NASCAR Media Conference
October 19, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone, welcome to today's NASCAR CAM video teleconference in advance of Tom's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, which is the fifth race the chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Our guest today is Denny Hamlin driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Denny is joining us from Joe Gibbs Racing in Huntersville, North Carolina. Denny is currently second in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Just 41 points behind Jimmie Johnson. Denny has won six races this season, including the March event at Martinsville Speedway. Denny has three wins, seven Top 5s and nine Top 10 finishes, including one pole at the same half mile paper clip shaped track.
Denny, you've had great success at Martinsville Speedway. Talk about your outlook heading there this weekend?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm looking forward to it, obviously. It's a track that we have won at the last couple of times we've been there, and in three of the last four or something like that, three of the last five.
We've just had a lot of great success at Martinsville Speedway. The only bad finish we've ever had there was my rookie season, we had a DNF.
So we go there with a great outlook. We're actually going to be, you know, bringing out a car that's a new car for Joe Gibbs Racing. So we're a little bit nervous about that, but we are going out there expecting to lead the most laps and win the race.
Q. There's been a lot of talk lately about the TV ratings. I just want to get your take on why the ratings are down this year, and what can be done to increase viewership?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think it's a little bit tough, because you have everything, just about everything going right now as far as sports. In my mind, with TV there's only so many sports eyes out there, sports fans.
When you have so many different things to choose from, you have the baseball and their playoffs right now, the NBA season is about to start, NFL's right in the stride of the start of their season, then you have the championship run of NASCAR. You've got hockey also part of that as well.
This is just a part of our season where we really see a saturation of a lot of sports. I think there are only so many eyes out there to watch our races. And kind of a little bit goes back to attendance as well. The reason we need people in the stands week in and week out is because it increases the interest of the people when they're sitting at home. They just went to the race last week, they want to know what goes on the following week, so I think they kind of go hand in hand.
But the reason people can't make it to the racetrack as much is because of the economy, obviously. Everyone I've talked to, it all relates back to not having that disposable income that they had before.
Q. What is your thinking on bringing a new car to Martinsville this weekend? And is this sort of do you view it as the big showdown between you and Jimmie? You guys are the only two drivers who have won in the last eight Martinsville races. Is this sort of a mono y mono heavyweight title fight?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, people would think so, and I would think so. I'd think that he'd be one of the guys that I would have to beat. But really, honestly, the Childress cars were probably one of the best cars in the spring other than ourselves.
I knew the 48, they said they were experimenting with some stuff in the spring, which I don't doubt that at all, so I'm sure they'll be back up towards the front like they usually are at that track.
I feel like if it is mono y mono, we've been in a lot of green and white checkers where we've been on the front row together, so it should be interesting.
Q. And the new car?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, we just went to really a new generation of race car over the last two to three months or so, and it was just we feel like it's better, and we're sticking to our guns.
We feel like everything we've done over the last two or three months has been better overall as far as speed. So we're just kind of going with it, and see if we can work it out. The thing is we have run a short track race with this type of car already, so we should be okay.
Q. Denny you've been successful in the Chase so far, running relatively conservatively. Can you continue that for the next couple of weeks or do you have to step up the risk factor a little bit?
DENNY HAMLIN: I wanted to be, what I've been calling conservative is being conservative on restarts and not putting myself in bad positions as far as that is concerned. I've pushed myself every lap, don't get me wrong. It's just you minimize yourself on restarts by not putting yourself in bad positions. That's what I mean by being conservative. And I feel like it's cost me a few points at the end of these races.
The thing is we could easily have the point lead right now because at California I was within a second of catching the 48 would tend to go before the last debris caution. So that would have had its gaining points instead of losing 25. Charlotte, same deal.
We feel like we were running the 48 back down. The caution comes out, and he goes for it on the restart. While he maintains, I say where I was at.
You know, there's been a few little things that have happened on restarts that have kind of kept us from getting five, ten, 15 points, and I feel like that's just me trying to be cautious and making sure I don't give up 100, because that's going to be tough to make up on the 48 is making up 100 points, especially the way he runs.
But the way we are running right now, it keeps him honest. It keeps him from making a mistake. If he makes one mistake, we're going to make him pay for that because of our consistency that we've built.
So in my mind, when I go to Martinsville, yeah, it's an all out win or nothing situation for myself. When we go to Talladega, we see where we're at in the points and we reassess from there.
I really have been catching a lot of flack on how conservative or whatever you want to call it that I've been the Chase, but it just works for me. Anyone can run the Chase anyway that they want to, but in my mind this works for me, and I'm going to, when I feel like I need to go, I'll go.
Q. A lot was made last week about the way Jimmie Johnson overcame problems and had all these different things happen to him in the race and he still comes out smelling like a rose and leading in the points. You've also had several Chase races where things didn't go so perfectly for you and you maintained and didn't overreact. I was just wondering if you could speak to how the two of you were able to do that, and how specifically, that is one of the differences for the Chase for you this year?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I think so. I mean, you know, we spun out. We were in a worse spot than him at Loudon New Hampshire and we finished better than him.
But a lot of people like to give Jimmie a lot of praise for what he does. He deserves it, he's a four-time champion. But for myself, we've had to overcome starting worse than him, pretty much every week. We've had to overcome crashes, things like that that's happened right in front of us. We've gotten spun the Chase race and come back to second.
For me, that's what we have to do. I feel like we've executed really perfectly this Chase so far. We wish we had a few more spots here and there at a couple of racetracks.
But I feel like we've executed everything that we've set out to do. For myself, I think it's just the resilience of the team, and I think you know everyone's stepping up to the plate right now.
I feel like my pit crew is better than what they've ever been. Throughout my career we have the same guys that maybe made a few mistakes a few years ago. We've kept that group together, and now they're showing they're a championship caliber team.
Q. As a follow-up to that, are you in a good position for you? Are you comfortable? Is this where you would want to be at this point?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm happy with it. I feel like I am within striking distance. Talladega is such a wildcard in the sense that it can go 100 points one way or another, that of course we'd like to go into Talladega and have a cushion. But unless we go out there and lead the most laps and Jimmie has a struggle in Martinsville, that's probably not going to happen.
So we just hope to close the gap once we leave Martinsville, then I'm going to keep him right in front of me for the entire Talladega race. If I'm going to get in a wreck, I'm going to make sure he's in it as well. We've got to just make sure that we keep him in our sights.
As far as I'm concerned, when we go to Texas, we won there in the spring. We won Homestead last year, and we ran third in Phoenix last year, so I think we've got a great shot.
Q. When it comes to Martinsville and you look at the results of that track, three drivers stand out, that's you, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson. I guess my question is how much of Martinsville is based on what you do in the race car versus the race car that is prepared for you? Is this really more of a driver's track as compared to others?
DENNY HAMLIN: I seem to think that Martinsville is a little bit more of a driver's track. But I have been blessed with really good cars there during the course of my career. Whether it's been the new car or the old car or anything like that, we've always had success. I feel like I have a knack for that racetrack, and I feel like we always seem to prepare really good race cars for that track.
I think the driver can just -- you see the same drivers up front every time we go back to that racetrack, no matter what kind of car it is. So I think some tracks fit drivers better than others. There are other tracks that don't fit me as well.
So I think just Martinsville, when you look at the calendar, is right there with Richmond on tracks that I feel like I just have a leg up on guys at times.
Q. When it comes to the Chase, where we are right now with five races down, five to go, a lot of people want to say that now we're down to a three-driver Chase, Jimmie, you, and Kevin Harvick. Do you still feel that way or do you think maybe some more drivers can be thrown into the mix especially at Talladega next weekend?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's tough for me to say. Obviously the 29, the 11, and the 48 continue to run the way that they are for the first five and the last five, then, yes, it's a three-car race because no one's going to make up -- even if they win out, they're not going to make up 150 points on the 48, myself, or the 29.
So I think we're all going to have to have problems and what not for those guys to get up there. But anything can happen. We know Talladega, we could all three be in a wreck and next thing you know they're 50 points behind or less.
So it's not over by any means. In my mind, if you're 150 up with three races to go, you're looking pretty good. So I think it's going to have to depend on what happens in Talladega and this weekend as well.
But those guys are not going to race like they're beat. They're going to go out there and race to win these next five races in a row. No matter what happens to us, that is the best effort they can give.
Q. Coming into this season, you were the popular pick to end Jimmie Johnson's championship run. Do expectations like that put more pressure on you or can it be used as motivation for the season?
DENNY HAMLIN: I personally use it as motivation. I've expected myself to win a championship a couple years ago, much less today in 2010. So, you know, for myself, no one's going to put any more pressure on me than what I'm going to put on my self.
I felt like I was good enough to win a championship last year as far as on track performance, but my mind wasn't completely right. I feel like we made a few mistakes here and there with the cars, but for the most part, the driver made a mistake at California and took us out of it.
So I think that my mindset's a whole lot better this time around. Our performance is just as good as last year, so now it's going to be up to us to not make any mistakes. That's going to give us a chance to win at Homestead, hopefully. If it does, you're going to see everything I've got given those last few weeks if we're still in the hunt after Talladega.
I feel like for myself having high expectations, it's just part of the job. Predictions is what media does. That's what everyone wants to know, what are the predictions for a new year, the champions, this, that, and the other. I don't think anyone knows until it's all said and done.
And myself, I really couldn't tell you right now. I'm not going to give it to the 48 by any means because I know our potential.
Q. You were talking earlier about driving conservatively. I think that in the closing laps of Martinsville in the spring, you were probably anything but. What do you remember about those closing laps? I guess when you restarted back in traffic, did you feel like you were in this position of I've got to do everything possible to win this race?
DENNY HAMLIN: I was. That was an instance right there where I believed I bumped the 39 up. There were a couple of three-wide situations. I had just gotten tires. None of those guys were on tires. Everyone was really struggling in front of me.
So, yeah, I stuck it three-wide a couple of times that normally I probably wouldn't have. If that same situation comes up in the Chase, I will probably drive it the same, because your margin of error on a shorter track is a little bit larger than what it is on a mile-and-a-half, two-mile racetrack. You make a mistake on those, and you're in the wall, your car is done and finished.
At Martinsville, you can use your car a little bit more. You can knock in the fenders, the doors and things like that and you can still be okay and be competitive.
So for myself, if that same situation comes up and it's four to go or five to go like it was and we restart ninth, I'm just going to have to look to see where the 48 and 29 are, and base how aggressive I am off of that.
Q. Do you think tires are still the right decision there?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think no matter what, we were going to win that race, tires or no tires.
Q. When you first broke in, you were a young guy, obviously. You're not old now. You broke into the Chase early. How much has changed for you since that time? How much different is the Chase for you this time around?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, it's just different because I've made a lot of mistakes over the first four Chases that I've been part of. And it takes me a little while to understand what is the best way to win the championship and what formula works.
I've tried the aggressive approach. I've tried trying to exceed the level of my car, and made mistakes all those things have not worked for me. So I'm just trying something different this year.
For myself, until I win a championship, I'm not going to know what the right formula is. All I can do is try to get the best out of my car each week. I've been doing that. I feel like. You look at our finishes and that's where we're running for most part of the day. That's all I can ask for.
Like this week at Charlotte we're running third to fifth all day and we finish fourth, that's all I can do. If I was leading like Kyle and gave up and finished fourth -- gave up the lead late and finished fourth, then I would have been upset just like him.
So for me, this is all that I've got as far as performance-wise. But it's just managing whether I'm going to take a risk to get two or three more spots on restarts here and there.
For me, this time around is just a little different because we know our cars are fast enough to win races, and we know our performance is good enough to win championships. It's just how we manage the Chase is going to decide whether we're champions or not.
Q. Are you more nervous now going into Martinsville with it just being five races to go and knowing how much is on the line? Or are you more nervous in March when you knew you had your knee surgery coming up?
DENNY HAMLIN: Honestly, I'm not nervous at all going into Martinsville. For me, I would be more nervous if I was the 48 car going into Martinsville than I would if I was myself because we won the last two races there. He didn't have the spring race he was hoping for.
We are going out there to be on the offense. He's going to try to go out there and win the race as well. But for me, he's going to have to beat us to do it. I feel like we're going to be strong when we get there. It's going to take a lot to beat us there.
You know, so for me, it's more relaxed going out there and saying I'm going to go out there ask gain points this week, versus let's just manage a good finish and not lose a certain amount of points. So for me, it's more relaxed than really I've ever been.
Q. Didn't know if you had a prediction, but the race is scheduled for 500 laps. How many laps do you think it will be with the possibility of green and white checkers?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's tough to say. We've seen a lot of Martinsville races go down to long green flag runs. I've had green flag pit stops at that place before. That's something we've never seen before. Really it's just here lately that we've had those late cautions, those late debris cautions that we were having at the beginning of the season. So it depends. It depends how the cautions fly.
But really at Martinsville, it's one of those tracks where if you have one green/white checker, more than likely you're going to max it out and have all three. Because everyone's just trying to gain everything they can on a half mile racetrack where there is hardly room for one car in one lane.
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