NASCAR Sprint Cup Series post race press conference New Hampshire International Speedway
An interview with: Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started in the media center with our post race interviews. We are joined by Denny Hamlin, who finished third. Denny, talk a little bit about the race today, your thoughts coming in here.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, it was a pretty physical race in the sense that guys were really banging into each other. I was banging into guys. Just it was one of those days where you just had to do the best you can to keep four fenders on it by the end of the day.
We had three, but it was good enough to get us through and have a good comeback day finishing third.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Denny, you were as high as second with 10 or 15 laps to go. Just nothing in the tank to get to first?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I don't know. We won't know until here after the race, we fill the car back up and figure out how much I had left.
Obviously, I was running the 39 down. The crew chief is screaming that we got to back off. At that point you have to think about the risk versus reward. If we go out there and try to win the race, we get about 10 more points than what we get if we coast and get a third-place finish, or if we go for it and miss, run out of fuel, we end up with minus 20, 30 points.
It's just risk-versus-reward racing with these fuel mileage things. As bad as I wanted to go up there and race those guys, I had to make the smart move and finish the race.
THE MODERATOR: Denny, thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: We now welcome in the media center Tony Stewart, who finished second in today's race.
Tony, talk a little bit about your run out there today.
TONY STEWART: It was a perfect day for the organization for sure. This is a perfect way to go into an off weekend, for sure. Especially going into Indy, man, this is big for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing. Big thanks to the Hendrick engine and chassis department for everything they do for us.
Very proud of Ryan and Tony Gibson. I'm curious to see what the record books show, but I'm sure Ryan is the only guy to get two poles and two wins in a weekend here. I don't know, Kyle maybe did it. But to do it in the modified and in the Cup car today, for the organization to take the front row and get first and second today, you couldn't ask for a better weekend.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Tony, organizationally looking at the big picture, first 1-2 for the organization, what does that mean to you, looking ahead to Richmond especially?
TONY STEWART: It's huge. It's no secret we've been struggling this year. But it really shows me the depth of the people we got in our organization. It's been one of the weirdest years as far as just weird things and bad luck happening to both of us.
Our guys at our shop just keep plugging away, they keep working, they keep their chins up. That's probably what I'm most proud of. It's easy when things are going right. But when times are tough and you have a day like today, you see how your organization battles. That's to me what shows the character of what Stewart-Haas Racing is about, what our people are like.
That's probably what I'm most proud of in the last two and a half years, is how we've come from the first half of the season to a weekend like this weekend.
Q. Tony, can you speak to the overall sense that you came into this weekend and how maybe you got encouraging signs when Ryan wins the pole, you have pretty long runs in practice, then you finish qualifying second.
TONY STEWART: Well, obviously getting our first first and second qualifying efforts, that's the first time that we've done that as an organization. That puts a positive spin on the weekend.
We were both happy with our cars yesterday. We were quickest in the morning session. The second session, when it got warm, we weren't quite as happy with our car, Ryan was still happy with his. That was still encouraging. I'm really proud of Darian Grubb. They told him yesterday he's got pneumonia. He's battling through a weekend like this, never missed a beat on the box today.
When you're feeling good, it's really easy to lose focus and lose concentration. I'm really proud of what he did today. That was a tough day and a tough weekend for him, feeling bad. But an awesome job by everybody. Ryan has been spot on all weekend. Tony Gibson, everybody has done a great job working through the weekend together.
By the way, yes, I'm still happy to be a car owner now, in case you had any questions about that (laughter).
Q. Tony, you still looking forward to having this next weekend off or...
TONY STEWART: We only get three of them a year anyway, so might as well take the rest of them away.
It doesn't really matter. It's good and it's bad. It's good because you want to go back to the track next weekend and keep going, but at the same time we get to ride this wave for two weeks going into a really big race for us. It doesn't really matter either way.
The good thing for Ryan's team is it gives them a little bit of extra time to get ready for the Chase now. Hopefully that will lock him in, make sure that we can keep those guys there.
Hopefully it will give them time to get prepared. It's a good weekend for us gaining a little bit points-wise. We'll keep digging on our side.
Q. Are you going to stay up here for the owner's portion as well?
TONY STEWART: This is the owner's portion, just so you know. It never ceases to amaze me how much of a rocket scientist you are (laughter). I'm honored to be in your presence.
Q. As a guy who is witty and uses sarcasm, maybe you should understand that that was a joke. Maybe your jokes are better.
TONY STEWART: I'm pretty sure. We'll take a poll and it will be overwhelming.
Q. You talked about this a little bit, but how fearful were you that Ryan was going to run out of gas? Can you talk about the fine line he's walking.
TONY STEWART: It definitely was a big risk, for sure. Honestly, I didn't know. He got the lead pretty early. I knew how short we were. I didn't know what kind of mileage they were getting for the day, if they were getting better mileage than we were.
This is a pretty easy track to save fuel on in all reality because you really have to use a lot of brake, but it's got long, sweeping corners, so you coast a lot through the center of the corner. It does give you an opportunity to save fuel pretty easy.
When we had the lead and Carl was second to us, we were lifting just past the flag stand and able to really save a lot of fuel, not hurt our lap times too much. I honestly didn't know what his status was. I knew he was probably having to save a little bit. The problem was by the time we got to second, we were so far back that we didn't have a chance to capitalize on it.
I think hindsight being 20/20, I don't mind running second and having him win the race versus us winning the race and him running out of fuel. This is a much more gratifying weekend for me.
Q. As a team owner, during the last laps, you had to be excited for Ryan running up front. As a driver, you hate to finish second. What were you thinking?
TONY STEWART: I was happy, period. I mean, you know when you're in that situation as an organization, it can't get any better than that. I can promise you, I didn't leave anything out there. That was as hard as I could run till the end. I couldn't get the rest of the way. I couldn't get any further than that.
I got in a period when I caught Jeff Gordon, I think he was running fourth or fifth at the time, I got to his bumper but I couldn't really do anything. I ran about three laps where I kept slipping the rear of the car, just got the tires hot. I basically had to back away from him and run my pace again, just let everything cool down. Then we made that second charge at him and were able to get by him and keep marching forward.
The problem was, to do what we did to get a second, I mean, I used everything up getting there. That was as far and as close to Ryan as I could get. The good thing is we still got guys in the series like Andy that don't see what's going on other than what he's doing. It's amazing, the guy has no concept of the race except what's around him. We just couldn't get the rest of the way.
Q. Where are you as far as a competition director?
TONY STEWART: We don't have one yet.
Q. Any closer?
TONY STEWART: When we have one, we'll let you know. We're still working on I it. We're working on it. We're not not looking for a competition director. We've been doing that since we let Bobby go.
Q. When you went to Victory Lane, what were your words to Ryan?
TONY STEWART: I just told him I was proud of him. I told him I was proud of him and it was a great day for our organization, great day for the Army. Colonel Crotts was here. He's retiring after 31 years of serving our country. Couldn't think of a more perfect day for him to be at the racetrack. We don't get him at the races every weekend. To have Colonel Crotts here, get the U.S. Army Chevy in Victory Lane, that's an awesome weekend. You don't want him to go into retirement, but knowing he's going, it was a perfect way to send him off.
Q. Very hot conditions in the grandstand where we were watching. In the car, Marcos said he was cramping up a lot. Did you have any problems with the heat affecting your driving?
TONY STEWART: My feet were hot all day. We got a guy that's going to get an earful when I get back to the garage. We ran at Eldora last night, the World of Outlaw Sprint car. I got to sleep at 5:00 this morning and was up at 8:30. I feel like we're pretty fit right now.
I don't have a big workout program like some of these other guys do, but I'm pretty sure we're race fit with all the racing we do on the side.
It was just a hot day, but we didn't have any problems inside the car. We're used to it. We do it all the time.
Q. What was the key element in the way the race played out strategically to get your car good at the end?
TONY STEWART: I think we had a strong car all day. At the beginning of the race, position was pretty big. Both Ryan and I stayed out the first three stints of the race. We ran the same left-side tires three times. By the time that Ryan and I finally started fading back, we were doing it together. We just couldn't believe that we could stay out that long on lefts. But we had a strong car. We knew we had a strong car all day.
At the beginning, when we got the lead, we were running a pace that was comfortable to us. When we were running with Ryan there, the two of us drove away, we were running a comfortable pace. Like we said, later in the race where Carl was second, we were able to really take it easy.
We knew we had a good car. I was surprised how good our car was at the end of the day because we didn't change much during the race. It seemed like the later the day went, the better our car got. It seemed it got better as the day cooled off.
THE MODERATOR: Tony, thank you for your time this afternoon.