NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Pepsi 500
Topics: Pepsi 500
October 11, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Today's winner, Jimmie Johnson has joined us in the interview room. Jimmie, the win, which is your third straight in the fall race here at Auto Club Speedway puts you into the lead in the standings for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. I'm sure you already know that. You lead your teammate Mark Martin by 12 points. Talk about your day out there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Real good day. There were points where the 42 was better than us. I think a couple cars like the 11 for a handful of laps showed some really, really good pace. But it seemed like on the long haul for the majority of the race, we had what we needed.
So we made some is adjustments. I think the track came to us some when the sun came out. Our car, really, I know Chad was making adjustments, but usually the sun comes out, and the car wants to slow down and not handle as well. With the adjustments we were making the car kept getting better and better.
So we did a really good job staying on top of things. We had solid pit stops. Thankfully it wasn't down to a two-tire strategy or fuel only or something goofy at the end.
The tough part at the end of the race was the restarts. It's so tough to with the straightaway this long on, it's tough to get a good start. It's tough to control your destiny on a restart because the guys behind you really control who is going to lead going into turn one. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don't. If the guy behind you gets a poor start, you're not going anywhere. It's almost like being at Daytona or Talladega with the drafts.
So that last start worked out well for he me. Had a great start on the 24 and was just able to clear him off the two. And that certainly made the difference for us.
THE MODERATOR: Winning crew chief, Chad Knaus, your view from atop the box today?
CHAD KNAUS: Obviously, it was a fantastic day for us. The car was good right from the start of the race. We had to -- we made some pretty significant changes from last night.
I don't even think I told you those, did I?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn't want to know. That's fine.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, we made a lot of changes (laughing).
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'd rather have a clear head.
CHAD KNAUS: It's pretty easy -- I shouldn't say ease hey, but it's a lot easier to go out there and run the way we did today when we've got a driver like we've got. Jimmie did a fantastic job all day long. He was patient when he needed to be patient. He wasn't overly aggressive in the draft. Didn't hit the wall like you saw a bunch of guys getting into the fence today from being type and then snapping at the corner.
Jimmie was methodical about the way he drove all day and kept our car good to the end. Fortunately we were able to run up front most of the day, and Jimmie made it happen.
THE MODERATOR: Team owner, Rick Hendrick, also with us. A pretty significant win with all of your 25th Anniversary celebrations ongoing.
RICK HENDRICK: It's been a good day. It's been a good week to celebrate the 25th Anniversary and the film. And to come out today and win the race, you know, I think I missed the last two that they won, so I thought I wasn't going to be able to come back (laughing). Now I feel like I'm okay to show back up. It was a great day. Ran well. Jimmie just drove the wheels off the car.
Q. Earlier Jeff was in here -- and Rick's going to know the song title I'm going for before you guys, you're too young. But Jeff said there is something magical about you guys in the last ten races. So, Rick, do you remember "Do You Believe in Magic"? I was wondering, you guys work very hard. But do you believe this is a special time for you guys?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The last three years have been really special. Right now we're in a great position, but it's way too early to start thinking about other things.
I mean, we love where we're at. We love the fact that we're in the points lead. We've got maximum points today. But I don't want to go there. I don't want to think about those things. If we are in the hunt come Homestead, come Phoenix, it's going to be the thoughts, the emotions, all of that is going to be so heavy on all of our shoulders that it's going to be a tough grind.
But right now it's so early enough to where we can kind of brush it off and say okay, we did what we needed to. Let's go to Charlotte. As we get closer to the end, there is no doubt it's going to ratchet up. But right now we did all we could today.
Last week, if you had a chance to speak to us after the race, we were all ready to jump off a cliff. You know, this week we're on top of the world. So it's a sport we call home is tough on us from time to time.
Q. On the double file restarts, what goes into decision making and who ultimately makes the decision inside or outside?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For us so far it's really been me inside the car. Chad's gives me info about where it's worked, what's gone on. On the last restart I wanted to be on the outside. I felt like I might get beat through one and two, but I wasn't really concerned with that. I knew in three and four I was so much faster than the 24 that I could get the line that I wanted and get by him.
So I was thinking about the outside. And as we drove through there the first time after the red flag, there was a lot more of the stay dry and kitty litter or whatever it's called that was down in the second lane up. And I made my decision then. I thought there's less on the bottom, that's got to be good for me. So I chose the bottom lane, and I got a good start.
And those restarts are so tough because it depends on what the guy behind you does. Everything worked out well, and I had a good push and got through the gears well. I just cleared them off of two, I should say.
So those restarts, especially with the straightaway this long are so nerve-racking. You just don't know what's going to happen. You can do everything right as the leader and end up fourth off of turn two easily.
CHAD KNAUS: What we try to do is just to communicate. I think that's from every aspect of what we do. Like Jimmie said, I just try to watch and pay close attention to the nationwide races. We pay close attention to a lot of that stuff.
This track's a lot different than most of the others that we go to, like Jimmie said, with the drafts. So we communicate, and ultimately the decision is his unless I completely disagree. But we've been pretty much in agreement all the time.
Q. You're now 25 years in the NASCAR business. Very, very successful. The long-term future maybe you're playing already with the idea parallel to your NASCAR commitment to enter any other motor racing championship series or whatever and try to find a new challenge?
RICK HENDRICK: I think I've got all the challenge I can handle in NASCAR (smiling). No, I'm happy here. I don't think about that. It's hard enough to compete every week and be competitive in this series. So this is where I'm going to stay.
Q. You have 16 Chase wins. What is it with you and the playoffs?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I really think that I've been saying it, I'm trying to find an answer for everybody as well. I think it really boils down to the fact that the tracks in the Chase are my strongest tracks. If you look at Martinsville, you look at all of them. Lowe's Motor Speedway, this track, you go through them and they are tracks that we win at.
So far the last three years I've been he very proud of the team and how we've been able to keep our composure with the pressure that's come our way. Today we did a good job of it, but there are still six more times to stub our toes. So we'll have to stay on top of things, and hopefully do what we've been able to do in the past once again.
Q. With your win today you become the all time winner here at ACS. Your thoughts? How do you dominate this place so much?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's cool. The home track. To be able to have more wins here than anybody, that's a cool stat to add to a cool week that we've had with the foundation stuff and the race win here today.
There are certain tracks that fit drivers well. This track has been -- actually, there was a period of time where we weren't that good for a year or two, trying to find the balance. But to get my first win here and then lately we've done a really good job of understanding the track and what we need. It's just a track that works for us. Hopefully we can keep it going.
Q. We're talking about the Chase now and that should be the biggest story in the final ten races, but we keep talking about Danica. How important is Danica Patrick to the future of our sport?
RICK HENDRICK: I don't think it's -- I don't think she's important to the future of our sport. I mean, she would add a new dimension, maybe, if she participated in the Nationwide Series or the Cup Series one day. But I don't think that's going to make any difference where NASCAR is.
Q. Talk about Juan Montoya and his development and how concerned you are about him?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, week in and week out he keeps scoring points, running up front for qualifying, racing really smart on the track. I, in some ways, hate to see it because he's doing a great job. But in other ways, I'm proud of him. I'm proud of the commitment he's had for the sport. To come over and to start over here in the U.S. and race a totally different vehicle, you know.
He's putting in the time. He's a very talented driver. Erases people out there well, and I've got to commend he and his team. The team has been going through some tough times with the merger and they only have a two-car effort and things like that, so they've done a really good job. Hopefully they just do a decent job the rest of the year, but they're doing a great job right now.
Q. You weren't involved in any of the silliness that went on the radio yesterday in the nationwide race. But how do you feel about everybody being able to listen in? Do you feel like you wish you had a private place where you could talk amongst yourselves without everybody in the world hearing it and commenting on it?
CHAD KNAUS: You know, honestly, from time to time, yeah. It's difficult. We've had to develop ways to communicate inner-team wise so other teams didn't know what we were doing as far as chassis adjustments and things like that. It's as simple as writing down the information on a post-it and what have you to coordinate things with the car chiefs and the pit crews.
With the drivers and spotter that gets more difficult. You can't do that. So if we could, it would be nice. But I think there is an element of uniqueness in our sport allowing the fans and the press and the media to get ahold of some of that stuff.
Some of it, yeah, drivers and crew chiefs act like fools and say things we shouldn't in the heat of battle. It comes out, and we have to deal with it for about a week and then it goes away. But I think, ultimately, it's a good thing.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You nailed it. You did a good job.
Q. With the changes this year in the Chase tracks, not only the addition of this track, which obviously was a really good track for you and worked out well, but more specifically the moving of Talladega to later in the Chase to the seventh race the Chase. Is there any change in mindset or strategy for you or do you see it for any other teams given now that the wildcard comes later in the Chase and you have less time to make up points in case a disaster strikes?
CHAD KNAUS: That's a good point. It's very stressful going into Talladega, obviously. We made it through there. We crashed five times last year and didn't hit anything. So it's a difficult race to go into. I prefer it being earlier in the season because you do have a recovery period.
Leading up until, I think, last year, we hadn't finished the fall race at Talladega. So it's been a stressful race for us, and it can be one to turn the tables once we get there. It will make it pretty exciting.
Q. Talking about the restarts, the one on lap 190 where you and Montoya and Hamlin got involved. Could you take us through that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we came up through the gears. I got a good start. Was pushing Montoya, and the 11 got a really good start. That's what I was saying earlier. It really depended on what went on behind you.
So Hamlin gets an awesome start. Montoya didn't get the best start. I start pushing him. The 11 thought he could move down and protect and block the inside lane, and we were just coming. So he moved down to block the 42, and the 42 was there.
Q. Can you characterize any differences between this chase and the ones you've been in in the past? Particularly because of the intensity that is added with the double-file restarts at the end, and that there will be a number of tracks that you'll be going to where you haven't run the double-file restart yet?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Every chase so far has been different for me. I think I've had questions about the last three for the Championships and the differences. All three have been much different.
This year there are new elements from the double-file restart, and also tracks like Martinsville where we haven't had it yet. We'll get in there and just see what happens.
There are a lot of things to worry about out there, and I'm really trying not to worry about that stuff. If I look forward to the rest of the season, I can worry about Martinsville if I get stuck on the outside on the restart. I can worry about Talladega and go through a variety of things from mechanical issues to tires to whatever it is. I'm not going to do that.
It's one thing I have learned over my experience in the Cup Series and especially the last three years. Just put my blinders on. Worry about my little world I live in and the things I can control that day. If I look any further, it's easy to get lost and worried and concerned and stress out on a lot of things I don't need to.
So I'm just worried about getting home, I guess.
Q. For a while now you've been saying how much you like the addition of Auto Club Speedway to the Chase. Would you have been satisfied with anything less than a win here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It would have depended on how the race went. If we led all day like we did and lost, it would be like last week where I would have been pretty bummed out.
You know, I try not to have the mindset that we come back to a track that we've had success at that we're expected to run well. You have to go out there and earn it every week. It's the same thing for this championship. Just because we've done well the last three years doesn't mean that we're a shoe-in for the fourth.
So I've just got to stay focused on my job. Go out and earn it each lap and see where things fall into place.
We needed to run well today to get points, because obviously, the 5 and the 42 ran well. I think we obviously had a good opportunity with the 11 having troubles. I saw the 14, I saw them post a number at one point. So hopefully we were able to spread things out a little bit. I'm glad that we had a good day today.
Q. That was a pretty exuberant celebration to the point where you had to get called to victory lane by NASCAR. Looked like you were celebrating like seven years ago when you had your first win. Was it because it was I couldn't a home state win or was it a relief getting this win after being dominant last week and being able to seal the deal this week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, just having some fun. It's weird. Climb out and relax, and people ask me why I relax. Then I have fun, and everybody asks me why I had so much fun. Damned if I do, damned if I don't, I guess (smiling).
I just saw a really nice wide back straightaway, and I could do some cool cop stops. I had a little fun with it. Just had a little fun.
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