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September 10, 2016
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winning crew chief and team owner, Mike Wheeler and Joe Gibbs.
Gentlemen, congratulations on the win tonight. If you could each talk a little bit about this win as well as the momentum heading into the Chase next week.
MIKE WHEELER: Obviously, this win is pretty big because it's Denny's home track. Haven't won here in a long time so it's been on our calendar to actually perform here and go into the Chase pretty hot.
I didn't think I'd come into the weekend winning the pole and being four laps shy of leading the most laps, winning the race. It's really good that we put a total team effort in between pit stops, strategy, A team, B team, everybody involved. It was a good team effort to win this race.
Pretty happy with where we started the year off with a win, coming back with a win. I think we were fourth in points for this segment. Pretty proud of that. Looking forward to the Chase.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, if you could just share some of your thoughts, as well.
JOE GIBBS: Of course, it is Denny's home track, but we love coming to Richmond. I think this racetrack produces great races. Tonight I thought that was a heck of a race. I thought the crowd was great. We love coming here with our sponsors. Our sponsors think this part of the area is a big deal for us. We have a lot of hospitality here.
So for FedEx, really proud for them. Being with Denny the whole time really with the exception of that first half of the year, being in our sport, controlling the whole car, it's one of the most powerful companies in the world. And for them to be in our sport, love it. It's just a huge deal for us. So Fred, Mike Glenn, Raj, all the guys at FedEx, we say a big thanks.
I thought tonight it was a total team effort. Wheels made a great call keeping Denny out. I didn't think we could hold them off, particularly on that last restart. They were right behind us. I thought that would be tough. Denny drove his heart out. It was a total team effort.
Our sport is a team sport. It takes everybody performing, including pit stops and everything. Lord blessed us with a great night. We're just proud in particular for everybody back at the race shop, J.D., everybody back there. We just say a big thanks to them because they work so hard during the week and they really don't get to enjoy things like tonight. They don't get a chance to be here. So we're going to try to celebrate a little bit with them on Tuesday, then we start holding our breath next week (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. You've had all four cars locked in the Chase for quite a while now. A lot of people save their best stuff for the end of the year. My question is, if you can tell me, what kind of stuff do you have in the barn at home that you guys are going to roll out here in the Chase?
MIKE WHEELER: I don't think you hold back much right now. Obviously you continue to develop to be better. But honestly, the last month or so, we've been making sure we try to maximize everything we have.
I will admit, after we got the win, I was in R&D mode for a bit, like I got this crazy idea, let's try it. A couple of them worked, three or four of them were failures. But honestly, once we got down in points, I was a little embarrassed. Really made sure to get everybody together and run into the Chase strong.
Pretty happy. We had like eight straight top 10s. Best Denny has ever had with consistency. With that, our pit crew is knocking it out of the park right now. We're doing good on Fridays and Saturdays. I think our qualifying average is about as good as anybody. Finally got a pole. Happy about that.
But I can't say I'm holding back. I'm making sure that we get into the first round by running good, making sure we maximize what we can, and obviously try to perform at the highest level and win some races.
Q. Coach, Toyotas have led over 50% of the laps, you won half the races or more. Is there any reason to think that you all aren't the favorite for this Chase?
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I think the other cars that are out there, there's so many, I think well‑prepared cars, I think this is going to be a battle. I think the other thing, there's no way that you can I think pick a favorite right now because it's really three‑race playoffs.
We saw in our history Denny's been knocked out, Kyle's been knocked out with just kind of weird things that happen. You can't afford a bad race. And so I feel like what we tried to do this year, I watch the crew chiefs, drivers and everybody, we just try to go every week and be as good as we could be and race as hard as we could.
I think Wheels said they tried a few things earlier in the year. But really each and every week I felt like we kind of went after it and we felt like that was the best way to prepare for the Chase.
So really our playoff is one where you got to be consistent, but also you got to be on your game and racing extremely hard.
So, yeah, I don't think there is a favorite right now. I think everybody that's in there is going to have a shot. We saw the 78 last year go all the way to the final round, single‑car team. All kinds of things can happen in what we're doing here. So I think it's the greatest reality show going.
Q. Mike, when we go into the garage, a lot of times the question is, How are you guys going to beat the Toyotas? Do you feel that pressure? Do you feel like you're walking around with a target on your back?
MIKE WHEELER: I would say I feel pretty confident in our cars. That's a good feeling to have. You know, we've been in the past in the Chase going, you know, we can win some races and we can be good, but you always had this feeling of you can get beat. If you're not at 100%, you can get beat.
I feel good now that if we hit 100%, we will win. That's something you strive for. The only problem is, there's four or five of us. We share notes. We work together. We do the best we can for not only Joe Gibbs Racing but Toyota. Like Coach said, all it takes is a flat tire or a crash and you're out.
But saying that, we're going to do the best we can, work together, do everything we can to get the speed out of the car that's possible, and hopefully end up up front.
Q. Wheels, what was going on with the tires tonight? I mean, either Goodyear didn't plan to bring enough or the track was so abrasive that it just chewed the rears real bad for a lot of different people. Where did we miss this?
MIKE WHEELER: You know, truthfully, it's always been part of our sport. The XFINITY side last year, I lived it every week. You're at tire limits. So many tracks you went to, you knew you had to make tires live 50 laps, 40 laps, 60 laps, whatever it was. This week, NASCAR and Goodyear limit you, I can't even tell you now, I think it was basically 10 sets, nine stops. We got 40 laps per set, we had to average.
Sure enough, this is the first race in many, many years that we had caution after caution. Tires mattered here. You'd lose a second or two in 10 or 15 laps. You didn't want to be sitting out there on old tires when guys had new tires behind you. I know the 42 put tires on after seven laps and came from 14th to, like, fifth in three or four laps.
It's part of racing. It actually makes it partially good. But what happened there at the end, most guys only had one or two sets left to do 120 laps or whatever it was. We had to salvage them best we could because you wanted to make sure you had a tire there in case you had a caution with 10 to go. Sure enough there was a caution with three to go. I thought we were going to pit. So many cars on the lead lap, I knew we had to stay out. Fortunately that worked out.
As far as the tire deal, they could always add more tires. I don't know if it would actually change the outcome that much. Probably be more expensive in the process. But at the same point, it's part of racing and makes it exciting.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, we'll let you go. Congratulations, and good luck next week.
We're also joined by our winner of the Federated Auto Parts 400, Denny Hamlin, driver of the No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota.
Denny, certainly a big weekend from you starting from the pole and winning here in front of your hometown crowd. Talk a little bit about what this win means to you as well as your momentum heading into the Chase.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it definitely was a great night. We ran in the top three all day. Just got our car right when it really counted the last 200 laps or so.
This is a great win for us. It just gives us three extra points. We'll go into Chicago with a fresh slate and obviously try to ride this momentum all the way to Homestead.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Denny.
Q. What goes through your mind? In a race with all these cautions, two laps to go, another yellow flag comes out, what goes through your mind? At that point are you pretty confident you can have a good restart and go for the win?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I was literally counting the seconds down knowing I needed 20 more seconds, 15 more seconds until just get to the white, I was going to be fine. I saw smoke up ahead, knew there was an issue.
But I definitely didn't want to see it because I knew with the shortage of tires, it was just going to be interesting to see how it played out. I thought for sure we were going to have to come pit. But he knew how many cars that was going to stay out behind us and the buffer we were going to have and made the right call there.
I've really never seen old tires win a race in a green‑white‑checkered. But it was just enough 'cause obviously Larson got all the way to second.
Just a great restart. I think that was key for us, is to get into turn one cleared and did everything we needed to do to win the race.
So glad we didn't let it slip away. It would have definitely hurt to let it slip away on the last restart if we would have.
Q. Heading into the Chase this year, this is the third year with the elimination format, the first two years have taken on a Wild West mentality. Do you expect that to continue? Do you think that sort of intensity and drama is good for the growth of the sport?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I think wrecks is a part of NASCAR, it's always been part of it for sure. But, yeah, you're getting down to the last race of the regular season. Some guys have a care factor that's really low right now. I think it's just part of that.
But I think that the Chase, I think things get a little bit tamer in the Chase because people are aware of the Chase cars. Whether they say so or not, they definitely race a little bit more careful around those guys, especially when you're not racing for a win.
I don't foresee it going much further, but I think as guys get eliminated, it could definitely ramp back up again.
Q. I think Toyota has ended up winning half the regular‑season races. You look pretty dominant. Who is going to stop you and how?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, I don't know. I think that any one of these guys can get going. You don't know what they've got at the shop waiting to come to the racetrack. I think it's really hard to predict what happens from this point on.
I mean, is it a continuation of the regular season or has somebody been laying in the weeds? I think obviously Larson has really stepped up his game over the last month or so.
So I don't know. I mean, obviously the 4 car's got great speed week in, week out. So he's definitely going to be a challenge, no doubt about it. The 42. You just don't know. The 24 went on a run for about a month, as well.
So, like I say, until you get to Chicago, look at practice, look at how the first race goes, that's to me the barometer of where we're really at.
Q. I assume since you're active on Twitter that you saw Harvick's tweet earlier in the week of the bull. He tweeted that his mood was that of a bull running through a crowd. Is that what it takes to win the Chase? Does it depend on kind of the driver and how they approach it?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, in order to be the bull, you have to be behind someone. I'd rather just be out front and fast all the time.
I don't know. I mean, I think there's times to be aggressive and there's times to have the mentality to be aggressive and just bull your way through, but ultimately in our sport nowadays it seems like if you bump into a guy, you expect to get bumped or wrecked right back. So I just think this is a NASCAR retaliation, it seems like. It's really ramped up over the last few years.
I'm not sure just bulling through cars or anything is the right way to win a championship. But those guys have got enough speed. Darlington, they didn't need to do much. They had the field covered.
It's several different ways to win it. We've seen a lot of different champions do it a lot of different ways. We'll just see how it all plays out. But I like our chances at this point.
Q. I don't know if it was happenstance or what, but the tire management situation becoming such a big deal. Would it make sense to have fewer sets and have that be part of the race regardless?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. The purist in me says no, but the excitement maybe says yes.
I know in XFINITY, I mean, they reduce those guys a lot and the racing is not really any better. I know eventually when teams know they're short, they're all going to play it nearly the same way.
This race kind of caught people off guard because they realized halfway, Oh, goodness, we're going to be short. I think it just showed at the end, with all those little sprints and then cautions, sprints, cautions. I think it was kind of a unique race where, yeah, those guys came to the front.
I think if you just shorten the tires, really the racing is not going to change much at all, to be honest with you.
THE MODERATOR: Denny, congratulations. Good luck next week.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports