DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What are your impressions on the new pavement surface at Pocono Raceway? "It really feels like a different track. You're pretty much starting over from scratch. You're putting in something similar to what you have at Indianapolis in your car and hoping for the best. Goodyear did a good job with the tire. I feel like we have a tire that doesn't wear as much as I like, but it's got good grip. For a new pavement surface, they did a good job matching the surface and the tire. Really, we're just running in each other's snow tracks right now. There's a distinct line along the bottom of which you have to run and you can't get out of it. That part of it is going to be tough, but really it's going to be a fight for whoever gets position on each other into the corner. There will be a lot of drafting and things like that down the straightaway and you're going to see massive dive bombs going into the corner trying to get position. My estimation is you'll probably see a lot of excitement."
Do you feel like any advantage you had at Pocono is gone after the repave? "It really has -- the success we had here and things like that are gone. It's kind of a reset. You're not going to be able to look at any notes from previous race winners and things like that and try to predict a race winner for this thing. Strategy is going to be huge. Track position is going to be big. Of the test guys, I think you can probably put anyone in the top-20 out front with 15 laps to go and no one is going to catch them. It's going to be one of those types of races."
Can you feel the speed in the corners? "Yeah, a little bit. You can tell a little bit just because everything -- the engine is louder, the vibrations are a little bit more. Does it scare you? Not really. I'm not saying I want to go any faster, but it's definitely very quick. I was just surprised about the level of grip that the track has and it obviously continues to get faster and faster the more we run. I think by this weekend, anyone who takes time trials on Friday is going to break the track record. Anyone on the race track -- all the cars should break the track record easily."
How does what you feel in the corners compare to what you've felt at Pocono in the past? "I think it was five or six miles per hour more now than what it was. Obviously with the corner speeds being so much slower with the old surface, you didn't get off the corner as well. Everyone is shifting now and your shift points have moved around dramatically. That's been shortened up and really, it's just a big test session right now trying to figure out what it is -- what makes this speed at this race track? What do you have to do, because really you drive it totally different than what you used to."
Do you think the variety of tracks over the next several races could shake up the points? "Yeah, I'd say so. We've kind of gotten into the part of the season where you see the same kind of top-five guys or top-10 guys week in and week out. You definitely will see a shuffle these next few weeks as far as that's concerned just because there's so many unknowns these next three weeks. I'm happy we're in the position we are and we don't have to make up points these next three weeks and we can focus on trying to go out and get race wins. If I was 10th to 12th with no race wins, I'd say these next three weeks would be stressful for those guys."
What was your initial impression of the Pocono repave? "I was actually pretty impressed. The race track is very fun in the sense of how they graded the race track and smoothed it out in different places. It's still Pocono, but it drives very different than what it used to. It really turns three and four and simulates Indy in every corner. Mostly, I'd say turns one and three at Indy. You kind of get a feel of a lot of different race tracks here within the Pocono Raceway. My first impression was actually pretty good. You're always nervous when you hear about a new surface and hard tires and things like that. I think that both companies have done a good job of getting a good balance."
Will your race strategy change racing 400 miles compared to 500? "You definitely will. What you see here at Pocono, even the last few years with the car of tomorrow, especially punching a big hole in the draft is that things were getting crazy on restarts anyway. I think that will be once again what you'll see all day. With passing, once green flag racing kind of gets going, it's going to be very hard to pass, so I anticipate the restarts are going to be very hairy in the sense that everyone is going to try to get everything they can those first three laps because that's your time to pass."
Are you faster on stickers or scuffs, and would you consider saving a set of scuffs for the final run of the race? "I think probably everyone will if I had to guess. No doubt about it, everyone's fast lap, unless it was a qualifying run was on cycled tires. More than likely at the very end of a fuel run was everyone's fastest lap. The only balance is, at Charlotte and other tracks where tire wear really is non-existent, you just run on a full fuel run, you'll pit for fuel and then run again and pit and run again. I think that the tire wear will be noticed. You can get about a tank and a half of fuel out of your car before your tires wear out, where you have to change them. Goodyear at least has a tire here that is wearing out a little bit to the sense where there will be some tire changes through the race and things like that. It's not going to be fuel only constantly. Guys won't have to make changes or else risk blowing out tires."
Are you waiting for another driver to try a higher groove or are you content where you are running now? "I talked to (John) Darby (NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director) a little bit about that. I said, 'You need to put cones out there and make us run around them.' Even if it's for gosh an hour it would do big things, I think, for the groove of the race track and it would be a lot more forgivable in my opinion. And, that will all come in the race. We're going to have to run two-wide in the race, especially on restarts. The higher line will get some grip, but in test sessions nobody wants to venture up there because you just risk so much of wrecking once you get out of the line. There is an ARCA race before us -- things like that will help widen the lane out a little bit. We've seen at Phoenix that we thought it was going to be terrible and once it got to the race, it widened out a little bit. So, I anticipate that this race track will do the same by the time we get around to the race. I'm not going to say the high line will be the way to go, but at least you will be able to maintain yourself out there."