DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What is the strategy for your Duel race? "Our strategy is to get the best starting spot possible. With heating issues that we had, we seem like we've got that sorted out a little bit. NASCAR's giving us a little bit bigger PRV (pressure release valve) valve -- I think it's all going to be better. Our strategy is to go out there and try to win the Duel. I feel like we didn't qualify very good, so we're counting on a good race car, not a good qualifying car."
How much do you plan on running in practice? "I don't think we're going to run a whole lot. I just simply think that there is so much work that goes in if you do damage your car and have to go to a backup car -- it's just too much work that has to be done in a short amount of time. You're going to minimize your risk as much as possible, especially here today."
Do you have something to prove this week? "Not really. I don't feel like there's anything to prove this week in particular. I think the Daytona 500 weekend, in general, has no relation to how guys typically run for the championship. I think that it's very typical though when we leave here that there will be a surprise winner or third-place finisher and we're all talking about how great of a season he's going to have and it just does not relate. This is a total different race from what we race most of the time. For us, our season starts five or six races in. That's when we know where we stand as far as completion is concerned. We want to be competing for race wins at that point when we're at intermediate track, short tracks. Here, it's your fate -- you decide some of it, but most of it you don't. We take this for face value."
Is Daytona unpredictable? "Yeah, that's the thing. Our biggest race of the year is the biggest crapshoot, so that's what I'm saying. Most of the time, you've just got to be lucky at times. That's a lot of our sport nowadays. Usually whoever wins the Super Bowl it's because they performed well during the regular season and they performed in the playoffs. For us, it's just like first shoot right out of the gun and where do you end up because did you avoid the wrecks or not, so it's a little different in that aspect."
What did you learn about yourself last year? "It was very uncharacteristic of our team as a whole. For us, just not being relevant really for most of the year was one thing, but you want to compete for more race wins and you look at -- we usually during any season that you only have one win and you think about how many got away from you. Really none of them got away from us. We just weren't in contention. For me, I feel like we've got a mojo with the team right now, as well as everyone else in the garage has high optimism going in to the season. We especially feel like with the changes that we made we're going to be stronger in the long run."
Are you enjoying working with new crew chief Darian Grubb? "The biggest thing with him is that I'm looking forward to working with him next week. There's not much working with him that I do and not much that we can do to build our relationship here at Daytona. We're not working on handling as much. It's when we get to Phoenix and those other race tracks where things are going to be different. The way he makes changes to the car will be different from what I'm used to. That's where the transition period is going to be for myself and Darian (Grubb, crew chief)."
Did anything surprise you in the Shootout? "I didn't think that handling was going to be as big of an issue as it was. I think a lot of it is that we're running such fast speeds and with the spoiler cut off -- as soon as we got a big enough pack together, cars were starting to get loose. I think that if we can somehow get a big enough pack going at some point during the practice today, we will try to tune on those loose issues that we fought during the Shootout."
Do you prefer pack racing to tandem racing? "I do. You're not relying on someone else. I hate relying on a competitor to run well and for us, it's about who can work the draft best -- kind of like it used to. Then at the end, if you find yourself in the top-six or seven, then you find someone you can push to a race win. I like it personally. I think they've got the racing right where it needs to be right now."
Where do you want to be on the last lap of the Daytona 500? "I want to be second -- no doubt. The guy being pushed knows he's in a very tough spot when he's getting pushed, but at that point you know the worst you're going to finish is about second."
How different will it be not communicating with several other drivers during the race? "That's going to be quite a bit different. A lot of the radio transmission that goes on -- whoever you were drafting with, their spotter would be spotting for you and now you're relying on your team, your spotter and now if you choose to push someone at the end you're going to hope that your spotter is standing right next to that other guy to transfer messages as fast as possible. Things happen so fast that you have to know. You're still -- when you're pushing someone now, even though you're not talking to the driver in front of you or behind you, your spotter is still spotting you and them. It's just that you're hearing it now. It's different, but it's more dangerous because the messages take a little bit of time to get through. Still, I don't think it will have much effect."
Has your golf handicap improved since spending more time in Arizona? "It's not much different just because I change so much with my golf swing. I'm hacking it up right now -- I'm not doing much better."
Is there an advantage to having Darian Grubb as your crew chief? "You've got a guy that's very well-respected with NASCAR officials, with the team guys and with every other team out here. To have someone that a lot of other people look up to -- I think that he's a leadership figure for our team that we need."
What changes have you seen since Darian Grubb joined the team? "I just don't think I'll see that right this second. I think when we get to intermediates and things like that -- that's where I'll see a difference. We normally wouldn't change that part or piece or something like that, but I do know how we build our cars is different than what he's used to so we're transitioning some of that stuff now. Teaching him how we do it and then we're also switching over to the way he did things. Inside the cockpit -- I can tell there are differences. He likes to have a guy that's very in tune with the interior and driver comfort because he feels that's an important factor. That's something that we never really had before."