DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What do you think of the championship being referenced as a 'two-man' race? "I'm okay with it. I'd rather the spotlight be on them, because ultimately the more media that you have, the more pressure you build on yourself. I think legitimately, we haven't executed well. We don't deserve to be in the conversation right now, and until we get within 10 points, they can leave us out of everything."
Have you given up points in the Chase? "Every other week we have left hands full of points on the table. Leaving them on the table means you didn't finish as good as your car was. Last week our car was better than a 13th place car, but it wasn't a winning car. We're disappointed in that aspect, especially when the guys that we're racing didn't have a stellar day themselves. You've got to capitalize on that, and we definitely didn't do that last week. It's frustrating because you look at our finishes, and it just bounces between good and bad every single week. I was talking with Darian (Grubb, crew chief), and we've got to figure out a way to minimize that. We've got to figure out these fuel issues that keep bugging us every single week. Fuel mileage is what cost us going two laps down in the course of the race with those cautions last week. We've got to change our strategy."
Could this race give your team momentum? "Well, I mean, if we win, then it is going to be huge momentum. It's going to give us obviously a large substantial chunk of the points that we are down we'll get back. If for some reason, we can lead the most laps and win the race, that's half of our deficit that we've got that we can knock out in one week. We can chip away from there. This place will build momentum, or it will take. You just hope you are on the first side of that."
How do you feel about starting fifth? "We have a good starting spot. But ultimately, the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) getting the number one pit stall helps those guys. Wish we could have stepped up a little bit more on qualifying, and I thought we'd have a little better effort than that. But, still it is top-five. We can race from there."
How much pressure is on Brad Keselowski? "I think with every week, the pressure will build. You can put that iron-clad armor around you, and think that it's not going to affect you, but it will eventually. So I mean, it's just part of the game. It doesn't matter whether you are going from the divisional game to the championship series, it just continues to build and get harder to block out everything that you hear. You are thinking about all of your dreams coming true in just a matter of weeks. That definitely will affect you. It's just how you let it affect you, whether it be a positive or negative."
Is Jimmie Johnson getting in a mindset to contend for the championship? "I think that all these teams, especially the ones in the hunt right now are doing everything that they can to gain an edge, to get faster cars, to maintain their focus and ultimately the guy that's won five times knows what level of focus it takes to win it. To each his own I guess. I think that he's (Jimmie Johnson) obviously going to be a very big threat, especially after the comeback last week. I was right behind him when he wrecked and I thought that it's over for him, it's between me and the 2 (Brad Keselowski) now. They found a way to fix the car better than new and it worked out great for them. They've got that momentum and obviously it worked out."
Can strategy with fuel mileage play into this race? "No, you can't. There won't be a strategy play I don't believe. It would take something crazy -- I don't even know how you could actually. Tires wear out so much. This is the way racing used to be all the time at all the race tracks. We've lost that so strategy with no tire wear -- at the other race tracks you can do that. Here, you're going to have to have all new tires on it all the time. I think that you're going to have to drive your way to the front."
What comes into play more -- fuel mileage or tire strategy? "Last week was a little bit of both, but I think on a track position track like Kansas last week when we took four tires on the first stop and the entire field took two -- we had to have known that most guys would take two tires. It put us in the middle to the back of the pack and we just never recovered from it. That was a mistake that we can fix and work on. The bad part is that every time we try to get fuel mileage, it hurts our performance so bad with these engines that we just don't feel like it's worth it. It's like you can gain a lap or two if you do this or that and we just feel like overall performance eventually has to matter. It just hasn't because these cautions have fallen where they have. Luckily, we've got three of the last four race tracks -- taking out Phoenix where it will be minimal tire wear -- that performance, fast cars, new tires will matter. I think that's where we're going to excel."
Do you need to gain points on Brad Keselowski this weekend? "There's no reason that we should lose points to the 2 (Brad Keselowski) this weekend. I don't anticipate it, I don't plan on it, but you need to widen that spread. We need to gain seven -- six to seven and the way to do that is to win. If you don't win then it's going to be very hard to gain the points that we need for the last three races. Right now, the biggest jump we can get is winning and getting those three extra points for winning -- leading a lap and things like that. We can't afford really to even finish second and let those guys finish three, five, six -- that's just not a big enough chunk. We need to win races and we know it."
Is your car as dominant as it was in 2010? "I'm somewhat a little bit worried about our performance so far this weekend. It's like we haven't had the fastest car like we did in 2010. Our car was really, really good and qualified fifth -- I'm sitting here being greedy about it, but still I expected a little bit more and really the long runs are where I make my bread and butter. We'll just see how this race plays out."
Is this a race where you expect to finish in the top-five? "Ultimately if we finish outside of the top-five then there's something wrong. Something wrong with the car, something wrong with me -- you come here and you expect to go up there and challenge for race wins. I feel like I can make up a little bit when the car is not at its best here. And the car can carry me sometimes when I'm not at my best. It just works hand-in- hand here and that's why we really perform so well here is we've had that success and I felt that feel in the car that I need to win races."
Source: Toyota Motorsports