NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES: TUMS FAST RELIEF 500
October 28, 2012Richmond High School
THE MODERATOR: Our race winner has joined us, that's Jimmie Johnson. For the 59th time in his career, he's visited Victory Lane in the Sprint Cup Series, the seventh time here at Martinsville, the fourth time in 2012. Now Jimmie goes to Texas, three races remaining, with a two?point lead over Brad Keselowski.
Also with today's win, Chevrolet has clinched the manufacturers championship for the 2012 season. I believe it's the 36th title for Chevrolet and the 10th straight title for Chevrolet.
Jimmie, congratulations. Enough of me talking. Just tell us about how the race played out for you today. Started on the pole.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Definitely was a strong performance for the team. The start of the race went well for us. The middle portion when the sun was out, we seemed to lose our advantage a little bit, was more like a top?five car instead of a race?leading or winning car.
We kept working on it. Our pit stops were awesome. Got me track position each time, which was really, really important. The last few stops, I think the last stop gave me the lead. To be on the inside lane and have control of the race was huge.
From there the weather conditions were changing, as all of you know. Overcast, clouds came in, cooler temperatures. The balance on the racetrack changed a lot for me, and it came my way.
Maybe it hurt the 15, it looked like. Maybe hurt a couple of the other guys. It really helped my racecar. It was nice to have Mother Nature lend me a hand there at the end and play into what my car needed.
We executed well today on all fronts. We'll have a dogfight for these final three.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Jimmie Johnson.
Q. Jimmie, a couple weeks ago we went into Dover, it seemed like you came out of there with an advantage. Somebody else actually won at your place. You mentioned Friday you were planning on gaining points again this weekend. Was there added pressure on you going into this race to make hay at this track?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No more than any other track. I think in order to be the champion, the tracks you know you can win at you have to win at. We did that today.
Dover turned into a fuel mileage race, which isn't the best for us. Certainly plays into the 2 car's hands. With the final three tracks, two of them, if not all three of them, we can see that. We're working hard to play that game if need be. I think we're better at it than we were even at the start of the Chase.
We're getting smarter and better. We did what we needed to today, for sure.
I thought their decision to stay out would cost them a few more spots at the end, but Brad did a nice job of rallying around there and staying in the top 10, it looks like.
Q. Jimmie, just the way that Brad came back from 32nd to get a 6th?place finish, is it nagging at you a little bit that he was hanging around and able to do that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. Qualifying is really an interesting thing. It's been a sore spot for me, especially early in my career. Last year it wasn't all that good for us. This year we've been able to rebound some.
Another good example would be Matt Kenseth, Jeff Burton. Great racecar drivers, great teams, and in race conditions drive to the front. Stewart has a little bit where he hasn't won a ton of poles but wins his fair share of races.
The only thing you do is you put yourself at risk. With loss of track position at the start of a race you're in the eye of the storm, don't do yourself any favors on pit road. Doesn't mean you're not going to perform well.
Might remember back to my tone on Friday after qualifying. I wasn't counting him out because you can't do that. I won't do it because I've been there. Next week I could qualify 32nd. I don't want to. Now that he's sitting here (referring to Chad Knaus), he'll get mad at me hearing me say that. Qualifying is not the end of the whole thing.
Q. Jimmie, you've been in this position countless times, five championships obviously. Brad Keselowski, this is his first time contending seriously in a Chase situation. Do you think that you have the upper hand with your experience or do you think Brad can pull it out somehow?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I mean, anything can happen. We've done a very nice job over these seven races to put ourselves in the points lead. We've had a variety of different races finish with fuel mileage and things like that that have kept us out of Victory Lane and certainly played into their hands. You think of Dover, I think there's another one in there.
We're ready to race under any conditions. He's a great driver. It's a great team. Next two races will tell the tale. Anything can happen. We could both wad it up next week and Clint Bowyer is your champion. You never know. You got to go race the race.
THE MODERATOR: Let's hear from our winning crew chief, Chad Knaus. Outstanding performance at a track that has been very good to y'all. This was the 207th win for Hendrick Motorsports in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history. Talk about the win today, maybe some of the things that you did during the course of the race to get where you were at the end.
CHAD KNAUS: Well, it definitely wasn't an easy weekend by any stretch. May have looked like that, but we had to work pretty hard.
Obviously Friday went really well for us. Jimmie did an amazing job of qualifying to get out there and run that lap, afford us that first pit box, which definitely helped us out today for sure. Qualifying is important weekly, so you got to continue to push that.
We had to work really hard on our racecar today. I have to put a lot of compliments towards our pit crew because they did a really good job. We made some significant changes to the racecar. The stops they had were awesome. Even on the stops we were making big adjustments, they didn't falter at all. They did a really good job. That kept up our track position.
Obviously Jimmie did a remarkable job of searching and moving around. When the sun came out, the track got tight, we fell back a little bit. He kept his head in the game. We made some big swings to the chassis again, finally got closer there towards the end of the race.
I think a true testament to Jimmie is the way he can go out there and manage the race even if we're not leading, fall back if we need to a little bit, then he's able to charge back up after he gets his groove and some of the other guys burn their tires off. Jimmie's experience came into play today, maybe more so than we've seen in the Chase so far. That's pretty impressive, to be able to come back from the racecar we had, where he could have easily pushed the car too hard, burned up the brakes, blown a right front tire, and he had the wherewithal not to do that.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions for Chad or Jimmie.
Q. Five of your seven wins here have come in the fall. What is it about here racing in the fall that makes you so good? How are you going to use this race to get the points lead for your sixth championship?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Spring to fall, I think it's just the way it works out. We're competitive in both. Nothing comes to mind as to why the fall is weighted with more wins.
We need every point we can get. We got almost every one this weekend, so that's cool. We just race hard. Texas is a total opposite from a setup standpoint than what we have here, demands on the car, the way you drive. We'll take whatever mental momentum and confidence that today's race brings us, but we have to go to work again next week and it's a whole new battle.
We'll do more of the same. We have to be the best to be the champions. I think we're showing we're in form and ready to do that.
CHAD KNAUS: Same.
Q. Jimmie, it's no surprise that you won at Martinsville. It's no surprise that Brad Keselowski finished sixth. What is a surprise is that Denny Hamlin had a disaster. How does it make you feel for the guy that was runner?up to you in your last championship, that he's essentially gone now with three to go, out of the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: What it does to my mind is say that anything can happen. I think it was an electrical problem, what we've heard so far. That can happen to anybody.
I'm not smiling. I'm not anything. It can happen to me. It can happen to the 2. It's just one of those Voodoo things you don't do in this sport. With three races left, anything can happen.
I know it's frustrating for me to say that to all of you. You're looking for somebody to call a shot. But you got to play the game, you got to run the race. We could have some mechanical issue, an electrical issue, an accident on the track. With three races left, there's a lot of laps to be run.
I'm glad to be in my position and not Denny's. It's hard to say he's out of it yet.
Q. I think it was Chad at some point during the race said, Sorry, you got to let him go, when Bowyer was putting pressure on you from behind. You would not relinquish the spot. Were you thinking big picture, I'm not going to lay down?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Once he got inside of me, then I gave him the spot, and that was it. He was getting to my bumper in the center of the corner. Chad was trying to remind me big?picture thinking. It's tough to have the delicate touch multiple times when you're trying to bump somebody out of the way. So Chad was just reminding me to be smart. Once Clint got inside, I gave him the position and off he went.
Q. Jimmie, you and Jeff have had some incredible battles here. When he got on your bumper there about 30 to go, how much were you driving in the rearview mirror?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, he's awesome here. There's no doubt about it. I've lost a few. He's caught me at the end. We had one heck of a finish to the checkered one time. I was just calling on my experience of years past, trying to remember the mistakes I made, not to do that again.
I found a nice little rhythm, yarded him, got some space, which was nice. Then that last caution came out. I didn't want to see it clearly, but we still got the job done after that.
Q. Jimmie, how is Brad Keselowski and the 2 team different from the competitors that you've raced for the championship in years past?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Thinking different is hard. The first thing that comes to mind for me is when you get to the end of the year what people are capable of to put themselves in position to win championships.
The championships I've won, I saw a lot of amazing things out of my competition. I'm certainly seeing that with Brad. So it's just that familiar space where you can't count him out. That's the reason I had that tone in my voice in qualifying. I knew they had a poor qualifying effort, but they would be there when the checkered fell. They're a good team.
I have to expect that. We all do. That goes for the rest of the year.
I guess I see more of a familiar, never quit, fight?to?the?end attitude out of the 2 team that I've seen with some of the best in the sport, if it's Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon. Denny, when I raced him, Mark Martin, they have that tenacity to stay after it and they're doing a great job.
Q. Jimmie, you said something like you feel like you're kind of in your best form right now. How long have you felt that your team is peaking at this moment?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I feel kind of mid to late summer we started hitting on all eight cylinders. I guess the Indy weekend would be a good landmark weekend for us.
We were around it, hitting on things. But starting at Indy, everything started clicking really, really well for us.
I feel as focused and prepared as I've ever been in my career. So I feel the same for Chad, Greg, Ron. We have some very smart guys with experience. Everybody is managing their emotions well, working very hard on their individual positions, and executing.
Then our young group of over?the?wall guys, they're standing the test of time. They're dealing with a lot of pressure on pit road. They've been executing very well. Proud of where the entire team is.
Q. Clint Bowyer is still in this at 26 back. You said now you can focus more on the 2. Does it make it easier with the 11 being eliminated today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, throughout the day, I could see where the 11 was most of the time, wondering where the 2 was. So now with the gap we have back to third, just focused on the 2. I'll be well aware of where the 15 or the 5 is leading the race and I'm running 15th. I'll still understand what's going on.
The focus becomes a little more precise on the 2 car than the other two, including myself, but the other two cars I was looking at the last few weeks.
Q. You have had such a remarkable run of success five years in a row. When you didn't win last season, to be back in the position of winning another one, is it more of a relief or kind of an expectation that you still had everything that you had before and have that same opportunity again?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me, I have no expectations. That's something that I carried on my shoulders last year. I guess part of the pressure I've spoken about that was gone after losing last year's championship, the expectations were wrapped up in that.
This year has been a lot different. The pressure is there. The pressure is always there. You can't hide from it. But it's different. It's more about me doing the best job I can and this team doing the best job they can than it is keeping a streak alive or for other reasons. This is purely our reasons. As team 48, we want to win, nothing else.
I really like the purity of our desire right now, where it's coming from. It's coming from a really good place. It's neat to see everybody on the team kind of clean sheet of paper, open mind, just racing.
CHAD KNAUS: Honestly, it's funny because everybody always refers back to the five championships. We were battling for championships well before we won our first five. We've been together for 10 plus years.
I can't think of a season where we weren't in the championship hunt. So I think that's something this team and Jimmie is built around. When it's time to go and make this stuff happen, I think that's when this team excels.
The regular season is very important. We understand that you have to build that foundation throughout the course of the first 26 races. But once it's time to go, I think everybody says you can flip a switch, so on and so forth. I think the thing we do better is we're able to pull from our past and get out there and do what it is we need to do.
Jimmie mentioned our pit crew being young. It's the second year for those gentlemen being together the way they are. I feel right now they're one of the best pit crews on pit road. When you look at Ron, the knowledge he has, the way he knows how to work on a racecar, along with the other guys on the 48 team, post?season, that's when this team steps up and it's just ready to do the job.
