DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How has your start to the weekend been? “It's been eventful, but the track is starting to come around. The groove is starting to widen just a little bit and so we're excited to think that hopefully it's not going to be one groove. Hopefully, there will be some moving around and with that you'll see a more competitive race hopefully. As far as our particular program, we're obviously not racing that car that we would have liked to have raced, but this car was going to be our Texas car anyway. So, it's really not a bad car and we're slowly gaining on it and we feel like we're good in race trim. Just struggling a little bit with qualifying speed trying to get what we need out of it."
How will the cool temperatures and wind impact the race weekend? “Obviously, with the temperatures being cool, the track has got a lot of grip. The speeds are extremely fast right now, but this car in particular -- we've run a second faster in this one than what we did in the old one, but everyone's now a second faster with the rubber being laid down. Hopefully, there's no rain. That would be the biggest kink that could be thrown into a double-wide race track come Sunday is if rain gets washed out it will be tougher to lay down all the rubber that we spent days putting down. We hope there's no rain. The breeze definitely is a factor in how you drive depending on where the headwind is -- you always drive into the corner with headwind a little bit more than you would the other corners. It's a normal weekend. Honestly, nothing really feels different about it. It will be extreme, track position-sensitive race track and it will be somewhat of an 'X factor' because of that -- because you just hope you have the right strategy at the end of the day to keep your car up front. If you don't, passing will be very tough."
How many laps did you run in the backup car yesterday? “I think we got about an hour -- maybe a little bit more -- and about 30-something laps. So, we didn't get all the test time that we wanted. But luckily for us, there was so much oil and wrecks that were going on the track that it kind of evened the playing field for everyone. So, there was a lot of downtime, obviously, for that. I don't think everyone really got all the -- the biggest thing that hurt us is that the car that we are now running didn't have any data on it, so we had to run the whole test day with no data. So, that part of it was tough."
Are you looking forward to Sunday's race? “I wouldn't say you look forward to it because it's definitely tougher to control your own destiny. You don't look forward to it because as a driver you're just like, 'Hope my guy on top of the box is smarter than the rest of the guys.' The driver responsibility when you have races like this is taking down percentage-wise quite a bit. Honestly, you have to do your job on the race track, but just don't mess up more than going out there and attacking and being able to make up positions, because you're going to make up more positions with your strategy than you will ever having a fast race car and a good driver."
Do you like fuel mileage races in the Chase? “Not me personally because I feel like we've got as much speed and I've learned so much over these last few years that I feel like I'm on top of my game -- it didn't look like it yesterday -- but I wish we could control our own destiny. You can at tracks where -- the shorter tracks is where fuel mileage is not as big of an issue. The faster cars get to the front and you see who's good. Here, it's just kind of a mixed bag of what you get. It's not the way that I want to see it, but it's become part of our sport now with hard tires, fast race tracks and all this downforce that we have. It's just that's the product that you've got right now and there's not much we can do to change it."
When will your team start planning for the final laps of Sunday's race? “I think that what will happen is once you get to halfway, you'll start planning where you want to be for the last stint as far as your cycle on tires, how far you want to run on a set of tires -- you'll start setting up for that last run well beyond the actual last run itself. We did the same thing at Charlotte when tire drop-off is not as much you start planning for -- literally we had to run 120 laps of fuel-save mode because there just aren't any cautions anymore. So, I think that by having that you almost have to run these races like road courses nowadays."
What can you change to better know when to run all-out after saving fuel? “I don't know. You just -- we don't have data to go by with fuel mileage, so it's all still a guessing game and that's what I think NASCAR likes to see is that hey there is a question mark whether you can or can't make it. It's no fun if you know. From their standpoint, 'Okay, this guy can make it. This guy can't and that's who is basically going to win the race.' I think it's the drama of not knowing is what the race fan likes. This is just a different kind of racing. With all these race tracks getting repaved, this is just what you're going to have for years and years until something really changes with the cars of the tires."
Is Kanas as much of a 'wild card' as Talladega? “I think it is a wild card, but it won't be where there's going to be some Chase guys in the 30s because they wrecked and maybe, possibly some that win the race. There won't be that big of a discrepancy, but I think that there will be a discrepancy of who finishes between first and 20th. I think on strategy you easily could go one way or the other, so it's a wild card in that sense. You just hope that you're smarter or have things fall your way and cautions when you need them they fall -- things like that. It is -- it's going to be a wild card. When you look at the remaining races -- Texas, fast cars, good drivers will be at the front. Martinsville -- same thing. Phoenix -- little bit more of a wild card because it is a new surface and they have hard tires that don't wear out. All those things is a little bit of wild card and then Homestead (Miami Speedway) you'll see fast car, fast driver in the front as well. I think that this is one that we personally have to get past to make sure we still have a shot at it and we need to finish ahead of these guys this weekend. You just hope that we have the speed and strategy to do it, so you know this weekend I need to give all the information I can on the race track to make sure Darian (Grubb, crew chief) makes the right calls on the pit box, because he is going to be the biggest factor of where we finish this weekend."
Are you surprised Clint Bowyer is in the hunt for the championship? “Not really -- only because Clint (Bowyer) will just top-five and top-10 you to death. He'll be a guy that he's going to finish in that group every single week, and that's what he's really good at. He's extremely good at points racing. I think that he just -- every Chase that he's been in it -- he's just really been right there in the mix, kind of hanging around that second to fifth-place simply because he does points race so well. His team doesn't make a whole lot of mistakes. He doesn't. So, it doesn't surprise me that he is right there. Honestly, he just puts himself in the position each week -- if someone makes a mistake, he capitalizes nine times out of 10 because he is so consistent. You look at our finishes -- we're like the stock market -- and he's just flat lining right there with us."
What is preventing you from returning to victory lane at Martinsville? “Fuel strategy -- one time. It was when we finished 12th -- we were leading the race and pretty much dominating and got caught on pit road with a caution and went a couple laps down. Then after that, this year -- the spring race is the one race where we did just not run well. We had some setup issues that we found in the car afterwards, after the race was over -- some mistakes that we made with our setup. Basically, putting the wrong pieces in the wrong places. So, that is hopefully why we ran so bad in the spring where we finished decent but not great. And so hopefully that's rectified. Honestly, we look forward to going back. Especially, as good as our short track program's been here in the last few -- between New Hampshire and Richmond -- that don't necessarily correlate, but still it drives like a short track."
Are there drivers that may not be as forthcoming with information about their health during the Chase? “Sure. There's no doubt about it that you would do whatever it took to stay in your car if you were in a championship battle. But, one thing you can't hide is the signs that you are not right. You know, you can say you're good and everything, but if you don't pass the tests that they put out there for you, then you're not going to get the opportunity to be in your car. I think that there's enough things in place that they make sure there are safe drivers out there and, honestly, the competitor in you can fire on all cylinders, but when you're not right you're not right. The medical staff does a thorough enough job to make sure that that's the case."
How does Kansas compare to other 1.5-mile tracks? “It really doesn't. It feels totally different than any other track that we race at all year long. Before you could compare it to a couple other tracks, but this is really a beast in its own that we're running the speeds that we're running on the banking that we're running. Honestly, I look at our setup and I say it's unlike anything that we run at any other race tracks. I think this is a one-off type race that just happens to be in the Chase, and so you better perform at it."
Will medical personnel take a closer look at you after yesterday's accident? “They're persistent anyway. They're there calling and texting you before you even wake up wanting to check up on you and they do it all the time. Really, in all type of wrecks that I've been a part of this year -- it's been the next day and the following day that they continue to check up on you to make sure you're feeling okay and things like that. It won't change the way I run. I just think that I'm just the next guy in line that hit a wall hard. When someone wrecks on Sunday, if someone does wreck, they'll be the next one up that's got to go through the scrutiny of basically going through the tests, going through all the questions that you have to answer. It won't affect my weekend, at least for now."
Source: Toyota Motorsports