April 3, 2022
An Interview with:
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with our post-race media availability. We are joined by our race winner Denny Hamlin, crew chief Chris Gabehart, and owner Joe Gibbs.
With Hamlin's win tonight, he moves solely into 17th on the all-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list, breaking the tie with NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker. This is his fourth win at Richmond, and Joe Gibbs Racing's series leading 18th win at Richmond Raceway.
We'll start with questions.
Q. Chris, on lap 260, you called Denny to pit road. You thought about keeping him out. What was the mindset there? Would that have changed the entire course of your race?
CHRIS GABEHART: You're talking about when we ran that short little stint, then got a caution?
CHRIS GABEHART: It even goes back earlier than that. The stage prior to that we ran one stop, where everybody else ran two. My sole purpose for doing that was to save a set of tires for an instance where a caution would come out, everyone would pit because they didn't have a set.
We got that break early in stage three. He was driving to the front. It was going to be five more laps, we were going to take the lead, we got a caution.
DENNY HAMLIN: Which is not what we wanted.
CHRIS GABEHART: No, we wanted it to keep going because we were going to be in really good shape.
It was a tough decision because we hadn't made up all the track position I wanted to make up. But you can't get greedy. At that point we had at least made up enough that now we are in contention. Come down pit road, have a good pit stop, he can go out and race it from there. That's what he did.
Obviously some guys stayed out. It ended up working out really well for them, too. I didn't feel like that was going to be the winning play for our car, our team. I brought it down pit road and the rest was history.
Q. You were going back and forth trying to figure out what the right call was. How much trust does there have to be?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, most times we're kind of on the same page. When we're not, I kind of understand my role in it. He's got way more information than I do.
I know what my job is when we go long. I know what my job is when we go short. He keeps me informed, but he just tells me what to do, and I try to do my best.
It's just a great professional working relationship that has worked well for us.
Q. Denny, really successful day for the organization. How do you feel about this car that maybe you didn't see in Phoenix or the other weeks, the development that led to your victory today?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, obviously we've been searching a little bit. The first six races haven't gone great, but we've had some -- over half of them we've had winning cars. I know that sounds crazy, but Daytona I'm sure we would be fine, Atlanta we were good, Vegas, I thought we had a great shot to win there. There's been some struggles in the other ones.
We go to work. I mean, Joe does a great job motivating all of our group, as if I need motivating (smiling). But we work really hard. We know that waiting seven races to win is not... We have a level of performance that we expect more than that.
I'm glad we're able to kind of turn the ship around at least for a week, then next week we're going to see if we really started to build some momentum going forward.
I don't want to look too far ahead because I certainly want to celebrate this one. It sure is a positive sign considering how we ran as an organization at Phoenix. But you never know. It's been a great track for Joe Gibbs Racing for many, many years, for whatever reason.
I think a lot of it comes from me and Kyle really pushing each other to get really good on these short tracks. Martin has really turned the corner, been one of the best short track racers we have in our sport the last probably four or five years. When you have teammates you can feed off of like that, you're going to have a great chance to win.
Q. Denny, did you have a lot of confidence that you were going to be able to run down William there?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I told him I never even saw William. Once he kind of pulled away from me a little bit in that second-to-last run, I didn't see him from that point forward till eight to go.
Once I kind of looked at the gap that I gained from eight to go to six to go, I was like, All right, we're going to catch him. I was a little bit worried with the lap cars, trying to stay on lead lap, get a lap back. There were a couple Fords side by side when I had Harvick right behind me.
Overall I knew that I was racing the 4 for the most part. It was just a matter of time on the 24.
Q. Joe, Ben Beshore is frustrated with that call to bring Kyle in for the tape on the grille. Ben talked to NASCAR. Did you talk to NASCAR? Are you miffed about it?
JOE GIBBS: I haven't, but I will. I think the point was, when that happened, if that was a penalty, then address it. It wasn't till I think two stops later. I think that's our concern of, you know, because that would have completely changed their strategy.
So I think that will be something we discuss and go over.
Q. Coach, there haven't been many times during your term as an owner when you've had to pep talk your team. You've had pretty good sailing. How did you approach this kind of mini slump? Did you sit down with everybody individually or one group?
JOE GIBBS: No, I give the credit to the crew chiefs. They're the coaches over here. They're in it. For them it's every day, 18 hours a day. They do a good job with it.
Our meetings on Monday, we talk everything over. There's discussions about how do we go forward, how do we make this up. I think generally as a group we just got real good people. We know we're giving it everything.
I think what this shows is how hard it is because we got great people working really hard. I always give credit to the people that found it, they go after it, they're winning races. That's what we want to do.
We got a great group. I just thank the Lord that we got this because it means so much. Every one of these are hard to get. I know Denny and Chris will tell you that. They are hard to get. Last year I think we were nine times top three or something and didn't get the win.
These are hard to get. It's great for FedEx, it's great for our sponsors, it's great for Toyota. That's what I always think about, is those people. Everybody back at the race shop. Coy leading that group, the other side. All those guys, I wish they were here to enjoy it when you get a win like this.
Taking some time here because it's just a big deal for us.
DENNY HAMLIN: The motivation from the team comes by the example that Joe sets. Joe is not in his younger years, but he works full-time at the race shop. I couldn't imagine, double my life from now, working as hard as he does.
He can crack the whip and go home and relax or whatever, but he doesn't. He works hard himself. The people that work in the shop see him walking the shop floor for eight hours a day.
It ain't like he's just an owner and makes the calls and y'all just go do the rest. He's a hands-on owner. I've been part of this organization from the very beginning. It's not hard to want to work hard for him because he puts his life and blood into this race team. This is what he does. His family races for a living.
The guy's work ethic is just unmatched. That's what's so great about this team. Makes you feel good when you can get a win for him.
CHRIS GABEHART: Hear, hear.
JOE GIBBS: I appreciate that. Pat disagrees with you. We tried staying home. That doesn't work in our family.
Thank you, Denny.
Q. Chris, you referenced Phoenix. Can you give us a sense of what letdown that weekend was? Obviously you work hard every week to get the results, the change from Phoenix to here, what went into what JGR got, you guys got?
CHRIS GABEHART: That's a tough question. In today's NASCAR schedule, the one thing that's hard to find is anything common. We're comparing Richmond to Phoenix, which any insider would tell you is not much of a comparison. But it's all we have to draw off of these days because they've done such a nice job of diversifying the schedule such that there is not a common thread.
The first seven races, they're all wildly different. You're going to go to Martinsville, it's different again, then a dirt race, on and on and on.
Yes, we learned something leaving Phoenix that we're going to move forward to here with. Listen, this is a great track for our company, it's a great track for our drivers. But it feels good to get it right as a company.
For me, while not getting into details, what I keep telling everybody, what I'm looking forward to most is I know we're not at our best right now. There's a lot of things internally we got to get better. We're on a road to doing it. It's nice to win in spite of that, to be honest.
Q. At the end JGR was covered with different strategies. At Vegas, where all the JGR cars did the same thing, the Hendrick move wasn't covered. When you go through the strategy, how was the decision to go in the way you were going? Is that done by the command center feeding you certain things?
CHRIS GABEHART: That's a really good question.
I think the success of our company - I think Joe could speak to this - is sometimes a downfall in that he allows, encourages the head coaches and the drivers to be selfish, to do what you think's right for your race team at all times.
I think you can't argue with the number of wins that have come from that mentality. But when it comes to covering all aspects of a race, to your point, when a strategy is split, that is not top of mind because we think more about what's best for your car number than what's best for the team.
Sometimes, like Vegas, you'll see where you don't diverge the way you should to cover all your bases, or converge in the case of Vegas. I could make some points maybe we should have done different in hindsight there. Unfortunately we were looking at bent control arms again.
It's difficult. It's a very fine line to walk. I can't imagine all the experience and years of coaching and leading people that Joe has seen, certainly this race team. There's Mondays where you wish it were different, and there's Mondays where you're glad it's not.
I think overall you learn from all of those situations. Clearly our way of doing things has stood the test of time as being pretty good.
To answer your question specifically about this race, I felt like we were more of a short-run car than a long-run car generally speaking. I felt like the 4 kind of behind me, there's a very short window when you're supposed to do certain things, and he set it off. We were on the fence about which way we were going to go. As much playing the man as playing the situation.
Once it got set off a certain way, you work all day long, all year long, to train your instincts. That's why you work Monday through Saturday. All the race team does, Denny does.
In the instant, you've got to trust your instincts. If you think wrong, you will think wrong. It was just something about that moment that I knew, Okay, we're going this direction, and that's what we did.
Q. Denny, what has been the biggest adjustment as a driver that you've had to make with the new car, maybe the strength that you see in this current incarnation?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think for me, I was kind of really honed in on the previous generation car on each track. Had enough notes and enough memory, track memory, at each one of them to know what I was searching for, a feel that was correct, and won races.
The challenge to this one is figuring out what this car likes, how it makes speed. I got to start all over again when I come to these racetracks. That's the biggest challenge of it beyond any shifting, braking or steering, anything like that. Those are all challenges, but it's more just figuring out what makes this car tick and what makes it go around the racetrack in the shortest amount of time, and what is my role in that.
Q. Coach, two days straight, victory yesterday, victory today, talk about that from an organizational standpoint.
JOE GIBBS: I can tell you this: we love coming to Richmond. We got so many people here that we love and pull for us in the football world, all that. For some reason when we come here, I say it's probably our favorite place to come - if you want a victory - I'll put it that way. We feel good about it.
I'm just thrilled to have a chance to win at a place like this where there's so many great fans. We've been around for a long time, so we just appreciate coming here.
Q. Denny, when you start off like you have this year, do you look back at previous slow starts to the year? 2010, first five races, your best finish was 17th. Do you draw strength from that?
DENNY HAMLIN: I thought that there was no year compared to this one. I didn't realize that.
Honestly, I went on NASCAR.com for the first time and looked at the standings last week. I knew we were buried. Whether you're 232nd or 23rd, what's the difference? I know we got a hole to dig out of.
I told you guys on Saturday, like, am I concerned? No. Like, we're going to be okay. We're going to make the Playoffs. If we don't, then he should fire me.
JOE GIBBS: Really (smiling)?
DENNY HAMLIN: Instead now I'm going to ask for a raise (laughter).
JOE GIBBS: You always do that.
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, I don't draw parallels to it. Every season is so different. But just certainly our points position at the time wasn't indicative of we were a 20-somethingth place team. Did I think we were a 10th-place team? Probably. That's probably about right when you average it all out.
I mentioned three tracks in the first six that we could have won those if we didn't make mistakes. I don't get too panicked because, like we talked about with the team, they just have so many good people that eventually it works itself out. You can't just continue to have cautions not fall your way, get run into here and there.
Eventually, you can't roll the dice and continue to roll seven out. The odds are, if you keep banging on the door, it's going to open. That's what we're trying to do.
Q. Chris, you talk about Denny not being panicked. What was your assessment through this? Did you believe you were going to be just fine?
CHRIS GABEHART: The answer is exactly the same as his.
But I will say the catalyst for such uncertainty was this Next Gen car that is now current gen car, not only is it so different to drive, but it is massively different. The fundamentals of what it takes to make this car go good from a technical aspect are literally backwards. Because of that, you see a lot of parity and comers and goers with good setups and bad setups. Then you have the difficulties of learning how to drive 'em, making some mistakes along the way, the difficulty of learning the parts and pieces, dealing with a failure as an industry trying to learn a new car. All of the competition gets wrapped up in some of that.
I'll give you a great example. Chase Elliott comes into this race I think as the points leader, right? When I learned that, leaving COTA last week, for some reason it floored me. The reason was not that Chase and that team isn't a fantastic team, but it was literally the opposite of us.
I don't think they've been stellar anywhere, but they've not had any whammies evidently. I think of Ross Chastain, that guy has been killing it, he's fifth in points. He's evidently had some whammies along the way with these cars, circumstances.
Right now there's just a lot of uncertainty. Denny I know has been beating the drum on it a lot. You're going to see comers and goers very quickly in the standings right now. It's just because things are so new.
Too many good people. You got Toyota, FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing, all the brilliant people I get to work with day in, day out. You ain't going to hold people back. You just got to keep working, stay the course, and you'll get your wins.
Q. (Question about the tape on the grille.)
CHRIS GABEHART: I don't know any of the details about what happened there, so I can't comment on it much. All I heard was, I scan NASCAR, some crew chiefs do, some don't, I do. I heard them post the 18 for putting tape or having tape on the grille. Again, without getting specific to the technical side of the cars, you wouldn't do that. There's no reason.
I thought to myself, God, I don't know, maybe they tried to put tape on a brake duct and missed. I don't know. I was thinking could it have been debris. I just didn't know.
But the bottom line is there's no reason that you would want to do that, so I was confused by the whole situation.
Q. Denny, getting a win here at Richmond, everyone knows you're from Chesterfield, does it make it that much more special? Does it have any different feel? You talk about coach's work ethic in the shop. For you as an owner yourself, do you model your ownership style off of Coach Gibbs? Do you lean on him for guidance?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, I wish I could work as many hours as he does. I've got my job here as the driver of the 11 car. I really donate at least four days a week on that. That's my focus. Then I shift to my team in the middle stages of the week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, set up all my meetings for the team on those days.
But, yeah, there's a lot that I model after Joe. When we talked about building the team, he was the first person I sat down with and asked. The first thing he said is, You're an idiot. The second thing is, Let me know how I can help.
We need his help. We need his help all the time. My people talk to his people that are in the same departments. We obviously have a technical alliance with those guys, so we really rely on them quite a bit on that side.
We are not ready to hire 200 to 300 people quite yet. But it's an important working relationship that I hope continues for a very long time.
These guys are the ones that took the chance on me. There's no doubt about it. There wasn't any other top team looking to sign me at the time. FedEx, what a risk to just trust in what him and his son was saying, that we believe in this. That certainly is special for me.
As far as your question about the track, yeah, it is more special. There's no question about it. I had more family and friends here than any other racetrack. I drove all the way to Amelia last night and hung out with a bunch of friends in their barn, froze my ass off, had a beer, one beer (smiling). It was fun to just kind of get back and see everyone from school. It was just so cool to kind of see all that and spend time with them.
Did it mean that we won? No. It's a big feeling inside when they all come to the race and say, We'll see you after in Victory Lane, right? Then you're able to do it.
It's just special because I sat in the stands here and watched the greatest short track drivers run around here. I watched different techniques. This track hasn't changed, the shape of it hasn't changed. I watched guys like rusty that were extremely good here. Their lines entering turn one, that changes with cars and stuff, but still the way they make speed is such an art form. You just try to do your best as the driver.
I got Kevin right behind me pressuring me, but I knew that no matter what, if I hit my marks, I concentrate on my job, it was going to be very difficult for him to get around me. Part of hitting my marks is I can't miss it by that much. If I do, my car takes off and I miss it by three feet, then I'm in big trouble.
You have to be so precise at this racetrack because there's specific time being made in a certain way, it is art.
Q. Can you evaluate the new choreography on the pit stops?
CHRIS GABEHART: Coach got to watch it from a much different lens than me. I'm focused on the 11 car, my guys.
In general I would say our pit crew has been on fire all year. We probably really haven't given them the results that they deserve. This win was especially thrilling for me in so many ways, one of which was we gave them the ball twice in the last stage, not once. They gained us time both times.
When you're performing this really long 140-lap math problem, them exceeding those numbers just buys you money in the bank. They've been doing that all year. The latest choreography was a big part of that. I'm not going to downplay that.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Nothing great comes without risk. I'm happy to be a part of continuing to push those boundaries.
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, it was a team win. He had such a huge role, the pit crew has such a huge role, I had a huge role, the people in the shop had such a huge role. This might have been one of the biggest. Everyone had a hand in this victory. That's super satisfying.
JOE GIBBS: I think it's a work in progress. I think it's something that our guys have really worked hard on. I think this is the first time that the game plan was to use it here, I think NASCAR and everybody.
I think it will be interesting because I think we had some of our guys with regular choreography and some with that. I think that will be, like I said, a work in progress.
We'll analyze it, see what we think. That's one of the fun things about sports, you get something new, a different way of doing something. I think that's one of the fun things.
Q. Have you ever had a race where you started out not the best car in the stable with your teammates? Even before the strategy with the fresher tires, you really picked it up.
DENNY HAMLIN: There were two key restarts. One is when we had the tire advantage that got us into the top 10. Then once we got there, I had another really good one that got us into the top three or four. That just changed the game.
The aero is just so sensitive on these cars. The further you go to the front, the better your car just naturally is. It's crazy because even when they get strung out, your car just runs faster. It's hard to explain it.
But we made it better, too. We certainly made our car better. It takes time to adapt to your car and figure out, for me, this is what I've got, we're not going to change this problem that we have in the car unless we put it in the garage, so how can I make the best lap time I can, given this problem that I have.
It just takes awhile for me to start to understand it. Once I start to understand it, then I can tell him how he can improve the things that we can change.
Really there wasn't any panic. Listen, I was frustrated we weren't in the top 10. We were just kind of hanging around there. But we just kind of worked. I mean, that's the way we do it.
If he says, Tell me what you need, I tried the best to give him the information he needs. He works the strategy, I do my job on the restarts. That's why it works. You don't give up, you just do your job and have faith they're going to do theirs.
Q. Does this make up for last year where you played the opposite role and dominated, had it taken from you?
DENNY HAMLIN: Nothing makes up. That's not just the way that we think, right? You still think you should have won the ones you should have won.
But it's certainly exciting. It's exciting to win them in this sort of fashion. You'd love to win by a lap, but if you can win on the last lap, that's the more exciting way to win.
Q. Did this win make it that much more gratifying after coming so close last year and not having won here in five years?
DENNY HAMLIN: He actually asked me when was the last time. I couldn't remember. I think it was '17 that we won.
I take a lot of pride in the way I approach short tracks and stuff. My way is sometimes antiquated at some tracks. I have to adapt.
Yeah, these types of tracks, he knows I get really frustrated when we don't run well at this type of racetrack because I feel like I can make a difference, I feel like I know the feel that I want to feel in the car, and it just becomes frustrating from my standpoint when I can't get the car to do what I want it to do.
As long as you trust the process, you go to work when you have those bad races, typically when we come back we're usually always better because of our process to figure out the margins and where we need to get better.
I do my part, he does his.
Q. Denny, there's been a lot of attention on the aggression of younger drivers as well as the recent stretch of wins. Do you feel like today was a race where towards the end the differing pit strategies and tire conservation benefited veterans like you and Harvick?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think I talked to radio about that before the race. They said, This is going to be a veteran day. I don't know, Blaney led for a lot of it. Truex got up there. Byron did.
Yeah, it's tough to really draw a parallel to that. But when you have so many laps at a track like this that is so technical, even though it doesn't look technical, it is, usually with track knowledge, it matters at this track.
Harvick has run more laps than I have around here. But Truex, myself, Harvick, we have a ton around here. When our car is not performing how we need it to perform, we can do things to manipulate it, to maximize lap time to at least put us in the game.
I think being a veteran of the sport probably helps in those instances.
Q. Chris, anything you learned this weekend and next week that you can apply to Bristol in the next two weeks with the Next Gen car?
CHRIS GABEHART: Bristol dirt? I don't know. The neat part about where we're at right now is there's so little that the race teams know, every lap on a racetrack you better be learning something. It's pretty significant.
We struggled at Phoenix, went to a Darlington test, and I learned a ton about Phoenix at Darlington that I helped apply to this race. I mean, that tells you where we're at.
Phoenix, Darlington, Richmond. You got to be learning each and every day, each and every week. Again, I know with our team specifically, and when I say 'team' I mean Joe Gibbs Racing and certainly the 11, we got a lot of good stuff coming.
We're not hitting on all eight right now, but we know the direction we got to march. While all teams can say that to a certain degree right now because the car is so new, it's a lot of fun from that aspect.
It's a lot of work, super frustrating, because I know he's not going to drive a perfect race car on any Sunday right now. It's not there. You're just not going to get it perfect right now. Our job is to be better than everyone else, not perfect, and today we found a way to do that.
Q. Chris, I'm curious, obviously it's a long season, how concerned are you about just monitoring your guys for burnout being put through the wringer this year?
CHRIS GABEHART: For sure, definitely. Enough that I spent weeks of the off-season putting together an organized schedule that would give each of my guys two extra weekends off. It's done in a way that won't hurt the race team. It's scheduled, choreographed, it's not haphazard. They all know what weekends they're getting off and when because I think it's a big deal. On top of rolling out a new car, we're all traveling now more than we have with a much reduced roster, parts shortages. There's no secret on all that. It's a lot of work for these guys. It's a big deal. I spent a lot of time in the off-season trying to get it to where I thought we could get it.
Q. Are you going to be in a position to swap guys out and move people around?
CHRIS GABEHART: It's all done. Literally from race one to 36, they all know when they're getting off, who is going, how behind-the-wall choreography is going to go.
If you didn't do it right week to week, it would be a distraction. I wanted it to be such that all could plan weekends with families, and all that's been done.
Q. You talked about the uncertainty of trying to work the car and the things you learned from track to track that translated. When you go to Martinsville, do you think you've got any tricks up your sleeve that are going to work there?
CHRIS GABEHART: Joe, you got any tricks up your sleeve for Martinsville?
JOE GIBBS: I'm going to be standing on the sideline praying. That's about all I got.
I think you probably meant to Denny on that one.
DENNY HAMLIN: Like Chris said, it's so week to week. I don't know. I hope not. We win this week, we could run 15th. I have no idea. Until we go back to a track for the second time, everything is so new that it's impossible to predict.
CHRIS GABEHART: I could see Martinsville being one of the more different races for a guy like Denny that we've went to yet. Denny is so honed in at Martinsville through so many different types of cars over his career.
In a Cup car, we took 80 horsepower away from him, gave him two inch wider car, it is a 200-pound heavier car, it has a higher center of gravity and better brakes. He's going to go to Martinsville in the first 10 laps and be as lost as last year's Easter egg.
He was so honed in on perfection of what that car was for so many years. This car is going to be wildly different. I think that's going to be a lot of fun for you watch, why you're seeing great racing. But golly, it's a lot of learning for these guys, for sure.
Q. Coach, this is probably for the debrief early this week, but have you had a chance to talk to John Hunter and Ty, get them together and walk through what happened on Saturday?
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, you don't want something like that to wind up like that, particularly for John Hunter. I think Ty tried to explain yesterday that he was going in there with the intent. I think he was definitely going to try to get underneath and make a move to win. He just didn't think he would probably hit him that hard.
I know I'll talk to him. What I always talk to Ty about is going right to the person immediately. He's been pretty good about that. So I would think they would talk that over. Like John Hunter a lot. That car was a very fast car. They did a great job with it.
I think that's always been the drivers. So I just encourage them to talk about it.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know what was pretty funny? I asked Joe about 10 minutes after the race, What's your thoughts?
He said, Hope you win tomorrow (smiling).
Says, All right.
JOE GIBBS: I was still trying to figure it out.
CHRIS GABEHART: We delivered on that, coach.
Q. With how different everything is now with the Gen 7 car, is there anything you can take from the L.A. Coliseum for Martinsville?
CHRIS GABEHART: Yeah, that's insane, right? I'm telling you, the only thing you probably can't take to Martinsville would be something from Daytona. I mean, it's just that different. You're learning that much every week.
So, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I can't stress to you enough, if you're not connecting dots from week to week, track to track right now, you're not doing it right.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, we appreciate you coming in. Good luck the rest of the year.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you.
CHRIS GABEHART: Thanks.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports