DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How was practice on the new track surface at Phoenix? “It’s been a pretty good weekend so far. We were gaining some speed as the day goes on. I like the race track, I think it’s pretty good. I think Goodyear brought us as good a tire as they could bring, so I think we’ll have a good race."
Do you think Carl Edwards has lost ground to Tony Stewart? “He (Carl Edwards) still has the points lead, so I think he’s fine to be honest with you. I think he’ll be fine in these next two. I think he’s only raced as hard as he had to up until last week. It’s worked for them so far. I think that Homestead, he’s going to be very strong, I think he’ll be one of the guys to beat in Homestead. I think this is going to be the key as far as those two guys to see who has what. I’m kind of leaning in Carl’s favor in the sense of that he’s performed the best all year long and Tony (Stewart) is obviously very hot right now, but that’s not going to keep going on forever. I think when Carl feels some pressure, he’s going to have to perform a little better and I think he has the ability to do that. I think their cars are fast enough to do that."
How important is it to a championship contender to leave Phoenix with a strong finish? “I think that (Phoenix) is game six for those guys in the sense that you look -- it's very critical, this is a momentum race for either one of those guys. It’s just who’s going to leave here with that momentum. That’s why I think this is one of the most important races that we’re going to have in this Chase. Obviously there’s a lot of unknowns, restarts and that are going to be very critical. Whoever leaves here with good momentum is going to be sitting pretty next week."
How much does past experience and championships play into racing for the championship? “I think the slates are kind of wiped clean. I just don’t know, when you’re on that race track, you’re kind of wiped clean. I just don’t know when you’re on that race track running a 400- or 500-mile race, where your past accomplishments have anything to do with that particular moment. I just feel like it’s about who performs the best on that given day. It’s not about your past accomplishments. Obviously (Tony Stewart) taking that surge here in these last four to six weeks, they’ve obviously hit on something -- it's not just his experience is all of a sudden showing up and he’s winning races because he’s experienced. That’s not the case. They’ve found some things that have helped there racing program. I’m just not sure that is as big of an advantage as people tend to think it is."
How much has your team improved in the last few races this season? “Not lately. I think they have improved. We ran very, very bad last week. Our whole organization ran extremely bad. We still know we have a lot of work to do. Even though we were continuing to improve where we finish in the Chase up until last week, we still know that the reality was we had a lot of work to do and everyone realizes that. We’ll get there. I think today is another good example of making some progress. It’s going to take a little while to kind of get going."
What do you need to work on a Joe Gibbs Racing to get ready for 2012? “I think so, I think that everyone is kind of on board with all the driver issues that we have with the things we bring up during our competition meetings. I think everyone is ready to do what it takes. One thing about Joe Gibbs (team owner) is he’s never short on resources. If we feel like we need to get something and we don’t have it, he’ll go buy it and go do it. He’s one of those owners where I don’t have to worry about spending resources -- he'll do whatever it takes. Hire whoever he has to hire and I feel like that’s hard to come by in our sport. You’re not going to hold down JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) for so long. They do a really good job over the last 20 years of existence of staying one of the elite race teams and they will in the future."
Do you know which areas your team needs to improve? “I wish I could pinpoint to one area and we could all focus on that, but we’re that much off in that many areas. We’re off in some areas, but it’s multiple. We’re not off a lot, we’re just off a little bit and we’ll gain that real soon."
What did you learn in practice about the new Phoenix track surface? “I actually expect us to have a better race than what we anticipate -- there are a lot of drivers anticipate. I think the groove is widening out, I’ve seen it during practice. It’s moved up probably three feet during the course of our practice. It’s almost two lanes wide. When I say two lanes, I’m talking about cars that are glued together. We need actually three lanes of racing for cars to run two wide. It will get there. I really do believe it will get there and we’re going to have a pretty good race, better than people are expecting."
How much does what Kyle Busch is going through affect the entire JGR organization? “He (Kyle Busch) is vital to the way we run and the way the 20 car (Joey Logano) runs. So, for me it’s good to have Kyle back at the race track and obviously they didn’t get as much practice as they were anticipating. He’s vital to our race team and the feedback that he has is vital to the way I drive my car every single week. He’s one of the key elements that we need."
Have you talked with Kyle Busch? “I’ve talked to him a little bit, yeah but nothing about last week."
Do you have a responsibility at JGR to be the senior member of the team and talk to Kyle Busch? “I think he (Kyle Busch) is going to have to rely a lot on Joe Gibbs (team owner), who has been in that situation with a lot of pro athletes that he’s been associated with during his career. I don’t know that I’m that person. I feel like I haven’t been around that long and I’ve made enough mistakes myself to (doesn’t) tell me to be giving Kyle advice on what he should or shouldn’t do. Maybe it’s another driver that’s been around much longer, like Jeff Burton or someone like that, Jeff Gordon. Those guys I feel like have more experience in these kinds of situations. Even Tony Stewart has been through stuff like this in the past. I just don’t know me being around for six years, it’s my place to really say what he should or shouldn’t do. I think that he should definitely rely on Joe Gibbs for that because we’ve got one of the best sports guys in the history of pro sports as our owner. He’s seen it all and been through it all."
Is there any correlation between Tony Stewart chasing Carl Edwards this year to Jimmie Johnson chasing you last year? “I think they are really, really different. We had the most dominant team through the course of last year from summer on to really the finish to the last two races, basically. We had, I thought, the fastest car each week -- things like that. It just seems like Tony (Stewart) has this surge going on these last few weeks that is a little bit different. We won a lot of races last year. Carl’s (Edwards) just won one this year. He’s just been there, and been solid every single week. It’s a little bit different I feel like this year. Really you have the guy that’s leading the points right now more on defense, and you got the fastest guy at this particular time chasing. I felt like we were the fastest last year and we were leading. We just stumbled and made a mistake."
Who do you pick to win the championship? “I still think Carl (Edwards). I just think that Homestead -- he’s really, really good there. If he can pull even with Tony (Stewart), I’ve seen Carl at Homestead. He’s extremely good at that race track."
What do you think about the new points system? “I think it’s the right way. I think it’s -- were in a hole that after three races we got ourselves in the same hole that we’re in right now. We’ve just been stuck in that hole. But, we’ve been a 10th-place car, basically. We’ve got what we deserve. I feel like the two teams that have been the strongest through the Chase are right there neck-and-neck. So, I think as far as if you want to base it off overall performance -- and you would think with all the wins that Tony (Stewart) has he should be ahead. But, he’s had some bad finishes and setbacks. So, I think it’s right where it needs to be. I think the system is pretty good right now."
Do you think a sports psychologist like you have used would help Kyle Busch? “Mine is a little different. We both have screws loose -- it’s just that some are tighter than others. And, they’re in different places. For us, mine’s more on performance and finding what the heck is going on and things like that. His is not necessarily that. I think he’s a very, very solid race car driver and runs his business well and things like that. I don’t know if that’s really what he needs. He’s still a young guy and still figuring out things. And, obviously making a big mistake like last week I doubt you’ll ever see it again. I know we talk about that and it’s happened over and over, and things like this are big wake-up calls that drivers have every now and then that but them in their place."
Do you feel the need to talk to Kyle Busch about what happened last weekend? “I don’t want to lecture him. I feel like he’s gone through that so much over the last couple weeks or so. I’d just let him have a break and let him do what he came out here to do. Be a little easier on him. He don’t need to hear from me about what he did wrong or what he did right. He just kind of needs to figure those things out. When I have problems I’m going to turn to Joe Gibbs because he has been through it all, and I keep emphasizing that. There’s nothing that I’m going to tell him that I don’t feel like he can’t learn from Joe Gibbs."