DENNY HAMLIN, DRIVER OF THE NO. 11 FEDEX MONTE CARLO SS MIKE FORD, CREW CHIEF, AND JD GIBBS, TEAM PRESIDENT, JOE GIBBS RACING HAMLIN: "I knew right from the get go we had a very strong car. Even in practice we were a top two or three car. We...
DENNY HAMLIN, DRIVER OF THE NO. 11 FEDEX MONTE CARLO SS MIKE FORD, CREW CHIEF, AND JD GIBBS, TEAM PRESIDENT, JOE GIBBS RACING
HAMLIN: "I knew right from the get go we had a very strong car. Even in practice we were a top two or three car. We just had to do something really small to make it a race winning car. I knew when we took off and just started pulling away that we had a really strong car but that we were going to have to keep up with the race track. We took tires only, no adjustments on that first stop to try to see where the race track was going to go and it just pretty much stayed consistent. It just tightened up a little bit and that kind of played into our favor and then we had our tire issue and then I thought our hopes were on the dashed. After we got back on the race track after that damage, it just felt aero-unstable. It disrupted the car quite a bit. It just didn't seem as fast as what it was. The whole crew just kept adding little pieces to the car. It seems like every single stop, they just added more pieces. Each piece that added made the car a little bit faster. We finally got it back where it belonged there at the end of the race."
FORD: "It wasn't an easy race by any means. It was a group effort. Obviously we had a fast car and we had our tire issue and we just had to pace ourselves and evaluate the damage and knew there was a lot of time left in the race and we did what we could with the time that we had. Every time we came back down pit road we had more to do. Really, we still had more to do than we could get to. Once it went back green for a while, we saw that we could run back toward the front and didn't think there was anyone that could outrun us so we opted to leave the car alone from that point and try and get track position and that worked out. We had a good car and the guys did a really good car. Denny did what the car would give him."
JD GIBBS: "For me, it's really been just a blessing. You look back a year ago, man we were struggling. We'd come to a race and Jason Leffler would get in a wreck right off the bat and all three of our teams were kind of hurting -- but mainly this FedEx group. But just to watch Mike and Denny team up toward the end of the year and all of those guys who were part of that stuggle come together was really impressive."
WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR MIND FOR DURING THE RED FLAG WAIT?
"Actually I was thinking about what I was going to eat for dinner (laughter). Honestly, our car was that good. I didn't think about the race whatsoever. I started to get a little worried when they gave us the one to go as soon as we crossed the line. But our car didn't fall off much. Even with the old tires, I think we ran one of our fastest laps there at the end of the race. I knew it was going to be our race to lose."
HOW MANY TIMES DID YOU PIT?
FORD: I'm guessing maybe seven or eight just to repair the car on top of all the normal tire stops. I lost count. I didn't write it down -- they were happening so fast. We were fortunate we could get it repaired."
HOW DO YOU GO FROM ONE STRUGGLING TEAM TO ANOTHER ONE AND PUT TOGETHER A WINNING PROGRAM IN A SHORT TIME?
FORD: "It is chemistry. What I saw when I talked to JD and Joe is there was the potential of the race team. I knew there was trouble in the No. 11 car with drivers and things like that but that the team was very strong. My whole career, I've worked with older guys and you try to work those guys into retirement and I wanted to get somewhere where you're working to win races and championships. You gamble a little bit but I was really hoping Denny would get in that car and that's the way it ended up. Our chemistry has been excellent since the firs time we went to test."
TONY STEWART SAYS THE WHOLE VIDEO GAME THING IS A MYTH AND YOU CAN'T REALLY LEARN ALL THAT MUCH FROM THAT
HAMLIN: "You don't learn anything set-up wise, obviously. But there are a lot of track awareness. When you go to a race track you've never been to before, you've got to find let-off points -- especially on a flat race track like this. You don't know where you are on the race track because it's just like running on the salt flats. You can't judge where your let-off points are. With the video games, they've got every tree and everything mapped out perfect. So visually, I know where my let-off points are. I still have to fine-tune that at the race track quite a bit, but still it helps with track awareness and I feel like it helped me. This is one of the very few weeks that I actually spent three days or so on the computer before I came. I hadn't really done that all year long because I'd been to these race tracks before."
WHEN THE SPIN HAPPENED, DID YOU THINK YOUR CHANCE TO WIN THE RACE WAS OVER?
HAMLIN: "Yeah, as bad as it sounded from where I was sitting, and all the mud and everything that was in the car -- I was just covered in mud -- and I knew there was substantial damage to the rear of the car. These things are so aero-sensitive that we had to make adjustments to compensate for that. Mike did a good job.
"Two green flag runs after that, I felt like we were still a top five car, but we weren't that dominant car like we were before. We kept making it better and better. Then, with about 100 laps to go, I knew we had a dominant car again."
WHAT IS THERE IN YOUR BACKGROUND THAT HAS BROUGHT YOU THIS FAR?
"The biggest thing is that I was able to make the best of every opportunity that was handed to me. JD happened to be at that test I was at where they were picking out their drivers and I happened to be there running really fast times and impressed the right people when they were there. At that time, driver development was really big. Gibbs started heading that way. They said they'd never done that before with young guys. They'd always looked for the veterans. They signed me up and said they would see what happened. They really didn't have a place for me right then. They said to just hang on and see what opened up. But that kind of opened up the truck ride in the fall of '04. We qualified and finished in the top 10 in our first truck race. That led to the first Busch race where we finished in the top 10 at Darlington. We just made the best of every opportunity. Then I got the opportunity to run this FedEx car and I knew it was something I could do."
ON THE TURNAROUND OF THE TEAM
JD GIBBS: "All the decisions I make are questionable in my dad's eyes. At that time, he had just got done going six to 10 with the Redskins. And we're struggling down here. The whole process of getting everyone on board. It was just a blessing from the Lord to be able to do this and put together the guys we had. All those guys had a chance to bail last year to bail. I didn't have a chance to bail, however. We stuck it out. And for those guys to go through all those hard times and come back the way they are now, solidifies everything."
ON THE VIDEO GAMES, HOW GOOD ARE YOU? HOW COMPETITIVE ARE YOU? AND HOW MUCH COULD IT PREPARE YOU FOR THE SPIN?
HAMLIN: "I like to think I'm pretty good. I race with probably the best in the world. There are people overseas racing with us. Brad Davis and Kevin King and myself are on the pecking list of who's good and who's not. I race with those guys all the time and they teach me a whole lot. I'm pretty competitive. The spin thing, at Dover last week was probably the most interesting thing. Everybody made a big deal about Jimmie. We did about the same thing, only we were a little bit closer to the wall than he was. I thought it was a blown motor to begin with. The car started shaking. It jerked the wheel out of my hand. I was kind of at the mercy of the gods."
DO YOU PLAY WITH ANYBODY ELSE IN THE GARAGE?
"Of course, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Me and him and Martin run quite a bit. We have a lot of fun and that's how me and Dale Jr. have gotten so close over the years. I've heard him say that he has beat me and he is a liar. Never, ever, ever."
YOU'RE 9TH IN POINTS NOW. IS IT TOO OUTLANDISH TO COMPETE FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP AS A ROOKIE?
HAMLIN: "I see a lot of the same things with this team that the No. 20 car did starting next week at this time last year. It's all going to be based on eliminating your mistakes and bad problems. The first eight races, every other finish was outside of the top 30. We had ourselves a hole, but we were a top 10 car contending every single week. We just had bad luck. It seems like these last five or six weeks that we've been running top 10's about every week, we've just eliminated our problems and we're just showing our potential as a race team."
FOR JD, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE PROSPECTS OF RUNNING FOR A CHAMPIONSHIP WITH THE NO. 11 CAR?
"Is it possible? Yeah, it's definitely possible. You just have to be real careful and just worry about each race. You can speculate all you want. We've got the people to do it. It's just a matter of focusing on each race. We learned that with Tony last year.
FOR MIKE, WHAT WAS THE MAIN DAMAGE TO DENNY'S CAR?
FORD: "I would say we fixed 50 percent of the damage on the car. The key thing was when the tire came apart, it destroyed both batteries that we had in the car. We had to replace those and the door that held the batteries in had to come off so there was no way to hold the batteries in. So we had to find a way to secure the batteries -- that was the first caution. We stopped several times just getting the batteries in the car. Then we started sealing up the crush panels one at a time. That's where we ended. It went green for a while after that and we saw we had a competitive car and we were starting to gain track position. I would say we fixed the more 50 percent first."