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February 25, 2018

Clint Bowyer

Denny Hamlin

Brad Keselowski

Hampton, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by our second‑ and third‑place finishers; Brad Keselowski, our runner‑up in the No.2 Autotrader Ford for Team Penske; and Clint Bowyer in the No.14 Stewart‑Haas Racing Haas Automation Ford. Gentlemen, looked like we weren't going to get a race in, and all of a sudden we got a race in. It turned out to be a hell of an event.
CLINT BOWYER: Turns out Mother Nature is a race fan. Man, when you went to bed last night, you're looking and thinking there's no way. You wake up this morning, you see that big cell coming. You're like, oh, there's no way. That window opened, and man, what a good race. What a good racetrack for me, and I don't think you'll find a driver that doesn't enjoy this place, doesn't really matter where you finish. It's a challenging racetrack. You can over‑attack it, and you can under‑drive it. It's such a hard thing to find a good rhythm here, and once you do, one run it feels really good and you think you're in that same rhythm the next run, and you're probably two seconds slower over the course of runs.
It's just a pretty unique place. It's a lot of fun to race at.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, it's a good track. A lot of fun to race on. Of course we ran up front so we're a little biased, but I had a blast today, and just really, really working your tail off inside the car, and it feels kind of old school, which I like.

Q. Both Clint and Brad, the Fords looked pretty good today; is that a product of Atlanta, or can we expect that at a lot of mile‑and‑a‑halfs this year?
CLINT BOWYER: I sure hope so. Yeah, one, two, three for Fords. Fords were good all weekend long. It wasn't just today, it was unloading off the trucks. It was neat to see all four Stewart‑Haas cars in the top 10 qualifying. Everybody is working hard. You've got another manufacturer that got a new body, of course, over the off‑season; that makes you a little bit nervous. But so far, so good. We were as good as anybody, obviously.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by our fourth‑place finisher, driver of the No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin. Clint and Brad were talking about how much they enjoy racing here, how challenging the surface is and how much fun it makes it for you guys. Kind of your thoughts on the race this evening?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, it's clear the Fords have an unfair advantage. (Laughter.) It's clear. No, just kidding. You know, it kind of played out the way we thought it would. I thought we had about a fifth‑ to sixth‑place car yesterday. We improved on it a little bit today. We weren't very good in the short run, really good in the long run, so we obviously mixed up our strategy there to try to do something different, and it played out for us. Kind of didn't matter whether a caution came out or not, it kind of played out for us, whether it was going to go green or the caution.
We ended up about where we should have. Good effort, just got to get a little faster in the short run, and we'll be right there.

Q. Clint, how much of a difference does it make in terms of when you've got a car like Kevin had today that obviously is clearly dominant, how do you guys work together? How similar are the setups that you guys end up actually running in the car at a track like this when you know that one of them is so good?
CLINT BOWYER: They're way different. Nobody had any access to his. That's what you'd really like to believe.
Truth be told, he's damned good. He's damned good at this place, and he's damned good at running Turns 1 and 2. That bottom down there, he could keep that thing locked on better than anybody. You watch the Xfinity race yesterday, you know it's coming. He's good at getting his cars set up. He knows what he needs to be able to run that line. And I mean, you see it. Everybody can start running that, and by the time the long run happens, they've got to move around or they get to bobbling and bouncing around and get inconsistent. He's just able to keep the consistency down lap after lap down there and pull away from the field.

Q. Brad, when you got behind the 34 and couldn't get by and then made the move between the cars, can you kind of describe what it took at that point? Was that going to be like your only mode of getting to the lead and holding it from Harvick?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I'm trying to‑‑ shoot, I'm trying to remember that. It was a long race. When was that?

Q. About midway through the race. Well, I mean‑‑
BRAD KESELOWSKI: It's not your fault, I just don't remember anything past the last 50 laps.

Q. Did anybody have anything for him?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, nobody had anything for Kevin today. Not that I'm aware of. Shoot, I think we all threw everything we had at him. He drove a great race and he had a really fast car, and that's a potent combination. If he hadn't had the pit road issue today, he probably would have led almost 300‑some laps.

Q. Speaking of the pit problem that Brad just mentioned for Harvick, there were at least three teams that had trouble with the new common guns and Truex said he was one of them. He said he thought everybody was worried coming into that race. Do you care to comment on that?
CLINT BOWYER: Nope. Same for everybody.
DENNY HAMLIN: Mine worked, so we're happy. If it didn't work, we wouldn't be happy.
CLINT BOWYER: I think everybody had trouble on pit road at one point or another. As these teams keep learning and perfecting their program and getting in that rhythm just like we do on the track, I know our guys had good stops and stubbed their toe once and lost a few. It's just there's a lot going on right there with not very many people. I think that's a work in progress, and I think you'll continue to see some jumbling up of the program as we come on to pit road and off of it.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Honestly, I don't think I'm allowed to have an opinion. Nobody asked me when they changed them, and it was a decision made by RTA and NASCAR. I don't think I'm allowed to have an opinion.
CLINT BOWYER: What do you think? We'll let you have your own opinion; how about that. You're the one with the pencil. Write what you want. We'll let it be your idea.

Q. Along that line, I guess I probably already know the answer, but how often‑‑ normally you would have an issue with a pit gun, and is this something‑‑ would we be surprised if last year we saw three major teams have issues with pit guns?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don't remember breaking a pit gun in the last two or three years, so I can't really smoke for these guys.
CLINT BOWYER: I know our guys had some socket issues before the season started with stuff, but so far, so good.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think the reason teams built them on their own is because they were more reliable that way. They could control everything. That's probably why‑‑ amongst the competition side of things, they don't want a failure to fail because it's a bad luck thing. They want it to fail because they did a bad job. It's your own fault then.

Q. Your opinions on‑‑ it's going to start up tomorrow. Do you repave this track or not? Any of y'all have opinions?
DENNY HAMLIN: It didn't weep, but we didn't have heavy rain. I thought the track drying went really well, so until it breaks, let it go.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, what he said. I was surprised how well it held up.
CLINT BOWYER: I think they did a good job patching it, too. It was obvious that they've been out here working and trying to patch whatever cracks that was out there. To Denny's point, it didn't rain hard, but I don't think I saw one crack seeping anything out of it. Yeah, they did a good job preparing the surface for anything, and it's obvious the rain was here and they were prepared for it.

Q. Clint, last year you guys with the 14 team, it was kind of sporadic, I guess, to start the season. You guys had some speed but couldn't put it all together. A race like this today where you guys start off the intermediates so consistent and so strong inside the top 5 or 10 all day, is this the kind of run that can help you guys build some of that stability that you were missing early on last year?
CLINT BOWYER: Absolutely. I said it all off‑season. What we have to do is get more consistent, know what I mean? Over the course of my career, that's kind of what's kept me in the game is consistency, and last year we were spraying it all over the place. We've have good run and back it up with a bad one or two bad ones and then a good one. We were all over the place.
You know, after last‑‑ we were at the big dance last weekend and dropped a cylinder, and everybody was dejected and bummed out, and we come here and unload four fast cars and did a great job as a company. That's what it takes. You've got to be able to unload good cars and then work together to fine tune them to make them good for the race and enjoy that strength in numbers, and that's certainly what we had going on this weekend.

Q. Denny, it's no secret that Wheels has always been one to call strategy, and I think I was the one that didn't even raise an eyebrow when you guys went on a different strategy. Is that something where you two have worked together long enough now that you're just not even surprised when he throws something different at you anymore?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think running long like we did and having fewer stops works when you have a good long‑run car. It played out for us at Darlington because we had a car that was extremely good in the long run and we didn't fall off the ledge, so to speak, at the end of a run. It was the same kind of thing today, so we just optimized all the lap time we could on old tires and chose fewer stops instead.

Q. Brad, at the beginning of the third segment after you and Kevin got past the 41 car, you were in the lead, and Kevin didn't seem to have anything for you there. Was that just a matter of you being in clean air?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, he couldn't move off the bottom it looked like, and he ended up pitting a few laps before us and getting in front of us, and then he was able to really stretch his legs and drive away. Yeah, in traffic he seemed a little bit boxed in for sure.

Q. Denny, just going back to the strategy play, did you know that was coming? When was that decision made? Were you surprised by it? Were you okay with it?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I wasn't surprised. I had an idea. Any time‑‑ as soon as I left pit road he said I was going to have to go 50 laps the first time, so I immediately knew he was going to break it up into two stops instead of three. I wasn't surprised at all about it.
Worried about it, a little bit in the second stint because I wasn't running really fast lap times on new tires. I think 32 flat or something like that. Other guys were able to run some 70s and 80s, and it seemed like we got to the lap time of like 33 whatever pretty quick, and I was just worried that the strategy, you need the lap times to be pretty linear for that strategy to work, and we kind of leveled off a little bit, and some of the field leveled off. I was worried a little bit, but I kept seeing it cycle around to where I was in a good position.

Q. I think by my count, none of the drivers in the top eight had less than eight years of experience, so it was a pretty veteran‑heavy race for all the talk about the young guns coming along. Is that a coincidence?
CLINT BOWYER: It's just an old‑school racetrack. You've got to take care of your stuff, and this is the way‑‑ Denny and I came in pretty much at the same time. This is the way most of the tracks were, and how you learned from the guys that we were learning from, the Jeff Gordons and all those guys. I mean, this is just the way it used to be when you had a lot of horsepower and you could spin the tires a lot. Then it seems like you get on these tracks like we'll be at next weekend and it's qualifying laps every single lap, and those kids will show back up. If you can figure out a way to wear these things out again, I'd appreciate it.

Q. How do you guys approach next weekend, the start of the West Coast swing for all three of you?
CLINT BOWYER: I'm going to try hard. I'm going to be‑‑ it's strength in numbers, man. We're all fortunate enough to have good manufacturer help, and then obviously good teammates. We unloaded with four fast cars, and we all worked together really well, and hopefully we'll do the same thing in Vegas and be able to enjoy that same success.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think the question was about the West Coast. Yeah, the racetracks are obviously very different. You start the season, even though Atlanta is a mile‑and‑a‑half and is somewhat similar in nature to the size of Las Vegas, Las Vegas is a completely different track, and you really have four or five distinctly different tracks to start the season. It's hard to say. You take it week by week, and Phoenix obviously is much different than anywhere else we run. It's kind of its own. It's really hard to predict. I think we're just so early in the season, and Atlanta is a big outlier in the season, but so is Phoenix. It's really to me, when you get through the Californias and the Las Vegases, you see who's got what.
DENNY HAMLIN: I agree with them. It's a good time to analyze really‑‑ I wouldn't hit the panic button really for anyone after this race, especially ourselves. I think you've got to‑‑ you get four to five races in before you kind of figure out where you truly are and where you need to work.

Q. Is there any other track that is as abrasive as this is?
CLINT BOWYER: California.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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