Chad, Talk about your evening, then making the calls at the end, the chaos that ensued.
CHAD KNAUS: I don’t even remember. How is that?
It was difficult. We made the call there with 30 or so laps to go to stay out. Quite honestly, I think it was the wrong call now looking back on it. But it was the call we made. We decided to stick with it obviously. It panned out for us.
It was difficult. There were some fast cars coming. The 24 car jumped out in front of us on the restart. Quite honestly, if the next caution hadn’t of come out, they definitely would have won the race.
Jimmie got a really good restart on the last restart. I don’t know exactly what happened between Brad and Jeff. Obviously those guys got tangled up and there was some chaos there. But we were able to scoot away, get going.
Then on the next one, Jimmie did a great job on that restart. Got out there, was able to check out a little bit. I think there was more beating and banging behind us. We were kind of ahead of that, thank goodness.
THE MODERATOR: What is it about Texas, racing here, that makes you so successful?
CHAD KNAUS: Quite honestly, I think this is one of the coolest racetracks we go to. Super, super fast obviously. I think Tony has the track record in qualifying of over 200 miles per hour. It’s ridiculous how fast we are. The tires wear out, the cars are slipping and sliding. If you don’t like watching racing here at Texas, you don’t like racing.
It’s a lot of fun. The drivers really have to be in tune with what’s going on. Obviously Jimmie does a very good job of giving us feedback about what’s going on with the racetrack which allows us to really get in there and manipulate the car to make it to his liking so he can be comfortable sliding it and drifting it and driving it the way he likes to.
Q. Chad, Jimmie already said that he feels like you found something very recently that changed his whole ability to drive this racecar. I know you won’t tell me what you found, but was it something you maybe knew about but didn’t quite use or was it truly something that suddenly popped up?
CHAD KNAUS: It’s not a singular item, obviously. I wish I could say that it was. I wish I could say we had this widget, we put it in the racecar, we went faster. That’s not how it works.
The way you set up a racecar is a culmination of a lot of ingredients. When you put those ingredients together, it can work or it cannot work. We really struggled this year as you all know. You guys have documented it often, which I appreciate (smiling).
We kind of got off base a little bit. We went down to Homestead last weekend. We really went back to what our roots were, how we work on a racecar, how we want to do things, how we typically would do things 48 style. We found a little bit of speed down there. We were able to expand on that on the second day, found a little bit more speed, some more comfort. It was nice. It was a good test that we had down there. So rolling up up here, we had some of that back.
I don’t want you guys to forget, I think we led the most laps at Talladega, and I think at Martinsville we qualified pretty well and were going to run up front most of the day as well. Charlotte we were going to run really well. We’ve had a lot of really strong racecars.
But coming into this weekend I think there was an air of confidence that we started to develop last weekend. Look, don’t even begin to think that our pit crew wasn’t a huge contribution today. Those guys have been working very, very hard, diligent. Changed the way that they practiced, changed their practice mentality. They came in today and they just did absolutely fantastic. The best day we have ever had the 48 car pit crew on pit road.
Q. Chad, all day long it seemed like the inside line was the one that got going, quickest on the restarts. Were you surprised that Jeff chose the outside on the first green-white-checkered, which ultimately wound up resulting with the fracas post race?
CHAD KNAUS: I really was. The reason he chose that line was because we actually had the lead the previous restart. Jeff was on the outside. Jeff got the jump on us, was able to get by us, extended his lead, was in position to win the race.
I had felt like the inside lane was the proper lane, especially if you could get a good, solid restart. Jimmie and I had spoken about it leading up to this weekend, felt like that was the safe bet if we could get there. It panned out for us right there at that point, yeah.
Q. Talking about finding a little bit at Homestead, going back to basics. I assume you worked on 2015 stuff, starting from the beginning again.
CHAD KNAUS: I think that’s probably accurate. That’s one of the most intelligent questions you’ve ever asked, Bob. That was really good. Quite honestly you’re right. We did. We went there with a different and open mindset because we showed up with the 2015 package. We began to develop our own theories and our own solutions to the problems that we had.
It was actually really good. We switched the second half of day two to the 2014 package. A lot of the stuff we had learned with the 2015 package actually applied. We were able to actually draw some good conclusions and apply that here for this weekend. Quite honestly, Texas and Homestead are very similar. People may not think that, but there are a lot of similarities with the tire wear.
Q. If I walk around the garage this weekend, your name swirls around. Can you say if you’re going to be the crew chief of the 48 next year?
CHAD KNAUS: What are you hearing?
Q. I’ve heard two or three different places.
CHAD KNAUS: I haven’t heard any of that stuff. You write all the bad stuff, don’t tell me the good stuff.
No, man, I’m set. I don’t foresee a change with the 48 car from a driver or crew chief standpoint in the near future. I don’t foresee that happening. If it does, I’ll have to be a reporter because I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do after that.
Q. Chad, you mentioned earlier this track is very fast, and you mentioned the tires. How was the tire wear on Jimmie’s car? How do you approach a fast track like this with setup?
CHAD KNAUS: You definitely have to be cognizant of what’s going on. We were watching the tire wear. There were some elevated tire temperatures throughout the course of practice, especially in the early practice yesterday with the speeds up as high as they were. I think we were practicing race laps, some of the lap times the guys were qualifying. We really paid attention to what was going on. Tire wear was extremely high. But that’s okay. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t think anybody in the garage actually complains about that.
We like it when we have to try to tune our cars to save the tires. We feel like that’s a good thing. We were able to get to work on that and do some things.
You have to obviously coach the driver to make sure that he doesn’t abuse the tires. I think we saw that a couple times today. Some guys would shoot out there, go fast, pass a bunch of cars, they would lose track position later on because they couldn’t hold their position.
From my standpoint, watching these guys off of turn four, pit stall 43, man, that was exciting. There were so many cars coming off there sideways. I’ll tell you what, Ricky Stenhouse can really drive a racecar. That car was sideways coming off that corner. It was a lot of fun. This track is really great.
Q. How much has this stretch of not winning impacted your confidence personally? How bad did you need this win?
CHAD KNAUS: It was difficult, obviously. I hate losing more than I enjoy winning. Obviously going through this stretch has been difficult. We’ve looked for answers. Haven’t found them. We’ve lifted every stone to try to figure out how to get the 48 car to run a little bit better throughout the course of the season. I think we got blinded a little bit by our own just misguidance.
It was difficult. My confidence was definitely low. I know Jimmie’s was definitely low. You know, look, winning cures a lot of things, but the proof is in how we react beyond this point, how we go to Phoenix, how we produce there, how we go to Homestead, how we race there. Those will be the true tales of where we’re at.
Q. Chad, we’ve seen this year Roush Fenway has really fallen behind. We saw Joe Gibbs hasn’t won since Talladega in the spring. You had a cold stretch. Why is it so easy for big teams presumably bringing in guys, talented people working for them and lots of money, to fall behind? Then you come back and put an old-school ass kicking on everybody.
CHAD KNAUS: Jimmie and I were talking the other day. When these guys go out there, you have the fastest car on the racetrack, the 25th fastest car on the racetrack, it’s not that difficult to fall behind. It’s a challenge to stay ahead of the curve in this industry. It’s hard. It’s a moving target. Rules change. Processes change throughout the course of the year.
We came into the season. We felt a little bit behind from the onset. I think the Gibbs guys maybe did as well. I think they were battling for the championship last year and they lost a little bit of their edge because they weren’t able to test and focus on the next season like some of the others did.
Quite honestly you look at the 2 and the 22 right now. They may go to Phoenix next weekend and whip us, but they aren’t as strong right now as what they were earlier in the year because the others have caught up to them a little bit.
It’s a challenge, man. It’s a sincere challenge. One of the things that Jimmie and I know, look, I don’t always do the best of, the easiest way to go out there and beat people is to work together. When things get difficult, it’s almost sometimes more difficult to work together, right, because you get isolated. As teams go through the season, if they don’t have success, they end up inherently starting to pull apart. That’s a challenge.
Talk about the win and there at the end, the cautions, the chaos that ensued.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I’m just really proud of the effort. To win 70 Cup races is just mind-blowing to me. Very, very proud of hitting that mark tonight. Thankful for Chad and my team. Very proud to have won all my races with one race team with one sponsor.
Obviously having the Red Vest Chevy tonight has been a lot of fun. We had a chance in Victory Lane with the Lowe’s employees that were there. We went through and spelled out the word Lowe’s. To have that camaraderie and fun with the executives from Lowe’s, the people that work in store that we were racing for tonight, dedicating this win tonight, was just a lot of fun.
We wanted to close out the year by having fun, and winning races helps you do that. But I have to give a lot of credit to our test session in Homestead earlier this week. We went down there and Chad and the guys started making me happy. I guess I’ve been unhappy for a while. These guys put some great speed in the racecar, got me really comfortable with the car. We were able to bring a lot of that here and get the car off the truck right away, it was quick, qualified third, and then dominated tonight and won the race.
Just proud of the effort. As Chad said, it’s tough when you’re going through watching, you know, a championship opportunity slip away from you. But you guys ask me questions in here about us raising hell with one another on the radio. But that’s part of the process. That’s one thing that has been good about us. We’ve always been able to be honest with one another and say tough things. Sure, you might not want to hear it, it might sting a little bit. But it’s what has kept us together for all these years and provided the 70 wins and six championships.
I’m just happy to be here and very happy to have our speed back and look forward to these next two races.
Q. Is it safe to say you’re going to take this chassis to Homestead, Chad?
CHAD KNAUS: No (smiling).
Q. Jimmie, do you think having a non-Chase driver here for the second consecutive week takes anything away from the Chase? How do you view that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. I mean, there’s a lot of good race teams. There’s always people that aren’t mathematically eligible to win the championship. Those folks always win races at the end of the year. We’ve been on a hot streak some years, won six out of ten Chase races. But other years, there’s plenty of other people taking the trophy out and max points out. It’s just kind of how it goes.
