Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media at Richmond International Raceway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What does it mean to come back to your home track at Richmond?
“I love coming back here and love the race track. We got to come here and test about a month or so ago and had a good test. Our cars ran really good here in the fall, which is encouraging and even through the tire change and the aero change, I was pretty happy with it. We’re looking forward to it. We haven’t always run the best here over the last few years, but we’re starting to get that back a little bit and really for me it’s obviously a whole lot of motivation to come here and run well. Obviously the day race is going to change a lot of things with the track temperature you’re going to have to run quite a bit different setup than what you would for night and we’ll try to work on that tomorrow.”
How does moving this race from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon impact you?
“I like having Sundays off every now and then, but I think its definitely going to put on a great show for sure. This race track, it does change a lot during the day. Sunday afternoon the weather looks good and I’m just encouraged to go out here and have a good race. I don’t think whether it be day or night, our team overall should perform pretty well as a whole. It doesn’t matter to me one way or another what it is, but it is a change for sure.”
How much will you lean on the tire test data versus past race notes for Richmond?
“I think the tire testing was probably the most important. We have a tire that lays some rubber down here at this race track so we did have to change some things in our car and I was pretty happy with it. Overall, we’ll lean on that test more so than past information.”
Why did the driver’s council make the statement supporting Tony Stewart’s comments?
“I think it kind of shows a unity amongst us. It really has nothing to do with lug nuts or no lug nuts or anything like that, it’s more so the drivers believing that they have a right to express their opinion especially when asked in an interview. We try to do our best to give honest answers and sometimes those aren’t always the best thing. I know at times I’ve been very guilty of being too honest at times or too opinionated at times and it costs you a nickel or two. We just think that there should be a little bit of leniency there for someone that knows a lot about our sport and has been in our sport a long time. He gave his opinion and especially when it’s something on safety too. I think it’s pretty important. As far as what we believe, it’s all said in the statement. Everything I’m telling you here is my opinion and my opinion only.”
Where is the line when it comes to comments from drivers?
“I don’t know where the line is, I don’t know if there is a line – obviously there is a line, but obviously we just believe that you should be able to express your opinion as long as you’re not just totally trashing the sport itself or anything like that. I think every situation is different, but we’ll just move forward from it.”
What does it mean to the sport for Tony Stewart to be back in the car this weekend?
“It’s good. This is a retirement season for him and it was a little bit delayed, but he’s now going to be going to some of these race tracks for eth final time and I know just in general Tony has been around and traveling each week to the race tracks and been very hands on with his race team. It doesn’t match being able to go out there and race with him. I know it’s all special memories for us to be able to go out there and compete with him. I know me coming into the Cup Series and being a teammate of his in my rookie season was awesome, but our relationship has grown so much further now that we’re not teammates. It’s a great season — would love to see him make a Chase push if he can and end on a good note.”
How has the driver’s council evolved and what is the direction of the council overall?
“I think that the driver’s interests and the owner’s interests is 95 percent aligned most of the time. There’s some things that we feel like we would like to see changed, sometimes it doesn’t align with what NASCAR thinks or what the teams think, but I think that this was a pretty black and white thing from a driver’s perspective to have a guy that’s coming back and is in the middle of an interview and gets asked a question and he responds to the question and gets fined for it. That to us was a moment and I think for us it just shows solidarity that we’re all in this together as the drivers and we want to have one voice because that one voice is obviously a little louder and clearer to NASCAR when we go into meetings talking about where it’s going to head from competition to safety and amongst other things. I think that its grown a lot over the last year and our communication as drivers, the barriers that we have, those have been broken down tremendously over the last year to two. Our meetings with NASCAR have changed the sport and will continue to change the sport for many years. Mostly it’s all positive, every now and then we feel like we should show solidarity to a guy whose done a lot for the sport and we still don’t want to be so politically correct all the time and have to filter our thoughts and think about it because we have sponsors on our cars or owners we have to answer to or NASCAR, sometimes you just want to say what you feel and we feel like you should be able to do that at times.”
How did the discussion come about to pay Tony Stewart’s fine?
“I think it’s more of a council thing. Obviously we chat on a daily basis about issues within our sport or things we’d like to work on or change or stay the same. When Tony (Stewart) informed us of the fine, we didn’t agree with it and no one agreed with it and we thought there was something we should do about it. This was a way for us to send a message back to NASCAR, not that we were trying to send any specific message that we just believe that we should have the right to speak our opinion. I don’t know whether everyone agrees with the opinion he had or not, but it doesn’t matter. It’s what he was asked so he answered the question. I think that was the biggest thing for us. We should have the right to speak our opinion.”
Have you heard from the series about the statement yet?
“Nothing from the series at all, but I’m sure we’ll all hear something at some point.”
How would you assess your season since winning at Daytona?
“I’d say trying to find ourselves is kind of the word I keep thinking of, but over the last few weeks we’ve tried a lot of out of the box things. Sometimes it can hurt momentum. At Texas we were very much out of the box and just didn’t run well. Last week at Bristol we were running pretty good until we got the nose ripped off of it coming off pit road so we couldn’t really see what we had there, but other than that – Martinsville we just wrecked being the fastest car on the race track and being dumb. Our momentum has gotten kind of halted is the biggest thing. We had some really good runs at Phoenix and California and those race tracks and then as soon as we get to my wheelhouse tracks I’ve made some mistakes that have cost us a little bit. I think we’ve made some not great decisions on experimenting with a few things, but it’s all about learning at this point. We’re here in April and we’ve still got months until the playoffs start so I think it’s an opportunity for us to work on things and try to get better. Ultimately, the checks don’t get written until the end of the year so we need to make sure we’re good when it really, really counts.”
How does it feel to be introduced as the Daytona 500 Champion?
“Sometimes I forget about it at times until you get introduced that way and I didn’t realize that it’s part of nearly every introduction that you go to. One of the coolest things was going to the awards last night in New York, the Edison awards, and getting introduced as the Daytona 500 Champion. These are some of the brightest minds in America and they’re excited to see a silly race car driver from Virginia. It’s really cool from my standpoint to have that label and ultimately I play a lot of golf with Michael Waltrip who has two of them and he reminds me all the time so I at least need two of them to stop that conversation.”
How do you approach these races when you’re already locked into the Chase?
“It’s a tough balance because you treat tracks that are in the Chase differently than you would tracks that are not. Texas for instance is in the Chase so we tried something, a direction that we were going to see if that direction was where we need to be when we go back there in the Chase. It was not the right direction, we know that, but the other races, I think you kind of know whether you’re going to have a shot to win or not and you adjust accordingly. If you don’t, you’re more willing to try some things to learn, but you’re always out there every race to try to win the race for sure. There’s some weekends you have a better opportunity than others. We know that our program is very strong on all the race tracks right now so we would definitely like to log some more wins before the race starts because ultimately the further you get into the summer, you want to start building some momentum and get some good things going heading into the Chase. Some of the more successful Chase runs I’ve had, four or five races before the Chase starting to go on a little roll there winning a few races and leading a bunch of laps. That will be a good indicator for us.”
What is making Joe Gibbs Racing so strong right now?
“I think a lot of it has been documented, there are some great drivers that I’m teammates with and I learn a lot from and tracks that I’m pretty good at that they learn from and vice versa. We’re all learning from each other every single week and it’s just raising everyone’s game quite a bit. I think everything is kind of clicking really well, everyone at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) is doing a really good job of providing us the technology that we need to go fast. Every department within JGR is clicking really, really well right now. The addition of the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) car into our stable has helped and that’s more information – that’s another great crew chief and another great driver that we get to pull information and data from. It’s all just working at this point.”