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January 10, 2009

Denny Hamlin

Randy Houser

Reed Sorenson

David Stremme

Michael Waltrip


THE MODERATOR: Denny, your team had its moments throughout the year with all three your drivers. Coming back strong as ever this year.
DENNY HAMLIN: We typically run really good for the first 25 races and then have our issues the last 10. But, you know, we got to figure out what we got to do. We figured out we got to concentrate on those first three Chase race, almost treat them as we got three races to get it done, then worry about it after that.
We got to get a good start off to the Chase, if we make it again, which is optimistic of us. I think we got a good shot at it. We just got to make sure we got all the pieces in place. I think the no testing will definitely help. I think it will be a benefit for Gibbs Racing because we typically don't do as much testing as other guys anyway.
THE MODERATOR: The median age of your three drivers dropped dramatically with the departure of Tony. You have on that's going to be 19 in the middle of the summer.
DENNY HAMLIN: We got them pretty much even spread out. 19, 23, 28. Got a good spread there.
THE MODERATOR: The young gun team?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, definitely not a lot of experience. I think Kyle has one extra year on me. I think there's a lot to be learned. Joey is going to have a lot to learn through the course of the year. I'm sure I can probably help him out a lot. Kyle is going to be able to help him, I'm sure.
Us working together I think is going to be good. Our chemistry between the three, coming into this sport relatively around the same time, we have a lot of the same likes and dislikes, so that will help.
THE MODERATOR: David, you're stepping into the hot seat with one of the better racing businessmen in the industry, even beyond motorsports. Pretty special year coming ahead for you?
DAVID STREMME: Yeah, I'm pretty excited. I was telling the fans out there that Roger, you know, you look at what he's done in motorsports alone, he's talked to everybody in the shop and it's pretty well-known he wasn't happy with last season, the company's performance. He's made some changes. I was like, Wow, they won the 500, they won Loudon.
But I can see it, their performance really stepped up towards the end of the year. As a test driver when I was there, I got to see a lot of things, the company changing, getting better. Probably the really neat thing is how in touch with the team he is, how he's able to motivate people. He's somebody that wants to win more than anybody on the team. I'm excited. He gives us all great tools.
We have three great partners, Miller, Alltel, Mobil. In the times like they are now, I feel like the organization is going to be strong when we go into Daytona and really all year.
THE MODERATOR: What would be the difference? You've driven for some pretty decent team owners in your day already. You come to Penske. What's the Penske way?
DAVID STREMME: It was a little different. One of the things that was a little different when I started there, it seemed like each team was independent. Since the end of the season, even over the winter, you can really see all three teams gelling together. That's something that was a little different for me. I like the direction it's going.
But I think a lot of it, just getting to know the history a little bit of some of the internal things that's been going on over the last couple years, I can see it's been a building process. There's a lot of things that's gone on with moving the organization into a new facility, having people move around.
But probably the neatest thing is Roger's like, Hey, if you guys need it, we got to get it, whatever we got to do to get the job done. He holds you accountable for that.
I'm excited. He's easy to talk to. He'll call you up like 11:00 at night, Hey, how did your test go, how is things going at the shop, how are you and Roy getting along? This is neat to have that owner have so much desire for the sport and passion and be able to talk to you still.
It's going to be interesting to hear him on the radio because he likes to get on the radio and talk throughout the weekend, I should say throughout the race. He's got a lot of experience. He still calls IndyCar races. He's got a lot of knowledge. I'm excited about it.
THE MODERATOR: Randy, talk about the kind of year you had, what you got coming up, goals, expectations for '09.
RANDY HOUSER: You know, '08 was actually the first year I had a single out on country radio, so this past year was a lot of time, we do what we call a radio tour. We go visit like three radio stations per day, playing our song, meeting different radio guys, interviews, just playing things in the stations and all.
It's been a crazy year. I couldn't believe the transition from just being a songwriter. That's primarily how I made my living before now, is writing songs. The transition, I just couldn't believe the difference. You never know as a songwriter the amount of work all these artists that are out here today do that have given their time. You never know how demanding their schedules are until you're stuck right in the middle of it. I'm expecting '09 to be worse (laughter).
I think it's going to be a cool year. We've got our first tour booked. I don't think I can say who with yet, but we'll leave the end of January and start on the first tour, my first Randy Houser tour.
THE MODERATOR: You nervous?
RANDY HOUSER: No. You know, I got into playing music when I was -- I always tell people I started playing guitar before I can remember. Everybody says, I hear people talk about, I learned to play guitar to pick up chicks. I'm always like, Guess what, I learned when chicks had koodies. I'm kind of like these guys, started out racing as a kid, I started out banging around on a guitar when I was a baby.
So only place I can say I've been nervous in a long time was the first time I played the Grand Ol' Opry, for the television spot. I was sweating bullets. That one freaked me out. Pretty much anywhere else I don't get nervous. It's just go do what you do. You get pumped up and a lot of adrenaline, that kind of nervous, but not scared nervous.
THE MODERATOR: Just the thought of going on tour?
RANDY HOUSER: Yeah. Probably like these guys do before a race, you get antsy. It's like going into war a little bit. Kind of the same deal.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Reed Sorenson. Quite a bit of off-season shuffling. I've lost track of where that leaves you for '09. Talk about what you got coming up.
REED SORENSEN: Well, it seems to be shuffling around. Every day something changes. Going over to Gillett Evernham next year. I guess they just announced a couple days ago their merger with Petty Enterprises. Not sure what the official team name is, but I'm sure they'll come out with that pretty soon.
Myself and Elliott, Kasey are going to be teammates next year. We have all our sponsors lined up and everything. I'm sure they'll get all that announced. Look forward to a good season. We got a lot of good stuff going on. Having Richard as part of the team and the Pettys will be cool. We're looking forward to getting going.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open up the floor to questions.

Q. Randy, as a songwriter going on the road, spending all the time, has that really curtailed your writing?
RANDY HOUSER: This past year it did. It slowed it down. It affected it pretty hard. I mean, there was really no time. Basically in a period like last year when I was so busy visiting radio stations and playing like that, all I can do at that time is just have the experiences and build up all the ideas for different songs.
Like starting at the end of the month, whenever I'm on my bus a lot traveling, I'll be traveling, we'll be out playing Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights like through May. I was home probably a total of 20 days last year. I didn't have much time.
But this year I'll be home a couple days a week and then be on the bus so I can actually take one of my songwriting buddies out with me and we'll write on the road. At the same time I've got another album to write. I have a lot of it done, but I'm got to find time to write the next record.
The difference in the radio tour and going out and just touring with your band is I'll have a little more time to write songs.

Q. Denny, you said toward the end of last year that you thought the organization was a little bit too conservative maybe on technology and you were looking to change that this year. What have you guys done over the off-season either in terms of moving people around or doing anything different from a technical standpoint?
DENNY HAMLIN: That's what we've done, is we've assigned teams I guess you could say. Instead of having Joe Gibbs Racing, a big team of engineers, they're all broken down now into each team. The 18, 20 and 11 will each have their own individual group of engineers they're going to work with, personally deal with race issues as well as the issues they want to work on for the future. That will definitely help our race team, for sure, with the week-to-week issues that we had, mechanical failures that we had last year, which were pretty much inexcusable, those things will hopefully be reduced this year. We won't have those issues. If we do, we're going to have a team designated to fix them right away and not wait until another issue happens.
I think that's going to be a plus, for sure. That's the direction that we're heading right now.

Q. Were the mechanical issues because you were the first year with the manufacturer?
DENNY HAMLIN: They were mechanical issues that had really nothing to do with the manufacturer. It was trying different gauges or trying a different type of hosing or what have you for pumps. Little mechanical things. We just needed to stick to basics because our reliability couldn't hardly be beat our first year and a half, then it just seems like it just got worse and worse over the last year and a half.
It's just something that we decided we needed to work on. I think we're going to worry more about the reliability of our cars more so than the outright speed.

Q. Reed, you mentioned you guys have sponsorship. I know we've seen where it's going to be the 43 car, I believe, but I don't think anything about sponsorship was mentioned. Could you talk about that. Also since you've gone and made the move from Ganassi, you've had the merger situation come up, you've had the situation with Elliott being in the car, not being in the car, now he's back in the car. Has any of that kind of been a concern for you, What have I gotten myself into here?
REED SORENSEN: No, I mean, that's just part of racing. Obviously this year, with not as many teams out there and things like that, it's even crazier. As far as I know Elliott is in the car now, it's all set. I was just like everybody else, waiting to see what was going on.
I knew what I was doing. I think they were just trying to figure out what was best for the team. I think everything's situated now. But I don't think I'm supposed to announce the sponsors yet. I think they want to do that. We have a pretty good lineup. They announced the Air Force already, which is actually a cool deal. Get to go up in a F-15 in a week or so. Looking forward to that. Then we got actually I think a total of five sponsors.
It's going to be pretty cool. I think it's going to be fun representing all the sponsors we have for next year. I think everything's settled now. They had to get rid of some engine employees and things like that because we don't have the clients that they had. Petty was leasing motors from them. So was Robby Gordon. They don't have that business anymore, so they had to lay off a few people, just like most race teams did this year. I think they're done with that. They've shuffled crew members around. I think they're still looking for a crew chief maybe for the 19 car. I think everything is set on our team and Kasey's team. They've shuffled a lot of stuff around, moved a lot of people around. I guess they're just trying to find some new success. But I think everything's kind of starting to settle down and everybody knows where they're going to be for next year.

Q. Denny, I think out there you actually may have mentioned that you even volunteered to come to this event. This event helps Camp and children, also brings the fans closer to the sport of NASCAR and country music. Talk about this event, those two entities coming together, why you would want to be a part of it.
DENNY HAMLIN: The fun aspect of it. I mean, we're here in Nashville. With the testing being cut out, our weekends are a little bit more free, our weekdays, because we're not testing as much.
I heard from Michael, we have some mutual friends that have been here before, said it was a good time. I just wanted to participate in it. I really had nothing else going on. For me, you know, it just feels good to come back here. I raced here in the Nationwide race earlier this year. I didn't have to do that. But Nashville is a place I love coming to. It's a great town. They love racing here. They love country music. It's a great mix of what we got going on here.

Q. Reed, have they told you officially you're in the 43 at this point? Also, what was the most fun, exciting, best thing you did during the off-season?
REED SORENSEN: Well, as far as the 43 goes, I don't want to make an official statement, but it's a pretty sure thing. I mean, wait for their press announcement, I guess. They kind of already announced it somewhat with the merger and everything. I think they want to make a final formal press announcement at some point.
The funnest thing I did was I tried to go on a vacation and ended up not going on it. Went snowboarding. Did that. That was probably the best thing I did. It was pretty fun. Fell a lot. It was fun, though. I like getting in the snow. West Virginia, it was a good time. That's about it. We're actually testing a bunch right now and stuff like that. I thought it would be an easy January, but it ends up actually being the most busy January I've ever had. We're testing a lot. A lot of sponsor events and things like that.

Q. Denny and Michael, same question, best thing you did during the off-season.
DAVID STREMME: I just came back from a wedding in Miami. Not my own. But that was fun. Spent New Year's in Miami. That was a good time. Probably our best trip is going to be coming up. Going to the Winter X Games in Aspen the end of January. That should be a rockin' good time.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I took my daughter, my mom and all my family bowling in Moorseville on New Year's Eve (laughter). It was awesome.
REED SORENSEN: That's a good bowling alley.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I bowled from 5:30 to 12:30 and my arm hurt worse than you could imagine the next day. But it was perfect. My daughter loved it. It was cool to have the family together.

Q. What was your high game?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, the answer is 168. But the last time I went, I bowled 188. I thought I was getting toward a 200 game. That was the first time I had bowled in a long time. I'm looking forward to going again. But I had to let my right arm heal because it really got sore, very bad. I couldn't use it for things that I'm used to using it for anymore.
DENNY HAMLIN: Like writing and whatnot.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Writing and whatnot (laughter).

Q. Michael, we just touched on the testing thing here. We've heard some of the guys from Gibbs and Hendrick shops saying they really don't think the testing is going to affect their team too much. For a newer team like yours, not necessarily a start-up organization, what does this do to you?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: My philosophy on testing is that it's a colossal waste of time and money. We can go to the wind tunnel. These guys will tell you, the cars are set up so precisely when they leave the shop. The guys go to the seven-post rig and they shake them. They do simulation. They understand what the cars are going to do when they go into the corner in the wind tunnel. So everything about the setup, it can be done virtually or through wind tunnel and seven-post testing. So when you go to a racetrack to test, you're just basically burning up tires, burning up gas, and taking people's time, taking employees' time at home away, which is a negative, because the schedule is so intense.
So I think the testing ban that is temporary needs to last forever. I guess NASCAR will decide that is the case because of the fact the world has changed. We used to didn't know how to set up a car on the computer. We would blow a car in the wind tunnel, then couldn't wait to get it to the track to see how it runs. Now they blow a car in the wind tunnel, they know exactly what it will do. It's gotten that precise.
I'm happy about the testing ban. I'm not so happy about teams going to Rockingham, Atlanta, Texas, VIR. I think that's circumventing the spirit of the rule. The rule was to try to save the teams money. Jack Roush had a wonderful idea. He and I talked about this at length. He wanted to say all teams in the top 35 in points would sign an affidavit stating they wouldn't go anywhere and test a car on track, no on-road vehicular testing anywhere.
REED SORENSEN: He was at Rockingham this week, too (laughter).
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, of course, he was there because no one would do it.
But to me the spirit of the rule is don't test to save the teams money and save your employees' time.
One thing I would suggest, and I'm going to quit talking because Denny is looking at his watch, he knows we have stuff to do, why not have a race in January, maybe a New Year's Eve race, middle of January, some sort of race in a cool location where it pays money. You go down there for two or three days, you're able to test what you've learned and you actually have like an unofficial race. NASCAR does it. It's like a pre-season game, if you will.
These guys, they're not quite as smart as me. Well have a pre-season game in January sometime. You get paid money for it. Fans get to come and watch it. It's a test for all the teams. Everybody gets to compete. We can start 50 cars. Whoever shows up gets to race. I like that.

Q. How about Hawaii?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Hawaii would be awesome, but there's not a track there. No, it's too far. Let's race at the Atlantis in the Bahamas.
REED SORENSEN: I don't think you'd make it to the track.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Through the streets of Nassau.

Q. Michael, you guys are going to go from three teams to two teams this year.

Q. You're going to have three?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: That's one thing that I'm proud about MWR, we're exactly the same support in 2009 as we were in 2008. You know, the top teams, the Gibbs, Hendrick, Roush, RCR, they're exactly the same support system they were. That means engineering is intact. They're able to support their teams just like they did last year. We've accomplished that same thing.
Now, Tad Geschickter is the owner of the 47 car, but it is basically the 00 car that raced that past season. The same people, the same engineers, the same fabrication support that car next year as this past season. That's really big for us.

Q. Do you look as an owner at adding a team under the MWR umbrella, not Geschickter?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I don't think anybody in the sport this past year has thought about adding anything. They were trying to get their arms around what they had. If the world was perfect, we would do that.
What I'm most proud of is we were able to go out and say, We want three teams, how do we accomplish that? Tad is coming into the sport, he's going to race Marcos, but he doesn't have an infrastructure like we have at MWR. We've partnered with Tad. He's in there. Now he's part of our team. I would rather focus on survival right now than growth. I think most teams are like that.
Look at Joe Gibbs Racing. I love to use them as an example. They have three teams. It's working pretty doggone good for them. They have never gotten greedy, went out and started a fourth team just because. They've always tried to be responsible to their competition, to their performance. I really respect that.
That's sort of how I would like to operate. I get a little agitated at our place even if someone says, Well, if we could do this or this, we could have another team. I'm like, Let's not do this or this, let's focus on these three. That's really important to me.

Q. Reed, if you were to be officially announced at some point in driving the 43, could you talk about the significance of driving one of the most important numbers in NASCAR history?
REED SORENSEN: Well, it's kind of hit me all at once here. It's going to be pretty awesome. Like I said, it's the only thing you could say about it. It's going to be cool. Richard was at the track the other day when we were testing, which was awesome to have him there. I think he's going to be around all year long. He's a real hands-on guy. He likes to know what's going on with the cars, with the drivers and everything like that.
I think if you ask anybody that's grown up racing or anybody that's in racing if they would drive the No. 43 in the Cup Series, I'm sure everybody would say yes. I'm excited about it. I think everybody on the team is, as well, whether it be the tire guy or the guy working up at the desk. I mean, it's an honor, I guess you could say, to represent the 43, the number, what it means. Hopefully we can get it back into Victory Lane.

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