Q. Chad, another dominating performance for you guys here at Dover, an impressive nine wins for Jimmie now, officially nine Monster trophies. Talk a little bit about the performance today and winning back-to-back races between the Coke 600 last week and the FedEx 400 today.
CHAD KNAUS: Gosh, I don’t really even know where to – quite honestly where to begin. We had come in here with high expectations obviously after winning the 600 last weekend. We came here with a brand new race car and things went really well for us straight out of the gate. Jimmie made his first laps on Friday, and he was very happy with the race car, and we were pretty optimistic at that point. Qualifying went really well, and then race practice Jimmie was very happy with the race car and we were posting very good lap times, so we were pretty excited to get into the event today.
At that point we were just out there just trying to manage the race and see what we could do, and it turned out to be a great day for everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, the Kobalt team and everybody involved.
Q. Chad, I think Jimmie came over the radio afterwards and you said, “I knew you would love this car.” What was it about this car, and I can only imagine what kind of car you’re going to bring for Pocono now.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, actually going into the 600 last weekend I told Jimmie we were taking his favorite race car to the racetrack for the 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and I told him that his new favorite car was going to be going to Dover the following week, and then I told him his next favorite car was going to be going to Indianapolis. So far I’m doing pretty good, and hopefully we can keep it true.
We’ve worked really hard. The one thing I’m really impressed with at Hendrick Motorsports is when we do get behind, which we feel like we’ve been just a pinch behind this year, everybody digs down really, really deep and they work hard, from the pit crew, from the guys that hang the bodies to the guys that build the chassis to the guys that build the engines and they try to find an advantage. When we do finally start to hit our stride, all those things that everybody worked on starts to culminate, and we can get out there and really start to make things happen. I think we’re seeing a lot of the fruit of a lot of people’s labor right now at the racetrack, and definitely looking forward to getting to Pocono. I’ve said it time and time again, Pocono is one of my favorite racetracks. I think it’s a lot of fun. It’s very difficult. So from a driver standpoint, this is definitely a tough racetrack. From a Pocono standpoint, it’s definitely difficult crew chief’s tough track, so I’m looking forward to getting there.
Q. After you won last week, you said that you’d kind of know if you guys were back when you were controlling the outcome of the races, so to speak. You seemed to dictate that today where it was kind of a 48 race. You didn’t have to wait for things to play into your hands. Does this mean you’re closer to where you want to be now or back or the favorites, or are you still not there?
CHAD KNAUS: No, I feel like we’ve still got to room to grow. I’m looking forward to the next series of race cars that we build at Hendrick Motorsports. I’m excited about that. I feel like if the 4 car didn’t have the troubles that they would have had today, they would have been a serious threat. So we need to continue to work to try to minimize those threats.
But we’re close. We’re definitely close. We had solid pit stops today. They needed to be a little bit better. We had a good race car today. It needs to be a bit better. So I think if we can start digging in a little bit deeper we’ll finally have what we want when we get to about September time.
Q. You mentioned that you felt you guys were behind a little bit. What exactly did you get behind on, and how did you work out of it to where you are now?
CHAD KNAUS: Well, like I said, we’re still behind. I think we’re behind on just a little bit of everything. What happens, and I’ve said this before, when you are fortunate enough to battle for a championship, your main focus goes solely on trying to win a championship, so as we were going through and pursued the 2013 season championship, we lost focus on 2014. But that’s just inherent. That’s what happens because you have to focus on the goal that’s directly in front of you.
I feel like we’ve got a long ways to go yet to understand exactly what we need. With the new ride height changes and rules that they’ve got out there, it’s a different animal, and I know it’s difficult to understand and it’s not easy for everybody to understand, but it does change the way you approach a race car. The advantages that we had last year were minimized with these new rules, so we’ve got to try to find some new advantages and new ways to get the car set up to where Jimmie is happy with it.
The last couple weeks have shown great strides in that direction, but we’re not where we need to be.
Q. There’s some rumblings that Jimmie had hernia surgery during the off-season. Did you know that? I imagine you probably did. And did that set you guys back? Did it have any effect whatsoever on preparing for the season?
CHAD KNAUS: The only thing from my standpoint that set us back for the 2014 season was just us going for the championship in 2013, and that’s it. That was purely my focus last year and all I was concerned about. I didn’t care about anything that we were doing to prepare for 2014. It was the furthest thing in my mind for the last three months of last year.
When you have guys like the Penske guys who were basically out of the championship hunt, when you have a guy like Rodney Childers who’s an amazing crew chief, a great crew chief, you give him six months off to where all he has to do is prepare for the next season, he’d better come out guns blazing, especially when he works for Kevin Harvick. I feel like that is the reason we were behind coming into the 2014 season.
The further we get into the season, the more I think that that’ll level back off.
Q. Did Jimmie have any comment about the track issue before it happened or after it happened, and did you anticipate it might be a problem after the patching was done?
CHAD KNAUS: Man, I’ll tell you what, I didn’t. I didn’t see it, and I mentioned it to Jimmie, and oddly enough, he was like, yeah, I saw that when I was driving around for driver intros. I’m like, man, you think you could have told somebody? Do you think it would have been a good idea at that point to let everybody know at that point that the track was coming apart? He saw it then. He had not said a word about it during the event, and I think quite honestly, we’ve seen this happen time and time again, and there’s nothing wrong with the racing surface. There’s no bones about what this facility does because it happens often. It’s no different than your local street, as you go through winters and summers and the expansion joints have, you have that type of fatigue on your pavement. So it happens, and I think those guys did a fantastic job of fixing the track racing surface, and man, he didn’t say anything afterwards, and I think it held up great. Everybody tried to – everybody wanted to blow it apart. I could look down at the TV periodically and I could see the crack is getting just a little bit bigger and a little bit bigger, everybody is waiting for it to come apart, and I think the track surface crew did a fantastic job repairing that damage.
Q. Traditionally on the schedule, Charlotte, Dover and Pocono are all three races right together, and you guys traditionally do well at those tracks. What is it that you’re able to have the success over the years, because they’re three such different tracks?
CHAD KNAUS: Well, obviously Charlotte Motor Speedway is near and dear to our hearts. It’s right down the street from Hendrick Motorsports, and we’ve been successful there for many, many years. That’s inherent that that’s going to be a good track for us. Obviously Jimmie is fantastic here at the Monster Mile, so basically that lends itself to us, as well. And Pocono, quite often – Jimmie loves Dover. We talk about time and time again about how when Jimmie was running his ASA car here at Dover how he took to it immediately, really enjoyed it. So I think that’s part of the reason. I’ve said it before, time and time again, Pocono is such a fun track from a crew chief standpoint because you have to work so many different angles. We’re really looking to getting there next weekend and just seeing if we can get another solid finish.
Q. Just curious if you guys still feel like you were missing something at the beginning of the season, or was it just a series of circumstances that kept you guys from winning?
CHAD KNAUS: That’s a great question. I think both. I feel like we were missing a little bit of something at the beginning of the season, and I think circumstances also kept us out of victory lane. I think if you look at how we performed in Fontana, California, we had a great race car there, and with a lot of help from the 24 car, we stole some of their notes, and then we go to Bristol and I think we had a fantastic race car at Bristol. Unfortunately we had another tire failure there like we did in Fontana, and then we go to Martinsville, had a shot to win at Martinsville with just a few laps to go there. I think circumstantial and the fact that we were missing a little bit of something at the beginning of the season was compounded, but quite honestly I’m very proud of where the team is at right now and the way that it is performing, and looking forward to the races to come.
Q. Chad, it seems like right now more than at any point in your career you’re having more fun. You’re laughing a lot more, you’re smiling a lot more. Is that the case, or is it just this win in particular, something about it is special?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s circumstantial.
CHAD KNAUS: If you ask Jimmie, I was a jerk three weeks ago. Quite honestly I’m at the best point in my life. I’ve been very fortunate to have been in this sport for a long time. I’ve seen it grow and change, and it’s been a weird circuitous route to get to where we are now, but quite honestly, I’ve never been happier in my life with my personal life, my performance at the racetrack, what we’ve got going on, and Jimmie has helped a lot with that. So has Mr. Hendrick as far as making me understand that I’ve got to take time away from the facility and understand that there’s life outside of motorsports.
