Hamlin - Kansas Friday Media Visit

Kansas Speedway

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

How does it feel to get back into the top-12 in the NSCS driver points? “I think we’ve gained about eight spots in the last five weeks. Obviously, it could have been a lot better -- finished 10th last week when we had really a race-winning car. That was the first time really since Richmond, Martinsville -- those tracks, that we’ve had race-winning cars and Charlotte is a mile-and-a-half, and obviously we have some of these tracks coming up. I’m looking forward to it. Obviously, we feel like this is our strong point in our season, here in the next two months or so. Be making some big moves.”

Do you feel like the most difficult part of your season is behind you now? “I hope so. Hopefully, it’s downhill from here. That’s the thing, when you have engine failures and you have wrecks and things like that so early in the season, and you leave a race track with five points -- it takes a long time to kind of build that back up. Obviously, we’re slowly working our way back into the top-10, where we need and should be. It’s just the new points system rewards consistency. Like Kurt (Busch) said, he’s got just two top-fives and he’s sixth in points -- he’s just been consistent and right there around the 10th spot for most of the year. That’s something -- we’ve just been up and down and now that we’re getting kind of more consistent, you’re starting to see us kind of creep our way back into the mix again.”

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Do you think Ford has a competitive advantage over the competition? “I’d say right now they do. I think that all the Fords are probably a step above everyone at this point in the season. Last week, even when we were down a lot of horsepower throughout the race, we were really the only car that wasn’t a Ford in about the top-six or seven all race last week. Those guys obviously did some homework and got their cars really good. I think a lot of it -- some of it is chassis -- but I think a lot of it is motor and they kind of have it all working right now. It’s similar to what I felt like we were in the middle of the summer last year to where we couldn’t miss in the sense of whatever we put in the car just kind of worked. I think those guys are kind of in a rhythm right now and that’s the zone they’re in at this point.”

Is it ever difficult to transition to driving away from the track as a race car driver? “It’s tough -- I mean for me it’s not that hard to kind of turn off the switch -- but we all have moments. I agree a lot with what Dale Jr. (Earnhardt) said, everyone speeds at one point or another, we just don’t get caught. That’s pretty much the bottom line, there are times we get caught and there’s times we don’t get caught. We’re all professional drivers and we know what we’re doing, but that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make us any less apt to get in an accident than anyone else. I’m pretty mindful of that. Obviously, he (Kyle Busch) just had a lack of judgment for a brief moment. Was he speeding at any other point in time? I don’t know -- maybe, maybe not. But, people never know what we do in our personal lives and on the street and things like that and obviously it’s when you get caught with a big one like that it makes it more pronounced than what you’d see from anyone else.”

What do you drive away from the track? “I drive my Lexus 460L pretty much every day.”

Is it a high performance car? “No, mine’s not. Mine is a four door sedan made for kids and groceries.”

What was the issue with your carburetor last week at Charlotte? “We haven’t changed anything out. I think ours was a gasket problem inside the carburetor had broken apart and it clogged one of the jets in the carburetor, so we were way under-powered for over half the race and still running incredibly well considering that. When we put the carburetor on -- obviously Mike (Ford, crew chief) was torn about it -- with 100 laps to go passing was going to be very, very difficult. We decided to go back to the 27th position. For us to get back to the toptwo in 100 laps was pretty amazing. It showed how fast our car was. I think last week was a big confidence-booster for our race team, knowing that we got our speed back that we had lost over the last few weeks or months.”

What is your opinion of social media now since NASCAR cited you last year for comments made on Twitter? “That’s a tough question. You definitely view it differently, whether you want to or not. You can say it really doesn’t change you, but obviously it changed how I use it quite a bit. I used it to kind of interact and give my opinions of races while they were going on and things of that nature. Now I don’t do that. I just kind of watch and let it be and keep it updated more like something like a Facebook -- that’s kind of just letting people know what you’re doing at that moment in time. I do view it a little bit differently and I do use it differently now simply because I’ve been made aware that when you say stuff that’s negative towards NASCAR, it does affect how the fans perceive NASCAR -- and it’s a fact. We see it in studies and stuff like that. I don’t want to do anything to hurt NASCAR’s perception of the race fans. So, in my opinion even though the fans might not like it as much, it’s pretty much what I have to do and what I do to kind of use it for what it’s meant to be.”

Will the intensity and need for wins start increasing – as Jeff Gordon has said -- as the series gets closer to the Chase? “It’s tough to say that we can really switch gears and turn to another gear. I think everyone gives as much as they can. As far as what he’s (Jeff Gordon) talking about, I think the only thing you can change is maybe your strategy. Maybe he stays out last week instead of coming in and pitting or something. That’s the really the only go for broke thing that you can do. I know he’s racing as hard as he can, we’re racing as hard as we can to get wins every week. There is no other gear that we can find, it’s just puts it on the crew chief to be more aggressive to make race-winning calls or 20th-place calls when they don’t go well.”

When will we start seeing ‘go for broke’ calls? “For me, if I was 15th or 16th in points with five races to go, I’d better start looking for some wins and a couple of them. It looks like it will take a couple to get in there. At this point, we’re not at that point yet, we’re still thinking about consistency and going out there to try to win races, but also try to get top-five finishes.”

... those are things we need to improve on.

Denny Hamlin

Will the seams on the Kansas race track be an issue? “You do -- you avoid them as much as possible because they do upset the cars quite a bit. I guess it’s just basically sealer that’s filled in cracks and what not from where the pavement machines are going in between lanes. It is, the speeds are about three-quarters of a second slower than what they were in October when we came here or September, whatever it might be. Those slower temperatures, that means the track has aged quite a bit because this year we have been given tires with more grip. I think that’s going to mean passing should be easier, usually the slower we go at a race track, the easier passing is. So, you’re going to have to search around for lanes and different things like that. I am a fan of slicker race tracks like Atlanta and this track kind of getting in that category. You just do your best as a driver to avoid those black seams because it does upset the race car and it doesn’t like to run over it, so you have to kind of straddle them or stay in one lane.”

What will your goals be for the next 13 races before the Chase starts? “My goal right now, if I had to set out where I want to be going into Richmond -- I’d like to be top-five in points. Fifth is a good number and a feasible goal where we can reach. If we go on a run and win every race, sure we can be first, but a feasible goal is to be top-five so we don’t have to race our way into Richmond. That’s the goal. We don’t want to have to go to Richmond and still not know whether we’re going to be in the Chase or not. We need to be consistent and we need to learn how to finish races consistently in the top-five, not top-10 -- top-five. We don’t have but a couple, maybe one this year so far or two. We have to get better at that. Obviously, we are heading better, our cars are getting better. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be good and in that position when we get to Richmond and not panicking whatsoever right now. We obviously are only at the halfway point to the Chase. We’ve made up a lot of distance in these last few weeks, so we have to keep that going.”

Has your qualifying performance improved recently? “It’s gotten better. Last week, qualifying fourth at Charlotte told us we had a fast race car. And, it showed up in the race. This week, hopefully we’ll get a gauge of once again where we are at in qualifying. It’s still something that we need to work on. It’s still something that we -- until we qualify as good as guys like Kyle (Busch), and Carl (Edwards), and Jimmie (Johnson) on a weekly basis -- we’ve still got to get better at because these cars are so aero-sensitive. We’ve heard that over these last few weeks a lot about how hard it is to pass, and obviously these last few weeks we’ve been starting up front and we haven’t had to deal with that. If we’re getting into the Chase, those are things we need to improve on.”

What do you think of the changes NASCAR has made to the qualifying procedures? “It’s going to make it even more of a premium for you to set a fast time in practice. That’s what it’s telling me because really we all fight for those last few spots before the top-35 go anyway. So, now you have an ability to even jump eight more, nine more spots toward the rear. Typically, when we are qualifying at 3:40 (PM) or four o’clock is our typical qualifying times -- that’s right when the sun starts going down and the temperature starts dropping. These cars are just so close and you see these times every week -- that they’re a hundredth apart, two hundredths apart. The temperature difference makes up way more than what your car is capable of doing. So, we’re going to be constantly battling to try to set a super fast time the first lap on the race track because that’s when the race track is best during a race weekend. So, you’re going to see guys going out there trying to set a fast time right off the bat to make sure they get that late draw.”

... you wish you had a little bit more ...

Denny Hamlin

Do you feel the three teams at Joe Gibbs Racing work together as much as they should? “I feel like communication for certain could be better between all of us. We’ve discussed over the last couple of weeks trying to make sure -- I know last year I really fought for all of us to make sure we have our meetings and whatnot. It’s just so tough with Kyle (Busch) running so many different series to get him pinned down for five minutes to have a conversation and whatnot with him. I’m there debriefing with my crew chief and his crew chief and Joey’s (Logano) and what not. I don’t run a whole lot of Nationwide races because I feel like it helps my Cup side, and it helps me have better communication and more time to communicate on the Cup side by not running Nationwide. But, we need those Nationwide teams to help us make money so we can pump more money into the Cup side. So, it’s a double edged sword. Where you don’t see really a lot of those Childress guys or Hendrick guys running a lot of Nationwide races. They do run some, but not as much as what our guys run. It is a little bit tougher, and obviously it appears that last week with Childress -- those guys helping each other under caution that they were -- somebody brought them together and said this is what we need to do to help this one car win the race. You admire that. That’s what you look for. We’re not at that level yet it seems like. It is different. We do try our best to try to get good communication. I know there is great communication between our crew chiefs. Obviously, you wish you had a little bit more -- I wish we had a little more between us drivers.”

-source: toyota motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing
Tags joe gibbs racing, sprint cup, toyota