An interview with: KEVIN HARVICK, DENNY HAMLIN, MARTIN TRUEX JR., KYLE BUSCH
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to Championship 4 Media Day here at the Miami Beach Edition. Today we’ll hear from the four drivers who will battle it out for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship on NBC Sports Sunday evening.
It’s an intriguing group with plenty of storylines to cover. We’ll welcome three past champions to the stage today and one who carries a lot of momentum coming into Miami trying to win his first ever title.
An impressive group. When you look at it from the stats, they are literally one through four in all the key categories, wins, top fives and top 10s.
On behalf of NASCAR, media members, thank you for your coverage today and efforts all season long.
With that, let’s bring out the four championship contenders who will vie for a place in the NASCAR history book.
The regular season champion who finished runner up at IMS Raceway this weekend, clinched his Championship 4 spot for the fifth consecutive year, the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch.
Our popular topic with our next driver coming into the year was exactly how many home racetracks does he have, when would he win a short track race. He swept Richmond and more importantly got the win at Martinsville, which locked him into the Championship 4. The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, and driver of the Bass Pro Shops Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Martin Truex Jr.
In 2019 he won his second career race at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and now looks to win a second career championship. The 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and driver of the No. 4 Busch Light Ford for Stewart Haas Racing, Kevin Harvick.
He opened the season with a win at the Daytona 500, and hopes to close it with his first ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin.
The 2019 Championship 4 that will battle it out for the title on Sunday. Congratulations.
Whose idea was it to make Kyle run what was supposed to be five miles? Your fault, Denny? How did all that come about?
DENNY HAMLIN: Just trying to hamper my competition.
THE MODERATOR: Did it work?
DENNY HAMLIN: No.
THE MODERATOR: You came up with a new word ‘whamboozle’?
DENNY HAMLIN: I used it for a really long time. I don’t know where I got it from.
THE MODERATOR: What was the final payoff to Kyle?
KEVIN HARVICK: About a grand.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Still coming in, right?
KYLE BUSCH: Someone who is slow pay over here.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: On payment plan.
THE MODERATOR: Kevin, does that mean you all are buddies now?
KEVIN HARVICK: Look, we had fun. I think all of us have done this long enough to know we want to win this for our race teams, do what it takes to win. There’s a lot of mutual respect for the guys sitting up here. If you’re going to go up there and work, might as well have fun. I think that’s what everybody tried to do.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Kyle, we saw you all having fun up in New York. When does that switch flip? When do you get competitive with each other?
KYLE BUSCH: I mean, I don’t think it’s competitive with each other necessarily. I think it’s just the competitive nature is obviously going to start when you get to the racetrack, when you get ready to suit up and get going for your first practice. That’s going to be your competitive nature.
But then, you know, people want to say that the race starts off the truck. In reality I guess it kind of did last year. Last year Logano was fast off the truck, kicked our ass all weekend long. It’s a matter of being good, being prepared, the team doing a really good job with the car, getting ready to rock’n roll when you get to practice.
Q. Denny, have any of your competitors brought up that fact you don’t have a title yet? Does any trash talking work with you?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, they haven’t. I think they’re all aware that I have not. I think it’s been well documented at this point, so no (laughter).
Q. Any trash talk?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I don’t think so. This is the old guys rules group up here.
KYLE BUSCH: This is the big three with the new one. Just like last year, we got our ass spanked by the new one (laughter).
DENNY HAMLIN: If Kyle wasn’t here, the average age might be 40, somewhere in there (laughter).
Q. Denny, aside from the fact you haven’t won a championship, more importantly, you’re going up against two guys who already in your organization know exactly what they have, does that make it better for you as far as more I guess personally to know if you beat them, you’re going to beat the guys that have the best organization?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think this format has been played five years. You look at how many times these three have made it to the final four under different rules packages, different cars, different everything. They have been the standard year in, year out.
You see one or two guys poke in that final four here and there. But I think it would be most gratifying if we did win because this is the best. This is by far the best in any category that you can try to put together.
Certainly would mean more because of that reason.
Q. For the three JGR drivers. Has it been decided how you’re going to operate this weekend? Continue to have meetings, open notebook? Are you going to shut that off?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: As far as I know, nothing has really been discussed. I would imagine it’s business as usual. We’ll do what got us here. Sunday morning when we get up to go race, we go race.
If you look at this season, I think we’ve all raced each other really hard at times, but fair, with respect. I feel like it’s not going to be any different this weekend.
KYLE BUSCH: I agree.
Q. The way this race has played out with the late caution so many years in a row, a final shootout, does that have you concerned? How do you plan for that? Are you worried the best guy doesn’t win in that scenario?
KEVIN HARVICK: You have to put the whole race together. I think when you look at the race, the race is different at the end of the race anyway when it gets to be night. You typically have the late caution.
I think you definitely have to think about what you want your car to do, when you want it to do what you want it to do. There’s already a ton of unknowns going into this weekend with the new aero package, what do you bring, how much downforce, how much drag, all the things that go with that. Some of that plays into late restarts, what you want there.
There’s still a lot of guesswork that’s gone into what we think we probably all need with our cars. That conversation is definitely part of the conversation of what you need for the weekend.
Q. Martin’s response about keeping everything the same this week, how hard for you is it as the three Joe Gibbs drivers not to let the competitive spirit and the want to win to keep secrets or something to yourselves? How hard is it to keep the open book throughout the weekend?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, I think for us, I mean, you’d have to talk to the crews about that, the crew chiefs and engineers.
I mean, I think for us, we talk about what we’re doing, what our cars are doing, all that stuff in meetings. It would be up to the crews and the crew chiefs whether or not they push all those keys on the keyboard and put it in there. You know what I mean?
I mean, honestly it’s really kind of hard for us to have secrets. There’s no telling what teams could do.
Q. Obviously you have spoken about the respect level between all four of you. Is that primarily from what you have accomplished on the track over the years, how you race each other, or how you deal with each other? Why is that among you guys?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, for me, I think it’s important as you go through as I’ve gone through my career, to be respected by your competitors. I don’t think it’s always been that way for me. I think for me, as I have a seven year old at home that wants to say, Why do you speak to the guy that way, why do you do this, that.
I think it’s important to show you can be competitive, you can do the right things for your team, but also be respected by your competitors.
I feel like that average age probably has a little something to do with that. I think as you’re younger, you get in a situation, you feel like you have to say something, feel like you have to do something, feel like you have to make it more than it needs to be. That’s not the best spot for your team to be in.
That’s really for me how it’s migrated to this point.
Q. Denny, the run through New York, was he able to provide definitive proof? Kyle, who was your camera person chasing you?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Poor guy (laughter).
DENNY HAMLIN: It was documented. We had plenty of videos documenting it. It was a guy that works with Pro Sports Management, that represents me, that followed him.
Although Kyle’s run was impressive, would have been more impressive if he would have had boots on, carrying a camera like the other guy. He took his shoes, took the poor guy’s shoes.
Borrowed the camera guy’s shoes.
KYLE BUSCH: Weren’t all that great, though, let’s admit.
KEVIN HARVICK: Better than his boots?
KYLE BUSCH: Better than his boots and the shoes I had on before that you had to carry afterwards.
KEVIN HARVICK: I carried the shoes. Felt like I was obligated in losing the bet to carry his shoes back. He was not there because he was soaking wet from the sweat. Had to change his clothes.
Q. Denny, how does a team go from zero wins and 11th in points to five wins and conceivably a championship in one year? Were there any major personnel changes? What is the difference?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, there was a lot from top to bottom. Pit crew, our pit crew kind of went over to Erik Jones this year. We had a whole new group of guys. I mean, it wasn’t all great. We were probably 25th I think about for the first handful of races or even 10 races. They steadily just got a little bit better as the season went on.
There’s a lot of elements. I mean, you change crew chief, you change crews, you change mechanics. I mean, Chris met with me and all the team guys earlier in the year in January or so and said,
This is the team, this is who we put together. I just want you to know, this is a really great team from top to bottom.
Eric Phillips being our car chief, he’s won races. I mean, I definitely think he’s put together a great team. Really how you go from zero to six is just fast cars. That and hard work. I definitely have put in extra, extra work this year. A lot of it is any time you do struggle, you got to try to find yourself somewhere. Just found ourselves in a good spot now.
Q. Kevin, as the only Ford driver in the championship field, and the only non Joe Gibbs car driving in the field, would it be that much sweeter to pull out the victory on Sunday?
KEVIN HARVICK: Well, I mean, we want to win obviously. I think that’s why Ford decided to make us a part of their company and their stable of cars. It would be great to deliver that.
It’s like what Denny said earlier, you want to win in these situations when it’s what somebody feels is the best crop of guys that can be here, not somebody who snuck in, somebody who had a mediocre season. You want to race against the guys that are the best.
For us, obviously knowing we’re up against an organization gives us a lot of pride in the things that we’ve done. I think for me, I’m just really proud of my team and the things that we’ve been able to accomplish this year.
We started off way off in rightfield and had to work hard to get things back going. Got to Victory Lane. Here we are racing for a championship. I think that’s a huge credit to the experience of the race team.
For us, it sounds like we have a lot less things to talk about internally because we’ve had a whole organization that’s really been pushing for one car over the last few weeks to come here. It’s a different scenario.
Obviously last year we didn’t get our cars to the Championship 4, but having all four cars in the Final 8 becomes difficult because you have to try to put the same effort into all four of those cars.
It becomes difficult in the organization to do that to the maximum level if you don’t have everybody pushing all the buttons. Having everybody pushing all the buttons hopefully pays off for us this weekend on our car.
Q. All four of you gentlemen have had success at Miami Homestead Speedway. This being the conclusion of the championship races for the foreseeable future, what are your feelings on that matter?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I would say as drivers, I think it’s unanimous we love the racetrack. I think the racetrack is phenomenal. I believe as a driver you can really make a difference here. Even if your car is lacking a little bit, you can move around and change the characteristics of your car, the handling of your car through different lines and whatnot.
I also think like ISM Phoenix has really earned the right to host the championship race. The weather thing works out. There’s only a handful of tracks that kind of the weather will cooperate this time of year. They’ve also invested a ton of money into that place.
I think anywhere that you have a championship race or a championship weekend, it should be in a big market, which Phoenix is. When you look at all the big events they host, Bear Jackson, Waste Management Phoenix Open, it goes down the line. It’s a big sports town.
I think it’s a good venue. The weather is going to be good. The track and facility is up to date. Those are the keys that you got to have.
KEVIN HARVICK: In all honesty, it shouldn’t be in Phoenix the year after. I think having that championship race is important to new markets, new fans, exposing people to our sport. It’s important.
I think when you look at going to Phoenix, the things that it will bring to that facility, the new fans it will bring to that facility, they’re thriving on that exposure now even before the championship race is there. They will thrive on that notoriety, the things that happen for that championship race next year.
To me what happens in the race is irrelevant. It’s great that we’re going to crown a champion. We all love Homestead. The event and the market and the notoriety, the new things that come to a new market that help carry that racetrack for a number of years to come are important. We have to use our championship event to rebuild enthusiasm in markets. I think that will be the first step to doing that.
THE MODERATOR: That will end today’s Championship 4 press conference. Thank you, guys, for being here. We hope you enjoy the weekend.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports
— NASCAR —