I’ve tried for a long time to deny that fact, but I’m really, really enjoying it all the way around. It’s fun. Trust me, we’re going back to Charlotte tonight and we’re heading up to Loudon, New Hampshire, tomorrow evening, and then we go race Pocono and go we go back home from Pocono and then we head out to Chicago to tire test the week after that. It’s busy as ever, but we’re in a good spot right now. Everything is great.
Q : Joined now by six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and now two-time 2014 winner, Jimmie Johnson, here in the media center. Jimmie, can you run us through the race today and the momentum this 48 team is on right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I’d say the first segment of the race we were – we were decent but just couldn’t really go anywhere. Kind of ran in fifth or sixth for a while, and I could see a couple guys losing the handle a little bit, and I was able to work my way up through. But from the second run on, the track came to us, or I don’t know, something happened there, and the car was just incredible the rest of the day.
We had to adjust a bit. I think the track changed the first three quarters of the race, and we had to stay on top of adjustments to get there, and then at the end, we really honed in on the balance of the race car I was after and what adjustments to put under it, and that thing was awesome.
Q. Jimmie, what exactly did you notice was wrong with the track during driver introductions, and when did you have hernia surgery?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Two off-the-wall questions for sure. So the track, when I was coming to the drivers’ meeting, I could just see the corner of one of those slabs, the way the squares are – rectangles are poured on the track I could see something from afar that just looked like the edge was broken, like the corner was broken on it. I didn’t think much of it. I mean, there’s countless track vehicles driving around the racetrack, and actually right over the top of it looking at it, and everybody else – I just didn’t think much of it. I saw it from afar and just chalked it up to maybe a bad angle looking at something, because I didn’t drive over the top of it, I saw it from 40, 50 yards away.
And when I came back around and saw that was the spot, I’m like, no way, that’s what I saw from afar earlier.
And then the hernia surgery was literally right after the banquet. Got home Sunday and then went in Monday morning following the banquet. Surprised nobody knew about this thing sooner. It wasn’t a secret by any stretch of the imagination, but I had bilateral hernias, one on each side, and then a third one in my belly button, so I was very lucky to go in and have all three fixed. It wasn’t a sports hernia. It was something over time and getting older that something like 60 percent of men near the age of 40 have these and don’t know, but I saw one mid-season, a little protrusion in my skin and went and had it checked out, and they’re like, you’ve got a couple years to get it fixed, so I figured I’d get it fixed sooner rather than later and went in right after the banquet. That kind of led to us missing out on some of the test sessions that went on during the winter months, but we felt like it was time to shut things down and let the team kind of recoup and then just got back after it after that.
Q. Jimmie, Chad in here just said that at Charlotte he brought your favorite car, here he brought another favorite car, Indianapolis another favorite car. Do you believe him, or is that just psychological on Chad’s part?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You never know with a crew chief. I knew that our 600 car was good. This was a new car that we brought here, and I think Indy, it might be a frame that we’ve had in the system, but it’s – things have changed quite a bit with this no ride height limit. We’re now at a point where we’ve identified areas to produce speed and bringing new versions and new cars to the track.
What we learned here is good and it’s going to help change our system, and then Pocono, Indy, those – I know Chad is working hard on our Indy race car. We should have a nice one there, too.
Q. Can you tell by feel that it’s a favorite car, so to speak?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s harder with the chassis we have now. When I first started, I still remember the chassis number, it was No. 059. 59 was a chassis that I loved, and it had this soft, squishy feeling to it, and it worked so well at the rough tracks, so we won a bunch of races at Charlotte with it, a bunch of races at Atlanta, and really the car probably won more than anywhere. In today’s world with the bodies being mandated and how they’re positioned on the cars, the chassis being line on line, the centers being line on line with the chassis and body, it’s been very difficult to know what car you’re climbing in. NASCAR has made them all so equal and easier for them to regulate and officiate, so I understand that. But now it’s difficult to know what car you’re in to say, yeah, that’s my favorite. I used to pay attention to it, and anymore if he tells me it’s a great car, I just get in there and go and believe him.
Q. Can you describe your thoughts going into the last 10 laps and possibly – close enough that you’re winning the race? What’s going through your head at that time?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: 10 to go, just hoping it would stay green, and then when the caution came out, I’m scouring the track looking for where the debris might be, and I saw some rubber off line and assumed that’s what it was for. I was hopeful I would see like a bumper lane out there, something big and noticeable. But cautions at the end, you can kind of expect them for whatever reason, and truthfully it’s an opportunity for the guy that’s dominated all day to make a mistake, so I wanted to make sure I chose the right lane and got a good restart and got up through the gears well, and that all worked out for us.
Q. On the topic of the hernia surgery, I think you ran the half marathon in Daytona, so I assume you were fully healthy about the time the season started, but do you think that in any way led to you starting not as fast as you wanted, either because of your health or because you weren’t at the test and that put you behind at all?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think there’s a couple pieces to it. We missed, I think, three test sessions at the start of the year. One was because of the hernia surgery, and I was back training again I think it was 10 days later, so it was a laparoscopic procedure, so it wasn’t all that invasive.
First couple days sucked. There’s no doubt about that. But then quickly it got back together and was training within 10 days. It affected that first test date. And then we had two other test dates scheduled at Nashville that made us comfortable to give us that Charlotte test so I could have the hernia surgery, and both of those were canceled due to weather. So three opportunities for us to go test were out the window, and I do feel like that hurt us some and had us behind a little bit, especially once we did get to Nashville and were there and the 4 car was there testing. We knew we had a gap to make up, and those guys were off to a quick start.
I think it was a combination of some bad weather and then my procedure.
Q. What is it about Dover that makes it so special? You are so successful here.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It just fits my style. I mean, you need a race car that’s loose and turns very strong here to get it done and to be fast on the long haul. I just have to put a lot of weight in that. There’s something, too, with the loading characteristics when you come off the straightaway and land down in the corner that fits with me well, too. I notice that I make up a lot of time on people through that portion of the corner, and then I think the loose – the fact that I like a loose race car helps us stay fast for long runs, and those two things together work really well.
Q. Certainly two wins in a row is great, but it seems like a lot of factors are coming together now. Do you feel like you’re on the verge of maybe a big run in the summertime, and do you have any other non-secrets that you should definitely tell us about like the hernia stuff?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I didn’t realize it was, one, a secret, or two, public information. Have you had any surgeries lately? Is there any procedures – when did you have your teeth cleaned?
Q. 10 days ago.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, and again, it wasn’t supposed to be a secret. I’m surprised – everybody at the track knew, all the competitors knew that I wasn’t there because I was having a procedure done. Why it didn’t make it to the media center is beyond me, and no big deal, I guess.
But we can get on a roll. We’ve got some good tracks ahead for us. I think that tracks really build momentum for teams and drivers, and going to Charlotte is a great track, here is a great track for us, Pocono next weekend is Chad’s favorite racetrack, and I think you can look ahead at the summer months and see who historically runs well at different tracks and kind of pick your favorites. It certainly has been that way for us. The tracks we’ve been bad at, we’ve gone there and been embarrassed by our performance, and then the tracks that are good to us still have been good to us.
Q. Some drivers in the garage suggested a repave because of the concrete thing. If they said they were going to repave this place, what would you do?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Pavement or concrete?
Q. Some of the guys mentioned asphalt.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I heard the asphalt days were a lot of fun. I’m cool with whatever. It doesn’t really bother me. I haven’t felt like the surface has given me an advantage. I feel like it’s the shape of the track and then the way you land in the corner and how you can pick your line and work the controls in the car to get through that landing portion of the track.
So if the topography and kind of general shape stays the same, I’m fine with whatever surface is down. And just a quick note, whatever they put in that pothole worked awfully well. Hats off to the track for the fix that they made.