Tag:Denny Hamlin
Posted on: March 4, 2012 8:18 pm

Hamlin, Grubb, Gibbs post Phoenix comments

Posted by Pete Pistone

This has got to feel very, very good, getting this first win as the crew chief for the No. 11 FedEx Toyota.

DARIAN GRUBB:  It really does.  It's a great team effort.  All of Joe Gibbs Racing did a great job getting us here.  Did a lot of work in the off-season.  Did a great job with the pit crew and everybody that was here at the racetrack and back at home, we couldn't do it without them and the support of FedEx and Toyota and TRD engines has been pretty good.

KERRY THARP:  Our race winner has joined us, Denny Hamlin, congratulations on winning here at Phoenix, the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota goes to victory lane.  It's his 18th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, his first win at Phoenix, and you are the points leader after two races.  He's joined by team owner coach Joe Gibbs, and Denny, congratulations.  I know this one has got to really feel good for you coming out here and winning this race, making a statement early in the season.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, absolutely.  This is the first chance that me and him have to work together in a race situation where he's going to have to make a lot of adjustments, and needless to say, it was going forward the entire day.  It's still a learning process between me and Darian.  The communication has still got a long way to go, and he's going to have to figure out my measurements and all that stuff of how much he needs to work on the car.  But to have the success this early just tells me that once we get things down pat, it's going to be pretty good.

KERRY THARP:  Coach Gibbs, congratulations on a really outstanding win here today, and maybe talk about how this No. 11 team really shined here today.

JOE GIBBS:  Well, we're excited because for me it's two races in a row, restrictor plate and then we come here.  FedEx is just a terrific partner.  We had a tough, long, hard year last year, and going through all that, and this year to come out of the box the way we have has just been awesome.  I think our crew chiefs just seem to have a great chemistry now and Darian, their relationship is still growing, but I think we're really excited about this, and I think we're -- I've got a great -- a very good feeling about this year, so hopefully we can continue.

Q.  Darian, before you got here Denny said all we do is win.  It seems like you can go anywhere and win.  What's the vindication like for you to go from one organization, a championship caliber organization, to another championship caliber organization, but just step in there and right out of the box, man, here you are successful all over again?

DARIAN GRUBB:  I guess you could say it is a little bit of vindication, but I really don't think that way. I try to just think the high road all the time.  I feel like I came into a very good situation.  Mike Ford built one heck of a team here with the 11 car, and the FedEx Toyota is obviously really strong, Joe Gibbs organization is very strong.  I've got a lot of friends in both organizations but I'm proud to come in here and lead this bunch of guys, and even just guys like John Furino who's actually at home now, his father passed away, he left Phoenix to go back and we dedicated this win to him because he's a big part of it.  We're a united team.  We're working together that way, and we are just going to keep doing it.

Q.  For Denny and Joe, first Joe, as a coach who was in demand in the NFL for a long time, do you feel like you've hired the guy who's the -- you got the championship coach here that just happened to be available and you hit the jackpot here?

JOE GIBBS:  Well, I like coaches.  I think coaches deserve a lot.  Not money, not money (laughing).  No, we know that it takes -- for Darian, I'm always amazed at how close it is to the football operation because a coach in football roughly works with 13 assistant coaches.  Over here Darian has got to come in, and I think what he's done is done a great job of getting those guys all together.  It is a team effort.  I think he's done a great job in a short period of time.  It's hard to do today.  My understanding, the track changed a lot, and I think he was -- made some great calls there.  He and Denny working together.  So I think that really says a lot about our team.  And I'm excited about having the coaches we've got.  We've got three good ones right now.

Q.  Do you feel like you hired a ringer here?

JOE GIBBS:  Yeah, probably, although, let me say this, he's already won a championship.  This is probably downhill for Darian (laughing).

KERRY THARP:  He won a championship and a Daytona 500.

Q.  And for Denny, you must feel like that.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, no doubt.  Obviously he comes in a with a lot of knowledge.  The biggest thing I learned early on is his team-building, the way he helps get all the guys surrounded about one goal, and so that's the biggest thing that I've noticed is how tuned he is with the race team, and obviously we've got everyone behind us within our 11 team, and JGR right now believing in the thought process that Darian has.  Obviously when he has faith in me that he feels like he can win a championship with me, after all the choices he had in the off-season, that gives me a lot of confidence, and those two are just meshing well right now.

Q.  Denny, you said in here I think it was on Friday that now you really see how good Darian was.  Were you pretty confident or just trying to get him --

DENNY HAMLIN:  I mean, for me, I don't know where this came from.  I don't know how our car was as good as it was today.  We were solidly off in practice.  We were off, but we kept getting it better and closer to being competitive.  But I had no idea we were going to fire off like we did today.

