Chevy Racing–NASCAR–Charlotte–Post Race

OCTOBER 9, 2016

Seven Chevrolet Drivers Finish in the Top Ten

CONCORD, N.C. (October 9, 2016) – Six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) champion, Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS team had to wait 24 races to reach victory lane again after a strong start to the 2016 season, but it couldn’t have come at a better time. Johnson’s 78th career NSCS win and eighth victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway enabled him to punch his ticket to the Round of 8 in the Chase for the NSCS title. Johnson made an aggressive move on the final restart of the race in the bottom groove to take the lead and never looked back. The win gives him a five point lead after the fourth race of the Chase, but he and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team can rest easy over the next two races knowing they are moving on.

“No, I didn’t wonder (if he would win again), I just knew it was taking way too long,” said Johnson in Victory Lane. “When you drive for Rick Hendrick and have all the great people at Hendrick Motorsports working for you, the great support from Lowe’s and everyone in their stores and Chevrolet…there are just so many great people behind us that support us to make this happen. We knew we would get back. Yes, it was slower than we wanted it to be but to be here today and have this victory is great. This is something very special to our team.”

Team Chevy drivers grabbed four of the top five finishing positions and seven of the top ten overall led by three drivers who are no longer in Chase contention. Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne drove his No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS to a third-place finish, his third top five-finish of the season. Richard Childress Racing was led by Ryan Newman and the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet SS team at Charlotte Motor Speedway as they claimed a fourth-place finish. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Target/Belkin QP Chevrolet SS came home in fifth position rounding out a strong showing for the Bowtie Brigade at the 1.5-mile track.

Kurt Busch, who is still a Chase contender in the Round of 12, overcame damage suffered in a mid-race crash to finish eighth in the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Chevrolet SS. The finish enabled Busch to move up three positions in the Chase standings to fifth, just 12 markers behind the leader.

Tony Stewart, No. 14 Mobil 1/Rev The Vote Chevrolet SS and Jamie McMurray, No. 1 McDonald’s Chevrolet SS finished ninth and 10th respectively rounding out the Chevy power in the top 10.

The 334-lap/501-mile contest at Charlotte Motor Speedway was full of attrition for Chase hopefuls including three Chevrolet SS drivers. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Dow Chevrolet SS, and Chase Elliott, No. 24 3M Chevrolet SS were both taken out in a lap 260 multi-car crash that involved many Chase contenders, while 2014 series champion, Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Busch Hunting Chevrolet SS found himself in the garage area early with an oil pump failure relegating him to a 38th place finish.

Matt Kenseth (Toyota) finished second to round out the top five finishers.

Next week the series heads to Kansas Speedway for the second race in the Round of 12 on Sunday, October 15th.


THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by team owner Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, winners of today’s 57th annual Bank of America 500. Mr. Hendrick, congratulations on the great win by the No. 48 team. If you could open by sharing some comments about today’s victory.

RICK HENDRICK: Well, Charlotte is like home for us, but it’s been a dry spell. I was just glad to see the white flag and to get the win. All the cars ran good today. Chase had a problem, we hate that. Alex ran good, and Kasey finished third.

Guys worked hard, and good to see Jimmie be in the form he’s in here in the Chase. We’re excited. We’re just glad to get another win in the column.

Q. Rick, what’s the last few months been like for your team, because it seemed like you guys were off for a while and then had been showing speed but yet you couldn’t put a race together. I’m sure there was a lot of angst at times but now it seems like you guys are back. What’s been the feeling there?

RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, I can’t tell you how many races we were in position to win, a caution would come out, a restart, and we’d just fumble the ball. But we’ve really been working hard through the summer. I think when we ‑‑ I was with you guys at Bristol, we were talking about going to the wind tunnel and everybody working together, and usually teams kind of come apart when they’re not showing signs of speed, and the guys have never worked this hard together, and it’s been paying off.

You’re right; we just didn’t close the deal. We’ve had the speed, but we just couldn’t finish.

I think today was a good day for us to show a lot of speed, lead a lot of laps. I hate what happened to Chase and Alex with tires and Chase in the wreck, but to see Kasey, I think that’s the fifth or sixth race he’s been in the top 10. We’ve got good momentum. I think the engine shop, the aero shop, chassis, everybody has been working hard.

You know, it’s just ‑‑ it looked like there for a while we were struggling to run the top 10. Again, I’m proud of the guys for how hard they’ve worked together, and hopefully we can get Chase back in it and be a threat to finish this thing.

Q. I was talking to Jimmie last week, this was his strongest winless streak of his career in Cup, and I was curious if you’ve noticed anything during the last 23 races that you could tell it was the longest winless streak of his career?

RICK HENDRICK: Well, yeah, nobody has to remind me that we hadn’t won a race. You guys remind me of that every weekend, and they do on TV. I think we were washed up and should have quit. But it kind of motivated us, and you know, Jimmie ‑‑ we just lacked speed through the middle part, early part of the year. Just had to work really hard to gain it back.

Nobody ever gave up, and you know, we know what a champion Jimmie is. We were good here in the May race. We’ve been good on the mile‑and‑a‑halfs, and we’ve been better than we’ve finished. But this feels good. I know Jimmie ‑‑ I’ve never taken the champagne bath in 30‑something years, so it was like our first race again.

Q. Chad, if you’d like to chime in on this, you can. We get to see you at the track and your public persona. We aren’t privy to the behind‑the‑scenes meetings, and I’m just a little curious in the middle of the summer when you were in that stretch of doldrums, was there any kind of fist pounding on the table motivational type speech, or does everybody in the organization pretty much know what they need to do and they don’t need to be fired up from the top?

CHAD KNAUS: Well, we had a lot of meetings. We definitely did. I love meetings. But no, quite honestly, we did have to have a lot of meetings. There wasn’t any fist pounding per se, but what we did do was try to get together with all the heads of state let’s say. You’ve got the crew chiefs, you’ve got the management group at Hendrick Motorsports, Kenny Francis and so on and so forth, and what we were trying to do was identify where our weaknesses were, and once we started to hone in on where we thought we needed to get some gains, we started to allocate the resources to where we needed it.

That’s what you’ve got to do, because one, when you get into a situation where you’re behind a little bit, if you give the people the problem, let them go solve it, usually you get a pretty good answer with the people that we have at Hendrick Motorsports.

It was a good learning curve for us because I think that as a company we needed to expand a little bit, and I think that we have done that. We’ve put responsibility in some different areas that maybe we hadn’t in the past, and I think that all of Hendrick Motorsports is definitely going to feel a lot of responsibility for this victory, which is great for all of us, and I think they’re going to have a sense of pride in knowing that they all contributed.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: And just to add to that, we’ve always been very good teammates, but the way in which all four drivers and crew chiefs and even the engineers on the teams are working together and helping each other, it’s spectacular. That’s what it takes, and we’ve obviously made some good improvements through it, and look forward to what we can do in the future with it.

Q. Chad, what has been the impact of not having a regular driver for the 88 on the development and the recovery for Hendrick Motorsports this summer?

CHAD KNAUS: Obviously we all want to have Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the race car. He’s a fantastic talent. He’s a great contributor to the organization. But that being said, honestly having Jeff Gordon in the car has really opened up our eyes to a different side of Jeff that’s helped us. Jeff gives great feedback, as does Alex, and it’s been interesting to hear what they say.

Kind of like when you hear the same thing over and over and over again but then somebody else tells you the same thing, your ears kind of perk up a little bit ‑‑

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Are you saying you don’t listen to what I have to say?

CHAD KNAUS: But it’s really neat, so it’s been good to have Jeff in there, and honestly Alex has done a great job, and quite honestly, Dale has been a huge asset because as we all know, he is a student of the sport. He watches every lap, he pays attention to everything that we have going on, and he gives us feedback from his perspective of watching on television, listening to what the drivers say, listening to the crew chiefs’ feedback, and helps guide us and direct us in what we’ve got going on. Quite honestly, although we’re a team of four, right now we’re really a team of six, which has been really awesome from that standpoint. We’ve had so much feedback. We’ve had a great opportunity to take everybody’s suggestions and what they’re feeling in the car and applying those to the race cars, and I think you’ve seen that with the 5 finishing third today, the 24 running as well as what they did, and, man, let’s be honest, Alex great today. It’s been really, really good.

Q. I’ve actually got two for you, Jimmie. First, we were talking in here earlier today while you were well out front just about some of the past races and how this kind of looked like the good ol’ days back when Lowe’s sponsor this place and you were so good here. Was this a little bit of the Charlotte magic coming back to play today? It just seemed like there was that little bit of something special.

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, I feel like the day conditions really helped us. The old track when it was Lowe’s Motor Speedway, it was so worn out and so temperature sensitive, so difficult to drive, and this track is slowly moving back that way. Whatever asphalt they put down, it’s going to last 100 more years. This stuff just isn’t changing. Yeah, I think the sun definitely helped our kind of style today.

Q. And as far as the Chase, first time that you’ve actually gotten to play in the Round of Eight as a championship contender, and obviously some really good tracks for you. You’re going for your fifth straight Chase race win at Texas, and Martinsville, closing in on double‑digit wins, as well. Does this win here at Charlotte set you up to make a run at that seventh title?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Without a doubt. It gives us ‑‑ I don’t know what our plan would be at Kansas, but it certainly opens up the book, whatever opportunities may present themselves. It lets me go to Talladega and not worry about anything, which is fantastic. I can just get up in the race and mix it up, and race hard. As you pointed out, Texas, Martinsville, and even Phoenix, we’ve been very competitive at Phoenix, so good things ahead for us.

We have to take it one day at a time and one race at a time, and I still feel like we can bring better cars to the racetrack. Right now we’ve hit on some things and we still have more ideas and we feel like more opportunity ahead of us.

