Q: This is Chad’s sixth championship, all with Jimmie Johnson. Chad has 64 career wins, all with the Jimmie Johnson team.
Let’s hear from Chad first. Certainly a terrific run this season and in the Chase. You handled the pressure. You won another championship. How does that feel?
CHAD KNAUS: Boy, I tell you, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind, how long has it been, 30 minutes or an hour. It was afantastic season. I actually spoke to my guys in the meeting before the event. You don’t know what’s going to happen when you come into these events. We’ve unfortunately had a couple races this year that we didn’t finish as well as what we needed to to get that 23rd position to have clinched.
So when we went into the meeting today, I told the guys, You need to really focus on what it was we’ve achieved throughout the course of the season. We’ve led a bunch of laps, won a bunch of races. We’ve taken a group of new individuals, new engineers, mechanics, pit crew members, they’ve all evolved into a pretty spectacular team.
I don’t think we’re even close to the potential of the team yet. That’s exciting for me. But they have really, really bonded well together. They care for one another. They put the team first. That’s something that’s hard to do, especially with a first-year team.
Ron Malec, Jimmie and myself are the only ones still here from 2002. Bunch of new players. It’s a lot of fun.
Q : Rick Hendrick, you were in here the other day. You were talking about how difficult it is to win these championships, how much they mean. Maybe talk about this one that the 48 team performed so well.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, so many things happened along the way. The car has been great. Jimmie has been great. Chad has been right on the money. Jimmie just drives the wheels right off of it.
But Matt had a heck of a year, unbelievable year. They were putting pressure on us. We were back and forth. We get to Phoenix. The first lap I thought we were going to wreck. The first lap, when Harvick made the three-wide, I thought Jimmie had lost it again. He saved the car.
These restarts are just treacherous. I didn’t want to get excited about the championship until we could see the checkered flag here tonight. I thought on the restart where we got the fender tore up, it could be a big problem.
It’s hard to win one of these. I’m really proud of Chad, Jimmie, for winning six, and the whole organization for getting 11. I never thought I’d win one, let alone 11. So we’re pretty happy right now.
Q. Jimmie said out there in Victory Lane he doesn’t even want to start the discussion of seven championships and who is the best. Rick, you heard Richard Childress say the other day he’ll go down in history as one of the best if not the best. Richard Petty said he could win eight or 10 titles. Denny Hamlin a while ago said, I think he’s the best there ever was. When you go into next season, this is going to be a Chase for history, how do you deal with that?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I don’t think Jimmie can train any harder and work any harder as an athlete to be in shape, or study what the car does, what the car needs. And Chad’s the same way. I don’t know how they can work any harder. They don’t leave any detail undone.
This week we’ve been talking about how we could be better next year as an organization. I just think it’s the drive that they have. I think when you look at Jimmie Johnson, I like to use the Parcells quote, You are what your record says you are. To hear Richard Petty say what he said, Denny, the competitors, it’s taken a while for people to want to acknowledge it, but they all know how hard it is to do this.
To come out and do it year after year, have the record he’s had, the combination that he and Chad havehad. I’ve been doing this for 30 years now. The attention to detail that Chad goes through preparing for a race elevates the whole company. Jimmie elevates all the talent in our organization.
So you look at the way Junior has run here in the Chase. We’re excited about next year. We think we’ll be stronger.
I’ve never seen anybody with any harder work ethics than Chad and Jimmie.
CHAD KNAUS: I mean, it’s a multifaceted question clearly. When you hear guys like Richard Childress and Richard Petty talk about Jimmie in that light, he is an amazing talent, there’s no doubt about it. He can do things with a racecar that most mortals can’t. Let’s just be straight with it.
I’m very blessed to be his crew chief. But I know that the resource that we have at Hendrick Motorsports allows him to be as good as what he is. There’s no doubt about it. Mr. Hendrick has given us everything that we could possibly need with engines, the chassis. We’re able to turn around and make things happen quickly. That’s not the way it is everywhere.
Jimmie responds to that. He’s very into what it is we’re doing. He’s very studious, very intuitive of what’s happening around him, what’s going on when we’re testing or racing. He feeds us great information.
He’s pretty spectacular. I mean, he really, really is. He’s very fortunate to be racing for Mr. Hendrick.
