Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media at Phoenix International Raceway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How are you preparing for the quest to make the ‘Championship 4’?
“It all starts today, trying to get a good qualifying spot so we can get a good pit selection. That’s all we really concentrated on today was trying to run fast for two laps and we’ll see how it works out tonight.”
Do you want to know the points situation during Sunday’s race?
“No, I don’t think so, I don’t think it matters. If I can see people in front of me that I’m racing in points then I know I’m behind and I know if I’m in front of them then I’m probably ahead. I think realistically whoever finishes ahead of who is going to get in.”
Is it an advantage having three guys on one team fighting for two spots?
“I don’t know, I think its close. It has its benefits and it has its hardships, but I think that for the most part I like the opportunity for more of us to make it to the final four, I think there’s a very good chance that no matter what there’s a very good chance that at least two Gibbs cars will be in the final four, which would be good. We’re all going to battle each other hard and race each other as hard as we can because we ultimately know that we have to beat each other to get in. You do it as fair and as clean as you can.”
Is there a chance of there being hurt feelings among teammates come Sunday night?
“There’s always a chance. There’s an opportunity for two or three of us to be disappointed or one of us. There’s always going to be hurt feelings, but I don’t think it has anything to do with each other. I think that for me, if we don’t make it then we just weren’t good enough. We’ve had one good finish and one average finish in this round and you’ve got to have a lot of speed at every race track. Every race in this – Texas, Martinsville and Phoenix – it is an elimination race. Even though they cut us off at the end of Phoenix, it started in Martinsville. You have to have speed every single race so if we don’t make it, it’s not my teammates fault, it’s our own.”
Did you defend your position at Martinsville because you know that position could be beneficial here Sunday with a tiebreaker?
“Absolutely, that’s why I fought as hard as I could to maintain the position I was in and I finished in it, it’s not like I got passed with 10 laps to go. It’s very important and right now I have a third and the only way I can improve that, not because of a win, is to finish second this weekend and I think if we finish top-two in particular, I know how we couldn’t make it, but I think it’s very unlikely. We start finishing third, fourth – I don’t like our chances too much. We know we have to run up front so every position matters, even those tiebreakers. We obviously saw that in the previous round.”
Did you see any weaknesses with Kevin Harvick in the first practice session?
“Not really, they were in race trim I think for most of the first practice. We were in qualifying trim so you really can’t gauge much off of that. I never really see much weakness and I would say that off their track record that you would always just assume they’re going to win.”
What is the protocol when there are issues between teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing and does Joe Gibbs get involved?
“Sometimes and there are some other times that he (Joe Gibbs, team owner) has to get involved. Other than that, we have to communicate with each other. That’s the main thing, you can’t keep feelings bottled up for years and years and all of the sudden it all explode. I think I have a great working relationship with all my teammates and if one of them wrecks me this weekend I’ll be mad for a couple days and I’ll get over it. It’s just part of it. I respect them all enough to understand that we’re all competitors, but we’re also teammates so it’s a fine line. You’re going to have hurt feelings here and there, we’re battling each other, which is what we all wanted to do. If we had four cars at Homestead racing for the championship then there would be three guys pissed off. That’s what we all want to accomplish, there’s only going to be one champion so sometimes it’s your time and sometimes it’s not.”
Is the media over-thinking the teammate scenario and you all are just focused on getting the best finish possible?
“Absolutely, well said. I think that you guys (media) are all trying to have a story and a storyline, which is what you’re supposed to do. It definitely gets dicey and you saw it after Martinsville between teammates so you’re always dissecting what is this person thinking or what did this person say, but within each other I don’t think it’s that big of a deal as it sometimes seems. It’s going to be exciting and we’re in for a very, very competitive race where I think the guys that are battling for points, if we’re not battling for wins, we’re all going to be very, very close to each other all day long. I think it’s going to be down for the last lap.”
What are the odds that something could happen like Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson at the end of this race?
“If it’s not a teammate, I’m hoping their spotter is going to give them a heads up that the 11 is coming. I would have no issues at doing something like that. That was a little aggressive, but moving somebody to get that final spot to get in the final four, I’m not sure anybody would really fault you for that.”
Would you move a teammate for the final spot to advance to Homestead?
“No I would not, that’s my answer today.”