DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How does it feel to get back on track after the win at New Hampshire? "Obviously, good to get back on track. Had a pretty good first practice so we're really optimistic about our chances leading into the weekend so far."
What are your chances to win at Dover? "We've been decent here in practices before and then once we got to the race we weren't as good. Our car seems to have some pretty good speed to it so far from what I can tell. It's very similar to Richmond and those tracks in the sense that the balance isn't very good, but it's still got really fast speed. The better we get the balance, the better we should be to the field. I think that really everything is fine. We'll see what we've got next practice because we're going to make a bunch of changes."
Why do you seem so serious? "Just spent so many hours watching tape -- my eyes are crossed. You can only watch so much video and then when you go out and do it in real life you kind of get dizzy. I feel like I've been around here 1,000 laps already. It's good -- we have to stay focused. We've still got a couple hours worth of tuning to do to our car. I'd like to get the balance a little better before then."
Are you worried that Jimmie Johnson is so dominant at Dover? "Not really. We're not going to control how they (48 team and Jimmie Johnson) run, so really our focus can't be on them -- it's got to be just on getting our car as good as it can get. If we get our car good, we can beat him here. That's a realistic thing that can happen. I'm not just looking to, 'Let's not give up so many points to the 48,' because he's not my focus this weekend. Our focus is ourselves and knowing that if I've got the balance that I want here and the car that I need, we can win just like we can any other race track even though our record may not show it. I think that so far I feel like we could be in the hunt for a top-five finish easily."
Is it difficult to balance the technical side and mental side of a race weekend? "Not really, that had more to do with the grand scheme of things and when you're not running well, how to take it and things like that I've learned from that aspect. When you crank up and you go out on the race track you really forget all that other stuff except for the technical stuff that you watch on tape. The other part, the mental side of it -- that's before you even get to the race track. Your mindset from home to here is your actual mindset. Your performance and the technical nuts and bolts happen and the stuff that you learn happen when you actually get out there. That's the mesh that you have."
What did you learn from 2010? "To start off, I took for granted in 2010 that we were part of a championship battle. We had an amazing season -- a career season for myself -- but you get so upset about not winning a championship. But, in the grand scheme of things you had a career year in your fifth year. We were steadily making the incline all the way to a championship when you look at our points position results. We had the great rookie season then it went to the basement of 12th -- I think then it went ninth, fifth, third, second and just kept climbing back to the top. I think it's because our race team got better. I feel like I got better, but then when you lose the championship and you follow it up next year and your cars don't run as well then it's very frustrating because you have to answer the questions every week of, 'Is this a hangover?' This, that and the other -- you get so frustrated inside the car because you're driving as hard as your car will let you drive. From 2010 when we won eight, this year we won five and last year we won one -- I didn't forget how to drive for a year. We drive the same. When your equipment is handicapped like it was I feel for us last year, it just makes everything else worse. It makes your attitude worse and everything. I think that part is tough to get over when you become irrelevant after a career year."
What handicapped your equipment last year? "We just fell behind. I think there's a lot of things that happened. We had an oil pan incident in Michigan that really turned our season to the bad side. We were I don't think in NASCAR's good graces from that point on and we just had the ropes tightened up on us quite a bit more. We went from -- I think we led like six straight races in a row in 2011 during the summer months, won Michigan, had that incident and we just fell off the face of the earth. I think that it took us awhile to regain some of the advantages that we had to make up for the loss we had taken away from us. That part was tough. It happened right when the Chase started so we just looked terrible."
What is your outlook for Sunday's race? "Obviously, the outlook that I'm supposed to have was not to look past this weekend and want to get over this weekend, it's to optimize this weekend and treat it as one of those that we can win at. Until my speeds slow up and my car slows down, I'm going to treat it like I can win this weekend just like any other track. I'm not going to look forward, I'm just going to stay concentrated on this weekend trying to do the best I can knowing in the back of my head that every track from here on out, we've won at or been very, very good at year after year. Instead of doing damage control, I'm going to try to treat this weekend as being on offense instead of defense."
What can your teammates do to help the championship chances? "I think the biggest thing is setup changes. Obviously, there's going to be some big rule changes next year and I think that they're (Kyle Busch and Joey Logano) starting to work towards 2013 right now on their setups and things like that. In the meantime, if they hit something -- we're not going to venture too far out of the box from what we've been winning with, they are. They're heading in different directions trying to find something that works for them. In the process, if they find something of course it will come to us. I think that's their biggest benefit right now is if we had one of the other cars in the Chase, they would be on the same program as us and that's just riding that horse that they've had all through the summer."
What have you seen in Dale Earnhardt Jr. this year that was missing? "I think he's (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) a lot more upbeat. I look at Dale Jr. last year and was very similar to me and this year we're very similar in the sense of how we both are. We're doing interviews with our head up. We're more focused and I think more upbeat about things -- excited to go to the race track. All that goes back to your performance. When you perform well, you always feel better. I think he's just more confident in his ability. He's been really the lead Hendrick driver for most of the season as far as the points is concerned -- I think that gives you a lot of confidence. He's been out-performing a lot of championships over there in that stable. I think the confidence is just what's taking his performance really to the next level. I think his cars -- they've figured out some things to make his cars better and on top of that he's gotten better. Those are the two things that have been the catalyst for his performance."
Can you continue to be relaxed through the Chase? "I can -- if I have a terrible finish because of a wreck or something like that this weekend, I'm going to be upset about it and know that we have a tough road ahead. I'm going to treat every weekend the exact same. My year will not be finished no matter what happens this weekend. I think that our team has got great chemistry right now in the sense that everyone is very happy with the way things are going. They feed off of you, whether you know it or not. It just takes one little bit of emotion to the positive or the negative to really bring the crew up or bring the crew down. That's something that I feel like I've gotten a good beat on here in the last year or so."
What has made your team more positive this year? "We went through changes. Obviously, I took time off in the off season and then we had a new crew chief so there was reason for optimism simply because I got reenergized to go back to the race track with a new outlook, with a championship crew chief who just came off an excellent Chase. I think that reenergized things. I think it has more to do with Darian (Grubb, crew chief) and what he brought to the race team. Not just the 11 team, but Joe Gibbs Racing -- his leadership and all the guys in the shop were really excited to work for him and excited that we got him over to Joe Gibbs Racing. Everyone seemed to be very upbeat in the shop in the off season. That just fed right to me and, obviously, when you win the second race of the season with a new crew chief that just lifted all the confidence through the roof and we maintained it right up until now."
Source: Toyota Motorsports