Jimmie Johnson Opens Up About Jeff Gordon, Chad Knaus and Racing To Win
Jimmie Johnson met with the media at Richmond International Raceway on Friday to answer some of the burning questions that have piqued the interest of NASCAR fans and sports reporters alike.
Johnson opened up about the so-called feud with teammate Jeff Gordon, Crew Chief Chad Knaus' contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports, and what it takes for him to maintain his championship points lead.
The following are excerpts from the question and answer, Team Chevy Driver press conference.
Are you glad your Crew Chief (Chad Knaus) is staying around for a while?
"Oh, I'm very happy. Very happy it's signed up. They've been working on it for quite some time now, so I'm glad that it's all buttoned up and finished up and it's all done."
What did Rick Hendrick say about you and Jeff Gordon (regarding the incident at Talladega)?
"We just all hopped on a phone call and talked about what had gone on and I think when Jeff jumped out of the car (at conclusion of Talladega race) he didn't realize that it was just a bad decision on my part to come down and try to get in front in that lane."
"So, our conversation was pretty good, to be honest with you. In a lot of ways from Rick's standpoint, my standpoint, and Jeff's it was just a mistake that I made.
"And unfortunately coming off the heels of Texas and the fact that Jeff crashed after that and the emotions were high and he got out of the car and said some things that he probably didn't want to."
Has this (the rivalry between he and Gordon) been blown out of proportion?
"In some respects, yes. But at the same time, when somebody gets out of a race car and says pretty pointed things, it gives everybody the opportunity to chase it down and see what's going on."
"So, I think the lesson in all of it is that we're very competitive guys and emotions are high regardless of if it's a teammate or not, and we're both doing everything we can to win races.
"So everything's in good shape. And we'll just make sure we stay away from each other for a week or two and not let anything else fester this thing along and we'll be fine."
Do you have to be more careful when you're racing around him (Gordon)?
"No, that's one thing we were joking about in our conversation. You've still got to race. It's not like you can just turn the hazards on and run each other by and act like there's not racing going on. We've done this for nine years without any issues.
"Unfortunately, we've had magnets on our cars for the last couple of weeks. But we'll get through it and move on. We're both professionals and great teammates and we have a great boss. We'll be fine."
Were you surprised at what Jeff Gordon said (during post-race interview in Talladega)?
"In that situation, yes, because it wasn't an intentional situation where I was trying to like crash him. I mean, heck, I was doing what you do in the draft, which just go down and block a lane and then try to have that lane push you."
"I misjudged it a little bit in the mirror with the closing rate and he had to go out of bounds to not run into the back of me. In that respect, yes.
"But he was definitely frustrated with what had been going on from the week before. And he's been so close over this start of the season to some wins, I think there were some other things layered in there as well."
Does this put you on the edge at all? Do you feel like you may have to talk to Jeff Gordon every week now for a while? Are you comfortable that everything is okay?
"Yeah, I am. Unfortunately this has been in the media more than other things have. As a professional athlete and as a NASCAR race car driver, you have this stuff take place all season long. A lot of it gets handled behind the scenes and not in front of the cameras and pens and papers; but this one unfortunately did.
"So, it's not something new. It's somewhat new to this caliber with my teammate, but we deal with this stuff all the time and we're all professionals, and I'm plenty comfortable with where things are and what's been going on."
Does all this overshadow the fact that you're the point leader coming into this race?
"No, shoot, points are points. We're leading the points and won three races. We're coming to a great race track for us again and hopefully we can make it four wins."
Brad Daugherty said on one of his shows that what you've done makes Jeff Gordon irrelevant. Is there any validation to that?
"That's his opinion. You know I don't want to get into the line of trying to justify people's opinions of what they're saying. I know he's really hungry and he has been over the four years I've won these championships and since I've been a part of Hendrick Motorsports. We'll just keep racing hard and see what happens."
He's a four-time champion though. Is a four-time champion ever irrelevant?
"Yeah, right, yeah; totally agree. He's relevant. I think he's shown them this year with how many laps he's led and how competitive he's been."
How much of this stems from on how much better Jeff Gordon is running?
"I don't know. I'm not sure how much that carries over in it. It would be wrong for me to assume what his emotions are and what his feelings are. But certainly it was a little un-Jeff Gordon-like to say what he did so I think it's all of it. It could be from some of the start of the season and as close as he's been."
"Certainly at Texas both of our blood pressures were pinned and there was a lot of emotion there. The mistake I made at Talladega; I was distraught; it broke the camel's back for him."
Are you and Jeff going to have to race each other differently?
"Yeah, I mean, we joked about that on our phone call the other day. We still have to race. We can't act like we're not at the race track. We can't just turn the hazard lights on and just point each other by and not race and do our thing.
"So, what we talked about (is) for nine years we've been racing with no issues. We can do this. It's not a big deal. Last week was an accident. We'll be fine."
What was Rick's (Hendrick) take on what's been going on with you and Jeff Gordon over the past couple of weeks?
"Talladega was just a mistake on my behalf where I misjudged the closing rate. In plate racing, you're trying to block the line that's coming and taking place all day and I was just doing what you do in the draft, but I guess I misread the closing rate and ran Jeff out of bounds."
"With what had gone on in Texas it was kind of a situation where it made the straw that broke the camel’s back when he got out and was emotional about things. So, we had a great conversation. Things are well. It's amazing how clear you think on Tuesday after the dust settles and the emotions go away."
"Things are in great shape. We've certainly had a little more interaction on track than we would want to or that we've had so far with the No. 24/No. 48 as teammates. We've got to go back to the old ways of racing hard and not making contact."
Now did Rick Hendrick get into this conversation that you and Jeff had?
"It was a pretty simple deal. I talked to Rick and he said we should all just jump on a call and just talk a little bit. That's what we did. Now we talk a lot on the phone with Rick individually and even as groups."
"Tuesday is full of phone calls where crew chiefs talk to drivers and we're all together for competition meetings. So it was just another phone call. We both, after the race, probably Monday when things settle down, I think Jeff knew it was just a bad decision on my part to block that line and things are much better."
So, when you got into this conversation, was it uncomfortable to start with?
"I didn't have anything angry on my side. Heck, I looked in the mirror and saw a line coming and I moved down. So for me, it was a pretty simple conversation."
Do you have to race Jeff Gordon harder now because he's more of a threat to win the title this year than he has the last couple of years?
"In 2007, we raced for the championship. So that's not the case. I think from my perspective there's a point where I've got to race people how they race me. If people are pushing and showing me out of the way, I've got to do the same thing back."
"I've been very gracious with teammates where I've taken more lumps than I've passed out. That's what the Texas thing was about. I just got to a point where I said enough. But last weekend at Talladega was merely an accident on my behalf. I just misjudged the closing speed."
Are these controversies good for NASCAR, bad for NASCAR and are you tired of talking about it?
"I've been doing this long enough to make my way through it and conversations with Rick and Jeff, you know we're fine. That fact that it's continuing on outside I think it's good for the sport."
Do you think everybody is racing you harder now since you have won four championships?
"No, the culture on track is that you race people how they race you. I've always had a great rapport with the competitors on track and have been able to race really hard for championship and wins.
"In that respect, I have a lot of friends out there; although they're tired of me doing well. That is true. But there is a lot of respect on track because of how the relationships work."
So, you haven't seen how people race you change over the past four years?
"No, again, if I'm a pain in the ass, they're going to be a pain in the ass. And it's just how you race each other. I worked very hard to have respect for guys on track and race them clean and fair, and then they do the same back."
Have you ever worried that Chad Knaus wouldn't be your crew chief?
"No, you love to see negotiations that are done fast and over, and then Rick and Chad have been working on them for a while and then Alan's (Gustafson) contract came up and we had to get the Lowe's stuff buttoned down."
"It's been in the works and I'm very happy to see that it's done. But between Chad and I, we made a promise a long time ago that if I'm driving, I'm driving his race car. So I feel pretty confident that he'll always be here."
Knaus has signed a five-year contract extension with HMS, which puts him in the same contract time frame as driver Jimmie Johnson and sponsor Lowe's. All three of the elements that make up the No. 48 team are intact until 2015.
Press conference transcript used by permission from NASCAR, Team Chevy, Hendrick Motorsports and Richmond International Raceway.
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