Denny Hamlin grew frustrated with the organizational structure at Joe Gibbs Racing last season because he felt former crew chief Mike Ford "had his hands tied" and couldn't make the changes Hamlin wanted.
That revelation was part of yet another honest Hamlin interview session, this one coming during Monday's NASCAR Sprint Media Tour.
Hamlin said the arrival of new crew chief Darian Grubb has helped open up JGR's departments to new ideas and a fresh approach.
"We're going to go to the racetrack with completely different race cars," he 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."
So why is JGR open to Hamlin's suggestions now when it wasn't 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," he said. "At JGR, we got our tails kicked. Kyle (Busch) won four races, but when the Chase started, we all stunk."
Team president J.D. Gibbs said he didn't agree with all of what Hamlin said, but acknowledged it was a rough season for both the No. 11 team and the organization as a whole.
"Some of the stuff he was going through, we weren't doing a good job with," Gibbs said.
Hamlin said he's more energized than ever before heading into the 2012 season and believes he'll be better than ever once he and Grubb get through a transition period. Grubb's former driver, Tony Stewart, recommended Hamlin hire the crew chief because "he'd be perfect for you," Hamlin said.
The lessons from 2011, though, are ones Hamlin is not eager to forget. He nearly won the championship in 2010, but then had the most disappointing season of his career last year.
"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."
The seventh-year driver said morale was high at the race shop once again and noted every department "seems to be working harder."
But he also had praise for former crew chief Ford, who hasn't found a job after being fired from JGR.
"I'm shaking my head and scratching my head every day as to why this guy has not got a crew chief right now," Hamlin said. "This guy is a winner. At times, he had his hands tied – and I knew that. That's why I didn't have very much confidence last year. I knew what I felt like we needed to improve on, and he (knew) – but we couldn't get that done."