Saturday, Oct 01

Transcript: NASCAR Media Conference with Bubba Wallace, Bootie Barker and Denny Hamlin - Kansas Speedway

THE MODERATOR: We're going to go ahead and get started with our post-race press conference. Joined by the winner, Bubba Wallace, driving No. 45, 23XI Toyota. We'll go straight to questions for media.

Q. Bubba, with winning at Talladega last fall and it being rain-shortened, does this one mean more to you?

BUBBA WALLACE: I mean, it's just as special. Anytime you can get to victory lane in the Cup Series, it's a moment you don't want to let go. Unfortunately, we have to shift our mind and focus on Bristol now, but we'll celebrate tonight.

You know, to win it in this fashion, yeah, it's definitely really cool. We're talked about when we go to the speedways and kind of not so much the rest of the tracks, so I want to start changing that. We've been able to show up these last two months or so, all different types of racetracks, and be talked about. That's cool. It's a step in the right direction.

We just can't get complacent. We have to keep going, keep pushing for more. This is great, but we have to continue to go back out and battle. I appreciate the opportunity that I'm in right now with the team that I have and keep going.

Q. Was this the best race of your career, the best race where nothing went wrong and so it just looked good?

BUBBA WALLACE: We had a loose wheel, so something went wrong. We really capitalized, though, I think, in those moments. Before I would get frustrated. Don't get me wrong, I was frustrated. I thought we had a really good car. You never know what's going to happen when you get back there. I knew we had a lot of laps in front of us. Take our time, get back up through there and held three or four laps. We were already top 20, I think.

Just had to have a level mindset going into that. Like, okay, we're going to bounce back from some adversity.

Then, honestly, I started calling the shots. I said, When we break the threshold of fifth, it ramps up, and we need to be ready for that.

Then I said, Once we get the lead here, our balance has to be able to hang on to that, and it fell right into our hands.

Just hats off to these two guys here sitting on top of the box looking at all the nerd stuff that they do and making the most of it because it goes hand in hand with each other.

Q. The relative calmness that you felt when you were just out front today, why? Where did that come from, and how has that changed over the last couple of years for you?

BUBBA WALLACE: I get excited, and I get let down a lot when I'm excited, so it's better to come into it ho-hum and be relieved with the win at the end of it. It's really, really cool.

I think you never know when it's over. You had Denny behind us that was coming pretty hard, but it was going to take a really big mistake for him to get to me. So I was really focused on that. I didn't have time to think about anything else.

Q. Kurt Busch tweeted "We are winners again. Proud of Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing for getting it done today." How does it feel to kind of pick up the mantle and be the guy to have to carry all this? It's not like you haven't had the weight on your shoulders probably since you got here, right?

BUBBA WALLACE: Yeah.

Q. This is just one more test, but to pass it with flying colors, to pull off the W, it's got to feel good under these circumstances. I mean, even probably better than normal.

BUBBA WALLACE: Oh, no doubt. First of all, Kurt, hate the scenario that we're in with him, but he has been nothing but an advocate and a leader in these moments for us. When we get back to our Monday morning meetings, he is there giving insight on how to be better. I appreciate him for that.

It's taught me how to be better off the racetrack, let alone on the racetrack. And the conversation I had with him in victory lane was really special. He just talked about believing in self, and he always believed in me, and so I thought that was pretty special.

Q. Denny said yesterday, he said he would not be surprised if a non-playoff driver won at Phoenix. It kind of completely upset the apple cart. Here we are in the second race of the playoffs; we have two non-playoff drivers getting it done.

BUBBA WALLACE: You never know with this car. We're up to 18 winners, and I think it's really cool with some of the races that we've been put on this year and the races that we've been able to capitalize on. It's going to come down to Phoenix, and I hope we're there winning. That would be awesome. Win us another championship.

THE MODERATOR: We're going to take a quick break and have Bootie join us up on the stage. And then, Denny, if you want to come too, please.

Now we have the whole team up here. We'll continue with questions.

Q. Bubba, I'm curious, you often hear from drivers who talk about they feel like there's a big difference between winning that second race and winning that first race in the sense of no longer being a first-time winner. I know it's early. Is there a significance other than obviously the accomplishment, but what does it mean to be a two-time winner as opposed a one-time winner in your mind?

BUBBA WALLACE: Yeah, I think it's incredible. I think winning at this level is the hardest thing in life for us race car drivers. To be able to say we're winners today here at Kansas through the year that we've had and what we've been able to do the last couple of months is incredible.

I'm proud of everybody. Proud of Bootie. Thankful for Denny for just continuing to believe in me and make the most of every opportunity.

To come out winners, I knew it was only a matter of time. Had a lot of people telling me that. So it's finally cool to see it come to fruition. Two times is better than one time.

Q. I also have a question for you and Denny, or Bootie can jump in. I know after the race Chris Gabehart was talking to Denny and talking about how he felt like a key moment was the last pit cycle and how you are so good on pit entrance, pit exit and a green flag cycle, and not being a driver, you know, what that skill is like and what you have been able to do and how you have honed that skill. And whether, Denny, you can talk about or, Bootie, what you can talk about what you have seen in how he has done in that. Because Chris seemed to indicate that felt like that was an important aspect of the race today.

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. I didn't do any practice pit-ins, but Bubba historically is -- on the metrics been really good on green flag entries. So I kind of knew that it was going to be tough for me to gain, so I kind of focused just on not making a mistake coming to pit road.

He had such a big lead on us anyway, I think probably three or four seconds. When -- I think probably three seconds. When we came to pit road, I thought just let me do a solid job here. Yeah, he just smashed us pretty bad, I think by about a second.

We lost by exactly one second. Again, you still have to pass him, right? That's a whole other thing. I think I got held up with the 20 quite a bit. So you just never know.

It would have been a great battle until the end, but he did a better job than I did on that green flag cycle for sure.

Q. Bubba, how have you been able to get better? Obviously, there's so many things that a driver has to be skilled in, but obviously, this seems to be one that you are very good and how you got to that point.

BUBBA WALLACE: There's a lot of metrics in our JGR metric sheet. There's about 1,000 pages. I take pride in trying to be at the top of those. Some weeks you are. Most weeks I'm not, but pit-in, pit-out, green flag stuff has always been one of my strong suits.

Honestly, they said, Pit now, and I'm like, Okay, and just was able to capitalize, and that was it. Didn't do anything fancy, but just one of those high traits that we carry. It worked out for us.

THE MODERATOR: Bootie, do you have anything on add on the topic?

BOOTIE BARKER: No.

BUBBA WALLACE: Man of few words.

Q. What's it like racing in a different championship compared to what most fans are seeing on the front end? Because, obviously, all the running orders showing who is in the driver's playoffs, but you alluded to it earlier, you are chasing that owner's championship. What's this win, what's this momentum kind of mean going towards the next last races?

BUBBA WALLACE: This locks us into the next round. First playoff experience for me at the Cup level. It's really cool.

I remember the conversation that Denny pulled me aside down in Florida, and he goes, Hey, we want you to drive the 45 and compete for a championship. We believe in you.

It's continue to do what we do. I didn't walk away from that being, like, oh, man, we got to ramp it up here. We've been stellar. We've been really, really good.

It's only a matter of time, and the little bit of things that we needed to clean up, and here we are today. We executed today. Still wasn't a perfect day, but we were able to execute and bounce back and make the most of it.

That's what we need to continue to do. Yeah, it's going to ramp up as we get closer to Phoenix, but right now we're focused on Bristol, and that's it.

Q. Denny, did you know this was the choice you needed to make once you knew Kurt would be out of the car at the start of the playoffs?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, we talked internally about it, and we just felt like we were really trying to build a one-team culture. And a lot of teams try to do that, right? Even at JGR we're pretty much four independent teams.

We're trying to mesh this into we're able to switch pit crew guys at any moment from one team to another. When one team wins, the other pit crew is going to get bonuses just as well.

We're really trying to instill a really positive one-team mentality. So by doing that and having an eligibility in the owner's championship, we're able to just pick apart and put our best pieces in each section of a race team to go out and compete at our best. Bubba Wallace was an easy choice for us. Especially the results that he has given us over the last two to three months.

It's just been great, and the speed is really that he has shown all year. He really just took a huge jump this year in his craft from last year, and it was a very simple decision for us. I think we knew that Bubba was going to take a lot of pride in being the flagship driver for us for these last ten.

Q. This one is for Denny. When you first started this whole operation, obviously I'm assuming you envisioned a scenario where you and Bubba would be fighting for the win, both of you trying to get some playoff points. How does that line up with your initial timeline of trying to be competitive?

DENNY HAMLIN: I'm not really -- I don't really understand it completely, but I knew that the moment would come. I mean, I think that it happened for the first time really this spring with Kurt. I kind of got a front row seat to him battling for the win. Same thing today.

I watched the 45, and I'm going up the field with him, and I see him passing, and I see him go take the lead. Then I'm really trying to get there. I'm really frustrated from how our first 160, 170 laps went. I was chewing the steering wheel pretty heavily. I wanted to get there and get a win despite all the adversity that our team went through today.

