Transcript: Billy Scott, Denny Hamlin / Media Center Kansas

THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by members of the No. 45 23XI Team. We’ve got Billy Scott, the crew chief, and Denny Hamlin, co-owner. Guys, congratulations. We’ll start with you, Billy. You guys led a lot of laps in this race. Can you talk us through the strategy? 

BILLY SCOTT: Yeah, we’ve been talking all year about needing to have some green races and have things just go right and maintain our track position, and fortunately, we had a great starting position, good pit stall. 

The pit crew has been performing for us here. We were heavily dependent on them today to keep our spot when we got up there. We were heavily dependent them today to keep our spot when we got up there, but the first stage was actually pretty rough. We were tight back there in traffic and had to do a lot of adjusting on it, and took every opportunity to do so for the first 100 laps or so. 

And then once it got close, he was just marching through there and took the lead on that long green run there in stage two and basically maintained it ever since. 

  1. Denny, first win for 45 team. What’s that mean for the organization as a whole?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it’s big on a lot of levels. Obviously Jordan Brand, their very first race. It’s just huge. I said it when Bubba won last year how huge it was. This is obviously a big one. It’s one that’s surprising, but not because I’ve seen over the last three weeks this team just continue to get better and better and better. 

And truthfully, I’ve kind of let them down with what we had on pit road, and we haven’t given the drivers honestly an honest chance this year. In a race track position means everything, they’ve been outperforming what we’ve given them on pit road, and so today it all came together. 

I thought both cars were extremely fast. The 23 was very fast. I was around them all day. Yeah, two top ten and a win. We’ll take it. 

  1. For Billy, your team had led nine laps coming into today, no more than four laps in a race. Last week Logano led 35 laps before leading a bunch of laps and winning. How is this happening?

BILLY SCOTT: I can’t speak for everybody else, but in our case, like I said before, we just needed to have clean races. We’ve had multiple races this year that we’ve felt we’ve had top five cars, and in some cases the fastest car throughout different parts of it. It’s just needing to get up there and execute correctly and get the track position and keep it. 

Like Denny said, it all came together today, and it might be foolish to say to, but we’ve felt like that’s our potential for most of the year. It’s just putting things together, definitely improving week to week on just the little things and the details and on that execution, but that’s kind of where we’ve expected to be the whole time. 

  1. Got one question for each of you. Billy, Kurt had never won here before in a Cup Series, but he finished, like, second years ago. What about this track plays to his strengths as a driver?

BILLY SCOTT: I think just because it’s a race track. Honestly, I’ve said that about him since I’ve been around him. There’s not a place that he is — you typically think drivers have bad tracks and good tracks and whatever. 

I think with Kurt it’s just a track and he is good everywhere, and can run good everywhere if he has got the right circumstances around him. There’s no doubt about that. 

Statistically, obviously he has done this a long time so he is going to have good races kind of everywhere throughout his career, but I think any time we give him a car that’s capable of it and we get him the track position, he can win anywhere. 

  1. Denny, during the course of a race, how much do you keep tabs on what’s happening with your two cars, and compared to concentrating on yourself?

DENNY HAMLIN: Well, for the first time today my crew chief said, you’re on your Sunday job, because I was — obviously we have some issues on pit road, and so I noticed right away that 23 had a bad stop on the last stop. 

I mentioned something on the radio about it, and he is, like, you know, focus in on today, your job today. I was giving it my all and always do, but honestly, I haven’t really — last year I really didn’t keep tabs that much and even this first part of this year, but I just think over the last three weeks — listen, I was pretty hard on a couple of the competition guys and said we’ve got to get better and we’ve got to get our potential better and control the things we can control. 

Since then I think between Bootie and Billy and what they’ve done, just hearing around the shop the collaboration, it’s just getting better, and they’re really honing in and getting their setups good. 

It’s exciting to see the hard work and how it pays off, but I don’t usually keep a whole lot of tabs. One of the funnest things is having a front row seat to those final 25 laps. I mean, it was right there in front of me and I’m pushing, because honestly I really wanted a one-two finish like really bad, but my car just wasn’t where it was early in the day and the track rubbered up, and we just weren’t as good. 

But, yeah, that was the funnest part, is seeing it and seeing it live. Yes, I’m watching it, and I’m just, you, know, go, go. It’s such a weird feeling. 

But I looked at my lap times and I was doing my job. I wasn’t letting up at all and getting the most out of the car I could, but you just can’t help but be emotional about it. 

Certainly there’s been no win that I’ve had that has equalled the emotions of this one for sure. 

  1. This is for you, Denny. As the co-owner of a very diversified race team ethnically, what does this victory mean for diversion and diversity with the events that happened in Buffalo, New York, yesterday and how did that news reach you?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, that’s a lot of the reason we started this race team is Michael felt like NASCAR was a platform that didn’t maybe always understand his brand. He thought this was a good way to branch out the Jordan Brand. 

Obviously, they sat on the sidelines for the first year of this team, and I mentioned that in the media. They said, we just want to see how it goes and see how the NASCAR fans welcome us. 

Certainly I think that if this is not the number one sold diecast when it comes out, I’ll be scratching my head. I’m pretty certain it will be. 

But the Jordan Brand itself, you know, we’re trying to get to a younger demographic. We are a very, very diverse team. I’m looking at potential hires right now that we’ve got on the board. There’s England, Brazil, and Israel, the next three hires. 

We’re all over the place right now. We’re trying to make a very diverse team. Certainly it’s important to give opportunities to those that never thought racing was a job — a place that they could have a job opportunity. 

We’ve seen it on pit road quite a bit. I think you have seen diversity on pit road. A lot of these college guys are college D1 athletes, but what about marketing? What about mechanics? I’m on the NASCAR Diversity Council, and we talk all the time about how can we change this sport from — it starts from the ground roots. It really does. 

You’ve got to get these kids at Taylor’s age, Molly’s age, into the race track. I don’t care if you have to go to their house and give them tickets to get them to the race track to get them interested in our sport or give them tickets to their local short track. Whatever it takes. 

Because the field in which we try to hire we always want the best candidate, but a lot of times they’re not trained in what we’re looking for. So we have to get them trained super early. That’s why we had The Speed Institute at 23XI where we have scholarships. We have internships. 

I’m certainly proud of what we’ve done and how we’ve built this team, and you see the diversity we have on our team. It’s great, and it shows that there’s a lot of capable people putting race winning cars on the race track, and you don’t have to look a certain way to do it. 

  1. Did you see the news in Buffalo?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it’s sad. You just kind of think of the families and friends; you just pray for them. 

  1. Hey, Denny, Kurt joked afterward that he wouldn’t have to answer to Michael Jordan if he didn’t win that race. Have you talked to Mike since the race, or will you here shortly?

DENNY HAMLIN: I did. It’s awesome because we’re actually going down to his golf course for a Monster Energy outing this week. I’m going to go a night early and just destroy his house if he will let me, which he probably won’t. 

Yeah, he was, as you can imagine, just so excited. Beyond just the brand itself, he’s been lock in step with me with everything. To have the trust and some of the outlandish decisions and hires that I want to make and how I want to build this team, I mean, I can’t do it without his support. 

I just can’t thank him, Curtis, and Gene enough for believing in me and my vision. And, again, I have said that I want to build a championship contending team in five years. We’re at year 1.3. This is really, really early. 

I can’t emphasize enough, we had to build from the ground up and we are still continuing to build, so it’s a long process. It’s hard to come out here and compete and beat some of these organizations that have been around for 30 years. It’s just nearly impossible, obviously. 

DENNY HAMLIN: I’ll say this, too. Billy was a huge part of this. I recruited Billy. I don’t know when my first text was to you. Probably before it should have been. 

It was end of the last year, and I’m courting him and whatnot and I’m trying to get him to kind of believe in this. He left an organization in RCR, an established organization, one that he had a pretty big role in. 

I knew he had a lot of Next Gen experience, but when I talked to Kurt, you know, I’ve got you. I want you regardless. What’s our next step? We have to have a crew chief and someone that manages this team. Billy was on the very, very short list. 

A lot of it was that his relationship that they had at Stewart Haas was great. I talked to Billy and he was, like, those were the best years of my career. It really was. When you’ve got two people that love to work together, that’s usually going to be a good combination. 

I couldn’t do this without Billy and just what he has brought to the team, and not just the 45. I can’t emphasize enough that Billy works probably as much on the 23 setup as he does his own. He is in charge of a group that does the setups and the engineers, so he is a big part of our success and deserves the accolades that he gets for it. 

  1. Denny, did you say that this is the most excited you’ve been for any win, even your own?

DENNY HAMLIN: Emotionally for sure. I’ve obviously been excited for the Daytona 500, but I just don’t know why this one just feels bigger to me. I think a lot of it is because I watched it live. 

I think had I been on the other side of the track and just kind of looked at the pylon it would be one thing, but I had a front row seat to it. I don’t know. I’ve kind of got a very tough RBF, yeah, and I don’t show my emotion a lot. 

But I am an emotional person. I get emotional when I get around the team guys. I got emotional when I hugged Billy at the pit box, because I see how excited they are and it’s, like, I know how hard they work. It’s like these people are part of — this is a family. Inside that small building we’re in right now it is a family. We are all very, very tight, so the wins just feel bigger for that reason. 

  1. Denny, I just wanted to ask you, at one point Chris Gabehart asked you, what do you need for the car, and you said, just keep me in the game. What do you guys have to do to fix what the hell is going on with the pit crew? It’s not just you. It’s really across the board, and I know everybody is trying to get used to these pit stops with the new car. But my goodness, I can’t imagine what position you could have been in had you not had to come from the back three times.

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. You never know, honestly. Listen, we had a shot. We got to second behind the 45 and he pulled away from us, so he just was very, very good once he got out front. 

Really when he was third there I was just thinking that, oh, man, it’s going to be very, very tough to get around. But he worked him over. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t want to be negative today. We’ll talk about the stuff that we’ve got to fix tomorrow, but certainly it’s on our radar. 

Honestly, that’s why I paid attention to where the 23 car’s last pit stop was, and I didn’t see him on the board anymore. We fundamentally have to change how we’re doing things, and that’s in my opinion. I don’t run that department. I wish I did, but we have to make changes for sure on our approach. 

My biggest thing is I just don’t need Hail Mary passes every day. I’m okay with just running the ball sometimes. That’s how you win races, is you manage your risk. When you’ve got the fastest car, just keep me in the game. 

In Dover I promise you if the race went green there welcome back one car in the lead lap, it was probably going to be mine, and yet we thought we needed an eight and a half second stop when we’re leading. 

So that part is very, very frustrating, but I think fundamentally there will be changes coming and certainly we saw the 45 team in particular really have some good solid stops. 

Again, they lost the lead on the last stop, but if this had been five weeks ago, I would pray that they came out in the top ten. Certainly it sucks because I don’t control it, but certainly I wish that we could make some changes, and I think we will. 

  1. Denny, you talk about this is a long-term project, and certainly in that sense I’m sure the goals are in step with that, but obviously it’s about performing even now. So how do you look at a day like today to get this team’s first win and its 13th race, to get your second win in, what, the last 20 some races for a brand new organization? As you’re looking long game, how do you look at the short-term and what this has meant and how it changes your view of the future?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, up until three weeks ago I really didn’t get into the week-by-week performance stuff. I’m more working on long-term plans for these guys, and I don’t really bother Billy and Bootie too much with small stuff. 

I certainly give my input on some small things during our comp meetings and whatnot, but I really, really focus on infrastructure and long-term planning. 

I leave the competition week to week to Billy and his team, Bootie, his team, Dave Rogers, and Wheels. I think that this is a — there will be a time that this team has to really focus on are they going to be in the playoffs, and it’s like, all right, well what now? How do we get to the next round? How do we get to the next round? 

Certainly in the grand scheme of things, I said at the beginning of the year, two cars, I would like to have two cars in the playoffs this year. I think that would be a successful year. We’re halfway there. 

  1. I want to ask about Kurt. Kurt is running this paint scheme. You talked about young people, but he is going to be turning 44. Did you have to convince Michael at all? Like, hey, put your brand on a car of a 44-year-old veteran instead of maybe these kind of younger hot shoes?

DENNY HAMLIN: No, because he wins. I mean, the fact is Kurt Busch wins. It doesn’t matter about any previous history at this race track. We know when we show up if we’ve got a fast car, he is capable of winning. That’s what I saw in Kurt Busch. 

I told him, step one before we talked about how we’re going to fund it, how we’re going to do anything, is I need you to drive it. That’s all I care about is I need you. We’ll worry about funding it. We’ll worry about the crew chief later. I just need to know that you believe in this. 

So he did. And listen, he took a risk. I mean, this is a truly new team. These guys are continuing to hire new people every other week. We’re still growing. He is such a team player. I had heard things about Kurt from his peers and I interviewed three of his previous teammates. 

I took three of his previous teammates to lunch and just asked and kind of vetted Kurt out, because I never really had a close relationship with Kurt. But every single one of them, all three, said he was the best teammate I’ve ever had. That’s your peer review. That’s pretty much someone you need to have in your stable. 

Especially for Bubba who has never had a teammate before. Might as well put him with the best one that’s out there. 

  1. Denny, we’ve seen Trackhouse Racing really come into its own this year rolling off some wins. Both of your teams started last year. You guys kind of have similar goals, especially when it comes to the diversity side and Justin Marks said they wanted to be disruptors in the sport. How do you view Trackhouse Racing, what they’re doing? Do you see them as a measuring stick for where you guys are at this point?

DENNY HAMLIN: Not really. Justin Marks, I talk to him weekly. We have a lot of the same goals and ideas. We’re not built the same. I mean, now, they are kicking ass. I’m jealous of how they perform each and every week. 

But, you know, they had 150 employees that they hired overnight, right, and they were already working together. It’s person by person with us, which is why it’s going to take five years. It really will take — if you want to have multiple cars competing for a championship, you know, this is exciting, but you better be ready for the long game. 

That’s why Billy, it’s like you probably had an opportunity to move up in his organization that was probably already established, but we’re playing the long game here. 

We are very different organizations on how we were built, but we are very similar in our vision, and I admire Justin as much as I admire Joe, honestly. That’s truly what I think of him. 

Again, that’s why I talk to him so regularly because we are — generally, if you look at our cars, you look at the way our teams dress, we’re different. We try to be a little bit edgier than the norm. 

My crew chief even said today, like you can tell a Trackhouse car and a 23XI car because the way you brand things and you’re different. I said, that’s a huge compliment, so thank you. 

Listen, we love the sport that we’re in. We obviously have very similar goals. It’s just we are different. We are just a different organization for sure. 

But, again, there’s been many times that I’m, like, golly, I should have just bought a race team lock, stock, and barrel, because this is a pain in the ass starting from scratch. But I don’t know why, it just gives me more appreciation and gratitude on days like this. 

THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time. Congratulations.