Jimmie Johnson collected his 77th NASCAR Sprint Cup career victory at Auto Club Speedway, which was also his sixth win at the 2-mile track located not too far from his hometown of El Cajon. It was yet another career milestone for the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS as this 77th win surpassed the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr.; placing Johnson in seventh on the all-time NASCAR win list.
The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion was able to overtake fellow Team Chevy driver, Kevin Harvick, in a three-lap overtime shootout to give Chevrolet a 1-2 finish.
“Man, this is cool," said Johnson, who has collected two wins so far this season. “I knew we had great car and that caution fell at a bad time the run before. I just didn’t have the tires on the car to race with those guys. To go there at the end and have good tires on the car, Harvick and I got by I guess Joey there at the start. I got a great run off of Turn 2 and I thought ‘man I’ve got a shot at this thing’. Which I didn’t expect to have, Harvick has been so fast. I cleared him and kind of got away. We saved our best for last for sure. We need to keep doing this all year long, especially late in the season. Right now this Lowe’s Chevrolet is awfully fast and a lot of fun to drive."
POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPTS:
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S/SUPERMAN CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNER
CHAD KNAUS, NO. 48 LOWE’S/SUPERMAN CHEVROLET SS – RACE WINNING CREW CHIEF
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by the winning crew chief of the No. 48 Superman Lowe's Chevrolet, Chad Knaus. That was another exciting finish. Tremendous win for your team. Tell us a little bit about those closing laps.
CHAD KNAUS: Oh, wow. Man, I'll tell you what, try to recap how this went down. It's kind of mind numbing right now.
Obviously we pitted with the second to last pit stop. We short pitted everybody by a lap. Then the caution came out. Fortunately enough Jimmie was able to get by the 4 car and stay on the lead lap. But we knew we were going to be in trouble having one full lap on our tires when everybody else was going to have stickers.
Unfortunately we fell back a little bit, I think maybe to seventh or eighth. Jimmie did a good job, he really did. For as aggressive as everybody was driving at that point, he managed his tires well, was able to get by a couple of other guys.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]I think we were probably going to settle in about fifth or sixth. When that caution came out coming down pit road, our pit crew guys knew what they needed to do. They knew they had to try to get us some spots if we were going to have any shot at getting a victory with the Superman Chevrolet. They did. Had a fantastic pit stop. I think we gained two or three spots, put us in third.
I was telling Jimmie just before that restart, Buddy, dig in deep, go find that cape. He did. On that restart he did really well. He got up on the 4 car. They pushed past the car on the outside. He was able to drive down to the inside, blow by the 4 car, make it happen.
I couldn't be prouder. Jimmie is obviously an amazing, amazing talent behind the wheel. For him to do what he did today I think speaks volumes about what that man is capable of.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Chad.
Q: Going into the off week, how much do you need this to rebuild, to get set up for even more?
CHAD KNAUS: This is awesome. It's kind of an (indiscernible) standing gag. You always want to try to win before an off week, because the last two weeks. That's the best way you could ever set it up. Typically, as you guys now, as soon as we get back to the shop on Monday, we're focused on the upcoming event. Fortunately enough it's a long trip. Everybody gets to fly home, catch their breath, take a week to enjoy it. We make sure to emphasize with our guys that they do celebrate the victories, go out and enjoy it, whether that be going out and partying at a club, or going out and getting an ice cream with the kids. Whatever your way of celebrating is, we want to make sure they do that. This will give the guys plenty of opportunity to do that before we go to Martinsville, so I'm glad about it.
Q: Did Jimmie find any particular line that worked for him toward the end?
CHAD KNAUS: It was funny, obviously you guys saw it as well as we did. People were all over the racetrack. I think that speaks volumes about this racetrack. Everybody loves this track. The only thing we don't like is the back straightaway because it's a little too bumpy. But the rest of the track is awesome. They run the high, they run the low. They do everything.
Through the middle portion of the race, Jimmie was doing a very good job of managing that half to threeâ€'quarter range, and really saving his tires, managing his tires well.
I think if you guys look back at it, you see we really came on strong at the end of the runs. He was doing a really good job of that. For that last greenâ€'whiteâ€'checkered finish, obviously he drove it straight down to the bottom. He was able to rail around the bottom and get past the 4 car.
This is an awesome racetrack from that standpoint. This is what you want when you're a race team, a racecar driver. You want to be able to go out there and slip and slide and drive. That's what these guys had to do today.
Q: Jimmie obviously continues to move up the ladder with career wins. Can he catch Gordon? How many more do you have in you?
CHAD KNAUS: Let's worry about the next one. How is that?
If you start shooting goals like that, you can't do it. The thing you have to do, from my standpoint, is we have to worry about going to Martinsville and trying to win that race first. We have to worry about practicing well, qualifying well, winning that race. Then we have to do the same thing going to Texas, then so on and so forth throughout the rest of the season.
I don't put the cart before the horse, you guys know that, so we focus forward, and that's what we're worried about.
Q: The opening of the season is now over. What is the one thing you need to focus on to win towards the summer into the hot months?
CHAD KNAUS: That's obviously been the Achilles' heel of the 48 car going through the summer months. Years where it's great, it fantastic. Years where it's bad, oh, my gosh, you want to slit your wrists.
This year we're not going to worry about the summer months as much as what we need to, obviously, especially now since we've been able to capture this second victory which essentially locks us into the Chase.
What we're going to do, we're going to focus forward, put our efforts into going into Chicago, New Hampshire, those first few races of the Chase. That's our main focus at this point.
We want to perform well, win as many races as we possibly can. This provides an opportunity for us to go out there and be aggressive, do things that might be a bit uncharacteristic, unâ€'normal. Is that a word?
CHAD KNAUS: Atypical, great, thanks. To do that kind of stuff to try to make things happen. Right now we're going to try to solidify what we need rolling into the Chase.
Q: Was it a difficult race to call with everything that happened, the way cautions were falling, the tire wear that people were concerned about? Also, we keep hearing teams are trying to gain back the downforce that was taken away. How far along do you feel like you guys are at getting that back?
CHAD KNAUS: I don't feel that we're running as strong as what we need. I think we're okay, for sure, obviously. But I think from my standpoint, we should be doing a little bit better.
Look, let's be honest. Our job as teams is to build the best racecar we possibly can. We want to build the most downforce, we want to build the most mechanical grip, we want to build the most horsepower. He who does that wins, period. That's how it works, right?
We have to try to do that on all levels. We need more horsepower, we need more downforce, we need more mechanical grip. We're going to do that to the best of our ability 100%. Once you do that, then you have all the other aspects of the race team you have to work on: pit crews, pit stops, so on and so forth.
We're not where we want to be from my standpoint. We have a good product, but I'm hoping come Chase time, we're going to be better.
Calling the race, honestly the way this race went by, don't take this lightly, but a fairly easy race to call because the stint was so long in between cautions that you knew you had to take four tires. If you didn't take four fires, you were going to be in trouble.
Where it gets hairy is when you do a couple runs, you get towards the end of the race, there's 25 cars on the lead lap because of the waveâ€'around, you get some guys maybe want to stay out. That's where it gets hairy.
Here this weekend, for this event today, it was not that difficult to call. The only thing you had to be cognizant of was what you were doing with your leftâ€'side tire pressures, your rightâ€'rear tire pressures. As a team, you needed to pay attention to that to make sure you didn't have a failure.
THE MODERATOR: Chad, thank you.
CHAD KNAUS: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by the winner of the Auto Club 400, Superman, Jimmie Johnson.
Jimmie, this is your sixth victory and 16th topâ€'10 finish in 22 races at Auto Club Speedway. Tell us about the closing laps.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, just a fun race. I mean, I love the rules package, how the car drives. When we come to a track like we have here, an old surface, it's so much fun to drive the racecar. So much the driver can control, setting up passes, looking for lines. Really just a ton of fun.
Started 19th and worked our way forward quickly. I really felt like midpoint of the race on, we were one of the top two or three cars. The longer the run went, the better we were.
Two stops from the end we pitted. The caution came out shortly after. I really felt like I could hold on and race for the lead if not maybe move back to second or third.
I dropped like a rock, was pretty bummed out at that point. Wasn't sure how the finish would go. Then Kyle had more unfortunate luck here with the tire. It set up that final caution and pit stop.
I don't know where I came in in the pits, but I know I came out way further forward than I did going in. My guys just crushed the pit stop. Had a great restart. Great driving car.
We weren't the best on the short runs in all the previous restarts, but that restart, those two laps, whatever Chad did with tire pressures and adjustments on that last stop, the car was incredible.
I got a great launch off the bottom of turn two. I was just praying I would hear 'clear' as I turned into turn three. Eventually I did. At that point I felt pretty good about bringing it home with just one more lap to go.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.
Q: Jimmie, how far can you go up the career wins list? You're 16 shy of Gordon now. Now that you've passed Dale Sr. will you look at that at all? How many more do you have in you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: There are a couple 'ifs' in there that are pretty big. If I can keep winning like this, how long I can do it.
I feel like physically and mentally I'm the best that I've ever been in my career. I'm in a great space and really enjoying going to the race shop, going to the racetrack, working with my team.
So I'm in the space I want to be in, which tells me it makes me want to stick around and do this for a lot of years.
There's no guarantees about when you're going to win and have success. I've been very, very fortunate to win 77 of these things, which blows my mind on its own. It's easy to look at trends and say we win X a year, but at some point that stops, that stops for everybody. I don't know when that point is for me. I certainly hope it's not soon. I would love to get to Jeff. But you never know.
It's know it's important for me to handle this with class, with respect, with honor for what I've done. The fact that I tied Dale with the win in Atlanta, where we are now, I know there's some more legends just ahead of me in the sport. I look forward to getting a chance to get up there and honor them as well and join them with the amount of wins.
Q: You said you had a hard time, you struggled. Do you feel the Superman concept was helpful to the whole team? They were celebrating so much. They really put so much into this race, especially in the last half.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's fun to have a paintâ€'out like this on the racecar. We had the Madagascar 3 movie, won with it, had these goofy wigs that we wore. Everybody was waiting for a chance to pull out a cape if we won here. So all the wins are special, but when you have props and a cause like this, it takes it to the next level.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Truthfully the experience with Warner Brothers has been incredible. Junior and I had a lot of fun through social, put some hype coming into this weekend.
One thing I have to point out, too, it was a fun program and certainly cool to sit here wearing the Superman cape, but Lowe's and their willingness to let this opportunity happen is something to speak of. The relationship we have with them, how great they've been over all the years.
Q: How special is this win, being from El Cajon?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's special. Very special. Many friends that I didn't expect to see here this weekend, didn't even know they were coming to the race, I ran into. Others we planned. It's my one time a year to really see them and hang out. I even ran into a cousin that I didn't know was going to be here until last night. She sent me a text. Fortunately, as I was going into driver intros, I ran into her.
It's great to be close to home. The West Coast has such a different vibe. I've been in the grind on the East Coast for a lot of years. There's just nothing like coming back to So Cal and chilling out.
Q: Early in the week you said you were going to kick Batman's butt. Do you feel like Superman with the dive into the team?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The dive was fun. I'm glad I backed it up. I talked a lot of trash this weekend. I'm glad I backed it up (smiling).
More than anything, I just wanted to beat the 88 so I had bragging rights over Junior all week. Then we won the race. So I think I got the upper hand on him for a little bit.
I don't expect it to last for long. I feel like the relationship we have with Warner Brothers and other opportunities that might come along, there will be another rivalry coming along. Junior will not lie down.
We're off next week. I'm in vacation mode already.
Q: When you line up for a short run like that, how much does the guy that's beside you or in front of you that you're racing, how much do you think about, This is Harvick, I'm expecting him to do this, or do you just focus on, This is what I'm going to do and I'm not worried about what they may or may not do?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, you really have to pay attention to who you're around and know their habits and traits. There was an earlier restart, I guess the one before, and I made a decision on which lane I chose by who was third and fourth and how aggressive they are on restarts.
Kevin and I had a restart earlier in the day. I was able to get to his bumper and give him a shot. I feel like that gave us the opportunity we had on that final restart.
I didn't expect to get inside of him and really have a shot at racing him for the win. My whole goal lining up was to clear the 22. I know that he's fast, he's good, he knows how to do these restarts, he's very aggressive for a couple laps.
So my biggest concern was just clearing the 22 and not losing speed down the backstretch. I was afraid if I didn't clear the 22, that outside lane would come and I would roll into turn three in fifth and have a really frustrating finish. When I heard, Clear the 22, my spirits picked up. I'm like, All right, cool, we're in good shape. I jumped on the gas, drove on up next to the 4, and I thought, Damn, we have a shot to win this.
There were two moments between the green flag and halfway down the back where I went from optimistic to jumping up and down inside the car and really having fun with my situation.
Q: Jimmie, can you tell me how this year's change in aerodynamics reduction has you driving differently than last year in the pack and all out.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: With the smaller rear spoiler on the car, it allows the air to change directions and get back down to the ground sooner. That's allowing us to get closer to the car in front of us. There's less turbulent air in the big packs when there's 10, 15 cars in front of you. The air kicks off the spoiler. Before with that massive spoiler, it just kept throwing it higher and higher. Now the air gets kicked up, but comes back down quicker and it allows us to run closer to one another.
When you take the downforce off the car, it's not stuck as well or as deep in the track. The car has a lot of movement and sliding. For me, with my background, I love that. I grew up racing on the dirt, and I love to slide around.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on the win. Thank you.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Sweet. Thank you.
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