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NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Lenox Industrial Tools 300

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Stock Car Racing Topics:  Lenox Industrial Tools 300

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Lenox Industrial Tools 300

Mike Ford
J.D. Gibbs
Denny Hamlin
July 1, 2007


LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by today's race winner driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin. Tell us about your run.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, we definitely had a good run. You know, we weren't as good in times in this race as what we hoped but I think for the most part we knew we were about a Top-5 or six car there for most part of the case, Top 3 at times, and for the most part, you know, we just were -- I say we -- but Mike was biding his time on when to make that two-tire call at the end.
Of course I was giving the, an earful at the beginning of the race about, "I just need some track position." That's where we got the damage from. We just were struggling back to there get around guys and it was so hard to pass, I knew if we just got that clean air that we would be in better shape. Wasn't exactly feeling good about the four tires right behind us, but I tell you, I thought I could hold him off for maybe five laps and salvage a good finish after that but our car just took off.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by winning crew chief Mike forward. Tell us about today's strategy.
MIKE FORD: Here at Loudon, we have historically done two tires and going into the race had a number of, you know, 120 to 130 laps where the last four tires stop and inside that need to be fuel only or two tires and with the COTs, you don't get a lot of left side wear.
So it played to our advantage, and like Denny said, we had a fifth, sixth place car most of the day. With four tires and the guys that were better in front of us with four tires, we knew we would not have a shot at winning and really feel pretty comfortable inside the Chase right now. You know, trying to do something to benefit us down the road. Our only shot to benefit us down the road was try to get a win, and put the car out front and Denny did a great job staying out front. And the clean air at Loudon is very important with this COT and back in traffic we were just too tight, and up front, you know, we're the best lap times even on two tires that we ran owl day.
THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by team president, JD Gibbs. JD, tell us about your view of the race.
JD GIBBS: Looked good for a while. I just, for us, it was just an -- we had so many good runs and so many close calls for us, it was just nice to get out there and get that win and now go build that momentum.
My hat is off to Mike the way he called that race, and to Denny. I laughed, Denny actually in the race was telling Mike, how much track position, "two tires, two tires" and Mike said, "just wait, just wait, just wait." And so Mike gave him two at the end there and so Denny takes full credit for the call himself.

Q. Mike we talked this morning about you were such good shape as far as the points that you felt in position to take a risk if it allowed itself here this afternoon, were you sort of bound and determined, if you had any chance at all you were going to step out and take a risk?
MIKE FORD: Absolutely. Like I mentioned, the only thing we could have come out here with to really pay off down the road and what we are looking for is a championship and try to close some ground to the Hendrick car inside the Chase. If we came out here second today, we really didn't gain anything. Our only shot, even though we didn't have the best race car was to try to put it out front and to try to win the race.
You know, at the end, it did raise itself to that as a possibility. So it seemed a little bit of a stretch being 50 laps on the left side tires, but like I mentioned the left side with these tires don't seem to wear that much. And at worse, we may have fallen back to where we were anyway, so really nothing to lose in the call and something to gain, and we did gain?

Q. Just to follow up on that, had it been a hotter day, you know, where the track temperatures came up more rapidly and tire wear became more of an issue, would you have been inclined to have to take four at that point?
MIKE FORD: I don't want to sound overconfident but had it been a little bit warmer, I think we would have had a better car and not been that that situation.
We knew it was going to be cool and overcast. Don't know it was going to be as cool and overcast as it was. We chased that today. Had we known what today was going to be, we would have adjusted the car a little bit differently going into the race.
But you know, going in if it were hot, we may have had to think about it a little harder to get two tires but I think we would have had a better car if it were hot.

