NASCAR Sprint Cup Series post race press conference Michigan International Speedway
An Interview With: Denny Hamlin, J.D. Gibbs And Mike Ford
KERRY THARP: We'll run into our race winning team. For the second straight year, Denny Hamlin wins today's race. Crew chief Mike Ford and J.D. Gibbs will be here shortly. This is Denny's 17th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, his first win in 2011. He's now inside the top 10 in points and has got that win.
Denny, I know you were wanting this win. Talk about a big win today for your team.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it really was. Obviously in this position it puts us in the top 10, hopefully works towards our goal of being in the top 5 by the time we get to Richmond. We just started so far back in points, it's going to take a long time to get to that point.
I feel like over the last six to seven weeks, we've been as good as anyone. Feels good to get a win after sneaking up on everyone. When we go to these racetracks that we won at before, everyone expects us to win. We expect ourselves to win. We just had little bugs that kept us from doing that. This one we just snuck in there.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Denny.
Q. With most teams when they have controversy and chaos surrounding them, they don't run well. You seem to thrive whenever you're in the news for the wrong reasons. Why is that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Coincidence. It doesn't make me drive any differently. Really at that point in the race, I never even thought about any of that stuff that happened earlier this weekend. So I think it's just more coincidence more than anything, to be honest.
Q. In Victory Lane you talked a little bit about a magic adjustment. Can you talk about what you did to the car there in the second half of the race?
DENNY HAMLIN: We just kept tightening the car up. We were so loose all day long, we couldn't do anything to tighten it up. Mike finally got it tightened up, too tight, that last run. Was a little closer than comfort with Matt there at the end. We finally hit it about 70 laps to go. We started making our way back forward again.
We were 15th to 10th all day long and just couldn't get past that point until we got some clean air, a good adjustment, then our car looked like a race-winning car. That's usually some of the best ways to win 'em, is when people don't expect you and haven't seen you all day.
Q. You have two wins and a second. What have you found here that's made you so dominating?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, it's tough to say. I mean, we were truly dominant one year ago in this race. We were a second- to third-place car. In the fall we finished second. But today we actually were a little worse. But we got a win. That's very uplifting for me, is to win when you don't necessarily have the best car all day, but you have the car good at the end when it really counts.
So it's not really something that we figured out at this racetrack because we struggled for most of the day to get our car where we needed it. But there at the end we just got it tightened up enough to where it started running.
KERRY THARP: We're joined up at the front by team president J.D. Gibbs and crew chief Mike Ford.
Mike, Denny was talking about the consistency and determination to get the car right there towards the second half of the race. Talk about that.
MIKE FORD: Yeah, today I really thought going into the race we had a top three or four car. We didn't make many adjustments going into the race. Track conditions were similar. Race started and we went backwards. We were looking at the monitor, we were four and a half to 5/10ths off what the leaders were running. That was disturbing. Denny's first run was tight, we made some adjustments. Second was loose. After the third run he couldn't tell us what we needed to do.
We noticed when we tightened the car up, we went faster. We just continued to tighten the car up and went faster and faster. Still didn't have the fastest car at the end of the race, but through the adjustments, watching lap time, adjusting the car, we got it respectable.
Pit crew put us in position to win the race.
From here on out, we know we're one win away from having a Chase spot.
KERRY THARP: J.D., you now have two drivers inside the top 10 in points, both of them obviously having wins. Talk about the significance of the 11 car getting the win today.
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, it was real encouraging. Again, Mike mentioned this, the way the day played out, kind of struggled at the start, worked hard, it paid off at the end.
Overall, the 11 car, each year that it's been in existence, has been a strong-performing car. You kind of start the year off not as quickly and successfully as we would like. To watch them kind of come together and lift each other up, be a team, that was kind of for me I get a lot of satisfaction watching those guys rally around each other and look for some great momentum for the rest of the year.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for all three.
Q. Denny, even though the year started slowly, you never really seemed to waiver in terms of your confidence, your confidence in your team. Despite that, what sense of relief is there for you to get this victory given the dynamic of the point structure now?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, realistically you know if the whole world collapses and ends, you're still one win away from getting a Chase spot pretty much. I mean, one win's not going to put you in necessarily. It might if you're still high up in points. But we know two wins pretty much puts you in. From here on out, we know we're one win away from having a Chase spot.
