them, right on. I’m not sure it did.
I saw them before the race started, we were backstage and he gave me some credit for trying to give him a hard time during the week. He said, “The stress had not hit me until about 30 minutes when I put my suit on.”
I guess at some point it finally showed up and he did a good job of staying away from it. I was just pointing out the obvious that he had everything to lose and we didn’t.
It was fun to be in that space mentally and not be so worried about the championship like I had been in other years. And believe that comes from the fact that we didn’t have to protect down here. We came in behind, and we knew what we had to do. So it completely changed my minds set.
Q. On the crew chief teleconference earlier this past week, you talked about how this might be the first time that you guys would actually be in the situation of racing this race where you’ve come in the last four years with a big points lead. Do you think that was the last or the best true test of what this team had in this situation? How do you feel you handled it and Jimmie, how did you feel you faced that situation?
CHAD KNAUS: It was definitely a unique situation coming in here needing to be aggressive and trying to make things happen. As far as I was concerned, the race started on Friday.
So we had to perform. We were shooting for the pole. We wanted to qualify on the front row. We were not able to pull that off but we had a very respectable qualifying effort and that set the stage.
The 11 was struggling throughout practice and had a hard time in qualifying and that definitely showed some strength from our team of coming in here determined to qualify well and qualify up front because we have not qualified that well the last few weeks so we really focused on that really hard.
We prepped Jimmie, a lot. I was on him pretty heavy through out the week about what we thought we needed to do. And that was cool. And it was exciting for me to go out there and try to get the team and the car and Jimmie in the right mind set to try to have the car capable of winning the race. And we didn’t start off as well as we needed to in the practice sessions on Saturday.
And then throughout the Happy Hour session, we started to make some gains, and Jimmie got more comfortable in the car and we were able to make some good decisions last night.
And to be able to finish the way we did today I think is awesome. Would I have liked to have won? Yes. One day my dream is to be the only car celebrating here, nobody else in victory lane, just the 48. If we can pull that off, that would be great. But you know, we had a car last year that I think was capable of winning the race at the end of the race, and I think tonight, if we had to go out there and win, I think it would have been interesting to see what would have happened. I think the 99 guys did a great job. I’m very proud of Bob Osborne and those guys. It’s fun racing with them, but I think if we had to race them, it would have been exciting.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: From my standpoint, I guess for this year and the chapter, closing the book of five in a row, sure, it absolutely wraps everything together and you know, makes it complete in some ways, if there were critics to say that we had not come from behind and were not truly challenged and on and on. But the truth of the matter, we are going to be back next year and hopefully be in the same situation and the book will be wide open.
For now, it’s somewhat closed and there’s an ending to it, but we’ll be right back in the line of fire again next year, I hope. I hope that we make the Chase and are here fighting for a championship again and we’ll have to answer questions again.
Q. Rick, you talked a little bit earlier about how you’re sort of in amazement that they are able to win five in a row in this competitive era of NASCAR. Can you put it into perspective, obviously with your experience of being in the sport a long time, how competitive this sport is? And then I’ll just ask the question now so Jimmie, you can think about it, but I know you say you’ve far surpassed every single goal you’ve set in the sport. Is the next goal now and I think we probably ask you this every year, but you’re inching closer to that seven titles. How badly now do you want that? Is that sort of the next thing on your radar?
RICK HENDRICK: What was the first part?
KERRY THARP: Just how competitive.
Q. How competitive the sport is. You’ve talked about winning five in a row and how narrow the box is you guys are in, and just having been in the sport, can you put into perspective how difficult that is.
RICK HENDRICK: When I first started in the sport, there was three or four cars that you had to beat to win a race, and it was maybe two or three cars to win a championship.
And from a drag racing background, we led a lot of laps and broke. I watched Richard Childress and we watched Richard Childress and Randy Dorton and we tried to lead every lap. We won a lot but we didn’t close the deal.
But at the beginning of the year, you had to beat two or three cars. Today, you’ve got at least 15 cars that can win a race. You have guys that won multiple races that didn’t make the Chase. And you had guys that came on pretty strong at the end; if they had been in the Chase, they could have made a difference.