Q. What means more to you today, getting the win and the ten bonus points were with Jeff finishing second, keeping him from winning and getting ten bonus points and even further ahead?
DENNY HAMLIN: Probably from our standpoint getting the points. If we would have finished second today we wouldn't have accomplished much. If Jeff would have won he would have stretched his lead further.
This is a good confidence booster for this race team. This is my first win where I didn't have just an absolute dominant race car all day, and you know, for the most part, this is what we needed as a race team. We had come so close so many times this year, we always talk about what we could or should have but the bottom line is we weren't going to have anything going into the Chase if we didn't start getting wins.
You know, we talked about it, about Pocono time, about we needed to start taking chances. We could have took four times and made a safe car and finish somewhere in the Top-5 more than likely, somewhere around third, fourth, fifth or sixth. But we chose to take the two, because we have a decent enough lead on 12th right now that we feel like we can take those little extra risks.
This risk was -- the reward was going to be much better, much bigger than the consequence if it didn't work. We took the chances when it really mattered and for us it's about momentum. We've seen what it has done with the one car, and I think it's going to do the same for us.

Q. You've come in here a couple of times this year after some races and said, you know, it's the most frustrated you've ever been in your life and come to close; were you wondering what you had to do to win a race, to get back to victory lane or who you pissed off before the season to get back here?
DENNY HAMLIN: I knew we were capable of it. You're going to run in the top three or four continuously and not get a win -- win eventually. It's going to happen. We knew it was going to happen eventually.
For us, we're being competitive every week, and that's what's keeping us motivated right now is we know when we unload we have a Top-5 race car each and every time we hit the racetrack.
With a couple lucky breaks here and there, we can win a lot of races. For us even though we were from us rated and we had not gotten a win yet, we knew it was just a matter of time before we did, I didn't want to start too far behind the Hendrick cars as far as the Chase is concerned because I knew it was going to come down -- this Chase is going to come down to 10, 15 points. I firmly believe that. We are not going to be able to start 50,60 behind and overcome it without them having problems.
If we start 20, 30 behind, I think we can beat them on the racetrack by that much. We just have to keep doing the things we're doing and not have any bad luck.

Q. Denny, six weeks ago, you were talking about giving away races on pit road and everything, dropped lug nuts, that kind of thing. Talk about where that is now, and did that at any point since then kind of play into maybe how many tires you take on, just worrying about what next could go wrong on pit road?
DENNY HAMLIN: Not really for the most part, you know that since we made a change, we've kind of eliminated the big mistakes that we were making in the past. We felt like we were strong enough on the racetrack to do the things that we needed to do to take chances to get wins. You know, if we just eliminated those big problems, those few races, then we definitely win a bunch of them.
But you know, right now we're just trying to maintain and build that pit crew into what it needs to be come Chase time, and I think they are slowly but surely getting there and I think that's why we made the changes as early as we did in the season is because with ten races to go, we need them at their best. But they are definitely getting there and they are heading in the right direction.

Q. It's only your second year in the Cup, what do you do to put aside races like Phoenix or ones with the dropped lug nuts, to focus on just getting to a racetrack and driving hard?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I mean, I always think that I'm really, really focused when it comes to race day. I goof around a lot and do a lot of foolish things probably on and off the racetrack (Laughter) I may act like I'm 12 at times -- (Laughter).
But when it comes to racing, I'm as competitive as Tony, and that's the benchmark for competitiveness because it doesn't get any higher than him. You know, I can be the first one to throw something after I finish second. It's just the way I am. I feel like if I don't win, then I need to figure out why I got beat. You know, that's what keeps us going every single week is knowing that, man, we're so close to a win, you know, let's just keep trying harder and harder to get a win and finally it breaks through for you and next thing you know, you go on a roll.
I'd like to think that really it all boils down to being focused.

Q. You mentioned earlier saying your previous wins, you just had the dominant car and it was the easy drive; what were the challenges today or how did you grow or evolve even somewhat as a driver today since you didn't have the most come car throughout the race?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know, we just kept inching up on those guys it seemed like. We went from running about 13th or 15th midpoint in the race, we just started slowly making our way to the front. When we get those long green flag runs, that's really what played into our benefit. Once we got to the Top-10 on a two-tire stop, we were able to hold our own, even gain a little bit.
It seems like those two-tire stops is what kept us getting a little bit more track position and finally at the end, we were able to take four, go on a little one and went to the Top-5 and we knew that was our opportunity to take two tires and really surprised more guys didn't do it, but I looked on the scoreboard and the guys that did do it, came out third, fourth, fifth or whatever they did.
We were fortunate enough that we were far enough up the Top-5 that when we were going to take two, we were going to come out with the lead and that was very important. Because if we came out second, we were not going to win the race. We were probably going to fall bark further. That was our race to try to stay up front in that clean air because that's ultimately what won us the race.

Q. What was it like to really compete on the last lap and holding somebody off?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, my right foot was just shaking like crazy the last three laps. You know, you try to hold the gas pedal down and all you're doing is going crazy with the right foot because you know, you're getting nervous. You see Jeff coming and you're trying your best not to be that guy who chokes under pressure. And you know, I was on the verge of getting loose into the corner every single lap, so I just -- those last three laps, when I knew I just couldn't make a mistake, I really slowed down, it felt like lap time-wise. And of course that reeled him in even closer.
I knew if I kept going on at the pace I was going, it was going to be a matter of time I slipped up big and opened up the door for the guys. It was better to let those guys get a little bit closer and not make a mistake, than it was to just go all-out and then open up the door for those guys to get a win.

Q. That last lap, how many times did you almost get side ways and coming toward the checkered did you actually touch the wall?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm not too sure. I was all over the track it felt like those last two laps. I couldn't hold a steady wheel if I had to.
I was basically just trying not to give up the bottom. I knew those guys would get a little bit tighter when they were right behind me, and you know, when those guys have better tires than you, they are going to be able to put their car in different positions that are going to work better for them, even though you have the clean air.
So for us, it was all just trying to stay on the bottom, and I knew if I just got off four with my bumper ahead of them, I was going to be okay. I knew I was pretty close to the wall and you know, I was of course wide open spinning the rear tires. I thought if he actually got a run on me, he could have got me at the end with as sideways as I got right before the line. Luckily I was able to keep him pinched down.

Q. The two tires, what situations during the race did you start thinking this pit stop or get to this position and everything, and just having everything kind of fall into place with that?
MIKE FORD: It's strictly a timing issue. Here is similar to a road race in the fact that two tires do work. Fuel only is an option at times. You start at the back of the race and you pick a lap and you look at your segments and your fuel windows and you say, okay at a certain lap is going to be the last fuel stop but a certain lap, if you have left side tires that are less than 130 laps on them, it's two tires from them. So you almost work from the back of the race and look forward.
And 120, 130 laps was planning on four tires. It ended up being a little closer to the end of the race than that with the green flag pit stop that we had to make. So had a number in my head before the race that that was going to be the last time and Denny had mentioned earlier in the race that he was, you know, talking about track position, and we wanted to make sure that before that, we paced ourselves to be on that cycle at the end of the race. And it just worked out. The cautions fell the way they needed to. The long runs came the way they needed to for that to be able to work out. So when that last caution came with 50 laps on our left side tires, you know, it was a little bit more than I was hoping for, but you know, we had thought about it pre-race and had made that commitment. We didn't have anything to lose and everything to gain. So that's, you know, the opportunity came that we were looking for.
So we were able to just do two tires and it put our whole race in sequence for what we liked.

Q. After Darlington, you took a lot of hits from the media and fans. Did you learn something from that experience? Did you learn any lessons you can apply to the future with all of the hits you took?
DENNY HAMLIN: From?

