Jimmie, talk about winning this race, such a big race on our schedule, in our sport, and it culminates a big day for motorsports. You were the last one standing. Talk about how this race unfolded for you.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, it means a lot. Through the years a lot of references to this race as one of our majors. I certainly agree with that. 600 miles around here is no easy task.
To deal with all the things that are thrown at a race team through the evening with the track changing, the mechanical obstacles that you have to overcome, keeping an engine alive, tires alive, all of it. It’s a serious team effort to finish 600 miles. And then win here, especially as hard as we had to run throughout the night, the pace we had to keep up, certainly proud of that.
This weekend, so much great racing today. Obviously the big celebration. I shouldn’t say celebration, but to be able to honor the men and women that have served our country and given the ultimate sacrifice. Certainly tomorrow is Memorial Day.
To have patriotic paint scheme on our racecar, to say thank you to the families that have lost loved ones, then to the men and women out there serving, to see us out there on the racetrack, I know it means something to them. Proud to be a part of that.
Q : Chad, certainly a great effort by the 48 team throughout the whole weekend. Sat on the pole Thursday night. Very impressive. Talk about the whole experience, what it means.
CHAD KNAUS: Obviously this is a very special place in my heart. My first victory in the Sprint Cup Series came here with Jeff Gordon back in 1994. To be able to win this race again with Jimmie, couple times we won it, it’s pretty special. It’s really neat.
I have to definitely say thank you to Kenny Francis and Kasey Kahne. We definitely robbed the bank on those guys. They came over here last week and had a very fast racecar. We pillaged their notes a little bit and came back with some of the ingredients they had in their racecar and put that in the Lowe’s 48 car. Jimmie definitely responded well to that. Thank you to those guys.
It was a good weekend. To be able to go out there and unload quickly, second in qualifying practice, to be able to qualify on the pole, fantastic. Something we’ve struggled with here as of late.
Then to be very fast in both practice sessions on Saturday during the day. We worked hard with Jimmie and the engineers, tried to understand what the track was going to do with the temperature changes.
It was pretty good. We had to make some pretty big swings at it, but all in all it was a great weekend.
Q : Rick, certainly Jimmie shows again the No. 48 team, the strength of this team. Now you have three of your four drivers bound for the Chase. Talk about this victory and how big it is for your entire team.
RICK HENDRICK: I think, number one, Charlotte is kind of home. Won my first NASCAR race here with Sr. in ’83 in the Nationwide or Busch Series. It’s a special place, all the families here.
Winning a race, Jimmie and Chad have been so close this year, and several situations got away. To get this one behind us is great.
This is a tough race to win with the adjustments you have to make, just the endurance of this race itself. We’re just glad to get another 600 victory. Glad to see these guys get the win so we can go to Dover and relax.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I kind of have a question. What the hell are you all going to write about now? We won. Anybody (smiling)?
Q. Chad, you mentioned that you pilfered from notes from your teammates. How often does that happen? Did it help you tonight?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, it helped a hell of a lot. I do it as often as we need it. That’s the beauty of what we’ve got at Hendrick Motorsports. If we need help, we’re not getting the result that we need, we’ve got three other teams we can definitely bounce ideas off of and get direction from.
This year has been a bit of a struggle for the 48 from an understanding of what the new rules are, what the car wants, even from Jimmie understanding what he feels he needs. We’re all still trying to understand that.
I don’t think we’re where we need to be 100% yet. We’re definitely going in the right direction. I think Dover and Pocono are going to be a good telltale of where the 48 is.
We use whoever we can. I don’t care who comes up with it. If it’s fast, I’ll steal it. That’s how we work.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: They’ve stolen plenty from you (smiling).
Q. Did you remember how to get to Victory Lane since it’s been so long since you’ve been there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: 12 long races (smiling). I guess we’ve created this environment for ourselves. I honestly wasn’t stressing. The fact that 12 races created that much buzz just means we’ve done a lot of great things over the years, so I’ll turn it into a compliment.
Q. You dominated at Charlotte/Lowe’s before they did the repaving. We heard that the character’s coming back. Is that an indication this is playing into your hands? Chad, the other two guys, Danica and Kurt, had engine problems. Did that cause you any trepidation?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We’re getting closer to the old track. I still think we’re probably three to five years away from it really getting there.
But the track’s rough. They’ve started to put tar strips down and we have the seams developing. There’s other patchwork done on the track. It’s coming around.
Whatever this asphalt mixture is, it’s pretty rock solid. It’s taken a long time to get there. We’re getting into a sweet spot with the track, I believe.
CHAD KNAUS: ‘Trepidation’ is a great word. I was surprised to hear it out of this gallery (laughter).
Q : This marks the 14th time in the last 26 Coca-Cola 600s that a first-time season winner has won the race. That’s a big deal this year with the new Chase format.
Q. Was there any point in the beginning of the season up until now that you started to panic because you hadn’t had a win? Was there any extra added pressure coming into tonight?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. I mean, the first goal is to make the Chase. You want to win races at the end of the season. You have to win races at the end of the season to be the champions.
