Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Daytona Media Day – February 14, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media in Daytona:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How crazy would it get if NASCAR put that in every race?
“Just your teammates or ‑‑”
Anybody, you could dial any number.
“I see where you’re going with this, but no, it would not be cool. No. That’s like giving ‑‑ being able to dial into someone else’s channel on the other side line of a football game to cuss them out or something. I don’t know, I think it’s your radio, your time.”
Would it be distracting?
“Sure, it would be distracting. Not only that, you’d also have interference. People would be just keying up on the mic just to screw up somebody else’s radio.”
How much has racing evolved or changed throughout your career?
“I think it’s evolved quite a bit. You look at old races from 10, 12 years ago ‑‑ I actually saw a highlight from like the 2008 or 2009 Clash, and I watched myself, I was in third, and I was like, okay, just move down here, and I just made the worst moves ever, and it ended up getting me crashed, when I really should have won the race. It’s crazy how much more knowledge you have now eight, nine years later than what you had in the past. Everyone has that knowledge. People look back at races, and they become smarter every time they race in a race or watch it back, and the drivers today would crush anyone 10 years ago in the same race.”
Who of the younger drivers do you see becoming the next big thing in NASCAR?
“It’s really tough to say who is the superstar. I think the superstar comes from whoever performs the best. I think that they become very popular because of success, and then fans are going to have to relate to them or like their personalities. I think everyone has likable personalities between all the young guys. I mean, some are more eccentric than others, but ultimately, if you don’t cut it on the racetrack, popularity and superstar status will only go so far.”
Could Chase Elliott or Bubba Wallace fit the fan popularity vote?
“Yeah, but so is Clint Bowyer. Clint has never been like the most popular guy. He’s a funny guy and people love him, but he’s a cut‑up, and I don’t know that he’s ever reached that superstar status. Like I say, everything has to happen just right. Usually you see the most popular drivers are guys like Chase, where they’re leading a legacy that preceded or followed before them.”
When you see somebody like Bubba who’s had some success on different levels, do you feel like that’s sort of a precursor to possibly having some success?
“Yeah, the one thing I’ll say about the young guys today is that they all earned their way. I mean, you look at ‑‑ I’m not going to give their résumé for them, but they won at the levels before they got to the Cup Series. Nobody is given anything. And even though some are inheriting a ride from a driver that is retiring, they’re all well‑deserving, and if I had to think of anyone in any other series that I would pick if that was my car and I had someone that I would pick to take over for me, the four or five guys that are coming in would be on that list of guys that I would want to take over for me. So they’ve earned their way. I think they’ve all got great talent, and obviously we’re going to see probably at least three or four of them in the playoffs this year contending on a regular basis.”
Why are specific guys winning plate races, like yourself, on a regular basis, looking beyond the car’s capabilities?
“I think me and Brad (Keselowski) have similar driving styles on the superspeedways in how they do things. I think there’s other things that make bold moves, and it looks good for a highlight reel, but it’s not always great for winning a race. And so I think there is a difference, and it just ‑‑ for whatever reason, our styles have morphed into kind of the same driver on these types of racetracks, and it’s really just ‑‑ for whatever reason, it’s made us successful.”
Is there an art to knowing when to make a move and kind of being able to assess a situation and saying, now is the time, now is not the time?
“Correct. I think that early in my career I always thought I had to be the one to go get out of line and make the move. Like I had to be the one that punches the hole, and now that’s not the case in the way that the pack works nowadays. It is very different, and it just took me, I mean, probably seven, eight years to really understand that.
I was as bad as they could get statistically on superspeedways for the first probably six years of my career. I was not very good. Now, I won the Clash or whatever in my rookie season, but that was more probably luck and push from a teammate than anything.”
Can you discuss the moves and performance in the Clash?
“It was kind of a perfect storm, and really, I thought that that move in particular was very similar to when me and (Kevin) Harvick got together on the final lap of the 2016 Daytona 500. He went from fourth to first, and I went from fourth to first. We kind of found a perfect storm there, and I think that that’s something that ‑‑ it was a learning experience for me, and it’s something I can file away and try to repeat once we get to Sunday.”
Even though you know that, how hard is it to replicate it?
“It’s impossible to replicate it. You have to just see that situation come up again and then put yourself back in the position to make that move. Literally you just can’t fabricate it. You have to see it happening in front, the hole opening for you to make the move, and then you have to place your car in the right spot to do it.”
What’s it like to be in that position?
“I mean, you almost want to key the radio and say, watch this, here it comes, because you can see it starting to build, and then obviously when we ‑‑ me and Chase (Elliott) linked together, it was crazy. It looked like our cars were faster than the entire field by twice the speed.”
Could you stay as sharp as you need to be running just Cup races?
“I think I’m okay running just Cup. I run a very limited Xfinity schedule. Three years ago, statistics said that every time I ran Xfinity, I was better on Sunday. I don’t know whether I really believe that, or is it just weird stats. But I prefer running just Sundays. I think that Saturdays can kind of take away a little bit from your time and your focus on Sunday. Just for me personally, that’s what works best for me. Other drivers I think it works best for them to get more laps and understand the track more on Saturday.”
Have you and Chase Elliott made up in the off‑season?
“I mean, we have talked very limited, but we chatted briefly after the Clash.”
Do you guys feel you’re even after Martinsville and Phoenix?
“I mean, we both had a negative result to the playoffs. We both had our races ruined by the other. Yeah, if you want to try to keep score, then sure.”
Will you race tomorrow night with the idea of sort of protecting your race car, starting position?
“I don’t know. I don’t know what the right thing to do tomorrow. I mean, there are points at stake. We won last year in the Duel, and we got 10 points. It’s good to start the year with 10 points before the 500 even starts. I think I have to try to win the race, but if I catch myself in a tough spot in the middle, three wide with three to go, I’ve got to try to get out of it. It’s not worth five points and then getting a wreck and taking away our best car.”
Is there still stuff to learn about how to pass for Sunday?
“Yeah, there’s a ton to learn. That’s what I’m most looking forward to is still ‑‑ to me I have to get out there and practice to learn more. I’ve never had the approach of ‑‑ like Jimmie (Johnson) and Chad (Knaus) had from so many years of just running by themselves and then able to go into a race and run. I need repetitions to be better. I need as many laps on the racetrack in different situations to try to find those special moments that I was talking about with does continue to try to replicate those moments. I just need more information in my head to kind of log that and more on‑track time helps that.”
Do you literally see that moment forming with three laps ahead at this track?
“Usually to me it starts probably 15 seconds ahead of when the move actually happens. That’s when I can typically see it. But you can start to see little signs of those special moments a lap or two ahead.”
Are there any similarities with what you see on an interstate, on a highway when you see one lane is going better than another? Any similarities?
“Yeah, I mean, it’s so funny when you watch people on the highway, right, one lane moves, and then people dart over to that lane, and they don’t realize, well, that lane is about to stop, and your lane is about to go. It’s always a balance, and so ‑‑ yeah, I mean, if you look far enough ahead, you can try to plan better and make the better move, but like I say, none of us have perfected it. There’s just some that have figured out ‑‑ that can see things a little different than others.”
Is plate racing something you feel like you’ve really worked on to get to this point? Is it natural ability?
“I’ve worked on it a lot. I’ve really spent a lot of time working on it, watching a lot of film, looking at data, and TRD gives us a lot of great analytics when it comes to these things. I just use all the information at hand to try to be better. I mean, it’s not easy trying to compete with these guys, and so you try to find every edge that you can, and I work within all the margins.”
Does it go beyond just saying ‘I’m good at plate tracks?’
“Yeah, you just can’t do that nowadays, especially with the plate races being in the playoffs. You have to be good at every type of racetrack. Now you can’t even throw the road course races away. We used to ‑‑ I know personally within our organization and myself personally, I never ‑‑ championships don’t run through road courses, so why should I focus extra effort on those. You know, we’ve been super successful on the road courses over the last few years, and that gives me encouragement now that they’ve moved one into the playoffs. I think now as a race car driver you have to be good every single place ‑‑ well, not just good, you have to be great at every racetrack to be a champion.”
What do you make of just 40 cars? Are you alarmed by that? Does it bother you?
“You know, I’m not really alarmed because really with the way the charter system was mapped out a long time ago, they’re going to reward guys that show in week in and week out, so it’s less lucrative for those that just show up and try to make the Daytona 500 to earn a paycheck. The ones that you have racing in this race is going to be guys that you’ll see on a weekly basis, and I really have no problem with that.”
Are you on the Drivers’ Council?
“I am not.”
What will that be like? It’s always been very important.
“Yeah, I think that there’s issues that I like to have a voice on, but I still have that voice internally with NASCAR and still get invited to plenty of private meetings with them on issues. Not a whole lot will change as far as my role.”
You’ll still be heard?