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July 16, 2017

Joe Gibbs

Denny Hamlin

Michael Wheeler

Loudon, New Hampshire

THE MODERATOR: We're going to go ahead and get started here with our winner's press conference here for the 25th annual Overton's 301 here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and we're joined by the crew chief of the No.11 FedEx Toyota, and that's Michael Wheeler, and the car owner, Coach Joe Gibbs. We're going to start with you, Michael. The car, you had quite a good hotrod there today, held off a hard‑charging 42 to take home the win. How refreshing is it for you to finally get into Victory Lane here in 2017?
MICHAEL WHEELER: I would say very refreshing. A big sigh of relief. We've been working our butts off all year long, and this weekend is another one of those testaments where we wrecked the primary car on Friday and had to double down and get to work. The guys in the team, guys in the shop, they really worked their butts off to get here. We weren't the fastest car all race long. We had a top‑5 car. There was probably one or two guys a little bit faster, but we were in contention all day and made it happen.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, you've talked about several times in professional sports where you have the highs of the highs and the lows of the lows, and you've been coming up from the bottom this year. Talk about finally getting over the hump and reaching Victory Lane in 2017.
JOE GIBBS: Well, I think that's true in pro sports. The thing you learn, it's so hard, and it doesn't matter what you did one year. Last year we had a great year, and this year we've been just off some. I do feel like that in the last five, six weeks we've kind of worked our way back to having good speed, but haven't been able to make it happen for us at the end of races. I think it says you've got to have a lot of respect for our sport, a lot of great teams out there, and certainly for us and for FedEx, we just got an awesome sponsor there that we just re‑signed our deal at the first of this year with them, and as everybody here knows, one of the great things about our sport is our sponsors. You've got to have a great sponsor to race cars in NASCAR.
We're thrilled for them. Talked to Fred and Raj and everybody over there on the phone. Big deal for us, and the biggest thing, I think, for us is really all four of our cars had a good day. Daniel had his best finish at sixth, and obviously Kyle had a chance. I think Matt would have had, too.

Q. Mike, I know you're from Long Island, but this must feel like a home win to you.
MICHAEL WHEELER: Yeah, a little bit. I actually didn't realize until Ricky asked me in Victory Lane about being a home track. It's one of the closest tracks I've got to home. I raced here before he started paying me, which was good. Had to pay my way in here type of deal. Raced modifieds here and all that kind of stuff.
So yeah, I didn't really quite realize it, but probably most of my closest friends are in this area. Hung out with a guy like last night that I used to race late models with. Definitely part of me is very happy for that part of it. Honestly, I was so happy that we got JGR a win, got Toyota a win, got FedEx a win, got the 11 car a win that I didn't think even about how that ties to being close to home. But obviously, yeah, a little something special here.

Q. Coach Gibbs, historically your team has done well here in New Hampshire. Can you talk about what you like about this track and your thoughts on the playoffs no longer coming through here starting next year?
JOE GIBBS: Well, actually we love coming to Loudon. For whatever reason, this has been a favorite place for our drivers, crew chiefs. Denny, if he picked a racetrack, it would probably be here in Loudon where he would like to have his final race at. Certainly anything about this place has been good for us. Matt has done a good job and won here, Kyle.
So I think for our whole team, we like coming here, and not only for the racing but also for our sponsors. We have huge hospitalities when we come here. It's the Northeast. A lot of our biggest sponsors, this morning, I made the rounds talking to everybody. They love racing in this part of the country. It's a big deal for us. It's a big deal for all of us, Toyota, our partner. I talked to Bob, I talked to Ed. David is here, all the players for Toyota. This is a big part of the country. It's a thrill for us, and for whatever reason, we've just done well here. We like it here, and all of our drivers have a confidence about it.

Q. Mike, Kyle was in here on Friday and talked about how it's been somewhat frustrating to watch what the 78 has done when they're using a lot of the same stuff that you guys are doing. Do you feel‑‑ how do you view it? Do you feel it as you're trying to catch up to them, or do you feel like you have the tools‑‑ you've had the tools that you can produce victories like this, you just had to utilize them in the right way?
MICHAEL WHEELER: Yeah, there's moments where you're frustrated and there's moments where you're actually motivated. They've been a great car for the last few years before they were with us, and now that they're with us, they're better. But at the same point, we've learned stuff from them, too, watching them, seeing how they're doing, and they're beating the field, not just us. So when they beat us and they beat the field, it's like, okay, they're the best car.
You know, we've been getting closer and closer. They won last week; we finished top 5. There's no shame in that. It's made us all work a little harder and made us realize what's most important. We're getting better every week, and I'm really happy about that. As much as we're climbing the hill, fortunately we're starting to peak at the right time, and I think come playoff time, we'll be right there.

Q. For Coach, you mentioned Daniel earlier. You've had a lot of upheaval with Carl's departure, but he's had even more than expected with having changed crew chiefs. He seems to be kind of hitting his stride now. I wonder if you'd talk about how you feel his development is right now.
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I think Daniel for his first go‑around and being at some of these tracks for the very first time, he's showed a real patience in most of his races if you watch him, and then towards the end of the race he seems to start moving forward, and that's what he did today.
Yeah, so I think his rookie season‑‑ you know, every week is a different week for him, and I think he's learning a lot, and so it's just a work in progress. I thought today was a huge deal for him to be able to finish sixth out there. This place is tough, and it's a hard racetrack to get around. I thought it said a lot about him.
THE MODERATOR: Before we continue on here, let me introduce our champion of today's race, Denny Hamlin, driver of the No.11 FedEx Office Toyota. Today was Denny's 30th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win and third here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Denny, I have to ask you, what is it about New Hampshire Motor Speedway that brings out the best in you and your race team?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, it just seems like the flat track, short track program has been pretty good for us this year. We ran really well at Richmond. We ran really well at Phoenix, and obviously ran pretty well here today. We executed nicely, made no mistakes, and capitalized when other guys faltered a little bit, and just everything right to win the race.

Q. Coach, Kyle was up front, obviously Denny up front, Matt was up front, and Daniel was battling like crazy out there. Can you comment on your team overall, and did you think‑‑ which one did you think would get to Victory Lane today?
JOE GIBBS: Well, I think, first of all, for all of our guys, we got off to a slow start this year, and I think the thing I'd like to say most about our entire group there, nobody ever would point fingers or anything. Everybody would just say, we've got to go to work. I think our guys back home working on the cars took it the same way, and I think everybody has been working extremely hard, and I'm hoping what's happening now is we're starting to hit our stride and get better and better down the stretch. That would be a big deal for us.
I mentioned everybody back home working hard. I want to say thanks to everybody back there, J.D. at home and everybody. But I'm hoping that this gets us going in the right direction.

Q. Denny, your win today, the first of the JGR teammates. Jordan was up on the box happy. This has got to be an emotional moment for you, too, getting this win and making sure you're in the playoffs.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, we were positioning ourselves pretty good in the regular season points to try to get in the playoffs, but obviously this is a bonus to lock yourself in, kind of gives you that sense of security if you do have a bad day or two between now and the playoffs. But we're trying to work our way up in the regular season standings as high as you can. You get bonus points the higher up you are, so really that's the whole point of this whole stage and format is that it creates no off weekends. We've been treating every week as if it's a playoff race and giving it all we've got. We've been steadily getting better as the summer has gone on, and we need to continue to stay on that trend of getting better.

Q. Coach Gibbs, I wanted to ask you, I know with Matt's departure at the end of the year, it's got to be heartbreaking; Matt has given you guys a lot of success, and with Erik coming into the future. And Denny, I wanted to ask you, what did you think about the VHT surface today on the track?
DENNY HAMLIN: I thought it was good. I thought the track changed dramatically throughout the entire race. I would love to see a lot of new paved racetracks, Kentucky, Texas, tracks out of the preferred lane. If they could put it in the higher lanes and force us to go up higher to search for it, I think you could create a lot of really good racing in the future. Obviously NASCAR is easing into it. New Hampshire did a good job of listening to the drivers and where they wanted to put it, and I think it created a multi‑lane racetrack today like really we hadn't seen here in a while.
JOE GIBBS: From Matt's standpoint, Matt really had a good car today. Felt like he had a chance. It was just making some decisions at the end there. But really what I said earlier, that you're planning things out for years in advance, and we did not expect to be where we are today. We had a plan, and things kept coming up and kept changing. I mentioned Carl Edwards just being one of those. But all of a sudden things start changing, it puts you in a situation where you have to make a tough decision. We did not want to do that. Certainly didn't want to‑‑ we didn't want to do something to upset Matt. He's been a great partner for us, and our drivers, everybody said, we don't want to race against him. I think that's what's going to happen.
It was just a tough situation for us. Things changed, and then we got forced into making a decision.

Q. Denny, I think Wheels used the term "relief" twice in describing his feeling after the race. Your feeling, is it more elation, or is it more relief? Has a big load of stress just got lifted off your shoulders?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, a little bit of that for sure, but I'm not going to think that it fixed everything, either. You know, I still think that we have some work to do to be guys that contend for a win every single week. We're getting there. We really, really are getting there. But we still have some work to do.
Today was just a bonus. We got some bonus points. It was a good points day overall, and we got another victory.
All good things, but really when it comes to Monday, we'll go to work on our next racetrack.

Q. Denny, what do you feel about the changes undergone at Joe Gibbs this year and next year, and how does it change your role off the track as maybe a leader or things like that, a mentor?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I've been around the longest. I've seen people come and go, and I feel like a good teammate to all my teammates. I liked the dynamic we had two years ago, I like the dynamic we have now, and I like the die knack I can we're going to have next year. We can adapt. Joe Gibbs Racing itself can adapt. We have some young talent coming in that's going to be very good and going to be the future. They're going to be there long after I'm gone, and they'll be the team leaders. So you just try to set an example for them, show the work ethic that it takes to be a winner on a weekly basis, and hopefully that infectious type atmosphere bleeds into them and they lead the team after we're gone.

Q. Coach, another frustrating day for Kyle, a couple of speeding penalties after he led a lot of laps. Next year marks a year since his last victory, but he's also the two‑time defending champion of the Brickyard. Where do you think things stand for him right now?
JOE GIBBS: I think Kyle, he's had a chance to win maybe eight times. So I think the encouraging thing there, and I heard him say it in an interview today, is he feels like we're fast. We have the ability to win. He said, that's a lot better than being in a situation where you're running 10th I think is what he said. So you know, you hate it when something comes up like it did today, but we know that's part of our sport. Kyle is going to come roaring back from that. I think he feels like each and every weekend he's got a chance.
I know that's kind of the way he looks at things.

Q. Denny, I asked this of Wheels earlier. Kyle when he was in here Friday said that it was kind of frustrating to look at the 78 and how they run knowing that they're using the same stuff you guys are. Mike talked about how it was sometimes frustrating but also kind of‑‑ you're kind of using it as motivation. I just wondered how you've looked at it.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, there's moments of frustration, but you've also got to look at it as they're setting the bar each and every week for speed. It's making me become better, so regardless of what goes on with the cars and whether they're the same or exact same or not the exact same, I know that he's doing things inside the car that's making him better, and I'm able to see that now through data, and it's making me better.
I don't have any animosity towards those guys whatsoever. You know, they're teaching us a lesson most weeks. But we're going to school on it. We're continuing to get better. I feel like we've closed the gap a little bit. But overall, I mean, we are one Toyota team.
It's important that we all run well, and on weeks where they dominate, it's up to us to look at the notes and look at the video and look at the data and say, how can we get there. I'm relatively pretty proud of what that team has accomplished so far this year.

Q. What makes Joe Gibbs Racing so successful at this track, especially at this track?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think it probably started with Tony Stewart many, many years ago. I watched him many times get around this racetrack, and the track has changed a lot over the years. The cars have changed. But just kind of being a student to the game and seeing what all he's done. He was a great leader, and really, I think, when I got to drive his car at Richmond in my rookie year during a test and kind of felt what he thought was a good short track package, I just kind of levitated to that ever since I got in a race car on a short track, and I think it's raised all of our games. Really the short tracks and flat tracks weren't really Kyle's forte.
We worked together so much now over the last few years, he's really good if not exceeded beyond that. Matt has came in and been dominant at this racetrack and so we look at him and look at his notes, and so I think it's just kind of a feeding off of all the good things that have happened here, and everyone is just working off of that and getting better.
MICHAEL WHEELER: Yeah, like Denny said, once you get a package here that works good and you understand why, it's easy to kind of duplicate over time, do different tire changes and aero changes. It might take a race or two to get it back, but once the drivers get a good feel for what it takes to get around here, get in the corner, get off the corner, you can go year in, year out and try to get that same feel for them again. Just really at all the tracks, they're intermediate and they know what it takes to make a car go fast around the track; give them that feel the next time you go back there is what you try to search for.
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I think it's just total team for us. These guys are the key because you've got to have great drivers and great crew chiefs, but also the guys back home, our technical people work extremely hard, and so it takes all of that in this sport. It's hard to do. And so you've got to enjoy each and every one of these wins because they're hard to come by. This year is a good example.

Q. Denny, real quick, next week is Indy. Your thoughts on going into that track?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, as a race team we've been pretty successful there over the last few years. Kyle has won it two years in a row. We tested there and felt like we had a package that was pretty comfortable, so we'll kind of lean on that. I look forward to it. I mean, it's one of the biggest events that we have all year is going to Indy. You know everyone when they go there, they bring the best of the best, the best motors, best cars, and so it's kind of a show case, I think, for the teams as much as it is for the drivers.

Q. It's also a two‑day weekend; does that play anything for you guys at all?
DENNY HAMLIN: Hallelujah. (Laughter.)

Q. What happened out there with the lobster? And what are you going to do with the lobster?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm not going to do anything with it. I've seen it and touched it for the last time. I have a lobster phobia. I don't know why. I just don't like them. I cannot eat dinner if someone beside me is eating lobster. I can't look at it. So as far as I'm concerned they need to put it back in the water and let it live.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations on the great victory today, and good luck next week in Indianapolis.

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