Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
NASCAR Cup Series Quotes
KANSAS CITY (October 15, 2020) – Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to media via videoconference in advance of the race at the Kansas Speedway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Looking at this round, besides you and Kevin Harvick, is there a driver that you look at that if they make the Final Four, you will be in trouble in Phoenix?
“Not really. I think we can beat anyone any given week, but no, nobody in particular that I’m really worried about. As long as we execute the way we know how, it really doesn’t matter if you pick the four strongest drivers at Phoenix – or the three other strongest drivers – it wouldn’t make a difference. We think it’s going to take a win to do it, and to win, you have to beat everyone, so there is not anyone in particular that I’m particularly scared about.”
You’ve competed against Clint Bowyer forever. What is his legacy in the sport?
“We came into the sport at the same time. I think he was maybe in the Xfinity Series one year before I was. I think, but we came in as rookies together in ’06, us and Martin Truex, and other guys. It was fun. It was fun competing with him. We had some on track battles, some things like that. Really, our families kind of grew up somewhat at the same time, because we had kids around the same time, so there has always been a bond there. I think that certainly he was a great ambassador for our sport. He’s very outgoing. He’s very outspoken. Certainly, think that he’s going to carry on that in the TV world and be a contributor for our sport – be an asset for it – going into the future.”
In 2018, what kind of discussions and questions did you ask at the end of the season? Do you think Kyle (Busch) is going to have those same questions?
“I think that each team is different and independent in their own kind of way. It’s different because we didn’t win the championship in ’17 and have a season like he’s having in ’18 or what we had in ’18. So, it’s a little bit different, but I think it kind of depends on chemistry and things like that but I think certainly at any moment – there’s not one driver out there that doesn’t think that Kyle can win any given week, no matter what the circumstances or what’s going on. There’s probably not one driver that doesn’t think that the driver/crew chief combination isn’t good. I think that sometimes you just have off years. That’s just part of major sports. You have off years, and it happens. It’s just one of those years that they got a lot of bad breaks within the 18 team.”
Can you accept that you are just having an off year as an athlete?
“No, it’s not acceptable. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s just hey, we’ll chalk it up because everyone has these. No, you have to look at yourself, and every person on the team. You have to find all your faults. You have to figure out where you can be better as a driver, where can you be better as a leader, where you can be better as a team. So, no. It’s not that it’s just part of it. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of work going on and a lot of analyzing going on figuring out why the results have been what they have been. It’s not all just luck. Luck is just a stupid word in racing. You’ve got to analyze and figure out where your deficits are and go to work on them, and then sometimes, it’s how you respond that makes you a great leader or not. It’s how do you respond to it when you do have a tough year or a tough week or a tough race. The response is the most important part, not necessarily the immediate result.”
In 2010, you and Jimmie Johnson traded the top spot many times. Did you ever think that this was your year and that you had him?
“I would say I really felt good about where we were in 2010. It was probably after Texas, where I thought we were really good. I think we won that race and retook the point lead, and then kind of going into Phoenix, which had kind of been in my wheelhouse for a while at that point, and Homestead had always been good for us as well. I think we had won in 2009, so you go into these last two races thinking, not that we’ve got them, but that we’re in a better position than probably anyone has been in the last five years. That’s what ultimately made me as disappointed as Phoenix did. When I go out and do my job and dominate like I’m supposed to do and then have the fuel problem that we had. You finally had the bull by the horns, or you had them, and you let them out. That was the difficult part for me. Not necessarily his intimidation factor on me; it was the fact that we didn’t close it. That’s what threw me off more than anything. So, I go into Homestead, and I’m like I’ve got to push. I need to get this back, and we are head-to-head, so I’m going to go after him and beat him and it just found me pushing too much, especially early in that race. I don’t know that Jimmie, from my stand point, has ever been that intimidating, but you just know that you cannot give someone that is that great any opportunity or window or he will pounce, and that team will pounce, and that’s what they did.”
How did you respond when your team had a bad year? How much did you put into it?
