Continued from part 1 DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Will you be able to do any physical activity for the next year with your knee injury? "For me, basically I've got to figure out a different way to have cardio....
Continued from part 1
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Will you be able to do any physical activity for the next year with your knee injury? "For me, basically I've got to figure out a different way to have cardio. What bothers me the most about it is I'm not able to do the things I love to do. Everyone has a hobby outside of racing and if you told them they couldn't do that for a year-and- a-half it would bother them. And for me, it's (basketball) just something that I took up and I love to do. For me, now it's just going to be about finding a way to get my heart rate up in a different way."
Will your injury affect you mentally? "Whether it's been cutting my hand in my rookie season or something like that, all I can remember is not feeling any pain once I'm in the race car. Ultimately, the hand hurt worse than what this will inside a race car. You've got to be mentally tough and for me I feel like I'm just so focused inside the race car it didn't matter if I had a broken leg -- I wouldn't feel anything."
How long can you stand before your knee bothers you? "It's about two hours that I have on it when it really starts getting unstable. I had a moment when I went to the X Games (in Aspen, Col.) where it gave out and popped twice and I fell down just standing up because I had been on my feet too long. That's the thing you've got to worry about. At that time I didn't have a brace, but we've got a custom made brace now that I'm going to wear pretty much everyday and that I have to wear everyday just to help support it because ultimately the more you stand on it the weaker it does get."
How different are you now compared to when you won the Shootout as a rookie in 2006? "I'm a ton different. I don't even remember that guy to be honest with you. I think the media could probably give a better explanation of how different I am from 2006 to 2010. I just feel like I know a lot more about how things go here in the Cup Series and the way NASCAR does things and ultimately what it takes to win a championship."
How much more is expected of you now than when you won the Shootout during your rookie year? "Every year you expect yourself to be better than you were the previous year. Without a doubt I know in my mind that I'm better than I was in 2008 and in 2008 I was better than I was in 2007. Just because we may be different on the stats sheet than that, I think everyone knows being on a competitive level we're better every single year. Last year was just almost good enough performance-wise to win a championship, so what does that mean for 2010?"
How close do you think you were to Jimmie Johnson last season? "Those races that we blew up -- just give us an average finish -- and we're right there racing them at Homestead. Ultimately, he had a problem too so if you give that back to him it's going to be a little tougher. You've just got to learn. That's the biggest thing I have. I watch a lot race teams and learn and try to figure out what it takes. Once you think you have it figured out here in the Cup Series is when you stop going forward. And for me the biggest thing I think that's made me better over the last few years is when I make a mistake I learn from it and try not to make that mistake again."
What race team have you learned the most from in the Sprint Cup Series garage? "The best is Jimmie (Johnson), as far as keeping your cool, but it's mentally tough on the entire competition to stay as mentally cool as him because we don't feel like we have -- we're racing with the same stuff. It seems like he's always got a leg up in one sense or another. You're watching practice on a weekly basis and they run as fast as they have to. That's tough and I think that takes its toll on other drivers and it forces them to make mistakes. I don't think Jimmie (Johnson) has ever been in a position where he's had to give it all he had to win a championship. I think he just kind of lets things come to him and watches other guys just crumble around him."
Are you worried that four or five hours in a race car at a short track will affect your knee? "By then I think the pain will be much, much less than it is at the current time. Myself, there's no better place than I can be at Daytona as far as the leg is concerned. Talking to the doctors and everything like that, by the time I get to California I won't have a limp. I'll walk normal and everything will be fine especially now that I have a daily brace that I'll be wearing. It's going to help a ton with the rehab."
Are you going to wear a brace when you're driving the race car? "No, we manufactured one but I don't know if it's going to fit. The confines of the cockpit are so small that in case of emergency, especially on a wreck or something like that, and you've got to make an abrupt move with your feet to hit the brakes and you've got to have that mobility and you've got to have that room and I think the brace takes a little bit of that away. Ultimately, I got in the car and did some heavy braking, some clutching with no brace at all and it was no issue."
Why do you think you've had knee problems throughout your career? "I've used my body like nobody else. I push it to the limit no matter what I'm doing. If I'm playing basketball, golf, it doesn't matter what I'm doing -- I want to be the best at it. You know it's funny, that gets the best of me at times and takes its toll on my body. It doesn't matter if I can't really get out of bed because my back is aching, I'll lace up and head to the basketball court that afternoon. I never let injuries bother me and if anything I perform better with them."
Do you consider yourself the favorite to win the championship this year? "I feel like talent-wise, I'm as good as anyone on the race track. Ultimately, it takes a lot of pieces of a puzzle to make a championship run. The driver's skill levels are probably 15 to 20 percent of it. So, there's only so much I can help but I think my team is better prepared this year. We learned a lot from how we ran our race team last year and started to peak at the right time. Those are some things that are very valuable to our race team that you're going to see the same characteristics this year."
Does the earlier start time affect the outcome of the Daytona 500? "I think the early start times play into guys like Tony Stewart. When we talk about making runs during the summer and how good the stats are during the summer a lot of it has to do with the race track being hot. Myself, I think it's great that we're running during the day. I think you see it all of the time -- it's like you have different competitors running up towards the front when the track starts cooling down and starts getting into the night. I think that's a very honest statement and an underrated thing that people haven't really paid attention to is the start time and what it's going to affect and who's going to perform best during the day because it is a different race track."
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
Can you talk about your first race car? "Do go-karts count or an actual race car? My first race car -- I raced a modified at Las Vegas. It was modified, 10 inch tires, two-barrel carburetors, steal head motor, 450-horsepower and tons and tons of grip on a high-banked track."
What are your expectations for your first season with Michael Waltrip Racing? "The transition for me has been fun. It's been easy -- seamless. A lot easier and a lot smoother than I thought it would go. I've been with the same team a long time and it's hard to imagine going somewhere else. When you're getting ready to make the move, it's like you have all these questions, 'How's this going to go? How's that going to go? What's this going to be like? Is it going to be difficult?' It went really well, it was smooth, easy. The folks at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) have done a great job of putting people in places that they need to be in making decisions and making things run smoothly. I've been impressed with every aspect of the organization so far. The expectations are high. I'm excited, I feel like we're going to come out of the box strong and it should be a lot of fun."
Do you feel like you're stepping into a championship-contending organization? "Honestly, yeah I do. I feel really good about it. I have a lot of confidence in what they're (Michael Waltrip Racing) doing and how they're doing it. The support they get from Toyota, the people they have leading their company -- their team, with the team that Pat (Tryson, crew chief) has assembled and all the things we've done or they've done to put together and put in place for me this year have been really impressive to me to be a part of. I think the sky is the limit for the team and the amount of effort they put in and how hard they work. It's hard to say you won't win a championship, everybody here says they want to -- that's what we're all here for. I really think in the near future they're going to be capable of it or they are already."
How has your relationship been with new crew chief Pat Tryson? "The relationship with Pat (Tryson, crew chief) has been really easy. There was no forcing it, there was no, 'Well we need to go hang out to get to know each other.' We just kind of started talking and hanging out in the shop, walking around and going wind testing. I was blown away with how well everything went. I've been doing this for I guess five years now and we've done a whole lot of testing over the years, and of all the testing I've ever done -- the two tests I've done this winter have been the most productive two tests I've ever been a part of. That's been impressive for me. Going and getting a new car, with a new crew and a new crew chief, and to come out and be able to accomplish all the things we wanted to -- we have a list of things we wanted to try -- we got through them all. Both times our cars were just okay off the trailer and by the end of the day I left there wishing we had a race there the next day. Things just went really well. It's been so easy for me to just go in there and be myself, do what I do and they just take the ball and run with it. It's been fun."
Did you get any 'cobwebs' during the off-season? "The off-season is too short for cobwebs anymore. It's like riding a bike. We went to Atlanta -- that tire test was our first test this year and the second lap off the trailer was the fastest we ran in two days. It's kind of how it goes."
What is the biggest difference for you compared to a year ago? "Stability within a company and with the teams -- I think the whole team (Michael Waltrip Racing), whole company is just solid as a rock. The foundation is solid. All the people, with Ty (Norris, VP & general manager), with Michael (Waltrip) obviously, and Rob Kauffman being the owners -- they do a great job. With the sponsorship they have and the renewal rate they've had with their sponsorship, it's a place people want to come to. The workers there enjoy their jobs, they're not there for a paycheck, and they're passionate about what they do. They feel like it's the best place -- it's where they want to be. It's where they think their best place is to work. Everything about it -- Ty (Norris) and Cal Wells (executive vice president), Steve Hallam (VP & director of competition) and all these people who are at the top and the leaders of their part of the company. They are just so good and they understand each other and how to work together, how to get different departments pulling in the same direction. Everything seems to be really smooth and really easy there. Everything flows through there and people get their jobs done and you're like, 'Wow, that was easy.' It's a lot of fun, it's cool."
What was it like to win the pole at Daytona last year? "Last year seemed to start off okay and then it took a sudden turn down the second or third week of the season. The pole at Daytona was like, 'This is great but now what?' For the next few weeks it was very disappointing and our whole season was really up and down just like that. We'd go from having a high or a pole or a good run, a lot of times we'd have good runs going and it was like someone ripped the cloth off the table. Like that, it's gone. That's how it is in this sport. We had a tough up and down season. I think as a driver and a competitor, all those tough times and hard days make you better. There's things you can take out of all those days that went wrong and put up in the memory bank for later."
Is it difficult to maintain an identity of your own when you change everything like you have this year? "It's really not difficult. You just be yourself. Fortunately for me, working with them (Michael Waltrip Racing) for the first time they've really encouraged that. They said, 'We want you to be our driver and we want you to be you.' That's kind of how it goes. You are yourself and that's how it's always been anyways so it was really easy."
What do you think about the rule changes? "I don't think any of the rule changes are really, really significant. Obviously, the spoiler is exciting for all of us because it gives the car a different look. The spoiler is kind of what we're accustomed to in NASCAR, I don't think cars had a wing on it since Richard Petty's Superbird back in the 1970's. I think the fans, the drivers and the crews -- everybody around the sport has grown up around it -- that spoiler is what we know. It's what we're comfortable with. I think that's a good step in the right direction, mostly from the fan perspective and from the driver perspective thinking you understand it more. I think it's great they're going to pull back the reigns a little bit on the bump-drafting and kind of letting us go out there and do our thing. I think it will be great."
Where will you be able to bump draft at Daytona? "You're going to be able to do it (bump draft) all the way around the track, really wherever you want without being wild. You can do it in the corners. You know, 90 percent of the drivers out there are smart enough to know how to do it without spinning the guy out. There will be instances where guys get spun out, it's just the way it goes. You can only do it if you're already real close to a guy and you're on new tires and you have a lot of grip. You're sure that the guy in front of you has enough grip that you can give him a little nudge. You can't slam him, you can't run into him, you can't push him down in the corner, especially on old tires you won't be able to get near a guy to do it. You have to be gentle and smart about it. If you're fifth car in line and they're all bumper-to-bumper and you start pushing the car in front of you, you're not going to do anything to wreck the whole field. You need to be smart about it. If you're out front, two guys out front, you can probably get away with doing it a little bit but you have to be careful about it."
-source: toyota motosports