NASCAR: Coca-Cola 600 post-race press conference


  • Denny Hamlin – Winner, Joe Gibbs Toyota
  • Joe Gibbs – Team Owner
  • Sam McAuly – Winning Crew Chief

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winner tonight, Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

We had a conversation the other evening about winning the pole, how much you wanted to win this race. Tell us what it feels like to be able to bring home the trophy tonight.

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it feels great. Obviously it wasn’t looking good for about 398 laps. Considering our day, I was going to be pretty content with a fourth-place finish.

I just knew with that number one pit stall we had an opportunity, if everyone pitted, that we could come out first. We didn’t. But we were the first car on four tires.

Yeah, it just worked out. Things worked out for us. They haven’t worked out very well for the first 12 races in a lot of different ways. Certainly this one was one that we capitalized on the opportunity.

We managed the race. We knew we didn’t have the fastest car, the best car by any means, but we just stayed in the race. We didn’t make any mistakes, gave ourselves an opportunity when the opportunity arose for us.

Denny Hamlin leads

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Take us through your night starting from the pole. You said on a podcast you would like to walk away from the sport as a winner. Is this the type of race you would want to walk away from as a winner?

DENNY HAMLIN: I’m not near the end of my career by any means, but this is certainly one that will be on the résumé when you’re done. You’re looking at all your accolades, the Coke 600 is way up there. I’ve had 17 tries at it and hadn’t won it until today.

It means a lot. We started on the pole. I thought we were just going to stay up front most of the day. We just weren’t very good, to be honest. We battled with the car. We were tight, loose. Overall we didn’t have the grip we needed.

Yeah, it was a struggle most of the day. But we just stayed in it and never really got ourselves outside of the top 10, really outside of the top eight. We kind of stayed in that spot.

We capitalized, made our car better in the final stage. I was able to charge up to fourth. I thought that was about all the potential we had in the car. When the caution came out, Here we go, we got an opportunity to win. Finally something kind of went our way.

Is this the rebound the sport needed after last weekend, all the controversy, people disappointed in the racing product that the All-Star Race delivered? Talk about the sport as a whole, was this a shot in the arm after last week?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, certainly had some good moments today. In the end, as well. Anytime you have a green-white-checkered, you’re going to have some pretty exciting moments. Everyone is going to drive really hard because this is a marquee event.

I knew that sparks were probably going to fly on the first green-white-checkered, especially with guys with a little bit older tires, then you had guys with four tires like myself.

Yeah, it’s good to have a race that was competitive. I don’t know how many lead changes, guys led laps, but it seemed like a pretty competitive race for the most part.

The groove kind of moved around a little bit. At the end it kind of got a little bit top-lane dominant. It’s just part of it. We haven’t been able to run the wall at this track for many, many years. I think a lot of that had to do with them not spraying more than one coat of resin on the track. That was a big factor.

Yeah, it was a good day. I got to go back and watch the race to see what kind of racing. But I’m sure we’re going to dissect it and always continue to improve.

Tires blowing, guys spinning out, a car flipped. Was this a good day for the Next Gen car?

DENNY HAMLIN: I need to go back and watch it honestly to give a proper assessment for it.

Listen, there’s some work, and it’s going to evolve. Every time we change cars, we have a new generation, it takes like a significant amount of time to get it right. This was a major overhaul of a car. Other than it had a steering wheel and four tires, there wasn’t much that was similar to the previous generation car. That car had been honed in for a long time. This one still has some work to do. We got to do some testing to try to fix it in some areas.

But in the meantime we’re still having some pretty good racing on nights like tonight I think. From where I was at, if you were good, you could make up positions. If you weren’t, you lost some. When I was bad, I fell back. When I was good, I was able to charge forward. That was encouraging.

Kind of jury is still out on trying to figure out exactly how we can make this good at every track we go to.

Not considering this is a crown jewel, one that you haven’t won, you won the longest race in NASCAR history when it comes to miles.

DENNY HAMLIN: I believe that.

The ETA was a little over fire hours.

DENNY HAMLIN: And y’all watched every lap intently, didn’t you (smiling)? No breaks.

After a slow start to the season, do you feel a sense of relief that results are starting to match your pace?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yes, yes, for sure. At the beginning of the year we were kind of slow. I challenged Joe Gibbs Racing to keep a win/loss record. They do in every other sport. As a team you know what your record is because you have a win/loss.

What I’ve kind of said is if we’ve got more than one car that is capable of winning in our organization, we’ll count it as a win. If we don’t, then it’s a loss. You can’t just count on one guy to win.

We started the season 1-4. That was not good. We don’t count superspeedways. The only win was Las Vegas. I don’t know whether we’ll count today as a win or loss. I’m not sure any of us were the top two cars. Again, I got to rewatch and dissect it.

I know last week our record was 8-5 at that point. We had gone on a really good run of 7-1 over the last eight races. We’ve been trending in the right direction.

So, yes, it’s longwinded but it’s certainly encouraging that even when you don’t have the fastest car you can go out there and find a way to win.

The overtime restart where you took the lead, you were three-wide off of four. At what point did you realize you had a run there and had a shot at it?

DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I knew there was going to be a lot of guys that were going to miss the corner, drive in way too deep. I actually backed up my corner to make sure I got off the corner extremely low.

Typically when guys drive in too deep they’re going to wash up the track. I needed to make sure I got off the corner really low and with a good run.

What your instincts say as a driver when you’re trying to go for the lead is drive it in as deep as can you on corner entry. You usually get bobbled, then you have a terrible run on corner exit. The only way I thought I could win was to get a good exit and hope they washed up the track. It happened exactly that way.

I still thought we were in a really good spot until the last green-white-checkered and Kyle was able to lay back, get a run to our outside. I did not like our chances, to be honest with you. I’d run the bottom so much, I did in qualifying, in three and four I was able to stay beside him, then just drove in really deep into one and cleared him.

There was a miscommunication deal with the 23 car. They failed the DVP and fell out. What as a team do you guys do to make sense and understand that? What is the debrief process for something like that?

DENNY HAMLIN: Hmm, yeah, that’s news to me. We were in the same wreck, and they told us to — I thought you had a certain amount of laps to do that. Three? And it was three laps? Wow. Technicalities, man.

(No microphone.)

DENNY HAMLIN: Played by the rules this week, huh? I mean, my team told me we needed to run a lap to clear DVP. If they didn’t, then it’s on them.

About 10 or 12 to go, Chastain and Larson are gone, are you just hoping to salvage a top five or top four?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I was ready to get out of here. Fourth place is about the highest that I was most of the day. I was hanging on at that point. Somebody was running me down for fourth. I mean, I was white knuckling it. My car was not very good.

I didn’t realize I had as much damage to the front end as I had. I don’t know how much that really affected our car. Yeah, I was ready to get out of here.

Certainly when the caution came out, I was like, Okay, for sure we’re all going to pit, no one is going to stay out too many laps on tires. I knew we had the number one pit stall. There’s an opportunity for us to come out first here and steal a win. But we stole it a different way.

In layman’s terms, why are there so many spins and crashes, 17 cautions? What is happening?

DENNY HAMLIN: The car has less side force and less general downforce. In our old car you could kind of hang out. The right side was a billboard, it was flat, so it caught air. Anytime you stick your hand out of the window, you could feel it.

This one is all rounded. The moment it gets sideways, it just spins out. You don’t have as much aerodynamics that keeps the car planted to the track.

I believe you’re one win behind Tony Stewart’s win total. What does that mean to you given you were pretty involved in Tony’s last win?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yes, I was. It’s humbling, for sure. Starting to pass guys on the win list, I don’t know, I can’t carry their helmets. They’re a lot better, a lot more talented.

I’ve just been really fortunate to be with a really good team my whole career. I’ve been very lucky, for sure. It’s pretty humbling to kind of get there. Hopefully I can pass him. That’s pretty close.

The Indianapolis 500 and this race were both sold out. How important was that for motorsports to have such a banner day?

DENNY HAMLIN: It’s really good. It’s good to see the Indy 500 with 300,000 people or whatever it is. Here, the biggest crowd we’ve had in probably seven, eight years for sure.

It really reminds you of how big the event is. It appears that the younger generation is starting to fall in love with motorsports again, which is really good and encouraging. Once we get ’em here, we got to get ’em back, go to next week. That’s the momentum we hope to keep.

The fact they are willing to come for a five-hour and 18-minute race, it means a lot. They’re doing a lot of good things.

You learned a few things about the team cars. You want to celebrate the Coke 600, but also you have to put your owner hat on, another rough night for the team.

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it’s a rough night but also a really good night. Bubba was really fast and Kurt was fast. Just didn’t work out for ’em.

I’m more happy about where that team’s speed is showing right now. They’ve been some of the best Toyotas week in, week out, which is really encouraging. They’re taking what we have at JGR and they’re making it better, which is what we’re trying to do in the first place.

It’s really going well. But this win’s too big for me to kind of worry about that right now simply because of the significance of it to me, so… Tomorrow we’ll dissect — Tuesday we’ll look after it.

What was your view of the 17 when it was flipping, if anything? How dangerous or scary is that to a race car driver as opposed to a layman?

DENNY HAMLIN: Those type of wrecks look scarier than they really are. Anytime there’s energy — when it’s rolling, it’s getting rid of energy. You would much rather roll a car like that than blow a right front and dead one right to the fence. I’m sure other guys said that they hit harder than what probably Chris said.

I watched it, the replay, when we were parked there for the red flag. Looked like his right front got caught on the edge of the turf. That’s what did it. It’s amazing that could get a car flipped over.

Yeah, I mean, we can’t say much bad about turf because we hate grass. There’s no place in our sport for grass. I think it looked like it’s just a weird deal that happened that you don’t see every day.

We heard during the testing for the new car about the heat. It was a hot day. How did you feel as far as comfortability with the heat?

DENNY HAMLIN: I generally don’t get bothered with heat as much as some other drivers do. I don’t run a cool suit unless it’s burning up outside.

I don’t know what it is. I’ve been doing it for forever. I don’t know if my body’s just kind of used to it. It could be the way that I hydrate that changes that. Just in general I usually just don’t sweat that much.

I didn’t really get bothered by the heat at all. I’m just starving. That’s about it.

We’ve talked about the championship pursuit ad nauseam. Adding another crown jewel to your personal résumé, you talked about the significance of this win. What is the immediate reflection on what that means? When does it dawn on you later you get a chance to check another one off the box?

DENNY HAMLIN: Every year it’s like a new opportunity, right? We’ve gone into the Playoffs so many times as the best car, running well. This year has just gone so awful for the first third that you never know. This could be the year that we sleep our way there. I don’t know.

Yeah, I already got a couple wins in the first third of the season. Especially with us still working to try to get good at all racetracks, I really think I’m pretty encouraged about where we’re at.

I didn’t really like my Playoff spot simply because we didn’t have very many Playoff points, but no one does. There’s been no domination in our sport right now from anyone. It’s hard to find any consistency from anyone. It’s allowed the Playoff points to get spread out all over the place.

There’s not two to three guys, like in the past, that’s got 40 entering the Playoffs. Probably won’t have that this year. I think it’s going to be more wide open. It’s going to force the guys who have been up front all year to have to run every round. You’re not going to be able to just walk your way to the next round like some of the guys have in the past, like we have in the past.

Sam on top of the pit box, you guys have so much data to make decisions. What was it like working with him?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, the most interesting thing I noticed is that he was really trying his best to motivate me throughout the day. It was good because, listen, he’ll be a crew chief full-time one day. It’s a big difference from when he stepped in to crew chief other times. Actually I thought he was one for one. He’s actually done this before, he filled in.

He’s getting better. He’s growing up. Obviously he’s got a great mentor in Chris Gabehart who he’s worked under now for the last three years. It was good. It really was good. We’ve got three more weeks of it. We’re going to continue to work on it.

But I was very happy with his confidence in the calls he was making tonight.

THE MODERATOR: Denny, thank you for your time. Congratulations again on the win.


Joe Gibbs, team owner

THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined by the team owner of Joe Gibbs Racing, Joe Gibbs. When we had the final restart, we had Denny and Kyle battling together. I’m sure you were glad to have two in the hunt, but that also can provide a little bit of nervousness. Talk about those final laps and ultimately Denny bringing home the checkered flag here in a race he’s been working to win for many years now.

JOE GIBBS: I’ve always said when I get the most nervous is when two of our cars are up there late because both of them want it so bad. You could tell Kyle was after it, Denny was. That’s your greatest fear. The restart before that the two lead cars took each other out. That’s what you’re so afraid of.

That race, I don’t know how to explain it really. There was so much in it. I guess I’ve used a football term, that was physical. There were people pounding on each other.

Really, really proud. We had some real disappointments on the 20 tonight. Really hurt Chris. Felt bad about that. And Martin, Bass Pro. Johnny was here. You just hate that. You hate the disappointments like DeWalt. But then you have the thrill of victory there.

I think Kyle gave it everything. To wind up with our two cars up there like that at the end, it was really special. That pit crew, just for everybody here, you probably already have heard that, but two of those guys, that was only the second time they ever went over the wall. That was our crew that was filling in for our suspended group.

Really it was a great story. That’s one of the great things about sports. I think that’s the reason why we always like it, sports so much, it’s the greatest reality show in the world. Nobody pictured that tonight would be our two cars winning. The stories that are all behind that. That’s one of the most obviously challenging races to go 600 miles.

I got to tell you, it was a thrill for me to be a part of it. God’s blessed us with so much. Coy, myself, I always think about J.D. when we win a race like that, particularly here. Just really appreciate being a part of it.

THE MODERATOR: We’ll go to questions.

You were talking about having two cars battling at the end. Especially with a coaching background, how are you coaching those guys behind the scenes with different personalities, emotions right after a race like this?

JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I think first of all the reason why I do really enjoy the fact, it’s totally different than football from the standpoint you got four teams. You’re trying to get four teams to work together. That’s really hard. It’s really different. That’s the reason why I think so many of our fans love the challenge of it. They know that. So that’s something about our sport that’s really different and a real challenge.

At the race shop we work together. Four cars at the racetrack, we’re competing against each other. Our sponsors are such a big story, like FedEx tonight, calling Fred, Catherine, Monica, everyone over there. It’s just a great experience. Called Bob Carter from Toyota, Jack (Hollis) and Dave (David Wilson). That’s a big part of the story.

Then the personalities, yeah. Our drivers are very different, very different personalities. I think we got a great group there, though. They share everything in our competition meetings. I think it really makes us better.

Anyway, I’m just thrilled to be a part of it.

Denny talked about this being so special. Did you know how special this was to him? What is it about the Toyotas that have figured it out on the mile-and-a-half’s?

JOE GIBBS: I would say with Denny, you know, to race that hard that long and to be here and know how important this race is right here in our backyard, this is just a huge deal.

I’ve had experiences here where Bobby Labonte won his first race here and everyone was crying in the winner’s circle. It’s very emotional. Everything that goes with it.

I really thank Bruton and Marcus for all they do here. This is a real showpiece for us. Think about this. Our race team is here in Charlotte, so we have our sponsors come here all the time. A part of their weekend, besides studying and meeting at our place, they get to come over here. Interstate group, we’ve been with them 31 years, they came over here, rode cars. Christopher took them around, made laps. They got to drive cars themselves. You talk about an experience that people are not going to forget. It’s a thrill for us to obviously be here and be a part of all this. I appreciate them.

I had a chance yell at Bruton on his 90th birthday. It was awesome. Bruton and I have shared a few things in the past. It’s fun kind of being a part of all this.

The last time the Coke 600 was as eventful as tonight’s was 2005. That was the race where Bobby Labonte ended losing it off of turn four to Jimmie Johnson. After all of what we saw tonight, what is it like to be on the other end of a race like this?

JOE GIBBS: Well, it’s a thrill. You know, first of all, when we come here it’s going to be the longest. Tonight I would say, like I said, one of the most physical, exhausting, punishing races. So to go through all that, to survive it really, have a chance to win it, have three of our cars up there, didn’t with Martin, I think he finished 12th or something like that, really proud of our guys, proud of our people.

You win with people. It’s not cars. We got great people. I just thank God that we’re a part of a real family race team. It’s really what it is. We got people. This Christmas we gave out 30-year celebrations to some of our people, been there 30 years and built the race team.

Which one of the Hogs do you think would have lasted this long in this race?

JOE GIBBS: The Hogs, man, I got to tell you. I remember those guys. This is a few memories.

I don’t quite understand the question there.

Joe Jacoby.

JOE GIBBS: You were talking about the Hogs. You talk about a group now that will turn you inside-out, it’s that group.

No, I was blessed to be around great players in the NFL. I’ve been blessed to be around great players here. Chris Gabehart organizing all that, doing all he had to do this week. He’s the coach here.

The current success of Toyota…

JOE GIBBS: The wins, we got off to a slow start this year. We haven’t had the wins. I do think over the last three weeks we’re starting to find our way.

I think with the new car it’s just a different package. Like I said, other people have done a better job than we did earlier. So we’re playing a little bit of catch-up. I think right now, though, we’re starting to find our way.

On pit road you had some successes, some problems. David Wilson talked recently about the effort to try to get pit road cleaned up. Has this been a difficult problem to address?

JOE GIBBS: Yes. It’s a totally different challenge. We have single lug nut now. Total different choreography. Some people have handled it better than we have.

Certainly I really feel terrible that we’ve hurt Christopher, DeWalt, tonight Yahoo and his sponsors there. We’ve also hurt Martin. You really feel like you let people down when that happens.

So we’re behind. We got to find a way to fix it. To me most of the time that’s hard work. We got some of our crews going two-a-days. We need to find a way to fix it.

You said you didn’t know how to explain this race. Cars spun out, flipped. Was this a good day for the Next Gen car?

JOE GIBBS: I think for sure. Everybody else will judge that. But I felt like certainly there was a lot of action and everything. I think, like I said, I would say this was a real challenge. I mean, if you can get through that, everything that happened tonight, a lot did happen.

I know everybody, all the fans, will kind of make a decision on that. I think all of us that are racing the cars are still getting to know it. I think we’re making improvements as we go with it. I think NASCAR is fully onboard. That’s really good.

I think our fans, we’ve had some real good races, and there’s been real positives with it.

THE MODERATOR: Joe, thank you for spending some time with us.

JOE GIBBS: Thank you all.


Sam McAualy, crew chief

THE MODERATOR: Good evening, good morning, not sure which one it is officially. We are going to start here with our post race media availability this evening from the Coca-Cola 600 here at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the 11 team from Joe Gibbs Racing.

We’ve been joined by the crew chief from Sam McAualy. Sam, congratulations on this win tonight. I know you were in a little bit of a unique situation, the whole team was, coming into this weekend. Talk about how this team has rallied, won the pole yesterday, won the Coke 600 today, what that feels like here in this moment.

SAM McAUALY: It was a tough, tough deal getting two of our guys on the pit crew suspended and Gabehart. We really did a lot of pit practice this week. JGR pit department worked a lot with Mike and Nate, our two fill-ins on the pit crew. They did a great job all night. On that side of it, a lot of hours put in, a lot of reps for them in their new positions.

On the car side, I think the main focus was just we really need to bring the best car we can, like we always do. But I’d say getting the pole, that was definitely something we were really working on. I think that was major tonight because having the new guys on the pit crew, having that built-in advantage of stall one was very beneficial for us.

Just the mindset of knowing we have an advantage here, we just need to be solid, maintain. Ultimately I think that was part of the key of ensuring we were first car on four tires on that last stop.

THE MODERATOR: We’ll go to questions.

(Question about walking through his day.)

SAM McAUALY: It was definitely a very long day. I think there was a lot of talk coming into this weekend from everybody in the series that this could be one of the longest Coke 600s we’ve ever had. It proved to be up there.

Denny, his experience of really staying in it. There’s quite a few times through the race that the car wasn’t right. He could make up some ground on a restart, then we’d start to fall back a little bit on both sides of the balance.

I think the key was him fighting to get those spots to keep us up there in the top 10. We’re on the back end of getting a couple stage points. Started to turn when he got multiple good restarts in stage four. Once we got to the top five, now the message was we’re in the top five with the number one pit stall, we can’t beat ’em straight up but let’s just keep fighting.

With the race being so much attrition, so many people falling out of the race, that was the biggest deal. I think Denny understood that from the get-go and even mentioned it at one point at halfway, like this is a survival race. Kind of like it’s felt at the Daytona 500 sometimes, but you also have durability concerns, all sorts of things to fight the whole night.

You have access to so much data that guides you towards making decisions. Was there a moment in the race where you felt pressure that this was the decision you had to make?

SAM McAUALY: I think the way that it played out at the end with as many green laps we had on the tires, I think it was 47 or 48 green, the end of the race is where there was one of the first big decisions. There was a couple times we had to debate staying out or pitting. I’d say the last one for sure coming down to take four was the hardest.

You started to feel this is a lot of pressure. But I think we were in a unique spot in the sense that we knew we needed some sort of advantage to go up there and win. We didn’t really feel like we wanted to be in a position where Denny had to defend because tires were falling off quite a bit and the left sides were wearing as much as the right.

For us it was kind of like we didn’t have to question it much. We knew we were going to take four there. You could start to feel the weight of it when it comes time to do that coming down to the end.

It’s not just Denny who this win means a lot to, it’s you guys. One of the crew guys said he’s been waiting 17 years for this. What does it mean for you as the crew chief and the rest of the team to finally win this race?

SAM McAUALY: Oh, man, it’s a huge race. I would call this my seventh Coke 600. I’ve had the privilege of winning the Daytona 500, but it’s definitely a different feeling than the Daytona 500.

From a team aspect of building a car that’s capable of going the full distance, and being able to compete at a high level the entire night, more so than any other race you just feel like it has to be a full team effort to win this race.

I think a lot of guys on the team, you feel it preparing for the weekend, too, just how big it is. Packed stands. It’s very special, for sure. It’s a big deal.

THE MODERATOR: Sam, congratulations again. Thanks for spending a few minutes with us.

SAM McAUALY: Thank you.


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