|Denny Hamlin won at Phoenix in 2012|
How do you feel about the car here at Phoenix?
“We just raced here not too many races ago – we had a decent run there. We actually had a bad run, but we finished well. It’s a different package, different setup for us that we’re trying. This is a very important race when it comes down to the championship. You want to make sure that you come here and be prepared to try some different things and obviously with the testing policy, this is going to kind of work out as a test weekend for us to try to make sure we’re good when we come back here in November.”
How does the team focus on beating the other teams that seem dominant right now?
“We try to identify the areas that we’re getting beat and right now it’s a little bit of everything in my opinion. Some tracks just work well for drivers and they have that special chemistry and their driving style fits a particular race track. We all know or most of us know what it takes to go around here fast, but getting that out of our race car is the challenge and what they’ve done is they’ve gotten it out of their race car. That for us is our biggest focus – not trying to beat necessarily one car, but how can we come here and be more competitive than what we were last time here. We weren’t just beat by one car, we were off quite a bit. I think it’s just improving upon how we ran here in the Chase race.”
What have you seen in Martin Truex Jr. this season?
“NASCAR racing so much today is about how fast your car is when it unloads from the trailer. He (Martin Truex Jr.) was with MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) during the tough times and he was there in the good times and won some races with them. Then obviously when you go to a single car team you typically think that performance will drop, but I think he’s done a really good job of optimizing over these last few years with Furniture Row with what he’s been given. Now that it looks like RCR (Richard Childress Racing) has gotten better they probably reap some of the benefits of that. Resurgence of drivers and downward spiral of drivers, I hate to say it’s mostly not because of the drivers. It’s just because the teams are going through lulls or what have you or their manufacturer is. I think he’s running to the full potential of what his cars are and right now they look like they have top-five speed every week. That is more the resurgence of Truex is that he has a better machine under him than he’s had over the last few years.”
Have you spoken with Kyle Busch and how is he doing?
“He (Kyle Busch) seems well. He’s somewhat chatty through the texts that we have. He’s definitely paying a lot of attention to the races and what he sees from the outside. I think he’s very engaged and obviously making the best of the situation that he’s got. I know when I was out two years ago, it just gives you a different perspective and a different way to look at things. I’m sure coming back he’ll probably be a lot more appreciative of the time he’s got inside that race car because he knows how quickly it can go away. It’s a shame because we just had our driver line-up right where we wanted it with the four of us and we felt like this was going to be a good thing and I was looking forward to hearing some more feedback from Kyle, but obviously David (Ragan) has done a great job, but we’re excited to get Kyle back just as soon as we can just for the reason that this is the four driver dynamic that Joe (Gibbs, team owner) put together and we hope to bring our race teams, all of them, up to a higher level. Right now we’re just missing just a little something.”
Are you satisfied with Auto Club Speedway from a safety perspective?
“I haven’t seen the race track. I think more and more now we’re starting to put more eyes on where SAFER barriers are so I haven’t seen it. I haven’t asked to see it, but I’m assuming from talks that I’ve had with Jeff (Gordon), I believe the meeting he had with NASCAR was well and they’re doing everything they can to make sure the changes are happening as fast as they can. I’m assuming that the job is going to get done quickly and right. When we get there we will have somewhere safe to race on.”
Is your team struggling with the new rules package?
“It’s really tough to say, I wouldn’t think this rules package would suit me and my style particularly. I’d rather have 1000 horsepower than 700. The less downforce I would say probably does suit me a little bit better, but I think we’ve just kind of optimized where we’re at. We’ve been a top-five car every week and it’s a shame that we made a mistake at Atlanta and spun out, but we were top-five for sure going to finish there I thought. We’re top-five, but we’re still just a little behind on speed from where we need to from the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and then the Hendrick cars, but it’s all about for us trying to find that little bit of extra speed. We’re way closer than what we were with our 11 team at this time last year. Pretty optimistic about what’s to come in the months and hopefully if we can make it in the Chase then we can make another run at it.”
Did you enjoy racing the XFINITY Series at Atlanta?
“I do like it and I didn’t like it for many, many years. I enjoyed last week even though we didn’t run that well. There are some times that it can benefit you and I think the rules packages are now a little closer to where it probably can benefit you to run a few XFINITY races. For me, I thought it was time for me to kind of get back and start running a few more just to see if I can find anything that can make me better on Sundays. Even though I typically don’t like doing double duty, the stats show that I always run better Sunday when I raceon Saturday. I don’t know why, but it’s happened.”
Are you shifting here at Phoenix?
“I wish NASCAR would really come up with a ban on that. There is no reason why we should be shifting on a one-mile race track. This is a short track, not a road course. Make the gearing so we cannot shift because it’s just dumb for us to have the option to be able to shift. Everything that they’re trying to do with the whole gear rule and less horsepower, it throws that all out the window when you’re able to go out here and shift. It will be an option and people will try to do it. I’m sure late in the runs it will be effective, but it’s just with the gear taken out and the horsepower, we’re just lugging off these corners and you’re just flat footing it. As a driver, it’s tough to be able to race that way so we’re having to shift to try to get up off the corner. Hopefully looking forward we can change it to where you don’t have to do that.”
If other drivers shift, are you forced to shift?
“I think on restarts most everyone will shift when you’re all bottled up. I think people will be successful both ways, but it’s just that option. Come one, we’re on a short track, why are we shifting?”
Are you practicing for qualifying or for the race?
“We practiced mostly for the race. Obviously, like I talked about before, the few laps we have around here for the next two days is our test session to try to get better for November. This is one of the most critical races when it comes to the Chase so we’re trying to do everything we can to focus everything on race trim and getting better in that format.”
What is your motivation for running well at Auto Club Speedway next week?
“I was really excited, especially that we had ran happy hour and we thought we were a car that could compete for a win. I’m just as motivated. The last race laps I ran around there was when I got crashed on the last lap racing for a win. Ultimately, my motivation is to go there and perform at a really high level. It’s been circled for like a year or two now to run well there. I just didn’t get a chance last year and hopefully I will this year.”
Why were so many drivers swapping the lead in practice?
“You might have to ask that on Sunday. Passing will be difficult and passing has been difficult here really ever since the repave, but I think it will be even more difficult with less gear, less horsepower – tired aren’t going to wear out as much. I think passing will be difficult. You can’t really go by practice because different people are going into qualifying trim at different times. They jump up to the top and then the guys that have been in race trim will go into qualifying and jump back up. I think a lot of the switching you saw and speeds in practice isn’t really indicative of what we’re going to see for racing.”
How much is Kyle Busch’s feedback missed at the race team?
“You definitely miss that feedback and really you miss it more during the week than the weekend. Kyle’s (Busch) usually running XFINITY races so for years on end it’s been me just kind of sitting in the hauler debriefing with all the crew chiefs and all my other teammates are running XFINITY so I don’t get a whole lot of input. This year with Carl (Edwards) not running any and Matt’s (Kenseth) running less, there’s more communication now than there’s ever been even though Kyle’s missing. We miss him more during the week listening to how his race went, how we can improve upon that. He’s an important part of it. Until the fourth car came this year, he was 33 percent of the information that went through that race team and it’s just a little different there without him for sure.”
- Toyota Racing