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June 14, 2009
KERRY THARP: We'll roll right into our post race press conference at Michigan International Speedway. Our third-place finisher in today's race is Denny Hamlin. He drives the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Denny is now 10th in championship points standings.
Denny, talk about how you ran out there today and how things unfolded there towards the end.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, we had a good car all day. We fought a little track position for the most part. But we were a top five car all day. We felt like a third- to fourth-place car for the most part. We knew the last run, I think we were about two laps shy. I worked on some things, some road course testing, whatnot, to try to save fuel. I felt pretty confident that we could save those two laps.
I felt like as a driver I was really conservative. I'd be interested to see what we have left in the tank because I know I was really rolling down that 5 there about 10 to go. I just thought, man, it's kind of not worth it. If the 48 and the 16 don't run out, what's the point of trying to catch this 5? Little do you know it's for the race win.
But I think it's just the 16 and 48 kind of baited each other into running hard, and that's what happened.
KERRY THARP: Questions for Denny Hamlin.
Q. Denny, is it kind of disappointing to go back-to-back fuel mileage races as a driver? Is that tough when you get out there and they come on and say you have to start saving?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it is. But, I mean, it does put the driver in it, for sure. I mean, when we're all short, and I'm pretty sure that everyone was short, without having to save gas on the racetrack, it puts it in the drivers' hands in the sense of how hard do you want to push it versus how much do you want to save.
You know, it is still a driver's race, even though it is a fuel mileage race.
Q. Can you talk about this finish as far as your season. It's been not remarkable. This is a big boost for you guys.
DENNY HAMLIN: It is. You know, we definitely had a hard couple of weeks, for sure. But we definitely need to get back on track. We need to start building. If we're not 13th, I don't know with Mark winning, but we got to get back to solid finishes and make sure we solidify our place in the Chase and we don't have to race our way in going into Richmond.
You know, we had to finish pretty well at Richmond last year to make sure we got in the Chase. And that's just a gut-wrenching feeling you don't want to have to go through.
We feel like our performance is pretty good. We feel like we're a little bit behind the Hendrick cars. Obviously, I mean, if Kyle is not up front, then our stuff is not the best. And it's definitely not the best right now. We're a little bit behind. But, you know, we feel like in due time we got some things that we're working on to try to be better than those guys. Right now it's just catch-up mode.
KERRY THARP: Denny, thank you very much.
We're pleased to be joined by our race runner-up in today's race here at Michigan International Speedway. We have Jeff Gordon. He drives the No. 24 Dupont National Guard Year-of-the-NCO Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
Jeff, second place in place, 47 out of first right now. Talk about how things unfolded there the last few laps here today at Michigan.
JEFF GORDON: Oh, man, it doesn't matter to me whether it comes down to fuel mileage or not, it's always intense and exciting out there. And really I can't say that we really played a fuel mileage strategy. I mean, we ran hard that last run. Felt like I saved quite a bit under caution. Our lap times weren't quite as good as the leaders. You also kind of put that into account.
And then, you know, yeah, certainly saving those last few laps. But it probably didn't do much good. I wasn't really doing a whole lot to save. So we pretty much ran, you know, as hard as we could. Those leaders ran out and we made it. I mean, we had a top-five car, so it was certainly a great effort by this whole team.
I thought the pit stops were good. The car drove really well. We were able to get up to the top 15 or 20 fairly easily. I mean, the car was driving good. I was very happy with that. And then from that point on, it became very, very challenging. We had to work on the car.
We never quite got it just right. So, you know, top five is something I'm going to be very happy with, and second I'm even happier.
KERRY THARP: Questions for Jeff Gordon.
Q. I know this worked out well for you today. I think it's fair to say since smaller fuel tanks were implemented, there are probably that many more percentage races decided by fuel mileage instead of by speed. Do you think it's generally good for the sport for a lot of races to be decided by fuel mileage?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, I think that you're not taking into account that we're not seeing as many cautions. You know, I think that it doesn't matter how big the fuel cell is, if you have fewer cautions, and when the caution falls, you're typically going to see it come down to fuel mileage. We've seen many races come down to fuel mileage here, as well as Pocono.
I just think that it depends on the racetrack. I think with this car right now, we've got it figured out a little bit better. So it seems like everybody's kind of learning how to drive this car around one another, not make as many mistakes. So you're not seeing, you know, as many cautions. So we're seeing races come down to fuel mileage.
Like I said, it doesn't matter to me. I think they're all exciting and all very interesting. Some days the fastest car is going to win, and some days fuel mileage is going to win. I think it's all going to balance itself out before the season's over. I think you're gonna see races that are gonna go both ways. So let's wait and, you know, see what happens over the next 15, 20, however many races, you know, before the Chase starts to see how many races really come down to fuel mileage.
Q. Do you recall a fuel mileage race that was this dramatic? Both leaders falling out. Denny was saying earlier that he thought the 48 and the 16 sort of baited each other into running out. If they had not decided to be aggressive, would this have turned out to be just another Pocono like last week?
JEFF GORDON: Well, that's what I find so exciting about this race, even though it came down to fuel mileage, is that, you know, those guys had to race one another and put themselves into position to push a little bit harder than they probably wanted to, and they both ran out of fuel. I think it's ironic, and at the same time it's exciting for everybody involved. It certainly makes for a great story. But a big disappointment for the 16 and the 48.
You know, the thing is, last week, while Tony was able to get a big lead and conserve and make it, I passed about three or four cars on the final lap that were running out. You know, you didn't hear too many people talk about that story. And I was running out coming off the last corner last week, too.
It's a strategy. It's intense. It's hard, you know, not to put your foot all the way down to the floor on the straightaways. To me it's just as intense and difficult to win one under this strategy, under a fuel mileage race, as it is to go out there and compete with the fastest car out there and try to pass for the lead.
Q. Jeff, it's been a tough week for Chevrolet in some of the cuts, proposed cuts next week to Cup teams. Brian France said today he probably welcomes some other manufacturers coming into the series. What are your thoughts on some of the foreign people coming in and racing in Cup in future years?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, I think we always welcome in everybody to compete. We want the most competition. I think it's a great sport to be a part of.
You know, we've been supporting Chevy and they've been supporting us at Hendrick Motorsports for so long that we want to just continue to do we all can.
I'm also a Chevy dealer. I can tell you right now they've got great products. You know, we're doing all that we can to remind the consumer out there of the great products that are there and going to be available.
I think they're gonna be a stronger company when they get through this. It's definitely going to be some tough times for a while, but I think they're going to be even better, their products are going to be even better, and I think they're going to want to continue supporting racing.
You're not going to hear me say one negative thing or question or doubt where Chevrolet lies with their support here. We know there's cutbacks. We know there's tough times and decisions that have to be made. We're going to support them, whatever those are.
But, yeah, I mean, we always welcome others. Doesn't mean that it's gonna change who we're going to be with.
Q. I'm going to try this analogy. It might not work.
JEFF GORDON: Don't lose me. I'm already confused from the driver's meeting.
Q. In golf there are holes that are easier than others. Typically to win a tournament you have to do as good as everybody else. You don't throw it away. Are races like today, and Pocono, are these races where you come in and you figure you should do well, and if you don't do well at this particular race, it was one that you threw away?
JEFF GORDON: Well, this is one of my favorite tracks. I like Michigan. You know, the car speaks for itself on a big track like this. Big corners, long straightaways. And I knew that yesterday we had a good car, no matter where we started the race.
And then, you know, you play out the race. It kind of gives you the format and the strategy. You can't control when the cautions come out. You can't control how many green-flag runs there are. All you can control is how good your car is and make adjustments and put your car in the best position, try not to make mistakes.
That's what I did. When I had an opportunity to pass somebody, a better car than them, I passed them. There were times I had to fight guys off on those double-file restarts, even though my car was really loose. And I think because my car was loose all day, it actually allowed us to have a little bit better fuel mileage than others. I think Steve Letarte knew that. You know, that last caution, he said, Hey, you know, save me a little bit if you can, which means you shut the engine off and coast as much as you can on those cautions, and he said, Go race, man, go hard.
At that time, you got to understand, I was in a different position. If I'm Jimmie Johnson or Greg Biffle, I'm going to push a little harder. It's going to be really hard to discipline yourself. That's why I give Mark Martin so much credit. This guy is such a great driver, a smart driver. I think he could have pushed harder to hold Jimmie off for second and maybe even caught Biffle. But I think, you know, his crew chief and him were communicating. Mark was disciplined enough to say, We're not gonna make it, and I got to back off. He played it perfectly, you know.
So, you know, I wasn't necessarily in that position because I wasn't as fast as those guys up front. I wasn't in clean air. I wasn't able to run as hard and chase down the leader and make a pass for the lead. I'm sure Jimmie was all excited when he passed for the lead. Then it's like, Uh-oh, am I going to make it? And he didn't, unfortunately.
I don't know if that answers your question. I try to answer like 10 different questions in every answer (smiling).
Q. At this point in the season, what, if anything, is keeping you from -- what is your biggest obstacle from winning the fifth championship this year?
JEFF GORDON: I feel right now we need to be a little bit more competitive battling for wins. I mean, Tony Stewart has been so strong lately, that they really got some momentum. So, you know, I feel like we out ran them today, which I was proud of that.
But Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin, those are going to be guys that are going to be tough to beat, as well. You know, you never know who really is going to be the team to beat once that Chase starts. You've got an idea of a few of them. You'll be surprised who steps it up, guys like Edwards and Newman. Who knows.
But right now I think it's about keeping ourselves up front, you know, trying to battle for wins. First you got to be in the top five, top three, be in that position to go for that win. At Charlotte I felt like we were good enough to win, and we had the rain. At Dover, we weren't very good. And then last week at Pocono we were up and down. I felt like today we were solid all through the race. We have more days like today, we're gonna be able to do what we need to do to win this championship. Feel like we also need to get a little bit better on the short tracks. The bigger tracks, the mile-and-a-half, two-mile racetracks, seems like we're really good this year, better than we were last year. But it seems like our short track program is off a little bit.
Q. Jeff, what you were saying about the discipline that Biffle and Jimmie Johnson had to show, Biffle said if Jimmie had to back off, there would be no question he would have made it. Is this a rare race where the guy who finishes 22nd pretty much determines the outcome because if he doesn't push it Biffle probably wins? Is that how you saw it from where you were?
JEFF GORDON: Let me understand this right. Biffle is saying had Jimmie let off, he would have won?
JEFF GORDON: So if he would have let off, he would have won?
JEFF GORDON: I think you answered the question (laughter).
I mean, the thing is, you've got to understand how hard you're pushing. You've got to understand how hard you're racing. All I'm saying is it's very difficult when you're in that position to be disciplined and to think, you know, that way. And Mark Martin did the best of all the guys up front there and he won the race. I think both Biffle and Jimmie raced one another too hard and finished where they finished.
Q. When you're in that situation or have been in that situation, I'm assuming you're sitting there, if you're in the lead, How slow can I go and still stay ahead? Isn't that the game there?
JEFF GORDON: It is. It is. And your team's got to give you a lot of information. You know, they know how much fuel went into the tank. They know what kind of fuel mileage you've been getting all day long. And they calculate that per lap based on your lap time. So if you're out there running fast and you're in clean air, they're gonna tell you, Hey, man, you know, those lap times you're running are pretty quick, you're probably using a little more fuel. Or they're going to say, Based on those lap times, we got you half a lap short or a lap short. Also under that caution, I'm sure just like me they were saying, Hey, save all you can in case we go all the way to the end. You know, that's the way you got to play it.
I felt like I saved quite a bit under the caution, and I would assume those guys probably did the same. It's different to be Tony Stewart last week or we saw Carl Edwards do it before, to have a big lead all by yourself with nobody pressuring you, and they start backing off to conserve, and you back off to conserve. I think that's kind of what Greg is saying, you know, is that had Jimmie backed off to conserve, he would have backed off to conserve. But you don't know that when you're the leader, so you wait for those guys behind you first to back off.
So I don't know. I think when you're battling 1-2, you're that close to one another, it's almost impossible because those instincts of wanting to win, you're just hoping there's enough fuel in the tank, take over. I think that's what got the best of those guys today.
Q. Could you make a comment, last night Johnny Benson got pretty messed up in a super modified race. Wondering if you have any comments you could share.
JEFF GORDON: You know, I don't know a lot about it other than I did hear he was injured pretty bad. Certainly our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. I hope he's gonna be fine.
Anytime in the whole racing community that somebody's injured, in a wreck like that, first thing you do is ask where were they racing, what happened, what kind of car were they in, just to kind of understand what kind of safety features and measures are taken, what possibly caused the wreck. And then, you know, at the same time it's like a friend, it's like a family member that you don't ever want to see something like that happen.
Certainly racing with Johnny over the years, I really hated to hear that. I'm really, really hoping that he comes out of it okay.
Q. He's been upgraded to fair condition.
JEFF GORDON: I just hope we keep seeing upgrades.
Q. Forget the fuel mileage, forget the way it finished up.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you.
Q. This is actually a darn good race. Only a two-and-a-half-hour race. People say they would like to see shorter races. In the big scheme of things, what are your thoughts about it?
JEFF GORDON: Again, I thought it was, like you said, a darn good race, I really did. I can tell you from where I was sitting it certainly was because I had to work really hard to come from 43rd. And I followed Mark Martin pretty much most of the way. You know, every time I took a step forward, he'd take a step forward. So I saw both of us work our way up to the front.
It was very exciting from where I was. This racetrack lends itself to so many multiple grooves, great racing, and I saw a lot of it. I thought the double-file restarts were very exciting, a lot of action.
You know, it wasn't a boring fuel mileage race. I think typically when you think fuel mileage race, you think boring. This was not a boring fuel mileage race. There was hard racing all the way down to the finish, and the two guys leading didn't make it. I thought that was great. I mean, not just because I finished second. But, you know, I think it just made for great entertainment. That's what we're really here for.
Q. What about the timing, two and a half hours?
JEFF GORDON: I always love shorter races. Don't get me started on time frames of races (laughter). 80% of them are way too long.
Q. With just your points position, in situations like this, it's an easy decision to go for it. Is that how you look at the remaining races till the Chase, win or bust?
JEFF GORDON: I don't want to answer for Steve Letarte. Those are his decisions. He's the leader of the team. He's on the box. He has all the information. He has all the engineers right next to him giving him every bit of data and information they possibly can to make those choices and decisions.
But based on what I was hearing out of his voice, I would say yes. I think we need those bonus points. You know, we're lacking about, what, 20 or 30 right now, and we want to go into that Chase not only solidly up in the points but with those wins, with those bonus points. It can be the difference between the championship.
Yeah, I think right now we're definitely in a position to take more chances. But I don't think we take stupid chances. You know, I think that there's a big difference. I mean, if we were four laps short there, other than trying to shut the engine off halfway down the straightaway or something like that, which I thought about it while we were racing out there, I was thinking about Tony, they said he's pushing the clutch, I was thinking about how challenging that actually would be if I had to start doing that. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have to do that. I might have to practice that sometime before I actually go do it 'cause I think it's a little bit more challenging than it actually sounds.
Q. What were the words you had for Mark at the end of the race? What does a day like this mean for Hendrick Motorsports?
JEFF GORDON: I said, Old man, you snookered us again. I can say that because I just love this guy. He is older than me, and he's just a darn good racecar driver, and a smart racecar driver.
You know, we're so proud to have him. Proud to see that 5 team go into Victory Lane. Right now we are. We don't want to get beat by him for the championship. So right now we're happy for him. We share in their success because it's a Hendrick Motorsports teammate of ours. Happy for Rick.
But I think, you know, Mark is just a fantastic driver, and still just getting it done, even at 50. As far as I'm concerned, you watch him out there, he could be 21 years old. I mean, he's just fantastic, in great shape, just throwing the car sideways if he needs to, just driving the wheeling off of it.
But he's like a 21-year-old with a lot of experience under his belt, and that's tough to beat.
KERRY THARP: Thank you, Jeff. Congratulations.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you.
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