Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day
LAS VEGAS (September 12, 2019) – Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to media at Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day.
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
You went from no wins last season to four this year. How does that change your mindset going into the Playoffs?
“It certainly puts in a better position. When you think about how our championship is won, it’s based on going out there in the regular season, building yourself a buffer through performance, and getting to Homestead. It’s all about a one-race shootout after that. We are certainly in a better position now than we have ever been as far as trying to get to Homestead. That was our goal at the beginning of the year – to get to Homestead. We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We are going to play this week-by-week. We are not looking forward to Richmond next week or the Roval the week after. It’s all in on Vegas this week and trying to figure out what we can do to win this week. We’ve got the performance to do it right now.”
Is that a new mindset for you?
I don’t know if it’s a different approach, but certainly more confidence knowing the performance we are having right now and the way that I’m driving right now. All of that is really working well. It’s equaling a lot of great on-track performance. Certainly, if we can come out of this race with a clean race, finish well. We now go into one of my best race tracks knowing we could pad – if not lock ourselves in – just two races in. I’m just focused on Vegas. I cannot wait to get inside the car, just the way we have been running lately, it has been a joy to know that you have had race winning speed. Certainly, my mindset is different than some of the guys out there that have either limped into the Playoffs or have had struggles or wrecks – and we have had our fair share, but I feel like we are on high right now and I want to continue that momentum.”
Do you look at this as one of your best shots because this is the last year, we will end the season at Homestead?
“I don’t know. The consolation prize is that we get to go to ISM, which is a short track, next year. It’s a track that I equally feel that we have been super strong the last few years even with the reconfiguration. Certainly, Homestead has been a really good race track for me over the year’s past. We have won there a couple times. Nothing guarantees success. This is a completely different car. My guess is you are going to be driving the track completely different than you have in years past, so you are going to be going there for the first time. We’re going to pretend that we haven’t had any success there. That’s been our mentality at every race track – improving ourselves every week.”
How do you feel when people put you in the group as one of the best drivers to never win a title?
“I mean, honestly, I’m comfortable in my own skin as far as that’s concerned. I think the way that a champion has been crowned has changed so much within our series over the last 14 years that I have been a part of it. Some of the greatest drivers that are currently still running have only won it one time. It’s such a crapshoot when it comes down to a one race, winner take all type format. I’m okay with the outcome.”
How much confidence do you have going into this stretch of the season?
“It’s been good. We’ve been running as good as we ever have right in this moment. I just see any weaknesses that we necessarily have right now. We are performing well in all aspects of our race team. You just hope that the things you can control, you control well. If you do that, we will be fine.”
What would it mean to hoist the trophy?
“For us to win it, everything we have worked for and have executed and worked tirelessly for has come true. It would show that hard work does pay off. I think that is the most important thing. Certainly, from being a small kid, that is all I have ever wanted to do was to be a NASCAR driver and for you to win the most prestigious award in NASCAR would mean that all the hard work that you have done has paid off.”
Do you feel like this is your best chance?
“No doubt. It’s definitely our best chance heading into the Playoffs. It remains to be seen if it is our best chance when we get to Homestead or not. If we get to Homestead, it will be as an equal chance as we had in 2010. It will be as an equal chance as we had in 2014. But as we enter the Playoffs, certainly it’s our best chance because we already have a 30-point head start on the guys near the cutoff line. Certainly, what you talked about with on track performance, we are not searching for speed, we are not searching for anything right now. As long as we execute, we contend for wins every week and that is something that only a handful or less can say every week.”
Does 2010 and 2014 hang over you?
“No, they do not hang over me. 2010, maybe a little bit more, because I didn’t do my best job in 2010. In 2014, I thought I did the best I could. I led the race inside 10 laps to go, and a lap car or someone way down crashes, and Harvick pits, takes tires and wins the championship. That race I felt like I did everything I could. We weren’t super-fast in 2014. We hadn’t won nearly as many races. Harvick was the most dominate and fastest car that whole season, and we showed up at Homestead and was legit. We ran with him and outran him for a lot of that race and circumstances didn’t work in our favor and we lost. I took way more solace in 2014 than I did in 2010, where there was no reason to kind of lose in 2010. I just got too excited in the moment. I remember when it all started on qualifying day. Watching a couple guys run up high in qualifying and be fast. I’m like, I didn’t practice up there, I need to run up there and I got in the wall and started in the rear and caught up in a three-wide wreck early. That was on the driver, not anyone else in 2010. Since then, I feel like I have gotten better in realizing my surroundings and realizing when I need to push it, when I need to trust in myself to do the right thing.”
You have had a long-standing relationship with FedEx. Have you seen any additional excitement with them this season with all of your on-track success?
“I mean just the texts I get from them every week, and I talk to a lot of executives every week. They are always excited. They are always like this is our year, this is our year, this is our year. I always try to temper expectations. You just never know what can happen. Certainly, I know if that we control our own destiny on performance, we are going to be fine and have a chance. I would love to get a championship for them because they have been so loyal to myself and NASCAR in general over the last 15 years. So, if any sponsor deserves it, they do.”
Is it wrong to say that you seem calmer and more confident this year?
“No, it’s definitely truth and it’s definitely fact that I am calmer and more confident because I have learned to let go of the things that I can’t control. A lot of that has come through self-improvement. I have done a lot of reading, which I wouldn’t consider myself a reader. I didn’t read a book, I guarantee you, from whenever I had to in high school till, I turned 38 this year. I just started reading over the last three or four months. I started learning and trying to be a better person in general. I have learned to really let go of things I can’t control. It has really allowed me to think about the process more. I think it really has helped with my on-track performances. Thinking through the processes more and not focusing on and worrying about the things that I specifically can’t control.”
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