DENNY HAMLIN, NO. 11 FEDEX MONTE CARLO SS TAKES BUD POLE - POST QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Denny Hamlin was on the pole here earlier this summer at Pocono. That race, he did win. He drives the No. 11 FedEx Kinko's Chevrolet. Denny Hamlin, tell us about your qualifying run out there today.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, our car was really good today in practice for sure. When we did our mock qualifying run in June, I think we were in the mid 20s or so. I just went out there and made, you know, a crazy lap or something like that. I told Mike that I know how good our car is this time around. I didn't know how good it was that time around. So I was going out there and if I wrecked it, I wrecked it; if I didn't, I didn't.
I told him I was gonna take it easier this time, try not to tear our car up because I don't know what the backup's like. I just went out there. Track had a lot of grip. You know, just ran to our potential, and it was good enough for the pole.
Q</I>: Obviously, this is a safe car. We hear people talk about how different the track is, how much it changes from fall, all that stuff. Apparently it hasn't changed very much for you or your car. This car seems to be pretty good.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I could definitely tell a big difference in the tire that they brought back. Seems like you feel every crack in the road with this tire, you know, it's so hard.
So when I initially went out there today, it was, you know ? the car felt different. It was still fast, but it was different. So, you know, kind of Good Year's throwing all of us a curve ball. At all these racetracks, kind of seems like every single time we go somewhere it's a new tire or this, that and the other. It's really been tough, but I know we had the patience to not race this car again until we came back here. We had several mile and a halfs in between that we could have probably brought it. We would have risked tearing it up, and that was gonna be a problem.
So we had the patience to bring it back here, you know, untouched. And when we did that, our car is right on target. Hopefully, the rest of the year we're gonna use it up pretty hard.
Q</I>: Denny, last time you came here, you won a race two days after you'd seen the track for the first time. Is there an area, some people say, Ignorance is bliss. Knowing a lot about a track, can that be a disadvantage? If you go out there fresher, you haven't picked up the bad habits, haven't maybe even developed the respect or avoidance that other people have that actually can be an advantage particularly when you're qualifying?
DENNY HAMLIN: Uhm, you know, I think so. I mean, I don't know that you pick up bad habits. I think when you gain experience, you only get better. I feel like, you know, I had a better idea this time around in qualifying especially what my car was gonna do versus last time where I just went out there and winged it.
You know, everyone really, you know, kind of ran slower than what they had in the June race. Overall, the times I think are slower. But, you know, we picked up. That's just a testament how much faster our car is when we got here.
So I think our car is really strong. I really didn't have a huge amount of confidence in it last time we raced here, but this time I know our car is good, if not I think it's probably a lot better.
Q</I>: You are having a fantastic rookie year. What amazes me the most is your consistency. Week after week after week. Looking at these records, Jeff Gordon, everyone has had crashes, it's crazy out there. You're a rookie, looking smooth and consistent. It's got to be hard to do that, but you make it look easy.
DENNY HAMLIN: I learned last year in the Busch Series. We didn't have a top 5 team last year. We had about a 10th to 15th place team, but I learned to finish races. That's what it's all about. The points, the way the structure of the points system is, it's all about finishing. I finished 5th in the Busch Series points last year, finishing about 10th to 15th every single week. I had one top 5, nine top 10s in the Busch Series. So I realized, just take that mentality up to the Cup Series and you'll probably do the same thing.
You can have guys that are gonna top 5 and top 10 it every single week, and those are the guys you're really going to have to step up your game to beat. As far as getting inside that top 10, it's just all about eliminating problems. I learned over the course of this year that, Hey, we had some problems early in the year. The first eight races, every other race we were worse than 30th just because of mechanical problems. We weren't really crashing out.
So we just, as a team, (indiscernible) a good race, said, Let's just take each week, do whatever we can, let's not exert ourselves and get in trouble and wreck.
So, you know, we're on a streak. I think 10 races in a row of nothing worse than about 16th or 17th. It's just about consistency.
Q</I>: You said you brought the same car back, but then you were talking about the tires being so hard and bumping, I guess you can call it that. Didn't that cause you to make some adjustments to the car?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, overall, I think it made everybody's car tighter than what it was here in the June race. So, you know, our cars turn quite a bit better than what a lot of guys did in June, so we had less of a curve that we needed to improve on our car. Now the guys who pushed in June, now they're plowing. It's definitely, you know, kind of worked out in our benefit there. So we didn't have too much of a learning curve as far as getting the car right, but, you know, we did have a little bit of it.
Q</I>: When you came here the first time, did anybody give you any special information about how to drive this track because it is a little different? Did you have any preconceptions of what it would be like at Pocono?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, not really. You know, it's just one of those things where any racetrack I have any kind of question of how to get around, first thing I do is go ask Tony. Second thing I do, I just sit there and I wait on Pit Road until someone like Mark Martin or someone like that comes by me and get behind them. That's what I did here in June. I sat there on Pit Road and I sat there for five or ten minutes just waiting on Mark Martin to pull out of the garage and get on the racetrack so I could just follow him. I felt like that meant more than us going out there, running on our own, not knowing what we were doing and just wasting a bunch of time. I felt like I learned a lot doing that, and in the race, you learn twice as much.
Q</I>: Did the win in June change you? And if it did, how?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I don't think so. You know, all it did was really give us a big boost to try to get in this Chase. I think we were 12th coming in, in the points coming into this race in June. We're 12th now. The only problem is we've closed that gap between ourselves and 4th place where the most we were gonna go up here in June was maybe 9th or 8th where we could make a big jump to 4th or 5th in the points in just a short amount of time. So we've really been on a streak of just consistency. You know, if we can just keep these next six races under our belt and not have any problems, we're definitely a contender to try to get into that Chase.
Q</I>: Have you had to go through any major big changes that your team has had to make to your approach yet, the way you go about things? For a lot of veterans, there's been two or three different ways to build a race car here the last couple years. Have you had to go through that yet? Have you had to come to that point where you have to abandon something you know works?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think that's really a benefit of testing out coming into the sport because, you know, a lot of the veterans have their ways of thinking and the ways set up race cars and everything like that that I really never had the chance to experience.
So when I'm coming into here to go, everybody's cool about it now, so it seems like that's all I know. Some of the veterans are having a tough time with it because it's driving terrible. Well, you know, I just figure that's the way these race cars drive. It's just part of it. I'm pretty lucky because of that.
Q</I>: Has the track changed from June, and, if so, in what way?
DENNY HAMLIN: We're actually pretty lucky this weekend because normally I don't know what the temperature is up here, but they say it's usually a lot hotter in July than what it is in June. The conditions are very, very similar. So that kind of helped as far as, you know, the track conditions and our car.
On the other hand, you know, things do change over time. You just can't, you know... Setups evolve. You're not just gonna unload the exact same way as what you were and be just as fast. We found that out. We picked up some stuff over the last six weeks that's made us faster, and we added that to our package. So, you know, I think you just can't sit on what you know; you got to continue to evolve.
Q</I>: Did you try your TV game again this year?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I didn't have enough time to do it this week. Actually, we ran faster, so maybe I need to stay off of it (laughter).
Q</I>: You said you waited on Pit Road to follow somebody out to practice. What did your crew chiefs think of that, you sitting there, wasting valuable practice time?
DENNY HAMLIN: That was the whole thing, you really don't get that much practice so you got to optimize every minute you got. I told Mike exactly what I was gonna do. I said, You know what, I'm out here and I'm all by myself on the racetrack. And the track is so flat, you kind of lose sight of where you are on the racetrack. It's hard to really find let?off points or anything. So you go out there, let off exactly where the guy in front of you does. That kind of puts you in a rhythm. You go out there and do it again and again, and that kind of helps you pick up. It took only two or three runs before I really kind of not really figured it out because I still don't think I figured it out, but definitely put me on a level playing field with the rest of the guys.
Q</I>: A lot of young guys will come in here and the sky's the limit. As you get experience, you start seeing where the limitations are and then you have to start deducing what to do about them. Where are you at in that process?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, you know, last year I'd say it in kind of a cocky manner that, Hey, we're gonna make the Chase next year. That was two or three races into my career as a Cup driver.
I didn't realize how tough it was. But, that was not necessarily talking about myself, but as much as this team is really, really good that I just hop in the seat of. I mean, their chemistry was really good. I got in that car at an optimum, optimum time.
I really haven't had to go through, like Dave was talking, those learning curves because our team really, since I've been in it, hasn't really struggled. I mean, you know, I think Joe Gibbs Racing started to struggle midway ? the early part of last season. They got it figured out. Next thing you know, I got in the car and things just worked out great.
Our goal is for top 15 in points and make Rookie of the Year. If I make that Chase, that will be icing on the cake. Whatever happens after that, you know, happens. But if I don't, you know, I'm gonna be disappointed because, yeah, I'm a contender right now, but all I can hope for right now is when I go to Richmond, I have a legitimate shot. If I can do that, I'm pretty confident.