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February 17, 2019
Daytona Beach, Florida
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the winning team of today's Daytona 500. We have our driver, Denny Hamlin, crew chief, Chris Gabehart, for the No.11 FedEx Express Toyota. This is Denny's second Daytona 500. This is Chris's first Cup start as crew chief and first win. We will open to up to questions.
Q. Kyle was in here earlier and said that he was trying to coordinate the restart plan, the restart before and that you guys had declined, and he said that once you guys got the lead that you guys were more willing to try to negotiate a plan with the 18. What went into both of those restarts and the planning back and forth with them?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I think the first one‑‑ I'm not sure if it was a green‑white‑checkered or not, but it was inside 5 to go, and I thought that any deals and stuff like that ‑‑ our original deal was inside 10 to go. After that you kind of race. We kept going. I think we had a restart with 7 or 8 to go, we worked together, and they asked‑‑ I think they asked and we said, let's just race it out, and that was with the second to last restart we decided we wanted to kind of race it out, being on the front row. I kind of liked‑‑ and I was hoping he was going to take the line that he chose, and he did. So that put us in a good position.
You know, everything that I've‑‑ all the experience that I've had, I knew what line I wanted to be in, and it was going to be a 50/50 shot whether he put us in that line or not, and when he did, we got the lead, the caution came out, and then we were fine to just go ahead and stay racing like we were.
I knew the top line was the line I was going to choose, and they actually came over‑‑ I think they came to my spotter and said, hey, do you want to drop down in front of us, we're open to do that, and when I saw him and the 22 lined up, I was like, well, absolutely, sure. Definitely we'll do that.
I thought that was the best move for us. But it still gave him a great opportunity to win because he got a great run on us on the backstretch and we had to block it.
So I think that he probably knew the same thing that I did, that that bottom lane deteriorates really quick at the end of these races. I've been on the bottom lane three or four times here on a green‑white‑checkered and lost the race every time because it was just not the place to be, so I thought that he was actually pretty smart in thinking that, hey, if I drop down in front of him, that puts him in the position to go on the offense against him.
If he's on the inside of me and I'm right there on his door, there's no offensive play that he can make. He was actually‑‑ he did‑‑ made the right move in my opinion to let us do that so he can have the 22 and make a run.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by team owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, Joe Gibbs. We'll continue with questions.
Q. Chris, for you, not to short shrift what you've just done, but a lot of athletes and coaches say, okay, we're on to the next one. Atlanta is going to be a whole new deal. The rest of the year is going to be a whole new deal. Is it difficult for a crew chief to prepare every week for an aero package and a rules package different from what you had the week before?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, well, I can tell you the unfortunate truth is we probably just lost the day preparing because we're going to be here putting a car in a museum, and that's okay with us. But you're right, with all the unknowns in NASCAR right now, with the rules package, I think you guys are in for a treat week to week. You're never going to know‑‑ everybody is trying to figure it out and every racetrack is going to be a little bit different. There's going to be a lot of comers and goers to start the season, but I have so much confidence in the people around us, Joe Gibbs Racing and FedEx and Denny trusting in me to allow me to do this, and we've just got such a strong group around us. I'm just the lucky guy that every now and then gets to jump up and call the play.
But in the past three months it's become so evident to me that it's about the people around you, and I'm just a very small part of that, and let me tell you, this 11 team FedEx team has a very good group around them, and I couldn't be more excited to get going.
Q. But you're already looking to Atlanta?
DENNY HAMLIN: Not tonight he won't be.
CHRIS GABEHART: I don't mean to discredit this win, but I'm always thinking about the next one. No doubt about it.
Q. Coach, you were in here earlier in the weekend talking about what it might mean if this‑‑ this is storybook, though. What emotions, what's going through your mind after this?
JOE GIBBS: I'd just like to retrace for a minute what happened tonight, which is‑‑ it's the most emotional and the biggest win I've ever had in my life in anything. J.D. built our race team, was the guy that ran day‑to‑day operations for 27 years. He invested his occupational life in our race team.
And as a part of that, he went up to purchase some late model stuff from Denny and struck up a relationship with Denny, put him in a test, put him in a truck, put him in an Xfinity car at Darlington, and finally he said, We need to sign this guy.
And so that started the relationship and everything‑‑
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you for that first check, by the way. I got a set of rims for my truck and a plasma TV. I was in high‑‑ that was a hit in my town.
JOE GIBBS: That was the truth. He had nothing, okay. And three years later, he bought a house next to me that was twice as big as my house. So it tells you I get in the wrong end of everything. But I wanted to retrace that.
And then to say, J.D.'s favorite number was 11 when he raced. That's what he had. Denny's number is 11. Denny put J.D. over the door post on that car, and to have that take place, everything that took place tonight, everybody knows, we've been to Daytona 27 times. We had won twice before. And so, you know, you're thinking about things, and I guess everybody could say, well, that just happened. I don't believe that just happened. I honestly believe it was‑‑ I think the Lord looked down on us, and I know J.D. and everybody in my family was emotional. I called home to Pat, and I called sponsors that were emotional, too.
It was just an unbelievable night, unbelievable crowd. The whole thing was just a special memory for me, and it's one I'll never forget, and it was the most important night of my occupational life.
Q. Denny, number one, I know you were trying on TV to put it into words. The Gibbs family, this win, what does it mean sitting here right now, and the second part, what is it with you and new crew chiefs, bringing them to Victory Lane in this race?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, for one race he can just hop on the back. I'll carry you in here. But I'm going to need him through the 35 other ones. He's‑‑ I'll say kind of answering the last question first, but Chris is just so prepared. Almost information overload. I have to temper him sometimes like, okay, I've got it, I've got it. I don't need motivation. Thank you for the information. Of all the things that I need‑‑ but he's just so prepared and he never leaves‑‑ just in the couple months I've worked with him, he's just so meticulous about every detail and giving me all the information that I need to go out there and succeed, and so‑‑ that's the kind of guy that you look for that can carry you a long way.
As far as the Gibbs family, it's just great to‑‑ hearing that Joe and everything that he has accomplished in his life, I mean, he's an NFL Hall of Famer, Super Bowl champion, and saying that this is the biggest win of his career is just special, and it's just special for me to be able to deliver that to him in a special way.
I know he would have been happy with any one of his cars going out there and getting a victory, but obviously one with his son's name on the door and number is probably a little more special.
Q. Denny, did I hear correctly over the radio that now that you're a two‑time Daytona 500 winner, Michael Waltrip can kiss your ass, and can you please explain that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yes. That was the only thing he ever held over my head constantly. "I've got two." Yeah, we're such good friends, and we play golf all the time. Everyone knows that. But yeah, he was always‑‑ everyone‑‑ we would always go to these golf tournaments and he introduced me and I introduced him, and he would say, I've got two of those, just think, twice as many as you have. So not anymore.
Q. Denny, for your win tonight versus your win a few years ago, which one is better, or can you evaluate that yet, and which party will be better?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm taking this one in a little bit more. I was just so‑‑ everything was just so crazy at the end of the 2016 race with the final lap, how it all played out. I was just‑‑ I couldn't believe anything that happened. I was in awe the whole time.
This one I actually‑‑ through the red flags and everything, I was kind of taking everything in. I fell asleep twice under a couple of the red flags because I was just relaxed. I knew what I needed to do, and I wasn't going to venture off from that. So I wasn't nervous about, hey, what if this happens, what if that happens. I knew in my head what I needed to do, and if the race worked out great for us, we were going to win. If it didn't‑‑ I had put forth all the homework and done all the work to figure out where I needed to be, and I knew where I needed to be, and circumstances was going to dictate whether we won or not. So I was pretty relaxed the whole time and really taking all this in.
Q. Which party is going to be bigger?
DENNY HAMLIN: Oh, I don't know. I don't know. Yeah, I'm not sure. I was feeling pretty bad last time. The plane ride up was awful for me. Here I have an extra day to prepare, so that's the good news.
Q. Gabehart, you're batting .500 at this point. What are you going to have to do with this team so you don't become complacent now that you're already in the playoffs?
CHRIS GABEHART: Complacent is not in my vocabulary. We're going to go win 35 more races, the way I look at it. People say you can't win every race, and I disagree. I show up every weekend to win, and I know Joe Gibbs expects that of us, I know Denny does, and I know my race team does. My intent is to win 35 more times, and we may fall short, but I'm going to Atlanta to get another one.
Q. Denny, those last 10 laps were like‑‑
DENNY HAMLIN: An hour long. Literally.
Q. I was going to say, not like racing, it was more like Survivor out there. Tell me, what was it like to be able to avoid those three huge crashes? I think at last count we counted 36 different cars were involved total with all three of them.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I was thinking‑‑ I was actually looking at the time on the dash. It was 540 something and I'm looking at the scoreboard, and I'm like, wow, at 6:15 we're going to know the end of this race. And I look, and I'm like, at 6:30 we're going to know the end of this race. We're sitting under red flag, and I just see the ticker just going, like at 6:50 we're really going to know who won this race. (Laughter.)
It was crazy how long it took. I've been in so many different Superspeedway races, I've seen five laps take an hour before, but the track was just an absolute mess, especially in 3 and 4 with all the crashes. We just were fortunate to really be up front at the right time to avoid those. I mean, we were really one row in front of all the mayhem the entire time at the end.
That's a credit to the pit call we made at the end just to get our track position back from kind of the fueling issue that we had mid‑race, but it's just‑‑ sometimes you're fortunate to be in the position you are. We were pretty lucky to be up front at the right time.
Q. To properly celebrate a win like this‑‑ how do you properly celebrate a win like this when you have that champion's breakfast at like 7:30 tomorrow morning? Do you stay up all night or try to get a few hours of sleep?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I don't know. I've been under the weather a little bit over the last couple weeks, so I probably won't get too crazy, honestly.
CHRIS GABEHART: Actually he and I both.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I may have‑‑ yeah, it's been a tough couple weeks, just being sick a little bit. I'm not going to get too crazy, but I want the team guys to really enjoy it. I mean, there's a lot of new faces, a lot of the same faces that we've had that were here in 2016 that got to enjoy it, and I just never will forget celebrating with them and seeing how excited they were after winning a Daytona 500, because you just honestly never know. You're a pit crew guy, you could be moved to another team, you don't know if‑‑ if you don't, will you ever win it again.
I encouraged all those guys to really live in the moment and enjoy it because definitely‑‑ that was some of my fondest memories from the first one was spending it with the team guys.
Q. Now you've tied Dale Jarrett, 24th all time on the wins list. Is that something you take a look at? Just kind of comment on what that means to you.
DENNY HAMLIN: Wow, he's so much better than I am. Yeah, I don't know. That's amazing. Never really thought of it that way. Those are guys that, I mean, I idolized growing up. I shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath as Dale Jarrett. It's crazy that we have the stats that we do. I never would have thought it in the 14‑year career that I'd have one Daytona 500 champion, I wouldn't have dreamed I'd have 10 wins, I wouldn't have dreamed anything that's been accomplished. But certainly won't take it for granted.
Q. Denny and Coach, when you have such a tragic event such as J.D.'s passing happening to close to the start of the season, I just wondered when it could produce heavy hearts and so forth, how did you feel the team approached dealing with that coming down to Daytona? It almost seemed like you guys had a very calming effect the entire Speedweeks.
JOE GIBBS: Well, I think for me, I just really appreciate everybody. Chris said it; everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing, it's like a huge family, and I want to say that NASCAR itself, if you think about everybody in that winner's circle, everybody from NASCAR, Jim France and everybody all the way down, I just appreciate that so much.
And the other thing that's different about this sport that I really appreciate is our sponsors. The emotion and everything that's wrapped up in this, FedEx, everybody there, the relationships you develop with them, and you go through tough times, tough year last year, and then to have a victory like tonight, and I appreciate everybody here from FedEx, and I got a chance to call Fred Smith and thank him. And then Toyota, if you think about a partnership like that, how much they put into this as a company, as big as that company is and all the things they can do, they choose to be a part of this sport and this race team, and they're a huge part of it. I can't thank them enough.
And so I think‑‑ I hope we all kind of get that, what's special about this sport is our sponsors and all the relationships and everything that it takes to get‑‑ to have a good race team. And I just appreciate that so much, and it's always been people in my life that you appreciate are the people.
So just really thrilled to be a part of a sport like this. I know we've gone through tough times here recently. I'm going to tell you, I swear I think our best years are in front of us, and we've got so many people working so hard right now in our sport, so I'm fired up about it, and this is the only thing me and my family want to do. We don't have anything else. So this has to go.
Q. Denny, the fact that you and Kyle worked so well together, there's always a lot of dissection of your relationship, there was the No. 18 pit stall last year at Miami. Was this validation that you guys can kind of work together and be good teammates, be a good team together?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I really think over the last handful of years we've really worked well, had a great working relationship. I mean, I had forgotten about the Homestead thing, to be honest with you. We did exactly what we said we were going to do, worked together the entire race until 10 laps to go, and then let's go out there and try to get a win.
I know that he wants it bad. I understand the fire that he has to win the Daytona 500. Trust me, if I could switch resumes with him, I would, in case I ever had the right one. But he's a great talent. His time is coming. There's no question about it. He's usually getting wrecked out early and never even had an opportunity to be in the position that he was at the end of tonight.
I think the one advantage that I had had is I'd been in that situation so many times over the last 10 years that I knew where I wanted to be. I'm sure mental notes have been made, and obviously if it turns around the other way next year, I'll congratulate him the same way.
