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August 7, 2016
Watkins Glen, New York
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the crew chief of the winning car, Michael Wheeler.
Michael, why don't you take us through getting Denny that first road course win here.
MIKE WHEELER: Yeah, I remember in '07 when we actually ran top three with Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. Thought we had a shot. Denny will tell you he had a chance to move Jeff Gordon for the win and didn't because he thought he would win another road course race. That was 2007.
Coming back to Sonoma this year, you want to get back running good, back up front in road courses. We finished second there. Real close.
Come this weekend, high hopes, had a great car. Have a great team. Had some momentum with road course races. I knew our teammates were a little bit faster before today. I thought the 18 was really the class of the field. But at the end of the day we took a top‑three car and had good pit stops, good strategy. Strategy worked out in our favor. Our spotters did a really good job all day. We brought home the trophy.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by the winning car owner, Joe Gibbs.
Coach, why don't you talk to us about what it means to help Denny complete that collection for his shelf.
JOE GIBBS: First of all, it's great to be able to come to New York and Watkins Glen and race. I want to say congratulations to everyone here. What impressed me is that crowd. It's huge for our sport and our sponsors. We had a number of them here with us this weekend. Obviously this race is a huge race for FedEx. When you got somebody like that that sponsors your car, as we all know in our sport, it's really a partnership with the sponsors. You can't race without them. So it's a big deal for us, big deal for FedEx, big deal for our race team.
Denny, I felt like Sonoma was a heartbreak there to go to the last corner and lose the race out there on a road course. Then to bounce back and come back here and race like he did today, they were big hitters up front that were great road racers. For him to come out on top here, I think that says a lot about Denny.
I think you have to consider him a threat. I consider him a threat everywhere we go, but certainly at a road race now, I think he's proven that he's somebody that can contend for a win.
It's a thrill for us, everybody back home. Called J.D. Denny and J.D. have a bond there. Denny was nice enough to talk to J.D. Anyway a thrill for all of us.
THE MODERATOR: We'll start with questions.
Q. Wheels, how concerned were you about Denny's back? I saw him in the drivers meeting. He couldn't even sit down. I think someone said on TV afterwards Erik Jones might be standing by just in case. How concerned were you guys?
MIKE WHEELER: Yeah, I mean, I got the text this morning when he woke up. He was in trouble. He said it. It was like, you know, not something you really want to hear. You know you got good cars, good teammates, track position to start.
But end of the day I know he mans up when he needs to. I almost want to say if he knew he didn't have a winning car, he might do something different. But I know he definitely gets that attitude going in the car when he has a winning car, can run up front and tough it out.
I know he's in pain. I know if we were practicing today, he wouldn't be practicing. Saw him in the drivers meeting. I sat next to him. While it's uncomfortable, he couldn't even sit down. He stood up. You could just tell he was in pain. Nothing you could do today to fix it.
He's been running pretty hard lately, been busy with the sport. He's had this happen before years ago. But he knows the situation he was in and he knows he's got to tough it out, and he did.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations on the win and enjoy the off week.
JOE GIBBS: Thank you.
MIKE WHEELER: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Denny Hamlin.
Denny, you've had a couple big wins this year filling a couple voids. Tell us what it was like to get that first road course win.
DENNY HAMLIN: It was a great day, obviously, on the racetrack. It was an eventful race but uneventful race for us. We executed perfectly. Didn't make any mistakes on pit road. Pit crew did great. We had a great strategy there at the end. Made a great call to stay out, hoping for those caution laps that we needed, knowing that the trend was we were going to get those caution laps. That allowed us to make it on fuel.
There at the end, we really just executed on our restarts. That's been key. You got to get through the first couple corners on restarts. Really for us, those two guys were going for it. They slipped up and opened up a door for us to go through there and win.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions for Denny.
Q. Does it feel as aggressive and crazy for you as it does for the rest of us watching on the road course races? I know people say all the time that it's like that all the time. It looks different at a road course.
DENNY HAMLIN: It does. There's so many opportunities. You can see the leader right there in front of you, even if you're in eighth place. The leader is right there. You're trying to dive into the corners, do everything you can to make a move.
The track is barely wide enough. It's a one‑lane racetrack. When you go to pass, you have to force somebody out of the way or they have to give you the spot. When they don't, it makes for very exciting wrecks.
It just seems like really over the last five years or so, the road courses have taken a turn to be more aggressive. I think it has a lot to do with the Chase format, guys seeing this as a‑win‑and‑you're‑in type format. It's your opportunity when they really don't have cars that are competitive on the other racetracks.
I think that lends itself a little bit to it. But, yeah, I can see it on the track, for sure. It looks from my cockpit just like it does on TV.
Q. Mike said a few minutes ago that if it had been a practice session today, because of your back, you probably would not have been in the car. How bad was it? Did it get better on worse as the race went along? Do you have any idea what causes it?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know what causes it. It just happens every now and then. It's never happened on a race day, for sure. Usually I'm in the car and things get looser as the weekend goes on.
