Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Express Monte Carlo SS, leading Raybestos Rookie Contender, Currently Ninth in NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Points Weekly Top-10 Hauler Chat: "Michigan was a really good track for me last year in the Busch Series, even...
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Express Monte Carlo SS, leading Raybestos Rookie Contender, Currently Ninth in NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Points Weekly Top-10 Hauler Chat:
"Michigan was a really good track for me last year in the Busch Series, even when we wasn't running that well on the two-mile racetracks. Definitely looking forward to coming back here. We've got pretty much the same package that we had at Pocono. We weren't able to bring that car back. It was just tore up too bad after last week. I'm a little disappointed about that but this is the same car that we ran fourth with at Texas. I'm really excited."
HOW ARE YOU HANDLING SUCCESS? "It's been pretty much an easy week for me, so far. I did a few interviews and stuff. We had testing at VIR this week. It's been sort of a hectic week but it's not been as bad as what I really expected."
ARE YOU GETTING NOTICED AWAY FROM THE TRACK? "Definitely a little bit more. I'm being called J.J. and Leffler any more, that's for sure."
ARE YOU READY FOR THE DOUBLE-DUTY STUFF AT DIFFERENT PLACES? "I think so. I think it helps me more than it hurts me. When we had the races here we had to run from one to the other and you really don't have enough time to debrief with your crew chief like you should be able to. I like these events where we're kind of stand-alone. I get to spend a lot more time with Mike [Ford, crew chief] and work on fine tuning the car a little bit more."
YOU WILL GET A LOT MORE TIME ON AN AIRPLANE NEXT WEEK. "Next week is going to be the hardest week by far. Rockwell Automation's home is in Milwaukee so I definitely have to spend a little extra hard work trying to win that race. Sonoma is going to be a good track for us. Everybody knows how good Gibbs' stuff is on road courses. I'm really excited about the next two weeks."
ARE YOU WORRIED THAT IT WILL BECOME OVERWHELMING DOING BOTH SERIES, ESPECIALLY WHEN THERE IS TRAVEL INVOLVED? "I hope it doesn't. I hope not to get dragged down too bad. When we talked about our plans for next year, we're going to talk about them in August or September, we've gone through these three or four non-companion races and decide how much is it taking it's toll on you. We'll base our plans on that for next year. I do love running that Busch car. It's a lot of fun when you're competitive, top-five every week. If I was running like I was last year, I'd say forget it, I'll just run Cup. But I think it does help me quite a bit. We'll look at that for next year."
BEFORE THE SEASON STARTED, WAS THE CHASE EVEN TALKED ABOUT? "We knew last year that we had the potential to be a Chase car. We just had to work on our consistency. We can run top-10 every week if nothing goes wrong. It's just that we had a lot of issues and problems with motors and tires and stuff like that. We kind of had a glimpse of it last year but our goals were top-15 in points and try to win Raybestos Rookie of the Year. That was the biggest thing that we tried to accomplish this year. Of course, now that we're in the top-10, we definitely need to realign our goals and try to stay where we're at. And the only way to do it is to keep running top-10 every single week."
ARE YOU ABLE TO STAY FOCUSED ON ONE RACE AT A TIME? YOU'VE GOT TO BE EXCITED ABOUT YOUR CAREER. "You know, honestly, the good thing about Harvick having such a big lead is we're not really pressured to catch him. We're going to do what we can to beat him but it's not we're in a hard-nosed Busch battle. To me, the Busch pressure is off. In my opinion, we're racing for second unless something happens. I go into every Busch race relaxed, completely fine, and I'm able to focus 120 percent on this Cup car because of that. I feel like it's almost a good thing he's got such a big lead over there."
HOW MUCH HAS DALE EARNHARDT JR. HELPED YOU RACING VIDEO GAMES? "I feel like it's helped me quite a bit, not necessarily running against him. There's probably 10-15 guys that are better than me or him on that computer. It definitely is a help for me. I didn't spend any time at Michigan this week so we'll see how it turns out."
WHAT'S MOST ON YOUR MIND ENTERING THE SONOMA RACE? "The biggest thing is staying on the racetrack. They'll probably be 20 cars that can win at Sonoma and probably half of them will run off the track at some time. The biggest thing is to try to get another top-10 and stay solid with no issues and the only way to do that is take it easy on your equipment. I feel like if we can have a week similar to Mexico, I know we're not going to go out there and dominate those guys. It's just not going to happen that way. If we just go out there and run solid like I know we can, we shouldn't lose any points there."
HAS ANYTHING ABOUT THE INCREASED MEDIA ATTENTION SURPRISED YOU? "It's about what I thought right now. It's really no surprises to me, as far as appearances and stuff like that, is pretty much what I thought and the media stuff is what I thought. I thought it really was going to take more of a toll on me that what it has so far. Then again, when you're running good, you're willing to do a few extra things that you probably wouldn't otherwise. Like I say, when you run good it fixes a lot of problems that might be happening. Everything is going really great with our team. Everybody is getting along great. Mine and Mike's communication is getting better every single week. I can tell every week that it's getting better. I'm really excited about the rest of the season."
YOU SEEM TO ENJOY THIS INTERACTION. "I've got a lot of stories to tell from where I came from. It definitely wasn't that long ago, about two years ago that I was racing late models and late models only. To be at this level so soon and actually be semi-successful at it is a huge accomplishment. It's just a testament to how good of a race team that I'm with."
HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO ENJOY ANY OF THIS? "I've had a lot of fun with it so far. Like I say, when you run good, it always makes it seem better. I'm with such a great organization. Joe Gibbs Racing right now is like family. When the 20 car is running good, our team is over there complimenting them. It's just amazing how close those three teams are right now. The 11, 18 and 20 and closer than probably the 18 and 20 ever have been and you've got an extra team thrown in there. I think the results are kind of a testament and showing of that. It's a sign of big things to come from here to the end of the year, obviously."
HAVE YOU GIVEN THOUGHT TO WHEN THINGS AREN'T GOING SO WELL? "I've thought about that and I knew coming into this racing season that there are going to be weeks that we absolutely run like junk. Knock on wood, that hasn't happened yet. We've been at worst a top-15 car at every single racetrack and that means a whole lot. When you can unload and not be in left field, it just makes it a lot easier and makes the driver look 20 times better than what he should. If we can just get on that roll that Stewart and those guys got on last year at this time and we're starting to have that stride. He started knocking off sevenths, eighths, and fifths. He started knocking down top-10 after top-10 and our team is hitting that stride that they had last year. It's definitely paying dividends from what they learned last year at this racetrack. It's definitely helping us this year."
CONTRAST WHERE THIS TEAM'S STATE OF MIND NOW VERSUS WHERE IT WAS LAST YEAR? "Obviously there was a lot of turmoil and issues with this team, driver, crew, crew chief and all that last year. It's amazing, though, that after all that, everyone on this crew had a chance to bail last year when things were not going good. J.D. [Gibbs, team president] gave free reins for people. If they wanted to go, they could. I had amazing guys that chose to stick it out, no matter what. I think that kind of bonded the team ever closer knowing that everything they went through last year and then having success this year, it just made the team that much closer. I couldn't be more proud of them last week. It really showed how tight that they are last week after the performance that they had, not necessarily what I had."
WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST SURPRISE THIS SEASON? "The biggest thing is probably noticed out. I went to an autograph session last night and just how many people paid attention to the race and knew that I won. I think that probably 99 out of 100 people congratulated me on the win and that means a lot from the fans.