RICHMOND, Va. -- Denny Hamlin, as sure a threat to win a race at Richmond International Raceway as any driver currently running in the Sprint Cup Series, admits something is wrong.
Of course, a team figuring out what is wrong and then fixing it is what separates the contenders from the also-rans in racing. And Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing crew are trying mightily to get things ironed out as the series gets set to run its ninth race of the season here on Saturday.
"Well, we're not where we need to be, for sure," Hamlin said. "I touched on it a little bit. Our cars are a little bit off right now.
"There's a lot of little pieces and parts of our car that is a little off just a little bit, which really gets magnified -- especially when a couple teams have hit on something that really has given them an advantage at this point because they've found a setup that is really working well. We're kind of getting split by that at this time, but like I said -- we're getting better."
How much better remains to be seen. Qualifying was rained out Friday, so a chance to really see how his team stacked up was lost. He'll start the race 28th.
But Hamlin still loves coming the track near his hometown of Chesterfield, and he has the confidence of knowing JGR does well here.
Perhaps that's why he says he's not feeling pressure to win now, but knows he will soon.
"I think it will probably be weeks from now," Hamlin said. "Honestly I think it will probably be mid-to-late June is when you'll start to see time start to really move fast on you and look at the races that are coming up and count down when you have to really -- what can you do, when can you throw a 'Hail Mary' to try to do something to try to get a win.
"At this point, where we're at with our organization, I think we're in a very slow process to get our cars better and we still have great race cars and a great pit crew and the things that kind of keep us at least in contention every single week is how solid the organization is. We definitely know that we are a little bit behind and it's going to take a little time.
Among the drivers with teams that have things seemingly figured out as they transfer from the early stages to midseason is Carl Edwards, who will start 16th. He has an all-important victory -- virtually assuring himself a playoff spot come September -- and has been running consistently well from the outset at Daytona. Unlike Hamlin, he's feeling loose heading into the Toyota Owners 400.
"We couldn't come to a better track as far as I am concerned," Edwards said of the three-quarter-mile D-shaped oval. "We have had great luck here lately and with the pressure off for us, this is really just a fun Saturday night race. This is great."
For drivers in the "have" category, particularly two-time winner Kevin Harvick, a night at the "Action Track" may be fun.
"People are just trying to take chances to get that win and I think for us we have been I guess like a 'Ricky Bobby' scene, we have been first or last," said Harvick, who has finished 16th or worse four times in eight races. He will start fifth Saturday. "There has really been no in between.
"The performance of the cars has been really good and obviously we have had some problems, but it's just one of those deals where being the points leader and having points is really irrelevant at this point. You just go out and try to put your best foot forward every week to get a win and protect yourself as much as you can with as many wins as possible is our goal at this point, to get into the first rounds because the bonus points matter at [that] point."
For those who are winless, especially preseason contenders such as Hamlin, "Talladega Nights" references and fun are not concepts they would use to talk about Saturday night's festivities. Mistakes in the pits have been a particular issue for the No. 11 team, and Hamlin fully takes the blame.
"I feel like I have to get everything I can on pit road to get that track position because on the racetrack we're not that strong," Hamlin said. "A lot of it is, I'm coming in -- these last two weeks we're coming in to pit road getting ready to face a green-white-checkered, crew chief makes a call that I know is going to put me in the front row based off the strategy we're going to play and I'm sitting there trying to get every little mark on my tach[ometer] I can on pit road to ensure that I'm going to get myself a chance to go for a win.
"I know if I start [on the] second row my chances are done, it's not going to happen. I've made tons of mistakes there and I've left a lot on the table pointswise by doing that, but you just make adjustments. You can't go out there and practice it, but you make adjustments."
Speaking of adjustments, six-time champion Jimmie Johnson -- also winless this season -- said leaving Richmond with the trophy seems like a tall order for his No. 48 team, starting 10th Saturday.
"We suck here," he said bluntly. "We're terrible and hopefully we are a lot better this weekend. The last couple trips especially -- we have been junk.
"So the results don't reflect the effort, so that is the disappointing part. And I know that [crew chief] Chad [Knaus] has worked very hard once again to get us a good car and hopefully it will be on the track and we will have good speed right off the truck. I believe a couple of those wins that I had came on a Sunday rainout. I would love to be home Sunday, but if it did rain out and we did race on Sunday, I have a pretty good average on the day."