Q&A with NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus


I saw Jimmie Johnson, the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, when he wasn’t wearing his fireproof overalls this week. He looked very fit. Way more fit that Donovan McNabb. Way more fit than Donovan McNabb looked in his uniform, when he played football.

A couple of weeks ago, McNabb said on TV that Jimmie Johnson was not an athlete, because he sits in a car and drives, and you don’t have to be athletic to do that. This from a man once benched by Mike Shanahan for “cardiovascular issues” — in 2010, Shanahan said McNabb was not fit enough to run a two-minute offense with no timeouts remaining.

Jimmie Johnson, on the other hand, has very little body fat. And he brought Chad Knaus, his crew chief, along, and Knaus is pretty fit, too. He looks nothing like Harry Hogge, which was Robert Duvall’s character in “Days of Thunder.”

Knaus is from Rockford, Ill., home of the classic rock band Cheap Trick. If I had to guess, I’d say he doesn’t own a trucker’s cap.

Anyway, because they were nice enough to come to the newspaper office for a chat during NASCAR Champion’s Week, I thought I would ask stock car racing’s Dynamic Duo some questions that weren’t directly related to auto racing, because they’ve probably answered those questions a bazillion times. They were nice enough to play along:

Q: What do you guys drive when you’re not behind the wheel of the No. 48 Chevy, or when you’re not making it go fast with socket wrenches and whatnot?

JJ: I’m collecting some older cars. Depends on the mood. My everyday drive is a ‘49 (Chevy) Stepside pickup truck. It’s black. And then I have a ‘67 Camaro with a ginormous engine in it. It’s a l-o-o-o-t of fun to drive. I have a very-close-to original ‘48 Woodie wagon. Top speed on it is like 52 (mph). That’s the one I’ve got a car seat in. So I’ll run over to Dairy Queen and get an ice cream with my daughter. I’ve got a ‘51 Merc that’s chopped, it’s even got the fuzzy dice …

Q: Jimmie’s a California guy, he’s got a Woodie and fuzzy dice. Chad, you’re a Chicago guy. You got anything that’s rusted out sitting in your driveway?

CK: Yeah, I should. I’ve got a Corvette, a Porsche, a BMW… the coolest car I’ve got right now is the ‘69 Impala convertible I bought from Mr. (Rick) Hendrick (who owns the cars Jimmie Johnson drives and that Knaus sets up). It was actually Papa Joe Hendrick’s, Rick’s father’s, car. It’s just huge; you could put this whole room in the trunk.

Q: What’s in the CD deck, or on the AM radio, of those old cars?

JJ: My daughter (Genevieve) right now is finding her way around. She always requests Alicia Keys, “Girl on Fire.” Taylor Swift songs, and I’ve introduced her to Jack Johnson recently. She thinks of him as the Curious George voice from the (movie) soundtrack. She does like Imagine Dragons, which is good. To and from school, she’s the DJ.

CK: Honestly, I listen to a lot of Fox News and CNN. When I listen to music, it’s usually Indie rock.

Q: How many times have you guys pulled over for speeding? Mario Andretti tells the story about being stopped, and the cop saying “Who in the heck do you think you are, Mario Andretti? And then Mario pulled out his driver’s license and said, “As a matter of fact …”

JJ: I never have.

Q: (Incredulous). You’ve never been pulled over?

JJ: I didn’t say I never have. I said I’ve never received a citation. The move is to hand (the cop) your NASCAR credential first and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, you said you needed to see my driver’s license.”

Q: That didn’t work for Kurt Busch in Phoenix with Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies.

JJ: Well, Kurt can rub people the wrong way.

CK: I got nine (speeding citations) in one year. When I was younger.

Q: When Hollywood gets around to filming the Jimmie Johnson Story, who should play the leading man?

JJ: I think Colin Farrell has a similar look. Him or the local paper in California had a picture of me and Dave Matthews side by side. I never thought we looked that similar but when you see the picture of us side by side, there is something there.

Q: And who would play the role of the philosophical chief mechanic who gives his driver a perfectly matched set of tires at the end of the race?

CK: (Robert Duvall) did a good job, for that stereotype. Man, I don’t know. The guy I would like is the guy who played the hockey coach in “Miracle” (Kurt Russell). He might be a little flippin’ old now, too.

JJ: I was thinking Billy Bob (Thornton).

Q: There have been a lot of movies done about auto racing. And there was also “Stroker Ace.” Which one was best?

JJ: “Senna.” Hands down.

CK: Yeah, definitely “Senna.”

JJ: But one of my old favorites is “On Any Sunday.”

Q: The old off-road documentary with the cheesy soundtrack with the bongos?

CK: When I was a kid, the one I always stuck with for whatever reason was “Six Pack.” I could identify with those kids. That was my dad, driving the pickup truck, with me in the trailer with the race car.

Q: Jimmie, you once had a cameo role in a Disney movie starring Lindsay Lohan called “Herbie Fully Loaded.” Did you happen to see Lindsay Lohan fully loaded?

JJ: (After loads of laughter): Yes. Her aftermarket parts were new then. She was young and tip-top with aftermarket accessories. Yes.

CK: I think that’s the best question ever. Bar none.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

 

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