Wednesday, September 8, 2021
11 FedEx Ground Toyota
Joe Gibbs Racing
Saturday Race Info:
Race: Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders
Date/Time: Saturday, Sept. 11/7:30 p.m. ET
Distance: 400 laps/300 miles
Track Length: .75 mile
Track Shape: Oval
Darlington Recap: Denny Hamlin kicked off the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with a win Sunday night at Darlington Raceway – his first of the season. Hamlin battled Kyle Larson for much of the event on the historic oval, but the driver of the #11 held off a late-charging Larson on the final lap of the race to bring home his third Southern 500 trophy. The win punched Hamlin’s ticket to the Round of 12 of the Playoffs, with two more races remaining in the opening Round of 16.
Richmond Preview: Race #2 of the Round of 16 takes Hamlin to his hometown track of Richmond Raceway, a three-quarter-mile oval where the Chesterfield, Va., native owns three wins in 29 Cup starts. The FedEx Ground Toyota team performed well at the track in April, starting and finishing the race in second. Saturday night’s race falls on a somber anniversary – the 20-year mark since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In commemoration, the 300-mile race has been specially named the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders.
Track: Richmond Raceway
Laps Led: 1,911
Avg. Start: 9.7
Avg. Finish: 9.0
Hamlin Conversation – Richmond:
Does having one win already in the Round of 16 change the way you approach the rest of the round?
“We want to win these next two races, too. We’re not going to take these next two weeks off. We want to keep this momentum going. That way, when we get to the treacherous second round, we’re ready and we’re in Playoff form.”
Do you remember where you were on the day of the 9/11 attacks?
“I was putting the exhaust on my new late-model car that my parents spent every dollar they had on, and tragedy struck, and we all were glued to the TV for the next eight hours. It was certainly a defining moment in our country. We don’t take lightly everything that happened, and we have such an appreciation for all the first responders who went to the scene and especially for those who never went home again.”
FedEx Ground Along For The Ride: The SCAL district’s focus on “Safety Above All” lands them a placement on the B-post of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota race car during the Sept. 11 Richmond Raceway race.
FedEx Office – Closest to Richmond Raceway: 1111 E Main St, Richmond, VA (804) 783-9880
Cliff Daniels, crew chief of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on confidence level heading into Richmond following the race earlier this season: “We were absolutely terrible in the spring. Once we were able to compare notes (with other Hendrick Motorsports teams) it made sense – we know where we were weak and need to get better. We’re very fortunate to have the success of the 48 (team) and their baseline.”
Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on 9/11: “Sept. 11 is always a day that I think sticks out to any American. I don’t think you could ever just ignore that or act like it’s just any other day. That’s a major tragic event in our history and one that we’re all going to live with for the rest of our time. Our sport is patriotic, but just being an American, you could never forget about that.”
Elliott on the challenges of the playoff format: “It’s a cutthroat 10 weeks. Unfortunately, the more the rounds go on you just can’t have poor races. A lot of times having a poor race doesn’t mean you did a bad job or you weren’t fast, it just means something didn’t go your way. Unfortunately, that could be the end of your season. Do I necessarily agree with that all the time? No, but at the same time we had 26 weeks to win races and to accumulate playoff points. The more of those you accumulate, you’re hedging your bet to make it further in the round. That’s the best thing you can do, try and build that buffer and get those points and get yourself in a better position to where if you do have a bad day you can still recover.”
Alan Gustafson, crew chief for the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on if a specific playoff round matches up best for the No. 9 team: “There’s not one round that stands out to me. You could go to any of the races and have a problem or issue and have a terrible points day and then start significantly worse than you expected for the next race, like Darlington for us. All of those things can happen at any point in time, so you are always apprehensive and a bit nervous. But, at the same time, I have a lot of confidence in what we can do. We should be on the attack mode not conserve mode. I feel good about it, but I certainly respect all of the tracks and all the potential hurdles that they all have. I think we can compete well at any one of them and win at any one of them and that’s what we are going to try to do. At the same time, we certainly understand that you’ve got to be at your best form and really super prepared because at a moment's notice anything can happen that puts you in a bad spot.”
William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on racing at Richmond: “Richmond has always been a challenging track for me. The track already has very low grip and making sure the tires last during a long run is key. The surface resembles Atlanta (Motor Speedway) but has characteristics of Phoenix (Raceway). I feel like every time I’ve run there that I’ve learned a bit more and improved each time. With Darlington not going the way we hoped, we will need to really execute this weekend and maximize whatever situation we are in to set us up for Bristol and advancing on through the playoffs.”
Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on rebounding for race two of the Round of 16:
“Obviously, this isn’t the position we want to be in this weekend on the outside looking in, but we’re also are by no means out of the hunt, either. The No. 24 team has the speed capable of winning and I think we’ve done a good job of showing that, especially lately. Unfortunately, we’ve just been wrong place wrong time the last couple weeks. We’ve already put that behind us, though, and moved on to the next task at hand – Richmond. We had a top-10 car there earlier this season and the guys are putting in extra hours this week to make sure we bring a rocket to the track for Saturday night. This isn’t a must-win situation, but we’re going to execute what we need to maximize on our results.”
Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on returning to Richmond after winning there in April: “Going back to Richmond is something to look forward to this week. Richmond is a track where our No. 48 team feels really strong at, and we are bringing the same car from earlier this year when we ended up in victory lane. After last week, we need to rebound and capitalize on a good night on Saturday. There’s not a lot of comfort going forward the next two weeks, but we are going to two places we know we can be strong at and have good runs.”
Greg Ives, crew chief of the No. 48 team, on chassis for Richmond: “It is going to be the same car and same chassis but obviously different things that you’re able to do, either to make it better or in NASCAR’s world, you’re able to regulate or put a little more sight and difficulties on you. Whatever that scenario is, whether it’s true or false or to allow other guys to get their cars get better, you have to keep up with it. That’s ultimately the goal – to bring a better race car and try not to reinvent the wheel. For the most part, the general setup is going to be very close. Just trying to fine tune and then make things a little bit better.”
Ives on how quickly the playoff rankings can change: “You got to look at history, right? The biggest factor I see (are) the unknowns. Putting yourself in a bad situation and then hurting yourself. You kind of look at the history of last year’s playoffs and we scored the second-most points in the playoffs. We didn’t go to the final four but, in the end, it calls for a really good run and the 4 team there with Kevin Harvick, they had how many wins last year? Eight wins and a lot of points and they got themselves in a bad spot and wasn’t able to transfer to the final four. It definitely is a tough grind and tough season, but then you add on the quickness of a reset and going to probably one of the toughest racetracks (Darlington) to either get the handling right (or) the toughness on the teams from a pit standpoint (or) the ease of getting damage to the car and putting yourself in a bad situation with the wreck. It’s a tough place to start out, for sure, and you have to be pretty flawless. If not, you got to learn how to overcome dramatically. Unfortunately, that’s what we have to do – overcome a really bad situation.”
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
Cliff Daniels, crew chief of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on point standings affecting race strategy: “I have not looked at points (during the races) all year – I did not look at the points even once (last) Saturday night at Daytona. If we do our jobs correctly, the points should take care of themselves.”
Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on working with kids from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on DESI9N TO DRIVE: “The program is a really big deal to me, personally. I don’t think all of these kids watch NASCAR every weekend, so we have that opportunity to introduce some of them to it and allow their ideas and designs to come to life. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about to me. It’s about giving them some excitement, something to look forward to whether they watch racing or not. It doesn’t matter. If it gives them three hours of excitement or five minutes of excitement, that is a win, in my opinion. Obviously, the proceeds of the auction items benefit Children’s, which is bettering their program. It’s all for a great cause. For the kids specifically, it’s just about their imagination and ideas coming to life.”
Elliott on kicking off the playoffs at Darlington: “We are super excited for Darlington this weekend. These next three weeks are exciting races. Three, I feel like, really cool racetracks with fun environments for us. It’s getting to be that time of year. Fall is an exciting time of year for a lot of things around sports and our season is getting down to it, as well. We are just excited to get going. It’s hard to believe we are 26 weeks in. It doesn’t really seem like it, but here we are starting another playoffs and heading into the final 10 of the year. It goes by fast, but over two months of racing is still a long time. They will click off and you’ll get in certain moments that you might like, some you might not like, and we’ll make the most of them all.”
Elliott on crew chief Alan Gustafson: “He has really seen a lot through his career and I feel like people sometimes don’t realize that and how much experience he does have. I am certainly thankful for that. He does a fantastic job with just keeping our team super levelheaded and really just riding the waves, both the ups and the downs, kind of with the same mentality. He does a great job of not only exemplifying that but making sure the rest of us understand that that’s important, too.”
Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on making his 600th Cup start as a crew chief: “That’s a lot of races. Surviving 600 races is a pretty big feat in itself. I’m certainly honored to be able to do what I do. I’ve been able to work with some great people and that’s the biggest thing that stands out to me – those relationships and working through, you know, like you mentioned, the ups and downs, the successes and the failures together. Overcoming that, the relationships you form – that, to me at this point of my career, is the sweetest thing about victory – is just being able to do that with people you care about and work with and see them enjoy it. That’s what really motivates me and fuels me and gets me excited. It’s crazy; it’s a big number, so I feel super fortunate. Hopefully, I can get quite a few more.”
Gustafson on the pressure of the playoffs: “It is a little daunting, but I really enjoy it. This time of the year, I enjoy that feeling or pressure, however you want to describe it, of the urgency and finality of if you don’t get it done. I like that. It’s something that I enjoy and feel like our team thrives in. We are ready to do it. The past is the past and all the talk about the future is really kind of pointless. It’s just doing what you have to do and that’s what we need to focus on. Focus on what we can control and if we do that, we will be in great shape.”
Gustafson’s mindset heading into 14th career playoffs: “My mind set is just to get the team and everybody operating at their maximum potential. You got to be operating at 100%. I feel we got the team, the car, the sponsors. We got what we need to do it; we just have to make sure that everybody is operating at their maximum ability. If we do that, I feel very confident that we can compete with anybody. That’s it and peaking at the right time and all those things you hear from Chase, that’s what it’s about. Just getting everything working to see what’s optimal. (We’re) trying to get that.”
William Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on racing at Darlington for the first race of the playoffs: “Darlington is a track that has a lot of character. I feel like you really have to drive your car to its limit all while understanding the grip and limit of your tires. You can’t exceed that level every lap. You have to stay within a certain limit. I think that is a factor at just about every track, but it’s really magnified at Darlington. Any time the drivers are challenged like they are at Darlington, it brings out the desire and passion within all of us. It just makes it that more intense when it’s kicking off the most intense part of our season with the playoffs. It’s definitely a cool race if you can win it track-wise but also because it sets the tone for how the next nine races go.”
Rudy Fugle, crew chief of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on what it will take to be successful in the playoffs: “Daytona was a tough one for us, just because we had a car that could have won and the extra playoff points would have been nice. Unfortunately, preparation doesn’t always equal results, but you can’t get results without the preparation. While we’ve been preparing every week like we’ve already started the playoffs, we’re resetting for the start of the Round of 16 this weekend. The playoffs are a long, hard-fought war, but it starts with small battles. Our team has had the speed all year; we just need to execute and put ourselves in the best position to keep moving forward and get through the rounds. Obviously, the goal is to make it to the final four at Phoenix, but we need to win the small battles along the way to ensure we get there. This team is fully capable of doing that and it starts this weekend at Darlington.”
Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on the momentum the team has going into Darlington: “Last year, we had some rough weeks during the summer but showed up in the playoffs strong each and every week. I believe we have the ability to repeat that and go further in the playoffs this year. Hendrick Motorsports has a lot of momentum right now as an organization and the No. 48 team is bringing some fast Ally Camaros to the track every week. Darlington is a place where we have had good results in the past, and I think it is one of three or four in the playoffs that suits our program."
Greg Ives, crew chief of the No. 48 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, on bringing the energy from last season’s playoff run to this year: “I feel like having three wins in the first 26 races is definitely marked for a good season. You can check off some boxes like getting a win, getting a pole and making the playoffs. Obviously, there are a couple of races that we would want to take back and think we could have run better at. Most teams, if not all teams, find the one or two things that didn’t go right during certain races and focus on improving those going into the playoffs. We had a great playoff run last year and we are going to try to pull from that experience going into the playoffs this year.”
Ives’ thoughts on how the repave will affect Sunday’s race: “The repave at Darlington in turn two is going to provide some challenges for teams just because we don’t know how it will affect the tire wear. Going to a track that has been repaved typically doesn’t wear tires as much and has a tendency to run edgy free versus more of a slidable free. You also tend to run a little faster, for sure. It is going to be fun and exciting to figure out on Sunday. There are some things that we can look at doing differently as a team with the setup, but ultimately the teams and drivers that adapt quickly will be successful with it.”
Wednesday, August 18, 2021