NASCAR Media Conference
November 5, 2008
DENISE MALOOF: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teleconference ahead of Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil at Phoenix International Raceway.
Our guest today is Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. FedEx Ground Toyota and one of the 12 participants in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Sunday's race at PIR is the 9th of 10 Chase races, and Denny currently is 12th in the standings, just two points out of 11th and three out of 10th.
Denny, what is your perspective on this weekend out west in Phoenix?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, Phoenix is a track we always look forward to going to. For sure it's typically been one of our best racetracks. We go there with a little bit of confidence, for sure. We definitely didn't run as well in Texas as what we were hoping to or expected to. We've got to try to make up for it this weekend.
DENISE MALOOF: We'll go straight to media questions for Denny Hamlin.
Q. You're a frequent Chase contender. At least every year more than 70% of the drivers don't make the Chase. Are those numbers comforting to you, or does making the Chase and not achieving a championship make you and your team more hungry next season?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, it's tough to say. It's a good accomplishment. We know as soon as we made the Chase this year, that makes our season successful. Normally it would be, but I think we expect a little bit more from ourselves now than what we have in the past.
You know, it's not just enough to make the Chase any more. For us to be satisfied, we feel like we need to be more of a contender, I guess you could say, when it comes down to the Chase.
It will be different next year for sure. Over the last couple years we've kind of been in the bottom of the Chase standings. It's just been bad luck. I've had a lot of bad luck over the last couple years. I'm trying to finish races. We're working on it. Next year we got to work on the minor things that kept us either out of Victory Lane or off of that racetrack. Most of those are mechanical failures. If we can eliminate them, we're going to have a successful season no matter what.
Q. Staying hungry, is that one of the biggest assets you can keep?
DENNY HAMLIN: It is. I mean, there's only myself and Jimmie and Matt Kenseth that's made it each of the years that they've tried. It's tough. It's getting harder and harder every year to make the Chase. Even though they increased the number, it's a dogfight right down to the end.
So, I mean, we definitely don't want to rest our hat on the fact we've made it every year. We feel like we need to run better.
Q. The 99 has been on a roll. Can you see the 48 losing this championship?
DENNY HAMLIN: Nothing's impossible by any means. I mean, anyone can think right now that, hey, anything can happen, get caught in a wreck, have something go wrong. But it just doesn't happen that often to the 48. I mean, if you were talking about another team, maybe the door would be a little bit more open than what it is right now.
I think solely based off of performance, you know, the 48's going to be fine. If he doesn't have a problem, it's definitely going to be his championship and everyone else is just going to be chasing him.
They do a good job of executing. They execute every single year. They don't have problems. That's why they're at where they're at right now.
Q. Late in last Sunday's race, Carl's team opted to go on a fuel-mileage strategy. He was told over the radio to slow down. How hard is it for you guys to slow down?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's tough, for sure, because I think the crew chief knows more than anything. He knows the speed which we need to run to make it. But we don't always know.
So, I mean, I think it is tough. But I think it was almost like kind of a last desperation thing for them to make up points. Didn't look like they were going to make up much the way it was going to pan out. I think it was kind of their one Hail Mary shot to get it in the end zone, and they got it.
It's hard for us to be able to figure that out, how hard to run. But I think they were just in a situation where they had nothing to lose.
Q. Have you ever had that happen to you, your crew chief gets on the radio and tells you to slow down?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, not really slow down. It's do everything you can to save fuel mileage. That means keeping your foot off the gas pedal, or off of wide open anyway. So it is tough. But, you know, I really haven't been in a situation where I've had to do that.
Q. How hard is it or how do you not lose your confidence as you go through a time like this?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's easy. I mean, you know, we know right now we're not struggling to find out why are we not running good, why are we not running as good as we did a few years ago. The fact of it is we are, we're running just as competitive. We're more competitive than what we were last year and the year before that. It's just, you know, when bad luck strikes you, it's a little easier for the pill to go down when it's the things you can fix. Anyone will tell you they would much rather be competitive and have some minor issues every now and then than trying to figure out what they need to do to be competitive each week. I take comfort in that.
But, you know, we definitely have to do better. We can't keep having, you know, years where we excel during the regular season or what have you and when the Chase starts, you know, we go right to the bottom of the list. We definitely have to change that.
Q. Luck you can't really change, though, correct?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, I've seen it in different people's careers. Look at Mark Martin, he went years and years of really not even being competitive. I really don't know how I would kind of treat that, I guess you could say.
Yeah, I know that I've had the problems that I've had. I firmly believe that the races in which I didn't do well or finished badly was because a mistake was made by myself or just something bad going wrong. That's easy for me to get over because I think everyone goes through it in the course of their career. Sometimes it just lasts longer than others.
I just firmly believe the last couple years we're making up for all that good fortune we had in our rookie season.
Q. You mentioned the Phoenix racetrack is good for you. Can you specifically say what one or two things makes those certain tracks be good for you over other tracks?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think I have a good feel for it. There's no adjustment time. As soon as we unload the car, we go out there for the first couple laps to practice, I have a good feel for what I need to make my car go faster. Loudon and Phoenix and Richmond, these are the tracks that, you know, we have a little bit more confidence. We kind of have good baseline setups for those racetracks. Right away there's not a whole lot of adjustment time for me to go out there and try to figure out what I need. I know right from the get-go.
The more practice we get when we actually get there, and in turn, you know, we have run good in the past, it's easy to go back with those that you ran well at. We kind of went through a series for a while that mile-and-a-half racetracks we struggled. We're still kind of in different packages and whatnot. But we know when we get to these short tracks, we have a standard package that's worked over the last few years. Right now it's solid for us.
Q. Parents ask me, What is the best thing for me to prepare my young son for becoming a NASCAR driver. Is there anything you can tell them?
DENNY HAMLIN: Prepare pretty well first. It's tough, especially these days. Everyone's trying to do all they can to get an edge on someone else. I think racing is definitely -- it's the most competitive sport I think you could ever be a part of because there's so many different elements which it takes to run well.
You know, it's tough mentally and emotionally to try to make it because, you know, odds are it's gonna be tough for you to be one of those 43 guys out there. But, I mean, I definitely didn't believe that it would happen for myself. It was a lot of hard work, a lot of good fortune. If you definitely believe in it, you know, just keep at it.
Q. With some of the sponsors moving from some smaller teams to bigger teams like RCR, that kind of shift, do you think the gap is getting bigger between the have and have not's in the sport?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think it's always going to be a gap. There's always going to be the have and have not's. That's why I hope with the new testing policy, I think the updates they've done to it, it takes a lot of testing away. Ultimately the more testing, the more it's going to require these big teams to just have test teams, test drivers, all that. That's just more money.
Sponsors want to run well. They're going to try to get the best for their dollar that they can. If they're not with a big team, then they're not getting their money's worth.
There's always going to be a gap. But I think with the Car of Tomorrow, it has closed up quite a bit. We look at practice each and every week and are always amazed how close the times are, you know, from 1st to 40th, what have you. The only problem is when you don't have a big enough gap between the haves and have not's, you don't see a whole lot of passing. That's kind of what we've seen lately. When everyone runs the same speed, you know, I don't think the racing is competitive.
You know, we just have pretty much two guys, I guess you could say, the 48 and 99, that kind of have a leg up on everyone else. I think, you know, everyone else is probably the have not's.
Q. Petty Enterprises is a big name in racing, they're looking for a sponsor, as is Bill Davis Racing. Are you concerned with the economy the way it is as a driver you may someday be in a position of Bobby Labonte, Petty, a name like that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, that's the one thing I definitely feel confident about. I've got a good partnership with FedEx and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. I know it's going to be tough, especially for those other teams, to try to keep their head above water with the economy the way it is.
I think J.D. Gibbs and Joe Gibbs called it years and years ago. They said it was going to be 11 teams with four different independent teams. Unfortunately, that's the way our sport's going. We hate to do that to the smaller teams. But in order to keep up with the Jonses, we've got to do what we've got to do.
Gibbs, we'd love to have a fourth car. But sponsorship or what have you has not worked out yet for us. But we know if we're going to compete with the five-car teams or four-car team, especially with all these satellite teams, we've got to step up.
So ultimately the sponsors are going to look to the teams that perform well. If it's kind of gets where the smaller teams can't do it, it's going to be tough for them to go out there and race with the guys that have four cars each and every week.
DENISE MALOOF: Denny, we appreciate your time today. Thanks for joining us and answering those questions. Good luck this weekend in Phoenix.
DENNY HAMLIN: All right. Appreciate it.
DENISE MALOOF: Thanks to all the media who joined us. We'll see you next week.
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