CLINT BOWYER, No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
What does it mean to finish second in your first year with MWR? "For our first year together -- just everything. Building a brand new team from scratch and be able to accomplish everything we have in a short amount of time, we're very proud of that.
You never know how you're going to roll into the Chase with what momentum you're going to have going into that Chase and how long you can hold onto that momentum -- whatever that momentum is.
It's neat to see how everything came together this year -- very proud of MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). Michael Waltrip (team owner) has been in this sport awhile now and weathered the storm. It's neat to see some good things finally coming his way."
Do you enjoy having the banquet in Las Vegas? "Las Vegas -- it's a lot of fun, but you pay the price. Every time I'm here I enjoy myself and I'm completely miserable for about a week after you're in Vegas.
It's a very fitting place to have this awards banquet. Our fans -- to be able to interact with the fans with all the different things that we do from the 'After the Lap,' being able to drive down the Strip and possibly do some burnouts -- it doesn't get much better than that. Very fitting place to have our end of year banquet."
How quickly did your team come together at MWR? "Really quickly to be honest with you. The key to all of it was having what I consider a good leader and that guy was Brian Pattie (crew chief) for me.
I knew I needed somebody to keep me calm and keep me focused and in the game. It's just been a great relationship. Our backgrounds are a lot the same. The way we go about things is a lot the same.
We both enjoy what we do and we love racing. We have a blast doing this. More importantly, when it's time to get your hands dirty and get to work, we're both plenty capable of doing that too.
It's just a great fit and I think it's only going to get better. Just really proud of how far we came. We came together quickly because of that 'fit factor.'
I knew from the very first test we had -- I was very, very nervous. Didn't know a face I was working with other than the casual conversation, didn't truly know anybody that was on my race team or in the race shop.
To be able to just see all the unknowns and all the worries go by the wayside throughout the course of this year has just been a breath of fresh air and a really good thing."
Is it good to have two owners of your race team? "We need those guys -- this sport needs more owners. We need more organizations and a lot of the team owners are getting old.
At the end of the day we need some new faces on the ownership side of this and it's neat to see not only Michael (Waltrip, team owner), but Rob Kaufmann (team owner) coming into this sport and putting their work in and seeing results."
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How was your season? "It was a good bounce back year for us. We didn't get to victory lane much in 2011 and we kind of got back to the winning ways in 2012.
Ultimately, you want to lift the big trophy but it's very gratifying to get the race wins because it shows that you have speed. You have what it takes to be a champion and you've just got to put it all together the last 10 races."
Do you have any plans for the off-season? "Planning for the baby. I was able to go away for a couple of months last year, but this time we're just preparing nurseries and things like that. It'll be here before I know it. It's a month and a half away."
What are your impressions of the new body styles for 2013? "It's unique. Obviously the body characteristics of our Camry are very similar to what we're going to be racing.
We're excited to get all of the Toyota owners excited about our Camry that is going to be on the track in 2013 and beyond. It's changing the whole game. It's not just the cars. It's going to be the aerodynamics that are changing.
NASCAR is talking about changing the weight of the car and things like that. We're taking big steps and moving our sport in really a direction that I think is a positive."
What goes into the transition to the new car in 2013? "A lot of things are going to change. I know at Joe Gibbs Racing we're going to be changing our whole fleet of cars. It's not just the shell on the body that changes next year.
It's in different bars and the ways the cars are built for safety reasons. I know that Toyota has really worked hard on making this Camry something that their owners can identify with.
We're changing everything. It's not just the shell. There's a lot more that's going to be changing with our 2013 car than just what the fans see from the outside."
How big of a challenge will setups be on the 2013 cars? "It's going to be a challenge. Having a notebook -- you're going to be able to use some things, primarily on short tracks you'll be able to use a notebook, but bigger tracks with the cambered rear ends, it's going to be totally different.
Even Goodyear is having to design new tires for pretty much every race track this year. It's going to be a big game changer."
Are teams more excited or nervous about the 2013 cars? "A combination because you want to be the first to get the edge. You want to be the first guy to hit on whatever makes your car go a little bit faster than everyone else.
There's a window there and we've really kind of all maxed out the car that we have now with the aero or what have you, and that's why the competition was so close.
Now, you could have the potential to see someone ring off eight or nine wins next year if they hit the 2013 car setup early."
What does Matt Kenseth bring to JGR? "A lot of experience. I was one that definitely pushed for Matt (Kenseth) to come over to Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing) and I just think that he's really going to mesh well with me and Kyle (Busch).
I know that Kyle does a lot of short track racing with Matt's son and I know that me and Matt have very similar driving styles on the race track.
I look forward to that communication and just hearing about how he did things versus how we do things and really that's what makes teams stronger.
When Kyle came over in 2008, it was that drive that kind of pushed me to that next level, is having someone come over and push you to be better. I think it's going to be no different with Matt."
How did Darian Grubb do in his first season with you? "I think he (Darian Grubb, crew chief) did as good as he could possibly do. He won me a couple races with strategy. He won us races by building us really fast cars.
I think it took a little time for our communication to get going. Even though we rung off a couple wins in our first eight races, our communication still wasn't where it is now by any means.
I think next year having that jump start of already working with a guy for a year, hopefully it translates to success early in the season."
What does your team need to win a championship? "Our issues that we've had is really what has kind of bit me throughout my career is the reliability side of things.
We've just struggled at Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing) to have a trouble free Chase in the sense of no mechanical, no engine failures and things of that sort.
I feel like TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and Toyota has made huge strides on the engine side of things, but it's still up to us to improve the car side of things.
I think we have extremely fast race cars that can win every single week we hit the race track, but it's about making sure that we don't beat ourselves both in the race shop and at the race track.
These championships are won -- it's almost the last man standing in the sense of you can't have a bad race or it will knock you out."
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
How would you summarize your season? "It's been a great season. Everybody I talk to, I just can't help but think what could've been. There was so many chances for us to really make it very, very, very special and we missed out on those.
There's always room for improvement. We know the areas we need to work on for next year and we're going to work hard on doing that in the upcoming months."
Have your expectations changed at Michael Waltrip Racing? "I think that our expectations have definitely taken a huge turn to where we expect to be running up front each and every week and winning races.
I think that the overall attitude of the guys in the shop and the people at Michael Waltrip Racing has been great -- phenomenal ever since I've gotten there and that's a credit to Michael (Waltrip, team owner) and the organization that he's built.
The work ethic that he's instilled into his people there. It seems like even when we weren't doing well we were enjoying ourselves and really enjoyed what we were doing.
It was just a matter of putting all of the right pieces together and getting the right combinations inside the company as far as people on the race track and things like that.
It's been a good change, but certainly everybody has enjoyed working there even when we had our rough days."
What was the one that got away from you this year? "We had a few, that's for sure. There was a lot of opportunities this season for it to be a really good season for our race team -- for the 56 guys.
There was some things we didn't capitalize on. We made some mistakes along the way, but as a young team I feel like we learned a lot about ourselves and learned a lot that's going to help us be stronger in 2013.
So, hopefully we can go out and make our sponsors proud, make our team proud and go out there and finish what we started this year."
What were some of the highlights from the 2012 season? "Just running so well each and every week and having so much speed in our race car. Obviously, making the Chase is a big deal for our team after the last two years that we had together.
Definitely making the Chase and all of the races we've led and dominated. All of those days where we had the car to beat. The bad side of that is we didn't win, so we need to work on that.
I'm trying to take the next step together as a team. Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and I have talked a lot about how we can do that next year and be better. I'm looking forward to that opportunity."
What do you need to take that next step? "I hate to even say it. Just a little better fortune. It's almost like there was a lot of times where I felt like we did the right things. We did everything right, it just didn't work out.
Things happened that we didn't expect. You make decisions sometimes and the situation after you make your decisions changes and it affects the outcome in a bad way.
We had a lot of that it seems like. I think for us, with the way we ran this year with our consistency, I feel like if we can keep doing that and we can start to take more chances.
I think if we're solid each and every week we can afford to take more chances, and we just need to be able to do that."
What are your impressions on the new body styles for 2013? "I think it's great. The cars look incredible. They're obviously a lot like their street counterparts, which is huge for the sport. Bring it back to the roots.
When I grew up you could buy a car that you drive on the street that looked a lot like what they were racing on Sunday's. Getting back to that, I think, is important.
The cars look great. Brand identity is huge. Toyota is very proud of their Camry and certainly the fans will be able to tell which one is which. That is a great thing. I'm looking forward to it.
I don't know much about the competition part of the race cars yet. We haven't done a whole lot of that. I hadn't really drove it much and I don't even think we know what the rules are quite yet.
We'll just have to see how that goes. The cars look great, I think the fans are going to love them and hopefully it will put on some great races."
How was your family impacted by Hurricane Sandy? "My family made out very well for the situation and the area that they are in. They are a mile from people that lost their homes and had serious flooding and a really bad time with it.
We were very fortunate that all of my close friends and family didn't have any major problems, which is great. But, at the same time a lot of people in the community are struggling.
Lost houses and things and places where I grew up going to, like the Jersey shore, right there is just in shambles. We're trying to do all we can to help.
My foundation setup a fund and we've raised I think over $150,000 up to this week and we're starting to disperse those funds to families and help people that really need it.
We took a truck load of supplies up there two weeks ago, I think, and we're getting ready to do another one. Just trying to help as much as we can giving back and trying to get those people on their feet because it was a tough time for them.
No, I haven't been back and I won't be probably until Christmas. That will be really our first time. We've been so busy it's been hard to get away."
What is it like having Michael Waltrip as your team owner? "He (Michael Waltrip, team owner) keeps it interesting, I can tell you that much. He's a heck of a funny guy and he's a lot of fun to be around.
He does a great job with the team. Obviously, what he's built -- he's sunk everything he ever had into that race team and it's very cool to be part of that team becoming successful and him being able to realize his dream on what he started seven or eight years ago.
Everybody sees him as big, goofy Michael, which he is a lot of the time, but he's very serious about what he does and passionate about motorsports and racing.
He's been an awesome owner and a great boss for us drivers. Giving us what we need and always being there for us and helping us to go in the right direction. He can be crazy, but he's also very good at what he does. He's a great car owner."
Do you have any interesting plans for the off-season? "I'm going to do a little hunting. I'm going to go on vacation at the end of January, right before the season and kind of get prepared for the busyness.
It's going to be pretty low key. Our team is going to do a lot of testing and nothing too crazy and off the wall."