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February 11, 2018
Dayton Beach, Florida
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by the pole winner for next Sunday's Daytona 500, Alex Bowman, driver of the No.88 Nationwide Chevrolet. We're also joined by his crew chief Greg Ives and team owner Rick Hendrick. This is the fourth Daytona 500 pole, fourth consecutive Daytona 500 pole for Hendrick Motorsports, which is tied for the most consecutive Daytona 500 poles for a team owner. Rick, talk about what that means for you and the team.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, when I started racing and we came to Daytona, it was always try to go for the pole. I remember the first qualifying attempt down here with Jeff Bodine, the car was missing when it came around, and we didn't think we were going to make the race. But our guys just texted me, we've had 20 out of the 60 poles here, so it's amazing.
Greg and the team, all the guys did a great job today with the new Camaro, and we're excited to be here and get another one.
THE MODERATOR: Greg, you're no stranger to the front row here at the Daytona 500. Talk a little bit about setting up the car here for Alex.
GREG IVES: Yeah, it's just everybody at Hendrick Motorsports working hard. A lot of challenges this year with new ride height rule and the introduction of the really impressive Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The guys worked hard building 12 speedway cars to come down and run the Clash and for the 500. You know, to get on the front row is a statement in itself, but how these guys work hard and get all four cars in the second round in the top 10, that's a statement to everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.
We have a lot of things going and a lot of hard work into this. It's great to‑‑ I'm pretty stoked.
THE MODERATOR: Alex, why don't you just take us through your pole‑winning lap out there.
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I mean, it was just‑‑ I just got‑‑ I'm just lucky enough to be able to hold the steering wheel in one of Mr.H's race cars. Very thankful for that opportunity. The car has been fast since we unloaded, got a good launch off pit road, hit my shifts right, and everything was good. Greg came over the radio in a really depressing voice was like, You ran 46 flat, what are your temps. I'm like, Greg, where is that. He's like, "P1." I'm like, okay, cool.
Just really happy for the whole race team, from the engine shop to the aero group to the chassis shop. Everybody worked so hard this winter. I just got to hold the steering wheel.
Q. Alex, could you just talk a little bit about the lesson perhaps you've taught a lot of people about staying with it? You stayed with this, you've gotten this opportunity, and now this is where it has landed you. Could you just talk about maybe the last couple of years for you in getting here?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I mean, I never‑‑ I mean, if you talked to me in 2015 and told me that in 2018 I was going to be driving the 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports, I would have called you nuts. You know, everything happens for a reason. My career had a lot of ups and downs, and I've been able to lean on my past experiences a lot to make me better and to better prepare myself for this job.
Honestly, I think I'm better because of the things that I had to go through. I got to make a lot of mistakes without anybody watching. Just never give up.
Q. Greg, Alex calls you the Riddler, and after he got done with his qualifying run, he asked if you had a riddle for him. Are you just trying to get him to push his‑‑ I guess his limits, or what are you looking for with that quizzical nature?
GREG IVES: A lot of it is just my nature of trying to be secretive and not let everybody see my hand a little bit. Sometimes it helps us. I know it frustrated Dale a lot, and Alex, he got to listen to that a lot now. But I'm going to make him a riddle card for him to put on the dash so he kind of understands some of the riddles I'm going to go through. But a lot of it is just trying not to show your hand and get your driver to maybe understand what you're saying. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but he should have got that riddle right after qualifying and know that I probably wouldn't have came on the radio if he didn't have the pole.
You know, I was expecting a little bit faster time than that, but it didn't happen, so I wasn't as excited as I should have been, I guess.
Q. Rick, I know that the culture and mentality at Hendrick Motorsports is to come here and win the pole, but you have a lineup of‑‑ a young lineup of some younger drivers. Did you feel‑‑ did you know that you had all four of them were fast today? Did you know that you would get this effort from them?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, you hope you will and hope you can. This has been so much fun for me. I mean, these young guys, I mean, I'm kind of reliving Gordon with his little pencil mustache, and you have Jimmie‑‑ I tell these guys, I said, you know when I met Gordon, he had a briefcase with a stock car magazine and a GameBoy. That was it.
But to see the excitement with the team, the way they're working together, it's just a lot of fun. Jimmie taking the lead role and giving these guys‑‑ this is what you need to expect out of the car. I mean, Alex and I have a lot of fun. We've got a grudge race, and the winner gets the title to the other one's Corvette. It's a dragstrip, so I don't have much talent there, just have to hold it.
But he's been‑‑ the crew chiefs and the drivers, this has been‑‑ I can't really explain it, but it's so much fun to see William‑‑ talked to William before he went to test Vegas, hey, don't go out and wreck the car, just get laps, be careful. At lunchtime they called me and said, well, he's the fastest. They're quick learners, and I want to give Alex so much credit because he sat out a year when he had lots of opportunities, and he did that to wait for the opportunity with us. That speaks a lot of his desire, and he's spent an awesome amount of times in a simulator giving feedback. He'd run setups before the race for all the guys, after the race for all the guys. He was like a human computer for them. He paid his dues, and he deserves to be here, and I could not be happier with his work ethics.
He's just been‑‑ I mean, for a guy that had a phone call, several calls, and could have driven something else, to wait a year‑‑ and not a guarantee, either. We had to get sponsor lineups, all those things. All those things worked out. I'm just‑‑ this is just for me so much fun to see these guys have an opportunity and build a career. We've got a lot of racing to do, and we're going to make mistakes. But to come down here, it's a statement by the whole organization to run four cars and get them that close.
I've been down here a lot of times where we had one on the front, one first, one 40th, one 15th, one 18th, and real disheartening, but to see them all run well has been a good start.
Q. You two are going to race each other for a Corvette?
RICK HENDRICK: That's right. One of us is going to lose a Corvette.
ALEX BOWMAN: I don't know that I signed up for that.
GREG IVES: Yes, you did.
ALEX BOWMAN: I thought it was just a grudge race.
GREG IVES: No, for pinks he said.
ALEX BOWMAN: I didn't throw the pinks thing outs there. I'm still going to drag you down the racetrack.
Q. You're racing for Corvettes?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah.
GREG IVES: I'll take both of them off your hands.
ALEX BOWMAN: No, it's not a choice that I made. It's just hereditary.
Q. Greg, Alex hates his nickname Bowman the Showman. Are you okay with the Riddler?
GREG IVES: As long as you're calling my name, I don't care. Whatever it is, as long as it's in good spite and good fun, it doesn't matter to me. Riddler is who I am, I guess, so as long as I'm winning races, that's all that matters to me.
ALEX BOWMAN: We're going to make him get a Riddler costume, too. He just doesn't know it yet.
GREG IVES: No, that's not going to happen.
Q. Rick, is there anything you've seen since July that let you know you made the right decision with Alex?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, we put him in Ganassi's XFINITY car in Charlotte, and he won the race. He went out to Phoenix and got in the XFINITY car, and he left a wheel loose, or else he would have probably had a shot to win that race. Every time he gets in the car, he's fast, and his feedback is unbelievable, and Greg is a technician. Greg will pull that out of you. But I just knew when he was in Charlotte, and every time he's been in any car‑‑ Michigan we were running, I think, third, had an electrical problem. He's got a tremendous amount of talent, and these guys learn so fast with simulation. I'm blown away with what a quick study these young ones are and all the things they do.
There was something I was going to tell them about you. Oh, you guys can help me with this. He says his hero is Tim Richmond, and he said, how many poles did Tim Richmond win, and I think in '86 he won eight. Y'all will have to help me with that. But maybe y'all can look that up. But he says he's going to win one more than Tim Richmond, so would you guys hold him to that every week?
Q. I want to know more about the drag race.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, he started it, not me.
ALEX BOWMAN: I did start it.
RICK HENDRICK: I've got a supercharged Corvette and he's got one. He started it. He said, you've got to bring your Corvette over here, and I'm going to wipe you out, and I said, okay, then why don't we make it interesting. You know, that show on TV, one guy loses his car, and we'll do it that way. So I've been trying to get a date, and he said his car was broken.
Q. Good thing you know where to get those fixed.
RICK HENDRICK: I sold him the one he's got. I can sell him another one.
ALEX BOWMAN: I'm pretty sure that I'm still making payments to him on the one I've got. It would be really sad to be making payments on a car that the guy has back and you're making payments to that guy.
RICK HENDRICK: You win a race this year and I'm going to pay your car off.
ALEX BOWMAN: Okay.
Q. Didn't all the money come from him anyway?
ALEX BOWMAN: Yeah, I mean, technically he bought the car for me‑‑
GREG IVES: That's a little bit of a riddle.
ALEX BOWMAN: Now we've got riddles going on.
RICK HENDRICK: See what I'm going through this year? This is totally different for me.
ALEX BOWMAN: Exactly. I'll probably buy it back afterwards.
THE MODERATOR: Also to confirm, Richmond won eight poles in 1986, 14 total in his career.
ALEX BOWMAN: Looks like we're going for nine.
Q. You may not be aware, but five of the 10 qualifiers today are under the age of 25, and five of today's top 10 have never won a race at this level of any kind. Is this indeed the changing of the guard? Did we see it today? Or is it going to take another year or so to make it official?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I can't really speak for it. All I can tell you is when I hired Chase Elliott, I think it was '14, and we moved him up into XFINITY and he wins a championship, and then you know Jeff Gordon is going to retire and you think, okay, this kid has got it, he's good, lets put him in a car early and let him learn, and you know, then Dale Earnhardt Jr. said when he got hurt, I want Alex in the car, he's got a ton of talent, and I always called him "Alex Ballman" for a couple of days, but then he showed the talent he had, the sponsors really liked him and loved him. William, same way. William, we didn't even know if we could get him a sponsor in XFINITY, he goes out a wins a championship, and then the people, the excitement with the sponsors, and I look at it like‑‑ and I can't speak for the rest of the garage, but when I have an opening and here's a guy that I've tried to groom, and he develops faster than I thought he could, and then you just‑‑ if you don't do something with him, someone else is. I mean, he's going to go somewhere.
So my idea this year was let's let them learn in the stuff they're going to be driving for a long time. They're quick. I said this earlier, but to watch them get out of‑‑ to not have ever been in a Cup car and go to Las Vegas, which is a tough track, and go out there and have a top time by lunchtime and you never sat in a car before, I think that says a lot about talent, and Alex‑‑ I mean, first time he got in the car, I think, was New Hampshire, and you were going for the front there with about 10 laps to go. I mean, he hadn't been in a car, hadn't worked with Greg. Fearless, talented, car control, and they're great young guys that want to learn, and they're all over in the shop with the guys, having fun. It's really, really exciting.
I mean, I did it with‑‑ when Jeff Gordon came along, I just saw something in him that I said, all that talent, just put him in the right spot and he's going to do well. We had good luck with that.
I think it's almost like open wheel. When Jeff started, no one gave guys from open wheel a chance. And then so here comes all these guys from all walks of life driving, and now we just went with what we thought was a good lineup, and we know it's going to be tough. We know we're going to have problems. Not many problems, but we're having a good time, and we're learning. These guys are working with the engineers. They understand. They want to get in there. They're looking at traces. They're doing‑‑ they're just working themselves‑‑ they're working hard. But their learning level is so rapid.
I heard something the other day that in the late 1800s and early 1900s we would double our knowledge every hundred years, and today we double our knowledge every six months. I don't know if that's true, I just heard that. But I just know from my experience that what you have in your pocket with Google and everything else, you know what's going on in the world real time. And these guys are just unbelievable at what they do.
