Denny Hamlin's slow start to the 2011 NASCAR schedule isn't causing him to panic – yet.
Hamlin said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway that his disappointing finishes so far this season have gotten his attention, but he continues to believe he'll be in the top 10 in points soon (he's currently 19th).
"For me, the panic level is not that high, but it is creeping there because ultimately it's not about the number of points that you're behind 10th at this point, it's how many guys separate you from that," he said.
Hamlin said he remained confident that over the next three races – Texas, Talladega and Richmond – he would move into the top 15 in the point standings.
Then, with some more good tracks for Hamlin afterward, "We're going to keep marching our way back to the top 10."
As he does seemingly every year, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver warned fans before the season that his team would start slow. In 2010, Hamlin's team also got off to a poor start but rallied with wins at Martinsville and Texas, sparking a championship contending run.
This year, the start has been about the same (aside from not winning at Martinsville). So why is the perception that Hamlin is having an off-year?
"I think what people were attributing this year's slow start to is the last couple races of last year," he said. "I know in my mind it has nothing to do with it, but it's just the way people see it – like it's a letdown from last year. I honestly don't believe that."
He's confident his No. 11 team won't need a "wild card" spot to make the Chase via wins – the team will make it the conventional way, he said.
"We're not going to need to get in on wins, I don't believe," he said. "I honestly believe we're going to be in the top 10 here in the next seven, eight weeks."
Hamlin said he's worked harder than ever before this year, particularly the last three weeks in studying data and video of previous races.
But in several instances lately, his pit crew hadn't been getting the job done. So a change was made this week, bringing up a front tire changer from the No. 11 Nationwide team.
Did Hamlin regret being harsh in comments toward his crew?
"Everyone always says I'm critical," Hamlin said. "I just said that we stunk – and we did. A lot of people say they stink at times. It's a shame, but you have to make changes sometimes. ... You just sometimes have to make a change for chemistry sake."
Hamlin said he had the same pit crew for the past few years – it won the Pit Crew Challenge during All-Star week last year – but with up-and-down results. Both the driver and crew chief Mike Ford reached the conclusion after Martinsville that a change was necessary.
"I'm excited about it," Hamlin said. "It's a change and obviously it's going to take time for chemistry to kick in. Me and Mike talked about that: There's probably going to be stops throughout this weekend where it's not going to be the best, but hopefully it's a step in the right direction for the long run."