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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 10, 2007
DENISE MALOOF: We are joined here at our lunch break at the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series test at Talladega Super Speedway by Denny Hamlin, who is one of our Chase for the cup NASCAR Nextel Cup participants. Denny, what kind of morning did you have out there?
DENNY HAMLIN: Our morning was relatively uneventful. We went out there to go right off the bat, and we were bottoming out, really throwing a lot of sparks out. So we kind of aborted our very first run. And that's basically all we were going to do here today was to assess what kind of ride height we were going to have in the car during running here.
So we had to raise the car up a little bit. We ground off most of the bottom side of the car. So we went back out there and ran, and our lap time looked very competitive amongst everyone else
DENISE MALOOF: In a few days we'll go to Newâ€ Hampshire International Speedway and kickoff the '07 Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. What is your outlook heading to Newâ€ Hampshire?
DENNY HAMLIN: Really I'm looking forward to Newâ€ Hampshire. It's where we won the spring. Typically, by the stats, it's probably my best racetrack. So yeah, I'm really excited about going there and taking the same car we won with.
So I feel very confident in what we have. And I think with a few minor adjustments, we should be pretty tough there.
DENISE MALOOF: Sounds good. We're going to take questions for Denny. We're going to take care of the media group here in the media center at Talladega Super Speedway first, then go to the phone lines.
Q. This race is always considered a wildcard among the ten chase races. Is it being a Car of Tomorrow race going to make it any more or any less?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think it's tough to say how the drivers are really going to take it. But I think the way the cars are set up and the big hole they punch in the air, it should be way wilder than anything we've ever seen here.
I'd say it's going to be a lot like the truck races where, you know, they talk about how big the closing rate is. I really don't see that the car's going to be pulled apart very much. We'll see when we get in action this afternoon.
But I think these cars are going to punch such a big hole in the air, really we'll be stuck together like glue, and if one guy makes a mistake, it could be a big one. So you're going to have to weigh out your options if you're running for points where do you want to run? Do you want to put yourself up at risk and run up in the front or be hanging around the back to the end.
DENISE MALOOF: Other questions for Denny. Go ahead.
Q. Denny, we've heard a lot about the feel of Car of Tomorrow versus the old car. This is the first time you've had Car of Tomorrow on the Super Speedway. How does the feel of the Car of Tomorrow here at Talladega Super Speedway compare to the old car?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I really didn't notice that much difference. Not really as much as what I thought. Of course you feel a lot of wind buffering in this car versus the other car, just with the huge hole that it punches in the air. Really other than that, the way it actually steers and everything is not that much different.
We have a little more steering wheel angle in this car than what we had in the previous car. Because the other car we just fine tuned it to drive itself around the racetrack. So, really, it's not a whole lot of difference from the driver's seat.
Q. If y'all didn't get to drive this morning, I may be asking you for conjecture here. But in addition to the closing rate, do you have any idea yet of whether this is enough to bring back sort of NASCAR's dream of bringing back the old sling-shot pass? Do you think not only will you all be able to close, but will you be able to pass people with some sort of wild regularity?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think you're going to have that. The only issue that I think we're going to have with having kind of that old sling-shot pass is, you know, we're running so many RPM's right now even by ourselves. You know, most of these motors are making max power probably between 75 and 8000 RPM. By ourselves we're running close to 8400. So we know that we're going to be upwards of 9 grand, probably, in the draft.
What that does is it takes away a lot of throttle response. So you're not going to be able to just lift off the gas and get back on it and really have that extra power, because you're already so far past your power band.
The problem with that is we're stuck to this gear, so we can't go down in gear to kind of compensate for it. But if they did go down in gear, it would just make the speed so ridiculously fast that they'd have to slow them down some other kind of way.
So really we're kind of stuck with what we have. But I still think you're going to have a lot of passing.
Q. With the new car making up about half of the Chase this year, how much of it do you think it's going to play a factor into the role? Or do you think the guys that are in the Chase have the wherewithal and the knowledge of the new car with how you guys have run it at all this year, to just be like any other normal race with the old car?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, I'm not sure whether you're talking about this race in particular. But I think, you know, for the most part the guys that are in the Chase are the ones that have been so strong with the Car of Tomorrow.
