Q: Usually in the old style of restrictor plate racing, there would be a harrowing moment or defining moment when you knew a guy was going to win or somebody had a dominant car leading into the weekend. It seemed like this weekend with the eradication of tandem drafting, everything in practice was limited. Today the racing seemed so different. Did you have a defining moment over the last week, or a time when you knew you could win this race, from 10 days ago to now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The rules package has the cars so close that it is tough to tell, even inside the racecars on the track. After the Duel, Chad and I debriefed. I told him we didn't have much speed. He said, "Man, from what I saw, you looked as good as anyone if not better." I couldn't tell.
Throughout the week, what I looked for was cars that could hang on to the draft. If they're the last car in line, didn't lose the draft, that was a fast car. That was one of the only indications I could consistently say was key. We found ourselves in that position a lot and never lost the draft.
For me, the defining moment in the race was the caution coming out and the 48 being ahead of the 2. That gave me lane choice and really control of the race in the closing laps.
Q: Maybe I'm reaching on this, but there at the end of the race you're lining up against Brad. You lose the championship to him last year. Any extra motivation to go and get the 500 and beat him? Also, after going two years without winning a championship, to start a year with a Daytona 500 victory, are you able to stick it to everybody and say, "Hey, I'm back!"?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I don't think we went anywhere [with] anybody in the garage area – they're wise to all that. We had great pace last year, championship form, had two bad races at the end.
You know, I'm just enjoying this moment. This is a one-of-a-kind race. In the rush that follows, the notoriety that follows, it's great for all of us. Chad, Rick, the company, Lowe's, Chevrolet. It's just time to sit back and enjoy.
When we pull into the gates at Phoenix next weekend, it's a totally different game as we all know. We'll enjoy this rush. If there's some down points through the year, we'll look back on this race and smile again.
As far as racing with Brad out there, you really lose sight of who is in what car. It's just somebody between you and the trophy. It could have been anybody. I knew the 2 had damage and wasn't going to be really fast. That's the only thing I thought about regarding the 2, was he had some damage and hopefully I could get by him with the clean racecar I had.
Q: You just said you were aware the 2 had front end damage. It seemed like it took you a long time to get by him. Were you just sort of biding your time or were you surprised he was as fast as he was with that nose so torn up?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I was desperately wanting to get by him or in the inside lane. There were far more cars lined up on the outside lane than the inside. It was just so hard to make up time on the bottom because there were fewer cars. I was hanging on side drafting, doing all I could to hang onto the 2 when I was close to him and the 16. The caution truthfully fell at a good time for us. Right when we surged ahead, that allowed me to get ahead for the driver's choice for which lane he wanted.
Q: Seemed like you were laying low for half the race. Was that the way things went?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I ran second to fifth all day, really. But you had such a small opportunity of time to get something done, you had a restart, and that would shuffle around for three laps, then we're all in line. Coming to pit road, Chad's strategy on when we pitted, the guys, what they did on pit road, was great. We always got the lead as the result of one.
Once that single file, it would be foolish to pull out. You get back in line in 35th or something, so you just kind of hold your spot.
Q: I know it's awfully early, but the last time a new racecar was introduced in '07, Hendrick and you were strong right away. I look at this and I wonder are you maybe a little bit ahead of the rest? Is this a sign or is it too early to say that maybe you have something?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It is a little early yet. Once we get a downforce race or two behind us, we'll have a better understanding. I have confidence because I know how hard Chad works, I know the tools and commitment that Rick has and gives us, how hard everybody works at our shop. We've had great test sessions.
Again, we felt like we had a shot at this race, but we're really excited for the races to come. But it is a little early. Maybe after Vegas, Bristol, we can see which team has the upper hand.
Q: What does it mean to you that so many of your competitors come into Victory Lane to congratulate you in a moment like that? What does it mean to you to spend those types of moments with your family?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It means a lot. I mean, that hits me deep. We race against one another, do some awful things to each other out on the track as competitors. But it's the ultimate nod for another guy to come in, if he's a Hendrick driver or not.
Brad came by, Ryan came by, [Casey] Mears came by, Gordon, Junior, Kahne. It's really cool. It means a lot to me. I'm one of the few racers out there that's concerned about friendships and relationships. I have a lot of friends out there on that track and I'm proud of that.
I'm also proud to have my family here. [Wife] Chani and [daughter] Evie mean the world to me. Chani has been by my side and supporting me and letting me focus on my job and do all that I need to to be a part of this race team.
I win, our family wins. To have that moment in Victory Lane is very special, too.
Q: After hearing all about the Gen-6 car, how it was going to do this, that and the other thing, for much of the day it was just single file, parade style until the very end. Is this race so different that this car eventually will be very good at other places and may not be good here, or are we expecting too much?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I think the cars are sensitive to side drafting, and that is some of what we saw. When we're running single file, we're just trying to get to the finish. We've all crashed so many times and have torn up so much stuff that a lot of that falls on the driver's shoulders.
I feel for NASCAR – they're trying to create a very competitive car. They want side-by-side [racing]. The fans want side-by-side. There's a few guys willing to race. The spotters were all talking. I'd get word that three or four guys wanted to jump out of line, they were tired of riding. I thought they better get some friends.
I believe a lot of the competitors just wanted to get to that last pit stop and race for it.
CHAD KNAUS (crew chief): On that point, I'd like to add, there were a lot of stories going on other than the racing on the track. Racing is more than side-by-side and crashing. If you go back and look, there were different pit strategies, ways guys took the lead on pit road, two-tire or four-tire strategy. The racing was pretty good if you go back and look at the nuts and bolts of it. Just because you're not running side-by-side doesn't mean it's a bad race.
Q: How difficult it is to do what you guys do out there, is it particularly hard to win here at Daytona? If so, why?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, it's about as tough as it gets here. The draft and the way you race here and at Talladega is much different than anywhere else. It takes vehicles around you to create opportunities to pass. You can't do it alone. So it's far different than any other racing we do.
When you put us here at the biggest race, the Daytona 500, everybody brings their A game. It's the most difficult race to win.
Q: Can you put this in some kind of historical perspective? Winning in your 400th career start, you joined a great list of people that have done that, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Richard Pearson, Dale Earnhardt. What does that mean to you having accomplished that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I had no clue about that. Just to hear those names and my name in that sentence is pretty awesome. The history side is hard for me because, one, I don't know these stats. Happy to hear about them, though. I'm still in the sport competing, not in that mental space to reflect back all that much.
I am so proud to be in that same category with those guys, feel I have a lot of years left. I certainly hope to make more history and do other cool things within the sport. It's a huge honor. There's no other way to put it. Any time you're mentioned with those greats, it's a huge honor.
Q: Switching to a new car, how long does it take you to discover the setups that you think are going to work? Some people mentioned it's a lot like it was eight to 10 years ago. Are you finding any numbers that you have useful to this year?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: We never stop learning. Something's always evolving and changing. Just when you think whatever mindset has become extinct, whatever setup is never going to be in a racecar again, a guy finds a way to make it work once again. We see this happen all the time.
This car is introducing some very old-school thought, tools to be used on the racecar. So nothing's really ever gone. It always seems to find its way back into the sport. We'll learn all year and even past that.