We can’t sit back and celebrate too much on this. We’ve got to buckle down and get to work tomorrow and keep advancing our race cars. But this does buy us a couple weeks of freedom.

Q. Last week you said leading laps recently kind of took the sting off the long summer, but I’m curious, how did you handle the sting of the long summer? Do you just look at your six trophies and say, okay, things will get better at some point, or is there something that you specifically did to try to handle it?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No. The past is the past. You know, I’ve always raced for the experience I’ve had in the car. It hasn’t been about stats or the previous trophies that I’ve won or what’s really ahead of me. There’s an experience that I have in the car that I chase and I love. The community that’s created on a race team, the bond and friendship that you have with the crew chief and

In tough times I probably get a little quiet and pull back, and I think through Rick’s help, Chad’s, our teams, my teammates’, everybody leaned on one another and kind of brought the community of Hendrick Motorsports along and pulled us through it all.

Jeff coming back into the car I think was a big help for us in Indianapolis. So there’s been a lot of little pieces, but yeah, it’s easy to get down and out. You’re only as good as your last race, and this summer was really hard on us.

Q. This race 15 years ago is where you started your Sprint Cup Series career. Did you think in 15 years that you would be knocking on the door of a historic seventh championship?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: No chance. I was talking to a sponsor group this morning, and my only ‑‑ the only thing they told me to do was don’t mess with the 24 when I was here, and I spun out right in front of Jeff, and he missed me by about six inches, so I could have been one and done possibly if I had collected him in that first race.

But there’s no way I could have dreamed about this. To have one sponsor, one manufacturer, one crew chief, being at one team, this is fairy‑tale stuff. It’s been really special.

Q. Last week when we talked at Dover, you were confident about coming in here today, but when you were on the track, when did you realize that, hey, my car can win this race today?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Once we got some track position, the car drove great. Restarts seemed to be very important and being able to control the race. Then we led so many laps, at first it’s like, yeah, we’ve got this, then you start thinking, well, the driver that leads the most laps typically doesn’t win. Cautions fell our way in a sense. I think there were some guys trying to stretch it at the end and the 11 I guess blew up and prevented that strategy from taking place. The 20 was ahead of us out of the pits and I had a great restart and got back about about things just hoping it stayed green.

Q. In the progression that we’ve seen that you guys have made over the summer, what more are you able to do on the track now here and Chicagoland that you weren’t able to do during the summer? Obviously I know there’s speed and things, but what are you able to do more in the car to make you more effective to where you’re in this position more than you were two, three, four months ago?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I guess maybe the easiest way to describe it would be I don’t have to scare myself to put up a good lap time. I can drive a good, smooth, consistent lap. These races are long. The tracks change. You can’t run 500 miles at 10 tenths. Nobody can. So to have the car as consistent and stable as it is has really allowed us to be competitive, work through traffic, work through changing track conditions, and then if I do need to go out there and scare myself and pull away from the 20 or pull away from the 11, I can do it and get rewarded for it.

Q. Rick, I remember in your very early years, you always dealt with veteran drivers. That’s who you built your organization with in the beginning. What is it about this driver and about Jeff Gordon that changed your mind, and you started now dealing with the youth of drivers?

RICK HENDRICK: Well, you know, I never had to think about young drivers or replacement drivers. Jimmie is going to drive a long time. I knew Jeff was retiring. So Jeff was kind of a wake‑up call for me when he said this was going to be his last year last year, and then we got him to come back and drive a little bit this year. But you see some of the talent, I saw Chase Elliott when he was 14, and I said back a few years ago I wasn’t going to be in driver development anymore, and I saw Chase, liked him. Alex filling in has done a super job, William Byron, we’re excited about him in the future.

But I hope to be doing this or our company to be doing this 10 or 15 years. You have to look ahead, but it’s really neat to have a champion like Jimmie and a young kid like Chase working together, and Jimmie’s experience and talent has helped Chase a lot.

You know, it’s been exciting to see the young guys come alive.

Q. Jimmie, I just wondered how much or if any has your outlook changed between the summer and at the start of this Chase, particularly after today, about the possibility of getting a seventh championship this year? Were things so bad or so down during the summer that you thought even if I make the Chase, we probably don’t have a shot, or how much if any has it changed?

JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, we’re realists. We don’t sugar‑coat things internally. Might lie to you a little bit and act like everything is okay, but we get behind closed doors, we’re realists, and we were not happy with where our cars were during the summer. And definitely very optimistic now, especially we’re not leading so many laps winning the race. The performance we had at Dover, Chicago, I look at Chicago and Dover and think we could have won those two races, as well. Loudon was a decent race for us, but we’re doing what we need to, and that brings a lot of optimism to the team. You get this machine of Hendrick Motorsports rolling and some momentum on our side, we can accomplish a lot, and I think all four cars are showing that.

We’ve got a lot more to show the rest of the year.