NASCAR Media Conference
November 15, 2013
KERRY THARP: We appreciate everybody being here. Most importantly we appreciate the three gentlemen to my right. Not often I don't think that you can get three icons of your sport in the same room at the same time. These gentlemen to my right are certainly icons of NASCAR. We appreciate them being here today. I know some had to rearrange their schedules to make it here and we appreciate that very much.
Joining us, Richard Childress, Richard Childress Racing; Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports; and Coach Joe Gibbs, Gibbs Racing.
Between these three gentlemen, they have combined for 19 Sprint Cup Series championships and 31 NASCAR national series championships. That's impressive. Each one of them are here today competing again for another title, several titles, in fact.
I'm going to ask each one of you an opening question. I'll start with Richard.
Obviously you're competing for a Sprint Cup title with Kevin Harvick, but you also have a grandson that's going to race for a championship tomorrow night. Talk about that dynamic and maybe your thoughts heading into the Homestead‑Miami weekend.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: When you start, you want to be in a position to be racing for a championship. Making the Chase is big. You have to do that before you can run for a championship.
We've been in this position quite a few years. I think five out of the last ten years we've had a chance coming into Homestead. My good buddy here to the right is a lot better than we are (referring to Rick Hendrick).
Some of the years some of our finishes would have won the championship in the early days, but they set a whole new bar for all of us to go out and run for. To be able to be here and compete against what I call the best in this era, we're proud of that.
As far as the Nationwide championship, we're going to give it all we got. Told Austin to go race like he does every week. No mistakes. If you don't make no mistakes, you'll have a chance.
KERRY THARP: Rick, certainly no stranger to these championships. You've won 10 of them as a Sprint Cup owner, 13 national series titles. Richard Childress six Cup championships, 11 national series titles. I'm sure this never gets old. It's why we're all in this sport, to win championships, competition. Talk about the opportunity that Jimmie has again here this weekend.
RICK HENDRICK: Well, this is like Richard said, we all work hard to get to this spot. It's not over till Sunday afternoon or Sunday night. We had a good year. Our entire organization has had a good year. We just come down here and try to close it out, just not make any mistakes, have any failures.
Joe and I were talking earlier. I mean, we can have a day like they had last week, that things can be reversed. Either one of these guys on either side of me could win this thing.
We have to come, execute, and hopefully we stay out of trouble, end up with no mechanical problems and no accidents on the track.
KERRY THARP: And Coach Joe Gibbs, three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, seven NASCAR national series championships, and a slew of Super Bowl championships. You've been at the top of your game throughout your career. But just talk about, you brought over Matt Kenseth. As a driver this year Matt Kenseth has had a super season. Talk about Matt's emergence and his performance this year, your overall thoughts about championship Sunday.
JOE GIBBS: We started off, Rick's chair broke, but I said, Nothing else he has got ever breaks. Richard, I don't know what's deal is (laughter).
It's a thrill for us to have a chance to be in a sport like this. It's the best people in the world at what they do, racing cars. You get a chance to compete. It gets you so excited to come to the racetrack. Got great respect for the other car owners. I know how hard it is to get to this level, then to compete. It's been a thrill for us to have a chance to run for a championship.
Matt came over with us. I don't think anybody in the sport, certainly not us, would have guessed that he could have a year like that. When you get him together with Jason, our crew chief, young guy, you just don't dream of the chemistry being what it turned out to be this year. So we're thrilled with that.
I think he gave it everything he had every single week, as our team did. It just so happens that this year, at least for these nine races, you can't have a bad race. That's what happened this year. We had a bad race last week, and it put us in a tough situation.
We got Kyle sitting there. It's going to be a lot of fun for a lot of people. You have Kyle there in fourth with the M&M car. We're going to be battling Junior, everything going on there. We got Nationwide, got a chance to run over there. Going to be a fun weekend for everybody. I love that about our sport. It's fun to be a part of this and get a chance to sit up here.
KERRY THARP: We'll go to questions.
Q. Richard, like you said, these five times y'all have had a chance, then other times even before the Chase. Does it wear on you that y'all have gone this long without winning a championship since '94 with Dale? Also was that just a different world that y'all won those six championships in from this world today?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Yeah, I wouldn't say it's different. You had to beat a lot of good cars to win a championship. I think, like I said earlier, Rick, hats off to those guys. They've done one heck of a job. Chad, Jimmie, all the guys, they've set the bar up. We've been in a position even in 2000, were second in the points.
Yeah, it eats at you when you don't win a championship. But you know you're giving it your best, and your best isn't good enough.
Q. Rick, we'll bring up the term you seem so uncomfortable with. Could you outline why you seem just not to be comfortable with the New York Yankees analogy in this?
RICK HENDRICK: First of all, go back to when I first got in this sport, I'd go to New York. I'd go every time to watch Richard get the championship. I never thought we'd ever win one. We've put a lot of hard work together. Then Coach Gibbs comes along. I would have never helped him if I knew he was going to be this much competition (smiling).
But I think we work really hard, just like these other teams work hard. The chemistry between Chad and Jimmie has been unbelievable. Just like these guys, the preparation with your whole shop, the engineers, engine shop, everybody working together. But if you look at Jimmie's dedication to perfection, and Chad is the same way, plus the chemistry they have, it takes a lot of racing luck, but it takes a lot of preparation and talent.
I don't think Jimmie's gotten the real credit he deserves for the talent that he has and for the dedication that he has given to this sport. He's a guy that works out, eats, and is a student of looking at track data, tire data. He lives and breathes being a perfectionist. Chad is the same way.
When you have talent and you have execution ‑ right, Coach? ‑ it shows. I'm with coach. I've never seen this thing that his team did with Matt, a great guy, it's been unbelievable this year.
You never know when that chemistry's going to happen. You get on a roll, they get confident. I give Richard a lot of credit. He and Kevin are going to separate, but they came in here and put it together and raced to the end.
This is a tough sport. But I think every now and then you get a combination of people that really click. If you give them the tools, and they don't leave anything on the table, then they're going to be there every year.
I think Jimmie's as good as I've ever seen, and Chad is the same way.
I'm not a big Yankee fan. I shouldn't say that. Reggie Jackson is one of my best friends and I go to the Yankees' games. I really don't know how to answer that question. I feel like we're very fortunate. I'm proud of our organization, and they work hard.
If people think that we're the team to beat, then we're doing our job.
Q. Rick, you've seen most of the sport's great drivers. Several have driven for you. Can you put what Jimmie has done, might do again, in context against the four or five other great drivers?
RICK HENDRICK: I think Richard could probably answer this as well as I could.
The competition, the way the Chase sets up today, you can't make any mistakes and you can't have any failures. We had an engine fail with Earnhardt or he'd be up in the points. Luck of the draw that Jimmie didn't get that motor.
I look at, again, how the guy breaks down the corners and how he studies what's going on in the car. He never gets excited. He's like a computer feeding stuff back to Chad and making the adjustments. He thinks about the race. Before we get to the racetrack, he's planning on a strategy, the way he eats, the way he runs. You just don't see that dedication that's matched with talent that often.
I think he's one of the greatest that I've ever seen because of all of those things. There's a lot of guys out there with tremendous talent and have tremendous car skill. But to be smart, to be dedicated, to tune your body like you do the car, to prepare for the races in your head, with your crew chief, he goes the extra mile to be ready for the event.
Help me, Richard.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I'll throw one other thing. Jimmie is a role model for our sport that is unbelievable. Both of the grandsons, that's who they want to be like. That's who they talk to. There's a lot of other drivers. If you want to be a Cup driver today, that's the model you want.
Q. Each of you has got at least one young kid that you're working with coming up through the ranks. It seems to me this may be the deepest, most talent‑ladened pool of young drivers we've ever had in history. I'd like to get your take on that.
JOE GIBBS: I think it's very important for all of us here, the young guys coming, I get excited about that.
I walked outside of a restaurant about 15 years ago. There was a kid standing there. He said, Coach, will you sign this? I signed it. His dad took a picture. We got the picture. He looked up at me and he goes, I'm going to drive for you someday. You kind of tap him on the head because a lot of kids say that to you. It was Denny Hamlin.
Today I tell him every time I see him, You didn't tell me I was going to have to pay you $1 million to drive for me.
RICK HENDRICK: That's what I want to know. How do you pull that off? Richard, we missed the boat somewhere.
JOE GIBBS: I got a bone to pick with Rick. When I came into this racing, I came in with no debt. Today I'm knee deep in debt and it's his fault.
I like to work with the young guys. I think these guys feel the same. Richard, that's a thrill, I know, with his grandkids.
I'll tell my grandkid story. I had my littlest one with me. We were coming back from Starbucks. He said, Coach. I said, What, Jet? He said, How come you didn't have any kids? I had to explain to him, I did, Jet. I had your dad, and I had D.J. He goes, Oh.
Anyway, have the grandkids coming, that's awesome.
That may not be a bad idea. It's a cheaper way to go. Do you still have to pay them a lot of money?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I thought I was right, that you wouldn't have to pay family and everything. Everything was going along good until my wife got involved. She said, I'm going to be their agent. I know what you pay these other drivers. You're not going to get off the hook.
JOE GIBBS: That's good.
RICK HENDRICK: Does that mean I have to ask permission to talk to your grandsons?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: She'll negotiate (laughter).
Q. How do you evaluate the current sponsorship climate? Are things getting easier to find sponsors? Are things harder than they were a few years ago? How would you evaluate it?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: We have a whole new model in our sport today. Used to be you'd have one company in, take the whole season, run the teams like we did for many years.
Today the model has changed. A lot of it's changed through the business model that happened several years ago, that the CEOs and a lot of people really responsible for everything they do.
Today you may have three sponsors to carry you through the year. It's a tougher environment. I think anyone sitting here will tell you it's a tougher environment.
RICK HENDRICK: I think exactly what Richard said.
I feel like the interest is picking up. We're getting more people that we're talking to. The good news is the folks that we have are renewing. That's good. When the economy was at its worst, it looked like the whole financial crisis was affecting the world, we were worried. But now we just signed a deal with Axalta last night, basically a new company with DuPont. They bought DuPont, the paint division. But they're very excited. Their CEO was here. They have huge plans.
We were with the Farmers people in Phoenix, the board of directors and their CEO was at the race. We haven't seen the CEOs at the races in the last couple years like they're here now. The chairman of Lowe's will be here this weekend.
The energy's getting much better and new people are taking a look. So it feels better than it did. It's getting better.
JOE GIBBS: I think for us, I've really been excited. I think our best years are still in front of us. I believe that about NASCAR, where we're headed.
I think Brian has done a great job of working with all the race teams. We're looking at things like how do we make our mile‑and‑a‑half stuff better, intermediate track racing, all the things we're working on, it's truly been a team effort. I see a great future for us from a diversity standpoint. I think we're going to see a lot of growth there.
For us, I think it's exciting during a very tough business climate, we've had all of our big sponsors, with the exception of one, reup with us. Nationwide, we're running four cars there. It's an exciting series for us.
So I'm excited going forward. I think Rick kind of hit the nail on the head. Our guys are reupping. They like it. We have social media. We got B‑to‑B going like mad. We got some of the biggest and best companies in the world. It's great having those relationships.
I love that part of our sport. It's different than other sports. You've got to have a great sponsor. The thrill of that is to see them expend what they do in resources, then win a race for them, win a championship for them. It's a thrill. I love that part of it. I think it's going to propel us into the future.
We just mentioned our drivers, the fact that Jimmie and so many of our drivers, I feel like our guys and Richard's guys, are role models. I think that's going to help propel us, too, in the future as we go forward. I'm excited about our future and where we're headed.
RICK HENDRICK: I think the TV deal has helped a lot, having that put to bed, having NBC coming in. A lot of our sponsors are excited about that. As Joe said, the business‑to‑business opportunities, our drivers do a good job of working with our sponsors in business‑to‑business opportunities. We're learning how to do new things that generate other interests and other opportunities with our sponsors.
Again, I'm like Joe. I feel good about it.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: We've signed more new sponsors in the last year, new companies coming into the sport, than we have in a long time. If you look around, you'll see some new ones.
Q. (No microphone.)
RICK HENDRICK: What would help me if I could pay mine what Joe pays his, that would help us a lot.
JOE GIBBS: I don't think you would (laughter).
RICK HENDRICK: When you run this many races, you've got to travel, it doesn't get any cheaper.
I think that we're trying to, again, make the intermediate cars and competition better. There's a test coming up in December where we're going to work on that. That will be exciting because all the teams are working on it. It's not just a NASCAR effort. I applaud them for getting everybody involved.
Everything, tires, engine, we've all talked about how to cut the costs and be more efficient. We've done that. I think all of us have done that. We've looked at ways we can do it cheaper and still have the quality we need for the show for the fans.
NASCAR's involved. We're always talking about it. But it's never easy to back things up. But we've looked at a lot of things that can help us. A lot of the teams, I know we work with these teams here, with their chief financial officers, looking at all the ways we can reduce costs. It's been a good exercise among all of our teams.
Q. Could you outline what your roles are on race day, what you pitch in. You own the team. Now that it's all come to the competition, what do each of you see as your roles?
JOE GIBBS: Mine is to get out of the way. They tell me, Do not say a thing on the radio and get out of the way (laughter).
For me, you try and use your strengths. I wasn't a technical person growing up in racing, I just loved it. I was always the fan going. So for me it's people.
What I do on race day is I try to go where we're having the most problems because lots of times you can learn from that, what's going on. So most of my focus is on sponsors and people, picking the people, trying to help keep them going in the right direction.
J.D. and I probably have similar‑type roles. That's kind of what I do on race day.
RICK HENDRICK: I'm the same way. My job is to be there for the guys, but we've got a lot of sponsors when you look at these cars. They're all here and they're all important. You try to make sure you reach out and touch them.
Usually when the green flag drops, that's my most relaxing time. It won't be Sunday. But we work hard trying to take care of our people, make sure they all got in, our guys are in hospitality, we're meeting people on the grid. It's a lot of work when you've got multiple sponsors, to make everybody happy.
That's what I see as my responsibility because the work's done when we get to the racetrack. It's up to the crew chiefs and the drivers. I'm like Joe, I walk a lot of laps. I don't stay in one spot. One is because of nerves. Two, exercise. When you listen to four of them at one time, anything you hear, you're waiting for a problem. If you think you heard it, you go to that box to see what's going on. That's kind of it.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I do roughly the same thing. I do a lot of appearances that morning, autographs, doing things with sponsors. Then I get on a high spot when I can talk to all of the drivers. Depends on what we're doing. Just try to stay out of trouble.
Q. Richard, if Jimmie wins the championship on Sunday, there's going to be a lot of talk about when will number seven come. I'm curious what you think the feeling will be in your shop of a lot of the talk about somebody going for a seventh title, matching Dale.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Dale and I never talked about winning seven championships, just like I'm sure Jimmie's not talking about winning and tying.
He's got the youth. Like Rick said, he takes care of his‑self physically, mentally. I don't think he's focusing on seven, to beat that, or eight, to beat that. He's wanting to win a lot of championships in his career.
Q. Joe, Matt was talking yesterday about last week at Phoenix. The question was about the professionalism he showed when he got out of the car, when he was alone, if he ever did get upset or reflected on maybe the moment slipping away. He talked about when he walked by the team taking down the pit box, he saw the look on Todd Meredith's face. He said that crushed him. He felt like he personally had done that to Todd and the team, he had let them down. Why do you think he would take that position when it truly was a team effort? How difficult do you think it was for the 20 team to get over that and come back here this week?
JOE GIBBS: I think in pro sports it can happen to you. I think for him to feel that way, it just says a lot about him.
I would say that Todd was looking at him like I was looking at him, looking at it just the opposite. How did we put him in a situation like that where he had to drive a car that was extremely hard to drive?
But you also know, it is a total team effort. As I set and talked to Jason for a long time on Monday, because I've been in that situation as a coach, you make the bad call, or it could be just situation that put you in a bad situation for us that day.
I think it says a lot about them. I think the feelings went just the opposite, we felt bad Matt was put in that situation. That's part of sports. To keep that from happening is not be in the sport because one of the hardest things in life is to handle rough things when it goes against you. Over here it's going to go against you about 80% or 90% of the time even if you're real, real good, so you have to handle the tough times.
Matt, I really appreciate what he said after the race. I know Dollar General really appreciates that, and Home Depot also. That's the kind of person he is. I think it means a lot for our sport.
Just like Jimmie, we were talking here about really having people that you can look up to racing these cars. I think it's neat.
Q. Put some historical perspective on Jimmie's accomplishments and where he fits into that 'best ever' conversation.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I think like Rick said, he'll go down in history as one of the greatest, if not the greatest. He's got many good years ahead of him. I think he'll set a lot of records before he decides to hang it up.
JOE GIBBS: I think the hardest thing like I said, in pro sports is to stay up there year in and year out. Somebody can get hot and win something, but to be there every single year...
I love the fact this is a team sport. It starts with Rick, all the people he's got over there, the engineering group, the motor guys, all the technical people for all of our race teams. You have to have all that behind him.
I think at some point, too, it comes down to great talent. You have a crew chief there that's on the top of his game, is great. Hats off to Rick and the whole group there that they've been consistently for a long period of time up there every single year. They run great every single year. That's hard to do in pro sports, to be there every year.
Q. Rick, in a Hall of Fame appearance last week, Jimmie joked about how he had no idea what you and Jeff Gordon saw in him and he still doesn't know. Can you take us back to that time and tell us what you did see in him?
RICK HENDRICK: I've known Jimmie since he was like 16. My son told me he was going to be a superstar. He didn't show that in the Nationwide Series, but we liked Jimmie a lot. He was just such a classy guy. We felt like he was part of the family.
Then when Jeff raced against him at Michigan, Jeff said that he was special, he had a lot of talent. We took a chance. We had no idea. I mean, it was no reason, no way to look at him that he could be that good. We didn't see what we saw in Jeff Gordon early on when he was racing in the Nationwide Series.
You thought it was there, but you didn't know it was going to be this good.
Q. Richard, the worst‑kept secret in the garage is that Austin will be running Cup next year. We all know that. What is the delay in answering car number, crew chief, all that stuff? We all know it's going to happen, but we need you to say it's going to happen.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: We'll probably announce something here in the next few weeks. Kind of what we got planned. I mean, everybody is just speculating right now. I guess that's the right word (smiling).
JOE GIBBS: You sound like a football coach, not going to answer anything.
KERRY THARP: Richard, Rick, Coach Gibbs, can't thank you enough for coming in. It's been a real thrill just to listen to you three. We appreciate all you do for the sport of NASCAR. Best of luck this weekend.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|