NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: STP 400
Topics: STP 400
April 22, 2012
KANSAS CITY, KANSAS
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with our winner's press conference post‑race for the STP 400 here at Kansas Speedway. Joining us is Denny Hamlin, driver of the No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota. Denny, this is your 19th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win overall, first at Kansas and first Toyota win here at the track. Talk a little bit about the race today.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it felt a lot like Phoenix in the sense of we kind of hung around in the top 5 all day, and at the end we just kind of make our charge, make our run, and there were some things that had to happen the last run really for us to work out, and those things happened. We got our car a little bit better and it looked like the 56 struggled a little bit more than what he had previous.
So I knew with the second to last run when we were able to maintain with them and even gain on them right before we pitted that we were going to have‑‑ it was going to be a close battle at the end, and when we came out from that green flag pit stop and we were side by side, I knew that that was pretty much the race for the win. So when he cleared me, I thought it was over, but I just kind of got in a rhythm there, and he continued to fight with his car, and we were able to make the pass.
THE MODERATOR: Also joining Denny is Darian Grubb, crew chief for the No.11. You currently sit fifth in points now, three behind Greg Biffle. Talk about the win here today at Kansas.
DARIAN GRUBB: It's just big for the momentum for the entire Joe Gibbs organization. Everybody is working so hard just trying to improve everything. We've had good cars, we got the win at Phoenix and we've had consistent good performances but just not the wins that we wanted to get, so going out there and getting that now and working our way up in points, it's showing that effort that's going on with the fab shop and the engine shop and those guys doing everything they can do to make everything better. All these details are starting to add up.
THE MODERATOR: Also joining us is J.D. Gibbs, owner of the No.11. For car No. 11, this is the 199th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, breaking a tie for most wins all time with the No.43. Obviously a bit of history here with this win today with Denny. Talk about that.
J.D. GIBBS: Yeah, that's a big deal. I think the bigger thing is kind of a testament to really Denny and Darian, kind of watching them grow and accomplish more. I thought it was just‑‑ impressive to watch. They didn't panic, paced themselves, got better throughout the day. Glad the sun stayed out a little bit there at the end.
Really, I think hats off to the whole Michael Waltrip crew and Martin and their team. They really gained some momentum, so it's kind of neat to see that. And just encouraging for everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Q. Denny, Darian, just kind of talk about the sun shining. What difference that made when the sun finally showed.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, whether it was a coincidence or not, the car to the field was better once the sun came out. I felt like our car lost a lot of grip when the sun came out, but I guess a lot of guys did when that happened.
Really I felt like all day I was behind the 56 and his car looked so superior to the field. We just needed some kind of change, weather or adjustments or something to get where he was at, and we kind of got both of them.
Q. What does that do, for the novice?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, the sun, typically when you have an overcast condition the cars run a little bit tighter, the grip level is higher in the race car. So it's more of a track position type race when there's overcast conditions. When the sun is out, the drivers in my opinion are more prominent. Your driver can move around, find the grip, do things in the car to make up for what his car doesn't have.
So the slicker the conditions are, the better it tends to lead to our race team, and luckily we had that run in the sunshine.
Q. Denny, you know how bad it is to want to win a race, and you saw Martin, he was desperately wanting to win one and put that under his belt. What did you feel for him after that?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, at the end it's a no‑lose situation for myself because I'm a fan of Martin's, I'm a fan of Michael Waltrip, and they've really done some great things with that program. But my job is to win for my guys and really drive as hard as I can to get them those wins because they're so hard to come by now that you have to just do everything you can. And I knew that he was driving his heart out as well as I was driving mine.
Once I got to the lead, I felt like I got a little bit complacent mainly on corner entry, just being careful. But what got me the lead was driving hard, and so I needed to get back to that, and that's kind of where we were able to stretch it out. But it was a good day for Toyota because Michael Waltrip Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing has got a bond that's working better and better together obviously with the common engine package and everything, so we're starting to see these Toyotas start to make a run.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it's really about the crew chiefs. For us, I felt like we had a leg up on those guys for the past couple years, I drove their cars, they drove our cars at Charlotte last year, and I feel like we've probably learned a lot about each other's programs through doing that. You've obviously seen how well their cars are running this year. We know personally on our side how much hard work that takes to make that big of a jump. So it's pretty commendable that they have.
Q. Denny and Darian, I'd say since a week after your win at Phoenix the question every week is is Joe Gibbs Racing down a little bit, are they a little bit behind? Did you feel that way and does today make you feel any different about where your program is at?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's hard to analyze your program by a one‑week performance. You look at it in the grand scheme of things. Last week on a mile‑and‑a‑half, we went almost a lap down, but we were‑‑ we hung around 10th place for most of the day. But you can‑‑ I find it hard‑‑ I'm not going to analyze and say that everything is good, we just need to make 10 race cars just like this one and we'll be fine. There's always things, areas that you need to work in. We feel like we've identified those areas and we've gone to work on them. So right now I feel like we're bringing better race cars to the racetrack than what we have, and it's still going to take time. There's still things that myself and Darian need to work on with communication, things like that, but he's still working within Joe Gibbs Racing trying to get cars that he feels like can be better to the racetrack, and all that stuff takes time. You just can't do it‑‑ it's a big process now.
DARIAN GRUBB: I'd pretty much second that we've been working really hard, the guys have done a really good job. But my confidence in Denny's feedback is getting better and better. I know when to take what he says with what inflection in his voice, what it means. In practice when the sun was out, conditions were very similar to today, he said the car feels pretty racy right here, don't really change anything, so we made very small changes and the last run actually got us back to those conditions that we had in practice, so it's good that the speed actually matched up and the read on the car was really good. But we had to fight all day to be there. We had to have track position at the end to be able to have a shot at it. He did a really good job maintaining track position and keeping his head in the game, not burning up tires too early in the runs. The car I was really worried about was the 48 coming up. The 56 was definitely the dominant car, but the 48 showed bursts of speed and kept catching up, so we were really trying to play the game to make sure we played the strategy right, because it was going to be between us three cars the way we were looking at it. And I feel like we've made our cars better, we've made the engine program better, the communication is getting better. All those things add up to a good possibility of a performance, but then the guys on the team, the entire FedEx Toyota team did a great job. The pit crew did a really good job, especially down there at the end and got us the position we needed.
Q. You seemed really patient today because you knew you had the piece that could get the job done, and you are really good friends with Michael. Overall are you surprised the gains that Michael Waltrip Racing has made in such a short period of time?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, surprised, no. They've hired some good people over there. They've got good drivers over there, and really it's‑‑ I think it's‑‑ I feel like as well as they're running, we can feed off of them, and when we run well, they can feed off of us. I think there's only really six big Toyota cars out here, and we've all got to work together to all run well, and that's our main goal is to run well for Toyota and make them a championship contender and a championship manufacturer.
I'm not surprised, but it's good to see that you've got some‑‑ we can now use some feedback from those guys. It's tough using feedback from teams that run 20th or so because you've got to kind of take it for what it is. But when you have five or six Toyotas all running up towards the front, then you really can start to tune in your program better and better.
Q. I just wanted to clarify something. In regard to the sun coming out, Truex himself said that there was a bad set of tires, that he did not think that the sun was the difference, but the point you made about the sun was valid I suppose on the basis of your car improving its performance when the sun came out. But I just wanted to ask you about that and make sure that we understood what you meant.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, when I felt like our car was good, and maybe one of the best cars in practice, is when the sun was out. It was probably 70 degrees, the sun was out, and the track was slick. We were running the bottom. Really this is the first race in my career I've ever run the top from green flag to checkered flag, and so I typically stay on the bottom if I can. That's where we practiced. I just felt like our car was comfortable up top today, and we ran that line.
But for us it seemed like when the sun came out, it put our car back to where‑‑ to the field, relative to the field, time wise, right back where it was in practice.
Q. It's the first time you're going to be going to Richmond as the reigning winner, as the conquering hero going back to your hometown. How do you feel about that and will there be a lot of late nights in Chesterfield up until Friday?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. You're from there. Are you going to come?
DENNY HAMLIN: What, you can't hang?
Q. Where are we going to go? Depends.
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. We've got a lot of stuff leading up‑‑ we have our big Short Track Showdown coming up on Thursday, so we've got a lot of planning. I obviously need to go to Richmond early to get some stuff done and schmooze some of our sponsors for that race for a few days. We're excited. I love going to Richmond anyway, but any time you can go after winning the previous week, it makes it a little more exciting. I'm excited about it. It's a big weekend for us next weekend, and obviously this is a great step to trying to get some promotion for that.
Q. This is for Darian Grubb: After looking at the weather this morning, how important did that make all the information that you all had accumulated on Friday, because the weather this morning was a lot closer to what Friday's practices had been like. I was just wondering how important was that?
DARIAN GRUBB: It was pretty important because the forecast itself changed 10 degrees just in a matter of 24 hours. So we were trying to pretty much guess at what was going to happen. We were actually expecting it to be a little more sunny today than what it actually was.
The adjustments got toned down from what I was planning to do yesterday based on the qualifying and what we had planned to do leaving Friday, and then as we went through and saw the weather was kind of adjusting back to what we were good for from practice we made much smaller adjustments in the race than what we typically too much away from our baseline good speed staying there Denny good restarts and kept that track position, even when we fell back a little bit with some of that strategy we did, and that all paid off in the end.
Q. Denny, how important was Friday as compared to what you saw on the track today?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think when you have a big shift in weather from where you practice to where you race, these teams are so smart nowadays that they have so many notes about what has happened in these similar situations before, a lot of times it comes when‑‑ during nighttime races. We'll practice during the day and then you kind of guess on what you've got‑‑ like the last week at Texas you race at night but you practice all during the day. These crew chiefs are smart, and we talked about that we just didn't want to change a whole lot on our cars because we felt like it was a car that could contend for a win after Friday.
I knew that we had a car. It was just a matter of are those‑‑ does everything come together? Does the pit crew nail that last stop? Do you have the track position at the end? And if you do, then you put yourself in a good place to win, and that's what we did today.
Q. Denny, it looked like another one of those days where being out front in clean air was going to be important. As you were moving in on Martin, were there any concerns you wouldn't be able to get past him once you got up to him?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it is, especially since we were running pretty much the same line all day. We were both running right around the wall. I knew that the only advantage that I had is when his car got so loose that last run, I was able to make up a lot of time on entry and a lot of time on exit because he was really fighting his car. So really, as the driver behind you can manipulate his car and make it worse for him by getting up close to him, and that's what I kind of did a few laps leading up to when we passed him is that I tried to run as close up to him on entry as I could and as close on exit. So it takes away rear grip, and to a car that was as loose as what his was, they have no choice really but to back off and not wreck their car.
We made that run, but what is negative about it is then now you're the lead car, and typically the second place car is a little tighter so you've fixed his adjustments by taking over the lead. They got their car better it looked like as the run went on, and luckily we just barely had enough to beat them.
Q. Last year a lot of people said you were working for a six‑car team with Hendrick and Stewart‑Haas. Are you guys working with Michael Waltrip Racing like that? Is it more like a six‑car team, the shared relationship between the crew chiefs and all that?
DARIAN GRUBB: It's a little bit similar but not completely because we're not running the same chassis. We're running the same engine package, but that's really the only thing. The rest of it is just the crew chief relationship, Chad Johnston, Brian Pattie and Rodney Childers are all good friends of mine, so having that one‑on‑one friendship is probably better than anything, because we actually communicate. We agree not to lie to each other. That's probably the bigger thing. Being honest. I might not tell you everything but I'll be honest if you ask a question, and that's why we try to treat each other with respect and we know what is going to help each other, but we try to keep a few things under our hat to help each other win.
Q. Do you have your swagger back? Do you feel like if you have the best car now you're going to win as opposed to maybe how you felt a year ago?
DENNY HAMLIN: You don't even know what that word means.
Q. Do you have the feeling that given the equipment I don't want to say that you're unbeatable, but it's everybody else's job to beat you, maybe the way you felt two years ago compared to last year?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, you're always more confident when you know that you've got cars that are capable of winning. When you know you have cars that are capable of running 10th, you're not as excited. You're not as upbeat and things like that.
But you've got to just take the weekend for what it is, and I personally am comfortable with myself as a driver. I know what my abilities are. I know when I have a car that's capable of winning if you put any other driver in it. Then it's my job to get the job done.
I feel like I can race with anyone in this sport. It's just so much about how good your communication with your crew chief is, how good your cars are, how good your pit crew is. It's more of a team sport now than what it's ever been. It's not just about the driver. It's been a long time. Crew chiefs have won races when they don't have the best car, but it's been a long time since the best driver took a 15th place car and won with it based off of what he did inside the car. It's just so hard nowadays. The cars are running so fast that it's a lot of what happens in the shop that dictates how your weekend goes.
Q. Darian, the way the last year ended, are you driven more this year? Are these wins more satisfying to you? And did you take anything that you learned over there at Stewart‑Haas because of the Hendrick involvement with that team and apply it towards your team now? Just talk about that and how much more satisfying it might be this year knowing how last year ended.
DARIAN GRUBB: It's always satisfying to win, regardless. It doesn't carry any more special sentiment to win. It's just special regardless because you don't get to get in here and sit in this room very often. So you've got to cherish every moment.
The technology is drastically different between the organizations, so the actual lessons you learn and things, it's probably more the style of working and being able to manage people and get the best out of the people that are there. Now that I'm at Joe Gibbs Racing I'm starting to learn those personalities and what I can get out of them. That's probably what I take from the previous organizations until now. There's no special feeling because we're beating those guys. There's a special feeling because we beat 42 of them out there. We take pride in that and we show up every week and try to win and we hope to and plan to, and if we don't, we're disappointed and we work harder the next week.
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