DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Office Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Can you talk about defending your race win here at Texas Motor Speedway? “It was a big turning point in the Chase for us last year. This is the point where everything starts getting a little tighter within the Chase and guys start thinking about the results quite a bit and all the position. It was a pivotal moment for us and a big momentum boost we felt like. We quickly got set back to reality the next week."
How will your experiences in this Chase help you in future Chase appearances? “Honestly I’m so concentrated on making our program better right now that I’m paying the least amount of attention to other guys and what they’re doing, especially the championship guys. Really, for me, at this point in the season I’m just concentrating on what I need to be better and faster."
What do you think of the new track at Phoenix? “I think it will be a fun race track. Driving it was like wow, this is a lot different than any other course we’ve ever kind of been on before with the elevation changes and things like that. I think it will take it a while for it to be a racy track in the sense of two-wide or three-wide racing. I think that’s going to be years and years down the road. They were at a point where the track was falling apart so they had to do something about it. Goodyear is trying to give us the best tire possible but not let us run too fast and not wearing out tires. They’ve had to put us on a hard tire there. We’ve seen in the past, hard tires and new asphalt makes for treacherous racing and I think that’s why people consider next week somewhat of a wild card because you could be caught up in an accident pretty easy on a restart."
What happened between you and Tony Stewart on the track at Martinsville? “It didn’t matter if it was Tony (Stewart) or someone else, I probably would have done the same thing. I knew that whoever it was, they were fighting to stay on the lead lap. Tony never races me that hard ever. He was pinching me down, pinching me on the curb, chopping us -- things like that and I was just saying over the radio if the roles were reversed, he would have sent me a long time ago into the fence if he was coming up to lap me and I didn’t move over. Tony called me and quickly said, ‘I realize, I felt like a jackass racing you that way, but I was just fighting trying to make something happen’ and I understood. That’s why I didn’t, because I have a respect for most of these guys in the garage area. I’m not going to send them and I feel like at times I get taken advantage of because of that but eventually down the road when I need to make moves, someone is going to have to get out of the way and I just didn’t feel like that was the right time. We were just going to lap the guy, we weren’t going to race him for the win or something like that. He said down the road he’ll repay that favor and we’ll see. I think that he will. He’s always been great racing to me and that’s why I showed him the respect that I did."
How different is Phoenix now compared to the old track? “It’s a whole new track for sure. The stats are going to show previous winners and all that, but it will for sure be a different race track than what we’ve seen in the last 15 years probably at that race track. It is, it’s almost like a new race track, new facility that we go to and its inaugural race as far as I’m concerned."
Who is your pick to win in the Alabama vs. LSU game on Saturday? “Bama wins by six. I think LSU has better athletes. I think Alabama is good at home and they are better coached. We’ll talk on Saturday evening to see if that’s right or not."
How much do you miss NBA games right now? “No because I’m saving money on my courtside seats right now. I don’t mind that at all. A little bit. You have some key games that we’re starting to miss and things like that. Yeah, if I had courtside Lakers seats or something like that for the season, maybe. But, you know we do live in Charlotte.”
How will the Joe Gibbs Racing team perform in 2012 after a lackluster 2011 season? “I think our cars will get better. I think that they already are getting better. I think right now in my opinion the Fords are a leg up on everyone quite a bit. All of their cars are extremely strong and I think they have an advantage right now, but we’ve seen year over year if something happens in those two months when there’s no racing that teams find things and other teams lose things. I’m pretty sure, I’ve done three days worth of testing in the last week at different race tracks trying to work on our program and getting it better. I am very happy with the direction we are heading. We have improved our position in every Chase race. It’s easy when we’ve sucked as bad as the first three races that we did, but two races in we were 60 points behind and since then we’ve lost 20. It’s just one of those things where it has not been a good Chase for us and I know that next year we’re going to have some better race cars to come to the race track with and we’ve already found some things that I feel like that make me more comfortable in the race car and that will show up next year."