For Hendrick Motorsports it’s their 20th win at Martinsville Speedway, most of any organization in the history of the sport. Not only do you guys win, but you make history. Congratulations on that today. Chad Knaus, crew chief has joined us, as well.
Jimmie, we had the conversation Friday about winning that eighth clock, and certainly you put the hammer down and went after it and got it.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we had a great weekend and I know that the stats clearly show that. But probably the most calm, relaxed thought-out weekend that we’ve had as the 48, and mature weekend we’ve had. We really fell back on our experience and stayed committed to that, and Friday was easier to stay committed because qualifying trim, Chad and Dave and everybody gave me just a way fast race car.
Made that easy, but as we got into Saturday and race practice, this track can play some games with you, and there were times where we could put up a fast lap but we didn’t have what we thought – it wouldn’t look competitive compared to other guys on track and guys adjusting their cars to the current conditions.
We stuck to our game plan and knew what we wanted to have in the race and stayed patient, and it was tough to do at times, but it certainly worked out well.
And in the race, we had to adjust on the fly. The track changed more than we thought it would, and Chad put some great changes under the car. It’s kind of the time when the 18 and the 20 got to us, and we were able to get our car dialed in. I’m not sure where they went following that, but and the 15 and 24 showed up and I still had my hands full.
Just a very well executed race, or I should say weekend, and clearly the race today, by the whole 48 team.
Q: With the win today Jimmie takes over the points lead, six points over Brad Keselowski, 12 points now over Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Chad, just talk about the work that goes into a weekend like this and then how, as Jimmie alluded to, experience, you’ve got a blueprint for success here, how all that plays out.
CHAD KNAUS: It’s funny you say that like that because I was actually talking to my father last week when we were coming to the racetrack, and he said, man, you guys have got a really good setup for Martinsville, you ought to be in pretty good shape, and I said, well, we did until they changed all the rules, and unfortunately all the rule changes and with the new car and everything that we had coming in here with the new tire, we really had to dig in deep. And the off weekend gave us an opportunity to really look back over some past history and draw some conclusions that we were hoping were going to work out.
So my father, he’s like, well, how do you know where you’re going to start? I said, well, I guess we’re just going to guess. Fortunately enough we guessed right.
It was a great race. It was a lot of fun. I do want to put out there that I think Goodyear did a really good job with the tire that they brought. Obviously it’s difficult for them to figure out what it is that they want to bring to the racetrack because when you do come here and test you don’t necessarily get the same conditions that you always have in the race. And this tire was good. I thought that it made us and forced us to come in and take four tires, and I thought that was pretty fun for the fans. It was fun for me to watch how somebody that would come in and take tires, they could maneuver up through the field and pass race cars. I think that was a big contributor to a great show today.
Rick, 20 wins at one racetrack. There are a lot of organizations that would like to have just 20 wins overall, but 20 wins at a racetrack, and certainly maybe just talk about obviously the latest one today, but 20 wins here at Martinsville. Congratulations.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, this is a – I was looking at that scoreboard over there, the first time I ever came to a Cup race was here with my dad. We’ve been very fortunate to have some great drivers, and this track has been awful good to us.
I knew we were tied with Petty I think the last win, and he’s dominated this place for so long. But really proud of these guys and proud of the organization because they all ran good today. Junior had some trouble, but I was worried that we were going to end up like we did this race last year when that caution came out because I didn’t know who was going to take tires and who was going to stay out.
But played out, and it’s been a great day for us.
Q. Jimmie, what was going through your mind after that red flag came out? It had to be a little bit anxious with Clint on your tail there.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it was. I mean, I had a real nice comfortable lead at that point, and didn’t want to see a caution at all and give those guys another chance at me, to get alongside of me.
But over the years, I feel like I’ve learned that there will be cautions, that things you do inside the car to kind of preserve the life of the tire, and then also how to restart and run your best laps, best five, ten laps, whatever it is, on old tires. It’s not an easy thing to do. And I’ve given away a few races over the years, really lost them to Jeff with his great experience here and how awesome he is at this track, and I’ve learned to adapt.
I think from a setup standpoint, too, Chad knows what kind of changes we need to make as the race goes on and the sun starts to set, and then for the short run, there’s always a bunch of short runs at the end.