Let me tell you something, guys. That dude’s pretty amazing. He’s pretty spectacular.
Q. Do you think it will even faze him?
CHAD KNAUS: That’s what people don’t understand. People think we come into the Chase and rachet it up. Okay. We’re going to go, we’re going to make stuff happen. I think that’s a mistake. That’s not how we operate. We try to operate at 10/10ths all year long. When we get into the Chase, it’s kind of the norm.
Trust me, that pisses Jimmie off. Nobody wants to work that hard. I demand that out of him, he demands that out of me. We do all that stuff. When you condition yourself to be operating at 10/10ths, when the Chase comes around, it’s more the norm than the anomaly.
Q. Chad, I know your mind is probably on the 2014 Daytona 500, but your numbers are getting towards Dale Inman’s. React to that.
CHAD KNAUS: I’m not even close to him. He’s an amazing individual. He actually stopped me today. He’s like, Son, you don’t know what hard work is. I said, You’re exactly right, sir. I have no idea.
It’s the truth. He’s been able to do it with multiple teams, multiple drivers. I can’t even imagine. He’s driving the racecar to the racetrack. It’s a completely different set of circumstances.
Yeah, we work hard. We get headaches. I work on a computer. That dude was in there cutting with a torch, cutting, building, stuff like that. No matter what we’re able to do with the 48 car, it will never surpass what those guys did.
Q. Chad, you talk about a lot of your guys haven’t been there for all five. What did they learn from last year’s run that they used either as motivation or did you change any of your procedures this time around?
CHAD KNAUS: You know, we didn’t change a whole lot. I feel like last year we had the best team. Unfortunately midway through the season there were some problems and changes, rules changes, so on and so forth that took a lot of speed from Hendrick Motorsports to cripple us. Otherwise I think we would have waxed thecompetition. I don’t think it would have been close. Unfortunately that happened.
But coming into this year we had changes, a lot of changes. It was good. We had some guys that wanted to come off the road, get married. We had Greg Ives, my right-hand man for years, got a chance to be a crew chief with Regan Smith.
So things change. I think that’s one thing that has helped this team. Throughout the course of our careers, we haven’t been afraid to change. I’ve said it time and time again, that you either have to change thepersonality or change the person. We’ve been very fortunate that a lot of people on the 48 have moved on to bigger and better. That allows us to bring in new, fresh people. When you’re able to bring in new, fresh people into a proven commodity, you get some spice, you get some life. We’re very fortunate to have that this year.
Q. Rick, with all that you’ve accomplished, where does this rank? Do you rank them? Is this just another championship?
RICK HENDRICK: I think I said it earlier. We barely made it through the first year. Had plans to close the shop. We got some help and we went on. I’ve said this many times. When we go to New York, I thought you go to New York to watch Richard Childress and Dale Earnhardt get a championship every year. Then we won one. Then we had three back-to-back. I thought it was going to be easy. Then it was a dry spell.
Then Jimmie gets on a roll and does five in a row, which I couldn’t believe it when we did three.
Every one of them is special. It makes you hungry to continue to try to win more. Credit to all the folks at the company that go to work every day, from the engine shop, the chassis shop. We’ve stayed together, stuck together. They got this championship mentality.
I’m amazed, the level of competition today is so fierce. Any mistake or any problem, you get swept up in something, you don’t get a chance to celebrate like this. We kind of enjoy it while we can. Hopefully we can come back and repeat.
But they’re all so special. This one, I don’t know, I can’t explain. After the last two years, I refused to think about winning it. My wife is sitting out here. I told her we weren’t going to win it. She told me, You’re going to do it. I refused to believe it. It’s like these valve springs right here (laughter).
But I’m very thankful for the talent we have and what they’ve put together and built. It’s nice to be able to win 11 when Petty and them had 10. You know, we’ll just keep digging and see if we can come back and be competitive. Luck will be on our side next year, we’ll be able to win another one.
Q. Rick, it was eight years ago after this race where you had to have the meeting between Jimmie and Chad to make sure they stayed together. Six championships together, if they keep doing this, will they stay together into perpetuity?
RICK HENDRICK: Chad is pretty hard to live with (laughter). No, I’m just kidding.
CHAD KNAUS: He’s not kidding at all. That’s the truth (laughter).
RICK HENDRICK: That is truth (laughter).
In watching Chad and Jimmie both mature, they’ve learned how to not let things get to a point where there’s a boiling point. Hopefully the success they’ve had, they know they’re stronger together than they are apart.
I give Chad a lot of credit. You know, he was running hard against Chip in those days. He had to learn how to take defeat. I’ve watched him like I think it was Kansas when we wrecked. He very calmly said, This is what we need to do, get the car back out there.
They have tremendous respect for each other. The chemistry is the best it’s ever been. The way they go about testing, the way they debrief. I don’t foresee me having to have a milk-and-cookies deal again. I think they can see the success where they are right now, what they’re capable of doing. I don’t think they’ll let anything come between that.
Q. We all know how talented Jimmie is as an athlete, as a driver. What can you tell us about Jimmie the individual? He’s so overlooked into what an incredible person he is. We just talk about his talent. I’m not quite sure the fan base knows what an incredible human being he is.
RICK HENDRICK: I see more 48 shirts out there than I do anything else now. There are a tremendous amount of fans, Jimmie Johnson fans.
I think Jimmie is such a special person, he doesn’t wave the flag a lot. He does so many things for charity, Make a Wish. They raise money, build houses, do things. He doesn’t try to do things to gain attention or say, Look at me. He’s more about letting his actions speak for himself.
He’s just an unbelievable guy, father, friend. I mean, I don’t see any flaws in Jimmie. I think the most impressive thing about him is that he lets his actions do the talking for him. He doesn’t brag about it. He doesn’t try to promote it. If he’s going to go out and run 20 miles Monday morning, eat like he eats, exercise like he exercises, he’s just a great guy.
The talent, I mean, I think you guys have seen it. The car control is just unbelievable. He’s very smart, not putting himself in tough situations.
I heard McNabb say he wasn’t an athlete. I’d like to see McNabb come run the Boston Marathon with him or swim the lake out here. Guys like that don’t know what they’re talking about. He wouldn’t have been Athlete of the Year if people didn’t know what kind of unbelievable athlete he is.
CHAD KNAUS: Look, man, Jimmie as a person, wow, he’s such a great dude. It’s so funny, we’re so completely opposite. He’s West Coast. I’m type A, city, details. He’s like, Man, things will be okay.
The thing I think that’s the best about Jimmie is he always has the positive outlook. How he’s able to maintain that is amazing to me. I wish I had a little bit of that. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with him for so long that he’s definitely rubbed off on me.
When we get into situations where they aren’t the most comfortable, things are a little bit stressed, it’s really a good spot because I can look at him and he has been a mentor for me in understanding there’s more to life than just racing. That’s pretty cool. I owe a lot of my change in attitude to Jimmie because he’s opened my eyes.
You have to realize, I’ve lived my whole life in these damn circles. Middle of the racetrack, that’s where I live. You see the circle, put me in the middle of it, that’s where I’ve been for 30 years of my life. Jimmie has made me realize there’s more to itthan just that.
It’s pretty special. It’s a lot of fun. He’s opened my eyes to a lot of things. I love him like a brother. He’s pretty special to me. He’s a cool dude.
Q. Rick, not only with Jimmie’s success, but your organization has produced 11 of the last 19 Sprint Cup Series champions. As Chad was talking about, the level of commitment that the 48 has and maintains, what is it about you or your organization that you’re able to do that in general for many of the people that come to work for you?
RICK HENDRICK: I think we just are very competitive. When we show up, we want to do the best we can. Everybody in every department, they push each other to go to the next level.
I think after you win one, you want to win more. But there’s a real spirit of family, too, inside our company. Guys like Chad, you know, they share information and they work together and theyelevate the whole company.
I go back to Harry Hyde built an unbelievable foundation. Then people that came along made it better. Randy Dorton, the engine shop. Jeff Andrews now. I think we want to go out and perform and do the best we can. If we don’t, we go to work and work harder.
Last year when we didn’t win, the last two years, it made everybody rachet it up. Confidence is a big thing. You look at, again, Dale and Jeff came on strong in the Chase, they can feed on each other, just want to see the company grow and do more, give people an opportunity. Everybody shares in the success.