Really, I haven't had back problems in the past four to five years. It's all subsided pretty well. I've got a pretty good routine that I do during the week that helps with that.
But just today, you know, slept wrong, something. Woke up and knew I was in pretty big trouble. We worked on it all day to try to make it better. We really didn't make it much better.
But, yeah, no doubt if it was Friday or Saturday, no question I wouldn't have turned one lap today. It was by far the worst conditions I've ever had to drive in, over the knees, anything else. This was by far the worst pain‑wise I've had to go through.
It didn't get any better throughout the day. Trust me, I'm sitting there, even though I'm joyed that we're leading the race, I was thinking under the red flag, Let's get this over with so I can get out of this car.
I don't know why it did it today. But I'll just continue to go to work on it and try to get in the gym and try to make things a little bit better overall. I have missed my routine because I've had to travel over the last few weeks. I kind of got off sequence of my routine that's helped my back.
It will go away. By Tuesday I'll be back fine again. It's just a pain right now.
Q. You mentioned that you were strong in the restarts. I think it was about 10 laps to go where you were in the fourth position and you jumped into the lead. Take us through that restart.
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, I got a really good restart on the 2. I was in third position. Kyle was outside in second. Brad was leading. Really I got a good jump to where I was able to stay right on the 2's bumper entering the corner. Then I saw the 18 lunge forward. He didn't let off until he made sure that Brad did. Made Brad drive in there deeper to not let the 18 clear him.
By doing that I knew I entered the corner as fast as I could enter. When I saw them move forward and lunge into the corner, I knew there was no way for them to get out with any sensible speed.
It was my opportunity when they slid up the racetrack to execute, and we came through.
Q. There were a lot of unforced errors on pit lane. You just talked about some. What conditions led to all those, do you believe?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I'm not sure about pit lane. Luckily for us we pitted a little bit later than everyone else and my spotter and crew chief keyed in, there were a tremendous amount of pit road penalties. I just backed it down an extra light or two on pit road to make sure I didn't make a mistake. I already have a well‑rounded record on pit road this year.
I knew that it's very hard to win these races if you make any mistakes. I only made one mistake at Sonoma, and it was in the final corner, and I didn't win. So really was a great day of execution overall, whether it be pit lane, restarts, everything on the track.
I think I missed one corner into turn one one time, other than that a pretty flawless race for us.
Q. Looking back at Sonoma, now to here, the season you've had since Daytona, does it feel validating to have a day like this today when everybody else is making mistakes, you execute flawlessly and put to rest whatever happened back in California in June?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I think it wasn't a fluke is the biggest thing. Sometimes you see guys run up front in a road course. You're like, Where did it come from? It happens once. But I really think that we've turned the corner really with all of our Toyota teams.
I know two of my teammates tested up here and had a good test. We used their baseline setup when we got here. We had speed right from the get‑go. With Furniture Row and Gibbs, we got something that's working well for us. We're all working extremely well together. It's lending itself to on‑track success.
When you have multiple cars with speed like we do, when one makes a mistake, there's another one there to pick up the pieces. We were there to pick up the pieces today.
Q. Seems like in both wins this year, there was a common thread: at a key moment, you responded to something the leader or leaders did and pulled it off. You would probably rather lead every lap and make it nice and boring.
DENNY HAMLIN: I'd rather lead the final lap, that makes it more exciting (smiling).
Q. You must be encouraged that at that crucial moment you were able to seize on that both times?
DENNY HAMLIN: I am. Honestly it's more validating because I feel so awful. There were many corners that I under‑drove just because my feel wasn't as good today in the racecar. That's how we feel the edge is through our back side. When our back side is not healthy, it's tough. That's what made it extra special, is that when it was game time, when it was go time, we got it done.
Q. It was a slip at Sonoma that cost you the win there. Did you have anything creeping into your mind over the last few restarts and final couple of laps with Martin right behind you, worrying about making a mistake, or was your head in the game?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, it was, but also I gave up a little bit on corner entry to make sure that I hit my marks. It was my job to make them make a move on me instead of don't overshoot the corner and just open the door for them. Make them make an aggressive move to pass you.
By doing that, you're being a little defensive and you're not getting 100% out of the racecar and you're allowing them to get closer.
The gap that I had going to the white, I was two lengths. I had been really strong off of turn one all day. I think I stretched it to three. We go up the S's, it gets a little closer. The Carrousel, it gets a little closer yet. With the wreck that happened on the last caution, the turn five Carrousel was ice. I slid twice up there. Luckily those guys did, too.
I think being a little defensive on those final couple laps, making sure I didn't pull a Sonoma, allowed them to get a little closer than where I was comfortable with.
I could see in my mirror, even though I'm looking straight, you can see when a car's close. I could see Martin shoot to the right out of six. I knew my position then was to block right, force him to make a very aggressive move.
Really, the 2 and the 78 got together probably before the 78 got to me. It was good for us, bad for them for sure. But my job today was to just make sure I executed. If somebody was going to beat us, they had to do it on their own.
THE MODERATOR: Enjoy the win, congratulations.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports