Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Watkins Glen International – August 3, 2019
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media in Watkins Glen:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Cares Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Can you talk about the cause behind the FedEx Cares paint scheme and what you’re doing to support it?
“Part of FedEx Cares initiative, we talked about four or five years ago – you’ve seen FedEx Cares on my car for at least the last three or four years at least and that was about donating 200 million to 200 different communities by 2020. As you know, we’re getting towards that and already completed that goal six months early. They’re 50th anniversary is coming up in 2023 and they’re next initiative is amongst writing a big check like they always do to different charities and worthy causes, is trying to affect 50 million people by 2023. That’s the biggest thing is that they’re trying to get to where they can affect people and amongst other great things that they’ve done in years past.”
Does the increased speed change how you drive the track?
“It will be business as usual. You’ll be able to go into the corner slightly further than what you were before simply because you have the bigger spoiler there to slow you down. I think brakes won’t be as big of an issue. I know last year they were a little bit of an issue for us. Certainly, I think it will be better this year.”
Can you benchmark at road courses who the best drivers are at this point?
“I think my teammates are kind of the benchmark is what I’ve seen and this is over the last three or four years at least. Certainly, I know that if I benchmark myself off of them in practice, I know they’re going to be in the top-five, especially on speed. They might not finish there, but they’ll be there on speed. It’s a good way for me to kind of judge where I’m at and where I need to work. The 18 (Kyle Busch) in particular has been super-fast at this particular race track, even though he hasn’t won as many times as what you would think. The 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) has just been extremely good on road course finishes as well over the last handful of years and so he hasn’t always shown lightning fast speed in practice, but he’s shown it in the race. Certainly, I’ve got teammates I’m going to be looking at for sure.”
Do you have to be good in the inner loop to win this race?
“It’s not a passing zone on the exit of it. If you’re talking about the actual bus stop or inner loop, when you’re switching back left and right there, it’s not actually a passing zone so you either need to be good getting into it or you need to be good off of turn five, the carousel there. It’s just not many passes are made on the exit of the bus stop, it’s more about being a place where you don’t want to lose a lot of time or make a lot of mistakes. If you do lose time, you’re liable to get passed by someone entering turn six. It’s a place where you can make up time, but it’s not going to be a passing zone. You’re really just setting up for a couple passing zones, which is into one, into the bus stop, into six and into seven. That’s pretty much all you got.”
What have you done personally to ensure things worked out with crew chief Chris Gabehart?
“I think that he really cut his teeth in the Xfinity Series and it’s been kind of the way JGR has grown their crew chiefs for many, many years is that they start in Cup on the engineering side, they go down to Xfinity and work for a couple years and then come back up to Cup as a crew chief. You learn team management, you learn about getting through the tech process, managing the pit crew and things like that. Things are slower paced in the Xfinity Series than what they are in the Cup Series so it gives them an opportunity and primes them for those opportunities. I think for whatever reason it’s just worked out with Chris. I think we’ve worked extremely hard on communication and information to make sure that we continue to get better as the season goes on and that’s what I’m excited about is that Pocono was the first race track we went back to twice. I trust that when we go back to race tracks for a second time, he makes proper adjustments. That’s what’s going to make him great for years and years.”
What did you learn in Michigan back in June to bring back next weekend?
“I tell you, we didn’t race well there. That was probably one of our worst mile-and-a-half or two-mile race tracks of the year. I think I qualified up front, battled for the lead early and then once I lost track position, it was over. It was just like a train of cars. Nobody wanted to make a move because you would just get freight-trained by the cars around you. Really been working hard with NASCAR over the last couple weeks or so on that race track trying to get another groove built into the third groove up top. I think if you start to widen that race track out, I think the racing starts to look a little different there. Certainly, I don’t think Michigan turned out anything like us or the fans were hoping for when we had that race. There’s no doubt, our past at that race track, even in June, has no bearing I guarantee you on how we go race there in August. I’m looking forward to it.”
How do you adjust for the lack of horsepower and where do we look for change at that track?
“You can make up for the horsepower or if you have more horsepower, you can put more downforce on your car. I think that’s the one good thing that’s come out of – not the one good thing, that sounds bad, but with the rules package being different and so much downforce, teams have had the option week in and week out to either apply more downforce if they would like or apply less drag if they would like. You haven’t seen a whole lot of infractions, body infractions and people trying to get every bit of downforce out by putting things in the car that shouldn’t be there. It’s been pretty good as far as the tech process I think this year and really if you are lacking in the engine department, you just have to make up for it by trimming your car out a little bit more on the drag side. You can balance it out. It’s crazy, you can literally make your car a pole-winning car or a 20th place car with just a few adjustments.”
Are you able to help the ISC tracks more now with the traction compound?
“It might be more coincidence than not. I think that next up on the list, when I looked at the schedule and talked with NASCAR about it is Phoenix would probably be the next candidate for it and that’s an ISC track. I think we might try something there later this year. Just trying to get it right. Obviously, it’s really, really tough for NASCAR because they’re not in the cars and even though they can kind of see the race and how it plays out, we as drivers know where the extra lane is that we can’t use. It’s kind of been up to me and some of my peers to really the sharing of picture, videos and things like that since I can’t go to each race track, it’s really been helpful to kind of set the cones out to where you think you’re going to spray and drag. Then move the cones this way or that way or further or shorter. The communication has been really, really good and it’s made for better racing. Pocono, for the first time, I would venture to say more passes were made on the outside at Pocono than the inside and that is a bottom-feeder race track and has been for many years. It wasn’t perfect, but certainly was a step in the right direction and it’s something we can now build on for next year. I’m excited about it. We found a very good Band-aid for some of these tracks that have been pretty challenging as far as one lane.”
How will the traction compound work at Phoenix?
“It is a key race and it’s going to be really key next year for sure. I think if they were looking to experiment at all, it would probably be this year. If they didn’t do it this year, I would find it hard to believe. Maybe they would do it in the spring. Maybe in the third lane and the third lane could be defined in many, many different ways, but the goal with it has been to not put it in the second lane where you have a Michigan-type effect where it becomes a total primary groove and nobody can run on the bottom because they will get freight-trained. You try to put it in the third lane to then give someone the option to run a shorter distance and maybe either slide up to the sticky stuff or use it if people are running in the lower groove, it gives them an extra lane to go up there and make passes on the outside. It’s not meant to be the primary groove, it’s just meant to be an option if you need it. One and two and three and four – I don’t think any decision has been made on it, but I think he said they were going to set some cones out and see if it matches up with what I was thinking.”
What do you look forward to most about racing at Watkins Glen and what is most challenging?
“What I look forward to the most is the atmosphere here. I think that when you drive in and you see a packed infield and so much stuff going on, I know that right after practice and before qualifying I’m going to take my daughters around just to kind of walk around and see what all is out here. It’s just a fun track when it comes to that. It’s not always about track capacity, it’s about experience. I think this track has got a great balance of that. I like the road course racing personally, I think we’ve really gotten pretty successful out of here the last few years so it’s just a track that I’m definitely comfortable with and road course racing itself, I feel like I’ve got a decent knack at it. I like it, it’s different, it’s a lot different than any other track we have on the circuit.”