Denny Hamlin's Crew Chief Wouldn't Change Any Chase Smack-Talk

During last season's Chase, crew chief Mike Ford became NASCAR's version of Rex Ryan (albeit without the booming voice and the foot fetish videos).

Like the New York Jets coach, Ford raised eyebrows with the comments he directed toward a team that others perceived to be better.

But while fans seemed to embrace Ryan's swagger, Ford's chatter wasn't as well-received. When the crew chief for Denny Hamlin surprised everyone by opening his mouth after a win at Texas, it didn't go over well in the garage.

Both publicly and privately, drivers and other crew chiefs questioned Ford and suggested he shouldn't have inserted himself into the conversation.

Ford claimed his team successfully rattled the No. 48's pit crew – forcing Chad Knaus to make a switch – and said "I think our race team is better than their race team."

Ford and Hamlin then went on to lose to Knaus and Jimmie Johnson when the No. 11 team gave up the lead in the final race of the season.

Two months later, though, Ford doesn't regret anything he said. In fact, he'd do it again.

"I simply answered the question," Ford said last week during the NASCAR Media Tour. "I was very confident in our race team – and I still am. And I'm very proud of that. I won't back down on that to anything.

"And in that, I never made any digs that they weren't good; there were no digs that went to them. I felt confident that our team was just as good and worthy of being where they were."

Ford added he'd rather not say anything at all than say something he didn't truly feel. And when he was asked at Texas about how his team stacked up against the No. 48, the words just came out.

In general, the typically quiet Ford seemed more excitable than normal during the Chase. Perhaps it was his Rex Ryan side revealing itself?

"What you were seeing was passion," Ford said. "It was, 'If anybody gets in our way, we'll knock them the heck out' – one of those type of emotions.

"No one has been able to get that close to the 48 as long as Denny has been in this sport, and to have things lined up in that manner and the season that we had ... it was an in-your-face kind of Chase. I'm a quiet guy, but you back me in the corner and you say things, I'll come swinging."

After Homestead, many people focused on Phoenix as the defining race of the Chase. Hamlin had dominated the day at Johnson's best track, but the team's fuel strategy forced Hamlin to pit while others stayed out and made it to the end without stopping for gas.

As a consequence, Hamlin's points lead heading into Homestead was only 15 instead of perhaps 70 or 80. And following the race, Hamlin was upset Ford never told him to start saving fuel.

Asked if he would have changed the fuel strategy at Phoenix, Ford argued last week there was nothing he could have done differently.

"You second-guess everything you do, and when the answers come up that you did all you can do, you just have to walk away," he said. "You can't wish it to be any different.

"The whole world will speculate, 'Oh, they could have taken a chance.' Well, had we taken a chance and run out of fuel –which we would have with close to 10 laps to go – you're not even going to finish second in the points, the way it panned out."

Ford said previous engine issues for Joe Gibbs Racing had led the team to decide on a more conservative engine package for Phoenix – to ensure a blown motor wouldn't end Hamlin's Chase hopes.

But being conservative may have ultimately cost Hamlin the championship.

"Everything comes with a compromise," Ford said, "and with that came a mileage compromise."

So with an emotional hit like that, were Hamlin's title chances over before he even got to Homestead? Some have speculated that Johnson basically won the championship at Phoenix because of the huge swing in momentum.

Ford rejected that idea.

"The emotional up and down of this sport is hard to overcome, but in that situation, by the time we rolled into Homestead, absolutely not," he said. "...We still left out of (Phoenix) with a lead."

Through the offseason, Hamlin and Ford haven't communicated much. They saw each other at the postseason banquet, but that was about it. To that end, Ford wasn't sure if Hamlin had gotten over the defeat.

He was sure of one thing, though: In the crew chief's mind, the sting of losing the championship wasn't going away anytime soon.

"You never get over it," Ford said. "I mean, you never, never get over it. This is your life. This is what you do. You'll never get over it.

"With that said, if you turn that energy into motivation, you'll be better because of it. But it'll hurt forever. I don't think it'll let up."

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