KERRY THARP: We've got our race winning team for today's 19th annual Crown Royal presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachine Records, and our race winner is Jimmie Johnson, he drove the No. 48 Lowe's KOBALT Tools Chevrolet to victory lane for the fourth time here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He joins five other drivers having won here four times or more, the likes of Jeff Gordon, Al Unser, AJ Foyt, Rick Mears, and Michael Schumacher.
Only Jeff Gordon has won as many Brickyard races here as Jimmie, and this is a big win here for Jimmie, his 58th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory and his third of this year. Big deal there when it comes to Chase bonus points.
Jimmie, congratulations. Joined up there by team owner Rick Hendrick, crew chief Chad Knaus, and his lovely daughter Genevieve. Jimmie, congratulations. Just talk about I believe it was yesterday morning you were talking about how cool it would be to win a fourth title here, and just talk about that. You were so dominant here today.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Do you want me to be serious right now?
KERRY THARP: Do your best.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, man, it's a huge moment, and I really enjoyed the lap around in the race car. The fans were in the stands going nuts and cheering. The lap in the Camaro around the racetrack with the crew guys and my family and everybody, those moments really help soak it in. It's usually so busy after a race win, but what happens here and how you can actually soak in the moment and look around and realize that you're at the Brickyard and you've won is really special.
This fourth, I'm able to join racing legends, my heroes, people I've looked up to my entire life, so to join them is a huge, huge honor. I know how much it means to Rick, and thankful for all of his support and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports, and thankful to Chad and my guys.
I knew second or third lap yesterday on the track that we were going to have an awfully good chance at winning. That confidence that I had helped us through practice yesterday. There were a couple moments where maybe an adjustment didn't work and we lost a little pace, but I just had a feeling, and I just knew we were going to be fine.
We qualified well and then went out there today and put it on them, so solid performance.
KERRY THARP: Chad Knaus, just what a dominant race car out there today. The other guys that were in here, Kyle and Greg Biffle, said that there was just nothing they could do to catch the 48. Just talk about maybe how that all came about.
CHAD KNAUS: You know, honestly, this is the car that we raced in Dover, and ran really well there. So it was brand new in Dover, and we raced it there, and we thought we would bring it here hoping that we would get a similar result, and fortunately enough we did. The guys at Hendrick Motorsports really took a lot of effort and time and paid attention to the details in this race car, and as we know, in this industry details are what makes the difference, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and especially the 48 88 shop really honed in on the two cars that we brought here.
I think we saw that with the performance from the 88 car. They ran exceptionally well all weekend in practice. They didn't qualify as well as they wanted to, but they definitely raced very well, and with the 48 for sure. So it was a lot of fun, it was a good weekend. Like Jimmie said, yesterday with the compressed schedule that we've got here at Indianapolis with your two practice sessions on Saturday and qualifying on Saturday, if you don't come off the truck ready to go and fast, you're going to be behind the 8 ball, and it's difficult to get back on top of that mountain.
Jimmie had some rest, and the team had some rest, and we were ready to go and ready to attack, and it went really well, so I couldn't be prouder of what we were able to accomplish today.
KERRY THARP: Rick, certainly a big day for your organization, Jimmie's win here today, and also Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes over the points lead. Congratulations. Talk about the significance of Jimmie's fourth win and just what that means at such a historic racetrack.
RICK HENDRICK: I mean, every time you come here you know how important this place is, and everybody wants to win here because just the unique history of this place and how many legends in racing have raced here. So everybody puts a lot of effort into it.
Again, everybody wants to win, but Jimmie I talked to both of them last night, and Jimmie said it was the best car he'd ever had here, and I've seen him put on quite a show here before. But to have them all run this good today, Kasey got a bad stretch there but he drove back to, I think, 12th, to see them all finish that well and to see Dale take over the points. But I think the equipment is so equal today, but you've got to look at the talent Jimmie has and the talent Chad has and the pit crew and everything else, the feedback, the communications, I've never seen a guy that could drive a car as out of control and make it look in control as Jimmie can.
These two are phenomenal together, and I'm just glad I don't have to race against them.
Q. You guys talked about a lot of confidence yesterday and this morning. This is for Jimmie and Chad. Drivers and crew chiefs always like to say, well, you never know until you cross the finish line and take the checkered flag, et cetera. But as Kerry was saying, we've rarely heard a second and third place finisher express such hopelessness during the race as Kyle and Greg did. Kyle said Jimmie Johnson wasn't just in his own zip code, he was in his own country today. Biffle said it really was not an advantage to be in front of him because he was going to pass you anyway. So I guess what I'm asking you guys is did you feel as sure as they felt sure that they were going to lose?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, the way I saw it, the 11 had great pace at the start of the race. I couldn't get up there and challenge him at the start of the race. I don't know what happened to him. I didn't see him the rest of the day.
The 2 had great pace, even on older tires, because of the sequence deal. He held me off and Jeff off for a long time. I feel like I had pace on Jeff at the start of a run, but at the end of a run he'd kind of creep back up to us.
I didn't see the 18 all day or the 6, I just knew that the 2, the 48 and the 24 were gone, and then there was another group.
So at the end, I think our strength looked more than it was because the 24 and the 2 weren't around. I don't know what happened to the 24 track position wise, but I think if either one of those would have been up there with us and had track position at the end, we would have had one heck of a race on our hands.
Q. And also, as far as the season is concerned, if the Chase started tomorrow you're the top seeds, got all the momentum in the world. Every time you've won this race you've gone on to win a championship. Do you guys feel as back on top of this game in Cup as you sure appear right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I feel that from a performance standpoint, we're as strong as we've ever been. We've had issues late in a race that's cost us track position for a variety of reasons, and that's the part that we need to make sure is buttoned up before the Chase starts and carry that through the Chase.
But from a performance standpoint, these are amazing race cars. We've made a lot of progress through the off season and then getting started this year. I feel really good about the Chase. I'm ready for it to start.
Q. Chad, would you comment on the second part?
CHAD KNAUS: Yeah, I think that I feel as though that the product we're bringing to the racetrack right now is very competitive week in and week out, and once again, it's in the details. Jimmie does a fantastic job of driving the race cars. But he can't clearly do it without good pit stops and a good race car, and Jimmie communicating what it is that he needs in the race car, how comfortable he is in the car, much like what he did yesterday, he was able to say, look, the car is good, we may be a half a tenth off the pace, but the car is good, and him being able...
RICK HENDRICK: He told me it was three tenths.
CHAD KNAUS: Well, I may stretch the truth once in a while. But being able to understand where we're at and the level of communication that we've got right now is really good, and remember, he's awesome, there's no doubt about it, he's the best race car driver that we've got in the sport right now. But if we have poor pit stops, he can't get it done. If we have poor race cars, we can't get it done, and fortunately enough, everybody we've got at Hendrick Motorsports and everybody we've got in the 48 88 shops are doing their jobs, and we're able to go out there and put up some good numbers.
Q. Jimmie, I heard you tell a story earlier about how you kind of sat watching the Indy 500 with your dad and your grandfather. Can you kind of paint that picture for us? Were you thinking it would be cool to come here as a fan, and what's it like to be sitting where you are right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I've wanted to come to the race. I remember sitting in El Cajon, I remember being hot sitting at home I don't know if we had an air conditioner. I'm sure we did, but it wasn't on.
I remember it's the only race I would sit and watch in its entirety, and there are a lot of racing moments I remember watching, from Sullivan's spin and win to Sneva crashing before the race even started, trying to warm up the tires and spun and hit the inside wall. Lots of things like that I remember.
I also remember different points where I would take the couch and turn it at the wall and build a cushion a cushion tunnel or little thing to sit in and pretend I was a race car driver and watch the race.
Q. Was that last year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, that was last year actually. I guess it would be 2001 before I came into Cup.
So I do have those memories. I was young and just a huge fan of racing. In my household, my dad's dad was a big fan of AJ Foyt and of racing, and he's the one who owned the motorcycle shop where my dad worked and where I got my start from riding dirt bikes. I just grew up in a family full of race fans. I'm the first racer of the group, and it's amazing just from being a fan chasing autographs and standing on the fence holding on looking in, now I'm on the inside doing what I am on the track. It's been a wild experience.
Q. Jimmie, I heard you say on ESPN about how the communication between you and Junior and Chad and Stevie is as good as it's ever been in the shop. Given that they take the points lead today, you win this race and the last three times you've won it you've won the title, was today sort of a manifestation of that teamwork and stamping the 48 and 88 as maybe co favorites for the title? The championship right now is looking as if it's going to come through your building.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I'd kind of look further back and think around Darlington with the 200th win for our shop. I mean, the 88 and the 48 have been so close to a win, and that was the first win for us, and then things started rolling from there.
Clearly Junior's win was huge and put that stamp, that seal of approval on what they're doing in their minds. Stevie and Junior have really brought a lot to the table. I have to say, from Pocono to now, the stuff that Junior has liked in the car and what he's felt has opened up doors for us to pursue and a road for us to go down where we've made our stuff better.
There's a lot of confidence in our shop with both teams, and the communication is as good as it's ever been. I'm happy to see Steve as confident as he is and Junior both because we can really lean on them and pull from them, and it's a two way street.
That's something that's new this year, and I'm proud of both of them for where they're at and where our whole team is.
Q. Jimmie, did the bomb in the morning wake you up, and do you sleep any better when you know you have as good a car as you do, or do you sleep worse?
CHAD KNAUS: That thing was loud this morning, just so you know.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I thought the motor home next to me blew up. I was looking for a fire extinguisher to put out the fire. I guess getting up earlier than I wanted to let me prepare for the day and get ready. I understand the cannon and the history, and it's great history for the 500, and I guess it's been here for the 400, so I'm willing to...
CHAD KNAUS: Usually it's 7:00, though. I think typically it's at 7:00. I don't know why it was at 6:00.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: But the sound check for the stage that followed was unacceptable. I mean, why? It's ridiculous. That was the part I was most frustrated with.
Q. And you expressed that this morning?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yes, I did.
Q. And do you sleep better or worse the night before a race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: On big races I usually have a tough time sleeping, and last night, I had no issues. I think the way yesterday went and how good I felt about the car, it let me get a great night's sleep.
Q. I think you talked yesterday morning about how you became a Rick Mears fan and sort of how that whole process unfolded. What was the depth of that? Are we talking die cast, tee shirts, posters on the wall, chasing his autograph? And have you built a relationship with him through your victories here?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I really didn't. I was more the kid that stood at the fence and watched, and I don't believe I ever watched Rick race live. I think the biggest -- I went to Riverside in '85 or '86 and watched Cup cars with my dad, watched Rick run a Winston West car I think it was, where my dad was like, That guy in the Folgers car is the car owner for the other car. So I remember that.
And then another experience I remember is in Del Mar, they had an IMSA race, and Bobby Rahal was there and won and wore everybody out. When I was around the people I knew and looked up to, I'd just kind of stand and watch, more in awe. So I did that same thing with Rick, watching him over the years. My connection really to Rick was he gave me hope as a driver coming out of the off road ranks that I could race in IndyCar or go to the asphalt and race. His brother Roger Mears and Roger Jr. raced the off road trucks, and I watched them. My dad was working in the sport, so I was around, and then Casey and I there were only a few kids in the pits, and Casey and I were on our little BMX bikes riding around and hanging out, so I just gravitated toward the Mears gang. They were all great people, and I spent a little bit of time with Rick over the last few years. He's moved back to North Carolina now, and I probably hear more through Casey about how he's doing than really see him. I don't have a chance to see him often.
But I do remember watching television trying to watch him race, and I remember his fire out here on the front stretch. I remember a few of his wins.
It's cool to be here on this track doing the same thing.
Q. The restart where Keselowski and Regan Smith kind of got tangled up there on the front, were you ever in peril, and how did you get through there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we got up through the gears, I had a good run on the 2, and I was thinking about putting him three wide, but both cars, Regan was kind of doing a good job but pushed down Brad and didn't give me a chance to get in there, which was smart, and then he rallied around the outside of 1, and I thought he was going to clear the 2 car, which he kind of did off of turn 2. I thought, man, the outside is going to work well.
But Brad got loose in 2 because they were so close to one another, and Brad did a great job of saving it. His car rotated so fast, I thought he was going to come across in front of me. But before we went into 2, I could see how close they were, and I checked up just a little bit, and I'm glad that I did because it gave me time to get turned, and I think I was down on the apron and maybe got a little bit of the grass to avoid the 2 car as it was spinning around.
Fortunately I cleared the 78. He got slowed up. He was slowed up from the contact and all that went on, and I cleared him. But that was the closest moment I had all day.
Q. You've won 58 races. Have you had a car in any of those races as dominant as this was today or one that you felt was?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I've had a few, and if memory is serving me right, most times we didn't go to victory lane with them. It's just funny how that works out. You have the most dominant car, lead the most laps, and you run third or fourth, whatever it is. I think one of the most dominant cars I had in my career was at the Coke 600 my rookie year, and we led 300 laps of 320 or something. That one was that was a tough one to swallow.
But that was running through my mind, I have such a dominant car. You'd go from the racer's mentality of race and win to how do I avoid from messing this up. That's really how the last part of the race unfolded for me.
Q. Jimmie, watching you on TV when you were kissing the bricks and your daughter didn't want to do it, what was the problem?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't really think she knew what was going on, and then the asphalt is pretty hot, so she got her hands down on it, and I think that scared her. But she's a very cautious girl. She just maybe another few photos she would have warmed up to it, but she wasn't into it.
Q. We thought maybe she's three years old, and you and your wife kept saying you don't eat dirt.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we were joking about that, too. Here we are trying to keep her from doing things like that I think you mentioned it, Chad, that this is going against everything we're trying to teach her.
Q. Chad, I saw you write something on the bricks after you guys had kissed them. I wondered what you wrote on there, if that's something you'd done before, and also, Rick, if you could talk about what you saw in this guy when he was back in the Busch Series to give him a chance, and also he's probably far exceeded the expectations you had when you signed him.
CHAD KNAUS: I just signed them. I just put my autograph on there and put the 48 car and 2012. I know it'll be there for a year. I just signed them, signed the bricks.
RICK HENDRICK: I got a call from Herb Fishel when Jimmie was about 16, I guess. Herb Fishel was the head of racing for Chevrolet, and he said, we've got this guy in off road trucks I'd like to see have a shot, and I think I was involved with a late model car, and he came over and it wasn't a very good car, and he drove it. And I saw him pop up, I think, in the Busch Series, and Jeff Gordon was with me and my son Ricky at Darlington, and we were parked pretty close to him, and he was on top of the board or second on the board, so we thought, we'll go over and ask Jimmie about how to get around this place, Jeff and Ricky did, and I was with them, and Jimmie said, well, this is the first time I've ever seen the place.
And so we've just had a relationship since he was 16 years old, and I've waited for him and bought him burgers when...
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You have.
RICK HENDRICK: I went to St. Louis when Ricky was racing, and the alternator went out on the fifth lap, and I had to wait four hours for Jimmie Johnson and buy him food and haul him around the plane, so the night he asked me what he should do for his future, I said, I think I've got your future figured out, buddy. (Laughter.)
Q. Jimmie and Rick, and Jimmie, I want an honest answer. With Dale Jr. taking over the points lead, you've now got, as somebody said earlier, the two probably favorites for winning the championship. Would you honestly rather have the only shot out of your shop and have everything focused on your car, or would you truly want to have the competition be with the 88 team?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, if both cars are in the hunt, it doesn't impact what goes on with the 48 team. I mean, the way the tools that Rick gives us, the way our shops are set up, if one, none, four, it doesn't matter, and it's great that I've been in that position before with Jeff, and not in the same shop necessarily but with the 5 car with Mark. It's great. What it does specially for our company, it far exceeds any type of competitive spirit that exists, and from a technical standpoint, we all go to the racetrack with the same equipment. No one gets favorites. There isn't any favorites. We all have the same equipment.
RICK HENDRICK: The first time I had to deal with that, I think, was back when Terry and Jeff were battling, and I think Terry won. Because we didn't work together as close back in those days as we do today. Looking back now at years when we ran one, two, three in the points a couple years ago, I think as a whole our organization is the best -- you can't look at the scoreboard with Jeff this year and say, this is one of the best years Jeff has ever had, but he's been in a position to win. I think he's led like the third most laps, something like that, and Kasey is coming on strong. I'm really proud of the 48 and 88, where they are right now, but I think I don't think you can count Kasey out.
And these guys are sharing so much information, and I'm beyond that nervousness trying to get the teams together and say, look, what got us here is working together and sharing information. I think by having those two cars where they are in the points will make us give us a better shot. I don't think a lot of organizations it tears them down when they have that kind of competition. I think it makes us stronger. But I think we all have bought in. We live by it and we die by it, and we've been there since 1994.
So I think that gives us a better opportunity to win the championship.
Q. First Rick, this is eight wins for you here at Indianapolis. Have you been here for each of them?
RICK HENDRICK: I think so, yeah.
Q. When we come here in May with IndyCar, Ganassi and Penske seem to come to this track with a certain swagger. It seems like you guys have that now. Why do you have that?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I hope we have that same swagger everywhere we go. I mean, that's what we try to do. We don't put any more effort in you can't put any more effort in than we do here, but I'll tell you, when you start believing that you've got it figured out is when you'll get your butt handed to you because so many times when we've been dominant at a place, something happens at the very end, and that's what I was concerned about today.
I think the competition here in this sport is really tough, but we've lived through this. We've seen him dominate Dover and come back, and we were two or three tenths off.
You know, I think his driving style fits this place. Jeff is always good here. Dale runs good here and Kasey runs good here. I think our combinations work real well here, but again, like these guys said, the 2, the 18, a lot of fast cars out there today, and track position is important.
But I think we don't look at Indianapolis as let's just put all our effort into Indianapolis because they all pay the same points. Although, you know, you want to win these special events, but to win a championship you've got to be good everywhere. And I think I heard Chad talking to Jimmie, I'm telling Jimmie he's got to go ring the victory bell at work, and Chad says you've got to go test, he says, so I don't know what I am going to get to do.
Every track is important, but I don't think we do run well here, and we've been able to win eight of these things. But when we come back next year, it's going to be a brand new ballgame.
Q. Jimmie and Chad, right now if the Chase were to start today, you and Brad and Tony would be tied for the lead. What lessons have you learned from last year's Chase to apply to this year's Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, the Chase last year wasn't the strong part of the season for us, and I feel like the product we're taking to the track this year is far superior to what we had then. So I feel like our shortcomings of last year are corrected right now, and that's why I want the Chase to start immediately, so we don't have time to be caught or lose our magic.
It's tough to stay on top consistently week in and week out and for a long stretch of time. A 10 race stretch is just long enough to have some magic and watch it leave. You watch Tony and what he did last year and the magic he pulled through.
When I look at it, I feel that we're going to be stronger than we were last year, and then last year's Chase with it being a tie and coming down to a tiebreaker, every single point is going to count, and you need to win races. We've always known that, but last year was more evident of that than ever.
Q. Jimmie, talk about today in summary. What made it happen for you today?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, we had a great race car for sure. That's the obvious part. But I think track position was really key in maintaining it. The strong qualifying effort and then the car was comfortable on restarts, and I was able to make quick work of guys and get by a lot of cars fast, and then our pit stops. Maybe I mentioned that. But pit road was key, to not have any issues on pit road.
Q. Chad, when I think of Indianapolis and what translates to it, Dover is not the first track to comes to mind. What was it about that car that made you think it would work here, and are we to the point with this car where if it's good at one track it's going to be good at all tracks?
CHAD KNAUS: Honestly, we took the car to the wind tunnel before it went to the race in Dover, Delaware, and it posted some pretty decent numbers. Obviously there's been a lot of rule changes since we raced in Dover, and we won there, obviously. I think the 24 car had the best car in Dover, but they had some issues and we were able to pull out the victory.
And we just said, you know, that's a good car. The timing is right. We had about a month and a half, two months to kind of work on the car and just kind of get it prepped and ready to go. We worked on it some and cleaned it up. The guys at Hendrick Motorsports really do a good job of paying attention to details, and that's making sure the bolt lengths are right, making sure that you've got the weight out of the car as best you can, doing everything you can to get the center of gravity low, doing all that kind of stuff. So we said, OK, we're just going to take a little bit of time, put this car to the side for a couple of weeks, and as we have guys that have an opportunity, we're going to focus on it.
You know, it turned out to be a really good product. It's not head and shoulders better than our other cars, but it's a good car. It's just a good, solid car. And Jimmie will attest to it; if you've got a car that you can go out there and drive and drive consistent laps and fast consistent laps and not be out of control, you're going to go faster for the long haul, and that's really what we focused on with this race car.
Q. You guys have been together as a team with Rick Hendrick now for a very long time, longer than most crew chiefs and driver and team combinations in this sport. What is it that's kept you at Hendrick all this time, because I know you've had offers to go other places. What sort of offers have you turned down in order to stay at Hendrick Motorsports and stay together?
CHAD KNAUS: I'll be honest with you, if you're asking me directly, I know what we've got at Hendrick Motorsports, and I can tell you right now, I can't go anywhere else and beat what we've got at Hendrick Motorsports because I know what everybody else has. We've got the best owner. I mean, he's fantastic clearly, but we...
RICK HENDRICK: Do you want me to leave the room while he answers that question?
CHAD KNAUS: We've got the best equipment, and I think that we react quicker, faster, better than everybody else. We've got the best drivers.
To kind of bounce back on what we were talking about just a moment ago, the best season that we had as far as I'm concerned at Hendrick Motorsports was when we won 16 races out of the 24 48 shop a couple of years ago and finished one two in the points, and we're working toward that again out of the 48 88 building. We pushed one another when we were coupled with Jeff Gordon and Steve Letarte, we won a bunch of races. Right now we're with Steve Letarte and Dale Jr. and we're running up front, they're leading points. We've won a couple of races. We're fourth in points I presume.
You can't have a successful environment unless you have somebody that's pushing each other, and you don't always get that when you go someplace else, so there's no reason to even consider going anywhere else.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: One fun part to add, there's been bumps in the road and we're like family, and this man has done more counseling, not only with our situation but throughout all the 500 plus employees at Hendrick and driver crew chief combinations. He has a degree in people skills or something, psychiatry. And then his automotive group and the challenges and business there, he's the glue that keeps HAG together and keeps Motorsports together, and we all want to be there and work for him because of who he is.
CHAD KNAUS: The funnest thing is, honestly, we all want to make him happy, because he's a joy to work for.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations again to the 48 team, Jimmie, Chad and Rick. Congratulations.