Hamlin - Bristol II Friday media visit

Toyota Motorsports

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

How do you feel entering this weekend’s race? “Today was a little bit of a struggle. We didn’t have a whole lot of speed in our car. At times it wasn’t too bad, but looking forward to the race. We normally race really well here at Bristol. I love coming here. The race is always exciting when we leave here. Looking forward to it. This is a weekend where we feel like we can get stuff going.”

Are you running Kyle Busch’s setup in the car this weekend? “It was when we unloaded. It was off of his quite a bit because we didn’t really get to race here in the spring. We ran five laps and got caught up in an accident. We had a drive shaft break on us last fall halfway through or so. We haven’t been able to complete a race here under normal circumstances in a while. It made sense for us to go with our teammates stuff unloading. We’ve wholesaled it since then.”

What is different about your season this year? “I wish I knew honestly, but things change a lot and they can change in a matter of a few months from December and January and even Daytona in February. A lot of team members change and things like that in the off season and it’s really bad years as we like to call ours this year. The Roush cars were not as strong last year like they are this year. That is three or four cars at the top that were not there and now they are. There are a couple guys that have stepped up and gotten much better. With the little bit that we’re off right now, it’s just being exploited by those cars that are now faster than us. We’ve just got to find the one and a half tenths at each race track that we’re off right now.”

How much pressure are you feeling? “I think every week that leads into the first Chase race, there’s going to be more and more pressure. Especially if you’re going backwards and not forwards. The pressure will continue to build and that’s going to be a given. I feel better about it. I feel like we’ve had some good meetings this week. I feel like we have a good game plan going forward on how we can improve our program, but it’s not something that’s going to change overnight. It’s just stuff that’s going to take a long time to kind of show the changes that we make from here on out.”

Are you and Mike Ford communicating better? “I think so. I think we had to get more on the same page than what we had been lately. I think that the meetings that we had and the discussions that we had got us back to that point. Now time will only tell how your on track performance goes from here on out. You have to see how the other reacts to those issues that might come about. I feel like I got frustrated when things didn’t go well and the communication kind of shut off at times. From this point forward, we have a different game plan when we face adverse situations and I think it’s going to be better.”

How does the communication change? “It’s tough because when things are good and you’re winning races, sometimes you almost communicate more than you do when things are bad, which in turn are the opposite of what it should be. When you’re struggling you need to communicate more and more and more on what we need to do to get better. I know last year we were really good -- even when we were winning races, we were discussing that night about what we could have done to make our car better that night. We’ve got such a frustrating time going this summer with engine failures and part failures and stuff like that. Sometimes it’s tough to bear through that and step up and say, ‘Okay, we’ll figure those things out and just keep working on our own deal.’ I think that all those failures through the summer just took it’s toll on myself and the team. We’re obviously trying to bounce back through that now.”

How will you react tomorrow if you’re not strong at the start? “Well, bottom line if we suck tomorrow, that’s the number one thing -- I haven’t finished these last few weeks. Brakes broke on us at Watkins Glen and we didn’t finish. We didn’t finish well last week cause I overdrove and got into the wall. We gave up an entire race worth of points because of not finishing. So no matter what, if we struggle then we’ve got to figure out how we can get the best finish for that day and that’s something that it’s been four or five weeks since we’ve done and I think that we’ve got a good game plan for that. And I honestly think that we won’t struggle. I think that we’ll be good. We typically race well here. We don’t always practice great, but we just got to weather through it and figure out what it takes to make that car go faster.”

Can pressure to make the Chase in Richmond lead to mistakes? “Well, almost from our standpoint you want to almost have nothing to lose going into Richmond. Every team handles pressure differently. I think that I had to race my way into the Chase twice going into Richmond had a chance to go in or out and it’s not fun. I can tell you want to just be able to go out there and focus on getting your best finish, but when you have to constantly worry about where the guys are running it’s no fun at all. I think that it’s going to be the last restart until the picture is going to be clear who’s going to be where.”

Do you think about being able to reset points entering Chicago? “We’re not thinking about Chicago. I can tell you that as far as a mindset standpoint we’re not even thinking about Chicago and where we’re going to be at that point, but that’s the great part about the points system, I can tell you that. We can sit here and struggle for 26 weeks and still have a shot with 10 races to go. I think any other team having the struggles we’ve had over the summer, they would be 25th in points. We’re not horrible, but this is obviously the lowest we’ve been in my career. But this is a good sign for our race team. I know that we’ve got too much talent on the pit box, on the pit crew and behind the seat that we belong in the Chase and if we get in the Chase we can be as dangerous as anyone, if we get things going. If we just figure out the things we need to work on and as far as what we came this weekend it’s more stuff between me and Mike (Ford, crew chief) and not necessarily a lot to air out.”

Are you taking more time in debriefing? “Yeah, basically. In a nutshell, yeah. More time debriefing and not trying to just do anything too dramatic. We used to after practice rather we were 25th or first in practice just take a few minutes, ‘This is okay. Alright, well let’s get out there and race.’ And I think at times we’re getting a little too technical. Too technical. We’re trying to look in depth at the car a little too much.”

Is the Chase like a brand new season? “I think from my standpoint, if I make it I’m going to treat it just like I did my rookie year and anything else beyond 12th in points is a bonus considering our year. We want to go out and there and we want to win the championship, but any other year if it wouldn’t be for this Chase format, I mean, we would be thinking about the best we can finish is the top-10 in points this year sitting right here, but anything can happen. We’ve seen Juan Pablo (Montoya) I think a couple of year ago who kind of squeaked into the Chase on a slump and all the sudden the Chase started and he started running extremely well. You want to peak at the right time and obviously this little low point for us it’s going to go higher. We’re going to get better. We know we’re going to get better and so my goal when I go to these next three races tracks is to win and I wouldn’t show up if I didn’t feel like I could win every single one of them.”

Did you think injuries can help aid you in a season? “I don’t know why that is. I mean, I think that for us I think it was more coincidence, maybe team moral, things like that, but it was really a turning point for us when I got injured. But I knew that I did not want that -- I injured myself outside of the race car, so I didn’t want me to be the reason we declined in performance. So you focused extra hard on which your business was, what you had to do, that part of it. And then all the sudden all the pieces started coming together and so I don’t know because I don’t know the in depth of their team and how they work or everything or through everything, but it’s just -- I don’t know. Maybe there’s a level of focus there you gain when you are injured, because you try to put that out of your mind and you just focus on you not being the weak link.”

Any idea where the Short-Track Showdown will be next year? “Yeah. I know Southside (Speedway) kind of they reopened on kind of a limited schedule this year. We would like to keep it at Richmond. We got a lot of good TV audience. It raised a lot of exposure and already got a lot of Cup guys wanting to participate in the race. I thought it was an awesome race. I thought we put on a great show out there. I could see the rain right before the race -- didn't help attendance at all, but still we reached relatively the same numbers and goals that we had at Southside. I’ll ultimately -- we want it to be a big race not only for us and the charities, but for the guys, the local racers to go back to Richmond and race. That’s where they -- whenever we’re racing, they’re not racing. They’re coming to watch us. They want to race on the big track and that was our first time back there in about 10 years. We would like to keep it there.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags bristol, gibbs, hamlin, sprint cup, toyota