Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Daytona Media Day – February 13, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media in Daytona:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How optimistic are you about the Daytona 500?
“Pretty optimistic. I would say about the same as usual to be honest with you. I thought The Clash kind of gave us an indication that we were able to kind of get up front even starting last. We got up front in a timely manner. No surprises really from that, so there’s no reason to think otherwise that we can’t win.”
What makes you so good at superspeedway racing?
“Just really a student of the game I guess. I just really trying to learn everything I can about it. Even though we won our first Clash or whatever in my rookie season, it was honestly probably more luck than anything. I put myself in a good position. I just feel like it was more lucky knowing that if you go back and watch I’m like “oh, that was not a good move”. It worked out for me at the time. I feel like now I know a little bit more than I did then and just really the experience of knowing where to put yourself to be in the right situation – when to push it, when to not. All that just comes with years of experience.”
How do you think Jimmie Johnson felt after causing the big wreck during The Clash?
“I don’t know that I’ve taken out that many cars, but I’m sure that I’ve been a part of at least one or two that I’ve gotten four or five cars – solid four or five cars. It doesn’t feel good. You get out of the car and you’ve got to walk through the garage by the teams that are unloading their backup cars and they’re rolling them by you and you just kind of – your head’s down and you just don’t want to make eye contact with any of them because you know that you just screwed them over with an entire day’s worth of work. As far as the past weekend, Jimmie kind of just ran into the side of the 21 (Paul Menard) as far as I could tell. I thought Paul actually did a pretty good job of holding his lane there. There is a moment there where when you do get close, it does pull your cars closer together. It looked like if anything, movement from the 22 (Joey Logano), it was definitely the air pulling them down to the 48 (Jimmie Johnson), so he cut it probably a little closer than he should have.”
Is Daytona a good race to start with a new crew chief?
“I think it’s actually a good race to start with a new crew chief because you’re not really talking about handling that much. It’s a good one to just kind of get your feet wet on the communication side of things. What his lingo is on the radio versus mine, so I think it’s actually a good start to the year. Even for the drivers that are in new situations to start a year on a superspeedway where you’re not really having to fix the car much. It’s kind of more about the driver and how he strategically makes his way through the pack.”
Do you think Chris Gabehart’s experience and success in the Xfinity Series will help you with the tough calls this season in the Cup Series?
“I think in some instances maybe. It’s tough to say. We haven’t really been in those situations yet where he’s going to make a call to win the race or finish 20th, but I’m sure he’ll go for a winning the race type strategy. He’s certainly aggressive and has always had that mentality, especially in the Xfinity Series. When I worked with him in the Cup Series with Dave Rogers, he was always a very outgoing personality with ‘What do we need to win and win at all costs’.”
Any insight on restarts and trying to gain track position with the new package?
“I have gotten to drive it yet. The last thing I drove was really the All-Star package which is not exactly like what those guys have been testing in Las Vegas and California. From what I hear, it keeps things tighter, but is it really going to be something that makes it easier to pass the leader. That’s going to remain to be seen. We can’t entirely judge it off of testing either because with just 20 cars, the field never gets strung out so there’s never lap traffic for the leader. When he’s not in dirty air, he’s always going to have a big advantage. The advantage for second place comes when he finally comes around the lap cars. He has to move one way or another. Obviously, if his car’s not handling well, the other guys will have the opportunity to pass him. From what we’ve seen, the video from testing, I would caution everyone to think that’s exactly how things are going to go.”
Do you feel like you’re one of the stronger drivers on superspeedways?
“I haven’t always been characterized as the most aggressive, but certainly know when to be aggressive when it’s needed. Certainly, I think the strategic things that drivers are going to have to do to put themselves up front I feel like falls into what does it take to get up front here on superspeedways and that’s what I feel like I’m good at.”
Do you have one particular Daytona 500 that sticks in your mind?
“I would say a watching moment that I just never will forget would be – I think it was in 2003 or 2004 the Daytona 500 the Dale Jr. one that I was a guest of his just kind of hanging out down here. I was signing my (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) contract as a development driver. I remember walking from his bus to victory lane – or to the race track and I go out on pit road and I see the 20 pit box and I see his and I’m like I don’t know where I’m supposed to go. I’ll never forget when he won, being able to carry that trophy back to his motorhome and I was just thinking how awesome would it be to have one of these. Of course, 12 years later, I did get my own. I was wondering for a while if it was a jinx since I touched the trophy, I’d never get it.”
Do you feel like you’re one of the better superspeedway drivers?
