Denny Hamlin Wins Seventh Race Of The Season For Impala SS
Team Chevy Drivers Capture Top-Eight Finishing Positions in Lenox Industrial Tool 300
Ten of Top-12 Finishers Behind the Wheel of a Chevy Impala SS; Jeff Gordon Continues as Points Leader with 10 of Top-12 in Standings Members of Team Chevy
Loudon, NH - Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Ground Impala SS, captured his first win of the 2007 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series (NNCS) season in the Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway (NHIS). It was the Team Chevy driver's third NNCS career victory.
Hamlin's win came from a gutsy call by crew chief Mike Ford for two tires on the last pit stop of the 300-lap/300-mile race to give the young Joe Gibbs Racing driver the track position he needed. Hamlin fended off a strong challenge from second place finisher Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Impala SS, to claim his first win at NHIS.
Six more Impala SS drivers followed Hamlin and Gordon to the checkered flag giving Team Chevy the first eight cars in the finishing order.
Martin Truex, Jr., No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Impala SS, finished third followed by his Dale Earnhardt, Inc. teammate, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Impala SS in fourth.
Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS, rounded out the top five in the final order.
Jeff Green, No. 66 Haas Automation/Best Buy Impala SS, scored his best finish of the season in sixth spot.
Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton, No. 31 Lenox Industrial Tools Impala SS, and Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Impala SS, finished seventh and eighth respectively.
Kyle Busch, No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg's Impala SS, and Tony Stewart, No. 20 Home Depot Impala SS, finished 11th and 12th to give Chevrolet Impala SS 10 of the top-12 finishers at the finish line.
Gordon continues to lead the point standings with a 156-point lead over second place Hamlin. A total of 10 Team Chevy drivers sit in the top-12 as race one of the Race to the Chase is now in the record book.
Chevrolet continues to lead the NNCS Manufacturers' Cup standings with 14 wins in 17 of 36 races completed.
Round 18 of the 2007 NNCS season will be July 7. 2007 at Daytona International Speedway.
MIKE FORD, NO. 11 FED EX GROUND IMPALA SS, WINNING CREW CHIEF:
"Well, we didn't have anything for the front three there today, we were back in sixth or seventh position most of the day. The only shot we had was to get track position, two tires worked for us earlier, so we kind of made an oath that anything under 120 laps to go, we were going to do two. We feel comfortable inside the Chase where we are now, so we could the dice a little bit because we have a little cushion back to 13th. We felt comfortable being in so we knew we could take an aggressive position, and try to get some points so when the Chase does start. That was part of the aggression there."
DENNY HAMLIN, NO. 11 FED EX GROUND IMPALA SS, WINNER:
"Oh man, I will tell you, I was driving like a wuss those last few laps trying not to make a mistake. Those guys with fresh tires were coming and Martin (Truex, Jr.) held them off just long enough to get us this win. I have to thank Jeff (Gordon), he could have gotten himself two more bonus points there, but he chose not to and I appreciate that. The two-tire call by Mike (Ford) was definitely what got us the win. Our FedEx Ground team was pretty good all day. We were a top-four car for the most part, but I knew all we needed was clean air for this car to be good. I just can't thank everyone enough, Chevrolet, Coca Cola, Wiley X, the whole FedEx team, Joe Gibbs Racing, the pit crew for turning this deal around. It is amazing; finally we got a win.
"But it really worried me, those guys behind me with four tires and all I was thinking was "Man, just let us get a top-five. Then we started pulling away, then it seemed like those guys were getting me. Then all of a sudden, we started pulling away a little bit. I knew Jeff was coming but it took too long to get to me. But our tires were just giving up, I mean, 30-laps on the tires, and nearly 100 laps on our left sides. I knew it was just going to be a matter of time before we started heading back towards those guys. Man it was half-a-lap long enough.
"Early in the race, it was just hairy back there where I was mid pack. Just couldn't get anything going. Luckily the car is still in one piece because there were times when we weren't going to make it out.
"That is a big deal that we won this one on pit road. That is redemption for these guys. They did a great job on pit road all day. We never really had a chance to size guys up on pit road. We just kept taking four and taking four, and when the right time came around, we took two and it was the winning call."
