October 24, 2010
An interview with:
DENNY HAMLIN - Race winner
MIKE FORD - Crew chief
J.D. GIBBS - Joe Gibbs Racing president
KERRY THARP: Let's roll into our post race winning team. That is Denny Hamlin. He drives the No. 11 FexEx Express Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. He's joined by team president J.D. Gibbs.
Just a couple of notes. This is Denny's 15th win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. His series high seventh win in 2010. His fourth win at Martinsville, and his third straight win at Martinsville.
Also this is the closest points margin between first and second place in the Chase with four races to go since the Chase began in 2004.
Congratulations to you, Denny Hamlin. You accomplished what you set out to do.
DENNY HAMLIN: Who said it was over? Told you it wasn't over.
No, it was a great fight by our race team. This is probably the most gratifying win I've had so far simply because we didn't have the best car all day. We just fought and fought and fought and kept working on it. I kept trying to be patient. The restarts, we weren't good on restarts again. I needed that long run. That was the longest run we'd had all day there at the end. Our car was really good on the long runs, we just never got them, we had so many cautions.
For me, it was a great day. Obviously is what we came out and set out to do.
KERRY THARP: Crew chief Mike Ford, talk about how things looked atop the pit box.
MIKE FORD: To start, they didn't look too good. Backed straight up, slowest car on the racetrack. After yesterday we kind of chased the racetrack a little bit. Came in this morning, put a setup in the car very close to what we've run here last couple of times. Looked like we made the wrong decision.
I knew we couldn't be that far off. So I figured something was wrong with the car. Instead of making wholesale changes, we went a little bit more than what we typically would change hoping we saw something with a set of tires coming off. We certainly did. We saw a lot of buildup to the left rear, probably four times more than we normally see. We knew right there if something was going to happen, if it was the racecar making it do it again, but we never saw it again all day. Very fortunate to not panic and lose the race right at the beginning.
KERRY THARP: J.D. Gibbs, certainly the win today by Denny Hamlin, a big achievement. Also as I look they race results, all three of your race teams finished in the top six at Martinsville. Certainly no easy accomplishment.
J.D. GIBBS: It was encouraging. When the race started, it wasn't going the way we had planned. I think for our guys just to keep their heads, stay calm, work on it. Each car had their own issues, but especially the 11 did a good job making their way back up, doing what you have to do, being conservative on pit calls, but at the same time being wise in how you go about the whole championship hunt.
We're excited about that. We're still in it. We're so proud to represent FedEx. They're so excited back home in Memphis. Kind of fun to call those guys and let them hear our excitement here in Victory Lane.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions.
Q: Denny, you said earlier in the week that the pressure was on Jimmie because of the way he performed here. Do you feel like the pressure is still on him? After saying that, did you feel pressure on yourself to back it up?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yes, just our reputation here, obviously figured one of the two of us has got to win here. I thought for the most part of the race, neither one of us was going to finish in the top five.
A little bit. Had we lost points to him here, probably would have been a big blow as far as my confidence going forward. Because obviously this is probably my best racetrack. It's his best racetrack. I feel like I have been better than him in the last couple years.
Yeah, I mean, it's good to come away gaining points and getting as close as what we are right now because obviously the alternative is we're probably 50, 60 behind if the race ends the way we ran pretty much all day. That's going to be tough to make up unless something big happens at Talladega.
Q: When you started the Chase, you talked about your game plan. You're six points out heading for Talladega. Is this pretty much on the plan you set out?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, obviously we'd love to have a huge lead right now. I think given how I raced and things like that over the course of this Chase so far, this is about the best-case scenario for us.
I like being behind and chasing a guy. I do not like playing defense at all. So, I mean, to come here and play offense all day, going through adversity to get this win, it's a huge boost going forward. Right now I feel like we're in a great position going to Talladega where, who knows, we could both finish 41, 42, or opposite spectrums. Nobody knows once we go next week. I know we've been extremely strong at Talladega for the last two to three years. So I'm pretty confident.
MIKE FORD: Yeah, to add to that, to be on course I would say personally I think we're a little bit behind. I'm like Denny, I'd rather chase than play defense. I was hoping we would come out of here with the lead.
Really the difference in this Chase are two restarts, one restart at Fontana and one at Charlotte. That's the difference in this Chase. It's incredibly tight. But if we just had the right lane at Fontana, we'd be leading this thing. Up to this point we seem to draw the wrong lane every time.
I would have liked to have left here leading.
Q: Denny, you were discussing how it's your best track, how you've been better than Jimmie the past couple of years. This is the place all of us expected you to make a push if you were going to do it. Is the term 'must win' too dramatic or do you think it was a must win?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think it was a 'must finish in front of' race. Like I say, I couldn't lose points to him, not at this racetrack. We run too good here the last few years to lose points to him at this racetrack. Literally I just kept him and the 29 in my sights all day long.
Someone had a chain connected to our cars all day, we were all racing right around each other. Most of the time I was the third wheel in that chain. So I just made sure I kept those guys close, kept 'em close, kept 'em close, until with a hundred to go we were going to have to get aggressive, whether it be on restarts or whatnot.
The pit crew picked up huge that last stop, got us out there at first. The pit stall really paid off for us and put us in position to win.
Really this win is more pit crew than it was us.
Q: Denny, did Harvick surprise you a little bit today? Where do you see him at in this race now going into Talladega?
DENNY HAMLIN: They don't give up. He had probably one of the best cars, except for maybe the 31. They kept flip-flopping back and forth all day with who had the best car between those two.
I knew yesterday after final practice the 29 had the best car on average, I believe. So, you know, this is one of the racetracks that, yeah, qualifying is very important if you can get the number one pit stall, but you can come from the back to the front at this racetrack. He passed me 20 laps into the race. I just chased those guys all day long until the end when we just got that adjustments just a little bit better than what those guys did.
Q: Denny, run us through what was going on in your head in the first 10 laps, going the wrong way in a hurry. Seemed like that first caution couldn't have come soon enough.
DENNY HAMLIN: I was looking for debris. Man, there's something out on this racetrack that has to cause a caution.
Yeah, I mean, had it gone probably a green-flag run, probably would have went a lap down, my guess. But we've had those issues at the starts of races before, though. That's why I didn't panic. I didn't go crazy on the radio talking about what did we do to our racecar because we've had those situations happen before. Let's get to the second set of tires, then if I'm way off, then I might start complaining. A few years ago I might have panicked a little bit quicker. I just stayed pretty much relaxed all day long and knew by the end Mike was going to get this thing tuned in. I don't know if he believed that, but I did.
Q: Denny, with the cautions you had at the beginning of the race, did you feel you might not have that opportunity to get that long green-flag run?
DENNY HAMLIN: And we were. We were strong all day on the long runs, but just never got to show it. Every time we would go 25, 30 laps, a caution would come out. We'd come in and pit, be in the wrong line on the restart. I wouldn't go anywhere.
We just never had the speed that those guys had the first 10, 20 laps of a run. So I was surprised at the beginning of that long green-flag run that I was able to keep pace with the 29 and 31 somewhat, not let them get away but so far. I knew on the long haul our car typically is really, really good.
I was just praying the whole last 30 laps, no caution Obviously it . helped us .
Q: Denny, do you think the huge number of cautions, early in the race your car is not that good, all of those every 10 lap cautions play in your hands by give -- do you think the clutter of the first half of this race helped you straighten the car out?
DENNY HAMLIN: As soon as we bolted on that second set of tires, that probably was the best run we had all day. Compared to the field, the second run, we came back up to the top five from wherever we restarted.
We just had a bad set of tires the very first run. We had some stuff going on with that left rear. After that happened, yeah, those cautions did help and we tuned our car, tuned it all day long. As soon as we bolted on that second set, I knew we had a car capable of winning the race. It looked for the most part like we were a top three to four car all day.
Q: Denny, you've basically doubled your career wins total this season, which is pretty amazing. Can you put your finger on what the difference in you, not necessarily the car, is this season compared to seasons in the past?
DENNY HAMLIN: Just the patience level. When things don't go right, it doesn't faze me nearly as much as what it used to in the past. Like I say, I definitely would have been raising cane early in the race had it been a few years ago.
Bad pit stops or anything like that, it doesn't affect me nearly as much as what it used to. I just have learned the patience of saving the racecar till the very end. For myself, it's taken four years to figure that out.
Q: Obviously there's a lot you can't control about next week's race. How do you go into that race? Can you try to plan to run up front, run at the back to avoid a wreck? How do you approach that?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. We'll figure it out. We got six days to figure it out. Mike's approach, my approach, right now are two different things. We'll figure that out. We'll get on the same page before next week.
Q: Denny, if you and Kevin and Jimmie get through Talladega, as close as you are now, what are your thoughts on those last three races going forward?
DENNY HAMLIN: We won the last two times we were at those last three races, so that's a big confidence booster. But the Texas one in particular, we didn't have a race-winning car. The 24 or 48 seemed to be really good in the spring there. Kind of opened up the door for us late to get that win. We ran very, very strong there. I think our mile-and-a-half package is better than what it was at that race in the spring.
I'm pretty confident once we get past Talladega that we can race those guys heads up.
Q: It seemed as though y'all were checking on the 29 and the 48 during the day. How did you balance what y'all have to do in your jobs with figuring out where they are?
DENNY HAMLIN: They were right in front of me pretty much all day long. I knew exactly where they were at. I just knew we had the potential to make our car much better than what it was when we were racing around those guys. I was pretty confident all day no matter what happens with those guys, if we did the right things during the course of the day, we would have a chance to win. And we did.
The thing is, everyone stepped up big with a hundred to go Everyone . executed perfectly that last hundred laps .
Q: Denny, you mentioned you were praying there wouldn't be a caution those last 30 laps. How surprised were you there wasn't one given how many times there have been late cautions, particularly here?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, I don't know. I don't know how we didn't. I think the circumstances worked out. The guys who had cut tires late in the race, they were able to get down in time to get on pit road to not affect the race. I saw one of the cars look like he was starting to blow up. I was yelling at him to try to get off the racetrack, get off the racetrack as soon as possible. Everyone was able to cut down and get onto pit road in a timely fashion. That was probably our biggest key.
Q: Denny has said repeatedly about how he thought last year at the close of the season he had a team that was capable of winning a championship. What do you see the difference being this year in this team from the beginning of the Chase?
J.D. GIBBS: Kind of what I saw is watching Denny in the years he's been with us, the first year, you didn't know what to expect. You're a rookie, you kind of do what comes naturally.
In years two and three, we all at different times tried to push hard in certain areas, Denny driving, us at the shop. I think those guys, between Mike and Denny, have such a good relationship. Today is a perfect example. It could have been easy to get frustrated, upset, car going backward. They didn't do that and don't in general. I think those guys have a good relationship. I think that bodes well for us the rest of this year and the years to come.
MIKE FORD: Yeah, I agree. Denny mentioned his ability to stay patient in the car. That happened about midway through last year. He started relaxing a little bit more. In turn, that let me be able to do my job. I'll point out an example today. When the 24 and those guys got out of sequence and stayed out, I knew we had to pit. Two years ago I would have had to take my headset off because you know what you have to do, but then you start questioning everything you do.
Denny having confidence in me to be able to make the right calls has helped me make even better calls. It's helped us. Denny is more part of the race team now. He understanding that whatever comes out of his mouth is what he's getting ready to receive.
DENNY HAMLIN: I still haven't figured everything that comes out of my mouth.
MIKE FORD: So I think that's the biggest asset. We have a very strong race team from the road guys, very mature, laid back but yet aggressive when they need to be. Pit crew that can get it done and go toe-to-toe with anyone.
I think everyone at this point is letting each other do their job and we have the best people in the positions.
Q: You roll your eyes in the back of your head when he says stuff, Mike. When he was talking about the pressures on Jimmie, throwing all that on him, what were you thinking about that?
MIKE FORD: Personally, I didn't know he said that. I don't pay attention except what we have to do on our racecar.
Q: If you had known, what were your thoughts?
MIKE FORD: Those guys are throwing stones at each other. We just have to make sure we got that first stall and go win the race.
No, I understand the confidence coming here. But, you know, still you have to do the job at the end of the day.
Q: Denny, I don't know whether or not you've heard the dread that comes out of Jimmie's mouth when he talks about Talladega. I don't know if it's fear or respect. Does that help your confidence, knowing he's had this on his mind for three weeks now, he's dreading going into that event?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, honestly it is the only Chase race that we have that you can't necessarily control your destiny. Somewhat. You see a lot of the same guys running up front, Jamie McMurray, seems to avoid the wrecks a lot. Hard to know what is the right place to put yourself in. Anybody can lead that race at any time they want to. It's just who decides to put themselves in positions that don't always work out.
I understand what he's saying. For me, being in this position now that I am, I'm somewhat feeling the same way because you never know. We could go out of there and come out with a 50, 60 point lead or be that far behind. You just don't know. All we can do is run that race the way we always do. We always run up front at that racetrack. We've really figured out I feel like a good setup for that place and I feel like I've gotten better at superspeedway racing.
I think our chances are good of that first part of that equation working out.
Q: Denny, as you came across the line at the finish, you said, We're back, baby. For a guy who was only 41 points back with Talladega on the horizon, why would you say that? You were still in it anyway, weren't you?
DENNY HAMLIN: Just back in Victory Lane. This is our first Chase win of this year. It had more to do with that. I've been spoiled all year long winning the races I did during the summer. I was on a five or six race losing drought. Felt good to win.
Q: Denny, you said you and Mike have completely different philosophies about how to proceed. Could you detail that a little bit.
DENNY HAMLIN: He wants me to go like hell. I want to be conservative. That's pretty much it.
Q: Past few years you won Richmond and Martinsville in the fall. This time you're closer than you were last year. You were 10th last year. What was the difference between Richmond and Martinsville this year to last year?
DENNY HAMLIN: Two blown engines, a wreck, and that was about it. That wreck in California last year at the start the Chase really killed my confidence from there forward. Had some blown engines in there a couple weeks in a row, then we got to this racetrack. To me our Chase was really over at that point. We were able to race the last three or four races pretty relaxed. We actually I think gained 55 on Jimmie last year in the last five races.
It's tough to say what the biggest difference is. We're closing better this year than what we did last year. Just really being consistent. This has really been a consistent six or seven weeks that we put together for ourselves. Obviously kept ourselves in the game so far.
Q: Joey, Kyle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, a lot of guys in this Chase that aren't really in the Chase but trying to get spots between you and Jimmie. How do you keep track of that? Like Kyle and Jimmie were racing at Charlotte for that spot, five points here and there. Is that team orders, you're supposed to get spots? How do you play the fact there are more than three guys in this Chase you have to race against?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think you just kind of let it play out. Everyone has been pretty respectful of that so far. I think the guys that aren't in the Chase that are battling for race wins each week have raced everyone with pretty good respect.
There's a tough balance because there are 30 some guys out there to win the race. They don't care about a championship. So it's a balance and it's tough when you have so many different people with different agendas each week. I think for the most part it's been pretty clean.
So it is, it's tough, because obviously you want those non-Chase guys between you and the guys you're racing for points.
Q: Denny, talk about this year as a whole in the latest chapter of your life, you have the injury, you catch fire in the summertime, now you're on the verge of potentially winning a championship. It's been quite a year.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it has. There's been so many highs and lows in this year. This year has been our most competitive year of racing. All I can ask for myself that is each year I get better in some way, shape or form. Maybe I'm not faster, but I'm smarter and I've learned from my mistakes.
I've had four Chases that I've made various mistakes in them in different places and different times. I try to put all those on paper, look at them, try not to repeat those same mistakes. That's how we're executing so well this year. I feel like I'm better this year. Hopefully next year I'll be better than I was this year. There's a few things here and there I can learn from.
KERRY THARP: Guys, congratulations. Good luck next week at Talladega.