“A lot. A lot of work. I think through my whole career, I’ve always been a hard worker on trying to get better. I think that as you get older and even through statistics obviously show that I’m in my prime right now, you still have to work really hard to – the group of talent coming up always seems like it keeps getting better. No matter what the sport. They start earlier. They have more information, more technology than you had when you were growing up. So, it’s like you started late. You have to work really hard at it. I know in 2018, in particular, I couldn’t figure out well why were we qualifying well, if our racing was so bad. How can I do it for one lap but can’t do it for lap after lap. Just started analyzing those things, figuring out my restarts and how can I get better on those, and it’s just every little margin that you can find as a driver to get an advantage, you have to try to go after. It takes a lot of work to do that. You have to go through a lot of data, a lot of film to make it happen, but that’s just the way the world is now-a-days. If you want to perform at a top level, you have to do it. Natural talent only takes you so far. You have to put in a lot of work to be at the top of your profession. It took me later in my career to learn that, and I think I started seeing results from it.”
Can you talk about what kind of impact your crew chief, Chris Gabehart, made?
“I think he deserves some credit when it comes to that. It didn’t happen all on my own. I didn’t right the ship on my own. I gave Chris a lot of rope to do things the way he wanted to do them and try not to implement. A lot of people would always say well, he appreciates me being in the sport for 12-13 years saying okay you are the rookie crew chief. I’m not going to sit here and tell you what you need to do or how we should do this. You are the crew chief. They put you in this position for a reason. My job is to drive. I’ll give you all the information that you need or that you ask me of, and I’ll run the plays that you tell me to run. You are the coach. I’m the quarterback, and what he says that he appreciates that if he told me that we’re going to come in and put caster wheels on the roof, we are going to flip the car upside down and I need you to run two laps upside down, I would just do it because there’s a reason for it. He’s the coach. He’s telling me to run the play. I run the play. You’ve got to trust your crew chief to do the job that he’s there for. I think that’s why our relationship has worked really, really well right from the beginning is I never questioned him. He didn’t question why are you driving this way or that way. He just said I’m going to make the car go faster the way you drive. I’m not going to change that, so let’s make these cars work for you.”
You are going for three in a row in Kansas. What has been so good for you in Kansas?
“I think it kind of started last year. I don’t know. Kansas has not always been my strongest suit. I was terrified of Kansas probably a few years ago, but I showed up to Playoff race there last year and my car was just absolutely incredible how well it was handling, how good it was. I remember I started mid-pack, maybe in the 20s, and just drove to the front and dominated the day. From that point on, once I create that good database for Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) to work off of it seems like when we go back to the track, he’s made the proper adjustments for weather and conditions and things like that, car changes. He’s dialed in. Hopefully I have another really good handling car like I’ve had in the last few races. If so, I know it’s an important one for us. We could go the next two weeks and really shift our focus from Texas and Martinsville to putting all of our resources towards Phoenix, and that would certainly be a benefit for whoever locks in right off the bat.”
How unfortunate would it be for a Round of 8 driver to report a positive COVID test?
“It would be super unfortunate. I can tell you that. I think that all of the protocols that NASCAR has put in place has been pretty good. I think you saw in the NBA and the bubble that they had, they didn’t have any positive tests, which is amazing. I certainly think that as a driver, you always put your health first. You’ve got to put your health first but certainly the stakes are high at this part of the season and you just have to be extra careful with what you put yourself around and the positions that you put yourself in, socially distancing yourself from people you’re not normally around, because it can happen to anyone. We’ve seen that in other sports, but we’ve also seen other sports be successful in it. It would be devastating to say the least.”
Jimmie Johnson said that he thinks NASCAR should require two tests in a row when they get the initial positive. Do you agree?
“Yeah, I certainly think that his was a unique circumstance. I think there were a lot of questions about whether it was a false positive or not. There’s been false positives out there. We all know that, so certainly, yeah, you would like to see if you do have a positive a consecutive test to see if it is correct. I don’t know a whole lot about the situation to be speaking on it because I don’t have all of the information. But certainly, yes. If that was the case, I would want as many other opinions as possible.”
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