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February 21, 2016
Daytona Beach, Florida
THE MODERATOR: We have now been joined by our Daytona 500 champion, Denny Hamlin. Denny, this is your first Daytona 500 win, your 27th Sprint Cup Series win. This is the sixth time and you're the fifth driver to have won the Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500 in the same season. This is the first Daytona 500 victory for Toyota. You did all that with the closest finish in Daytona 500 history.
Talk a little bit about what that means to you.
DENNY HAMLIN: It's the pinnacle of my career, for sure. I haven't got a championship yet. This is obviously the biggest win for myself. It's just the circumstances, J.D. Gibbs, who found me about 12, 13 years ago, it's his birthday today, he's been so pivotal to myself and my team and supporting me for the past 11 years.
FedEx has been a huge supporter of me throughout my career. It's very unusual that the driver and the sponsor have such a great relationship like we have. They stuck by us. They're so heavily invested in myself and this sport and this race team.
Obviously, Toyota, it's huge for them getting their first Daytona 500 victory. With everything that they've done for this racetrack, with the Toyota injector, it's such a huge team victory. Joe Gibbs Racing, sat over here a week ago, you told me all these side‑bar races are getting old, let's go win the real one. So to win it for the boss after 23 years, there is no better feeling than what I have right now.
THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by our race‑winning crew chief, Mike Wheeler. You've been with this 11 team for several years, and now your first win in the Sprint Cup Series comes as you join Denny on top of the box. Talk about what that means to you.
MICHAEL WHEELER: It's pretty crazy, that's for sure. You work your butt off all these years trying to get to this spot. You put in the hours. You work your guts out trying to be the best. Finally have the opportunity to be the crew chief, lead the team, it's really satisfying to see everybody so happy, sponsors so happy between Toyota and FedEx and everybody.
Seeing Denny say it's his biggest race, biggest thing he's got, makes me happy.
I'm a small part of this. Racing has a lot to do with the driver, the actual car, people that build that car, with the spotter involved. Just really happy to be a small part of that.
THE MODERATOR: And we are also joined by our winning car owner, Coach Joe Gibbs. Coach, you had three cars in the top five, and your first Daytona 500 win since 1993. Talk about what that means.
JOE GIBBS: I think just that fact, that we worked as hard as we could work. Over the years we had great drivers and crew chiefs, but it's so hard to put it all together and win.
I'm proud of Mike and Denny. Just a great effort. For them to be together this short period of time and to be able to accomplish what they have I think is an amazing story.
You talk about FedEx, you talk about Toyota, when you get a chance to call them, Fred Smith, Mike Glenn, you realize our sport is so different. You can play basketball, football and baseball without a sponsor. We can't race without a sponsor. It's a partnership. Certainly you can't race without a great manufacturer like Toyota at our back. It's a total team effort.
When you get a chance to win something like this, it's so great to call them, thank them for being a part of this because you know you wouldn't be here if they hadn't done what they did.
The Lord has blessed us with a great experience today and we're going to enjoy it.
DENNY HAMLIN: It's very underrated, in my opinion, for what FedEx does for our sport. They don't just sponsor our racecar. I mean, they sponsor different things on the broadcast. They do countless things with the tracks, sponsor races. They just do so much for our sport. I mean, I thank my lucky stars every day that I'm part of the FedEx team. Beside myself with it.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Denny, your mom just tweeted out something that you wrote in elementary school.
DENNY HAMLIN: It's so awesome.
Q. It says the Daytona 500, and the first sentence is, My wish is to win the Daytona 500. When did you write that and what does it mean now to have won the Daytona 500?
DENNY HAMLIN: If I remember right, it was second grade, so I'm probably seven years old. I said I wanted to win it. I think if you look at the date, it's like February something 1998. I missed it by a little bit on the date. I didn't know Mike Wheeler back then, but Kerry Barton was my best friend, so he was going to be my crew chief. Ernie Elliott was going to change my tires and I wanted my car to look just like Bill Elliott's.
We missed it on a few details. I totally forgot about it, but she showed me that picture this week. The things I talked about, being J.D.'s birthday, our 11th try, everything just came together. It's like a story that you couldn't have written a better ending to our week.
Q. Coach Gibbs, there's obviously a lot of emotion that goes into today. You're not only dealing with winning the Daytona 500 after 23 years, but you had a driver that was leading in turn four that came home 14th, and another driver that ended up finishing third who is kicking himself. How do you balance all of those emotions at this moment in time?
JOE GIBBS: I got to tell you, it's extremely hard. You wind up with Denny, you're so happy. I looked up and actually where I was looking to the broadcast, the cars were coming at me, I thought we lost. I looked up, saw we won. So I went through that emotion.
Then you're thinking about Matt, everything that happened to him.
We're a team. It's four cars, four drivers, four crew chiefs. We're all together. But, man, you know what a heartbreak that is.
I know Denny felt the same way. Kyle said, Hey, I was thinking about jumping up there. I didn't. It's all those emotions wrapped in that.
I think it's a great experience, and it was by a few inches. So you got to give those guys, the 78 team, just a lot of credit, too.
Q. Denny, the final pit stop under green, when you went from first to seventh.
DENNY HAMLIN: I blew it.
Q. Matt seemed to be really thinking he should have stayed bottom line. Did you essentially have it handed back to you after you felt like you had given it away?
DENNY HAMLIN: I got cocky. I mean, sitting over the radio, beating everyone off pit road every time we've ever had a green flag pit stop or caution, I beat everyone off pit road, I'm sitting here like, I'm the pit road master. Then I come in there and blow it and screw my tires up on the last stop that actually counts.
I'm glad, quick thinking, telling Wheels, I slid them, I don't know which one. He made a quick audible.
The preparation was great. My team was ready for anything. We didn't lose that lead draft, even taking four tires, when everyone in front of us essentially took two.
So my team was ready. The pit crew nailed a great stop to get us out there quick.
You know, I knew whoever came out with the lead on this green flag sequence had a great shot because he had five teammates, or four teammates, right behind him. We had just talked about, Let's get a team victory. I know we all want to win this thing, but if we all stick together, we greatly increase our chances of winning this race.
I'm with Joe, you know, this is a great moment for me, but I feel awful for Matt because he's such a great friend, such a great teammate. But I'm just so proud of all my other teammates for us being so committed to each other for 500 miles today. That was very rare that you see the selflessness that you saw, even with two laps to go. All of us were committed to pushing that 20 car to a victory.
I saw the 4 coming. I said, If I didn't make a run, he was going to make a run just like I did. I went up there to block, he hit me so hard it shot me three cars forward. I had to do something with that run.
It's crazy, it happened so fast. I literally had to watch it back to figure out what in the world happened.
Q. If Matt stays low, do you think he wins?
DENNY HAMLIN: If he stays low? Yeah, probably.
MICHAEL WHEELER: He would have been in front of the 78.
DENNY HAMLIN: I was coming with this huge run. I think when he pulled up, pulled up the racetrack, he ran a longer distance around the racetrack.
Listen, I don't want to second‑guess what he did because I don't want to make him feel any worse than he probably already does.
Q. Denny, before the race started you said, Wheels, I appreciate you being back on the box, this is our year, let's do it. A lot of teams give pep talks, but you sounded like you meant it. Why is this year different than others?
MICHAEL WHEELER: You said, It's nice to be back with you.
DENNY HAMLIN: Because we loaned him to the XFINITY shop for a year.
Do you know what year I promised you this job? '09, '10?
MICHAEL WHEELER: Something like that.
DENNY HAMLIN: I said, Down the line we're going to work together. I knew he had aspirations to be a crew chief in the Cup Series. You can only be a great engineer for so long before other teams are going to come knocking.
Joe gave him that opportunity in the XFINITY Series. Even though I probably premature promised him the job, a little soon, you know, I was happy that Gibbs said, Let's just take you through the same process that all of our other crew chiefs had.
I'm glad he was only gone for a year.
Honestly, I love all the crew chiefs I've ever worked with. Mike Ford, Darian Grubb, Dave Rogers, all of them did really great things. We all did great things together. There's something about Wheels that I felt was right. Our communication is right.
I think a lot of it is we're friends first. Him being my crew chief, it's a mere side‑bar for our relationship. So this is one that I'm very proud and happy for him. He's got a new family of his own that he gets to go back to. Like I said, this is my guy.
Q. Coach, back in December you mentioned the fact you hadn't won here in 23 years. When Denny won the Sprint Unlimited race, the first thing you said to him was, This is great, but I'd rather have a 500. Did you have a premonition or something about this?
JOE GIBBS: I did not. I was trying to be funny. I said, We won about seven of the Shootouts. I said, I think we have the wrong game plan here, it's the 500. I was joking with the drivers.
I think the way the week progressed, I think all the guys back at the shop have done a tremendous job. I think Mike and Denny will say that. We worked extremely hard.
I think what happened is we came down and our cars were all fast. I think we had good cars. Every time I talked to the drivers, they said, Hey, look, I think we're pretty good. Obviously there were a lot of other good cars out there.
The way it worked out for us, Denny was right, it was teamwork. For us to hang together that long, that's one thing about our racing, restrictor plate races, if you can ever do that, it's great. The problem is you can rarely do that. We did it today.
At the end everybody knows when you come off four, it's going to be a mad break for whoever can get there. In our case it wound up by about six inches. I really appreciate the fact we got a chance to experience this.
It was great for us. Family was here. Everybody was here. J.D. was here. It was special for us. I want to thank everybody at home that works on the cars that don't get to be here. Particularly Toyota, our partnership there, it's special.
Q. Denny, you come here in '06 as a rookie and announce yourself by winning the Bud Shootout. Now you get the win that you say is the pinnacle of the career. In between there's been a lot of highs and lows. How does the win today put all that stuff in the middle in perspective?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, essentially I won six races here, but never actually a points‑paying race. Up until the All‑Star win last year, I mean, I've won my fair share of races in the time I've been doing this, but I hadn't won any big races. I won the Southern 500. That was the biggest win of my career as far as stature is concerned. I hadn't won a championship. I hadn't won the 500. I hadn't won the Brickyard 400 or the Coke 600.
I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as my career is concerned, but I'm in the darkness. I can't see back and I can't see forward. I feel like I'm right in the middle. I want to get some of these accomplishments done because ultimately you're defined by the big moments.
That's why this one is so big for us, and me in particular, is that you don't like to be the guy that wins races but not the big ones, and you don't win a championship.
The championship is the next on the list for us. I've been so close over my career, yeah, I just feel like I've knocked on the door and knocked on the door. Eventually you got to just kick the thing in. So this is a good start to doing that.
Q. Denny, how kind of in a good way was that ridiculous that you came from fourth on the outside on a day when the outside lane wasn't working to win this race? Can you take us through did you think you won, did they have to tell you?
DENNY HAMLIN: I didn't. I mean, I'm sitting there and I'm thinking at three to go, If it wasn't my teammates, I'd be making a move right now. Two to go, If it wasn't my teammates, I'd make a move right now.
I can't sit here and preach about teamwork through text messaging to all the crew chiefs and the drivers, Hey, guys, stick together, stick together. You can't do that and then at the last minute screw it all up and somebody else win the race.
I can assure you and promise to God to you that my plan was to block that 4 car from getting to the front three. He was coming with such a huge head of steam, he was going to get at least beside the 78. There was no question in my mind about that. After that, it was going to be a crapshoot.
I figured, you know, one to go, we crossed the white flag, I move up into turn one in front of the 4. I'm thinking, Okay, I've got the top lane covered, the bottom lane is filled with all my Toyota teammates, we're sitting pretty good for either JGR or Toyota to get a victory here.
He just kept pushing and hitting the back of my back bumper. Kept lunging more and more forward. Next thing you know, I've got a huge run. I'm thinking, What am I going to do with this?
Like Kyle said, he didn't move up. I thought for sure the 78 or the 8 team would have moved up and stopped that run. They didn't. They were committed to the bottom. With that huge run, the 20 saw us coming, he moved so high up the racetrack, I think he took the long way around. I had four tires from my screw‑up earlier. So I just cranked it as far left as I could. Luckily the door didn't close before we got in there.
It happened so fast, I had to watch it back to realize exactly what happened. But I had no anticipations of winning this race on the white flag lap. Rarely does that ever happen, especially when the top line had done nothing all day.
Q. Did you know you had won?
DENNY HAMLIN: I didn't know we had won. I knew it was close. I saw the pylon change and blink at the last second for the 11. I heard on the radio people were all crazy, excited. I assumed we won when that happened.
If not, I was going to be pissed (laughter). You cannot pump fake someone for a Daytona 500 victory. That would have been bad.
Q. Coach, what was going through your mind on the last corner when Denny and Matt got together? What did you say to Matt after the race?
JOE GIBBS: I really just wanted to kind of listen to him because you don't know if he's really upset or what. Matt is the consummate teammate. He knows how to handle things.
He was not upset. He was matter of fact. He said, Man, I was wanting to be the guy that got this for you. We had a good talk. He didn't really refer to anything that happened in the race or anything.
DENNY HAMLIN: Say anything bad about me?
JOE GIBBS: I wouldn't...
DENNY HAMLIN: Oh, God. Shoot!
JOE GIBBS: Don't stay in your motorhome tonight (laughter).
No, we joke about it, but for him it wasn't a joke. I mean, it was serious stuff.
He was just the consummate teammate and everything.
For me personally, where I was looking, I was looking at one of the screens, and it was head onto the cars. Honestly I didn't know what happened until I looked back and saw it flash 11 at the top.
For me, I really couldn't tell.
Q. Denny, at what point did you visually see Truex's car a little bit ahead of you, and at what point did you visually not see it?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, he was on the inside, so I saw him the entire time. But honestly, I thought off of turn four he was in the catbird seat. Usually, whoever is a little bit ahead, because of the side drafting, has got a huge advantage coming to the line.
I saw he was making his side draft move on me. Young Chase Elliott is pretty smart. He figured out how to hold off Joey yesterday by kind of grinding his way on that run that Joey was putting. I did the same thing. When the 78 was starting to make a run, I just laid on his door and grinded the run off of him.
Yeah, I mean, I'm happy we won because Matt probably would have been really pissed if none of the Gibbs guys won it with that last‑lap move.
I would think, no matter what, we always say we're about the team. We're also fighting for our sponsors. This is the last lap of the Daytona 500. When I saw a gap open like that, you've got to fill it for your race team. It would be an injustice for them if we didn't.
Q. We won't see anything like this race till you get to Talladega. Doesn't have a lot to do with the rest of the season. You become the first driver to grab a spot in the Chase. How much does winning the Daytona 500 kind of pump you up to go out there and fight for that championship?
DENNY HAMLIN: A lot. I mean, I know that winning early is big. Me and Mike have talked about this quite a bit. Winning early does so much for your race team. Not like we need to gel, but we can go to work on some different things.
I'm sure he has different ideas on setups and stuff. A little bit more out of the box, we can work outside the box when we need to, to try some different things. Ultimately you need to run well in September and October when it really, really counts.
This gives us that opportunity.
Q. Earlier Dave Wilson referred to the importance of Martin Truex. You're at Gibbs, a couple years ago Kenseth joins. Now you have to be cooperating but competing. Then Carl Edwards comes in, same deal. Now you're working with another outside team. Does it feel like you have a stepbrother that you have to compete with?
DENNY HAMLIN: He's a tough competitor, for sure. I'll praise Martin as much as my teammates. He just did such a great job of working with all of us on the restarts. Even the last restart, I mean, you got to think in his position, okay, you have a restart about 10 to go. He committed to letting the 20 get in. That's so big for us, because it allowed all five of our cars then to be in a line. He did a great job of being a good Toyota teammate in that instance.
I mean, he's a great addition. He's a satellite team, but we definitely welcome him as a partner of Joe Gibbs Racing. They are our new partners. Martin's a great talent to have as essentially a new teammate.
Q. Coach, how do you choose where you're going to be in the race, whose pit box you're going to be on? Did you at any point go, Boy, these are four really strong competitors, they could do something and screw this up for all of us?
JOE GIBBS: Where I normally go is where we're having the most trouble. Today it was the 19. I spent quite a bit of time there. Those guys did a tremendous job. That car was tore up pretty good. To be able to get it back, number of pit stops, a lot of things we had to do. I was really proud of our team to get that back, and Carl being able to work that car back up to the front I think was special.
Sometimes for me it's a sponsor, too, if you have certain people there. I might wind up in a different box.
To be truthful, I worry more lots of times when we got our teammates up there. I know how competitive these guys are. You know, at different times, at the end like that, all four of our guys want to win. Although it's a little bit different here, I would say restrictor plate racing, I worry when we get to a lot of the open tracks, teammates get next to each other, because I know how competitive they are. Just like Denny said, they all want to win for their sponsor. They got their families here, all that. It's a lot of pride. Our guys are super competitive, which you expect.
But I think restrictor plate's probably a little different. You're looking for them to work together.
Q. Denny, it looked like in Victory Lane, when you got there, you and the crew, everyone was trying to figure out what happened, like you hadn't seen it yet. Was that accurate? Were you trying to piece together how you just won this thing?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. I'm still trying to figure it all out, honestly. When I did my thing with FOX, I got them to play it back a few times to kind of remember what was going on. I remember what I saw inside the car, but I couldn't see what was going on at the front when I was trying to block the 4. I didn't see what was going on behind him.
I just knew that my immediate reaction was to block the 4 car's run. Yeah, I had no idea, though, it was going to shove us as far forward as it did.
Yeah, I'll still be piecing it together. I don't think I DVR'd the daggone race at home.
Q. You first watched it with the FOX guys?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah.
Q. What was your reaction when you cut down to pass Matt?
DENNY HAMLIN: That was pretty special. I mean, I gave up the Duel win just being a complete bonehead and losing concentration for five seconds, and the 88 got around us. I actually wanted to hear audio back to hear my spotter, did he warn me that was coming. Yeah, he did.
I don't know, sometimes I guess I lost focus for a second. Today, I was making sure I didn't blink at all to not lose concentration. It all worked out perfectly. I mean, the last lap, things just worked out perfectly for it to happen like that.
Q. Mike and Joe, that pass of Matt, in all the passes you've seen, where does that rank?
JOE GIBBS: When I saw him go inside of the 20, I was thinking the worst. I thought it was going to take both of our cars, there's going to be a big one here. I was really worried about that. That's kind of how I was looking at it.
Another thing I wanted to add, Coy came with us this time. He's going to be working on the Cup side. J.D. and Melissa and the grandkids were here today, too. It was big for our family today.
Q. Was there ever a moment you realized during the race that both Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon were not part of the Daytona 500?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, you know, there's definitely a youth movement coming in, which is a good thing. I hate to see those guys go because they've done so much for our sport. But it's been a while since we've had a really young group getting in good cars, changing the complexion of our sport.
Every one of those rookies that have moved up deserve it. They've paid their dues. They've won races, won championships. It's good to see that in our sport.
It's not all about hype either. These kids are going to be the ones that you're going to be talking about in the years to come. They're going to be leading this sport for years to come.
I know as a driver, I mean, we don't like getting shoved out the door. It just makes us want to perform harder to keep our seat. It's also very cool to see a big group of a rookie class like we've got this year.
JOE GIBBS: Tony texted some of the guys in the winner's circle, too. I thought that was neat.
Q. Coach, what is your memory of first talking to David Wilson about first joining Toyota? With that kind of being the frame, the conversation in Victory Lane, giving him his first Daytona 500?
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I think when you decide to do something like that, we were extremely happy. It's been 15 years with GM. Had a great relationship, won championships there. But when we got a chance to do this, with GM, you got Rick, you got the Childress organization, we were probably down the list some. We had a chance to talk to Toyota. When that became a reality, it was really special for us.
If we could distinguish ourselves, we had a great shot to maybe lead with them. It was a thrill for us.
What you got to remember is they're our biggest partner, our biggest contributor to us being able to race.
It's just what I said. The thrill I get, when you get a call, Fred Smith, there's a guy running one of the biggest corporations or companies in the world. You get a chance to talk to him and say, Hey, thanks for letting us do this.
Then to have all the Toyota guys here was a thrill for us.
That for me is the most enjoyable thing out of winning, is seeing people that invest with you, all the time and the resources that they put with us. Then to see them win and be that happy, get a chance to celebrate, it's really a thrill for me.
Q. Coach, you've become the first to win a football Super Bowl and the Super Bowl of racing. I can't believe this question waited for me to get asked. I'm curious about how similar the feelings were after both wins, and what is different about this, besides obviously the fact that it's a different sport?
JOE GIBBS: Well, I think in football I've told people I was more the technical person. It was a thrill, you got a chance to design plays, call plays on the sideline.
I will say this: it's exactly the same when it comes to people, because you win with people. In football that's the case. When we came over here, Denny, Mike will tell you, it's our people. So that part of it doesn't change. It's just that my role changes. I was a technical person in football. I loved that, calling the plays, being in the middle of the storm, hurricane.
Over here, when the race starts, they disconnect my radio and I walk around with the cords dragging on the ground (laughter).
But I will say this: the thrill is the 1st of every month trying to pay the bills. So I do get a little respect there I think.
The difference over here is my family, we're family, I mentioned Coy, J.D., and the grandkids run all over the place. We have a new group coming there, it's going to be fun with them. I think that's the difference over here.
You can't separate the thrill. The thrill in football, you can't get any more excited than that, winning a Super Bowl. I've been blessed beyond belief, I know that. It's the same thrill over here today when we won that.
Most people never get to have a dream in life. I've had two from an occupational standpoint. I'm probably one of the most blessed guys in the world. I thank the Lord for that.
Q. Knowing you had such a close race, now you can look back at anything that happened today, is there anything you would do differently to increase that margin?
DENNY HAMLIN: No. You want to win the tight ones. That's what makes them special. It wouldn't be fun‑‑ well, it would be fun to win by a lap. But it's, like, storybook. You make a pass on the last corner of the last lap of the Daytona 500. That's what makes it so cool.
What Joe was talking about, why all of us drivers are so tight within Joe Gibbs Racing is that this is what they do, this is their living, they're so heavily invested in our sport. That's why it's such a proud moment for me to win for the Gibbs family.
He talked about how upset Matt was that he didn't win for Joe. We all want to win for the Gibbs family because this is what they do. They don't have other businesses and this is just a hobby. This is what they do, and they've committed everything to this sport.
It's great to see a family organization like this win the biggest race of the year.
Q. Denny and Mike, did you find any nervousness, this being your first‑ever Cup race? And, Denny, did you ever second‑guess any strategy call or any adjustments made because handling was an issue today?
MICHAEL WHEELER: I wasn't too nervous. I was actually amazed how not nervous I was. I don't want to say calm. But Denny reassured me weeks and years ago that I'm his guy, that I can do the job. Joe's had my back for a long time since I've been here.
I wasn't nervous because I knew I had a chance of doing it. All I had to do was do the job.
Speed racing is a little bit different from intermediate and short track stuff where I'm a small part of it. I'm the lead guy, but the driver and the spotter are the guys that can really dictate the race.
To answer the other question before. Watching the last 20 laps, I thought the race was over. I knew we won for Toyota, and that was a big thing for us. I knew we had to swallow it because we messed up as a group. We were going to get a top five out of that and I was okay with that. But I was pretty calm on the box because I knew my work was pretty easy compared to other races. You have enough time to think about a plan. We had a plan for a couple days now how we were going to do this.
But watching him wheel it the last lap, That's my boy. He was getting it and he made it happen.
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, to answer your question, we didn't have to make a whole lot of adjustments to the car. Obviously our car handled pretty well. We were able to make that move in the middle of three and four. But, I mean, every call that was made, it was like, That's exactly what I would have done. I even mentioned to him on the radio about midway, he made a call, I think it was for lefts at some point, That's exactly what I was thinking.
We're definitely in tune as far as that is concerned. I think all four crew chiefs did a really good job of planning out the race and planning our tire strategy and all that stuff. That's why we were all able to stay up front for most of the day.
Like I say, just total team win for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Denny, Mike and Coach, congratulations on winning the Daytona 500.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports