KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How would you look back on the 2011 season? “Certainly there were some high points -- certainly there were some low points to it. Of course, winning the inaugural race at Kentucky and winning for our first time at Michigan -- being pretty dominant on the short tracks with wins at Bristol and Richmond. All in all, those were certainly some highs, and some lows were just not having the right 10 races again. It seems like we just can’t seem to figure out the Chase thing. It was what it was and we’ll move on to 2012."
What grade would you give yourself and your team this year? “It’s kind of hard to grade on your own expertise -- we would always grade lower because we feel that we failed expectations. I’d say that the No. 18 team and all that we’ve went through this year and all the accomplishments we’ve made -- certainly through the first 26 races we were an ‘A’ or an ‘A+’ -- we did exactly what we needed to do, we met all of our expectations. But then in the final 10, I would give ourselves probably a ‘D’ -- we just seem to fail on it every year. It just doesn’t seem to come together."
Have you spent time testing the new TRD (Toyota Racing Development) engine for 2012? “I have not. Our first test was just at the race in Homestead where we were able to get some time on it. Things felt good. Not much different than what we had at Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s certainly a change -- hopefully for the better and with fuel injection coming on next year -- that will change a little bit more. Some guys are doing some testing -- I think (Joey) Logano mostly in the next couple of weeks."
Do you expect any differences with the TRD engines in 2012? “The competition changes that us as teams feel like we need -- under the hood is some of it certainly -- but we’d like to make sure that we are a little bit more competitive week in and week out. It’s so hard to do because we only have so many Toyota teams out there. There’s only like six or seven. It makes it a little more challenging on us to not have more teams to bounce ideas off of. When you’re Chevy, you’ve got 15 of them and when you’re Ford you’ve got like eight or 11 of them or something like that. Makes it to where you have more teams and you can bounce more ideas."
What is the best Christmas you remember? “A lot of Christmases were cool. Fortunately, we weren’t brought up wealthy, but we did have enough that made us very happy and content in where we were living. I’d say the biggest thing was that every Christmas was just tearing our race cars apart and looking forward to the next year and being in the garage and spending time as a family with Dad and some friends and my brother of course. Having Mom or Grandma bringing out some dinner or some snacks to us sometimes when we were enjoying the off-season."
How do you put yourself in a positive mindset for next season? “I think it’s going to be good through the rest of December and January -- the time that you have away and to just get away and not worry about too much. Try to spend more time not reflecting, but looking forward. For us, it’s going to be a good off-season -- nothing is changing with the team or anything like that -- so that’s cool. We’ve got a lot to look forward to next year."
Will fans see anything different with EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection)? “No, you won’t see anything different on the track. It will all pretty much run the same. It’s something we’ve been working and it’s so close to what we’ve already run with carburetors that you won’t see much difference."
Does the new 2013 race car result in extra work for the team? “It does. With Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing being the two Toyota teams, we’re the ones that are developing the new car and working on the 2013 model and what we’re going to have and what’s going to come out with it. I’ve seen it and it’s pretty cool looking. A little bit different than what we currently run and a little bit more like what we see on the street so it’s cool."
Do you see any potential issues with the 2013 cars? “I don’t know -- even with the current car we’ve always had the aero push or we’ve always had getting loose when you get up behind somebody. You’re going to have that. That’s mechanics -- that’s physics. With the next car that’s coming out you’re not going to be able to fix those things. All you can work on really to make your cars go faster is a lower center of gravity, more downforce and less drag so we’ll see what we come up with."
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 Fedex Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Are you looking forward to the 2012 season? “We’re looking forward to it. Obviously, you look at how we finished during the course of my career in the points and we only finished outside of the top-eight one time other than this year. We have to get back to being contenders like we have been for the first five years of my career."
Are you motivated to perform better in 2012? “I can tell you from my head right now where I’m at -- I’m more motivated right now than I was last year during this whole week and everything. I was looking more to get past 2010 and just get on with it. This year, I’m thinking let’s get to 2012. I feel like myself and this team have something to prove. The fire burns in you to show that you’re not a ninth-place team, you’re not a ninth-place driver and you deserve better than that. We’re going to show people next year what we’ve got. What are you looking forward to the most in 2012? “Being relevant and being in contention to win races. That’s a great feeling when you know you have a shot to win, and that didn’t come that often for us this past year. You just want to be competitive and you want to feel. I’m not going to say you took it for granted winning eight races last year, but it’s like, ‘Man maybe I took victory lane for granted.’ Because it’s so tough to win in this series that I’m looking forward to being competitive again because I know that we’re going to take that step in the off-season."
What motivates you to compete? “I know what our potential is, and so I know without a doubt I can win races, I can win a championship, my team can win a championship. It’s just what do we need to do to put all that together? It’s like we have a ton of talent on our team, we just have to figure out who needs to be where."
Are you looking forward to starting the new season with TRD (Toyota Racing Development) engines? “I’m excited about it. Obviously, to have TRD (Toyota Racing Development) on our side is a very good tool for us. They’re support for our race team in particular has been unmatched. I’m excited about it, I think they have some good stuff in the works as far as the engines are concerned and obviously the reliability is what we needed these last 13, 14 races that we worked with them and we had it -- that’s all we can ask for."
What do you think about the new Camry serving as the pace car for the Daytona 500? “Daytona is a big, big weekend and it’s going to be a big weekend for everyone at Toyota. To have the Camry pace Daytona for the first time and to hear some of the things I heard about the Camry -- it’s the most American car on the road. The parts all come from America for the most part. It’s good to have the new Camry pacing the ‘Great American Race’. It’s a proud moment for Toyota as a company and it’s good to see them getting the recognition that they deserve."
How much of a factor will EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection) have on the competition in 2012? “It’s good for us that we have Toyota, because they’ve done a good job in their street cars of having good power and good fuel efficiency, and with this whole EFI system, you’re going to have to have both. We’ve gone through changes and it’s been tough for our teams and manufacturers to keep up with the constant changes that we have with the rule changes. For me, it’s easy because I just get in the race car and go and say, ‘Alright, what am I driving?’ It causes a lot of hard work for all these teams and luckily we have the resources that we do to try to stay ahead of everyone else."
How do you think the transition to EFI (Electronic Fuel Injection) will go at the beginning of 2012? “I don’t think it will be seamless, but I think it will be a lot like the fuel situation we had at the beginning of the year where it was an issue for four or five races and guys were having problems with pit stops and all of a sudden it’s a non-issue and you don’t hear about it anymore. I think it’s going to be kind of like that for the EFI (electronic fuel injection)."
Do you have plans for the off-season? “No and that’s what is so great about it. I’m planning on just getting away and I think probably moving to Phoenix for a couple months. Good off-season -- good golf courses."