Again, I think experience plays into it, and I felt like if I could get two or three corners and maintain the lead on Clint that I could stretch it back out. Again, looking back on just one other thing, the most concerned time I had was during the red, wondering who was going to pit and not pit, and then when everybody stayed out, I didn’t have to worry about any tires coming, I felt a lot better about things and then knew I just needed a couple of good corners to get away from Clint.
Q. Are you as comfortable with your notes for any other track in the series, and where does Texas rank in your comfort level?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there’s just a rhythm and feel here. The reason we laugh is my note-taking has gone downhill in the last few years. You can’t read what I write anyway, so I’m even sure why we take notes.
But there’s a feel to this track, and the history we have, 10, 11 years now of coming here and doing this, we just draw on and fall back on. For me to roll in here off of vacation and literally got home the day before and first lap out on the track put it up on the top of the board just tells me how good of a car I had. It was really up to me to not mess it up as the weekend went on. I usually need four or five runs to shake out the vacation stuff.
How about Texas, where does that stand as far as your comfort level and how you approach that racetrack?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I feel good about it. We ran really good at Vegas, and California didn’t go as well as we wanted, but it’s a much different racetrack than what we have at Texas. I would say that Texas and Vegas are closer together than Texas and California. We’ll go there and see. We’re still learning this car on the big tracks. Fontana we were certainly trying some things, and smarter leaving there, and I know that these guys will work hard and give me a great car this coming race.
Q. Clint came in here and he said I thought Jeff Gordon was going to be the car to beat today, and Jeff looked at him and said I thought you’d be the car to beat today just because of what they saw on Saturday. What happened between Saturday and today that made you guys so dominant?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Saturday is just a different day. We have very little laps on the track at that point. The truck race changes it, and then our race is so long the track continues to evolve and change. It’s kind of a moving target.
I was looking at the scoreboard wondering where Clint was. I expected him to roll right up there with how awesome he was yesterday. And Jeff on the longer run probably had the car to beat. Jeff has a really good line here on the long run, and he started catching me before the last caution, and I was thinking, man, if this stays green this could be a Jeff Gordon day, and when the caution came out I knew it was swinging back my direction because we had such a good car on the short run.
Q. Was yesterday nerve-racking at all after the contact with Joey, and were you nervous at all today on that one restart where you fell back to sixth and the caution came out so you ended up being back up front?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, there was some oil down in 3 and 4 so that’s why the caution came out. I went into the turn and the car just went straight. I’m not really sure what happened. Caution was out, fortunately I was still leading and I got to hang on to the lead.
But the contact with Joey, I stayed in the car so I didn’t get to see it. Chad was – we saw another set of stickers left, so Chad looked at it, the guys were working on it, and we were already discussing what changes we wanted to make for that last sticker run. So I could tell right away that it was more cosmetic and nothing really bad. I hate that the contact happened but it luckily didn’t hurt our car or move the splitter around. That would be the tough part is if – luckily it hit the bumper bar and smashed that in instead of bending the splitter up or down.
Q. This question is for Jimmie. Jeff Gordon was on pit road during his post-race interview and kind of joked around saying when you guys qualify 15th or back in the pack you kind of gave them a chance to win. What’s the advantage of getting that No. 1 pit stall and doing it two times in a row, the pole in the fall, winning the race, and doing the same thing here in the spring?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you make your day so much easier when you qualify up front, qualify on pole and get that first pit stall. Jeff sent me a funny text Friday, you’re tough enough to beat when you qualify 15th, now on the pole it’s going to be impossible to beat you. I got a good laugh out of that.
There’s four or five cars that we race with here that I don’t want to see them get the pole because it could be that little advantage that gives them a chance to win. We all could see how bad it was to start in the outside lane, and if you can come off pit road first and not second, it makes all the difference in the world. Even third versus second, you’d much rather be third than second.
Q. I heard you say I think to Chad on the cool-down lap something to the effect of we looked like we knew what we were doing today, which is kind of amusing when you consider this place has been hosting Cup races for more than 50 years and the only guys with more wins than you are Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip. I know it’s tough to put that in perspective, but can you talk about being third all-time here by yourself, no other active driver has eight wins? Do you ever sit back and think about that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think the fact that we had just such a calm weekend was the biggest part. I mean, it’s easy to start chasing things here and get yourself off track.
We always race well, and fortunately here you pit a lot and you can make big changes to your race car to get you in the ballgame. We’ve won races where we were just terrible to start the race, having no fun. Chad is throwing spring rubbers in the car and track wear is coming up or down, wedges in and out, all those huge, huge changes, and we get ourselves in contention.
