Toyota NSCS Martinsville Notes & Quotes — Denny Hamlin

TOYOTA NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) Denny Hamlin — Notes & Quotes Martinsville Speedway – March 30, 2012

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Are you always a favorite to win at Martinsville? “When we come here, obviously we expect to win and we feel like we can every time we come in through the tunnel. It’s always been a great race track for us. Even the times where it shows we finished bad, I know that we led at some point during that day and we were competitive. Really, based off our performances, definitely our best race track that we’re coming to.”

How would you assess the start of the season with Darian Grubb? “It’s been good so far. What he’s (Darian Grubb, crew chief) brought to us is obviously a lot of knowledge and a lot of race wins — just a different way of thinking basically. He thinks a little bit further outside the box than we do as far as setups he runs. We’re trying to incorporate the two and figure out which ones better for me — what I had been running or what he is used to running. You try to work through that stuff during a race weekend. Until we go back to those tracks twice, it’s almost like a new season for us. We’re going to all these race tracks where he’s got his notebook, we have ours and we don’t know which one to distinguish to run unless it’s a track like this where we know what we have is good. Until we go back to these tracks for a second time, I think that’s where we’re really going to be strong. That’s when I expect the race win column to pick up.”

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What are the conversations like with other drivers during the pre-race parade lap? “It depends. I don’t have, at this time, any bad blood between anyone so it really doesn’t matter. There’s times where you think about it. It really — no matter who it is, for me personally right now, I would ask them how their car is, how they think they’re going to be, what they did during their time off. You just have normal conversations. I don’t really talk about the nuts and bolts of the cars too much. There’s times where you might be in a point’s battle with someone like Jimmie (Johnson). I don’t try to do any type of fake out or anything like that or try to psych someone. I always worry about myself as much as I can. For me, it’s part of the gamesmanship. Some guys do it a little different than others.”

What is it about Martinsville that allows you to perform consistently well? “I just think that it’s either you get it or you don’t. It’s very few times you see someone who used to be terrible at this place that is now running good. Usually, it’s just you’ve got it from the beginning or you don’t. This track races different than any track we go to on our circuit. All the other short tracks, you can relate to some other place, but this one is just so unique that for me, it’s the short tracks that I grew up on is why I feel like I’m as good as I am at this race track. It’s just like them. I’ve raced plenty of laps around here in a late model before I even got here in the Cup Series. I think track time has helped me, but even then I was competitive and I was good at it. It’s just different. I don’t know what it is and why some drivers struggle or why some drivers are better. I know why the drivers that are better, I know why they’re better, but I’m not going to say that and tell you why. It’s just a tough race track to figure out. Even though it’s as small as it is, there are so many little things you can do to have good speed and have good speed over the long run here. It’s hard to teach that.”

What do you think about Jimmie Johnson’s approach and confidence at Martinsville? “I think it’s been pretty good. I think when he (Jimmie Johnson) comes to this track, he thinks he’s got a great shot to win, I would think. He’s just one of those guys I was talking about that just gets it and knows how to get around this race track. He can take a sub-par car and run in the top-three with it, that might not be the best car. His range and his box of competing really well here is bigger than guys who are not as good that need that perfect car to really run well. He’s probably one of the guys like myself that has a ton of confidence going in here that if you just give us a soap box derby car and we should be able to win with it.”

What does it take to do well at Kansas? “Kansas — I’m not sure if they’re repaving now or later. After, okay. Well, I like it now and I won’t like it later. I don’t know, it’s just the new paved race tracks make it really tough on the racing. Any surface that’s old and worn out, it seems like it’s always got better racing. No doubt about it. All the tracks that are old and worn out — Atlanta being one of them that you see great racing at those tracks. Kansas is like that, but I guess it’s tearing apart so they have to fix it. It’s a flat track, it’s mile-and-a-half, it’s similar to Chicago, but not exactly. It kind of has its own characteristics and really it’s a track that I haven’t had a whole lot of success at until here in the last couple years or so we’ve been a little bit better.”

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) Do you enjoy racing at Richmond? “In the last couple years or so, we’ve been a little bit better. It’s very similar to racing here (Martinsville). Some of the same fans travel from Richmond to watch this race so it’s all got a hometown feel to it whether I’m here or there.”

How were you able to not get frustrated when you started racing at Martinsville? “I feel like me personally, I’m just more patient than guys at the beginning of the race especially. That seems to pay off later in the day. I don’t knock guys around, knock them out of the way and tear up my fenders right off the get-go when I get frustrated. I just take what the car gives me at the beginning — if it’s a 20th place car, we’ll run there for a while. I think a lot of guys who maybe struggle at this place, they’re level of anxiety raises when they get into with someone and that just ricochets and makes your whole day worse than it already is. I think the patience factor helps a lot and you have to be in good graces with a lot of guys to run well here typically.”

Do you think track owners solicit enough driver input when considering repaves? “I don’t know who they talk to honestly. I don’t know of any driver in my opinion that would choose to repave any race track that we have over the old surface — even Phoenix. Now Phoenix is going to be a great race track down the road and in five years it’s going to have great racing. You’re going to have two-wide and three-wide racing, it’s going to be great. It’s not bad now, but everyone likes the old surfaces. Drivers have more in their hands when it’s an old surface — you can make up more. It’s not about track position and then the reason is it’s not the track’s fault, it’s that the tires that we have to run on a new surface is so hard that it’s all about track position. It’s all about who stays out and gets the track position just takes off because he’s got the clean air. Nobody can pass him because everyone just chatters tires right behind him because he has no air. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s a tough predicament. NASCAR only wants us to run so fast in order to regulate speed on a new surface, you have to run a harder tire. Unless they want us to run faster for just a few laps and then it fall off, it’s a tough part for Goodyear to have to build a tire that’s fast, have fall off and do that on a new surface. It’s virtually impossible. Really, I don’t know who ever would want to repave any track at any time unless it’s absolutely falling apart should you ever repave a track.”

What do you think about changes to Bristol? “It depends, what do you want to fix about Bristol? As far as side-by-side, I think it’s got it. If you look at Bristol, it had the least amount of fall off of any tire that we had during this year. I think you start off around 16.40 fast time (seconds per lap) and you ended 100 laps later running 16.90s. That’s just not enough fall off. You have to have over-taking and to have over- taking, you have to have cars that are running faster than others. If you look at any point during a Bristol race, everyone’s running the same exact speed and you’re not going to have any over-taking. You’re not going to have any wrecks because no one’s running close to each other to wreck. That’s what people — back in the day when people used to lap the whole field and no one complained about the racing, it’s because over-taking was happening. Cars were getting passed. You could watch your guy move from 15th to wherever up to the front. Now, it’s like he’s got to make all the room, all the space up in the first five laps of a restart and then he sits there for the rest of the run. That’s because we don’t have enough fall-off. It’s a tough job to make a tire that does that and will live and ultimately not put our safety at risk of blowing tires. Really, Goodyear has made tires that are idiot proof now. We can’t abuse them enough to blow them out. That’s why you don’t see the passing that we used to have.”

What did you talk to Gucci Mane about over dinner? “Nothing. We were just at the same table. I think it was last year actually. Kendra, back when he was at Hendrick actually said, ‘Hey, did you actually have dinner with him (Gucci Mane)?’ We were at the same table. There were others with us and everything. We had mutual friends basically. She said Mark Martin was so jealous because that’s his favorite. I’m like, ‘Really?’ Evidently, he’s (Mark Martin) a huge fan of him. I talked to him at the drivers meeting one time and said, ‘Hey, I had dinner with Gucci.’ He was like, ‘Man, I would give anything to do that.’ I’m like, ‘You’re an accomplished race car driver that’s won a lot of races and you want to go to dinner with Gucci Mane?’ That’s interesting to me.”

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) Will the repave change Pocono? “You would think it’s going to be a lot faster, but we’re going to go there or someone’s going to go there and tire test and the speeds are going to be too high and they’re going to have to put us on a hard tire. Then we’re back to talking about the same old thing again. It will take away I would say pretty much all my advantage at that race track. It is what it is. We’re all on the same tire and we all have to figure out a way to be the fastest around the track. I think it depends really on the speeds. You talk about how fast the track will be, until we get out there, it’s tough to say. It all depends on what tire we end up running there. Whether it’s a softer tire or whether it’s a harder tire. Ultimately, it’s how fast you get through turn three is how fast you’re going to go down the front straightaway. If it’s a grippy tire, we could be running 215 going into one. Something pretty high.”

Who do you think will win the NCAA championship? “I don’t think anyone has anything for Kentucky. I think they’ve got just too much talent and too good of coaching to be beat. Anyone can be beat on any certain day, but I — in my bracket that I am leading and cannot be defeated, by the way — I had three of the four in my final four. I have Kansas beating Ohio State — I don’t know if they will or not because they’ve been kind of on the edge the whole time — then Kentucky winning it all against Kansas. I think it’s going to be like 76 to 69 or something like that. That was my tiebreaker score.”

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