Of course, we want to win early and often. But we were holding steady in the championship points. In my opinion, I don’t believe there will be 16 different winners. I felt like a strong championship points position would get us into the first phase of the Chase.
Granted, tonight simplifies things. We’ll take it, move on. We really want to heat up and win races later in the season, especially before the Chase starts.
More than anything, I just got tired of answering the question. There wasn’t a lot of frustration due to pressure of winning. There was frustration in not having fast racecars, but that’s a different situation.
We hold ourselves to a high standard. I think we’re onto some good things and have a good direction to go with our racecars.
Q. Jimmie, you said after you won the pole that you wanted folks in the garage to fear the 48 team again. You thought a couple wins would be necessary for that to happen. Do you feel like that may be starting to happen or do you need to win at Dover as well?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We’re off to a good start. Multiple wins do that. If we can take advantage of the next few tracks that are great tracks for us, it would be great momentum.
Ideally you’d love to do it before the Chase gets started and carry that right into the start of the Chase. But you never know when you’re going to peak and when everything’s going to be just right.
We’ll hopefully peak at the right time.
Q. Rick, do you have any idea what the diagnosis is on the two engines that failed?
RICK HENDRICK: I think they were probably valve related. Probably a spring broke first, then we swallowed a valve. That’s the weakest part of the valve train.
I know I talked to the engine guys a little while ago. They’re going to diagnose it and see what they can find. But usually that’s what happens, it’s a valve spring.
Q. Was there any concern when Junior had his issues, that you might be looking at three engines? Did the 48, the 5 or 24 have any concerns either?
RICK HENDRICK: I definitely had a lot of concerns after the first one went. Junior didn’t have an engine problem, that was probably a brake problem. Vibration, thought it was something else.
Anytime you break one, I guess that’s the part of the racing that I fear the most, is a part failure. When you break one, it’s bad. When you break two, it’s really bad. They’re all just alike, so…
A lot of uneasy feelings for me till it was over.
Q. Since you’ve accomplished what you’ve been able to, will certainly leave a huge mark in the history of motorsports, touch on what Kurt Busch was able to accomplish today at Indy.
RICK HENDRICK: I think it was an amazing job. I think it speaks highly of the talent that’s in this garage, in this sport, to be able to go up there, never having been in the car before. To finish sixth, he showed a lot of talent.
I think it’s nice to see the fans recognize him for what he had done. I think it was outstanding.
Jimmie, you and Chad can voice your opinions. But that was an amazing job, I thought.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I completely agree. He did an awesome job. Made us all really proud in the garage area watching. Hats off to him.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I agree 100%. It’s pretty spectacular. I think Juan Pablo had a lot of motivation to try to finish ahead of him today.
Kurt did a great job. The thing that really amazes me, is we all talk about communication. To be able to go and put himself in that world, begin to try to communicate with those guys that have a completely different vocabulary than what we do on the Cup side, it’s spectacular to go through that. Showed a lot of maturity on his part, a lot of desire. I thought that was pretty awesome.
Q. You’ve been fairly open in the weeks leading up to this about how you were still looking for the handle on the car, the feel for this new rules package. Chad, you said tonight that you feel like you still have work to do. I’m wondering how that is. Looks like you went out there and waxed everybody in one of the biggest races of the year. What else do you need to prove? How far do you think you’re still off?
CHAD KNAUS: I think we’re off a lot. I think we’re more than capable of going out there and winning a race if everything goes right. I think tonight we had a really good racecar and I think Jimmie did a fantastic job.
But I think if things didn’t go our way, we wouldn’t have. Quite honestly, I think we need to get back to the form of the 48 car to where we make it go our way. That’s my goal. I think we’re a little bit away from that.
But once we get there, it will be the 48 of old and we’ll be able to go out there and win races like we’re supposed to.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I agree. I think the 4 car can make stuff happen to Chad’s point. We had a great night, took advantage of the opportunity. There’s still some room to go, for sure. Luckily we have time on our side.
Q. Chad, does the win give you an opportunity to take some chances? Jimmie talked about putting wins together. What risks can you take going forward now that you’re secure?
CHAD KNAUS: That’s a great point. We hadn’t been in that position yet to really explore that.
The thing that’s on our side is that we’ve got, like Jimmie said, a little bit of time to really get an understanding of what’s going on.
The other thing we’ve got on our side is we’re going to Dover, Delaware, which is by far one of Jimmie’s favorite racetracks. Then we’re going to Pocono, which is one of my favorite racetracks. Doesn’t hurt. So I think over the next couple of weeks we’re going to be in pretty good shape.
Q. Rick, typically when Jimmie wins a championship, sometimes they come out a little bit slow because many teams had been working on the next year. Did you see this as the typical post-championship start for this team?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I’m probably not the guy to answer that question.
But, you know, I think the new rule package, like they said, fell into maybe Jeff’s driving style and Junior’s more than it did Jimmie and Kasey. I think the 5 and the 48 have a little bit more work to do than the 88 and the 24. That’s just a matter of getting Jimmie what he wants and Chad understanding the car.