Q. After a winless 18, I know the first time in your career I think you're set with Gibbs beyond this season, but when you have a winless season and people start asking questions, how important is it to get a win first race out of the box and kind of maybe quell some of that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I'm confident in everything that we have going here. I've got a great company in FedEx that has supported me for the last 14 years and believes in me and Joe and his family has believed in me.
You know, it's not like we weren't competitive. We just didn't win the race. We were leading on the final restart at Brickyard 400 and the Daytona 500 last year, and circumstances took us out of those races. You win both of those in the same year, and they think you're amazing.
We just didn't win the races, and I understand that that's very important, but we've been competitive my entire career, and I don't see that changing. I know that Chris has got a great plan ahead of us, starting next week in Atlanta. I've actually got to do some work middle‑‑ wow, maybe I won't do that now. But he had plenty of work for me to do in the middle of this week to get prepared for Atlanta‑‑
CHRIS GABEHART: We're going to have to rewrite this week a little bit, but that's okay.
DENNY HAMLIN: So he's prepared, and he knows that‑‑ he wouldn't have took the job if he didn't think that he had a competitive driver. It's good to go out there and validate all that.
Q. Any thoughts on that, Chris?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, I mean, again, I just can't say enough about the people. I mean, this guy is the winningest driver on today's Cup circuit who has not won a championship, and he's come close so many times, and we're going to get him there. But Denny Hamlin not capable of winning with Joe Gibbs Racing behind him and FedEx behind him? I mean, I'm the lucky guy. They asked me to come in and try to shake it up and put a fresh perspective on it, and I said, sure, I'll jump at the chance, because this guy has got what it takes to win at Homestead and win it all. No question about it.
If I can be the guy to help provide the spark to get that done, then strap on and let's do it.
Q. Denny and Coach, I just wanted to get your thoughts. Were you surprised at how well the 95 ran today? He led about a quarter of the race.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, he really ran well and did a great job in the draft. When I talked about we were always one row ahead of the mayhem, I saw he was right behind me pushing me on one restart, and I actually moved up to block him, and the next thing you know he gets wrecked. It's like, circumstances, and Joe has got a better understanding of why he thinks all that stuff happened today, but we were very fortunate.
But yeah, he was running great. Obviously Wheels has a lot of notes from what we were successful here with, and that car was super, super strong.
It'll be very important for us to have that car running strong, and to gather more information, because as an organization we don't want to lose a car, and by losing Furniture Row last year, hopefully that 95 team can kind of pick up where they left off.
JOE GIBBS: We really kind of hit it off with Bob and their group. I appreciate Toyota and all that they've done over there. I really think we have a great chance to take that team and continue to work with it, and I think it's going to take off. I was thrilled for the whole weekend. I kidded Bob, I said, The very first race in that 125 and you kick our rear? I said, You're not supposed to do that, okay, back off. But really, that is a very important partner for us. We are the small number, the Toyota cars, so we need that car to step up, and I was thrilled that they ran the way they did.
Q. Denny, first off, is there any part of you that's still wondering how in the world the Fords couldn't work enough together to beat you?
DENNY HAMLIN: They took each other out it looked like. I don't know. The wrecks were always behind us, which I didn't kind of see. But we worked really well together. The Toyotas, we had a few Hendrick cars help us in certain situations, as well, which was big, and really, it just‑‑ you can kind of just find your way to the front. If you can't beat them, sometimes you have to join them. You have to join the pack that they're in. You've got to see what they're doing and join them.
They are very strong. They've got some great drivers over there, but really the numbers has been the biggest thing that's been the biggest obstacle to beat with those guys, is they just have so many of them. The power is in the numbers. I put our group of four or five up against anyone, and today you can see the little manufacturer has a one, two, three finish. That's a pretty good feat.
Q. And also, I think I can politely say that confidence has not been one of your issues‑‑
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you.
Q. I'm curious if last year at all, did you ever lose any confidence by going winless?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, not really because I was still competitive. I think we had a string in the middle, I think right when the Chase‑‑ the playoffs were starting, we won like three out of four poles in a row. We were fast. We just‑‑ we struggled in certain situations. Really this year being a whole new ball of wax, it's just‑‑ I mean, it's a complete reset. There was no doubt that, whether it was last year's package or this year's package, we're going to be successful and we're going to win races.
Some of the greatest drivers had winless seasons. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, those guys. I mean, I'm not‑‑ I was never doubting whether I was still capable of winning races, and I'm still not, as you know. (Laughter.) I'm only 38, by the way. Why is everyone trying to shove me out the door? I'm 38. Statistics say 39 is your prime. What's wrong with you people? (Laughter.)
Q. You got three in a row this time, one, two, three finish. How is that going to affect not only your team but the whole Joe Gibbs Racing team? And another thing, I'd also take to take you back to that letter you wrote as a child about winning the championship and that promise you made to Joe about bringing him one of those. How do you feel this year with this kind of start toward getting that goal?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, the one, two, three finish is great. I can't remember, did we have a one, two, three in 2016? I think we did. I'm not too sure. But there was always‑‑ I mean, there's going to be one excited one and two that think about what could have been, obviously, and luckily we're on the good end of that.
But certainly as an organization, these are the days that you hope for. Joe can kind of touch on that, but I know it's really big for everyone at the shop to have a Daytona 500 victory no matter who wins it because everyone has their fingerprints on every single race car. There are no team guys when we enter that race shop. It's a team victory, and we treat it that way.
Q. Denny, we talked about this at media day, but you got the first win here as a rookie. You've won two Daytona 500s. I think you're only of only two active drivers with multiple Daytona 500 victories at this point. Would you concede this is a place you feel pretty good at and this style of race, and could you talk about that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, there's something about Daytona that just fits whatever I do. My style or whatever. To have won, I think this is our ninth win at Daytona in different series and Clashes and things like that, it's just‑‑ I never would have dreamed winning nine times at Daytona. This is just one that‑‑ this one is extra special, but you know, I just think I've gotten smarter as I've gotten older about the things that I need to do.
Really it took past failures over the last few years of not winning the Daytona 500 and learning from those circumstances that put me in the situation tonight to put myself in the right situation to go out there and win. It's just years of experience helps with all that. But as far as the first win here as a rookie, that had to be complete luck. I have no other explanation.
Q. Coach or Denny, this is the hundredth Cup Series victory for Joe Gibbs Racing in a Toyota. How special is it for you to have 100 wins with one manufacturer coming into the sport's biggest race?
JOE GIBBS: It's really great for us. The relationship we have with Toyota, the partnership, the friends that have developed over our period of time with them, it's a special deal for us, special for them, and to realize, like I said, you've got a company like that that could be doing a million different things around the world, and for them to choose to be in our sport is just a huge deal, I think, for us, the sport. They're great partners for us, and the big thing is they want to win.
We've gone through this year quite a bit with J.D., Coy coming over now is a big part of him moving over, when J.D. got sick. So we've had a lot of change, and then we bring in Martin this year. There's been a lot going on.
But our people there I think at the race team, we've got a lot of people that have been there with us 20 years really, and a lot of those on the management team. Chris mentioned it; it's our people. You win with people, and we've certainly got great partners.
Q. Denny, it's my understanding your 2016 win car currently sits in your living room at home. Will this one be going back there next year when it comes out of the museum? And for Coach, are you going to let him have it?
DENNY HAMLIN: First of all, he already threatened to bill me for the car I wrecked in the Clash practice.
JOE GIBBS: That's a side story. Nobody was supposed to know that. (Laughter.) Honestly, I will tell you the absolute truth. I did get ticked off, okay‑‑
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I knew. The upper lip was trembling when you're talking to me.
JOE GIBBS: I go in there ‑‑ at some point, Coy and I were sitting in there, and I said, You're going to pay for that car, too. I gave him one of those. In the winner's circle there, I walked up to him and I said, Forget that on the car, I've got it covered. That's a true story.
DENNY HAMLIN: We've got to talk about this one for sure. This is a special car for sure. But I think this is probably a special car for his family, as well. I'd like to‑‑ if I don't have it, I definitely would like to see him keep it and do something with it.
JOE GIBBS: We're going to take care of this. We'll take care of that car.
Q. Chris and Denny, we saw three days of racing where it was a parade around the top of the track, and today for the beginning we had two lines, and they were both pretty competitive, and the bottom even seemed to be better as it got late enough in the night. Was Jim France's request part of that, or was it more of the heat of the day making the top not as advantageous as it had been?
CHRIS GABEHART: This is the Daytona 500. It's the sport's best 36 drivers out there, and racetrack is heated up 50 degrees. It's time to get after it. This one counts, and not only does it count, but it's the biggest one of the year, and anybody who thought they were going to line up and ride around the top for the Daytona 500 for 490 miles doesn't know the competitive nature of these guys.
I chuckled with my guys on the intercom five laps into the race when they're two wide and you can see the cars sliding around and getting runs. I'm like, oh, yeah, anybody who thought this thing was going to line up and be boring has got another thing coming. Needless to say, that was the case.
It's just a whole 'nother thing. The Daytona 500 with everybody out there trying to get after it, it's not going to be boring.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, Denny and Chris, congratulations, and thanks for joining us tonight.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports