Originally written on Start 'N' Park Blog  |  Last updated 10/14/14

THE MODERATOR:  Denny Hamlin is the No. 1 seed going into the 2012 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Denny, now as we shift our attention to Chicago, the first race in the Chase, you are the top seed.  Your thoughts?

DENNY HAMLIN:  We’re obviously excited to get to this point.  After you get a couple early wins in a season, you kind of are in automatic, kind of just going through the motions in a sense until the Chase.  You’re pretty much going for race wins, trying different things.

Now it’s all about the research you’ve done, how good your car’s running, what team you’ve put together.  Now it’s time to put your game face on and see what you got.

So we’re excited about going to Chicago and hopefully getting a good kickoff to the Chase.

THE MODERATOR:  Questions for Denny.

Q.  You were so close two years ago.  Do you think the lessons that you learned back in 2010 are going to benefit you this year?  What do you think your chances, are especially starting out at the top wrung of this?

 DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, what took us out of the championship in 2010 really were a lot of different circumstances.  I won’t treat it any differently about the way I drive, things like that.  I think I’ll be a little bit more aggressive on restarts and not give up those one or two points when they really, really count.

That will change, but for the most part I think I’ll just be a lot more relaxed this time around.  Obviously our stuff is really good right now, as good as it was in 2010.

What do you got to lose?  We’ve never won a championship.  We’re going out there trying to win our first.  You know, I’m going to race week-to-week, not think about a championship until I get to Homestead.

Q.  How much do you think that Busch will be an assistance to you in racing for this Chase?  Also, one of the people you’re racing against is going to be your teammate next year.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that that will change a whole lot.  I think that Matt’s pretty much committed to that team and everything for the remainder of the season.

But really, it sucks to not have Kyle in the Chase.  It’s important for JGR to have cars in the Chase.  That’s Joe’s and J.D.’s livelihood.  They don’t have any real businesses outside of that.  They need cars in the Chase to make a living.  So it’s tough.  That part of it’s tough.

But, you know, it’s up to us to go out there and try to perform and get them a championship with one of their cars.

Q.  Denny, does it mean anything for you not having another teammate in the Chase?  Is it going to impact strategy?  Are you worried about how it might affect things not having more cars going for the championship?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, that was another thing, Toyota loses a car in the Chase.  But, you know, I think the only thing really it can do is kind of put you higher in the pecking order of, you know, when the fab shop builds an awesome car or something like that, it will go to you.

But other than that, I don’t think it will change a whole lot.  You know, maybe those guys start working in a different direction for next year and they hit on something and we can use it towards the end of the Chase.  But other than that, it’s not going to change too much.

THE MODERATOR:  Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has also joined us.  Dale comes in as the No. 7 seed.

Dale, talk about how the Chase feels being set and your thoughts about contending for the championship.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Yeah, I feel we’ve got a good shot at it.  We’ve been consistent all year long.  We just hope we can keep that up.  I think it’s going to take a couple wins to win a championship outright.

You know, we’ve been consistent, running well everywhere.  Just, you know, look forward to getting the thing started off on the right foot.

THE MODERATOR:  Back to questions.

Q.  Denny, are you starting to feel a little bit like the Detroit Pistons when you go into these things?  Everybody thinks you have a real good shot.

DENNY HAMLIN:  I thought the Pistons sucked.

Q.  But they eventually won.  They were in the playoffs for a bunch of years and eventually learned how to win it.  Is that kind of where you are or is that overcomplicating it?

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I wish it just could be experience beats all and that’s how you win a championship.  But nowadays it’s about having an awesome pit crew, a guy on the box that makes great calls, and fast cars.

Other than that, the driver’s got to stay focused and obviously give good feedback.  But, you know, yeah, I mean, there’s lessons learned along the way.  You know, this is our seventh straight year.  There’s bits and pieces I’ve learned to each and every Chase that you apply to every year that’s after that.

So I’ll learn the lessons from previous years and apply them.  But, like he said, it’s going to take wins.  That’s going to be the most important thing.  To have wins, you got to have fast cars.  So it’s going to be important to make sure we keep on top of that.

Q.  Tony Stewart has poo-pooed his chances going into the Chase last year.  We know what he did this year.  Tonight he did what he needed to do and he ends up as the third seed.  It’s really a significant difference from easing on in.  Speak about how strong you see him being.

DENNY HAMLIN:  I mean, who knows.  As crazy as last year was, I obviously never would have considered Tony much of a threat.  But he was.  They went on a run.

You know, I think it just shows you can’t really write anyone off in the Chase.  I just think that all these teams are really, really good and can be good at any point in the season.

So who knows who’s saved what for Chicago.  You know, maybe they have an awesome car and they just are going to ride that horse all the way in on all the mile-and-a-half tracks.  They’ve just been saving it.

Who knows what’s going to happen.  I’m going to treat them all equally.  I think Tony’s obviously kind of got that bulldog effect, where he’s probably the most intimidating of anyone when you kind of see him racing around you, so…

Q.  Both of you have known you’re going to be in the Chase.  There are some strategic things you’ve been in position to prepare for with the selection of cars, getting ready for the tracks.  Right now, is there any grand meeting where you need to sit there and talk about how you’re going to do this or is this just a seat-of-the-pants thing at this point?  Secondly, if you start out and you have a bad race in the first one, do you stick to the course or do you have to change by the seat of your pants as things develop?

DENNY HAMLIN:  I’m not going to answer all the damn questions (laughter).

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  All right.

Yeah, I don’t know.  I mean, we’ve been running good all year.  We’ve just been going week-to-week.  You go to each racetrack and work on your car in practice, run the race, try to use your head, finish as best you can.

I think you can’t think too far ahead of yourself.  You just do what your job is that day and try to accomplish the goals you set forth in that afternoon.  That’s all you can do, you know.

If you have a bad run, you keep trying.  You just keep plugging away.  I don’t think you really alter the course, per se.  You got to go show up every week and run against everybody and try to have the best finish you can have, try to win the race.

Everybody runs as hard as they can run all the time no matter what the circumstances.  So you can’t really, you know, ask more out of yourself or ask more out of your equipment.  You do that already.  You run as hard as you can anyway.

You just got to be smart and try not to make any mistakes or get yourself in any holes early on.

Q.  Denny, you noted how you’ve learned in each Chase.  What is the most difficult variable you’ve faced and the biggest lesson you’ve learned throughout that time?

DENNY HAMLIN:  The biggest lesson I would just say is I can only worry about what I can control.  I mean, I’m pretty sure years ago when I would have been on the radio just about every lap wondering tonight, What in the hell are we doing?  What’s going on with the strategy?

But, you know, I just do what I’m told and run when he says, Run, haul ass when he says, Haul ass.

I think I handle things a lot better, the adversity that we have faced.  New Hampshire, when we had a major miscommunication and went to the back, you know, normally I think I just would have been chewing the wheel off.  I think I handled it better and we actually made a decent run at getting that win.

You know, I think it’s adversity I’ve gotten better at overcoming.

Q.  Dale, can you talk about Jeff and the comeback he made tonight.  It seemed like when you had the red flag, he seemed dead in the water, got out of the car, was all mad.  He made a remarkable comeback.  Does momentum carry over from something like that?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Yeah, I think they know they’ve been strong all year.  They just had some poor luck.  And I knew that, you know, given enough opportunities, they would eventually get the car working the way he wanted it, and they did.

You know, they’ve been a strong team all year.  They were really fast right out of the gate first couple weeks.  Just had a lot of bad luck.  Got themselves in a hole.  Like Denny said, I think every team in the Chase has an opportunity to win it, including Jeff and those guys.

Q.  Michael got two cars into the Chase.  Both of you have different relationships with Michael.  He’s really come a long way from a team that almost folded.  Denny, you’ve probably seen more of the struggles he’s gone through a little closer.  Just the job he’s done.  I presume you’re both pretty happy to see him finally being successful on the ownership side.

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Yeah, I mean, Michael really put everything he had into it, made the full commitment right out of the box.  They did struggle.  Now he’s able to enjoy all the efforts and the sacrifices he made.  It’s been a challenge, I know.  When I see him up there with his two drivers, Truex and Clint, I know he’s as proud as he can be.

I think he deserves it more than anybody, to have put as much as he has into the sport, even as a driver.  He put everything he had into it for all those years.

He’s finally really able to enjoy it.  You know, it’s great to see.  I’m proud for him.  We got to race against him, but it’s great to see him do well and see his company do so well.  He generally has a knack for it.  I think he’ll be around for quite a while winning races, developing that program even further.

DENNY HAMLIN:  Yeah, I mean, I definitely spent a lot of time with Michael.  I know how in tune he is with his race team.  Every week when we talk, he’s asking a lot of questions and wants to know what he can do to be better.  He’s turned that team from a team that can barely make top 35 to a legit championship-contending team.  That’s no easy task.

I think he deserves a lot of credit, but Rob Kauffman also deserves a ton of credit for showing commitment to the race team.  They hired the right people.  They hired the right drivers.  That’s how you become successful.

So I think, like he said, he’s going to be around for a long time.  You look at the progression of the race team, they’re legit now.  I mean, they’re guys you’re going to have to beat week in, week out.  Obviously we’ve seen that.

Proud for him.  I know it’s a big deal for him to have those cars in the Chase.

Q.  Dale, Joe Gibbs Racing losing a car in the Chase, you gain a car.  Can that have any impact to have all of your teammates on the same page going for the same goal, nobody is left out?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Well, yeah, I guess so.  I mean, I know how strong that team is.  Part of me knows that a really formidable opponent has an opportunity to beat us out.

Jeff’s really clever and savvy with how he races.  Aside from just outright speed, you got to outsmart him a lot of times to beat him, which is tough.  He’s won a lot of championships, knows how to get it done, knows what it takes, the mindset, how to prepare himself mentally.

I think it just makes the group of guys all that much tougher.  It’s hard not to talk about the morale, how it helps the company, how the company is proud, how everybody works hard during the off-season to find some speed.

We’re a much better company this year, and we’re able to reap the benefits of that with all four of us being in the Chase.  It will be fun.

Q.  Dale, you’ve talked several times this year about how you’ve changed some and spend more time with the race team and everything.  Have you changed more than the team has changed, and how much does it mean the fact that you have changed more to the fact that you’re in this Chase running for that championship?

DALE EARNHARDT, JR.:  Well, one thing I’ll add, I think the debriefs get a lot shorter on Saturday night.  Everybody won’t be such an open book, I won’t imagine.

You know, I just think that Steve deserves a lot of credit for our performance.  Steve puts a lot into the program.  He’s helped me as a driver.  He’s helped me become a better driver.  He’s shown me how I can be a better asset to the team inside of the car and outside of the car.  I think he’s improved me in a lot of areas.

So, you know, that feels good.  We work real hard to improve certain areas of the deal and he tells me what he thinks I need to be doing, how I can help.  I do those things, we see the results.  It’s pretty neat.

I never really had anybody ask much of me other than bring the helmet, get in, How does it drive?  He’s a lot more detailed and wants a lot more information.  It’s just a totally different atmosphere, a totally different culture than I’m used to being around.

He deserves most of the credit for the performance of the team.  Me as the driver, the last couple years, how we’ve ran.

THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Dale, Denny.  Congratulations.  Good luck in the Chase.

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