Interview With Jimmie Johnson, Winner of The AAA 400 NASCAR Cup Race
We welcome race winner Jimmie Johnson. This is Jimmie’s 65th victory, fifth victory of 2013, eighth victory at Dover which breaks a record with Richard Petty and Bobby Allison.
Talk about the moment, Jimmie.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It’s really cool. I’m not sure I’ve ever done what Richard Petty hasn’t. To get this eighth win here is very, very special. Truthfully it was the first thought that went through my mind when I crossed the finish line. It wasn’t long after I thought of the impact of winning in the Chase, wondering where the 20 was.
Big day. I came so close in the spring to getting this eighth win here and had that slip away, it was nice to get it done today.
Q : Also joining us is crew chief Chad Knaus. Talk a little bit about being here with Jimmie, this win, only eight points behind Matt now. Shaping up to be a bit of a battle.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, this is obviously a great racetrack for us. Jimmie has really taken to this place starting back in 2002 when we first came.
It’s pretty spectacular every time I hear Jimmie’s name mentioned in the same sentence as guys like Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., all the guys that have done so well throughout the history of our sport. To be able to one-up those guys right now is pretty spectacular.
Very proud to be part of the 48 team. Had a great racecar. Wasn’t the easiest weekend for us. We had to work hard. Jimmie used a lot of his knowledge and veteran knowledge to get us to where we are today.
Q. Chad, this is the first time in seven races that you guys have outscored Kenseth in a race. I know you have both said, Look, it’s about how you’ve run at times, it’s not about all the finishes. At the end of the day, what kind of significance is there in the sense that you’ve actually beaten him in a race head-to-head for the first time in over a month?
CHAD KNAUS: What are you talking about again? Just kidding (smiling).
No, it’s good. The fact of the matter is this: I feel like in Chicago if we hadn’t had a botched-up little pit stop there at the first part of the race – some of our doing, a little of assistance – I feel like we could have won the race in Chicago, which we’re hoping to do at some point before I retire.
I feel like last week in Loudon if we could have ever gotten control of the event, which we had great opportunity. Got jumbled up on some restarts, couldn’t get to where we needed to, we could have beaten him there.
I feel we had cars capable of winning the first two races, like the 20 and 18. Coming into this event we felt we had a good racecar. Brought the same racecar we had in the spring. We obviously ran really well in the spring.
Being able to come in here, qualify respectably, go out and lead the most laps, win this race, speaks volumes about this team.
What we’re doing right now is we are just trying to establish a foundation and set ourselves up for the second half of the Chase. As long as we do that, we’re going to be where we need to be.
Q. Chad, when you realized behind you was somebody on four tires, I assume you were thinking there was going to be a bigger buffer, did you feel like you had enough laps that they wouldn’t factor in? Did you think, We’re screwed?
CHAD KNAUS: Second part (laughter).
No, here is the situation. If you look back over the history of this race, we even saw at the beginning of the event today, the 18 car was able to go out there on two tires, establish a lead on two tires versus the guys on four, took 27 laps for somebody to catch the 18 car and pass them. We felt like with 20 something laps to go in this race, we would probably be okay if we could make it happen.
Now, fortunately enough for the 88, they were able to get broken free of the guys who were on two tires pretty quickly. But we did a lot of due diligence yesterday trying to understand where our car was, what we needed to do with the KOBALT Chevrolet to make it fast for Jimmie if we did get ourselves in a position where we needed to do two tires. We understood what we needed to do. We made those changes. Jimmie told me after the race, he felt like that was the best the car was on the short run.
We ran our fastest laps right there at the end of the race, on two tires. We ran some twenty-three fifties which was really fast. We worked hard and tried to understand what we needed to do for strategy, and fortunately it paid off for us.
Q. Are you surprised more people didn’t go with that?
CHAD KNAUS: I was surprised. I thought more people would have taken two tires towards the end of the race. We saw guys early in the race take two tires, get track position, maintain that without having clean air. So I expected a little bit more of a buffer.
I’ll be honest, when Stevie and those guys took four tires, I felt like, Damn, that was a missed opportunity, we should have taken four. But it definitely paid off for us.
Q. Jimmie, a similar question, but if you could talk about what was going through your mind knowing that Junior had the four tires, said this is one of the best cars he’s had all season.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, he was fast. I’m not sure how much pit road early in the race, that couldn’t have helped their overall cause. He worked his way back around, up into the mix of things there.
What I saw of his car on four tires earlier in the race, he was pretty quick. That was really our weakest point, was the first five to ten laps, then our car would come in and was incredibly fast at that point.
I didn’t want to lose control at the end of the race with 20 some to go and all that. So the pressure was on.
I ran my guts out to stay ahead of him. Any switch I could flip in the car that was a fan that might help the car turn my brake bias, everything and anything I could twist, turn, pull, push, I did, then just drove the shit out of that thing. Was able to keep him at bay for 10, 12 laps. At that point I was able to stretch a little bit and get back to running a smart race.
That opening 10, 12 laps was a pressure-packed situation.
Q. Not only is Jimmie the all-time winner here, he’s the all-time winner at seven tracks. Can you talk about what that speaks to?
CHAD KNAUS: The man’s got a lot of skills.
It’s been an honor to be able to work with Jimmie over the course of the years. I think he’s able to pull out some things that are pretty spectacular. He’s able to dig deeper, pull out his cape, make things happen in winning moments of these races that other people cannot do. It’s pretty spectacular.
I’ve seen a lot of great drivers, worked with a lot of great drivers. Knowing what we’ve got sitting behind the seat is always a little bit of confidence, knowing if you get close, if you make the right call at the right time, he’s going to be able to carry the ball.
Once again, I think Jimmie is probably the most underrated champion we have in this industry. He is by far and above the most powerful driver over the course of the last 25, 35 years in this sport. It’s pretty fun being able to work with him.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thanks, man (laughter).
Q. Jimmie, for a while you, Kyle and Matt were top three. For most of the race y’all were somewhere in the top five. Either part of that motivational, give you more drive to do better? Was any part of that a cool factor?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was thinking about it when I was in the car. My whole thought process was just how tough this championship’s going to be. They’re bringing their best and doing their best. You’ve got to deliver. That was my mindset when I was racing with both of those guys for three-quarters of the race.
It didn’t surprise me. It just confirmed what I think we’ve all been kind of feeling and thinking about, is that those guys, they’re both in a great position, and in it for the long haul.
For myself, from a mental standpoint, that’s the area where I thrive, when we get into long runs, a tough, demanding track. It’s not easy to get around this place. A long, tough championship. I really feel like I operate better. The more painful it is, the harder it is, that’s where I seem to do my best work.
I don’t like it. I don’t enjoy that experience. But I’ve always done a better job and have surprised myself through those moments. It was like that in this race today. I think it’s going to be more so of that into the coming races to the checkered flag in Homestead.
Q. In that light, how important was it for you to win on a day it appeared you had a little better car than both of them?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean you’ve got to win when you’re at your best track. That being said, we had to win here today. I think any points on the 18 or the 20 would have been a very good day. Max points, it’s an awesome day.
Again, it’s just relative. It’s a little early to play that game too much right now. There’s a point in the season where you just worry about who’s leading, who’s behind you if you’re the leader, beating them. So that mindset would have been there if we ran second to Junior today. Still would have been happy to outrun the 20 or the 18. We need to win at our best tracks, and we did that.
Q. About the mistake Junior had on pit road, he said that might have been the difference of him having the clean air and being up front at the end. Do you think that was really significant? Did you feel also you pissed off a lot of people today by beating Junior?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It doesn’t matter, I piss them off regardless. Just me breathing pisses some of them off (laughter).
It certainly affected his day. To lose track position like that, without a doubt it affected his day. I’m not sure at the end with strategy how things would have played out. I think he was second behind us on that run.
It’s hard to say if it really would have made a difference, but it didn’t help him, help his cause at all.
Q. The fact that you guys share a shop with the 88, Junior says these were the best his cars have ever been. Do you feel the same way, your cars are right at the top right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Bristol, no. Richmond, no. Dover, yes.
It’s funny, because each track has its own demands. I feel like here, the way we performed at Martinsville earlier in the year, we’ve been able to refine and hone in on specific tracks. The bigger, faster tracks, I feel really good about our equipment.
The way we ran in New Hampshire, as Chad pointed out, we had an awesome pit stop, came off pit road in third, the 9 and the 15 stayed out, put us in a position of having control of the front row.
I think we could have won is what I’m getting at. If we even lined up fourth, had a bad stop, I think we would have gotten through those guys and had a chance to win.
The short tracks, Loudon, Phoenix, have been a concern for us. The way we ran in Loudon, we honestly feel we had a shot to win there. That will carry over to Phoenix. We have a good lineup of races ahead.
Q. Jimmie, I don’t know if this makes up for what happened in the spring, but does it make it feel a little bit better just to come back to the same place where you were so disappointed and pissed?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It doesn’t change that too much. It’s nice to win, not have something like that take it away. I’m just happy there’s been a rule change to the restarts. It was a long time coming and needed to happen.
That situation can’t happen again. I’m happy about that.
But it still stings. I can remember the majority of the races we should have won. I think drivers are like that. You just hate little stupid things that keep you from getting to Victory Lane.
Q. You both have competed against Matt in previous Chases. This is the first time you’ve competed against him with him at Gibbs. Can you talk about what you see, if anything, different about him this season and how that is shaping up in this championship battle.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He’s always been incredible at scoring points and getting the most out of his racecar on a given weekend. It doesn’t let emotions rattle him much. That part of Matt has always been a consistent thing.
In his previous life at Roush, there were certain tracks you went to, you wouldn’t think about him. Martinsville would be one. I would tease and harass him about how he looked on the track. We were there testing one time, had some good laughs about it all. I say that, we go there this spring, I think he ran top five or something.
The change has been good for him. Is it equipment? Is it a personnel thing, working with someone new and different, that relationship? I don’t know where it lies. But I think the bottom side, the tracks Matt struggled at, for whatever reason, that has risen, and he’s more competitive on those tracks than he was at the Roush side of life.
CHAD KNAUS: Matt’s good. He is. He’s good. There’s no doubt about it. I really enjoy racing with Matt. He’s a good driver. He’s a clean driver. He understands where he’s at on the racetrack. At different points today we were faster than him, he understood. He really gets it. He gets it more than most of the drivers out there. He knows when to get the hell out of the way. He knows when he has the best car. He needs to take advantage of that. He knows what to do.
I had a lot of respect for Matt when we finished second in the championship to him a few years ago. His father and Matt both came up to me and said, Man, we wanted to win, but you definitely were the best. Matt is a good dude. I like racing against Matt.
I think going to Gibbs has given him better equipment. I think the Roush equipment isn’t as good as what they’ve got at Gibbs. It’s going to be interesting to see that dynamic between Kyle and Matt further down the road. If Matt keeps beating Kyle, it will be fun to see.
And write something positive, Jim. Don’t write about how the ratings are down, all that kind of stuff. Let’s see something positive from Jim this week.