Q. Chevrolet has now won the manufacturers championship 10 years in a row, 699 wins for Chevrolet. Talk about how satisfying it is for you as a professional to lock that up for them.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, I've raced my whole career Chevy. Anything I can do to help them with stats, I'm happy and proud to be a part of it. We work so close with them, we know how much racing means to them as a brand, how important it is to the overall vision of Chevrolet. We're happy to carry the torch today and help them secure that championship.
It's a great thing. A lot of great friends at Chevy. They've had an amazing year when you look at IRL and NASCAR, some of their other touring divisions have won, too. Very successful year.
CHAD KNAUS: I'm real proud of it, the fact that we've actually been able to clinch the manufacturers championship for Chevrolet a couple of times. It's always nice to see everybody from Chevrolet step up and be happy when we're in Victory Lane after we've been able to do that.
They do an awful lot for us. They've done a huge, huge venture with the 2013 car of really trying to get that car prepped, ready for us to go into competition. So a lot of long, hard hours for them going into next season. Obviously them laying down what we needed with the car we're currently racing, it's an honor to be racing with those guys.
Q. Before you arrived, Jimmie was talking about fuel mileage, said you improved a lot since the beginning of the Chase. I wanted you to address that.
CHAD KNAUS: It's a necessary evil. We've said it time and time again, about a third of the races come down to fuel mileage. It's not something we always had to worry about because we were always fast, and were able to do what we needed to do. With the competition now, you have to make sure you're pulling out all the stops at all levels.
Everybody on the 48 team, we work on that more than what we have in the past because it opens up options. You've got to have options when you have competition as tough as what it is.
Q. Jimmie, I assume coming in here you felt like this was a place you could take a chunk out of the 2's lead or take the lead. The last three races this year, are you looking at any particular race there or do you feel it's dead even?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it's going to be pretty even. Kansas surprised me a little bit, that the 11 and the 2, they ran in the top 10, but they weren't up there fighting for the win. I felt like I left some points on the table with the mistake I made there.
Mile?and?a?half's in general, the 11 and 2 in general are very quick. I keep thinking about the 11, I guess he has fallen back some. The 2 for sure is going to be a factor at those tracks. I remember racing with him at Phoenix for third or fourth in the spring. Texas, I would assume, would be good for him. Homestead with the fuel mileage stuff, they'll be fast and be in a nice position with their fuel economy.
Q. Chad, you mentioned having that first pit stall was an advantage today. The last two pit stops when you came in, you took four tires, then two tires. Was there an audible in play when you looked at what the other teams were doing or did you already have your plan?
CHAD KNAUS: I wish I could say it was that dramatic, that we were watching everybody else. We already discussed that prerace, our engineers and myself. We felt if we got into that position, that's what we wanted to do.
Fortunately enough, the 2 and 88 stayed out. If they hadn't, probably wouldn't have been that much of a difference.
We knew what we wanted to do there. That was structured at that point. Leading up to there, midway through the race, we didn't know what was going to happen until we got the racecar right. Once we got the racecar right, we felt like that was the right call.
Q. Jimmie, my understanding is that you used to be a water polo player. Is there anything you learned in the team setting that you can apply to being with the 48 team, the cohesiveness you've had with the Lowe's crew?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Not so much from water polo. On the swim team, my swim coach was very cued in with visualization. We knew our swim stroke, how many strokes it took to the end of the pool, your turn and back. She would sit there with us while we were stretching, give us all stopwatches, have us visualize our swim.
So I think in today's world, how you have to show up and be on first practice, qualifying trim, our tire allotment, all the things that play into that, that is something I can say I've carried over from childhood, from team sports when I was younger.
Q. Kasey was third today. What have you seen from him in the way he's patterned what he's doing this year maybe off of you or Jeff?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He's a great driver, great person. Very happy to have him at Hendrick to start with. If you look every year, he finishes off strong. I really felt like if we got him in the Chase, he would do a great job and be a threat. He's certainly showing that.
This year has been a great year. I think he and that team are going to grow and get stronger as they get more time in the Hendrick system. He's going to be a threat this year and for years to come.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations to the No.48 team. We look forward to Texas. Thank you.