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October 18, 2015

Denny Hamlin


THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Denny Hamlin, driver of the No.11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Denny, there may have been some questions about the JGR program heading into this weekend at Kansas after that first race of this round at Charlotte. Certainly a strong run from Matt, strong run from you, the runner‑up finish today, and that moves you into second place in the Chase standings heading into Talladega. Talk a little bit about your run today and what it means to secure as many points as you can heading into that cutoff race next week.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it was a very good day. My number was seven in my head. I wanted to be seventh or better entering this weekend. And obviously second is a good run for us.
You know, some other guys in front of us had some troubles, but we're by no means locked in. Looking at the points, we're still in an in‑between zone, so we're going to need to go to Talladega and race, and it's still been such a great Chase run for us so far; with the exception of Dover where we've had those two pit road speeding penalties, we've been top 5 every race and contending for wins.
This is a great start, and obviously hopefully we can build on this momentum, get through Talladega, and then we can go race after that.

Q. Two things: How did you come up with seven, and what kind of math were you using to think of that position? And did you feel like you had any shot at winning there the last restart?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, because top 5 is just too much to ask for me here, I'm just‑‑ this has been a really tough racetrack for me ever since they repaved it, for whatever reason. We've just really struggled.
So this is just a‑‑ it exceeded my expectations. Now, at the beginning of the race, the first half of the race, I would have taken 13th and got out of here, but we kept fighting, and Dave just made our car much better at the end of the race, and obviously we did think we had a shot there at the end. I saw the 22's damage, and I thought it was going to be a significant tire rub, but it looked like he came out unscathed there, but a lot of times when you flat side these cars, it actually makes your car a little better, and it looked like his was a little better, as well.
It was a tough deal for the 20. I didn't see anything that happened with those two, but we were looking good as an organization to try to get one car locked in there, and obviously he ended up with a bad day again.
Tough for the organization as far as that, but our own program, very pleased right now.

Q. Just curious, when you've got a better car and you're trying to get around a guy and he's blocking you, do you‑‑ what's the etiquette there? Is one guy in the right and one guy in the wrong? Obviously Matt needs the win, he's got to stay where he is, but Joey is trying to drive for a win and there's some incentive there to put the pressure on you guys, as well.
DENNY HAMLIN: Like I said, I didn't see the actual incident, but like I said, the mindset is obviously Matt is fighting for a race win. There's no way you can guarantee you're going to go out and win Talladega, but when you're leading with a handful of laps to go, this is probably going to be your best shot. I would understand anything that he did. The 22 has got nothing to gain or lose. You know, I don't know what that mentality is. I don't know given the circumstances‑‑ I'm sure from the 22's standpoint he probably didn't want the 20 to win. That's one of the faster cars that's been in this Chase, and so if you can try to eliminate something like that, I'm sure he's probably trying to do that.
I don't know. I wish I knew what exactly happened, but it's a mix there. One guy that has to win and another guy that's got nothing to lose.

Q. Denny, you walk out of this interview, and it's pretty much on to Talladega. The past is the past. Going into Talladega, do you take the attitude of running in the back until the end of the race and then charge for hopefully a victory, or do you just try to win from the very start?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, the success that I've had at Talladega has come from trying to run up front every single lap. You know, as far as I'm concerned, there's going to be one of those guys behind me that I have‑‑ if I'm going to ride in the back that I'm going to assume is going to win the race. That moves my points position down even further. 18 is just‑‑ I don't think 18 is enough to just go out there and ride around. I just don't think that's safe.
I remember last year, I think I was 18th going into the final race, and I crossed the line on the white flag in 22nd, out, and had to battle my way up there on the final lap to advance.
I just don't know the proper way to do it. You always think that there's going to be a big wreck there that takes out a lot of cars, but there wasn't last year, so I don't know. We'll think about it. But my gut feeling is we'll probably have to go there and race hard.

Q. With this Chase format and kind of looking how it's gone the past couple years and so far this year, in a driver's mindset, do you not only look at the points or how I need to win or what my position is, or do you guys have to think in the mindset of how can I eliminate my competitor?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I'm more the mindset of focusing on what we can do. You know, I know if I don't make any mistakes and Dave has got that car reasonably handling well, we should go out there and we should run top 5 and we should contend for a win. So my focus is not making any mistakes, especially in these early rounds, because it's so hard to advance.
That's what I've really tried to work on. Dover, I sped twice. We were already locked in, so it kind of‑‑ I was taking advantage of my situation there. But my focus is always just what can I do to finish the absolute best, and then I look at the standings afterwards.
Early in my career, I was very, very guilty of looking at the scoreboard throughout the race. I don't even think I looked at it once today. All I was focused on was going forward, and we just kept marching forward as the day went on.

Q. Can you say what you saw on the Kenseth‑Logano deal? And that's kind of the first time we've seen somebody really turned for a win in this Chase format. How does it impact the way you all drive going forward?
DENNY HAMLIN: I didn't see it. Unfortunately those guys were really fast and too far ahead of me to see it. But my standpoint was just you had a mix there of one guy that had nothing to lose and one that probably saw his opportunity to move on to the next round.
Don't know what happened, but no matter what, I'm going to stick up for Kenseth, so he's probably right.

Q. Talladega is usually crazy. We've had two major incidents in plate races this year with Dillon and Kyle and then next week we'll have everybody trying to get into the next round. Do you go in there with an extra sense of trepidation or dread maybe or‑‑
DENNY HAMLIN: You're going to have to explain that word.

Q. Fear, etcetera, because of what's gone on and what's at stake next week and how crazy some people might get?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, I'll be honest with you, I'm not comfortable with where I am personally in the points. We're not locked in, and there's no guarantee. We saw last year with Kyle, riding in the back was dangerous, also. But I have to look at the positives. I mean, we've finished fourth and second now in this round, and that gives us a little buffer at Talladega. It looks like right behind me there's a big group of guys that all probably will be battling up front all day. Only one of them can win, but I just‑‑ I don't think I can go out there and finish 25th and move on.
I've got to‑‑ I'm happy with where I'm at, but still, trepidation‑‑

Q. Any grave concerns from a safety standpoint?
DENNY HAMLIN: Safety, not really. Talladega is a little bit wider than what Daytona is. The incident that happened there on the front stretch with us, that front stretch kink is really, really narrow and everyone gets three and four wide there, and that's probably one of the hardest kinks on a superspeedway that we have. Talladega is just a little bit wider. I'm sure we're going to find a way to run into each other for sure, but you know, hopefully we all just‑‑ it all stays on the ground. We'll go out there and do what it's our jobs to go out there and do. Luckily, though, when you see a wreck that was that bad from the eye test, he got up and walked right away. That's a pretty good sign of where our sport is at.

Q. We've never seen this before in this format with a guy winning two races in a round. How much pressure, especially with it being Talladega, does that put on‑‑ I know you said earlier that Joey didn't really have anything to gain, but by putting the rest of the field under the gun kind of at Talladega, do you feel like that is a significant advantage for him?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, he'll definitely have an advantage for sure, but you know, my guess is it will probably play out similar to what it did last year. I think Joey was very aggressive trying to block and whatnot for the 2 car. My guess is the 2 will be very aggressive, as well. So I mean, that's what teammates are for, and my guess is that's kind of what his role will be next week.

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