Texas Motor Speedway Novemeber 7, 2009 An Interview With: DENNY HAMLIN - Race winner, points leader J.D. GIBBS - President JGR MIKE FORD - Crew chief THE MODERATOR: We are now joined in the Samsung Mobile Media Center by our winner of the...
Texas Motor Speedway
Novemeber 7, 2009
An Interview With:
DENNY HAMLIN - Race winner, points leader
J.D. GIBBS - President JGR
MIKE FORD - Crew chief
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined in the Samsung Mobile Media Center by our winner of the AAA Texas 500, Denny Hamlin. He led twice for 31 laps, including the last 29, in a race that featured 33 lead changes, which was a new track record. This is Denny's second consecutive win, completing the Texas sweep, becoming only the second driver to sweep Texas Motor Speedway, bringing his total to two wins, five top 5s and eight top 10s in 11 starts at Texas Motor Speedway. It's his 16th career win, eight wins, which is a Series high in 2010 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and most importantly right now, other than being the winner of the AAA Texas 500, he is the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader, 33 points ahead of second place Jimmie Johnson.
Denny, a very big day. How do you put it in perspective?
DENNY HAMLIN: Took a lot of hard work to get to this spot for sure. We didn't qualify well on Friday, and obviously our pit stall had an obstacle at the beginning of the race when Jimmie was ahead of us and Scott was on the lead lap, so that made it a little bit tough, but it all worked out in the end.
For me we kept working on the car and getting it better and better. We got it right where I wanted it right there in the second-to-last run when we got to second place and overtook Harvick.
You know, all I can say is just as soon as the shade went down, or the sun went down, our car really seemed to take off, and just a lot of hard work to put it all together.
THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by crew chief Mike Ford and team owner J.D. Gibbs. Mike, he just alluded to you guys started 30th, made a lot of good adjustments on the car. How much work was it for you today?
MIKE FORD: Yeah, that was a lot of work. We weren't that good to get started, but we knew yesterday in practice we had a good car. If we could get it close, it was going to have speed, and we fought for track position, which we haven't -- the last two races we haven't qualified well here so really wasn't that worried about it.
As Denny mentioned the sun started to go down, two tires, got some track position, and that's when our car really started to work good, and the last adjustments were probably the best of the day. It's a lot of the same that we were doing.
But we adjusted probably more than 90 percent of the races so far this year.
THE MODERATOR: And J.D., eventful day for you but obviously ending up on top. With Denny's win now, points lead with two races to go. How does it feel?
J.D. GIBBS: I think what was kind of fun about this race, the race starts and we're not that good, you're kind of waiting for them to get going. And I kind of get panicked and you listen to Denny and you watch Mike and they're not worried, they're just calm and collected, and it's kind of a great plan, so it was kind of encouraging to watch that and just for it to pay off at the at the end of the day. Really, hats off to those guys.
Q: How does it feel now to have kind of turned the tables? At this time usually it's Jimmie who is the one who's got the pressure on everybody and they're just trying to climb up the hill. You guys have kind of flip-flopped now. How does it feel to kind of turn the tables on Jimmie?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, for me, I'm going to continue to just race relaxed, and honestly, I think back to a couple years ago, and even late in these restarts and whatnot, just -- I don't get excited anymore. I just don't let things get to me much anymore and just race relaxed. I'm really not nervous going into races. I was more nervous at the very first Chase race in New Hampshire getting ready to start that race than I was from then to this point.
For me we're on the cusp of trying to get our first championship, and as long as we keep doing what we've been doing, we should be okay.
Q: You had said all along you just want to get to the last three races, and this was time to go. Was there a time today that you thought maybe it'll be two to go before we can get going because it was kind of bleak there at the beginning?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, our car definitely wasn't to my liking right at the beginning, but with every adjustment we kept getting it closer and closer and closer, so I knew that we had a lot of potential, and I knew when the sun went down, it was going to be probably where I needed it to be.
Mike put a plan together, and we never panicked, like J.D. said, and just executed a plan. And regardless of where our competition was or where we were at on the racetrack, I'm sure he felt as well as I did that we could win the race at any point. So for me I was pretty confident of that.
Q: A follow-up, when we got down last week it was said that it's going to be the guy who -- you said you have to win races. You have done that. Jimmie said it's going to be the people that don't make mistakes. Well, they had a lot of mistakes on pit road to the point that they changed pit crews in the middle of a race, which is very uncharacteristic for that team to flinch like that. The 29 hit the wall with 10 to go, kind of killed his car. Are things playing out the way that you kind of thought they would?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, they've been from our standpoint, yeah, but we're not going to force those guys to make a mistake. They've been in this position before, and they know how to handle the pressure I feel like. So it's going to be on us to just flat-out perform over the last three races. You know, this was a good step in the right direction, the first leg.
