NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Food City 500
Topics: Food City 500
March 22, 2009
KERRY THARP: We'll roll into our post-race press conferences here at the Food City 500, Bristol Motor Speedway. We're pleased to be joined in the media center by our race runner-up, Denny Hamlin.
Denny, certainly your car was strong throughout the afternoon, battling your teammate out there. Your thoughts about how things turned out?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, we had a good car. It was extremely good on the long runs. Seemed like our car, we'd lose a little bit of ground to those guys about a straightaway or so until about a hundred laps, then we'd come in.
When we had that caution about 50 or 60 to go, I knew it was going to be tough, unless we got out on pit road first to have anything for those guys. His car just takes off so well. Luckily we were able to stay within a couple car lengths of him pretty much for the entire end.
So we're just fortunate to be able to battle our teammate and get a 1-2 finish.
KERRY THARP: We're also joined by our third-place finisher in today's Food City 500, and that is Jimmie Johnson.
Jimmie, you talked earlier in the weekend about wanting to have a good performance here at Bristol. How do you feel about how things turned out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm very pleased. In some ways to be that close to a win and to see the 18 car pull into Victory Lane, I can now see what the leaders do, and I can visualize being in that position someday, where before we were so far off and had some decent runs but really wasn't in the race, racing for the win. Today we did that. So I'm very proud of all the work.
Really my guys sat me down a couple weeks ago, we went through our data. I made a wish list of what I wanted the car to do. Chad and the guys really gave me what I needed.
I wish we could go race again for 500 more because a couple small adjustments, the rhythm I was picking up of the racetrack, things were really starting to make sense to me. So great effort.
KERRY THARP: Good afternoon by both you guys. We'll take questions for Denny and Jimmie.
Q. Denny, is it more frustrating to finish behind your teammate or is it simply a good points day leading into Martinsville?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's half and half. I mean, because, you know, he just has a way of taking off really, really good on the short run. I knew unless we got out on pit road ahead of him on that last pit stop, it was going to be tough. Fortunately for us, I felt like we had a shot even at the end of the race. But that last caution, we were able to stay within two or three car lengths. That's as close as we'd been all day on the short run. Our car takes so long to get going, 18, 19 laps.
It's a positive that we come out of here. On average we had about a second-place car. I felt like we had a third-place car on the short run, and a first-place car on the long run. But that's just one of those things. You take today, it puts us in the Chase right now. So that's a good day for us.
Q. Denny, Kyle wasn't too pleased with his pit crew's performance in yesterday's Nationwide race. Some were on his Cup crew today. I know you were in that situation before. Is that a delicate situation for a driver? What's it like for Kyle to have his crew deliver the performance on pit road to get him the win?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's good. I mean, those guys are solid. We see it through the three teams. We've definitely worked with our pit crew because, you know, we have the fastest pit crew, we had the slowest pit crew at Joe Gibbs Racing. We had the most stops below 13.0 and the most stops above 15.0. Those guys, what they're so good at, is being right in the middle. They're consistent every single stop. That's all you can ask for. They work really hard at it and they got great chemistry.
When the pit crew gets you out for the race win, it definitely -- that's a team effort right there. It's not just the driver.
Q. Yesterday I asked this to Carl Edwards because he was saying his cars were good on long runs. I said, Why would you set your car up for long runs at Bristol where there's so many cautions? What I'm getting at, it used to be just a few years ago, people would say, We set up for long runs. Is it now that it's so tight and stable, there's so little variance, that you can't set up one way or the other, you just have to go with what you have? Is it harder to do with the new car than it used to be?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, we don't aim for it. It just seems like, for whatever reason, I'm not really good on the short, going out there and running 20 fast laps. I think it's more my car takes it easier on the tires. I mean, I'm pushing as hard as it will go. I'm pushing till all four tires shatter. We don't set up for the long run. It just works out that way. It's because our car is balanced very well, it doesn't use the tires up as much as the 18.
He can go out there and really hang it out there for, you know, 50 laps or so and use the tires up extremely a bunch, but he's able to get out so far that it takes a long run to catch back up. I just think that it works out that way.
I think it's just driver preference actually.
Q. The last couple years, Joe Gibbs Racing, late-race restarts have not been what you wanted to see. There's been a lot of messes that have happened on late-race restarts. Were you conscious of that this time, making sure nothing really bad happened to both of you?
DENNY HAMLIN: I knew we had enough fuel this time. Fuel wasn't an issue. I knew, I mean, we built a fuel cell dynos and everything. We've done everything to try to eliminate that problem. I think we fixed it.
I wasn't concerned this time over years past.
Q. Denny, you talked so much before the season started, you wanted this year to be a big year for you. You wanted to stop being a guy with potential and be a race winner. How close are you? Are you at all, When is my turn? Why does Kyle win all these?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I definitely feel that way. You know, we get out in pit road in front of him, I mean, he was going to have a time getting around me, I can assure you that. It's things work out that way. He's got that car. He's got that raw speed that I just don't have for 20 laps, and it pays big dividends to that race team, especially when you get things working the way that these races work out towards the end.
So that and, I mean, he's got a solid pit crew. He's got everything working for him right now, you know. Luckily we're in the same stable, so we know everything he has. If anything we need to work on, it's me.
Q. What do you need to work on?
DENNY HAMLIN: Figure out how to go fast. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know whether it's just setting up our cars to just qualify and that's it. I mean, because those guys qualify good. We qualify bad every week. That helps them because they get a better pit stall. There's little things that makes that team have a little bit of an advantage before the race even starts.
We got to work on qualifying. We got to get our cars faster on the short runs. Just some things we have to do.
Q. Jimmie, do you feel if you could have come out second, you might have had something for Kyle?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I feel that, like Denny said, whoever came out in the lead on the last pit stop was going to be in pretty good shape.
We all kind of assumed there would be a couple cautions. The stop before that I held onto the lead for quite some time. Maybe didn't have the fastest car over the whole run, but took off well. If we had a couple quick cautions, I think I could have held on till the end.
But we didn't get that done. We had a problem I think with getting the left rear on. I'm not sure, it sounded like to me, I haven't talked to Chad about it, doesn't sound like the jack went up high enough so they could get the left rear tire on. They were fighting with it. Somebody yelled, Jack it up some more. Once it went up a pump, the left rear went on. We were lucky there wasn't a lot of cars on the lead lap and we were strung out on pit road with how slow our stop was. We came out fifth. I assumed we were 15th because it had to be a 20-second stop.
Q. Jimmie, the move that Kyle threw to take the lead where he went outside of you and inside of Hornish, were you surprised he jumped into that little hole? This is the kind of finish you feel like you need to build on? You had so much success at so many tracks. Bristol has been such a challenge for you. Do you really need a finish like this to lay a foundation to win in the future?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think in general we needed a weekend like this here. It started two weeks ago when we went to work on the setup for this race. We created a plan, stuck to it. Off the truck, the car was quick. We were right on par with everybody. Had confidence going into qualifying. The weekend just kept building.
So now that we've executed from qualifying to the race, we have a very good starting point to come back with. And that's something we haven't had. Every time we've come back, we've been chasing one of our teammates' ideas, then trying to put my style of setup under it. The concept the 24 we would use, but free it up some more. I typically like this, let's try the 24 setup with some more of this. We really didn't know just what we wanted.
This weekend we didn't play that game. We stuck to our guns. I feel coming back we'll be much better and be able to come back next weekend.
With Kyle making the pass, I don't recall there being the 77 out there. I knew he was coming. My deal wasn't to race the 18 and even when Denny got to me, I let him go. I knew I had a top three, top five car. I just wanted to finish this race. I wanted to see all 500 miles. If it was to the last pit stop, I had a shot at it, throw caution to the wind at that point. Up until then, I needed to figure out how to run 500 laps here, finish up front. That was my goal today, and we did it.
Q. Denny, you were critical of the track cleanup. Can you discuss that a little more?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, everyone had the same problem. But they're trying to clean the track the best they can. What it was is, this unfortunately is a self-cleaning racetrack.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: They moved it all around.
DENNY HAMLIN: Right to the groove.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: All out of the way, the sweeper comes by and threw it right in the groove many times.
DENNY HAMLIN: Everyone has to run through the same stuff. At the end, I mean, you're just sliding around big time on that 'green-white-checkered'. When that sweeper goes around, it just pushes all the stuff lower. Unfortunately, they didn't go through the groove. It went right into the groove.
They're making a conscious effort to give us a good racetrack. It doesn't work out that well here.
Q. Denny, if you would have, would you have moved Kyle for the win?
DENNY HAMLIN: For sure. He's won too much.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I would too.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations. Good run today. See you at Martinsville. Thank you.
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