Toyota NSCS Talladega Notes & Quotes – Denny Hamlin

TOYOTA NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS)
Denny Hamlin — Notes & Quotes
Talladega Superspeedway – May 3, 2013

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How did it feel to be back in the car in practice today?
“Obviously it’s really good to get back and run some speed and get somewhat adrenaline pumping again.  I’m thankful for everything Brian (Vickers) has done over these last four weeks and what he’s going to do this weekend.  We appreciate that and FedEx for sticking through it with us and obviously showing us a lot of support.  So, it’s definitely good to be back in a car and really just starting with hopefully what will be a good run in these next 17 weeks.”

Is it physically painful to be in the car on the race track?
“No, there’s no discomfort inside the car at all.  Really, for me, the most discomfort I have is getting out of the car.  That’s why we’re choosing to go through the roof versus the window.  It’s much easier on me, and really any kind of twisting we can keep out of myself will be good.  Really, inside the race car I feel just like I did six, seven weeks ago.  Excited about this weekend and finally getting back going again.”

American Muscle

Was it hard physically to get out of the race car?
“No, it took us one minute and six seconds twice in a row, so I think that we’re going to be plenty good if a caution comes out to come out and preserve a lap.”

What did you need to do to get approval this week?
“It’s a process.  Obviously any time you come back from major injury it’s a process.  We had an amazing group of doctors that looked my scans over, saw me in person and obviously it wasn’t a full consensus for Richmond, so we decided to err on the safe side.  And, knowing basically what we were going to do this weekend was going to be the equivalent of a quarterback basically hiking the ball and taking a knee we were going to very much minimize our risks this weekend of reinjuring ourselves, which gives us one more week to then heal.  We’re going to rescan next week and obviously just make sure everything is still intact and everything is where it needs to be.”

What kind of emotions have you experienced during this injury?
“As far as the emotions, it’s part of it.  I fought with the emotions really hard at Martinsville.  They subsided a little bit each week that went by.  What I’m most excited about is what challenge is ahead of us.  We’re going to have to make a big, big run these next 17 weeks if we’re going to be part of the postseason.  I’m excited about the challenge.  I think that our Chase has got to start right now.  We’ve got to perform each week like it is a Chase race and do everything that we can to get wins, because if we don’t win it really doesn’t matter.  We’ve got some great tracks ahead of us.  That part of it is exciting. Obviously, I felt pretty confident that I was going to be in at Talladega even though the official clearing did not happen until later in the week.  I was fairly confident, but obviously you never know if the doctors change their minds.  We felt pretty confident.”

Are you concerned there may be an early accident that you could get involved in?
“As far as the first lap, early-on wreck it definitely can happen.  We’ve seen it here at this race track on lap one and we’ve seen it on the last lap.  I’m obviously going to put myself in what I believe is a safe position.  Obviously you can’t help things like blown tires or whatever that could possibly happen, but like I said I think the equivalency of our risks this weekend will be taking a knee.”

What have you learned more about your strengths and weaknesses through this injury?
“There’s a lot of things that I’ve identified as my weaknesses more so that have to do with the competition side.  I understand what makes me a race car driver because I’ve been so determined to get back in the car win, lose or draw no matter what the circumstances or the repercussions might be.  Obviously I’ve had a lot of great people around me that have protected my best interests.  Really, if this was the old NASCAR, if this was the 80s or 90s I would’ve been racing at Martinsville.  But NASCAR has put in place some great people with their medical staff and they insured that my quality of life is not in danger when I get on the race track.  I thank them for that and obviously the format in which we have to make the Chase I’m grateful that that’s still an option.  If this was the old system we would be long out of it.  So, there’s a lot of good things happening that give me a lot of optimism.  But, as far as the on-track strengths and weaknesses, I’ve identified those and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) knows about them.  And, I’ve told him about things that I think we need to work on whether it be team or pit stops or any of that stuff I’ve got a lot better perspective of and feel like we’re going to be stronger now out of this.”

