DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How does it feel to be in this ‘Round of 8’ after last week at Talladega being close on transferring?
“It’s good, obviously you always prepare for the worst coming into the weekend, but we knew last week we had a good chance to go out there and win and if not win then run good. I thought in my head that if I finished top-three then it would give us a really good shot to move on. Obviously, there were a lot of circumstances that played into that, but we finished top-three and we barely moved on. It all worked out fortunate for us and now we come here to some really good race tracks for us and hopefully one of these will get us into that final four.”
Has Joe Gibbs Racing considered working together on restarts here Sunday?
“We haven’t talked about it yet. I think that it’s all situational and dependent on where you are. We’re probably going to have a little different track this weekend. It looks like the rubber that was here from the Late Model race is staying on the race track and we’re going to have warmer temperatures so the rubber will lay down a little bit more. I think the outside line will not be quite as big of a disadvantage this time around from what we’ve seen in the past so we might not have to do it.”
Do you expect to win every time you compete at Martinsville?
“I think every time I come here that anything less than a victory is a disappointment for sure. We come here expecting to win every time we come. It doesn’t always work out that way and turns out that one out of every four and it’s about time that we win. I thought in the spring we had a really good car, but we just made a mistake on entry of one corner and it cost us. Things were learned from that so hopefully it doesn’t happen again. I definitely don’t see it as a must-win as far as our championship hopes, but a lot of things can happen in this round and really you’re not going to have eight guys run these three races with no issues. You still have to be consistent in the long run.”
What other drivers do you watch here at Martinsville and is Kyle Larson getting better at this track?
“I think that there’s a handful of guys that always seem to show up in the race. There’s some guys that can definitely run some fast laps in qualifying trim. I don’t know where we’re at in race trim just yet because we haven’t been there and we wanted to save that set of tires for tomorrow. Typically yes, I only pay attention to really five guys. Those guys I know especially the 42 (Kyle Larson) has gotten a lot better here over the last few races. He’ll probably be added to that list for sure. You really just never see surprises here. You never look back at a Martinsville victory, not one I can think of and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that guy won.’ It’s usually the same old faces and the guys that have good experience and a lot of experience here.”
What would it mean to have Dale Earnhardt Jr. return at Daytona in February?
“It’s obviously a huge part of our sport for sure. It’s definitely not the same without him (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) on the race track or at a race track on any given weekend, but every Daytona 500 is big, but I’m sure if he’s able to come back I think it would be a pretty big one for sure. I know he’s been working very hard physically to get back to where he needs to be so I look forward to racing against him again for sure.”
When will sharing among your teammates stop in the Chase and how are the pit road penalties impacting you?
“It’s hard not to be selfish, but you can also hurt your overall performance these last four races if you start to get selfish. There’s not one thing I’ll ever hold back from any of my teammates at any time at this race track or any other if they ask me and I would expect the same when we get somewhere that I might need some help as well. I think that teamwork is what got us here and you can’t veer away from that. We all feel like selfishly we can beat each other and that would be a good problem to have when we get to Homestead is to have to beat each other for a championship. I’m looking forward to that part of it, but as far as the penalties, last week was a mistake, it’s not like I was trying to be fast on pit road, I just over shot it when I was coming to pit road and luckily I didn’t end up in the grass. I’ll tidy them up and hopefully we’ve had our last one of the year. I know NASCAR is probably going to add timing lines here, this has always been a track where you can gain a lot of positions on pit road based off of your stall and pit road timing lines, but if they add those pit road timing lines there will be no games to be played and no spots to be gained by playing games. The only thing you might see is people playing that inside or outside lane on pit exit. I’ll make sure I’ll be a little conservative, if there’s one track we should never push the limit on pit road for me, it’s probably this one for me. We have to make sure we don’t do that.”
Do you believe it’s the addition of timing lines that has caused your pit road issues this season?
“I think there’s just less opportunity to fix the problem. Anytime you go over pit road speed inside the car you usually have on average, before they added the timing lines, about five pit boxes to get it back. When you go over, you know you went over by four lights where you know you need to be four lights under your limit before five pit boxes, well now they’ve added it to where they’re such small sections that if you go over just for a split second, there’s just not enough room to get it back. No doubt the addition of the timing lines is added for more penalties. It’s also kept overall speed on pit road slower, which is safer for everyone on pit road.”
Are you doing any team building with the 11 guys and how much do you study the timing lines each week?
“I think that everyone wants to do the best job they can for sure. I think that pressure is a situation I like to be in. Every time I’ve faced elimination or had an elimination race and I’ve been on the outside, I’ve made it in. I like those situations, but sometimes mechanical stuff just happens and it’s not something anyone on the crew can fix and especially if it’s parts and pieces, that’s the tough part about it. As far as pit road, I study pit road as much as anyone on the circuit. I know where every line is each weekend, I know the four stalls that I want right away before the weekend even starts, what stalls I want to optimize pit road. You have to qualify well to do it and we’ve qualified good enough this year that we’ve pretty much got the stalls we wanted. With those stalls, there’s a risk and reward. We’ve been one of the fastest if not the fastest on pit road as far as rolling times, but we’ve also been penalized the most so we have to back down just a little bit especially in these races where you just can’t make any mistakes.”
What would it mean to have a race under the lights at Martinsville?
“It would be huge for the speedway for sure, night racing is always more exciting. Hopefully it’s during the time of the year where it’s not freezing cold at night that would be ideal. We’re going to be blessed with some great weather this weekend. I think the biggest thing is it gives us a bigger window in case of weather. This race track has really been hampered by weather over the last few years and it gives us a little more of a time opening to finish these races. Every year it just gets pushed back a little bit more and it can be hard to fight daylight at the end. Last year was nearly dark when it finished and I think the lights would be a cool addition. I would love to see a Late Model race here run under the lights first, it would definitely be cool to watch.”
What are your thoughts on the new NASCAR participation rule?
“It obviously won’t affect me at all. There’s only really two or three guys this really affects, but I definitely agree with not running in the Chase races or cutoff races for those guys because there’s just too much at stake for those racing for the championship in trucks and XFINITY Series, especially when you have a guy that’s trying to get a first time win and move himself onto the next round of the Chase and a Cup or XFINITY driver moves down and was to win, I guess you could say it’s a level playing field, but they’re in the Sprint Cup Series for a reason. They’re really good drivers and obviously I think the end result of all this is going to be positive, it’s going to make for exciting races and those guys, all these stand-alone events have had great races. I think you could potentially see even more action with trucks only or XFINITY only drivers participating in their own series.”
How will the weather and temperature this weekend impact the racing?
“I don’t think from the driving standpoint it will be any different. I won’t do anything different, but I can assure you that the car is going to react different with warmer weather here. These tires are very, very sensitive to temperature. They did a tire test here to try to lay more rubber down because the last two to three years we’ve had no rubber down and that’s really pinned the line to the very bottom of the race track. As rubber gets laid down, the track gets a little wider and gets a little racier and I think with this warmer temperature it’s going to lay rubber and it’s going to get wider so you’re probably going to see some of the best racing you’ve seen here probably in a while here this weekend because of the temperature. I know going forward, next year’s tire will lay rubber or should lay rubber even in the cooler temperatures. I think Goodyear has identified that and is gauged toward that in the future. I definitely don’t think you necessarily can come back here with something you’ve been successful with the last few races and think you’re going to be successful this time because of this temperature. This is a very sensitive track as far as the temperature is concerned.”
Could there be an advantage for young Cup drivers who can still compete in XFINITY or Truck Series races?
“It might be a small advantage, but I never race on Saturdays anyway, even if I have a choice so I wouldn’t be racing on Saturdays or Fridays. If I thought it was that big of an advantage I would go do it myself.”
What did you think of your teammates running toward the back of the field at Talladega?
“I thought it was smart. From my standpoint I knew we had an uphill battle because we weren’t going to have any teammates all day, I knew that we weren’t going to have any teammates all day because we all knew what they were going to do before the race started. Just everyone else saw it when it actually happened. There’s no way, they would be the dumbest group in history if they had run in the middle of the pack and got wrecked at some point when they didn’t have to be. It’s about winning championships, it’s not about winning Talladega by any means. All those guys earned the right to do that by having a good first two races and I think next year with the races being switched around, you’ll see less of that because people won’t know where they stand. I think it kind of fixes itself next year most likely, but there’s more chances of a big wreck there than any other race track so you have to play the odds there. There’s no way that those guys should have been up there helping me and then risk putting themselves in danger of making the Chase and instead of Gibbs having three cars in the Chase, they could have had two or maybe one if there had been helping me and we got in a wreck. Luckily it all worked out where we have all four and they played the strategy they had to play to get in and I did the strategy I had to do to get in. Nobody from any other team would have done anything different, that’s for sure and if they tell you different, that’s a lie.”