I don’t know where we were – someone said the worst I was on the track today was fourth. We just executed from the first laps in practice to where we were at the end of the race, and that was fun. That’s what I meant by that, that we weren’t chasing a setup or track conditions or a variety of things that we’ve done in the past.
Q. Chad, after the race Denny tweeted or told somebody, this was a lay-up win, the inference being he wasn’t out there so y’all had a pretty easy time of it. Is that the kind of thing you’ll remember in October when you come back or do you not need bulletin board material to get your team up for a race?
CHAD KNAUS: I guess I am glad I don’t tweet. (Laughter.)
You know, I don’t really pay – I don’t know. Denny, I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s not Denny, it’s the Gibbs cars. If you look at Matt Kenseth, he couldn’t get out of his own way when he was in a Roush car here, and he went out there today and was making it happen. I think it’s probably more car than driver here for that team.
But Denny does a really good job here. He’s fantastic at the short tracks here, Richmond, a lot of those tracks, and I hate it that Denny is hurt. That’s not the way we want this stuff to go down. But I still think that they’re going to be in the Chase and I think they’re going to be in contention for the championship.
Q. Rick, you’ve seen Jimmie win so many times here. Just from what you watch, what do you think makes him so good here?
RICK HENDRICK: Just watching him in the car and the feedback he’s giving Chad and then the way he’s taking care of the tires and kind of feeling the race unfold, I watched him today, I like to go to the front stretch and watch the cars come off the corner nice and straight and don’t bobble, and he does an excellent job with the throttle. I was talking to Gordon about it, and he said that you will master it looking at the traces and figuring out how to run the track. He said he’s sorry he ever showed you one of his.
Q. Rick, which would you have predicted today, Jimmie winning the race or Danica finishing 12th? Which surprises you more?
RICK HENDRICK: Danica. I thought he was going to win the race, when we got sitting on the pole. His track record here. I didn’t realize she finished 11th. That’s a great job. But I’m definitely – I don’t know how to answer that. I’m not surprised that he won the race. I’m surprised she finished 11th. Is that what you said? That’s what you asked me. Yeah. Okay.
Q. Chad, since now we’ve had two of the short tracks and at this point in the season, where do you see the work that needs to happen with this generation of car and maybe a critique at this point, best and worst, good performing versus one you need to actually do a little bit more work to?
CHAD KNAUS: Honestly I think the car is performing really well to be quite frank with you. I think that Goodyear needs a little bit more time with this car so they can get us the tires that we need to continue to race. They did a great job with this tire that we’ve got here. We actually knew that they tested last year with this tire with the 2013 car, and I think that they came very, very prepared, and I think the more that they can do that, the more experience they get with the Gen-6 car is only going to help the racing as a whole because as the tire falloff increases I think the racing gets better. I think we saw that today, and I think that we’ll see that next weekend going into Texas. It’s pretty abrasive and difficult on the tires so I think you’ll see some good racing there just like we did at Fontana.
The more the tracks that we go to where the tire falloff is lower, the racing inherently is not as good because the line selection is minimized.
So I think that from a car standpoint, I don’t think we need to mess with it a whole heck of a lot right now, just kind of let things shake out and let Goodyear get to work and see what they can do with the product.
Q. Jimmie, from your perspective, Jeff called it kind of like more old school Martinsville with the tire falloff. Most drivers seem to like that. What did you think this weekend and do you feel that it’s heading in the right direction, kind of like Chad said?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I agree with what Jeff said, and Chad’s point of view, as well. The competitors have been asking for a tire that falls off, and with changes in the vehicle, this Gen-6 car is allowing Goodyear to comfortably make some adjustments and change. Their green tire that they’ve introduced naturally wears out differently, and seems to wear more, which is good, and creates that falloff.
So I think directionally we’re going the right way. I do still feel that there are some surfaces that just – the type of surface that’s put down doesn’t put on good races, and we need to be smart when we resurface tracks.
But tire falloff is what we’re all after. The competitors have been saying that for a long time but Goodyear was afraid to do so with some of the loading and things that we saw with the other car. They still want it to last. The last thing they want is four or five blown right fronts and drivers climbing out of the car mad and hurt talking about the tire not doing its job. So they’re walking a tightrope. It’s easy to beat up on them, but they do have a tough job.