Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Impala SS met with media to discuss racing on his home track in Richmond, strategy for the Chase, pit crew issues, not having to points race, racing with teammates in the Chase and more. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING...
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Impala SS met with media to discuss racing on his home track in Richmond, strategy for the Chase, pit crew issues, not having to points race, racing with teammates in the Chase and more.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING INTO THE CHEVY ROCK & ROLL 400, THE LAST RACE TO SET THE FIELD FOR THE CHASE, EVEN THOUGH YOU'VE ALREADY CAPTURED A SPOT IN THE LINE-UP? "It's going to be important for us to have a good run here. We obviously want to carry as much momentum into the Chase as you can. For us, we're going into another car of tomorrow race where I feel like we should be very strong. We weren't spectacular in practice but we never really are here. I definitely think that tomorrow, in particular; we'll have a pretty good car when it comes to the night. Things change so much on this race track from day to night that it's really hard to get a good read when we come out here and practice."
THIS CLOSE TO THE CHASE, IS IT WIN OR ELSE AND STILL EXPERIMENT AND HANG IT OUT OR NOW DO YOU START TO GET CONSERVATIVE AND GET FOCUSED ON THE CHASE? DO YOU PULL IN SOME OF THAT AGGRESSIVENESS YOU'VE HAD FOR THE PAST FEW WEEKS? "Not really. I think this week in particular, you're even a little more aggressive that what we have been in the past. For us, particularly, because I've never really been here without being in some kind of points battle. So I've always had to points race here so want to take advantage of the one time when I really don't have to. Next week, in particular, is when guys really are going to start playing more of the conservative role and doing things like they were earlier in the season."
YOU'VE HAD ISSUES WITH YOUR PIT CREW THROUGHOUT THE SEASON. ARE YOU CONFIDENT NOW THAT THEY HAVE THEIR ACT TOGETHER AND THAT YOU WON'T HAVE ANY PROBLEMS GOING INTO THE CHASE? "Yeah, I definitely am. Our crew has been really great the past three or four or five weeks. They've been better than the driver has, for sure. I've really got to work on getting my focus set for the Chase. Lately I've been off the track, on the track, as far as not doing things racing the way that I normally would, simply because I knew I didn't have to worry about points. But really, ultimately, we're only going to finish as good as we are each and every given week. So, the more I try, the worse we end up running. I've really got to get back to that conservative mode. Last year, we always seemed to finish better than what our car was capable of. This year it seems like it's the opposite. We're finishing worse than what our car is capable of, just because we're making a lot of mistakes. But lately, the crew has been great and I've been supplied with good cars. We just haven't really had the race winning car in the last three or four weeks."
THE THEME OF THE WEEK HAS BEEN NOT HAVING TO POINTS RACE AND HOW FUN AND COOL THAT IS. DOES THAT NOT INDICATE THAT SOMEBODY IN DAYTONA BEACH, FL OUGHT TO BE LOOKING AT CHANGING THE SYSTEM SO THAT WINNING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN POINTS RACING? "I don't know. The reason we're put in this situation now where we're really throwing all caution to the wind is because winning means so much and second doesn't matter if you're the guys first through 11th in points. So I think if they stretch it out and add even more rewards for wins, you're going to have the problem continue to just get worse. So I think really, if any changes, maybe back up on it a little bit."
ON RACING AT HIS HOME TRACK NOW THAT HE'S LOCKED INTO THE CHASE: "Last year, in this race, we were really stressed out over our situation. I can't remember how many points we were to the good coming in. But then we had the engine issues and that really stressed us out during the race. So yeah, this is the first time in Busch and Cup where I've really has a total opportunity to not worry about points. That's a situation I plan on really taking advantage of. Once again, I don't want to try too hard because it seems like I do worse when I do that. You've got to keep your goals in mind. You're not going to give up a top five run to try to get a win just on a total outside shot. You've got to be somewhat conservative still because you want to preserve a good finish because that ultimately is going to reward the team and the driver as far as confidence goes."
ON THE NEW GENERATION RACE CAR "The car is a lot better than what it was when we first came here in the spring. They haven't changed the cars, they haven't made any rules changes or things like that. The teams are just getting a little bit better with it. However, I think we're coming to a wall. We're coming close to really just maxing out on everything we can do to make these cars turn. I noticed even today in practice that I was two-tenths faster than a guy and as soon as I got within five car lengths, he started pulling away again because it was just so tight you just couldn't do anything about it. At some race tracks, that makes for good racing. At your flatter tracks, it makes it a lot worse. Maybe in the future, we can get some help from NASCAR - maybe let us travel these cars just a little bit more. A half-inch would go miles of distance that these teams could go in different areas to help these cars turn and whatnot. But I think eventually they're probably going to be open to it because the t eams are going to get to the point where they can't do anything more to them. But we've seen it in the past, even when they keep the rules the same that the teams find ways to make it work. So you never know in the future what we're going to have."
ON HIS SUCCESS SINCE FIRST RACING AT RIR: "The biggest kind of wake up call I had was doing my very first suite appearance here and seeing my car on the grid. That was just kind of weird to see that and know at the time I was up there looking down I just thought I was in the stands again. So, yeah, I mean it's definitely a long way in a very short amount of time. But it's happened so fast that I don't think I've really had a whole lot of time to transition. So I'm still kind of the same that I was then. I hope to stay that way as much as I can. It's just amazing to me that with the opportunities that I've been given and making the best of them, it just kind of shows that you still can get to this level the old fashioned way."
IF YOU LOOK AT THE THREE PREVIOUS YEARS OF THE CHASE, THERE IS A DANGER OF OUTSMARTING YOURSELF IN TRYING TO MAKE THE CHASE AND THEN LOSING MOMENTUM? HAVE YOU LEARNED LESSONS IN PREPARING FOR THE CHASE? "Yeah, definitely. If I have one concern right now going into the Chase, and it has nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of the car, it's just the momentum that we have right now. We ran really strong at Bristol before we blew the engine, but still. It's a 33rd place finish. At California last week, we had a flat tire and finished 19th or 20th or whatever it was. So we're coming off two tough weeks for us as a team. So yeah, morale gets down a little bit. But you're not going to go to the race track with any different cars, especially our team, because we have bad momentum going into the Chase. But it just seems to make a difference. We definitely saw it with the No. 48 in the past and even guys that save race cars leading up to the Chase. We've run all of our best race cars, even this week. We have a new one this week. But we're running all of our best cars to try to get more information for it for the Chase. So we're not really concerned about saving what we have for the C hase because we know that momentum means so much."
YOU'RE LOCKED INTO THE CHASE AND THERE IS REALLY NO PRESSURE ON YOU. WHAT WOULD IT MEAN TO WIN HERE AT RICHMOND? "It definitely would mean a lot. Right now this is where I want to win first, before anywhere else. I'll take a win anywhere else, but this is definitely the one accomplishment I'd love to have. Coming close last year, my very first Cup race here, kind of gave us a taste of what it's like. But we struggle with having bad luck here it seems like. We either run very, very strong. Top two or three. Or we have something that kind of goes wrong mechanically. We try to prepare as much as we can to come to Richmond because I think my whole team knows how much it means for myself. It's the same for Tony (Stewart) at Indy or California for Jimmie (Johnson). So I think they put a little more pressure on themselves when they go to their home race track and I do the same."
WHO IS THE GUY WHO PROVIDES THE LEADERSHIP TO GET MOMENTUM SHIFTED TO THE TEAM? IS THAT YOU? "I've still got to learn what it takes to get those guys pumped up. I know what it takes, but always doing it isn't always what I seem to do. I'm so competitive when things go bad such as last week, I'll be the first one to rant and rave on the radio and of course that affects the guys in the long run. So, I've still got to learn that and that's just going to take a little bit of time. So it's really more so on my shoulders than anyone's right now."
DURING THE CHASE, FROM A TEAMMATE STANDING, ARE YOU GUYS EXPECTED TO HELP EACH OTHER OUT OR IS IT EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF? "I don't think things are going to change very much. We do know that the No. 20 car is one of the cars we're going to have to beat for this championship. I think early in the Chase, you're probably going to have a lot more cooperation. Or, you could have it later in the Chase. It really depends on where the two are in points. We're probably going to race each other a little bit harder than if we were first and 10th. I think it depends on the situation. But really, ever since our Daytona deal, things have been really good; communication and everything. So I definitely am going to need to rely on his help if we're going to win this championship and he's going to need my help if he's going to win. I think that if the No. 11 team wins, they're going to have to give a lot of credit to the No. 20 and vice-versa, depending on how this Chase ends up."
YOU SEEM TO HOLD YOUR GROUND WITH TONY STEWART. JOHNSON AND GORDON SEEM TO HAVE THEIR OWN RIVALRY WITHIN HENDRICK. COULD THIS EVOLVE INTO A CHASE WHERE THERE IS MORE COMPETITON AMONG TEAMMATES THAN COOPERATION? "Yeah, I definitely think the reason is because the two teammates, whether Hendrick or Gibbs, they are running close to each other. Every driver will say if they have a teammate, they want to be the best of the teammates. They want to be the best at Gibbs. They want to be the best at Hendrick. You know that the other guy that you're racing with has got the same stuff that you've got. I think that has something to do with it. In years past, the No. 20 and the No. 48 and the No. 24 in particular have been the ones to beat for a championship. So they know they're going to have to beat each other for a championship so maybe their cooperation is not as much. We were hanging around last year in the Chase as far as being a championship contender. I don't know if the No. 20 really looks as us as an immediate threat to them, but maybe five races in when they look at the points then maybe. I think really it's just because you want to be the best and you know that's who you're going to have to beat for a championship."
DO YOU NEED TO ANALYZE WHEN IT'S WORKING WELL AND NOT WORKING WELL? CAN THAT BE OVERWORKED? "I definitely know the ups and downs are going to happen each and every week because you've got 42 very competitive drivers out there all going for the same goal. You're going to have ups and downs. You're going to have weeks when you just don't run like you expect to run. California being one of them. We could have finished fifth or sixth, but we had a flat tire. That really bums a team out, especially happening so late in the race. I think really, if you can minimize those - even when you're down - everyone is working as a team, that really will pay off big dividends in the long run."
-credit: gm racing