Toyota NSCS Kansas Notes & Quotes — Denny Hamlin

TOYOTA NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) Denny Hamlin — Notes & Quotes Kansas Speedway – April 20, 2012

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing Are you looking forward to racing at Kansas this weekend? “We’re excited to get back on track and we feel like we’re slowly working on our mile-and-a-half program and getting it to where we need to be.  We’re trying to take steps in that right direction.  I feel like we’re heading that way so far this weekend.  Even though we weren’t that fast in the first practice, I feel like we made pretty good gains on it throughout practice.  We are pretty optimistic about this weekend.”

What do you have coming up at Darlington and have you spoken with Bubba Watson since his Masters win? “He’s (Bubba Watson) taking some time off — we actually talked about it before he won that his trainer said that if he won that he was going to make him not golf for six months because typically guys fall apart after winning the Masters for the few months after.  I think they are just sticking to a plan.  Really, Darlington is more about the tribute with Cale Yarborough and we’ll go through all that during that time.  We’re also working on some stuff with Bubba to promote Charlotte and try to get a golf hole in the middle of the race track or something.  We’re working on all that, but we’re still trying to finalize everything.”

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Do you agree with other drivers who don’t like repaving race tracks? “I would agree with what he (Carl Edwards) says.  When you don’t pave race tracks and there’s tire wear, the driver shows up a lot more than what it does when you pave a race track, it becomes all about track position and how good your car is.  Us drivers, it takes our skill level of a new race track versus old race track — I would say the driver is probably 65 percent of how you run.  On a brand new paved race track, I would say our numbers are probably down to 30 (percent).  It cuts really half of it off, in my opinion.  You see it at Rockingham, Atlanta — tracks like this where tires wear out.  A driver can really, honestly make a difference.  When you’re running nearly wide open every single corner on new paved race tracks, there’s not much us drivers can do.  It’s like speedway racing basically.”

Do you view Richmond as a track for Joe Gibbs Racing to rebound? “Yeah, I do, but I don’t want to overlook this weekend because this is a Chase race track for us.  I think we ran extremely well here in the spring.  We ran excruciatingly in the Chase race where we were mid pack.  We’ve got to get back to running well here because we know this is a Chase race, if we make the Chase. I don’t want to look too far ahead.  You see that a lot in sports, people kind of overlook this one weekend just to try to get to the next and don’t want to do that.  We don’t want to start to think about Richmond until Monday because we have some work to do here.”

How much of this season has been a learning experience with Darian Grubb? “A lot of it is setting ourselves up for later in the year.  Right now, we still haven’t had a car on the race track like Darian (Grubb, crew chief) wants to build.  That’s coming in the next few weeks.  Honestly, we’re still kind of running some of the very similar cars to what we had towards the end of last year, which were heading in the right direction so I think that JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) as a whole is coming together as a company and I feel like they’re doing a really good job of listening to their drivers and working on the stuff that we feel like we need to work on.  Really, it’s going to be mid-summer or so before we have our 2012 package all defined and put together.”

Would you like to see Goodyear go to a new compound? “They’re (Goodyear) stuck because they’ve also got to be aware of the safety aspect of the racing tire.  When you have a 16 or 17 gallon fuel tank, they need a tire that lasts that long. Really, now they can last even longer than that.  It used to be back in the day, you had to maintain your tires and then it wasn’t about lasting a fuel run.  You just had to run as long as your tires would let you.  For us, I think all the drivers would agree that was better racing, but some of these tracks have no choice, they have to pave.  Our cars just have so much horsepower and so much downforce that Goodyear is just stuck in a box in the sense of having to give us a hard tire to keep us from running 225 miles per hour.  It’s a tough problem.  I don’t think any of these tracks want to pave.  This one, actually I am looking at — it doesn’t look terrible.  I don’t know why they are paving here unless they’re going to change some things.  The track, it’s racing well.  It’s slick, it’s good.  A lot of things too, when you have a track that is slick, it takes a lot of the aero out of it so you don’t have such a big track position race.  It’s more about mechanical grip and that’s when guys typically pass more.  We’d love to race to the limits of the tires, but we’ve seen when we had too soft of a tire at Charlotte in ’05, it would last 15 laps and everyone would blow a tire.  You don’t want to get into an Indy thing again and things like that.  It’s a tough balance.  Really, I just wish all the tires had more rubber to start and just went down to the cords by the end.  It’s a risk that they really don’t want to take.”

