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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: AAA 400

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  AAA 400

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: AAA 400

Jimmie Johnson
Chad Knaus
September 27, 2009


DOVER, DELAWARE

THE MODERATOR: We're now joined in the infield media center by today's race winner, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie, currently number two in the Chase, trails Mark Martin by ten points. Jimmie, tell us about your run.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just a great, great race car. Qualifying Friday went really, really well for us. Yesterday, we can post a decent lap, and I could slide the car around the corner and run some okay times.
But I was a little nervous yesterday after practice, and knew that we needed to build some comfort in the car. If I was in traffic, I was going to really have my hands full.
Last night we went through some options and talked about changes. And after Chad worked on a few ideas and talked with Greg Ives and get back with me later in the night. The suggestions he mentioned just kind of hit something in my stomach, and just hit me inside like that is what I need. That area of the corner, what that adjustment does, that is exactly what I need.
So I woke up this morning very optimistic. Excited, and by about lap two or three I knew we had a very balanced car, and we'd be competitive all day long, get a solid finish. I wasn't sure it would go as well as it did and lead as many laps and all that kind of thing. But I had a good sign, good indication early that we were going to be competitive.

Q. With about 80 or so to go, Jeff was behind you. Were there any concerns at that point? And after he had his difficulty on the pit stop, what was your thought?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, each restart I'm always nervous about that. You know, my car was loose for probably three or four laps, and then I could really get aggressive and pull away from guys.
So I was nervous. Didn't matter who it was. I was just nervous that I could make a mistake, and somebody could get close to my rear bumper and affect the air and move me up and get by. And I was also really nervous about the restart, especially on the older tires.
We were picking up so much of the rubber we put down, and that stuff would stack up on the tire. You could feel your car just shaking going down the straightaways from all the rubber they picked up. So clean up the tires a little bit and do some burnouts and that kind of thing.
So nervous. I thought Jeff was maybe in a really good position when they pitted and he was on four and the rest of us stayed out. A little nervous about that, but then I didn't see him after while, so I felt good about things.
The 17, I didn't see him all day long, and then he showed up at the end. And I thought, Oh, oh. I didn't see much of him to today. So I guess the 17 had me more concerned than anyone because I hadn't seen him all day long.

Q. It's your fifth win here. Your second sweep in this place, tying you with David Pearson. What is it about this place that you feel happens. Do you think they should give you a golden broom along with the monster trophy?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. For me, this is one of the closest tracks to off-road racing that we have on the circuit. You're virtually airborne off in each corner, so I think that helps me some and relates back to the vehicles I drove growing up.
This track really favors a loose race car, and just by habit I enjoy a loose race car and that's what I look for every day at each track. So it just really plays into our style.
Early in my career we had it figured out. We kind of lost it for a while, but still ran competitive. And here lately we've narrowed back in on it, and really have the car where it needs to be for me to go fast.

Q. I think a lot of the guys in the garage were pissed off or down of the fact that not only did they not win, but you won, as usual, and kind of kicked their butts. Like you said on the radio, maximum points. Do you feel like this is something you can play with now? Does the fact that you've won so much and you have a chance to kind of damage their morale or kick them when they're down kind of thing, do you hope they do feel defeated by you guys dominating like this?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, I hope it's hopeful, whatever it is. I know some teams are motivated by things like this where we don't perform and come back the following week and step up. Some people it can affect them in a way where it's helpful. I really don't think about those things.
I certainly hope that our performance today scares some people and affects them in a way that benefits us. But, you know, I see guys get so worried about what other people think, what other people say and spend a lot of time in those areas. That's not what works for me.
I tried to play some of those games in 2005 with Tony Stewart. It didn't workout for me. Since that day I realized I just need to run my race, put blinders on. Don't watch television. Don't watch or read any of the trade papers, magazines. Just ignore, ignore, ignore, and focus on my world and what's going on with my race car. That's what I'll do through the rest of the chase.

Q. Kind of along the same lines as Jeff. Obviously, you can win the Championship by winning the race in the last ten races. But does it give you kind of a spark, momentum, an edge, just by getting a win out of the way or getting a win once you've started the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it does. Winning a race and putting the team in that situation and the driver, the pressure that comes with the race win and to pull it off, it does a lot for you mentally. It also gives us some direction. This track even though it looks nothing like some of the other tracks we go to, oddly enough the mile and a half when we go to this set-up, works at those tracks.
So there are a couple of things there that are very comfortable for us, and from a confidence standpoint, it's the most. We've had a tire changer slip a disc. Jeremy West, who had worked for us all season long last year and had somebody, a new guy, back there changing rears. So they go to victory lane and get that monkey off his back, and the pressure off his back and perform all day long. It's helpful. Just a great shot in the arm for everybody.

Q. Am I correct in thinking that Chad told you he was bringing a new car, and that this car would be even better than the one you had in may? And I'm wondering, did you have any concerns about that because you had an awesome car in may?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know the answer to that question. I'm not sure if this was the same car or not. I don't think it was a new car. So I'm not really sure. It could have been the same car.
I know the tire test we brought the same car and the same set-up. Just really trying to do everything we could to help Goodyear build the best tire to come back with. But after that, I don't know the history of the car I was in today.

Q. Greg Biffle and his post race comments were all up again with the tire test that you and Montoya did. Can you talk about, obviously, you dominated two straight Dover races now. How much different was the set-up in this car from what you ran in the Spring and how much of that was stemming from the tire test?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The tire test, I think there were one or two runs we were able to run on the tire that they had hoped. They had different guys on different schedules. Some guys working on compounds, some guys working on construction. I did all the construction stuff, and I think the 44 and some other guys were on compound.
At the end of the day, like I said in here before the weekend started, Goodyear notifies us as to what tracks we're to tire test at. They asked us to test, we came and did our jobs.
It is beneficial to tire test. I saw some comments from Montoya where he said it's not beneficial. To be honest with you, it does. To get the data set, and the driver being in the car helps.
Nobody spent a lot of time on the tire that we actually came back with. So at the end of the day, we're just doing what we're supposed to do. If it's upsetting guys and they're pissed, so be it. I'm glad they're worried about other things and not the race car.
Nobody heard me complain about Indy and not being able to tire test there, and it definitely hurt us in qualifying. But we just kept our heads down, went to work, made the car right and won the race.
There are some guys that can't help but say stuff time after time. And you guys see it each and every week. So, it is what it is. I guess as we move forward there's been some other tire tests going on, and we can all be mad at somebody else.

Q. You won your first championship midway through the Chase you were 8th or 9th, maybe. You were way behind. When does the Chase actually begin? Is this all kind of posturing right now or does it really get serious say maybe in Fontana coming up, because you've come from way behind to win it, so you know it can go either way?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Emotionally, it probably gets more intense and makes strategies make sense. And it's easier to guess what's going to happen and find a more pivotal race later in the Chase because it's easy to see the goal and what's going on.
But they all pay the same amount of points. Same lead lap. Same guy leads the most, they all pay the same to win. So all ten are the same.
If you get off to the slow start, you have to hope the other guys have a bad luck. If you get off to a quick start, it makes your life a little easier, but it doesn't change the fact that you could have a problem later on in the Chase. So it is ten races and they all pay the same.

Q. Your victory ties you now with Bill Elliot for 14th on the all time list. Can you talk about that? Also you have Buck Baker and Herb Thomas only a couple of wins ahead of you.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's so cool. Really, really is. I can remember growing you up watching bill in that No. 9 car. And to be able to be higher in the record books and to be with the greats in the sport, it means a lot to me. It's something that I really never thought would take place, and it's something I'm experiencing now and the emotions and the thoughts that come with it as I'm climbing up through the record books.
So it's a great honor. An exciting thing for me is I feel like there is a lot of racing left in me and a lot of competitive racing. I can keep climbing that ladder and be higher up there in the record books.

Q. Can you talk a couple questions ago about how the Chase goes on, the more intense it gets. You've been through the Chase since its inception. You won the last three championships and have been through that late playoff season intensity. What can you take out of the back of your mind that you know coming up that this is how it's going to be? And does that put your mind at ease when you get there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It helps. It helps from a mental standpoint. It helps with confidence. I think it also helps with the decision making process for myself, and even the team and the adjustments we make during the weekend, during the race. So from that are standpoint you think more clearly, but it doesn't guarantee you anything further than that.
It's not to say that a first time chaser can't win this thing. It can happen, and I'm sure at some point it will. I hope it's not this year. I hope it's me. But that stuff helps in the decision-making process, and that's as far as it goes.

Q. Next two weeks the bigger tracks. I know you won in Kansas last year. How do you feel like you set up for the next couple of weeks? It seems like this could open the door and you could really make a move, or is it going to be a tough challenge because of Mark Martin your teammate having the same equipment? And second question, I know the incident was behind you, did you ever get to see the Logano wreck and any reaction to him barrelling over seven times?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I didn't even know he was in that wreck. I saw the 43 on the hook, and I heard the 1 was in it. But I didn't realize all that took place. Wow. Seven times? That's exciting. I can't wait to see the clip. But what was the first part of that thing?
Oh, the other track. I'm sorry. You know, the tracks coming up, I think we have a really good plan in place. Last week and really the last couple of weeks we've been talking about our strategy and the tracks, directions with set-up, and things that we're going to try, things for certain tracks and not other tracks.
I feel very confident with the approach we have and the set-ups we're going to be taking, the cars we're going to be taking. We're pretty well organized, so hopefully it pays off.

Q. (No microphone)?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think every team tries to save certain cars for certain tracks and tries to be as organized as possible. I think, again, from being in this position in the past, I think it's helped us make some better decisions and plan a little bit better.
But we've tried this stuff each year, and it's not the efforts anymore. I just think we might be a little bit more organized this year and in a better place. I've been saying it through the summer months -- and I know our results didn't show it -- but our car's been much faster this year, start to finish, than the last three years we've been able to win the Championship. So I feel very good about things.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined in the infield media center by Chad Knaus. Chad, your thoughts on your approach today and your view from on top of the box?
CHAD KNAUS: You know, obviously it was a great day for us. Jimmie did a fantastic job. He really manned up today. Did a really, really good job of handling the car. The thing that's always encouraging to me is everybody pictures Jimmie as a calm guy and very fluid with the steering wheel, and very fluid with his inputs.
I think he really enjoys coming here because this is a place you have to get up on the wheel, and chew on the steering wheel and be aggressive, and tell the car what to do.
When we showed up here on Friday, that was his mentality. We brought a different race car than what we've had here in the past. Than what we ran here in the spring. You know, it wasn't a new car. Same car we ran in Michigan. Same race car we ran in Michigan and Chicago, and it performed well in those venues. We thought we'd bring it here. We thought it had some characteristics that we'd liked. And it was good off the truck. Jimmie did a fantastic job of qualifying. What was his driver rating today?
THE MODERATOR: 149 and change. Just missed another perfect driver rating today.
CHAD KNAUS: Oh, see. He did a fantastic job. It was all Jimmie today. Pit crew did a solid job. We did a decent job making adjustments, but it wound up in Jimmie's hands. He made it fantastic.
THE MODERATOR: We'll resume the questions.

Q. Two parts to this. Number one, is this the kind of a win that sends a message to the rest of the chase field? And number two, it's becoming more and more apparent that it's going to be difficult to shake Mark Martin the rest of the way.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, definitely. Mark is an amazing driver with a great race team. We're just going to have to do what we can. There is no free lunch in this sport, and especially racing Mark Martin. You're going to have to earn every point. And you know, we've closed up a little bit on him today. There's eight more to go.
I'm excited to see that we've gapped some of the other chase contenders. Might not be exciting for the fans and everybody else, but the bigger gap we can put between us and those guys to single out the cars, the easier my job is. That's what I hope we can keep doing.
But as far as sending a message, I hope it does. I hope people talk about it. Like I is said earlier, I hope people are worried. I hope people are talking about the fact that we tire tested and it's wrong. All these people can get wound up about stuff that really doesn't matter.
We'll keep our heads down. Keep our blinders on, and we'll go to work. At the end of the day, all the talk means nothing. You've still got to show up in Kansas and run that race. That's what we do a good job of staying focused on doing.

Q. I know you had told Jimmie on the radio after the last caution that you thought you were going to be okay. But were you concerned at all about like Tony and a few others that decided to take tires there on the last caution?
CHAD KNAUS: No, I wasn't really worried about those guys. The guys I was worried about would have been say the 5 and the 42, the 17, those guys. I was concerned about them. I knew they were able to run some pretty respectful lap times early on. And we would pull them a little bit as the run went on, but early on, those guys were running some pretty quick lap times.
So I felt comfortable with that. And with the tire that Goodyear brought, it was a fantastic tire. I didn't think that those guys would be able to work their way back you up through the field. You have to realize when you get down to the end of the race and everybody that's in the top 12 in points is in the top 12, it's really difficult to pass those guys. So I didn't think those guys were going to be able to get through the traffic and get up there to us.

Q. Earlier Mark Martin paid really quite a tribute to Jimmie in his interview. He said, you know, having seen him up close he can now understand why he's been so dominant in that he works harder at it than everybody else. So my question is can you at all put meat on the bones of that concept for me and other people who don't necessarily understand what a driver can do outside of driving the car, you know, working hard at it through his performance?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, you know, I think a lot of it has to do with the mental state that your driver's in. I think Mark is a great example of that. I think for everything that he says that Jimmie does, I think he does the exact same thing.
You know, Jimmie does a very, very good job of watching what he does, paying attention to the details. Making sure he's feeding the proper comments and debrief. He's making sure he's breaking down the laps. Training, eating right, doing things like that that a lot of other people just aren't willing to give that commitment to or that sacrifice.
So I think that Jimmie being the man that he is, and what it is that he wants to try to do, which is win races and championships, he has foregone a lot of the normal pleasures that somebody would have that's been successful in life.
There's a lot of people out there that they he get to the top, you know, football players, baseball players, racers for that matter. They get to the top and they're like, oh, I made it. I've got a big house, a cool plane, man, let's party on Monday.
Jimmie does the opposite. He wakes up on Monday morning, 8:00 o'clock. Gets on the treadmill. Goes to work. Watches what he eats and pays attention to details. If I need to talk to him on the telephone, he answers the call. He doesn't call me back two days later. It's a commitment to his lifestyle. It's a part of his life.
If you want to win races in this industry in today's day and age, you have to give that type of commitment. If you don't, you're not going to win.

Q. A similar question to both of you guys. You have a pretty good winning percentage in the sort of overall grand scheme of things. Jimmie, it's 15%, but if you compare it to your chase winning percentage, it's pretty paltry, because that's 28%. Can you explain that? Do you have any explanation for how you've managed to step your game you up when it matters the most?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Saying it for years, I really think it boils down to the tracks that are in the Chase. They're just very good for the 48 team. If you look at race wins and the start of the season fall races, it correlates between those two. The tracks that start the season are kind of in the Chase as well, and those are very, very good tracks for us. At the end of the day, that's what it boils down to in my eyes.
CHAD KNAUS: I would agree with that. I think that our team does a very good job of developing its package. When I say our team, I mean Hendrick Motorsports as a whole, collectively.
And I think as the season progresses, we tend to get smarter. Not that everybody else doesn't. But really as a group we work together, try to get our drivers on the same page, try to get our crew chiefs and teams on the same page.
When we unloaded here in Dover, a lot of us were very similar, and I think that shows through. I think you'll see that throughout the Chase, which is a good thing for Hendrick Motorsports and a bad thing for the 48.
We all work really hard. I think as a group our whole organization gets smarter and learns faster. I think especially today in today's day and age when there is no testing, I think that benefits us.

Q. Now that you know that it was a different car that you had in the spring, is that surprising to you? Is that something that you usually discuss with Chad as far as what car you're going to be driving?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I mean the guys are always working on new things. And granted, the mouse trap that we played with today, there were a fewer areas to work in. So as new generation stuff comes along, and as Chad said through the year we keep learning small, small things. These cars keep being updated and tweaked on in advance. So it's not uncommon for me to not know what car we're bringing.
Kind of a funny note. The more I know, the worse we do. So it's at times I'm embarrassed of it. But I kind of know what's under the race car. But there are guys that know a lot more about the race car than I do. And for me, knowing those details and trying to crew chief from the seat, does nothing but hurt us.
If I just describe what I feel to Chad and Greg and break down the formula that we have. We kind of break things down a certain way and go through data. It works. We can't argue with what works. We've kind of built the 48 team around that model.
If you look at Mark over in the 5 car, he knows pretty much everything that's under underneath that thing. And that's from his generation of driver. I really commend him for knowing exactly what's under that car. He helps Alan make those decisions. So there are no right or wrong. It's just different ways to go about it.
To make a long story short to get back to the question about the car. I don't even know what car I'm going next weekend in. So I'll get in and go fast.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you and congratulations.

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