Denny, I got to believe this one is as sweet as you’ve had. The season you had, the adversity you faced, got to feel pretty good.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it’s a horrible year. I was going to be counting down the laps. You hate to say you give up, but you kind of concede the fact that we weren’t going to keep the streak alive of a win every year.
I knew on my first run right away that we were going to have a shot. If the strategy didn’t go our way, we fell back, but when we were able to drive back up to the front, I knew Darian gave me a car capable of winning.
As bad as the year is, we can take a little solace in this finish. Spend these next two months regrouping, getting our team back in order. I feel like there’s no reason why we can’t shoot out of the gates in ’14 like we did in 2010 after winning here in 2009.
That was the point for us, when we won this race here in ’09, confidence went through the roof. 2010 was a great season for us. Hopefully that repeats.
Q : Darian, talk about what this can mean for the overall race team.
DARIAN GRUBB: It was a good day, team effort. The strategy didn’t go our way after the first caution. We were the only car to stay out. But that was going to work out in our favor in the end, too, if caution had come out because we were the only team that had any tires left. Luckily we didn’t need to do that.
The pit crew did an incredible job. Their worst was a 12.3. Came out and gained positions every stop.
Q : J.D. Gibbs, Coach Gibbs, congratulations on an outstanding season. Talk about this victory here today by Denny, what it means to the race team.
J.D. GIBBS: Really with Denny, it was a tough year. This to me was one of the best wins we’ve had at Joe Gibbs Racing in all the years we’ve been doing it because these guys are capable, gifted, they can do it. We’re really proud of Darian, Denny, the whole team.
Matt, we would have loved to have won that championship. He had a great race, did a good job. He’s just a good leader for our team. Denny and Kyle like him, respect him. So that’s a big deal.
Q. Denny, what did you do to keep your spirits up during the year?
DENNY HAMLIN: I’m really not sure (laughter). I mean, I don’t know. There wasn’t a whole lot of positives. Fridays were always really good for us when we qualified. That was always the best day of the weekend for us.
I don’t know. You just try to find what works for you. Really for us, last two months we started figuring things out a little bit as a race team, started to turn that corner from where we were in the mid-summer. Still never really got a feel of the car that I was comfortable enough to go up and race for race wins.
We came here and tested a month or so ago, a few weeks ago, hit on something that was really good forus. You just look at the small victories. That’s all I could do, is take pride in the small victories that we had here and there, knowing we were getting a little bit better each week.
After last week, it was like another step back once again in performance. At least could take a little solace that Matt was just as bad as we were.
But still with all the rules changes, everything coming up next year, I was looking forward to 2014 because these cars are not going to be the same as what they were. A lot of the rule changes that happened late last year I felt like hurt myself and our race team. I think it’s taken us a while to catch up.
Now everyone is starting over clean again in 2014. For me, when you come back after missing four or five races, one or two bad finishes, it was, My Chase hopes are over. You’re kind of racing for nothing really. It’s hard to find the motivation to perform at 100% when you’re trying to find yourself, trying to figure out what feel you need, really when you feel like you’re not racing for anything.
Q. Denny, at what point of the year was the back no longer an issue or are you still having twinges with it?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think I turned the corner the week after Richmond, whenever that was. Right around when the Chase started, I went in for some treatment, got an injection that numbed the pain. That really allowed me to get back in the gym, get back to doing rehab again. That was the point for me where I started to get better inside the car.
Richmond was probably the worst that I felt of any weekend. So, you know, it’s tough. When you can’t go through a corner, you can’t feel the racecar because you’re getting lightning bolts of pain through your back.
Luckily now things have really taken a turn and every day continues to get better. Looking forward to this off-season, staying hard at it, coming back strong.
Q. A lot of times today the top six, three Gibbs cars, three Hendrick cars. Seems to be that way all season. Is that good or bad for the sport?
J.D. GIBBS: I think when it’s your team, it’s a good thing. When it’s someone else’s team…
I love the fact that when my dad started the race team, it was 15 people. We’ve grown a lot. We don’t have quite the abundance that some of the other teams do, but I just love the fact that all our guys, they’re just hard workers and they’re sharp. They spend a lot of time. The time they invest is phenomenal.
We just take great pride in doing things, competing against guys that have more resources than we do.
Q. Denny, your teammate Matt Kenseth was talking about how he’s had the best season of his career, yet he comes up short to the 48. You can relate to that. What is it going to take? When Jimmie Johnson is on top of his game, is there a place where you can improve to beat a team like that? Are there weaknesses?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think they do a great job of being consistent. Really, I’d say with everyone else in the Chase you can almost count on them having one bad race. The 48, they just never have that one bad race.