I don't think it's going to play any factor of, you know, the guys at Hendrick or the guys at Gibbs have relatively been the stronger cars in the Car of Tomorrow races, and there are a few other teams coming on strong.
I think all of that's going to be wiped clean. I think you can have the absolute slowest car and qualify here this weekend or when we come back to racing. I think you'll be able to sling-shot yourself right into the lead with no problem.
So really, I mean, there's not a whole lot of speed that you're going to try to find out here today and tomorrow to make your car better, because ultimately a guy with the worst car will be able to win.
Q. Denny, just trying to clarify on getting the car to turn. Are you saying that basically even with the huge, sweeping turns at Talladega, you've got the same issues getting the car to turn as you would at a tight-turn short track?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, you definitely don't have those issues. That's why I think, you know, the stronger Car of Tomorrow program were the guys that made their cars turn. Hendrick and Gibbs were the first ones to really get their cars good, I think. Now with set-up being kind of out of the issue where, you know, the biggest problem with these cars were that they didn't turn well.
Well, now that equation's taken out, you're allowing the whole field to catch back up as far as when we come here to Talladega. And with a huge hole in the air, it's just going to make everyone in a tight pack. I mean, really I don't see anyone really being off the pace here when it comes to race.
Q. A lot is said about home field advantage in sports. Do you think racing this weekend like at Richmond near your home, does that give you an extra boost for the next race or two?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to Richmond. But you know, really, it's so week to week in this sport. You can be on top one week and on the bottom the next.
But really you try to carry as much momentum as you can. But really we knew that coming here to test today you would totally forget about Richmond, and Richmond seems like it was a week ago. So really there's no real momentum that we can carry for the next couple of weeks.
Q. They're talking about making a change to the wicker when you guys go back out. What exactly are they talking about? And do you know what they're hoping to accomplish with that?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, I'm not sure what they were going to do. If I think anything, they're not going to speed the cars up, because I think the speed's already relatively fast.
So what I'm thinking they're going to probably do is I think we have a one inch wicker on the back now, I think they're probably going to go to somewhere around an inch and an eighth, inch and a quarter to slow them down.
We're able to change our wing angle, I think, from 14 or 15âˆž to 10 here. So we're laying it back, but yet we're using a bigger wicker.
So they're probably going to use that bigger wicker to slow the cars down. However, that's just going to punch a bigger hole in the air for the guy behind. So you're definitely going to have, if they do that, you're going to have more of a closing rate than what did you before.
Q. The season is so long, but with the Chase now beginning, does it kind of give you a little rejuvenation to the long schedule?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, all it does is it kind of forces us to reach down and, you know, dig down deep for the last ten. Because we've kind of been in somewhat cruise mode the last eight weeks or so, feeling like we were in a comfortable spot in points.
So really now we've got to get back to points racing, basically. Get back to reality and try to get good finishes, instead of just going all out for wins.
But as far as the grind in the schedule, it hits you every week. This week in particular, the guys that made the Chase have not one day off this week. We'll all have to go straight from here to New York, to then Loudon, so it's tough.
But, you know, this is what we'd rather be in our situation than people not being invited to New York this week. So really you got to just suck it up. We know that the end is in sight, we've just got to dig down deep to get it.
Q. Based on practices this morning, what kind of race do you think the fans will expect to see when we come back in October?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think you're going to see a very similar race to what the truck races are. And you know, everyone would argue that the truck races are probably the best Super Speedway races, simply because guys can just really pull out and pass at will.
So you're not going to haveâ€ -- you know, it's tough for me to say premature lie, but I think you're not going to have as big a deal with side drafting as what you did in the old car. Because basically that side drafting would just push air on the guy's spoiler beside you. I just don't think you're going to have that as much now as the wings are lifted up off the trunk.
I think you'll have more front to back drafting as you would side drafting, which is a lot like the trucks. However, the trucks have a lot of side drafting because their wing is right there on the back tailgate.
So really, it's tough to say until we get out there what we're going to have. But I think it's going to be pretty exciting.
DENISE MALOOF: Denny, thank you so much for joining us.
Okay, let's proceed with Jimmie Johnson. Our reigning NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion.
Jimmie, how was your morning out there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Really wasn't a lot going on. The amount of cars we have here at the test session makes it tough to get out for a single car, drafting practice. But not drafting practice, but single qualifying runs. I think I made four laps all morning long, so it's been quite boring. I'm looking forward to in drafting practice having fun.
DENISE MALOOF: You might catch up on that excitement this afternoon, huh?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yes, I'll catch up on it this afternoon.
DENISE MALOOF: Tell us about your mindset going into the Race for the Chase this week in Newâ€ Hampshire being the top speed?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Being the top seed is certainly an advantage. We've got a 20-point margin over the 24 and it goes on down from there. I'm not sure how helpful that's going to be. I'm hoping that that works in the right direction and helps us out and helps us win the championship.
But I'm excited about what we have going on at Hendrick Motorsports, the car that's we're bringing on the racetracks. And really the racetracks coming up on the schedule are great tracks for me.
I know they're really strong tracks for Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and a lot of these guys that should be fighting for the championship. I really don't have a clear cut strategy. It's more about getting in my own head. Getting in my own world and putting together the best ten races that I can and that my team can.
DENISE MALOOF: Sounds good. Let's take some questions for you.
Q. I know you haven't had a chance to have drafting practice yet. Denny talked about the new COT, punching a hole in the air. What are you expecting here in the draft at Talladega. Are you expecting more draft, more pack racing, less pack racing? What are you expecting at Talladega?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I was part of the test session last fall here. I think we had 12 cars out there. And we found packages that would really let the car suck up well and create a lot of passing. Problem was it pushed that threshold for the speed up too high, and we had to come down on restrictor plate and other things to get the cars back where they needed to be speedwise.
My opinion of that test was when we had the cars at the right speed for safety, it took out some of the passing. So I'm hopeful today with almost a years time gone by now that NASCAR's been able to find a little better package, and together as a whole, it's a better drafting package here where we can still have passing, but keep the speeds down where they need to be.
Q. Kind of a follow-up to that. Are you getting any sort of feel of what the speeds are out there yet?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: No, I can't say that I have an idea where we even rank up right now compared to our old cars here. I'm not really sure. I haven't been paying that close attention.
We really only got out today and made sure the telemetry was working on the car, and went out and made a back-up run to revalidate that stuff. So it was really a boring, slow morning to be honest.
Q. If testing is as important as everybody says it is, why are you not out there more often?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, there are so many cars here for an open test session. In the morning, practices are slated for single car. We can only squeeze four to five cars out there at a time depending on the space to go get a true lap in. When they open the track up for everybody and we can go out and draft, it won't be a problem then.
But what you have at a speedway is just tough. You think about the way we handle the preseason testing at Daytona, we have three days. Split the field even, and you still barely get enough runs over three days to work through all the stuff that you need to.
So it's really just about the volume of cars and how the single car practice session works on Super Speedways only.
Q. The explosion of engineers and laptops in the garage for testing is incredible. I noticed when I went through the garage earlier today there was a lot of painful expressions on those engineers' faces looking at the data. I noticed you sat down and looked at the data, too. Are you at a point where you're comfortable looking at that data? Or are you relying on the guys with all those ugly faces on in the garage right now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I have found that I need to understand what they're talking about and know how the systems work on the computers and the direction we're going with the cars. But the particulars of it, that's not what I do best.
I know there are some drivers that are very, very involved in that. I've just had bad luck doing that. And I've been caught up trying to put a feeling to a line on a computer screen or to an adjustment and it takes my focus away from doing my job. And I just kind of let those guys do their thing.
I can say that with the Car of Tomorrow by design from NASCAR, there is much less to play with and to tweak on the race cars. And again, that's by design. So those long faces are from crew chiefs thinking how do I find something, because there is nowhere else to look.
Q. Years and years ago the NASCAR drivers, a lot of them said they WANTED to become Indy drivers, and now that's changed completely. What is the difference now?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, I think the IndyCar world and really you look at F1 and guys showing interest now, I think worldwide people recognize how strong our sport is and how competitive the racing is.
We've unfortunately had an issue where people haven't felt like our cars are that technically advanced or maybe not that fun to drive. And I think as guys have hopped into our stock cars out of open wheel and other vehicles they realized yeah, they might not be the most technical cars, and again, but that's by design by NASCAR to keep it an even playing field. But they're a lot of fun and you really race one another.
And it does come down to the driver and the crew chief to win a race. It's not all done by laptops and it's not all done by, you know, engineers. We still have a good element of communication between the driver and the crew chief, and the ability to sort stuff out.
So I think in general, the competition really brings everybody into NASCAR. That's why everybody's here.
Q. So many times this time of year and in the past opening Chases you've talked about how well the 48 team sort of works from behind, catching somebody else. Do you, deep inside, have any qualms about being the frontrunner instead of the hunter this time going in? Or do you say, Hey, we'll take this just fine. Where in the past you may be putting the best possible face on the situation at the time?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think I like the mindset I've been in before where I'm in a hole and we need to dig out. I think I've shown we're capable of operating well in that pressure and that situation.
I guess in my mind I still feel like Jeff had such a great year that, he's probably the guy to keep our eyes on the most. And I guess more than anything, I just like to operate in that mindset and not being in a place to defend. We need to stay aggressive. We need to continue to do the things that the 48 does fast and not get off our game. So mentally I think we're just keeping that same mindset.
Q. I know the COT cars lineup so much more evenly nose to tail than the old cars. With that in mind, do you think bump drafting becomes even more prevalent in the Talladega race? How do you see that working out?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I think so. I think that the cars lineup better, and you can get away with a lot more pushing and shoving. The cars have a lot of downforce and they're real comfortable to drive, So I think that will lead to a little more aggressive driving.
I can say though the thing that I've done on other tracks, because I haven't raced one here, but on short tracks, if you use the bumper too much, the way that the front bumpers have the struts attached to them that hook to the splitter, if you hit someone too hard t will pull the splitter up and actually change the shape of it and create lift in the car, which would be a big problem.
So hopefully that will discourage a lot of the real pushing and shoving that goes on. I'm sure NASCAR will keep a close eye on things so we have safe racing. But the potential is there for more rough driving than in the past.
Q. You guys race 26 races to get into the Chase. Just talk about what is the difference in the mindset? Because you guys got ten races to race for the championship, how much more pressure or more intensity is there to race those final ten races once you get there?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: The pressure intensity and intensity really ramps up in the final ten. And your whole season, everything that you've done was to get in position to race in those ten races to make the Chase. Get your car s right, pit crew right, all that stuff. So the pressure really, really magnifies.
The one thing that I've learned is you look at it on paper and you think ten races, that's a short period of time. But when you're living it day-to-day, that's a long ten races. It's two, three months of racing.
So it's long, and you've got to set a pace that you can maintain and keep. And I think that's something that the 48's good at doing
DENISE MALOOF: Jimmie thank you for joining us today. We appreciate it.
Here is Kevin Harvick. How was your run out there this morning?
KEVIN HARVICK: Pretty boring to tell you the truth. All we've been able to do at this point is single car runs. You know, we have a car that we hit the tire test last week at Atlanta. And you know, a car that we've built for here. So everything pretty much drives the same and runs the same speed.
DENISE MALOOF: Look ahead next, well, this coming weekend. You're going to start the Chase at Newâ€ Hampshire, your thoughts on that?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I think we're excite d to get everything behind us in the first 26. Obviously to get to the last ten here, we're excited to get that going and hopefully get some momentum as we move forward to the last ten races and be able to get something going. And we've had good cars all year. We've just got to have some momentum to go with it.
DENISE MALOOF: Let's take questions for Kevin.
Q. Now that you're in the Chase, and you have Jeff and Clint in there with you, how does the dynamic change?
KEVIN HARVICK: Nothing changes, you just go out and do the same thing you've done every week. We all share everything anyway. Doesn't really change anything that we do as a team.
Q. Running the Car of Tomorrow here in the Chase, does it make youâ€ -- are you looking any more forward to running it here? Or are you not anticipating this race as much as you maybe were before?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think there's just a lot of unknowns that you would otherwise not have, you know, coming here. But you have to transition to the car at some point to make it all work for the team owners and the teams.
So I think there's just a lot more unknowns than typically coming here with just how the car's going to race. You know, so far the car drives really well and everything seems to be fine. So it's just a matter of not having 500 miles with the engine and with the car and all the differentâ€ - basically having nothing on the racetrack for that period of time. Obviously, you can do all the testing that you want, but you can't really ever put it in race condition.
Q. Staying in Alabama but getting off Talladega a little bit. You've had an Alabama driver working for you for this past year. Can you update us a little bit on Cale Gale and his year he's had so far and what you expect to do with him in 2008?
KEVIN HARVICK: I expect to do the same thing, pretty much, that he did this year. You know, just race the Busch car and probably some ARCA stuff. So probably do about the same thing that we did this year.
And you know, he's done a great job. Once we were able to get him in the car, you know, a couple weeks in a row there. And I think the last race he ran was Bristol, so he finished ninth in the truck race there. So he's done a good job. And pretty much the same plan for next year.
Q. With ten races to go, you may not have your strategy yet or you have an idea. But do you find yourself that you'll be racing against the 11 guys instead of the customary 42 cars that are normally out there?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think you have to do your own thing. You have to race as hard as you can. Obviously, you have to find another level to pick it up during the last ten here. You know, sometimes take some chances that you normally wouldn't take. And if you don't, there's going to be somebody that beats you and takes those chances and gets away with them.
So, you know, you definitely are going to be at the maximum level of aggressiveness. And, you know, pushing cars and engines and everything to the max where, obviously, that strategy didn't work out that way leading up to the Chase. So, you know, that's justâ€ -- you just have to find another level of competitiveness.
Q. After you won the All-Star race this year, a lot was made in the media that this year you've become sort of the big money driver. When the big bucks are at stake, that's where you excel. Going into the Chase and looking at that, is that too much of a reach on our part? Or do you think there may be some intangibles with the 29 team this year that when the really big bucks and the big stakes are on the line, that you guys consciously or unconsciously seem to excel?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think any time you get to a Daytona 500 you spend all winter preparing for it. You always bring your best stuff, not that you don't bring your best stuff every week, but it always seems like you find another level to step it up, you know, when the big races come along.
So, you know, we've been fortunate to be able to do that, I guess, through the years at the Brickyard. And, you know, the All-Star race, it seems like we always crash. So this year we were where we needed to be. But you know we've always performed well when there was a little bit of extra pressure on or a little bit more incentive for some reason.
Q. I know you haven't been out there as much, but have you been able to get a feel at all of what the speeds are going to be like with this car?
KEVIN HARVICK: The fastest we've gone is 191. I don't know how fast everybody's going. That's top speed, so, it's obviously going to pick up drastically when you get into the draft. So it will be interesting to see. But it's hard to tell, you know, obviously not being here before.
Q. You talked on this, touched on this a little earlier, but how do you temper the first race in the Chase? Because you can't win it but you could certainly lose it. How do you temper that given the fact that half of those races are going to be COT and everything? Do you just sort of try to get started and do the same things you have and work into it?
KEVIN HARVICK: I don't thinkâ€ -- I think you guys all make too big a deal about what you're going to change. You're going to obviously look to pick the intensity level up just another notch just because that's what you do when you're racing for championships.
You know, if you're playing sports and trying to win in the end of a game or whatever the case may be, the good teams and the good players always seem to pick it up a notch, and you have to do that.
So I don't think you necessarily are going to lose, and lose the championship in the first race. I think Jimmie's proven that. And last year, that you can make mistakes and still come back, but you have to be able to go out and win races. You've got to win a couple races, I think, you know, to be where you need to be come homestead.
DENISE MALOOF: Kevin, thank you for joining us.
End of FastScripts