Team owner Rick Hendrick had a lot to say after Jimmie Johnson won last week’s QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 Chevrolet. The victory was the 76th of Johnson’s career, tying him for seventh with Dale Earnhardt on NASCAR’s all-time list. Here’s a sampling of what Hendrick had to say:
On how he will treat Hendrick Motorsports’ partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing, which will end after this season when SHR switches to Ford:
“Want to beat them every week, not just since they made the announcement. I still like to see our stuff run well for the rest of this year. I like to beat them every week. But we’ve been buddies for a long time, and life goes on, and we’ll focus on our stuff, and we still have a relationship with them with equipment, so they’re still a sponsor, and I’ll pull for them until they put that (Ford) oval on the hood.
On whether he ever thought Johnson would win as many as 76 races:
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“I never thought when I got in the sport I’d win 76 wins with anybody … and to have (retired) Jeff (Gordon win 93) and now Jimmie tie (Earnhardt), I really wasn’t aware of that until the end of the race. When you look at Jimmie’s career and you look at how quick he’s gotten to 76 and he’s got six championships, I think you’ve got to say that he’s one of the best that’s ever been in the sport.”
On when he first noticed Johnson as a driver:
“The first time I saw Jimmie ways was in the stadium trucks. (Chevrolet executive) Herb Fishel told me about Jimmie when he was 15 and then I helped him get in a late model car when he was 16.
“The most impressive thing about Jimmie, was my son was racing at Darlington and Jimmie was top of the board in the then-Busch Series. Jeff Gordon and I walked over to Jimmie and said, ‘Can Ricky (Hendrick) come over here and talk to you? ’ Jimmie said, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever been here.’
“So he was very impressive when I saw him in that situation. It was just his character, the kind of guy he was, watching him drive stuff out of control.”
On his impressions of competing against Earnhardt:
“He used to use me for a raise every time his contract was coming up. He would come talk to me and (Richard) Childress would give him more money. I always told him to pay me a part of the increase.
“We were really good friends, but man, I told (driver Geoff) Bodine one day, if you see a snake on the ground, you either step on his head, you don’t pick him up and shake him and turn him loose. Back in those days it was a fierce battle, but before and after, it was good.”
On how to explain to young fans how a race like Atlanta, the first in which NASCAR’s low downforce aerodynamic package was used, is exciting:
“The real fans that understand strategy and guys ‘short pitting’ and guys getting new tires and running to the front and then falling off. I think if we’d had some cautions, the fans would have gotten a heck of a show. But we didn’t get a lot of cautions. You could see at the restarts, you can run three abreast here, three-wide, and if we’d had our normal caution deal, I think it would have been more exciting.
“But, still, I love this type of racing because it’s kind of putting it back in the hands of the drivers. You know, guys have got to manage their tires. They’ve got to be smart. Crew chief has got to make the right call. I think this will be the best racing we’ve seen in a long time.”
On comparing Johnson’s driving style with Earnhardt’s:
“I think Dale was more aggressive. He didn’t get that Intimidator title by being nice to everybody. If he got to you, he’d move you, and I think he intimidated a lot of people, and he was a heck of a race car driver. He could do things that I didn’t see a lot of people do.
“Jimmie Johnson doesn’t put a fender on anybody. He does it clean. If people are fast he lets them go, and he treats everybody with a lot of respect.
“They’re two different style drivers, but both of them were awesome. Dale won seven championships, so that speaks for itself. (Johnson is) not as aggressive, and he will race you extremely clean. I’m not saying that Dale didn’t do that, but if he got to you and it was for the win, he was going to move you, and that.”