Denny’s 24th win in 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, and your first win at 214 virtually gets you into the Chase.
DENNY HAMLIN: Can you guarantee that?
Q: I’m going to say that you’ll be in the Chase.
DENNY HAMLIN: Okay, thanks.
Q: Congratulations on that. Your first points win at a restrictor plate race. You’ve won four non-points races at Daytona, but this has to be, and J.D. was in here earlier talking about you’re kind of a driver that thrives on momentum, but this has to be a big, big moment for you.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it is. You know, we’ve kind of been preaching and beating up how we are on all the other racetracks. You know, coming to this racetrack you know it’s an equalizer and you’ve got as good a shot as anyone. You’ve got to take advantage of these moments and these type of racetracks when you feel like you’re a little bit off on the others, and so we were able to do that today, and now it buys us some time to get our program where it needs to be for September when it really counts.
Q: Darian, congratulations on this win here today. You know, J.D. said that you guys ran a real smart race, and you kind of were there early on, and then certainly there on the money laps there towards the end, the 11 car was running up front. Just talk about the strategy that goes into winning a race like this.
DARIAN GRUBB: A lot of it just gets set in place with Denny and I’s conversation before. We basically said we wanted to get up front because you know that’s the safest place you can be, and if not, you have to be at least in contention and towards the front midway through the race because it’s hard to make it through the pack when it’s two and three wide the whole time. Pit strategy can only get you so much.
I have to give a lot to credit to the pit crew. That’s two days in a row that they’ve put a driver in the 11 car at Joe Gibbs Racing in victory lane. They did an awesome job, they were flawless, and can’t thank them enough.
Q. Denny, to kind of elaborate on what J.D. said a few minutes ago about this win, he said it is very nice, and he said that Denny needed this one, and he talked about you’re a momentum type guy, and his indication was that he feels like this could be sort of the springboard over this period where it seemed like you couldn’t buy a brake and really jump start you guys and get you going. He thought pretty much, pretty quickly, how much – and he talked about confidence for you. Once this is settled in and you leave here and it sinks in, how much do you think this really will be kind of getting you over some things that have been bugging you probably for more than a year, just nagging at you?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, you know, we kind of missed out on some opportunities to have good finishes over this last month or so. I was honestly really looking forward to California. I feel like we had one of the best cars in practice and didn’t get to run that event.
After that we’ve had some bad luck between Darlington and Richmond and Texas where we were all – we were in top 10 contention, top 5 contention, and just – I made some pretty bad mistakes two weeks in a row, and then obviously last week getting wrecked at the very end.
You know, those are momentum crushers. Those things can really bug you, and I sent an email – we had an email chain with myself and Darian and we were talking about we’re willing to do whatever it takes to make this better because it’s very frustrating to run top 10 and top 5 all day, and we’ve been finishing right around 20th for three weeks in a row. I mean, that really can take its toll on the team. Morale can get down very easy when you run great for 480 miles and you blow it all away in the last 20.
I was responsible for some of that and kind of take responsibility for it, so a win like this kind of makes you forget all those things, and it obviously gives you a clean slate for the rest of the summer to start over.
We don’t have to hit the panic button at this point. Now we can just focus on working on our program, doing whatever it takes to get ourselves in contention where we’re a top 5 car every week because that’s what it’s going to take to win the championship.
This is a good moment for us, it definitely is. Even though it is a superspeedway and it’s all circumstantial, it at least gives us – it lets us rest a little bit easier here for a while.
Q. For both of you, it seemed like you guys had a lot of momentum coming out of Daytona and couldn’t capitalize on it. What maybe is different now that you think maybe you can capitalize on the momentum from this win?
DARIAN GRUBB: It was a little different then because you’re heading to other tracks where we had worked pretty hard on our program coming into the season with the new setups and everything else, and we really didn’t know what we needed to do to compete. We were a little off in the first three races for sure, and we’re learning every week. We made the goal of if we can’t win, we at least have to come out with lessons learned every week so we can get better as we go along.
Now that we have the win now, it gives us the – the momentum we have now is we can actually go and try things at the racetrack a little bit more free. We can work on things we know we need to work on, and if the setup doesn’t work one week as we try to get better, it’s not going to kill us and where we’re at in points. It gives us a little bit more freedom. We’ve tested our butt off for the last couple months, and we’ve learned a lot of things. We think we’re getting better and we’ve got good things coming down the line. Hopefully we can just keep all these things rolling and get the momentum going before the Chase starts.
DENNY HAMLIN: It’s kind of the same thing that he said. You know, we have improved, and it’s been tough to get momentum because obviously, you know, we ran pretty decent at Bristol and had some decent other runs, and then all of a sudden California and we had to sit out, it takes all your momentum and it goes just away because I was pretty optimistic we were going to have a great day at California.
I mean, between having to sit that out and then having to go through these last three weeks of running better but finishing worse than where we were running all day, it just is also a momentum killer. So you’ve got to just – now that we have a win, we don’t have to hit the panic button or press too hard to get a win to get into the Chase. Now we feel like, now we need to be consistent, work on our program, just continue to keep our heads down and work on things, and momentum comes with good results. Results come when you have fast race cars and you don’t make mistakes, and so I just found myself pressing a few times when I sped on pit road those two weeks ago because I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to get it done on the racetrack. I had to do it on pit road and really didn’t – wasn’t smart in that sense.
We continue to work on our cars and get them faster. Our pit crew is fast enough to do the work on pit road, and it’s going to lead to multiple wins and give us all the momentum we can handle.
Q. I’m not sure which of you can answer the first part of this question, but which of you knew first that the caution flag was waving, and then for both of you, how relaxing or just how wonderful did it make you feel to know you didn’t have to fight for the checkered flag?
DENNY HAMLIN: For me I was really coming off of Turn 4, and I knew once we got single file on the bottom, I think I was the clear – the 16 was clear. I was in really good shape. I knew from Daytona that you wanted to be out front. As long as you could mirror drive a little bit, I would much rather be on the defensive than I would the offensive in the last few lap situation.
My goal was just to get to that white flag. Once I saw – he said that they were spinning right as I crossed the line. I said, no problem, I hope it jams the racetrack up for all I care and throw the caution immediately. I think NASCAR did actually a really good job of letting the race play out as long as they possibly could and still keep everyone safe in the conditions. They knew that there was debris at the start-finish line, so we weren’t going to be able to race all the way back no matter what, but they at least gave everyone a half a lap to do whatever you could to make your positions and improve your positions. Obviously it made for a decent finish for my standpoint, but I think either way no matter what, whether we had to go to the line, we were in pretty good shape.
DARIAN GRUBB: Honestly I didn’t know the caution was coming out until our spotter Chris said it on the radio. At that point we knew we had crossed the white. Once we crossed the white, like Denny, I had a big sense of relief even if the caution did come out we were okay. At that point we just wanted to make sure we had enough fuel to get back to the start-finish line. It was just a good moment all around because we were able to actually sit and relax and think as he’s coming through 3 and 4 and watch him win the race and celebrate a little bit instead of having to be bare-knuckled getting to the line.
Q. Biffle laments not having made a move on you and said he wished he’d known that he wasn’t going to race, that he thinks he would have passed you for the lead. Do you win this race without the caution?
DENNY HAMLIN: I thought so. I mean, I’ve been in these situations at Daytona, and I was the second car with Jr. in the 500, and you can’t pass him. Really as long as you block that guy’s line, and really you know when they’re coming and you can anticipate it, it’s tough. This aero package is really tough to pass without getting a big push and multiple cars on the outside of you for help.
He probably was going to back off and get a run, but if he did that, I was going to back up right to him. It was going to be tough. I liked where we were at, and trust me, if we would have went to the finish, I still would have rather had my position than his.
Q. This race last year is where you got back in the car for the first time. I’m wondering for both of you if you can talk about what changes have you guys experienced in the year, maybe for you personally, Denny, and then Darian, the race team as a whole.
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, it seems like it’s been so long ago, but I typically always try to look to see how I finished or how I did in that particular week leading into an event, how I did last year, and obviously the schedule got shifted around a little bit, so it’s a little bit different, but I only got to run just a handful of laps here last year.
Really it was a tough weekend for us last year simply because we were trying to get some points and trying to get ourselves in contention and really through no fault of his own, Brian got caught up in a wreck, and it was kind of a tough deal for us obviously last year. As soon as I came back, we had two, three races of really good things and then it just went downhill from there.
You know, we really haven’t – we still haven’t got to our 2012 performance I guess you could say. I mean, ’13 started really good and we got in a deal with Joey and got injured, and then really the last part of last year and we got the win the Homestead, but never really got back to where we were top 5 every week like we were in ’10 and ’12, and we still aren’t there, but we’re slowly, slowly gaining on it.
I mean, literally like a half a position every single week we’re getting better, and so I’m pretty confident by the time the Chase rolls around in September we’ll have all the parts and pieces available to us to have a very fast race car and to have a car that can contend for a championship.
Even though we’ve had two wins since, we still aren’t at that level that we were. We know we’ve got to work hard to get there. A lot of it is we’ve had a Generation 6 car change. I haven’t been as competitive in the Generation 6 car as I was with the old car. There’s some driving things that I’ve got to start doing different. Restarts have been killing me here lately, got to get more aggressive on those. It’s just going to take a little time to get better.
DARIAN GRUBB: He pretty much covered it all there. The team momentum I think was really good mid-season when he came back and we were loving it. But then as the season wore on when we weren’t really performing to our potential and we knew Denny was still hurting and some other things, too, where we kind of struggled a little bit, it was nice at the end of the season to get that momentum back. We had all of our hopes set on making the Chase, and then when we didn’t that kind of let the steam out of our sails for the rest of the season. Being able to get back on track and win Homestead and have a really good start to this season with Daytona was great, and then we realized we still were behind. We can’t just rest on our laurels. We’re going to have to work pretty hard to get caught back up.
Q. Denny, it’s human nature to let self-doubt creep in. This season were you fighting that or were there moments when you kind of did question yourself as to what direction you were heading in?
DENNY HAMLIN: Not really. I mean, you know, we’ve been – because we’ve raced okay the last month and a half. Our results look horrible, but we’ve raced okay, and I know that we’ve got some improvements to make in a lot of different areas, and I’ve got to improve. I actually took a little solace in knowing we were being decently competitive over this last month or so with what I felt like was a 10th-place car.
You know, even though really I’ve only been healthy for however many races we’ve had this year, like he said, when we didn’t make the Chase last year, it was pretty much – like they have in sports, we have letdown games, the last 12, 13 races were all letdown for us because we had nothing to race for.
That part was tough, and so coming into this year I feel good, and I feel like our performance was okay. We started off at Daytona pretty well, but what concerned me the most is how we had been running on the short tracks know that that’s really my forte and what I’m particularly good at. That part is a little frustrating, but you’ve got to get better. You’ve got to go to work. You can’t just stay on top and think that you’re going to out-drive these guys week in and week out. You’ve got to work and continue to improve yourself.
You know, I wasn’t ever worried, but you do hit a little bit – get a little bit more panicked when it’s a win a race and you’re in Chase, so you see all these guys logging wins, wins, wins, and the next thing you know they’re running out of Chase spots. Now we can be a little bit more relaxed, and this is kind of like where we were in probably 2010. We won a handful of races, and even ’12, we won some races with Darian, and really we got to run the whole summer months trying different things and improving our cars, and that’s really when we made our Chase runs is when we had the entire summer to not worry about fighting to get in the Chase, and hopefully that all pays off for us again.
Q. You’re starting to tick races off the career wins list. Do you feel like you’ve got more of a handle on Talladega now or do you feel your number happened to come up right this time?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don’t know, I feel like we’ve gotten a lot better for sure. I think I drive superspeedway races a lot different than I used to, for sure. I’m not always the guy making the move now. I’m more the staying in line and trying to be patient and just do whatever the line I’m in is going to do. That’s where I think our success has started to ramp up on superspeedways, and we’ve really kind of come into our own, and I feel like this particular aero package with the Generation 6 car kind of lends itself to whatever technique I’m using, as well.
I think that’s all – it’s taken – for God sakes, after nine years you would think I’d come close to winning one, but I don’t think it’s just random, especially after what we did in Daytona. I think it’s a lot of different patience and different things I’ve learned just with experience.
Q. You kind of covered most of my question, but you came out of the gates in 2006 for your first full season and won the very first non-points race on a plate track, but it’s been, like you said, nine years since then. Did it require you to change that methodology to finally score that first points one, or is it just truly a matter of the stars lining up?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, similar to my last chance here, I think I’ve gotten better. I’ve come close. When you drive as aggressive as I drove early in my career on superspeedways, you’re going to have a huge risk, huge reward. I was either wrecking or finishing in the top three every single superspeedway race and was wrecking most of the time. I think this way of driving and the way I’m doing things now kind of lends itself to being a little bit more consistent on these type of racetracks, and really you learn from the guys that are good at it.
My teammates are really, really good at it, and you look at their performance on superspeedways and you just study and watch them and see what they do. A lot of times they’re not the aggressors. They’re the ones who, like you said, stay in line and make sure that they have a car at the end of the race, where I think early in my career I was the one trying to make moves and trying to make holes, and that typically got me in trouble.
Q. Denny, among drivers is there kind of an unwritten rule or an unwritten code about where you should be in traffic when you’re five laps down? I know it’s not written down, but is there an understanding that you don’t get up and mess up everybody else’s day?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. I mean, you definitely don’t want to do that. Really there’s no reward to doing anything like that. Really you’ve got to have things line up, and if you’re multiple, multiple laps down, if I were multiple laps down at a superspeedway, I’d probably just hang out behind the pack and hope to not be in a wreck. That would be the only way I could improve my position by the end of the day is hope that the big pack gets in a wreck and guys are taken out and then I can move up the standings that way.
You know, there’s not really a rule or anything about it. Anyone can do anything they want. But typically if you’re racing guys – if guys are racing you really hard that are multiple, multiple laps down, you kind of just wonder why. Anybody can do whatever they want to do.
Q. Are you buying the Clippers?
DENNY HAMLIN: I can’t afford them.