Q. Comments you made -- (inaudible.)
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. Honestly I really wouldn't have done things much different from the way I did, because really, our team I felt like is tight enough to where that just drives them. Something like that is not going to tear our team apart. You know, if I do something wrong on the racetrack, I want Mike to let me know, or I want the crew guys to say, you lost us this one; that's fine with me. That drives me to go harder, and it does the same thing for those guys.
What I liked about it is we didn't just get rid of everyone. We chose to move guys around, put them in different places. A few guys we brought in, but for the most part, it's the same thing, just guys moved in different position.
For the most part, we are just trying to give those guys confidence right now, and we know they can do it. They are doing it every day during pit practice, knocking out great stops. It's just during race day, they were having trouble getting it done. And that right there is just more confidence issues than anything and it's finally starting to come around for them.

Q. What I meant was -- if you did it publically, in behind sight, should you have done it privately?
DENNY HAMLIN: You could do it either way. I felt like, would I do it again the same way, with the same emotions in play and everything -- had I calmed down and not been right after the race, maybe I would have held back and not said anything but when you lose the races that we lost because of that and we knew that racing -- or winning was at such a premium for those bonus points, whoever wanted to talk to me, I was going to let them know exactly how I felt. And that's exactly how it came out.

Q. I understood you have a little extra motivations and you visited a children's hospital, your helmet had a scheme that a patient had constructed for you; does that make this even sweeter, that's?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, that's what the cool thing about it, this is our first win with a special paint scheme. This is the wear your "Heart on Your Helmet" campaign for FedEx. This is the fifth one of 11 this year. Moira, I believe it is, is 13 years old. She designed the helmet that I had today. It was great to finally get a win with those guys riding along with me.
And we visited the Children's Hospital of Boston. That really meant a lot for everyone who came on Thursday and visited us. You know, those kids are not always able to go to the racetrack, and we try to do our best to bring the racetrack to them.
They knew that I was going to be -- that they were going to be riding along with me today during the race and I bet they were as excited as I was there at the end.

Q. At the end of a race like that, you've got spotters talking to you, all that stuff going on and you're trying not to check the mirror but you have to check the mirror, trying to decide if the low line is right, if the high line is right, you have Jeff Gordon, breathing down your neck. Does your mind speed up or does it slow down or is it a little bit of both? Does it seem like it takes forever but you're making those decisions -- can you just talk about that part of it?
DENNY HAMLIN: I was about ten seconds from telling everyone, crew chief, spotter, not to say another word. I can look in my mirror and see. I know when I hit a good lap; I don't need them to tell me. I can feel it in the race car.
So when I got a spotter saying, "You're clear by three, two" that kind of gets you excited. Then you kind of get into a panic mode and that's kind of where it was the last few laps. I almost feel like I would have been better with complete silence on the radio and just let me run my race. But those guys are trying to give me all the information possible. I'm the first one who speaks up and says, "Y'all aren't saying enough."
At the end of those races, for sure, I'd like to say, let me handle it from year because y'all are driving me absolutely crazy and we were on the verge of it today.

Q. Does time speed up or does it slow down?
DENNY HAMLIN: It slows down when you're looking at laps. I was counting down, eight, seven, six, and I'm doing it as I'm crossing the line. I'm totally oblivious to whatever the spotter is saying, however many laps to go or anything like that. For me it cannot go by fast enough and as fast as the 24 was coming, I knew that it was going to be very, very close at the end when he got to me.
It definitely slowed down in that instance.

Q. Being where you've been pretty much all season, it's indicative of how consistent this team is and everything, but I guess now that you've got the bonus points, how much does your approach really change now; all along it's been about trying to establish some steadiness, correct?
DENNY HAMLIN: Oh, absolutely. Up until about three weeks ago, we were taking Top 3 finishes and 2 finishes and saying, what a great day, excellent day, and that's what we needed to when we got to ten races to go, which is today, we needed to have a big enough lead where we can just throw caution to the wind and see what happens.
And we are still going to have that mentality. Even though we have this first win now, we are still not just going to sit back and say, a Top 3 is good for us. We are going to continue to just throw out there Hail Mary's and see how they land. For us right now, it's still all about getting more and more bonus points and we've got some very, very good racetracks for us coming up and I feel like we are going to hopefully close that gap to the 24 and 48.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Denny. Congratulations.



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