There’s a lot of strong race teams in our sport. It’s no surprise to me, for sure.
Q. Jimmie, as we talked the other day, that next to the last caution, had nothing happened with Keselowski, was Gordon going to beat you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Seems like there was a bunch of cautions or attempts at the green white. There was one where Jeff was gone.
Q. The next one after that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: What happened there? I don’t have a clue.
The inside lane had been the successful lane. Jeff just got a really good start the restart before and got control of the race. He chose the outside lane again, which was shocking to me, because all night he’d taken the bottom.
As I was trying to piece things together, I was trying to make sure that 18 behind me got a good start. I was trying to communicate to him out the side of the car to let him know when I was going so he could get a run. I guess it was the 2, not the 18. And get a run and try to clear the 24 into turn one.
With him on my outside going through the corner, my car was pretty uncomfortable. Frankly, I just let off some, surrendered the position. I wasn’t going to take him out in the process. That’s how he got me the one where he checked out. Then I was just trying to hold off the 2 the best that I could.
When things changed and the 24 wasn’t on my outside, there was no need to lift. I left it flat on the floor all the way through four and just cleared him off of turn four and came to the white at that point.
Q. Chad was talking about the Homestead test, you guys finding something, going back to basics. The fact that you kind of started in 2015 mode, do you think that helped the learning process?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think so. The 2015 package, the way it sits, what I felt with the power out, even though there is some downforce taken out of the car, you still carry a lot of throttle. I’m hoping in ’16 we can take more downforce out. Your effort and the way you drive the car is very similar to what you have in the ’14 package, but just at a slower pace.
There weren’t many cars in ’15 form. We were kind of on our own little island, pretty calm, relaxed atmosphere, just working through stuff. Definitely hit on some things.
So maybe the calm environment of being in ’15 form helped. Once we got rolling in ’15 form, I was hurting people’s feelings in ’14 configuration and pulling away from them with the horsepower. We knew once we got our car into the ’14 configuration on day two, we’d be pretty quick. That happened, too.
Yeah, I think being in ’15 form down there helped us.
Q. Jimmie, you said when you were here for your media availability that you’re okay with this points system because it’s what the fans want. Do you think fans want to see fights after races? Do you think the aggression Keselowski is showing is really going to hurt him down the road with his fellow drivers?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I need to see what happened with the 2. Based on Jeff’s frustration, I would assume that it was pretty aggressive, and Jeff just doesn’t go crazy like that after a race.
It can. I don’t know. It’s kind of a Catch-22. Again, I need to see it. When your only opportunity to advance is to win, he had a bad race in Martinsville, he’s got to do all he can to win. So the system is breeding this. It was by design. I think Brian France sat back and looked long and hard at this and was hopeful that these moments would happen.
It’s changing the way things take place on the track. When I think back to when I started, we’d point people by, let them go. There was this gentleman agreement on the racetrack. Everybody told you to study Mark Martin, watch how he lets people go. That hasn’t happened in years. We’ll cut each other’s throat any chance we get. It’s just trending that way.
We’ll see what it means for the future for Brad. I feel like on track he does a good job. I think he gets himself in more trouble off the track with things that he says personally. We’ll see how things proceed from here and how he handles all that.
Q. Do you think this is what fans want?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don’t know. I sat in here and made those comments earlier, then watched my timeline fill up with people telling me I had it all wrong.
From a diehard fan standpoint, I don’t believe that’s what fans want to see. But I’m confident that tomorrow we’ll be on the front cover of every paper, and we’re trending on all the social stuff. Heck, you might even make it on the Today Show, some of the other mainstream television shows because there was the fight, there was crashing. That’s unfortunately what leads to those big headlines. That’s kind of the point I was trying to make all along.
I don’t know what the right answer is. Tonight I hope people tuned in to watch. But you just never know. Again, my comments come from a place of caring for our sport. I want our sport to be viewed and I want fans in the grandstand. At the end of the day if I make a comment in here that somebody agrees with me or doesn’t, all I care about is our sport being successful. I’m trusting Brian France and the executives at NASCAR to take us down that road.
Q. Jimmie, I want to get your thoughts towards the end of the race, when Jeff ultimately had control of the race being on fresher tires, knowing he’s in the Chase, last Hendrick car standing, fighting for the championship, what are your thoughts wherever you’re behind him knowing the race is drawing to a close?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I tried to give him plenty of room today. Didn’t race him like I did the other competitors on the track. I think a couple times he was on the outside lane, I left him a hole on the inside lane so he wouldn’t get freight-trained.
I would have been an idiot to leave it flat. If the car got away from me, took him out, it would have been pretty bad. The 2 was on my outside through three and four. I didn’t have anything to lose, it wasn’t the 24, so I left it on the floor and made it. So it stuck.
You pull back a little bit and try to protect, try just not to cross the line. That’s our job as a driver, is to walk the fine line. I just made sure I had a little distance between me and the line and didn’t do anything stupid to the 24.