NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Ford 400
Topics: Ford 400
November 22, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We're joined up here on the podium by the race winner of tonight's Ford 400 championship finale here at Homestead Miami Speedway. Congratulations go out to Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota, crew chief Mike Ford, and team president J.D. Gibbs of Joe Gibbs Racing. Congratulations, Denny. This is your eighth victory in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, your fourth win in 2009. That's very strong. And your first win here at Homestead Miami Speedway. Congratulations on the win. Your thoughts about how things went tonight and then maybe a word or two about your performance this season.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, as far as tonight went, I think we were patient all day. You know, our car, we gained about 15 spots the first run, and then kind of stalled out. We weren't going anywhere, just didn't panic too much, just worked on it and worked on it, and every stop we'd gain maybe one or two spots on pit road, and then it seemed like we made one adjustment that really took the car off. I mean, we started 18th one run and went to 6th or something like that on that particular run and got there in just a few laps. So that was the turning point of our race today. We just kept working on it.
Then we got to second or third and didn't have a race-winning car. We just had a few adjustments we had to fine-tune, and every stop we were changing three or four things it seemed like, but we just weren't content with running second or third in the last race, so we just threw some stuff at it the second to last run, had an awesome stop, we gained three spots or something like that on pit road, got us out front. Weren't able to hold it, but it gave us information to go back on for that last run, and we took some of those adjustments out and the car took off, and it was game over after that.
THE MODERATOR: Crew chief Mike Ford, your thoughts about tonight's race.
MIKE FORD: Denny summed it up. The two keys to it were the restarts. We were very good on restarts, was able to gain track position there, and our pit crew was awesome. I think they had the two fastest stops they've had all year the last two stops of the race. They had a large role in keeping the car out front. It seemed like after five laps, the cars would stall out, and then you would go into racing. So the restarts were very important. We've learned that with these double-file restarts. It's harder to get a car to restart well, and we had that today.
THE MODERATOR: J.D. Gibbs, certainly congratulations on this win today. Talk about the victory, the performance from Denny Hamlin, and also congratulations on Joey Logano being the Raybestos Rookie of the Year for Joe Gibbs Racing.
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, thank you. It was encouraging for our future. I was kind of watching the way really Mike and Denny's kind of leadership at JGR, and the way they work together, the way they don't get panicked. We didn't have the best car, and the way the kind of made changes over the race, and I think over the season you'll see them do some really impressive things. We really look forward to next year. And again, pit crew was really impressive, and obviously we're excited to watch Joey kind of follow in the footsteps of really Tony and Kyle with us, and then Denny as far as Rookie of the Year.
Q. Denny, payback is getting real popular in view of what happened with Montoya and Stewart. Do you feel like a trendsetter?
DENNY HAMLIN: What now?
Q. Referring to Brad Keselowski, today to how Stewart and Montoya traded licks, and it strikes me that payback has become real popular. Do you feel like a trendsetter?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I think everyone has got a little fight in them every now and then, especially when they get done wrong or anything. But you know, after a performance today it's easy to put yesterday behind me. But yeah, I mean, I think it's just maybe they looked at it and said, well, it's worth it. I thought yesterday was worth it, and maybe he thought today was worth it.
I think it's something -- it's something I think that the sport -- it's a self-policing sport. NASCAR does a really good job of letting us handle it. They don't want to get involved, but if it's something blatant, they've got to do -- they don't have to, but they feel like they need to do something about it, otherwise they'll hear repercussions from fans saying why didn't you do anything about it. I won't say anything else.
Q. Two questions, first one for Denny. You won two Chase races, most wins you've had in one season in a career, but yet is there a twinge of disappointment in that you know how good you ran and you feel like you might have fallen short of what you could have gotten, and are you the guy to watch in 2010? And then for Mike and J.D., Denny came out in January, and he said, I'm tired of being a contender, I'm tired of being a guy with potential, I'm ready to be a champion. We all were like, okay, yeah, right, who is this Denny and what's he talking about, and he's really come on strong it seems to us and found his voice and found some confidence and really changed a lot. And I'm wondering if you guys see that, also, and if you guys think he's taken the steps needed to be a champion.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, yeah, I mean, as far as the Chase is concerned, there's ten races, and you've got to perform really good and be flawless those ten. It looks like the trend has been you get one bad race if you want to be a champion. The other 2nd through 12th has had multiple bad races. But each one of those races where we blew up, we were leading, and if we had just averaged seventh or eighth I think in those races, then we're out on the front stage celebrating right now.
But on the other hand, then the 48 maybe would have to run harder or perform better. So it's tough to play the numbers games and what if. But all I know is we've been competitive enough to run with those guys, and we've come a long way as a race team. You know, even though we had some parts failures in the Chase, the driver still made a mistake, which that can't happen in the Chase next year.
There's some things I need to do to get better. I feel like through the season I've gotten better. I'm figuring out what I need to make my race car better. Mike is starting to figure it out. We're getting on the same page now, figuring out what we need to be good at racing. One thing we're going to have to improve on next year is qualifying. We can't come from 38th like we did today. It looks good on paper, but realistically you put yourself at more risk.
So there's some things we need to do to be better, and I think this Chase has just made us stronger, because now I think everyone is focused and everyone is fired up about next year knowing that we're one of the few guys that can run with that 48 every single week.
J.D. GIBBS: I think one thing you forget, Denny's first year he winds up third in the points. It think it just kind of came natural. I think in the years following he kind of pushed hard in some areas and maybe tried some things you shouldn't try. I think what we've kind of learned is watching these guys kind of mature really taking a leadership role, Denny within the sport and Mike within our shop, really kind of the future is exciting for us. So I think really both those guys work well together. They're quiet, they're not going to talk a lot about stuff, they just kind of get it done. That's what encourages me coming up the next couple years for JGR.
MIKE FORD: You talked about Denny having the confidence starting the season. I think it's humbling. I think the last couple years were humbling, and we kind of all went together, and Denny's confidence and his driving and realizing that he needed to take a leadership role with the team and work through the issues rather than stomp feet, walk away and be frustrated. That, being able to work through issues came a long way, and that to me is the difference. I think that was the strongest point of our season was gaining that unity.
And moving forward, I think it allows you to try things, and we set up for the Chase. It hasn't haphazard. You look at the second half of the season, we hit a stride. We felt like we learned a couple things. We peaked early the last two years and kind of nosed over and were afraid to try things in the Chase, and that wasn't the case this year. We continued to learn throughout, but we put ourselves in a good position to start it.
You know, I think everyone being on the same page, being able to work through problems, it was a lot easier to make gains during the season and during races with Denny and myself being on the same page pretty much every week.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think a lot of it, too, was Tony leaving in my opinion. I kind of got into his -- when I came into Joe Gibbs Racing it was what Tony and Bobby laid out. That's the area and the direction Joe Gibbs Racing was in. I just drove the cars and was like, this was successful for Tony, so I kind of got in there and refined it a little bit to my driving style. But when Tony left, it was like, well, I kind of want things this way, and next thing you know, we start building cars more to my liking. My and Mike's communication gets a little bit better, all those little things. You start setting up these different departments working on the things that I feel is the most important, maybe not somebody else.
So I think that also helped quite a bit this year was having meetings and figuring out how -- what's the best way to do it to suit myself, not -- since I was the guy who essentially had to take that role once Tony left.
Q. Denny, how refreshing is it for you to come in here and talk about a race victory rather than Brad Keselowski?
DENNY HAMLIN: Really good. I don't even know where he finished, to be honest with you.
Q. This is for either J.D. or Mike. The 48 team has won 18 of the 60 Chase races, but they've also been darn near flawless with respect to mechanical failures and mistakes in the pits and what have you. How difficult is it to race against something like that?
MIKE FORD: You know, you can't control that. All you can do is control your end. You know, the performance is in your control, and I think if you look back, we've been toe-to-toe with them every Chase race other than Dover, and to me that was disappointing. That was in our hands. We missed the setup there, and that was one of the most disappointing parts of the Chase because that was something that we did.
You know, the engine failures, you know, it would be nice to say that we know what happened there, but we really don't. Those things are going to happen.
The timing of it is just bad. You can't -- my personal opinion is too much emphasis is put on this Chase and not enough on the race. When you're going out and trying to win races, things are going to happen, and you just have to shrug it off and go. If it's something that's in your control, then that's something you need to really focus on.
But when you can't necessarily put a finger on exactly what happens, you don't forget about it, but you move on.
Q. For Denny and Mike, you guys have both talked about communication and the improved level of trust you have back and forth. At this level with the format that's only ten races, is it possible for somebody to win a championship if they don't have a crew chief-driver relationship where they've been together a lot of years so they intuitively know what each other wants and needs? I mean, could a new team or new group win it?
MIKE FORD: I think you could back into it. I think you could put some good race cars together and get lucky. The thing with communication and what makes the 48 strong is those two have been together for a long time. You're able to work on issues that aren't elementary standard issues. You can work on really focusing in. The more times you go to a track together, the more understanding you are of what the other is wanting. So that database, as it grows, you become stronger.
I think there is a possibility that someone could come in and do that, but I think your mature teams that have worked together to really work on the non-trivial problems that you're faced with over the course of a season are going to be the guys that continue to win.
DENNY HAMLIN: I agree.
Q. Denny, I think it was in victory lane you made mention to the fact that Michael Waltrip was kind of a influence on your career. Could you talk a little bit about that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think it's worth noting that -- what he's done for the sport. You know, obviously he's a big spokesman, not necessarily a paid spokesman, but he's a guy that speaks for NASCAR in a lot of different ways, and a lot of people listen to him.
Growing up I watched Michael for many, many years. I actually have a picture with him; actually the same night that I had a picture with Joe Gibbs, I also had a picture with Michael Waltrip in an autograph line. There wasn't actually very many people in the line, so I got right in there.
So you know, he was a guy that is really -- he always talks in a positive manner about NASCAR. When a lot of people were negative, he's kind of that voice of reason, kind of getting us back to reality that this is a fan sport, and regardless of what us drivers may think sometimes, ultimately the fans is what drives this sport. I think he's just done a really good job with that.
Q. Just a quick question, Mike. The way Denny talked, it seemed to me, I'm not very mechanical, I drive from Pennsylvania to New Jersey because they pump your gas there, but it seemed like he picked away at this thing. You made little changes and things. What temptation was there to really throw the book at it? Do you have to resist the temptation like that? Tell me about your mindset there.
MIKE FORD: I think it goes back to the earlier question, what makes a good race team, and it's that you don't panic. We can quantify what kind of change; simply by the tone of Denny's voice over the radio, I can about tell the degree of the issue. That's something that you just can't come in and learn.
I know where we were; I know the tone of the voice. It was a pretty major issue early. We were really tight, but we were in terrible track position, so I didn't want to over-adjust. I wanted to rely on the restarts and our pit crew to get us those positions, and the closer we get to the front, your handling issues go away.
You know, it's just time that you spend together that tells you what issue you're really fighting and how you quantify that.
Q. This has just always been a coincidence and you've had a lot of good finishes, but does it mean something to you to win your first race on a track that isn't pretty much flat?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. I mean, I think everyone kind of puts us in a box and they name off Martinsville, Richmond, Pocono, those racetracks, and say that, yeah, we can win those races. But they don't put us in that category at other racetracks. And I think it just shows that we're strong.
A lot of things, we've surprised a lot of people with our performance at our racetracks this year, and we've been a really good race team on all different types of racetracks. We felt going into the Chase our stronger suit was going to be the bigger racetracks, the mile-and-a-half program. I said seven weeks ago that's our best suit right now, and that used to not be the case a couple years ago simply because I had more experience on the short tracks and just didn't have a good feel for the bigger tracks.
But once you're successful one time, it helps out a lot, because then you search for that feel at every different racetrack that's similar. And I think it just shows that we're starting to come into our own as a race team and perform well everywhere.
Q. J.D., next year you're going to have four cars, and just talk about the addition of a fourth driver with some guys who already know how to stand on the gas.
J.D. GIBBS: No four cars next year. Hopefully somewhere down the road, but we're not ready to do it next year. We could still do a few races like we did this year with the O2 car. Nothing planned there.
Q. The guys you've got, though, they're all young and have a lot of years ahead of them.
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, which is great. You look at our average age, our future is really exciting. Denny is our old man at 29.
DENNY HAMLIN: This week.
J.D. GIBBS: So for us, we really look forward to the years to come. I think the additional -- whichever driver is added down the road, I think he'll fit in well with our guys. We don't do things -- a guy can be a great driver at an older age, a younger age, in between. We just want guys that can perform. If you get that, then the rest usually takes care of itself.
THE MODERATOR: I believe that takes care of the questions from the media on No. 11 team, Denny, Mike, J.D., Coach Gibbs, congratulations. Great performance tonight, and overall a very, very solid season and a lot to look forward to.
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