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November 10, 2019

Denny Hamlin

Avondale, Arizona

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by the race‑winning driver, Denny Hamlin.
We'll go straight to the media for questions.

Q. You came into this race, you said you were 20% odds to win it. Obviously you beat the 20%. Talk about going into Miami; technically, I guess, on the odds sheet you're 25%. Is there any leeway there in those odds?
DENNY HAMLIN: So many different factors that go into it. How many times has the fastest car really won the race? I don't know exactly what that number is. There's just so many elements that can take you out.
It was looking like, with that last caution, they were trying to find a way to keep me out of there. Like I say, it's so difficult to win these races. So when you do, you execute the way we did, perform the way that we did, you always feel like you got a fighting chance.
I knew at the end of the race last week we were going to have a fighting chance. I had all the parts and pieces I needed to go to Phoenix and win the race. But it's all the unknowns that you don't know about. I just made sure I did my job. Chris worked really hard and did his job. Great to have a result like that.

Q. Your relationship with Chris Gabehart, what is your relationship like outside of the race shop? What have you done to build a relationship this year? Some drivers and crew chiefs have gone fishing, hang out, vacations.
DENNY HAMLIN: We don't really hang out much outside of the racetrack. We have a professional relationship. But I understand him really well. I think that his history in short tracks, my history in short tracks, we speak a lot of the same language. That allows us to have a great professional relationship.
I put my full faith in him, that when I hit the racetrack, everything is right. He's got me a race‑winning car. He expects me to drive it to the best of my capability each time I get on the track.
You don't have to have an extra relationship outside of racing, outside the racetrack, to have a good professional one. That's what we've got right now.

Q. What went through your mind when that caution came out at the very end?
DENNY HAMLIN: Shit. (Laughter.) That was it.

Q. What is it about Chris' demeanor? He seems to be a bit of a ball‑buster?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, he holds everyone accountable, everybody accountable, from top to bottom. I think even though this is his first year, I mean, it's like he's been doing this for a really, really, really long time.
He has on the crew chief side‑‑ the engineering side, he has quite a bit of experience. But managing the people is what typically is the challenge of first‑year crew chiefs. I think that's what he specializes in. I know when my pit crew was struggling early in the year, I think we were ranked about 25th or something like that, he says, I'm going to turn this crew into a top‑three or ‑four pit crew. But the end of the season, we got really, really close to that.
He's just like Joe in the sense that he gets the most out of his guys, everybody. I'm not sure what it is, but he's got some motivation in him, for sure. Every week he kind of gives me a little speech when I'm strapping in the car. His confidence in me is unwavering. He says things that otherwise I would just say, Well, you're just pumping me up, making me feel good.
But he finds a way to make it relate and make you believe it.

Q. I know you think these things through. What was your mentality on the last restart? You have two tires, starting next to two tires, four tires behind you, but it's a teammate. What were you trying to do? How did you execute that?
DENNY HAMLIN: So I wanted to choose the top simply because I thought if I went into turn one side‑by‑side, I'd rather be on the high side. I thought that I'd seen Kyle get a pretty good run and the traction stuff on a few restarts. I saw it in a few restarts in the Truck race, as well.
I just thought if I was going to be at a deficit of grip versus my competition, I had the option to go up there and get more. It was going to be a longer distance, but I had the option to go up there and get the grip they didn't have.
So I think that was the reason I did it. Luckily it all worked out, for sure. Especially I think having the 12 under there with two tires there, as well, gave me a little buffer there. If it was Kyle, I'm not sure I would have held him off, but I would have damn sure tried.

Q. Coming in, mathematically it was possible for you to points your way in. As the race wore on, it became clear you had to win. You did that. What kind of statement do you think you made here today, if any, in your mind?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, I knew we had options. Really even after the first stage, we still had options. But when we finished second to the 22 in the second stage, I knew it was pretty clear. I knew given the cars that were on the lead lap, where he was running, that it was going to be difficult. Even when he was struggling, he was hanging around 10th or so, that just wasn't going to be enough. We were going to fall about six or seven points short.
I knew that we needed to win. But I knew right from the drop of the green flag we had the best car. It wasn't always up front, but I knew, like I could just feel little things in that car, like clean racetrack, or this thing gets strung out, we're going to be tough. I just was patient.
Me and Chase had a crazy battle there at the end of stage two where I had to check myself, bring myself back down to this position really doesn't matter; if the 22 is going to win, it's unlikely that this one position will matter.
But really, other than that, I knew once‑‑ if I could get better restarts, I was going to be able to handle this race.

Q. You were in here on Friday and you kind of were assessing what the season might be if you didn't make it to the championship. I guess Chris sent a text to get you to change your thinking. How blunt was that text? How did it change your mindset?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I always prepare for both sides, both outcomes. I mean, I mentally put myself in a position where I don't want to go out here and get crushed when we go out here and finish second, have a great day, and we don't make the final four. That's still a pretty damn good day.
It's more on my shoulders, it's my fault, what happened in Texas. So I have to take the load for that. But the biggest thing he always keeps pushing, is that, We're here to win, we're not going to settle for anything other than winning.
I'm more of a, Let's not get too high, let's not get too low. I always like to put myself in the middle, to prepare myself both ways.
I don't think he does. I think he only prepares to win, and he'll deal with it if he doesn't.

Q. Can you give us a sense of what the text said?
DENNY HAMLIN: Definitely. He's like ‑‑ I don't remember exactly, but a lot of it is just like, Well, expect more from yourself. Something of that nature.
I do. I expect to go out here, and I knew after practice we had the best car, but that didn't mean anything. In Texas I thought we had the best car in practice and I wrecked it.
I don't know if he thinks some weeks I'm more motivated than others. But I'm really not. I always want to win every weekend. This year in particular, I've focused as much as I can on each given racetrack.
But he's always there to just check up on me to make sure and see where my head is at to make sure that I'm still as motivated as ever to go out there and capture the big prize.

Q. Does this season have a different feel to it? Does it feel special?
DENNY HAMLIN: It feels different than last year, for sure. This is very similar to 2010 in the sense of the car speed we've had this season. There's similarities, for sure. But it is very different.
I think this is a tighter‑knit group of guys. I think Chris takes a lot of pride in assembling this group of guys from top to bottom. I know we kind of did an introduction with everyone at JGR early maybe in January, something like that. We sat around here and Chris talked about, Here is what we're going to do. I just want you to see this is the team that's going to take us all the way.
Of course, he's very good at motivation. You say, All right, let's see how this season goes. You win the first race, and you set sail.
He really worked hard to make sure he had the best people possible working on that car from top to bottom. Like I said, when we had pit crew struggles, he said, There's more in these guys, I'm going to get it out of them. And he has.

Q. When you look at the three drivers that you're competing against for a championship, they've been with their crew chiefs for quite a while, the combination. You're going into this with Chris. Looking at it through a fresh set of eyes, can that be used to your advantage or do you see it as an advantage since you're going through it for the first time?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I really don't know. I mean, I know there's no question when I get to the track on Friday and strap in and run my first laps of practice, he has left no stone unturned. He has done the research, he's worked as hard as he could coming up with a setup that he feels is correct. I'm content with that.
If we're terrible, we're going to be terrible together, and we're going to go out there and we're going to finish fourth. But I'm confident that he gives me everything in the tank. That's all I can ask for.
As a driver, you really enjoy working with someone that does that, that works as hard as he does. I mean, there is no set hours in our relationship. Texts come through whenever we think of it. If it's past midnight, I think of something, I send it to him right away. Sometimes he answers. Sometimes he answers at 6 a.m. when he gets up.
Definitely we have just an open communication that is really working well. I think that will give us an opportunity. If I was coming back to a racetrack where, hey, we did this last year and we didn't succeed, you will definitely have thoughts in your mind of, Well, we shouldn't do that because remember when it really didn't work last year, we went down that path.
I think having a fresh start, a fresh set of eyes definitely could be good for me.

Q. You made a lot of mention of the 2010 season when you had the dominant car here at Phoenix, ran out of fuel, then you struggled at Homestead. On a personal level, what have you done to change that? What have you changed to come back and win this race today? And looking ahead, what you're changing for your strategy at Homestead?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, yeah, we definitely weren't as dominant then as what we were today, but we still were leading in a very key moment of the race. Jimmie was struggling. If you want to go as they run, I was going to have to finish 25th or something at Homestead. It was going to be a pretty, you know, nice, easy cakewalk. Nothing is a cakewalk, but you would think 25th is the way we were running that year.
Running out of gas was very unexpected. That's why I kind of took it as bad as I did because it really caught me off guard. There was just nothing that indicated we were even close to running out of gas, but we did. I just didn't know how to take it. Like I said, I didn't prepare for the what if it doesn't work out. I was only going there thinking, I'm going to come here, handle business, go to Homestead and get the trophy.
I think over the years, we're almost 10 years later, I'm just more content with what I've accomplished in the series. I don't need validation of a championship. I think that the outside world feels like I need that to validate my status, whatever it is. But doesn't change who I am. Doesn't change how I treat people. If I don't win this year, I'm going to work just as hard for 2020.
There are many, many more opportunities ahead of me. This is not my last opportunity to win a championship. Especially with the relationship that I've built with Chris, I see this going a long way.

Q. Is there anything that you're not going to do this week that maybe you've done in preparation for championship weeks? You also are a guy that seems to have an entourage. Do you expect a big one next Sunday?
DENNY HAMLIN: Definitely, definitely. We're going to have fun. It's my birthday weekend. Homestead is always my birthday weekend. I wanted to have two reasons to celebrate, not just one.
In 2010 I shut everyone out. Like I didn't do any of the birthday stuff. I didn't hang out with anyone. I really didn't respond to calls or texts or anything like that. But I'm not going to be that way I don't think this time around because I just am not going to change who I am.
If I want to go out for a late dinner, I'm going to go out for a late dinner. It's what I do every single week, and we won six races and had success. It's not going to make me do better if I go into the hotel room and lock myself in at 8:00. It didn't in 2010.
I'm going to enjoy the moment. All you can ask for at the start of the year is ask for an opportunity for a chance to compete for a championship. We have a chance to compete. It's goal accomplished. Now we just got to go out there and do it.

Q. In 2010 you went to dinner with a rapper?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, that was a different year. That was 2012. That was Lil Wayne, by the way. Lil Weezy (laughter).
I remember the day before the race saying, No, guys, I can't do anything. I need to get a good night's rest, this, that and the other. I went to bed way, way earlier than what I should have. Really just overthought it. I mean, I'm not going to overthink it this time. I'm just going to do my thing and have fun and enjoy the moment.
We are definitely on house money right now, so let's enjoy it.

Q. On your in‑car camera when the final caution came out, you slammed your wheel. I couldn't help but think, I'm sure others did, that that was the image here in 2010 of you slamming your wheel coming back to the pits after finishing 14th. One, did it ever cross your mind for a brief moment, Here we go again? Two, is today redemptive for that day because now I would think when people ask you about Phoenix, they're not going to ask about 2010 anymore?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, that's great. Certainly. I've answered so many questions about that day and the role that it played in the finish of the 2010 season.
Yeah, I mean, it definitely didn't make me feel well. You got to think, like, I don't even know who hit the wall, I didn't see anyone with damage or anything like that, but obviously if there was something on the track, I'm sure it was legit.
From my standpoint, I was just thinking, Gosh, guys, everyone knows what is at stake. Just keep your car on the racetrack. Let's let this thing play out.
I mean, this has been the finish of many races, right? Late‑race cautions. You got to go out there and you got to earn it. There's a little part of me that, now that it's done and we won, makes it better that we didn't just win by 10 seconds, we faced adversity. We went out there and we pitted and made a call. Right, wrong or indifferent, it was different than the rest of the cars that I was battling with, and we held them off and still won.
I think it makes it a little bit sweeter when you have a result like that.

Q. I'm still curious about this kind of off‑the‑track mentality that you have fun during the weekend. You did this weekend. It was a high‑pressure weekend. You go to Post Malone concert, you're hanging out with your buddies and their friends and all that stuff.
DENNY HAMLIN: Played tennis till 1 in the morning.

Q. But then you come here ‑‑
DENNY HAMLIN: Crazy guy.

Q. So how do you do that? How are you focused or rested up enough when you get here, yet do all that, and you can have it both ways?
DENNY HAMLIN: That's going to be news to Chris. I might get a text about that one (smiling).
I don't know. I mean, we were betting a hundred bucks a game. I was kicking their ass, and it felt so good. I figured, Listen, if I can get in Larson's head early, this is the way to do it right here (laughter).
No I mean, for me, we enjoy hanging out. We like all the same things. I can tell you, being around those guys, my group of friends, it takes stress off of me. I don't think about racing nearly as much as I would if I was more isolated.
I think it's a way for us to relax. I think it's good for all of us, for sure.

Q. Are you tired when you wake up?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, a little bit. I was a little tired, for sure. But I knew on race day, for whatever reason, my adrenaline gets going. When high adrenaline gets going, I won't‑‑ I don't know if I will go to sleep, to be honest.
Even though I started the day a little bit tired, as soon as I strap in, my adrenaline spikes and, like, no more sleepy time. I'm ready to go.

Q. I want your thoughts on tying 1970 past champion Bobby Isaac on the all‑time wins list at 37 wins.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it's great. It's incredible when you win. I'm kind of in that number now where there's always someone really, really significant that we tie with each win. I believe that I shouldn't be mentioned with any of the people that I'm tied or near with in wins. I don't know. I think I'm just super fortunate, to be honest with you.
Those guys I've watched, not necessarily Bobby, but a few wins ago, three or four wins ago, it was like Dale Jarrett, tied with him. I was like, Man, I watched Dale Jarrett, and he's significantly better than I ever was.
I don't know. I just think it's really cool to hear that. It's hard for me to kind of put it into perspective, that you're in that same realm.
THE MODERATOR: Denny, congratulations on the win today. Congratulations on the Championship 4 berth. We'll see you Thursday in Miami.

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