Denny Hamlin finished eighth in the Chase for the Championship last year, and his Joe Gibbs Racing team had one victory. Hamlin talked about what's ahead for his team. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: Is there satisfaction in simply making the Chase, especially since most don't?
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.
Question: A couple races were won late in the year on fuel mileage. How hard is it for a driver to slow down?
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. It's hard for us to be able to figure that out, how hard to run.
Question: Have you ever had a crew chief tell you to slow down?
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.
Question: How hard is it to not lose your confidence when things aren't going right?
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.
Question: Can luck change everything?
Hamlin: 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.
Question: What's the best thing a parent can do to get their child ready for a career as a NASCAR driver?
Hamlin: 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 going to 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.
Question: Will there be a bigger gap between the elite teams and everyone else this year?
Hamlin: I think it's always going to be a gap. There's always going to be the have and have-nots. 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 first 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.