Denny Hamlin Charlotte 500 Thursday media visit

Toyota Motorsports press release

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

What is your mindset entering this weekend’s race? “We look forward to coming here (Charlotte). We felt like we should have won the race here in the spring and obviously, performance-wise a lot of things have changed a lot since then. I think that we’ve identified our weaknesses this past week and obviously I think that we’re going to be heading in the right direction soon. Looking forward to the rest of the season and kind of ending on a good note.”

Can you clarify what is changing at Joe Gibbs Racing? “I think it’s getting everyone at the shop to buy into what I feel like we need to work on and I think that they are. We had some big meetings this week and I felt like everyone’s on board. I think that you’re going to see a change in performance because of it. It’s going to take some time to get it right, but my goal at this point is to end 2011 like we did ’09 where we were steadily getting better throughout the Chase. We started terribly and every week from the midpoint of the Chase on, we started making ground. We won Homestead and that kind of propelled us into 2010. At this point, I’m trying to look to get that same momentum at the end of this year. I feel like I’ve gotten better these last few weeks of giving the information that I need. I think I see a few employees at Gibbs here this weekend that you don’t see all the time, so I think that everyone is starting to buy into the fact that knowing our performance is not where it needs to be. You look and the 18 (Kyle Busch) hasn’t been leading as many laps here lately as what he has in the past. Everyone’s starting to figure out that we have to go to work. I think everyone is on board at this point and you’re going to start to see JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) take a turn.”

Are you referring to changing the philosophy of the race cars at JGR? “You are understanding me -- you are for sure. Obviously, when we talk about things that we want to change within the organization, you’ve got to get all the drivers to buy into it. You’ve got to get the people in charge to buy into it for things to make a change. We’re doing that right now. It sucks that we had to get to this point, but it turn hopefully it’s going to make everyone better.”

What are you expecting from the EFI tests at Charlotte and Talladega? “I look forward to it. I’m not scheduled to be here during the test, but I will be here to try to get some laps and squeeze in. I did run -- I ran a Michael Waltrip (Racing) car at Phoenix and got some good information and got a good feel for what Toyota’s EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection) car was. I think it’s not a whole lot different than what we have right now, so I think it’s going to pretty much be a seamless transition to the fuel injection. It’s going to be interesting to see how the teams play the game as far as fuel efficiency versus power because you can really tune it in especially with that fuel injection.”

How does the process of approaching the team about making changes work? “I feel like I’ve been probably the most vocal as far as within JGR the last two or three years really -- since Tony (Stewart) left. As far as heading our program in the direction it needs to go in and I feel like that communication -- I kind of shut down to them a little bit during the summer. Being so frustrated with the mechanical issues that we were having, the blown engines and everything. I wasn’t giving up on them, but it was a sense of I was just like, ‘What does it matter how fast our cars are if we can’t finish,’ type of attitude. That’s not the way to approach it by any means. Opening that communication back up, it’s going to send us in a different direction and I think that direction is what’s going to make our cars faster.”

How hard is it to focus on winning a championship? “It’s tough because when you find yourself in that position for the first time, it’s hard not to be consumed by that one race when in actuality it’s only 10 percent of the entire result of the Chase. I think that once you get into the final couple of races, the guys that are contenders that are in that position for the first time, it will be harder for them to succeed because they’re going to put more emphasis on those particular events. I think that you’ve got to be a little bit more relaxed and you have to have a little more fun with the whole process and everything and the situation that you’re in. Unfortunately, what I know this year, I can’t apply it because I’m not really part of that championship Chase. It’s going to be fun watching it down to the end with all these guys that are so close right now.”

Have you been nervous in this year’s Chase? “For us it had more to do with whether we were going to make the Chase -- not win a championship, but just make the Chase. The few races before you are obviously nervous at moments. It’s different though. When you’re racing for a championship, it’s different. You’re just hoping to continue to prolong your season when you’re trying to focus on a Chase spot. Those guys that are searching for the championship for the first time are trying to get to the peak goal of their racing career. Everything they’ve worked for their entire lives and dreamed of is just a couple races away and a couple spots away in any given race. That’s when your stomach really gets turning is when you’re in those situations.”

Was testing the MWR EFI car at Phoenix an example of how the Toyota teams can work together? “A lot of it has to do with it. It’s not completely, I think there are some things in both programs and if we work together, the two Toyota teams, we can make all of them better. But, there has to be some transparency between the teams and I think they are starting to do that. It’s not the one element that we have to work on to make our cars drive like the MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) cars because I feel like our cars are strong in the running sense and a lot of areas. You got to kind of mesh those worlds. It definitely opens up your eyes to see different changes that you might want to have.”

What is your view of the remainder of the Chase after seeing how Jimmie Johnson ran in Kansas? “I think so from the other drivers, the competitor’s standpoint I think that the other drivers will feel that pressure from the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) in particular. I think that these last few weeks he’s been exceptionally strong. He hasn’t got the finishes really the first couple Chase races before these last two as good as what I felt like they deserve based on performance. I think the other guys are going to start to watch him a little bit more than watching the guys that are necessarily around in points because they feel like he is the bar in which the championship is set. I think they may start to chase him these next few weeks versus trying to work on their own program and get the best finish for them. It’s very easy to do, to try to chase one guy but you have to refrain from it.”

Will having the Toyota teams working together more in the future help Joe Gibbs Racing? “Yeah, a lot of things will help. The more Toyota cars, obviously the better, but we don’t have but so many teams. Realistically two teams after this year is over with the Red Bull cars are going away. So, we have to optimize. The Roush cars, when you think about it, Roush has probably 10 cars out here in different teams and things like that. So, they have 10 engines, so when they work on fuel development and things like that, it’s affecting a large -- 25 percent of the field. Same with the RCR (Richard Childress Racing), Hendrick engines -- you have so many Chevrolet cars and Ford cars that they’re able to share that fuel information and everything. We have to really figure it out between a couple teams. The closer we can make -- if we can double our capacity by getting more information from MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) and MWR coming over and helping JGR, then that’s going to help all Toyota teams. That’s our goal, to try to make Toyota as strong as possible because the better they run, it’s going to help us and vice versa. I think in the future you’ll see all the teams work a little bit closer together.”

What is going on with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing during the second half of this season? “Well there’s a couple factors that do play into that and I can’t speak for all Toyota cars because I feel like the 56 (Martin Truex Jr.) and the 00 (David Reutimann) and those guys, they have gotten better I feel like as the season has gone on. But, Toyota is relatively new to the Cup Series. They’ve only been in this for a few years. They have the oldest engine believe it or not of all the other manufacturers. These guys have come out, Ford and Chevrolet and Dodge, I feel have come out with new engines these last few years and it’s really seemed to help them where we have the oldest block. We have the same block that we started with years ago. Things change and obviously we’re trying to optimize that engine as much as possible, but maybe we should go to NASCAR and lobby to get a newer engine. There support is unwavering. I feel like they’re going to do whatever it takes to get on top of this game. It took a little while for it to happen in the Trucks and even longer to happen in the Nationwide Series and the same thing goes for Cup. This is a very competitive business and for asking them to just be out here and be the best right off the bat, it’s possibly too much to ask for. It could be some time before you’ll see that.”

Do you have any involvement in the Dollar General sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing? “No, not that I’m aware of. I’ve done some stuff with DG (Dollar General) in the past and they have been a great supporter of me. They were my sponsor when I was with Braun Racing a couple of years ago. But, I think that their focus and effort on Joey (Logano) and those guys to get that program together. I’m proud to have those guys -- it’s a major company with a huge amount of growth, so it’s good to have them as part of our sport. They do more than just sponsor race cars, they do a lot as far as hospitality and things like that.”

What do you think the reasons for the struggle? “Well, there’s a lot of reasons. Some of the issues we have within Gibbs are not Toyota issues, it’s stuff that we have going on internally. I think that all of a sudden these next few weeks when I feel like we’re going to run better, it won’t look as bad. We will start to make a turn. We’ve got to get to that point. I wouldn’t pin our results on Toyota.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags gibbs, hamlin, toyota