DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Is Talladega really a wild card race? "It's obviously been documented a whole bunch about how much of a wild card this race is and it obviously is for a lot of different reasons, but you really kind of find out what your chances are going to be for the championship once you leave here. Obviously, I don't think no matter what the result for us, I think we're going to still be in it being that we're not back more than a race already, so we're looking forward to it. I think that it's obviously a very fun race and for 30 some guys it's going to be a lot of fun, because they don't have to worry about point and things like that and can throw caution to the wind. And, I think that's a lot of reason that you see this race in the fall here be very exciting in a lot of different ways is because obviously by this time in the season you kind of know what your objective is."
Does your position in the points dictate your strategy at this track? "Not really. I wouldn't treat it any different -- if I was 10th or 12th, I would just run all out, which I think probably those guys will. I'm just going to vary my strategy based off of how the race is going. If it's single file and kind of tame at the time, then you want to try and make a run to the front and try to lead a lap or lead the most laps. But, if it's getting wild, I'll adjust my strategy accordingly."
Why are drivers running so few practice laps? "I think a lot of it is this is a 500-mile race and, obviously, any miles you can keep off of your race car and your engine, it just saves it. You don't want to have some kind of mechanical failure with five laps to go and say, 'Man, I wish we didn't run those extra five laps of practice.' But, other than that we just checked for leaks and rea lly we get here on Friday, but not many people are mentally engaged until Sunday. I mean, this is one of those races that it's an off week for really the team guys and the drivers as far as thinking about what do you need for your car. I think that there's not much to it other than just making sure our car is -- we're going to race the same car that we showed up with, because it's our primary for a reason. It's better than our backup."
Do you plan to change anything to improve your fuel efficiency? "We won't change anything for this particular race. It's simply that superspeedway races tend to not be fuel mileage races unless you get into several green-white-checkers. We have seen a couple years ago that it was a factor, but really I think that you can make up positions so quick here and the probability of cautions within the last 20 laps is so much that that's when everyone pits and never really has a fuel issue anyway. Once we get to the other race tracks, we'll alter our strategy accordingly. Obviously, we prefer to go out and lead laps and get everything out of our Toyotas that we possibly can and that's with the fuel strategy that we took. Unfortunately, the race just fell on a one to two lap window that made it bad for us and good for the other guys, so I think that that's bad luck when it comes to that. Of course, there's strategy being played on the other tracks when you change your horsepower for your tuning and things like that, but we had a fast race car and we needed to optimize a fast race car at Dover last week knowing what we had to do there. It was unlucky for us."
Do you enjoy racing at Talladega? "It's a ton of fun. My standpoint, the spring race here is about the most fun you can possibly have at a race track. You're not really -- no one is really thinking about points at that time. Everyone is kind of going all out, so it's a lot of fun. It's just when you find yourself in the championship battle, it can be a burden or it can be a blessing to you. And, so, I think it just weighs on those guys that really are focused on points a little bit more. Four-wide is nothing. You hear it on the regular track, 'four-wide,' and you perk up because something is about to happen. Here, it's just protocol. You just expect it and it's a lot of different."
How bad is it to be in the middle of the pack at Talladega? "The middle is what's bad obviously because most of the wrecks start in that middle range and so I'm just going to play the odds this weekend and look at when the wrecks start and where they typically start from position and see if it all works out. Who knows. I've tried so many different strategies at this track and the outcome has been the same that you just really can't predict it. You just can't predict it like you think you could. That's the thing with this pack racing. That's what everyone wanted to see and that's what I wanted to see. That's where the big one comes from. With the two-car tandem, you really didn't see it. If you saw a wreck it would be two to four cars, and now that we've got this pack racing back the wrecks will be a lot more carnage this time around. You just hope that you're not in it. That's the thing, is you find yourself in the middle and it's okay at times, but at the end of the race that's the one place that you don't want to be."
How difficult is it to handle situations like Kyle Busch was in last Sunday at Dover? "It's sensitive because -- when I just try to explain to people in talking to them through Twitter -- and, obviously , I was reading a lot of things that were being said -- was that us drivers try our best to be perfect and try to do the things that are right. It would be very hard for anyone in here and any fan to go out there and lead three-quarters of the race and then something that you have no control over takes you out of it. Because as a driver you did your job, but unfortunately something else kept you from winning so I understand those frustrations and some people vent differently. Kyle (Busch) didn't have a bad interview afterwards, he was there and he didn't get interviewed or whatever. I think that it's just frustration. It's literally just so frustrating and I felt the same thing. Hey, I would've finished second -- at a terrible race track. That's like two wins for me. It's just how you get better. To me, when you vent and you frustrate it hurts the team more than you realize and I think that when the team gets frustrated it's hard to get that chemistry back. We all know our weaknesses. The problems that are going on with fuel mileage and this that and the other, those are things that we're all working on. It's not like one statement will make someone work harder at their job -- it's not. You've just got to deal with it and as a driver try to do your job the best you can and if someone else doesn't do theirs then hey, there's nothing you could do. There's nothing you're going to change and so the best thing you can do is just try to be positive about it."
Does it take some time get in the mood to run up front at a superspeedway? "I would agree with that. I think that even in practice the first few laps you're rusty. You are learning the steering of your car and we're running a lot slower steering boxes here so the movement is not as abrupt. So, it takes a little while to kind of get in that mode of attacking the race. I think it is a challenge when you don't do it the whole race, I don't think you are as good as if you would be racing all day and things like that. Really, with this whole pack racing I think that there will be a lot of practice for 490 miles. Really, it was the two-car tandem that really created that kind of lull in the race of like, 'What's going on?' Really you do, you've got to prepare your mind for those last 20 laps because the racing is just totally different. Really, you could run four 50 lap races here and have some awesome shows. You're just going to have to bring four cars to the race track."
How hard is it for a driver to keep your car straight in pack racing? "It's hard because obviously we want to use every bit of room that's available to us. If the straightaways and the corners are wide enough we would run six-wide, but it's just physically impossible. I think that the reason is because those pockets of air that are not being taken up by a car is the best air to be in so everyone is fighting to get the gaps and the holes and things like that in the pack. That's what is so hard and when everyone is fighting for these little holes of air in the pack that's when you see the mistakes. Even though the cars are playing to the race tracks quite a bit, it just takes one little tap and obviously when everyone runs in a football field worth of land around a two-and-a-half mile race track it's going to be bad for a lot of guys. It's just something that's been the same since we've had restrictor plates in NASCAR and it makes for exciting racing."
What would you do on Friday at the race track if you were a promoter to get more people in the stands? "I don't know. Show previous races on the big screen I guess. I don't know what you could do. Literally, between Daytona and Talladega why we're here for three days I don't know. Like I said, everyone is mentally checked out until Sunday. Don't ask us for any intelligent answers. I don't know. There's not much that you can do. You're not going to force guys to go out on the race track and put their cars at risk. There's just too much work that goes into them. Really, I think in the future NASCAR will probably look at making these two-day shows, which they definitely should. But, once again, it's these race tracks that you've got to try to make some money too. I don't know. Let's have a little 25-lap dash for no points and just money or something on Friday. That would be fun."
Does Twitter make you publicly accessible to fans 24 hours a day? "Only if you choose to open the little icon on your phone. I mean, you don't have to. It is a public forum, but it's just anyone with a smartphone can start any page they want to and you'll find a lot of different and interesting characters on it. You'll find a lot of morons on it and half of it is funny for me to read. For the most part, you can get a kind of beat on your fans, but you're going to get one out of every 15 comments something stupid. They usually have an icon of one of your competitors as their avatar."
Source: Toyota Motorsports