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July 28, 2019
Long Pond, Pennsylvania
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by the crew chief of our race winning team, which was the No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota, driven by Denny Hamlin. Our crew chief is Chris Gabehart.
We'll open it up to questions for Chris.
Q. Could you have made it had that race gone green?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, I felt like we could. I felt like we were in a pretty good spot. There's never enough insurance in those situations obviously. That's why I pushed Denny as hard as I could to get under the 19 and 20.
I felt confident once we could gain control of the race, we could be as in control as anybody, whatever might come, a caution, green‑white‑checkered. Now we're the leader on the restarts, those kind of things.
I just let him go, get the lead. Then as soon as he got out front, I pulled the reins on him, started putting some in the bank.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by team owner Joe Gibbs.
We'll continue with questions.
Q. Chris, on TV it sounded like at one point at you were going into overtime Denny wasn't too happy when you were telling him to save. How do you keep maybe him calm in that situation? I'm sure a driver's instinct is to hit the gas, not to save fuel.
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, I think he's just so anxious, like any driver would be. One of the things I'm most thankful for is I've been in his seat, not at this level. He's sitting in a 120‑degree racecar for hours on end in this hot suit and helmet, in this little cocoon. He doesn't know what's going on. He has very limited information. He's just basically doing what he's told, kind of going off that.
It can be a lot of pressure because he doesn't see the big picture. That's where trust comes in. I think for better or worse, to win the race he had to trust me in that situation, so he didn't have a choice. I'm really so thankful for that trust that we've been able to build together. I think that's a big part of our success.
Q. Chris, do you make the call to run him like that if you don't have two wins in the bank? Do you keep him out there or play this race differently?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, man, that's a great question. I think Erik Jones' scenario is that spot, right? He's right there equally as capable of winning. They're in a tick worse fuel position than we are, not by much, but they don't have any wins. They're right there on the bubble. There's a lot more factors they have to consider. I think they did a great job of doing that.
In our case, I felt like we were close enough I just kept him on offense. Get the lead, we'll worry about the fuel situation later. Hey, if we don't make it, we don't make it. We were going for the win.
Yes, I think that's a very good observation and one that I'm glad we don't have to worry about.
Q. Correct me if I'm wrong, it seemed like you took your time, celebrated, took your time getting off the pit box. Is that normal for you? Were you taking a breath at that point?
CHRIS GABEHART: No, I mean, it sounds crazy, but I wasn't nervous. I felt like we had done our best to make all the best decisions we could make, me and my entire team. If it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out.
It wasn't relief. Honestly for me, it's about the win. I mean, it's about the win and watching my guys celebrate. That's what means the most to me. Me running down to Victory Lane or be the first guy here or there, do that, I don't really‑‑ I don't want to say I don't care about it, I love it, I want to do it every weekend. What's most important to me is watching my guys get to reap the rewards of their hard work.
So sitting there on top of that pit box watching Denny do the burnouts, those guys run out on the wall and celebrate, that's what it's about for me. I don't need any more than that.
Q. Coach, for a long time this seemed to be Chevrolet and Hendrick's kind of playground for a little bit. Toyota has won each of the last five races here, including Martin's win with Furniture Row. What is it about this track that you have dialed in on recently?
JOE GIBBS: I think our guys have done a great job. I always kind of look at how we run as a group compared to everybody else. We've been strong the last few weeks. I felt good about that.
Today when I went to the drivers, I always go to them before the race, I always ask them, How are we? All of them said about the same thing, We're pretty good. So I felt good about that.
That reflects back at everybody at the race shop. Our sport, there's so many people that don't get to be at the racetrack. We celebrate on Mondays. We put a banner up, get a chance for me to congratulate them.
But it's a huge deal for us. I kind of look at it as why you get on a run at a particular place, I'm not sure. I think our guys have a good feel for it. I think all of our drivers feel good here. Denny, Kyle and Martin have won here. Erik was close today. I thought it might be Erik's day. I feel good about that.
One thing I did want to say to everybody, J.D.'s name is over the door. When I think about it at this racetrack, every other racetrack, J.D. gave his entire 28‑year professional life to building our race team. I'm so thrilled he's on the door.
Denny had him give us a big hug from behind, which J.D. used to do all the time. I hope people out there will go to his website. We still have it. JDGibbsLegacy.com. We've had over three million people go to the website. I think it's special.
I just wanted to say that. Thanks to everybody.
Q. You look at how the group performed, finishing 1‑2‑3. Kyle ran well. Do you take any more pride seeing three of the four teams finishing up there today?
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I think I kind of look at it that way. Most of the time, like I said, we have our technical meetings on Monday. I kind of look at us as a group, how we match up against everybody else, all of our cars as a group. That's kind of how I measure ourselves.
I think right now we're in pretty good shape. But we know also we're getting ready for the Playoffs. That's a huge deal. Everything changes when you get there. Erik is in one situation, our other guys are in a different situation. We got that strategy going on, too.
Q. Joe, is there any part of you that feels kind of bad for Erik after today? Do you have any timeline yet on a decision on him for next year?
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, no, I want to say to everybody, it's so hard putting everything together. I know people get frustrated because you haven't made a decision yet on some things. But I just say this: there's sponsors involved, so many relationships involved, you're trying to get through all that and work it all out.
Yeah, I think honestly that's part of Erik's world. It doesn't go easy sometimes. He knows. I keep him updated, we do. He knows we're working as hard as we can. Hopefully it will be one of those things will get put in place here pretty quick.
Q. Did your car ever sputter, give you any indication, scare you a little bit the last six or eight laps?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I tried to keep the tank kind of full and saved as much as I could under caution, saved all I could under green. If it was going to be not enough, it was just not going to be enough. I was okay with the outcome one way or the other.
We did everything we could to win the race. We made the calls to win the race. It worked out for us. It was a good race for us. It was pretty smooth, nothing crazy happened. We had good restarts when we needed them. When we didn't have a great restart there at the end I was able to make back up that track position that I lost. It all kind of went to plan.
Q. Coach, you were talking about Erik. He gets frustrated without having a win. How do you feel they're approaching the Playoffs?
JOE GIBBS: I think for him right now, this is a huge day. They were the ones that you really worry about because our other guys were in. Erik was on that edge. Of course, running out of fuel would be a disaster for them.
But I think right now, the last three weeks I think show kind of where the team is. Chris Gale over there has done a great job. I think Erik can sense it. We all know with young guys, Denny has been there, drivers have been there, once they get it, it can be something special for them.
I think Erik is right on the verge. I know for everybody at that race team, Coy, myself, everybody there, we're all excited about Erik and his future, doing everything we can to kind of get everything in place to make sure we have him taken care of.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions for our race winner, Denny Hamlin.
Q. Did the PJ1 even factor into your win today?
DENNY HAMLIN: It did. That's how I got around those two guys on the outside. The 19 made the move to try to get around a lap car in turn three. I saw an opportunity to dive on the outside there. I was able to put my right side tires in it. Once I did, it had the grip and I was able to get beside him. That was key to then have the power position on the outside entering turn one.
Then with the 20, he was saving fuel. I could see he was saving fuel pretty early on entries. I wanted to kind of time a run off of turn three with him to where when he kind of checked up into turn one, I just dove to the outside, got up in the PJ1 and passed him on the outside there in turn one.
It definitely was a factor. We never would have had an outside lane or even close to an outside lane had it not been on the racetrack. I think most of the passes today were probably done on the outside.
It still can be refined and be better. I've worked with NASCAR and the track really hard on this particular racetrack, getting it in the right place. I think when we come back here next year for the doubleheader, we're going to make it even better.
I'm happy this track is opening up to changes. Certainly we had a better race than what we would have had without it.
Q. There's saving fuel, then saving fuel at Pocono. Has saving fuel ever been something you felt you were good at? How nerve‑wracking is it to do at a place like this?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think my style lends itself to saving fuel anyway. I think just the way that I get on and off the gas typically is better for fuel mileage. When you say we were right on it, I knew I was saving fuel the entire run except for the laps I was really trying to pass the 19 and the 20.
Once I got to the lead, I was doing everything I could, everything I learned over the years of saving fuel. I just knew if it wasn't enough, then we either didn't get it full enough or the way I'm doing it's just not good enough.
Yeah, I certainly was worried there at the end. I was less worried when the cautions came out, but I didn't want the cautions to come out because I had such a decent lead on the 19. I was kind of pacing myself off of him, nobody else was really coming. I was confident we were going to win the race without the cautions.
When we went into overtime, Chris said, Look, if it goes into overtime, we're going to have a discussion whether you have enough fuel or not. Luckily there wasn't another green‑white‑checkered. I don't think we would have made it if we did that.
Q. Do you feel after your third win of the year you guys are on par with anybody in the sport right now? Where do you compare yourself?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, certainly we are contenders most weeks. I mean, there's not a week that shows up I don't think we can win. I don't know how many teams really good say that, five or six maybe. But certainly I think we're versed in the sense we can win anywhere. I think our speed has showed it.
We earned this one today. I didn't just go out there and block from the lead. We had to go up there and pass for the lead with 10 laps to go. It was hard earned. Last week was going to be hard earned if we got that one done. Came up a little short.
We're putting ourselves in contention. We're doing a lot of the right things. Like I said last week, we haven't had the speed like this since probably 2012 when we won five races.
I think it's really, really clicking well right now.
Q. What sort of pressure is there now so that you don't squander your best championship effort in five or six years? How do you ensure you don't peak too early, find the next level for the final 10?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'll tell you, there's no such thing as peaking too early. If you're winning races, you're giving yourself a buffer in the Playoffs. I think any work we can put in now will just help us in the Playoffs if we do stub our toe and have a bad race.
It happens, bad races do happen in the Playoffs. It happens to even championship guys. You just have to make sure you have that cushion. That's a cushion I didn't have just a few years ago. 2014 we made it all the way to Homestead and we were leading with nine to go, we had an untimely caution. Kevin Harvick pits, we lose. It's just one of those things.
We put ourselves in contention. It just doesn't work out sometimes. I feel as long as we keep putting the effort in what we're doing, I have as good a shot as any. Wherever the cards fall, they fall. I'm not going to work any harder or any less than I am right now. I feel like I'm doing everything I can to be better.
Q. Did the addition of the PJ1 restore any of your secrets you used to win at Pocono from 2006 to 2010?
DENNY HAMLIN: Maybe a little bit. I thought the years we were really good here before the track repave, it was a multi‑lane racetrack. You could run different grooves in any corner, mostly in turn one. It had a little bit of that in turn one. You really had to be careful not to get too high or else it was really like ice because it had no heat in it. But the part of it that did have heat had really, really good grip.
Yeah, maybe I would say it's a little bit like it kind of used to be, but certainly we can make it better. I'm just happy that it did play a factor in today's race. It was used in the victory.
Q. Do you think if they moved the PJ1 compound down a lane, it would improve, make it to where more drivers actually wanted to use it during the race?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, you got to be careful, though. You don't want to move it too close to the bottom. That's what my first thought was when we were designing where we were going to put it, is that if you have it just one lane off the bottom, then everyone runs in it and nobody can run the bottom because the top cars are right on your door. You can't pass. It will be just a freight train around the outside.
You want to have the opportunity for someone, if they wanted to dive low, to take the shorter distance they could do that, but not be crowded by the person on the outside.
I think one full lane lower would be too much. Certainly my opinion was it needed about 15 feet or so, in the apex about 20 feet on entry, to be right on where it needed to be.
Q. To get back to Victory Lane, is this any more special knowing how meaningful this track has been to your career?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, five wins, I don't even know. It doesn't register really with me. Some of these racetracks I really got a lot of wins at. Probably because I've raced for so long, they're not all in bunches. It seems like they're really spread out through my career, which is a good thing.
Yeah, this track has been really, really good to me. It's where I got my first win. Obviously pretty special for that reason.
Q. How hard did you have to work for this win today?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, it was hard. The hardest part was when I was running third and had to get around my two teammates. Obviously I knew that was not going to be easy by any means. I just took the opportunities that were given to me. I was patient. Just had a fast enough car to make the moves when I needed to.
It's not like I was able just to get out front, have the right tire strategy or winning strategy, and that put me out front, I was able to coast to a win. I mean, it had to be earned. I had to race for the win, pass two cars, then hold everyone off on the restart, which was a task in itself.
I can take solace, this one was definitely hard earned.
Q. What have been the key differences for you from last year to this year?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, I certainly think I'm working hard to be a better driver. I mean, I know everyone works hard. Everybody works hard. But I think the relationship I have with my crew chief is really good. He sets out a plan for the weekend. He's the head coach. I'm the quarterback. It's my job to execute the plan that he sets forth for me. That's the way it's going to be.
Win or lose, he comes up with the plays, and I'm the one that needs to execute it. When he said, Okay, I need two positions on this restart, I got to go get two positions.
He's really done a good job of knowing what it takes to win in the Cup Series in his rookie season. I mean, he's going to be around for a very long time. I'm glad to be working with him. Obviously he's a short track guy from the roots, similar to what I'm from. All the crew chiefs really I've worked with have had that kind of DNA.
I just think the chemistry between him and the engineer and myself is really, really good right now. I'm still learning. I'm 38. I'm not 45. I feel like I'm still learning every single week how to be a little bit better.
That's why it's still kind of a veteran's sport because we have the old experience that we've learned for the first 10 years of our career, even though they've changed the cars, changed the rules, changed everything about it, we have that experience, but we're still learning and getting better as well.
Still an old man's sport.
Q. Sounded on TV when Chris told you as you were heading into overtime you might have to save a little bit, sounded like you were frustrated. Talk about what that's like hearing that as a driver. The instinct for a driver is not to save, but to go.
DENNY HAMLIN: We only had to run really two and a half green flag laps in the last seven official laps. If anything, it made our fuel mileage better. But I knew if we had one more green‑white‑checkered, we were probably going to be in trouble. It was going to be me and everybody behind me was going to be in big, big trouble.
I knew that I had everything I could to save. I knew the pace was a little bit slower for the leaders, especially when I took the lead there, I started backing off. We should have been okay.
I don't know, maybe we had enough for another green‑white‑checkered. Certainly I didn't want it to end on fuel mileage. I wanted for this race to end the way it naturally would have.
I knew we had probably‑‑ we definitely had a top‑three car, the 4 and the 18 were obviously really good, but we were a little better I thought than the 4 in the long run.
I just didn't want to lose it this way. I wanted to execute, especially after passing for the lead there late, something we weren't able to get done last week, so...
Q. The fuel window here seemed to expand a lot more today than years past. Did that have anything to do with less power in the engines?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, with the 550 horsepower, it definitely does. Also there's more drafting, so there's more opportunity for you to save fuel.
I mean, there's more drag in the cars, but I think the reduced horsepower equals more fuel than what the drag adds. Yeah, the fuel mileage was stretched a little bit from years past.
THE MODERATOR: Denny, congratulations.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports