Toyota NSCS Darlington Notes & Quotes – Denny Hamlin

TOYOTA NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS)
Denny Hamlin — Notes & Quotes
Darlington Raceway – May 10, 2013

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 SportClips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How was the first practice today at Darlington?
“It was good.  Obviously it takes a little while to get the rust kind of knocked off, but I feel very comfortable and excited to kind of get back to the competitive spirit again.”

Do you have any plans for Saturday’s race?
“No, I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ll go the whole way.  I stayed in the car for about an hour and a half straight with no issues during practice.  Nothing was uncomfortable, nothing hurt or nothing was sore, so I’m pretty comfortable I can make it the three or three and a half hours that it’s going to take to run the race.”

American Muscle

What will you do to make the top-20 in points?
“Maybe try harder — I don’t know — spend a little bit more time debriefing, be a little bit more observant.  Really, probably treat these next 16 weeks or so — whatever we have until the Chase — as if it’s a Chase race.  I know during the Chase we typically spend a little bit more time talking about our cars in our debriefs and we spend a little bit more time together.  Not that we discredit the regular season, but that’s really the go time.  That’s when you’ve really got to perform and you’ve got to be on top of your game.  In the situation that we’re in, we’re going to have to do that for a substantial amount of weeks in a row.  So, we’re going to have that approach.  I’m really — starting this weekend, our communication — coming into the hauler a couple of hours before practice to talk about what kind of things we can do, get a game plan together.  During the regular season that time is probably a half hour, so it’s just spend a little bit more time being a little bit more focused.”

What challenges will you face running your first full race since the injury?
“It will be a challenge because this is one of the toughest, physically challenging races that we have — not only by distance, but the amount of mental focus that you have to have during this race is tough because obviously we know you’re running right next to the wall and the margin for error is zero.  So, it is.  That was the one thing that I was actually worried about the most thinking about it last night was that, ‘Is my stamina going to be enough to make it?’  I’ll be able to make it physically, but it’s a matter of whether I can keep my mind engaged through whatever maybe physical pains I have towards the end to keep our finishes good and obviously have a chance to win.  Until we get to the end of the race, I don’t know, but I know running the hour and a half straight practice was a good test for me and I really at the end of it felt no worse for the wear.  So, I think that if I can make it past this one — the whole race, have a good finish, maintain focus all the way through — then I’ll definitely be fine for the rest of the year.”

Did practice adequately prepare you for your first race back?
“Yeah, we’re out there by ourselves and we’re not in traffic and things like that, so I don’t know until we get out there.  I feel like I’m sharp with everything.  I’m not terribly far off on speed, so I think that really we’re just picking up right where we left off hopefully.  I don’t think that — if I hold back the team hopefully it will be just for a little while and I’ll make it up for them later.”

Are you optimistic that you can get into the top-20 before the Chase?
“I love the challenge.  I mean, really for me the less realistic it is the bigger challenge that it is for me, so I actually don’t mind — I would hate, as bad as it sounds, Brian (Vickers) goes out there and he wins or he finishes top-five last week, it’s well, ‘You’ve got an extra race for free with a lot of points that you didn’t necessarily earn yourself.’  We didn’t get that much last week so it’s going to be all on my shoulders to make the run towards the Chase.  We fell back an additional three spots last week in the points so we have a huge, huge hole that we’ve got to dig out of, but there’s nothing that wins can’t fix. That’s the bottom line.  If we put ourselves in position and win a race here and there, more than likely if we win a couple of races then we’re going to be top-20 in points I would think.  Especially what we’ve got ahead of us.  I think we’re about two races out of 20th now.  We could do it over a 16 race span.  It’s just you’ve got to have things go your way.  That’s the bottom line to it.  A lot of this sport is based on luck and we’re going to need some.”

What did you doctors say following your most recent scan?
“Everything looks really good.  Surprisingly, in the 12 days that I had in between scans — I think it was about 12 days — it was dramatic.  It almost healed twice as much in those 12 days as it did in the first 30 days.  I mean, it was a dramatic change, so I think we’re on the tail end of it now for the  most part and had it not made that huge stride again, I probably would have not ran the All-Star Race and turned it over to probably Brian (Vickers) or what have you.  But, I think we’re safe enough now to where we can — I can take a few jabs here and there.”