It's a long answer, but we'll just see. It's fun, and that's what I need at this point in my life. I need to have some fun.
Q. Alex, what's your impression of how these cars are going to react in a pack, and does it matter to you that you won't be back in a car until Thursday?
ALEX BOWMAN: You know, I was fortunate to be able to do that low ride height test in April or May of last year, and kind of had somewhat of an idea. But I feel like we showed up here, and I was like, oh, everybody is way more aggressive than they were at that test. We didn't draft at all, so don't really know how our car is going to react. But I think it's just‑‑ everybody has got the same deal. You know, you can be really fast and trimmed out, or your car can drive good and it's going to be slower. We'll just have to see and find the right balance for the 500 and go from there.
Q. Rick, you restructured your competition department over the last several months and changed a lot of the processes for building cars. How do you think that's been going, and it's only one race, but is today maybe validation that it's going pretty well?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I give Marshall Carlson and the crew chiefs all the credit, white board, we want to live together, we want to be in one area, we want to have the best guys setting up the plate, building all the cars the same, working in the wind tunnel and sharing. Greg probably can answer it better than I can, but I think so far when everybody co‑signed the note, when they had an opportunity, Chad, Greg, Alan, everybody had an opportunity to put their two cents in, and that's the way we designed and built it.
I'm excited about it. I think when you see the guys in the garage, they're working together. They're all working on the cars together. And so it's kind of tearing down the walls of one team versus the other team. So you guys won't have to ask me, why is the 48 car getting all the good stuff and the 9 car is not, and the sponsors won't, either, because they're all the same.
Q. Can you explain why everyone showed up so aggressive on the skew, on the reverse skew, I guess? Did you expect that? And is it something that's in the setup? Are people using the track bar to do it? How does it work?
GREG IVES: I'm not going to tell you that, but I'm going to tell you that you have the opportunity to lock yourself into the front row of the Daytona 500 and not go through the 150s to race for that position, and it's Daytona, man. I'm just‑‑ I don't know really what to say about it. I'm blessed to be in this position to have that honor of accepting the trophy. Last year we had a couple front row starts and was able to get the first pole for the 88 last year at Talladega, and that's just a goal. That's what we want to do every time we come down here.
Steve Bergh and Corey Williams and everybody on the speedway program, that's kind of like what Mr.Hendrick said, that's kind of how we wanted to get to. Our speedway program has been so strong over the course of the last‑‑ ever, and a lot of it's due to those guys and how they work together, and there's no‑‑ there was no barriers. There wasn't a building. There wasn't any separation. It was two guys with a passion to make four cars go as fast as they can on a speedway. I think we saw that and we knew that we had to implement that into everywhere, our downforce cars, how we work together, and everyday life.
But my goal is to put the most‑‑ to put the best race car on the racetrack for that given event. If it's qualifying for the Daytona 500, I'm going to do that. If it's racing for the Daytona 500, I'm going to do that. I don't think any other crew chief in this business thinks any differently than me.
I wasn't surprised at all. I was happy with the performance that we had coming off the truck, and you know, Alex, he came in with open conscience and open mind to what my plan was, and he accepted it. That's all I needed from him, and the rest was get out there and drive the car.
Like I said, I'm blessed to be in this position, not because I'm the one making the car go fast. It's because I've been part of the system for so long that I see when great things start to happen. This isn't something that's going to go away, so I'm looking forward to the rest of the season.
Q. Rick, what is, in your estimation‑‑ what is your expectation for this season for Alex and Greg and what they have to do to make this a successful season in your mind?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, they've got a really good start. You know, he should have won and could have won the race in Phoenix if the caution hadn't come out when he was filling in. You know, what I look for is just being able to perform and compete, run up front, and you'll win some races.
I think that's what I'm looking at. I just want to get better every week, and the real test is when we get to Atlanta, and this race this weekend you've got‑‑ next Sunday, you've got a lot of guys with a lot of experience out here and drafting. We've got some guys that don't have much experience. None in these cars. He's already said he's going to win nine poles, so I think he's going to win races, and I want to make the playoffs, and I want to go‑‑ I'd like to have cars in the final round at Homestead, and we know that's a tall task, but we're, again‑‑ win races, compete, be competitive, and just work together every week to get better. These guys are doing that, and again, I'm looking forward to this next race and then races that are coming up.
I think the second half of the year, where we need to be better, we will be better. I'm excited.
Q. Rick, sort of along that same line of thinking, how do you balance the high expectations for these guys? You speak so highly of both Alex and William, and also at the same time recognizing that they're young drivers and they need to get that experience?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I think I'll try to answer it the same way. If you see improvement and‑‑ I've already seen the talent. I've already seen that. I already know that. See, again, Alex, never been with the 42 team in XFINITY, gets in car, wins Charlotte. Goes to Phoenix, runs‑‑ drove right up to second. I mean, no matter what he's in, he's fast, and he's just going to get better.
I think when you've got these guys that have so much raw talent, yeah, they're going to make mistakes on pit road, they're going to make mistakes on restarts sometimes, but so do the guys that have been doing it every week. But how good can they be? That's the part that I get excited about. If they're that good at this age, what can they be? And so we should be competitive for a long time.
Q. Rick, I know obviously with the four wins last year and having cars in the playoffs, a lot of teams would like to have that. That's not the Hendrick expectation. What didn't go right last year, and how taxing was it on you? You've mentioned a few times about having fun, so I get the sense that last year was probably a year maybe unlike any in maybe the last decade or so in one sense.
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, you know, when Dale Earnhardt calls me and says he's going to retire, you know it's going to come one day, but it's a shock when it happens. You know, again, Alex had waited, so we were excited about that.
We just didn't‑‑ Chase ran good in the Chase. He should have won Martinsville, and he would have been in the playoff, the last deal. If you look at his stats in the last‑‑ in the playoffs, he was pretty good. I think our cars‑‑ I think this car is better than what we had. I think Jimmie is so fired up, I've never seen Jimmie‑‑ I think sitting in the audience last year, he called me from Vegas, and he's been in the shop, so all the commitment he has. But these guys are working‑‑ Greg said it, they're working so close together, and they're feeding off of each other. We were just‑‑ Dale knew he was going to retire. We knew Kasey was going to leave, and we knew we had William coming on. So it was a little bit of a stagnation toward the end of the year. Again, Chase had a good run. Jimmie won three races, but it wasn't the competitive 48 that we're used to. But I'm just‑‑ again, we've made a lot of changes. I hope they're all going to work, but we've got a great new car that Chevrolet built for us and that I think is going to be really good on the intermediate tracks and so forth.
In all of my years in this sport and my company, we have never worked this close together, and it's something I've been wanting to see. So the proof is going to be when we get down to the playoffs. There's some awful good teams in that garage area. There's some awful good cars that are not going to be in the playoffs. But I think we're just going to get better and stronger. I think last year we kind of peaked and we knew there was change coming, so we just said, okay, let's change it all. Let's just take all the experience we have, Jeff Andrews done an unbelievable job, Marshall Carlson. And again, I give the crew chiefs credit because they designed this themselves in a room with a white board, and we started putting it together, and it was a change.
People don't like change, but it's happened pretty‑‑ everybody is buying in. I've been with the crew out here in the garage area, and there's an intertwined deal that hadn't been happening.
I've said this, we're stronger together, and we are together. I think we will get stronger and stronger as the year goes on and these guys get experience. We've got experienced crew chiefs that know what to do, and we've got a great car that Chevrolet built and designed for us. You know, none of us were happy about last year. It was a rough year, when you go to the racetrack and you just don't think you can win. You're average, and you're just not leading laps. We didn't lead laps, and that's not us. We've got to go to work on that.
