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NASCAR CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDERS PRESS CONFERENCE
November 18, 2010
RAMSEY POSTON: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Ramsey Poston, NASCAR's managing director of communications. Thanks on behalf of the France family and the NASCAR community for attending today's championship contenders press conference here at the Hyatt Regency, Coral Gables, which is hosting us for the third consecutive year. I also want to welcome everyone who is tuning in live on SPEED TV, Sirius XM 128 and NASCAR.com.
The stage is set for an exciting season finale for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Ford 400, the highlight of the speedway's Ford Championship Weekend, will be the last race in what we like to call NASCAR's playoffs, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Is this the best Chase ever? I think most people would agree. Our three drivers still in contention for the series title are separated by just 46 points. So close you can cover them with a blanket. It's going to be exciting, fun on Sunday.
First a couple quick words about today's format. After introductions and some short opening conversations with our contenders, we'll have a general Q&A session with the media here. That will be followed by a separate breakout interview session with each of the contenders.
Before we get started, I'd like to introduce a special guest with us on hand today: NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, Bobby Allison. Bobby, welcome. Bobby will also be available in the breakout session immediately following this.
Again, I want to thank the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables and its staff for its hospitality and acknowledge the City of Coral Gables for once again in the way they've welcomed us.
It's now my pleasure to introduce our guest MC for today's program. He's one of the most recognizable voices in all of motorsports. His broadcasting style reflects our sport. He's all about enthusiasm and energy. Yes, I'm proud to report that he continues to live his life shootout style. He's also one of the true gentlemen in our sport. Please welcome today's host from Motor Racing Network and Sirius radio, the Postman, Steve Post.
STEVE POST: Thanks. It is great to be here. I can't believe Ford Championship Weekend, Homestead-Miami Speedway as we wrap-up what arguably is the best Chase in the history of the format.
When you think about it, 26 races to determine the Chase field, nine exciting, thrilling, topsy-turvy playoff races. It all boils down to this, one day, one race, 400 miles, and three drivers: Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin. They're the last three still standing.
Face it, folks, this season has been tumultuous, it's been adventurous, it's been wild. You pick the adjective, and that can describe the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Wild, zany, take a pick. This will be remembered as the season where the drivers took the racing into their own hands, and then they proceeded to take their best shot at each other.
It all kind of started before the season with the tone NASCAR set with one simple phrase that defined the boundaries of the interaction between the drivers. That phrase: Boys, have at it. And did they ever. Take a look at this.
STEVE POST: With that as the backdrop, I'd like to take this time to formally introduce our special guests here tonight. Starting on my immediate right, this driver is looking to give team owner Richard Childress his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship and first since 1999.
Amazing tenacity when we think about this team, not only across the season, but each individual race as they scrap for every point and every week made their racecar better as the race went on from beginning to end.
Here he is, with three wins this season, third in points coming into this weekend's race here in Homestead-Miami, 46 points out, welcome Kevin Harvick.
Talk about needing no introduction, to the far right of the stage from my perspective, here is our four-time and reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. He's made history in recent series and looking to duplicate and increase upon that history, would shock nobody if he did. In fact, in seven years of this Chase format, every season he has come to Ford Championship Weekend in contention to win. That's amazing. Second in points, 15 points out of first. He has six race wins this season, which is second on the series. Here he is, welcome our reigning four-time champ Jimmie Johnson.
And finally the man in the middle, kind of in the first class seat as we go into this weekend, leading in the points, also leading the series with eight victories. Pre-season he was considered by many of us to be most likely to take the championship from Jimmie Johnson. As the season went on, not only did he have success, but he persevered. Thinking back to March when the knee injury took his beloved game of basketball and maybe bit him a little bit, put him on the sidelines from basketball, but he persevered through that, won races, put himself in the Chase, and over the last nine races has gone toe-to-toe not only with Jimmie Johnson but with Kevin Harvick. Welcome, please, current points leader Denny Hamlin.
We're going to start with just a couple of questions before we get into the informal question and answer session. I'll start with Kevin.
Kevin, you dominated the regular season. Now you find yourself playing catch-up here with one race to go. What's it going to take to get back to the top?
KEVIN HARVICK: For us it wouldn't be right if we weren't coming from behind. Seems like that's kind of the way our whole year has gone. We've always had to overcome something.
I'm proud of everybody at RCR for everything they've done. For us, it's all positive from here. We're going to finish either where we are or better when we get done. So we're just going to go out. The guys have done a great job. They brought probably the best car we've taken to the racetrack all year as far as everything we have to measure it as far as dynos and wind tunnels. We'll just go out and see what happens.
So we'll race hard and go from there.
STEVE POST: Kevin, when we talked about tenacity, Talladega, damaged racecar, last week the miscue on pit road, yet to be able to come back and turn a negative into a positive, talk about Gil Martin and you as a driver and the success you've had in the second half of these races and rocketed through the field, most weeks you find yourself in good shape at the end.
KEVIN HARVICK: We've had a lot of practice from passing cars from qualifying bad. I guess you just call it a bad qualifier from my whole career from go-karts up.
But, yeah, they've done a great job. Nobody gets too wound up about having something go wrong. Obviously, this isn't the first time we've all been a part of something like this. Everybody on our team has either raced for Nationwide championships or been a part of this before.
It's fun. This is what we're supposed to do. For us, there's not a lot for us to lose. Obviously these guys are a few points ahead of us. We just race as hard as we can. Winning a race makes things a lot better for us. So this has been statistically, which I know you guys all love statistics, this is definitely our best racetrack as far as statistics go. So that's a good thing.
STEVE POST: Kevin, congratulations on an amazing season. Best of luck Sunday.
Jimmie, turn it over to you. A rare situation for you, coming in not the points leader. What is it like trailing coming into this race?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's different from what we've seen the last four years. Through my career, my Cup career as well, there's been five other years where I wasn't in this position, wasn't in the position of leading the points at the end. It's different of recent time, but it is what it is. In professional sports, things aren't always going to work out as you hope. I wish we were leading the points and had the pressure of defending a championship down here.
But I'm making the most of where we are. It's not far from where we are to where Denny is. We're going to have to go out and have a great day on Sunday afternoon, take it from there, see what happens.
STEVE POST: I know your preference would have been to wrap it up at Texas or Phoenix. A lot of times you've come in 26th, having to do this, having to do that. Is there something maybe not easier but simple knowing that it's pretty much toe-to-toe, you just need to score more points than Denny Hamlin? Is it something simpler coming into this weekend with this scenario?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, I don't know if it's based on experience of being here in the last four years or the situation of chasing. But I'm in a very, very good place racing for this championship, and really enjoying it. I see how it's good for our sport. It's good for the champion, whoever that guy is going to be. I'm excited for it. Man, I am a race fan at heart. I'm enjoying being a part of something as cool as this.
We'll buckle down and do everything we can. For my sake, I certainly hope to come out on top.
STEVE POST: Congratulations on another spectacular season and best of luck on Sunday.
Let's focus on attention on Denny Hamlin, leader in the standings. Denny, the championship is so close. What is it going to take for you to bring it home on Sunday?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think for us, it's about going out and performing like we have every Homestead race I've ever ran. The two bad finishes I do have is my very first start at Homestead in 2005. I got caught up in someone else's wreck. The other was a fuel mileage race. Every other time we've been in the top three. I actually remember just about every year Kevin is right there with us at the end of the race. So I know he runs well there. So for me, just go out there and pretend that I got to win the race. That's all there is.
I'm in a good spot knowing that I just have -- I can control my own destiny and not have to worry about anything else. If we win the race, it's a moot point.
STEVE POST: You're the reigning champ of the Ford 400, 36 races ago. A lot of changes within the sport. Is there comfort knowing you won last time here or does that time and all those changes make it concerning? How do we not mess this thing up from a winning car last year?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, things have changed so much in our sport since then. Obviously the spoiler change has changed the dynamics of the setups. I feel like the cars are much better than what they were last year. Everyone's car is. The speeds at every racetrack really are higher this year than what they've been in years past.
All these teams continue to get smarter. We're not going to fool ourselves into thinking we can just put last year car's setup on it. It's going to take work, without a doubt. We usually qualify mid 30s at Homestead. But we always seem to race well.
We hope not to get ourselves in that hole this time around. You can continue to stay focused and get everything we can.
STEVE POST: Congratulations on a great season thus far, and good luck on Sunday.
At this point in the agenda, I'd like to turn it back to NASCAR's Ramsay Poston who will conduct a question and answer session.
RAMSEY POSTON: We'll now move into our Q&A session.
Q. All season the three of you have been the three best drivers. How important is it from each of your perspectives that the three of you are going to decide the championship?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think that's the way it's supposed to be. Even with the Chase, you let I guess nine other guys back into the championship hunt, and the three cars that have run the best all year have risen back to the top.
For me, I think it's fun to be able to challenge yourself and race against the best guys that have been the best all year to see where you stack up in the end. I think it's the best way that it could have shaken out.
DENNY HAMLIN: I would have said the exact same thing. I mean, there's three drivers and teams right here that have won roughly half the races this year. I don't think how you could put it in any better situation. This is the same standings I think we started the Chase, if I'm not mistaken. So through all of that, everything that can happen in the course of nine races, the three teams have continued just to step up.
For me, I'm just really lucky to be a part of it. As a race fan, this is the best that you could ask for. The race fan in me is excited to see the three best for the entire 2010 season are going to decide it in one race.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: A lot of things, they've taken it all. They're right.
Q. Two of you have beards, one does not.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm a Gillette young gun.
KEVIN HARVICK: Don't they kick you out when you're 30? I thought that was the way it was supposed to work.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Newman hit 30 (smiling).
Q. Jimmie and Kevin, you came through Camp Hornaday, slept on his couch. Denny, we found out earlier this year you consider Kevin your closest friend in the garage. Is it ironic the three of you sit up there together with one race to go, winner take all, the ties that you three share for one reason or another?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. This has been one of the most awkward 30 minutes I've been through, to be honest with you.
But, you know, my relationship with Kevin really probably started about a year ago. He's got that kart racetrack at his house. I proceeded to spend a bunch of money and take a go-kart there and race it a little bit. Obviously got to know him a little bit more through that. That's where that's came from.
Really, you know, Jimmie, our relationship has been professional for the most part. Obviously I think there's a lot of respect between all of us. We understand that each have the same goal and we're all going for it. That's where the intensity that you see, whether it be back and forth comments, it comes from.
When you have three drivers that tight, anyone is searching for an edge anywhere they can. I think that's where you see the competitive nature of us.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Just to add to that, I think it's cool. I see Ron, Lindy walking around. Not only from Kevin and I's perspective of being there, growing up at Camp Hornaday, there's a lot of guys walking through the garage area that Ron and Lindy helped out, gave a start to.
I think it was an All-Star Race a couple years back, Kevin won, I ran second, I saw Hornaday. I said, How cool is that? Two guys that came through your house racing for one of the biggest paychecks in the sport?
I think it's great. A lot of fun. Kevin and I go back from Ron's house way back. I got to know Denny here in the recent times, all that. I think it's cool that we're representing California like we are.
KEVIN HARVICK: Obviously, there is a mutual respect between the three of us. But in the end, I mean, it's what's best for your race team. I think we all understand that the friendships off the racetrack don't follow onto the racetrack. We have to do what's best for our teams.
Obviously, the Hornaday factor with Jimmie and I is something that's fun because Ron is still a part of my everyday life as far as our race teams. But I think probably the biggest thing we learned to do at Ron's was drink beer. That will carry over well to next year (laughter).
Q. Do you find it awkward, as Denny said?
KEVIN HARVICK: Like I say, he definitely seems like the most nervous, though (smiling).
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm between you (smiling).
KEVIN HARVICK: I told my guys on Tuesday, I said, This is something that we all like to do. But this is what you race for. We can all be friends and acquaintances, but it is a little bit awkward when you're in situations like this. You still have to do what's right for your team, and that's whatever it takes to win on the racetrack, so...
Q. Denny, I want to ask you a little bit about a year ago when you won this race, you climbed out of the car in Victory Lane, you said you felt you learned what it took to win a championship. Having not yet won one, what is it that you felt like you had learned? Was it something that was self-taught through trial and error or something you learned from watching Jimmie win four in a row?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think most of it was just the last five races of last year we really came on strong. We had a different mindset. It was crazy how our mindset got pushed back after we had two blown engines in a row, then a wreck, all in sequence. We went from having the highest to starting the Chase in 2009, thinking we were going out there and competing for a championship, to going out there and staying within our means the last five races, being very successful doing that.
I feel that was our first win at a mile-and-a-half racetrack at Homestead last year. It was just a turning point, I guess. Just figuring out what it took to win and close was the biggest thing. So since then, it's been good.
Q. This isn't likely to happen, but it could come down to two or three of you guys racing for this over the last four or five laps. In that kind of situation, do you feel comfortable with almost any kind of aggressive move, fenders in the doors, this sort of thing, considering the 'boys have at it' approach?
KEVIN HARVICK: I know what my approach will be, so... You do whatever's best for your team to win a championship. That's whatever it takes.
DENNY HAMLIN: I'd agree with that. Same thing. You know, you would do what it takes to win a championship.
All these teams have worked very, very hard this whole year to get to this point. For the driver to be complacent, just not want to ruffle feathers, not causing drama, I think I would take the repercussions of that for a championship.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, I have to agree. After 38 races or 36 points races at this point, the dreams of winning a championship that we all have, you'll do anything you can to win.
Q. At one point Jimmie talked about being talked off the ledge, asking his spotter to sing to him and stuff like that. When it's so close, not the mental game of mentally gaming each other, but what part of it and what do you deal with what you're going to have to do in the racecar during all of this with all of this going on, how you plan to deal with that?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, you know, there's different pressures that we all have on us going into this final race. From past experience, the last four championships, distractions have been good for me to take my mind off of the obvious. Some people need to really focus hard, spend more time in that space trying to be more engaged, involved in what it is.
I'm the other way around. I need to break it up. It's natural for me to be in there and overthink things. Joking around with my spotter, finding different things to occupy my time during the week or weekend to take my mind off racing has worked great for me.
At the end of the day, you can't escape that pressure. When you go to bed at night, your mind starts to slow down, it's inevitable. The thoughts of pressure and championship come to mind. I've experienced it every year I've ever been in the hunt for a championship.
After a while, you kind of get used to those feelings, nerves, all that stuff, try to corral and deal with it to the best of your ability.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, inside the car, I mean, it's really all business. For me, I'm a lot the same way. The busier I am outside the racecar, probably the more focused I'd be inside the racecar on a race weekend.
I try not to give myself too much time with myself. You know what I mean (smiling)? I'll just stop there.
KEVIN HARVICK: I think for me, I was more nervous about starting the Chase and more uptight as we went through the first five, six, seven weeks about not being able to be in contention when we got to this point. Sure, we're 46 points behind, but I was more nervous about failing to get to this point than I had been last week or this week.
I've been more relaxed this week than I have been the whole Chase to be honest with you, because this is the moment you live for. This is the easy part, in my opinion, to go out and race the car for a championship. This week you get all the things that you asked for. The only thing that's not guaranteed is the championship.
But for our team in particular, you look at last year, it was just a total disaster. It was the worst year that we've ever had at RCR. So it's a win-win situation for us. There's no losing in a situation for everybody at RCR and myself. We've learned a lot of things that can help us go forward. Dealing with the pressure is easy at this point. I was more worried about failing to get to this point.
Q. Denny, last year you were comparing your style to Kyle, especially on being aggressive and on restarts. You said throughout our careers he's always going to be a guy that will have more race wins than I will. If I am going to win a championship, I need to run top five every week. I don't need to win every week. If that's the case, how do you explain how you've had so many wins this year, specifically more than Kyle?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think we've been fortunate to get some of those wins, to be honest with you, whether it be cautions coming at the right time. We've had other wins that we felt like we could slip away. Maybe it was last week. Maybe it was at Atlanta where our car was good.
I don't know. At that point I never seen the speed in us of what we've had this year at that point that I did that interview last year. Once again, I feel like I found another gear somewhere middle to end of last season, whether it's in my cars or in myself. Ever since then, we've had the speed that Kyle's had.
On restarts, I still haven't found it. We've gotten much closer. I think it's just my mentality and my probably conservative approach on the racetrack most times that I say I probably will never win as many races as him because he puts himself out there at risk a little bit more than I what I do.
Sometimes it will pay off and sometimes you'll finish 30th because of it. I'm just more the consistently top-five guy. That's pretty much been my MO for my whole career.
Q. Denny, can you talk about what you did this week as far as to handle the pressure? Sunday night, did you do anything to release the frustration of the day? Assume you can't play basketball, so how have you been dealing with all the pressure?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, it was frustrating for a little while. I got the bloody knuckles to prove it. It's just part of it. It's part of our sport. We're all going to have emotions on those kind of days.
For me, when I said I was leaving Phoenix, I left Phoenix, it was over with, it was. It was completely over with. The only time I relived it is when I got home, I do my normal thing, always rewatch the races no matter what to learn as much as I can. Once that I was done, turned the TV off, it was done. I thought about it a little bit before I went to bed. When I woke up the next day, just kept myself busy.
For me, I got a lot of encouraging text messages talking about, This is a great situation you're in. If you said going into the Chase you'd have the lead, would you take it? I would have definitely said yes.
We've all had opportunities, all three of us had opportunities to break away from the pack at times. It seems like the other two constantly just make that tough and continue to put themselves in position to gain ground.
It's fitting that we're in the situation, all three of us, with this one race to go.
Q. This particular race, going into the last race at Homestead, I think about the way this race starts, the way the practice sessions go and everything. When practice starts, everybody kind of runs on the bottom and middle of the track. Qualifying you run on the bottom and middle. Every single time when this race starts, I think Darlington. When the race is over in Darlington, we see three-quarters of the field with the right side of the cars tore off, pretty well destroyed. This particular race, going into it, looks like those corners have the possibility to be a little bit treacherous. Is that on your mind going into this race? You got good pit stops, good drivers, that's in your hands. Is that something that bugs you?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You know, the track has a lot of racing room on it. I've had success running the bottom here before. The top seems to be kind of working of late. I think with the race being in the sun, we're going to be searching all over for clean asphalt.
I think you're going to have to have a car and the mindset that you need to search and move around and be comfortable with that, within your own means of driving the car, work on a racecar that can do that in practice.
Anymore, it seems like that last six inches near the wall there's a lot of grip at a lot of tracks we go to. You run up there for a while, the whole field is there, then pretty soon that area is slick and you have to move on somewhere else. It could be exciting. Guys will be up there chasing that last little bit of grip.
I'm not too concerned about it, to be honest with you. There's a lot of room on the track. Doesn't look like it, but it's kind of that Michigan mentality where if it's not working here, I'll move somewhere else and try it.
DENNY HAMLIN: I agree. There's a lot of room at this racetrack. That's what's going to be so fun about it. You'll see us two, three, four-wide maybe at times on this racetrack because you can race from the bottom to the top and change your car.
Like I say, I've been successful at top and at the bottom. I think it depends on where you're at on the racetrack at any given time. The top is a little more risky because it leaves your room for error a whole lot less. You have to be a little bit more careful. When you hit it right, the reward is worth it.
KEVIN HARVICK: I think the biggest key is the daytime start. When you look back at these races, you see cars you've had to set up for the night, otherwise you'll be wait too tight. You do everything you can to tighten your car up at the beginning.
I think the daytime start is a much bigger factor than what we've had in the past. The cars, you look back at the beginning of a lot of these races, are sliding around in the beginning of the race is when a lot of that happens.
For me, I'm excited about the daytime start because we always seem to run a lot better during the day. These cars are tough. You can bounce them off the wall. At Texas I hit the wall so hard, I thought we were done. Knocked the bolts out of the thing, knocked the spoiler over. The car got a little bit tight.
Especially in our scenario, we can take that risk of running high. That seems to be our kind of preferred groove this season, to run really high. We've gotten a lot better at it. You can scrape it off the wall a few times. The daytime start, in my opinion, is the biggest factor in everything.
Q. As we saw in the video, guys aren't afraid to say what you think about each other. Knowing that, each one of you, can you tell me what irks you about the other two drivers.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For me, Denny is the fact that he's in the lead. I guess Kevin, he's lurking back there in third.
What else did you expect out of me (smiling)? Come on.
DENNY HAMLIN: I was told in these situations to deflect, so I then turn to Kevin (smiling).
KEVIN HARVICK: I'll give you something.
I think the thing that irks me the most probably about Denny's team is his crew chief. Jimmie is the fact that he's probably won the last four championships. Not that that's mean or anything. It's just when a guy's won four in a row, you beat your head against the wall and wonder, Why can't we be competitive enough, why can't the whole sport be good enough to keep somebody from winning four in a row?
Q. How important are pit stops and pit strategies going to be for this race? We saw from last weekend Kevin had a lug nut issue which wound up turning good in his favor. Denny, you came in and took some tires and fuel, took away from your chance to win. Jimmie stayed out and kept his position and points. How important is it going to be to keep those pit stops perfect and have the right strategy to be at the top when we come to the end of the race?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think as we've gone down the last two years, the race has come down to fuel mileage. Last year Denny stayed out, if I remember right. The year before, it came down to the same thing.
It's all important. Last week we got lucky with our pit stop. Those guys seem to make one error in about every 50 races. So I feel I put my pit crew that I have right now up against anybody. The fuel mileage is going to be a big factor as we come to Sunday. I hope they put that same carburetor on your car Sunday.
DENNY HAMLIN: It won't be.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Hopefully it's one that's worse (laughter).
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't think any of us know how important it's going to be. It just really depends on when cautions fly. Sometimes, I mean, like Martinsville and Texas, the two races where we probably didn't have our best pit stops, we won those races. But the cautions flew to where it really didn't hurt us too bad.
It really depends on when that last caution flies. Really I think it's going to depend, too, on how much tire drop-off is. If we have a huge drop-off, you'll see us pitting quite a bit more often. If it doesn't, you'll probably see a lot of getting within that last fuel window and staying out.
I don't think any of us really know that yet.
Q. Denny, if you take the 'boys have at it' mentality, whatever it takes to win the championship on Sunday, you're sitting there with a three-car team, your teammate is more like a Formula One teammate, not a NASCAR teammate.
DENNY HAMLIN: Which one?
Q. Kyle, to start with. They have alliances with other organizations in the garage. What is your strategy going to be as far as staying away from everybody else and not getting caught up in the riffraff?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I mean, yeah, as far as the teammate side of it, we have Toyotas, but there's really not a whole lot of connection there. They have like Stewart Haas, the engine program. Probably more teammates connected between them.
But really I think it's the last race. Everyone's going to go out there and try to win. That's the most important thing. Really I think all the drivers pretty much respect the fact that, Let the three drivers settle it.
For me, I'm really not worried about that part of it too much. Really just continue to figure out what I can do to be faster.
Q. Watching the three of you when we were seeing the video, the golden horseshoe remark, you were smiling about it, enjoying it. Jimmie, does this feel a little bit different, this championship? In the past couple of years, love fest might be a little bit too much, but it's been your teammate or friend. You guys have taken a couple pokes at each other. It's gotten different this year. I think the fans are probably enjoying that, too.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Yeah, you know, with it not being a Mark Martin or Jeff Gordon, the teammate situation, we're excited for what happens for the company. It changes the dynamics. We all drive for three different teams. All have dreams of being champions for various different reasons.
It is a different year, a different Chase. I kind of think every year is different for that matter. I know the last four we've had the same result. But every year, every championship battle has had its own little quirks to it.
This year has been very exciting for our sport. There's been plenty of comments and stuff flying around from all angles, doesn't matter if it's drivers, crew chiefs, it's come from everywhere.
It's good for our sport. I think it's something we all recognize as well. You got to have thick skin if you're going to be a pro athlete, especially in NASCAR. All the opportunities we have to get at one another. A level of the sportsmanship amongst the comments. It's good to have this banter, it's good to have this stuff. We're all having fun with it, making the most of it. Not just us three, but through the whole field.
One of the things we were laughing at on the video is how consistent some drivers were in every highlight. Might think about that one a little bit (laughter).
Q. Jimmie, obviously different dynamics this year in terms of you going in with the points scenario. Kind of the thoughts in your head. You touched upon the pressure a little bit. What are you processing as the weeks go on? You're a little bit of the underdog right now as opposed to being the favorite.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, for us, I mean, we have nothing to lose. This guy does (referring to Hamlin). It's a much different perspective for us. I've been here in the past with even a big points lead and have been concerned about dropping the ball.
When you're defending, your mind starts to change and you start to think about the 'what ifs'. When you're chasing, it's more about, What do I need to do? It's been a much more relaxed week for me, even though I'm down 15 points, that I've experienced before.
All the jokes aside, it's just about performing. We need to go out and have a great day. Even then, I have to assume he's going to have a great day, and so will Kevin. Why not just get it done. I don't know. Glad to be a part of it and look forward to doing all I can on Sunday.
Q. Denny, your owner Joe Gibbs could tell you a whole bunch about gut checks. What has been the gut checks for you this season? Was it the days after your knee surgery?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I mean, there's been tons of different things that I've learned during the course of this season. Yeah, I mean, that was a significant part of our season, for sure. It was most of the summer that we had to deal with that.
But that's why we set out to do that during that time, is that by this time of the year, when the championship's on the line, if we hopefully had a shot at it, it was not going to be an issue, wasn't going to sidetrack us.
For me it's tough to say what situation really was a gut check. Maybe it was last week. We don't know. It's just now we have to respond wherever something negative does happen.
I feel like we have done a good job of that, whenever we've had to face adversity, pressure. Jimmie talked about earlier, this pressure like I've never seen before, I had to fight for my job. That was way more pressure than this right here. I had to battle with a couple different drivers to get that 11 car, knowing I only had three starts to do it. That was serious pressure. This right here is fun, what I set out to do when I was a kid.
Q. You talked a little bit earlier about the approach you will have racing each other. The odds are that you probably will be. Is there a line? What is the line that you'll go up to but maybe not cross or would cross if it came down to the final laps for the championship?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm not sure any of us can give you an answer. We'll go out and race and see what happens. I mean, it's tough for us to sit up here - I know you want to hear it - but for sure, if the 11 is in front of me, we're coming to the line, I'm going to dump his ass. You can't say. We're not thinking about those scenarios. It's about going out and racing as hard as you can.
Maybe I'm wrong, but from my standpoint, I haven't thought about last-lap scenario, what do I do. I'm more concerned about, How can I run as fast as I can and try to outrun these guys personally.
DENNY HAMLIN: I can't really say that I would change my driving style, championship on the line or not. Of course, you're going to be more aggressive in situations. But for me to say I would wreck a guy or turn a guy for a championship, I don't know how high I could hold that trophy.
Hopefully I'll have many other years to do it the right way. If someone had to put the spotlight on me and say, You have to do this or not. I'm not going to change the way I drive. I was raised in driving one way. I've always had to fix my equipment when I raced late models. I'm not going to sell out. I'll say that.
All of us really don't think about last-lap situations I don't think. I think it's more about, How can I just whip 'em outright? That's what all these other guys are thinking so they don't have to put themselves in that situation.
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, you know, obviously you want to outrun the other team, and you want to do it as fair as you can. I think if it comes down to the end, I'll sleep fine. I'll do whatever I have to do (smiling).
Q. Denny, a follow-up on something you said earlier. What is awkward about this experience right now? What's awkward?
DENNY HAMLIN: Oh, just all the shit talking that's going on, then we're like two feet away (laughter). Other than that, I mean, it's good now. I'm okay.
Q. When Jimmie said, I've got nothing to lose and turns to you and said, This guy does, what ran through your mind?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't have the crown on my head.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Based on his expression, I don't think he was even listening to me. So I don't know if it went well.
Q. Since you haven't won it, do you think he has more to lose than you?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I think if one of the two of us win the championship, I think half the headlines will talk about us winning the championship, the other will be Jimmie Johnson's streak ending. So I think he has equally just as much to lose as we have to gain.
Q. About this awkwardness, Jimmie, you told us last week at Phoenix that you didn't want to hear what Denny had to say, you didn't want to be in the same room with him. Now that you're up there, it seems like you're enjoying it a little bit, needling him. Would you rather still be in a soundproof booth like on a game show or do you like being up there and having this little banter and interaction?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: Well, at Phoenix I had an option to not go in the media room and hear what he had to say. My deal, as you guys know, I don't tune into what's going on, just choose to live in my little bubble, my little world, and do my thing. It's worked for me.
For us all to have some fun with it, I'm just trying to remind Denny that he has everything to lose and we're only 15 points back. Really not anything to fret over, Denny. But that's it, you know, just having fun (smiling).
Q. Kevin, you talked about playing loose. At the same time it's been a long time since Richard Childress Racing has won a championship at this level. Do you ever allow yourself to think about what it would be like to be the guy to bring that back to Richard after so long a drought? Since it's been since '94, is that ever a weight on the organization or you?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think those are a lot of things that Richard and I realized last year when we went through our spat, I guess you could say as we went through the end of last year. We want the same goals. He wants to go back to Victory Lane. He wants to win a championship. We've achieved all those things this year except for a championship.
Obviously, as we sat and talked, those are the things that everyone wants to achieve that gets to this level. We've all won at every level that we've ever come from. That's the ultimate goal that you want to achieve.
But it's different, to be honest with you. We talked about the pressure of the situation. It just seems like, you know, we've been through so much together. It all has worked backwards for me with coming in, with taking over Dale's car. You started with the biggest press conference you'll ever be a part of in your whole life. You start with the weight of the world on your shoulders. As it's gone through the years, it's gotten easier. It's almost like you've gotten prepared for these situations before you even got started.
I guess the point of the story, Richard and I have been through a lot together. We've talked about what we have to do to get to this point. Whether we win or lose this year, we've taken a huge step towards achieving those goals and put ourselves as a company back in contention to what looks to be hopefully consistency as we go forward to racing for championships.
It's taken a while. We've been there sporadically from '03 to '06, but we didn't step it up when it was time like we feel we've gotten better in the last 10 weeks this year.
It's what we want to achieve as an organization. And Richard has been there at this level. I think all the pieces are there to do that. It's just about making it all happen.
Q. Why are you going to win the championship?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think for us, it's one of those scenarios where we don't have any pressure on us. We go and we race as hard as we can. Hopefully they put that same carburetor on Denny's car that they had last week.
For us, it's going to come down to those guys. I think the 11 needs to make a mistake. We've got to outrun both of them. So for us it's very simple: you let it all hang out, see where it all falls in the end, see where the mistakes crop up this week.
DENNY HAMLIN: For me, the one thing you know, anything can decide the championship. It could be wrecks. It could be luck. It could be strategy. Any of those things. The one thing that's tough to get is speed. I feel like we have good speed.
So I like that part of it being on our side. Yeah, we probably realistically will have the worst fuel mileage of these other two guys. But, you know, we'll have to take the speed. Hopefully things work out for us. If they don't, we'll work on our whole program next year.
For me, I'm in a good situation because, like I said before, if I go out there and I do what we've done all year and perform really well, then it's up to them to go out there and better us. We don't have to beat one of these guys by a certain amount of positions, we just have to stay ahead and that's it.
That's not going to be an easy feat. We know that. But we have the speed, I feel like, to do that.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: For us, the small points gap, the way we'll win the championship is by doing our jobs. If we go out and lead the most laps, win the race, we'll be potentially in a tie situation. But that's what our motive is. That's what we need to do, is go out and do our jobs. We're capable of doing it. We've done it in the past. Now it's time to step up as a team and go out and do it.
Q. A lot of people don't realize how physically demanding your sport is. Could you each maybe give an example of how demanding it is and what perhaps you've added or changed in your fitness regimen to deal with those demands.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It definitely is. I think each time the media center mentions I'm the 2009 male athlete of the year, I take pride in that. I know it was important to the France family to have NASCAR drivers and racecar drivers recognized as athletes. Training is part of my week and part of my year and something that's necessary. You know, I think the more athletes that come to our events and are around, there's been a lot of work going on behind the scenes, maybe not in the headlines, but our sport is getting the credit it deserves. Not only the drivers, but the guys going over the wall, the work that's done during the pit stops. I'm so happy to see it come in our direction.
DENNY HAMLIN: I'd agree for sure. I came into this sport 40 pounds heavier than what I am right now. I realized real quick that fitness is a major part of this sport. Not necessarily for going out there and being fast, but it's about being focused at the end of these races. For me, the better physically fit you are, the more hydrated you are, the more you make better decisions when your body's getting fatigued.
So for myself, I work out just to kind of get my mind off things and relieve stress. It's been good for me.
KEVIN HARVICK: Yeah, I think as you look at the sport, how much it's changed from the physical part of it, I think as you look at the guys that are successful, you know, you have to be physically fit. For me, I treat it much like I did when I wrestled in high school. You try to eat and prepare.
Still in the end the biggest thing for us is hydration. It's pretty easy to stay in shape and keep your weight where it needs to be with the six, seven, eight pounds that you can lose on any given race weekend during the summer.
Just maintaining the hydration part is the most important.
Q. It's great that NASCAR listens to its fans. What changes do you think the NASCAR world needs, if anything?
KEVIN HARVICK: In my opinion, I think the Chase has been good for our sport. I'd like to see a little bit more diversity in the racetracks. I don't think the last 10 weeks should be the same racetracks over and over and over again. I think it should rotate around. I think that would help particular race markets get better.
You have it end at different places, have it start at different places. Maybe you go to some of the same racetracks, but I think a different 10 weeks, even a road course at the end of the year would put that full diversity I guess you could say on your champion to getting to all the different styles of racetracks.
DENNY HAMLIN: I would agree. I don't disagree there. I think changing up racetracks is good. I know it's going to be tough because of the weather. We can't go to Michigan in November. That part of it's going to be tough.
But, yeah, I definitely would like to change racetracks, switch it up a little bit. Obviously, like I said, maybe throw a road course in there. It's part of our regular season, why shouldn't it part of the our regular championship?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I think a shorter schedule would be awesome. Shorter races, too.
DENNY HAMLIN: Talladega 10 laps.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: You'll have one hell of a race. 10-lap race at Talladega. You won't have to worry about people riding then.
Q. Jimmie, how do you feel about the sentiment that somebody else, anybody else, needs to win it?
JIMMIE JOHNSON: It's a compliment. I want to choose to look at it as a compliment. We've done our job over the last four years. I guess I do understand if the shoe was on the other foot, I was watching someone take the trophy away four times in a row, I'd get tired of it, too. Even from a fan base side.
Believe me, from a guy that spent most of his career as a B to C driver, I'm relishing in the spotlight that we've been in, enjoying it. I never thought I'd be in this position.
I know it won't last forever. That also needs to be said. Going to ride the wave as long as we can, see what we can do. I think when people are on a run, doesn't matter the sport, at that time it's hard for everyone to embrace it. But when they reflect back on it, it's: Look at the run that so-and-so is on, the Lakers, the Yankees. You reflect back on it with a much different perspective. I guess in time people will reflect back on what we've done with the four and a potential fifth.
Q. I want to bring up something that seems to always be sensitive with a lot of fans, and that's team tactics, not talking about somebody leading for five points early in the race. I want to give you a specific scenario, because we've seen it in Formula One, and in drag racing. We get to the final laps. One of your teammates is up front. You hear over the radio someone, team owner, crew chief, telling that teammate to move over because it means the difference with you winning the championship or not. What is your personal position?
KEVIN HARVICK: I think for me being a team owner, being a part of these championships before with Hornaday, there's a lot that your teammates can do to help you. I think you look back at 2008. We had Ryan Newman in one truck and Hornaday in the other. I think if it comes down to a win, you're looking at one scenario.
I think in '07 and '09 in the Truck Series deal, without our second truck, we probably wouldn't have won a championship to help push Ron and push the vehicles. We went out and led the most laps in two out of the last three races to take the points away from Kyle.
There are a lot of things that your teammates can do as far as those things go. I think if it's winning a race, it's one thing. But for the company, a car winning a championship is the best thing that you could have for your organization. Half the fans will tell you that it's not right, the other half will call you stupid. You do what's right for your organization.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, it wouldn't be the first time really. I can remember giving up in 2005 a couple spots. I think at Texas, my second race, Tony was actually behind me. I gave up that position because it meant five more points. It happens here and there in different places. You don't always see it. But it does happen.
I think for all these teams, the bigger goal is win it for the organization. That's why you probably see the crew swaps and stuff. They're doing what's best to win for their organization because they know if one of those teams wins that championship, it's going to benefit all of them.
There's a bigger picture than each individual driver winning a championship.
JIMMIE JOHNSON: I'm aware of examples, the points they're making. I certainly understand that, the points that are being made.
I could say in the nine years I've driven for Rick, it's never been asked of me, and I've never been asked or been in a position to ask a fellow teammate to do that for me. My teammates have been racing against me for the championship, so they're never going to pull over and give me the points.
I can't say that I've experienced it. I've seen it and it takes place. As a fan watching it in other sports, there's one side where you despise it, and another side where, Well, I guess I get it.
So far I can say I've never been talked to about it, it's not on our radar going into this race. We plan on going fast and taking care of it ourselves.
RAMSEY POSTON: Thank you, gentlemen. On behalf NASCAR, Sprint, Ford, Homestead-Miami Speedway, I want to thank everyone for attending today's press conference.
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