NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Showtime Southern 500
Topics: Showtime Southern 500
May 8, 2010
DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
KERRY THARP: Let's roll into our post-race winning team. Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FexEx Express Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Denny Hamlin sweeps at Darlington. First time since 1993 that a NASCAR driver has won both the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. Mark Martin did that in 1993.
Congratulations, Denny. Super effort out there tonight. Tell us how it happened.
DENNY HAMLIN: We had just a really good car. I knew right from the first run of the day we had a very strong racecar. At that point it's just all about conserving your equipment for the end of the race.
We chose to take four tires more than a lot of guys did during the course of the day, so you saw us kind of go back to 10th, 8th at times, but we always kept good tires on the racecar all the time. That set us up for a charge to the front. I think we got to fourth or so. Then I think we took the two tires. Other guys kept taking two tires over and over again. Their lefts were so old, I knew if we could get the jump on that last restart, we should have no problem.
From there, it was clear sailing. Mike did a great job of adjusting on it. All day we went back and forth with it. He got it right where it needed to be on that last run.
KERRY THARP: J.D., congratulations. Denny continues to show he's a real contender this season.
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, he just did a good job. We knew we had a pretty good car. He even said in practice the car was pretty good. During the race, there's always a lot of ups and downs. You never know. I think he did a really good job. He and Mike didn't panic, kept working on it. Towards the end, the pit crew did a good job. It was a good job for Joe Gibbs, FedEx Racing and our team.
KERRY THARP: We'll take some questions.
Q. Denny, there's a lot of times drivers dominate various portions, but when the time comes at the end, they can't get it together. I realize it's hard to make that a tangible point. Do you think getting some wins under your belt and building self-confidence within a team is important to being able to make the right calls when it really counts?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, during the course of my career I felt like I missed out on a lot of wins the first. Probably two to three years of my career, probably 10 of them I should not have lost had I had the mindset that I have right now, what it takes to win.
I think the only difference before when we weren't winning as much to what we're doing right now is just my mindset and knowing what I need to do to win the race at the end. So, you know, this is the kind of winning pace that I felt like we should have been on right from the get-go of my career, now we're just hitting that stride. It's just taken me a while to understand how these races play out, what it takes to win.
Now I feel like I have a better understanding of that, I think it's gonna continue to go on a roll the way it is.
Q. Denny, Jimmie won three of the first five races this season. Now two finishes outside of the top 30. You've won three out of six. Is there anything to being on a streak like this this early? You want to peak at the right time. Is it good to be in this zone right now or are you hoping you're saving something for the last 10?
DENNY HAMLIN: I can't tell you how excited I am about us winning right now because I know what our team is capable of by the time we hit Chase time. We're running pretty much last year's cars for the most part. We're just kind of easing our way into it.
We didn't expect to have the success. We thought we could contend for race wins, maybe get one here or there the first 12. We really wanted to come on right after Indy, was our goal, to turn the light switch on and really go for it.
We'll see what happens. I think that it's very encouraging for me that we're winning right now under the circumstances.
Q. Denny, after the way you ran last week, I know Mike seemed a little sensitive about that all weekend, how important was it to come back this weekend, where you've never won, get the win, kind of prove something?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, we're winning at all kinds of different racetracks now. At the beginning it seemed to be pretty much short tracks and Pocono. Now we're winning at various different types of racetracks. That's very encouraging.
Last week was a huge disappointment. Once again, what's encouraging about that is as terrible as I felt like we were, we drove up to fourth or fifth or sixth at one time. We were top 10 right there at the end until those last few cautions, and that was with a car that I felt like was inferior. Shouldn't have been in that position.
For us to run that well on the stat sheet, I know what potential we had, how much better we could have been, it's very encouraging for me for what is in the future.
Q. It seems like you've had a season or more worth of stuff going on, what's been not quite a third of a season, just with your injury and everything. Does that say even more about the potential for later this year, considering everything you've already faced this season?
DENNY HAMLIN: I just think it shows where the team's focus is, for one. I think no matter what, you know, the team really had to go through a lot, through Phoenix, the few races leading up to it, when we announced it.
I think the team never wavered. They stayed focused. I felt like I really stayed focused on the task at hand. You know, to me it just feels like I have a total different mindset during the course of these races than what I used to have. It's obviously for the better.
J.D. GIBBS: I think watching Denny, we didn't know, was he going to make it the whole race, half a race, what was he going to do. Like I said before, he went up a few notches in my eyes, the mental toughness. I said, For the record, if you ever break your ankle, wrist, I don't want to hear it, you're driving the car. So we got that settled.
Q. Denny, how does the knee feel right now? Yesterday you were talking about you wanted to conserve a little something for tonight. Are you feeling something right now? Will it take a day to get over it, two days?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I felt surprisingly really, really well with it just on the knee side things today before the race. It felt, you know, as good as it ever has.
It really is pretty much like a physical therapy session in there with the cars that vibrate, you kind of have a little bit of vibration right there on the steering column, so I rest my leg against it, it kind of acts as a stim. It feels good after races. It's during the week that I'm laying around that it gets all stiff.
Q. Jimmie had his third DNF tonight of the season. Starting to get the feeling he's as vulnerable as he's ever been and this championship is as wide open as it's been in the last four years?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's tough to say. It's still so early in the season. You know, we've got a lot of racing left to do before the Chase starts. Those guys, when they get a comfortable place in the Chase or in the points standings, you typically see that in the past history. They don't slack up, but their performance is not as good because maybe they're trying things or something like that.
I'm sure there's no cause for panic on their side. For us, we're just winning races. That's all I can say.
KERRY THARP: Let's hear from crew chief Mike Ford. Mike, called a great race out there tonight. Your thoughts on how things went?
MIKE FORD: Coming into this race, very bothersome knowing tires don't fall off and you're gonna have to make the right calls to have the strategy at the right times. First half of the race, our car didn't respond to two tires very well. We knew it was going to have to come down to a two-tire stop. We gave up some track position in the middle of the race leading the race to try to work on our car because it wasn't accepting two tires.
Knowing that you're gonna have to have the track position late in the race, you want to set yourself up for that. It could have very easily gone the other way. Could have got in traffic, caught up in something, lost some position, not been in the lead pack to be able to make a call.
So very difficult race to call when the tires don't fall away.
KERRY THARP: We'll continue with questions.
Q. Denny, you were one of the few drivers that seemed to not be complaining about things going wrong. Even Jeff, when he was dominating, things would go bad in his car. Is there a peace or calmness over you where you have control when little things are going wrong that you maybe didn't have before?
DENNY HAMLIN: The excitement level is not there, the heart rate is not nearly as high as it used to be. I would just have maybe a bad stop or something, I would instantly peak way high. It would affect on-track performance, then I'd get caught up in a wreck.
I feel like I'm a little bit more patient now on the racetrack even though at times it seems like there's maybe an aggressive move here or there. But I still am well in control of my destiny throughout the day, even when things go bad.
I've just learned you can win these races. You don't have to win 'em in the first half. Really, you just want to be somewhere around that top eight or so the first half, somewhere around the top five with a hundred to go. You don't need to panic when you're not in the lead the whole race.
To me, that's just a different mindset that I've had, and it seems to work because I've had the equipment at the end when I needed it. When I needed to push it, the envelope, I had the car to do it, especially at the end.
Q. Three wins so far this season. We've seen at times in past years where guys are leading in points, win races early, but can't carry it through because it's a long season. Is there a fear of being too good too early?
MIKE FORD: I'll be honest with you, knowing what we've got coming later in the season, what we're working on. We're working on the back half of the season right now. Honestly, I'm surprised how strong we are right now.
Not to spill the beans, but we're working on Chase stuff right now. We're racing things that we were racing at the end of last year so we can concentrate on the later months of this year.
I'm personally surprised that we're running as strong as we are.
Q. Was this a new chassis or old one?
MIKE FORD: This is the car we ran at Martinsville. Same technology in these cars that we finished last year with.
DENNY HAMLIN: They were built last year. We just didn't race them.
Q. What did staying in that racecar at Phoenix teach you about you?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's tough to talk about myself.
Q. Do it anyway.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think it showed character and it shows I'm a team player. Those are two things that I can characterize it as.
The easy way would have been to get out of the car, sit there, watch someone else go through hell for the rest of the race with a car that was dinged up.
There's been many times my guys have gone over and beyond for me in certain situations and stuck up for me. If I tell them they did a crappy job, they still didn't care. They patted me on the back and we went on to next week.
I felt like it was important for me to step up and do the same for them. It's paid off. People don't believe it, but it's paid off. We have those good pit stops at the end. Is it coincidence? Maybe. But I can tell you our team is hitting its stride. Everyone is getting along as good as they ever have.
Good decision or bad decision, in my head, it was the only decision.
KERRY THARP: Mike Ford, your thoughts on what it meant for the entire team for Denny to stay in the car and gut it out at Phoenix?
MIKE FORD: From my viewpoint, it's still -- I looked at Phoenix as this is Denny's call. I probably took it to heart when we had problems during the race. Denny had mentioned, Don't ask about the knee. We started to briefly talk about it.
Heck, knowing Denny, I knew he would never even think about getting out of the car. We kind of rolled with it. I know at the end of the day I just wanted to make sure that this wasn't going to hurt us in weeks to come.
I know he sucked it up, stayed in the car all day. Wanted to make sure that wasn't going to hurt us. But I know the worst thing for him would be to watch someone else drive his car. I knew that would be more detrimental than him staying in the car and just dealing with the pain.
Q. Denny and Mike, you talked earlier about preserving equipment, knowing how to take care of it, how important it is at a track like here. Has there been any point over the last couple of years where it clicked that's what you needed to do to come away with a win here?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think it started last year. At what race, I don't know. I don't think there was a certain point that I learned. But I think Homestead taught me quite a bit. Richmond really was a turning point for us last year right before the Chase. Our car was very, very good and very, very dominant. At times I would just kind of give up the lead to Jeff just to do it, just to see what he had. I just learned that the panic kind of went away at time during the race when someone went around me. I knew I had a better car than anyone else, I could take my time. I think that was a turning point.
Now we haven't had cars as dominant as that one at Richmond, but we've had the calmness that we had during the course of the race that we had at Richmond, and we've made it through the end by making smart decisions and not doing anything too drastic.
Q. Have you thought about giving your doctor, the one that did the knee surgery, a little bonus? You're like Steve Armstrong.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think he might be here actually, so shhhh. The biggest thing for me is the doctor did a really good job. That's the first thing. But the support group, J.D. and those guys have teamed up with Ortho Carolina, spent a lot of time working on getting me back in shape just as soon as possible. Bill and Ken over there at Ortho have done a great job of showing me a lot of attention and really coming to the shop quite a bit to make sure that I'm doing the things I'm supposed to be doing.
It's not necessarily the stuff that's in it. It's the work you have to do afterwards that makes you strong.
Q. Denny, in five Nationwide starts at Darlington, you have three wins, no finish worst than eighth. In five Cup starts, you have five top 10s and a victory. Knowing how many great names have won here, does it give you special satisfaction that whenever NASCAR comes here, you're pretty much the guy to beat?
DENNY HAMLIN: I looked at this trophy in Victory Lane. The faces on it are unbelievable. Mine is going to stick out like a sore thumb, I can tell you. Hopefully one day it's a face that fits in with those guys.
It's amazing. I mean, I can remember Bill Elliott winning the million dollar bonus here. I was watching that race. I was a huge fan of his. 1995. I was five years old, but he was my driver, he was my guy. Just I never forget that, him winning that here at Darlington. For us to have a similar situation, it was as big for me now as what it probably was for him back then.
Q. When you look at the competition, Jeff Gordon, do you look at him as being one of your chief challengers or can you really tell who you're going to have to keep an eye on as the season progresses with performances so far?
DENNY HAMLIN: The 24 is strong every week. The 31 is strong every week. Those two right now in a five- to six-week span, those guys have shown the best speed through the course of races. They obviously look very good. We'll race whoever we got to in September. Hopefully we're in a good spot.
I didn't want to give up a bunch of bonus points to Jimmie if we did make the Chase, him have 80 bonus points. He's hard to beat anyway. But when you give somebody a 70- or 80-point bonus, that's a free bad race you can get. Seems like you can only afford one of them. For us it's about keeping even keel with them right now.
J.D. GIBBS: Six years ago we took Denny down here, his first Nationwide race was at Darlington. I figured, We'll give him a shot. The odds are long he's going to do well, get a shot at JGR. His first race here, when he came and tested the week before, he tore up everything. This isn't going to go well. He finished eighth his first race. That is when we gave him the shot the next year to run the full program. For you, it really began, so it's kind of special tying it in for me at least.
DENNY HAMLIN: I hit the wall once today by the way.
KERRY THARP: Thanks and good luck next week at Dover.
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