NASCAR Media Conference
November 17, 2010
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's very special teleconference. We're in advance of Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead Miami Speedway. That's the final event of this season in the culmination of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. We have three teams still in contention for the title. The respective drivers, first place Denny Hamlin; second place Jimmie Johnson; third place Kevin Harvick. The separation is only 46 points.
Today we're really pleased to be joined by the car owners of our championship contending teams. We have Joe Gibbs, owner of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota driven by Denny; Rick Hendrick, who owns the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet driven by Jimmie; and Richard Childress, who owns the No. 29 Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet driven by Kevin Harvick, and collectively we're talking about a total of 18 championships in the Sprint Cup Series, so obviously a pretty elite group we have with us today.
We're going to start off with a quick opener from each of our owners. Then we're going to go to media, and we'll start with Richard Childress. Richard, you have those six Sprint Cup titles as a car owner, won them all with the late Dale Earnhardt. How special would it be to finally win one with Kevin Harvick?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: It would be very special for RCR, myself. I've been there and been fortunate to have been aboard for those. We have so many new employees and sponsors that hasn't been there, and for us to be able to bring a championship to them and to these employees, it would be very special for all of us.
HERB BRANHAM: Rick, nine series car owner championships. That's a record that you share in the Cup Series with Petty Enterprises. What would it mean if you came away from Homestead and had that record by yourself?
RICK HENDRICK: It would be awesome. You know, when you think about it, time goes by, and I never thought I would win one of these deals. I thought I'd always watch Richard get them. The guys have worked hard, and we hope we can pull it off.
But to have ten would be an amazing accomplishment for the organization. You never know when you're going to win another one of these deals, so we're excited to have an opportunity to do that.
HERB BRANHAM: Last but by no means least, Joe, three Sprint Cup titles for your organization. How important would a fourth be to what you guys are doing?
JOE GIBBS: It would be a huge deal for us. I'm always focused when you get a chance to win something like this, a championship, actually our meeting here, I don't think we've had but a handful of people here that really have had a chance to win a championship. Particularly for us it would be extremely important, for FedEx and the fact that they are -- as Rick and Richard will tell you, to have a sponsor say that they were going to spend this amount of resources on racing and be with us, it would be a huge deal for us and we'd really be excited about it.
I do want to offer up a deal here, which I think might be something that would be interesting for Rick and Richard. If you guys will agree to let us have this one, we will let you have next year's and the year after that, and that's on scout's honor. I promise you right now, we'll do that.
HERB BRANHAM: I have a feeling that won't work out, but nonetheless, good effort.
JOE GIBBS: And next year, I might go, "what?" I've been known to renege on stuff.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you for those openers. We'll go to the media now for questions for today's three really special guests.
Q. I have a question I'd like each of you to address, please. There's been some surprises in this Chase, but as we look at this championship finale, what would surprise each of you about Sunday?
JOE GIBBS: Well, what would surprise me is if any of these three teams were to go down easy. I've told everybody from what I can tell, this is big-time motor sports. This is really for me and sports, this shows three heavyweight teams, all from three different organizations, that these teams have fought hard all year, and I would have to say you're going to see some great efforts on Sunday by everybody. Nobody is going away. I keep waiting for somebody to go away. Nobody will go away. And so that's what would surprise me.
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I would be surprised if we had an answer before the white flag Sunday. I think when the white flag comes out, it'll still be up for grabs. I don't think we'll know until then, until after that.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I kind of go along with what both of them said. You've got three top organizations running for this championship, and that's what the Chase was all built around is to have this. This is a storybook Chase right here, and I think it's going to go down to the wire because you have three capable drivers, you have three capable organizations, and it's going to be fun. I'm as excited about this championship effort -- I wish we were 46 ahead or whatever we're behind. I wish we were ahead that much. But we'll take it just being able to have a mathematical chance of winning it.
Q. I've got a question for Rick and then Joe. Rick, the perception persists that for all he's accomplished, Jimmie Johnson still has not captivated the kind of credit that is warranted for what he's done. Could you address that?
RICK HENDRICK: You know, I don't understand it, but to win two or three -- two of these deals back-to-back is pretty impressive, three, and then four is just outstanding. You look at his stats, and he's been amazing. And I don't know. I think it's one of those things that while sometimes you're accomplishing an unbelievable results, it's after the fact one day people will look at it and say, man, that was awesome back then. I can't really answer it. I wish I knew.
I think he does have the respect of the garage area, and I think he does have the respect of the competitors, both the teams that he competes against, but I think history will have to prove that what he's done has been pretty remarkable.
Q. And Joe, can you address what has Denny learned or shown you he's learned this year that he didn't know last year and possibly Kyle Busch is yet to learn?
JOE GIBBS: Well, I think with Denny, it's a maturing process. I think you've got to have obviously a certain amount of experience to be able to -- this is the big leagues. This is where truly the best people in the world that race cars are doing this at this level in NASCAR. So I think it's a learning process.
I would have said obviously last year we had a big wreck in there that cost us, but more importantly, I think surrounding Denny, we also had lost a motor, a broken part here and there. We were just much more inconsistent.
And I think obviously for Denny, too, this year and in past years, the difference has been he's been able to win races. He's put together -- he's been able to finish things. So I think it's just a maturing process for him.
And just to chime in on what Rick was talking about, I think the most -- the hardest thing to do in pro sports from what I've seen is to consistently stay up there. You know, people have won one, but to consistently stay up at the top in pro sports is what's really amazing, and I think that's what Jimmie Johnson and the whole group over there has been able to do. It's just pretty phenomenal.
Q. And just to follow up on Kyle, is Kyle in that process right now?
JOE GIBBS: I think Kyle is a young guy, too, yes, that it's a learning -- everything is a learning experience for him. And I think as you kind of go through that -- same thing with our team over there. We lost a motor over there, we've had a wreck over there, and it's a little bit of the same process, you know, of going through that. You've got to be extremely consistent. Who would think that you'd have to do ten races like these three cars have done and really have superb performances almost every week. I mean, there's times we gave up things in there that we didn't want to, but I think it's been a pretty phenomenal effort for nine races so far.
And I think that's what you've got to string together, and we have not been able to do that from Kyle's side.
Q. I am curious, are you guys all sitting together in the same room somewhere down here in Florida?
JOE GIBBS: The answer is no.
Q. So all this is being done by phone; none of you guys are together?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: No, we're the owners. We have to all still be here and work.
Q. The question I had for you, what is the price of victory? What special reward do each of you guys have to very willingly pay out if your team wins, to the driver, to the team in the shop? I guess is there a bounty on winning the Chase?
RICK HENDRICK: It's most all of us from our side. I think Joe and Richard, I think the driver gets his piece and then when you get through paying the bonuses to everybody, you might be able to pay your expenses to go out to the championship. But that's the way we work it, incentivizing our people, and we want to put a carrot out there, and they don't do it for the money, but it's the recognition and rewarding them financially that's important.
I think it's -- I can't give you a number because I haven't added it all up, but there is a lot of incentives out there for them, for our team.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Same here with ours. I think the biggest thing is having that trophy as a car owner and driver is the largest incentive for us, but at RCR we will end up paying out most all of the winnings throughout the team and the company, so that's the way we're set up as well as Rick.
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, every week I walk up to the drivers and I say, hey, you've got the good end of this deal; you make all the money, you've got all the girls and you get to have all the fun.
I think for us as owners, basically what you're doing, really you get a thrill for everybody else that's back home here. But I always joke with our drivers because I say you guys have four people on your payroll to fly your plane or drive your motor coach, and I said, we're paying 300 to work on your race car.
But I do think the most important thing is the pride. This is why we do it. I think this is a reason why you wouldn't be in this sport as an owner if it was just a business deal. I think it's the pride of winning something, and I think that's the most important thing for everybody here in these organizations. It's the pride of winning it and getting a chance to say, hey, I got the ring.
Q. I think everyone would be in agreement that this is the best Chase since probably 2004, and yet the ratings have been down in each race and everyone still seems to act like the sky is falling in NASCAR. The Chase is so captivating this year, I'm wondering why you think it's not resonating with fans and what more NASCAR could be doing.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I would hit it first. I don't think Rome is burning in NASCAR. I think we still have a great sport. We have great fans. I think the economy has touched every sport at some point. I think that we will come back and be as strong as we ever were.
I don't know financially-wise, but I think with the fans, they're going to get their NASCAR fix, and I just think it'll be back. But Rome isn't burning in our series.
JOE GIBBS: We've had two of our biggest sponsors re-up in this period here in recent times here with us. I think it shows that for them it works. I think that we do have our best years still in front of us. We haven't added a track in the Northwest.
I think our racing right now is at a premier level. I think NASCAR has done one of the best jobs I've seen in the 19 years I've been involved of really saying and getting involved with our race teams and with what the fans want. And I think they've made strategic changes which has helped our sport, it's helped our racing, and I really feel like, hey, this has hurt most other sports. I've got friends in the NFL, what have you.
I think the economy right now particularly for our fan base -- if you think about our fan base, most of them travel an average of 200 miles to go to a race, they stay two and three days. That puts a real bind on the economy and for us, and I think we're going to come rolling back out of this. I agree with Richard.
RICK HENDRICK: It sounds like all three of us agree totally here. I think it's the best racing I've seen since I've been in the sport. When I first started you didn't have to beat but two or three cars to win a championship. Now you've got 15 capable teams of winning it, and it comes down to a couple of you.
I think our season is long, but the racing is the best I've ever seen. But when you turn on TV you might watch the World Series, football, they're talking about cranking up college basketball. It's so much for people to see and a lot of things that are popping up every week that are new. So I can't explain the ratings.
But the stands are -- Phoenix looked full. Like Joe said, it was awful quiet with the economy being soft from new sponsors and sponsors wanting to re-up or even new people coming in, and that activity has gotten a lot stronger. This has been -- we've had more movement, more action with companies -- some new companies and the old companies that were there that are re-upping, and the economy is not fixed yet.
But I can definitely feel a difference, and I think NASCAR has done everything they could do, that we're a victim just like everybody else of the economy just like these guys have said.
But I feel very good. I mean, in the end of '08 when the world looked like it was going to come to an end for everybody, banks, companies, the whole U.S. and worldwide economy, I feel much better, and we're seeing a lot more activity. So I think we're on a tremendous upswing, and I think this Chase is proof positive that NASCAR came up with the best formula for the fans and to make it competitive.
Q. When you were building your championship organizations did you look at Richard's organization at all, and is there anything that you can remember that you kind of took from either Richard's style or RCR in general that you saw what they were doing and put it to use for yourself?
RICK HENDRICK: I'll take that one first because I did look at Richard's organization extremely hard because we led a lot of laps and we won a lot of races, but we'd get down to the end of the year and Richard won the championships. I think Richard showed us how you have to prepare and run for a championship. You've got to be there and you've got to race every race and every lap, and you've got to finish.
So I did learn an awful lot and watch Richard from the day I started and actually not only followed some of his standards, but he has helped me along the way. We've worked together many times on projects. He's been a great friend and a great competitor just like Joe. But it's amazing how we do learn from each other, and I learned an awful lot from Richard early on.
JOE GIBBS: I have such respect for everybody in racing, and actually I think it's well-documented, when I came down here, Rick was nice enough to let Jimmy Johnson -- at that point his general manager, that Jimmy Johnson that we all miss and we lost here a few years back, he assigned him to kind of work with us on being able to start a startup team.
I think we only looked over with respect at Richard and everything that he had done. I was afraid to even talk to Earnhardt and Richard. But Rick was nice enough, he come to some football stuff and he was nice enough to assign Jimmy Johnson. I don't think we would have been able to do what we did as a startup team and get to where we are if Rick hadn't been willing to do that. So I think in a lot of ways you look up to people in the sport and the people that have won these championships, and I think you just mentioned coming in Rick has won nine, Richard has won six. I think that's double and triple what we've been able to do.
Hey, it's only fair for those guys to at least give us another one or two here to at least even this thing up.
RICK HENDRICK: If I knew how good you were going to be, Joe, I wouldn't have helped you.
Q. Joe, we always hear about how crew chiefs and drivers need to be best friends or really have strong bonds, and yet you have Mike Ford and Denny Hamlin who have two kind of very separate lives away from the racetrack. I was wondering why you think they work together and was there ever a time where you thought they weren't going to be able to work together?
JOE GIBBS: No, that's a very hard chemistry is between that crew chief and driver. What we experienced over here -- as a matter of fact, that relationship normally doesn't last very long, and the reason for it, I think, is you go through -- when you go through such the lows, it's very, very hard to stay together and work your way through those. And you're going to have lows in motorsports. You're going to hit the bottom. I think it's hard -- I don't know, I think at one point Zippy and Tony, they went ten years or something -- I think at one point there was probably two or three other teams that's been able to do something like that. It's hard to keep that relationship together. I think those two guys -- and it's a certain type chemistry that you kind of hit on. Sometimes it makes no sense at all. You've got the older guy, you've got the young guy, who do you pair up and match together.
I know Rick has had a lot of different match-ups in his history, and sometimes we look and say, this is the dream match-up, and it doesn't work out at all. And then you put together something that you say, this is kind of oddball, and it works great.
That one I don't think you can explain. It's a chemistry, it's a feel. They've got to be able to communicate with each other, and to be quite truthful, for instance, we had Zippy and Tony, they would pretty much get after each other, even during the race. They were both fiery, and you'd say, hey, man, this is not going to work, and yet they had a great way of accomplishing things.
I think it's a hard one to find that chemistry. Somehow Mike and Denny, I think they have it.
Q. I guess I just want to ask you what you guys fear. I don't think fear like totally being afraid of it, but as maybe this comes down to a green-white checkered or it comes down to a caution being called from the tower, I think we all know NASCAR does a good job of officiating, but what do you want to see there? And what part of it being so close and the officiating of it being different than other sports do you guys think about?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, I said early on this year that I thought that the double-file restarts and the green-white checkered was going to decide this championship. You know, I think all of us have been in a situation where there was a double-file restart and somebody got into us. I know Jimmie spun at Loudon and all those things, and you can't control that. That's just kind of chaos with so many good cars and everybody racing hard and guys wanting to win a race, guys wanting to win a championship.
From my standpoint I think there's no debris in the last few laps, ten laps, and I hope we can race clean, and I hope for all of our sakes that there's not one of those deals to decide it that -- caution at the wrong -- you can't help it, those kind of things are going to happen. But I hope that each one of these three cars can finish this race without being taken out by somebody else's mistake. If one of our guys make it, that's fine, and we've got to live with it. That's racing. But I think my fear is that they're going to get caught up in something here and it's going to be decided by something out of their control.
But that's racing, and I guess we've got to live with it.
Q. Rick, after the standard you set at Hendrick Motorsports the last few years, winning championships and having multiple drivers contend for the Chase, do you consider this a success if Jimmie doesn't win this thing? And the second part is you said three years ago the pressure was on you to make Dale, Jr., a winner. You've thrown everything you can at him. Is the pressure now on him?
RICK HENDRICK: Well, first of all, this deal is pretty competitive and pretty tough, and you never -- you've never done your best, and we're going to keep digging in every area. You wrap up a year and you finish one, two, three and you come back and you struggle and you don't win. I don't think this is a disaster year by any stretch, but we're not satisfied. I don't think we've made as much improvements as Richard's organization has or Joe's organization, so we've just got to go to work. If we want to compete and be a part of the championship in '11, and all of our cars for your sponsors' sake you commit to all your drivers and all your sponsors that you want to be competitive and win races with all your cars, then it's not easy. It's kind of like being at the fair with those gophers and you hit one and the other one pops up somewhere else. There's always something to work on.
We can't be satisfied because we're not where we were a year ago in the results, in the final standings, so we need to work harder and work smarter, and we're going to do that.
Q. My question is for Coach Gibbs and it has to do with winning and how important it would be to bring home the first championship for Toyota.
JOE GIBBS: I think it would be a tremendous accomplishment to be a part of that. That's what I mentioned earlier the biggest thrill I get is the people that get to go with you. Toyota has been a great partner for us since we came on board with them, and you get close relationships in there, and you realize how much they put into this, like all the manufacturers. All the manufacturers put so much into it.
Toyota certainly has, and we would like to be a part of that. That would be a thrill for us. So that's what I talked about originally. I think the biggest kick that I get out of winning a championship is yeah, it's great for you to go through it. I'd love it. But it's more importantly all the people that get to go through it with you. In our case it's going to be FedEx and Toyota that put so much into this. So we would love to have that and have them to be a part of the celebration would be a thrill for us.
Q. Maybe by the way you could give everybody else a red flag so you could get a replay off of Clair's question there having to do with if you don't like something that the NASCAR officials do, everybody gets a red flag.
JOE GIBBS: Make it for the crew chiefs. I've got enough decisions to make. I never want to have anything to do with a red flag again, okay, but give it to the crew chiefs and that's not a bad idea.
Q. Rick, as championships go, you can say this may have been the toughest year for the 48 team to win one. If you're able to get the job done this weekend, will you kind of take some extra satisfaction in the fact that it was more difficult to achieve?
RICK HENDRICK: Yeah, I mean, none of them are easy. I mean, you know, they may look a little bit easier and maybe we had a little bit more points going into the last race, and this one has been hard-fought, and if we're fortunate enough to win it, yeah, we just know that it was a dog fight to the very end.
We're just kind of glad we're in that position to be there. But none of the championships were easy. The point spread might have been a lot different, they might have looked easy, but there was an awful lot of pressure to get it done. But I think this one will go down -- I think we lost one in '04 by, I don't know, eight or ten points or whatever, and there was a -- if Busch's tire had gone the other way on pit road we'd have I think been first or second.
This is the kind of deal you deal in the moment and you do the best you can, and if you come up short, you've just got to go to work and try to be there next year.
Q. Question for each of you. Who's got a bigger knot in his stomach right now on your team, the owner, the driver or the crew chief?
JOE GIBBS: I think I definitely do over here on my side. Denny is pretty relaxed. He was in here today. The drivers I think have a -- they have a great feel for it. You see great athletes in pro sports, the ones I've been around, they have amazing ability to relax, and sometimes -- obviously you have some that get uptight about things. But I would have to say just guessing from the demeanor of these three drivers, I'm just guessing at the other two, but our guys are kind of -- they're kind of relaxed. But I think they'll probably get uptight here the closer we get to the weekend. But I think over here I'd rate myself as definitely the most nervous.
RICK HENDRICK: I think Jimmie and Chad are -- I flew back home with Chad last Sunday night, and I've been with Jimmie early in the week, and they seem to be pretty relaxed, and I am, too. I just feel like it's -- we got here, and when we walk into the track is when I'm going to get knotted up. And they get ready to start the race, so many things are happening around you, and you're trying to keep up with it. I'm trying to wait until Sunday when I walk in out there to get kind of in a bind. Actually I'm fishing today with Joe and Richard, so I'm taking the day off.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I think we probably got it the easiest on our end because the worst we're going to finish in the points is third, and we're the team that's chasing, and we're just going to go down there and have fun. If it gets down to the last ten laps and there's five points difference or ten points difference and we've got a solid chance of winning it, leading it or are right there, yeah, I think I'll probably be like Joe. I may end up having to jump off the truck or something.
Q. Coach Gibbs, you coached in the NFL where playing hurt is a way of life. Denny this year went through ACL surgery, won a race right before it and then won another one two races afterwards. What particularly impressed you about his toughness, and can you relate it at all to anyone that you coached in the NFL in terms of being able to overcome adversity in that way?
JOE GIBBS: Yeah, I said all along that Denny -- it was the race after his surgery, and I think it was Phoenix, where we went down two laps and it was the very next week and we had a relief driver to get in the car and everything. He refused to get out. Here's a guy that had surgery and we're all prepared to get him out of the car because we knew it was going to be tough for him to make it. He refused to get out of the car and stayed in there knowing we weren't going to have a good day. And I think that said a lot to his team and all the guys around him, and I think from that point on is kind of where -- I think that had a lot to do with our year.
And yes, athletes, I've coached some to be quite truthful that you could have two injuries almost exactly the same, one guy can play and one can't, and that comes down to mental toughness. These guys are athletes. They're in those cars, they're measured in different ways over here. Rarely is it the injury, but it is being in there and being able to think for 500 grueling laps and go 200 miles an hour six inches from somebody. That takes an athlete and somebody that's geared to do this, and to be quite truthful, guys that are gifted.
Q. My question for you is do you feel like you're at a disadvantage at all seeing that Denny just has two teammates, Jimmie has three, Kevin had two but both those organizations have multiple technical alliances throughout the garage. Do you think that that will be an advantage or a disadvantage come Sunday?
JOE GIBBS: I really think that you've got the manufacturers are all three different manufacturers -- I mean, two different manufacturers, Chevrolet guys. You look at all that, the numbers may be a little bit more on the Chevrolet side for somebody to help. To be quite truthful, I don't think this is going to have much to do with somebody else helping you. You're going to have to earn this on your own. It's been pretty much that way all the way through the Chase. We've gone nine weeks. I'd be in shock if there's anything happens other than these three teams going after it, and I think Rick probably said it best; I'll be shocked if it -- I hope -- if somebody had asked what's your biggest fear, it's breaking a piece or a part of some kind. That's always my fear in motorsports. I hope it comes down to who wins it on the racetrack, best man win, all three cars have at it, and it's just a thrill to be a part of it.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, and thanks to our championship contending owners, Joe and Rick and Richard. Really a pleasure. This is one of our best teleconferences of the year. We appreciate it, and best of luck on Sunday.
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