NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Air Guard 400
Topics: Air Guard 400
September 11, 2010
KERRY THARP: Our race winner and our top seed in the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is Denny Hamlin, driver of the number 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing and he's joined by his crew chief, Mike Ford and team president, J.D. Gibbs. Back-to-back wins at Richmond International Raceway, your home track and now you're top seed in the Chase. How does that feel?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's good. I definitely feel like we spent the last two weeks trying to gauge where we are going to be and we brought what we had in the shop and said we are going to try to start our Chase early and that way, when we got to Loudon, New Hampshire, we would be in the swing of our momentum, not trying to falsely start it and I feel like we have done that. We could have had two wins in a row going into the Chase, but last week is in the past and right now I just feel really confident in the team.
KERRY THARP: Mike Ford, a couple of comments about the win tonight and also being seeded first in the Chase.
MIKE FORD: Like Denny alluded to, we started our Chase in Atlanta and went through the summer months and stumbled.
DENNY HAMLIN: Shouldn't have told him everything during the course of the race, by the way. Gave me a heart attack.
MIKE FORD: We started a little early. We needed to get some momentum going into the Chase. We felt like we stumbled a little bit, wanted to get aggressive and make sure that we come out swinging after that off-weekend and we did that. We went to Atlanta and sat on the pole and had a racetrack and at that point, okay, we had some momentum and turnaround and had an engine failure in the race. We knew coming to Richmond, we could rebound here and kind of gain that back.
So it's kind of been up and down, but I think tonight, we gained some momentum moving into the Chase and put some ground behind us. We have never been the points leader, so we are still going to race like we are 40th. So still going to stay aggressive.
KERRY THARP: J.D. Gibbs, congratulations on your two drivers in the Chase, and also the top seed and the race win tonight. Your thoughts?
J.D. GIBBS: Just a big deal for us. I think with Denny, and Kyle, as well, and to watch Joey, all three in one night hopefully get some momentum built up for the Chase was a big deal for Joe Gibbs Racing, and we love coming back to Richmond, as well.
Q. When you said you shouldn't have told him everything during the race, was that the air pressure issue?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, you know, we have live shots as well as all the race teams do. When you have a car as strong as what ours was during the middle of the race, you really have no choice but to -- your gap between the other cars is going to go backwards. Everyone is going to get closer, especially your teammates. Kyle was making his way through the field and I knew he was going to be there before the end of the day, and of course, any adjustment, we had one adjustment, I think our second one of the day, that really woke the car up and that's information for them to have, as well.
Yeah, it's just part of it, and that's what makes us as good as we are right now is having that 18 team as a teammate. He pushes us to be better, and I feel like he's done that since he's been here.
Q. J.D., a few weeks ago everyone was gushing over Kyle sweeping Bristol and Denny here, points leader, six wins; what can you say about him as a driver and him being a factor to win this Chase?
J.D. GIBBS: Denny, what he brings, from day one, he is smooth and hits his marks. He doesn't show you what the car is going to be able to do at the end of the race; he just stays there. At the end, the encouraging thing for us is having him there -- throughout this Chase, I love the fact the way he and Mike have worked together and they have built some momentum. He goes out and pushes as hard as he has to and doesn't go over his head. Really the past few years watching him do that, I think that will hopefully pay off a lot in this Chase.
Q. For obvious reasons, since you're leading the points and you have the most wins, but really feels -- you can see the confidence with you. Is this as good as you have felt going into a Chase, as confident as you've been?
DENNY HAMLIN: At this point, I would say yes. We have won at -- I don't know -- probably three or four of the Chase tracks during the course of my career, and that's encouraging for us. The thing is never through the course of my career have I ever felt -- and I said this last week -- that anywhere I show up, I could win. Other than, the exception of a road course, I feel like I can run Top-5 there, but I've never felt like I could just win anywhere I went, until this year. And especially at this point now, the confidence level is pretty high.
Q. For Denny and Mike, what is it that Joe Gibbs Racing has figured out about this track? There's three consecutive wins here plus Joey comes in fourth tonight. What's going on?
DENNY HAMLIN: Tell everyone too much information.
I just think that we feed off of each other. When Kyle came in in 2008, I think I was definitely the guy that was better at the short tracks. He was better at the mile-and-a-halves. And we have just shared so much information and learned so much off of each other that it's made us better all around, and Kyle has won at short tracks, big tracks and everything now, and we are winning at short tracks and big tracks.
So it's just -- you need a competitive spirit like what he's doing for us to step up our game. If we didn't have a teammate as competitive as him or as good as him, I doubt I would be in this position or won as many races this year. I think you need someone as competitive as what he is that will push your race team to be better.
MIKE FORD: To add a little bit to that, I would have to back up a couple of years and say that we came here to test when Denny was just starting and really struggled. We were really, really terrible here. You know, we were testing and Tony Stewart and Zippy were here, and we swapped cars. We got lost a little bit, and we traded cars, and Tony came in and helped us. Tony has always been good here, and to me, that was a building block to get the car in a place and let Denny come to that.
I know what this track means to Denny, so you kind of work it a little extra, and I think when you get a track like that, where you keep growing it, it helps everyone in the company, because you can see the changes you've made and the direction you've gone.
So I think it stems back to the 20 car running good here a few years ago.
Q. Before driver introductions, it looked like you were giving a pep talk to Joey back here, is that when you were doing and do you want to talk about his performance tonight?
DENNY HAMLIN: Proud of Joey. I was asking him, how did he make that comeback towards the end. They made some good adjustments.
Joey was just asking me, how do I brake at this racetrack. He didn't understand how every time we come here, everyone's brakes are glowing red and mine aren't, yet it looks like I'm entering the corner better or harder. There's a technique to it. I feel that Joey is really good at absorbing information and obviously when he gets that information, he takes off with it. He's done good.
It's a matter of time before he's as competitive as what Kyle Busch is week-in, week-out, and that's just going to make both teams that much stronger. So it's a good, young group that we have at Joe Gibbs Racing, and myself included, but it feels good to have these two guys around me as teammates, because there's so much to be learned throughout that whole group, and I feel like it's made everyone better.
Q. Taking the Chase out of the equation, how good does it feel to win for the second time?
DENNY HAMLIN: It feels good, and not to be greedy, but how many did we lose before we broke through? It means a lot. You learn every time you come here little things that make you better, and that's all you can do. You can't dwell on the times that you lost this race. You've got to just push forward and think about the times or what it will take to win the next one.
Q. It sounded like Curtis was giving you some coaching at one time, he said on a restart you didn't give in to peer pressure and took the lead in the right way. Is this one of the smarter races you've had at Richmond? You've always been so good here as a driver, but learning how to win here on top of that.
DENNY HAMLIN: It's so more than what people can see on TV. It's so tough and mentally it's tough to see a guy barreling down on you with 40 laps to go and know that you just cannot force yourself to go any harder than what you know your car is capable of. I feel like that's where I've gotten better at this racetrack. In the beginning when me and the 48 were battling, he stuck me three-wide there and I was frustrated because it put me in a bad position and I was doing everything I could to get back at him by putting him in a bad spot.
To win these races nowadays, it takes more than just the fastest car with the best driver. It's almost like a game of chess. It's really tough to figure out what it takes to win them, but it's about conserving and I feel like I've done a better job at doing that here.
Q. Momentum is important going into the Chase, yet you won this race last year going into the Chase and we know how that ended. What's different this year with you and maybe the Chase field going into this Chase with the momentum that you have now; what do you think is different and how is that going to change what you do over the next ten races?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, it's a different year, that's the only thing I can say that's different. Your momentum ends as soon as you go to the next racetrack as far as I'm concerned.
It's about next week on Monday. It's about getting better at that racetrack. You know, what's different this year from last year is six wins versus two. So from my standpoint, I feel like the last five races of the Chase always seem to be really good for us, and we always gain points those last five. But the problem is, we race ourselves or something like that right out of it for the first two or three, so for me, it's about damage control at the beginning and trying to get the best finishes we can and see where we end up. If we are within shouting distance with five to go, then I'm pretty confident we'll have a good shot at it.
Q. Mike, you tell it like it is often. Can you win this championship?
MIKE FORD: The thing it's going to take to win this championship like Denny said, is we have got to get through these first three first. Loudon, we struggled at the beginning of the year, the first race was utterly miserable for us. We don't know where we missed it. Dover has been a thorn in our side as far as the tuning aspect. And then Kansas, I think with the mile-and-a-half program, I think that's good.
We have got to keep our stuff together. That's what has taken us south the last couple of years. I think we have got a point lead right now, but we are going to race like we are 40th, still going to be very aggressive and try and win races. If we can do those three things, if we can get through those first 2 to 3 races and keep the cars together and not make mistakes, then absolutely, I think we can out-compete anyone.
Q. Is Dover the biggest concern?
MIKE FORD: Loudon, knowing how we ran at the beginning of the year and it's coming up next. Then it will be Dover.
Q. On paper, at least, it looks like you went from worst that you can possibly do last week to first to No. 1 seed. But given how you ran in the race before the engine problem, do you feel this race was more of a continuation of how your team was performing last week?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, it is -- last week, it was very similar to this week, only on a different racetrack. I was running as hard as I had to. Me and Tony were going back and forth. It was me and Clint and Jimmie going back and forth. I was just running as hard as I felt I needed to at the time.
We had that off-week which was important for us to get our fleet of cars ready for the Chase, and at that point, we said, all right, we need to win more races starting right now. We need to pretend it's the Chase right now and do all we can to finish the best we can these next two weeks to get the team morale going and everything, because we had driveshaft issues and we had wrecks before that in the last ten weeks. Until we go out and perform like we know we can, as far as I'm concerned, we were going to finish 12th in points.
I think the last two weeks have just shown where we stack up versus the competition hopefully.
KERRY THARP: Congratulations to the number 11 team, J.D., Denny and Mike, and good luck in the Chase.
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