Michigan International Speedway June 13, 2010 An interview with: DENNY HAMLIN - Winner MIKE FORD - Crew chief J.D. GIBBS - JGR president KERRY THARP: Let's roll into our race winning team press conference for today's race. Today's race winner...
Michigan International Speedway
June 13, 2010
An interview with:
DENNY HAMLIN - Winner
MIKE FORD - Crew chief
J.D. GIBBS - JGR president
KERRY THARP: Let's roll into our race winning team press conference for today's race. Today's race winner is Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. FedEx Ground Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Denny, congratulations. This is your 13th career win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, fifth win in 2010. That's a single-season career high for you. Your previous high was last year with four. Your first victory at Michigan. All-important bonus points continue to rack up for the 11 team. Your thoughts about today's victory?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's a great accomplishment to win on so many different racetracks for us. To be able to unload and know you're going to be competitive for a race win week in and week out gives you a lot of confidence. For the first time really in my career, I feel like we're at this place.
KERRY THARP: Crew chief Mike Ford, it seemed like the car was dialed in just about every time. What kind of changes did you have to make or was the car just that good and Denny that good, too?
MIKE FORD: During the course of the week, we made probably more changes than we have all year. Friday we were what I consider horrible. We weren't a top-15 team. We made some big adjustments going into Saturday.
But today we were tuning. Made a lot of adjustments going into the race today. Really didn't think we had a shot to win. But, you know, the adjustments between yesterday and today were spot on and we just had to fine tune.
Pit crew stepped up and paced themselves when they needed to. Denny did a good job of taking care of his equipment, trying to leave a little bit for the end.
It was a group effort all the way around this week.
KERRY THARP: J.D. Gibbs, this 11 team has established itself at this point in the season as the team to beat. Your thoughts about how they continue to be strong week in and week out?
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, I just think we're real fortunate to have Mike and Denny there. All the guys have been together for quite a while. I've watched them grow week in, week out. Don't panic if things don't go well. They're able to rally and have a great weekend.
This is another encouraging I think notch for those guys.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions now.
Q: Denny, do you ever remember spanking a field the way you did today? Is this as thorough a whipping you've put on people in a long time?
DENNY HAMLIN: In late models I did, but competition level is a little different. Pocono, I've had days at Pocono like this. But, no, we never stopped working. Regardless of whether we have a 9/10ths of a second lead or nine-second lead, we're constantly trying to make our car better. I think we've got some ideas to improve our car the next time we come back.
We're not going to get complacent, I don't think. Even though it looks strong, it's not as easy as it looked today. Friday and Saturday were somewhat of a struggle for us. We got lucky qualifying seventh simply pause we went out early. We probably would have qualified 15th to 20th if we went out any later. So we just capitalized and did everything we were supposed to do to win.
Q: Denny, did you see any debris on the track? At that point did you just go, Well, I knew this was inevitable, have to fight it off? What did you see there?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, it's tough because I was literally thinking inside the car, I'm all for some of these cautions. You know, if I don't win the race because maybe I get a bad restart or something, then probably I'm angry because I feel like NASCAR changed the outcome of the race.
But, you know, we did everything. It was still on me to do my job to win the race. I feel like I got a good restart, got clear of those guys. You know, I understand this is show business.
No, I didn't see any debris, if that's what you're asking. I mean, we typically get them every single week. I'm not going to say it's accepted, but what can you do?
Q: Denny and Mike, the last previous four times you have been in here you maintained that the best was yet to come. Is that still the case?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think there's some aspects of our race team that can get better. I think our pit crew has definitely stepped up. I feel like my communication with Mike has stepped up. What I'm telling Mike and then applying to the racecar has gotten better.
But, you know, where is the limit on it? I feel like each week that we show up, we just set our bar a little bit higher than it was the week before. You go to Pocono, everyone expects us to win. They jot us down, engrave the trophy. There's a lot of effort that gets put into that. It's not as easy as it looks. The way we're performing now goes back six months, a year from now.
We've worked very, very hard to get to this spot right now. To show up the way we did on Friday and know we just kept battling. Literally, I looked at the notes on how many things we changed right here before race day, and I was a skeptic. When you got faith in a guy like Mike to make the right decisions, it's easy to do my job.
MIKE FORD: Towards the end of last season where I said the best is yet to come, I strongly feel that way because towards the end of last season we closed out the season strong. I knew that was a catalyst to really turn up the team, to get a little bit more out of everyone.
We come into this season and we do. Denny goes down with his knee injury. He comes back obviously not a hundred percent. The team steps up. We narrow the gap to try to pick him up knowing he's not going to be there, and we start winning races, even with a driver that's not a hundred percent. Now that he's coming back healthier each week, we're winning more and more.
I simply think that's the catalyst for us to move forward. It's easier when the morale is high to get a little bit more out of your guys. That's where we're at. I think with us winning races through the middle part of the season, we're not going to be complacent, like Denny mentioned, fail to realize that guys are trying to play catchup to us. We're trying to catch up to ourselves. Our benchmark is ourselves and we're just trying to work on that.
Q: Past few years we've seen the 48 team be able to maintain a level. You appear to have reached a level similar to that. How difficult is it to maintain the intensity?
MIKE FORD: I think the important thing is to understand how you got to that point. You know, I simply think the reason the 48 has been so strong is those guys have been together for a while. The key portion of that team has been together for a while. They understand each other. They're very competitive. They work well together.
I think we're seeing fruit because the core group of guys that we have have been together for a long time. Through Denny's rookie season, we haven't really made any key changes. We're really understanding each other better. Being able to challenge someone is difficult if you don't have a competitive person, but we've got competitive people all the way around. Their objective is to win. When we see fruit and we understand why we see fruit, it makes it a little bit easier.
I think getting to this point is very difficult, but maintaining it's going to be difficult as well. As long as we understand what we're doing on a weekly basis, I think that's going to make it a little easier.
Q: Denny, did you know yesterday you had a car this good? Barring something significant happening, this was your race to lose or did you realize that in today's race?
DENNY HAMLIN: I thought we ended yesterday pretty good. We had a couple decent runs. You look at the sheet, though, and we weren't great. But, you know, I think that's one thing that we do a really good job at. It seems like wherever my feel is where I want it, regardless of the speed it shows on Saturday, it really shows up on Sunday. That's a really good feeling. Mike tells me we changed some pivotal things in the car that I didn't necessarily think was the best thing, but it turns out it was very, very good.
You know, all I can say is we'll just keep digging. When things go your way like they have for us over the last 10 races, you know, the confidence level is just huge, whether it be in the middle of the race, at the beginning. When you have a car as fast as what mine was today, it's so easy to be patient. When you have a car that is not, you can't be patient. That's probably why I got myself in trouble over the last couple years with a few wrecks.
Q: After the basketball injury, you spoke very confidently about coming back, how strong you thought you could be. In the middle of June, talking about five victories, is that still a little bit hard to take?
DENNY HAMLIN: It is at this point. I mean, believe me, I didn't think that we were going to have the success right away that we're having, especially after the knee thing. You know, after Texas, I had full faith that we could do it. But, you know, the pain level at Phoenix was so much that I was wondering, Is it going to get better each week? I hoped so, because that was pretty much unbearable.
It seemed like after Texas, we got that win the following week, it's just been a snowball effect. The healthier I've got, the more I'm concentrating on this racecar and it seems like the better performances it's getting.
Q: Clearly you're going to be a part of this championship run. You want to win it for yourself and your team. How much of a driving force is it for you for you to be the guy who wins the landmark first championship for Toyota?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's tough to say. Until it actually happens, it's tough to say how you'll feel. I got asked that question a ton of times when we were trying to win at Richmond, what would it be like to win at Richmond. It's tough to say.
Until it actually happens, you can't really put it into words. But Toyota has been just an outstanding supporter of us. Everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, through thick and thin, no matter what goes on in their company, their support for our race team has never wavered. I'm just so proud to represent them.
Q: When you had your injury, you were sidelined, did that give you time to think and reflect how you might want to go about your career from there on out? You have so many irons in the fire. You're a young guy. It just seems the resolve you've come back with since then, the dedication is pretty intense.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think obviously sitting on the couch for weeks on end makes you think. I constantly am thinking. We were watching a movie last night. My mind is racing of what we can do to make the car better.
I don't know. It's in my blood. I haven't had this much focus I feel like on what we need to do to make our cars better over and over and over since my late model days when we were absolutely dominating.
It's just funny for me. It's like the more success we get, the hungrier it makes me to try to win again.
Q: Denny, is this turning into a dream season for you? Are you pinching yourself right now?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's been good so far. I mean, we had a rocky first few races or so, five races or so before we finished in the teens. We weren't setting the world on fire, but we had some issues as well. Seems once we got to Martinsville and turned that corner, it's been really good for us.
Statistically, this has been a pretty good run of tracks for us, the last 10. It has been over the course of my career. You know, where we need to improve is those Chase racetracks. We felt like we made strides at Dover. You know, we kind of used that as a test session. To go from a two-lap-down non-competitive race to finishing in the top five getting ready for the Chase race there, we're making strides at all of our worst racetracks.
For me, you know, it seems like I used to go into every season thinking, We ought to get a couple wins, Martinsville, Pocono. Now it's just show up and, hey, we can win. That to me is just a feeling I don't think we've ever had before. I haven't had it before.
Q: When you did have the fuel issue on pit road, what went through your mind? Were you at all concerned that might be a problem for you guys?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, we had a similar issue at the start of the Pocono race last year where we broke a fuel cable. I thought that's what we did. When I went to take off, it immediately shut off. So I thought maybe we spun a cable like we did last year.
That was a downer, for sure. But once it picked back up, I was pretty confident we weren't going to have it again. 'Cause Mike never really gave me an alarm we were going to be stretching it on fuel. That particular run, we had been out front for the first time, used more throttle than we used all day. The driver wasn't as good with fuel mileage. I didn't think we were going to be low on fuel. He assured me that it's just a one-time thing.
Q: Denny, when we talked outside you talked about next week, Marcos Ambrose. How is your knee going to hold up? In regards to a road course, how has it been in practice?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, obviously we want a Toyota to win when we go back out there for the Toyota/Save Mart race. People don't necessarily look at us as a road course team. We were competitive last year at Sonoma. We led quite a bit of the race, had pretty good fuel mileage. I think we finished in the top five.
We can go there and win. But if we don't, trust me, I'll be rooting for somebody that has a less shot of using those 10 bonus points in the Chase. Marcos is our number one key guy right now.
Q: There has been a good deal of talk this week about the challenge of the Ganassi and Penske team. Are you working hard to creep up on what's happening here? What has been said is a challenge to you to get back into the mix of things?
DENNY HAMLIN: I feel like we've been really good over the course of the last 10 races. Our team has the most wins, Joe Gibbs Racing more specifically. Those guys are great in open-wheel and pretty much dominating. It's pretty much a two-team race over there. Over here the competition is so strong. We know that Hendrick is right there in the mix. They haven't gone anywhere. They might convince you otherwise, but they haven't gone anywhere.
For us, you know, I like to think that we're setting our own bar. We hopefully keep moving that bar each and every week to continue to keep Gibbs Racing on top.
Q: J.D., 2004, 2005, when you called Denny, was it you that called him to come race for you or was it your dad? Can you tell me where you were, Denny?
J.D. GIBBS: Gosh, I think it was me. Curtis was the one that was actually at the test.
DENNY HAMLIN: We had a test. Evidently Curtis or Steve called J.D. I didn't realize the significance at the time of this test.
J.D. GIBBS: Nor did we.
DENNY HAMLIN: They really were not looking for me or anything like that. I was just there trying to help out because it was my equipment. We were selling our equipment to them for their diversity program in the late model series. Next thing you know, the last day of the test showed up and J.D. was there. No offense, I didn't realize his role in Gibbs Racing was that big.
J.D. GIBBS: It wasn't and still isn't (laughter).
DENNY HAMLIN: But I just thought, hey, it's no big deal, one of the Gibbs are here, that's very cool. I just didn't realize at that moment I was kind of on trial, being watched.
I think they just took a chance. How are you going to take a guy that you just watched turn a few laps around Hickory Motor Speedway and throw him into the Truck Series and see how he does. They just took a chance on me. I was just very fortunate every opportunity, every audition I got, whether it be first time in the Truck, first time in Cup or Nationwide, I made the best of every situation. That's what got me to this point is pure performance.
That to me is one of the more gratifying things.
Q: It wasn't too long ago that you were the guy to beat on flat tracks. You realize the next two races, you can fill out every possible kind of track in one season. Road courses and plate races are coming up. How important is it for you to win at every kind of track there is?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, I really didn't think about that. I mean, yeah, we're definitely getting to that point. To me, it's a great feeling because, you know, like I said, it's not just one characteristic type of racetrack that we're seeming to step up, we can show up and win. Now it seems like it's everywhere.
I know that we don't have a huge amount of focus on our road course program. I mean, we go there and we think we can win. Obviously, fuel mileage really plays a big factor into those race wins there. But for me, I feel like I can -- I've gotten better at superspeedway races, but I don't feel like I'm the best at it. I feel like I could be a little bit better, and I think a few more studying tapes and things like that could make me better.
But for me, I feel like there's a lot of hard work that got us to be competitive at all these racetracks. It's not just the team, but it's me going home and studying tape every time we race a race, whether we win or finish 20th. It's a great feeling.
Q: Were there any specific instructions to not wreck the car after you crossed the finish line today?
DENNY HAMLIN: There were specific instructions not to wreck this car. The last thing we needed is to get the fab shop behind. We definitely need those guys.
It looked like most of our cars came out pretty clean. Anytime we can get those guys a break, it's good. We got those guys working overtime.
Q: You mentioned setting the bar further. Leading by up to 10 seconds, how does the bar get higher than what you've done the last two months?
DENNY HAMLIN: We win at Dover. If we win at Dover, then we know we're pretty damn strong.
KERRY THARP: Guys, congratulations. Super performance today. Continued best of luck.