For drivers, they always push themselves – but sometimes, it’s nice to have that outside motivation there to push them. For Denny Hamlin, when Kyle Busch joined JGR in 2008, it pushed him to run harder.
“I remember going to a test and him pushing me to be faster,” Hamlin said. “I was like, ‘He knows my game.’”
The addition of Matt Kenseth to JGR continues that trend for Hamlin as he believes that for once, JGR will have all three of their cars running good.
“We’ve always had one team that would struggle and another would be running up front and maybe two up front at the most,” he commented. “So, I think we’re going to have all three cars in the Chase and we’re going to have a very, very good year as far as Joe Gibbs Racing is concerned.”
Everybody believes that Kenseth will push the team based on his credentials alone as he solidly ran up front while he was at Roush Fenway Racing, winning a championship in 2003.
“We know what he’s done in the past and I know what he’s capable of on the race track because I race with him every week,” Hamlin said. “He’s going to be a guy that takes Joe Gibbs Racing to that elite level.”
Hamlin also believes that Kenseth will be an asset to their organization because the list of tracks that Kenseth is good at is considerably long. That’s one of the things about being teammates – you can bounce information off each other.
“I know that, really, when I was trying to get better at Dover in the Chase last year I studied a lot of what Kyle did, I studied a lot of what Jimmie (Johnson) did,” Hamlin commented. “You just work off the guys that are good. Matt’s (Kenseth) list of good tracks is very, very high so anytime I’m struggling he’ll be the guy that I go to.”
Hamlin hopes that Kenseth will be the piece that takes him to his new championship as with combining their knowledge, they have the possibility of learning the new car first. The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry is happy with the car so far.
“I think NASCAR made a lot of aerodynamic changes to help the second car be able to pass the first car,” he said. “The only challenge we’re going to have is that they’re running so fast. The arm throttle time is so much that it’s going to be hard to see a variance of speed from one car to the next.”
The biggest edge with the new car, though, is like everybody has been saying – the look of it.
“Giving us more of a car that looks more cutting edge versus the box that we’ve been racing for the last five years or so,” he said. “I think the looks are the biggest key that the fans will like.”
He also expects fans to see a great Daytona 500, with pack racing rather than the two-car tandems. To be ready for that 500, Hamlin does note that it will be important to take note during the Sprint Unlimited, which was formally the Budweiser Shootout.
“I think that it’s going to be very important to have your car driving well during the Sprint Unlimited and the Duel races to make for a good 500,” Hamlin said. “From what it seems, these cars are somewhat out of control in a big pack.”
Beyond Daytona, Hamlin says his team needs to win at least six to seven races.
“That’s where we feel like we’ll be this year,” he said. “And, we need to fill up the stat column with the proper amount of top-fives and 10’s that you need to win a championship. The champion is not going to go out there and win one or two races for the year. They’re going to be the guys that win consistently. We’ve done that over the last few years, but we haven’t had reliability to win a championship. So, that’s been the focus of this race team, really, all off-season.”
Hamlin says the one thing that has kept him from winning a championship is the mechanical problems that his team always runs into, but he hopes to have those bugs worked out.
“We’re working on a new process to make our cars more tough and rigid, making sure that they don’t fall apart,” he added. “That’s been the key that’s really kept us from the championship.”