DENNY HAMLIN, No.11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What is your outlook for 2011?
"I'm ready to go. I feel as confident as we've ever been. Every year we've steadily made a progression towards the top and obviously had a career year last year. We know we can do it and we can win at all different kinds of race tracks. For me, I think we have everything in place. I'm keeping all of my key personnel from what we had last year. No changes there. Pit crew is the same. The driver will be a little bit better. Everything is in place to hopefully pull out a first one."
What have you and your team done to make sure you continue the success you had in 2010 and not fall off?
"We don't do anything to try to prevent that from happening. All we can do is be our own team. A lot of times we get compared to guys who have done that or had high expectations and we've always proved everyone wrong when it's come to that. I'm really not concerned with it. I know we have a good enough team to stay at the top where we're at. It's just a matter of doing our homework."
Is your team hesitant to change the equipment you had last year?
"No, we're still working. I know it's not going to be good enough. We were extremely successful in the end of the 2009 Chase and you kind of wonder, `Is that going to go into 2010?' We started 2010 out with that same stuff and we were okay, and until we started evolving things in the middle of last season that's when we started winning races. Then by the end of the season, when we had our new stuff out it was even better. We continually know that you've got to change within the sport. You can't stay in one place or else you're going to get passed by a lot of guys. For me, I never rest on what I have. I'm no different than that race car. The things I have to improve on I have to go to work on. Whether it be studying, doing homework, doing the things I've got to do -- review tape, study notes. I need to be worked on just as much as the race car. All those things hopefully are what make us championship contenders. For me, there's certain areas that I for sure have to work on and I know that there's some areas within our team that we've written down that we've got to get better in. We know our weak points at this point right now."
Do you feel as much pressure going into this season as you did last year?
"I'll be honest with you, I think last year going into 2010 there were probably more expectations than what there are for myself this year. I think everyone is expecting a letdown year and obviously for me I know it's not an option. I'm excited about the challenge. There's fuel. There's fuel there constantly -- whether I would've won the championship or not -- to be on top of the sport. So, for me, I look forward to the challenge -- and it's going to be a challenge."
When did you know you lost the championship?
"I think just after Phoenix in general it was tough because we go from leaving one race track knowing we pretty much just have to run mid-pack to lock it up to now we've got to go out there and race hard. And then you qualify bad and it's just like, `Man, I just have a bad feeling about this.' It's tough to overcome that, and especially when you have negative energy and negative thoughts like that. I think it just wasn't meant to be. There were so many instances in that Chase where it was over, it should've been over but it just didn't happen. So, it just wasn't meant to be for us that year."
How long did it take you to get over the disappointment?
"After the awards banquet I was done with it pretty much. You had to relive it through media for the two weeks after the season. As soon as I was done with Vegas and was able to shut the TV off and stuff, it was just focus on this year."
Do you need to prove something this year after how last season ended?
"I hate driving feeling like you have something to prove. I feel like drivers that drive with a chip on their shoulder don't do as well as they should, but there's always a sense of wanting to be the best. I feel like I'm one of the toughest competitors in the garage and that doesn't necessarily mean about racing. Everything that I ever do, I'm so competitive and I hate losing -- that's what fuels my racing drive. That's why I chose racing back when I was a kid, is that it's you versus the other guys. The cars were all meant to be the same and the drivers are supposed to work it out. That is what I loved about racing, is the challenge of beating someone heads up. It doesn't matter what I do, that fire will never ever change and I will continue to be the sorest of losers."
What would a championship mean to Joe Gibbs Racing in its 20th season in NASCAR?
"It's big for the company. There's a lot of good history from before I was around this place and when this place got established. I came into a really, really good situation. I came in when there were rides to be had and I somehow got with one of the best sponsors, with the best teams and with the best crew chief all just kind of thrown at me and luckily made the best of that situation. For me, if we were able to win the championship in our 20 years it would be pretty big knowing the foundation that guys like Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett laid for this company."
How did you balance both the mental and emotional side during last year's Chase?
"I've just been through a few Chase's where I've crashed us out of them making aggressive moves and things like that. I didn't want to be the deciding factor on us winning a championship or not. In turn, maybe it was because I was in a wreck at Homestead, but I specifically set out to not get myself into trouble. I wanted to be there at race five where I knew from race five on that those were our strong race tracks. I wanted to be within `x' amount of points, because I knew I could make up a certain amount of points each week from there on out until the final race. And we executed exactly the way we said we were going to execute. It's just we didn't allow room for error. I didn't allow room for error. I didn't allow for running out of gas at Phoenix. I didn't allow for tearing up a race car at Homestead. Those are things that derail -- I wouldn't change my strategy, because we kept ourselves in the game the entire Chase and we separated ourselves from the pack. We eliminated seven or eight guys, kept it a three-car race and gave ourselves a chance to win the championship -- a great chance. Unfortunately for us, we lost it in the final seconds of the game. Its part of sports and you've got to understand that part."
How will you approach the first part of the season with the new NASCAR points system?
"I think you're going to race it very, very similar, but I think once you get two wins in the first 26 races, I think you're going to feel pretty comfortable. You're going to be in the Chase if not as a wild card. So, you can go for a lot more wins from that point forward, but you've got to be inside the top-10 for those bonus points to count. It's a little bit different game, but I think it's mostly going to be about consistency in the Chase. I love what they're doing, having those race winners be part of the Chase, but honestly if you're not consistent enough in the 26 races and you're 18th in points and you've won a couple races, you're probably not going to go on a run the final 10. But, it makes it more interesting and gets those guys involved in the Chase."
Do you feel like its win a championship or bust this year after coming so close last year?
"It's always championship or bust. But, for me, if I don't win the championship then I've took a step back because I finished second in points. If I finish third, how am I going to consider that a successful year? I just took a step back from where I was last year. And, you see over the last four years we've jumped three spots in the points every year over these last four years or so. For me, there's only one more spot to move up and I'm going to go into this year with a whole lot more knowledge of what I need to do and what I need to work on from this point forward. I think that the advantage that I have probably over Jimmie (Johnson) or Kevin (Harvick) or any of those guys is I'm in my sixth year here. I'm still learning a whole lot about these cars and things like that. Those guys have been in the sport for 10 years now. They've had a lot of opportunities. Me, I've had really two legitimate shots to win a championship in my first five years of my career. There's a lot that I've learned and it's all about making sure that I execute that and do the things in my head that I know that I need to do."
Are you surprised NASCAR made changes to the points system after the excitement last year?
"No, I'll be honest with you, I think all of the changes are good and that's the honest side of me saying if I thought it was bad I would say I didn't like it. I think that everything that they've changed is a positive thing. It's going to make the fans understand a whole lot more. It's going to make our drivers understand a lot more and on top of that it's going to force us to go out and try to win the race. We're not going to be happy with second place knowing that we've left six or seven points out there on the table, and that being a lot of spots in our points system. I like it. I think that they really thought about this and they were really methodical about it and I think it's good for our sport."
Do you think NASCAR went too far with the new points system or do you think they hit it right on the head?
"I think they hit it right on the head. I really don't think they could've made it any simpler for the new race fan coming into the sport or the drivers that knows he's 10 points behind. He's got to pass 10 cars. It makes things so much simpler and for me it's well understood. I think it's going to reward those guys that go out and win during the regular season. It's going to give you three bonus points. That's three spots -- that's like 15 points going into the Chase versus last year's 10. It's going to pay to win races nowadays."
What did you learn from last season?
"You've got to be mentally tough. That's for sure. Obviously, at the end of last year you had to just kind of shut the TV off for a couple weeks to try and clear your head. Once we got past the banquet then it was like, `Now it's 2011. I don't have to think about 2010. I don't have to talk about it anymore. We can just move on.' For me, that became the point in which I said, `Now, I've got to get out the books, I've got to get out the tape. Now, I've got to do homework on what I can do to be better because I'm no different than this race car that needs to be worked on and needs to be fine-tuned. The driver has got to fine-tune his skills. I've got to get better in different areas. They've been working hard here at the shop and I've been working hard at home."
-source: toyota motorsports