“You always see about three or four guys that are always up front at superspeedway raced and if they’re not, it’s because everyone is just kind of ploying to not help them be up front. Certainly feel like we have as great a chance as anyone to be honest with you. There’s probably not a competitor out there that would say otherwise.”
Do you think the length of the races could help the popularity of the sport?
“I don’t know. I don’t know really the analytics of it. What fans want to see, but I know that when you tune into the Olympics, the most popular event is the 100-metre dash. It’s not the 25-mile marathon. Maybe there’s something that could be said about that.”
Do you think we’ll see shorter races in the future?
“I think that certainly it could be shorter. I don’t know that it’s shorter as in races, but the length in time in the calendar year, it could be shortened up for sure. It’s not as easy making those changes as what we would all like for it to be because of all the stakeholder and what not that are in. I think in the next few years, you’ll probably see some of that.”
When does it start to feel like a long season?
“You always feel it about September or October that this is a very long season.”
Do you feel like you have something to prove this year?
“You always feel like you have something to prove, but certainly this year in particular, I’m very fired up to go out there and win. Not one race, not two races, not even three – just like multiple race sand show that we are a contender each and every week just like I know that we are. You can always talk about the ones that got away last year, but that was last year. So what, now what? We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do to change the narrative of our team that we’re on the decline.”
Is it important to get a win early because of going winless last year?
“The sooner you get it, obviously the better you’re going to put yourself in position to be able to take those risky moves in the middle of the summer. I know winning early is very very important. You punch your ticket for the playoffs. Everything good happens when you win early, so it’s very important for us.”
Are you looking forward to this season?
“I’m looking forward to this one more than looking back on the last one simply because there’s just nothing I can change from this past year. I couldn’t help the bad breaks that we had or the things that went wrong. All you can do is just figure out how can that not happen again. With a new crew chief, you’re obviously also working on what do we need to do to communicate better? What do you need from me and what do I need from you and that’s the most important thing that we really worked on.”
Has there been a big difference having Martin Truex Jr. with Joe Gibbs Racing now?
“Really things have been the same for us with Martin (Truex Jr.) so far. We’ve only really had one team meeting last week to kind of recap where we’re heading for this season. The biggest change is really Cole (Pearn) being in the shop. He’s sitting right there in the meeting beside me. Seeing how he does things over these next two or three months will be crucial for us to see how we can get better as an organization.”
Is it beneficial to have Chris Gabehart as a crew chief with the same late model background as you?
“No doubt. To me, he’s a late model guy and I’m a late model guy. We’ll always be able to share short track stories of us. It’s funny even this past week, you talked about not too long ago he was sitting on top of a Hoosier top at a short track watching a late model race and I was thinking not too long ago I was in that late model race. It’s cool to have someone with that same type of background and can understand you. Really I’m excited to get to race with him on a short track knowing the mentality that we both have on them.”
Do you think removing the restrictor plate will have any impact on the car?
“Not really. It’s just a small part of what you see. Whether it be a plate or whatever, you’ll still see the same type of racing. It just won’t be there. That’s something that the fans don’t see any way so it really doesn’t – I don’t have a sentimental place in my heart for it, no.”
Is it important for you to go out and win races this year after the passing of J.D. Gibbs?
“It’ll be super important. Everyone knows how important he was for me and my career and everything he did for us, so certainly having success on track will be crucial for that. Now that I pledged $111 for every lap that we lead, it’s going to be important for me to get up front and get up front often.”
Did FedEx change the paint scheme on your car this year because you went without a win last season?
“I don’t know that that was a forefront of the thought of it other than wanting a change. I’m convinced the other paint scheme was just bad luck. I feel like they made a great change and really with the branding of FedEx if you see FedEx, it’s always on a white truck so it might as well be on a white car.”
Does being a Daytona 500 champion mean anything?
“To me it’s the first thing they always announce when they spit out your resume at a celebrating golf tournament or making an appearance somewhere. It’s always 2016 Daytona 500 champion. Before it was 25-time winner in NASCAR, Denny Hamlin. Now you’re a champion of something. Even though I don’t have the Cup, I am a champion of one way, shape or form.”
How do you feel about the new rules this season? How do you think you’ll adapt?
“I think that my dad always said, it’s just a different machine. The racing is racing. It doesn’t matter if you’re in go-karts or whatever, he said you’ll always be able to adapt. I was very skeptical of that when I jumped from the four-cylinder class in short track to the late models is that this is a lot different. He said, well you’re still going in a circle. You’ve still got to get off the corner well and you’ve got to figure out how to make it happen. It’s no difference than the rule changes. High downforce, low downforce, whatever. You still have to get around the race track as fast as possible. I think the great drivers figure out how to do it quicker than others.”