|Hamlin is 7/1 to win STP 500 Sunday|
How does your car stack up based on practice speeds?
“It’s a little early to tell. Nobody was really in race trim much that first practice so you really aren’t going to know until tomorrow where you stand as far as that’s concerned. Overall, our cars had okay speed – ours did. Our teammates were a little bit off, but it looked like the Hendrick cars have some very good speed, as they should. I’m sure today we’ll probably be chasing them in qualifying and I’m sure in the race as well.”
Why do drivers get so upset with each other during this race?
“It’s the tight confines and contact is almost unavoidable at this race track. Usually when there is contact, it affects somebody negatively and that person feels like it could have been avoided and the other person sometimes doesn’t. There’s a disagreement. It’s just part of this race track. If you put us on a quarter-mile track, we’re probably going to have even more altercations with each other. It’s just the smaller the track, the more chances of that is going to be inevitable. It’s a one-groove track and the other short tracks we go to, you can move around a little bit and you can avoid it where here everyone fights for the bottom. It usually happens because someone is hung on the outside, they’re trying to get to the bottom and trying to force their way to the bottom and somebody doesn’t cut them a break and ends up spinning them out. That’s usually what happens here and it’s probably 90 percent of why the wrecks happen and people are upset.”
Are you more concerned with keeping up with other team’s performance or working on your performance?
“I think ourselves, it’s a fair question. I think that as a program we could still be better. I thought last week we showed signs of progress. You still have to finish and execute the way you’re supposed to at the end of these races to win them, but I thought overall on the mile-and-a-half program that’s been our strong suit really for the last year and a half if we’ve had any strong suit at all it’s been on the bigger tracks. It’s these tracks that you become a little more concerned with and are anxious for us to see this weekend kind of where our program stands on the short tracks. We feel like we have some great short track drivers in our stable that haven’t got to showcase that over the last two years because our program has been so bad. I think that hopefully that turns around this weekend.”
Is this a track where you have the best opportunity win?
“Normally I would say yes, but really it’s been the bigger tracks where we’ve had our best opportunities to win races. It hasn’t been at these. We did run pretty strong here though in the Chase race last time we were here. For me, our struggles come more at like Richmond, Loudon and Phoenix where our program has just taken a turn to the bad over the last couple years. This is kind of a one-off race track that the driver can make up a little bit of a difference and that’s why you see the same drivers up front here really no matter what’s going on in their program they’re up front here. I think that this is kind of a one-off track as far as that’s concerned. I’m very confident when we come here that this is one of those opportunities where you just need to seize as a race team. We should be in the mix. Hopefully, come Sunday it’s just a matter of if we can get our cars to do the things we need them to do.”
Would it be a big deal to get the win here for JGR and Toyota?
“It would be and obviously it’s been said 1000 times about when the last Toyota win has been. It’s been tough and it’s been a hard year for the organization and the manufacturer. Not that a win here would just satisfy all those needs – we still know that realistically we’ve got a lot of work to do, but it definitely would take a lot of pressure off because right now we’re all in that hornets’ nest of the bubble spot if this thing comes down to points.”
Has the first stretch of races given you an idea of who is strong?
“I think it does and really I’m in favor of just going wherever there’s not going to be a high chance of rain or cold weather. Really it doesn’t matter how they iron out these race tracks at the beginning of the season, but we definitely need to think about weather and what it’s going to be like. Atlanta luckily turned out pretty decent, but it was a very cold weekend thrown in there. It’s tough to do because we are in an outside sport to try to predict weather, but I think that we do have an idea of what we’ve got, but it’s so early in the season that it’s going to be mid-summer before we really start to understand where your program fully is and you go back to some of these race tracks again. I think everyone right now is chasing really the 4 (Kevin Harvick) car and some other Hendrick guys. Still plenty of time to catch those guys here in the future.”
What role has J.D. Gibbs played in your career and how has the team been impacted by the news?
“J.D. (Gibbs, president of JGR) has been the guy that has really run the company when I first came in back in 2004, 2005 and 2006 when Joe (Gibbs, team owner of JGR) was still doing football. He was a huge part of that and his role is probably reduced a little bit when his dad came back, but he’s obviously still a very important part of our organization and how it’s run and things like that. It’s not like he can’t do those things, he’s still going to be at the shop doing some work and doing things, but obviously he’s got to overcome some obstacles and really that family has faced some obstacles with his son just a few years ago. They’re tough and they’ll work through it and as an organization we’re all praying for him.”
Have you spoken with J.D. Gibbs since the news came out on Wednesday?
“I haven’t since they announced it, but personally I’ve known for a little bit about it. Really, he seems upbeat about it. I saw him last weekend at the race track and he seems fine. It’s not something that he really harps on, but obviously it’s something that’s very serious and you have to treat it seriously. I think that they’ve got some of the best doctors in the world trying to help him and trying to figure out what’s going on and I think they’re still in the process of figuring out what all is going on so that will be ongoing I’m sure for a little while.”
Do you believe there are teams in the garage tampering with tires?
“I think for sure it has. I don’t think — I know NASCAR sat down all the crew chiefs last year in Phoenix and told them to stop doing it. My guess is that if they said stop then they’ve seen something. If it’s out there and they know about it, you should be gone forever. That’s a major, major thing and this isn’t like the old rodeo days of being able to go out there and run a big motor or soak the tires – this is a professional sport and people alter tires — that’s a big, big deal. Definitely no room for it in the sport, that’s for sure. Hope they clamp down on that if they do find it and if they find it multiple times with somebody, they should have a permanent vacation somewhere.”
How long have rumors of tire altering been going through the garage?
“This has been going on for years and years – it’s just ramped up again here lately. When I say going on, I mean just rumors and stuff. People can only say something about you so much before it’s actually reality and it’s reality. Things like this doesn’t keep getting brought up and said if it’s not actually happening. I’m not real close to it because we haven’t had our tires confiscated or anything like that – wish we were running well enough for that to happen, but we haven’t. I think that it’s going to be a tough thing, from what I understand for them to figure out whether it’s a natural leak or a drill-induced leak. They’ll figure out a way and whether it be somebody else looking at the tires to try to figure it out, they’ll find it and when they do the person – when they feel NASCAR getting hot on them they’re going to stop doing it. That’s maybe when you see some performance differences, you never know. We don’t know what kind of performance difference it can do because we haven’t done it.”
Are you looking forward to your Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown again?
“We’re going back to South Boston Speedway for the second year in a row and they did such a great job the first year helping with promotion and putting the event on and running the event – everything just went so well for us last year. Obviously it was a pretty quick decision to go back again this year and had a great race there last year. Matt Bowling won in great fashion. It was awesome to see a good finish at the end and I wish I was a part of it. Unfortunately I haven’t run very good over the last few years in my own race, but lack of practice time more than likely I will blame it on. I don’t know, we have close to 50 cars and some great guys come out to support that and we had standing room only or stand in the back of your truck room only type of atmosphere last year. Had cars on top of each other – we had just about everything you can imagine. We’re very excited to have it again and the proceeds – 100 percent go to the Denny Hamlin Foundation, which will benefit a lot of different children’s charities, mainly cystic fibrosis, which my cousin has and is still fighting with. We’re hopefully going to have another successful year this year with it. Tickets are $20 and suites are $200. We’ve got some great stuff going on with it. It will be a sold out crowd again and better get your tickets now if you want to watch it.”
- Toyota Racing