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

What is your outlook on trying to get into the Chase? “We’ve got five, six races to kind of get back to trying to be competitive and consistent during a full course of a race. Obviously, shown a lot of speed over the last few weeks, but just not the ability to finish as well as what we run so we’ve got to continue to work on that to first of all be a part of the Chase and then if we are to just be competitive in there.”

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Ashley Dickerson, ASP Inc.

What is your team thinking after the pit road incidents at Pocono? “We’ve got to finish first, and for four or five years I’ve been saying the same thing. It’s so frustrating from my standpoint that I don’t feel like we truly get the finishes that we deserve, and to deserve them every piece of the puzzle and everyone has to do their job and do it well. We’ve just struggled to do that consistently. So, that’s something we’ve got to work on and obviously everyone in our team knows that.”

What is your team’s attitude heading into Watkins Glen this weekend? “The core group of guys are the ones that travel every week, everything is good. We have a great relationship. There’s no animosity amongst us. Everyone knows they’re doing their best, but it’s just frustrating at times when mistakes just cost us week in and week out.”

Can you close the gap and climb into the top-10 with five races to go before the Chase? “It can be overcome. There’s a mix of some different race tracks that could very well separate things. I don’t think that me, the 14 (Tony Stewart) or the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), 16 (Greg Biffle) or the 33 (Clint Bowyer) -- none of us are going to have a flawless five races. I think that it’s going to be the battle over who can be the most consistent is going to be the biggest key or who can sneak in and get a win. So, it’s going to be tough to see between the five of us or so how this all plays out. Going into Richmond I wouldn’t want to be more than five points behind. I don’t want to be behind to begin with. You feel like you can possibly beat guys on any given week by three, four, five spots but that’s tough to do.”

Will you take risks in the final five races before the Chase if it gives you a good chance to get a win? “I think it’s going to depend on the situation. It’s so tough to say. Every caution flag that comes out that’s kind of in your window, but it’s not is a different situation. Like I said, for us, we feel like we can get in there based off of performance -- performance only. You take how fast is our car this weekend and that should get us in. But, we’ve got so many variables right now that you’ve got to factor in that it’s so unpredictable. So, it’s hard for me to say whether we’re willing to take that risk to get the second win versus trying to get into the top-10. We don’t know. I think it’s going to depend on honestly what kind of day our competitors are having also.”

Do you think you can get another win at Michigan next week? “We do, and at this point if we would’ve won last week then I’d be real optimistic but it’s so unpredictable. Some of our best race tracks we’ve had the biggest amount of issues at. So, it’s so tough to say what’s going to be our strong suit nowadays. Michigan has been a good track. We haven’t finished I don’t think any worse than second over the last three races so we need to go there and we need to perform well. The track changes quite a bit obviously in those few months. I think it just gets a little bit warmer and other than that it loses a small amount of grip. The setups we’ve run over the last few years have been pretty similar from the first race to the second.”

What do you think about the Michigan pit road improvements? “It won’t change that much for us. Unless it really changes the configuration and things like that, it won’t change really what we do. You have to run a certain speed. One thing it will let you do is get into the boxes a little bit more aggressive if there’s newer pavement than what there was in the past.”

Are you close to breaking through and winning at Bristol Motor Speedway? “We hope so. We always seem to have a strong car there -- don’t really get good finishes. Here lately we had a wreck, I think in the spring. It’s just one of those tracks where we look to go there and run well. It’s a short track. Obviously we feel like we should run well. Kyle (Busch) is so good at the track, I will probably be leaning quite a bit on him to try and gain some more information, because really he’s kind of got that track down pretty well.”

Why do we see so much aggression on the road courses? “I think people have a different mindset. Honestly, I think that people think that they can run over guys on road courses and not have repercussions like they do on the ovals. I think on the ovals when it happens, you know you’ve got one coming, where on a road course people think, ‘Oh, that’s okay to run over the guy in front of me. He’ll get over it.’ I agree. I think I saw something with Jeff Burton not too long ago commenting on the road courses. It’s true. Guys do not show each other very much courtesy on these tracks, but it’s just part of hard racing. You know you’re going out there and you’re going to be -- after the last road course race in Sonoma (Infineon Raceway) I told my crew chief, ‘Build me a tank. Build me something I can hit guys and slam into guys and I can be hit without my car falling apart.’ You just know that it’s part of racing nowadays.”

When you get upset as a driver, is there a line you can’t cross? “It’s an invisible line we can’t see. It is tough because here lately I’ve been so frustrated week in, week out over not finishing as well as I run because of a bad pit stop or something, lug nuts fall off or something breaking -- all that stuff. It’s just so frustrating at times, but that’s part of what makes this a team sport. You’re going to win together and my team has won me as many races as they’ve lost me. And I’ve done the same to them. It’s just one of those things where it’s frustrating at times that even the guys that had a career day, their best day changing tires or carrying tires, or I had a career day driving, it doesn’t matter because if not everyone pulls their weight than you don’t get the finish that it takes to win. For me, that’s what’s been frustrating, but you’ve got to just know that eventually those things will hopefully get fixed and come around and you’ll find yourself back where you belong up towards the top.”