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August 3, 2009
LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA
KERRY THARP: We'll go ahead and roll into our winning team here today for the Sonoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 here at Pocono Raceway. We're joined by race winner Denny Hamlin, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Denny, your fifth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, three of them here at Pocono. What is it about this racetrack that brings out the best in you?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm not really sure. Just got a good feel for it. I think once you win here once, it just kind of -- you know, you just get a feel for the car and you feel what it takes to win.
When we come close at a lot of other tracks, you see when we go back there, we contend again because you understand what you need to win a race.
Here, this is what we didn't get to show last week at the Brickyard, what we didn't get to show the first lap here in the summer race in June. So I think our race team has been really good the last couple months. I feel like we've been the closest car to Hendricks. I feel like we're the best car than the Hendrick cars. We've slowly but surely been working on it in the race shop and on pit road. We've been getting there slowly but surely. Today was a good day for us.
KERRY THARP: We're also joined by crew chief Mike Ford. Mike, 500 miles out there, had to be a lot of calls made. What was your view atop the pit box?
MIKE FORD: From lap one, I knew we had a good racecar. I was curious with the racetrack being so green, the work that had been done, if you started good, you weren't going to stay good. By that competition yellow at 20, it looked like our car came in really nice, after about five or six laps to the field.
My biggest concern at that point was, is the track going to stay consistent and how are we going to chase it. Our car was pretty good. Really just made very small changes all day. Kind of surprised it didn't change.
KERRY THARP: Also joined by J.D. Gibbs. J.D., I was asking Denny a second ago, he's got three wins here at Pocono. Certainly have to feel good about his performance, really the position he's in right now, squarely in that Chase field.
J.D. GIBBS: I told him earlier, we're going to lobby for a few extra races at Pocono. Worked well for us. It was an emotional race for us across the board. You know, we came so close so many times. Something bit us, come up short. That meant a lot for the guys.
For Denny, this weekend, losing his grandmother, another guy losing his mom, it was just a real emotional race for us that was long overdue. I think we'll really enjoy this one.
KERRY THARP: We'll take questions now.
Q. Denny, I think we're going to listen to you now when you walk in here and say you expect to win. You all but called your shot. Was it just because you really thought you had the best car? Was it also because this was an emotional weekend for you with your grandmother passing?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'll be honest with you, it had nothing to do with practice. It really didn't. I felt like this weekend I was gonna have help in a lot of different places. You know, to be honest with you, after Saturday, I said, Man, I put my foot in my mouth, because our car wasn't very good. Just felt like I gave Mike some good information. He just took it and ran with it. Just had a great setup, adjustable setup. When we needed to make changes, he improved on it every time.
When you can do that, you can execute, that's great. But it's still hard to win. It's still hard to win when you have fuel mileage, you have guys off sequenced. When you line up 14th about 30 to go, you're about 3/10ths slower, we had a tall, tall hill to climb.
I said in my mind that I wasn't going to settle for anything less than a win. With every corner I went in, that was 120%.
Q. You said in here the other day after what happened in the first race you almost used that as a test session. What did you learn from that? Did that apply today?
DENNY HAMLIN: Car wasn't good on two tires then. It wasn't good on two tires today. It was tough to really use it as a solid test session because we had dirty air the whole day. We ran back there. We didn't want to race with any guys, affect their race. But we did learn some things. We really did.
We felt like our car was good at the end of practice in the June race. But this one, I'll be honest with you, I thought we were going to struggle today. I knew after about the second lap, we had a shot to win it.
MIKE FORD: Kind of the same thing. Very difficult to use that last race as a test session because we were in dirty air. The one thing Denny mentioned was two tires. The first 20 laps, the pace from the first lap to the 20th lap fell off two seconds. It was very obvious that tires played a role, the falloff. But if you look back to 10th place, they were already 15 seconds back because the air was so important.
A very, very difficult race to call from that aspect, because tires are important, air is important. But you don't know until you try what the outcome is going to be, which is going to prevail.
With our car, we got really good left side usage. I think two tires was not optimum for our car in that situation. We would have been better off with four tires, giving up some track position at that one point.
But very difficult to draw any conclusions from that last race.
Q. Denny, when it's this kind of day, emotional day, how do you keep that bottled up and focused? At what point does it come out?
DENNY HAMLIN: Every lap. I'll be honest with you. Every single lap it comes out. When I got behind, just really started getting frustrated from my standpoint, because I've led many races, I've dominated many races and not won. I felt like I was going to let it slip away again about 50 to go. Mike just did a great job of motivating me, saying, Man, give me everything you can for these seven laps. I think we gained back two positions on a restart, just digging, just doing everything I could to try to understand and realize that I know it sucks right now, just once I get those four tires, I was going to be really good again. I didn't realize that many people were going to stay out.
It was tough for me. Started getting my feelings back up against once we held our ground a little bit. But it affects you all the time. Then it goes down again once you see you've got 13 cars in front of you with 30 laps to go on a racetrack where it's very, very hard to pass.
After every couple laps, I'd pick off a couple more, your confidence gets more and more. Then you got the leader two cars in front of you, almost wrecked in turn three, almost got into him. I spun the 00 making my way back up to the front. I know I hurt those guys' Chase chances.
But only half of me was driving the car most of the time.
Q. Before the race if we said you were going for the win, you would think there was a Johnson, Stewart, Kyle Busch up there. None of those guys were there. It was Montoya, Hornish. What was it like racing those guys? Do you think the fact that none of you had a victory made it any different or more crazy than it was?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think those guys weren't up there because they weren't having a good day. They tried to do everything they could to have a good day. They had nothing to lose. They were in the back of the pack with 40 to go. So they stayed out. They weren't factors all day, those guys up front, other than the 9. Our main competition, the 48, had engine problems. I felt like we were staying steady a little bit better than him for the course of the day. I thought we were fine there.
But those guys made great calls. They got in their fuel window. They stayed out. We're on a track where track position means a lot. They made the best of it. The 33 didn't put up a fight. I was kind of surprised. On the other hand, I look at it, it was pretty smart, and he didn't cost himself spots.
You have a bunch of hungry guys up there, you're going to see an exciting race for a win, I can assure you.
Q. We seldom see the kind of emotion that you had in Victory Lane. Can you put into words what you were feeling like at that moment when you could exhale and this afternoon was over and you had won?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, a lot of it is because -- I'd say 70% of it was because of the family issues and whatnot. The other 30 is just that we tried so hard over the last year and a half to win a race, and we've been so close so many times. It was more of just a relief, a sigh of relief that we could finally do it, and I could do it.
I found myself over the last few months starting to think, Man, I'm only racing for second when I show up. That's no way to be. This just puts the confidence back in me that I can come from middle of the pack with 30 to go and win a race.
Q. There was some doubt creeping in?
DENNY HAMLIN: A little bit. Definitely is. A lot of it's from what I read. We can't close. We led how many laps and not got a race win. That's pressure that I put on myself. I read too much into it.
In the big, grand scheme of things, we've been the most solid car that hasn't had a Hendrick label on it. You know, for the most part I take a lot of pride in that. We're taking strides forward starting today.
Q. A lot of times you talk about how snake bit you are, you have the worst luck. For you to have that confidence today that you knew you were going to win, you felt that way, what was the difference? How did you come to that conclusion and not be sitting there saying, Oh, something is going to happen? It sounds like you believed you were going to win, and that's a change from how you normally are.
DENNY HAMLIN: In a sport where everyone runs the same speed, for the most part, other than a couple guys, evidently confidence means more than what we thought.
Q. Denny, were you surprised to see all the banging that we saw today? That's not usual for Pocono.
DENNY HAMLIN: Just double-file restarts, everyone trying to get everything they can. And I think a lot of the reason you saw two at the end of the race is you had guys with better tires 10th to 15th, and the guys that stayed out were top 10. You were going to see comers and goers. Especially with me, I was impatient because I had the guys that I knew I had to race for the win right on my bumper. I had to go. I had to get away from those guys and separate myself. That's why you saw the banging around that you did, is 'cause comers and goers, guys look at the top 10, the guys that haven't won yet.
Q. Denny, can you talk about what did happen with Reutimann? Was that just impatience? Did you ever figure out, you thought you might have had a tire going down.
DENNY HAMLIN: With the tire thing first, I thought there was no way we could have a car that was that dominant, then that bad on a set of tires. Like Mike said, I wasn't there looking at the tire wear. I didn't realize how much our car used up the left side tires. We run about 10 laps when we decided to put two on the right. It was try to preserve track position. It meant so much at this racetrack. Our car just did not like it. Our tires were shaking. I don't know whether our car didn't like it. Maybe it was not the best set of tires we had in our pit stall or what. But it was struggle. It was a struggle just to keep up with the top five cars at that point.
With Reutimann, I got to him coming off turn one. I drove into turn two, got to him, nudged him actually in the middle of the corner. I let go of him. He pulled away about a car length, but then he slammed on the brakes obviously to let me know he was upset. I plowed him off of two really hard. I said, Man, all right, I understand, I get it.
In turn three, I got to him again. He got really loose off four. When I got to him and pushed him, I was hoping he was just going to come off the corner, straighten up, I was going to push him down the straightaway. Instead, kept my throttle on him, and when I did I spun him into his teammate. It was a lot of emotion. I got guys in my mirror that I know I got to race for the win. I'm racing for a win on a particular weekend where it means more than any other weekend.
I think emotion was probably part of it. But, you know, I got to make it up to those guys somehow, cut them some breaks on the track or something.
Q. You said evidently confidence means more than you may have previously thought. Knowing that now, if you drive that much harder, that seems to help get more speed out of the car, because in the past you've said it's not necessarily your style to go hard for those wins, will this change the way you approach races in the future?
DENNY HAMLIN: A lot of people are going to say, Just drive hard like that every week. And it's hard to do. If you do that, you open up yourself to a window of error that could really cost you. Many, many times I nearly wrecked. Once going in three for the lead, I almost wrecked trying to get beside the 33 when I had 10 laps to go. It was just emotion, trying to get everything I could get. I never knew if a caution came out, I'd be on the inside line, I was going to go backwards.
I didn't know. I just felt like I had to get everything I could get right away. Yeah, I mean, you can be aggressive like that at times. But, I mean, it paid off today. But tomorrow, next week, we might end up on a hook with 20 laps to go. Then we're looking at ourselves thinking, We got to fight for a Chase spot now again.
I do the more conservative approach because that's what this points system is based off of, consistency. That's why we're at where we're at.
Q. J.D., there's been a lot of talk about Kyle and how he handles disappointment. Could you talk about you and Joe's role on leading Kyle and Denny, both young guys, the highs and lows of a NASCAR season.
J.D. GIBBS: I think a lot of that goes to my dad. Over the years, you forget, his whole life has been working with young guys. As crazy as our guys might get, it's nothing like the NFL. It's kind of a different thing. I think for us, too, working with Jarrett for a while, Bobby, Tony when he first came, all the guys. They all had their stuff. They're competitors. There's a frustration that creeps in there.
I think really for Denny, who really, age-wise, experience-wise, is kind of our leader there, then for Kyle and Joey, I think part of it you want those guys to be close, keep them as close as they can on the same page. At the same time you have to realize, I think Denny has done a great job over the years of kind of realizing what really matters. Stand for that, fight for that. Kind of let go every once in a while, on and off the track.
I think they've really learned. Everyone is different in the way they approach stuff. A lot of the credit goes to my dad, his experience dealing with that. It's not just drivers, it's crew guys. Crew chiefs are as crazy as everybody. Not this one (laughter).
That's his whole life, been spent dealing with that.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think a lot of credit goes to Mike. I don't know how many wins he's got at this racetrack. He's got to be one of the winningest crew chiefs here. A lot of credit goes over here.
Q. J.D., did you sense something in Denny this weekend because of what the team had gone through, what his family had gone through? Did you sense something good?
J.D. GIBBS: I wasn't here until race day. I heard what he said in the media center thinking he could win. I heard our guys saying, The car is pretty good, not great. I was trying to equate one and one.
I think the reality of it was, Denny's No. 1 fan, when we picked him up six years ago, his grandmother was his No. 1 fan. So I think there's a lot -- you get worried. When it's an emotional deal, that can take you one of two ways. So for him to really have the performance he had today, that was a big deal.
Again, some of our other guys in the crew had some real emotional stuff they were going through, as well. I think it was just a great time. We were kind of blessed the way it all worked out.
Q. Denny, could you elaborate on the comment you made. I want to ask you about your grandmother. How close were you? How supportive was she? What kind of a racing fan was she?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, like I said, I mean, she really could not -- up until like a month ago, she lost her sight totally, actually a couple weeks ago. She's 91 years old, she had a great run. But she had about a 30-inch TV that she looked at about four inches from. But that's how she could see me, see my car. She had a bear, FedEx No. 11 bear she always had. She always wore her No. 11 socks. She would always tell me she put out a prayer to St. Jude for us this weekend. So she was a big fan of mine. I mean, she's been to a couple races this year. She understands the competition of the sport and she understands how much she means to me.
Like today, she's pretty proud.
KERRY THARP: What was your grandmother's name?
DENNY HAMLIN: Thelma Clark.
Q. Do you think the way the racing went today, so wild, at Watkins Glen with a double-file restarts, Bristol coming up, this is unusual for this place, I'm a little worried about what you're going to do the next couple of weeks.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I'm kind of glad we built a little cushion today because Watkins Glen will be tough. Going in that turn one there is gonna be crazy. I think it's just gonna be survival, to be honest with you. That's gonna be another race where I think the conservative approach is probably going to take you further than anywhere because guys are going to dive bomb getting in one. You need to be in the first row or you need to be about 20th or 30th. Obviously there will be a lot of wrecks. Hopefully it doesn't go down to that. Hopefully get some good green-flag runs and the best car wins. That's ultimately what we like in this sport, is the best car to win.
As far as how crazy it was today, I think that's just what the racetrack needed. We always hear about the races here. People aren't big fans of the racing. But they had a great race today. It's obviously because of what the fans wanted, double-file restarts. I think for a racetrack as big as this is, that's about as good a show as you can get.
Q. And Bristol?
DENNY HAMLIN: Bristol will be the same. Not quite like Watkins Glen, but I think the second Bristol always seems to be a little bit calmer because it has a lot of Chase guys. Never seems to be quite as electric as the first race. I think it's going to kind of depend on how many guys you have on that border of making it and not making it to see how crazy that race is going to be.
KERRY THARP: Guys, we certainly appreciate it great showing out here today. Thank you.
End of FastScripts