And I think, you know, from our own standpoint, we have got a lot of work to do on some of the other teams. But NASCAR has got us in such a tight box, there’s so many talented people, there’s so many talented drivers, there’s so many talented teams, well founded teams; it is hard to do.
So I look at how hard it is to win a race and how hard it is to win these championships, and back in the day, I’m not taking anything away from championships in years gone by, but you did not have this many guys and you didn’t reset the field with 12 guys to basically zero.
So it’s definitely a lot harder, and I think that’s one of the things that makes these five in a row so unbelievable, if you look back at if you won the championship, you got the first pit box. And if you get the first pit box every race, that’s going to give you a bunch of points right out of the gate, so they quit that with Gordon, and so it’s been if you go back and look at history, it has really been a this sport, the box is tighter and there’s a lot more talent in it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: From my side, I guess I haven’t thought much about where we are in looking up at what Petty and Earnhardt have done. I mean, absolutely, I would love to tie them. I would love to surpass them. I don’t know how realistic that is. I mean, I never thought, as you mentioned, that I would get to this point.
So we’ll enjoy five for the off season and come back and start working on six next year. We are a hell of a lot closer now than we were before the day started; first one to have five, or I guess third in line, I heard earlier, so we’ll keep working at it. But absolutely. I’m now looking at those marks that the greats have put out there and hopeful to get up there to them.
Q. I guess I’ve created a new Thanksgiving tradition; you know Thanksgiving is getting near when you win another championship. I’ll ask you the same thing I asked last Sunday. Does this championship, the way you won it, solidify your greatness?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don’t know if I can answer a question like that. I can’t. I just you know, we are it’s not the driver or a person should not be up there saying, I’m great. That’s just not my deal. At least me; I’m not going to do it.
But I’m very proud of what we’ve done, and five in a row, no one else has done it. So Rick can say it for me.
RICK HENDRICK: He’s great.
CHAD KNAUS: I concur.
Q. The message behind the team sport note, and when does the I don’t know what you would call it, the drive for the ring for the other hand, the drive for six, when does that start?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Six back.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, the (phone ringing. ) Rick, you want to get that? It’s his mom.
The note, basically I was trying to put out there, like I said earlier, this team won the race. You know, our team won. It wasn’t Jimmie. It wasn’t myself. It wasn’t Mr. Hendrick. It wasn’t Jeff Andrews and Jim Wall. It wasn’t the guys in the chassis shop. It was all of us and collectively, we had to really buckle down to get this thing done. That’s what that note was about. We won this. Our team won, and I’m really proud to be a part of that team.
And as far as, what did you say, six pack, it’s already started.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We like beer, so it works.
CHAD KNAUS: It fits right in, man. I’ve got some hard discussions to have with Jimmie this weekend about some testing that he’s going to have to take part in. (Laughter) But here’s the facts. The 2010 season ended two hours ago. And 2011 started two hours ago.
We have started preparing at Hendrick Motorsports for next year and we are full force to make sure that we take a better product to the racetrack next year, and it’s going to be so. So we are hard at it.
Q. Chad, you are the one who brought up, Jimmie is not getting the praise he’s due, Jimmie answered the question, but what about you, what do you think he’s not getting in terms of praise as an athlete?
CHAD KNAUS: I just think and no disrespect to any of our elders or whatever you want to call them, the guys that raced back in the day, the Earnhardts, the Waltrips, the Pearsons, the guys like that; you hear a lot of what they say about the tenacity of those drivers and how aggressive they were and how they could do things with the race car that nobody else could do.
I think if you really sat back and looked at what this guy can do with a race car, you would be pretty impressed. He’s been in some pretty precarious situations and driven through them. He’s put his nose in places that other people would not do and not be able to pull off. If you look at races like Texas against Matt Kenseth a couple of years ago battling for the win and everything was on the line for the championship right there; if he had slipped one bit, the championship hopes would have been shattered.
If you look at three wide racing today and having the brains to David Pearson style to back out and say, I can back off now, and live to race another lap and get those two spots back, to where other people go in there and bomb it in there and crash and beat off somebody else. I don’t think he gets that.
As a friend and as a teammate, I want to make sure that he gets what he deserves.
Q. And for Jimmie, you seem a little bit a lot more self confident in that’s the right word.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s the beard. (Laughter).
Q. What does that
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The beard won a championship. Yeah! (Laughter).
Q. What’s the difference between Jimmie last year and this year psyche wise and is that your version of a playoff beard?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s what I do to frustrate him.
From the psyche standpoint, absolutely. I think each year that I’ve been in the sport, I’ve become more comfortable with my role in the sport. And I don’t know, just the way I was raised in racing, I had to earn the right to say things and I had to earn the right to have confidence and to act a certain way. I see guys step out of line from time to time with very little years of experience and from my standpoint, I don’t think that’s right.
I’m now at a point where I feel like I can say a few things. I still think that if you look at the ranking in the garage area, Gordon to Burton, there are guys there that really should be heard and listened to and I’m trying to learn from those guys and make sure that when I do speak up and say something, it’s worth saying.
The other side of it is, I’ve accomplished so much more than I ever thought I would. I may as well have some fun with it. That’s what this Chase was about and that’s what this week was about. And when it dawned on me that I could remind Denny that he had everything to lose, I’m like, that’s a great idea and off I went. (Laughter).
Again, I didn’t want to be disrespectful to him and I didn’t want to do that to be disrespectful to Kevin or their teams, but what’s wrong with a little bit of discussion or a reminder or two about what’s on the line.
So I had a lot more fun with this championship battle than any other.
Q. Going back to your exuberance over the radio you accept screaming, “It’s unbelievable, it’s unbelievable.” Was that a release of the tension or was there a part of you that doubted you could do this coming into this week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: A little of both. In practice yesterday as Chad pointed out, first practice was tough. Second practice we got things going the right way, and we operated all weekend long under the mind set that we needed to win the pole, lead every lap, win the race.
And it’s not that we were concerned on where the 11 was; we were just wanting to accomplish what we felt we could do. And we didn’t, but we got we won the war still at the end of the day. We had I think one of the coolest experiences over the course of the weekend on just set on kill and nothing else matters. He sent me a text this morning that says, “Nothing else matters.” We were in that space mentally all weekend long.
It was all that coming to the. I was playing the movie of 2004 when Kurt showed up and in my mind I can still see the pink tape on the valance of his race car and I saw that, his car was the only car that had pink tape on the valance of the car, I knew I was dead on the water.
I was waiting to see that pink spoiler on the 11 and I was just thinking about it. Once I took the white, he wasn’t freaking on the radio that I had to pass 99; we were going to be in good shape and just game unglued at that point.
Q. How much does experience count in this? Five straight championships, in the Chase, with the evolution of the Chase, you guys get better, get better, nobody else has been able to get to that point to take it over. So how much is experience worth? And with Jimmie, instead of mind games, isn’t it just natural self assurance for you, I don’t see you being cocky so to speak. I just see it more as self assurance.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I agree with that. Definitely confident in my abilities and who I am and how I fit into this sport, all of that rolls into one for sure.
What was the first part of that, the experience? Experience is everything. It really, really is everything. It doesn’t mean that somebody is not going to win there first, but for year one to year two, it’s a different world.
And all the way to year four and where we were coming into this championship battle, it helps out on from your notes in your setups you know your mind set, you know that today, I knew at some point there was a feeling that was going to show up and I was ready for it. It showed up and I’m like, okay, there it is, final race of the year, everything is on the line. Denny I had not seen him before we walked across the stage and he said, “Oh my God, something hit me 30 minutes ago and I didn’t feel anything until now.”
And I knew that was coming, and I’m not sure that carried over to the car or to the race, but the experience of being there before helped so, so much.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think experience definitely helps, in a lot of different levels. You know, preparing the race car to come in this week, company wide and team wide, there’s more of a sense of calm about what you need to do; the team has been there, the guys know what to do.
For the first four championships or three, at least I know for a fact, I was in there with the guys looking at every nut and bold and not needing to do that and have the confidence in the guys, because they have been there as well. It carries a lot of weight. And honestly this week, I had a promote I good week, you know from a stress level. Wasn’t bad and didn’t really hit me until last night. We had some hard decisions to make on the race car of what we were going to do with the setup and that kept me up last night a little bit.
But leading up till then, it wasn’t really bad and it was kind of nice, and so in years past, I was, you know, ten cups of coffee in the morning and not sleeping at night and things of that nature, even when we did have a lead. So I think having that history and knowing that you can fall back on it and like Jimmie said, the emotions that are going to come I think it definitely helps.
Q. As turnabout is fair play, do you think Chad gets enough attention, or is that possible?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: (Laughing). I just caught that.
CHAD KNAUS: I just caught that. That depends on who you ask I guess.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think that as time goes on, people will really look back and appreciate what we have done as a team. And the way I feel for Chad, the way I feel for my team and these guys that put their heart and soul into this, they cannot get enough attention, respect, their fair share of compliments, it is impossible, because it is a team sport. My team makes this happen. I’m lucky that I get to climb in there and drive the wheel. I’m a piece of the puzzle. He deserves everything he gets and even more.
I think it’s tough to really look at it when we are in the moment but some day when we are retired and we come back and we are making crazy comments like DW (Darrell Waltrip) and Jeff Hammond, guys will say, wow, you guys did X, Y and Z. I guess we will be on the fun wave and enjoy it. Until then, we will just keep working hard.
Q. Just wanted to ask you about what makes this supremely satisfying for you? Is it because you came into this Chase trailing for the first time with a chance to win it and that you were involved in a three man tussle with Denny and Kevin, and the fact that you know, they perceived some vulnerability and that you kind of answered that. Is that where you draw this supreme satisfaction of winning this?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it would be those two points and also the fact that we kept the streak alive. When you set a record, you would love to continue that record and we have done that.
So there’s that part. And then expand on one of the points you mentioned. We did everything we could all year long, especially in the Chase. And we had two teams right on our heels. I would say it was one of the more difficult Chases for us speed wise. So the heart that it took to win this and the tough decisions we had to make at night, on Saturday nights typically going into a race on Sunday; I’m proud of how we dug our heels in and made it happen.
Even with a ton of pressure and all of the things going on. I mean, we had to make a stand, and I’m proud that we stood up as a unit and did it.
Q. The chapter of your life, the book of your life, there’s a new very important chapter that was written with the birth of your daughter, and all of the wonderful emotions and massive life changes that come with that. I can’t help but wonder if that has bearing on your appreciation for this particular championship outside of the competitive part of it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah, without a doubt. Obviously we don’t have any photos from being on stage yet but when we won in Dover and had our daughter up there with us, just there’s two of them framed in our motor home right now. They are there the next weekend.
So to have Genevieve on stage today was extremely special. The year that we have had, I mean, as a lot of you know, a child, it’s just such an amazing experience to have a child and the process and the miracle that it is and the joy that it’s brought Chandi and I. And to cap it off with a championship and roll it all together, this is just the coolest year ever.
We are very proud as a family and there’s nothing better than holding my little girl up there getting some photos earlier.
Q. You talked about how much you enjoyed this week. A couple things. Next year, could you arrange to come into this race maybe 75 points behind so you could really have a good time? And how important is it to you to have left Gordon now in your dust in the championship count?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Never even thought of it. I naturally think there’s next year and he’s plenty capable of winning a championship and tying us.
You know, I was thanking him on stage for giving me a chance and he shrugged it off like it was nothing. And I guess Rick, doing a lot of it behind the scenes, and Rick and Jeff making a decision in August of 2000 when I needed a ride; to end up where it has is crazy.
And I guess I’m kind of babbling.
But I haven’t thought of passing Jeff in the championships. But certainly proud to be where I’m at and hope to climb the ladder and go off the seven mark. I would love to win more races and catch Jeff’s mark there. Although, I just can’t believe we have won 5 and 53 races. Man, those are big numbers and we’ll just keep working at it.
Q. I wanted to follow up on the our team won note. Is that in reference to the comments by Mike Ford at Texas? And Jimmie, can you address how smoothly you were able to overcome not the best day on pit road by your crew today?
CHAD KNAUS: Yes, absolutely. I think our team and our organization is better than what they have got at Gibbs. Just the facts. I didn’t appreciate the way that they said that we were selfish and inconsiderate to the guys on our team when we had to pull them and I wanted to make sure that this championship is not about that decision that was made in Texas in the middle of the race or the decision that was made the Monday after Texas, because that’s not what it was.
This decision was made by Steve Letarte and myself in December of last year saying that we were going to win the championship out of the 248 building, and we were going to do whatever it took; if that meant no sleep, if that meant changing cars; the 24 guys actually had a 48 car here this weekends. We operate in that building as a single unit and we field two cars for two great drivers and we are going to do whatever we can to win as many races and as many championships out of that building as possible.
We work for the organization. We work for the team because there’s 520 something people that work at Hendrick Motorsports, and we have a responsibility to them to do what’s right; if he can’t see that or if they can’t see that, then they aren’t a team.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I forgot what the heck you even asked me. I’m sorry. Oh, pit road.
Yeah, there was a couple stops, when the 11 was there, challenging us, I asked them I need you guys and the last couple of stops were spot on and we got the track position that we needed.
You know, I try not to say much on the radio to the guys. I know there’s coaches there and Chad and everybody else is there leaning on them but every now and then I’ll just plea for some help and they answered the bell.
Q. I know you kind of alluded to this a bit earlier, but only in NASCAR, do the two guys that are going for the championship get to spend the five minutes before they race together; starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl don’t do that. What did you speak about when you rode together on the truck? What was that like having that opportunities to be right there with the guy you’re competing there with at the end.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I would say it started off this morning when we got to Miami airport, with the helicopter over, at that point there was probably more awkwardness being around one another than there was at behind the stage before we went across for driver intros and then into the truck.
I guess in our minds you work up such a competitive there’s so much competitive juices flowing that you’re just kind of you don’t want to tear the other guy apart in a sense. And we see each other and both kind of distant and said hellos and things like that. We get in the helicopter and Jeff was with us and Jeff goes, “That was awkward.” Yeah, yeah, you know, it happens.
In the truck, before we went across the stage, I shook Kevin’s hand and wished him good luck and said, “You’ve had a hell of a year,” and shook Denny’s and said the same.
When we rode in the truck, there were some boos right out of gate, and I turned to Denny and said, “Probably not used to being booed so much, but probably it’s not you; it’s me.” Down the stretch we were talking about the off season and where we were going to go and what we were going to do. We stopped at his car, his guys were there, Mike Ford was standing with a big thumbs up and sent a thumbs up back and went back to our car and did our thing.
You know, we are very competitive, and at the end of the day, I mean, even though there were shots thrown at us from the decision we made a change of crew guys and certainly gave Denny a hard time when I could this week and all the stuff that goes on, there’s a great deal of respect for each team out there and especially the Gibbs team.
Denny has been studying us hard over the years and is a serious threat and same with the 29. Those guys did a lot. You look where they were last year to where they are this year. You have to respect the ability those teams have. At the end of the day, I like to show my respect for other teams.
Q. Looking back on it, how big was the decision to swap the pit crews over the last two and a half races, and was there any concern early today? Was what was the difference? You were concerned obviously at Texas to make the move but here you guys started off a little bit slow in the pits. What was the difference between those two?
CHAD KNAUS: It’s all a tough decision when you have to make decisions for your team and it’s going to involve, you know, the emotions and the feelings of your team members, guys that you eat, sleep and breathe with, every single day when you’re on the road, when you practice in the gym and at work, it’s a tough decision.
You know, this is a tough sport. It really is. And again, I want to stress, just to know end, we did not win this championship because we switched pit crews. That’s not why we won this championship. We won this championship because we are a great team, and you know, those guys, they were struggling. And it’s no different than any other professional sport. If you have a running back that he’s got butter fingers and he’s dropping the ball, he’s going to walk around camp all day holding a football until he gets figured out how to do it and he’s going to get benched for a while. Same with a pitcher or whatever it may be, and these guys are professional athletes.
It’s not fun making decisions like that. One day it’s going to happen to me. One day Rick is going to sit me down and say, man, sorry Buddy, you don’t have it anymore. And I’ll be like, jerk. You know, but it’s going to happen. Let’s be honest. And same thing is going to happen to him. Just, it happens and it’s just it’s sad that it happened the way that it did.
Q. Do you feel like you did end up getting inside Denny’s head a little bit, and do you feel like that’s part of the experience you talk about, you’re kind of like the wily veteran now and that he might actually learn from this and go on to be better because of it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I know he’s going to be stronger, even next year. The ’04, ’05 losses that we had only made our team stronger. So I know that they will be back stronger than ever next year.
Yeah, you know, it’s hard to say if it did do anything. But it certainly was worth a shot, you know. So I guess you’ll have to ask him to see if it was in his head and I’m sure he’ll say it didn’t. But at some point, I’m sure he was cussing me. I’m not sure if it was in the car or the night before he went to bed.
But when that moment hit him and the stuff that I was honestly talking about, the sense of losing the championship, I’ve been there before. And I only mentioned it because I had the experience was there and knew what it did to me and how I overcame it.
Q. I know you don’t like analogies to the New York Yankees, so I’ll put it another way. Like a Shakespeare play, the triumphs and tragedies of Hendrick Motorsports, it will take a long time Todd for another team to achieve what has been by your team; do you ever stop to consider that?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I do and I’m very appreciative of the fact that we have been able to win these races and championships.
I said a few years back, I would like to get to 200 before I quit, and ten championships. And we are at the championship deal, I think we have got five more to get to 200.
CHAD KNAUS: What’s this quitting thing? Just making sure.
RICK HENDRICK: Chad might take my place, I’m not sure. (Chuckling).
No, seriously, again, when I see I know how fortunate I am to have a guy like Jimmie Johnson and Chad, I wouldn’t want to race against them. And I’ve been very fortunate through my career to have guys like Jeff Gordon and all of the great drivers that have been through our place. The combination here is unbelievable and again, I always had hoped I could win a race and then a championship, and survive through the sport and, you know, have sponsors and show up and be competitive.
I think our organization has worked hard and we have been through a lot. We seem to rally and we know we have got a lot of work to do. We actually had a meeting, a three hour meeting with all of our people on the competition side two weeks ago, and said, we have got to go to work. But we are very appreciative and I still can’t believe that we have won five in a row or that we have gotten to ten, and hopefully we can just continue to show up year after year and be competitive.
Q. There’s been a lot of talk tonight in the media center, I’ve heard it in a number of interviews you’ve done about how now there’s a possibility you might achieve seven and maybe even eclipse Petty and Earnhardt. Is that I don’t have remember hearing you consider that a possibility in the past. Is that something that tonight, having won the fifth, you think is within reach now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don’t know if it’s in reach. I know we are going to have chances to win championships, but you just don’t know how the year is going to unfold. You just don’t know what is going to take place. It is so tough to win championships, and it’s easy to look at us having five in a row and say, naturally, just keep doing it.
Next year is a whole new year. There’s no telling what the challenges will be, with what we are going to face, strengths of the other teams and where we are going to be at. We are closer. There’s six and seven out there ahead of us, and we’ll work as hard as we can to do it.
And it has not been something I have thought about, because I spent the majority of my career as like a C class driver. I never experienced stuff like this. Why would I set goals that are just so out there? So each year that goes by, I’ve got to keep re racking my goals and we’ll see what happens.
KERRY THARP: Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus, Rick Hendrick, congratulations on the fifth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Job well done.
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