Are you definitely getting out of the car on Sunday?
“Yeah, I would say that’s probably the most — there’s going to be a caution at some point and I’d like to get out to just insure myself of one more week of healing versus trying to come back in the middle of round six.”

Does today feel like Christmas morning?
“Yes, for sure.  Last night was — I am the most unenthusiastic person when it comes to superspeedway practice, racing much less practicing — but last night it was tough to sleep knowing that I was going to get back in the car for the first time.  It is — this is an exciting time and obviously if it wasn’t for my crew chief (Darian Grubb), I would’ve stayed out there until I ran out of gas.  It still — it’s exciting for me.  The excitement will really be big when we get to Darlington next week and we’re able to participate in all full activities — which I can now.  I am just choosing not to in the race.  When I get back in the flow of normal racing and working on handling and setup — here it’s just about driver comfort and making sure every nut and bolt on the car is tight.  That’s pretty much what speedway racing is right now.”

Why couldn’t you sleep if you knew you weren’t going to run the entire race?
“I just wanted to feel speed again.  We’re competitors and when you see the people on TV and other sports fighting through injuries to get back on the field or the court we feel that same thing.  We have alligator blood.  I don’t know what to say.  It’s just we’re a different breed that are willing to throw caution to the wind just to get back to what we love doing.”

Is there any risk that you could have a career-ending injury in an accident?
“I have to be careful with the answer of this.  There’s going to be risks.  There is risk.  There is risk until — I don’t know the exact science and no one knows the exact percentages.  Nobody knows and that’s what makes this really, really hard.  With bone healing, it doesn’t matter if you break your arm, you break your leg or whatever, a bone takes a year to heal.  That’s realistic.  But, as far as I’ve been told and I understand it would take such a significant hit that you probably would be injured from it even if you were 100 percent healthy as far as I understand.  So, it’s very hard.  I’ve got to let the doctors speak for that a little bit more than me because I don’t know the risks exactly and neither do they.  We’re just trying to buy myself another week obviously until Darlington, but the risk is so minimal that it’s almost not even there.”

Do you feel like you will have to be more careful in the race car with your injury?
“Not really.  When I was in the car in practice you would think when you’re coming back — I know with my ACL I was cognizant the first time I actually went running again for the first time.  Just trying to be — I was scared of it.  This is a little bit different because my symptoms from this went away after one week.  I felt no back pain in the fractured area.  For me, I’m only being limited on what I do — the twisting, the jumping, the running, all of that — just because I’m told to and not because I’m scared or fearful of it.  It never even crossed my mind in the car so I think it’s really a non-issue going forward.”

Did NASCAR approve you to return to the car?
“I will say it’s not really NASCAR.  None of this was NASCAR not approving me.  They relied on their medical staff.  They relied then on my medical staff to give us clearance.  Obviously, they’re the ones that see me each and every day, so they’re hands on with me.  NASCAR has put in a place their medical liaison staff to help with the clearing process.  All they do is once they get the okay from the doctors, your personal physician, that’s when you’re cleared.  They don’t really have a say so yes or no.  The only thing that is different is that you’re either cleared 100 percent or you’re not.  There is no clear with a contingency, so they make sure all their drivers are safe.”

Has the team developed a plan to get above 20th in points?
“There is a formula.  What it is, we don’t know.  We are going to start collecting points one week sooner than what we originally thought.  Last year when we tried to — when this happened and we started figuring things out of missing five points races, if we just did what we did last year we would make it.  But nothing is a given.  As much as I like to say that I’m going to win two, three, four races before the Chase and we’ve done it numerous years, it’s no given.  We have to just treat it like it’s the last chance.  It’s game seven every single week for the next 17 weeks realistically for us.  We know realistically if we win two races, I’m going to find it very hard to believe that we won’t be part of the Chase.  I don’t think anyone that has won two has not made it, so usually if you’ve won two you’re running pretty well and more than likely that will put us in the top- 20 unless we have catastrophic failures — that’s also part of the equation that we can’t afford right now.”

Will you be more aggressive in an attempt to win to make the Chase?
“Yes, I think that we will be more aggressive.  I think getting to 20th in 17 weeks, we can probably do that.  It’s just a matter whether we can win the races or not.  Luckily, our team cars are running really, really well right now, so that’s very uplifting. We’re in a good spot.  We’ve just got to capitalize when we’re in those race winning situations late in races.  We’ve got to finish the deal.”

Why are you getting rescanned next week?
“It was scheduled.  It’s been on the schedule.  I mentioned even through media that after Talladega we were going to get scanned once again.  Basically, I was very much on the edge of being 100 percent cleared by Richmond and we knew — my thing was that is there any chance of regression at all?  Is there any chance that for some reason bone growth is stopped, healing is stopped and from what I understand that’s not the case.  The reason we are getting rescanned again — and we’re going to keep on doing it really throughout the year — it’s just to make sure healing is still going on, everything is still in place and aligned, so it was a scheduled scan.  The chance of us getting rescanned and it coming up negative to where we can’t race is little to zero.  Like I said, it would have to mean that I regressed, which is almost impossible when you have a wound.”

Was Joe Gibbs part of the decision that you could return to the car today?
“He (Joe Gibbs, team owner) wasn’t — I wouldn’t say he was a part of the decision.  He was part of the discussion.  One thing that as a driver you are always kind of worried about your ride and making sure you still have a seat, but he made it very clear that this year doesn’t matter to him.  It’s down the line that he’s wanting to make sure he had his driver, so he was going to err on the side of caution.  Whatever the most conservative doctor was, he was erring on that guy’s side.  Once we were approved, he was game for it and obviously as far as deciding when I get out it will be my decision, ultimately.  If I don’t get unbuckled, then I don’t get unbuckled.  I don’t want to run a race similar to like I did here in the fall just kind of sitting in the back, just waiting on the big wreck and then driving around it.  I’d rather give my team an honest shot at a win by putting Brian (Vickers) in and letting him go up there and be aggressive because you’re not going to win these races without being aggressive and I don’t want to be aggressive right now.”

Have you practiced the driver swap with Brian Vickers?
“I think it’s three minutes or high twos or something like that that you will lose a lap.  But it took us right at one minute every time that we rehearsed it, so we’re going to be plenty fine there.  Everything is pretty seamless.”

What are you doing in rehab?
“You know, it really hasn’t been too bad.  A lot of it is the same stuff that I was doing before.  It’s working on your core strength.  Just working on your hamstring.  Everything that supports the back is what we’ve been working on, so really my rehab has been basically workout sessions.  Not anything unordinary you wouldn’t see at a normal gym.  Been working a little bit on — they have this traction machine that kind of works on your spine.  I’ve been on that.  I’ve been on a bone stimulator every day, so there’s a lot of little gadgets and whatnot that I’ve been on, but it’s been pretty easy.”

What is a bone stimulator?
“I don’t know.  I think it’s some voodoo machine.  I don’t even know if it works.  It’s weird.  I don’t know.”

Why did you stay in the car for the entire race at Phoenix after you had knee surgery?
“I felt like I had put my team in a very bad spot by getting hurt outside of racing.  I was playing basketball, doing things, being more aggressive than I should have and I put them in a bad spot, so I stayed in to tell them basically that I was sorry and I was going to do whatever I could for them.  I was trying to make it up to them that we — I made a mistake and I’ll make up for it.  We did go two laps down in that race because of battery issues or something like that, but I don’t know.  There was no risk of — what damage was done there was done and I had to just move on from there, but it was more for the team than anything.”

Did it hurt to race after knee surgery?
“Very badly.  That hurt worse than what this does in the race car.  Obviously, when I did fracture my spine and hit the wall, that was obviously the most hurt I’ve ever been as far as pain.  But in the race car literally I have no idea that I have any pain inside.”

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