Toyota Racing MENCS Bristol – Post Qualifying Report

Denny Hamlin Wins First Pole Award for Toyota in 2019
Hamlin one of four Camry drivers to start in the top 10 at Bristol Motor Speedway

BRISTOL, Tenn. (August 16, 2019) – Denny Hamlin captured his 31st career NASCAR Cup Series pole award at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday afternoon.

Toyota Racing Post-Qualifying Report
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Bristol Motor Speedway – August 16, 2019

American Muscle

2nd, Kyle Larson*
4th, Kurt Busch*
5th, Aric Almirola*
*non-Toyota driver


DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Qualifying Position: 1st

Based on practice, did you think you’d be able to get the pole, especially after seeing Kyle Larson’s lap?

“I didn’t know I beat (Kyle) Larson. I thought it was Martin (Truex Jr.). Perfect. Even better. I was wondering why he was giving me the finger when I pulled in. No, that’s awesome. We’re about to go up and watch this Xfinity race in the stands, so nice. I didn’t know what he ran. I knew we had a shot. The second practice especially, our car was really good and had good speed at the front of the run and end of the run. I was confident as long as the crew chief did his job and I did my job, we’d definitely have a chance.”

This is the first pole award for Toyota this year, what does that mean to you?

“Fortunately for us, qualifying doesn’t pay any money and it doesn’t pay any points. It really hasn’t weighed on us. I mean obviously with the aero package that we have, you can make your car on most tracks as fast or slow as you want to, but you have concerns about racing after that. We’ve really focused on making our cars race well and that’s where all the accolades come from. Sure, you want to win a pole. That’s obviously a big deal. If you don’t win a pole for your organization or a manufacturer or yourself in a year, it maybe shows a little lack of speed, but I certainly knew that we’ve had race-winning speed all year long. With the new qualifying format and all that, it’s not been our focus. It’s been the race. Certainly we knew short tracks would be an opportunity where we could get that done.”

You’ve been on a hot streak lately, what’s it say about this team right now?

“It’s just every track we go to. It’s the same. It’s fast. I’m driving it to the best of my ability and working hard at trying to get every ounce of speed out of it that I can. It’s just working. Everything’s just working right now really well. I don’t know what in particular happened. I don’t think anything really happened, but I know certainly that some of these race tracks are the ones that we’ve gone back to for a second time. A lot of people talk about hey, when we go back, we’ll be better, but I think results have shown every track we’ve gone back to, we’ve finished first or second. That means the crew chief is doing a really good job of listening to my comments after the races and making the car better.”

Have you gotten any more information on how the high line adjustments went and what’s your thought process on how much track’s need to communicate with drivers before you show up?

“I think the communication has been good. It’s been good on all fronts. We actually talked about this race track as well. We didn’t talk about the high line, but we did talk about the PJ1 application. I think it’s very important that they get information from the drivers because ultimately, we know what will put on the best race possible. We know Achilles heels of race tracks where hey, if we had this ability to go here, we could make more passes or if this was widened out or narrowed, we could put on a better race. I think the whole sport has done a great job of working together on that and I think you’ve seen since we’ve been doing that over the last month and a half or so, we’ve improved a lot of race tracks. Pocono was a prime example of that. Michigan. Both Michigan and Pocono I believe the passes were made by being set up on the outside and those are tracks that are primarily one lane, bottom feeding tracks. They’re really doing a good job of working with us. As far as the top lane here. They sent us a picture a few days ago of it. It looked like it was just washed. I’m not sure. I think that they maybe brushed it like they did in years past, which is – I’m not sure it’s not just cleaning it. It’s really kind of changing the surface a little bit. I think it’s digging the rubber out of the pores of the track and it’s almost like getting the top layer of your skin taken off. It’s more smooth. It changes the race track. I think it just caught some teams off guard, drivers off guard. Ultimately, you’ll still see a great race here that you’ve seen in years past. I think it’ll be top lane is going to be dominant. By race end, I think you’ll see it in the Xfinity race tonight. The top lane is going to come in. Especially in (Turns) 3 and 4 and you’re going to have to use the bottom to pass lap cars. I don’t think it’ll have any bearing on the race. I think it was more some drivers were like, whoa, what is this. They were caught off guard because we had been communicating so much over the last month and a half. I’ve been giving all the drivers so many updates on here’s what this track looks like and we didn’t really have that. It’s okay. It’s fine. Each track president or owner can do whatever they want. They could I guess put truck ramps out there if they want. We’re going to race no matter what race track we’ve got.”

Is the sport changing for drivers in that it’s more difficult now than it was in the past to get a ride even if you’re getting good performances.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’m so blessed in my situation, I’m probably the last person you should talk to about that. Results mattered and the thing is, when I came into the sport, there was five or six of us – me, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Reed Sorenson, JJ Yeley – it was essentially the top five in points from Xfinity all moved up to Cup in the same year and all in race-winning equipment. Those days are dead. You look at the sponsors that were on our cars back then and it was like, these are huge companies that were taking risks on unknown and relatively unproven drivers. It’s just not that landscape anymore. I think that the costs of racing has gone up since that point. Income had gone down since that point. Teams are having to make more business decisions than ever today, but certainly – listen I don’t want to talk too much about it because I thank my lucky stars every day that I have this company on my chest and they’re there for 38 weekends of the year. I don’t know. It just doesn’t happen anymore. To have the loyalty of a company like FedEx that has spoken openly about how the impact that they see sponsorship does from their race car, they see the value times 10. If that company believes in it, I believe other companies should probably look at how FedEx is doing it and apply the business model accordingly.”

MATT DIBENEDETTO, No. 95 Toyota Express Maintenance Toyota Camry, Leavine Family Racing

Qualifying Position: 7th

How good does it feel to have a strong qualifying effort after your news this week?

“It’s awesome. It’s rewarding. This is a track that we’ve had circled off anyways that we feel like we’re good at. Short tracks, road courses, ones where we can really hustle the car. It’s been good. It’s fun coming out and having good speed. I feel good about our car. I actually didn’t feel good about our qualifying lap. I’m glad we still ended up seventh because I, along with a lot of people, got really loose.”

Were you prepared for this only being a one-year deal or were you blindsided?

“I don’t want to say I was blindsided. I think I was just trying to be – let my performance behind the wheel do the talking and hope that that would prevail over everything, but sometimes performance isn’t everything. At the end of the day, I’ve said in all my interviews and stuff, the main thing I want everyone to know, fans especially and social media and stuff, is to be easy on our team and Toyota and (Joe) Gibbs and everything because they’re all still great people and they gave me this opportunity to go out do things like we just did today and have top fives and top 10s. I wouldn’t have been able to showcase that without them. I mean heck, I’m driving the JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), the 18 car at Road America next weekend. Obviously, they’re great people and I’m lucky to have the opportunity. I hate it’s coming to an end, but my entire career has been devastation at the time, but it’s always been a better door opening every single time since I was literally a kid. It’s been a tough journey, so I’m kind of accustomed to it and I try and look at it that way. The trend has been that.”

Have you been putting resumes out or has your phone been ringing?

“It’s going to have to be that time, unfortunately. I have no irons in the fire per say, yet, but this all just happened just this week. I keep everyone posted right on – when I find out something, I tell everybody. I just like to be an open book and I’ll keep everybody posted along the way. I don’t want to retire yet because I’m only 28 years old. Just getting started, but I want to win in the Cup Series. That’s what I’ve said and that’s my goal. I’m here to keep on climbing the ladder, not go backwards.”

Would you be open to driving in the Xfinity Series if there was a Joe Gibbs Racing car open?

I honestly lean heavily on some of my fellow drivers that I have a lot of respect for, for some advice if situations like that came up, but I don’t think there is that opportunity or as of now, there’s not. Not that I’m aware of. I’ve talked to the Toyota folks and stuff and I don’t foresee any opportunities within the camp, I don’t think. Just going to have to really pursue everything, but the main goal is to keep proving myself behind the wheel, which I’ve shown I’m here to win and run up front. I want to win in Cup, so whatever gets me there – you guys saw last year, I took a huge gamble. My career could have been over, but that’s just how dedicated I am to winning in the Cup Series. I’m not going to just be like oh, this is a job and this will pay the bills. I’d rather live in a box knowing I put it all out there versus just taking a job.”

What has it meant to receive all the support from your peers, former owners, etc.?

“A lot. Just more than they know. More I mean from drivers and owners, but a lot of drivers reached out to me this week that I have a lot of respect for. Guys like Kyle Busch, for example, but many of them reached out. That means more to me than they know, especially going through a situation where I’m having to be strong for myself, my family and my wife being a big ball of tears, so those things help for me to show her like hey, this is what we’ve proven and done and we’ve gained a lot of respect, so the journey is not over. We’re just going to open up a better door.”

ERIK JONES, No. 20 STANLEY Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Qualifying Position: 9th

Top-10 position, are you happy with it?

“No, I had pole-winning car and I messed it up. I got loose coming to the green and I got loose in my second lap between (Turns) 3 and 4 and I had plenty of speed on that lap to be on the pole. That’s frustrating. It’s a top-10 effort, which is fine, but definitely should’ve gotten the pole. Frustrating more so probably because it’s one of the last two shots we’ve got to get a pole this year. We aren’t fast in qualifying at the mile-and-a-halfs and such, so maybe Darlington next week, but that’s probably the most frustrating part for me.”

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