Denny Hamlin No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing notes and quotes.
What is your approach this weekend? “We are obviously excited to get out here and see what we’ve got on our short track program. Really struggled a lot at the end of last year as an organization over the last two or three short tracks -- we definitely were not competitive. Not real competitive, not just us, but all the teams really had dropped off in performance. Excited to come here and see kind of where we are at. We obviously weren’t very fast the first practice. We found some things with the car that was dramatically wrong that we kind of ran most of practice that way. This whole new ride height thing is a learning experience for everyone. We’ve got one practice under our belts with trying to figure out how to tune it and adjust it and obviously we misjudged a few things. Obviously it hurt us with our time, but hopefully qualifying gets in here later today and we’re able to improve on the feel of the car.”
Who do you include in the ‘haves’ on the setup? “I think the 4 (Kevin Harvick) car I thought was the best so far. If you look at his teammates, they weren’t all that stellar. I thought the 4 was one of the better cars. It’s so hard to tell. You look at the times and it’s like, well there’s a few guys close, but consistently I thought that he was with the ‘haves.?
How much communication did you have at Daytona after the rain delay? “It sounded like they could hear most of what I was saying. I couldn’t hear any of what the spotter was saying for 20 or 30 laps. I didn’t hear him for 20 or 30 laps after we came back green after the rain. Then we had issues where it would work under green for 50, 60, 70 laps -- somewhere in that range, but wouldn’t work under caution both ways. Then at the very end, I think it was about 15 to go is when we lost all radio. At that point, I knew we had already made our last pit stop and I really didn’t need him other than for the performance end of things. Didn’t have to plan pit strategy or anything like that. I think as far as the NASCAR rules are concerned, I don’t know how that works because if they can hear me talking on one end then it’s at least a one-way communication. I think that kind of is good enough. I of course didn’t know that they could hear me because every time I asked if they could hear me, I didn’t hear anything back. They said they did afterwards. I think as long as you have one-way, it seems like it’s okay.”
Has Joe Gibbs Racing had to rethink the approach to Phoenix? “Everyone, our three cars in particular came with total different mindsets and packages and we really tested that way trying to figure out what’s the best way to attack this new setup, new ride height rule -- new aero package and all that. Really we all ran about the same speed everywhere we went and every track we tested at. Then when we came here, it seemed like our package was a little bit slower, but we’re trying to stick with it and see if we can’t get it better. Of course we look after the practice and we’re off by inches on our measurements so that’s a big, big problem when you’re trying to get precise. It’s tough to say. We could all go out there and qualify well and it turn into a good race, but who knows. We’ve only got an hour-and-a-half out here on this track. All these engineers, especially the ones at Gibbs are really smart and they’ll download everything -- what the drivers have said and the data that they see and literally we can go out the next run and have one of the fastest cars. They are that smart and they make stuff happen. Literally, I expect a whole new race car the next time we hit the race track.”
Is it frustrating to not perform well on a short track when that is your background? “Yeah, a little bit. The good news is that all of our engineers and crew chiefs and everyone, they all have confidence in what we say is what’s going on with the race car. We are their only source of information when we go out there and we run other than the pictures that they look at. They take what we’ve got to the bank and they’ll fix it. Like I say, it’s so early in the season and fortunately with this format where it’s kind of win or nothing you can afford to kind of throw caution to the wind and throw major packages at it between practices because you know if you’re racing for second you might as well be racing for 20th. Really doesn’t matter.”
What do you think about of practice rains out on Saturday? “The only thing I have to do is think about little things that maybe I didn’t tell the crew chief that would help with the fixing process of the car. If there’s something I left out that maybe would be vital for him to know to make a change in the right direction. I think that our very last run of practice we got heading in the right direction and picked up a lot of time so we have an idea. It’s really tough on the mechanics and all to deal with this no ride height rule when we’re taking big swings at it. The crew chiefs is always asking for big changes -- springs and shocks and ride height-wise and it’s making it very tough on the mechanics and the car chiefs to get it exactly right every single run. We missed it on that last practice.”
Can you turn the qualifying session into a practice session if the time isn’t good enough for the top-12? “We will, there’s no doubt we will. We will probably, I would imagine that’s what we would do is go out there and use all that time that you possibly can to log laps. Obviously by our first practice speed is we wouldn’t make the cut, but I have a feeling as jacked up as the car was that if we could make the first cut then we’ll go from there. If you don’t then obviously you’ve got some time and if you see you’re just not going to get there then you need to un-tape and go out there and work on your car.”
Was there a time in the Daytona closing laps that you wanted to make a move? “I would say for me when I say there were 50, 60, 70 laps where I did have radio communication, it was sketchy at best. I basically had it every time I would unwind the wheel and go straight down the backstretch, it would come on and as soon as I hit banking in three it would shut back off again. I would have it down the backstretch and the biggest problem for me was when I got in the middle then I would have to check all four corners. Then where I felt like it really hurt us was during that critical time with about 50 to go when you need to start making your way forward, I was in some bad situations in the middle and I almost kind of got in a couple wrecks.
I just went to the high line to make sure I put the wall on the right side of me and that way I only had to cover half my car -- spot half the car. I knew I was safe on this side, which you can’t see the most and so I just made sure that whatever mistake I was going to make was going to be closest to me so they were going to be less likely to happen. By doing that, I just put myself up there and I wasn’t going anywhere. I had to take the risk late in the race and by the time we got to the end I just ran out of laps to get to the front. One more restart or a little bit more time -- I just started making a charge to the front way too late hoping that the radio would start working again and it just wouldn’t. I was having to play a lot of defense by just running up by the wall making sure I was covering half my bases.”
Would you have won the race with a spotter? “We only got to second on the last lap. If I had some more time to work over the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), obviously it would help, but who knows. He had one of the top-three best cars of the weekend so it would’ve been very tough. We saw really a lot of guys made their charge at him and had full communication and couldn’t get by him. Not sure what we could have done. Of course you always want one more lap, but by taking that risk on the second-to-last lap and making the move to the low side to get position to get to second, that’s when I needed the radio to learn to get my run to take the lead.
Obviously guys were making a lot of decisions and I was trying to ride the brake for the whole final last lap trying to get some help behind, but I didn’t know who was coming or what line was working or anything. You hate to give excuses and really I’m proud to finish second in the 500 -- that’s the best finish we’ve finished ever. Those guys, it would have been hard to beat them no matter what circumstances would have come up.”
Do you expect this race to be as intense as Daytona? “I think the race track is going to temper a lot of the excitement that we saw last week that was a product of superspeedway racing and at any time we could turn it up to that level and make it super exciting for the fans, but ultimately we put ourselves at risk of getting in a wreck when we do so. Here, I think the race track and the tire and everything is going to keep things kind of spread out for the most part.
I think this has just been a really tough track to pass on over the last couple of years since they repaved it and re-did the configuration so you can be all up on the wheel all you want, but you’re not going to go anywhere unless I see something dramatically change from what we’ve had in years past. It’s just a tough track. I would say restarts are probably going to be very exciting, typically like they always are here. Down the short chute guys cutting the race track off, but after we get going green it’s going to be about who’s got a fast car and who can make time up. After that, you’re pretty much on your own.”