Denny Hamlin - Indianapolis Friday Media Visit

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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

What did you do during your off-weekend? “We just went somewhere down south. A little island. That’s about it. It was a lot of fun for sure.”

Do you expect to see more drivers gambling with fuel mileage in order to make the Chase? “Yeah, that’s about really the only thing they can do different is that if they are not in contention for a win during the course of the day because their car is not fast enough they’re going to have to maybe come in and top off, lose the track position and hope that the race goes green and that we have a fuel mileage race. Really, other than that you can’t change your strategy that much over what it already is.”

Do you think Richmond is going to be interesting with guys trying to get in the Chase? “Yeah, if they are in position to try to get the win, yeah, you’re going to see them being extra aggressive but you’re not going to be able to do it from eighth to 10th-place if that’s where you’re running. We don’t know -- we might be in that position. You can only do what you’re able to do right there in front of you. Obviously, some guys going for a win on a last lap or something and it’s a guy that’s fighting for a Chase spot and or ‘wildcard’ position -- it definitely could get physical.”

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

Photo by: Ashley Dickerson, ASP Inc.

What do you think of the Sprint Summer Showdown promotion? “It’s a big deal. It’s a huge goal for myself. I think these races lay out for us really, really well. To me, I put my money on myself. Let’s put it that way.”

Do you think it takes away the uniqueness of winning $1 million in the All-Star race? “No, because I think that it is a different format. The way you win it is a little bit different and if there’s no multiple winners you’re going to have five guys or so at Atlanta with a shot to win that kind of money. I would tune in to Atlanta.”

What are your memories of racing at Lucas Oil Raceway? “That is such a great race track and you hate to see it go away because I remember getting my very first Truck start there. Really, in the top-three NASCAR series that was my first run. Just my memories from that track real quick -- I remember battling for 10th-place on the final lap with Kyle Busch and I kind of nudged him up out of the groove and he ran into me after the checkered flag. I thought that was awesome because he was the new guy coming in when I ran that race. I was like ‘T hat’s pretty good.’ Now, we are obviously teammates and all. I hate to see that place go because it’s got a special memory for me.”

Why have you been so successful at Pocono Raceway? “It’s just one of those race tracks I’ve got a really, really good feel for honestly. There’s not too many tracks where you feel like when you pull in you just can’t do no wrong, but that’s kind of one of the places. Honestly, we feel like we should’ve won twice as many races there as what we have even though we’ve won a lot. It’s just every time we go there we’re in position to win the race just about every time. Fuel or things like that doesn’t always help you complete the job, but we’ve had the fastest car there probably 80 percent of the time.”

What do you have to do to give yourself and your team a break before the Chase starts? “It’s tough, but we plan for the Chase in January and February whether it be car schedule or anything like that. When I raised level of concern over performance or anything like that it’s always like, ‘Be patient. I think we’re going to peak at the right time.’ And, we did that last year really well and I think we’re trending towards that this year. Last year at this point we were winning races one out of three or four races or so and you really can’t get any better, but we were able to maintain it in the Chase. At this point, we’ve got seven weeks to get to that performance level that we had and hopefully it starts this weekend. I know that Indy is a crucial weekend in the sense of where this is, where the turning point is for the season. These next seven weeks you’ll find out who is a Chase contender and a championship contender.”

Is it hard to fight to get into the Chase and then go on to perform well in the Chase? “It’s hard to do. I think we’ve seen it with a lot of guys that limp into the Chase. It’s tough for them to really be challengers in the Chase because you do put so much effort -- you change your car schedule around and things like that trying to bring all of your best stuff to the race track in the weeks leading into the Chase where you’re trying to solidify your spot. I know that’s at least how we did it in 2008, I think when we were kind of on the bubble. It makes it tough to contend when you have to put all of your effort in the races leading up to the Chase.”

What makes it so tough to perform well in the Chase if you have to fight your way in? “The car schedule, for us, is what’s tough because obviously we can’t bring the best race car we have in our shop to the race track every single week. We have to plan for that. So, we always plan for our best stuff to obviously come in the Chase, like everyone else does in the garage. But, when you’re trying to fight for that spot you can’t afford to wait that long.”

Does that compare to what VCU did in the NCAA basketball tournament earlier this year? “Yeah, it’s the exception to the rule in that sense, but a lot of that has to do with chemistry and obviously getting their feet under them before their tournament actually started. They had the benefit of going out there and playing beforehand.”

How much different is it this year in trying to figure out who is going to be in the Chase? “It’s a completely different dynamic for sure. You look at it and you’re like, ‘There’s a guy 22nd or 21st, but he’s got a chance to get in the top-12 in 20 points when on paper it looks like he’s maybe 80 (points) behind’ -- I’m just making up a number. It’s a different dynamic, but I like it. There’s never been this much buildup to a ‘wildcard’ spot or positions 11th and 12th as it has been this year. It’s just that winning mentality that NASCAR has put in our heads and it’s obviously working.”

Has there ever been this much parity in NASCAR? “No, and you look and nobody is able to keep the points lead for longer than a couple weeks and then they drop out and somebody else takes over. It’s an extremely competitive year. I don’t think anybody has more than three wins. At this point last year, I think there were a few guys with over four wins. It’s becoming tougher and tougher and a lot of that is because these fuel mileage races are playing out to where who knows who is going to win until the final lap.”

How much has NASCAR changed from the days of drivers winning 15 or 18 times in a season? “Those days are just way past us. These drivers are too good. These teams are too even nowadays for someone to go out there and win more than 10 races.”

What is your favorite turn at Pocono? “Me, I personally like the tunnel turn the best in turn two. I think it’s one of the most challenging turns that we have in all of NASCAR. A lot of people will tell you that. But, it’s just what it takes to be faster there is so hard because you are on edge throughout that whole corner. It’s very narrow and you can’t run side-by-side there and so you have to time your passes well in that corner.”

Did you think the new shifting rule at Pocono in June was a good thing? “I don’t think it changed that much for me. There were times during the race that I was shifting and times when I wasn’t just depending on what kind of mode I was in. It does add something. I think whether it adds different passing zones I’m really not sure of. So, it’s a lot different than I think what NASCAR set it out to be.”

Do you ever think about how many guys have won in the 11 car? “I do, I look at the names and it’s an awesome list. And, for me just to be 10 percent of the total wins of that 11 car, I’ll take it because there’s some heavy duty names in front of me. Parnelli Jones is one that is big. Obviously, Mario (Andretti) is big but Darrell Waltrip helped a lot as far as getting those wins. Cale Yarborough -- I mean these are the best of the best names and a lot of it is because its Junior Johnson’s cars and things like that. Bill Elliott is on that list and that’s big for me because he’s always been a childhood hero.”

Are you the rumors of Carl Edwards coming to Joe Gibbs Racing a distraction? “Not to us. I don’t know whether it is to him or the executive team at Joe Gibbs Racing. For us, I’ve never even talked to Joe or J.D. (Gibbs) about it so it’s definitely not been affecting us at all.”

What would you think of Carl Edwards as a teammate? “I think it would be good for our team. I think that the dynamic of the three drivers that we already have is good. Having a guy that has already contended for championships and wins on a weekly basis can’t be a bad thing.”

What kind of challenge does the heat present a driver during the weekend? “We typically, when we come to this race track it’s always been hot. Some years hotter than others. It just makes it tough on drivers to stay hydrated throughout the weekend. You really have to plan the meals and what you eat correct for the two to three days that lead into a race. You’ve got to take the things that help keep the fluids in your body. You just treat this a little bit more methodical as far as your diet and hydration leading into the weekend.”

Does the heat present your car any challenges? “It really doesn’t change that much for us. I mean, we race at a lot of race tracks where it’s 90 plus degrees out so we don’t change the setup based off of that. We may run the car a little bit tighter than what it would be normally because typically the hotter the race track gets it pulls the oils up out of the surface and the track loses grip. So, we kind of adjust the setup for that.”

By: toyota motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Darrell Waltrip , Parnelli Jones , Carl Edwards , Junior Johnson , Denny Hamlin , Cale Yarborough , Kyle Busch
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing
Tags brickyard 400, hamlin, indianapolis, joe gibbs, nascar, nscs, sprint cup, toyota