Denny Hamlin won eight races a year ago, but Sunday’s victory at the Michigan International Speedway was his first in 2011. After the race, he talked about his slow start and how he hopes to be at full speed by the time the Chase for the Championship starts in late September.
Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: What was the short losing streak like?
Hamlin: Well, I don't think about, “Are we going to win a race this year?” I felt like that was going to happen. I felt like over these last six weeks, I can honestly say we've had a chance to win each and every race, one of them.
Question: Did it feel like it took forever to win this year?
Hamlin: It has. For me, if I go about eight weeks without winning, I'm wondering what the heck is going on.
Question: Although you got off to a slow start, you never seemed to waiver in your confidence. Now that you’ve won, however, is there a since of relief?
Hamlin: Well, realistically you know if the whole world collapses and ends, you're still one win away from getting a Chase spot pretty much. I mean, one win's not going to put you in necessarily. It might if you're still high up in points. But we know two wins pretty much puts you in. From here on out, we know we're one win away from having a Chase spot. My goal is still to get in the top five in points. If I wouldn't have dug us such a big hole at the beginning of the year, we really could be possibly fighting for trying to lead the points going into the Chase. But we just started so far behind, it's going to be tough to do that. My realistic goal is top five in points, don't have to worry about any kind of wild cards once we get to Richmond.
Question: Do you feel all three drives at Joe Gibbs Racing are working better together?
Hamlin: I mean really the last few weeks, yeah, I've seen him a lot more than I have a lot. I think a lot of it is you come to realize that you need your teammates to help you perform better. We've been to a couple really strong tracks here these last few weeks and he's kind of picked my brain quite a bit. I've given him every bit of information I have on them. He's obviously had two consecutive top‑three finishes at those tracks that he's not necessarily been the best at in the past. So he's using that knowledge to his advantage. Trust me, when I go to a road course or something like that, I'm going to be on him trying to find that same information. That's what we did I think at the beginning of our relationship really, really well, was that we pushed each other to be better. I think we're starting to get back to that right now, just using every bit of information we can from each other because he knows that I'm good at some racetracks and I know that he's good at other ones that I struggle at. In order for us to get closer together and start using each other's setups, we've got to get on the same page.
Question: Do you feel your team is starting to sneak up on the competition?
Hamlin: Well, I think this weekend in particular probably because we weren't super-fast in practice, we weren't super-fast in qualifying. We just kind of were average in a lot of different areas. Even during the race, for three‑quarters of the race we were average. But we stepped up there at the end. Obviously when that caution came out and it put us in the top five, then I think it was medicine for us to say, okay, now let's see what our car's got. We started making ground about 100 laps to go and were running top‑five time. That put an equalizer right there, as soon as that caution flag flew, to let us see what kind of car we had. Obviously, the last couple runs, we were able to hang right there at the front. It's just things worked out for us today.
Question: Are you getting on you roll a little later this year than in 2010?
Hamlin: I think everyone knows that we’ve been strong and today we didn’t look as strong as what we normally do here, but we got it working there at the end. We made a magic adjustment and just the car took off. This is the point in the season where we really need to start hitting our stride and hopefully we got another good 10 weeks before the Chase starts.
Question: Has it been difficult to stay patient and keep your focus this year?
Hamlin: It’s so tough because you know you belong in the top-10 and you deserve to have a Chase spot, but the results don’t show for it. So, for us, it’s good to kind of get over this hump, get our first win of the season and hopefully it’s the first of many.” Do you think about your point’s position at this point in the season? “You have to. If you’re not points racing at this point you’re not paying attention to the obvious, because with this new format you either got to win or you’ve got to be inside that top-10.