An Interview With:
MARSHALL CARLSON THE MODERATOR:
We are now very, very pleased to be joined up at the podium by the championship driver. He drives the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, and that's Jimmie Johnson. To his right is general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, Marshall Carlson. Jimmie, congratulations. You made history tonight. Four in a row. Your thoughts about what you achieved and the championship in particular this season. JIMMIE JOHNSON:
I am just blown away by the things we've been able to accomplish over the last eight years in the sport. Obviously the last four years have been just unbelievable. To love the sport like I do and respect it like I do, and the history, the pioneers of this sport from Bill France, Sr., to the Petty family, you go through many eras up to Mr. Hendrick and what he's done over the last 25, to look at all of that and to have done something that's never been done in the sport before is so, so amazing and something I am so proud of.
I've always set my marks high and really wanted to try to set high marks and all those kinds of things, but I had no clue this stuff would happen. Just so honored, so happy, so fortunate.
At the same time I've worked my entire life to be in this position. So has Chad, so has Rick. So it's not that we backed into any of this. It's not that it just happened. We've gone out and worked really, really hard and have dedicated our lives to it, and it's paid off. It's extremely rewarding to have that pay off, and we're really going to enjoy this.THE MODERATOR: Marshall, congratulations. Tonight Hendrick Motorsports also made history as this was Hendrick Motorsports' ninth owner championship, which is tied for most all time in the Sprint Cup Series, and the 12th overall national series owner championship, which is most all time in the history of our sport. Congratulations. Your thoughts about the accomplishment for Hendrick Motorsports.
Well, thanks. I think first off I want to congratulate Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team and Chad Knaus. Jimmie said they work really hard, and that's probably the understatement of the night. This guy has elevated, I think, this sport and certainly our organization to a whole new level. His commitment to his craft and to excellence in what he does in every facet of it is just unequalled among anyone we've ever seen, and I commend Jimmie on an incredible accomplishment tonight, the entire 48 team. They absolutely are unrelenting in their quest for excellence and improvement, and it shows. That's incredible.
I think that for Hendrick Motorsports, I know what Rick would say is that he has been blessed with the opportunity to work with some amazing people, and Jimmie and Chad are among those, and there have been champions before that have earned those championships. But you know, I think maybe this is one opportunity where someone else gets to sit up here and say what an incredible leader Rick Hendrick has been for our organization.
You know, he's pretty unique in that regard. The way that he goes about keeping us going, he's got one requisite, and that is that we race together, and that's absolutely imperative. Beyond that, he gives everyone a lot of flexibility and a lot of autonomy, a lot of as far as the X's and O's, these guys figure that out and these guys bring their game to the track.
And I think that competitive people who want to win are attracted to that. I think that's why Jimmie was attracted to the organization and Chad and why they continue to want to be there, and it's just there's 500 teammates back at Hendrick Motorsports who have built that place, and every single one of us owes an incredible debt of gratitude to Rick for his leadership, for his commitment and dedication for giving us the resources to have these opportunities. It is an accomplishment tonight.
Rick has been talking about that one, two, three finish in the points. It's never been done. And behind the curtain to see how these guys race together in an extremely competitive environment is really phenomenal, and that's a credit to Rick's leadership.
Q. Jimmie, a couple things. One, seeing you out there as you walked back to the stage after your set of interviews, you seemed like the weight of this run had really started to kind of impact you. Can you kind of describe, I guess, all that you put into this, how much of a weight it was to attempt to achieve history and how it's kind of maybe wearing on you? And secondly, just because you had the opportunity for history, were there any unique items that you had in the car with you or any memorabilia for this possible occasion?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Marshall gave me this little shark recently. I have the shark in the motor home. Chad wouldn't let it in the car. It weighs too much. (Laughter.)
There wasn't anything in the car. You know, the pressure of winning the fourth didn't really hit me until I hit the fence at Texas, and then it was like, man, we've you can't relax, you can't hope or think that things are going to be smooth. You've got to go out and earn this thing, and it was a great reality check to step up and go to Phoenix and really race for this thing. And also to come here.
Now that we don't need the points, I look back and can say that I'm thankful for it, because we went to Phoenix, we stepped up and we showed what this team was made of. And here today, we ran fifth. I feel that we could have been better than that, and at the end of the race, I felt like we had a car capable of winning the race.
I'm very proud of what we learned here this weekend. There were some tough moments in qualifying practice and also yesterday in practice, but Chad did a really good job working with the engineers to understand what we need here, and I'm excited for the future coming back here. I think we have a good understanding now of what we need at this racetrack.
So the pressure side of it, I feel that I managed the pressure a lot better this year. That's the most relaxed I've been in the race car. This week, the nights, all of that stuff has been very, very good. There was a lot of pressure, and definitely relieved and the pressure is off, and it's just I feel so light all of a sudden.
I agree with what you saw. But I think I have done a very good job this year of understanding the Chase, understanding the pressure, understanding what I'm capable of, what the team is capable of, what to focus on, and now that I've got a comfortable understanding and so does the team and can operate in this environment that we can continue it the next couple years.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined now by crew chief Chad Knaus, Chad now with his fourth straight Sprint Cup Series championship as a crew chief, he moves into a tie for second with Kirk Shelmerdine on the all time championship list for crew chiefs with four. Chad, congratulations. Your thoughts about the 2009 championship.
CHAD KNAUS: You know, I think that obviously initially I just got the gut wrenching feeling that 2010 is coming soon. (Laughter.) It just hit me. So wow.
But no, I'm really excited. Man, what a fantastic job by this team this year. I can't say enough about the way that the guys worked. They really focused on what we needed to do to get into the Chase, get ourselves in position to be able to go out there and try to battle for this championship. I couldn't be prouder of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. To have three cars in the top 5, that's pretty amazing. I guess we finished we did end up one, two, three, didn't we? That's awesome.
To have the 24, 48 finishing first and third in points I think speaks volumes about what those guys are doing. I think that with Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports behind us, I think we can go into the next few years comfortable and aggressive and be able to get after it. We're very fortunate to have Lowe's and sign those guys back up. Jimmie just signed back with HMS for a few more years, and that's a great thing. I think we've got some good stuff coming in the future. I'm really, really excited about it. Our team is stronger than it's ever been. It's a bit of a dream, and obviously I won't even know people ask what's it feel like, and I'm be honest with you, and I don't know, so if you ask me I'm going to tell you I don't know. I hope that ten years from now when I'm sitting on my patio retired with my son or daughter or my wife or whatever is going on there, I can sit back and reflect and look at photographs
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have three questions. Retired, son and daughter? You have a lot to do in 10 years, buddy. (Laughter.)
CHAD KNAUS: It's all coming, man. It's all coming. This is my time.
But at that point then I can kind of reflect on it and look and see. But right now while we're in the midst of it, it's exciting, it's invigorating, and we're so fortunate to have an owner like Mr. Hendrick. He is just an amazing, an amazing person. It's unfortunate that he wasn't here tonight, but he truly understands what the meaning of life is, and that's family. He puts family first, and that's why he wasn't able to be here tonight, and we all respect that and understand it and I hope everybody else does, too. That's why he is the person that he is. He doesn't micromanage, he lets the teams do whatever it is they need to do, operate in the means that they need to, and it's just a fantastic place to work. I'm very honored and privileged to be up here.
Q. My question was there were a couple times kind of reminded me of Talladega. There were a couple times it seemed like Jimmie got a little anxious and you had to go down and tell the spotter to tell the 33, no, let's not do that, let's just we're in good shape, let's is that part of y'all's success, that you can focus on big picture, he can focus on the car in front of him, and it just seems to work without you two getting mad at each other?
CHAD KNAUS: We get mad at each other, there's no doubt about it. But I think that is part of the dynamic we've got. Jimmie is obviously typically very mellow, which counters my aggressiveness, I guess you would say, very well. So when he starts when he starts to get upset and we get in the race car and we get in the race, I try very hard to maintain a level head and a calm mentality, and I think that that helps with Jimmie. When he starts to get excited, I know that I need to try to interact a little bit and try to calm things down. But most of the time he typically doesn't get too anxious.
But there was a lot of stress out there today. It was a tough day. We had a lot going on. He was excited.
The thing that's difficult is this track what a great race, by the way. From a fan's perspective, holy smokes, man, I was I was on the edge of my seat watching it. This track is great for racing. It's very difficult to pass. When you get inside somebody or trying to get that run on them, they can break your momentum very quickly and it takes two or three laps to get it back, and by that time the guy behind you has caught you. It's a very frustrating race for drivers, but yeah, I think we've got a pretty cool dynamic. Long winded story for yes, that's why we're successful, I think.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We've been able to balance each other out over the years. I think there's a level of where he'll see me upset, and okay, got to put the brakes on this. Or hear I should say. He's that way on the radio and will try and help out, too, so we do a good job of balancing each other out when we need it.
Q. Just real quick, congratulations. I don't want to move it ahead, but you guys are on this historic run obviously. How badly do you want to keep it going and just add to what you've already accomplished, I guess?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, it's weird, because in the sport, and you're as good as you were last week, you're as good as you were the year before, there's a few marks that we look at. It's just tough to not want to win or win championships, regardless of how many you've won or if you have not yet. It's just what we do. It's why we put all the time and hours into this deal, and that's the ultimate reward. We think about it.
I don't know what to really think about a fifth. We're certainly going to show up next year and try and go about business as usual. That's just kind of what we do.
But if we can keep it rolling, I mean I can't believe we've made history now, and if we were able to do it a fifth year, even if it doesn't come next year, we've got to be very thankful for what we've accomplished, for what we've been able to experience. We've got a lot of racing left in us; I guess Chad has got ten years before he has kids and a family. In ten more years it will be 18 years in the sport, and I think we can accomplish some great things with the ten years Chad has on the docket.
CHAD KNAUS: I didn't say I was going to be a crew chief for ten years, let's just get that straight.
I'm excited about next year. I think when you get on a wave like this and you get the momentum behind you, you don't want to stop. I think you get excited and you want to continue it on and it's easy to feed off of that fire once it starts to develop.
You know, but the thing is, this sport is so, so difficult. It's a grueling, non forgiving sport, it really is. If we went out there next week, let's say if we started racing again next week and we finished 20th, you know what, that's it, you'd better get to work if you want to beat them. There's no concessions. Nobody is going to give you anything in this industry.
If we go out next year and we run competitive, that's what with a want to. If we can get ourselves in position to make the Chase, that's what we want to do. Once we make the Chase, then we'll worry about trying to win the championship. But to say that our sights are set any further than qualifying for the Daytona 500 next year, they're not. That's our first goal.
Q. Jimmie, you're typically a very mellow, humble kind of guy who doesn't brag a lot. You walked into Charlotte four races into the Chase, you and Montoya and Martin were pretty much neck and neck, and you walked in, it was a cold, gray day, sat down to do your media availability, and you said, Chad and I have talked and we decided we want to lead every practice session, qualify on the pole and go out and lead the most laps and go out and win the race, and you did it. Was that a turning point in the Chase this year, because that's when you really opened up ground on everybody else, and nobody despite what happened in Texas, nobody ever caught back up with you. Was that something you guys planned ahead of time to go public with, and was it the big turning point?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, there was no planning. I'm glad I backed up what I said I wanted to do. I guess I need to think about the season my mind is still so stuck on Texas. Dover was a really big moment for the team internally to win there. The win at Charlotte was big. And I can't remember how the points all played out. But that's probably I guess the case where we took the lead or something.
THE MODERATOR: You were 12 ahead and you left 108 ahead.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Huh. I can't even remember all that stuff. Yeah, that was it. That was the moment. I just can't remember. I'm just so focused on what happened at Texas and the 184 that went to 111. Or I guess we lost 111. But I don't really know. I guess I'm battling up here.
I can think back as far as the team the fact that we went to Dover and really performed well was a big confidence boost for the team internally, and we felt like we had a shot at this thing. In the back of our minds, too, we were very impressed and felt threatened by what the 42 was capable of and how great he was running, the 11, the 5, and then guys started having some trouble. We anticipated, we hoped that some guys would have trouble, and just wanted to make sure that we stayed solid and took advantage of their tough days.
And it worked out. Kind of the Martinsville time frame I think we felt like we had a one or two man race to really worry about.
Q. I wonder if you could go back and talk a little bit about what you thought you saw in Chad way back when you recommended him when he was at Melling Racing, and Chad, kind of your first impressions of Jimmie back then, as well.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, Brian Weitzel and Ken House set up some meetings. There were three crew chiefs that they were interested in, and I just basically sat down at lunch had some different meetings, and our meeting was a lunch meeting. We sat down, started talking, and before we knew it, we got off on our own little side topic about motorcycles and other forms of racing, the Midwest and where he was from. And I had spent some time up in that area with ASA stuff.
Before we knew it, a good amount of time had passed, an hour and a half, two hours, and Ken and Brian both were like, hey, guys, this is going well but we need to get back to the shop, and I'm sure Chad has got to get back to work.
When we left there it was amazing how much time had passed and how well we connected. I don't think we knew much about each other before that, but we felt like there was a bond there and something we wanted to build on. It was an easy decision then because of the connection we had and the conversation we had just at lunch.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I didn't have a whole lot on Jimmie leading up to that point. When you're in the Cup Series and you really get engulfed in what it is you're trying to do, it's difficult to pay attention to the Nationwide Series because the races are going on while you're racing or while you're working on your cars and stuff and you don't get to see a whole lot of them, so I didn't watch a lot of what was in the Busch Series that much and didn't really know Jimmie at all. I had known that he had won Chicago because that was my hometown and it kind of stuck with me for some reason or another.
And Jay Guy, who was one of my best friends, he introduced us when we were in Homestead. We were sitting on Jay and I were sitting on the wall, I think it was for qualifying, and Jimmie was walking down to start the Nationwide race or something like that, and Jay had stopped him and pulled him over to the side and said, hey, man, this is the guy you need to have for your crew chief. He did it kind of in a joking manner. Jimmie didn't know who either one of us were. So that was our first encounter.
But when we had lunch we hit it off. We talked about motorcycles and a lot of different things, and it's been fun ever since. I didn't know if he had any talent. I didn't know if he could drive at all. He didn't know if I knew what I was doing at all.
It's something we both kind of discussed early on and said, this is our shot. You get kind of one opportunity in life to make things happen, and this was our opportunity, and we both dove in headfirst and believe in one another, and here we are.
Q. For both Jimmie and Chad, just a race specific question. I know that there seemed to be some tension kind of creeping in you, Jimmie, during the course of the race and other certain instances, Bowyer running up on your door, and that created some tension. Of course there might have been getting through some guys, getting past guys. Was the specter of Texas still haunting you when you saw the 77 come up on you on that restart?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it doesn't matter if it's practice or the race, the 77 and I just don't seem to flow together. I don't know why. It's been that way for a long time. I saw him again tonight, and I'm like, man, I've got to get out of here.
Tonight things went smoothly. There was no issues. But the 42 left the bottom of the racetrack and came right to the fence like he was clear, and he was not clear. And I had to check up both times and it cost me like six spots every time it happened. One time I was in second and it took place, and heck, before I got back to the outside lane and recovered from what went on, I lost a bunch of time.
And then Bowyer, I guess he was wanting to keep up front in clean air, and we were driving, taking my lane, and then I finally got inside of him and he had been running the top, and he came down and just sat on my right rear quarter panel through three and four for a couple laps, which he hadn't run that line the ten laps I was behind him. So I was like, why now? So yes, I was frustrated, and after a few hand gestures and maybe some spotter communication, things went smoothly after that with the 33.
I don't think he was trying to be a pain in the butt, he was just racing for every inch that he could. I definitely was a little revved up tonight. I wanted to keep my eyes on winning the race and having a shot at it, and track position was so important. I just felt so good in the car and really knew that I had a shot at winning the race tonight and wanted to take advantage of it.
Q. As a follow up, is that why you radioed to Chad?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, I could see two or three cars in front of me, and I knew how fast I was catching them. I could at least get to them. I didn't realize that the leader was another step ahead of that. I thought that was it. I wasn't sure where we were running.
Q. This was a question I've wanted to ask you for a while, but Christine threatened me by death if I asked you before tonight. A lot of us have called Jeff "Four Time" for a long time. I'm wondering now, what do we call you, what do we call him? And my second question is Dustin the other day asked you a question about what else do you want in life, and you really talked about, hey, all my life, this is what I've wanted. You didn't really talk about what you want later or next. Chad wants a son, a daughter, to retire, a wife, hair. I'm wondering, what do you want?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Um, I don't know what you can call us. I'm sure you guys can think up some good names. "Four Time" has a nice ring to it. I don't know. I'm sure we'll come up with something. Maybe I'll make a fool out of myself tonight, and we'll have a good one after that.
As far as what's next, I mean, I just I mean, I signed a new contract, so it just seems I haven't thought much about it, to be honest with you. To me, it's like I've signed through 2015, Cup level, Lowe's is on board, it's just what we do. We're just going to keep racing.
Q. Don't you have something in your head like I want to be 50 and sitting here doing this?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have so far blown past those marks that I'm just sitting here like, okay, well, let's try it again. I hope to win a race at the Cup level was my goal want when this whole thing started and I was racing ASA, and I felt like probably even before that, if I could win a Cup race, that was my goal. And then that happened. I keep readjusting. So I never thought I'd be here.
You know, I'd love to win more championships or more races than what anybody else has done, but I'm not sure how realistic that is. So I don't have a good answer for you. I'm trying to recalibrate.
I feel like I'm driving and doing the best job I've ever done in the race car, and I hope that I can stay in the sweet spot for a period of time and really continue on. But I haven't thought much about it because I keep blowing by the stuff that I've set for goals.
Q. Were you aware there was going to be some payback between Montoya and Stewart, and did you have to make a mental note to yourself to stay clear of that situation? And can you also maybe speak to the knack that you have, other than at Texas this year, for really not putting yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I could tell Chad had said something to our spotter that the 42 was back out on the track and said something about the there was some casual conversation that I figured out that there might be something coming. For two laps maybe or a lap and a half, I could see two red cars kind of crossing paths and a lot going on. I just started slowing down. I figured something was going to happen, and sure enough, it did. I had some time to get slowed down and get out of harm's way.
What was the other question?
Q. Your knack for not putting yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not sure where it comes from. I think I look pretty far ahead on the track is helpful, and a lot of guys run tape or have different things over the windshield to block the sun out, and I'm always cutting that stuff out so I can look further down the road. I think where my line of sight is, just looking down the road is helpful. Outside of that, I don't know. I wish that I had seen it in Texas, though. It was close.
Q. After the race when you were sitting in your car, I think, in turn 2 waiting for the platform and everything to be set up, you said on TV you let your mind wander a bit. Can you talk about where you let it wander to and what you were thinking of while you were sitting there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just where I started, riding around in a 1979 Ford van with a little eight foot enclosed trailer behind it going to motorcycle races around the country and sitting there on turn 2 after winning your fourth championship. So there's just a lot of little things that came into my mind from when I was a kid riding dirt bikes. I thought about my first four wheel experience, first time I drove a stock car.
I was telling Kenny Wallace, thinking on the back stretch over there that my first race in ASA car was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and I was fast, but I didn't know how to pass anyone. And I was on the radio trying to ask the crew chief, how do I pass. He goes, man, I don't know; I set the car up, it's your job; you've got to figure that part out. I just didn't know how to pass anybody; I'd follow them around and I didn't know what to do. So there was a lot of memories like that flipping around my mind, just kind of tripping out sitting there on turn 2.
Q. You were talking about how you can't pass people back then, how you've done what nobody else has done. Petty didn't do it, Earnhardt didn't it do it, Allison didn't do it, on and on, Yarborough didn't do it. Be honest; where do you stack up?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think it's up there. You know, the fact that nobody has done this, I think it puts me near the top. I certainly look at the seven championships by both Earnhardt and Petty, their race wins, their being in the sport for the number of years and all that they've done, those two guys are kind of at a draw at the top.
Hopefully my stats and win totals and championship totals can rival theirs. But it puts us up there, it really does. And the cool thing is we're not done yet. We've got a lot of racing left ahead of us. So hopefully we can improve on that.
Q. What you just said obviously leads to this question: Is there any reason for us to think that you're not going to win seven, eight, top that record? And you've talked earlier about blowing past all your goals. Is that now a goal, to beat those two guys?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is a goal. I'm not sure how realistic it is. I guess it's tough to really understand because of the way the last four years have gone, and at times based on questions and discussions, we make it look easy or different things. But it is so, so difficult to compete in this sport. And what we've done is truly amazing, and the fact that it's never been done before speaks to how difficult this task was to win four in a row.
I don't know if we'll win another championship. I have no idea what next year will bring and what the challenges will bring as the years go by. There's just no guarantees on that. I feel in my heart we'll be competitive. But at some point in time we won't be that team. We're going to do everything we can to make sure we are that team. But you just never know what the future holds.
Yes, I would love to win seven, eight championships, and me saying that, it's like Gordon saying he wants to win seven or eight. Of course we want to do that. But is it a realistic thing at this point in time? The level of competition we have in the sport, I don't know. But we're sure as hell going to try.
Q. This came up last night with Kyle Busch. The second place guy in Nationwide had enough points to win the championship five out of the last six years, even considering how good Kyle was. When you look back at your last four years, what is more impressive, the fact that you've won four consecutive titles or the performance that has been required to win those four consecutive titles, considering the people who have finished seconds and the stats that they have put up?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know. They kind of, I guess, melt together in my head in some ways. There's been discussion about I think it was a couple weeks ago that I haven't had someone like Earnhardt, as Gordon did. But as I've thought about that some more, I think of all the guys that have raced for championships, and we all consider Stewart one of the greats, Gordon one of the greats. I've raced both those guys for championships. Then some very, very other tough ones, Mark Martin this year.
So I feel that what I am most proud of looking back on, obviously the four championships, those are amazing. But when I look in Chad's eyes and my guys' eyes, what we did during those four championships and the way we raced and how we raced for it, I'm most proud of that for sure. I don't know if that helps with the answer, but it gives me the last three years gave me so much confidence going into Phoenix, knowing that, okay, we've got last week at Texas, we're coming here, now it's time to show what we can really do, and we did it. In those moments, it's so cool to pull it off, so I'm proud of the fact that we can do it.
CHAD KNAUS: I think I agree 100 percent. Obviously the achievement of winning four championships is awesome. But the week in, week out battles that we go through to try to win these championships is so difficult, and it's difficult on everybody on the team, and for us to be able to rally in times when we are struggling and come back and pull off wins and top 5s, and Pocono this year we were a lap down and we have a miss we were three laps down, whatever it was, and we came back and were able to pull that stuff off, I think it speaks volumes about what this team is capable of doing.
As you guys know, I pride myself on our team being prepared and ready for action at the drop of a hat, and I think that those guys do that. I think that if the chips are down and we have to do massive adjustments to the race car to try to get the speed out of it to extract whatever it is we need to extract out of it, they do it. And I think that speaks volumes, and I'm proud of that. I'm proud to be a part of it.
Q. For both Jimmie and Chad, do you remember all the victory lane celebrations, each race that or are there things that are a little bit of a blur? Are things a little hazy as you're going through these runs? And Chad, I think I saw you with a little hand held video camera at the end there. I was wondering if you had planned to record this or if that was if you recorded anything else during the week.
CHAD KNAUS: I got that last year when we were in New York for the banquet. I took some video of that when we were up there cruising around New York City and doing all that stuff and it was a lot of fun, and then I took it on vacation with me last year, and I haven't used it since. It's still actually got the same videos on it. I called Lynn Hess, our office administrator, yesterday, and I said, hey, go into my office and get that little flip video out of my briefcase and bring it down here to me. So I charged it today and I gave to one of my engineers, and I said, here, don't give me this until there's five laps to go and we've got this in to a position where we think we're going to be able to seal it off.
Five laps to go, he walked up and he handed it to me, and I wanted to record it, because I think just like what you said, I don't enjoy what we do enough in the moment typically, and I don't do a good job of keeping records and memorabilia and things like that. I don't have a big a whole bunch of clippings and all that stuff. I just don't keep that stuff.
I knew this was going to be a big deal, and I wanted to be able to have something to remember it by, because even through all of the stuff that's going on, and it's a bit of a whirlwind, you forget, and I wanted to try to document it a little bit.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: What Chad said is totally right. It's tough to remember some of the different things. What's fun is when you sit around with the crew guys and stories start coming out, and it helps bring that back. But I've done a decent job with collecting things and clippings and trying to document stuff a little better than Chad. And I look forward to I've been saying I haven't watched or read anything. Next week when I get home, I look forward to going back and watching all the stuff and reading the articles, certainly the stuff that comes out of this weekend. It's time to catch up.
Q. Do you do that, go back and read?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The last few years I meant to, I just for whatever reason didn't get to, but this year I really need to.
Q. Jimmie, setting the record you did tonight, the possibility of improving upon that record, kind of puts you in a class of other pro athletes that have set records throughout American sports history. Think in terms of Roger Maris, so on, so forth. How does that feel to be in that select group of American athletes, and what do you think it says for NASCAR as a sport, which is credited with becoming the most popular or fastest growing spectator sport in the country?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm I don't know much about other sports unfortunately, because I've been so engulfed in our sport. But you know, to as I say, I flip when certain things pop on television, so I wouldn't watch it, but maybe I'll a little slow to flip the channels sometimes, and I saw some things on ESPN where they were showing different pro athletes and what they've accomplished and what dynasty means and winning multiple championships in a row and some footage in there from us, and just to see us linked to that, I really look forward over the next few days to follow it and read about it and understand some of the comparisons of what's gone on and what we've accomplished.
I know what we've accomplished here at the track, but to understand the spectrum, how deep it goes. You know, I can say that watching the fans over the last two years, the respect they've had for this team, myself, the cheers when I got out of the car tonight, the place was going nuts. I really, really appreciate our fans and our sport and know what it means inside our sport, and I think over the next few days I'll do a better of job of understanding where it fits within sports. Four in a row, it doesn't matter if you're racing bathtubs or go karts or playing baseball, football. It's tough to do, and I'm awfully proud of it.
Q. You have a unique opportunity that you might not be aware of. Your winning percentage with 41 wins, there's only three people in history that have won a higher percentage. Back in the '90s Jeff once had the highest percentage ever, but it's not really fair to tally those things up until a career is over because almost every driver in history has tailed off late in his career. One of the chief exceptions is one of your teammates. In this great era of sharing information, is Mark Martin a resource that you can tap into in that area?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't know if I exactly follow you. Help me
Q. Well, can Mark Martin help you keep up your productivity as you grow older since he's one of the few people who ever has?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yes. I think Mark Martin this year has raised the bar at Hendrick Motorsports. What he and Alan have done together has brought a lot to the group. And then as you break off into Mark's what Mark is about, what he thinks about, he's the first guy in line for practice when we call for our team debriefs. He's already on the phone. The guy, this is what he does.
I've always been committed to my sport and to what we do, but it's great to see someone else that shares that drive. And I think we've learned from each other a lot this year and have found other ways to maybe focus a little more intensely in look in different areas and go about things differently.
Mark has already helped me this year a lot, and I think there's a lot to learn from him over the years. It might not even be setup stuff and techniques in the car, but the way the man carries himself, you know, there's just a lot to learn from him, and I feel very fortunate to have him at the company and look forward to tapping into that and using it in the years to come.
Q. For Chad and Jimmie, you got Jimmie, you have drivers looking up to you, and Chad, you've got people at the Saturday night tracks looking up to you as the chief wrench and things like that. What did you guys learn from the Chase that you might want to share with those people that look up to you as role models?
CHAD KNAUS: I guess, you know, you have to look back and see what we went through. But I think the thing that you always learn as you're going through a point situation, whether it be a 22 week points championship at Rockford Speedway or Elko, Minnesota, or wherever it may be, Slinger, Wisconsin, you've got to realize that you've got to be consistent; you've got to go through and you have to pay attention to details.
I think that's the one thing we've continued to push with our organization at Hendrick Motorsports, to pay attention to the little things and not leave a lot of stones unturned.
I think that you can learn that and apply that at the local short tracks, absolutely. I think that that's a commitment that you have to your sport and what it is that you want to do. So I think that's definitely a lesson learned.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I also think, too, that it's tough for everybody to make it to Cup, but Chad was the guy at the local short track, and granted, I didn't run late models all that much, just a couple races and stuff, but I was in a little pit area at a not that professional race, very similar situation with the dirt stuff, and I walked in the pits, and I was a kid scraping mud off of buggies and just trying to act like I was a crew member, and they'd let me drive the car out to an autograph session. I was all excited I was able to drive the race car out to the autograph session on the racetrack in first gear.
With that all being said, we were there, and it wasn't all that long ago, and we committed to the sport, and it worked out. I'm not saying it will work out for everyone, but you can get a lot out of this sport. If you're committed to it and it's what you're about, the sport will give back to you in many, many ways.
I think from Rick's standpoint, Chad, mine, really everybody in this garage area, it all started off as a hobby and something that we enjoyed doing, and it brought us here. But at the same time, there are a lot of guys having a lot of fun on Friday and Saturday nights. Racing is a great sport.
Q. Jimmie, for most of your career Jeff Gordon was kind of up here with the four championships. Even though you were winning two in a row, three in a row, he was still kind of one step ahead of everybody else in the sport. Now you and him are equal. How does that feel, and with the relationship that you have with him, describe that a little bit.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm excited to be four time and share that position with him. You know, and the fact that we were able to do ours in consecutive years, which has never been done before, somehow links me in a way to the greats that I haven't had a chance to race against. So on many, many levels this fourth is extremely special to me.
You know, I don't think Jeff saw it, Rick saw it, none of us really knew what would come from all of this. You know, it's been a wild ride, and I've just Jeff, I looked, I saw him tonight, and I'm like, could you ever have imagined we'd be here, and he was like, not a chance. So we're both kind of taken aback by where things have turned out. I'm very grateful for the opportunities he's given me, Rick has given me, and it'll be fun trying to see who can get to the fifth championship first.
Q. Another gut wrenching moment must have been when Jimmie said, I think I could go for the lead. We know your reaction, but what went through your mind? Did you think he was nuts?
CHAD KNAUS: No, I wish we had a few more laps in the race because I would have loved to let him loose. The car was so good, it really was. It was one of the few cars out there that you could see could manipulate traffic and go through and do some of the things we needed to do. Obviously that has a lot to do with Jimmie and the way he drives the vehicle, as well.
But at that point when we were running two, three tenths of a second faster than the leaders, I was like, man, how special would it have been. If they were only a straightaway ahead of us we could have gotten in there and diced it up with those guys. But still, we have to look at what the bigger picture is. If it had a situation where we came down pit road took the lead on pit road and got ahead of those guys, I think we would have won the race for sure. But to go up there and try to battle with those guys, it wasn't the smart thing to do, and even if they had been within grasp, it wouldn't have been smart to get up there and mess with those guys.
You don't walk up to a hornet's nest and poke it with a stick. It's just not real smart. I think we found a spot that was comfortable to run and played it out there. I think that was the wise thing to do.
Q. When you were sitting out there in the car and they were setting up the stage and you just were sitting out there, I'm guessing it was in turn 2, what was happening in the car? What was going on with you? Were you talking to people? Were you just alone with your thoughts for a while, or what was happening there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I was Darby talked to me as I was driving through 1 and 2 to get in position, got all my stuff off, and it was a hot night so I made sure that I kept the helmet blower hose close by and stuck it down my suit to cool down some. Just a couple of thoughts, different things I've raced, the different people along the way, and then I started getting antsy. I'm like, let's go; I want to see my guys; I want to have some fun.
Then I got fired up, drove around, and I just kind of sat there. It sounds odd and weird and at times and even tonight I look forward to just a quiet moment to sit and just feel what's going on and how awesome this feels. It was neat to have a few minutes over there just to smile and be proud of what we've done, and then my ADD kicked in and it was time to get going, and luckily we started coming around.
Q. This one is actually for Marshall but I'd like to hear all three of you answer if you could. Since 2002, since Jimmie came in, Jimmie and Jeff are the only two drivers to have the same primary sponsor combination and be with the same team. During that time, that shop has only had one crew chief change. How important is it to you guys in terms of your overall philosophy to keep the core personnel together, and how has that contributed to the dominance as of late, because looking at Kurt Busch, he finishes fourth in points, he's going to have to deal with a new crew chief, they're going to have to deal with some adjustments in the off season. You guys can snap your fingers now and hit the ground running for 2010 and not have to worry about any major changes.
MARSHALL CARLSON: You know, I think it's absolutely critical. This is a people sport. This is a people business. We talk a lot about widgets and technology and gizmos and test fixtures and all these things, but it's people driving all that. That stuff is only as good as it is while it's fresh, and it's going to get stale pretty quick unless you've got really, really sharp people pushing every bit of the car technology wise, the pit crew, the training of the driver, the driver himself.
It's all about people.
And one of the things that Rick has done in our organization is built an environment where extremely talented, competitive and driven people are able to come in, and like Chad said, race the way they want to race. Chad builds his team, and he and Steve together built that 24 48 shop. We're a crew chief led company. Jimmie and Chad are the tip of the spear we talk about, and everyone behind them is support. That's how we built our organization.
So these two guys are the guys who are getting it done on the track every weekend, and they have total autonomy to build the right people behind them. And I agree with you, it is absolutely a differentiating factor for this team and hopefully we feel our organization, the quality of the people and the longevity.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: He nailed it. That's the perfect way to describe it. Chemistry is everything, and it took us a couple years to to really gel, and even in bad moments. I think as in any relationship, when you go through some tough moments, you figure out what each other is about and why they're in this situation in this relationship. We've been through a lot of good and some bad, and in the bad moments we've probably learned more through those than anything. I'm glad that it's all buttoned up and we don't have sponsorship worries, crew chief worries, driver worries, any of that stuff.