Really, it’s hard to put my finger on it other than we know it’s important to stay together and we know it’s important to have a plan and we know it’s important to execute. If we keep our organization tight, we’ll get beat now and then from the outside, but most companies gettorn up from the inside. If we can eliminate that internally, we should be competitive every year.
Q. Rick, a little while ago Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was here and he said he thought this was the best season he’s had with Hendrick. Your thoughts about 2014 with the 88?
RICK HENDRICK: Again, you take the blown motor he had in the first race out of the Chase, he would have been right there. He’s run so well. You can’t win one of these championships – you can’t run in the top 10 till you run 15th, and you can’t run in the top 5 until you’ve run in the top 10. He’s consistently in the top 5, top 3. His confidence is at an all-time high. He and Stevie are really clicking. Chad, that shop, they work really well together.
You can see it in his step. I mean, he told me tonight that he can’t wait to go to Daytona. I think he’s got a lot of wins. I think he’s going to be a threat for the championship next year.
Q. You mentioned the McNabb comments. A lot of drivers and fans got fired up by his comments, but Jimmie seemed to blow it off on Twitter and took the higher road. Did those comments fire him up behind the scenes?
RICK HENDRICK: Jimmie, I don’t think he wants to try to prove it to anybody else, he just wants to prove it to himself. Again, I’ve never seen anyone that works any harder and is any more committed to his physical conditioning, from the way he eats at certain times of the year, when he gets into the Chase, the way he works out.
It might rattle him a little bit, but you won’t ever see Jimmie come out and take a shot at anybody on Twitter or anything. Again, he lets his actions do the talking. I think that’s why so many people respect him. I think that’s why the garage respects him so much.
He doesn’t have to run over people. He doesn’t have to go out and brag about what he’s done. He just shows up, does his job. Sooner or later people have to say, You’re the deal.
Q. Chad, earlier you said that Jimmie does stuff in the car that mortals can’t do. Can you give us some examples of that?
CHAD KNAUS: No, I’m not going to give away the secrets.
Q. I’m not going to understand it anyway (laughter).
CHAD KNAUS: Oh, man. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some great racecar drivers. Every one of these guys are very talented. Let’s be honest. But Jimmie is good. He does a good job of understanding the car. When I say that, he doesn’t know a damn thing about setup, but he understands what the car’s doing.
He can feel the car. He can be one with the car. I know that sounds foolish, it sounds weird. But, seriously, go to a surfer and ask him about his surfboard. Go to a snowboarder and ask him about his snowboard. Go to a skier, ask him about his skis.
When they’re able to get in that position and they feel the car, understand what the car is going to do, it’s pretty amazing. Jimmie can really do that. He feels what’s going on. He says the craziest things. He feels a bump here, a gust of wind there.
One of my favorite stories, we were in Dover a few years ago, a lot of years ago now, and we were just having a great race. We won the race. We were sitting there in a team debrief. He was talking about how going into turn one, there’s a little gap in the stands. He felt like the wind coming through that gap in the stands was planting the nose and making the car turn down in the corner. Robbie Loomis was crew chief of the 21 at the time and said, Is he just bat shit crazy?
Let me tell you something, it’s true. We had a huge wind coming through the gaping hole in the grandstands the whole day, and Jimmie picked it up. He said, Man, I think the wind is blowing right there. If I come in there right, the car is turning the car right for me.
You don’t have a lot of guys that can do that. You don’t. Jimmie can do it. Does he do it every time? No. But there’s certain times at certain tracks that he can make things happen that other drivers just really can’t.
Q. Rick, what is your valve spring necklace? That’s not from Junior’s Chicago engine, is it?
RICK HENDRICK: Oh, God, no. This is what I was worried about tonight. That’s probably the weakest part of the engine. So Jeff Andrews and I were talking about it. He said, I’m going to give you a valve spring to wear. He gave it to me, I wore it.
Thank goodness we don’t need this one. But that’s probably one of the weakest parts of the motor. We thought it would bring us good luck. I’m superstitious.
Just one thing, what Chad was saying about Jimmie. If you monitor every driver out here all through the race all year long, you see how many times they get excited, go off on the radio, lose their composure, you won’t ever hear Jimmie do that.