Monday, June 10, 2013

Jimmie Johnson wins at Pocono

JUNE 9, 2013

Chevrolet grabs four of top five positions

LONG POND, PA. (June 9, 2013) – Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS, scored his third win of the season and third win at Pocono Raceway in dominating fashion today.   Johnson closed the deal by leading 128 of the 160 laps in the race, and was untouchable while cruising to his 63rd career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) victory.   He extended his overall lead in the series to 51 points over second place with his ninth top-10 finish of the season.

Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS, finished third in today’s event and moved up two spots in the standings to fourth.   This was Earnhardt’s fourth top-five finish of the season and his 10th career top-10 finish at Pocono.   

Last week’s race winner, Tony Stewart, posted a solid fourth-place finish in his No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS and moved up another three spots in the standings to 13th.  His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Ryan Newman, also had a good run in today’s event and came away with his second top-five finish in fifth in the No. 39 HAAS Automation Chevrolet SS.  

Kurt Busch started 20th, but drove to the front and stayed in the hunt all day long before finishing seventh in his No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet SS.  Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Rheem Chevrolet, scored his sixth top-10 finish of the season with a ninth-place finish, putting six Team Chevy drivers in the Top-10.  Busch moved up two positions to 15th in the standings while Harvick maintained his fifth-place point position.

Greg Biffle (Ford) was second to round out the top-five finishing order.

Next stop on the circuit will be Round 15 at Michigan International Speedway Sunday, June 17th at 1:00 pm ET on TNT, Sirius/XM Channel 90, MRN Radio and


THE MODERATOR:  We'll get started with our post‑race press conference for today's Party in the Poconos 400 here at Pocono Raceway.  We'll get started with Chad Knaus, crew chief for the No. 48 Lowe's Kobalt Tools Chevrolet.  Talk about that exciting race out there today.

            CHAD KNAUS:  That was a lot of fun.  I really love this racetrack.  It's always been one of my favorites.  When you come up here you have to have so many elements to have a successful race.  You've got to have a race car that'll handle, you've got to have a race car that's good aerodynamically, great horsepower, great drive train, so many cool things have to come into play, good fuel mileage, good pit stops.  When we showed up here on Friday we realized we had a very fast race car and that was nice.  When you have a fast car that obviously makes the rest of the race a little bit easier.  It was a great race.  Everybody has been working really hard at Hendrick Motorsports, and I really couldn't really be prouder.  Jimmie did a fantastic job today.  His car control today was second to none.
            THE MODERATOR:  You guys led 128 laps which is a career high for you here at Pocono.  This is your third win here, first since 2004.  Talk about your strategy today.
            CHAD KNAUS:  Yeah, we really wanted to try to maintain track position.  I think we saw that a lot.  The 39 car played that a little bit.  The 2 car was attempting to get some of that going, as well, and in traffic you could run about a second slower than what you do with the leaders, so we wanted to try to stay up towards the front.  We had to work that pretty heavily with the tire strategy and the fuel strategy, but that's pretty consistent is what we've had up here.  Everybody understands that game, and it was a lot of fun.  Actually there was some solid racing, some good passing and a lot of fun.

            Q.  Steve Letarte said you came here with a similar concept.  How alike were the 48 and the 88 today?
            CHAD KNAUS:  As the weekend progressed they definitely merged closer to one another.  When we got here there was some differences, but then as practice went and the evolution of looking at all of our teammates' notes we were able to kind of pull some good from everybody and apply that to the 48 and I know the 88 did the same.  That's another thing I want to say is from the 48 and 88 shop we've been working really hard to try to get our race cars better, and I think this is a good venue to try to show how good your race cars are, and for everybody at the 48 and 88 shop I think they did a fantastic job prepping these cars coming into this weekend.

            Q.  Chad, your sense of how Jimmie's mindset was this week, it was a disappointed ‑‑ sometimes when a guy has something he feels should have went to him, taken away from him, there's an extra sense of motivation.  Did you see a different demeanor, different intensity level from him this week?
            CHAD KNAUS:  I don't really think so.  It would have been very easy to come in here with a chip on your shoulder or a grudge, and Jimmie is not that kind of guy.  For any of you who know Jimmie, he doesn't carry a grudge.  He is a very laid back ‑‑ the pinnacle Californian, and he just lets it go and come and go as it pleases.  We knew what we needed to do and that's what we focus on.  The one thing I feel we do really good as a team is we don't focus too much on what happened yesterday or last week.  We always try to keep eyes forward, and I think that gives us always a little bit clearer view.  Sometimes it's pretty easy to get clouded.
            My allergies are killing me up here from all that rain.  I don't know if you guys are having the same problem.

