NASCAR Sprint Sound & Speed presented by SunTrust
January 9, 2010
KERRY THARP: We have Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. To his left is Tony Stewart. Tony drives the No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet. Tony Stewart made history in the outstanding performance as a driver/owner for Stewart Haas Racing. To the far left is Kyle Busch. Kyle drives the No. 18 M&M Toyota and is the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion.
HOLLY: We have Danny Gokey from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, signed to RCA Records Nashville and began his career in country music, releasing his single My Best Days Are Ahead of Me. His debut album will be released March 2010. Last night he made his Grand Ol' Opry debut as part of Sound & Speed.
KERRY THARP: We'll just open it up for questions.
Q. Danny, wanted to know your impressions, having made your debut last night, what that felt like and what that meant to you?
DANNY GOKEY: It was an intimidating experience I have to say because so many greats have performed on that stage.
I was a ball of nerves when I walked up. I just took it in stride. I felt like everyone welcomed me. It was very graceful how people treated me. I was so honored. With all the nerves going through me, I sang and I made it. It was such a pivotal point I believe in my career up to now.
I'm thankful and I'm honored amongst everything, I was so honored to be invited to that event.
Q. Tony, you're involved in charities through your foundation, hold an event at your racetrack. Give us details of that event, when it is.
TONY STEWART: Actually, I wish I could remember what the date is for this year already. Drawing a blank. But this will be the sixth year we've done it in a row. The first year I think we had 17 drivers attend. Up to date already we have 16 drivers that have already returned invitations and have committed to come next year.
Pretty excited about it. I don't know exactly what the charity is going to be right offhand. This past year was the first year we hadn't used Victory Junction Gang Camp as our charity. We went with the Wounded Soldiers Fund. It's an event I'm proud of. Takes about three years off the end of my life every year we try to run this event. I learn very much that Mother Nature rules this universe. But it's the one variable we can't control in the equation. Probably one of the most gratifying things I do all year. It's a huge honor to have the drivers come. Kyle and Denny have come each year.
It's fun. We all get a chance to let our hair down, so to speak. We get to race with each other, which we get to do every week. But to run dirt late models, El Dora, a track these guys aren't familiar with, we get to have a good time racing with each other in a different set of circumstances than normal and get to raise a lot of money for charity. Having HBO come onboard with the pay-per-view side of it has helped us raise a lot of money and it's something we put a lot of effort into.
Q. Tony, there's been some talk about getting rid of the wing, putting a spoiler on the car. How would that impact the racing? From an owner standpoint, is there any concern?
TONY STEWART: Well, I'm not sure there's any concerns, but I'm sure there will be a lot of work that is involved. People will be blading it to the wind tunnel, trying to get tunnel time to find out exactly how it's going to affect the car downforce-wise. Everybody will be making adjustments accordingly with the parameters we are allowed to change.
Whatever it is, it is. The thing is NASCAR has been through changes for 60 years, just like the economy, just like technology. So this will be just another step in that equation. That's the fun part of our sport, is that it makes everybody have to go work. That's what makes it gratifying if you figure it out and become successful with it.
Q. Tony, as a team owner, what do fans not realize what goes on and what are the challenges as an owner/driver?
TONY STEWART: Well, I wish I could say it was a lot harder than it is for me. I think the biggest challenge is when you're driving, you worry about the team and you worry about all the stuff you have to do to be successful on the weekends from the driving side and the team side. When you're an owner, you have the variable of the economics of it, too. You have to remember that you have bills to pay each month, that you're dealing with people. You realize that every one of those people in the shop, you directly adopt as part of your family. When they're having a bad day, I guess I take it personal. If they're having a bad day, if there's something that's wrong at home with them, I feel it personally versus just being a driver. That's probably one of the biggest thing that being an owner has shown me.
Realizing you have to be responsible for all the finances of the company, that's probably the biggest thing from a driver to an owner.
Q. Denny, Tony, Kyle, after an off-season to think about it, what is it going to take to beat Jimmie Johnson in 2010?
TONY STEWART: I tell you from my side. If we knew that, we would have done it three years ago after he won the first one. We're hoping a rocket scientist like yourself could come up with some solutions and figure it out. Actually, never mind. We're smarter than you. You're right.
I don't know. I kind of look at it as a cool part of our sport, time in our sport, to see somebody have the success that he's had. It's probably not going to happen like that for a long time to where somebody can put together four great years like that. It's bad when you're the guys that got your butt kicked by him, but it's cool to be part of it and see an organization to be able to put together four great years like that.
Whoever is the one that dethrones him, they're going to be wearing a crown bigger than anybody else because they're going to take a lot of pride in saying they knocked him off of that streak finally.
DENNY HAMLIN: Somebody asked me what does Jimmie have that you can use more of, I told them talent, first.
TONY STEWART: I told them a good-looking wife.
DENNY HAMLIN: A lot of things crossed my mind, but I figured talent was a good one.
But, yeah, I mean, he's the standard. He's got all the pieces of the puzzle with him right now. Crew chief, team, talent, reliability. All those things is what you have to have in the Chase. That's what they've just done over the last four years. They put it all together. When you have all that, and nothing changes year to year, no personnel changes, it's hard to beat.
KYLE BUSCH: I mean, going third, there's not many new ideas out there. You know, Tony and Denny sort of hit it right on the nail. They've got it all put together. When the time counts, especially in the Chase, they're able to throw it down and beat all of us and score the most points in the final 10 races. Even though I don't think he started in the No. 1 spot this year, he still was able to battle through there, leading the points after the third or fourth race. Just kind of took it from there.
He's one of the best of the sport. Like Tony said, it's awesome to be able to be able to race with somebody like that, be on the same racetrack when history is being made. Unfortunately, one of us would like to beat him and actually have a chance to win a Sprint Cup Series title ourselves.
Q. Kyle, you had the fastest car last year at the 500. Do you feel like you're the favorite going into it? From a technical perspective, how much are the restrictor plate engines more difficult to drive?
KYLE BUSCH: I don't feel like we're the favorite necessarily going in. I feel we can be one of. Tony was strong in the second Daytona race there. They learned a lot and got really fast. So that's something that we're kind of concerned about going into this time.
But Denny was also really fast, too, in the July race. Teams like the Gibbs cars and Tony who used to be one of the Gibbs cars seems to be fast there.
Mark was good, except they had tire problems. Jeff Gordon was also fast. They had tire problems, too. The Hendrick cars seem to be fighting that issue at Daytona. I don't know if we have a new tire there or not yet.
As far as the engines go, you know, the thing with unrestricted engines is you have all the throttle response in the world you want. Normally we run those at all the racetracks where you have to get out of the gas anyway.
At a place like Daytona or Talladega where you can run wide open, because the engines are restricted, they seem to be numbed up. You get back to the gas and you're waiting. There's just a period of time where the motor is sitting there waiting for itself to catch back up.
But if we ran unrestricted at Daytona, we'd have to get out of the gas. We'd run 220 something miles an hour down the straightaway, but still have to get out of the throttle at the corner to not slide up the track, which might be fun for a while, but there's still the factor of getting cars airborne, so that wouldn't work. Might be fun to try for somebody.
Q. Kyle, what about the ownership role during the off-season, how has that worked out? What have you found out? I hate to leave Danny out. Who is your favorite drier?
KYLE BUSCH: The ownership standpoint, it's going to put a lot of gray hairs in pretty quick. I can see where Tony gets it now from.
TONY STEWART: That's exactly where it came from actually.
KYLE BUSCH: Yeah. But, you know, it's fun. It's fun. It's a very, very big challenge. I'm only at the Truck Series level, let alone Tony trying to break the Cup Series deal.
You know, for me there's been a lot of things that have been very positive this winter. There's been a lot of things that have been a drain on me that we've really been trying to work through. Toyota has been a great partner for me in order for us to get going. They've given us a lot of stuff. Also trying to work with Taylor and Brian as my young drivers, bringing them along, spending some time with the guys in the shop.
We finally started this Monday, actually I think we still have a couple more people to hire, but most positions are filled, it's about trying to get all the people together and have everybody learn each other's names. We have name tags around the shop. Hello, my name is. I haven't been there in a week or two maybe, since before Christmas. So, you know, I'm looking forward to getting back on Monday.
Besides that, I mean, things have been coming along really well. We're still working on sponsorship projects for Johnny Benson in order to get him down to Daytona. We have till the 22nd to make something happen to that. We'll see how it works out. But I'd really like to get Johnny down to Daytona and be able to have him compete for a championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Q. And Danny?
DANNY GOKEY: All of the above.
Q. Danny, during your career, you've talked openly about your faith playing a part in your personal life and career. Touch on that a little bit, if you will.
DANNY GOKEY: I was born and raised in a church. That has a huge influence on who I've become as a person. I wouldn't trade it for anything. Even though I'm not doing gospel music anymore, where I started in music, it gives me a great foundation to build upon as I now move as a recording artist. I really believe it keeps you level and balanced. At one moment people want you, the next they don't. When they do want you, they don't want you, you still have to know who you are, keep that respect for yourself, not be identified with fame and fortune because all that stuff at times can be superficial and be deceiving.
Also in addition to that, it has given me a heart for wanting to give back, a heart for charity. I think not only as an entertainer, but when you have a cause behind what you do, it only gives you more - what's the word - more drive to want to see. 'Cause when people now want to hear what you have to say, you want to influence them in the right direction. I believe that all stems from how I was raised, how my parents used to even at times drag me to church when I didn't want to go to church.
Q. Denny, given how you ran in the Chase, you were the one team everybody really looked at that said they could beat the 48, won the season finale, a lot of people are going to look at you as that bunch this year. Do you approach it any differently? Is there any added pressure because now there is that expectation on you, Mr. Hamlin?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I don't think so. You know, a lot of people try to say that it was a similar situation with Carl. I'm not Carl. I'm with Joe Gibbs Racing. I'm not with Roush. I'm really confident in where our team's heading going into this upcoming year. I feel I'm as focused as I've ever been when I get to a racetrack, and as confident as I've ever been.
We might not go out there the first six months and win six races, eight races before the Chase, but I guarantee you when we get to the Chase, we're going to be set up and prepared to make a run similar to what we did this past year. We learned a lot by just easing our way into the season and peaking at the right time. We were most competitive the last 10 races, and that's what counts. The driver didn't have his head on his shoulders for one race and we didn't have the reliability for the other two. Other than that, where were we going to be? I don't know. We'll find out.
Those other guys, they're not going to rest on we're four-time champions, it's going to come easy. We know they're working just as hard as we are to continue that dominance. We've got to take two steps to their one.
Q. Tony, you had some fans in Nashville that waited 20 hours for autographs. Talk about how big your fans are.
TONY STEWART: That's pretty cool, especially when you've been on vacation for two and a half weeks and you kind of have been out of the country, haven't been around a lot of NASCAR fans, it's nice to come home and be reminded of how dedicated the fans that we have are. It's that way in the country music industry and the racing industry.
People that drove through snowstorms and everything to get here, I came from where I didn't put a sweatshirt on for two and a half weeks, people drove through snow and ice to see us for a couple seconds, it's a very flattering experience, something that you're very grateful when you're in this position when you have people that care about you, care about what you do, how you do it, how you influence their lives.
To be able to take a day like this, take our time and spend it with the fans is something that's pretty cool for all of us.
Q. Kyle, a lot of people have said Danica's move to NASCAR is a publicity stunt. What are your thoughts on it?
KYLE BUSCH: Thanks (laughter).
TONY STEWART: I thought publicity stunts were when you tied yourself to a tree or something like that.
KYLE BUSCH: I don't think it's a publicity stunt. I think she's serious about her racing, what she's done. She's done a great job in the IndyCar Series in the years she's been there. She's won a race. She's had multiple top-five, top-10 finishes. She's been in contention for a lot more than that to win races.
I think her relationship with Go Daddy kind of brought her into the relationship with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., I feel like. But I feel like with the testing that they're already doing, finding racetracks to get her at, finding racetracks to get her experience at with herself and Kelly Bires, too, he's familiar with the car she's getting into. Her being in Daytona to get accustomed to the ARCA cars to get her start there in order to see if she's ready for the Nationwide race, they're not playing a joke about it.
I think she'll do fine. She's got plenty of resources behind her. She's got plenty of help to go to. She is kind of in the same organization with Hendrick Motorsports, so she has all those drivers to feed off of.
I wish her the best. We'll see her out on the track, I'm sure.
Q. Danny, what can your fans expect with your new album? Do you have a soulful sound?
DANNY GOKEY: Yeah, it's definitely a soulful country album. They can expect songs that are full of entertainment, that make them want to move and dance, and songs that are very emotional. I like to connect with the listener with putting passion into my songs. There's a little bit of spiritual side. I mean, it's the whole -- as a person, there's so many different sides of me, spiritual side, entertaining side, a side that just wants to have fun. All those elements are on there with my voice, which is Danny Gokey.
Q. Kyle, just like today you were welcomed with cheers and boos. You've had quite a reputation. Over the latter part of last year, it seemed like you'd grown, matured. Sure you still want to win and be the best you can be. Seems like you've matured. You present yourself in a lot different manner. If you need to bite your tongue, you bite your tongue. What is your perspective on that?
KYLE BUSCH: Growing and learning with age and mistakes that you make. Sometimes you have to make your own mistakes to learn from the consequences of them.
Overall I feel like just getting used to the NASCAR world and everything that goes on here and the business side of things, the political side of things, all that stuff. I mean, I went to high school and got out of high school in three years, got thrown into the big world of these flesh-eating animals over here.
So, you know, I'm not making excuses for myself, but I feel like just by being able to get the right experiences, learn from those, sort of keep them in the memory bank, store them for later on down the road. I've already learned so many more lessons just in owning a truck team, how to handle people, how to handle situations, how to handle drama, per se, a little bit more. I always brought the drama on. Now I see what everybody had to deal with when I brought it. Now I kind of get to see some of that from the side everybody else was seeing it on.
You know, I could be better this year. I certainly hope so. We can go out there and try not to worry about causing so much drama but going after a championship and dethroning the four-time champion.
Q. Tony, you've been really vocal in the past about restrictor plate racing, different circumstances. With the buzz about possible yellow line rule going away, the no bump-drafts in the corners, your reaction to that? Are you for a rule change like that?
TONY STEWART: I'm comfortable if they take the yellow line rule. We understood why they brought it into the series. The sport has evolved obviously since they put that rule in effect. But, you know, I think the one thing about it, I'm kind of proud of NASCAR for it because they constantly are looking at things. That's a rule they put into effect that they're talking about taking away now. I think the drivers would be comfortable with it. We all know what it feels like when you get in the grass with tires with no grooves in them. It's not very fun. It's always been a self-policing deal. Even with the yellow line deal, we would occasionally get in the grass. It gives the drivers a little more flexibility to not have to worry about -- I think there were times when we got ourselves in positions where we didn't necessarily want to be in, where we were passing guys, knew we had to give that spot up. In doing so, we caused more problems behind us than initially.
I really don't think it would be a bad deal if they did that. I think the drivers are comfortable with that.
Q. The bump-drafting side.
TONY STEWART: Before I think it was a bigger issue than now. The nice thing with flat bumpers, we're not picking each other up when you're pushing each other. That seems to be last dramatic than it used to be. When we had cars that had slanted noses on them, you could get underneath them, physically pick up the back of their car, wreck 'em. Those two things are variables that I don't think if they change any of that it's going to be a big drama.
Q. Denny, something that needs to be known, sponsors don't drag you to these types of events. You come here because you want to help out with these charities. Is that something you can be proud of? Y'all as a group want to be a part of this stuff.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, works hand-in-hand really. Obviously we do a lot to help put on a show for them, but they also do a lot to help give back to our charities. Not only that, but the drivers give back to each other's charities. We're in a unique position where we can do a lot of good for a lot of people. It's just up to us to take advantage of that. It's an obligation, but it's an obligation you have with yourself to give back. I think everyone has done a good job of doing that.
TONY STEWART: Just to add to that, I think we all got to be thankful to the country music industry because they've always been very supportive of NASCAR, what we do. Every week when you see the artists come and sing the national anthem, I know from experience, the relationships we've made with some of these artists, a lot of times they've had a show the night before, they either fly all night or come in their buses and support what we do on Sunday. That's something that NASCAR on a whole is very thankful for.
KERRY THARP: Guys, we appreciate it. We appreciate your support of this event and everything you do. Best of luck in 2010.
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