But yeah, like I said in my interview post-race, there's no way that Bubba ever expects me to give him anything. He wants to know that he went out here and earned the win today and that it was not given to him. My lap times those last 20 laps proved that I was giving it every single bit that I had, but he just out-executed us, out-track-positioned us, and out-cared us today.

Q. Then just following up on that really quick, based on how the season started with the stuff that happened, like mishaps on pit road, how satisfying is it that this was nearly a perfect performance with a dominant car and pit crew that was great all day?

DENNY HAMLIN: They did really a good job with this 45 team, and this team was -- the pit crew has been with Kurt Busch for most of the year. We locked them in, this core group, for probably the last 10 to 15 races. They've done a great job, and they've been really solid.

I think a lot of people had a lot of issues on pit road. Certainly we were one of many, but I saw him in the back of the pack just like we were, and he was able to get through the traffic faster than I was.

That's the pivotal point of the race where I think that he has really improved in the sense of that typically when that happens, no offense to Bubba, but sometimes the wires get crossed. Today it just seemed like he was very methodical in his way back. This is overcoming adversity.

Everyone has something that happens in the middle of the race that takes them off of schedule. Today was a great moment for that team to battle back from the back and get to the win.

Q. I don't know if it's because of where we are or how you did it or because it's the second one, but this one feels so much more like normal to me. Like everything about victory lane --

BUBBA WALLACE: It's not raining.

Q. Yeah. I was waiting for all three of you. Do you share that sentiment? Does this feel somewhat more like a normal win? I guess, is that a good thing?

BOOTIE BARKER: Certainly. I'm really happy for Bubba and our team. I'll just say this. It's a pleasure working with Bubba. He has gotten better and better. I thank Denny a lot for going out on a limb and taking his money and putting it on the line to start the team.

All of that being said, we want -- we know how good we are. We knew. Knew how good Bubba was, how good he has been all year. So I feel very happy for him in the fact that we took it to him. There's no what are you going to say? What can you throw rocks at us about this time?

I'm just really happy for our whole organization and especially Bubba for how we did it.

BUBBA WALLACE: Yeah, echo. Sure. (Laughing.)

Q. Denny, as an owner and as a crew chief, I want to turn the conference a little bit. This being a special day, 9/11. There's a lot of military members, like myself, out there. Can each one of you just -- what does this win on this somber day mean to all of you?

BUBBA WALLACE: Look at what we're representing on our car. Root has always been bold. They've always been out there, and they wanted to make a statement each and every time. For them to honor the heroes we lost on 9/11 was really cool to begin with, the initiative to begin with.

And then to follow through and execute and come out on top, you can't make it up, right? It's a picture-perfect day. It's a story well written. Just proud to be able to carry the colors, carry the sponsor, and carry the names of all our heroes that we lost that day.

I see it means a lot to you, and I appreciate your service.

DENNY HAMLIN: We all know where we were at, right? I remember I was at Rick Townsend's shop putting the exhaust in my new late model, and when it happened, it was just a day that's burned in our souls, right? You see the images, and at times, listen, we're all guilty of forgetting sometimes. Then around this day you start to see the images again. You're, like, wow, you can't forget.

It's really an honor for us to be out there and represent the military and the first responders that came running into a burning building. They're the true heroes of this world for us. We can't thank their service enough.

That's why you see what NASCAR does every single week with the American flag. It's something that is very loud and proud and on every hauler, on every uniform, because it's really a big deal for our sport to honor people like you.

BOOTIE BARKER: I would like to say, I love being an American. I hated what happened to us then. I was proud of our country how we came together and recognized the ones that sacrificed to try to save people.

I also back our military just because, hey, I'm just pretty blatant about it. It's us. Even with our race team, it's us, and I don't care about anybody else. I'm an American, and I love being an American, and I don't care about anybody else.

I appreciate a strong military. I'm somewhat of a historian. Rome ruled the world for 1,000 years, and they could stomp people with their military. They were strong. I feel like we have to be strong as nation. We have to be strong as a military so we can do what we want to do.

All those people fought for our freedoms, and what that means is by dictating our own terms everywhere, people like us get to do what we want to do, and I'm appreciative of it.

I hated that it happened. I hope it never happens again, but we remember all of it.

Q. This is for Denny. Denny, since your race team won here in the spring and then here again in the fall, I'm wondering how much does that increase the chance of Michael Jordan coming back to the state where Dean Smith was born and seeing his race team race firsthand?

DENNY HAMLIN: Well, he loves racing. Trust me. He loves going to NASCAR races. A lot of times TV likes to show him when he is in attendance, but a lot of times he comes, and they don't even see him. He likes to sneak in, sneak out.

He is a guy that loves this sport. We can't thank him enough and Curtis and Gene that is with his business team that ultimately, like Bubba touched on in his interview, that really believed in us.

Ultimately, Michael believes in the people that he hires. Even though he says, okay, let's go ahead and start a race team, it's still no-go until you have the backing of Curtis and that whole team. We can't thank them enough for what they do for our team.

They really taught me a lot on the business side. I continue to learn on it. It's my responsibility to make sure these cars go fast. Pressing all the right buttons, hiring all the right people to make sure says we win races.

But, yeah, it's a perfect partnership. It really is. I couldn't ask for anything better. He loves Bubba. He loves this race team. I never would have imagined a team that started from scratch literally from scratch, we had nothing, just two years ago to now have three race wins. It's just incredible. I can't tell you how hard it is to win in this Series and to do what we're doing right now is incredible.

Especially with this five-year plan of trying to get to a championship-contending organization. I'm the realist in the group, knowing that we still have a ton of ground to cover, but we're starting to really get the results that this hard work is starting to pay off.

We've got a lot of great things in the works in a few years. Hopefully you're going to talk about this team winning on a more regular basis, but never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that we would go out there and have three wins already in just a year and three-quarters.

Q. But he won't be coming?

DENNY HAMLIN: I don't know. I don't keep his schedule. I do not know. That's the short answer.

Q. Bubba, you're the first black driver to win more than one Cup race. I'm curious what does that mean to you to set that historic mark?

BUBBA WALLACE: Yeah, it's incredible. Just makes you think back to when it all started 20 years ago and how we were just showing up to races. And each and every weekend my dad would always look for the stiffest competition to make us better. It was a lot of fun.

It actually reminds me of the conversation I had with Harvick on the grid talking about Keelan being able to do his first asphalt Legend Cars race and how eye-opening that was.

I remember showing up to these places for the first time and just trying to be the best of the best. It all relates to that question. You just want to show up and win. Whatever history comes in after that, it all settles in behind because there's no greater thing than winning. I appreciate all the support from our fans and family and just got to keep it going.

Q. One for Denny, one for Bootie. For Denny: Are you surprised non-playoff drivers have won the first two races, and that combined with the 18 different winners this season, is that the kind of unpredictability you thought you would see?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yes. I mentioned it earlier this week that I thought that this could be the first potential year that somebody wins the race at Phoenix that's not part of the championship four.

Just simply because we used to -- when we used to build our own cars and design our own cars, we would just kind of save the best stuff for the end of the season. Everyone would just kind of front-load a lot of their best people, best parts, best bodies, best cars for the playoffs. There's no secret that really the ones that kept advancing, cars just got faster.

They started pushing tech a little bit more. It was just no -- it wasn't a coincidence that the final four is always one, two, three, four. With the car having so much parity, certainly I think this is a trend that could continue.

I don't know how long the list of new winners is going to get. We're at 18 now. Bob can call me out. I said at Sonoma, there's no frickin' way that we even get to 14. Yeah, it's been amazing.

Everyone has won it legit. Guys go out there and execute and win races. It's been, obviously, great for the product because people tune in to not know who is going to be the race winner, and I think for the last few years you tune in, and knew that the race -- the race is going to be won by one of three organizations, and maybe one or two drivers within those organizations.

It's good that the love is getting spread around and drivers now that are in equal equipment are able to show what their talent is all about.

Q. For Bootie: Could you just kind of comment on both Bubba's driving performance and the team's performance, which included the round of green flag stops on that 96-lap run to the finish?

BOOTIE BARKER: Yeah. Really since we've unloaded all weekend as far as Bubba goes, I mean, when you have positive momentum when you do things right -- I'm very careful to say this. I mean this in -- I don't know, it's easy. Okay, but it's not easy. My point is --

BUBBA WALLACE: It makes things easier.

BOOTIE BARKER: Yes. Practice goes smooth. He and I talk. We don't even have to talk long. He tells me what he needs. We work on it. We go fast.

You qualify well. You get a good pit selection. It's just all of those things stack up. That's all the things you need to do.

Right now it's definitely we're clicking, we're doing well. As far as how he drove the race, I didn't say this to him, think about this: At the end of the race, he takes the lead or he takes the lead on his own and stretches the lead. By stretching the lead, it gives me the ability to just go -- JR and I sit there and call the races. We knew with the lead he got us, all we had to do was protect behind us. We had a hedge to do that. That makes it easy.

Then the pit crew he got on and off pit road well. Better than anybody else. They had an awesome stop. Then you're gone. You're out front. You've got it.

What I give to Bubba, though, a testament to Bubba, though, he didn't push his car. I let him know how far he was ahead. Really he rode. He saved his car. He didn't get anxious. He didn't make any mistakes. He didn't burn his stuff up. He knew the guys were behind him, and he just ran what he had to do.

That takes a tremendous amount of discipline and not letting the moment get too big. He didn't at all.

Really the moment didn't get too big for any of us. We did what we had to do. I'm proud of him. I'm proud of our crew.

Q. With the announcement that Wilkesboro is coming back for the All-Star Race in 2023, how good does it feel to be locked into the main event now?

BUBBA WALLACE: Oh, yeah. Sweet, (Laughing). Damn, that's cool. That's going to be a cool event. I hope so.

But just thankful for the opportunity. I know I continue to say that. See, I don't even focus on that stuff. You go out and win, and all of the good things fall in place. We don't have to race our way in now. That's sweet, yep.

DENNY HAMLIN: With all the heat winners we're going to have a full field, (Laughing). Maybe NASCAR can twist the format a little bit, you know?

Q. Bootie, you're a multi-winner as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series, and now with this win you're a multi-winner in the Cup Series. That stat goes back as far as 2002 in the Xfinity Series. What does that mean for you with your career being on top of the box?

BOOTIE BARKER: Like I said, what Denny and Michael put together, I told Wheels, Mike Wheeler, who is our competition director. I get along with all the people, but I'm just saying the depth. I told Wheels, I said, it's never been better than it is for me right now, the quality of people.

Denny got upset with us months ago, rightfully so, but his message was, What do you need? Whatever you need, whatever it costs, it doesn't matter.

I remember that. I have never been with an owner. I've been with owners, I'll tell you all the truth, where they go, Look, you need to run better, and I'm taking your rear changer, and you need to cut back on your budget a bit, but I expect you to do better. That's the opposite of what Denny has brought to the table.

I appreciate that, and it's just we're loaded. We're loaded. We're looking for all the rest of the best people as we keep going.

Like I said, Bubba, we talked about it all year. Even when I was suspended, I would call him and go, man, you are driving so well. I know it just doesn't seem so. It was frustrating, but he kind of -- we kind of knew it. You just go the to keep grinding.

I guess as far as my career, it's the same way. God blessed me. I was lucky. I was lucky to get here. I'm lucky to be in the position I'm in, and I appreciate it.

Like I said, if it ends tomorrow, if Denny says you're done tomorrow, I've had a hell of a ride, and I appreciate it. I'm hoping to keep going. I want us to keep contending and winning races because, like I said, it's better than I've ever had it.

Q. Obviously, your teammate Kurt Busch won earlier in the year here. Remembering that race back, you were right there with him on speed. You had a bad, I think, pit mishap at the end that didn't give you the finish you deserved. Was it vindicating to come back here the very next race and drive about as good of a race as you could have and get the win?

BUBBA WALLACE: Yeah, no doubt. I think looking back at the first race, I'm selfish, and I think we were better than the 45. We just didn't have the track position to show that. He took home the hardware to show that he was better than us.

But coming back here and actually it kind of all sparked in Michigan and figuring out what we had and understanding that Michigan setup was based around our Kansas setup, our first Kansas setup, and coming back here, not much different than that. And it's like, okay, we have to ramp up here, and the car is going to be good. It puts more pressure on me. Hey, the car is good. Are you going to deliver and execute and give the car its full potential?

We executed on all levels on the racetrack, on pit road, and communication was awesome today. It's just one of those things. You hate that you were in that scenario the first race, but it makes you come back stronger, and look where we're at.

Q. You guys have been just on a fantastic run. This is six Top 10s in the last nine races. All sorts of tracks too, road course, Michigan, Kansas. Doesn't really matter, you guys have been running well everywhere. Just where is the confidence with the extent to going for it the rest of the year and in 2023?

BUBBA WALLACE: What I struggled with in the Cup car previously was confidence in the car and actually trusting it. With this car I was sidelined. I had shoulder surgery right after the season, and I didn't get much testing, but I told myself going in that I needed to step up and do a better job and push the car to its limits.

If you don't do that, you don't know where the limits of the car is at. The last -- really all year, like Bootie said. We've been doing a good job. The results have not shown that, but if I take a minute and brag about self, this is my best season ever of climbing in the race car and being, like, all right, pal, it's time to go to work, and you leave it all out there and not regret any decision that you make. Look how we've been running.

It all starts with self. If you don't show up with confidence, then you're not going to run very good, so you definitely have to show up with that.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen, very much.

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