            Q.  Chad, you said this is a good venue to show how good your race cars are.  Last year the 48 and 88 did really well here.  Are you bringing this car to Indianapolis, as well?
            CHAD KNAUS:  Oh, geez, I don't know.  This is actually the race car that we won with at Indianapolis last year, I think.  I'm pretty sure it is.  So I don't know exactly ‑‑ I don't know yet.  I've got to get home and look at it.  We've had such a busy season trying to get cars built, trying to get our inventory up to where we can kind of begin to pick and choose where we want to take race cars.  For the first third of the season, we really haven't had the luxury of saying, oh, this is a good race car, we want to take it here, and I don't think anybody in the garage has.  I think everybody in the garage is trying to get the Gen‑6 cars produced and manufactured.  You just kind of take to the race track what you have, and that's kind of the way that we've been.  We've been very fortunate that a lot of our race cars have been very, very solid, so when I get home, I won't be home this week, when I get home next week I'll be able to sit back, relax and kind of see what we've got for inventory.

            Q.  Does it feel like last year a little bit?
            CHAD KNAUS:  I think so.  I think Stevie and Dale are doing a really good job.  Their communication level has just soared over the last couple years, and I'm very proud of what it is that they do and how they communicate.  They've got an amazing amount of respect for each other, and they believe in each other, and that's something that's very hard to find in the garage.  When things go bad, a lot of teams, the driver will point fingers at the crew chief, the crew chief will point fingers at the drivers or the pit crew or mechanics or however it goes, and they don't do that.  If they have a good week, they all celebrate it.  If they have a bad week, they don't point fingers.  They just say, well, we've got to get better.  I think they are in a great spot.  Jimmie and I are in a really good spot.  Jimmie is switched on right now.  He's as good or better than I've ever seen him.

            THE MODERATOR:  We are now joined by our race winner Jimmie Johnson driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, your third win of 2013.  You extended your points lead today to 51 over Carl Edwards, so talk a little bit about your dominance out there today.
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Awesome.  I knew we stretched it.  I didn't know it would be that much, so that's great.  My selfish motivation for that, if Chani goes into labor early, I don't have to worry about Richmond, honestly.  That is what I'm working so hard for.  I always work hard anyway, but it sure takes some pressure off if we lock early and don't have to worry about Richmond.
            But great race car, clearly.  I mean, that car had a ton of speed in it, and not only the car but I think our engine really had a chance to shine today, and the configuration here and the fact that we're able to shift, our engine shop works really hard to make that power, and today it showed, and then at times when we needed to conserve fuel we could get that done, as well.  I felt like it was a very well‑rounded weekend for us clearly with speed, that speed, you need power, and then when we needed to back it down and save some fuel we could do that, too.

            Q.  I'm curious, Chad won't cop to the fact that that car is coming back somewhere in the near future.  Is that a car you'd like to see in several venues coming forward?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I think the Brickyard would be a nice place to take it.  We know things transfer from here to there.  But years ago I lost touch with the cars that we took to the track.  I used to have favorites, but things changed so much now, even though NASCAR has worked very hard to make the chassis the same and the bodies the same, we're now splitting hairs and making small revisions to cars and improving them that I don't know what car I am climbing in anymore, and that's a testament to Chad and my guys because I just show up and pull in tight and go.
            It's nice to have that confidence in my team and in my cars.