You know, it just seemed like we kept improving our car, and I think the turning point for us was that green flag pit stop.  Whatever he did to the car at that point was just lights-out after that.

Q.  Nothing will probably ever erase November of 2010, but do you feel like when you come back here in November 2011 you'll be ready and have no bad memories?  How will you feel?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, it's a little bit of satisfaction there for sure.  I mean, this is a -- it's a bittersweet track.  Before that moment, I had a lot of success at this track, ran very competitive.  Never got a win, but last year I wasn't a huge fan of the racetrack obviously because I wasn't that competitive.  And then this year, starting off this like, this is not my type of racetrack.  Even though it's short and flat and that's the type of characteristics people put me on as a race car driver, a new surface is not particularly my forte.  So to be competitive under these circumstances, it just kind of reminds me of 2010 where we were winning at tracks that no one expected us to win at, and we were starting to be race winners at tracks where we hadn't before.

You know, and it seems like throughout my career, whenever we lock onto one racetrack and we win, we win multiple times there.  Obviously this being the second to the last race of the season, hopefully it's a sign of things to come later.

Q.  Denny, to follow up, the last time you held the points lead was when you left here in November 2010.  Does this sort of make that experience dead and buried?  Does that put in the past once and for all at this point?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, I think so.  I mean, it's -- you know, last year, we just never got going.  Yeah, maybe there was a hangover effect for the first half of the year.  You can claim that.  But it didn't have anything to do with how bad I ran the last ten races.  We just didn't have it all together.  But we've made some good changes within our organization.  Obviously partnering with TRD with our engines, having a common engine amongst all the Toyota cars is going to be a big plus.  So we've still got work to do.  I'm still going to push for more and more and more things within our race car.  That's the attitude you've got to have to stay on top.

When I come back here, it just puts 2011 to rest.  That year is done.  It's a year that I'd just as soon forget about, and now we're focused on winning a championship.

Q.  Now that you say 2011 is a thing of the past, now looking at the future for the season, can you say right now you have a good shot of winning the championship?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Well, if we run as well as we did today, absolutely.  You know, but you never know what can happen next week.  We're at a totally different racetrack again, and it looks like really the first five racetracks that we go to are all dramatically different in a lot of different ways.  So now our next step is to be competitive on a mile and a half racetrack.  That's relatively new pavement similar to this, so there will be some things that we learn from this racetrack that will transfer over.  It's going to kind of give us the make up and see where we need to work within our program the first five races, see where our strong suits are, see where we are weak and need to improve.

Q.  For Darian, were you able to bring some stuff that worked well for you with Tony here last year to these guys?  And for Denny, how important was it just for you two to win together early in the season just as far as your chemistry is concerned?

DARIAN GRUBB:  On the car and the setup side of it, really didn't change a whole lot.  They had good cars here in the past, just needed some tweaking and tuning for the new track conditions and those things, and working together with Dave Rogers and Jason rad cliff, I learned a lot just about the way they do different things and took a lot of those things into account as we went forward.  We made some small tweaks on things that I knew worked for adjustments, but other than that the cars are Joe Gibbs Racing cars and everybody back at the shop did a really good job over the off-season preparing those things to get ready to go to the racetrack.  If you look we pretty much ran in the top 10 all day with all three cars once they got there.  So it was a pretty strong showing and I'm pretty proud of that.

Q.  Denny, how important do you think it was for you guys to win together for your chemistry?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Good.  It's still going to build.  I honestly feel like it's going to be realistically two months before we're totally clicking and knowing exactly what each other is saying and talking about.  So to have success early tells me that we've obviously got a good pairing here.

But for me, I think that this is also, like Darian said, a testament to JGR and the steps it's taken in the off-season.  All three cars in the top 10 and all three being competitive all day long is something that we struggled with the second half of last season.  So we're at least getting back to being the JGR of old.

Q.  Could you talk about the last 60 laps when you had the 29 slowly closing the gap until he ran out of fuel there right at the end?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, I was running kind of how I needed to run.  He had obviously a very dominant car throughout the day, and it seemed like it was kind of a repeat of yesterday, me and him kind of having two of the best cars there for the most part.  I was just maintaining -- it was a tough balance because it's kind of a cat and mouse game of how hard you want to push it, is he going to push you to run harder and run out of fuel.

Darian just kept me updated every lap of my interval to the 29, and when I felt like he was getting too close, we would step up a little bit and kind of get the lap time where we needed it.

Track position was huge for our car once we got out front.  It was a very fast race car.  At that point it was just all about fuel conservation.

Q.  Darian, I think it was the media tour you said Gavin was having trouble learning to switch his allegiance to Denny.

DARIAN GRUBB:  We have an update on that.  I actually got a picture from my wife a few minutes ago while I was in victory lane Gavin holding his No. 11 Teddy Bear with the No. 1 held up.

Q.  Two things:  Darian, can you talk about, Tony was really good at shutting off his engine last year to conserve fuel and it bit him today.  Can you give us the technical side of that.  And Denny, a lot of guys were complaining about aero tide, if you got up to a guy, Junior said he felt four to six car lengths behind.  Can you talk about the cars so we know what to look forward to in the upcoming weeks?

DARIAN GRUBB:  On the car side of things, I think that is just something that is very tough because of this racetrack and the way the surface is.  The whole field was pretty much within two tenths of a second unless you were the leader and got clean air.  Those were the only guys who could run exceptionally fast laps.  As soon as you went back third or fourth in traffic, you kind of ran lap times that everybody around you ran but Denny was able to testament to that.

As far as shutting the cars off and things like that that's something we're all learning as we go -- a weekly process.  I feel like the Toyota and TRD guys have done a good job informing us of how those things work and we're still learning every week with that.  Obviously Joey had a problem at Daytona very similar, and we learned from that and tried not to have those mistakes today.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, as far as the aero tight stuff it was very typical to what it was here in the fall, but it's getting better.  The good news is that this is a very hot city in the summer, so it will help hopefully with the aging with the racetrack to help speed that up because the more the track has age on it, the more you're going to be able to move around.  The groove actually moved up quite a bit -- I was running some of my best lap times up two car lengths in the corner.  It's just a product of it -- Goodyear and NASCAR is in such a hard box when it comes with coming with the right combination of tire and speed, so they've got to put us on a hard tire until the surface slows down or else we're going to blow tires out.  The reason we're aero tight is because the tires are just so hard that we're struggling to -- we've got to have the air to keep our car planted to the racetrack.  We fought it all day just like everyone else, but it just seemed like our car was able to pass better than others for whatever reason, especially with about 100 to go.

Q.  Denny, can you talk about the time off that you took here and how it just really helped you reset, rebalance and come back prepared to do what you're planning to do?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Well, I mean, you hear the good and the bad criticism about not being around the race team for two months while the season is not going on.  But that's what I needed to improve myself, and I was just as weak a link as anyone last year within our program.  What I needed to do to make myself better is what I did, and that was just get away and not even think about racing for a while.

But when it came time to get to the racetrack, my focus is solely on winning races and winning a championship, and I'll do anything it takes to do that.  It's just my way of doing things.  It's what I needed to do to improve my driving and my focus.

Q.  Darian, is this job in some ways a lot easier than when you took over at Stewart-Haas Racing because that was a team you had to build, a team that had not been successful?  This is a team that had been successful.  Was the transition doing this, has it been easier for you?

DARIAN GRUBB:  I'd say easier and harder because at least when I was transitioning into that I knew the equipment.  I was very familiar with that, with everything.  That's the main reason they brought me in is I knew what tools and people we were dealing with.

Now this is just all new tools and all new people, but it's still the same job.  Luckily they have a very strong organization already.  I don't need to change any of those things, it's coming in and learning the people and learning how to get the best out of all those individuals, and the pieces and parts are there.

Q.  Darian, it was apparently a circuit breaker on Tony's car that flipped, and that's what -- they don't know when during the race it happened.  Is that something that -- will you guys try to look at those things, or is it something that you just kind of have to wait until it happens to you to try to figure out if there's some sort of glitch in the system?

DARIAN GRUBB:  I'll just say thanks for the tidbit.  We'll look at that when we get back.  I feel like we have a really good understanding and even the TRD guys, we had some issues here at the racetrack this weekend and they did a great job informing us what was going on so we knew what to look for in certain areas.  Hopefully those things won't come back to bite us.  I'm going to knock on some wood somewhere.  It is a new system.  You're always going to have the doubt in the back of your mind because it's not something you're comfortable with.

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Posted on: March 4, 2012 7:35 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2012 7:43 pm

Speed Read: Phoenix

By Pete Pistone


After the madness of Daytona it was good to have a return to “normalcy” for the second Sprint Cup Series race of the season.

Whatever that means.

The two weeks spent in Daytona and this year’s unprecedented extra day due to the 500’s first rainout in history took its toll on teams and drivers. While everyone understands the magnitude of opening the year with the biggest race of the season, there’s an audible sigh of relief throughout the garage area when the nuts and bolts of the schedule kicks in the following week.

Now that Phoenix has been positioned as the Daytona follow-up, the one mile oval has filled the spot admirably.

Even in its brand new incarnation after last year’s massive reconfiguration, Phoenix has retained its reputation as an entertaining track that creates more of a short track vibe than other tracks its size in New Hampshire and Dover.

It’s the perfect contrast to the restrictor plate racing and aerodynamic display of Daytona’s superspeedway.

NASCAR had to have been pleased with the full grandstands for Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500, the second straight sellout for the track after last November’s success. A bigger question will be answered in a day or two when television ratings are released in the wake of the 36 million who viewed into at least some portion of Monday’s rain-delayed Daytona 500.

Just a small percentage of those viewers sneaking a peek at Sunday’s Phoenix race would bump the ratings and based on what they saw in race number two, that could persuade them to join in again for next Sunday’s Las Vegas race.

The late race drama of Denny Hamlin trying to fend off a hard-charging Kevin Hamlin, who had to give up the challenge when he ran out of fuel wasn’t the side-by-side run to the checkered flag finish most fans hoped for on Sunday. But overall it was still a decent way to begin the grind of the year after the Daytona season-opening hype.


Greg Biffle – Two races and two third place finishes for Biffle as he starts the year off on a solid note. Came out of nowhere late in the race on Sunday and appears to have found some of that good luck the team had disappear last season.

Jimmie Johnson – Whether or not the controversy of the week’s penalties and appeals served as motivation or not doesn’t matter. The fact is Johnson was a strong contender on Sunday and put the off track issues as well as last week’s Daytona disaster far behind.

Joey Logano – The pressure to perform in his final contract year with Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t seemed to bother Logano. He followed up a solid Daytona 500 win with a Top 10 in Phoenix. To his credit Logano seems very relaxed these days and his relationship with new crew chief Jason Ratcliff is off to a very positive start.


Kasey Kahne – Last November’s Phoenix winner was a pre-race favorite to follow that up with another trip to victory lane, which would have been his first for Hendrick Motorsports. But those hopes quickly went out of the window when he slapped the wall early and severely damaged his Chevrolet. After his Daytona disappointment, 2012 has not gone anywhere near what Kahne had planned.

A.J. Allmendinger – Another guy who has gotten off to a bad start with his new team, Allmendinger was swept up in a multi-car accident on the frontstretch with Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray also involved. After his less than successful Speedweeks debut, Allmendinger is suddenly under pressure to perform in week number three of the season.

Tony Stewart – Kenny Wallace was the first victim of an EFI problem at Daytona but Stewart’s issues Sunday will get a whole lot more attention. The defending champ found out the hard way shutting down the engine to save fuel doesn’t work as well with the new system when he could not get his power plant to re-fire late in the race.


(Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)

"What fender is rubbing?! I ain't hit nobody!" – Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Boys, we are making this way, way harder than it needs to be. Like way f----- harder." – Crew Chief Steve Letarte

"You can't fix stupid." – Jeff Gordon’s spotter on Juan Pablo Montoya

"I think we need to run it out here and hope for a caution." – Martin Truex Jr.

“We can here and ran 30th last year & didn’t even contend. I'm so proud of everyone on this team!" – Second place finisher Kevin Harvick


On a scale of one to five "Pistone Pistons" I'll give Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 a three. The race got off to a bit of a slow start but gained some momentum as it rolled on and in addition to some good hard racing a dose or two of drama didn’t hurt any. Denny Hamlin gets the monkey off his back and Darian Grubb shows he is indeed a championship-caliber crew chief. Kevin Harvick’s late run to turn in another “Closer” performance comes up just short and Tony Stewart shows the word that Electronic Fuel Injection has indeed changed the Sprint Cup Series landscape. An entertaining afternoon in the desert to get keep the season headed in the right direction.


The west coast swing continues for NASCAR with next Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The first race on a 1.5-mile track should give an indication of which teams have their intermediate track programs in order, a an important element of the Sprint Cup campaign since a bulk of the schedule is made up of similar-sized speedways. The weekend will also include the unveiling of the new 2013 Dodge Charger in an event that has been planned for some time. We’ll see the car but it will be some time before drivers or a team will be known.

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Posted on: March 2, 2012 2:36 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 2:43 pm

Drivers mixed on tweeting and devices in race

By Pete Pistone

(Monday night's red flag at Daytona gave drivers a chance to releax and for some tweet - Getty)

Brad Keselowski’s
Twitter session during the red flag at last week’s Daytona 500 has sparked some interesting discussion throughout the NASCAR world. 

Some drivers think the interaction through social media is something that will greatly benefit the sport in terms of popularity. Others aren’t so sure that any kind of tweeting or social media initiatives during a race are over the line. 

Still others are concerned about the use of digital recording devices the smart phones being inside the cockpit of a racecar throwing off the competitive nature of the sport.

Let’s face it today’s cellphone can do so much more than simply calling home to check on the family or ordering a pizza for dinner. The mini-computers could easily find their way into mapping systems or other telemetry to give an enterprising crew chief or driver a high tech edge. 

Several drivers weighed in on the subject during their media availability on Friday at Phoenix International Raceway.


“Well, to be honest with you I had no idea that was something that would even remotely come into play as far as keeping your phone in your car during a race. But I guess if you’re going to keep up with that side of it, you’re going to have to. I’m going to look for every app I can for mile-per-hour, GPS mapping, and anything I can find to put in my car. I’m looking for it because I’m looking to outlaw this rule as fast as I can because I don’t want to have to keep up with it.”


No, not during a race situation. I mean, I don’t know. Where does it end? What do you do? Do you then text or Tweet during cautions and then you look up and run into the guy behind you. I don’t know. When does it -- you’ve got to have -- there's certain parameters that I guess we’ve got to all play in, but I don’t know if I'm thinking about winning the race, I’m not thinking about social media when I’m under that green flag or yellow flag or any of those conditions. So, I think it’s just different people see things important differently.”


“I thought that was neat that it worked out where Brad was able to do that honestly. I haven’t gotten to see the whole telecast yet. I saw the last 40 laps this morning, or whatever it was after the fire. That is all that was on my recorder in the motor home. I didn’t see the rest of the race and all that went on. I know it was entertaining for the fans and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I never knew we could carry our phones in the car, not that I am going to start, especially when you aren’t supposed to have communication with other drivers and all that any more. I am not sure about all that and having that in the car, but I think that certainly during a red flag when you have two hours off I don’t think there is anything wrong with tweeting and filling some air time and doing all that. They had a lot of airtime to fill between Sunday pre-race and when we finally got the race over Tuesday morning. I thought it was neat.


I think that the social media aspect of it I thought was great for the sport, great for Brad (Keselowski) and from that side of it; I think that it’s awesome that NASCAR is really being that lenient.  I think that the technology of phones these days is growing rapidly that there could be some things that NASCAR might need to pay attention to that might need to keep the phones out of the car.” 

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Posted on: February 17, 2012 1:05 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 2:27 pm

NASCAR nixes 'General Lee' from prerace ceremony

By Pete Pistone

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Fans of the "Dukes of Hazzard" television show remember the famous (or infamous) General Lee.

However the iconic car won't be part of a planned pre-race ceremony at Phoenix International Raceway after NASCAR stepped in and tabled plans to include the General Lee due to the prominent placement of the Confederate flag on its roof.

Pro golfer Bubba Watson was to have driven the car in the ceremony to be held prior to the March 4 Sprint Cup race at PIR but NASCAR has decided to nix the idea.

"NASCAR, International Speedway Corp. and Phoenix International Raceway officials discussed this and decided it was not in the best interest of our sport," NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said Friday.

"The image of the Confederate flag is not something that should play an official role in our sport as we continue to reach out to new fans and make NASCAR more inclusive."

Watson, who has become friends with driver Denny Hamlin, had tweeted his intention to take part in the ceremony early Friday morning. However he rescinded the plan in a later tweet:

"Sorry to say @nascar won't let me drive The General Lee at the @PhoenixRaceway !!! #dreamcrushed"

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Posted on: January 25, 2012 12:33 pm
Edited on: January 25, 2012 3:06 pm

Critical year ahead for Joe Gibbs Racing

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(Kyle Busch has to win and contend for a title while keeping his emotions in check and controversy to a minimum)

CHARLOTTE - Joe Gibbs has had to go through rebuilding phases before during his NFL career as coach of the Washington Redskins.

But he'll need to apply those skills that built mediocre teams into Super Bowl winners to his NASCAR organization in 2012.

JGR suffered through a frustrating season last year, which might sound strange considering the team did score five Sprint Cup wins and placed two of its drivers in the Chase.

But despite Kyle Busch's four wins and Chase appearance and teammate Denny Hamlin's victory clinching him a wild card berth, overall the Gibbs group would like top put 2011 in the rear view mirror as quickly as possible.

Busch's emotional meltdown that resulted in his controversial truck series race incident with Ron Hornaday and subsequently being parked by NASCAR for the weekend's Sprint Cup race was the major memory for the Gibbs effort last season. Coupled with Hamlin's team and confidence also literally coming apart, it's easy to understand why Gibbs decided to make some changes in the off-season.

Two of the team's three crew chiefs were changed with both Hamlin and Joey Logano entering the new year with different voices calling the shots. Mike Ford was dismissed in favor of Darian Grubb, who found himself on the market when he was let go from Tony Stewart's championship-winning effort, while Jason Ratcliff was elevated from JGR's Nationwide Series program to work with Logano.

Although a competitive lap has not yet been run this season, the shake up has already infused some much-needed enthusiasm into the team.

“I’m really excited to join Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 11 FedEx team,” Grubb said. “We’re having lots of fun, we’re having lots of meetings. We’re kind of setting the course for what we want to do. We want to go out there and be competitive.”

Ratcliff is settling into working with Lagano and trying to fill the shoes of Greg Zipadelli, who left to rejoin friend and former colleague Stewart at SHR.

"(Team president) J.D. (Gibbs) gave me the opportunity about seven years ago to come over and work on the Nationwide program,” said Ratcliff. “It has been great for seven years and I knew it would have to be a really special deal to move beyond that. 

“They’ve given me an opportunity that fits well with a great driver, with great sponsors like Home Depot and Dollar General, and a team that is eager to go out and win races."

After nearly pulling off a championship run in 2010 only to come up just short of derailing the Jimmie Johnson title express, Hamlin found some very rough seas last season.

Although he was able to win and make the Chase, there was never a sense inside the team another championship challenge was possible and the decaying chemistry between Hamlin, Ford and the team finally took its toll.

Hamlin's confidence was shaken and he sought the professional assistance of a sports psychologist to help him return to the competitive level he was accustomed to prior to experiencing the issues.

He believes there is a lesson to be learned from what transpired last year.

"I think you need a season of getting your ass kicked for people to wake up and realize 'Hey, maybe we're not as good as we may think we are,'" Hamlin said. "We just never had the speed to make up for our problems. And when we got to the chase we just didn't have the parts and pieces to be championship caliber. 

"But this year the pieces are there."

Hamlin has already connected with Grubb and feels the support inside the JGR organization is positive enough to make a difference in the coming year.

"There are a lot of things that are stronger for us this year, and on top of that my confidence is way higher right now than it was at the start of 2011," Hamlin said.

Busch also shares Hamlin's positive outlook and has taken measures to refocus his energy. Gone is Busch's massive racing calendar of Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series events to augment his Sprint Cup schedule replaced by a by comparison limited 13-15 race slate in his own NWS entry at Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Speculation is that Gibbs and Cup sponsor M&M's were instrumental in Busch changing his extra-curricular racing involvement but he says it's not important why he's changing his approach.

“I would think that alleviates some stress and some opportunities for certain things to happen and give you a break from some of that,” Busch said. “It allows you to kind of relax a little bit."

Logano might have the luxury of relaxing as he enters the most pivotal Sprint Cup season of his career. 

The nickname of "Sliced Bread" has gotten stale for many both inside and outside JGR waiting for Logano to finally live up to the lofty expectations he brought to the sport when he came into NASCAR after a stellar short track career.

Although he's scored nine Nationwide wins for Busch as well as a Sprint Cup victory, Logano is on the hot seat as he enters the final year of his contract with the team.

Like Hamlin he's working with s sports psychologist to assist his understandably shaken confidence and hopes working with Ratcliff might be the spark to finally bring him the success so many predicted at NASCAR's highest level.

But Logano downplays whether this is indeed a "do or die" year coming up.

"I think this is a very important year just like any other year,"  Logano said. "You can argue that last year was equally as important as this year. I feel like I have the guys behind me, the team behind me to make that happen. I’d say it’s less pressure for me, I feel like I got what I need: A lot of energy, a lot of confidence in myself and my team this year. I feel like we can do it. I feel like we don’t have any excuses left."

In reality that statement holds true for the entire JGR operation. The excuse bin is running dry.

Logano is on the hot seat, Busch doesn't have any more room for error and Hamlin's career is suddenly at a crossroads.

Coach Gibbs needs to bring out the old football motivational playbook to get his race team on track or at the end of the season he may find himself forced to punt.


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Posted on: January 23, 2012 8:40 pm

Rude awakening for Denny Hamlin

By Pete Pistone

CHARLOTTE - Denny Hamlin got a wake up call in 2011 and he knows it.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver said he feels more energized than ever heading into the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season due in part to how disappointing last year was for the driver who nearly won the championship the season before.

"I think you need a season of getting your ass kicked for people to wake up and realize that maybe we're not as good as what we thought we were," Hamlin said Monday at the JGR media session. "At JGR, we got our tails kicked. Kyle (Busch) won four races, but when the Chase started, we all stunk." 

Hamlin and the FedEx No. 11 team struggled nearly from the start of the season with only bursts of success throughout the campaign, which did include a victory as well as a berth in the Chase.

But there was none of the swagger or performance that Hamlin had the prior year and suffering through the disappointment was something he says he'll never forget.

"You work harder when you get beat up, not only the team, but the driver," Hamlin said. "When your cars aren't as good, that forces you as a driver to make up for it. You've got to get better. And I realized those weaknesses that I had last year." 

Going forward Hamlin has a new crew chief in Darian Grubb who is fresh off his title-winning year with Tony Stewart.

Hamlin believes that fresh face on top the war wagon as well as a new approach to how the team will do business will make all the difference in the world.

"We're going to go to the racetrack with completely different race cars," Hamlin said. "I can't get a lot in depth with it, but some of the things we're building in our race cars are some of the things I've wanted for a long time, but it's been hard to get past the departments here and there." 

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Posted on: January 16, 2012 12:14 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 12:23 pm

NASCAR closer to Daytona rules package

By Pete Pistone

  A Group Of Cars
(Whether this year's Daytona 500 features the two car tandem draft or the old school pack racing remains to be seen)

The January science experiment is over and now the NASCAR professors need to sift through the data. 

Last week’s three day Preseason Thunder test session at Daytona gave NASCAR officials a lot to digest before coming back to officially start the season next month at Speedweeks. 

“Once we leave here, obviously there will be a lot of energy spent on looking through all of the data that we've collected this week, looking through lap times and speeds and watching film and footage like everybody else does,” said Sprint Cup Series Director John Darby

“You know, I would like to have the final rules package out as quickly as we can just to make sure the teams have enough time to react to everything I guess is the right way to put that.  And we'll do our due diligence and get it out as fast as we can.” 

A variety of rules and adjustments were used during the three-day session in hopes of coming up with the best competitive package possible for the biggest race of the season – the Daytona 500. 

“Our goal and our responsibility is to try to make decisions so that the racing is as good as everybody expects it to be or better during the Daytona 500,” said NASCAR president Mike Helton at last week’s test.

“That's the one variable that all the teams, once they get through doing everything they think they can accomplish and get done, all of them know let's wait and see what NASCAR does. We have a reputation for [changing things], but it's all in the best interest of having the best racing on the race track that we can deliver.” 

NASCAR has made it no secret part of the process during the test was to find a way to if not eliminate at least limit the two-car tandem draft. There were several times when the sanctioning body encouraged drivers to spend time in the more traditional pack that had been the restrictor plate track norm before the tandem style became so predominant.

Most drivers understand the reason for NASCAR trying all it can to bust up the tandems. 

“We’re all about making a better show for the fans, and I feel like they like to see pack racing,” said Denny Hamlin. “They don’t like to see the cars strung out as much as it was with the tandem, and I think speeding these race cars up is going to do that.” 

While most of the pack sessions during the test went off relatively well – there were a few minor incidents involving the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya – it remains to be seen whether the large groups will return under actual racing conditions. 

“Yeah, that's a hard question because you don't know what pleases all folks, and everybody has got a difference of opinion,” said NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton no doubt referring to both drivers and fans.  “So I think there will be a solid mix of all kinds of things, and you never know.  In today's world something else might pop up that becomes the advantage for a driver, a team, a group.  We'll see.   
“But so far, we like what we've seen.  It's been a good mix of what they can do in a larger pack and how close they can get for a limited time to push.” 

Of all the changes used at the test including a smaller spoiler, softer springs and different sizes of restrictor plates, modifications to engine cooling systems as an effort to limit the push Pemberton refers to is the most controversial. 

Smaller radiators and overflow tanks helped engine temperatures soar after only a handful of laps when the second car was tucked behind the rear bumper of the tandem leader. 

The magic number at the test appeared to be in the seven to eight lap range before drivers had to bring some fresh air into the engine compartment. 

“I think that if we get it figured out how to maintain those temps, then you will, you'll see it all day long,” said Jeff Gordon. “But it looks like it's more challenging, more difficult, and especially if we're in a pack trying to do it. 

"I'm not saying it's going to be eliminated, but I don't think it's going to be what we've seen in the past. I think you're going to see more pack racing, more cars driving in packs, and the 500 is a long race. Survival is important, and you've got to figure out what is going to get you there to the end so that you can hook up with somebody and win the race.”

But even with potential limitations, as Gordon points out don’t expect drivers to magically stop using the tandem draft come Speedweeks. Most all believe that despite the changes, the style will remain in the arsenal to be used as an advantage when possible.

What everyone does agree on is for NASCAR to not get involved in outlawing the tandem or having to police its use during a race.

"Anytime you tell us not to do something then when we do it, it's up for a judgment call after that," said Hamlin. "That's why they don't want to get into making rules about it.

"They want to fix it by fixing the rules to where it's not as beneficial as it was before. They have closed the gap - no doubt about it."

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Posted on: January 14, 2012 4:48 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2012 4:58 pm

Denny Hamlin and Darian Grubb ready to go

By Pete Pistone

  Denny Hamlin, Driver Of The #11 FedEx Express Toyota, Speaks
(Hamlin will be in the spotlight this year with a new crew chief trying to help rebound from 2011's disappointment)

Denny Hamlin
has his sights set on rebounding from last year's disappointing season and is ready to move ahead with new crew chief Darian Grubb.

After Joe Gibbs Racing decided to relieve former crew chief Mike Ford of his duties, Grubb was brought in as his replacement fresh off his championship season with Tony Stewart.

Although it's early in the process, Hamlin says things are progressing but that the relationship will take time to devleop.

"It's hard to say right now," Hamlin said as the duo continued their working together during this week Preseason Thunder test at Daytona.  "Really, you just go through checklist stuff when you get to a test like this.  Until we get somewhere -- I think we're going to have a tire test at Texas here in a few weeks -- that's really going to be the moment where I see how he does things and how he relates to the way I react to how the car is doing." 

As for personalities, Hamlin sees several similarities between Ford and Grubb.

"Very laid back," he said.  "Very similar to Mike in that sense.  Both of them are very laid back at the race track and I think they both have very similar demeanors." Hamlin won a race last season and did make the Chase but came nowhere close to repeating his 2010 campaign when he won eight times and nearly took home the Sprint Cup Series championship.

Despite the many disappointments and frustrations from a year ago, Hamlin says there are lessons learned he believes will help going forward.

"It was a trying year for everyone with the team and coming back I feel like we're stronger than what we've ever been," Hamlin said. "We've made a lot of changes within our organization.  Not just the crew chief, but a lot of people.  We have a new spotter this year.  All three teams have new spotters.

"There's a lot of internal changes that's gone on at JGR and I feel like we've got good personnel.  The way that we're doing things within our shop I feel like is heading in the right direction.  I think because of that you're going to see a lot more success from everyone at Gibbs." 

Hamlin hopes the installment of Grubb as crew chief will help the No. 11 FedEx Toyota team rach that success.

One of Hamlin's early observations of Grubb's style is the way he's bonding with the race team and trying to build chemistry.

"He's very in tune with the race team," Hamlin said.  "What I've noticed so far is he gets the heartbeat of the guys themselves.  He takes them to dinner just about every night, and understands this is a team sport.  It's not about him and all of the decisions he makes of making that car go well.  It's everyone that has a hand or a wrench on that race car.  He's really in tune with the race team."

Grubb hopes to build a solid relationship with the team as well as the driver and that means getting to know Hamlin outside of their work partnership.
"I definitely want to get to know him outside of the race track and to have that friendship because you have to have that I think to have the open communication with what you want to do," Grubb said.  "You have to be able to be open in good times and bad to make sure you're doing everything the right way.  So, I'm hoping to have some of those relationships on the outside of the race track, not just a professional relationship." 

Hamlin says that has already begun.

"Yeah, it took about a lunch session before I realized how very similar that we are in the backgrounds that we have," Hamlin said. "Obviously him coming from Virginia Tech, that makes it easy to root for the same football teams on Saturday.  It's just -- he's very family and goal oriented in the sense that he's very in tune with his family and he considers his race team his family.  Even though he's a guy that's a little bit quieter than a lot of crew chiefs, he's got a big heart and he's got the brains of about five of me." 

There's still more than amonth to go before the season officially begins when NASCAR returns to Daytona for Speedweeks. During that time they'll be more testing and preparation before the grind of the schedule kicks in.

Hamlin is confident things are headed in the right direction and anxious to get started really putting last year in the rear view mirror with a successful beginning to 2012.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't be successful right off the bat," Hamlin said.  "I think it's typical from me personally to start off slow - - when I say slow, five or six races into the season -- but I think that's going to be a little bit shorter this year.  I think that there's some things that we're going to try to implement with our cars that's going to be down the line and things like that.

"This type of racing is all about timing and when you perform at the right time and we need to perform our best in September.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com