Q. Jimmie, extremely dominant tonight. You led 94 laps. Is this one of your more overall best performances do you think, particularly at a restrictor plate track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I have to think so. Been in some very close battles at the end and have surged by to win. But from a laps led standpoint, this has to be the most dominant performance we’ve had on a plate track. Truthfully I think this Gen-6 car and the style of drafting required to be successful in this car fits my style a lot more. It’s a lot like the Gen-4 car that we had. The Gen-5 and the tandem racing, although we did win at Talladega, we just didn’t make it to the end of a lot of races for whatever reason.
This style of racing and track position being as important as it is and racing every lap, I don’t know if it’s something with the air in the draft that works better for me, or just being in the rhythm and racing so hard every lap that it makes a big difference. We’ve had a chance to win every plate race this year and we got two of the three. But Talladega going into the white-flag lap I felt like we were in a great position and came home with a top 5 or something. Been a very, very strong year on plate tracks for us.
Q: Chad, you got here Thursday and shook the car down, practiced, et cetera, qualified. Did you know going into the race tonight that you were going to be this good?
CHAD KNAUS: We thought we were for sure. We didn’t know exactly what was going to happen. We came down here with the mindset that we were going to do very similar to what we did for preparation for the Daytona 500 and just run single car runs. As the chance of weather started to increase for Friday, we felt like then that first practice session we needed to go out there and try to post a lap in case the weather did come in so we would get a good solid starting spot. It was evident right out of the box that the Lowe’s SS was fast and we got into the draft and Jimmie was able to work and maneuver through the draft really, really well. He had some small concerns and we were able to work on those, and we just ran that first practice session and the car was good. We were really excited about it, looking forward to getting into the race. We qualified much better than actually what I had anticipated. We were in a full-on race mode, and to qualify eighth with that package, I think that speaks a lot for the Hendrick engine package that we’ve got and the engineering package that we’ve got at Hendrick Motorsports.
Q. Jimmie, as masterful a plate performance as you’ve had, when you took off on that restart with 28 to go, it was almost like this guy is in a zone, nothing is going to stop him. The old baseball, football player line. And also, I know you never know in a plate race, but that had to be as close as a driver can come to knowing you’re going to win this thing tonight.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, I felt like based on past history the 20 was going to be the car to worry about, and he had some troubles there late in the race. You saw him down on the inside of the front stretch.
The 14, we were behind him after that green flag. A lot of guys pitted, we didn’t. Caution came out, lined up behind me and he was waving me by, so I knew he was saving his stuff, and I assumed he had a fast car and I definitely know he’s one heck of a plate racer. That being said when he and the 29 were there at the end I didn’t have a lot of time around them in the race so I didn’t know what they had.
They both were really, really strong. I think that they preserved their cars, and they were sitting on some bullets. They were both really quick. I had to manage the 29 at one point on one of the restarts, and then I was feeling much better about it, and then the 14 was behind me, and again, I just didn’t have much experience with him tonight so I didn’t know what he was going to have, and as we went into Turn 3 he was able to clear the 78 I could see in the mirror, and I had about a two-car, three-car gap, and I thought, oh, man, this is going to bite me. I figured he would run up on me and have something for me off of 4 or coming up to the stripe. But he didn’t have somebody on him, and the right situation wasn’t there for him to run up and I was able to manage it.
But I expected the 14 and the 78 to stay side by side as we went into Turn 3, thought it would be fine. But once the 14 cleared the 78, I got really nervous to the stripe but made it.
Q. I know there’s obviously a lot of races and laps to go, but do you get any kind of good vibe, feel, that relates to any of the five championship runs in terms of the success that you’re having this season?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, because the Chase is so different. Those 10 races, we’ve entered the Chase with a ton of momentum, we’ve entered it off, and we’ve done a very nice job of — those 26 races are what they are and time to move on and work on these next 10.
I haven’t spent a lot of time. When we get in the Chase there are certain feelings that seem to come around, but right now it’s really about managing your team, managing your car, developing the car and things like that. I feel good. As we get later in the summer and a week or two out, if we’re winning races then, the right feeling will start to come along then. It’s still a little early and we’re obviously trying to get every point we can to carry into the Chase with bonus points. But we have a little time before we focus in on that feeling.
Q. Jimmie, can you talk about trying to keep Ambrose behind you and then kind of what happened with the contact with him and kind of maybe the resulting of Kasey spinning out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, he had a great run going into Turn 3. I mean, he was coming fast. The biggest run I had seen in a lot of laps, so I moved up to block it. Kasey and those guys rolled up inside of me, and then as we came off of Turn 2, the 9 went shooting down below me, and I don’t know what happened from there. I don’t know where the 5 was or what happened. But the 9 made a strong move to get inside of me, and all I saw was the 9 inside of me, so I assume at some point someone got into the 5 and sent him for a ride.
Q. You didn’t feel the contact between you and the 9?
CHAD KNAUS: There was no contact.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn’t feel anything there.
Q. Jimmie, these races are supposed to be roulette wheel, lottery, crap shoot, but you guys won both of them and you did so pretty dominating fashion tonight. Given that these are supposed to be kind of the random nature and you guys made it look easy, what kind of message does that send do you think to the rest of the competitors?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I mean, I think that what we’ve done over the course of the year, leading the points like we have with a big margin I think probably sends the biggest message that we’re buttoned up and ready and in a position to win a sixth championship. But there’s a lot that can take place between now and Homestead.
People read into it, they look at how you perform week in and week out, and based on tonight’s performance, we’ll have a great race car going to Talladega, but there’s only one plate race in the final 10. Tonight’s statement doesn’t send the strongest message. It’s really what we do on a mile-and-a-half racetrack. There are more mile-and-a-half racetracks than any other throughout the Chase.
That’s the message we want to send and the area that we really need to be buttoned up on.
Q. This is actually for both of you, Jimmie and Chad: At any time prior to the race did you think about the fact that winning this would put you in the same position as Bobby Allison, and when after the race did it hit you that you’ve done something that hasn’t been able to be done in 31 years?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn’t have the slightest clue to be honest with you. I didn’t know until I climbed out of the race car, and I’m not sure if it was on television or radio, I’m sure television mentioned it, but I had no idea.
When I learned, heard the stat, Bobby Allison, as well, was – I always admired Bobby and Davey and thought it was so cool that a father and son were on the racetrack racing against one another, and I remember watching the Daytona 500 where they duked it out. Some people remember where they were when Princess Diana passed away. I know where I was, where I was standing, where I was working, I was working in an engine shop in Santee California, when I heard on the radio that Davey crashed in helicopter. I also know where I was when I heard that Bobby had his crash at Pocono.
Those two, I really liked that whole father-son aspect. I had a great relationship with my dad growing up from a racing standpoint and going to the local tracks and my dad was a guy that I looked at. We’d go out in the desert and ride and he’d teach me things and teach me how to drive a car. So there’s that connection that I had, that it would be cool to be race against your dad.
I never had that chance, that opportunity, but it helped me build a fondness for both of them, and to do anything that Bobby has done is really, really special.
CHAD KNAUS: I had heard about it for sure, but I was really looking forward to getting out there tonight. I knew we had a good race car. You know, it’s not just that one scenario, which it’s amazing to be able to be associated with that, but the thing that I think I’m proud he’s of is just the simple fact that as we achieve these milestones, to have our team and our driver Jimmie Johnson be compared to the likes of Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Sr. & Richard Petty, I’m just extremely proud of that. It’s something that I think this whole team needs to appreciate.
I can remember when we started this team, we didn’t have anything. We hadn’t won a race, we hadn’t led a lap, we hadn’t done anything, and the first thing that we did was come down here for the Daytona 500, and we sat on the pole.
For us to be able to achieve these milestones is pretty special, and I know one day we’re going to sit back and we’re going to look at it and be like, man, remember when we did that and we tied Bobby Allison for being the only team to have won both races in Daytona in a single season? That’s pretty cool stuff.
Q. How big is it to get this win and tie Matt Kenseth for four wins on the season, kind of momentum from the last couple weeks? You’ve kind of been down.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, every point counts, without a doubt. Clearly locking in – I think three wins locked us into the Chase. Clearly we’ve got nothing to worry about from that standpoint. Now it’s trying to get each and every point we can to carry in. Happy to get four wins, and hopefully we can get a couple more and get ahead of him.
Q. I just want to know what the deal was with the hats? Was that something planned, or was it like just a spur of the moment thing?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I looked out and all my crew guys had their hats rolled up, so I rolled mine up, and they thought it was great. So I came out of the car with it and started to second-guess myself as it was going on, and I could hear my wife’s voice in my head. She’s not here this weekend, so I could hear her voice telling me to pull my hat back down, so I did.
Q. Is that something you guys talked about before?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, there’s a couple guys that have done it in the past, and they like to do it with the Sprint hat because it says Sprint on the bottom. I really don’t know what it’s about. First I thought it was a West Coast thing, but the guy I looked at who had it up is an East Coast guy, so I don’t know what it is. But he did come from a motocross background, so maybe it’s a moto thing, yep, going back to my moto roots.
Q. The second-to-last restart where it appeared like you went to the outside and then it looked like for a minute that Kasey was going to get the lead and then he had the crash, but what happened there? Was that something where you thought the outside was going to be the better lane and it didn’t work out? Were you worried that it might slip away if you didn’t get that last caution to get it re-stacked?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, throughout the race I was able to move up in front of whatever lane was advancing, and they would – I could stall them out and maintain position. I mean, I did it 30, 40 times throughout the course of the race. So the 9 had a huge run coming, and I felt like I needed to defend it. Moved up there to defend it, and I didn’t advance. He didn’t push me off like I expected to and the 5 rolled up.
So I certainly had some concerns there. We had a great car. I feel like it could have been a very interesting race from there, but the thought of making the wrong move did go through my mind through the front stretch, and then once we got to the back stretch, all chaos kind of broke out from there.
Q. Jimmie, for years you came down here, especially last year when you wrecked in both races and said I hate plate racing, and then this year you have two wins and a fifth at Talladega. How good does that feel now, and mentally just how proud are you of that performance?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it’s hard to say I hate plate racing right now with these wins. It’s just I think the Gen-5 car and the style of drafting that took place there, I just didn’t match up well with it, just didn’t do a good job. This car, this style of drafting fits well with me, and it’s made a huge difference.
Q. And Chad talked about hitting milestones; this is 64 career wins for you now. I know you don’t like to talk about your place in this sport, but everybody talks about Jeff getting to 100 wins. It’s dangling out there, it’s getting closer for you now and you still have a long career ahead of you. Is that something you’re going to start looking at soon and is that something you want to reach?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah, I’d love to reach it. I just haven’t put any number out there in my head. That’s just not how I’ve been raised as a driver or a racer, regardless of with bikes or trucks and now where I am today.
Very proud of the number. Can’t believe I’m there. I feel like I have a lot of years ahead of myself inside the race car, and I know I’ll be in great equipment. Those opportunities will be there.
I certainly hope to get there, but I just – I usually don’t look that far ahead. It’s kind of on to next week, and I hope to win again, and we’ll see where everything tallies up. But I’ve been given an amazing opportunity at Hendrick Motorsports, and I want to take full advantage of that.
Of course I want to. Will it happen? I have no clue, but I’m certainly going to try hard for it.
Q. Jimmie and Chad, I know you have a lot of contact with fans and doing Q and A with fans. Do fans ever ask you how do you guys win so often, and what do you tell them if they do ask you that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don’t know. I did an event today with a bunch of kids out in Daytona USA and I’m not sure I got that exact question, and I know you all get tired of hearing it week in and week out, but it’s about the team. It’s people. People make the difference. All four Hendrick cars and those Stewart-Haas cars, we all have the same stuff, we all have access to the same things, it’s what the people do with it. Chad and I have had a relationship since the first time we drank beer in my backyard throwing horseshoes. There was just something there that worked.
It was the start of many good things to come. The relationships, the people make the difference, and those relationships are key. Every driver says it, and I know you get tired of hearing about it, but that’s where the magic lies. That’s where it’s at.
CHAD KNAUS: He’s spot on. I think the biggest thing that you have to realize is in any type of industry or sports, whatever it may be, you can’t be afraid to change. You’ve got to be able to change your perception, change your approach, change personalities, sometimes you have to change a person from time to time. That’s one thing that we’ve been able to do. We’ve been able to morph the way that we approach the weekends. We’ve been able to morph the way we approach our team and the way that the team reacts with different personnel, different positions, for different personnel and make things happen. But the cold hard facts of the matter is we could have the best race car out there but if we had some schmuck driving it, it wouldn’t get the job done. I think we’ve got what is the best racecar driver ever to sit in a Cup car behind the wheel, and I think that’s the biggest key.
Q. Are we filming a video on the ball field tonight?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: This time we’ll know you guys are watching. Last time we had no clue everybody was watching.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, we weren’t in the right frame of mind to be doing that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yes, we were, we were in the perfect frame of mind.
CHAD KNAUS: Yes, we are. Probably not, we all have places to go tonight.
Q. Obviously you had frustrations at Dover, come back and win at Pocono, frustrations last week, come back and win here. Do you thrive at all on those frustrations and is it important for your team to win after those frustrations?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I mean, especially from last weekend to this weekend, the situations are so different. With a plate track versus a downforce track.
We’re very focused on what we need to do as a team. We don’t let outside things distract us, and I think that’s the biggest key. Anything this 48 team does, we have a magnifying glass on us and everybody talks about it and everybody wants to know, wants to take shots at it, wants to praise it, whatever it is, good or bad. The focus, anything we do, people pay attention to it.
We don’t pay attention to the outside very on of, if at all. It’s really about what we do inside the 48 team. Last weekend didn’t turn out. Every race team in the garage area leaves the track with could have, would have, should haves, and we’ve had a couple of those, but we don’t let it linger, we don’t let it last. We dig in and we go to work and we come back to the racetrack and do the best we can. There’s more in that than there is us having a statement or something to prove because something got away from us the week before. It’s more about the team, and we know what we’re capable of when we go out and do our jobs.