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March 29, 2009

Denny Hamlin

Tony Stewart


KERRY THARP: We've got our second and third-place finishers. Our second-place finisher is Denny Hamlin. He drives the No. 11 FedEx freight Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Our third-place finisher to his right is Tony Stewart. He drives the No. 14 Old Spice Office Depot Chevrolet for Stewart Haas racing.
First I'll call on Denny. Denny, you led many laps out there. Talk about how things unfolded throughout the race and then down there towards the stretch. We'll defer to Tony. Tony, first of all, congratulations on a nice run. We'll start with questions for Tony Stewart.

Q. Tony, when you're inside the car and you're doing so well, I assume you're getting excited. Then Ryan Newman is coming up and he's into the top 10. Do people let you know he's getting up there and is it hard to, I guess, be excited for you and Ryan as a team owner and a driver?
TONY STEWART: I honestly didn't know. I didn't know till after we took the checkered. We were getting ready to pull back on pit lane where Ryan finished. I never saw him during the day, which was good. We stayed around the top five all day. Not seeing him was a good thing, because that meant he was still on a lead lap, was still coming and gaining spots. On a caution every now and then I could see where he was at track position-wise. But had no idea he had had such a strong run right there at the end to get to sixth.
I was more worried about myself at the time. It's not that you weren't worried about Ryan, but you got a job to do and it takes a hundred percent of your concentration just to do that.

Q. Tony, you were talking the other day about it wasn't going to be easy to get the feel and rhythm of this place back with a new package. Are you surprised to get it back this quick or could you kind of feel it coming on all weekend?
TONY STEWART: We struggled in one part of the corner to get it to rotate right past the center. That was pretty much what we thought, I would say two-thirds of the Friday practice, then that's what we thought the majority of the day today. I could see Denny, Jeff's and Jimmie's car were really good in that area. That's something that I know you got to be good at.
But, you know, to work with a different crew chief, a different package, end up like we did, you know, I felt like Darian made good calls. There were times during the race he was making changes that I questioned, but they were better and made the car work. He's really good. The thing is, he's very sure of himself. He's very sure of his decisions.
They made it hard to not watch it and focus on your line. But I was about three car lengths back to really be where I needed to be to get in the mix of it when it happened. You know, they both were a little bit better at the end of the race than we were. I'm not sure if I got ahead of them I was going to be able to hold it. But we had a solid top five car for sure.

Q. Tony, two weeks in a row we've seen the 14 and the 39 much more on the same page. Can you talk about how the teamwork is starting to gel in your shop.
TONY STEWART: Yeah, I mean, I don't know that it's really gelling. We've been like that from day one. It's just kind of figuring out, you know, Ryan's learning a new package, I'm learning a new package, and it's learning what each other wants. Every week when we make changes, we know how much it affects us percentage-wise. That's things that each week as it goes on, it makes it a little easier. I think we changed like six or seven things before the race today. It's just having that confidence and knowing that from his input and his feel, my input and my feel, plus the four Hendrick cars, knowing how much we need to make those adjustments to be good.
You know, it's coming. It just takes time. It's like we say every Monday in our competition meeting. We just got to build a database first. Once we get that established, then I think the second time we come around, we're going to be a little better yet.

Q. Tony, since the fall 2004, you and Denny are the only winners in a non-Hendrick car to win here at Martinsville. Can you talk about the dominance that Hendrick has had here at this half mile oval?
TONY STEWART: Well, I mean, I think for quite a while it's been between the Hendrick guys and the Gibbs cars historically, over the last three or four years. That's something that, you know, I know Denny and Kyle and myself took a lot of pride in last year, was that we've all three been good here at times. You know, it's a track that obviously Denny's really good at. He's led a lot of laps here. I've led a lot of laps here.
But it's hard. It's hard to get on a roll like that. Especially with two different type of cars, I mean. You know, we had to do the same thing at Gibbs, to come back and forth between these two and still be good.
But, you know, when you get good at a place, it's kind of like what we talked about with Ed on Friday. When you get good at a place, you find that feel, you know how to keep it. That's what the drivers work on each week.

Q. (Question regarding Jimmie Johnson's move.)
DENNY HAMLIN: The more cycles we had, the looser we got. We were still in position. But, unfortunately, on short tracks, when you find yourself in the lead, with less than a car length, you know, you're vulnerable. You're putting yourself out there. Your bumper is pretty big. The guy who is second, who is hungry to win, sees it, sees an opportunity. That's what he did, he took advantage. We were in a bad spot, I guess you could say.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions for Denny Hamlin, as well, here.

Q. Denny, after dominating like this today, and even though you know that moving somebody out of the way is sort of standard procedure at a place like this, how hard was it to give a class answer like you did to FOX out on the pit road and give class answers right now? Do you have to swallow some temper or some anger and bite your tongue a little bit? Also, could you go through Jimmie's move for us blow-by-blow.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, it's not that hard because I know I would do the same thing. You can't sit here and tell -- nobody can sit here and tell me they wouldn't do the same thing that he did. You know, honestly, with 15 to go, I'd rather be in second than first because I'm going to move the guy out the way.
Unfortunately, the way he did it, unfortunately for me, it got us way up high to where I couldn't get back to him. It would have been great if it just got us up a little bit. He was smart. Got us up high enough to where we got trash on our tires. I was done after that. I was just trying to keep up. We gained a little bit at the end. Believe me, I've been in the top three many times. I've led many times on last laps and all that.
You know, it's tough to say that you've gotten used to losing, but I've gotten used to the disappointment at the end. It's not like a new thing.
My hunger is still the same, for sure. I want to win races, you know, but I can't help being in the position I was in. I ran as hard as I could. He was on my bumper. He was on position to move me out of the way, and he did. I would have done the same thing.
The only thing I wished is that I was faster, you know, a little bit faster, to where I couldn't even let him get to me. But, unfortunately, we had a restart.
I think I did pull away a little bit, then we had that caution. The restart put him back on me and the rest is history. It's short-track racing.
As a fan, as a racecar fan, I like going to short tracks. I like seeing guys move each other out of the way for the last few laps for a win. It's just part of it. I think that's what makes our sport as good as it is.

Q. Denny, as Jimmie made that pass, were you able to realize almost immediately that you were not going to be able to catch up to him, to bump him or turn him, whatever you might do? Was it clear he was going to have that distance?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, it slowed us down enough to where I was in fourth gear. You know, he was still -- when he moved us up, it moved us up to where the trash was on the racetrack. Like there was so much rubber built up, it moved us up to the fourth lane.
Definitely if we get that chance, you know, and I feel like we will, it will be in a Chase race. Hopefully it will pay bigger dividends than it does now.

Q. Denny, on the pass that you made on the restart, did you and Kyle Busch work together at all? Did y'all sort of coordinate your efforts in the way he slowed down, let you in front?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I asked my spotter to get with Jeff Dickerson and ask him to let me clear getting in turn one because, you know, up high is definitely really tough on restarts. So, yeah, I think he saw that I was pushing Jimmie down the front stretch. He backed out because he knew I was going to make a move on Jimmie. He knew what was coming and I did communicate about that.

Q. The fact that it's Jimmie Johnson, does that come into play at all? Does it make it easier that it's a guy that's well-respected and regarded for him to put that kind of move on you?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I think so. I think it plays into it a little bit. Jimmie has always been really fair to me. We've raced really well together. We've raced like this a lot on short tracks. We've been around each other a bunch.
Yeah, I mean, his credibility is 50% of why it's easy to take because, you know, I know he's the competitor he is and he's a clean driver.
I think actually when he did get me up the track that he slowed down to try to let me somewhat get my stuff back together, but unfortunately I was up in the trash so much that I couldn't do anything.
So, yeah, I think his reputation definitely helped him there.

Q. Denny, again you seemed to have the dominant Gibbs car with Kyle finishing 24th, Joey finishing 32nd. What is your key to having a good setup here? Kyle talked about not being able to set up his car to where he's as dominant as you are. Why do you think your teammates don't necessarily have the same success?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I'm just better on short tracks, I think. It's just typically, you know, last year we scored the most points on short tracks. It's just something that I'm -- it's what I've got the most time on, all my career, you know, since I was a kid. I've been racing on tracks shorter than a half a mile. Once you figure out how to win, you know what to go back to.
I don't think Kyle's got a win here. So I think it's tough for him to come here and figure out exactly what he needs to have a race-winning setup. It's nothing more than that. Kyle is better than I am on the bigger tracks. I'm better on the shorter tracks. It's just part of the driving style which you've grown up doing.

Q. Denny, when you make a move like did you on the restart, you have Jimmie Johnson in your rearview mirror, do you expect the move he made for the win?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, you do expect it. You know, it's just -- I thought maybe it would happen a little bit later in the race. But, yeah, I thought he was just going to sit there and ride and ride and wait till the last couple laps to do it.
But you got to think at it from his standpoint. He don't know if my car is going to get better, his gets worse, and then I'm too far away from him to make a move like that. That's the thing about this racetrack, when you have an opportunity late in a race to nudge a guy out of the way, you got to make sure you do it quick because you don't know when your car's gonna change, and you can't keep up with a guy any more and you can't drive to him.
That's the thing at the end, I couldn't get back to him. He got me loose enough to where he was able to pull five car lengths, while we only gained two of that back in the last 15 laps. To me, I think he did it just right. It's just one of the days. The tables will be turned and I'm sure he'll expect it. It's just part of it.

Q. When he got inside you on the backstretch, you tried to close down on the inside curb, is that kind of like a close your eyes, here we go, hoping that what could happen doesn't?
DENNY HAMLIN: I didn't cut down on him. He really wasn't there until the corner. I think he made a really aggressive move to get down in there.
My brake package was really good all day so I felt like I was getting in the corner very, very good. But just he drove down a little bit deeper. You know, it was just kind of, yeah, I knew it was going to be hairy. I knew it was going to be close.
But, you know, when you did get there, you're at the mercy of his right front bumper. It worked well for him.

Q. Going into turn three, you said he didn't go down on him or squeeze him. He was saying that. If you said you didn't squeeze him, the question would be, why wouldn't you in a situation like that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I did once we were in the corner. But he wasn't actually on the inside of me till we got to the corner really, really late. He moved low down the straightaway, but he wasn't actually there. I was still clear to go on in.
I think it was at the very last instance on turndown where he got position. By then, I'm already committed to the bottom. There's nothing I can do but steer straight and go way up the racetrack. My line was committed. He'll probably agree. It was a late charge into the corner, but no foul there. That's just it.

Q. Denny, as the senior driver now at JGR, seems like there's always been somebody stuck out front, whether it was Tony for a while, Kyle. But Kyle was saying Friday that Denny's stuff works here and we have the same equipment. That bothers him. He feels kind of lost here. For once, do you really feel like the senior JGR driver when you come to this place? Do you feel that way when you go other places?
DENNY HAMLIN: Anywhere a mile and shorter I feel pretty confident that, you know, we're going to be the best (laughter). Even our big track program has gotten better. We've been able to keep up with Kyle on the bigger tracks. It's just Kyle has really a gift of speed. He knows what it takes to go fast. To make a car go fast, regardless of the handling, regardless of anything, he's found a way to really make his car go fast.
That's something that I'm not good at. It's through my entire career, I've not been good on short runs. That's why, you know, it was our Achilles' heel that we had that caution at the end because short runs kill me. I lost a go-kart race at Harvick's a few days ago because of the short run. Beat me on the short run. Came back to the front on a long run. I don't know what it is. We're racing in the wet there. It ain't got nothing to do with tires. I don't know what it is, I just can't go fast for a few laps.
It's something I got to work on as a driver to get better because if I was faster, then I wouldn't even let Jimmie get close. But just Kyle's got that gift and it's paid off for him because at the end of these races there's been a lot of short runs and that's where Kyle's best gift is, he's able to go, regardless of the handling, and that's where he's gotten his wins. It's something I have to work on. When these races go to long runs, you always see the 11 car come to the front. Just part of it.

Q. How soon we forget, with 45 to go you had a great move on a restart to pass Johnson. Walk us through that. You probably couldn't have timed that one any more perfectly.
DENNY HAMLIN: No, it was definitely one of my better restarts for sure. Just our cars don't have the greatest takeoff on corner exit it seems like. We're still off in that aspect. I think we need to work on our engines and whatnot to get better. On new tires it seems like the Hendrick cars pull away tremendously on corner exit. That's something we've got to work on.
But, yeah, it was a great timing thing. I had my nose on Jimmie. I think he spun the tires a little bit, just enough to where I could really get good position.
Once he saw that I charged in there, he had no choice but to move up or else there was going to be a situation where we got tangled up like we did in three and four. It just was a good timing. I kind of set that restart as, All right, this is the one I'm really going to try to go after him in turn one and just worked out good.
KERRY THARP: Denny, thanks a lot. Good luck at Texas.

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