Jimmie Johnson talks through his victory in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.
Q: Tell us about your race:
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, obviously the weekend we would dream of, were able to get it with winning the pole, leading the most laps and winning the race.
It was a challenging weekend, to say the least. The tire that Goodyear brought back, it's the same as it was in the spring. It blackened up the track in a hurry, but really made the track challenging after 30 or 40 laps. The rubber would build up on the track and create handling issues for the racecar that you couldn't tune to. The car would act different and do different things when you ran over the black patches.
I had to fall back on my dirt racing background. I think that helped me out some. I had a great car. Everybody did their jobs today. Very pleased with the effort. Came at a good time, clearly. We got eight to go and we'll see where things go from here.
Q: Chad, your thoughts from on top of the box?
CHAD KNAUS: It was definitely a good day for us, obviously. We really had our hands full this weekend. We came in qualifying trim. As we unloaded, the car wasn't reacting the way we actually anticipated it. We had to make some pretty significant changes to the racecar. When it came time to qualify, we actually had to put a setup underneath the car that Jimmie had not felt yet. He had to trust in us, and thankfully he did, to go in there and bomb it for qualifying. It stuck.
Being able to qualify on the pole is obviously huge here because track position is critical along with your pit selection. Race practice, we weren't where we needed to be then either. We really had to work hard on the car going into Happy Hour. Got in much better in Happy Hour. Made some big changes over the course of the evening to get even better yet.
Honestly, just like what Jimmie said, we could adjust the car, make the car do some different things, but we really couldn't make the car better. The difference today was definitely in the driver.
Q: Jimmie, when AJ Allmendinger got out in front early on, did you think you had a fight on your hands or that you had the car to overtake him down the road?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I feel like coming into this weekend he was in the back of my mind as one of the guys to worry about. He certainly did a great job in qualifying and in the race. In the spring race here, he was chasing us a bunch in that race, putting a lot of pressure on us.
With the momentum that team has had, the confidence he is getting in his abilities in a stock car, he's a real threat and was a real threat today. It looked like they had some tire issues, potentially, or something was going on when he pitted from the lead, put us in the lead, gave us control of the race at that point.
Early in the race, I just had to push my car way too hard to run that pace. I don't know if the pace led to the problems he had, but it was past experience for me here. I knew I'd run the tires off the car and have a problem if I went that hard.
We played it smart. He wasn't a Chase guy, so I didn't feel good about letting him go. But when he got to me and put pressure on me, I let him by. I just needed to worry about those 11 other drivers and really about myself. Way too early to worry about stuff. Come the end of the race, he wasn't there to have to fight with.
Q: Chad, I saw you looking just so directly at the 11 car on Saturday. You looked at all the drama that was going on next to you. It was like you had already taken those two guys out of the Chase; now it's just us against nine guys. How do you get the mental mindset going in and moving forward, stick with your game plan?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We were watching them because it was entertaining. Who wasn't watching (laughter)?
CHAD KNAUS: Honestly, I didn't know anything was happening. I had seen some stuff happening on the racetrack. As we pulled onto the track, I told Jimmie, "Watch that 29." I was trying to get him to look into his mirror so he could see the action. Obviously, he didn't, so he missed all the on-track stuff.
Once we got into the garage, I didn't really know anything about it. Jimmie and I had been talking for probably a good solid two or three minutes, hadn't even realized there was any type of altercation in the garage between the two guys. Jimmie was, "Hey, those two guys are about to fight." I was like, "Wow." At that point, I kind of looked up to see what was going on.
But quite frankly, we didn't waste a whole lot of time being spectators at that point. We put our heads down, got to work on what we needed to do to work on our racecar.
We've been through all of that stuff. You go back to 2005. We had a bit of a match with the 20 car. We've had on-track problems with other people. We've lived all that stuff. We've had suspensions, fines, all that kind of stuff. Everything that's possible to be done in the sport from a negative and a positive, we've, unfortunately, been involved in. We don't really pay a lot of attention to what goes on outside of our four walls. We worry about our racecar, our toolbox, try to make it right.
Q: Jimmie, if you could expound on that a little bit, too. Do you find it humorous? Do you feel those guys were giving themselves self-inflicted distractions you don't need in the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, like Chad had mentioned, I didn't see what went on on the track. When I got out of the car for the change we were making, I think round two of their discussions started up. That's what we saw.
It's an emotional sport. Guys have all different points of view. You have two very competitive drivers with different points of view. It turned into what it did.
I haven't thought much about it. The reason I don't want to think much about it is I need to worry about my racecar and my team. I want to expect the best out of those two race teams and not think, "Well, they're occupied with each other, they're not going to be as strong." That would be a mistake on my part. I need to look at the 11 like it's the 11, the 29 like it's the 29, regardless of the feud or whatever could exist in the future. I wouldn't be doing my job then.
So, we've done a very good job over the last four years worrying about ourselves and we've got to maintain that.
Q: Jimmie and Chad, I think you tried to make the point Friday that you actually didn't run that badly last week, but circumstances produced a bad finish. Everybody looks at the final outcome. Given how your team has performed these past two weeks, is this how you hoped you would start the Chase as far as on-track performance?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think so. The short run at New Hampshire was really our weak spot. That showed in qualifying, trying to get one fast lap, and on the short runs after restarts, just couldn't get going. Today we were much more competitive. Maybe not where we wanted to be on the short run, but much more competitive than New Hampshire.
Qualifying went well. Our goal was to come in and qualify well. It starts the ball in motion. It starts kind of the trend for the team, just the arc of what the team is going to deal with. If you qualify badly, you're in such a hole from pit road pick to what takes place on track, it's stuff to overcome.
We met our goals this weekend, moved up a lot today. I think today shows you, I saw the 11 finish ninth and we're only 35 out. We look at 80, 90 points, whatever it is, and think it's a lot. It really isn't. I mean, you finish 10th or 15th, you lose 60, 70 points. There's eight races left, and the points can shake up a lot. I think it's going to be as exciting a Chase as everyone is hoping for.
Q: The first hundred laps of the race y'all were pretty good, then the sun came out. Looked like you were really good. Did that play into your plan? You were just happy it came out and it worked out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I don't really ever remember the sun being out. Maybe I forgot about those hundred laps (laughter).
Our car didn't change a lot. We made very, very small changes in the racecar throughout the day today. Throughout the sun and cloud situation, our car stayed within a very, very small amount on adjustments. It was more about me over the course of the long run doing the right things with my line selection on track to keep speed in the car than anything.
Q: Jimmie, coming into the Chase this year, four-time defending champion, it seemed like after the first race a lot of people were counting you out. Is this a statement victory for you as early as it is in the Chase?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not so concerned with statements. At the end of the day, I'm just concerned about where I am in the points, what the deficit is. If we're fortunate to get on top, how big that gap is, what we need to do to be champions. A lot of that other stuff, if it's in your brain, you're not thinking about the right thing.
For me, what people want to read into, what they want to think about today's performance, that's fine. We're moving on. We have to go to Kansas and do the job again. There's eight races left in this thing. We want to win this championship. We want to win five in a row. It's within our race shop. These guys on the 48 team, we need to buckle down, get better in some areas. Today we did win, but we need to be stronger moving forward. We got to go home and get better.
Q: You mentioned in Victory Lane, I know it doesn't look like I'm emotional now. You seem almost matter of fact, that this was business. Am I getting this wrong? Didn't seem to have that overflow of emotion.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, I don't know how to describe it. We want to win this championship. And, yes, today was a big victory, hopefully a step toward the championship. But it's not the prize we want.
Today we got maximum points. I am very proud of that internally. But it's not time to celebrate. If we take this week off and take it lightly, not prepare like we need to for Kansas, we'll get beat. We can't get beat. We've got to win races and keep this momentum going.
At the end of the year, if we're fortunate to win the championship, I'll be the guy with the biggest smile, be the guy who's hung over more than anyone come Monday morning. It's just right now it's time to buckle down and time to be working on stuff.
Q: Jimmie, you've won three out of your last four starts at Dover, six out of 18. I'm sure you don't want to share it, but what's your secret?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's just a good track for me. It was no surprise to see the 18 coming up toward the front at the end. I know this is a great track for him, too. There's a certain rhythm to this racetrack that works. The 43 has figured it out and knows that rhythm now. The 31, he's always been decent here, but he's really figuring this place out, the rhythm it takes.
Even though it is a big track, you wouldn't think rhythm. There is a very unique rhythm to driving this track. It's just suited my style since I've been in a car. I go back to when I ran my first race here in ASA in '98, won the pole, led most laps. Unfortunately, blew a tire late in the race. Always, always loved this track.
Q: Jimmie, just curious as to why you chose to do the burnout at the end of pit road instead of the front stretch like you usually do.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The front straightaway is so banked you can't really do a good doughnut. With my guys being at the end of the pit road, I was first going to come down and nose the car into the wall, do a burnout in front of them. That angle is so steep, I thought, I'll damage the car. That's all we need to hear about next week, how the 48 nosed it in, did damage to the car. I didn't want to deal with that.
I saw a flat area by my pit box. Was just doing doughnuts and saying "Hey" to my boys as I was doing doughnuts spinning out. I was more than anything looking for a good flat spot to do a good burnout.
Q: Can you say what you've learned as far as the Chase in the first two races or do you not learn anything until the mile-and-a-half's?
CHAD KNAUS: I feel good about it. If you go back and look at our performance in Chicago, we qualified respectable. We led a good portion of that race. I think if you go back and you look at how we ran at Charlotte Motor Speedway, we ran very competitive there. We basically took ourselves out of both of those races.
I think leading into that with Kansas being very similar to Chicago, looking forward to it. I think the performance we had in Atlanta was definitely a direction that you can see where we're headed toward going into Charlotte Motor Speedway, Homestead, and definitely Fontana, we're always excited to go there. We obviously won there in the spring.
I think our big-track stuff is pretty close. We're excited about it. We know we're never as good as what we want to be. We're definitely going to be continuing to work on it, trying to improve our product, but I'm looking forward to it, definitely.
Q: Jimmie, the fact that Kyle Busch took the lead for a little bit and faded, the fact you didn't have to fight him to the finish, was that a relief to you or did you feel he was in the Chase with you, would you have pushed your car for the victory?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, definitely would push for the victory. Anytime you see Kyle, no matter what series you're in, if he's coming, if you're up front and that 18 is there, you've got your hands full. There's no way around it. The guy can drive a racecar. Love him or hate him, he can get the job done and I have a lot of respect for what he can do in a racecar.
I wasn't taking it lightly when I knew he was in second, then the restart when he was in the lead, trying to run him back down. I had to do everything I could to get back by him. He's a lot smarter this year. He's going down there at the end of this thing fighting for it.
Q: Chad led into what I was going to ask. Maybe you can expound on it. How good you feel with these coming races. You've won 30 percent of the Chase races, 19 of the 62 since this format. Can you talk about your confidence level. 30 percent is quite a percentage.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we're kind of taken aback by it, as well. We've had slow summers in the past. We had a slow summer this year. We've at least been able to get into the Chase. We sit back and shake our heads about the success the team has late in the season.
The tracks in the schedule kind of work for us. Even though the tracks work for us, I think the pressure that comes with the championship battle is something that we embrace. I mean, it's not a comfortable 10 weeks. You lose a lot of sleep. There's a lot of frustrating moments. But for whatever reason, it's a good pressure for us and we do well.
Proud of the last four years. Proud of where we are today. Regardless of where we end up, I know this 48 team is all in and we're going to give it a 100 percent. We'll be proud of wherever we finish at the end of the year. Q:
We all know that staying on top in sports is one of the toughest things. You've done it for four years. How do you keep the team motivated? How do you do this?
CHAD KNAUS: Basically, I think a lot of it has to do with simply making sure you get the right people on the team. Jimmie is very easily self-motivated, obviously with some prodding from me, goes a long ways, and vice versa. Jimmie and I, I think we do a good job of keeping each other in check on a consistent basis.
From the foundation of the team, we work hard making sure we have guys who work at Hendrick Motorsports and within the 48 team who are kind of self-motivators, guys who, when there is a mistake or flaw, they take it upon themselves to try to improve, correct whatever misfortune you may have had. When you have guys who basically want to go out there and do the best they can, try to win every single race, motivation just kind of comes and you don't have to try to fish for it or try to instill it in people.
We work hard to make sure we have the right people on the team. I think we do. We're not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I can promise you, if something goes wrong, something falls short of what their goal is, there's nobody who feels worse than what that individual does. To try to motivate from that point is unnecessary when you've got guys like that.