What was your impression of Jeff Gordon when you were a kid?
“I always liked it when he got wrecked.  I don’t know — I wasn’t a huge Jeff Gordon fan growing up, although I did show him my mom signed me up for the Jeff Gordon fan club in 1994 I think it was.  So, I’ve still got my Jeff Gordon fan club membership card.  He said he would renew it for me no charge if I wanted.  Nah, my biggest thing thinking back was when Rusty (Wallace) and him wrecked each other in turn two.  I just remember in the stands every time he got wrecked everyone was so happy and I never understood that — why everyone was so happy.  More than likely, they were Dale Earnhardt fans or whatever back then.  He’s (Jeff Gordon) obviously changed this sport dramatically.  He’s — honestly a lot of the reason we’re getting paid what we are right now is because of Jeff Gordon.  I think that he’s kind of brought that whole new hospitality, entertaining the sponsors, bringing new sponsors in, looking for the young guys.  He really opened up the door for a lot of us drivers that got here.  Like him or not, he’s changed our sport for the better over those 700 starts.”

Have you had back pain in the past?
“Yeah, the last couple years I’ve had pain throughout the races all the time and a lot of drivers will tell you that a lot of us feeling the edge inside of our race cars through our posterior.  That’s how we feel the edge and so when that is hurt and that is compromised, you don’t feel the edge as good as what you would normally.  I know I feel pretty good right now, actually, and so I’m hoping that I’m able to give better feedback, I’m able to feel that edge a little bit more and knowing that what I’m doing to try to get better overall and the big picture will hopefully improve my performance because really we have to be healthy in our mid-section to really feel the race car.  And if you have to tense up all the time to help with pain, you’re not doing yourself any favors as a driver, so I think that continue to get better in that area.”

Is there a rooftop hatch in your car this week?
“Nope.  I don’t even think you’re along to run them on smaller tracks.”

Are you surprised Ryan Newman was not fined for his comments in Talladega?
“Not really.  A lot of what me and Brian (France, NASCAR chairman) talked about in Las Vegas in our meeting was — he said, ‘Say whatever you want to about me.  When we leave here, it’s just about the car and it’s about the racing.’  He said, ‘criticize the officiating all you want,’ which is something that other sports don’t allow, but it’s just — you can’t talk about the football or the basketball, that itself.  It’s different, so I wasn’t surprised at all and a lot of people mentioned to me on Twitter about, ‘I bet Denny’s mad he (Ryan Newman) didn’t get fined.’  I’m okay with it.  I think that they, in my opinion, they realized they kind of took it a little too far in my penalty, so you can’t just have a makeup call here in the game.  I think that they’ve loosed up the reigns and realized that drivers are in the heat of the moment and Ryan just had a car flip right on top of him, so he’s mad for a lot of reasons, so I don’t think a penalty was warranted for Ryan.  I think he got one years ago for probably something close to that, but they’ve said they’ve loosed up the reigns and obviously they have.”

How important was the appeals panel decision for Joe Gibbs Racing?
“It was a huge impact for our team because it put a guy with at the time one win — he really had two — but it took a Wild Card spot and now opened another one up.  It now put him solidly inside the top-10, so that was big.  Honestly, until I win races, I’ve got to root on all the front runners to win.  We need to keep guys like Jeff (Gordon) back there from winning for the next few weeks at least until the Chase starts to not occupy Chase spots.  So it was big for us because Matt (Kenseth) has had a win on record and he was outside the top-10, so that was a big — the rescinding really helped us a ton also.”

While your mindset be different for the All-Star Race because of your back?
“No, I want to win, so I’m going to do everything I can and be as aggressive as I would any other race.  Usually in the All- Star Race, the closer up front you are the less out of trouble you are, so I’m going to try to do everything I can to be up front and if not it will just be a good test session weekend.  Really if I didn’t feel like I was going to be 100 percent and be able to go for it with a lot of confidence then I wouldn’t run it, but I was very encouraged after looking at the last scan that the progress that I’ve made that they were comfortable that I could take a hit here or there.”

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