GM team owners NNCS teleconference, part 2a

Chevy Championship Contending Team Owners NASCAR Teleconference Transcript, Part Two Ford 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway NASCAR Teleconference Transcript with Championship-Contending Car Owners An Interview With: J.D. GIBBS - Team Owner, No. 11...

Chevy Championship Contending Team Owners NASCAR Teleconference Transcript, Part Two
Ford 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway
NASCAR Teleconference Transcript with Championship-Contending Car Owners

An Interview With:
J.D. GIBBS - Team Owner, No. 11 FedEx Monte Carlo SS driven by Denny Hamlin
RICHIE GILMORE - Vice President Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt, Inc. owner of No. 8 Budweiser Monte Carlo SS driven by Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

MODERATOR: We are joined by J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, whose driver, Denny Hamlin, is in 4th place in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup standings heading into Sunday's season finale at Homestead Miami. J.D., not only do you have the 4th place driver in the standings, you have a rookie in the standings, so it's got to be an exciting prospect for you guys this weekend.

J.D. GIBBS: It is. It's been really enjoyable this year after the hard year we had last year with the FedEx team, #11 car, to come back this year and watch Denny and watch him grow and mature, really just on the track and off the track too has been kind of special for us. I think for us that's a big deal.

Q: My question is about keeping sponsors happy, and specifically I'm wondering given the hard year you had with the 11 recently, and then I know this year hasn't been what you wanted from the 18, can you talk at all about the challenge of keeping the sponsors happy or content when performance does vary, particularly when there's someone as high profile as FedEx or as long term as Interstate?

J.D. GIBBS: I think for us, each sponsor kind of wants something a little different out of the racing program. Some early focus on hospitality; you can make that work well for them. Some are focused on print media and commercials and advertising. Some are really focused on B-to-B, business to business. I think we really can make effort to make those areas work.

At the end of the day, though, when you're on that track running and kind of representing them, they want you to be up front, and that's a big deal for each of these sponsors we have. You are in a way their high school football team. If you're running well and going up front, that's a big deal. If you're not, it can be really discouraging.

I think each for us, initially we've had a great run with Denny, Tony has obviously come on strong, missed the Chase but running well now, that's a big deal. And the 18, with J.J., really it's a heartbreaker for Interstate, and you want them to succeed. And we're doing the same stuff with each car, it's just that's how hard this sport is. Even within our own team, we can't get all our cars performing the way we would like.

Q: If Denny were to pull out this championship, what would it be worth to him financially, not just this year but on down the road to him throughout his career?

J.D. GIBBS: It would be worth quite a chunk of change to Denny. I laughed, when he moved down to Charlotte a couple years ago running Late Models, he was my neighbor. I'm thinking, hey, Denny moves in next door and my kids are over there harassing him. And a short year and a half later he's my dad's neighbor. I said he's going to need to win some stuff just to afford the house. He got himself a plane, but we were really - I think for him, what he does, he's really done a good job, I mentioned earlier - on the track, I know he can do the job on the track. Off the track, you're always concerned when somebody comes in and starts making all this money, all this exposure, you try to get him so he doesn't wear himself out, but really financially most of the drivers get roughly half the winnings so you've got that sitting there.

But I think with endorsements and I think for us, I think you get a lot - he'll be making a lot of money, and I think more importantly he'll probably get a lot of opportunities he wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

Q: Quick question, did the approach from Joe Gibbs Racing towards the Chase change having a rookie in it as opposed to having Tony who had been there and done that before?

J.D. GIBBS: I don't know if it changes. I know going to the Chase, Denny got pretty nervous there. Are you going to be in it, you're on pins and needles. I think once he got in it, he was still a little nervous.

I think what we were able to do with him; Tony really did a good job monitoring him. Hey, just enjoy it. No one expected you to be here anyway so just enjoy it and appreciate what you're going through. I think that probably helped him out as well as Mike Ford and the team. A lot of those guys, it was kind of new to them. Mike had been there previously, but for a lot of the guys, just take this opportunity to enjoy it because next time you come back to it you're going to be expected to be there. And when you've expected to be there it's a whole lot more difficult than when you kind of show up unannounced.

I think for him we really didn't change anything as far as technically. We've been through this a few times with Tony and with Bobby, so we had a pretty good idea what to expect from that end, but I think emotionally and mentally he was able to enjoy this one more than he might be able to in the future.

Q: As a follow up, you said it's been special for you to see him not only grow off the track but on the track. What changes have you seen in him from maybe Bud Shootout until now off the track and dealing with the things at the track?

J.D. GIBBS: I think for Denny, really he ran Late Models, went from that so quick, ran some Truck races, went from that, ran a year of Busch. So he's got a pretty good idea of what goes on around the racing world.

I think when you make that next step to Cup it's a whole other world as far as sponsor obligations, media commitments, just working with your team. He's running Busch and Cup, so much stuff going on. I was just worried he was just going to wear himself out.

These guys are good guys that really surround him. He did lean on Tony some, and he did a good job of scheduling this year instead of just going crazy. I think he's really matured. I think he kind of knows what it takes off the track now to make it work on the track. That's a big deal for all race teams, and I think at the same time he hasn't lost that passion.

At the end of the day, he's there; he knows the race cars that do a good job on behalf of JGR and our partners. So I think for him, I've just been really impressed with the way he's handled that, and the guys on the team the same way, they've done a really great job of being a tight knit unit. He went through some stressful situations.

Q: You guys have won three of the last six championships and you still have a mathematical chance at this one. How difficult is it to year in and year out put yourself in that position with all the turnover there is in the sport?

J.D. GIBBS: Personally I think it's extremely difficult. My dad laughs and said he won a Super Bowl his second year in the sport. Over here it took about nine years to do it. I think the reality is, to your point, almost every team is within an hour's drive, so most every guy in the shop - obviously you have contracts with a lot of them, but most every guy could probably leave here, make more money somewhere else and go right down the road, not even have to move.

So I think our guys do a great job of we've got some great leadership here, Jimmy Makar has been here from day one, Zippy has been here for a long time, we've got a lot of key guys in key places that have been here for a long time, and I think that's what the guys that work here really - I think they appreciate that.

We try and make it as much of a family atmosphere as we can, and at the end of the day you have to win and run for championships, otherwise people aren't going to be excited about working here. We've tried to make every commitment we can, and obviously we've been blessed along the way as well to make some good decisions and avoid some things that obviously could have impacted us.

Ultimately three out of six is just a great testament to all the guys that really have been here for the past 15 years

Q: What are your plans for Aric (Almirola) next year?

J.D. GIBBS: Aric is going to run - right now - he ran the Truck team this year and some Busch stuff for us. We're probably going to wind up doing a lot more Busch races with Aric, probably not a full season. We're probably going to load him up on a bunch more Busch races and probably run - do some Cup R & D with him next year and really kind of get his experience level up. I assume he'll do some truck stuff, but probably not a whole season.

Q: Out on the grid after the race this past weekend, Denny told me he had a lot to learn, and I said, "Well, how long do you think it'll take you to learn it?" He said, "Two to three years." He's so talented and not know what he doesn't know and that's the refreshing part about where he's at right now, and in those two to three years, oh, my gosh.

J.D. GIBBS: Good for us, if he's got that much to learn. I think the reality is hey, there's some things that are really - we talked about this last week. It's almost easier sometimes when you come into a situation and you don't know what to expect as opposed to coming into a situation and you kind of have an idea what you like or feel in the car. And when you come in with that presupposed idea of what that car is supposed to feel like or what do I want to get out of a race, I think it almost makes it harder sometimes as opposed to coming in just really kind of naïve, and I think he struggled with that a little bit.

As he gets more experience, he kind of knows what he likes, which is good, but it also makes it - it's always hard to year in and year out get that same kind of feel. The good drivers always kind of adapt.

My guess is probably referring to the fact that it's really only his second time at most of these tracks, so going forward in the years to come, I think just knowing the racetracks and what happens over a 500 lap race or a long race, that stuff I think he's still got a lot to learn. I think he'll admit that some of those tracks he still doesn't feel comfortable. I'm excited to get to the point where he's comfortable, but at the same time you've got to keep an eye. He's done so well so quickly that in a way it's kind of a load off your mind because you're not trying to figure out what happened here last time or five years ago. You kind of come out of the box and don't have that. He's got a great team with Mike Ford and he'll be able to figure that out.

Q: How do you not over coach him because you don't want to overcomplicate things for him and tell him more than he needs to be thinking about right now?

J.D. GIBBS: We talked about it. This is - he's still under the radar. No one really expects him to win the championship. He actually has a chance to do it. We were kind of going back early this morning and kind of comparing notes of championships in the past that have been decided in the last race and how close do they get and how far apart are they, and the reality is he's got a chance. I think we want him - all the guys to be able to focus and enjoy it and at the same time not wear yourself out.

Hey, the pressure really, we were there last year, the pressure is on Jimmie. Sometimes that's a more difficult spot to be in than having no pressure on you and going forward with that.

Q: Along those same lines, Denny has said repeatedly he's just happy to be here and would be pleased with wherever he finishes, but do you think there is a lot of pressure on him going into this weekend and do you think there's anything you can do to help with that?

J.D. GIBBS: I really think - I think he's pretty good about this weekend. I think he felt going into his last Chase; he felt a lot of pressure getting into that Chase. Wednesday he got in it and really refocused, I don't think he's feeling any kind of pressure right now. We certainly encourage him, me and Mike and everyone at FedEx, hey, you've done a great job, just keep doing what you're doing. We had a couple races there a few weeks back where we struggled a little bit, not that great. Still wound up with a couple top tens, went back to Phoenix and wound up with a 3rd and really could have done better than that if he had a little more time.

I think the reality of the last race is a lot of it is out of your hands. We were laughing last year at Homestead; I think he wrecked two cars within a half hour's time between the Busch and the Cup side. He was just happy to finish that thing. Going back down there, I think he's got a lot more confidence than he had last year.

Q: I know certainly Denny has got a shot, but it's really, I guess, Jimmie's title to lose at this point. You've been in this position with your drivers before. I'm wondering with Jimmie, how will this change him if he wins it? You've gone through it with Tony and Bobby; what's different if you win it?

J.D. GIBBS: I think for Jimmie, I think what's his experience, and he's come so close; I think there's going to be a good bit of pressure on him. But ultimately - he's been doing this he knows - he and Chad and Rick, their group is so tight, I don't - unless it's something outside their control, I don't foresee anything really knocking them off course.

They've done such a great job this year bouncing back from adversity. I don't see him being stressed out this week. He's done this so long; he kind of knows the whole routine.

But I think will it change Jimmie? I don't think so. I've known him - I used to race against him years ago back before I got fired from driving cars. I haven't seen him change at all. From the time he came here from California and was running Late Models at Caraway and hanging out, he's got a pretty good head on his shoulders. I think he'd be a great champion.

Continued in part 2b

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Denny Hamlin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing