TOYOTA NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) Denny Hamlin

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing What is your outlook for this weekend’s race? “It’s a long 10 weeks and obviously we had a bad finish right off the get-go so it’s not where we wanted to start by any means, but it was just a nightmare type race for us.  We have to get over that and run well here.  This is one of our better race tracks and I think we’re as good as anyone when we come here.”

What do you think about the rule change for Talladega? “As far as Talladega, I think that it’s a good thing opening up the plates.  I think they should open them up more and I think that small amount that they open it up — it’s not going to make that big of a difference.  We’re still going to be pushing.  If you open it up enough to where it really will make a horsepower difference to where we’re running a decent speed by ourselves then we can’t push.  The truth is that if we still go out there and push, we’re going to be running faster than we would be in the pack.  I would like to see them open it up more.  It would eliminate the push quite a bit.  Right now you’re just relying on so many different factors to finish well in those types of races.  I would like to see a change and don’t mind the change.”

What is it like for a driver in the closing laps of a fuel mileage race? “First you look at your surroundings and try to figure out who’s behind you, who’s in front of you, who’s coming, who’s going and you’re constantly thinking about the risk versus reward.  If there’s no chance of anyone in front of or behind you catching you then you go into even more conservative mode late in the race — three, four, five laps to go.  You start clutching it more, you start shutting the car off more and things like that.  It’s a complete different ball game.  It’s not racing by any means.  It’s just a strategy move and it’s how guys are getting good finishes nowadays.”
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How would last year’s Chase been different if Phoenix had not been a fuel mileage race? “That’s what was the ultimate dagger for us for the championship.  We dominated the entire race and we didn’t have good fuel mileage and we had to pit when everyone else didn’t and obviously we go from — I think at the time, even if I finish in the top-five, I’m 80 to 100 points to the good going into the last race.  I just start my engine and run around at Homestead like Jimmie (Johnson) did the last four years and we take home the championship.  It’s a completely different mindset.   Obviously with momentum we see how that momentum went to the final race and worked against us.  It is — fuel mileage has completely changed this sport over the last few years.”

Do you still think Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon have the most Chase pressure on them? “I think they still have a lot to prove and a lot to live up to as far as their Chase expectations.  I think they still feel like they have a great shot based off performance.  Nowadays, performance does not always dictate where you finish and we see it every week now that some of the guys that go out there and run extremely well don’t have the best fuel mileage and it puts them in the back.  Those guys have moved back in the standings, but I can assure you that they still feel the pressure of being a championship contender at this point.”

Would there be less fuel mileage races if 22 gallon fuel cells were used? “I say no that I think — it’s tough to say — I don’t know about the size of the fuel cell, but I think the tires definitely have something to do with it because the tires now, we’re able to use them and abuse them and really have no repercussions for it.   It used to be that guys would pit no matter what — with 20 or 30 laps to go because tires meant something and now that tires don’t mean anything the guys are just continuing to stay out with two tires.  It becomes a fuel mileage race because of that.   I don’t know if making a bigger fuel cell — I’m not sure if that’s right or wrong answer.  I don’t know.  I don’t know if that makes the window of guys with good fuel mileage to bad fuel mileage get bigger or smaller — I don’t know.”

What is your mindset at this point? “Just managing expectations at this point.  For us, we have not put consecutive weeks together in a long while and it’s not short of our performance on the race track.  I think that is not as good as last year, but it’s not terrible.  I think the field has gotten better this year without a doubt.  It’s gotten closer so it makes it look a little worse.  Mistakes are magnified nowadays, especially when we have a mistake because you’re losing 15 or 20 spots because that’s how close the field has become now.  You look at anybody that’s placed out front or in the top-five on restarts — they stay up there so when we have an issue we magnify it terribly.  Makes it look really, really bad.  We’re struggling right now just to get consistency and I can’t pinpoint one particular place where we need to work.  Someone asked me where we lacked and I don’t know.   It’s something different every two to three weeks.  It’s painful at this moment.”

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) Do you know what happened to the wheel? “Just didn’t get tight.” What was your reaction to the TV screen in Charlotte? “I think it’s great for the Speedway.  I think it was one of the best additions that they’ve had at that place.  You see it, especially at night time.  It’s kind of a distraction, but you catch yourself sometimes looking up there to see what’s going on and ultimately for us it’s great because we get to see the wrecks and replays during caution.”

How long did it take to get over the frustration from last weekend? “Until you get here and just realize we didn’t lose anything.  We lost ground on the leader, but we were 12th coming in.  We leave out of there 12th.  I don’t think anyone has huge expectations for us this Chase.  I personally do and still do.  I think that we’ve really underachieved quite a bit and so you get frustrated.  The same team that leaves a lose wheel on one week will help you pick up the track position the following and help me win a race down the race.  It will all even out in the long run and so it’s a team effort more than ever this year especially.  It’s a team sport more than it’s ever, ever been.  You know things are sometimes out of your control, but you’ve got to just man up and deal with them.”

Do you feel like you’re down 3-0 in a best of seven series? “Not particularly.  Not at this point.  I think if we had another bad finish this weekend, I’d say that’s probably the case.   There’s still a lot of crazy race tracks ahead of us where everyone is going to have a bad finish here and there.  When I say bad, 20th or worse.  Not necessarily, 30th or 40th.  We still have a shot if we get just consistent and find the consistency that we had last year, we’ll be fine.  We’ll run fine.  That’s what we’re searching for right now is that reliability all around on pit road, on the race track, on restarts.  All those things we’ve got to get better at.”

Is it possible to find that consistency? “It’s hard.  We’ve searched for it all year long, to be honest, to try to figure out what it is, but it’s a new thing every two to three weeks.  When something goes wrong, it’s a new problem.  It’s not something that’s reoccurred.  I think that we do a good job of correcting our problems, but not necessarily stopping the new ones from coming up.”

Do your troubles show how hard it is to win a championship? “In sports, staying at the top is very, very difficult.  It’s extremely hard.  You see professional teams in sports where you have 10 to 12 people out on the field.  One person gets hurt and it completely changes the dynamic of the entire team and all of the sudden they look terrible, the same team that was going for a championship last year.  This year more than ever, it is a team sport in NASCAR.  That’s a good thing.  I like that, but you’re going to live and die by the sword.  Those days where you have problems, you’ve got to just suck it up and figure out what you’ve got to do to get better at your job and not worry about the variables that you can’t handle, you can’t change and I feel like I need to do that at this point.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of


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