But we still know going into Phoenix that that's a great racetrack for both of those guys, and it's been a very up-and-down racetrack for me. We've got to go there with our guns loaded and see if we can't get another win, and I'm going to race like we need to win from here on out. I've been saying with three to go I was going to be a little bit more aggressive.
Q: Can you take us through that last restart?
DENNY HAMLIN: It was exciting. I figured I had been pretty good on the top on restarts once we got our car tightened up enough that I was pretty confident I would be okay. But restarts have been my Achilles heel all Chase long, all year long. I just can't seem to get it together.
So I was able to side draft the 17 enough on the front straightaway to keep beside him so where he couldn't clear me off of 2, and that was going to be very important. But when he cleared me in the middle of 1 and 2, he did it by gassing up really aggressive and early and I knew it was going to be a hard time for him to exit the corner that way, and he obviously ran out of racetrack and it opened up the door for us to cross over.
For me it was great to win a race that way. I love racing for a win like that. Any driver will tell you if there's one guy you're going to trust underneath you, it's going to be Matt. Obviously it's great for him to have a good finish and obviously go for a win. But for me it was very gratifying to win a race that way.
Q: Question for Mike Ford: You guys had selected the box right behind the 48, and I know the first couple of stops there were some issues there. How did that work out for you guys? Did that affect you guys at the beginning of the race and how did it work itself out through the course?
MIKE FORD: You know, that has raised a lot of controversy, but I think you need to look back to Kansas and that courtesy was thrown out the window. When it was time to choose pits, that one was an option. I felt like that was our best option. You take the Chase hat off and you say, what's going to be best for our race team, and I felt like we could outrun those guys all day today, and we were able to.
I figured late in the race the 82 may possibly be a lap down, so felt like of the pits that were left, that was the best one for us.
Normally you would show some courtesy, but that courtesy was thrown out the window at Kansas. Also knowing that you put the two pit crews toe to toe and those guys are going to make mistakes. We've seen it this year, and we went beside them, and those guys faltered, and it made them panic and push to the point where they made changes.
I think it worked out very well for us. It kind of put us back a little bit early, but late in the day it didn't affect us at all.
Q: Mike, if you could just clarify a little bit, too, were you worried at all about Jimmie just like running into the back of him? What exactly were you telling Denny in terms of where to stop in the box? It seemed like that mind game worked out pretty well for you.
MIKE FORD: You know, we have all the right in the world to that space on the racetrack. That was our stall. I know Jimmie is a clean racer. I know we race clean. I talked to Denny before, we don't need to worry about them. That's our space, and we need to race our race and not play any games.
And we did that. It cost us a little bit early in the race, but like I mentioned, we got that back. We weren't trying anything other than that's our space, and we're going to make the most of it.
Q: J.D., can you comment on what you thought of the penalty on Kyle, and NASCAR says they're going to look at it and there could be more penalties. Would you feel any more penalties would be appropriate?
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, I think overall it's just he did something there that got caught on TV, everyone saw it and I think it was their way of saying, hey, here's our game; if you want to play here's the rules you play by. I'd be surprised if there's any more penalties coming, but that was frustrating because we had a pretty good car and a pretty good -- we thought we had a shot at having a good performance there.
But that's -- it was kind of nice to finish this up and have two good cars that really ran well, the 20 and the 11. That was the encouraging part of the night.
Q: I have two questions, one for Denny and one for Mike. Denny, what does it mean to be the points leader at this point, obviously two races to go? How significant is it? What's the difference between being ahead and being behind at this point in your mind? And Mike, if you can talk about obviously with your pit stall next to the 48, you guys could see when they made their wholesale change in pit crews. I know you're focused on a lot of things, but when you see that, what goes through your mind? I know you guys have been better than the 48 a lot this year.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, for me I'm going to race Phoenix as if I'm 33 behind to be honest with you. There's no comfortable margin going into Homestead because anything can happen. So for me Phoenix being an up-and-down racetrack for me, I've got to really be focused on practice day to get what I need to give Mike the information that I need and just 100 percent stay focused is all I can do.
But like I say, I'll not going to be conservative having the lead. I'm going to want to stretch that out before we get to Homestead. So that's pretty much my mindset.
MIKE FORD: As far as watching what happened next to us, I'll be honest with you, I stayed focused on what we needed to do. We did see all that go on, saw them making mistakes, saw them studying us real hard, and when you put your focus on watching other people, you make mistakes, so I was glad to see that they are watching us and paying attention. That means they are chasing. And they made mistakes in doing so.
We played our game. I stayed focused on what we needed to do, and I feel like the -- you know, that's possible going in, and you watch it, so I think it was kind of a desperation move. But it's something that -- I won't say that race team -- that Jimmie, Chad and Rick needed to do if they wanted to win a championship because they just took their team out of it. They removed their team. Their team got them to this point and they pulled them out, so this is more about trying to win a championship for the company and not the team.
Q: Denny, did you just find out about Kyle just a second ago? I just wonder your reaction to that and kind of the general crazy nature of all the staff that happened with the 48 and Gordon and Burton going at each other and kind of negotiating this minefield of a race.
J.D. GIBBS: We kept him shielded from all this information.
DENNY HAMLIN: Wow, I'm finding all this out. In my opinion Kyle was probably just pointing that he was trying to get the guy's attention more than likely. But other than that, that's pretty interesting on the back stretch. I didn't see that. I saw the 24 tore out of hell, and I thought, what in the world happened. Thanks for not letting me in on that. So yeah, I don't know. I don't know. Good thing I didn't know. That definitely would have sidetracked me.
Q: J.D., kind of back to the Kyle Busch stuff, when you add him pointing to the official today and then the outburst yesterday, is this kind of a trend that if it keeps going you're maybe seeing a situation where maybe he's wearing out his welcome at Joe Gibbs Racing? Is it something you've talked to him about?
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, no, I think, over the years every driver that we've had has been passionate about what they do. They express it different ways. We went through a lot of the same issues when Tony Stewart was driving for us, and I think it's one of those things that eventually -- I think he's grown in a lot of areas and really matured in a lot of areas.
I think for him around that race car when things don't go well, I think there's a real frustration there. I think that's just something that he's going to have to continue to work on, and I think he acknowledges that, he admits that, but right when it happens it's hard for him to control that. I think that's just an area that in general and in life he's going to have to address and I think he knows that and that's nothing new. We've just got to make sure it happens sooner rather than later.
Q: For both Denny and Mike, Denny, earlier in this press conference you said you're not going to force the 48 into making a mistake, they've been in this position before, but Mike pretty much just told us that you guys did force them into a mistake in the pits today. How do you guys feel about that? Can you force them into mistakes again at Phoenix and Homestead like you did today or do you think that they'll bounce back and find a way to be resilient?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, what more I meant was I wasn't going to expect them to make a mistake so I needed to go out there and outperform them straight up. I wasn't going to be able to just ride around in fifth or tenth for the next two weeks and just hope they make a mistake because I'm not going to count on that happening. So that was more what I was thinking about.
So yeah, we've seen -- we haven't seen them in this position before, but I'm sure they'll respond accordingly, and it's just going to force us to raise our game, and that's what we're going to do.
Q: A lot of times in the Chase when Jimmie has won the championship guys have kind of laid back on him a little bit and not been aggressive. Did you guys set out in this Chase the last couple of weeks to say, look, we're not backing up, we're not going to play this game timid to try to mentally make them, for lack of a better term, "crack"?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, for me, my goal was to be one of the most mentally tough guys behind the wheel, and that means when things don't go your way, you figure out a way to make it a positive or you figure out how can it fuel the fire in a good way. And so for me not having the best car at the beginning just -- I didn't let it -- I think before I would have probably panicked and we probably would have really made big adjustments, and then not knowing what we had at the end, but we kept just chipping away, chipping away, chipping away at it. So for me I think over the last year I've been a whole lot more mentally tough when it comes to these races, especially at the end, to figure out what it takes to win.
Early in my career, I probably led more laps in 2006, '07 and '08 than I have in 2009 and '10 but I've won more races in '09 and '10 because we're closing better at the end, and I think that's because I've kept my head on straight.
Q: Mike, has your attitude been to be aggressive?
MIKE FORD: You know, it's been to be aggressive and get all we can get, and you're right, guys have tiptoed around them. You've watched them play mind games with people in the past, and I'm completely immune to that. I could care less. I'll be right in their face saying, it doesn't matter.
I think our race team is better than their race team, and I'm not going to tiptoe around them because of where they're at. I'm going to do what it's going to require for us to win a championship beat them. Not that I'm playing dirty by any means, but take what's ours, and I'm not afraid to go toe to toe with them.
Q: Denny, just in your alluding to the mental toughness, what have you been able to do the last year? Is that just plain experience, focusing, or how do you get to that level to where -- obviously since last year you're winning on mile and a halfs, you're closing deals like you say. Where did that come from?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'd tell you but I'd have to kill you. (Laughter.)
I don't know, I think just years of -- I think the years of experience, being in the Chase for -- this is our fifth year now, and I've learned something during the course of each one that's gotten us to the point where we're at right now. Obviously our performance now is better than what it's been in the other Chases, but I feel like we've prepared for this moment for a long time. I've never questioned our strategy, even though our strategy has been questioned at times, and I feel like we're doing what's best for us and just not panicking. That's the only thing I can say is this year is just a little bit more relaxed.
J.D. GIBBS: I'll just say on behalf of the team, watching what he went through, through his knee surgery, a major knee surgery, and then a week later you're in a car? That's probably as mentally tough as you're going to see in any sport. So I think the guys really respected that and appreciated that.