Really in all the championships, there was a couple he won when he had a bad race, but everybody else kind of screwed it up. I don’t know how to explain it, but they just don’t make any mistakes. They don’t have 20th or worse finishes that it seems like every one team has throughout the Chase, whether it be a superspeedway or whatever. You have to beat him on performance. To do that, that’s really hard.
He’s won more than anyone. Unfortunately, we’re racing during the Jimmie Johnson era. We’re just unlucky in that sense. I think being out there and racing with him, I can say that I think he’s the best that there ever was. He’s racing against competition that is tougher than this sport’s ever seen.
The guy’s just good. So you just need some bad luck here and there. The championships that he didn’t win is because he had some bad luck here and there, or maybethey beat themselves, something like that. Here lately, it just hasn’t happened that way.
DARIAN GRUBB: I have to agree with what Denny said. I was proud to be part of those first three championships when I wasstill there, and also proud to be the first one to knock him off to keep him from getting the sixth. Hopefully we’re the ones that keep him from getting seven next year.
Like Denny said, it’s consistency, always being there at the finish. You have to be able to get that top-10 run, just have to be able to do that.
Q. Denny, a lot of experimental stuff on this car tonight or just in general what’s worked well this year? You’re saying your back is getting better, that you wouldn’t have any off-season surgery.
DENNY HAMLIN: I have no idea.
J.D. GIBBS: You’re talking about the car? Anything special on the car?
DARIAN GRUBB: No (laughter).
DENNY HAMLIN: Crash test dummy (laughter).
No, it appears not. We came here and tested. That really was the thing for us, was we hit up on something that really took our car and really made it very, very good. We just stuck with it. It’s also kind of what we ran at Texas, where we ran pretty strong there as well.
I think we just kind of hit on a setup that worked. Really the experimental mode that we’ve been in is us really kind of searching for different setups, figure out what we need to be running, things like that. We went through a phase of running some different TRD motors for next year.
Really we needed to end the season on a good note, so we went with what we knew was proven on the engine side, obviously stuck with the setup that we came up with here a few weeks ago.
Q. (No microphone.)
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I’m going to avoid that and keep on the rehab process that I’m in right now.
Q. When Matt was in here earlier, he said there’s not a time when he beats himself up over coming so close. What allows him to handle stuff like this so well?
J.D. GIBBS: I call him our old man driver. He’s had so much experience. He’s won a championship. He knows what it’s like to lose a championship. I think it’s been real helpful. He’s been able to help Kyle and Denny. How do they deal with that?
You are bummed that you didn’t win it. At the same time we really like Matt, think he’s a great fit for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Does that answer the question?
Q. Denny, this marks eight consecutive seasons with at least one victory. How much does that mean to you in terms of keeping that streak alive?
DENNY HAMLIN: It weighs on you. At this point what I really love about this win is that you appreciate it so much more because you went through the badtimes. I was just so fortunate for the first seven years of my career to not really have a horrible season. We were always able to win races everyyear. Any given week, we knew we could win. It was just taken for granted, it seemed like. When we went to Victory Lane, it was like, Yeah, it’s another one.
When you go an entire year or more without winning, it makes you appreciate when you get back there.
I think this does so much more emotionally to our confidence knowing that we can get back to the top. For me it just makes me appreciate that opportunity that I have, really the cars that I drive.
Q. Darian, they have a stat sheet here of Jimmie and Chad’s accomplishments. What makes Chad so accomplished? He ranks second only to Dale Inman. How does he do this?
DARIAN GRUBB: I think the biggest thing is Jimmie Johnson. If you look at Chad before that, he didn’t really have any stats to come by until he started working with Jimmie. Just the support of that Hendrick organization, he’s very good at using the people and tools around him.
I feel like that’s his strong point, the organization is there, and how he delegates the workload. If you look back at 2006, when Jimmie won hisfirst one, after I got two of those wins there, he changed his approach to what we were doing, the way we operated that team. That was also delegating the workload a lot more to the people that work on the racecar.
Q. Darian, do you remember the last time you were in here?
DARIAN GRUBB: Yeah, I was looking for a job (laughter).
Q. Did you think about that tonight?
DARIAN GRUBB: Actually, I lost a lot of sleep last night thinking about that, going into a season where we didn’t have a win. So this is a huge weight off my shoulders, just to get Denny back in Victory Lane, to know we have the good speed, to make Coach proud back there, that we can do it. We got speed out of the car and actually pulled it off and finished it this time, too. Especially with Laurie Tucker here from FedEx, it was a special day all around.
Q. Darian, have you ever seen anything like that tire explode on the 27 tonight?
DARIAN GRUBB: We’ve actually seen that before. It was a pretty freak occurrence. Don’t know what they had going on with the brake failure to cause that. We’ve seen that in the past. It’s not a pretty sight.