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May 9, 2021

Joe Gibbs

James Small

Martin Truex

Darlington, South Carolina, USA

Press Conference

An Interview with:

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations on the victory with Martin Truex Jr. We are now joined by our race winning team owner, Joe Gibbs.

Q. Coach, Truex, one win last year, three wins this year. What's he doing different?

JOE GIBBS: Well, I think -- last year he was so close. I think with eight races in a row he was like top three or four. It's the same thing that's happening with Denny. I think it shows you how hard this sport is, but I think he and James now have worked together for another year. I think they're more comfortable, and I've got to tell you, it was awesome today.

The 5 car scared me at the end, and Martin said he scared me, too.

But it was a big day for us. I just really appreciate Auto Owners. Everybody knows our sport is so dependent on us having great partners and sponsors. Auto Owners is on that car, Interstate Batteries, Mark at Reser's is on that car and Johnny Morris. All of them, appreciate them so much, and the companies, Bass Pro, Reser's and Interstate Batteries. It's a big day for us. You celebrate something like this because that doesn't happen very often.

Q. Martin obviously has three wins this season. All three of them have come at tracks with the 750 horsepower package. Has there been any focus on that at the shop on that package knowing that the championship is decided at Phoenix?

JOE GIBBS: Well, when I asked them about coming back to Darlington at our competition meeting, they all said one thing, hey, it's a totally different package. So we're not sure. That's what our crew chief said. So I think there was some doubt about how we would run here. Totally different setups and stuff, but our guys seemed to hit it, and our cars were fast today. I was really proud of that.

But I think each and every track particularly here, very unique track, very different, and so our setups are really very different at almost every track but particularly here.

So I don't think there was anything special about it. It was just a lot of hard work, and James and his group hit it with just the right package.

Q. Just wondering, is it more nerve-racking to watch one of your racers be dominant like Martin was, or is it more nerve-racking when they're chasing the lead?

JOE GIBBS: I honestly, I would say today's race made you -- for me, that situation made me the most nervous, out front, had a strong car all day. At times you were way out front and you're kind of saying to yourself, oh, my gosh, and then here comes the 5 car. You just picture yourself, that kept closing that gap, and I was saying to myself, oh, no. I think that's just something that can happen in racing.

But to answer your question, I think today's scenario is the toughest, for me anyway.

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our race winner, Martin Truex Jr.

Q. Coach, you talked about that you weren't really sure how these guys were going to run, but all four of your cars ran well today. Obviously there was a lot of slipping and sliding. Do you feel like we saw your drivers be rewarded for really getting up on the wheel and show casing some of what they were capable of today, maybe more than we have in the past couple years here at Darlington?

JOE GIBBS: Well, I know -- not particularly here at Darlington but just generally, I know that when tracks are really hard and tough to get a hold of, I really feel good about that with our guys because I think we've got the best. I just believe we do. And our drivers, Martin today and all four of our cars today were strong, and so I love it when it's a tough track and it's hard to get a hold of.

Martin may not like it.

Q. Martin, what was it like, the last couple years obviously the 550 package, coming back here today and really it looked like having to wheel it around there much of the day, and yet it seemed like you still had maybe one of the most dominant cars of your career.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I love low downforce. That's all I'm going to say. I love it. I feel like especially this year, all three races we won have been with this package, so obviously the guys and girls at JGR are doing a great job.

But I just -- for me, you look at '16, '17, '18, low downforce, we very well could have won all three championships. We were right there in all three and won a lot of races.

Big fan of this kind of racing. Really enjoy it. Today was a heck of a challenge. I did come on the radio one time and say I'm really surprised how slow it feels and how slick it is. I was leading and driving away from the field, and I'm like, this thing is sliding everywhere. It's pretty amazing just how much this track changes year to year every time we come back. It gets more difficult with the wear of the pavement.

I would say that we probably have less downforce now than we've ever had here because some of the rules changes since '17 or '18, we probably have less downforce than we had then, even with building new cars and working on them to get them better and better and better.

Really, really just a fun day, a big challenge, and just got to give it up to my guys for giving me a great car and doing all the little things right.

Q. Did it feel like the 600 in 2016 when you smoked them that bad?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: No, it doesn't, but it's funny you bring that up because like my brother-in-law was over last night and Sherry's dad and we were all talking, and he pretty much told me the reason we're going away from low downforce is all my fault. So I guess I did it again. He'll tell me tonight when I go home, you did it again, you stunk up the show. So sorry, not sorry.

Q. Coach Gibbs, you mentioned kind of having the sponsors back. I'm curious what that has been like for the team especially at Darlington.

JOE GIBBS: Yeah, our sponsors today, like I said, when I called Auto Owners, I couldn't thank them enough, and Jeff out there, and I had Martin have a chance to talk to him. Mark at Reser's, reached out to him, Norm Miller from Interstate and Johnny Morris. Our sponsors, our sport is different in that it's not like football, basketball and baseball. You have to have a partner, and they are partners. They're more than a sponsor.

It was a great day for us to celebrate that with those four different partners that we had there.

Q. Martin, you and Cole had such great chemistry over the years with winning a bunch of races, winning a championship. Now with James, now that the wins are starting to come, what's changed with the chemistry between you two maybe from last year to this year?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I mean, honestly, I don't really feel like anything has changed from us since he took over the crew chief position. I think when he was our engineer, we had a great relationship, and I think that's continued. Obviously more interacting since he went from engineer to crew chief and Cole decided to do something else. But I think last year James did a great job. If you look at everything, we were right there a lot of races. We had some tough luck. We had a lot of second- and third-place finishes and we didn't win as many as we should have, but I feel like he's done a really great job since he stepped in. Our relationship has been great since day one.

I guess if anything has changed right now this year it's been just confidence. It's his second year. He's more comfortable in the position, and he's getting to go back and look at his own notes and think about the decisions he made last year at a certain track and not so much going off of somebody else's notes. Really it's just all about having confidence in your decisions.

There's so many things, I know we talk about simulation and all the technology that goes into setting up these cars to show up at the racetrack, and with no practice these days, every weekend I ask James, like what do you think, how do you feel about it, and he's like, well, if our 600 assumptions are correct, we're going to be really good.

So I think just getting more comfortable in his role, getting more comfortable at making those decisions, especially at times where maybe if you weren't that good at a racetrack last time, having enough confidence in yourself to make some big changes, really go for it, swing for the fences, and he's been able to do that this year. That's probably one of the biggest things I've noticed about it is the confidence.

I don't think our relationship has changed at all really, but I think James has really stepped it up and done an even greater job this year.

Q. Coach, you've obviously seen the wins come from Martin and from Kyle. Christopher Bell has a win already this year, but what have you seen from him and his development, just his second year in Cup and his first year actually in the Joe Gibbs Racing team?

JOE GIBBS: Yeah, thanks for that question because Christopher sometimes kind of gets left behind with our other three guys, but really this year he jumped out with the win, which I thought was -- that took a great performance right off the bat with us. And really he's been fast.

I think there's two races that they were disappointed in. I talked to him and Adam, and the rest of the races he's been fast, just like today. I think he would have finished in the top six or something but he hit the wall there, so I think he's showing flashes of what we kind of feel like a young guy -- he shows that he is very fast. I think he's making great progress. I think we've got Adam working with him, which is great.

So I think he's having a great second year in Cup, in particular with the fact that we have no practice. He's only been in those cars a couple of times at places. So we're thrilled with that.

I think the other thing I wanted to mention is Coy and everybody back at the race shop, they don't get to experience this, but it's a thrill for us to have a team like that behind us, and Martin knows that, too. The Lord has just blessed us with a great group of guys.

Q. How important was it to have more guests allowed back in the infield this week for the teams?

JOE GIBBS: It's super important. I'm glad you asked that. It's so important for us. Some of the key players that our sponsors have such interest in it, and they love being here and being a part of it. Today we had guys flying in from all over. Johnny Morris coming in. It's great for us to have things opening up. I'm hoping we get back to our fans being -- evidently in the fall we're going to have the place packed.

But it's very, very important, too, to get those key people from the companies back into our sport, and I'm looking forward to getting to go again and do hospitalities. So all of that is coming, but it is very, very important today. I appreciate that question because those guys are so key to us and it's great having them back at the racetrack, and we're starting to loosen up some.

Q. Martin, were you able to bring anybody into the garage today and get anybody at the track with you?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I didn't, no. I came alone. Sherry was wanting to spend Mother's Day at home with her mother. I'll see her when I get home. But no, came here solo.

Q. But are you ready to bring people back? Did it feel any different with more people in the garage?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: It didn't feel any different. Honestly, I didn't even go into the garage. I got here and hung out in the bus until it was time to go.

I'm totally fine with it. I can't wait until it's back to totally normal. I was talking -- I mentioned earlier my brother-in-law works on a truck team, and he works on the truck that actually won the race. He's like, they wouldn't let us in Victory Lane, and I don't understand because we were all wearing masks and when we get done here in Victory Lane we're all going to get in the van together and drive home.

You know, little things like that, like my crew guys not getting into Victory Lane until later on, it loses some of its lustre after 10 minutes of standing around.

But to answer your question, I think it's time to get back to doing things like we always did, and I think it's slowly going that direction, so that's good. As Coach was talking about, our sponsors are such a key role in our sport and what we're doing. It was really cool to see Johnny out on pit road getting to enjoy the race and he was really fired up and excited to be here. I can't wait until it's back to the way it used to be.

Q. We probably asked you this after the 2016. What is it like when you've got such a big lead and you know that you've got a big lead, and then how does your mindset change when you see somebody in your rear view mirror like Kyle in the last few laps?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: You know, I think you just go from being really calm and like, all right, this is great, no cautions, let's take care of this thing, and just click off the laps and run 90, 95 percent, leave a little bit out there, try to take care of your tires, self-defense, all that kind of stuff. Then next thing you know you have a slow pit stop, this and that, you get caught behind a few cars, lap cars racing, whatnot. You're like, oh, man, he's right there. Like I hadn't had to race him all day, where did he come from, better get going, crap, now I'm too loose, I can't go any faster.

Heart rate goes up and anxiety goes up and you just try not to make any mistakes.

Q. You talked a little bit out there on the grid, just how big is these three wins considering the tracks that they are and where they are in the playoffs?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: They're huge, and I think this off-season we really as a group and I think as a company want to make sure that we have the 750 package dialed in because that's the championship race, and a big percentage of the playoff races are with this package. That feels great.

I really, really enjoy this package, and so that's even more of a bonus to get to win in it.

You know, just definitely I think it's a big deal for us, a win at these tracks. Really cool, and like I said earlier, team just doing an amazing job, and bringing great cars to the track, and it's been really fun racing this year.

Q. Do you race better in a package that you enjoy?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: You know, I feel like I can make more of a difference when we're in the low downforce package, especially on these bigger tracks. I think that I've always been a guy that's done a lot of my driving with my right foot and the brake pedal, and the 550 tracks you're pretty much wide open, not all the time, but if you have to lift, usually you're dead in the water. It's really hard to make your car do different things when you can't let off the throttle. It's a lot easier to make a car do certain things when you can let off the throttle and use it in different ways.

So I really enjoy that part of this, but I don't know, I've been -- I think we've had success either way, but definitely feel like most of it's been with this package.

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race-winning crew chief James Small.

Q. Martin, what is the challenge of keeping ahead of these tracks that you've done so well at, the playoff tracks, in the next four months because of the gap, and what's the challenge of trying to keep up ahead of everybody at that point?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Well, that's the difficult part about this is we come back here and everybody is going to be working on their stuff, so what do we do to get better. That's always the question in this sport. Guys are always working on their stuff, whether it's working on technique or parts and pieces, race equipment, downforce, aero stuff. You know, I think you just try to look at, okay, what are the little things that we can do to the car better and then as a company you're always looking for more. They're always working on getting the cars better, finding little things here and there.

Obviously now the rules are pretty tight with parts and pieces being locked in through NASCAR, so there's not a whole lot you can do. But just being honest with yourself and saying, hey, what are the areas we can get better at and go to work on those things and not be scared to make a few changes.

Q. Obviously you're getting pushed for Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson. How much do those guys push you?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: How much do they push me? It depends on how close they are behind me. I don't really understand your question.

Q. How much are they pushing you this -- obviously you've won three races so you're the de facto No. 1 driver. People look at what Larson has done, what Denny has done. Do you feel like they're on your heels or do you feel like you've got a gap on them?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, I don't feel like we have a gap on anything by any means. I think we've done a really good job of having fast race cars and executing.

You know, I think every week you look yourself in the mirror and say, what do we got to do to get better. I mean, that's everybody. I don't think we single out people. Having Kyle, Denny, Christopher, I think we have a great group of four. We really dissect things well and learn a lot from each other and I think elevate the company in general.

I don't really -- this time of year honestly to answer your question, you don't really look at one guy. You maybe at certain tracks do, this guy was really fast here, what was he doing and how was he doing it; how can we get better there.

And I think that's kind of how it goes. Whoever is best at each track, you kind of look at them. I don't know that you say this guy has been really good all year or this guy has been really good all year. It's kind of a week-to-week thing. Where we're going next week, who was really good there last year, what can you learn from that, what can you take from that.

There's so much data and analysis available today, you can't get away with anything. Like they'll all be looking at what I did all day today throughout the summer until we come back here. That makes it really challenging to find those little things.

I think that's what James and my guys have been so good at is finding little ways to make the cars better. We haven't had this package here since '18. We probably have less downforce than we had then just from the rules changes over the years tightening things up since then. Having two years old a racetrack or three years old at a racetrack, it's going to get harder, so the guys did a good job of adapting, and hopefully when we come back we'll be able to adapt again.

Q. James, Martin just talked about how much he loves this package and that this is what really this whole team has been focused on heading into the season knowing that the championship is decided at a 750 horsepower racetrack at Phoenix. How beneficial has that been, especially seeing you guys being the only team in the series right now with multiple wins?

JAMES SMALL: Yeah, well, it's definitely helped us. We were okay last year as a company at short tracks and then we went to Phoenix and kind of got our asses whooped by Penske and Hendrick. The whole company worked really hard in the off-season just trying to find all the little things and work on the aero and work on just everything we can within what's fixed right now. We're sort of limited on the aero time and thing like that. It's hard to find gains.

But everybody back there has been busting their chops really focusing on this because we know it's going to come down to Phoenix if we can get there.

Q. In the short-term you've got two more 750 horsepower tracks coming up with Dover and COTA. Obviously very unique tracks that aren't going to be in the playoffs, but what can you learn from the next two weeks heading forward?

JAMES SMALL: Yeah, Dover, it's so different to anywhere else we go, so it's a little bit of an outlier. We're looking forward to it because we ran really well there last year, and I feel like we've improved a lot.

And then obviously COTA, that's new for everybody, but I think that can help us for places like Sonoma. They've changed the Sonoma tire to be more similar to COTA. We can learn a lot there. It's a similar place with high falloff and all that, so I think the next few races or the next month really sets up really well for us.

Q. Just wondering, James, how do you split the time between preparing for races that you're going to and just concentrating on the final 10 because that's for all the marbles?

JAMES SMALL: Really we're just all in every week on whatever race. You know, right now we need to get wins, bonus points. We go back to a lot of these tracks, so you know, really hitting this well right now definitely is going to help us for when we come back in the Chase.

It's all about points, and it's building a buffer. I think today we executed that perfectly, so we're going to continue that and just keep going, building that gap?

Q. Martin, your former crew chief was so even keel. What's it like to have a screamer on the box?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: (Laughing.)

JAMES SMALL: I don't scream.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: No, it's been a little -- I guess it's a little different, but I think they get fired up about the same. James is pretty laid-back, too, but he gets a little fired up. I'd say that he probably gets -- he doesn't get quite as angry as Cole would get. Cole would be real chill, real chill, real chill and then he'd snap. He'd get really pissed. But James is pretty low key, just curses a lot more.

JAMES SMALL: Yeah, sorry.

Q. Do you kind of feed off of that, though, because when he does get excited it's kind of fun to listen to him?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, I think I'd say we approach this thing similarly, and that's been a good thing. Cole, James, myself, we all got along well, and I think approach this racing thing in a similar fashion, and that's why I think James and I have been a good fit. He's been able to take over and do the similar things that Cole did, work with similar team guys and approach.

For me it's been like they were twins, so that's been awesome, just get used to the accent change and here we go.

Q. James, you guys have mentioned last year you guys struggled a little bit on the 750 horsepower package at Phoenix. Has that been the main catalyst for you guys as his crew chief this off-season to get improvement on the 750 horsepower package and your result at Phoenix last season?

JAMES SMALL: Yeah, definitely. That was like a real kick in the ass for us as a company, I think. You know, the way they've changed it -- there's not as many 550 races anymore. We've kind of bitten that package to death over the last couple of years and the gains you can get there is so marginal, and everybody started -- we had an advantage in '19 because I think we approached it a little bit differently on what level of downforce and drag we brought to the track, and everybody has kind of migrated to that kind of thing, so it's a lot tighter now. It's a lot harder and the gains to find are less.

We kind of didn't really put much emphasis on the short track stuff last year because there was less races, but with the addition of all the road course races and then obviously Darlington switching over and being a Chase race, as well, it really means it's super important to be good on this package.

I think we've shown across the board as a company everyone is running really well.

Q. What does it feel like to dominate a race, lead all the laps at a place like Darlington and then make it pay off with a win?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Leading laps is always fun. I think in this day and age it's all about points, bonus points for the playoffs, so you're leading laps, hopefully you're winning stages, and certainly that was the case today.

Yeah, it's fun when you're out front and you're just always like, okay, when is the track going to change or when is somebody going to get their stuff dialed in and come out of nowhere and blow our doors off. So you're always just mindful of staying focused on what you're doing.

James is constantly asking me each run what do I need, how's the car, this and that. Just trying to keep up with the racetrack, make small tweaks and really stay focused. This is a place where you can -- if you try to slow down or you do something differently, you can get yourself in trouble because it's really all about rhythm and hitting your marks and timing.

For me they kept telling me I was pulling away and X lap time and four-second lead or whatever it was, and I'm like, that's cool, but I'm not just going to slow down because if I slow down I'm going to run into the fence because it's going to mess up my timing. I just did what I had to do all day and tried to stay focused.

Sometimes it's a little harder when you're out front, but at the same time it's a little bit easier traffic-wise and being able to take care of your equipment, and that was a big key today.

Q. Martin, you talked about now it's about adding points and bonus points, playoff points. How big a deal is the regular season points and how much are you keeping track of it? We're halfway through or almost halfway through now the regular season, so how do you feel about potentially winning the regular season points?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, I don't know. We'll see. It's going to be tough. The 11 has got a big lead right now, and obviously we had a bad race at Daytona and then flat tire at Bristol, which really -- those two really set us back. I think the green-white-checkered we were running second or third at Bristol and got a flat, so that was a tough one.

But we'll see. I think we're right there. We're still second probably after today, and I think just being consistent, getting those bonus points and then the regular season championship is for points, as well, so really you want to get as many as you can. It would be cool if we could claw our way back to the 11 and maybe pass him before it's all said and done, and that's what we'll try to do.

Q. Martin, driving a car on throwback weekend where it's reminiscent of the car you won your championship in, you dominate this race, leading 249 laps and you have three wins before anyone else in the circuit has two. Simply put, did today feel like a statement win for you and the 19 squad in?

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I think it definitely has some good old Furniture Row flat black mojo in it. What else can you say about it? I think that was really cool to be able to do that.

Obviously Barney Visser and what he built out there in Denver, being able to go there and really turn my career into something was really special to be able to race that today. So I think it definitely had some mojo in it. It was really fun.

I don't know if it's a statement. I think in this sport you get judged week to week. If we can go and run 10th next weekend, they're going to say, okay, the 19 is done, they're not that good anymore.

We just try to take it week to week and have fun. Our guys have obviously, like I said earlier, they're doing a great job right now. When your cars are fast, things are clicking and you're having fun, this is the coolest job in the world.

When you're struggling it's probably the most difficult because all the fingers get pointed at you. We're going to enjoy it and just keep working hard. Like James said a few minutes ago, he's all in every weekend and everybody feeds off of that on our team, and that's what it takes to be good at this level.

Just really proud to drive these cars that these guys are building and putting under me and enjoying doing it, so hopefully we can keep it up.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you guys so much for taking some time with us. Congratulations on another win and we'll see you at Dover.

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