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November 10, 2019

Chris Gabehart

Joe Gibbs

Avondale, Arizona

THE MODERATOR: We're joined now by our race‑winning owner and crew chief, Coach Joe Gibbs and Chris Gabehart.
Before we go to questions, I do want to mention that Toyota did clinch the manufacturer's championship in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series today.
Coach, you've been around clutch performers your entire career. How would you rate Denny and the 11 team's performance today?
JOE GIBBS: I think Chris and Denny, we went 37 weekends. You race short track, road racing, intermediates, all the things you got to do. Then it comes down to coming to a place like Phoenix and say that you have to win. That is so hard in our sport.
You're racing the best people in the world, so I couldn't be happier for Coy, myself, J.D. I called Melissa, J.D.'s wife, and Pat, my wife, and said, J.D. is going to get to go to Homestead; he's going to be on that car. I really think he's been a part of this whole year for us and the 11 team.
I was emotional today and still am. I can't thank everybody enough. It's a thrill for me to be a part of this. It was just an awesome day for us.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to media.

Q. Chris, you called in Denny I think at the last caution to get two new tires. In case the caution had not come up, could he in principle have carried on with the existing tires?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, no, we had no issue. I was definitely not wanting to see that last caution. I would have been great with a nice, boring, walk‑off home run. It did not turn out that way. Forced to make a really tough decision.
Again, I've done it several times now. Going to have to come up with a different play. Winners want the ball, and Denny Hamlin is a winner. So I'm going to give him front row restart and let him get it done, and he did it again.

Q. Mr. Gibbs, will you sit down with the drivers next weekend and discuss driver discipline?
JOE GIBBS: Basically what's going to happen is we work together. What I love about our sport is we work together at the race shop, try to prepare things, solve problems. When we get to the racetrack, it will be three cars going for it.
When you think about this, three drivers want a championship. Their sponsors mean so much to us, each one of them, and it's a separate story, each one of those.
I think it will be an all‑out effort. You have Harvick in the middle of it. I think it will be a great weekend. I do love that aspect of our sport, which is totally different. When I was in football, it's one team; you're trying to win with one team. This is four teams. Then when you get to the racetrack, it's four teams competing against each other. I love that aspect of it. I'm thrilled to be a part of it.

Q. How do you see this week going? Will it totally be business as usual? Will you treat information sharing, everything, all the same? Do you think the drivers will have any tension? How will you manage that?
JOE GIBBS: Obviously this is the first time something like this has happened.
I would say there will be some separation this week. Guys will be making preparations. The crew chiefs in particular, we all meet, and we'll meet tomorrow. But I would say that will be different.
But I think our preparation and everything, there will be some division this week. I would say at the racetrack obviously it's going to be, you know, our three teams going for it as hard as they can, each one of them.
I think if you think about that, the drivers, how important that is. Denny obviously has not won a championship. You can imagine how hard he's going to go for it. Chris is running the show there, has done a fantastic job this year with him. So you can imagine Denny's situation.
Then you got Kyle would love to have it, is going to go after it as hard as he can. Him today, to be able to finish second, have all the pressure during the race with Joey and everything, and then Martin.
It's a thrill for us to be a part of this. This is going to be kind of a wild week. I think it will be an unbelievable race. I think our fans will enjoy it. I think you got four heavyweights in there. Everybody has a reason to want to win it.
Like I said, I just hope everybody will go to J.D.'s website, jdgibbslegacy.com. It's been a thrill for us this year and our family.
CHRIS GABEHART: I'll be brief: we won't change a thing. 35 point races that got us to this point. I keep saying it's process and procedure that got us here. I would be a fool to change anything. We will change nothing.

Q. Chris, when Elliott wrecked, did that change any kind of game plan or mentality? Obviously it was a battle between Kyle Busch and Logano, but it was also a battle between you and Elliott. Did that change anything at all?
CHRIS GABEHART: No, other than Chase Elliott and that race team are such fierce competitors, you've always got to keep an eye on them. Doesn't matter the scenario.
Honestly, I knew pretty early on, certainly after the first adjustment, that we had a car capable of winning the race. Then it's just a matter of executing. You hone right in on your scenario, your game plan, what it's going to take to get it done, execute whatever play you got to come up with next.
Those are great days. I mean, those are the days you want to have, when you kind of control your own destiny. I knew pretty early on there we were going to be as in control of it as possible. Fortunately it all worked out.

Q. Chris, Denny has had two different mindsets going on this week. He said the it's‑not‑over thing, and he also has had, well, you know, Mark Martin, if we don't make it, I'm not going to be disappointed. I understand that you did not like that comment from Denny. Can you talk us through that.
CHRIS GABEHART: How do you understand that?

Q. Because Marty said it live in the race.
CHRIS GABEHART: Oh, okay. National TV, gotcha (laughter). Thanks, Marty. Appreciate that.
I guess I'm rookie to all this; I have to say 'off the record' in the future.

Q. But I would like this on the record. What do you think of Denny's two different kind of visions for this week?
CHRIS GABEHART: I think Denny is pure class. Him recognizing Mark Martin and Mark Martin's success in this sport, how he would be completely content with his career in a similar situation, that's the answer I would expect from him. He is a champion. Regardless of whether we go win next week, he showed everybody why today.
But that's not my job. My job is to be leader of this race team. Every one of my players needs different motivation. From me Denny gets constant pushing (smiling). I don't expect him to share what was said between the two of us. I told him a week from now, we're going to put that to rest. If we tonight, it doesn't matter. Again, he proved what a champion he is this weekend. Next week is a free roll for us. It's going to be a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it.

Q. Joe, the final restart you have the leader on two tires, you have a team car in third on four tires, ends up finishing second, and if he finishes ahead of the 11, the 11 is out. How did that feel?
JOE GIBBS: Believe me, that was a serious heartache.
CHRIS GABEHART: You were questioning me quite a bit, weren't you (laughter)?
JOE GIBBS: I went to my knees on that one because I knew exactly. I saw all of a sudden that Chris took two. Then Kyle is sitting there with four. I said, This could be a mess.
As a matter of fact, early in the race you probably heard Denny go to Chris, I apologize for my restarts or something like, that I just haven't been able to get it done.
Anything could have happened. If you think back to Homestead in the past, it has happened to us. I was afraid that would play out. So that went through my mind. I don't think I'll ever forget that, Carl and everything that happened at Homestead that time.
That's the reason why our sport is so hard. To go through this the current way we have it set up, these little three‑race Playoffs, you really have to go through a lot to get here. I think everybody right now is kind of exhausted.
But we'll go home, rest up and get after it.

Q. Do you worry for the 11 at that point?
JOE GIBBS: Well, had the 18, if he had won that, obviously that would have been great for Kyle, but it wouldn't have been as good for the race team. I think Kyle went after that as hard as he could. I think he got out of the car and said, I had four. I think he was upset with everything that happened.
If he would just say it worked out the best for the race team, yes.

Q. So you're saying there were no team orders?
JOE GIBBS: Believe me, it wouldn't do any good if I had team orders with this crew (laughter). If you tell these guys at the end to win a race or don't, Back off! I don't think that's going to work. You've seen us in the past run over each other. I think we got a history there, pretty good history.
No, like I said, each one of those guys has their own career, they got their own sponsor. It means so much to them and everybody that pulls for them. They got the crew chiefs and the teams. That's the only way to go after it in this sport. I think our guys do that.

Q. Chris, did you get a pit in your stomach when you saw Blaney take two?
CHRIS GABEHART: No. That sealed it for me. We had enough of a lead coming down pit road that I was afforded‑‑ and where we were on pit road, I was afforded the luxury of paying attention to what six people were going to decide to do, to try to in those milliseconds determine what the starting lineup was going to be based on my choice.
I told my guys right up til the last second that I could change it from right sides, and I wish it didn't happen the way it did.
What you caught was a live version of second‑guessing yourself when I came on the radio and said, Four, and then said, Go. That's big‑time sports. Man, this is not easy. These decisions are hard.
What happened there was I knew Kyle was taking four in my ear. I knew the 19 was taking four. I thought the 12 was taking four. I'm watching him. I couldn't see very well. All of a sudden they're taking off. That's why I called four. And then they're taking off, like, Oh, no, never mind, not four, two, you're good.
It was hair‑raising, for sure. Man, that's why we love it, right? It's a lot more fun when it works out. But if it worked out all the time, it wouldn't be special. It doesn't work out sometimes, and I love that just as much because it makes these moments even more sweet.
JOE GIBBS: For me, right there what happened, that reminds me so much of being on the sidelines. I've done that a hundred times, what Chris went through. It is awful to be there in the eye of the hurricane and have to make a call like that (laughter).

Q. Chris, the Gatorade bath, was your laptop in your backpack? And are your Miami notes uploaded to the Cloud?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, I told those guys, I said, That was real wise. You know, I need this computer for one more week. That got a good chuckle out of them.
I'm sure it will be fine. Heck, I don't do anything anyway. I got a bunch of guys underneath of me that get it done. I just kind of point, they march, and I'm super proud of them for that. It's going to be fun.

Q. Chris, shouldn't four tires beat two tires in that situation, or was Denny that much better?
CHRIS GABEHART: Well, I think over the previous two runs, we had proven we had a really good car. So there's that. Denny is extremely motivated. Then there's the nuance of understanding certain racetracks, tire combinations, how the tracks wear, how the pace falloff degrades. That's a lot of insider baseball, that's my job.
You train yourself for all that heading into the week. You know what those racetracks are. You try to let your instinct make those calls because if you let your emotion make it, it's going to be wrong. You try to train your instincts throughout the week.
I truly believed we needed to have a front row restart there with only three to go to have a shot. We called the play, and again we don't do this on the fly. It's either this, this or this. But the decisions are already made. It's just a matter of which one we're going to point to, and we pointed to that one.
Then the ball is in Denny's hands. It's time to execute. Again, winners like the ball, and Denny got it done.

Q. I think you could say the four best teams are in the final four. What has made these four teams better than the rest?
CHRIS GABEHART: It's humbling just to be a part of the four, to be honest with you. I think the other three, it's very clear. Rodney and Kevin, Adam and Kyle, and Martin and Cole have consistently for years now proven why they are the best.
Myself, I'm just a newcomer. Was tasked with a job from Coach and everybody at FedEx and Toyota, Denny. Just so thankful that they believed in me and gave me the reins to get it done.
At any point in time this year with the position that Denny was in, it would have been very easy for him to keep his thumb on me and make sure this rookie doesn't get out of line, Hey, are you thinking about this, do you realize that?
I never got any of that out of Denny, not one time. I think that shows you what a professional he is. He understands that my job is to lead. If he second guesses me, that's only going to be bad. It creates doubt, uncertainty.
He gave me the leash I needed to get going. Quickly we all marched in the right direction. I'm just glad that, yes, I feel like we've proven ourselves to be one of the four best race teams this year. For me, Homestead is one race. There's 40 racecars on the racetrack that have a million parts on them that could fail at any time.
For us winning the championship was making it to Homestead. That was the goal. I know Denny will tell you the same. So for us, honestly Homestead is a free roll. We are looking forward to going out there and racing, letting the best man win. Whatever happens happens.

Q. I know we asked you two this at Bristol. Same question: what is it about Denny over this season that is different from other seasons? You talk about maturation of a 38‑year‑old man, soon to be 39, but this is a different Denny than we've witnessed probably throughout the course of his career.
JOE GIBBS: I think for sure if you think about last year, you know, really Denny doesn't win a race. That's why when we got to Homestead, Chris coming onboard I think was huge. But I also think there were other things that happened there, J.D. and everything that happened with that.
I think it was an emotional thing for everybody, our family, our race team, everybody. I really feel like that was a huge part of it. Appreciate Chris and his leadership. I think Denny just made up his mind that he was going to go and change things this year.
If you think about that, how hard that is to do when you don't win a race the year before.

Q. (No microphone.)
JOE GIBBS: I think probably that. I do think there was a lot of emotion. I think J.D. did find Denny. I think everything that took place up to that race, nobody can deny. I don't think that was by happenstance.

Q. Joe, thinking ahead a year and putting your team owner's cap on, you've made many references in your comments about the sponsors and the drivers each have their own responsibility to their individual sponsors. From both a competition standpoint and as a venue for your corporate CEOs and marketing officers and so forth, to come and be involved in NASCAR, what are your comments on Phoenix?
JOE GIBBS: One thing I said to Jim France when we were standing out there in the winner's circle, what's been done here, this racetrack, I think is phenomenal. We had a great crowd today, packed. I went up and did hospitality in those suites, and those suites are awesome. I got to tell you.
This is a huge deal for our racing series. As you guys know, NASCAR has made some huge efforts with Jim leading the way to really do and work on a lot of the racetracks, improve things. I think it's huge for our fans. I think they showed up today. I think it was a great venue.
I did six hospitalities today. Six of our biggest and best sponsors were all here. That's a huge deal for us. I'm bullish about our sport. I mean, we've got some of the biggest and best sponsors on our cars. We've had five of our biggest re‑up with us over the last 18 months.
I think they don't do that unless they see value. We got social and digital. You guys are a big part of that. We have 38 weekends, a huge number of weeks where we have content in social and digital. Our B‑to‑B is really growing. Each and every week we have one whole group of our staff that deals with nothing but B‑to‑B.
I am bullish on our sport. I appreciate our sponsors. Toyota, you can imagine when you get companies like that in our sport, what that means to us. We're thrilled to have our partners that we have.
I'm excited about our future.

Q. Coach, I saw Ty was watching the end of that race at the 11 pit box. What do you think of his performance last night?
JOE GIBBS: I was thrilled for Ty last night. We didn't pass inspections, so he had to start in the back of the field, and when he got up there about halfway I was really proud of him. Had about four restarts at the end. We're thrilled with Ty. I got seven grandboys and one grandgirl. She's horses. I found out that's expensive (smiling). But the boys are all in stick‑and‑ball. That's much more reasonable.
Ty, from the time he was two, wanted to race. We're thrilled to see him get an opportunity. That's going to be fun.

Q. Chris, I wanted to ask you about Chris Lambert, the relationship between him and Denny. The spotter is a key person because they're in the driver's ear. You came and changed the culture, certainly had your impact on things. What were some of the things you tried to work with Chris? How has he been a factor in kind of the molding of Denny? Obviously if you don't have the spotter onboard, everything becomes a little bit more challenging.
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, that's a good question.
Chris has been a real sounding board for me, more so in the beginning. You have to remember, I was an engineer on the team for Denny in 2015, so I have worked with Chris for a year, worked with him for a year on Brandon Jones' side, with Erik Jones. I've actually worked with Chris a lot.
As I'm finding my way in this race team and learning how to build this relationship with Denny, Chris was an integral part in helping me understand what would motivate Denny, what wouldn't, how to address him, how to lay the foundation as I go.
In return, I think what Chris would tell you is having driven myself never at this level, I'm able to articulate and provide feedback to Chris like maybe he hasn't gotten in a long time in terms of the things that Denny might want to hear, when he needs to hear them, how concise it needs to be or not.
That can change on any given weekend, any given scenario. Chris is a pro, so he doesn't need a lot of coaching. I think just me being able to provide a little extra insight as to what the driver might be dealing with in those situations, without him having to go to Denny. Denny is busy, Chris is busy. It's just another resource for Chris I think to become better at his job. Certainly the three of us together have leaned on one another and believe in each other. I think it shows on the racetrack.

Q. And that goes back to what you were saying about (indiscernible).
CHRIS GABEHART: Well, yeah, I mean, it goes back to, like I said before, I firmly believe in Denny's case, Monday ‑‑ I'll call it Monday through Thursday, you work very hard to train your instincts. Then after that you have to let instincts take over.
Denny, especially in his job as the driver, he's making a thousand decisions a football field, a second. If you try to think your way through every one of those, you're going to fail.
It's difficult when the pressure's high to just go with your gut, what your instincts say, then don't look back. But I just try to provide a little reassurance to him that that's the right thing to do.
Again, Chris being the pro that he is, he just sits back and lets that go on because he knows it's right, as well.

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