My goal is still to get in the top five in points. If I wouldn't have dug us such a big hole at the beginning of the year, we really could be possibly fighting for trying to lead the points going into the Chase. But we just started so far behind, it's going to be tough to do that.
My realistic goal is top five in points, don't have to worry about any kind of wild cards once we get to Richmond.
Q. Mike, how fortunate was it that the caution came out for you guys? That seemed to be almost the turnaround for you. Could you have won without that situation? Denny, obviously it's been 16 races since your last win. That's not a long period. But considering you won all the races last year and won a bunch even before then, this is about as long a drought as you've had in two years. What was it like to end it and what was it like to go through it?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I don't think about, Are we going to win a race this year? I felt like that was going to happen. I felt like over these last six weeks, I can honestly say we've had a chance to win each and every race, one of them.
For us I think today during that yellow flag that came out in the middle of everyone's sequence, no, I don't think we were going to win if that didn't happen, but we still were marching our way towards the front at that point. But we got good fuel mileage in our car and that allowed us to stay out. That was one of the factors that kind of hurt our team over the last few years, is fuel mileage, and we feel like we've gotten that a little bit better. That put us in position to stay out there a little bit longer, put us in a position to win the race.
Q. Has it felt like a long period of time?
DENNY HAMLIN: It has. For me, if I go about eight weeks without winning, I'm wondering what the heck is going on.
Q. Denny and Mike, in terms of this being a character-building win for the team, you start out this weekend with the oil pan situation, all the rumors about the crew chief/driver thing. To win this way at Michigan where you play sound strategy, led the final eight laps, can you just talk about maybe what that means to have the win happen that way for you guys.
MIKE FORD: Yeah, you know, it's very important to get that off your back and get moved on. You know, the rest of the world, after a year like you had last year, has higher expectations of what you should be than what's realistic.
Going into this year, I know we had a strong car. We actually ran better to start the season than what we have in a few years. That was very important.
As far as the team building, I think it speaks volumes to the experience and the resilience of this 11 car that you can start the week off with a down note and put that behind you, and make sure that it doesn't affect what's getting ready to happen. Today is just proof of that. We turned a negative for us to a positive and we'll see where it goes from there.
This team usually comes out swinging when its back is against the ropes. Sometimes we connect and sometimes we get dotted in the eye.
Q. J.D., do you think you have the engine situation taken care of? You had something going on with the 20 car again this week, had problems earlier. Can you give us an update on the Carl Edwards situation? I saw an earlier story where you said you were interested in him.
J.D. GIBBS: I think for us the two things really on the motor side, that's concerning. The hardest thing, this is for every team in the garage, is to put those motors together and ask them to have the horsepower and the durability together. That's a constant struggle for every team.
For us, that's always on your mind. I think we have a great team, a great history. We need to improve on that, there's no doubt about that.
As far as someone asking me about the Carl thing, the reality of it is each year we have three cars. Whoever is in the rumor mill, it's since we have an opening, Are they going in your car? We learned over the years, probably when we started the 11 car, the FedEx team, we learned some good lessons. Unless you have all those parts together - a sponsor, the right driver and team - don't do it.
We're not in any hurry to do it. Carl is a gifted driver. He's doing great where he is. From our standpoint, we're going to focus on Denny, Joey and Kyle. When we get that going right, we can worry about other stuff in the future. Right now that's all we're kind of focused on.
Q. J.D., can you take us through what happened with the oil pan all the way through.
J.D. GIBBS: For us, the oil pan thing ultimately was our responsibility to get -- when it says things approved by NASCAR, every piece has to be approved by NASCAR. A lot of times we bring stuff to the track. They'll say, Hey, run it this week, don't bring it back, make these changes to it. Our fault was thinking we would have that conversation. When we got here, they didn't like it. I think they thought it was a different issue than it actually wound up being.
The reality of it is it was our fault for not bringing it to them and laying it out. It's a good lesson learned. Also having those communications ahead of time. We want to be in this sport, we want to be here with integrity and do things the right way. We made mistakes in the past as a team and I'm sure we'll make mistakes in the future. If we can't conduct ourselves in the right way, there's no use in us doing this. It's a wake-up call for us to make sure we do a better job before bringing parts to the track.
Q. Denny, Kyle Busch this weekend has made several references to the fact he's working closer with you guys. Do you feel all the controversies and everything has brought this team closer together? I get the impression you are sort of rounding up the wagons because of all this stuff.
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean really the last few weeks, yeah, I've seen him a lot more than I have a lot. I think a lot of it is you come to realize that you need your teammates to help you perform better.
We've been to a couple really strong tracks here these last few weeks and he's kind of picked my brain quite a bit. I've given him every bit of information I have on them. He's obviously had two consecutive top-three finishes at those tracks that he's not necessarily been the best at in the past. So he's using that knowledge to his advantage.
Trust me, when I go to a road course or something like that, I'm going to be on him trying to find that same information.
That's what we did I think at the beginning of our relationship really, really well, was that we pushed each other to be better. I think we're starting to get back to that right now, just using every bit of information we can from each other because he knows that I'm good at some racetracks and I know that he's good at other ones that I struggle at.
In order for us to get closer together and start using each other's setups, we've got to get on the same page.
Q. Denny, it was interesting that you used the words 'sneak up on the competition.' That might just be a figure of speech. Do you feel like you're kind of sneaking up on people?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think this weekend in particular probably because we weren't super fast in practice, we weren't super fast in qualifying, we just kind of were average in a lot of different areas. Even during the race, for three-quarters of the race we were average. But we stepped up there at the end.
Obviously when that caution came out and it put us in the top five, then I think it was medicine for us to say, okay, now let's see what our car's got. We started making ground about 100 laps to go and were running top-five time. That put an equalizer right there, as soon as that caution flag flew, to let us see what kind of car we had. Obviously, the last couple runs, we were able to hang right there at the front. It's just things worked out for us today.
Q. Mike, Carl Edwards got out of his car today and said he wanted the 2013 car to have less downforce. What's going on there and what did you think? He was talking about track position and all that. Explain what's going on there.
MIKE FORD: You have to look that far out as a team. A lot of work is being done on that 2013 car. You're talking coming back to a place like Michigan with a repave with that car and the speed is going to be there. I don't know what he was alluding to. I don't know what was on his mind at the time. But you do have a group of guys and some resources that are working that far out, wanting to try to make that product exactly what you want for your race team.
Every manufacturer is working on it equally. But coming up to Michigan, there's a lot more emphasis on that. You have the manufacturers here. A lot of talk this week about that.
I don't know his exact issue, what he was alluding to. But I would say that track position being important, you know, downforce seems to equalize that. That's me speculating on what he's thinking.
Q. What about your 2013 car?
MIKE FORD: I want them better than the rest of them.
DENNY HAMLIN: He can build them with less downforce if he really wants. That's okay.
Q. Denny, can you talk about the last couple laps, especially the last one where Matt made the move. I'm guessing you anticipated that. Talk about the battle of the last lap, your perspective of it.
DENNY HAMLIN: I was kind of painted in a box where my car was so tight the last few laps I had no choice but to make sure I cleared him on corner exit. If he got beside me on corner entry, that was okay, as long as I was able to get back to the gas sooner than him.
It's just like putting on the brakes to your racecar.
The side draft on these cars means so much. If someone gets their nose right to the edge of your racecar, they're going to beat you to the start/finish line.
The reason he was able to charge in and get beside us a couple times is 'cause I just had to really baby the entry so much because our car wasn't turning as well to make sure I was the first one to the throttle. I had to make sure that I was clear on corner exit. If I could do that, then I felt like I was going to win the race. Especially turn three on the white-flag lap, it's so tough to know that you got to just slow down and not use brake and go in there easy to make sure you get off the corner. But especially when you see a guy coming and making a charge, it's tough to discipline yourself to do that.
But I knew honestly it was our only shot to win it. By running there deep, he gets a run up off, he side drafts.
Q. Explain the side draft, what you can do.
DENNY HAMLIN: What it does, when the car gets right there on the side of you, it's the air off his nose that goes to your rear spoiler. It's just like putting on the brakes to your racecar. You see it a lot during superspeedway races and things like this.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations, guys. Best of luck next week at Infineon.