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August 17, 2019
THE MODERATOR: We will go ahead and start with our post race media availability. We are joined by the race‑winning crew chief and race‑winning car tonight of the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. We have team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Chris Gabehart.
We'll open the floor for questions.
Q. Before the race, y'all were rolling off pit road, Denny had a lot of smoke coming off the exhaust. Was that concern? Did you notice that at all?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, that's actually pretty standard for our engine packages, crazy as that sounds. Yeah, no concern.
Q. Chris, I know it's been preached in this hour since the checkered, Denny even said it in his interview, from your standpoint, was it tough at all to keep him patient and keep preaching that, even when he had the loose wheel, you still had more than half the race to go, to get back up and be in contention?
CHRIS GABEHART: No, not tough. That's how it works, right? I mean, coach's terminology, that's the middle of the second quarter. Still a long way to go. It's a 500‑lap race, not a 200‑lap race. We've seen too many times cars come up with issues here, rebound to have good finishes or even win.
While pitting under green and losing two laps and winning is probably not something you see very often at this place, there's just no quit in this 11 team. We're too good a team with too much firepower.
I've been saying it all year long. Denny is hitting on all eight right now. When I have him like that, it doesn't matter if it's got four wheels on it, they're rolling, we're going to come after it.
Q. Coach, in one Denny's post race interviews, he talked about how much he's grown this year. He specifically said he's grown off the track, he's a better person. Do you see that? What does he mean by that?
JOE GIBBS: I do see that. I think Denny's maturing, everything going on with him. He did mention off the track. I know he's made a real effort in a lot of ways. So I think he is maturing as a person and certainly as a racecar driver.
I think Chris deserves a lot of credit. I think he's really got Denny grounded. I think when you get a lot of confidence going with the crew chief, it makes a huge difference. I think tonight is a good example. Everything in the world happened. For them to still win the race, I think it was a great effort.
For me personally, it's a huge deal for me when I see J.D. over the door in the winner's circle. Seeing Denny have this kind of year, it just makes me realize how much we miss him and how much he means to our race team, what he means to Denny, too.
Q. Chris, what did you do to ground him?
CHRIS GABEHART: I don't know. Every great sports team is always about chemistry, in my opinion. The ones and zeroes are important, the X's, O's, whatever you want to call it. In the end it comes down to chemistry. Chemistry is a very fragile thing. It's something you can gain quickly and lose just as quickly.
Really it comes down to trust and faith in one another, faith in this group. I think trust is earned, it's not something that's given. I think fortunately we got off on a good foot, Denny and I, this race team. Over time he's just realized that if he stays in the game, we're going to have a shot at it.
The last six or seven races, eight really, we've just had pretty clean races. This one wasn't clean tonight. I call clean races green races, in my stat sheet. There was a while where we didn't have very many green ones, but we were running really well. We ran well all year. It really comes down to getting the green races. We've had a lot of them lately and the results speak for themselves.
Q. Chris, I think at one point you said something to the effect of play it where it lands. Knowing he's a golfing guy, did you know that would put him as ease?
CHRIS GABEHART: It's a saying I've used a lot. That's what you have to do, right? Not every golf shot is great shot. But what you have to do is focus on the task at hand. We'll land where we land. How do we execute the best from here?
That's my job, right? I know he sits in a little cocoon there, driving his butt off, especially at a place like this. It's hot. It's easy to struggle and say, Man, the uphill climb is too tough, focus on just what happened.
That's not important. What's important is here is our situation, what is next. Clearly he's doing a great job of understanding that.
Q. You mentioned chemistry. In post race, Denny talked about the mettle that your team is showing, is championship worthy. Three races to go in the regular season, do you feel you've gelled and gotten to this point or do you feel like this team always had it in it from the start?
CHRIS GABEHART: I just want to win every week. That's all we want to do is win every week. This team's got it. Like I said, we went through an eight‑race stretch there where I had no clean races. We were fast as can be at the 600 in Charlotte, have right front tire issues, we're getting in a fence on restarts. There was a time I was sending my A‑Team over the wall literally every week to fix the car for four or five weeks straight. But it wasn't because we weren't running well. It's just situations. You're going to go through slumps. It's how you pull out of those.
Championships, yeah, sure, great. But I want to win Darlington, then Indy, then I want to win Vegas. That's how we go about it.
Q. Coach, you talked about earlier how much Denny has grown as a driver and person. 2010 we saw him crumble a little bit under the pressure of that championship chase. Seeing how he's changed over the past decade, do you feel he's ready to win a championship?
JOE GIBBS: I think there's a certain part of pro sports that the discipline, long haul, experience means a lot. I think Denny has paid his price. I think he really wants it.
I will say this. For FedEx, it would be so great. I talked to Fred Smith, to see a company like that, one of the premier companies in America, for them to be a part of our sport like that for so long, and they take the whole car, they're there every single week. Tonight we probably had 25 FedEx executives here. Just a huge deal. Man, I know how much it would mean to them. It would mean a lot to us as a race team to see them get a championship.
I think Denny certainly paid the price. I think he's certainly going to be one of the ones that's capable of getting it done. I'd say the other thing about pro sports is that there's nothing builds confidence like success, winning. I've seen that.
I think Chris and Denny, the further they go, the more races they have where they overcome something, make a big decision, race their rear‑end off, have a chance to win it, I think it builds a lot of confidence in all of us. Everybody back at the race shop, everybody there for sure.
Q. Coach, Christopher Bell, what kind of plans do you have for him for next season since he's under contract?
JOE GIBBS: I wish that things like this would go quicker. The only thing I say is, as quick as we can we would like to announce something. The problem is there's so many things that are involved with it. There's sponsors, so many things that have to get done.
We're not there yet, but I'm hoping we're going to be there pretty quick.
Q. Ditto with Erik Jones?
JOE GIBBS: Yes.
Q. Do you expect Rheem to go with Bell when he makes his move, whatever that is?
JOE GIBBS: I think everything is still in the works. We're after it as hard as we can.
DENNY HAMLIN: He just won the race. Leave him alone (laughter).
JOE GIBBS: Basically I'm not answering that question (laughter). The only thing I got from football was how to not answer a question because you get quite a few you don't want to answer.
I'm serious. I wish we could just come out and say, but it takes a long time to get it done, so...
Q. Gabehart, after the race I believe you said it takes a village, you're glad to be part of this one. Do you approach this team with more of a global view than you would a normal job?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, I got to tell you, for me it's been such a humbling experience working up the ladder. I mean, it was less than 10 years ago I was a late model guy. I built my shocks and mounted the tires myself. I drove a little bit. Then crew chiefing cars is very similar thing.
Now I'm literally a part of a 500‑plus‑person company. Standing at the back of the truck at the Daytona 500, talking to my guys when we loaded everything up, telling them how appreciative I was of everything they did, how humbling it was for me.
It really does take a village. I mean, yes, it takes my vision and Denny's vision and coach's vision. Without all the people that it takes to get it done, it's just that, it's a vision. You can't carry it out.
Really truly understanding that and embracing that, enjoying watching the fruits of my team's labor end in success is really what it's all about for me. I don't get in a hurry to go to Victory Lane because for me it's just about watching those guys succeed. It's been great.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race‑winning driver, Denny Hamlin, driver of the No.11 FedEx Freight Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Questions for Denny.
Q. Coming into tonight, you only had one Bristol win. Does it mean more to you to have multiple wins at every short track?
DENNY HAMLIN: I didn't know that. This race is special just in general. I mean, you see how many people were in the stands today and tonight. I just saw the atmosphere. Really when I got here on Friday, it was electric. You could just tell this weekend is big.
I definitely got at least two or three texts from my crew chief saying, This one's really important to me, just so you know. He encouraged me not to take one lap off. I have a week off ahead of me, I can rest then (smiling). He was whipping the horse for the entire week. So I definitely can say I did not take a lap off tonight.
It was great to be able to come back obviously from two laps down, obviously you have multiple wins at every short track. Used to be I would say early in my career, it was like I just can't wait to get to the short tracks. Now I just can't wait to get to a racetrack in general. Doesn't matter if it's a road course or short track or superspeedway, anywhere. We can win every single week. Really for the last two months it's just been incredible that the adjustments we've made as the season has gone on, just keep getting better.
Q. Denny, what is it like to win a race when maybe only the people wearing 11 shirts were probably happy?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I know. I get it. I understand. There's some special circumstances there, for sure. It is a tough business at times.
But Matt is doing a phenomenal job of showing his résumé in front of everyone. So he doesn't need to type it out. He's going out there and performing. He will land as good or better on his feet, I am certain of it, after this year.
I'm really encouraged. I know two years ago when he came out with a video, said they didn't have any funding, my first response was, Here is five thousand of my money. I believe in his talent. I believe he should be on the racetrack. That started a firestorm of tweets that led to them getting‑‑ someone saw my tweet, this poker company, they sponsored him for six races full‑time, full sponsor.
There's a lot of people that believe in Matt. Yes, he's been clawing and clawing these last few years. But you would also argue and say that he's gotten better and he's gotten better rides year after year. I would hope that trend would continue next year.
Q. Coach, you might need to tap around this one. Is Wheeler still under contract with you guys? Do you know what you'll do with him?
JOE GIBBS: I would say he's under contract for sure long‑term. We all love Wheels. He's been a very key part to our organization. Then when he moved over to the 95, he's just done an outstanding job over there. Everything I think shows that. Yeah, he's under long‑term contract.
I want to say to Denny, Coy, myself, our family appreciates everything he's done for J.D. I just want to say that to him.
Q. Denny, what did you tell Matt in Victory Lane?
DENNY HAMLIN: Some of that I want to keep private. It was kind of between us. I just kind of reiterated kind of what I said in the interviews. Over a teammate, there's not someone worse that I wanted to see in the front. When I was marching through the field, I'm like hoping someone passed him so I didn't take the win away.
But he was fast, he was marching there at the end. I knew I was going to get him. I just was thinking about it the whole time. There's a lot of people at home, a lot of people in the stands that don't want to see this happen, but it's going to happen.
It stinks. Like I say, I've been doing this now for 14 years. I haven't won a championship. To win a championship, you must win in the regular season unless you think you're going to win the final three races in the second to last stage.
I'm going to be in a better position this year than I've ever been as far as Playoff points are concerned. Just comes from a lot of hard work. We've really worked hard to get in this position. Hopefully we get through the Playoffs without any attrition and bad luck happening.
I think on performance, we're in a very, very good place right now.
Q. As you alluded to with a couple years ago helping Matt out, what is it about Matt? Why are you friendly with him? Why do you have any feelings in that sense? There were other drivers that came up to him. I don't know if it were some other drivers there would be as many people that would be as happy or care.
DENNY HAMLIN: I would say that me and Matt aren't close in the sense we don't hang out outside the racetrack. I have an immense amount of respect for him.
When I was in my very final race in late models, my racing career was over in 2002 because of finances, I was driving for my family's late model team, and there was a car owner named Jim Dean that was standing five or six people in line behind me in the sign‑in line. Someone asked me if I was going to be in the final race at Myrtle Beach. My parents said no, this is it. We're about to lose everything, so this is it. I'm just going to work at my dad's trailer shop. That's my future. That's what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. I was content with it. I really was.
But he came up to me and says, Hey, I overheard you say you're not going to be able to go to the final event.
I said, Yeah, we just don't have the money.
He said, If you don't know, I own these two cars. If you don't go into the final race and we win, I don't feel like we beat the best. Call me on Tuesday, let me know how much money you need to go to the race.
I called him on Tuesday. Oddly enough him and his driver had a falling out on Monday, one of his drivers. He said, Hop in my seat. I qualified on the pole, led 225 of the 250 laps, I got passed, finished second.
Anyway, he said, Tell your family to go ahead and sell everything, you're going to drive for me next year.
I thought about that when I saw Matt's video that the team didn't have the finances. I knew we could give him five hundred thousand. The team, he was fighting an uphill battle, he wasn't going to go out there and win. I just thought to pay it forward. Someone gave me that opportunity, kept my career going. Like I said, it led to a six‑ or seven‑race sponsor for him later that season.
Yeah, just trying to pay it forward. I think a lot of people have a lot of respect for him. He's humble. This is not a story of he's just going to go away. This is only the beginning for him. He's writing his résumé on TV every weekend.
Q. I understand hopefully this is just the beginning, a good story. Given the reality of people needing to bring money these days, what if it's not? What if he doesn't get something else? What does it say about the sport where there's not a certainty because it should be, right? There's a question.
DENNY HAMLIN: It says a lot. But ultimately the car owners make the decision. There's many car owners that finance cars that are on the racetrack, good teams. They got to step up and grow some balls and take a chance on somebody they really believe in. That or they can continue to run 15th.
Q. In your NBC Sports interview, you said this year you've had the most growth, particularly mentioned off track, you think you're a better person. What do you mean? What's changed, what's different?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I don't know. I mean, I probably shouldn't say anything on TV. I'm not going to get too much into the personal stuff.
I just think eventually you get older. I got a couple kids now. Seeing them grow up. Just doing a lot of growth on and off the racetrack.
As I've focused on being a better person outside the racecar, it is directly‑‑ whether it be coincidence or not, it's directly linked to my on‑track performance. I think some of it is coincidence because we are going back to these races for a second time. Our finishes on these three tracks we've raced twice is first, first, second. That's the crew chief. That's not me. That's him doing a good job of adjusting to my needs.
But he's doing a good job of keeping me honest, keeping me focused. For me personally, I've just had a lot more time to reflect on what I want to do, what I want to be, being content with kind of who I am personally.
I think social media at times can be such a bad thing because they love you when you're winning and you're terrible when you're losing. I mean, I wish we could go back and look at my timeline at this time last year. I was terrible. That's what everyone else thought.
It's a place for people to drag you down and try to compare you to people that they think are great. I've really tried to limit how much I kind of watch on social media because I think it is definitely a bad comparison platform. But ultimately I do still enjoy it because you still can connect to those that are positive.
Yeah, I don't know. 2019 overall is a big turning point in life and career. Hopefully it all ends up well from this point forward.
Q. Matt was talking about his relationship with you, how he's watched you as he was a kid. You're not that much older than him. Does that make you feel older at all?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I don't know. Feel like Matt Kenseth right now (laughter). Yeah, I mean, a little bit. I mean, I'm taking aback by it. He's great in his own right.
I think I have some respect for my competitors, but for someone to openly say something like that, I didn't know he said anything. Yeah, I mean, I'm blushing.
Q. He's six years younger than you.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, he hasn't been in the sport 14 years either, so...
Q. Do you think if you hadn't had that winless season last year, would you be appreciating this success as much?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, definitely not. For sure, I mean, I think it's interesting. Most of the what I consider great drivers have bad years. Man, when you experience it yourself, it really stinks.
Like I said about the social media stuff, at least I didn't have to read it back then. It was in the newspaper. If you wanted to see it, had you to pick it up. But today it's the click of a button.
You get reminded constantly of where you stand in life's stature as far as other people are concerned. Certainly I am more grateful now. I mean, I did have doubts at times. Man, what in the world is going on? What am I doing wrong that is keeping these cars from running faster?
I think sometimes just relationships click. I think Chris is super hungry. He keeps me on my toes, for sure. I think that relationship has just sparked. I think it's something, almost like you saw with Kyle and Adam Stevens. Kyle had good years, then he had really bad years, then he linked up with Adam Stevens and it took off.
I think it's very similar to the relationship now that I've got with Chris.
Q. Was that the strangest win from the pole you ever had?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. Well, I don't know. My first one in Pocono we blew a tire. I qualified on the pole, blew a tire, went to the back, passed everyone and won the race. This one was certainly gratifying because you like making a charge at the end to win the race.
It's one thing to go out there, pull away, win by five seconds, but I think I restarted ninth on the final restart. To come from the inside line, pass all those guys, march to the front, pass someone with close to 10 to go, that makes me feel pretty good.
Q. You've pieced together six consecutive top‑five finishes. Now you're heading to Darlington. You're heading to Darlington where your average finish is about sixth. How does that momentum really set you up for Darlington and the Playoffs coming up?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I'm not looking to it right now. I'm thinking about what I'm going to do in the off week.
I don't know. I'm on Cloud9 right now. Everything is just going really well. I don't know. Everything is going well. I'm going to statistically an average finish like you talked about my best racetrack. I don't know. What else can go right? When everyone else is thinking what can go wrong, I'm thinking what can go right right now.
Q. Matt mentioned Mike Wheeler, how he would have devastated if he won't get to work with him next year. What is it about Mike that his contributions to a race team make him special more than other crew chiefs?
DENNY HAMLIN: What makes him really good is he's an engineer that works really well with simulation. I think that's his strong suit, is he's really good with working with the engineers on setups. He essentially worked in an engineering spot for such a long time in the Cup Series.
Like I said, he was with me in the Mike Ford days, the Darian Grubb days. He was around the whole time. He's been in the Cup Series for a very long time. He knows what he's doing. He definitely deserves and should be crew chiefing next year in a prime car, for sure.
Q. You're a huge golfer. You know guys that play on the TOUR. Most of them travel with sports psychologists constantly. Have you worked with anybody like that since the days when, I hate to say this, you're sitting at Phoenix completely devastated during the Mike Ford era where the championship was yours to lose? Has there been anything where you've worked on yourself between that point in your career and where you are right now?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I think 2011 was the last time I kind of talked with someone in that field. Like I say, more so than anything I've just grown up. I mean, I've really seen the sport, seen it evolve over the last 14 years. I see my kids grow up.
I don't know, eventually you got to grow up and see the bigger picture. I think for me, a lot of soul searching, things like that, to figure out what makes me happy and being content with kind of who I am, the successes and the failures. Everyone is imperfect. You got to embrace it.
I just think, yeah, those people are helpful, there's no doubt about it. When I met with them in 2011, I bounced back and had a five‑win season in 2012. They are useful, Bob Rotella is who I talked to, he was primarily a golf guy.
It doesn't matter what sport, they don't have to know anything about racing to kind of teach you about confidence, getting you back on track.
Q. Coach was in here earlier and talk about how you've grown up as a person and a driver. From where you were nine years ago during that battle with Johnson to where you are now, do you feel like you're more ready now to go after that championship than you were the first time?
DENNY HAMLIN: Oh, certainly. I mean, I've learned so much in the last nine years. The whole Phoenix debacle, I think I would be better suited, if I had adversity the week before, whatnot, I mean, yeah, essentially if we don't miscalculate fuel mileage and run out of fuel or something like that at Phoenix, we just got to start our engines. There is no pressure at Homestead. That race turned on its head pretty quickly for us.
I just, man, never got over it. I just never forgave myself or anyone for not stomping on their throat when we had the chance to. That was tough.
At Homestead, second‑guessing myself, I remember in qualifying I watched someone run the high line. Never run the high line in the entire practice. I saw someone run fast up high. I've got to do that. I go up there, I qualify, like, 30th. It was terrible.
That was immaturity, letting the moment kind of get the best of you, not understanding if you just do yourself and you focus on what you can do good, you're going to have better results.
Certainly I would like that opportunity back. The closest we've had to it is 2014, where we're leading the race, nine laps to go at Homestead, the final four, somebody five laps down wrecks. Kevin Harvick came in, took tires, passed us. That was his championship.
A lot of people have won at my expense. I'm going to cash in if I get that opportunity again.
THE MODERATOR: Denny, congratulations. Enjoy your off week. We'll see you at Darlington.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports