Hamlin - Michigan Friday media visit

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Toyota Motorsports

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

Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin

Photo by: Adriano Manocchia

How was practice Friday at Michigan? “It was a good practice. I felt like we have learned a lot. Obviously, we’ve had some good finishes the last three times here. Once you get a car to a certain feel, and it has obviously won a race before, you try to search for that feel and I think we’re getting there. We’re about 75 percent there right now.”

How are you feeling physically after the hit you had at Watkins Glen last weekend? “Today was much better. Wednesday was the worst by far. Just backside really, back and tailbone really hurt the worst of anything. Surprisingly nothing with the neck, or anything like that. It’s definitely in the better stages now than what it was.”

What do you think about the decision to use the TRD engine beginning this weekend? “We talked about asking TRD (Toyota Racing Development). You have to understand, this is a big favor to ask a manufacturer to provide engines for us for the rest of the year. It’s a lot of manpower, a lot of work had to be done, especially within JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing). There’s a lot of work that had to be done to get this engine imported into our car. So, we were going to have to ask and pull a lot of favors to do it. We just asked them if they’d be willing to do it and they did. I was behind it 100 percent. I felt like it was the right thing to do. Ultimately what matters is results. Things happen, engines blow -- things happen like that -- but we felt like they’ve worked out a lot of reliability issues that they had early on. If we were going to make the Chase, we could not afford DNFs because of engine failures and on top of that, we couldn’t afford to keep starting in the back every week because of engine failures. I didn’t help us out last week, but we started in the back I think four times because of blown engines. That’s just too hard to over come, especially with as hard as it is today to win a race.”

How are drivers able to perform well after injuries? “I think that there’s an element of focus that you find that you don’t necessarily do on a weekly basis. I think that when you’re concentrating and you’re trying to do your best out there. When you have an injury, you don’t want that to be the reason you don’t perform, so you work extra hard at hitting your marks and doing all the right things inside the car as a driver. I think that has something to do with it. We see some of the best players in sports have their best games when they’re sick. It’s just part of it I think. I think this is just the level of focus that you find.”

Does the performance from Brad Keselowski change your perception? “He’s tough, he’s been tough. But not really, it doesn’t change my perception. I think anybody else with that same situation would be doing the same thing. He’s obviously excelling and winning races and finishing second these last few weeks. The team has gotten better. I worked with his crew chief two years ago and he is a bright guy -- very, very smart -- very underrated. Obviously their chemistry is getting better as the season goes.”

Have the problems you’ve had with Brad Keselowski gone away? “Yeah, it really has. It used to be that I wouldn’t even look Brad’s (Keselowski) way last year and he didn’t want to look my way. Now this year, we have no issues. I think he’ll tell you he races a lot different nowadays than he used to. That’s just stuff that takes time to figure out. Things work a little differently on this side of the fence I guess you could say. He’s figured out how to perform well on this side now.”

Do you think Brad Keselowski is a threat to the championship? “Well, obviously you’ve got to look past two weeks. There’s a lot of guys that go on streaks for a couple weeks. To maintain it for 10 weeks is so, so difficult. Obviously the big jump in points he’s had over the last few weeks, he’s solidified himself pretty much as a Chase competitor with those two wins. I look at him just as tough as the other 11 guys if we’re in, we’re going to have to race.”

How do you think using the TRD engines will help you for the remainder of the season? “It’s a tough balance because you have some employees that take a lot of pride in their work. When you ultimately switch, some people’s feelings get hurt sometimes. We have to do what we have to do to make sure we finish races at this point. Being on the bubble, we cannot afford any DNFs. We’re just doing what we have to do. I hate to say it. Toyota is our partner in this whole thing. When we joined them in 2008, they said anything you need, we’re going to give it to you. This is a huge request and obviously it’s come to this point and hopefully it works out.”

Why has your No. 11 team experienced the most problems this year at JGR? “It’s tough to say. Even at Kentucky, we unloaded and our engine was blown. We had engine issues. I’m as careful with equipment as I can possibly be. I don’t put my car in reverse in practice -- all kinds of little things I do to make sure I’m easy on equipment. Coincidence, procedures -- things like that -- who knows, who knows why. Bad luck, we don’t know why because these engines are kind of random in the sense of who gets what. You know, every time out there you’re going to have one engine failure, you have a one in three shot. We’re just on that bad run of the one and three right now.”

What do you think about the expected announcement that Danica Patrick will race fulltime in NASCAR next year? “I think it’ll be good for NASCAR. I think she’s going to enjoy herself over here. It is a different world, she knows that. I think she’s made tremendous strides in her short NASCAR career and exceeded my expectations for sure. I think her getting here on a weekly basis, you’ll see her running top-10 pretty consistently I believe.”

What does it take to be successful at Bristol? “Look at Kyle Busch’s notes. He’s just a great driver at that race track. We go to Martinsville and he’s asking me. But, Bristol is the one track that I’ve run well at -- don’t get me wrong -- we’ve led a lot of laps and been in position to win a lot of races, but he’s over the last couple years had a dominance on that track. We’ll just kind of use their notes. I’ll talk to him about what he does as far as braking and things like that. He makes it look so easy in the sense he’s never really strong in practice but in the race he fires and takes off. I have to find some information before I can tell you what’s good there.”

Do you have a preference between the ‘old’ Bristol and the ‘new’ Bristol? “I’m 50-50 on the old track versus the new track. I like the physical part of the old track. This is a more racy Bristol. With the variable banking we started dead last there before and drove up to the top-six, I believe, in the first fuel run. So, it’s a track you can pass on. The old track you never would have been able to do that before. If you have a good car, you can make up ground -- that’s the part that we like. Side-by-side racing is still tough there, but you can at least make a pass.”

What do you like about racing under the lights at Bristol? “It’s just the excitement of it. Anytime you have a night race there’s always more excitement built around it. Then when you have everyone within a half-mile radius inside of a little race track, it’s a grand feeling. Obviously, it’s one of those races that all those amateur race fans need to see. It’s probably the first one they should go to. They’ll become a race fan permanently after that.”

Do you have any thoughts about changing some of the walls at Watkins Glen? “I’m so torn on it because we all did walk away pretty much unscathed. So, it’s like what’s better that guard rail with tires where I hit or would it be harder if I hit a soft wall because there’s concrete behind that soft wall. At the rate I went, I probably would have collapsed it all the way to the wall. So, it’s tough for me to say. The only thing I don’t like about the walls necessarily is that there’s just no room if you do have trouble. Right there where (David) Reutimann hit on the right side -- I would like to see that wall pushed in to where -- there’s that grass right there where you can escape if there is a problem. If that wall is pushed in, it would fix a lot of things or the angles of the wall too. That angle of the wall where (David) Reutimann hit doesn’t need to be that sharp of a point.”

Are you getting any well-wishes encouraging you to make the top-10 in points? “I didn’t realize until I had an interview with Larry Mac (McReynolds) this week and he said, ‘Have you talked to Slugger Labbe at Menard’s?’ He said they’re biggest Denny Hamlin fans at this point to try to get in there. If I were them I’d be so torn on whether you want me to have a good day or a bad day because they want me to get in the top-10 which automatically puts them in. But, if we have problems then he could pass me in points. It’s such a weird thing and no one’s ever going to know what’s going to happen until the last lap at Richmond. One extra win by myself or someone else completely changes the game and I got to be aware of that.”

Is there any scenario where you can get back in the top-10 in points? “I don’t know, I’m probably 30 (points) behind Tony (Stewart). I can make that up, but he’s going to have to have a bad week. The same with Dale Jr. (Earnhardt). He would have to have a bad week and some mediocre races in between. And then on top of that, I’ve got to run top-five and be really consistent. Our biggest issue is that if where not going to be competitive it really doesn’t matter if we make the Chase or not. What’s the difference between 12th and 15th in points -- to me it’s nothing, other than you just have the stature of being a Chase contender. You never were a Chase contender if you finish 12th in place. For me, I’d like to get back to being consistent like we were first. Then we can work on building for a championship.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags brooklyn, gibbs, hamlin, toyota