NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Checker Auto Parts 500
Topics: Checker Auto Parts 500
November 12, 2006
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined in the media centre right now by our runner-up in today's race. He's also our points leader heading into the season finale and that' Jimmie Johnson driver of the number 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. Congratulations on a great run. Talk about your race today and talk about being the points leader with one to go.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Certainly a great run, and there at the end I was really pushing for a win. We had such a great car and such a great weekend. I didn't want to, you know, not put up a strong effort for the win.
Had a good run on Kevin but down the back straightaway was in a position where maybe my four or five years in the Cup level experience came into play and I just knew that in order to get the win, I was really going to have to force the issue.
I had a little bit of position inside of him, but he was shutting the door going into the dogleg and knew I had to be smart from that point.
Great day, we did what we needed to do. If we can just go to Homestead and do it one more time, we'll be very happy.
Q. Going to Homestead, can you be caught, and what will it take?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We'll find out. I have no idea. I seriously don't have any clue what to expect. I don't have any strategy other than go down and finish ahead of the 17, 8 and 11. It just simple. That's all we've done so far through these last few months and just go down there and do the same thing we've been doing.
Q. With what you found out, like you described today, have you figured out in these last four years what you might have to do or be able to do to hold everybody off?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Experience is invaluable. I mean, you can't -- I can't express enough how much experience in this sport has helped me as a driver. My fifth year, fifth time being in a championship situation, my rookie year wasn't really fair to say that, we've been under pressure and we've been in this situation and we are a better, stronger, more mature race team from it. I think the last few months, we've been able to show that and we've been doing a great job.
Q. Aside from the technical details, after coming so close two years ago, did you have any mantra to keep your mind off things, what do you do just to stay focused?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know. I have a lot of confidence in myself, a lot of confidence in the race team, our equipment, and as my mind plays its games on me, I just fall back on the team; Chad Knaus and Rick Hendrick, all aspects of our race team and how strong they are and how they support me. It helps keep my mind from doing different things to me. To be honest we have to just keep doing the same thing we've been doing just one more time, and if we are fortunate enough to do that, we'll be very happy.
Q. Jimmy, did you really feel that after Dover, you were pretty much out of it, or did you feel it was going to be that hard of a way back to the lead or did you feel you were out of it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I never felt we were out of it. I never expected 11 to have as much difficulty and let a lot of us back in it. I never conceded and I just said, let's go all out, we have nothing to lose, let's just try to finish up by winning races, just like the 20 has been doing, it's about winning races and that's been our philosophy last couple of months.
Q. This time last year you were the leader for most of the season before the Chase cutoff and this year you won the two biggest races, Daytona and Indianapolis; do you feel that if you win the title this year, justice has finally been served with this type of points system?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I don't say that. These guys, all of these teams, drivers, everybody out here, they are the best in the business. So to be able to win those big races, those are individual victories throughout the season, and if we are lucky enough to be a champion we did it the best this year. I don't have that thought.
Q. I guess how you got back into this Chase by just doing what you had to do and not overanalyze it and just worry about racing, but now, it's got to seem like the NEXTEL Cup is right there in your sight and your reach; how hard is it to balance that out and not change from what's gotten you back into this?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I have six days until we are in this position again. My mind hasn't had a chance to play games on me yet. I'll go to the golf course tomorrow and have some fun and relax and stay busy Tuesday and Wednesday and just try to let the week hurry by.
Q. It's almost like you guys have -- the lack of strategy seems to be your strategy. It seems like ever since you've been coming back, you've almost pushed strategy completely away from you and not tried to overthink and keep it very simple; that's the first thing. Second thing is, you guys ran a smart race today but you finished first or second last five weeks and everybody has been talking about Stewart and how good he is running; have you guys unbelievably been under the radar and somehow taken the points lead, which I think is amazing but seems to me that's the way it is.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have a ton of respect for Tony and his race team and I think he's a threat every single week. Those guys had a slow month where they missed the Chase a month or two, but the guy is awesome, two-time champion, he's the best at any type of course we go to. So I have a lot of respect for he and his team. It doesn't surprise me that they have been scoring a lot of points like they have.
I look at what we've done and how we got prepared for the Chase, we did everything we needed to but unfortunately got off to a slow start. I think we're performing well at the races where we had some bad luck and had had some wrecks. Dover, a solid day, Talladega, can Kansas. We have not needed a strategy because we have not been performing well. Sometimes I wish Chad would have had more of a strategy. Last week, we took a green flag, I didn't think it was going to work out and it did and Martinsville, we worked our way back. We've relied on a solid race car and let me do my job in the car and it's been so strong and not have to out-trick anybody and not do anything fancy.
Q. On the last lap, you said you had a choice of whether you wanted to maybe play rough or lay back and just, you know, ride. On one hand, there's a chance that you wreck and lose any shot of the championship; on the other hand, there's a chance huh take a 73-point lead to Homestead. For a cool-level headed dude like you --
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was in a position just inside of him going into the dog leg where his spotter must have been saying, looking. If I would have been close you have enough inside of Kevin, I would have had a lane into three, I was just barely there and he came down the block and we touched a little bit. If I stayed on the gas, it would have turned him into the grass down the dog leg and it would have been one hell of a mess.
I saw that developing, I could tell we were just making contact through the dog leg and I didn't want any part of that. We just need to be smart here.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, us drivers are stupid, we just go. I didn't even think of that, I was just on the gas.
THE MODERATOR: We have our third place finisher, Denny Hamlin. Denny, talk about your run out there, your fourth going into the season finale, your thoughts.
DENNY HAMLIN: We were steady all day. We were not -- we weren't where the 48 was at, we were off at times and some runs in the later part we were a little better. We're struggling to find speed on short runs. I really can't figure it out exactly what I've got to do but hopefully that comes with age and experience and all that stuff. But, you know, we battled back and even though we had Short runs at the end, Mike freed up the car enough where we could just pick one off and a caution would come out and pick one off and a caution would come out.
It worked out good for us, had a good car, we just didn't have a winning car.
Q. You ran so well, you're in a position to win a championship, how is it you qualified so poorly, and was there any kind -- can you have any doubts about your race set up at any time?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We can both answer that. Yeah, the early draw killed us. Looking at the practice sheets, we were, the worst in the three different practice sessions was fourth. We had a great car going out first, killed me, killed Denny. We were talking about it before, man, we didn't think it would be that bad but it really did affect the first 15, 20 cars and as it kept on, just kept getting faster and faster and faster.
Q. Denny, can you just talk finishing third but yet not being able to gain points on the leader?
DENNY HAMLIN: We did everything we should do other than Short of winning. We ran really well. We ran Top-5. We just, you know, those guys, the 48 didn't make any mistakes. Ask honestly, they are championship material right now. We are not at the level they are. On a really good day, this is a good day for us, a really good day. Those guys are Top-5 every single week it seems like, and we're just not to that level.
If we come out of Homestead and we end up winning the championship, it's going to be by extreme luck, that's the bottom line, because we are not performing at the level that they are.
You know, we are just putting ourselves in position, that's all we can do is put ourselves in position; if something happens, then we hope to capitalize. If not, we are going to go there regardless and celebrate a great season.
Q. 2004, how much does that both gnaw at you and motivate you to get you to where you're at now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, at the time it was really hard to swallow, and I'm not sure if time helps things go by. At the same time, my personality, I think I tried to learn from with a went on. I look at that year, and I don't feel like we left anything on the table. We just, you know, the last race of the year, at one point in the race, we were the champion.
I don't have any negative feelings from any of the years that we've been close but didn't deliver. I think the 20 was just rock-steady last year and out performed us and we had some bad luck at Homestead. I still think he had a good enough night where he would have been the champion.
We're just learning from those experiences, becoming a stronger, better race team and I couldn't be more proud of the race team and everything they are doing.
Q. You knew you had a good car starting the race, but good cars can get eaten up back there where you were. How concerned were you and how quickly did you want to be able it get up and just kind of get out of harm's way?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was more nervous thinking about it than once we fired the engines and got going, that fear went away and I was having a blast. I couldn't believe, I was getting two cars a lap at times. Once the race started, it's kind of normal for me. Before the race, adrenaline is going, the butterflies and those things and you start over thinking.
Once you got in the race and got going, I was very comfortable and just tried to be smart and move to the front.
Q. The race started out really clean but then just had a mess of cautions there at the end and just slowed down and then the red flag and it was like this kind of hiccuping and you're right there with Harvick. Did you feel like, you know, come on let's get this thing over with? Did you feel any impatience?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, to a certain point. I think the beginning of the race, I was really happy to see the long runs where we would get strung out and I could work my way forward.
At the end, that last restart before the 7 blew up, I had a nice margin and didn't have any pressure from behind, like, okay, this is great, work on the 29 and don't have to look in the mirror and then the caution came up and that was the only time I felt like, man, I wish this thing was over right now but the cautions kept coming.
Q. Last year you guys went to Homestead and had just one of those days where you just couldn't do -- the kind of week that Matt seemed to be having here where he just couldn't get the car right and led to trouble. How hard is it for you to completely push that last year right out of your mind considering how much is on the line for you guys at Homestead next week?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think this year would he have done a really good job of pushing out the year before's finish results and the way the weekend went, we've been able to step up and capitalize. I think Indy and the Brickyard, being able to come back and win there.
Texas, I was nervous going into Texas. Ran great this weekend was kind of a Top-10 track for us but not a big scoring track for us and we were able to do that.
And we've been working hard on the race car. So I have to give all the guys a lot of credit. At HMS, we've found some speed, cars that are consistent that I can race real hard and drive hard. It's been fun.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations and good luck this week.
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