In the midst of his worst Sprint Cup Series season of his career, a season that many thought he would contend for the championship, Denny Hamlin participated in a NASCAR video conference with the media this week.
Hamlin, who has not performed to expectations thus far this season, ran out of fuel during the closing laps of the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He was running fifth at the time and wound up finishing 29th.
During the conference, he was asked about his relationship with Mike Ford, his crew chief and the one who, ultimately, gets most of the blame for the No. 11 Toyota running out of fuel in the closing laps.
[W]e all know this is a performance business, and obviously you’ve got to be competitive and contend for race wins so everyone feels good about their job. I feel like Mike is the guy for me. I feel like he’s done a great job. He won me eight races last year. Some of the things that we’ve had go wrong this year are crew chief related, some of them are not. Most of them are not. Some of them are driver related. It weighs on all of our shoulders equally, and I feel like he’s kind of received a bit of a bad rap because of that.
Hamlin went on to call Ford the backbone of the race team, and said that replacing Ford would set the team back even further. He said:
[O]bviously if you made a change, it would take a long time to get back to where I feel like we’re capable of running at this point right now. I think at times during the season we’ve gotten off track between the two of us, and I feel like these last four or five weeks the communication has been better. I feel like we were heading in the right direction, we’ve just had some things go wrong these first couple Chase races that makes it look worse than it really is.
Hamlin added that everyone has contributed to the ups and downs of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Sprint Cup Toyota team. Some weeks, he says, it has been Ford’s calls on the pit box, some weeks it has been on his shoulders, and some weeks things back at the shop are what need to be improved. He said:
Until we have one specific thing that we need to work on and can identify as a problem, I can’t see changing much. But I feel like we have a good group of guys. I can win a championship with Mike; I really and truly do believe that. But we’ve just got to get our ship righted. It seems like our communication at some point in the year got stale. I felt like we’ve turned that around this last month or so, and we had three good finishes going into the Chase, and of course we had flat tires and a loose wheel the first Chase race. That’s stuff that Mike can’t help. … Loudon, New Hampshire, fuel mileage. It’s 50/50. It’s one of those things where maybe I used up too much gas, maybe it was too risky of a call. But either way, it weighs on us equally when we don’t run well. So I’m not going to completely throw him under the bus.
Hamlin currently sits in 12th place in the standings, 66 behind points leader Tony Stewart and virtually out of contention. In a year in which the team had such high expectations, it is good to see that Hamlin is committed to Mike Ford, the man that has been his crew chief since he entered the Cup series.
Hamlin is also working with a sports psychologist to help gain some perspective and a better outlook.