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Jimmie Johnson and Chas Knaus, Hendrick Motorsport - Q&A

4 November 2013

Jimmie Johnson blew away the competition at Texas Motor Speedway and made it look as though his anointing with a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship is just a formality. That's not the case, Johnson insisted as he discussed Sunday's race and its consequences with the media, accompanied by the crew chief of the winning #48 car Chad Knaus.

Q:
We're joined by the winner of tonight's AAA Texas 500, Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet. You become the first driver to win consecutive fall events at the Texas Motor Speedway and are now tied with Carl Edwards for the most Sprint Cup series at TMS with three; for the fourth time in your career you scored a perfect 150 driver rating, led a race high 255 laps, and more importantly, you now have a seven-point lead going into the final two races in the season. Talk about just the dominating performance you had tonight?

Jimmie Johnson:
That was a great, great race car. We're really buttoned up, which is the cool thing. We came here and tested. After two days we really honed in on the balance of the car and comfort of the car. We felt really strong about things, but at the same time we're here testing, as are all of our competitors were as well. So it was tough to leave here overly excited because your competition is here getting better and getting data and all of that as well.

So we came back and just kept our blinders on and focused on our team, our race car and got the thing pretty dang awesome.

There were a couple moments in the race where we had to work on the car from a balance standpoint. There was one cycle of pit stops that came out fourth or fifth and had to drive back through those guys. Just got the lead from Brad before the caution came out, so there were a couple of tense moments in there. But when you have a dominant car, it is so stressful because you're just waiting for that thing that can get you, whatever it is. So it was nice to keep a - Chad said it once on the radio, just keep a positive mindset here, and things are going to work out. We did that. We stayed focused and got the job done.

Q:
We also have winning crew chief Chad Knaus. Chad, you all tested after Talladega here. Talk about how pivotal that test was in tonight's performance.

Chad Knaus:
I'm trying to figure out this hat. It's supposed to be - I don't even know how it's supposed to be. It was a great test. It was difficult for sure. NASCAR allowed us four tests per organisation to do, and you've got to take all of your teammates there. So when we first came out here after Charlotte, unfortunately, it rained, and we had to make a pretty difficult decision for everybody to go back to Charlotte before Talladega. Get our Talladega stuff prepared, go to Talladega and race, and then come back out here the next week.

I think it was very beneficial for us. We were able to really kind of break down what the race car was doing. Jimmie was able to go out there and kind of explore a little bit and find the nuances of the racetrack in kind of a more calm environment. I think it paid huge dividends for us from a lot of different levels, and it was good.

Eddie had to be patient with us as we were trying to get him to put the Jet Dryers out there the day that it was raining, and pretty much jet fuelled up, and he did the best to allow us to stay, but we had to come back a week later. It was difficult.

Q:
Chad, we had during this race a couple of troubles with other drivers, including with tyres. When you saw that, did you modify or change your strategy for Jimmie's race? And question number two: During the test earlier, did you figure out that maybe the tyres would be a critical factor?

Chad Knaus:
Yeah, well, we were here testing a couple weeks ago. We did realize there was a tyre issue. But that's not so unlike the norm. We have seen that in the past here, especially until the racetrack starts to get some rubber built up on to it that we do see tyre wear. We saw that while we were here testing. We really focused on the longer runs. 15, 20 lap runs here at the test to make sure we'd get the tyres to last as long as what we needed. Not so much worrying about the short run speed and the three, four, five laps.

Fortunately enough, what we were able to get from that is we were able to understand how to make the race car go fast at 20 laps, keep the tyres on it, and that actually translated back into a fast race car in the short run as well. So it definitely was difficult to go through all of that. And we didn't really have to change our strategy too much. We were very fortunate that as we were going through that, we knew there were going to be tyre problems. The key is to not be the first one with the tyre issue, and fortunately enough, we weren't.

Q:
What out-of-the-ordinary repairs did you have to make after yesterday's final practice, if any?

Chad Knaus:
We didn't make a whole lot of changes. We felt like we had a pretty good understanding of what the racetrack was going to do based on what we saw last fall, based on what we saw in the spring with the new GEN-6 race car, and obviously taking into consideration what we saw during the test. We didn't have to do a whole lot. We made small modifications to the race car. And, man, I was really pleasantly pleased right out of the box. Jimmie was able to go out there and pass the #99 car with relative ease just a couple laps into the race. So we hit it pretty close.

Q:
When you guys win a race like this and you're battling somebody head-to-head, this doesn't shatter their confidence, but it's a pretty big blow. Do you think this will put some extra pressure on Matt and his team going to Phoenix and going to Homestead when you have this kind of dominance over them here at Texas?

Jimmie Johnson:
I don't know. I'd like it to, but I don't. At this point of the season if you're in contention, you've got more pressure than you ever wanted to you. It's just there. So I don't know if this puts anymore. They were able to get some points on us last week. We got some on them this week, so I'm not sure.

But I know where we are and where our team is and our focus and how good of a test we had in Homestead, and we're very excited to get out to Phoenix and go racing again.

Q:
Chad, same question?

Chad Knaus:
Yeah, you know, I don't know. That's going to be interesting to see. I think Matt's the strongest player on that team. I think he's the glue that holds that thing together, so we'll just have to see what happens. I feel if we stay focused on what we've got to do, then we'll let the chips fall where they may.

Q:
You when you all came here to practice, I was here the one day and it looked like you were doing everything that any of the other teams were attempting to do. Do you try to physically hide is the wrong word, but, nevertheless, hide what you're finding? How much did the fact that Kenseth blew a tyre on the second day of that test, how much did that help you get to where you needed to be?

Chad Knaus:
I wouldn't say that we hid a whole lot. We came here with a plan and our plan was to try to understand this racetrack a little bit better. Try to know what we needed to do when we came back and what adjustments would yield a good result.

I know if I was the #20, and I came here and on my last day of testing I blew a right front tyre, I'd be nervous as hell coming back to a racetrack. So that had to have been looming over them. Quite honestly, based on what I saw at Homestead, they're probably pretty nervous about that same thing happening there. But we just came here and just did our thing. I think that's pretty classic #48. We worry about us and just kind of let everything else go the way it should.

Q:
The slow pit stop that left you fifth on that cycle, was there any worry that losing your track position would cost you or that you wouldn't be able to rally from that even with a good car?

Jimmie Johnson:
Yeah, I knew we were going to lose some time. I thought if I had a big enough lead I'd be all right and still come out first or second. But I guess those guys pitted laps before we did and made up more time on track than what we lost on pit road, and that became more evident to me as I was getting through them pretty quick.

So I got to second pretty quick, and just as I got by Brad, the caution came out, so that was a challenging point in the race for me. And it was nice to have it because I realised how good of a car we had and got a little experience passing some cars and got an idea if we did lose track position, the adjustment we needed to make.

Q:
Jimmie and Chad, a year ago you left here up seven. I'm curious do you feel any better about this year or worse about this year on how you're doing and also considering Kenseth and the competition?

Jimmie Johnson:
Yeah, I mean, we learn lessons each and every year. I know when I go to Phoenix the balance of the car and what I had felt last year led to a blown right front tyre. So we'll show up there and make sure that from my standpoint and what I feel and what Chad sees with tyre pressures and temps and the overall balance of the car that we don't overwork that right front tyre.

I feel better about Phoenix, honestly, than I did last year leaving here. Then last year we did not test Homestead and we just came back from Homestead, and that test went really well. So I'm optimistic. I feel good. But, man, it's so weird because I've been in position before where I've had these amazing sensations and feelings that a championship was going to happen, and we were able to do it for those five years in a row.

There were other years where I had those feelings, and it didn't happen. I think 2004, we had everything going our way it seemed like, and it didn't happen. Last year was another good example of us taking control late in the Chase, and then that ended with two bad races.

I guess the lesson in all of that is I'm not counting on anything, and I have to go to Phoenix and race, same as Homestead. It does simplify things a little bit. I'm not going to get too excited about things during the course of the week. I'm going to work real hard and train my butt off. Stay in this little world that I've been living in for the last five or six months, but more so the last eight weeks, and show up ready to go these next two weeks.

Q:
Do you feel any different being seven points ahead this year compared to last year based on how you're doing? And the fact that you're facing this with a guy who has won the title before?

Chad Knaus:
No, I don't think there is a big difference. I think you guys have seen it time and time again. We really focus on what it is we need to do. We can all say that Phoenix was the culprit last year why we didn't win the championship. The fact of the matter is we had a mechanical problem at Homestead that took us out of it. If we had won Phoenix and went to Homestead and still had a mechanical problem, we'd have lost the championship.

So I'm looking forward to it. I really am. I think we were in great shape last year. I think we're in as good or maybe just a pinch better shape this year, though I do feel the opponent is a little more formidable than what we had last year. So I'm excited. I really am.

I love this time of year. This is what we live for. This is what we want to do. We want to go out there and do everything we can to try to win Phoenix.

Q:
Following up on that, Rick said that you guys were both really fired up after Phoenix last year. That set maybe the tone for even this year to some extent. I guess, what were those emotions like after that race last year? Did you feel like you solved whatever caused you to run outside the Top Five with that second you had back in the spring? Do you feel like you guys are back to form with that track?

Jimmie Johnson:
Yeah, I feel much better about Phoenix this year than last going into it. I kind of lost my thought. What was the first part of your question?

Q:
It seemed like it got you guys fired up after that weekend.

Jimmie Johnson:
Yeah, there definitely was a feeling of it slipping away. I'm trying to recall the exact emotions at the time. I mean, frustrated that we blew a right front, and then rolling into Homestead, we didn't have anything to lose. We had everything to gain. That was a fun way to race down there. We found ourselves with an awesome car, awesome strategy and leading the race, then we had mechanical issues. I think we had a pit stop issue too right before that that started the downward spiral.

But there was a range of emotions, for sure. I mean, pretty disappointed leaving Phoenix to have that slip away like that and lose a big chunk of points. Rolling into Homestead, eager and ready and trying to put as much pressure on the #2 as we could. Man, we were close. We had all the pressure on them and in position, and made some mistakes.

Q:
Chad, you just mentioned a moment ago about feeling like this year's opponent Matt is a little more formidable than last year's. Why so? Can you explain that comment, please?

Chad Knaus:
I think Matt just from his personality standpoint is a little more controlled. He's a little more mature. He's been in the sport for a long time. I think he's just a little more even keel, so that makes him a little more challenging to get off kilter, off rocker, so we'll have to see how it shakes outcome Phoenix.

Q:
Yesterday during the Nationwide race, do you stop and watch the race?

Jimmie Johnson:
No, I was -

Q:
What did do you?

Jimmie Johnson:
I was in Dallas. My wife and two kids were at a great friend's house up in Dallas. So once we had our debrief, I hopped in the car and drove up there and played in the little jump house with my daughter and my God children, and tried to teach my daughter how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. She didn't hit the ground, but it didn't go very well. Luckily I caught her.

I went to Mi Casina and got some Mexican food. I was jealous of everybody else having some of those mumbo taxi margarita things that I wish that I could have. I could have one tonight, but I couldn't have one last night. So that was it. I was pretty calm.

Q:
So the training wheels worked for the most part. What would you give her, a grade A through C?

Jimmie Johnson:
Yeah, she needs a little more time with the training wheels. At three, she's not quite there yet, but we had fun for sure.

Q:
Chad, what about you? Do you stay and watch the race to see problems like the tyre issue and things like that?

Chad Knaus:
I try to study as much as I possibly can. I spent some time on pit road and walked up and down pit road a little bit. Watched what some of the other teams were going through and what was happening. I don't analyse it a whole lot because the strategy is so different.

I'm not very good at Nationwide racing, So I don't really understand what they do. But they did have the same tyre; it was the same racetrack, so I was able to get an idea of what was happening with the tyre wear. But that was really all I paid any attention to.

Q:
Johnson, Gordon, it's basically over for him. He's 69 points out now. Finishes 38th, I think. What's it feel like when you're in a situation like he is where he wins last weekend, feels like he's got a Hail Mary chance to win a championship, then you show up here pretty confident. I think Rick said he felt really good after the test you guys had, and then it goes out the door like that with a blown tyre?

Jimmie Johnson:
I haven't had a chance to catch up with him yet, but I can only imagine the disappointment. To be off to a slow start through the year and to rally and showed great speed at different times, and then the whole Richmond thing. He thinks he's out and then he's in. As he said, playing with house money. Things were really going his way. Wins last weekend, so I would assume that it's just been a steady build-up of confidence and anticipation for a shot at a championship, and then, boom, it's gone.

So I would imagine pretty disappointed, for sure. I'll definitely reach out to him and check on him.

Transcript courtesy NASCAR. FastScripts by ASAP Sports.


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