NASCAR Preseason Fan Festival
January 17, 2009
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
RAMSEY POSTON: We're now joined in the infield media center by NASCAR Nationwide Series driver, driver of the No. 98 Transnet Racing Chevrolet, Alex Garcia; and driver of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series No. 11 FedEx Toyota, Denny Hamlin. Start with Alex, tell us a little bit about your off-season and what you're looking forward to here in 2009.
ALEX GARCIA: Well, the off-season has been interesting. I thought we had a deal that would allow us to go full time in '09. We've been in a part-time Nationwide team in '07 and '08, and it really looked like it was put together. Right now it's a little shaky because of obviously what's going on in the economy, the slowing of the economy, but I'm hoping that by California we should be able to debut. So I'm looking at the possibility of skipping Daytona and starting with California on. And we'll see how it goes. But that's where I'm at. It's just been interesting, a little bit of up-and-down. I was very excited about the opportunity to go full time, and now it's a little bit up in the air.
But we're hoping that it'll come together for us.
RAMSEY POSTON: Denny, welcome back. How was your off-season? Same thing, are you looking forward to 2009?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, hopefully making the Chase again, and just finishing the year out strong. That's a big goal of ours. Over the last couple years we've definitely run very, very competitive, up front for the first 26 and got ourselves in there, and then have some problems or just bad luck in the Chase. Hopefully we can turn that around, and if we can do that, then I expect us to be contenders like we were in our rookie season.
Q. Denny, when you look at what happened to Kyle last fall and your problems the last couple of falls and Jimmie Johnson's traditional troubles in August and how he finally managed to get through it and that sort of stuff, what's your game plan? You say you want to change your luck, but you must have something -- do you burn yourself out too early or keep gambling on things and they stop paying off? What are you going to change in your game plan for this year?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, game plan is basically -- we changed some things within our organization. We had, I guess you say, a troubleshooting group within our teams, because a lot of problems that we had were recurring problems, things that happened before, and what we have now is a designated troubleshooting group. Whatever problem we have at a racetrack, they immediately take over, go testing, try to fix the problem, and make sure that it never happens again. That's one thing that we lost over the last couple years is reliability.
You look at -- we broke down every single race and looked at, all right, this race we lost this many points because of fuel mileage, this many points because of a wreck, this many points because of a mechanical failure, and all that adds up. Those are the areas that we need to improve on, because our race performance, you know, we know we're very capable, and we do run in the top five most of the time when things don't go wrong. If most things go right we finish in the top five.
But our finishing positions the last two years have been worse than what our average running position has been, and that's something that's got to turn around. Our rookie year we finished better than what we ran all day. We found a way to close at the end, and that's something that we had trouble doing over the last couple years and something we need to get back to doing this year.
Some things we just can't help. A tire at Richmond, the fuel at Bristol two years in a row on the last lap, those things, they get frustrating and they take their toll, and then the blown motor at Michigan getting ready to go into the Chase, and it looked like we weren't going to make it. So all that adds up, takes its toll on the people, takes its toll on me. If we just get our consistency back and reliability, I think that our on-track performance is good enough.
Q. I have a question for Alex, and then I have one for Denny. Alex, when you put together what you hoped to be a full season, did you have some deals in place, or at least some understanding that they were in place, and did some of it fall apart as the economy started to fall apart?
ALEX GARCIA: Yes, I did. I operated my own team out of Atlanta, and what had happened, we put the deals together in September like they normally come together and everything looked really good, and all of a sudden we went through the bank and all the things that happened from then on, and even a sponsor that has been with me for six years is having a tough time committing to what they agreed to initially, and it's understandable.
It's a challenge out there for all of us, and I'm adapting as much as I can to the situation that I have. I'm just working with a smaller budget and I may have to get creative on how to get myself and my team out there to race. I also have an opportunity to get out and do the road courses in the Cup Series. That's an opportunity with a different team, and I'm absolutely excited about it, and I'm willing to do some of that. I'm looking at alternatives. If I have an opportunity to go full time with somebody else, I will. I'll hire somebody to drive my car for the races that I've got a budget to do, and in the sense that we are two separate entities, I just happen to own a team, but if I get a good opportunity to go full-time, even at whatever level that we're talking about, I mean, if I get an opportunity to go truck racing, I'll take it if it's full-time. I want to be out there as much as I can, get the seat time, get the exposure. So that's where I'm at.
Q. And for Denny, I thought I read where when you made the appearance in Nashville, you did it because it sounded like you were just basically bored and just needed something to do and trying to get yourself back in the swing of things here. Have you done any testing? Do you have any testing lined up? And having two full months off, how has it kind of weighed on you here?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's been good. This off-season, usually December we try to set around December 15, 16, that's when my season ends. That's when I try to wrap up all my appearances and everything, every obligation that I have to do, and then it usually starts back the 15th of January. So I usually have that one month off, regardless. Every year I've had it.
And this year is kind of no exception. It's kind of the same. We typically didn't do much testing with the 11 team in the off-season, December and January. We did the mandatory tests here at Daytona, which is obviously right around the 15th, 16th, so we're still basically on the same schedule. Like last week, yeah, I was pretty much bored and it was a way for me to kind of contribute, first of all, donate money to charity but also get people excited about the upcoming season by getting out there.
Yeah, it's been a little boring, but it's been worth it. Our schedule is so tough, and all you guys know, you travel each and every week, it gets tiring and grueling. We have the longest sport of any others, and to have to go test in the off-season makes it even tougher on everyone. I like the no-testing policy. I think it's great for our sport. It's going to help teams, up and coming teams like Alex's. The only thing it will hurt is the new guys that come in that need race experience.
That part of it will be tough, but I'm sure there's different options that they can take, ARCA testing, things like that, to get on-track experience.
For me things haven't been a whole lot different, for sure. You still take your couple of vacations or just days off like you would normally. The policy really hasn't changed us much.
Q. Denny, I'd like to get you to talk about your teammate for a second. But looking at what Kyle did and the way he started the season last year, do you think that's sort of a once in a career type of thing, or do you think he's capable of rising to that level of performance again this year?
DENNY HAMLIN: He's definitely capable of it. I mean, you know, it's like I told Joe and J.D. when they were thinking about hiring Kyle, I said, by far he's one of the top three talents in the garage. It doesn't matter if he finished 20th one year in points. That doesn't matter. He's still one of the top three talents as far as raw driving ability.
You know, that's going to let you go further than the guys that just have been doing it a long time and have become okay at it, because I mean, I think there's definitely that handful of guys that every year you're going to see up front. It doesn't matter what the circumstances, their team have got things figured out or not, you're going to see those guys rise to the top, and I think Kyle is one of them. Of course he had an extremely good year when it comes to the wins. A lot of them were fortunate. I mean, they really were when you think about it, and a lot of them he just had the speed and the talent to get those wins. It's hard to say that he won't ever have a year like that again, but it definitely will be really tough because it seems like every year the competition is a little bit tougher than it was the year before, and that's what makes Jimmie's accomplishments so hard to fathom. Cale (Yarborough) did the same thing, but in respect to Cale, it's tough to do it nowadays. There's a lot of teams out there that have the same equipment as you, and it's definitely amazing what they've been able to accomplish.
Q. I also wanted to ask you something about Kyle. Other than the obvious mechanical failures down the stretch, what do you think happened to that team? Do you think Kyle and that team lost a little bit of confidence when things started going bad?
ALEX GARCIA: No, I think everyone else's cars got better, and I agree with Kyle's statements from last year that our cars were good at the beginning of the year, they really were, and we contended for a lot more race wins earlier in the year than what we did later in the year. We just didn't progress. I know several different manufacturers and race teams came up with new engine packages, two and three engine packages through the year just got better and better, and we ended with what we started with. We never progressed as a race team.
Our research and development was kind of all designated to fixing the problems that we kept having week in and week out, and it wasn't so much on the 18 but the 11, the fuel issues and the motor breaking and things like that, the things that didn't bite the 18 team bit the 11. So we didn't get a chance to really come up with new things and become better, and I think that's why towards the end of the season we just weren't as competitive, both the 18 and the 11.
Q. I've got one for each. Alex, you've worked with some veteran crew chiefs in the past. What's the makeup of the team going to be here in '09, and did you think that the economy and maybe fewer cars might work in your favor as far as getting into races? And would you consider doing any Camping World East races?
ALEX GARCIA: The composition of the team is going to be similar to what I've had in the past. Crew chief wise I'm sharing a shop in Atlanta with Mike Garvey, so he will give the technical direction at the shop and at the track, as well. As far as Camping World East, I would consider it, but I've got the equipment to do it, I have to go invest in engines, just a different approach to it. I will probably not do it I don't think. I'd like to stay in the Nationwide series as much as I could, so I'd probably just cut back on the amount of races we do and try to stay focused on what we're doing.
Q. Denny, Dennis last year talked about being the elder statesman at Gibbs last year. As we get closer to the season do you see that picking up some steam and particularly with Joey having that role as the season unfolds?
ALEX GARCIA: I know how important it was for me to have Tony my rookie year. Tony really taught me a lot my rookie year, not necessarily -- some things on track, but a lot of things off the racetrack. That really helped with my learning curve. If I did make a mistake on the racetrack, he was the first to come to me right after the race was over and say, next time you should do this or that, and I think that's going to be on mine and Kyle's shoulders to do for Joey. We don't want to see him struggle. The more competitive Joey is able to become, the more it's going to help our race team. I think it's kind of on our shoulders to take Joey under our wing and help him progress as fast as he can. With the testing policy he hasn't got a whole lot of laps, and he definitely had his few struggles last year at the very end of the year.
We're going to do all we can. We know he's with a great race team obviously, and you can't let the pressures and the hype that everything has been built into him let it get to him. I mean, that's the toughest thing coming into the sport is coming in with the hype that he's came in with because everyone is going to expect a lot of him very early, and I think that's a lot to ask, especially for his age.
I think eventually he's going to be a champion for sure, but I'm sure there will be a few hiccups in the road that hopefully we can minimize that for him.
Q. Denny, you mentioned a long season. Is every race still an adventure for you throughout that long season?
DENNY HAMLIN: It is. You know, there's good and bads to it. When you have a bad weekend, a new weekend is right around the corner, so you can get over it pretty quick. And especially with the format that we have, with the Chase format, it's easy not to get as frustrated week to week in the first 26 races as long as you feel like you're stable enough that you're going to get into the Chase.
I mean, it's long and it's grueling, and it is a new adventure every single weekend. That's a great word for it, because when we come to these racetracks it seems like it's tough to know what you've got, especially with this year with testing being cut out, we're going to have to rely a lot on the people within the shop and the engineers to make sure we have a good car right off the trailer because if not, we're going to have a struggling weekend.
Q. This is kind of a left field question so I apologize because you're definitely not in this position. The drivers out of work right now, it seems like they far outnumber the quality seats that are available. If you were in that position, would you do anything radical to try to help get yourself into a seat, whether it's taking a salary cut, offering to drive for a percentage? Would you do anything like that? Is that the position those guys are in?
DENNY HAMLIN: It is tough, and I thank my lucky stars every day I'm in this situation and for as long-term as I am because I read stuff just like y'all do and look at all the people that are without drives and good quality drivers that don't have the rides. But it's tough. I mean, when the teams don't get financing, that makes it tough. The problem is it's going to be hard for -- it's hard for a team like Alex's to tell a sponsor, I need $4 million for a Nationwide team when they're struggling just to pay their employees week to week. That's asking a lot.
I think us drivers are trying to -- the ones that are in the sport and definitely will be here every week, we're trying to do everything we can to cut costs. I know Jeff took a commercial flight to Charlotte, and he would never do that if things weren't like it was. We talked earlier about we're going to start, I guess, jet pooling back and forth and using each other because us drivers have gotten spoiled over the last, I guess, three or four years or so. We all have the planes and everything, and most of the time we're all taking off at the exact same time and we have two people sitting in the plane. It just doesn't make sense.
We don't know how long we're going to be as fortunate as what we are, and especially me. I mean, Jeff is obviously lifetime, but you can't take for granted the situation that you have right here in front of you, and you've got to be prepared for anything that hits you because you look at a lot of drivers that thought they were fine, all of a sudden are getting laid off or what have you, just don't have the sponsorship, and that's tough.
If I was in their position, yeah, I would do whatever it takes to be on that racetrack. I mean, it's radical and it would never happen, but if you've got to race for free, it doesn't matter, because if you're out on that racetrack it's better than sitting at home because a lot of people, when you're out of sight, you're out of mind. It's tough for a driver to sit out and not do anything, not be on the track and then expect to come back next year and have people want him because he's been out of the sport, he's not caught up on things.
Whatever it takes to get on track, whether it's a second-rate team or whatever it takes to do it, I think that's what's most important. I don't think any driver can cut his salary or anything to get a ride. I think it's more sponsor driven, I think it's more the team's say. They're going to go with whatever driver is going to get them that sponsor or whatever the sponsor wants. It's not just about overall driving talent much anymore.
RAMSEY POSTON: Gentlemen, thank you. Look forward to seeing you back here in a couple weeks.
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