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Interview With NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Winner – Jimmie Johnson

You got out that last segment and it was off to the races, but congratulations.  How does it feel to win yet another All-Star Race?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  It’s incredible, especially in the way we had to go about it tonight.  I didn’t do us any favors qualifying yesterday.  With this average that we had through the first four segments, I was really fearful I wouldn’t have a shot at a front-row start or a second-row start and I felt like the winner would come from one of those two rows. Not to state the obvious but that’s really the goal from all of us is to try to be in that front row for the final restart.

Through a lot of aggressive driving, a great handling race car and a lot of different things, Chad’s strategy at different times to have us on better tires than some cars that were around us, we were able to keep clicking away at good finishes through the second, third and fourth segment.  That got us to fourth and then pit road came around and our guys had awesome pit stop.  And we were almost off pit road first, but we were on the front row and the front row is what we needed for 10 laps.  Kasey and I pretty much ran wide open around here for two or three laps side by side and I was finally able to edge by him and have the track to myself and put some distance on him.

Q:  Chad, that last pit stop, that mandatory four-tire, really the 48 team really showed its stuff there.  Just talk about certainly it’s an entire weekend, it’s an entire process with the team and so forth, but certainly the driver outstanding, but what a job on pit road there that last time.

CHAD KNAUS:  Yeah, absolutely.  I was very proud of those guys.  We knew what we needed to do on the racetrack to try to get ourselves in good position.  We felt like that if we could come down in the top 5 and try to get a solid pit stop and maintain that that we would be solid.  It’s kind of our train of thought from last night.  I really didn’t think that we would be able to come down pit road and have a stop that fast, and man, those guys just absolutely nailed it.  My hat’s off to them.  They’ve been working really, really hard trying to improve, and we’ve had to switch some things around during the course of the last month or so and the guys really rose to the occasion.  I’m very, very proud of the effort from everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and everybody with the 48 team and what they’ve been able to accomplish over the course of the last few weeks to improve our pit stops.

 

Q.  Jimmie, you dominated here for a while and then kind of fell off a little bit and now you obviously seem like you’re coming back.  Did you lose the feel with the Car of Tomorrow that you’re now getting back with this newer car, or was it an overall process, and for Chad, you mentioned the changes you’ve made. You’ve made some changes in the pit crew.  How do you manage to keep the chemistry going when you have that much mix-up on a team?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  On the track, for me I really think it has to do with the new surface.  When the track was rough and tire wear was really high, there’s just something that worked at this track for myself and for Chad.  It really takes a combination of car and driver to match up.  Rough tracks, tracks that have a high wear rate on the tire, we both shine at those venues, and this track was that.  As soon as they resurfaced it and put down this new blacktop that you can’t ever wear a tire out with, we were kind of more equal with guys and maybe a top 5 car, a top 3 car instead of just being a dominant car.

The track is aging some but it’s still not a high wear track, but we’re working hard to be back on top of things. There’s nothing better than winning here at home, and like I said, I think we’re one of three or one of five that can really make something happen here at this track where before we seemed to have a pretty good advantage.

CHAD KNAUS:  As far as the pit crew goes, it’s a really difficult thing to manage as a team and especially as an organization.  It’s hard because a lot of the players much like you see in any type of professional sport, they get locked up, a lot of players get locked up under contracts and held for long periods of time, and a step that Hendrick Motorsports made a couple of years ago was to begin to recruit people straight out of college, and we would have combines and we would pick a handful of guys or gals and we would run them through the paces and then we would dwindle them down to just a small few and work with those people.

We’ve been fortunate, it’s been a long process and it has taken us quite some time.  We’ve been fortunate over the course of the last few years to start to develop and get that fruit from what we started four years ago.  A lot of the individuals that we brought in didn’t know anything about motorsports but they were fantastic athletes, and now these athletes are starting to understand racing and understand the pressures that are involved to pit a race car for a guy like Jimmie Johnson.  It’s tough, especially when you have cameras on your grille and watching every move and as soon as you make a mistake you get blasted in the media and the paper and everything else.  These guys are starting to become numb to that type of pressure.  We’re fortunate to have a little bit of depth and we’ve made three changes this year and I’m not saying we’re perfect by any stretch because we had a couple mistakes tonight on pit road, but it just so happens they nailed it on the last one and hopefully that’s a good sign of things to come.

 

Q.  I know you guys love this place and love winning here and it’s a sense of pride, and I hadn’t realized that you hadn’t won a points race here since ’09 and a 600 since ’05.  The way that you guys do love this place, were you circling it any more so than ever?  Are you striving to reclaim that magic of we own this place and we’re going to get back to that streak that we had five, six, seven years ago?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, we definitely want to, and I think in maybe ’09 or somewhere in there is when the repave happened, and that’s really been a part of it.  We’ve had decent finishes and been competitive and led laps but the track is just so different now than it was then, and we had it scienced out.  We knew literally what time in the afternoon, what the adjustment needed to be made to the car, and it was like clockwork, didn’t matter the year, just every single time.  It’s not that way anymore.  We certainly want to have that magic because winning here in Hendrick’s backyard and Lowe’s corporate offices just up the road, there’s a lot of reasons we want to be good here.  But more importantly, it’s like we know that we’ve had it so we feel like we can find it again, and we’re knocking on the door, but like I was saying earlier, we’re one of three or one of five that can make something happen here now, where before we had a pretty strict advantage.

 

Q.  Who are the others?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  5 has won a bunch, I think 18, 20.

CHAD KNAUS:  99 should be.

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I thought the 99 tonight had things under control with his qualifying effort and starting up front.  The 78 I think is somebody ought to consider for the 600.  I think he probably was the most dominant car tonight.  In general, I always think of Kyle here.  Denny has had some good runs, but the 5 would probably be the guy I worried about the most here come race time.

 

Q.  Chad, do you talk to crew guys before a stop to sort of pump them up or by the time it gets this late in the night do you take a step back and say this shouldn’t be a time when I really need to say anything, if they don’t know it it’s not going to do any good to tell them now?

CHAD KNAUS:  Man, I wish I knew what to say sometimes.  Sometimes not saying anything is the best thing to say.  It’s really tough and sometimes we do get together and try to talk about things, but quite honestly when you’re in the midst of a race it’s very difficult to get out there, corral those guys and have any type of really fruitful conversation because no matter what you do to speak to them you’re yelling because it’s loud at the racetrack and it doesn’t come across right, whether you’re trying to be supportive or whatever.  We discuss what we want to do before the race begins and then throughout the course of the race there’s a little bit of radio chatter, but, man, we just let those guys do their thing.  There’s some guys that don’t want to be spoken to, there’s other guys that want to be hit on the helmet to get excited.  Everybody’s got a different thing that stimulates them to where they can go over the wall and do what it is they need to do.  So I just kind of let them do their thing and I focus on what I need to do and then we review post-race and figure out what we need to do for the next week.

 

Q.  Jimmie, you broke another record tonight, passing Gordon and Earnhardt with four wins in this race and you passed Jeff a few years ago with a fifth championship.  Where do you think you stand now in history compared to those two guys?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  That’s a tough question honestly.  Truthfully I don’t think it’s a question that I’m to answer.  I still have a lot of years left in my career, and that’s something that the public, the mass, that’s what other people come up with.  I don’t think it’s right for me to sit here and say, hey, I’m this guy, I’m the guy or anything in between.  Very proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I still feel like there’s a lot left I can do in this sport, and I’ll work hard to do that.  When I’m old and sit in a rocking chair hopefully people think highly of what I’ve done and give me a tip of the hat.

 

Q.  Jimmie, most of the guys we talked to on pit road afterwards said they knew if they weren’t in the top two coming off of pit road that the race was over for them.  Did you have that same sense, that you were – that if you could get a good restart that nobody was going to pass anybody?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, and that’s the way it is on these fast tracks any time.  If you look at any mile-and-a -half, two-mile track, first couple laps when everybody is on stickers, you’re going to have that.  In this format I think it lends – headed that direction some, too, because you’re required to come down and put four tires on, so the front row was going to have an advantage.  We’ve seen that here for a long time, and when we look back to last year and the strategy we used, we knew we needed to win the first segment which would put us up front on the start for the final segment, and we were able to take advantage of that.  We all knew it going into it and that’s why I was really – I don’t want to say I counted myself out, but starting 20th or 23rd or whatever we were, it wasn’t good.  The way this average worked out I knew I wouldn’t have a shot at the front row unless I really made something happen in the first segment, and I had trouble early in the first segment.  Brad had an issue in front of us and it was tough to get by guys, but second and third and fourth segment, we were able to make some stuff happen and put us in position for a good pit stop.

 

Q.  Y’all have won this thing under four different formats.  Are y’all to the point now where you’re thinking there’s nothing they can do, there’s no format, there’s no rules, there’s no gimmick they can do that we can’t figure out?  Have y’all reached that point out?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  No, we just get lucky, man.  That’s what people say.  There’s no talent involved, we just got lucky tonight.

 

Q.  Chad, you guys talk about learning from this race for the next race.  Can we look at you guys tonight and say the car was this good tonight, it should be this good next week?  How does it translate that this race is so much shorter than what we’re going to see next Sunday?

CHAD KNAUS:  That’s really a good question.  It’s a lot different.  When you’re trying to set up a car for a 20-lap run, when you know, it’s like other professional sports, this race is right?  You know when the cautions are coming, you know when the breaks are going to happen brakes you know the format.  You can kind of sit back and kind of strategize and understand what’s going to happen.  In a normal race, we have no idea what’s going to happen.  We don’t know when the quarters are going to come, we don’t know when the thirds are going to come, we don’t have a two-minute warning.  So having a fast car clearly and having fast pit stops makes a huge difference.  So if we can take and translate what we had in this race car this evening and bring that next week, I think we’ll have a good shot at it.  But the setups are completely different because you can’t – you can go between 50 and 56 laps on a fuel run let’s say.  Well, tonight we only went 20 laps.  You may have had a break, but you knew when that break was coming so if you got yourself into a position where you were running hard and you were leading or running third, you could pull back and save your tires a little bit.

Next Sunday night you can’t do that.  You’re going to have to run hard the whole time, so it’s a completely different setup.

 

Q.  Jimmie, earlier in the week you said this format had a potential to be a follow the leader and whoever got out front early in the last segment was going to pretty much win.  It pretty much played out the way you thought.  This is a tough question for the guy who just won, but I’m sure they’re going to be looking again at a format change because they’ve only had one pass for the lead in the last five laps at this place in this event one time in the last eight races.  Is there anything that you can see that might engender more excitement in the last segment?

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  When it’s 10 laps, it’s so tough at these speeds.  I really don’t know what to do at that point.  I felt like the four segments beforehand there’s a lot of coming and going, guys on different strategies, that made for some exciting racing.  Where I was I had to pass guys all night long so it was really exciting for me for the first four segments.  When you get to that last segment on a track like this, maybe if you weren’t required to do four, but everybody is going to – it’s impossible because if it’s a 10-lap shootout and you’re allowed to put two on, you’re going to put two on.  Why would you put four on?  Everybody’s going to do the same thing.  I think you’re pinned in on a mile-and-a-half track with a 10-lap shootout, your options are limited to create multiple passes for the win.

CHAD KNAUS:  I think there’s a great idea, seriously.  I think that coming here we’re allowed to have 11 sets of tires.  I think that the amount of tires that we get, half of them should be super softs and the other half should be normal and that gives you an opportunity to try to do your tire strategy.  Once you have super softs, you know they’re only going to last 20 laps as opposed to the set that’s going to last 60 laps like we’re going to run here on a typical weekend.  You can strategize, use that.  When those tires fall off, that’s when you’re going to start to see some passing, and in a 20-lap or 10-lap segment I think it could be very exciting to see who plays the tire strategy.

I don’t foresee it because Goodyear is in a tough spot.  They have to build a tire that’s going to last.  I’m just saying it would make it exciting, because the only way you’re going to get passing is to have tire falloff like we have at Atlanta, like we have maybe at Texas when the tires start to fall off.  That’s the only time that you’re going to get it.

 

Q.  Jimmie, probably unbeknownst to you, but the graphic going into the last pit stop the TV showed was wrong and it said that you should have gone on to pit road like 11th or something like that.  Naturally there’s a raging controversy that you cheated and did –

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Of course, and I’m lucky.  Awesome.

 

Q.  NASCAR gave this to you, you didn’t enter pit road where you’re supposed to.  Why does that happen to you do you think?  Not the part where the graphic was wrong but people just pick apart everything and they just don’t think you come by it honestly?

CHAD KNAUS:  Just so you know we had it figured out well before NASCAR did, where we were supposed to be.

JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I don’t have the slightest clue.  People just want to hate.  That’s fine.  That’s fine.  I’m just lucky.  NASCAR rigs the races and whatever they want to believe.  I’m going home with a cool trophy and a big check and we all really know what happened.  So whatever.

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Posted by on May 19, 2013. Filed under Breaking News,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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