DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What is your outlook for the race? “We love coming here. It’s very typical weather here for this weekend so far. Hopefully, we get on track at some point. If not, I’m sure we’ve got some pretty good notes for this race track. Look forward to it. Trying to get a little momentum here towards the end of this Chase. It’s easy to improve every finish of the Chase when you finish as bad as I did at the beginning. We are finishing better every Chase race so far this year."
Would a win this weekend help you salvage your season? “It would put a band-aid over it for sure. I feel like when you come to tracks like this where motors, aero and things like that don’t matter as much so I feel like we can make up a little bit in some areas that I feel like we’re a little bit behind. It would help, but we still know the bulk of the race tracks that you have in the Chase and the bulk of them that you run in the course of the season -- those are the tracks that we have to get better at. For us, we’re heading in the right direction, we know what direction to head -- it’s just taking a long time to get there."
What did you think about Chad Knaus telling Jimmie Johnson to ‘mess up’ his car at Talladega? “I don’t know -- which is going to make me hard to really say anything about it. Everyone is going to push the limit as far as they can. If they felt like they were really close on tolerance -- any kind of damage would help give some kind of explanation to why it was above or below tolerances. We know on superspeedways that we have so much contact back there anyway, the cars can move quite a bit. If there’s any type if impropriety -- NASCAR doesn’t like that. They don’t like the wool to be pulled over their eyes and it’s up to them to make sure that we have a level playing field. And us, all other 42 competitors, want to make sure that we’re all on the same level playing field. They’re going to do their best to make sure that happens and obviously they will look into it and if they see that something is wrong then they will take care of it. If not, then we’ll just move on."
Who do you think will win the Chase? “I’m going to take the guy that’s got a 14-point lead, but if I say the top-four were all level, I think Matt Kenseth has got a really good shot and obviously still does. He’s really been on a roll here lately. It looks like his performance is really tops of everyone. I’d say Matt, but Carl’s (Edwards) obviously got the edge because he’s got a gap right now on him."
How much will teammates work together battling for the championship? “Once they start to see towards the second two or three races towards the end and they know that this is going to be one of the two or three guys I have to beat -- you’re less likely to cut that guy a break on the race track. Communication between crew chiefs -- you want to be as fair as you can to the next guy, but maybe that information starts getting a little bit limited. Those guys have got a good notebook as far as this year. I don’t think they’re going to develop anything in the last two or three races that they don’t already have. It’s going to be up to the crew chiefs and drivers on those particular teams battling to who’s going to figure it out the best week in and week out. I just don’t know if they’re going to be able to count on each other too much here down the stretch."
Do you think Jimmie Johnson is too far behind to win the championship? “He’s (Jimmie Johnson) used up too much luck against me. Fifty points is not insurmountable, but it’s very, very against the odds. Over one race with four to go is very, very hard to overcome. That’s the thing -- he can go out and he can win these next four weeks and still not win because he needs some help from other guys. Winning is not just going to be the formula for the championship for those guys, they’re going to need some help. I still don’t even thing their performance is necessarily as good as the Fords right now. I still think he’s at a disadvantage as far as that’s concerned. I’m really not -- if I was a betting man, I wouldn’t put it on him I don’t believe right now."
What makes some drivers good at Martinsville? “It’s such a short race track that when you find a technique that works for you where you pick up a little bit of time, you can keep that. No matter what vehicle you’re running in -- like I said before, when aero and horsepower don’t mean as much at a race track and it’s more about the way you technically drive around it and things like that and of course the information and how good your car is too -- it doesn’t matter what rule changes there are or whether it’s a wing or a spoiler or the car of tomorrow or car of yesterday -- doesn’t matter, those same techniques work. That’s why you see continually the same guys running up front I feel like at this race track. It’s their technique and it’s the way it works."
What advice would you give Carl Edwards for the final races of the Chase? “I don’t need to give him (Carl Edwards) any. He’s doing just fine. I don’t know. I think he’s doing a good job and having fun with the whole experience and being part of it. For me, I didn’t have as much fun as I felt like I should have had. Just looking at the grand scheme of things and thinking about the position I was in, I was just too worried week in and week out about where I’m going to finish. I was always worried about the outcome instead of just worrying about going out there and performing the best I can that particular lap over and over and over. When you worry too much about outcomes and things like that you don’t seem to perform as well because you start racing defensively. Last year, I was somewhat racing defensively at the end when we had a lead."
How do you view the Chase following Talladega? “I think that last year we were so defensive at Talladega just making sure we weren’t in a wreck -- similar to what the 99 (Carl Edwards) was. When we got through there with an eighth or ninth-place finish last year, it was a huge sense of relief that, ‘Okay, now we’re still in this championship hunt with great race tracks ahead of us and we’re through Talladega.’ Everyone who’s part of a championship battle always looks at Talladega as a place they can lose huge chunks of points that will take them two or three races on a normal race track to make up just on performance. The guys you are racing with on performance are not going to run 20th from here on out. They’re going to gain two to five points at a time each one of these race tracks if someone is going to come from behind. They’re not going to gain 25 a week like you can lose at Talladega."
Would you consider the upcoming Phoenix race to be a mini-Talladega? “I don’t know that it’s a mini-Talladega. It could be different in a sense that you have strategy at Phoenix that can play out to where guys stay out -- guys that have been running in the back stay out and next thing you know they got good track position and stay up front. So, you could lose more positions there than what you would estimate. But, I think with a couple days testing that everyone’s kind of got back on that level playing field there. It’s just, qualifying is going to be ultra-, ultraimportant there. And so I could probably give you a better idea after we qualify there who is going to be where."
How do you focus on the final four races of the season? “We just got to manage our expectations from here on out. I finished outside the top-eight in points only once in my career, so that’s something I’d like to keep going. And if you look at how we performed over the points in my career. It started at the top and then went straight to 12th, and we spent three years working our way back up to the top. And then this year it’s back. So, it’s a constant wave that you got to try get over. We’re trying to get as much as we can. Obviously, being set back so far the first three races -- we’re still at the same deficit we were at a few weeks ago. So, we’re maintaining it at this point with those top guys. It’s just that you can’t overcome that. My goal is to win a race before the end of the season. I feel that would go a really long way with our FedEx team and myself and the confidence level, and I feel like we could do that. We have some awesome race tracks ahead of us that we’ve pretty much all won at."
How did you end up running the truck race this weekend? “I think Kyle (Busch) cut back a lot of his schedule in hopes of being part of the championship when he got here and he’s still part of the talks. It was decision to kind of step out to spend more time on the Cup car. So, he asked me to drive it. I of course said yeah. I’ve never won a truck race. For me, it’s a great opportunity and a truck with great equipment to come out here -- to arguably my best race track -- and try to win and be one of those groups that have won in all three series. That would be a big accomplishment. You never know what kind of race can spark momentum going into Sunday. We need anything we can take at this point."
How confident are you that the changes you’re seeking will be made? “Well, a lot of the things that I feel like we need to work on are car builds -- the way we build our cars. So, that’s going to take a long time. And I’m not going to expect things to happen this week, next week. I’m not going to get discouraged if I go to Homestead and they say; ‘This is half of what you want. This is three-quarters of what you want.’ Because I know when we get to Daytona or the next mile-and-a-half next year -- we’re going to have what I want in the cars and hopefully it’s going to be the right thing. For me, we’re going to start to get some of this stuff in the next few weeks so I suspect our performance will slowly start to gain on where we’ve been and we have these last few weeks. We’ve performed better than what we had at the beginning of the Chase. Still definitely not where we need to be. It’s going to take time. Things we need to change are long term things, they’re not stuff that we can fix right no