Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to media at ISM Raceway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No.11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How are you feeling?
“I’m feeling pretty good. Just going through the process and I feel like we have a pretty good car in the first practice. Still have some work to do to make it a race winning car, but overall, we’re in the hunt.”
Do you feel like you have to win to advance to the Championship 4?
“We don’t know that until after the first stage. I think after the first stage, you’ll have an idea of what you’ll need to do from that point on and it all really depends on everyone around us and what they do that first stage.”
Do you still see a sports psychologist during the season?
“No, I haven’t in a while. No, I haven’t. Just a text here and there, but no.”
How do you focus on a week like this?
“I treat it just like I have most every other week. I just give 100% effort, and do all the work I possibly can going into the weekend that way I know I’ve left no stone unturned as far as giving all the information that I need for that week.”
Are you treating this weekend like you have to win, or do you think you can run up front and get enough stage points?
“Yeah, I think we’re going to try to qualify as good as we can and try to stay up front. If you stay up front and are leading the race, leading laps, finish good in the first stage, the pressure will shift to other people to have to protect points. You do everything you can to be up front the first stage, and then you kind of analyze where you are from there. Are you a winning car, are you going to stay there, or are you going to have to switch your strategy for the second stage to set yourself up to be up front to win the race?”
What is so appealing to you about the Phoenix area?
“It’s great golfing for sure. It’s the weather, it’s everything about it. I was actually saying this morning – there’s a bunch of us that are sharing a house – I was like, ‘Normally three or four days away from home and I’m like (sigh), I’m ready to get back home. I could just stay here, I’m fine. It’s just I love the area and it is somewhere where I’d like to be more long term once the racing is finished with.”
Have you been out here all week and who’s staying at the house?
“Yeah. The whole group – same old band. (Kyle) Larson and (Ricky) Stenhouse, all those guys.”
Do you feel NASCAR needs to step in regarding people spinning intentionally?
“I think they can use judgment on that, for sure. I know we, a lot of us have got penalties by intentionally causing the caution in the past. I would say it should be no different now.”
Would it benefit drivers if NASCAR didn’t make a judgement call?
“I think it should play out naturally. I’m all for whatever is natural, not messing around with the cautions and getting them when you need them. Our sport is so different than others when it comes to that. When someone like in football fakes an injury and it slows the game down, or gets a time out, that’s not a game changer, right. However, a caution that is untimely for someone that has pitted versus someone who hasn’t, is a complete game changer. You can’t fake things no matter what the sport, but the stakes are higher in NASCAR because you can really screw people over.”
How do you feel about team orders?
“For as long as I’ve been in NASCAR, it’s been going on. You can always tell which teams play more shenanigans than others. That’s just things you don’t see, whether it be jamming up somebody on a restart, picking certain lanes to help or hurt, all that stuff.”
Would there be any scenario where you feel your team owner would tell you need to help your teammate to get to the next round?
“I honestly feel like I’ve only been with Gibbs, so I can’t really speak for other teams, but I know we really haven’t discussed any scenario in which we can do this and help each other out. We’re all out there just trying to win. I think we all want to do it the right way.”
How will the traction compound be here?
“It just took so long for it to come in at Texas. It has a shine to it that needs to be run in. We discussed after the Xfinity race with NASCAR to not reapply more because I think the Xfinity cars do a good job of bringing it in. It’s actually really, really good at that time. It raced good for us. I think they’re worried about it wearing off by the end of the race, but I told them that you’d have a better show from beginning to end if you didn’t do anything after the Xfinity race. Don’t reapply because it just keeps us from going up there. Like Texas, it took hundreds of laps to really get that thing going because reapplication is pretty slick.”
How do you handle the season you’ve had, but face the possibility of not being in the Championship 4?
“You adjust your expectations. No matter what, I will not consider this year any sort of a failure. We, as Mark Martin would say, we just didn’t score enough points. We had a great year, we won races, we led more laps than we have in a long time and more top fives than anybody in the series. It’s been a really good year and I’m just not going to let the outcome of this weekend, or last weekend, decide whether it’s a good season or not. I think you have to adjust that. One race, winner take all, or a three-race round – anything can happen, and it did for us.”
Do you think making the final 4 is a big deal, even if you don’t earn the championship?
“I do, I certainly do. I think when you – I believe Brad (Keselowski) was talking on one of the shows how he values wins over championships because when you talk ranking in the top 50 drivers, it’s because winning the race never has changed. The person who wins the race doesn’t change based on the championship format that has been changed so many different times. We’ve seen, if the format was this, I’d have three championships. We all play by the same rules, we know what they are, and we know what the format is, but it doesn’t always work out for you. This is an extremely difficult to win one of these.”
If you are your generation’s Mark Martin, will that be enough for you?
“Yeah, it will. I think Mark Martin said it best, ‘You can still be respected and still have a really and successful career without winning a championship.’ I read that he thinks about now that he’s 60 years old, he looks back and thinks will a championship make any difference in my life right now? He says, ‘No, it wouldn’t.’ I’m at that point. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove. I know what I’m capable of, I think my competitors know what I’m capable of and I appreciate all the love the media has given me over the last two, three weeks. It’s been incredible. Probably not all of it deserved, but I also think we have to give some love to the other competitors too.”
Toyota Racing PR