Q and A with Hendrick, Knaus and Johnson

Jimmie Johnson

KERRY THARP: We're going to hear now from our winning owner of today's 46th annual Quicken Loans 400 here at Michigan International Speedway, winning for the first time, the No. 48 team in the Lowe's Kobalt Tools Chevrolet here at Michigan, but it's the third win of the season. Certainly right now that looms big as the season continues to unfold. Rick, congratulations. This is your fifth straight win in the Sprint Cup Series, the third time that has happened in your organization's history. You did that twice in 2007, and that time you also had a streak of six straight wins back in 2007. Congratulations. Maybe just talk about this win today and just about how the overall organization is performing.

RICK HENDRICK: Well, this is a great win for a lot of reasons. One for here in Michigan for Chevrolet, and being a Chevrolet dealer and racing Chevrolets, this means a lot to win this race. It's good to see Jimmie after leading so many laps here close the deal because we've run out of gas, broke motors, blown tires. I think I remember a couple times coming off of 4 and losing it. For him to be able to finish it off today, it was really good.

And again, to keep the streak going, get five, that's great. This was a good race, and it just played out the way we needed it to play out, and all our cars ran well, and I think we were a little off early in the year, and we've been kind of clicking here lately, and real proud of all the guys at the Motorsports because of working hard together, and Kasey had a good day, and just a tribute to Chad and all the crew chiefs and drivers working hard, working together, the engine shop, chassis shop. Everybody is really putting out a lot of effort right now, and it's paying off.

KERRY THARP: And our winning crew chief is Chad Knaus. Chad, certainly it was a good race. It featured a little bit of everything, and certainly the role that the entire team played today was big. I think it just showed again today how big of a team sport this is but certainly 48 once again made the right calls and things came your way, and now you've got five straight wins in the Hendrick camp and then three wins for Jimmie Johnson. That leads all Chase drivers, so just talk about the significance of today's win.

CHAD KNAUS: That's pretty cool stats you've got there, Kerry. Thanks.

Today was just great. My allergies are kicking in right now so I'm struggling a little bit. But it was a long time coming. Obviously we enjoy coming up here to Michigan, and we've raced very well up here, and we haven't been able to close the deal on quite a few occasions, so coming in here very optimistic after what we did at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the way the company ran at Pocono, as well, so we felt like we had an opportunity. We qualified solid.

The Kobalt Chevrolet this weekend was really, really fast. Same race car that we had at Charlotte Motor Speedway so that was a good decision on our part to get that joker turned around and brought to the track. The guys had solid pit stops today, good strategy. We knew there was going to be some opportunities to play some strategy today. We also knew that if you had a fast race car you could maybe overcome strategy that maybe somebody else would play. So we were fortunate enough to have a very fast race car and hit the strategy correct at the right time, and obviously put it all together for a solid win.

And as far as Hendrick Motorsports goes, I think if you go back and look starting at Daytona, the engine shop and the chassis shop, the way that the Hendrick Motorsports affiliated teams and team itself has performed has been pretty impressive as a whole. The chassis shop, we know we build chassis for a lot of the other competitors, as well, and those cars have ran very, very well. The teams that have run with our engines have run very, very well, as well. It's been pretty awesome, and I couldn't be prouder of the guys in the 48/88 shop to be able to win four races in a row. I think that speaks volumes about how well both of our race cars are running out of that one team, out of that one building. The fact of the matter is I think we've got to be a little bit better. Last week we were a whisker away from losing that one. This weekend maybe we were one pit call away from not winning this one. We've got to continue to improve our product so by the time we get to the Chase we're where we need to be.

Q. Chad, you talked about having strategies. How many different game plans do you have to come into a race with so that if something happens, you're like, okay, if it's fuel mileage, we do this. If somebody short pits or

CHAD KNAUS: It's tough. That's why I have Rick stand on my box.

RICK HENDRICK: I told him in victory lane, I could never be a crew chief. Never. I admitted that as soon as you got to victory lane. I said, I could never do that.

CHAD KNAUS: It's tough. It really is tough. We work really hard to try to understand and follow what's going on. Last weekend we were only just a little bit away from being able to pull off last weekend. We did that last pit stop, we came out ahead of the 2 and the 88, and if I hadn't messed up last weekend and torn up our race car we probably would have had a shot to win there, as well. It's really hard and you've really got to pay attention. It ends up being how much are you willing to dedicate to your time, and watching film, paying attention, watching what other teams do leading up to the event, and that's one thing that Dave Elenz, my lead engineer, and myself, we pride ourselves on paying attention to what happens leading up to an event. So coming into it we feel like we've got a good idea what we need to do when situations arise. It doesn't always pan out, trust me, but we try really hard. How's that?

Q. Chad, with what you guys have been able to do the last seven, eight years, the expectations for your team being so high, I know everybody kept a cool hand before Jimmie's first win this season, but when the 48 is not winning, is it pressure on you? Is it miserable? Like you said, I know you keep a poker hand, but behind the scenes I've got to think the expectation is almost win every week or somebody did something wrong.

CHAD KNAUS: That is the expectation, obviously. We go to the racetrack every week with the hopes and the intent of winning the race and sitting on the pole and leading the most laps and doing everything we possibly can. The reality is that's very difficult to achieve, so when we don't run well, I can be grumpy I would say from time to time. But that's the way it is. The expectation is for us to go out there and perform on a weekly basis as the best team out there, and that's my expectation, and it's the expectation of all the fans and especially all you media guys because if we falter for two weeks we're washed up and we're all getting fired and everything is going crazy. So if we don't do that, that's the only way to keep you guys quiet.

But it's been a great year, and we started off a little bit slow. We said coming into it that we thought it was going to be May time before we were able to hit our stride, and I think that May showed up and we started to run a little bit better, and I hope that we can continue to improve.

KERRY THARP: We're joined now by our race winner, and that is Jimmie Johnson. He drives the No. 48 Lowe's Kobalt Tools Chevrolet. Happy Father's Day.


Q. Congratulations on your first win here at Michigan, your third win of the season, and I like how we displayed that on your nameplate with the three wins.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That was quick.

KERRY THARP: We like to work quick in NASCAR. Jimmie, just talk about the significance of today's win. Certainly as I mentioned earlier, five straight wins now for Hendrick Motorsports, but your third win of the season. We've still got several to go here before we set the Chase field, so just talk about now how your team is really starting to kick into gear.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'm just thrilled on multiple levels. The success that we've had as a team, kind of hitting our stride and getting to victory lane three times in the last four weeks, our teammates and their success, the company, and you look at our engines in our cars and what they're able to do, Rick gives us all the tools to go out there and do our jobs and to have everything so fast and so good, you want it to last forever. We know that it won't, but it's just a good time to sit back and reflect and enjoy it.

Excited about all those pieces, plus winning on Father's Day, having my family here, having the boss here. He wasn't here at the last race win that we had, so it's fun to see his face in victory lane, for Chevrolet to win in their own backyard. We need to switch that stat where that other brand wins too much here and we need to get the bowtie more victories here. Just a lot of things to be happy for.

Q. This question is for Jimmie: When you were going through those final laps, did you have any flashbacks at all of some of the shortcomings you've had here or did you focus just on this race, and how did Chad motivate you?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, we had a good lead, so it allowed me to take care of my stuff. When I heard 10 to go, and I've been there before with the lead. I heard 5 to go, I've been there before, didn't win. Taken the white with the lead and didn't make it back. So I was really I wasn't taking anything for granted on that final trip around, and about 200 yards before the finish line I knew if the car exploded I'd still slide across the finish line and it didn't matter. That's finally when I relaxed and let it go.

Q. Just for Jimmie, I guess it's 69 wins, but when you hear first time winner Jimmie Johnson anywhere, does it still lighten your mood or make you happy? When was the last time you were a first time winner at a racetrack? Can you remember that?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: That's a good question. Maybe Bristol a couple years ago. I can't believe I won to start with. I don't know what Rick saw in me or Jeff back in 2001 when they put me in that car, and believe me, when I won my first race, I was like, I thought I had these guys snowed and they've given me a year to go out and race. They did see something. It is very cool to hear it, and believe me, even at 69 wins, I still cherish them all. It is not easy to win in this sport, and just thankful for the opportunity. I've been with Rick and with Chad and Lowe's, you look at that whole synergy of that, we've all been together through this entire ride of the 48, and it's special each time we win.

Q. Rick, I know you've had conversations with these two guys before when things weren't going as well as you'd hoped, but when things are going really well, do you just completely take a hands off approach and let those guys do what they do? Do you have any conversations with them at all?

RICK HENDRICK: No, not really. I mean, if they need me, I'm there to help them, and they use all the tools that are in the toolbox, but I have nothing not a whole lot I can add, other than just each department doing everything they can do. I sit in their Tuesday meetings and listen to the feedback from the drivers and the crew chiefs and the engineers, the motor shop and all, and it's just got to be a crisis for me to get involved.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: He's the fireman. He just puts out fires.

Q. Jimmie, inside NASCAR everybody knows about the crew chiefs and the crews. Maybe in the general public that's not the case. 35 laps to go and on the green, you're in the lead, and the crew chief says this is the time to do it. Can you just talk about the faith you have in him and the call he made there, taking four tires at that point?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, I could tell in his voice that he was setting up for something. I could sense what it was. When he pulled me to pit lane and the gap that I had over the second spot at that time, I knew that four would be the call. You may as well put four on if you've got time for it. He made that call and got out on the track, and then again, just going off the tone of his voice and what he was asking me to do with the car, and he kept asking me to save my tires in case there was a caution. I knew we were good on fuel. So that gave me a lot of optimism. And then honestly, once we had our four tires on and fuel in our car, if the caution came out, I still think we were golden. We had enough to go the distance whereas everybody else was short. Chad saw an opportunity and really let that develop and took great advantage of it. I'm sure there was some risk at a small window of time in there, but it really was a win win.

Q. Jimmie, when Brad was in here, he said that he felt like Penske had a little bit of an edge on the aero side but that Hendrick's edge right now in engines is like a full season ahead of where everybody else is. Can you size up where you are compared to the competition, and is Penske the primary threat outside the walls of Penske and SHR right now?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not smart enough to tell you whether it's aero or motor. I just know our cars are fast. They run good. It's hard to say. The cars are all pretty equal aero wise with what the rules are from NASCAR. But I'm not good enough to pick it out and tell you that we've got people beat in just one area. It's a team effort. Our engine shop is very strong. We've always known that. But it's hard for me to say exactly where it is.

Q. Is Penske still looking like maybe the threat outside of

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, gosh, you look on Fridays and how much speed they have and you can argue a couple points. Maybe they've got great power and able to execute in qualifying trim. I don't know. They seem to have short term speed, like big short term speed, and we're slowly working our way that direction. But I'd say the car that seems to be the best car off the truck to when the checkered falls is still the 4 car, week in and week out.

Q. I asked Chad a similar question earlier about expectations. When you've won as much as you've won, I've got to believe it gets more difficult when you don't win. How do you prevent that from eating away at you, and how have you been able to overcome what we've seen so many other teams fall victim to when there's expectations?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Honestly I think what's working for us is the amount of time we have together. We've lost races together. We've lost championships together. And certainly we've had success. But 69 wins and six championships out of 13 years of racing is a pretty small percentage. Some of the losses you have are you got what you could that day and you went on, but a lot of those losses in there sting, and I think experience through those moments make us stronger and better. Everybody knows about 2005 and the milk and cookies meeting that Rick had with us. I think from that moment on, we were able to be more comfortable, oddly enough, in our own skin, and as a part of team 48. Nobody is going anywhere. We're in this thing together, and we are team 48.

Falling back on that is really what I tell myself, and it helps us through whatever the stretch might be.

KERRY THARP: Congratulations to the No. 48 team for the win here today, and continued best wishes to the 48 team and Hendrick Motorsports the remainder of this season.

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