Q. I wanted to ask you, Jimmie, about a quote recently from New York giants quarterback Eli Manning, who talked about athletes have to have short memories, even after winning something like the Super Bowl or having success because there's always the next season right there upon you. When do you start looking, thinking about next season, even after something like tonight and something like this year? How short does your memory have to be about this historic occasion before you start focusing? And also you may want to talk about it, too, Chad.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me I probably get quite a bit more time than Chad does. I'm not really going to be called upon until Daytona for that matter. I'll race in the Rolex 24. But Cup related, there's no testing unless we go to do something else. Until I'm really called upon, I don't know what I can really do. For him it's probably Tuesday morning he's back at it, and he's already been working on Daytona stuff and ideas for next year.
So the driver is in a much better situation to enjoy it. Once we're on track in Daytona, it's about that moment.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, we're already well in motion for 2010. We've been working on that for a couple of months now. So we've got Daytona cars in the queue, one of them almost done, and we've got Fontana/Las Vegas cars rolling up through the system right now. So we're well into preparation for next year.
Q. Marshall, could you update us on Rick's niece? Is there any update?
MARSHALL CARLSON: I haven't got any update. I did get one mid race and she was in surgery, and the family had been told things are progressing like they were supposed to. Haven't got any updated information beyond that. I thank you all for asking and for your thoughts and prayers with them. Thank you.
Q. Chad, was there a point with the team where you could over the past four or five years when you could identify, say, this is a championship team, or did it just kind of evolve in the past well, obviously four championships.
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think if you look at it, I think honestly in 2002 we knew we had the ability to win a championship, but I don't think we had the team to win it yet. I think rolling into 2005 we truly felt like we had a team that was capable of winning the championship. That was probably one of the most obviously disappointing years for me personally because I felt like we let that one get away from us.
So I felt like 2005 was probably the year that we were really at the level that we needed to be to compete with the Tony Stewarts and the Kurt Busches and the guys like that, even though we had been in the hunt before that. That was the first year that really came to a point where I felt like we really had something special.
Q. Chad, before you get busy with the wife to be named later, what in addition to that do you see yourself doing professionally down the road? I mean, would you like to do you think about getting into something like what Ray Evernham did? What do you think?
CHAD KNAUS: I don't know, they just had Dancing With the Stars on. That looked kind of fun.
I don't know, man. I don't know what I'm going to do when I grow up. I hope I never have to grow up. I love my job. I can't be a crew chief forever. I'll be honest, I can't run at this pace for ten more years. It's impossible. But I love what I do. I engulf myself in what it is that I do, and there's nothing I'd rather do.
I have yet to get out of bed in the morning and not want to go to work, and that's a fact. I truly love what I do. Even the things that you don't want to do, the salaries, the personal reviews, the things like that, termination of employees, it's not enjoyable, but I love my job. In the future we're just going to have to wait and see.
To think that I could go out there right now and start a team and be competitive with Hendrick Motorsports or Roush Racing or Richard Childress Racing for that matter, or any team in the industry I think is foolish. I think we saw what happened with Ray Evernham's team. It's disappointing to see a man's dream of owning a race team like Ray had turning into what it is right now. You know, it's so difficult to maintain the level in this industry without years and years of tillage and people, and I just don't think that I could do that right now.
Tony came into a great situation with the Haas Racing deal and kind of rolled up into that and was able to take full advantage of that and they did a great job this year with support from Hendrick Motorsports. But me, I don't know, man, we'll just have to see. I always said I was going to open a scuba shop in the Caribbean, so we might do that.
THE MODERATOR: Terrific job by the 48 team, Hendrick Motorsports, congratulations on another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
An Interview With:
THE MODERATOR: If I could have your attention, please, we have tonight our 2009 runner up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and that's Mark Martin. He drives the No. 5 Kellogg's CARQUEST Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
Mark, I can't say enough about the type of season you had. I know you gave it everything you possibly could and certainly put on a great show for all the fans and the competitors that follow this sport. Your thoughts about how things unfolded this evening and maybe this entire season for you.
MARK MARTIN: Well, there's a little bit of a dark cloud over it all because the boss and the family in Charlotte. I'm sorry that he wasn't that he needed to be there. We made history in multiple ways tonight at Hendrick Motorsports, and for me it's just incredible, just incredible to have had a chance at it.
We were the only team in the garage that had earned a chance in the last race at it, and that's quite an accomplishment.
And just what the fans have done and what the competitors have done means so much to me. I don't have one of those trophies, so I don't know what one of those things would mean to me. But I can't imagine it meaning any more than the feeling that I felt from so many people, competitors and fans.
Q. I just wanted to ask you the same question I asked Jeff about trying to put this victory by Jimmie into context in terms of where he might belong.
MARK MARTIN: Jeff told you the same thing. It's very difficult when it's happening to make statements, and I don't want to offend myself or any of my other old timers by making statements right now. Let's just let it play out. He's not done yet.
I look at that a little bit like that old question, are drivers athletes, and I say, who cares, because the race is still on whether we are or not, and we love racing, right? I look at that a little bit the same way. It's like, what's the argument? I mean, the numbers speak for themselves, and I don't think they're done yet.
Q. Congratulations on a great season coming back. Reflecting back to where you were at the start of the year with the goals you set for yourself and what you've accomplished, what's your dominant emotion now? What are you feeling right now? Is it pride at what you've accomplished? Is it frustration at not
MARK MARTIN: There's no frustration, man. I know you'd love it. I know y'all would love it, but there's no frustration. There's none. I'm very proud of what we accomplished.
I'm very proud of what we accomplished, and on top of all that, I had more fun than anybody. So how could you what else can you say, man? I had a blast. It's been an honor and a privilege, and I didn't leave nothing. I never left anything anywhere.
We got beat, and we got beat under any scenario that might have happened. I didn't leave anything out there.
My race team dug as hard as they could dig, and we accomplished more than anybody else in the garage this year except for the 48. That ought to be enough to make you proud.
Q. In a lot of ways, your story has kind of made you like a beloved figure among your competitors in the garage. Do you think that is more fulfilling to you than any championship could have been?
MARK MARTIN: Look, I don't have one, so I don't know. That's what sure, I can say that because I don't have one. But when you're young, it's all about you, at least it was for me. And when you get older, you know, things look a little bit different, at least they do to me.
I am one of the luckiest guys in the world to have done what I've done and worked with the people that I've worked with and earned what I have earned.
Q. Rick has said this a couple times and said it when he was in here again on Friday. He felt like he needed to say something to you at the beginning of the season when he had talked you into coming back and you had a couple engine failures at a place where you probably never expected to. Just what were your thoughts at that point? Did you have some second thoughts at that time? Alan said that he had tried to keep he had to keep thinking, not looking at the hard numbers but looking at the potential.
MARK MARTIN: Well, it was bad luck, and it was a little gloomy. But we were running good. So it would have been so much worse if we'd have been running bad and all that stuff would have happened.
We just had to dig in, roll our sleeves up, and we made a tremendous year out of it. I've got enough experience, and I might use the word mature. I'm mature enough to realize that there's more to this sport than four races, the first four.
Q. You were in a situation a couple years ago with Roush where all five cars made the Chase. Now you've been a bigger part of history with Hendrick finishing one, two, three in points. What did this situation have this year? You've been at Hendrick a year now; what gave Hendrick a little bit more of an edge to get you guys to that next level and be as dominant as you guys were this year, compared to Roush?
MARK MARTIN: I don't know, we were pretty strong that year that we did that at Roush's. The level of your competitiveness is cyclical; it don't always you're not always on top, you're not always on the bottom and not always in the middle. And Hendrick does a good job of getting knocked off the top a little less than most.
But it's still a moving target, and we've got our challenge on our hands for next year.
Q. Enough of this gloomy. There have been times when you were a little bit younger man when it seemed like you had the weight of the world on your shoulders. How do you think you're going to feel when next season starts?
MARK MARTIN: Happy. I'm going to be happy. You know, this is the first time in in as long as I can remember that I'm not glad it's over with. I'm fine. I've had a blast all year, and I do look forward to starting with a clean slate. But other than that, I'm a happy guy.
Q. Again, on a lighter note, about five years ago at your first retirement lunch, you told us Joey Logano, you'd hire him. What have you seen from him in the last five years, and where do you predict he's going to be five years from now?
MARK MARTIN: It's always nice to say I told you so, isn't it? (Laughter.)
I guess that was obvious, blindingly obvious, what a great he was going to be. And will be. He'll be fun to watch.
Q. We haven't heard anything about the race. How did this thing go? Were you chasing the car, or what
MARK MARTIN: Yeah, our car didn't work well today. It didn't work well, and we really struggled with it. And as the sun went down and we went to the back, we came in and pitted and tried to do some work on it to try to improve it, and it didn't really improve it a whole lot, so then we were stuck with sorry track position on top of not having a great race car. We just fought and fought and fought, and actually the last adjustment perked it up, and we drove from 21st to 10th, and then right at the end a couple of the guys got the high line going and got me back.
It was a great run, that last run. I mean, it wasn't good enough. I mean, if we'd have been with that all day, then we were a top six car maybe, like that, but we would have needed to be like that the whole race and not just the last run.
We've got our work cut out for us to make our cars better for here. It didn't work well.
Q. Can you share with us what you said to Jimmie when you met him out there at the stage?
MARK MARTIN: You guys would just write it in the paper if I told you. How about I just say congratulations. I wanted to see him and Chad and all those guys who did a superior job. It's incredible. What they've done is incredible. Ask anybody trying to beat them.
Q. As the night wore along and as it became semi obvious what the reality of the outcome was going to be, how much does it make you I don't know if proud is the right word or not, that you were able to hang onto second for the season?
MARK MARTIN: I was concerned when I was very concerned when we made the stop and worked on the car, went to the back, because the car wasn't good enough to drive back up through there. You know, and I wanted to when you're third, you want to be second (laughing). And I had the third and the fourth place guy race me for it, as hard as they could go. But we made a great adjustment on the last stop, and we drove up through there pretty well. I was very pleased with the car the last run versus the way it had been all night.
Thank you guys for everything all year. You guys have been awesome. It's been fun. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Mark. We certainly enjoyed watching you race this year.
An Interview With:
THE MODERATOR: We're joined up here on the podium by the race winner of tonight's Ford 400 championship finale here at Homestead Miami Speedway. Congratulations go out to Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota, crew chief Mike Ford, and team president J.D. Gibbs of Joe Gibbs Racing. Congratulations, Denny. This is your eighth victory in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, your fourth win in 2009. That's very strong. And your first win here at Homestead Miami Speedway. Congratulations on the win. Your thoughts about how things went tonight and then maybe a word or two about your performance this season.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, as far as tonight went, I think we were patient all day. You know, our car, we gained about 15 spots the first run, and then kind of stalled out. We weren't going anywhere, just didn't panic too much, just worked on it and worked on it, and every stop we'd gain maybe one or two spots on pit road, and then it seemed like we made one adjustment that really took the car off. I mean, we started 18th one run and went to 6th or something like that on that particular run and got there in just a few laps. So that was the turning point of our race today. We just kept working on it.
Then we got to second or third and didn't have a race winning car. We just had a few adjustments we had to fine tune, and every stop we were changing three or four things it seemed like, but we just weren't content with running second or third in the last race, so we just threw some stuff at it the second to last run, had an awesome stop, we gained three spots or something like that on pit road, got us out front. Weren't able to hold it, but it gave us information to go back on for that last run, and we took some of those adjustments out and the car took off, and it was game over after that.
THE MODERATOR: Crew chief Mike Ford, your thoughts about tonight's race.
MIKE FORD: Denny summed it up. The two keys to it were the restarts. We were very good on restarts, was able to gain track position there, and our pit crew was awesome. I think they had the two fastest stops they've had all year the last two stops of the race. They had a large role in keeping the car out front. It seemed like after five laps, the cars would stall out, and then you would go into racing. So the restarts were very important. We've learned that with these double file restarts. It's harder to get a car to restart well, and we had that today.
THE MODERATOR: J.D. Gibbs, certainly congratulations on this win today. Talk about the victory, the performance from Denny Hamlin, and also congratulations on Joey Logano being the Raybestos Rookie of the Year for Joe Gibbs Racing.
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, thank you. It was encouraging for our future. I was kind of watching the way really Mike and Denny's kind of leadership at JGR, and the way they work together, the way they don't get panicked. We didn't have the best car, and the way the kind of made changes over the race, and I think over the season you'll see them do some really impressive things. We really look forward to next year. And again, pit crew was really impressive, and obviously we're excited to watch Joey kind of follow in the footsteps of really Tony and Kyle with us, and then Denny as far as Rookie of the Year.
Q. Denny, payback is getting real popular in view of what happened with Montoya and Stewart. Do you feel like a trendsetter?
DENNY HAMLIN: What now?
Q. Referring to Brad Keselowski, today to how Stewart and Montoya traded licks, and it strikes me that payback has become real popular. Do you feel like a trendsetter?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I think everyone has got a little fight in them every now and then, especially when they get done wrong or anything. But you know, after a performance today it's easy to put yesterday behind me. But yeah, I mean, I think it's just maybe they looked at it and said, well, it's worth it. I thought yesterday was worth it, and maybe he thought today was worth it.
I think it's something it's something I think that the sport it's a self policing sport. NASCAR does a really good job of letting us handle it. They don't want to get involved, but if it's something blatant, they've got to do they don't have to, but they feel like they need to do something about it, otherwise they'll hear repercussions from fans saying why didn't you do anything about it. I won't say anything else.
Q. Two questions, first one for Denny. You won two Chase races, most wins you've had in one season in a career, but yet is there a twinge of disappointment in that you know how good you ran and you feel like you might have fallen short of what you could have gotten, and are you the guy to watch in 2010? And then for Mike and J.D., Denny came out in January, and he said, I'm tired of being a contender, I'm tired of being a guy with potential, I'm ready to be a champion. We all were like, okay, yeah, right, who is this Denny and what's he talking about, and he's really come on strong it seems to us and found his voice and found some confidence and really changed a lot. And I'm wondering if you guys see that, also, and if you guys think he's taken the steps needed to be a champion.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, yeah, I mean, as far as the Chase is concerned, there's ten races, and you've got to perform really good and be flawless those ten. It looks like the trend has been you get one bad race if you want to be a champion. The other 2nd through 12th has had multiple bad races. But each one of those races where we blew up, we were leading, and if we had just averaged seventh or eighth I think in those races, then we're out on the front stage celebrating right now.
But on the other hand, then the 48 maybe would have to run harder or perform better. So it's tough to play the numbers games and what if. But all I know is we've been competitive enough to run with those guys, and we've come a long way as a race team. You know, even though we had some parts failures in the Chase, the driver still made a mistake, which that can't happen in the Chase next year.
There's some things I need to do to get better. I feel like through the season I've gotten better. I'm figuring out what I need to make my race car better. Mike is starting to figure it out. We're getting on the same page now, figuring out what we need to be good at racing. One thing we're going to have to improve on next year is qualifying. We can't come from 38th like we did today. It looks good on paper, but realistically you put yourself at more risk.
So there's some things we need to do to be better, and I think this Chase has just made us stronger, because now I think everyone is focused and everyone is fired up about next year knowing that we're one of the few guys that can run with that 48 every single week.
J.D. GIBBS: I think one thing you forget, Denny's first year he winds up third in the points. It think it just kind of came natural. I think in the years following he kind of pushed hard in some areas and maybe tried some things you shouldn't try. I think what we've kind of learned is watching these guys kind of mature really taking a leadership role, Denny within the sport and Mike within our shop, really kind of the future is exciting for us. So I think really both those guys work well together. They're quiet, they're not going to talk a lot about stuff, they just kind of get it done. That's what encourages me coming up the next couple years for JGR.
MIKE FORD: You talked about Denny having the confidence starting the season. I think it's humbling. I think the last couple years were humbling, and we kind of all went together, and Denny's confidence and his driving and realizing that he needed to take a leadership role with the team and work through the issues rather than stomp feet, walk away and be frustrated. That, being able to work through issues came a long way, and that to me is the difference. I think that was the strongest point of our season was gaining that unity.
And moving forward, I think it allows you to try things, and we set up for the Chase. It hasn't haphazard. You look at the second half of the season, we hit a stride. We felt like we learned a couple things. We peaked early the last two years and kind of nosed over and were afraid to try things in the Chase, and that wasn't the case this year. We continued to learn throughout, but we put ourselves in a good position to start it.
You know, I think everyone being on the same page, being able to work through problems, it was a lot easier to make gains during the season and during races with Denny and myself being on the same page pretty much every week.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think a lot of it, too, was Tony leaving in my opinion. I kind of got into his when I came into Joe Gibbs Racing it was what Tony and Bobby laid out. That's the area and the direction Joe Gibbs Racing was in. I just drove the cars and was like, this was successful for Tony, so I kind of got in there and refined it a little bit to my driving style. But when Tony left, it was like, well, I kind of want things this way, and next thing you know, we start building cars more to my liking. My and Mike's communication gets a little bit better, all those little things. You start setting up these different departments working on the things that I feel is the most important, maybe not somebody else.
So I think that also helped quite a bit this year was having meetings and figuring out how what's the best way to do it to suit myself, not since I was the guy who essentially had to take that role once Tony left.
Q. Denny, how refreshing is it for you to come in here and talk about a race victory rather than Brad Keselowski?
DENNY HAMLIN: Really good. I don't even know where he finished, to be honest with you.
Q. This is for either J.D. or Mike. The 48 team has won 18 of the 60 Chase races, but they've also been darn near flawless with respect to mechanical failures and mistakes in the pits and what have you. How difficult is it to race against something like that?
MIKE FORD: You know, you can't control that. All you can do is control your end. You know, the performance is in your control, and I think if you look back, we've been toe to toe with them every Chase race other than Dover, and to me that was disappointing. That was in our hands. We missed the setup there, and that was one of the most disappointing parts of the Chase because that was something that we did.
You know, the engine failures, you know, it would be nice to say that we know what happened there, but we really don't. Those things are going to happen.
The timing of it is just bad. You can't my personal opinion is too much emphasis is put on this Chase and not enough on the race. When you're going out and trying to win races, things are going to happen, and you just have to shrug it off and go. If it's something that's in your control, then that's something you need to really focus on.
But when you can't necessarily put a finger on exactly what happens, you don't forget about it, but you move on.
Q. For Denny and Mike, you guys have both talked about communication and the improved level of trust you have back and forth. At this level with the format that's only ten races, is it possible for somebody to win a championship if they don't have a crew chief driver relationship where they've been together a lot of years so they intuitively know what each other wants and needs? I mean, could a new team or new group win it?
MIKE FORD: I think you could back into it. I think you could put some good race cars together and get lucky. The thing with communication and what makes the 48 strong is those two have been together for a long time. You're able to work on issues that aren't elementary standard issues. You can work on really focusing in. The more times you go to a track together, the more understanding you are of what the other is wanting. So that database, as it grows, you become stronger.
I think there is a possibility that someone could come in and do that, but I think your mature teams that have worked together to really work on the non trivial problems that you're faced with over the course of a season are going to be the guys that continue to win.
DENNY HAMLIN: I agree.
Q. Denny, I think it was in victory lane you made mention to the fact that Michael Waltrip was kind of a influence on your career. Could you talk a little bit about that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think it's worth noting that what he's done for the sport. You know, obviously he's a big spokesman, not necessarily a paid spokesman, but he's a guy that speaks for NASCAR in a lot of different ways, and a lot of people listen to him.
Growing up I watched Michael for many, many years. I actually have a picture with him; actually the same night that I had a picture with Joe Gibbs, I also had a picture with Michael Waltrip in an autograph line. There wasn't actually very many people in the line, so I got right in there.
So you know, he was a guy that is really he always talks in a positive manner about NASCAR. When a lot of people were negative, he's kind of that voice of reason, kind of getting us back to reality that this is a fan sport, and regardless of what us drivers may think sometimes, ultimately the fans is what drives this sport. I think he's just done a really good job with that.
Q. Just a quick question, Mike. The way Denny talked, it seemed to me, I'm not very mechanical, I drive from Pennsylvania to New Jersey because they pump your gas there, but it seemed like he picked away at this thing. You made little changes and things. What temptation was there to really throw the book at it? Do you have to resist the temptation like that? Tell me about your mindset there.
MIKE FORD: I think it goes back to the earlier question, what makes a good race team, and it's that you don't panic. We can quantify what kind of change; simply by the tone of Denny's voice over the radio, I can about tell the degree of the issue. That's something that you just can't come in and learn.
I know where we were; I know the tone of the voice. It was a pretty major issue early. We were really tight, but we were in terrible track position, so I didn't want to over adjust. I wanted to rely on the restarts and our pit crew to get us those positions, and the closer we get to the front, your handling issues go away.
You know, it's just time that you spend together that tells you what issue you're really fighting and how you quantify that.
Q. This has just always been a coincidence and you've had a lot of good finishes, but does it mean something to you to win your first race on a track that isn't pretty much flat?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. I mean, I think everyone kind of puts us in a box and they name off Martinsville, Richmond, Pocono, those racetracks, and say that, yeah, we can win those races. But they don't put us in that category at other racetracks. And I think it just shows that we're strong.
A lot of things, we've surprised a lot of people with our performance at our racetracks this year, and we've been a really good race team on all different types of racetracks. We felt going into the Chase our stronger suit was going to be the bigger racetracks, the mile and a half program. I said seven weeks ago that's our best suit right now, and that used to not be the case a couple years ago simply because I had more experience on the short tracks and just didn't have a good feel for the bigger tracks.
But once you're successful one time, it helps out a lot, because then you search for that feel at every different racetrack that's similar. And I think it just shows that we're starting to come into our own as a race team and perform well everywhere.
Q. J.D., next year you're going to have four cars, and just talk about the addition of a fourth driver with some guys who already know how to stand on the gas.
J.D. GIBBS: No four cars next year. Hopefully somewhere down the road, but we're not ready to do it next year. We could still do a few races like we did this year with the O2 car. Nothing planned there.
Q. The guys you've got, though, they're all young and have a lot of years ahead of them.
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, which is great. You look at our average age, our future is really exciting. Denny is our old man at 29.
DENNY HAMLIN: This week.
J.D. GIBBS: So for us, we really look forward to the years to come. I think the additional whichever driver is added down the road, I think he'll fit in well with our guys. We don't do things a guy can be a great driver at an older age, a younger age, in between. We just want guys that can perform. If you get that, then the rest usually takes care of itself.
THE MODERATOR: I believe that takes care of the questions from the media on No. 11 team, Denny, Mike, J.D., Coach Gibbs, congratulations. Great performance tonight, and overall a very, very solid season and a lot to look forward to.
An Interview With:
THE MODERATOR: Let's roll into our championship Ford 400 season finale here at Homestead Miami. We're joined up at the podium right now by today's race runner up. That's Jeff Burton. He drives the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, and our 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year, that is Joey Logano. He drives the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Jeff, congratulations on a strong finish. You had a strong finish last night in the Nationwide Series. Your thoughts now as you build towards 2010.
JEFF BURTON: Certainly we're happy with what we did tonight. We weren't ecstatic about what we did; Denny and those guys did a little better job than what we did at the end. Just a little too loose, but I think that's a little bit of me and Todd getting to know each other a little bit better. Again, we're playing catch up.
We're not 100 percent sure what we need to be doing to the cars, and the speed that we have right now we're not 100 percent accustomed to it. So we've got to get familiar with it and understand what we need to do with our cars, and that's as much about me telling him what I want as much as anything.
Hopefully we can continue to improve this winter because I know a lot of our competition is, and we can come out and be strong next year.
THE MODERATOR: Let's also now hear from Joey Logano. Joey, congratulations on being named the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. Your thoughts about that. Certainly a very strong performance for you this year.
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, it's really cool to get the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. It's obviously one of our big goals. I've got to thank the Home Depot for sticking behind me throughout the year. We had a real rough start and finished 20th in the points. You know, I guess it's okay.
At the beginning of the season if you told me that's where we were going to finish, I'd have been ecstatic about it. But now you always want better.
We just seemed like tonight we weren't real good. We started plugging away to the front, we got to about 13th and the car wasn't that bad, and under a pit stop somehow the end plate on the wing got hit and knocked off. Had to come back in and replace that and go back out, back in the back, and try to plug along.
But it was tough just to after about five or six laps, most everyone ran about the same lap times, so it was tough to make our way back to the front. We did what we had to do tonight, and I want to thank all of my guys for sticking with me throughout the year.
THE MODERATOR: One note on Joey; at 19 years of age, he's the youngest driver to ever win the Raybestos Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Let's take questions for either Jeff Burton or Joey Logano.
Q. Jeff, I think it was you, somebody at RCR said a while back that you guys built your cars to start the season and realized that you had gone in the wrong direction with them, and basically had to rebuild a fleet. You've now finished second two weeks in a row and three top 5s in the last four weeks. Was it simply a matter of you had the cars wrong and getting them right, or are you guys feeling like you're back to where you need to be?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think it's more than that. I think obviously you've got to bring good hardware to the racetrack, and we did push the wrong buttons this winter and played catch up obviously. With Todd coming on board, we've gotten together pretty quickly and had fast race cars pretty much all four weekends, and that's certainly we've put a different group of people together, a real strong group of people, and I think that's helped us, as well.
So I think we've gotten we're certainly gotten better cars, but also I think we've done a nice job of putting together a really, really strong race team.
Q. Joey, you kind of got off to a little bit of rocky start at the beginning of the season. I know there were a lot of demands and expectations for you. How did you kind of keep your mental frame of mind positive during the early season struggles?
JOEY LOGANO: It was tough at times, believe me. You know, the media wasn't saying the greatest things, but if anything, it was more motivating. You really wanted to keep pushing it and become a better race car driver. You know, at the time I was running good in the Nationwide car and I was not doing so good in a Cup car, so I was getting a little bit of self confidence out of the Nationwide car which was helping me there.
I kept pushing it and trying to learn these race cars as much as I can. By no means I'm not there yet, but I feel like we made some big steps this year, still have a few more big steps to go. These things drive so different than any other race car I've ever driven. A matter of figuring out how to drive them, that was the big part. And then the second part is figure out how you want them to drive, what part of the corner you want to work on, what do you need to make these things go fast.
It was a few big things I was learning throughout the season.
Hopefully throughout the off season we can test a little bit and get some more seat time and become a little better next year.
Q. Do you remember, Joey, it'll about five years ago in February, Mark Martin's first retirement lunch at his shop, and he said, I would hire him tomorrow to race a Cup car. Did you think back then you'd be sitting here as Rookie of the Year?
JOEY LOGANO: No, I don't look that far ahead. I think that's kind of a big deal. I've always been a day by day person and always worry about the next thing as they come. I've never been a person to look two races ahead, it's always the next one.
You know, at the time I thought that was awesome. That's part of what got me to this point, from him saying stuff like that, to get me a ride like this. It was a real big deal in my career.
Q. For Jeff, I know it's a little early to look ahead, but you take an effort like this, and are you already thinking about what you have to work on in the off season, what you have to do with these cars? I mean, do you feel encouraged coming out of this?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I certainly think that all of us at RCR are encouraged. I think it's important to understand that we're not where we need to be, and if we were, one of us would be over there where Denny is right now.
You know, we've made up a lot of ground, but I think it's we can't take the approach going into next year that we've got it, you know what I mean, okay, we've got it figured out, because I guarantee to that our competition will be working really hard to be better, and if we bring the same stuff that we have here today to California, we won't run very well.
So we've got to find a way to continue to improve, which is what we didn't do last year, and we have to be on full alert to not let that happen again. I think we made a lot of mistakes last year that we can learn from going into this coming year, and hopefully we don't make those same mistakes again. I don't think we will. I think that we'll be much smarter and do the right things.
But certainly I think all of us are fairly encouraged.
THE MODERATOR: We also have tonight's third place finisher. That's Kevin Harvick. He drives the No. 29 Shell Pennzoil Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. Certainly, Kevin, good way that you finished up here this evening. Your thoughts about tonight's race.
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, it was a good night for us. Obviously like Jeff said, we wanted to win the race. We got off a couple runs there in the middle of the race with a flat right front tire and over adjusted it for the second run and kind of lost some track position.
But good weekend. It's been a good last several months. Really since Sears Point, I think the cars have shown the speed that they needed to. We've crashed a lot and made a lot of mistakes from all angles to kind of screw that up when we had good cars, so from the driver's seat, from a lot of different angles. But the speed has been there, and now we just need to get the consistency back and do the things we've always been known for as a company, and that's being consistent and making decent days out of bad days.
You know, happy with the turnaround, and we'll go forward.
Q. Gary just asked this to Jeff and I'm going to ask you, Kevin, we've seen teams have momentum at the end of seasons and not carry it over to the following season.
We saw that with Carl last year; he won two out of the last three races and didn't really carry it over. What changes do you need to make sure that you carry this momentum over to 2010 and keep this going? I also have a question for Jeff. Just wanted to clarify your contract. Are you in the same boat with Kevin that you're up at the end of 2010, or are you signed for a couple more years?
KEVIN HARVICK: The biggest thing is we just can't sit on our hands. We have to push forward. You have to figure stuff out. We figured a lot of stuff out in a short amount of time while we're still trying to race, and that's hard.
I would assume that they have a good plan going into the off season as far as the things that we need to work on. And the biggest thing when it comes down to it is depth of your cars and your fleet. We've been building these cars, and we don't have a lot of them, and we've figured some stuff out suspension wise, so we've just got to keep pushing forward, and you've got to get ahead, and once you get ahead, you can't stop, you've got to keep pushing.
JEFF BURTON: I think I have two years left. I think. Not real sure.
Q. Jeff, as the elder statesman of the group up there at that table, I was just wondering if you could possibly kind of put into context what this win by Jimmie, the fourth in a row, means. Can we call him the greatest driver of this generation?
JEFF BURTON: Well, everybody wants to make history when history has not been made yet, if that makes any sense. He's not done. You know, it's hard to it's hard when you're racing against a guy to say he's the best. That's hard to do. But hey, four in a row, and consistent race winner, consistent five top, consistent pole sitter, how in the world can you not put him on the list?
You know, I have a great deal of respect for the work they put into it. The thing that interests me is I think sometimes I hear the fans say it's coming easy to him.
I suspect they work really hard. I suspect nothing comes that easy to anybody, and I'm sure that Chad and Jimmie and everybody works exceptionally hard. I know that I've had the privilege to work with Mark Martin, and I know if you're going to run as well as he does, you're going to have to work your ass off, and I'm sure that Jimmie does that.
I can't put Jimmie in history because he's not done yet, and I don't think that we I think it's premature to try to do that. But anybody that doesn't respect what they've done isn't being fair to them. I understand pulling for somebody else, I get all that. I don't really like the Cowboys very much, but I really think that I should respect what they've done, because it's been an incredible if you would have told me four years ago that somebody would win four championships in a row, I would tell you you're crazy because 29 cars finished in the lead lap tonight. That's how competitive it is what we do.
To win four championships in a row, I didn't think anybody would be able to do that. Never in 100 years did I think somebody would be able to do that.
Q. Kevin and Jeff, as the two drivers a little older than Joey, this will be directed to you. Tonight the 42 and the 14 had a few incidents. The 42 got black flagged for two laps, last night Keselowski and Hamlin. Kevin, when you were going through stuff like this, I know fans liked it, the media liked it, it was very exciting. Does the sport need that kind of stuff? Do fans want to see that? Is it unnecessary? Does it add an exciting element?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think there's a lot of different ways you could approach it. I think that the consistency from 2001 to yesterday is probably a little different, and I think that if you're going to make those calls consistently, then you need to keep them consistent now. We just need a consistent pattern.
This garage has a very good way of taking care of its own problems, and usually if you cause the most problems, you'll have the hardest time. It's pretty simple.
It's self teaching. I went through that whole road. A lot of times you can fix things by not doing it in a race car. I didn't see what happened tonight, but you have your moments where you lose your mind and lose your temper and you want to just run over the top of somebody. If turnabout is fair play and it's penalized, then it needs to be penalized. We just all need to know the rules. But I think there's probably a lot better ways of handling it.
JEFF BURTON: Like I told you last night, what this sport needs is good racing. It doesn't need running that mouth. I think running that mouth is not what it's all about. I think good, hard racing is what the fans want to see. There's a certain portion of people that want to see people yelling at each other, but I think the general population is really better off just watching good racing.
KEVIN HARVICK: Good hard racing is going to create its own accidents, it's going to create its own moments, it's going to create everything that the fans want to see. Good side by side racing will that stuff is going to happen regardless. There's not too many of us that are I don't want to get out anymore and fight with somebody. I don't know, you just grow out of that, I guess, as you get older, and there's not too many people in the garage that want to handle it that way.
Q. Jeff, I think the 48 team has only had one DNF during their championship run in the Chase. Can you speak a little bit to how their ability to avoid failures, not put themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time has contributed to their success?
JEFF BURTON: I think it speaks for itself. It's not that they just finish races, they win races, too. If you look at the number of races they've won in the Chase, obviously it's a big number. So not only do they not have problems, they finish really well, too.
It's more it has to be more than just not having problems.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much. We enjoyed watching you race this year. We appreciate everything. Take care.