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September 20, 2015
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, here joining us in the media center at Chicagoland Speedway, tonight's winning crew chief and car owner, Dave Rogers and Coach Joe Gibbs.
Dave, how does getting that first win in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and automatically advancing to that Contender 12 round, how does that free up or change your strategy at all over the next two races?
DAVE ROGERS: It doesn't change our strategy. We're going to try to carry as much momentum into the Chase as possible. It definitely opens up some doors. Anything can happen in these races. We saw the 4 car got tore up today. He was fast.
So we have a Mulligan. If we have a problem the next two weeks, it doesn't matter. But we're still going to go to Loudon and Dover and try to lead laps and contend for the win. We just have a little less pressure on us than the other guys have.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, all four of your car finish within the top 10 today. Talk about the strength of your JGR program as a whole.
JOE GIBBS: For us, I appreciate everybody we got back home. Everybody has heard me say that. We have a lot of people at the race shop. I wish they were here to celebrate in the winner's circle with us, but they're not.
But the whole team back there, everybody that works on our cars, front office, J.D., everybody back there, I wish they could be here with us because they deserve to be here to celebrate.
I thought today was a total team effort. We had everything go against us really. 11 car had to start in the back because of our qualifying speed. We turn around and spun the car back there. We go down a lap. Fought hard all day to get that back. So it was just one thing after another.
I appreciate Dave keeping everybody together. Denny kept a cool head, kept fighting. Our pit crew, everybody. A total team effort in the end. Proud of the FedEx gang, really appreciate the fact I could be a part of this.
THE MODERATOR: Dave, from your perspective, overcoming some of those early struggles, starting so far back, the early spin, what was that like in trying to manage that early turmoil?
DAVE ROGERS: Coach nailed it. There's so many back at Joe Gibbs Racing working hard to build fast racecars. All four Joe Gibbs cars were in the top 10. That's a testament to the speed. The road crew, the pit crew, the driver, engineers, everyone just stayed really composed. That's what I'm most proud of today.
We did have a lot of adversity. You know in the Chase you're going to have adversity, it's going to strike. We've been talking about it, been trying to mentally prepare for it.
Today I thought the entire team did a great job of just keeping focused and it paid off in the end. So really proud of the guys that travel and really thankful for everyone back at the shop, including our partners in Costa Mesa who built the powerplant, TRD. Great steam under the hood. Proud to have a racecar this fast and could allow us to overcome adversity.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Dave, when Denny spun, you said to him on the radio, We have a rocket ship, we'll come back up through the field. At that point did you think you were going to salvage a top‑15 finish or did you think you had a shot to win?
DAVE ROGERS: Call me crazy, but I thought we had a shot to win. We had a really good car in practice. I guess we always set our goals on trying to lead laps and win races.
I think the minute you tell yourself you can't win or you're just trying to get a top 10, then that's probably all you're going to get.
The way Denny was moving up through traffic, I knew last year Brad won the race, he started in the mid 20s. Denny finished sixth, I believe, and started 27th. So I knew last year people came from deep in the field and contended for the win. So I knew it was possible.
And we spun because he was going. He had a fast racecar and he was trying to make something happen and got in the back of slower cars. So I knew he had speed. I have a lot of faith in that driver. He can do some crazy things.
Q. Dave, there's 10 races in the Chase. This is the first one. Is this one of the more difficult events you all are going to attend or where does it rank?
DAVE ROGERS: That's a good question.
I don't want to say this because we won it and I don't want to take any glory away from the team. The way the Chase is laid out, 12 cars are going to advance to the next round, and only three of them are going to advance on wins, the other nine are going to come from points. So realistically, this is one of the easier brackets, as it should be. The championship should be the toughest bracket. Homestead is going to be by far the hardest race.
JOE GIBBS: Let me say, Toyota, appreciate it. They worked extremely hard. I think last year we went through some tough times. This year our guys kept fighting. So thank, y'all. We appreciate our partners.
THE MODERATOR: Dave, Coach, thank you.
Joining us now, the race winner, Denny Hamlin.
Denny, you come here this weekend, Friday's qualifying session gets rained out, you have to start this race near the back, then the early spin. How good does it feel to come out on the other side of all that in Victory Lane here today knowing that you've secured a spot in the next round of the Chase?
DENNY HAMLIN: It feels great, obviously. This is a great day for us. We obviously came back from adversity and did a lot of great things throughout the day, with the exception of lap two.
I tell you, it's just amazing that we were able to come back the way we were and do the things that we were able to do.
I knew we had a really fast car. I didn't think starting in the second row with old tires we were going to have a chance. But the opportunity came in turn one to make a move, and we capitalized and our car took off.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and open it up to questions for Denny.
Q. You look at this race and Chicago became the Chase opener. The guys who historically have won this race have gone on in a couple instances to win the championship. That has to give you confidence.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. Whose bracket did it break today, if you had us going out in the first round? Anybody? Don't let me find that out, I'll call you out (smiling).
But, I mean, I've been telling people, look at our finishes going into the Chase. We've been strong. Everyone else gets the headlines, but we have been chipping away at some really good finishes here lately, doing a lot of great things.
Our Toyotas have been really fast. Joe Gibbs Racing has given us some really good cars here lately. This is no exception. Obviously we just were very fortunate with the late‑race restart and we were able to capitalize on it.
I honestly didn't like our chances when I saw two cars had stayed out versus one. But we made the best of the situation.
So I think we can make a run. I've told everyone these Chase tracks set up better for nobody than it does for me as the Chase goes on. So I think the next round is the most challenging for us personally. You just get us to that final eight round and I'm pretty confident we'll be at Homestead with a chance.
Q. Have you ever had a race that started so badly that ended so well?
DENNY HAMLIN: Close. I mean, my very first win, I blew a tire, spun out. We didn't go a lap down or nearly two, for that matter.
I thought we were still going to be fine. I chose not to go fast. I knew we were making a decision to go a lap down by making sure we preserved the car when I spun out.
But I thought we'd have a caution in 10, 15 laps. I didn't imagine it going another hundred and putting so many cars one lap down. That was a challenge for us, but we stayed really, really calm.
I don't know what it was, but I felt calm all day even though we were in a really bad position up until 90 to go. I think it's just that calmness allows you to make better decisions, and we made great decisions at the end of the day.
Q. Did you come into this race extremely confident? Was there anything during practice that made you go to sleep last night and say, I can see and feel the checkered flag?
DENNY HAMLIN: I knew we had a top‑five car in practice. Not a lot of people saw that. I knew we did. We made some good adjustments.
My car, we when blew a tire, whatever happened with my brakes, it really messed up my brakes. I think I hurt the splitter, as well, when I crossed over the apron to get back on the racetrack right there on TV.
My car actually wasn't quite as good after we spun as it was before. I mean, my car was really fast. I just knew with a shot we had a chance. Just got a great restart. That's all we had.
Q. When you spin on lap two, what are you hoping for out of the rest of the day? What would you have considered a good finish today?
DENNY HAMLIN: My number was seven in my head. If we could get back to seventh, it was an amazing comeback day for us. Once we got back to the lead lap, though, I thought, Okay, I don't know if we could battle for the win, because those guys were out there for most of the day. We never had track position. We were just one lap down for most of the race.
I was thinking seventh place. A top‑10 finish would be a good comeback for this kind of day. Honestly, I was very surprised to see us win it.
Q. Can you take us through that maybe, maybe not situation on that last yellow when you were going to go in and didn't.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, with this pit road, we were pitted so far down pit road that Dave couldn't see whether I needed to pit or not. He said, You make the decision, but I think track position will be king. My spotter said, Come. I was already kind of committed to not come. He said it so fast, I couldn't process it quite fast enough.
So I just thought we were screwed actually. Starting on the second row with old tires, especially new tires right on the outside of you, I thought the only chance we have is to get three‑wide entering turn one and get some clean air.
It worked out that way. Once we got clean air, those were the fastest laps I ran all day. So pretty proud of our Toyota at that point.
Q. Denny, Joe Gibbs Racing has been on a tear on these last few months. You saw Kyle, Kenseth. You've been close. How important was it for you to break out to get yourself listed as a winner at such a pivotal race?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's big. We find ourself, no matter what year we've had, in an advantage over everyone right now. We're very proud of that. We entered this Chase with as much momentum as we've ever had. Maybe not race wins, but certainly top‑five finishes. We've been battling for race wins here in the last two months. Even though my teammates have been winning, we've been like the second‑best car. There's four of us. We've been right there, just haven't had things work out for us.
We had a similar restart like this at the end of Darlington. Unfortunately it was a teammate, so I had to treat it slightly different. But I can tell you that things worked out for us, and obviously this is the momentum we need to continue on.
Q. Thursday Harvick talked about he was going to pound the JGR cars. Today he had his issues. You're in Victory Lane. Your response to that?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't really have a response. I'm not going to get into a verbal thing.
We're one race in. It didn't work out well for him today.
Q. There was the one instance at the restart that NASCAR had to review. What were your thoughts on the new system for restarts?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I'm glad that we're going to try to make this as fair as possible. Ultimately until we open up the box to a larger distance, there's just going to be games.
Now, I do think with track position being so important, this particular aero package, track position means everything, everyone is fighting harder on restarts. In the future if we head down that lower downforce path, I don't think restarts will be quite as important. You'll be able to motor your way through the field in a few laps.
I'm looking forward to it. But I'm glad to see NASCAR stepping up and saying, Okay, the games have gone far enough, and we've asked you not to put us in it, but we're in it now and we're going to do the best we can.
I didn't see which restart they were talking about. I think I've seen it replay over and over. But it's tough. When the second‑place guy is allowed to beat the first one to the line, these things are going to happen.
Q. You're through now to the second round. Last year the first round was tougher for you to get through. Second round I would think is maybe not as secure. Does this give you an opportunity where you can focus on Kansas, Charlotte, Talladega, get three solid rounds?
DENNY HAMLIN: No doubt. Maybe it changes the way we plan our racecars. I mean, like a Dover car is very similar to like a Charlotte car, so maybe we take what we thought was going to be an Elimination car and apply it now to the next racetrack.
It could change things for sure. It will make us focus a little bit more on that next round. Now we got two weeks to do that.
Definitely it will be an advantage for us to have a couple weeks to just focus on those particular racetracks.
Q. Kevin has two more races to do something dramatic as he proved he can do last year and advance. If the defending series champion goes out, a guy who has been consistent a lot this year, how much does that improve the prospects for you and everybody left moving on?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, I consider everyone equal. When we reset this playoffs, and obviously you say that, you can shrug and say the 4 is not equal, he's not one of any competitors, but you never know who can go on runs. You never know who can pick up the speed. We've seen it a million times. When the playoffs come around, somebody picks their game up from running 15th every week to running top five every week.
I think it would certainly help our chances, for sure. But we're confident that we can beat anybody, heads up, at Homestead if we have a chance.
Q. We saw you spin out, come back and win it race. Carl got a speeding penalty, went a lap down. Are we going to continue to see this kind of stuff going through the Chase? Normally we think it's that third race each time where everything is going to really blow up, but are we going to see it practically every week?
DENNY HAMLIN: Anytime you break your season down into a three‑race season, every point matters, every position matters. So, I mean, we saw more fights in the Chase last year than what we've seen in the last 10 years because people feel like they're wronged by somebody, their entire season is possibly ruined because of somebody else making a mistake or what have you.
But it's just racing. We mess each other up every single week. But those who are battling for a championship take it more seriously now than what we did during the summer months.
My guess this is not the first, it's definitely not going to be the last confrontation you're going to see. Most likely it's those cutoff races that really set the tone.
Q. In talking to your crew chief, he seems very excited about being in New Hampshire next week. What does this win do for you personally going to New Hampshire?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I know one thing for sure. The first thing I'm going to do is text Michael Jordan. He texted me on Wednesday. He said he was in Monte‑Carlo. I popped in his head like I always do, which I thought was a little odd. He says, I know you're about to head into the playoffs. I just want you to know I've never admitted to anybody that anyone is better than me at anything my whole life. But if you win this race this weekend, I will admit that you're a better driver than I am.
I thought, Wow! That would be awesome. I just thought of that just now.
So the first thing I'm going to do is text him and say, Admit it, I'm better than you, and I want everyone to know.
THE MODERATOR: On that note, Denny, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports