Toyota NSCS Daytona Notes & Quotes — Denny Hamlin

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

What is your mindset with the weather in the area today? “Looking forward to getting on track.  With the new rule changes, it’s going to be quite a bit different.  Every time we get on track really with these cars and NASCAR makes a change, it’s going to be a learning curve that we have to adapt to.   Looking forward to seeing how the cars react to the new changes.”

Do you feel like you are getting your bad luck out of the way early this week? “Nothing has counted for anything yet, which is good that the mechanical issues that we’re having and obviously all that’s happening before it counts in the 500.  For me, it’s not discouraging one bit.  I think that we showed in the Shootout that we’re very capable of winning when it comes Daytona 500 time and the 150s tomorrow.  I look forward to it.  I love this type of racing.  I think that it’s exciting to watch and it’s definitely, from my standpoint, exciting to be a part of.”


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What is your interpretation of the yellow line rule now? “There’s a lot of instances since 2001 where guys have been penalized by the yellow line.  There’s a lot of them that have not been penalized because NASCAR deemed that they were forced down.  Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. at Talladega — that looked just like mine and was identical if you look at it.  There was no penalty.  There’s been other instances where there’s been penalties.  For me, coming to the checkered, it’s hard for us drivers mentality is not to use every bit of race track that we have to get to the line first.  For me, I think that’s what makes it so exciting.  Some of the most exciting passes that we’ve had in NASCAR is guys nipping down to the grass just about to make a pass.  I think there’s something to be said about that.  Take me out of the equation, there’s some great finishes that we could have had.  Talladega was one of them – if we didn’t have the yellow line rule.  Who knows what would have happened.  It would have been a very, very exciting finish.   Really, the part about if you’re forcing a guy down then you may be black flagged — that’s probably the least used rule in NASCAR’s rule book.  The guy who forces somebody down and I’m not particularly talking about Ryan (Newman), he’s the one that’s causing these wrecks.  He’s the guy who’s forcing these wrecks to happen.  I wish that was used a little bit more, if I guy knows that you dart your car down there and force a car down there, if they’re going to keep the yellow line rule then he needs to know that he’s subject to a penalty.  Right now, I think everyone just assumes that there will be no penalty because it’s never been implemented before.”

Does that mean that you have to hold your line in that situation? “It forces you to if you want to keep your position and still go for a win that is.  I could have just pushed Ryan (Newman) to the win and finished second.  There would have been nothing wrong with that obviously.  They want us going for wins — I want to go for a win.  It’s exciting to me, especially in a Shootout-type race.  You do what you think you have to do to win the race.  That’s what I did.”

How big of a concern are drivers who did not experience the two-car draft if practice does not take place today? “I think with the new changes, it’s probably going to be a little bit more like Talladega and less like what it was during the Shootout.  So it will probably play into the guys who have less experience at it — play into their hand a little bit better.  They won’t need to learn the art of pushing for 15 straight laps or something like that.  I think the more that NASCAR changes and obviously helps get these cars back together in a big pack, it will be more like the superspeedway racing that everyone’s seen before.  Right now, we don’t know until we get on the race track whether it’s still going to be two-car tandems or not with switch-offs.  For me, I’m not worried about it too much.  These are really, really good drivers.  Even the guys that weren’t in the Shootout are good drivers and they’re able to learn just as quick as us.”

Will there be more three-car packs with the new rules? “You’ll never see that happen — you’ll never see three cars in a line continuing pushing each other.  For one, the guy in the middle would be scared out of his mind.  He can’t see in front of him and he’s getting pushed from behind.  That will never work, but I think for some reason it’s just the cars and the air just doesn’t react that way to them.  You will see probably the four-car tandem in the sense of you have two twos running very close to each other like we did at the end of Saturday night.   I think that was a big learning — something to watch from all the competitors at the end of that race watching two car links commit to not passing each other was much quicker.”

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) What are your thoughts on NASCAR going with a smaller restrictor plate? “The bias in me hates it because the smaller hurts the Toyotas even more.  Our horsepower range is a little bit lower.  It just makes the two-car tandem, in my opinion, more important with the smaller the plate that you go.  Being that the delta between being by yourself and being together will be even larger.  For me, the two-car tandems will be even more important.  The slower that the cars run by themselves, when you get them hooked up they are going to run close to the same speed or pretty close to the same speed.  It just makes that delta bigger and that’s when you’re going to have big, big runs and everything.  I thought that going bigger would be better simply because the faster we go, ultimately the handling will come into play eventually if we’re going a certain speed that the cars really can’t handle the corners being pushed.  I thought being bigger would be an advantage for getting the pack back together.  The pack would be able to catch the two- car tandems very, very quickly if the plate was bigger.  Obviously they felt that they didn’t want the cars running 206 (mph).   There’s a big safety concern when the cars are running 206.  Not necessarily for us, but the flag man especially.”

What did finishing second in the points last year do for you? “I would say it’s the same, no different.  You have to have thick skin in this sport anyway, but then when you’re leading going into the last race and coming out second – you really are going to have to have thick skin.  For me, it is a learning experience.  You think of all the things you could have changed to improve not just that race, but many races before that.  It does, it makes you much tougher and it makes you more mentally prepared when you get around to that same situation again.  Hopefully I’m in that situation again.”

Why has everyone been surprised by the two-car tandems? “I think none of the teams in testing were willing to give up race cars or crash race cars to try it out.  When you come down here and you know that it’s going to be race situation, you’re willing to take some more chances.  Really for me, I don’t know how much the teams learned during the test because obviously we came down here and started racing a whole lot different than what we did when we were testing.  I think NASCAR did a good job in the sense that they didn’t do all these rule changes right before the Shootout.  They at least saw how the Shootout was going to play out first.  That gave them an indication of how the 500 was going to play out.  We might even see more changes after the 150s depending on how the cars react.  There’s a certain type of racing that we’re all trying to get to here and NASCAR is working hard to try to make that happen.  Really for us, we never really show our hand — none of these drivers do on how they’re going to race the race until they get in it so it’s hard for NASCAR to predict it.”

Are you worried about not getting any practice today? “If we raced today with no practice — I’m okay with it.  None of the rule changes that they implemented I think are going to impact the cars to where there’s going to be reliability issues or things like that.  It’s just basically going to change how the cars react around each other.  I think anyone would say to line them up and race them right now — we really don’t need that much practice.”

What are the visibility problems of the pushing car in the two-car draft? “The whole game changed, not just the way we drive, but the way our spotters spot.  They spot the car in front of us now instead of us.  He basically tells me, ‘Okay, the car you’re pushing — he’s clear by this much, now he’s not clear.’  He tells you what’s going on with that car.  You obviously can control your car by looking through your mirrors and things like that, but once you get in the middle and stuff, it kind of gets hairy because now he’s trying to spot your car and his car.  It definitely was a complete game-changer and for me, the visibility was very, very tough.  It’s no different than Talladega. The only difference is the track is much wider than Talladega so you can see your barriers quite a bit more between the inside line and the wall.  With Daytona being so narrow — honestly, it’s only got one set of dotted lines around the corner instead of multiple like other race tracks so when you’re in the middle of the corner and you’re not around any dotted lines, you don’t know where you’re at.  You don’t know if you’re close to the apron — you don’t know if you’re close to the wall.   It’s definitely like driving blind for sure, but we just rely on our feel to kind of fix that.”

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) Does the two-car draft and visibility issue make it easier to work with your teammates? “We even talked about it at the beginning of the race — the 4 (Kasey Kahne) and the 22 (Kurt Busch) didn’t have teammates in that race.  We thought about putting their radio channel on our radio so we could flip to them if we needed them at any point.  The problem is that everyone’s partner eventually wrecks out of the race so you’re looking for new partners midway through the race anyway.  That’s the way it kind of turned out.  It’s different.  It’s always good for us if the Toyotas can link up together.  That is the most efficient way for the two-car tandem to work is two Toyotas.  It’s different for sure.  For me, this is a whole new thing that I haven’t seen or anyone’s seen before.  Definitely having those guys, the chemistry is a little different because we tested a lot with each other — pushing and what not.  These cars are so stable now that you can use pretty much anybody that’s around.”

Are you finding that your car reacts differently than Joey Logano and Kyle Busch’s cars? “For sure — my car is definitely faster pushing than it was being pushed.  Half-a-second difference realistically so that’s why I never chose to get pushed in the Shootout.  I would always, if a guy came up behind me, I would get out of the way and get behind him because my car is just not efficient out front whatsoever.  Ultimately to win the race, you’re going to need to be that second or maybe looks like even third guy.  For me, I think some cars — guys taped up their car differently.  I think this is going to be a whole new game now because with the mandated opening, I think everyone’s car will be closer out front versus being the one that’s being pushed.  Some people were opening up their grill sizes larger to be able to push longer.  The problem with that is that when they got out front, they were really slow.  Now that everyone will have the same grill size, you’re going to see guys being able to go being the first car or the second car.”

Are your bumpers physically in contact the entire time you are in the two-car draft? “It stays solid.  It’s almost like a pressure-locked seal between the two cars.  There’s times that our cars come disconnected, but you don’t really see it on TV and you can’t really see it if you watched them.  As soon as that front car feels the release of that back car coming off, he’ll immediately hit the brakes and come back to you to start your momentum back up again.   We come disconnected quite a bit, but it just never shows on TV.  That’s when you see the other guys get a huge run and blowing right past you is because that one tandem has lost its seal.  I just don’t think anyone has figured out now what causes that seal to happen.  It’s literally like a magnet.  It gets close to each other and sucks right up.”

Do you think NASCAR should have a large test session for the new changes? “I say as we go we’ll figure it out.  What NASCAR’s trying to get is to get these big packs back together and not these two- car tandems.  They’re going to achieve it before Sunday.  I firmly believe that they’re going to get it before Sunday.   Eventually we’re going to get it all figured out and we’re going to run a safe speed that they feel comfortable with.  It’s just so tough.  If we go and test somewhere, we’re not going to race the same.  We’re not going to drive the same as we will in race conditions — no one ever does.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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