Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Phoenix Raceway – November 10, 2017
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media at Phoenix Raceway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What is your approach as you come here to Phoenix Raceway this weekend?
“Same as any other weekend. We come and try to win and, obviously, we would probably as the race plays out – you’ve got to see where you stand, where your competitors are, whether you need to hedge your strategy towards having to go all out for a win or finish badly, or you just try to finish the best you can and hope your competitors are far enough behind. So I think it’s tough to say what the right thing to do is, but we’ll just throughout the next two days just try to make our cars faster and faster and if we can do that, then it’ll take care of itself.”
Can you realistically get in on points?
“I mean, we beat him by 15 points last week and he only finished two spots behind us, so I mean it’s possible for sure. It just depends on how the first part of the race plays out, honestly.”
Do you have any interesting or embarrassing stories about Matt Kenseth you can share?
“No, not really. He doesn’t like to be embarrassed. He’s just a great guy and it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t have a ride and he definitely deserves one, which is a shame. But it’s today’s NASCAR world – it’s just being talented and playing at a high level at this sport doesn’t guarantee you playing time. In other sports, it does – because it takes financial backing to do it. That part of it is tough. I’m sure that he would still like to run more. I know that he has a desire to still race and we know that he can compete for race wins every single week and unfortunately a guy like that will be sitting at home next year.”
Did you expect that someone would clinch a spot in the finale based on what they could do through the regular season?
“I think we ran simulations and obviously we didn’t predict (Martin) Truex (Jr.) winning like 40 stages or whatever he’s won, because it’s just an abnormal type year. You just don’t see it that often. But in the end, you look at it like that guy should be rewarded. As long as he doesn’t blow up and do something, have two catastrophic races, why shouldn’t he be part of the best four going to Homestead (Miami Speedway)? When you look at the cars that have clinched, it’s probably been – other than the 42 (Kyle Larson) – the three other best cars throughout the entire year. I think it’s worked in that sense. I mean, I hate it for ourselves because we’re performing at a high level through the Playoffs and we may not get rewarded for it, but it’s meant to be a win-and-you’re-in-type format. We know that in the future, next year, whatever – not that we could have really done anything more throughout the regular season, but it’s so much more important to win races and get those bonus points. Trust me, I’d like to have my Darlington (Raceway) win back, as well, because that was points left on the table.”
Will this race be easier on driver and machine if the temperatures are lower?
“You know, I don’t think this race is as temperature sensitive as other racetracks. We were just looking at notes about what to think about for qualifying and I just don’t think it changes that much. I don’t know that this racetrack or this race in particular has been hard on equipment in years past. I think it’s just about having a fast car.”
How crazy do you think this race will be at the end and what sort of judgment calls do you think you’ll all have to make?
“I think the interesting things that could play out is teammates staying out or pitting – things like that – that possibly could put you behind. Who knows how it’s going to turn out? Honestly, there’s five of us that probably feels like we need to or there’s four of us that need to feel like we need to win to get in. Like I say, until the first half of the race plays out, we don’t know what we need to do. I think we’ll have a better idea after those first two stages. But then I think it’s what strategy do you take for that final restart – do you stay out or do you pit? It definitely has the potential to be pretty crazy on restarts knowing that you have some agendas out there that will be a win or nothing.”
Where is the line for how far a driver will go to win this weekend to get in?
“I mean, you do everything you can. I sensed how important it was in the first race of this round, much less the last race of this round. I don’t know how much different you would do. I mean, you try to do everything you can to win. There’s several different ways to do it. We’ve seen any way from guys just winning races to something like Ryan Newman did with one lap to go a few years ago. Drivers become desperate when you know that this could be your final lap contending for a championship.”
Do you feel like you have a car that can win after a practice?
“So far from what I’ve seen, I think we have a car that can win. I think that we had a very good practice today. We didn’t spend much time in qualifying trim, but when we did, we went straight to the top. So I think that definitely the car has good speed in it. We’ve still got some work to do in race trim, but we’re pretty close to where I need it to be. But yeah, I mean, we honestly need to see how many points the 2 (Brad Keselowski) car gains at the beginning of the race. I mean, that’s really the key for us, knowing where our strategy goes for the second half of the race.”
Is this a facility like a short track where kind of anything goes on the last lap or two?
“I think you’ll see drivers doing desperate things for sure. I mean, to what extent, I’m really not sure. I think it just depends on the players that are in the game at that point and how late in the race it is.”
Do you think the racing may be better next spring or in the summer now that we know how important stage points are?
“Well, I knew that we did everything we could to get stage points because we wanted to be as high in the regular season points as possible, so we are always trying to gain stage points. You know, where we – I think we just struggled with speed for most of the year and so we weren’t able to capitalize getting enough stage wins. I think we only had three stage wins throughout the entire year. That’s just not enough. You’ve got to have more than that to be competitive this late in the season if you’re not going to win races. I think – I don’t know what we could do different other than just really try to be better through the regular season, be faster to give ourselves an opportunity to win stages.”
How challenging is it to hold off competitors on older tires here?
“Well, the 31 (Ryan Newman) car won the race on it – on that strategy. He had the proper amount of cars behind him to make it work. Things worked out perfectly in Turns 1 and 2 for him where the 42 (Kyle Larson) and maybe the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) got into each other – they gave him enough gap – but I don’t know. The reason we had to stay out at that time was we had a flat tire and lost all of our track position with 100 to go, so we had to do something to get that track position back and that’s why we stayed out. I thought it actually worked pretty good once things leveled out. I think we stabilized seventh, eighth position, somewhere in that range, but we certainly had a winning car here in the spring. We just got bugged with flat tires. We had one in qualifying, one right towards the end of the race and that kind of dictated our strategy. I think you just try to run as fast as you can, lead every lap you can for the first part, see where you stand and then work your strategy off that.”
Have you been seeking validation at this track since 2010?
“You know, not really. I mean, I don’t hold a grudge. It’s not the racetrack’s fault, 2010. We were dominant here in 2010. We just had bad fuel calculations I guess you could say and it just didn’t work out for us, so I definitely don’t hold any grudges to the racetrack. I love coming here. It’s been a great racetrack for me. I’ve raced my way in at this track after 2010, so the score is probably even on that.”