Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Freight Impala SS, met with media members at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed the new track surface, the hot temperatures currently in the area, the new car and its impact on the Chase, what he has learned so far and...
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Freight Impala SS, met with media members at Bristol Motor Speedway and discussed the new track surface, the hot temperatures currently in the area, the new car and its impact on the Chase, what he has learned so far and how to apply it to coming races, the mentality of drivers going into the Chase, California and Richmond, his approach this weekend and just how important a win at Bristol is.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE NEW TRACK SURFACE? "The track seems real racy. Some guys are three lanes high and some guys are right around the bottom so I think it's going to make for some good racing. I think it's going to be tough to run side-by-side because you really tend to get loose in here if your car is at all decent. But as far as the layout of the track, they did a very, very good job. I think it's going to overall make for better racing where before guys would just fight for the bottom. I think guys now are really going to fight for the top."
WILL THE EXTRA THREE FEET HELP MAKE THE RACING SANER OR GIVE DRIVERS A REASON TO TAKE MORE CHANCES? "I think it could go either way, really. You can definitely tell that the track is wider. There's a lot more room for error, I guess you could say. But things seem very slick out there for some reason. I know the track is hot but really there's a lot of slipping and sliding going on. These cars don't really have a lot of grip on the surface. I think there's probably going to be a lot of wrecks, to tell you the truth. Just because I know how on-edge you are into the corner here so the guy on the bottom is really going to have to be very, very careful not to body-slam the guy up high. And that's probably going to happen."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE PHYSICAL DEMANDS FROM THE HEAT IN THE CAR? "I don't know that it's going to be that much different. Really, I think this race is probably going to be less physically demanding than in past because you don't have the G-forces here that you used to have. So even though you are hotter than what other races might be, this track really takes a lot out of your body. It puts a lot of pressure on you when you entered the corner before, because of the G-forces and especially with the older car that had so much more grip, it just pushes you down on the race track harder. Here, with the cars don't have as much grip, you're more on top of the race track, you're sliding around more, which doesn't give you that 'into the race track', pushing-down feeling, and then with the slick conditions you're sliding around even more. Especially with the smoother surface, you're sliding around even more. So it's taking away G-forces, so I can actually talk after I run five laps here where in past I really couldn't just because it almost took al l the breath out of you."
HOW MUCH OF AN IMPACT WILL THE NEW CAR HAVE ON THE CHASE? "We're definitely looking forward to it. We've been very, very strong in the new car and we felt like we had a good chance to win here but I think it's going to play a large role in who wins the championship, for sure. Even though the new car races are short tracks, so it's going to have that element of you can get in trouble anyway, I think it's the teams that are going to stay up front - the Hendricks, the Gibbs and those guys that have a good grasp on it right now. Those are the guys I'd really look for as far as championship contenders. Now you're going to have guys from RCR and Penske run pretty good at most of the Car of Tomorrow race tracks but I think for the most part, you just need to look in the past of who has run well in them. It's probably not going to change when it gets down to the last 10."
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT THE NEW CAR IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON THAT WILL HELP YOUR TEAM IN THE SECOND HALF AND CHASE? "Really, it's just how I'm driving them. Specifically, you just can't charge a corner in these cars. I talked to Kyle (Busch) quite a bit last week and he thought that that's why we really excelled at them. Where he's not done as well in the new car - even though he won the first race - it's just he tends to charge the corners and that really rewarded you with the older car and it doesn't reward you with these cars. I think with everyone starting on a level playing field it just kind of plays into my driving style, really. It's why we've been somewhat successful."
TALK ABOUT THE MENTALITY OF THE DRIVERS IN THE CHASE AND WHAT EFFECT THAT MAY HAVE ON THIS RACE: "It will have an effect on anyone that's in front of me if I'm running second. They're definitely going to feel the wrath. We're definitely in all-out mode for sure. I think this race in particular is probably going to be wilder than ones in the past because I think the points are a little bit spread out than what they have been in years past. Even though you add more Chase drivers you'll still have a distinct group. Before, I think I was sixth or seventh and I was desperately worried about not making a mistake here because there were so many guys lined up from 10th to 13th or 14th last year. Here I think the No. 8 thinks he's got an outside shot, I think right now. He's probably going to be racing pretty hard or maybe cautious, depending on what the No. 2 car does. I think the No. 8 and No. 2 are going to be cautious, the No. 1. other than that I think everyone else in the top 10 is going to be racing as hard as they can to try to get 10 bonus points where it really just did n't reward you before."
ON YOUR MENTALITY FOR CALIFORNIA, RICHMOND AND YOUR BUSCH SPONSOR LEAVING: "It's big, for sure. This one and Richmond in the near future are definitely ones I'd love to win. Definitely leading it with less than 10 to go here in the spring was very frustrating but Richmond, with a race that pretty much doesn't count for us, I'm definitely going to be excited to go there and not have any pressure. Especially the whole week leading up to it and I think it's going to improve my performance on the race track because I'm going to maybe take a few more chances that I wouldn't. Where last year and the year before that, when I was just racing Busch, I was always racing for points, racing for points. This year in the Busch race, I'm not racing for anything but wins and when we go to Richmond it's nothing but wins. So I'm excited to go there with that mentality instead of having to protect my position but still have a good showing for my hometown fans."
DO YOU ENJOY RACING AT FONTANA? "I enjoy it, it's a lot like Michigan. I'm specifically excited about going there because we ran really good in the Busch race at Michigan and a lot of things transfer. And in the Cup race things transfer. It's hard to get excited when that place holds so many seats that when 100,000 or 150,000 people are there, it doesn't look sold out and it just doesn't get the kind of buildup that a lot of other race tracks do when the stands are packed, no matter how many people are there. I think it tends to make for good racing but the cars just get so strung out there it tends to be kind of a snoozer of sorts."
WHAT WILL BE YOUR APPROACH TO THIS WEEKEND AND WILL IT BE DIFFERENT THAN THE SPRING RACE? "The biggest thing for me is that I don't know where to set up my race car right now. I used to know. you knew where the track rubber built up and it's probably my own fault because I didn't watch the Truck race and so I didn't really learn a whole lot there. Now I'm going to really be watching the Busch race to see how it plays out and where the cars end up running. But I used to know that you had to run with your left-side tires on the black; get your car working there in practice. Here I just don't know where. when the rubber builds up is your car going to slide out of the groove because right now I'm running where all the rubber is at. So that kind of somewhat worries me a little bit. I think after the Busch race I will have a better idea of where I need to start running tomorrow night but it's not really going to help me, being that the last practice is before the Busch race. So I think I need to kind of get my car set up running where other guys aren't. Try to set up th e car to where it comes off low so you can pull down and pass. Because if you use all the race track up - I did see highlights of the Truck race - you open up the door for somebody else."
HOW IMPORTANT IS A WIN AT BRISTOL FOR A DRIVER'S CAREER? "It definitely is. It would be a huge accomplishment for me, probably borderline. probably the biggest win I've ever had. But here we tasted the win in the spring and I was especially frustrated not to get it, it being the first race with the new car. I think here, in specific, now with this race track layout, the driver is going to be able to change his race car here more than ever by just his line. I think even more pride will be in winning a race here because you're the guy that kind of figured out the new surface before everyone else did."
-credit: gm racing