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing (continued) Do new paved race tracks allow the bigger teams to shine? “It’s whoever has the most horsepower and downforce wins.  If you have the best car, you can put 35 of these 43 drivers in it and they’re going to win with it.  That’s just part of it.  The cars mean so much when you’re running fast speeds. Horsepower and downforce on fast race tracks, new paved race tracks mean more than what any driver could possibly make up.  You look at somewhere, Atlanta for instance — it’s not always the best car that wins, it’s the driver that has a good car and kind of maintains his tire strategy.  It’s a big game and really, it’s track position also with those new paved race tracks.  A lot of guys just stay out all the time and they know that the air is so much better up front because you’re running such fast speeds that you have a huge advantage.  It all goes back into that it just takes our role further and further out of the race car the faster you go because horsepower and downforce are obviously bigger factors.”

Can you learn anything now that will apply after the repaving job? “You won’t take much.  I can assure you when you come back here, you’ll come back with an entirely different setup than what you have this time around.  You’ll run something more like probably what you run at Michigan now with the new repave, Charlotte, that type of race track — ultra-smooth I’m sure it will be and pretty fast.  Really you’re just going to take this weekend for what it is and kind of use your notes for the next time around.”

Is gas mileage critical at Kansas? “It’s part of it and I think that the fact that it’s been fuel mileage three of the last four is because cautions have been cut down quite a bit, but it’s also because our tires are better.  Tires aren’t blowing out anymore.  Guys aren’t wrecking anymore because it’s just — there’s not as much overtaking, so there’s less chance for accidents to happen when there is less overtaking.  So that’s why you’re seeing more green flag runs than what we’ve had.  It’s just so tough to pass nowadays. That’s just part of it and then what happens when we come in and somehow a caution comes out and everyone’s 10-laps short, everyone figures out how to make it to the end.  We just run six-seconds slow for a few laps and next thing you know we go and everyone — some people make it and some people don’t.  It just always seems like that last caution comes when people who are on the border of making it or not.”

Is your local short track race in Richmond becoming a big deal? “It is.  The participation of the Cup drivers to take some time off to participate in it and even for Jeff Burton and those guys to show up on a test day, fly up there and test is a big deal.  I can tell you he was really, really fast and will probably be one to beat, but it is.  It’s cool to see that.  I watched Jeff when he was running Late Models at South Boston (Speedway), so it’s very cool to see him participate now and he’s obviously trying to bring up his son (Harrison) through the ranks, so we see that that family has got a lot of talent.  I think that Jeb (Burton) is going to be an up-and-coming talent, so I think it’s very cool to see those guys are participating and seeing how big this event is growing over these last few years and with the participation — SPEED coming back on — we’re exciting about next Thursday and hoping to have double the capacity that we had last year.  Rain was a bit of an issue last year with our schedule and we feel like it deterred some people, but we’re hoping for great weather and I think we’re going to have one of the best races we’ve had.”

What was the attendance at last year’s race? “Around 6,000 or 7,000.  Somewhere in that range.  Yeah, we would love to see that.  We think it’s very feasible and probably it will happen this year, but obviously we’ve got the same guys coming back — Kyle (Busch) and Joey (Logano) and Tony (Stewart) and myself and Jeff (Burton) and those guys, so we’ve got a lot of good guys racing, as well as the local talent.  We want this to grow into a bigger and bigger event and obviously it’s very convenient for our Cup drivers to participate in because it is right there at the race track where they all come in on Thursday anyway, so it’s just you come in a few hours early and you have a little fun with us.”

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing What needs to be done to increase interest in short track pavement racing? “I can only speak for like the local Late Model racing in the mid-Atlantic, but I’m sure it’s probably about the same here is that it’s the pay.  It’s those guys that just — for what those cars cost to put together — I know personally that Jeff Burton said he had about 55,000 to 60,000 in his Late Model that he was going to run at Richmond next weekend.  That is a tremendous amount of money for local guys to try to run and then try to win twelve to 1,400 bucks, if they win.  I know that it cost us as a family back when my parents were making $50,000 a year, it cost us $1,200 to race each week — the fuel for the truck, the trailer, the car, all that — it’s what it costs to race.  There’s just not enough support I feel like in paying those guys and they just with the economy and everything it’s tough.  The middle class has just shrunk dramatically and dirt racing is just more affordable.  The tires are not as big of an issue.  The motors I think they have a better grip on, so we need to figure out on the local short track level how to contain the cost quite a bit.  Making guys run multiple races on tires or doing something with motor rules — something to try to get local short track racing back to what it was, because I know it’s tough.  The car counts are even struggling in the Virginia, North Carolina-area and that’s what you think is the heart of short track racing.  It’s just every track is struggling right now.  I can assure you if you have 30 Late Models show up, you’ll have fans in the stands, but it’s when you got 12 to 14 it’s tough to watch that race.  You’ll watch a Nationwide race at home instead.

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