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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

Rick Hendrick
Jimmie Johnson
Chad Knaus
November 9, 2008


THE MODERATOR: This is the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet driver Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus, owner Rick Hendrick. Jimmie, this is your seventh victory of 2008, your third victory here at Phoenix. You go into Homestead with a 141-point lead, on the verge of claiming your third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. What a dominant performance out there tonight. Your thoughts?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Great night. Just so, so happy to go out tonight and execute and take advantage of having a great car and track position.
Yesterday was a challenge for us in some ways, and we had a decent car, but we knew we needed to be better. Our goals were to come in here and try to win the race. Last night Chad and the guys, I can't thank them enough for their hard work and finding what we needed and then trying to convince me that it was going to be okay.
After last week's performance, and then coming in here and yesterday not being just like what we wanted, I was probably a little more stressed out than I needed to be, and I don't know, how many times did I call you last night and then again this morning? Way too many. He yelled at me one time, "Quit calling me." "Well, dammit, make me feel better about what's going to happen today."
So very, very pleased and proud of this race team. We've got a great points lead, and we'll go down to Homestead and try to wrap this baby up.
THE MODERATOR: Chad, your thoughts about what Jimmie had to say about getting everything ready? I know you're a perfectionist, and certainly you had nearly a flawless performance out there tonight.
CHAD KNAUS: I can't say enough about the whole team. We really came here for qualifying with something a little bit different than what we had run here in the past. We really wanted to try to sit on the pole, and it showed a lot of fruit, obviously, being able to run the lap that we didn't qualify. So we thought we would take the next step and try to apply that to the race, and it wasn't working at the race trim.
So we had to -- Jimmie did a good job of leading us where we needed to go yesterday. We really, towards the end of practice, we made some adjustments to go back closer to where we ran in the spring, and it started to show a little bit of fruit. Jimmie did a really good job of breaking down the racetrack for us and where he was feeling, where his sensors were, what he was doing with his inputs, and we made some pretty substantial changes this morning. Greg Ives, my engineer, myself, Ron Malec, we dug in deep and changed just about everything on the race car this morning, and thank God we did because it worked out okay.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, you've certainly got to feel good about not only how this thing turned out here today but how the Chase has gone and certainly feel good about going into Homestead Miami next week.
RICK HENDRICK: We really do. Excited for the team, excited for Chevrolet to clinch. I think they told us we clinched the manufacturer's championship, so that was good. Looking forward to Homestead.

Q. Jimmie, can you tell us what you were thinking about during that rain delay? Did you think to yourself, okay, I know I've got the car tonight?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I wasn't that confident then. I felt that we were on the right track, and frankly I was trying to chase out all the nerves that I had in my system from yesterday's practice, through the night and then the start of the race. I just took a little me time in the car and didn't bother getting out and just sat there and closed my eyes and just tried to relax and forget about all the things I was worried about and find confidence in how good that race car was.
So that was a good positive time for me, a good time out to sit down, collect my thoughts, relax and get back after it.

Q. Rick, you've had so many other championships and you've been twice down the road with these guys going into Homestead. How do you handle it?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, it's -- it never gets easy. This is the longest short race I've ever seen. I think I put about 100 laps on Pit Road. You get nervous when something happens, like Jeff had a valve spring and immediately the guys said that batch was introduced in June or July, and we've run it and everything is okay.
It's just I have a lot of confidence in these guys. You can't have broken parts or cut tires or whatever. But I'd rather be in our position than be in second.
Jimmie and Chad both have shown nerves of steel. I wish I could say I had the same makeup they do. I get a lot more nervous than they seem to. I feel confident that we'll be good.

Q. Jimmie, you had a huge crowd around your pit box tonight, like El Cajon was out in force. Were they here because it was Phoenix or were they here in anticipation of a celebration tonight?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I usually have a big group when I come close to home. A bunch of friends from El Cajon came out and we'll be getting crazy tonight for sure, so I'm going to look forward to that.
Some friends of mine that play baseball are based here in the Phoenix area during the off-season, so it just works out to be a fun race, and I try to spend a couple days before or after and visit everyone.
I'm sure with what's on the line, everybody was interested in showing up today, and I'm sure next week I'll have a lot of requests for passes and things, as well.

Q. Chad, you talked about all the testing that you guys did, finding certain things. I want to ask you about the testing. And Jimmie, how important was it that you specifically personally did the testing and didn't rely on Landon or Brad or David Green or whoever else with all the testing you guys did as an organization? You did it yourself to find the comfort zone in the car. How important was that for you to get a jump ahead of everybody else?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It was definitely important for me to be in the car. We've had guys out running laps and working on stuff, and it gives us a direction, or we'll look at it and say, okay, work on -- what they did helped the corner entry, center of the corner, corner exit. So we'll go to a track and try to verify that and try to apply that.
The testing that's gone on by other drivers and other people, even Jeff and Casey and those guys, that's all very, very important information. But our styles are all so different that we've never been able to count on putting someone's setup in and it worked. So we've always had to go out and validate it, get our own experience with it, seat time with it.
In today's world, with this car, how you use the brake changes a lot of how the front geometry works on the car. If I look at Casey's geometry, I cannot run that geometry in our car. It just will not work.
And Chad on top of that likes to take these ideas people come up with and take it a step further and take that idea a little further into other areas. It's been very important, and no one has -- Jr. has been in that car. I think Casey drove it once.
I've watched a couple guys drive it and I was there and I didn't like it. When that car is at the racetrack, I'm in it. That's my car. Even when I broke my wrist and I came back, we talked about putting somebody in the car in Daytona, and I'm like, as much as I hate sitting down there for three days, nobody is driving my race car; that's my car and I'm going to be in it.

Q. A couple questions for you. Number one, you got off to a slower start this year than usual. Was there a specific point when you realized the team was ready for a championship run again? And number two, you're a guy who early on wanted to lead every lap, wanted to win every race. As you've gotten used to this Chase format, have you gotten more comfortable with the idea of a regular season being more of a test time to turn it on toward the end of the season?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think I understand what you're saying. Yeah, when we showed up in Daytona I knew our team was capable of winning its third championship. You can't predict it, you can't write the story line, but I knew our team was capable of doing that. Jimmie obviously didn't forget how to drive, we didn't forget how to work on race cars or build race cars. I knew going into Daytona that we were going to be capable of doing that.
But it wasn't until Texas that I thought the team was starting to hit its stride and understand what was going on with the car to make proper adjustments during the races, and once we got through Texas which we ran top one, two all day long and I think we finished second to Carl, that's when the confidence, the momentum really started to show up.
We had a timeline that we figured by the time we got to May, we needed to have everything figured out, so we pressed really hard at that point, did a lot of at-track testing, tried a bunch of stuff, did testing with our other teammates, as well. And when we got to Lowe's in May, we shocked them at that race. I think from that point on it was press on at that point.

Q. Jimmie, 36th or better to clinch the championship. I mean, I know as a racer it's hard to go into defense, but are you in a position where you can still go out there and try to race for the victory?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I really think where we are in points is going to allow me to go to Homestead and take a little pressure off my brain this week because last week I beat it senseless and just go down and relax and get in the car and set it up, just do what we know how to do, go shoot for the pole on Friday with no pressure. And same thing in race practice; just get the car driving good and comfortable and make sure it has speed in it.
I'm really excited about next week, and there's no need to do anything stupid by all stretch -- by every way you look at it. But at the same time, how cool would it be to win out? I still think we can do that. I'd love to do that. And that's what our goals are. If we get in the race and I've got to drive at 110 percent to go for the win, there's no need to. But if we can go out there and win the race like we did tonight, hell, yeah, let's do it.

Q. Kurt Busch was in here a little bit ago and said what he saw today was something pretty special. He called it a privilege to run second to you guys today. How do you feel about both what he said and about those kind of compliments, any of you? All of you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He stopped in victory lane, too, and that was very nice of him to come over and say that, to say those nice things about our team.
One thing that showed up in '06 when we won the championship, when we came to the track in Daytona, to walk through the garage area and to see crew guys that you recognize but you don't know, drivers, crew chiefs that you may know, whatever it was, people will congratulate you and say good job.
At the end of the day I think that's what makes all three of us on this race team click, is to have that respect from the people in the garage area, guys that we race against. It means a lot to hear Kurt say that. We feel we've been able to do some special stuff here in these last few years, and it catches our attention to be in this situation, as well. We're glad to be here and love the sport, and it's just been cool. So I appreciate those kind of words that he mentioned.

Q. You don't want to argue with him?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'll argue with him.

Q. No, with Kurt. Do you agree this is pretty special what you guys are doing? Do you agree?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Definitely. I think it is. I probably think it's more special than anyone else out there, maybe not these three guys or us three together. But it's neat to see other people that recognize it, as well.

Q. Jimmie, your car obviously was strong all day. You fell behind Jamie during that caution period and then came out and passed him almost immediately. Did you feel like you could do that pass at any time, or did you feel like there was even a chance you were taking a risk by making moves with a lot of laps left in the race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Our car was -- except for the first run, and Jamie was probably a little more eager to lead that first lap than I was, from the second time we put tires on, I could just get away from people and pass guys at will. I felt like I could do it within a lap or two. I didn't think I would have an opportunity that soon.
We cleared whoever it was in the lap down lane as we went into one, and my car stuck and rotated, and I was dead back in the gas catching him and clear inside, so I just took that opportunity to get by him. But it was a pretty cool pass. Chad and I were talking about it after the race. The car was just hooked up, and off we went.

Q. This is for Rick. Rick, what Jimmie is doing is pretty remarkable, but Jr. had another good day today, and besides Jeff's disappointment with the valve spring, can you talk a little bit about your organization's performance this year and the Chase?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I think we said it earlier, we were behind when the year started, and we worked hard and you could see it coming. All the teams are running good right now. Casey had a really good car today, got tied up in a wreck, and Jeff, good car, and Jr. has had some good runs back-to-back.
I think the momentum is -- we were just behind, but everybody has worked really hard and shared information, and I think -- hopefully we can roll into next year and we won't be behind when the year starts.

Q. Chad, can you talk a little bit about the changes you made to the car? You were talking about him calling you and perfecting the car. The car is so hard to set up, and if you go too far -- obviously a lot of people have made that mistake; you can overthink it. Talk about the changes you made to the car today and the ability to believe in what he has to say to nail it so you don't overthink the car, race morning changes?
CHAD KNAUS: I think that's one of the strengths that this team has is the communication level between Jimmie and myself and everybody on the team for that matter. We saw what we had in the spring, we knew what we had in the spring, we knew that that worked well, that what we had ran last fall was very similar to what we ran in the spring but not exactly the same.
We came with a little bit different package, like I said, for qualifying, and managed to improve. We thought it was going to be able to go right into race trim, but it just didn't pan out. You think you get an hour and 45 minutes of practice, but that's really not a lot of time to validate something. So towards the end of the day we opted to just make some small adjustments going back towards what we had in the spring, and the car started to respond in a way that Jimmie was happy about.
Shoot, we were on the phone I know until at least 11:00 o'clock last night, yeah, four or five times, and computers -- I went through two batteries in my computer, and Greg Ives, we were going back and forth. The garage opened at 8:00 o'clock this morning, he calls me at 8:01, then he called me again at 815 --
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's when he yelled at me.
CHAD KNAUS: I did yell at him. At 8:01, he calls me. I was like, "Dude, let me get to work."
He was stressed. There was no input at 8:01, I can tell you that. I told him to go back to sleep, you're bothering me.
We changed a lot, we changed upper control arms, three springs, four shocks, sway bar, everything, and it worked.

Q. Chad, how concerned were you about the valve spring? I assume that's probably a batch thing. And were you also concerned when the grille got clogged up a little bit?
CHAD KNAUS: The valve spring, I was very concerned about that. Obviously whenever you have a teammate that has an engine failure, typically it is a batch issue. And all of our engines are assembled not by one particular assembler per team; it's a group of assemblers and then we divvy those up. So when the 24 had that issue, it was concerning for sure.
As far as the debris on the grille, that was actually good because that's what we wanted. The engine was running very cool. We wanted to get some temp into it. We wanted to get a little bit more front downforce on the car, so we put on tape on the grille on the second-to-last pit stop. And when that little piece of plastic got on there, that was only better.

Q. Rick, I want to ask you a couple things. Knowing how much testing helped you guys, helped this team in particular this year, there's been a lot of talk about the testing being cut back for next season. Some people in the garage are even favoring the idea of no testing at NASCAR tracks. I wanted to ask your opinion about what you feel for testing for next year. And the second thing is Brian France was in here today talking about maybe the need for aggressive moves for cost-cutting measures for teams. What can be done to help teams out?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, the testing, we've heard everything from 24 tests to no tests. I guess if we have to go with no tests, I'd like to see them bring us in on Friday with the data acquisition on the car and two good practices, take it off Friday -- that night, qualify Saturday, race Sunday, and eliminate tests.
We're going to do whatever they decide. It's a lot of money when you test as many times as we tested and everyone else has tested. But I think rolling over this year with this car, as much work as has been done on it, if they don't make a lot of wholesale changes in the off-season with rules, then we should be okay.
I think the whole world has been impacted by the economy, and we're going to be just like everybody else. We'll live with whatever they come up with, but it sounds to me like they're leaning toward very few tests and maybe none, but I think the data acquisition will help a ton like in the Truck Series. I think it will give everybody that shows up, Goodyear is there, all the teams are there, we've got to get in on Thursday anyway, so I think it'll save everybody a lot of money.

Q. Jeff hopped out of his car after the engine failure, and he wasn't kicking and screaming like a baby and really took it like a man, and it's his first engine failure since the 2006 Bank of America at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He praised the engine shop. What can you say about not only the engine shop but how Jeff handled the whole thing?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, Jeff is a real champion. He knows how hard these guys work. I'll tell you, we had three or four of the engine guys standing back there. We're looking at the car that's probably going to win the race, and their heads were down. They work so hard, they don't want to see a failure.
A tribute to them, they knew the batch when that spring was first run, how many runs we had on it. They knew that when I walked down to the pit box. So Jeff knows they're on top of their game. He's had a rough year, but Jeff is a really -- I've seen him put his arm around the organization when we just didn't give him stuff good enough.
I think he realizes how hard they work, and it doesn't do any good. Pieces are going to break. It's going to happen to everybody and anybody. I appreciate the attitude he had toward the failure, because he had a good car.

Q. Jimmie, before you spent the last 24 hours wearing out Chad, you said earlier that you spent the whole week wearing out your brain. That seems to run counter to the more relaxed, looser Jimmie Johnson we've seen in the 2008 Chase. Did the Texas finish just freak you out that much and sort of leave you unsettled?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was mad that we gave up points. I assumed that Carl was going to be one of the better cars at Texas, but I really thought we could finish in the top five, if not top three. And then to get off on that third run and go down a lap, not be able to get back the lap at that point, losing 80, 70 points, whatever it was, you can't do that many more times, especially with Phoenix and Homestead, and you can never count on having a race with no mechanicals or flat tires. You just don't know what's going to happen. The same thing goes for Homestead.
I want every single point that I can get, and I was frustrated that at Texas we didn't do that. We still ran well; we were competitive and ran near the top five all day long, but we were a lap down and never got the lap back.
I can be laid back and relaxed, but I can be very hard on myself and just -- my mind can do the same thing to me that it does to everyone else. I just want to be on top of my game and do my job every time I'm in the car. I put a lot of pressure on myself coming into this weekend to hit my marks in qualifying practice and qualifying during the race and all those things, and I just wanted to show up ready and spot-on.

Q. You're very comfortable in front of television and aware of it. Last week in Texas during a pit stop when Jimmie had a close call, there was some kind of outburst which I won't repeat or ask you to repeat, but it got a lot of reaction in the media center. What was the reaction when you got back to the shop or when you got home?
CHAD KNAUS: What did I do? I cussed on TV? Oh, look, you don't think --
JIMMIE JOHNSON: If you don't think he cusses, you don't scan us enough.
CHAD KNAUS: Man, when you sit out there -- I love all of you guys. Obviously you guys are the ones that put us out there, but damn, man, when there's a camera in your face for three and a half hours, if I have to blow my nose or go pee or anything like that, just a little break. That's all I needed at that point, just give me a break.
It's funny because when I said that, a little camera like up on the wall here, it went, (indicating drooping down), like that. It was funny. But I do appreciate you guys giving us our space when we ask for it. That means a lot because we do try to make ourselves completely accessible to you guys, and Jimmie does and all the drivers and our team does, and for our sponsors and for Lowe's and for Hendrick Motorsports, we want to get that out there, but every once in a while you need a breath.

Q. Rick, ABC pulled away the last 30 miles of the race and went to America's Funniest Home Videos. What does that say about NASCAR's championship playoffs?
RICK HENDRICK: It doesn't say very much. I didn't know that. That's where my mother is. I'm glad my phone went dead at the end of the race.

Q. Jimmie, can you answer that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I thought it went dark and nobody could watch it. So the fact that it was on another television channel was -- I mean, it's better. It's still somewhat on a prime channel of course on ABC, but to go to America's Funniest Home Videos, that one hurts (laughter), no doubt. I thought we have a lot of characters. Why do we need that show?
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations. We'll see you at Homestead.

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