            Q.  Chad, did you get the gas tank full on that last pit stop or was there some talk that maybe you guys hadn't?  And also, obviously, Jimmie is looking at points.  Are you looking at how many points your are ahead of Carl and the field right now.
            CHAD KNAUS:  No, we had it full.  It was full.  We just know that Jimmie isn't very good at saving fuel and the facts are the facts.  The reason is because Jimmie drives so fast and he's on the throttle so much which translates into a great lap time.  So the reason that we were backing him down was just to make sure we were where we needed to be.  When we took that ‑‑ when we made that last pit stop, we were a lap and a half to two laps shy of being able to finish the event, so we wanted to make sure we saved, the cautions clearly helped, but we felt like that where we were at Jimmie could actually save enough from that point and get us to the end of the event.
            As far as points go, it's always important.  We've got some very tricky racetracks coming up, we've got road courses, we've got Michigan, we've got ‑‑ which is very hard for us for some reason, and we want to make sure that we get as many points accumulated as we possibly can so that if Chani does have a problem around Richmond time, we can all relax a little bit and make sure everything is okay.
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  And just to add to the points, even if there's a big gap between points positions, and I think you guys work hard and look at stats of who has gained the most points in the last 10 races and things like that, it's something we pay close attention to, as well, so if we're protecting a big lead but we're running 10th to 15th each week, if I look at the last two weeks as an example, we didn't finish where we should.  Other guys are, other guys are top threes, top 5s, and we pay close attention to that, and right now I think the 20 and I think Brad is starting to heat up a little bit, I think that the 99 is showing some strength, those are the guys that I've got a close eye on right now and just trying to make sure we're putting points on them.  If we're doing that we're doing our job, even though the gap might change and look more dramatic at the top right now, we've got to keep a good eye on the past five races, past 10 races to be sure we're the ones earning the most points.

            Q.  Jimmie, for a mellow guy like you, that was a hell of a burnout at the end.  Was there a little extra message or juice there today?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  No, I wasn't sure how much smoke there was.  The gear ratios are much different here, and normally I can get into second gear and get the tires spinning pretty quick and give a great smoke show, and second gear is so tall I couldn't pull it.  I wasn't sure my burnout was that good.  I'm glad to hear it still was good, and I went to a donut at the end, because in the mirror it didn't look very smokey to me, and I thought, man, I don't want to give a lame burnout.  So I went into some donuts, and that was pretty fun.

            Q.  Chad touched upon this earlier, but how honest did the 88 keep you on a couple of those final restarts, and do you sense any growing strength within that team over there?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Oh, yeah.  I mean, they ran great all day long.  Restarts are so tough, and around here if you can get the clean air on a short run, especially with the series of cautions we had, it would be tough to pass him.  But even with having a dominant car, I didn't want to be in that position of running second and have to worry about getting by somebody.  I learned a lot on the two restarts where I was on the outside of the 39, and that helped me a lot going into those final three with Junior on the outside of me.

            Q.  Do you sense that team growing and growing?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I do.  They grow stronger and stronger each week, and I know there's a bright light on those guys and what they do week in and week out.  They're strong, and they elevate their teammates, as well.  They're great teammates, they help us out.  We certainly do all we can to help them out and help them grow and get stronger.  But they're clicking.  They're doing a great job.

            Q.  You say you guys do a good job of not looking in the past, yet human nature what it being, it still had you guys come to the track with a little extra incentive after last week, and Jimmie, when you go through a week of adversity you guys always seem to rise to the occasion that following week.
            CHAD KNAUS:  I'd really love to say that I can play into that drama, but we're so busy and we've got so much going on that Monday at 12:00 that's gone, whether it's win, lose, draw, whatever happens.  Monday, tomorrow at 12:00 I've got to hop on an airplane and go somewhere else.  I will not think about Pocono again until we start to come back here in three or four weeks, whatever it is.  We cannot afford to linger on any emotions or any thoughts.  It's tough to do, it really is, but you've got to force yourself to move on, and that's why I could never write a book, because I don't remember what happened.
            It's going to be ‑‑ that's just the way that we roll.
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I mean, there was a little lingering for me.  I wanted to prove a point and show everybody really what could happen in that restart zone than what happened to me last week, but I couldn't do it to a teammate.  I just couldn't.  So I guess if things stay the way they do, I'll save that for another day and prove my point even more.  Outside of that, it does not change how we approach the weekend and how we attack and go, and honestly when you get on the track ‑‑ for me it might linger a little longer for a driver because we're not involved as much ‑‑ Chad is clearly day‑to‑day, but once the timing and scoring goes hot in the practice session, everything that happened during the week or the week before is gone, and you're just focused on the present.

            Q.  When Jeff Gordon won in August last year here, he said, you know, you don't always know when your next one is going to be, and that's certainly different from his perspective than where you all are.  You're dominant right now.  Does it still feel like a win to savor, or no matter how many you have behind you, the one that you're in, is it still as fresh to get a win?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Yeah, I'm not going to lie, over time things change a little, but Jeff is absolutely right, and there are no guarantees we'll win again, there really aren't.  So the sport moves so fast, and from being on the road, we're just ‑‑ we pick up our circus and head home and dust it off and reload and head right back out.  That part prevents us all from savoring, from enjoying different aspects of the sport.  At the end of the year we get a nice off‑season, if you're the champ or had a great year and met expectations, you can really savor it then, but if it's not into an off week or that's your only other opportunity, you get two of those now a year, to savor longer than normal, things just move really fast in our sport.
            But Jeff is absolutely right; you don't know when you're going to win again.  There are no guarantees.

            Q.  128 laps is about as dominating as you can get here.  When did you realize that you had this kind of car?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  Well, yesterday in practice I knew we had a lot of speed in a very comfortable car that I could lean on at times, and it wouldn't step out on me, and I could produce a lap time.  Yesterday's conditions were far different than today's, so we slept well.  We knew that some minor changes were all we needed to start the race.  I'd say second or third pit stop we really nailed the setup.  It's not like we were very far off to start with because we were leading, but we dialed it in and got it right for the conditions at hand and made it happen.

            Q.  Jimmie, last year you finished fourth hear and that kicked off this run that ended at Indy with the win where I think you were sixth or better in seven straight races or something like that.  Chad just said he's never seen you more switched on.  Is there something about this time of year?
            CHAD KNAUS:  You guys are blowing this up.  This car might not be going to Indy.
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  You know what my vote is.  (Laughter.)
            Yeah, I mean, I feel like we have some clarity right now in what the car likes and what it wants, and really that's the only thing that we as a team go by and really any team does.  There are a lot of times when you work on your stuff and you test and you race and you build some theories, and that's all we do week in and week out as to why the car is tight or why it's loose.  Sometimes your theories play out and you're smart and you're here in victory lane and other times they don't.  I feel like we have a clearer vision now of what the car wants, what this Gen‑6 car wants and we're getting smarter and smarter with it, and that leads into stretches where you can click off the wins and the finishes.
            Excited to have some clarity right now.  I think we understand that our package, regardless if it's a short track or big track and even superspeedway, we've been awfully good there, too, so we have clarity right now, and as long as we can keep it, we'll be in good shape.

            Q.  Everybody said that you were just killing it in Turn 3, and that's where ‑‑ that was like your secret weapon because nobody could catch you there.  What was your secret getting through Turn 3?
            JIMMIE JOHNSON:  I knew I was faster there.  I'm not sure what or why, but I could yard guys real good through Turn 3.  In years past I've learned a line and a rhythm to that corner that's been useful.  A lot of available grip with the fresh repave, and I think it's kind of come my way coming back to the old way of the way Turn 3 used to work for me, and that's the way I drove it today.  Just got to be smart with it.  But I think our car was rolling all three corners pretty good.  In fuel‑saving mode, I could get a nice gap off of 3 and manage my fuel the rest of the way around the track and guys would kind of inch back up to me and then blister 3 again and get my gap and they'd slowly catch up due to fuel savings.
            THE MODERATOR:  Congratulations, guys.  Thanks a lot.


THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by our third‑place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet, fighting for the win there at the end on that last restart.  Take us through what happened there, Dale.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  We knew we had a good car.  The last restarts were kind of tough.  Being on the inside on the front row, really ain't the catbird seat.  The guys behind you can get good runs on you and put you three wide, and I was just really more in defense mode there.  If I had a shot at Jimmie, by the time we got to 1, that was a bonus.  They could get around outside pretty good, Greg got in there and got around us.  The outside was pretty nice in 1 and 2 on restarts.

We had a great car, National Guard Chevrolet was really fast all weekend, and Jimmie beat us bad through Turn 3.  If he was stronger, that's where I thought he was stronger than the field.  We actually gained a little bit back through 1 and 2, but he was just flying through Turn 3 and down the front straightaway, and if you're going to be good here, that's where you've got to be good.

We'll go back and try to work on our stuff, try to get a little bit better and come back in a month or so and see what we can do.

But pretty happy with the way we ran, happy for Chase Elliott yesterday getting the win.  That was exciting for him.  I know he's got a great future with HMS and just looking forward to next week going to the Michigan track.  We run pretty good there, so hoping to have a good summer.

Q.  First off, did you feel the bump from Kenseth on pit road and did that do anything to you, and how big a deal is just having a good run considering you've been not running there the last few weeks?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  You know, I didn't ‑‑ he was a little hot getting onto pit road, which is easy to do.  Most of us have got a brake lever in the car and put it forward coming in on to pit road to get in the box and all that stuff, because it will wheel hop pretty bad.  So it was just a mistake there he made.  But I don't think it bothered our car any.  But it is good for us to get a good run.  We were counting on sort of rebounding.  We haven't had a good last couple of months, cars haven't been that fast, had some issues here and there.  But it's good to get a good solid full race in and finish where I felt like the car was capable of running, and we got a couple other tracks coming up.  Hopefully we can do this throughout the summer and get ourselves in the Chase pretty comfortably.  But I feel the same way as Greg, we got a little work to do to get to where some of the other guys are.  But we're pretty happy about today.

Q.  Dale, you kind of just answered this, but last year you led a lot of laps here and then you went and won Michigan.  Similar situation this year?  Does it feel reminiscent of that, and also what went right today that hasn't gone so well in the races this year?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Well, the balance of the car and just the car had speed.  Dover we just didn't have speed, couldn't really take advantage of any opportunities that were given to us during the race.  We just didn't have the car to do it.  But we had good speed.  We had ‑‑ we didn't have the winner of the race covered but we had everybody from fifth on back covered.  So when your car can run that well you want to finish where it should finish.

And I think the repaves, we ran well here last year, we've got a good package going to Pocono and going to Michigan ‑‑ hopefully going to Michigan we've got a good package, when we get there we'll see.  But so far it's been real similar to last year.  We were strong here last year.

Q.  Dale, about the repave, was it different than last August, obviously with the rain, or last June, and also what do you expect from Michigan again with another year gone by since the repave, but also talk a little bit about Chevy dominance for this year and what Ford needs to do, what you both think about that.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I'm happy.  I worried about going to the Gen‑6 car and all the cars kind of being different, everybody having a little bit different package on the front end as far as the nose and so forth, but I was worried about having a disadvantage, but it seems pretty good for the Chevys.  I feel like the Chevys are doing pretty good.  A couple teams got a little more engine, but that's more organization oriented than I think manufacturer oriented.

I felt like every ‑‑ it really comes down to who's got the best handling car to be honest with you, and Jimmie had the best handling car by far today. 

Q.  Dale, Jimmie obviously faced a little bit of adversity last week, dominant car, had the problem on the restart.  What does it seem about him and the team that when they have faced adversity like that that they seem to bounce back the following week?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Well, they had good cars two weeks in a row.  They won one race and didn't win the other one.  They win championships.  They win a lot of races.  He's going to have his opportunities all year long.  Fortunate enough for me I get to be in the same shop as those guys.  I get to lean on them and I get to know exactly what's happening under the hood, and I can learn and use that to my advantage.

When it's good for Jimmie, it's equally as good for us in an indirect way, and hopefully we can see what they did and come back to Pocono and try to improve on what we did today.  But he's just ‑‑ he's one of the best drivers the sport has ever seen, and Chad Knaus is probably one of the smartest crew chiefs the sport has ever seen, very clever guy, calls a good race, puts together a good race car, got good guys, knows how to put good people around him.

Q.  For both you guys, you both ran here under the old track and you had the new pave last year.  What's your feeling now about the new track?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  I really like it.  I think it actually widened out quite a bit from last year to this year.  Other tracks that have been repaved haven't sort of advanced the aging process that quickly, so I think that this place is sitting in the catbird seat.  1 and 2 had plenty of room, we went through there on restarts and you saw the top and the bottom work well for several guys.  We never ‑‑ we had a little bit of a weep in the rain in Turn 3, they might want to take a look at that before we come back, but we had a lot of rain, so going to be hard to not have things like that crop up.

But the surface, man, they did an awesome job, and I think it's really performing well.  It's just going to get better and better and better.

DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Maybe in about four years they could put the paving strip back up top and we can run through there side by side.

The only other thing I would change, I say this in all seriousness, is the curb in the Tunnel.  I would make that similar to what Indy has or something different.  We can't get near that thing or it'll just destroy the splitter and I don't know how the IndyCars are going to enjoy that.  So that's the only imperfection I particularly don't enjoy, but the rest of the track, it's beautiful.  This area is awesome, love coming here, love racing here.

Q.  How much more interesting or enjoyable are these races now that they're only 400 miles compared to 500?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.:  Yeah, I think from the grandstands to the television, I don't know that you can tell the difference between the change, so I think that's a good thing.  I think less is more, and in a lot of aspects in this sport, I'm sure there's some drivers that would like to have a few more laps, but it's 400 miles.

THE MODERATOR:  Dale, congratulations on your run here at Pocono.  Good luck next week at Michigan.

More blog entries from The Auto Racing Journal
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

Blog entries from The Dog Blog

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

No comments: