KERRY THARP: Let’s roll right into our post-race, our winning team today was driven by Denny Hamlin. He drove the number 11 FedEx Freight Toyota to victory lane here in the second race of the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the 16th annual SYLVANIA 300.
And what a dominating performance by the No. 11 car. Denny, you gave Joe Gibbs Racing his 100th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win; your fifth win of the 2012 campaign, and very dominating, 193 laps led. This has to be, I would think, at least one of your more dominating performances in your career.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it was. Obviously we had a goal of trying to get to the Top-10 by Lap 100. Obviously we got the lead before Lap 100. Just took my time getting through traffic and no matter how fast your car is in practice, it’s no guarantee for the race.
And so I was a little nervous about that and how the conditions were going to change, but Darian obviously gave me a lightning fast car today, and for me, my job was relatively easy. Just make sure that I didn’t make any enemies on the way to the front.
KERRY THARP: And now you’re moved up to third in the points, just seven points behind Jimmie Johnson and six points behind Brad Keselowski.
And maybe before I turn it over, maybe recognize the United States National Guard from the State of New Hampshire. I know when you were up here for the Chase Across America event, I know that was something you were very involved in and I know you might have something to say to these young men and women.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it was exciting to meet all these guys and gallons here from the National Guard and the army.
They are getting ready to get shipped off here in a couple weeks and obviously I told them, you know, once we got this win when we came back, we go to victory lane and celebrate.
So it was great for Jerry to have me up here. This is the first time I’ve got to visit some troops outside of a racetrack itself, and so for me, it was a huge honor, especially knowing what they do is they put their lives in danger to help safe someone else’s. It means a lot for me to be in their presence and obviously wish them well.
Q. At any point did you feel any extra pressure in the fact that like Babe Ruth, you called your shot and jumped out there after what happened at Chicagoland and basically guaranteed a win; did it add any more pressure to you at all? Did you think about that during the race today?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it crosses your mind, for sure. But I knew once we got to about Lap 50 and started working our way to sixth, seventh position, I knew that we had the winning car.
Just it’s all those other things I talked about that you can’t control that can keep you out of victory lane. It’s the untimely cautions, things like that.
For me that was the most nerve-wracking part; let not find a way to lose, because I knew we had the fastest car today. You know, I’ve obviously got a great knack for this racetrack, so for me, it crosses your mind, and then it’s extra motivation in my mind to prove yourself right.
Q. You kind of touched on it, but you have maybe had the best car at California, New Hampshire and didn’t win those races earlier in the year; you had the mess-up last week and in qualifying. What do you do so you don’t screw it up, and how nice is it that you didn’t?
DENNY HAMLIN: It feels good, Bob. (Smiling).
It’s just it seems like every time you have the dominant car, something keeps you out of victory lane. Richmond wasn’t even close. We were just toying with those guys all day long, and obviously weather changes the outcome.
So you know, we would be on a heck of a run here with about four out of five had that weather not bit us at Richmond. But you know, gosh, we are on a good run right now, and in my mind, it’s the days like today that you hope that there’s nothing out there, no bugs that take you away from victory lane.
Obviously when we saw the 18 had an issue, you start thinking, what ifs, what can happen. But for me I just drove the car the exact same all day and knew that that’s all I could control is my line, how I was driving, the braking, things like that. If things weren’t going to stay together, then they weren’t going to do. It if cautions didn’t come like they needed to, then it wasn’t going to happen. So today the best car won.
Q. Regardless, this is still three out of five for you, and is that just good cars at good racetracks or is that something about where your program is and maybe what the potential is going forward.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think we spend a lot of time at Joe Gibbs Racing preparing for Chases. We are starting to think about Chase 2013, probably in this off-season. So we always stay about a year ahead of schedule as far as our mind-set and things that we work on.
So I think that this has been something in the works. You know, you try to get through the regular season as best you can, get those wins when you can. But you want to bring your best cars and do the — everything go your way this time of the year. You know, as a driver, I feel like I step up in time of the year. So this is the time to perform.
KERRY THARP: Let’s hear from our crew chief, Darian Grubb. Congratulations and certainly what an outstanding race car you helped set up here today.
DARIAN GRUBB: Thank you very much. It’s a lot of fun just to bring a piece like that to the racetrack. The whole Joe Gibbs organization did an awesome job preparing that one especially for Loudon. It’s the best car in our shop. We knew it was going to give us our best chance to win and as we ran here in the spring we knew we had a shot at it.
So wanted to make sure we gave Denny every chance to get that out there. We are just disappointed we didn’t show the qualifying effort, because I think we could have won everything this weekend. But that just made the show that much better with Denny being able to drive from the back and put on a show there.
Q. Shortly after you showed how dominant you were about 20 laps later, there was a situation where you didn’t pit; can you take us through that, and then the good fortune of getting the caution when you needed it about 60 laps later.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, things worked out obviously. Those are the things that can keep you out of victory lane is untimely cautions, things like that. Darian, you know, he sees lap times and so I don’t see what our car is doing as far as the drop-off, things like that. But I think we had only run 20 laps and I actually thought that maybe we should take two tires.
But you know, he assured me that we were going to run just fine as soon as we went back green and I think that’s some of the fastest laps we ran all day was on scuffed tires. We had a similar run like that at the end of the race. We both had 20-lap green-flag runs leading into the final caution.
So it was a no-brainer from him. He even told me, you can come in if you want, but we are not going to do anything, we are just going to sit here behind the wall.
It was a no-brainer for me after we tried that early in the race with no tires to take none at the end.
Q. Was that completely by design on Lap 115?
DARIAN GRUBB: It pretty much was. It’s one of those things, sitting there looking at the fuel windows and everything else for the race and how it was going to play out. If we pitted then, we knew there were going to be some cars that stayed out because they were not in the fuel window. With as many cars as we had one lap down that could do that the wave around, that was probably going to get about 12 people their lap back.
So those things combined; and knowing how fast Denny’s car was and how fast we were on the old tires in practice; I knew at that point, there’s no reason for us to change our strategy. I was going to stick to the laps we were going to pit on and just go from there, and luckily everything still worked out.
Q. Just wanted to remind you, when you’re up here for your Chase media event, you seemed to exude some confidence even back then well before you made your prediction on Twitter that you were going to be in victory lane when you invited members of the 169 MEDEVAC Unit to visit with you victory lane. When you were talking back then, did you have a sense that this was going to be the result for you and your team. And B, all of the mistakes that you had suffered here of course in the spring and then with the qualifying, what did it show you about how you handled it, how you overcame those adverse ties; was it mental toughness, mature the or a combination of them both?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, there’s a lot of reason why you handle things differently. But you know, you just learn from over time, what it takes to build a championship team and what makes these guys tick; you know, you don’t think as a driver, that your emotion has any bearing on how they perform but it really does.
I find over the seven years that I’ve been here; it’s just that they really feed off of your attitude and your outlook; and obviously when I have confidence, they have a ton of confidence.
So I just learned that over time, and really for me, I just learned to handle the bad days better and knowing that I’m one of a handful of drivers that have a great ride, an awesome sponsor, and have a championship-winning team backing me.
So you know, I can handle the bad days when I put the grand scheme of things in a bigger picture.
KERRY THARP: Let’s hear now from team owner, Job Gibbs and coach, congratulations on the win today, your 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. This shows the quality and the first-class organization that you run but talk about this dominating run here today by Denny Hamlin.
JOE GIBBS: Let me comment on what Denny said right there.
For two weeks in a row, we had two things happen on our race team that really, two of our best people, and I think the way Denny reacted both times was just absolutely great. And I think that meant a lot to his team. And I think the way you handle things like that, being the guy that’s wheeling the car, I think is a big deal.
Last week, he was real relaxed afterwards, and that person took it real hard.
This week, I turned around, when we figured out kind of what we thought it might be in the pit area, and Denny just grabbed the crew member in a headlock and was laughing with him like that. I thought for a minute it was going to be a headlock and a punch, but it wasn’t.
I really appreciate the way he handles everything. Darian just does a great job of that, too. It would be easy for the guy in charge to go off on somebody, but you know, really, many times, that can make the difference down the road. Because those guys, those guys are going to remember that, the way they were treated and I think they would die for them both. So I really appreciate that.
It was a huge day for us. Bobby Labonte came into victory circle. And I appreciated Bobby, Dale Jarrett, Jimmy Makar, everybody when he first started; Tony; so it took a lot of people down the road.
But certainly, gosh, think back on my 21 years, just doesn’t seem like it was that long ago and you realize that we’ve got a hundred wins; that was a huge deal for us.
Q. Just a sense of vindication from what happened in the Lenox 301?
DENNY HAMLIN: Definitely, you know, you look at how many realistic shots we had at winning races, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have like six or seven or eight wins in this season based off of, you know, just obscene stuff happened that took us out of victory lane.
That being said, we as a team have won some races. My team won it for me in Atlanta and all of those things. So the vindication, it’s like, I always say, no track owes you anything. You’ve got to go out there and you have to perform and you have to do it yourself. But this one was obviously close. You know, Bristol, I led on the last lap twice there before I actually won.
So you know, Bristol is as close to vindication as I possibly could, and this is a very close second.
Q. After Chicagoland, it was, “we will win” on Twitter, but on Friday, you clarified that it wasn’t a guarantee. What made you back off of that a little bit, and were you afraid of jinxing it? Was it an outside influence of what’s happened in the past and did you have any regrets that you just didn’t come out Friday and say, we are going to win?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, when you do that, you kind of put yourself in an island in my sense; that drivers will tend to not give you the spot; they will drive harder just to make sure your job is harder.
They don’t — other drivers don’t like to see that happen. So you can’t just call your shot and they are going to pull over and give the race to you. They are going to drive harder knowing that you’ve said something like that.
But I just wanted to clarify that there are no guarantees. I’ve had the fastest car in my career and not won — 20 times, some crazy amount, and not won because of the variables that I talked about on Friday.
So I just wanted it to be clear that, all right, I’m not guaranteeing anything, but barring any of those circumstances happening, we were going to win. I had faith that we were going to win. It was more for my fan base that was probably down on your performance at Chicago. It was more for them, all of my followers are on Twitter, I was going to assure them that we were going to have a rebound week.
Q. If you could amplify on what Coach was talking about, what did you do or say with the team not to dwell on the fuel situation in Chicago. And I apologize for dwelling on the fuel situation in Chicago.
DARIAN GRUBB: Yeah, honestly it wasn’t a big deal because we sat down, and Scott Wood is one of the biggest men on the team, literally and figuratively for what he did. He wanted to stand up in front of the group and say: I’m sorry, I messed up and I’ll make it up to you, it won’t happen again. That kind of attitude is what runs through the team. Unluckily we had the exact same thing happen on Friday where we just had a mental mistake that cost us a really good qualifying effort.
But they stepped up, they said I’m sorry, and everybody rallied around them in the next ten minutes, patting him on the back; we are working together as a team and that’s the only thing I can ask. And Denny has been a huge part of that, just the maturity and the team leadership to let the guys know that he’s behind them and that the guys are going to be behind us.
Q. There were times to where Denny does seem a little gun-shy so to speak on the radio, like maybe he’s not quite believing it; is there something that you can do to build that back up once you’ve had situations like that in the past?
DARIAN GRUBB: That’s something we work on all the time. That’s just something of working the situations and just having his trust of knowing that I feel like I’m making the right call at that point, but just knowing how scared he was picking up that lobster, I think I got something that I can throw back at him each week now.
It’s something that just comes with time, the more the confidence gets — I still want him to question it because I need him to question me at times because I need to make sure I’m making the right decision. When he questions something really adamantly, that means that the car is not doing what he needs it to for us to make that call, so we that feedback is always needed.
Q. Can you talk about Dover? What are you going to do? What’s your game plan going in there? It’s not one of your favorite tracks.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I’m going to be optimistic when I go there. You know, Darian and my team have been working on that racetrack for quite a long time the last few weeks, at least, working on a setup that would make me comfortable on that racetrack.
Obviously we are going to take, I think our Richmond car there. The car is going to be good. I just have to have an open mind when I get out there for the first green flag run and have faith that I can do it.
So I’ll be leaning on my teammates quite a bit next weekend. Obviously they are both very good at that track. So obviously with data that we have this year on throttle traces and brake, I’ll be having that quite a bit next weekend.
Q. Just talk about Denny’s run today and coming from the back, and last year at Homestead, Tony doing what he did back to front, back to front; just talk about what goes through your mind as a crew chief when you see your equipment really coming through like that, charging through the field. It must give you a little bit of a boost, like, you know, whatever we are doing is working.
DARIAN GRUBB: Yeah, you can’t have more of a proud feeling in racing than to have a car that will do that and be able to give the driver all the tools he needs to go out there and get the job done.
The work that goes behind it in the shop for months is what people don’t see and is to be able to have that, go out there and be fast on the racetrack; it means a lot just to be able to know all those guys’ work paid off and we were able to go out there and execute and get it done and take it back and let them see the trophy.
Q. When you got out of the car and pointed to the crowd, was that a conscious after-the-fact tribute to Babe Ruth? Was that planned or spontaneous? And when is your next victory so I can get my bet down.
DENNY HAMLIN: (Laughter) I don’t know. I’ll figure it out. I’ll let you know a couple weeks in advance.
Yeah, definitely, there was many people that called their shot with championships ahead of me, so I’m just a small, small little bug on the windshield.
Q. Is it easier for crew guys to rebound from mistakes when they know they have — pretty much if you do everything right, you’re going to probably do well? And is it more of a challenge for you as a crew chief when you roll off on Friday morning and you’re the fastest, to keep it the fastest throughout the weekend, compared to maybe if you’re fifth to tenth and knowing that you’re always going to be making changes to make it better rather than possibly tuning yourself out.
DARIAN GRUBB: It goes both ways. The way we started the weekend, unloading off the truck we were fast. But we didn’t stop working on it that’s for sure. We still worked every practice trying to make the car better, trying to respond to what Denny’s comments were.
We made a lot of changes. We didn’t run the same setup we did here in the spring. It had a lot of tweaks to it. The car was different. Some of the suspension was different and those thing, so the more things we do differently and go out there and unload fast, we have more confidence that the things are working.
As far as the crew working from behind, that’s not a big deal for them. They come every week just planning to be the best. They try to do that.
So patting them on the back and letting them know they are the best, you really can’t ask any more of them. They can’t work any harder. They can’t do anything more to try to be perfect because we are trying to be perfect all the time.
Q. I don’t know how much you pay attention to Twitter, but did you hear about Denny saying, “We will win”? And what do you think about that from a coach’s standpoint?
JOE GIBBS: I had a throw back on that one. I used to stand on the window if and this he would interview Dexter Manley outside my window; and you knew Dexter was going to say something like, we are going to kill ‘em or something, you know what I mean.
And I would be going like this: Don’t you dare. I’m glad I didn’t hear about that until later on, because normally that one for me decent work out. So anyway I’m glad I didn’t hear it.
One thing that I forgot to mention, too, all of our partners, 100 years — I mean 100 race wins in 29 years
DENNY HAMLIN: You’re not that old. I know you’re old but –
JOE GIBBS: I plan on being here for a hundred by the way. (Laughter). No, I just want to say I left out Toyota in talking about that. We have been going through some issues over the last several weeks and just realize what a great partner they are. I can tell you this; I don’t think we would be here — they have just been awesome. I want to take that — I missed that.
I just want to thank everybody that helped us get to where we are and there are so many people in this sport, and it’s different than, you know, for instance, football. Over here, there’s so many people; you’ve got to have a sponsor, you’ve got to have all of the things that it takes to get where we are, and we really appreciate our partners. In particular, I wanted to mention Toyota on that. Same way for me; I prefer to not hear those.
The difference over here, the drivers tell me what to do. As an owner, I’m along for the ride.
DARIAN GRUBB: Dexter Manley is a little bit bigger than Denny.
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, Dexter could threaten me a little easier than what Denny can.
Q. I know Joey Logano is leaving at the end of the year to go to Penske in 2013, but back here three years ago, he got his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win here.
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, huge day for us. We are going to miss Joey. We worked extremely hard to keep him with us but it wound up for him he had a better opportunity. We understood that.
I think Joey will go on to be a real star in our sport. We know that. We were trying to keep him with us, but it just didn’t work out. This was his — I remember it vividly. That was a big deal for us on that day.
Q. As much as you had looked forward to New Hampshire, you were dreading Dover as a trouble spot. Is there anything — I mean, how much effort have you put in? Is there any indication, do you have any feeling that it’s going to be a lot better this time?
DENNY HAMLIN: Just open-mindedness. All I can do is just have a positive outlook. You know, how we’ve run, we’ve been more cold than hot. But I have had some races where I was pretty competitive.
So I mean, just all it takes is us to hit on one thing that identifies, okay, that’s what makes me comfortable around this track, and if we can find that, then it’s going to be — we are going to treat it just like any other weekend that we have a great shot to win.
It’s just finding that thing. We typically practice a little bit better, a lot better, than what we race, so it’s transferring all that information and talking to my teammates about what I need to do in the race to be better.
You know, people have their Achilles heel, and for me, in the course of my career, Dover has been it. I have won in Nationwide there somehow. Everyone else must have wrecked or something, I don’t know. But I just have to figure out what it takes in Cup.
Q. I remember you winning back at Richmond and being so thrilled to win at home a few years back. Is New Hampshire kind of become a new home, where you’ve been able to find that comfort and success?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, the confidence level is very similar, when I go to Richmond versus Loudon, the tracks are similar and for me my confidence level is very similar in that I expect to go out there and win on these types of racetracks, anywhere from the half-mile to about the one-mile flat tracks have been my bread and butter over my career.
So for me, this is, you know, I always look forward to this racetrack having two races, because for me it’s two opportunities to get wins.
KERRY THARP: Thank you.