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS, FINISHED 2ND:
"Yes and no I was driving this car about as hard as I could there. This car you can't overdrive it, the harder I tried to drive it, the slower I went. I raced so hard with Martin (Truex, Jr.) there, man that was a great battle and I had a lot of fun racing with him, that we used up a lot of our stuff. It took me a couple of laps once I got in front of him to get readjusted and back in my rhythm. We were running Denny (Hamlin) down and he was doing a great job. At the end, those last two laps, he started watching his mirror and I thought we had a shot at him. That was fun; that was a lot of fun. I am real proud of Jeff Meendering to come in here with that kind of pressure and make great calls and great adjustments to put us in positions with a good car to be able to battle those guys. This whole DuPont Chevrolet team, I am just real proud of these guys. It shows what we are made of. That is why we are where we are at in the points. Hopeful ly that is why we are going to win some more races before it is all over with. Congratulations to Denny, he drove a great race."
MARTIN TRUEX, JR., NO. 1 BASS PRO SHOPS/TRACKER BOATS IMPALA SS, FINISHED 3RD:
"The final few laps were both fun and frustrating for me. A lot of fun to race with Denny (Hamlin), Jeff (Gordon), Dale, Jr. and those guys but frustrating cause I though we had the car to beat until that last caution. But Denny did a great job and don't want to take anything away from him. Just that last set of tires didn't agree with me. I am not sure why. From the get-go, I took the green and pushed real bad going in to one and I was real loose off. It just stayed that way. I am not real sure why, but Denny kind of snookered us all with those two tires anyway. I think I could have gotten out front, I would have been all right. But I would get right there and couldn't get any closer and burned the front tires up trying to make it turn. Then I got to racing with Jeff and it was a lot of fun after that. It was frustrating though because I thought we had the car to beat. I am proud of all my guys on the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet. Bone (Kevin Manion, crew chief) did an awesome job with the adjustments especially since we were pretty far off the start of the race. We fought ourselves toward the front after that first pit stop. Had a really, really good car before that last set of tire. Just kept working on it man, and we had it licked there for a little while, but it just wasn't meant to be. Six months ago I would have killed somebody for this third place run but now we know what we are capable of. Our cars are running really well and we have to get them while we can."
DALE EARNHARDT, JR., NO. 8 BUDWEISER IMPALA SS, FINISHED 4TH:
"Yesterday I forgot about the Modifieds and the difference in the tire rubber that they put down yesterday. It took about 15 minutes to knock that off and get a coating of good ole Goodyear rubber down. Then we got to running and turning better. My car just came and we ran great all day long. We didn't adjust enough for the track change there at the end.
"As the track cooled off, we were getting a little tight. I have got to thank Tony Gibson for being the crew chief the last six weeks. This is his last race before Tony (Eury), Jr., comes back and he has his work cut out for him because we have been running so good with Tony Gibson filling in. He has done such a great job. I can't thank him enough. This team owes him an incredible debt because of where we are in the points. Martin Truex Jr. had a good run; DEI had a great day. We led a lot of laps and ran up front all day. That is just what I want ever week and that is what we are getting here lately."
HOW DID YOU DO ON FOUR TIRES?
"I was good. I just didn't ask for enough changes as the track cooled off. We got tight at the end as the weather cooled off. I was really good at the start of the race."
WHAT ABOUT GOING TO DAYTONA?
"Tony Eury Jr. has got his work cut out for him. Seriously, man. Tony Gibson - I run great with him. Tony Jr. has been lazy. He's been laying out for six weeks. He's got to come in here and work hard. I expect a lot of him."
WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT THE NO. 24 AND NO. 48 WERE ABLE TO RUN AS GOOD AS THEY DID WITH SUBSTITUTE CREW CHIEFS?
"No. Those guys are setting them cars up at the race shop and they come to the race track in the ballpark without a whole lot of adjustments to improve the car from there. I've run pretty good with Tony Gibson. I don't think it slowed our team down a bit, to be honest with you - not even a tiny bit did it even slow our team down at all. So I was surprised."
ARE THERE COMMUNICATIONS ISSUES DURING THE RACE SOMETIMES?
"No. You rely on Tony Gibson and they've got to rely on whoever is in that spot right now. If you try to do a lot of back support with the crew chief on cell phones and internet and whatnot, it just confuses everybody and gets everybody all riled up. You've got two guys making two calls. You need one chief up there."
IS TONY GIBSON READY TO JUMP INTO THE ROLE OF CREW CHIEF FULL TIME?
"I think so, obviously. He's going to rely on friends around the garage area, like Tony Jr. does, to assist you in gray areas that you're not experienced in or have enough knowledge in. I think Tony Gibson could deal with any driver and be awesome. I think he's been around the sport for a long time. He's done a great job for me."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CAR OF TOMORROW PROGRAM?
'I was real nervous when we were in Daytona. I thought we were going to be horrible. But it's leveled the playing field almost to where it's pretty even for everybody. Everybody's got a shot with this car. It's a level playing field right now."
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE'S IMPALA SS, FINISHED 5TH:
"Today was exactly what we needed. We would have loved to be in victory lane today with our Lowe's Chevrolet, but a good top-five finish. We need to get some solid top-fives under our belts and get further away from that cut off point for 12th and for the Chase and then focus on the Chase after that."
JEFF GREEN, NO. 66 HAAS CNC MACHINE TOOLS/BEST BUY IMPALA SS - Finished 6th:
"We were as good as the leaders, we just needed track position," said Green. "Two tires was the way to go for us.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 DUPONT IMPALA SS - Finished 2nd
MARTIN TRUEX JR., NO. 1 BASS PRO SHOPS/TRACKER BOATS IMPALA SS - Finished 3rd
PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, tell us about your run.
JEFF GORDON: Great run. We were obviously a lot better at the beginning of the race and we went up there and took the lead as the track laid some rubber down our car started getting a little bit too tight right in the middle and we had to make some adjustments. Right there at the end I thought Jeff made some great calls and great adjustments and got the car a little bit better. Of course, you know, Denny took, I don't know, two tires, no tires, whatever, you know ?? we're giving them a heck of a run. Had a lot of fun today.
I'm just so proud of this team to come in here with that kind of pressure without Steve and a lot of attention and they stepped up. Man, it feels good. Martin and I had a great battle there at the end, and I think that definitely used up our stuff a little bit. So you know, when I got into second, it just took me a little while to get the rhythm and to cool things down before I could start getting after Denny. Then, you know, we had a great side?by?side finish.
Q. Can you talk about when you came around that fourth turn, last lap, and he got loose, did it look like there was a window of opportunity there?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, you know, you can always look back, and probably I'll be watching the video and say, oh, I wish I would have done this or that.
He started watching his mirror there a little bit with about one or two to go, and when he did that, he started running the inside lane, just protecting the inside lane. And it allowed me to get right up on him. And so when he ran that inside lane, it really took away his exit. And had I ran my normal line, I think that I might
have actually had a run at him and maybe, you know, had a better shot at getting him.
But as we came off there, he got loose, I got loose, too, trying to turn underneath him and just made my best effort. I think he kind of knew that even if he got loose off there, it was going to be hard for me to get by him at the start finish line, maybe at turn one, but not the start finish line.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by third place finisher, driver of the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Impala, Martin Truex, Jr. Tell us about your run.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: It was a good run for us. Another almost could have been day, but good run. Third place is, you know, six months ago, I'd have been begging for a third paragraph par it was a gate guy.
Real proud of my Chevrolet team. We were off pretty good at the start of the race and we did a pretty good job adjusting on us. They have been able to do that for me pretty much all year long and it's a good feeling when you can tell them what you need and they can give it to you like that. Sure proud of them. They did an awesome job for me and had a great day.
Q. Jeff, your crew chief, Jeff Meendering, said that he didn't have communications with Steve Letarte today; that that was a decision they made, just let him kind of make the calls and with the help of people there. Did you have any input in that decision? Did you want Steve to be texting or calling this morning or trying to call people to say, hey, do this or do that?
JEFF GORDON: You can only do so much away from the racetrack. You know, sometimes that can get confusing. You know, you've got to have confidence in the person that you put up there on that box, and we have confidence in Jeff.
Obviously you know, Steve and him have been in quite a bit of communication throughout the week talking about strategy, talking about setups, and everything leading into this weekend.
So I feel like he was well prepped, Jeff was. And I think that we had enough guys up there helping him between Ken Howes and our engineer, Cain (ph), and all an additional person on the phone or texting would do is complicate things a bit more.
Q. Denny only took two tires on the last stop, for him to be able to win this, how surprising is that or can you put that in perspective?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Seemed like track position was pretty huge all day. Earlier in the race some guys got up there with two tires and didn't seem to slow them down all that much.
I was a little surprised. I thought I would be able to get by him, but my car just wouldn't go like it had for some reason. I don't know if the last set of tires didn't agree with it, just wasn't turning anymore. Surprised me a little bit. But two tires seemed to work good here a lot.
JEFF GORDON: You know, I mean, I think that track position was extremely important.
You know, obviously you could tell he was fading there towards the end, but if it had not been a 30?lap run or however many lap it is was, it might not have worked out for him. But that was a good call, and obviously a great call, because it worked for him.
Q. In laps 291 through 294, it seemed like it was sort of the same pattern, you would get underneath Martin, and almost clear him, but not be able to hold down the back straight. Had you been able to get by him a little bit easier ?? obviously we'll never know, but do you think you'd be in victory lane now if it had not taken four laps?
JEFF GORDON: I don't know. Obviously I would liked to have had another lap. But Martin raced me exactly how he should have, and I raced him as hard as I could. We raced one another clean. It was a great battle. I had a lot of fun racing Martin, and, you know, he's really been strong this year. I think he's one of the guys to beat, you know, when this Chase comes around. They have been strong on the COTs. I think he knew that he had a car that could win the race today.
You know, at the end of the race, man, you don't let anybody go. So woulda, coulda, shoulda, yeah, I have liked to have had another lap or two, but that's the way it worked out.
Q. Can you talk a little about just the challenges that this team faced coming into this week, given the penalties you faced, and did you have like it was personally, that you had to take some leadership in terms of maybe giving Jeff a pep talk this morning, and did you do that when you got out there?
JEFF GORDON: You know, I mean, he's been part of this team for a long time. Actions speak louder than words. And going out there and getting in the heat of the battle, that's what it's all about. That's, you know, when you have got
a race team like ours and race cars that we bring to the track; I had confidence in him. I think he was nervous. I didn't need to tell him anything else and make him any more nervous.
I think all of us; I did feel everybody took on a little more responsibility and stepped up just a bit and I think that's very normal when you lose your crew chief or the leader of your team. Then everybody has to dig a little deeper and pay attention a little bit in more detail, and I would say that, you know, I did do my part. I didn't do anything more or anything less.
Q. The Car of Tomorrow was supposed to remove the aero push and make the cars less aero dependent, and it looked to us like whoever was out in front in clean air could not be touched; is that accurate? Do you think the clean air makes as much or more difference than it did with a spoiler car?
JEFF GORDON: I'd like to know who said this car would take away the aero push, because I could it told you the first time I drove this car, it's going to make it worse.
All it's done is throw the cars down through the corner and that might make the race seem good at some tracks and not so good at other tracks. This is New Hampshire; since they changed the banking, it's made a wider groove and more side?by?side racing. But this is one of the toughest places that there is to pass, even with the old car.
But I have not found that this car makes aero push better. If anything, it might be a little worse.
Martin's going to leave that one in my hands.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Thank you. (Laughter).
Q. If I'm not mistaken, this is your fourth top three's in the last four oval races, or fourth top five's in the last five races overall; how much more confidence do you guys have now heading out?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Well, obviously we feel good about our program and our race cars. I feel great about the job that the guys are doing for me and the cars they are bringing to the racetrack, and that's all you can really ask for. They are doing a great job and I'm real proud of them.
We've got, you know, a lot of confidence, but we still need to work hard and try to find areas where we can get better and just keep digging and try to be the best we can be when that last ten comes around.
Q. How disappointed were you to see that caution come out when you were running so well?
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: I was pretty disappointed. I mean, I had like a three?second lead or something; they took it away. I wasn't happy. But that's the way it goes. We needed to ?? I'm not sure what we could have done different to have a shot at winning but you know we put that set of ties on ??
JEFF GORDON: Take two tires.
MARTIN TRUEX, JR.: Yeah, maybe we should have taken two tires. But whatever, it was a good day for us. (Laughter).
Q. It seems like Hendrick teams hardly ever skip a beat when a key player is out or replaced or whatever. Is this organization that deep, or are there that many good people at your shop that we have never heard of but you have confidence in?
JEFF GORDON: Well, you know, I don't want to take anything away from any individual, but I'll throw myself in this mix, as well. You can take me out of the driver's seat and that car is still going to be competitive out there. I mean, our teams and our organization are just that good.
Yes, we've got a lot of depth and we've got a lot of good people, but I think we've just spent so many years building up the race teams and the organization, that they never revolve around one person. And it's not me, it's not the crew chief, it's not a guy hanging bodies at the shop or building the engines; it's everybody's group effort that makes it happen.
And I think it would be shame on us if we lose a person for six weeks and we fall to pieces. That means that we didn't have a strong enough team to begin with, and I think even Steve Letarte would admit that.
And I think it's a tribute to his preparation, too. He's built a great team for us and been able to contribute to it, and I think his preparation for those guys coming in allowed them to step in and do their job.
Q. Did Hamlin slip off turn four on that last lap?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, Him and me both. Him more than me, so that's why I got a fender inside of him.
What he did, he ran the bottom groove the last lap just, you know, basically trying to make me ?? force me to the outside, and so when he came off of turn four on the lower side of the track, he just ran out of room as he got off the exit and the car jumped sideways. Had I, you know, like I said going back looking, redoing it over again, if I had that option, which I don't, I probably would have arked the car in there a little bit different trying to get more of a drive off the corner. But how do you know the guy is going to get that sideways that way off the corner; I was just trying to get underneath him and get a drag race off there and get some momentum, but wasn't able to happen. And when he jumped loose, I kind of got loose a little bit, too.
Q. There's still a lot of time to collect bonus points before the Chase, but how significant can the first bit of momentum or break in that be for him, and how much of a worry is that for you?
JEFF GORDON: I don't want so see anybody get bonus points, you know, not Martin, not Denny, Jimmie, nobody. Those things are important, real important. Yeah, I'm just glad they don't have bonus points in the Chase because, you know, then make it even more challenging to have to get those wins.
But you know, right now we've got four wins and that's his first, and we've got more racing to do. I mean, we've been talking about how strong those guys are. I think the DEI cars have really come on strong and maybe surprised a few people, but now they are solid so we know that they are a factor. And the Gibbs cars have been strong, the strongest cars I think, especially in the COT races, but they just haven't gotten the wins. You know, that could be the first of many for them. You know, it's our job to keep all of those guys from getting those bonus points.
DENNY HAMLIN, NO. 11 FEDEX GROUND IMPALA SS - WINNER
PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
MIKE FORD, CREW CHIEF AND JD GIBBS, PRESIDENT OF JOE GIBBS RACING ALSO JOINED
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by today's race winner driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin. Tell us about your run.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, we definitely had a good run. You know, we weren't as good in times in this race as what we hoped but I think for the most part we knew we were about a Top-5 or six car there for most part of the case, Top 3 at times, and for the most part, you know, we just were ?? I say we ?? but Mike was biding his time on when to make that two?tire call at the end.
Of course I was giving the, an earful at the beginning of the race about, "I just need some track position." That's where we got the damage from. We just were struggling back to there get around guys and it was so hard to pass, I knew if we just got that clean air that we would be in better shape. Wasn't exactly feeling good about the four tires right behind us, but I tell you, I thought I could hold him off for maybe five laps and salvage a good finish after that but our car just took off.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by winning crew chief Mike Ford. Tell us about today's strategy.
MIKE FORD: Here at Loudon, we have historically done two tires and going into the race had a number of, you know, 120 to 130 laps where the last four tires stop and inside that need to be fuel only or two tires and with the COTs, you don't get a lot of left side wear.
So it played to our advantage, and like Denny said, we had a fifth, sixth place car most of the day. With four tires and the guys that were better in front of us with four tires, we knew we would not have a shot at winning and really feel pretty comfortable inside the Chase right now. You know, trying to do something to benefit us down the road. Our only shot to benefit us down the road was try to get a win, and put the car out front and Denny did a great job staying out front. And the clean air at Loudon is very important with this COT and back in traffic we
were just too tight, and up front, you know, we're the best lap times even on two tires that we ran owl day.
THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by team president, JD Gibbs. JD, tell us about your view of the race.
JD GIBBS: Looked good for a while. I just, for us, it was just an ?? we had so many good runs and so many close calls for us, it was just nice to get out there and get that win and now go build that momentum.
My hat is off to Mike the way he called that race, and to Denny. I laughed, Denny actually in the race was telling Mike, how much track position, "two tires, two tires" and Mike said, "just wait, just wait, just wait." And so Mike gave him two at the end there and so Denny takes full credit for the call himself.
Q. Mike we talked this morning about you were such good shape as far as the points that you felt in position to take a risk if it allowed itself here this afternoon, were you sort of bound and determined, if you had any chance at all you were going to step out and take a risk?
MIKE FORD: Absolutely. Like I mentioned, the only thing we could have come out here with to really pay off down the road and what we are looking for is a championship and try to close some ground to the Hendrick car inside the Chase. If we came out here second today, we really didn't gain anything. Our only shot, even though we didn't have the best race car was to try to put it out front and to try to win the race.
You know, at the end, it did raise itself to that as a possibility. So it seemed a little bit of a stretch being 50 laps on the left side tires, but like I mentioned the left side with these tires don't seem to wear that much. And at worse, we may have fallen back to where we were anyway, so really nothing to lose in the call and something to gain, and we did gain?
Q. Just to follow up on that, had it been a hotter day, you know, where the track temperatures came up more rapidly and tire wear became more of an issue, would you have been inclined to have to take four at that point?
MIKE FORD: I don't want to sound overconfident but had it been a little bit warmer, I think we would have had a better car and not been that that situation.
We knew it was going to be cool and overcast. Don't know it was going to be as cool and overcast as it was. We chased that today. Had we known what today was going to be, we would have adjusted the car a little bit differently going into the race.
But you know, going in if it were hot, we may have had to think about it a little harder to get two tires but I think we would have had a better car if it were hot.
Q. What means more to you today, getting the win and the ten bonus points were with Jeff finishing second, keeping him from winning and getting ten bonus points and even further ahead?
DENNY HAMLIN: Probably from our standpoint getting the points. If we would have finished second today we wouldn't have accomplished much. If Jeff would have won he would have stretched his lead further.
This is a good confidence booster for this race team. This is my first win where I didn't have just an absolute dominant race car all day, and you know, for the most part, this is what we needed as a race team. We had come so close so many times this year, we always talk about what we could or should have but the bottom line is we weren't going to have anything going into the Chase if we didn't start getting wins.
You know, we talked about it, about Pocono time, about we needed to start taking chances. We could have took four times and made a safe car and finish somewhere in the Top?5 more than likely, somewhere around third, fourth, fifth or sixth. But we chose to take the two, because we have a decent enough lead on 12th right now that we feel like we can take those little extra risks.
This risk was ?? the reward was going to be much better, much bigger than the consequence if it didn't work. We took the chances when it really mattered and for us it's about momentum. We've seen what it has done with the one car, and I think it's going to do the same for us.
Q. You've come in here a couple of times this year after some races and said, you know, it's the most frustrated you've ever been in your life and come to close; were you wondering what you had to do to win a race, to get back to victory lane or who you pissed off before the season to get back here?
DENNY HAMLIN: I knew we were capable of it. You're going to run in the top three or four continuously and not get a win ?? win eventually. It's going to happen. We knew it was going to happen eventually.
For us, we're being competitive every week, and that's what's keeping us motivated right now is we know when we unload we have a Top?5 race car each and every time we hit the racetrack.
With a couple lucky breaks here and there, we can win a lot of races. For us even though we were from us rated and we had not gotten a win yet, we knew
it was just a matter of time before we did, I didn't want to start too far behind the Hendrick cars as far as the Chase is concerned because I knew it was going to come down ?? this Chase is going to come down to 10, 15 points. I firmly believe that. We are not going to be able to start 50,60 behind and overcome it without them having problems.
If we start 20, 30 behind, I think we can beat them on the racetrack by that much. We just have to keep doing the things we're doing and not have any bad luck.
Q. Denny, six weeks ago, you were talking about giving away races on pit road and everything, dropped lug nuts, that kind of thing. Talk about where that is now, and did that at any point since then kind of play into maybe how many tires you take on, just worrying about what next could go wrong on pit road?
DENNY HAMLIN: Not really for the most part, you know that since we made a change, we've kind of eliminated the big mistakes that we were making in the past. We felt like we were strong enough on the racetrack to do the things that we needed to do to take chances to get wins. You know, if we just eliminated those big problems, those few races, then we definitely win a bunch of them.
But you know, right now we're just trying to maintain and build that pit crew into what it needs to be come Chase time, and I think they are slowly but surely getting there and I think that's why we made the changes as early as we did in the season is because with ten races to go, we need them at their best. But they are definitely getting there and they are heading in the right direction.
Q. It's only your second year in the Cup, what do you do to put aside races like Phoenix or ones with the dropped lug nuts, to focus on just getting to a racetrack and driving hard?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I mean, I always think that I'm really, really focused when it comes to race day. I goof around a lot and do a lot of foolish things probably on and off the racetrack (Laughter) I may act like I'm 12 at times ?? (Laughter).
But when it comes to racing, I'm as competitive as Tony (Stewart), and that's the benchmark for competitiveness because it doesn't get any higher than him. You know, I can be the first one to throw something after I finish second. It's just the way I am. I feel like if I don't win, then I need to figure out why I got beat. You know, that's what keeps us going every single week is knowing that, man, we're so close to a win, you know, let's just keep trying harder and harder to get a win and finally it breaks through for you and next thing you know, you go on a roll.
I'd like to think that really it all boils down to being focused.
Q. You mentioned earlier saying your previous wins, you just had the dominant car and it was the easy drive; what were the challenges today or how did you grow or evolve even somewhat as a driver today since you didn't have the most come car throughout the race?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know, we just kept inching up on those guys it seemed like. We went from running about 13th or 15th midpoint in the race, we just started slowly making our way to the front. When we get those long green flag runs, that's really what played into our benefit. Once we got to the Top?10 on a two?tire stop, we were able to hold our own, even gain a little bit.
It seems like those two?tire stops is what kept us getting a little bit more track position and finally at the end, we were able to take four, go on a little one and went to the Top?5 and we knew that was our opportunity to take two tires and really surprised more guys didn't do it, but I looked on the scoreboard and the guys that did do it, came out third, fourth, fifth or whatever they did.
We were fortunate enough that we were far enough up the Top?5 that when we were going to take two, we were going to come out with the lead and that was very important. Because if we came out second, we were not going to win the race. We were probably going to fall bark further. That was our race to try to stay up front in that clean air because that's ultimately what won us the race.
Q. What was it like to really compete on the last lap and holding somebody off?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, my right foot was just shaking like crazy the last three laps. You know, you try to hold the gas pedal down and all you're doing is going crazy with the right foot because you know, you're getting nervous. You see Jeff coming and you're trying your best not to be that guy who chokes under pressure. And you know, I was on the verge of getting loose into the corner every single lap, so I just ?? those last three laps, when I knew I just couldn't make a mistake, I really slowed down, it felt like lap time?wise. And of course that reeled him in even closer.
I knew if I kept going on at the pace I was going, it was going to be a matter of time I slipped up big and opened up the door for the guys. It was better
to let those guys get a little bit closer and not make a mistake, than it was to just go all?out and then open up the door for those guys to get a win.
Q. That last lap, how many times did you almost get side ways and coming toward the checkered did you actually touch the wall?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm not too sure. I was all over the track it felt like those last two laps. I couldn't hold a steady wheel if I had to.
I was basically just trying not to give up the bottom. I knew those guys would get a little bit tighter when they were right behind me, and you know, when those guys have better tires than you, they are going to be able to put their car in different positions that are going to work better for them, even though you have the clean air.
So for us, it was all just trying to stay on the bottom, and I knew if I just got off four with my bumper ahead of them, I was going to be okay. I knew I was pretty close to the wall and you know, I was of course wide open spinning the rear tires. I thought if he actually got a run on me, he could have got me at the end with as sideways as I got right before the line. Luckily I was able to keep him pinched down.
Q. The two tires, what situations during the race did you start thinking this pit stop or get to this position and everything, and just having everything kind of fall into place with that?
MIKE FORD: It's strictly a timing issue. Here is similar to a road race in the fact that two tires do work. Fuel only is an option at times. You start at the back of the race and you pick a lap and you look at your segments and your fuel windows and you say, okay at a certain lap is going to be the last fuel stop but a certain lap, if you have left side tires that are less than 130 laps on them, it's two tires from them. So you almost work from the back of the race and look forward.
And 120, 130 laps was planning on four tires. It ended up being a little closer to the end of the race than that with the green flag pit stop that we had to make. So had a number in my head before the race that that was going to be the last time and Denny had mentioned earlier in the race that he was, you know, talking about track position, and we wanted to make sure that before that, we paced ourselves to be on that cycle at the end of the race. And it just worked out. The cautions fell the way they needed to. The long runs came the way they needed to for that to be able to work out. So when that last caution came with 50 laps on our left side tires, you know, it was a little bit more than I was hoping for, but you know, we had thought about it pre?race and had made that commitment.
We didn't have anything to lose and everything to gain. So that's, you know, the opportunity came that we were looking for. So we were able to just do two tires and it put our whole race in sequence for what we liked.
Q. After Darlington, you took a lot of hits from the media and fans. Did you learn something from that experience? Did you learn any lessons you can apply to the future with all of the hits you took?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. Honestly I really wouldn't have done things much different from the way I did, because really, our team I felt like is tight enough to where that just drives them. Something like that is not going to tear our team apart. You know, if I do something wrong on the racetrack, I want Mike to let me know, or I want the crew guys to say, you lost us this one; that's fine with me. That drives me to go harder, and it does the same thing for those guys.
What I liked about it is we didn't just get rid of everyone. We chose to move guys around, put them in different places. A few guys we brought in, but for the most part, it's the same thing, just guys moved in different position.
For the most part, we are just trying to give those guys confidence right now, and we know they can do it. They are doing it every day during pit practice, knocking out great stops. It's just during race day, they were having trouble getting it done. And that right there is just more confidence issues than anything and it's finally starting to come around for them.
Q. What I meant was ?? if you did it publicly, in behind sight, should you have done it privately?
DENNY HAMLIN: You could do it either way. I felt like, would I do it again the same way, with the same emotions in play and everything ?? had I calmed down and not been right after the race, maybe I would have held back and not said anything but when you lose the races that we lost because of that and we knew that racing ?? or winning was at such a premium for those bonus points, whoever wanted to talk to me, I was going to let them know exactly how I felt. And that's exactly how it came out.
Q. I understood you have a little extra motivation and you visited a children's hospital, your helmet had a scheme that a patient had constructed for you; does that make this even sweeter?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, that's what the cool thing about it, this is our first win with a special paint scheme. This is the wear your "Heart on Your Helmet" campaign for FedEx. This is the fifth one of 11 this year. Moira, I believe it is, is 13 years old. She designed the helmet that I had today. It was great to finally get a win with those guys riding along with me.
And we visited the Children's Hospital of Boston. That really meant a lot for everyone who came on Thursday and visited us. You know, those kids are not always able to go to the racetrack, and we try to do our best to bring the racetrack to them.
They knew that I was going to be ?? that they were going to be riding along with me today during the race and I bet they were as excited as I was there at the end.
Q. At the end of a race like that, you've got spotters talking to you, all that stuff going on and you're trying not to check the mirror but you have to check the mirror, trying to decide if the low line is right, if the high line is right, you have Jeff Gordon, breathing down your neck. Does your mind speed up or does it slow down or is it a little bit of both? Does it seem like it takes forever but you're making those decisions ?? can you just talk about that part of it?
DENNY HAMLIN: I was about ten seconds from telling everyone, crew chief, spotter, not to say another word. I can look in my mirror and see. I know when I hit a good lap; I don't need them to tell me. I can feel it in the race car.
So when I got a spotter saying, "You're clear by three, two" that kind of gets you excited. Then you kind of get into a panic mode and that's kind of where it was the last few laps. I almost feel like I would have been better with complete silence on the radio and just let me run my race. But those guys are trying to give me all the information possible. I'm the first one who speaks up and says, "Y'all aren't saying enough."
At the end of those races, for sure, I'd like to say, let me handle it from year because y'all are driving me absolutely crazy and we were on the verge of it today.
Q. Does time speed up or does it slow down?
DENNY HAMLIN: It slows down when you're looking at laps. I was counting down, eight, seven, six, and I'm doing it as I'm crossing the line. I'm totally oblivious to whatever the spotter is saying, however many laps to go or anything like that. For me it cannot go by fast enough and as fast as the 24 was
coming, I knew that it was going to be very, very close at the end when he got to me.
It definitely slowed down in that instance.
Q. Being where you've been pretty much all season, it's indicative of how consistent this team is and everything, but I guess now that you've got the bonus points, how much does your approach really change now; all along it's been about trying to establish some steadiness, correct?
DENNY HAMLIN: Oh, absolutely. Up until about three weeks ago, we were taking Top 3 finishes and 2 finishes and saying, what a great day, excellent day, and that's what we needed to when we got to ten races to go, which is today, we needed to have a big enough lead where we can just throw caution to the wind and see what happens.
And we are still going to have that mentality. Even though we have this first win now, we are still not just going to sit back and say, a Top 3 is good for us. We are going to continue to just throw out there Hail Mary's and see how they land. For us right now, it's still all about getting more and more bonus points and we've got some very, very good racetracks for us coming up and I feel like we are going to hopefully close that gap to the 24 and 48.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Denny. Congratulations.