There have been races that we have been so fast, like California. Jeff had a good long-run car, he’s had it all year. One thing I’ve learned watching these guys, what works in the 24 doesn’t necessarily work in the 48. Jimmie maybe doesn’t like it or it doesn’t work for him.
So we have the information to look at, but that gives you a baseline, but it doesn’t guarantee that he can go out and win with it.
Q. Jeff Gordon, talking about his back, he said, Me staying in the car going through what we went through is only going to earn me more respect with this team. What world does Jeff Gordon live in that he feels like he needs to earn any more respect with his team?
RICK HENDRICK: I think he probably said that without really thinking of maybe what he said because that team respects him so much.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He’s just a humble guy.
RICK HENDRICK: I know he was in a lot of pain. I was worried he would get in the car. Allen and I’ve talked and the team’s talked about it. It looks like the Jeff Gordon of 20 years ago. He’s fired up. He’s up there every week.
I think that was just something he said because that team respects him. I think he’s got the entire garage talking about the kind of year he’s having right now.
Q. Chad, Jeff’s comments were respect with regards to toughness. He said, Maybe they don’t understand the toughness. You’ve been with him through the years. Do those guys understand the toughness of him? What does it mean, since you’ve been a crew guy, to see a driver do something like that when you’re a crew guy working 120 hours a week, go through something like that for you?
CHAD KNAUS: I was listening to that question before. I completely understand because as a crew guy sometimes you think that the drivers, they have it pretty easy. They fly around in big, fancy jets, they show up at 3:00, race, go home, show up again on Friday, do it Saturday, Sunday.
I think what Jeff was trying to say is he understands what his team does, what they go through to build the racecars, how this pit crew is there at 7:00 every morning to practice pit stops, start working out, what they go through setting up the pits when it’s 120 degrees outside and waiting five hours to start. He gets that.
I think that’s what he was trying to say. He was trying to prove to his guys that he was going to do his just work every day.
Q. Does a crew guy need to see that from time to time?
CHAD KNAUS: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, for sure. They have the utmost respect, just like we have the utmost respect for Jimmie. When a crew guy sees something like that, it knocks you up to the next level. I’ve seen what Jeff has done over the years. I’ve seen what Jimmie has done over the years.
When you’re ingrained with them, you see the pain, the desire, what it is they put into it, man, you get it. You really get it.
I think what he said is actually true. I think his guys will now – not that they didn’t respect him before – but they have a new appreciation for what it is that he does.
KERRY THARP: This is Rick Hendrick’s 11th Coca-Cola 600 win.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: That’s awesome.
Q. Jimmie, I remember you talking last year about your first start ever at Charlotte in the Sprint Cup Series, how it was a humbling experience for you. Now you have more wins than anybody else here. What does that mean to you now? Rick, what does it mean to you to have Jimmie with that record?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’ll never forget that first start here. That week was a tough week. I lost one of my closest friends on the front straightaway, Blaise Alexander. Looked at his skid marks every lap I went through with Cup and Nationwide practice, something tough to overcome.
We qualified well, made the show. The other Lowe’s car didn’t. That was a huge feather in our cap. Then I remember spinning. As I’m sliding into the wall, I see Jeff coming for my door getting ready to run into the side of me. He’s running for the championship. I’m thinking, Please don’t let him hit me. I’ll have my first and last race all at once.
To have things fast forward to where it is today, to be able to be the winningest driver here, says a ton. I mean, this track means so much to the racing community. There’s some tracks that have a bigger awareness to fans and media and others outside of racing. But this track, when you come here and run well, there’s just something about it with it being in the backyard of all the race teams. There’s a lot of proud out of running well here.
I have that pride. Having the most wins here takes it to the next level, for sure.
RICK HENDRICK: For me, Charlotte is home, too. Been friends with Bruton for a long time. We kid him all the time about taking his money. The fact that it’s here and the shop is only a mile away, my first NASCAR win was with Robert in ’83 in the Busch Series.
So this is a special place for me. I mean, it ranks up there with Daytona and Indianapolis. To win in Charlotte is really special. It’s home.
Anytime we can accomplish something that someone else hasn’t, it’s rewarding to the organization.
Q. Rick, you’ve watched these two for a long time. Tonight Jimmie added a few more numbers. All-time points leader here. Is there any time that you sit back and look at these two and are amazed at what they’ve accomplished?
RICK HENDRICK: All the time. I think about Jimmie riding with me, with my son to the Nationwide races, waiting for him, buying him a burger. But these two, what they’ve accomplished…
When you put them together, you have no idea it’s going to be anything like this. It’s like Ray and Jeff. You just never know.
What they’ve been able to accomplish together, it’s been amazing. I always say I’m just glad I don’t have to race against them. I’ve been amazed for years at what they’ve been able to accomplish.
The thing that amazes me the most is they are always digging to be better. No matter how good they are, how many races they win, they strive to take it up another notch.