Q. I understand you've sought out people, but I think you've kind of been the genesis of the change. You just talked about giving, I guess, more control to the crew chiefs to kind of white board it, in your words. Why did somebody who's kind of always been the agent of change give that up to some degree? I know you've got to be the final one to approve it, but why did you give them that responsibility as opposed to stepping in and saying, I've done this before, I know what to do? Why didn't you do it this way, if I'm understanding it right.
RICK HENDRICK: Sure, in the automobile business we believe we feed off of each other. We take best practices, and that's the way we do it, and if you've got a better idea, we all do it that way, and that's the way I've built the automobile business. In the racing business, we all have the same engine. We have the same chassis and all that. But if they don't buy in 100 percent, if Greg doesn't and Chad Knaus don't‑‑ here's what I said: Look, we're stronger together, and we have to tear down the walls, and Marshall Carlson said, we have to live together. And so that's why we're‑‑ if you go back, we built our‑‑ the buildings that were built single teams, you know, so we have now kind of taken that apart, and we've got an area for all the engineers to be together, all the crew chiefs to be together. And we have taken the best people in each area of building the car and put them in charge of that area.
These guys‑‑ I mean, again, I'm not‑‑ I cannot‑‑ unless they‑‑ if it's their idea, they're going to make it work. So that's kind of the way the plan came together, and they executed, and we'll see. But so far it's been awful good.
Q. Rick, what kind of expectations do you have for Jimmie as far as taking a kind of leadership role, mentorship role with the other three this season?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, when you get in this business and you have sponsors and you don't have as many people in the XFINITY Series or whatever and you roll into this thing and all of a sudden you've got multiple sponsors that want to see you, you've got content that you're trying to shoot for NASCAR or your sponsors, there's a lot of pressure on your time. Jimmie has been the guy that's told these guys, hey, come to my bus, I'll talk‑‑ I'll give you some things I learned. And we also have Jeff Gordon, same way, saying, this is what I experienced when I started, and this is what you've got to deal with outside of the car. They haven't had to deal with that. And it's a grueling schedule.
So Jimmie, we have a trainer for all of them, showing them how to eat, what you need to eat. Jimmie has just really‑‑ because he wants to be‑‑ he wants No.8, and in all the years I've seen Jimmie Johnson, I've never seen him more committed than he is right now. He is taking these guys and saying, this is what you should expect out of the car and getting ready for the race, and this is something‑‑ Alex has experienced that, and Chase is well into it. William, it's brand new to him.
But again, we can count on‑‑ Jimmie loves that role, and I think these guys will tell you he's there. He walks over to the other crew chiefs. He's getting information from them. They're helping him because they're giving great feedback, whether it's looking at traces‑‑ he's been a tremendous mentor for these guys.
Q. Are there plans, are you talking with a new contract with Chad about lining up their extensions through 2020?
RICK HENDRICK: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Q. Alex, could you take a shot at telling us roughly how many laps on the simulator you've turned at Daytona, and can you compare a lap on the simulator to the car?
ALEX BOWMAN: That's a real easy question. Zero. It's kind of interesting, one place we don't really focus on in the simulator is Daytona, along with Talladega. You know, as far as how close the simulator is to the real car, it really depends where you're running and how your tire model is. My job for the last two years has been to make the simulator better and to prepare it for either other drivers to use or for me to use it in place of the other drivers. Really looking forward to kind of being on the other side of that role going forward and being able to use it to make my race cars better and to better prepare us for the weekend.
But yeah, we don't do any speedway stuff with the simulator.
Q. And why not?
ALEX BOWMAN: That's a good question. I think there are so many aspects of what goes on with a simulator and what goes on in the race cars at the racetrack that I think a lot more for the simulator is done on the shaker rigs or in the wind tunnel and stuff like that than it really can be, or on a simulator.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports