NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Subway Fresh Fit 500
Topics: Subway Fresh Fit 500
March 4, 2012
KERRY THARP: We have our winning crew chief up here today, and I'm told Denny Hamlin is on his way and Coach Gibbs is outside, but we'll go ahead and start with Darian Grubb, crew chief for the No.11 FedEx Office Toyota. Certainly no stranger to success in this series, in this sport. This has got to feel very, very good, getting this first win as the crew chief for the No.11 FedEx Toyota.
DARIAN GRUBB: It really does. It's a great team effort. All of Joe Gibbs Racing did a great job getting us here. Did a lot of work in the off‑season. Did a great job with the pit crew and everybody that was here at the racetrack and back at home, we couldn't do it without them and the support of FedEx and Toyota and TRD engines has been pretty good.
KERRY THARP: Our race winner has joined us, Denny Hamlin, congratulations on winning here at Phoenix, the driver of the No.11 FedEx Office Toyota goes to victory lane. It's his 18th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, his first win at Phoenix, and you are the points leader after two races. He's joined by team owner coach Joe Gibbs, and Denny, congratulations. I know this one has got to really feel good for you coming out here and winning this race, making a statement early in the season.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, absolutely. This is the first chance that me and him have to work together in a race situation where he's going to have to make a lot of adjustments, and needless to say, it was going forward the entire day. It's still a learning process between me and Darian. The communication has still got a long way to go, and he's going to have to figure out my measurements and all that stuff of how much he needs to work on the car. But to have the success this early just tells me that once we get things down pat, it's going to be pretty good.
KERRY THARP: Coach Gibbs, congratulations on a really outstanding win here today, and maybe talk about how this No.11 team really shined here today.
JOE GIBBS: Well, we're excited because for me it's two races in a row, restrictor plate and then we come here. FedEx is just a terrific partner. We had a tough, long, hard year last year, and going through all that, and this year to come out of the box the way we have has just been awesome. I think our crew chiefs just seem to have a great chemistry now and Darian, their relationship is still growing, but I think we're really excited about this, and I think we're‑‑ I've got a great‑‑ a very good feeling about this year, so hopefully we can continue.
Q. Darian, before you got here Denny said all we do is win. It seems like you can go anywhere and win. What's the vindication like for you to go from one organization, a championship caliber organization, to another championship caliber organization, but just step in there and right out of the box, man, here you are successful all over again?
DARIAN GRUBB: I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don't think that way. I try to just think the high road all the time. I feel like I came into a very good situation. Mike Ford built one heck of a team here with the 11 car, and the FedEx Toyota is obviously really strong, Joe Gibbs organization is very strong. I've got a lot of friends in both organizations but I'm proud to come in here and lead this bunch of guys, and even just guys like John Furino who's actually at home now, his father passed away, he left Phoenix to go back and we dedicated this win to him because he's a big part of it. We're a united team. We're working together that way, and we are just going to keep doing it.
Q. For Denny and Joe, first Joe, as a coach who was in demand in the NFL for a long time, do you feel like you've hired the guy who's the‑‑ you got the championship coach here that just happened to be available and you hit the jackpot here?
JOE GIBBS: Well, I like coaches. I think coaches deserve a lot. Not money, not money (laughing). No, we know that it takes‑‑ for Darian, I'm always amazed at how close it is to the football operation because a coach in football roughly works with 13 assistant coaches. Over here Darian has got to come in, and I think what he's done is done a great job of getting those guys all together. It is a team effort. I think he's done a great job in a short period of time. It's hard to do today. My understanding, the track changed a lot, and I think he was‑‑ made some great calls there. He and Denny working together. So I think that really says a lot about our team. And I'm excited about having the coaches we've got. We've got three good ones right now.
Q. Do you feel like you hired a ringer here?
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, probably, although, let me say this, he's already won a championship. This is probably downhill for Darian (laughing).
KERRY THARP: He won a championship and a Daytona 500.
Q. And for Denny, you must feel like that.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, no doubt. Obviously he comes in a with a lot of knowledge. The biggest thing I learned early on is his team‑building, the way he helps get all the guys surrounded about one goal, and so that's the biggest thing that I've noticed is how tuned he is with the race team, and obviously we've got everyone behind us within our 11 team, and JGR right now believing in the thought process that Darian has. Obviously when he has faith in me that he feels like he can win a championship with me, after all the choices he had in the off‑season, that gives me a lot of confidence, and those two are just meshing well right now.
Q. Denny, you said in here I think it was on Friday that now you really see how good Darian was. Were you pretty confident or just trying to get him‑‑
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, for me, I don't know where this came from. I don't know how our car was as good as it was today. We were solidly off in practice. We were off, but we kept getting it better and closer to being competitive. But I had no idea we were going to fire off like we did today.
You know, it just seemed like we kept improving our car, and I think the turning point for us was that green flag pit stop. Whatever he did to the car at that point was just lights‑out after that.
Q. Nothing will probably ever erase November of 2010, but do you feel like when you come back here in November 2011 you'll be ready and have no bad memories? How will you feel?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it's a little bit of satisfaction there for sure. I mean, this is a‑‑ it's a bittersweet track. Before that moment, I had a lot of success at this track, ran very competitive. Never got a win, but last year I wasn't a huge fan of the racetrack obviously because I wasn't that competitive. And then this year, starting off this like, this is not my type of racetrack. Even though it's short and flat and that's the type of characteristics people put me on as a race car driver, a new surface is not particularly my forte. So to be competitive under these circumstances, it just kind of reminds me of 2010 where we were winning at tracks that no one expected us to win at, and we were starting to be race winners at tracks where we hadn't before.
You know, and it seems like throughout my career, whenever we lock onto one racetrack and we win, we win multiple times there. Obviously this being the second to the last race of the season, hopefully it's a sign of things to come later.
Q. Denny, to follow up, the last time you held the points lead was when you left here in November 2010. Does this sort of make that experience dead and buried? Does that put in the past once and for all at this point?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I think so. I mean, it's‑‑ you know, last year, we just never got going. Yeah, maybe there was a hangover effect for the first half of the year. You can claim that. But it didn't have anything to do with how bad I ran the last ten races. We just didn't have it all together. But we've made some good changes within our organization. Obviously partnering with TRD with our engines, having a common engine amongst all the Toyota cars is going to be a big plus. So we've still got work to do. I'm still going to push for more and more and more things within our race car. That's the attitude you've got to have to stay on top.
When I come back here, it just puts 2011 to rest. That year is done. It's a year that I'd just as soon forget about, and now we're focused on winning a championship.
Q. Now that you say 2011 is a thing of the past, now looking at the future for the season, can you say right now you have a good shot of winning the championship?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, if we run as well as we did today, absolutely. You know, but you never know what can happen next week. We're at a totally different racetrack again, and it looks like really the first five racetracks that we go to are all dramatically different in a lot of different ways. So now our next step is to be competitive on a mile and a half racetrack. That's relatively new pavement similar to this, so there will be some things that we learn from this racetrack that will transfer over. It's going to kind of give us the make up and see where we need to work within our program the first five races, see where our strong suits are, see where we are weak and need to improve.
Q. For Darian, were you able to bring some stuff that worked well for you with Tony here last year to these guys? And for Denny, how important was it just for you two to win together early in the season just as far as your chemistry is concerned?
DARIAN GRUBB: On the car and the setup side of it, really didn't change a whole lot. They had good cars here in the past, just needed some tweaking and tuning for the new track conditions and those things, and working together with Dave Rogers and Jason rad cliff, I learned a lot just about the way they do different things and took a lot of those things into account as we went forward. We made some small tweaks on things that I knew worked for adjustments, but other than that the cars are Joe Gibbs Racing cars and everybody back at the shop did a really good job over the off‑season preparing those things to get ready to go to the racetrack. If you look we pretty much ran in the top 10 all day with all three cars once they got there. So it was a pretty strong showing and I'm pretty proud of that.
Q. Denny, how important do you think it was for you guys to win together for your chemistry?
DENNY HAMLIN: Good. It's still going to build. I honestly feel like it's going to be realistically two months before we're totally clicking and knowing exactly what each other is saying and talking about. So to have success early tells me that we've obviously got a good pairing here.
But for me, I think that this is also, like Darian said, a testament to JGR and the steps it's taken in the off‑season. All three cars in the top 10 and all three being competitive all day long is something that we struggled with the second half of last season. So we're at least getting back to being the JGR of old.
Q. Could you talk about the last 60 laps when you had the 29 slowly closing the gap until he ran out of fuel there right at the end?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I was running kind of how I needed to run. He had obviously a very dominant car throughout the day, and it seemed like it was kind of a repeat of yesterday, me and him kind of having two of the best cars there for the most part. I was just maintaining‑‑ it was a tough balance because it's kind of a cat and mouse game of how hard you want to push it, is he going to push you to run harder and run out of fuel.
Darian just kept me updated every lap of my interval to the 29, and when I felt like he was getting too close, we would step up a little bit and kind of get the lap time where we needed it.
Track position was huge for our car once we got out front. It was a very fast race car. At that point it was just all about fuel conservation.
Q. Darian, I think it was the media tour you said Gavin was having trouble learning to switch his allegiance to Denny.
DARIAN GRUBB: We have an update on that. I actually got a picture from my wife a few minutes ago while I was in victory lane Gavin holding his No.11 Teddy Bear with the No.1 held up.
Q. Two things: Darian, can you talk about, Tony was really good at shutting off his engine last year to conserve fuel and it bit him today. Can you give us the technical side of that. And Denny, a lot of guys were complaining about aero tide, if you got up to a guy, Junior said he felt four to six car lengths behind. Can you talk about the cars so we know what to look forward to in the upcoming weeks?
DARIAN GRUBB: On the car side of things, I think that is just something that is very tough because of this racetrack and the way the surface is. The whole field was pretty much within two tenths of a second unless you were the leader and got clean air. Those were the only guys who could run exceptionally fast laps. As soon as you went back third or fourth in traffic, you kind of ran lap times that everybody around you ran but Denny was able to testament to that.
As far as shutting the cars off and things like that that's something we're all learning as we go ‑‑ a weekly process. I feel like the Toyota and TRD guys have done a good job informing us of how those things work and we're still learning every week with that. Obviously Joey had a problem at Daytona very similar, and we learned from that and tried not to have those mistakes today.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, as far as the aero tight stuff it was very typical to what it was here in the fall, but it's getting better. The good news is that this is a very hot city in the summer, so it will help hopefully with the aging with the racetrack to help speed that up because the more the track has age on it, the more you're going to be able to move around. The groove actually moved up quite a bit‑‑ I was running some of my best lap times up two car lengths in the corner. It's just a product of it‑‑ Goodyear and NASCAR is in such a hard box when it comes with coming with the right combination of tire and speed, so they've got to put us on a hard tire until the surface slows down or else we're going to blow tires out. The reason we're aero tight is because the tires are just so hard that we're struggling to‑‑ we've got to have the air to keep our car planted to the racetrack. We fought it all day just like everyone else, but it just seemed like our car was able to pass better than others for whatever reason, especially with about 100 to go.
Q. Denny, can you talk about the time off that you took here and how it just really helped you reset, rebalance and come back prepared to do what you're planning to do?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, you hear the good and the bad criticism about not being around the race team for two months while the season is not going on. But that's what I needed to improve myself, and I was just as weak a link as anyone last year within our program. What I needed to do to make myself better is what I did, and that was just get away and not even think about racing for a while.
But when it came time to get to the racetrack, my focus is solely on winning races and winning a championship, and I'll do anything it takes to do that. It's just my way of doing things. It's what I needed to do to improve my driving and my focus.
Q. Darian, is this job in some ways a lot easier than when you took over at Stewart‑Haas Racing because that was a team you had to build, a team that had not been successful? This is a team that had been successful. Was the transition doing this, has it been easier for you?
DARIAN GRUBB: I'd say easier and harder because at least when I was transitioning into that I knew the equipment. I was very familiar with that, with everything. That's the main reason they brought me in is I knew what tools and people we were dealing with.
Now this is just all new tools and all new people, but it's still the same job. Luckily they have a very strong organization already. I don't need to change any of those things, it's coming in and learning the people and learning how to get the best out of all those individuals, and the pieces and parts are there.
Q. Darian, it was apparently a circuit breaker on Tony's car that flipped, and that's what‑‑ they don't know when during the race it happened. Is that something that‑‑ will you guys try to look at those things, or is it something that you just kind of have to wait until it happens to you to try to figure out if there's some sort of glitch in the system?
DARIAN GRUBB: I'll just say thanks for the tidbit. We'll look at that when we get back. I feel like we have a really good understanding and even the TRD guys, we had some issues here at the racetrack this weekend and they did a great job informing us what was going on so we knew what to look for in certain areas. Hopefully those things won't come back to bite us. I'm going to knock on some wood somewhere. It is a new system. You're always going to have the doubt in the back of your mind because it's not something you're comfortable with.
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