NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Chevy Rock & Roll 400
Topics: Chevy Rock & Roll 400
September 8, 2007
KERRY THARP: We are pleased to be joined now by our race champion, that's Jimmie Johnson, driver of the number 48 Lowe's Chevrolet and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, Jimmie obviously is the defending NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series champion and he'll go into the Chase as the top seed with a season-high six victories. Congratulations, Jimmie. Take us through the win tonight and your thoughts about being the number one seed as you head into the Chase.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thank you. We're happy to be hitting our stride at this point in the season. As everybody knows it was a little bit of a tough summer for us. But everything is working right now. I feel like our intermediate program, our current car program, between the COT and the current car, we're strong on all fronts and I'm happy that we're able to put that together and win back-to-back weeks like this.
The race was starting off good for us and we ran in the Top-5 all day. At the end the car started to come to life and made some great adjustments. Adjustments were spot on and got me in good track position. The last hundred laps the car was as good as it's been.
KERRY THARP: If you can talk about some of the adjustments you made tonight, thoughts about coming back and defending the championship and being the top seed.
CHAD KNAUS: It's a great feeling to be able to go into the Chase leading the points. That's something you obviously want to do, not only from the points standpoint but from a psychological standpoint it's a benefit for sure. The guys have done a great job and worked very hard and upheld the standard of this team throughout the summer months and had some very good race cars. You know, we hear a lot about how we seem to fall a little bit throughout the summertime but this year I really don't feel we did. I think that we performed better this summer than we ever had and it definitely paid dividends. So it's nice to be able to sweep at Richmond and to win from the pole, it's kind of a neat deal.
Q. Do you think you've finally tamed Richmond, because for a while there, you seemed to be in the garage at Richmond. Do you feel like that's finally behind you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, this place has been tough on me. And to win -- to sweep the season here is pretty cool. I feel that the Car of Tomorrow helped me -- helped me be in equal equipment in a sense, because I was searching so much in the past for how to drive the track and have Chad pulling his hair out looking for what to do with the car set-up wise and getting lost and off base and all of those things. So to come with the Car of Tomorrow where all of the teams are on the same playing field, same level starting point, I figured some things out last year, or in the spring I should say and we've been able to build on that. Car of Tomorrow has been able to help me get a better feel for Richmond here.
Q. The nature of the Chase is odd that for the last six weeks now, we've been obsessed about who is not going to make the Chase, or who is and who isn't; and now it turns almost overnight to who is in it and who is going to win it. You start looking at this Chase, the Top-5 guys going in, four of you have won championships. So the theme this week is going to be, the cream has risen to the top, now let's go get it. Is that the way you look at it? The focus changes for us but looking at the handicap of the field, it's a pretty stout field you're facing.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I couldn't agree more, it's a really stout field. You see a lot of teams hit their stride, the 10 has been strong, the 99, the 20, the 11 has been consistent all year. I said this earlier, this is going to be the most competitive Chase we've seen. Last year's experience of how far you can really be down and out and come back, I don't think you're going to have to dominate all ten races. It's going to be great and if someone does, that's obviously the way you want to do it. But ten races are long, you have Talladega, Martinsville, you have a lot of wild cards and action that you can't control. I just want to be strong and steady and start knocking down Top-5s starting next weekend and hopefully we can accomplish what we want to at that point.
Hopefully win a race or two in the Chase would be nice and hopefully be at the top at the end
Q. Now that you're trying to repeat a championship, how do you approach this year as different from last year?
CHAD KNAUS: I don't think your approach is really a whole lot different. I think that -- I really think that you're going to have to be very aggressive throughout this Chase. The competition level is high, like what Jimmie was talking about. Jeff Gordon has really switched on this year. Jimmie is switched on. The teams are stronger than ever.
I think that kind of like what Jimmie said, I think we're going to need to... (noise)
JIMMIE JOHNSON: '70s video game. (Laughter)
CHAD KNAUS: I thought we were going to be teleported up. (Laughter).
I think the average finish that you typically had to win the championship, which has been about eighth and ninth place, it's going to shape up and you're going to have to be a sixth to a fifth place finisher for the final ten races to win the championship. But then again, I could be wrong. You never know what's going to happen. It's going to be tough. There's going to be multiple winners from Championship Chase racers in the final ten races and it's going to be exciting.
Q. Jimmie, do you have some feeling for Gordon in this situation? I mean, he's losing 300 and some points -- he's losing 400 and some to you. Do you have a feel for how far back it's flipped around?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I really look at how Jeff has carried himself as these weeks have kind of closed down, and getting closer to his big points lead disappearing. I look at him and think he's really done a great job of representing what the sport is about and how we're going into the Chase, and he's known it all along and those types of things.
I think the racer inside of me feels bad, he's had an amazing 26 first races but we all knew coming into the season it was going to be this way. We were able to maximize the seeding process on the 48 car and doing everything we can to be a champion, but I do in the back of my mind feel something for him.
Q. You said that you feel like you have to be very aggressive in the Chase. Can you further define what you mean; is that in regards to pit calls, is that set-up, is that getting in Jimmie's ear to step further up on the wheel?
CHAD KNAUS: I guess what I meant I was saying, by aggressive you have to go out there and try to win races and finish in the Top-5. Most people don't think that finishing in the Top-5 -- you know, it's difficult, like you have to have an aggressive race and you have to run competitively. You have to do things to finish in the Top-5. The Top-5s just don't fall on your lap and you have to go out there and be spot on and make a strategic call and you may have to have the driver step up a bit and you may have to call on your pit crew. There's so many things that you have to call on to make sure you finish in the Top-5.
Like when you have a bad day at the racetrack, people say, it's going to be all right. I don't think people understand how hard it is to be all right.
Q. You talked about how you guys avoided that late summer swoon that you always seem to have. Even last year you had it and even after Indy you did not have a Top-10 -- was it something that you broke through last year and won the championship and you approach it differently this year; is there anything differently why you guys are on this roll?
CHAD KNAUS: There's a multitude of reasons. I think the team has gelled together than it has in the past. We've had a lot of groundwork laid out by Hendrick Motorsports and they have done a phenomenal job and the product we are bringing to the racetrack is better than what it has been in the summer months. Typically in the summer area, that's where your bodies are established and your engine program is established and this year we've just kept on pushing through and we've been bringing better race cars and better equipment to the racetrack every single week. We didn't stop there, we continued to work on the pit crew and everything and I think it's showing.
Q. Jimmie, now that you have a championship under your belt is it easier going into this year knowing what it takes to get to the Cup at the end of the ten races, or are you approaching it any differently, is this a whole new game with 12 drivers instead of ten?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't think getting the end result is going to get any easier. But I think my mental strength is much greater than what it was last year. I think the team is stronger. We're all -- experience helps everyone on so many levels in motorsports and I think life in general. But to be able to go through the five seasons of almost getting it, the letdown, and then getting it last year; and knowing that we can do it, we've been there and we can fight through this, you don't have to have a perfect final ten. Stay focused on the right things, the championship could be there.
I feel a lot more confident and I'm sure the team does, too, and more relaxed. I don't think it's going to make our job any easier for us, but we are coming in without as much pressure on ourselves I think.
Q. Last year you guys sort of seemed to discover something at Martinsville. You had that trouble early and you -- I think the phrase was, whatever happens -- you went in with an attitude where every week you went out just doing the best you could and it seemed to sort of ignite you and carry you forward. Is that going to be something that you will revisit, that attitude going into this Chase, that thinking about -- as you said, it may not be -- well, we just don't know what's going to happen.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We would like to be in that same mind-set when we were knocked out of those top two finishes, I guess we had five of them. We have a lot that led us to that frame of mind, and if we can be in that frame of mind all the time, would be the best thing. Especially through all ten of those races and I think that's where we want to go and where we want to be.
If you get off to a fast start in the Chase, you start protecting and if you get off to a slow start, you start charging. That's the balance we are trying to find of where the team works, and that harmony, to use a corny phrase, just working right week after week.
Q. Jimmie, you had just about every possible experience in the Chase, you have been accused of erring on the side of preparing for the Chase and losing momentum during the regular season, you have had comebacks that failed, comebacks that made it. Does all of this give you an advantage? Does all of this experience of what to do and how to act -- and this is probably true of Chad, too -- give you an advantage that perhaps others without your depth of experience have had?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it helps. But when I look at the guys in the Chase, I look at Jeff Gordon, all of the ups and downs he's been through. I look at Stewart probably ahead of us. I think we're there and probably third and argue that against Kenseth and maybe -- I'm trying to think of who else is there with a championship.
Those experiences make you stronger and it makes the team stronger. We have a group of guys that have been together for a long time and we have grown through the up-and-downs together. It certainly helps us and puts us on pace with these guys that have more experience than we do and we're going to fall on that. At the same time we're going to fall back on that and the 20 is going to try to do the same thing, the 2; and it's going to be tough. We have dealt with a lot in a short period of time and we have been on a fast learning curve and I think that's helpful, too.
Q. For Jimmie and Chad, the suspension that you had after Sonoma or something like that, Jimmie was just mentioning experiences that make the team stronger. Could you both comment on that and how that made you a little bit stronger, and, Chad, maybe you saw something on your six weeks away from the track that you might have found out. (Laughter).
CHAD KNAUS: Boy, that's a played out question.
CHAD KNAUS: Holy smokes. You know, I'll be honest with you, obviously when something like that happens, it's painful. It's painful for the organization; it's painful for myself, it's painful for Jimmie, the sponsors, the team, everything. And there's no benefit to that happening. There's only downside. Yes, I was in Charlotte, North Carolina for six weeks. Did it help our race team? Absolutely not. Did it prove that our race team is extremely well-trained and dedicated to the sport? Absolutely it did. It showed that everybody, Ron and Lance, everything that goes on on the road early can prepare a race car just as good as anybody else out there. It showed what we can do at Hendrick Motorsports to prepare a car to take it to the racetrack is phenomenal. That's all it proves. It doesn't do us any good. It just makes us all step up and dig deeper, and that's what we did.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I agree with Chad. There's really nothing good to come from it. You know, your skin gets a little thicker and I think if there is a positive thing that comes from it, when you're learning new people, like with Ron and Lance coming in, I find that I've got to be much more descriptive because Chad and I know each other so well and can talk in much shorter terms and phrases and he understands where I'm coming from. I think it helped me in some ways become more involved in describing more sensations that I feel in the car. And the more I tell these guys, the better it's going to be.
So I think trying to learn, Ron and then Lance, help me be more descriptive in a car; if we can really measure that, I'm not really sure. But that would be the one thing from the driver standpoint that helped through that experience.
Q. When Jeff was leading the race early and when you were leading it late, there seemed to be some tremendous racing going on. But it was all behind the leader, and it seems like aero push is worse than ever with this Car of Tomorrow that nobody can challenge whoever gets out front. Is that really the case, and if so, how does it affect your strategy going into the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We certainly feel the aero push. It's tough without going from car to car without really saying it's worse. Because we have less downforce, higher roll center, a more -- I guess a tighter box to work in with the Car of Tomorrow and the car we're going to have here in the next -- forever. So it's tough to really compare that.
But in theory, it's a bigger car punch and a bigger hole in the air, so it's going to make more turbulent air the further back in traffic you go. We have a splitter to keep working off the asphalt so it's not dependent upon the air coming over the top of the car. Is that really working? We're not really sure. It does seem like it is worse and I haven't been on the track with the car like Atlanta or Charlotte and stuff. So I'm eager to get to Atlanta to test and see how bad it is. I've heard the cars are tough to drive in traffic and fear that we might have that, might have a little more single-file racing and a worse problem in traffic. And to NASCAR's credit, I think they are trying to be proactive and we are going to Atlanta and work on that with all of the teams and hopefully we can work on some adjustments when we're there and fine tune and make the car a little bit easier to drive and better in traffic if any of those problems come up.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations, guys.
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