Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Richmond International Raceway – April 28, 2017
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media at Richmond International Raceway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Can you talk about what it’s like coming home seeking a fourth Cup win at Richmond International Raceway?
“Well, it’s always a track that we look to get on track relatively speaking. It seems like this racetrack for whatever reason, it’s been good to me. Obviously, very similar to Martinsville in the sense of no matter how good or bad our cars are at, at the certain time, we always can be competitive at a race track like this. We hope that’s the same case this weekend. We look to try to get our first win of the season here.”
How do you feel coming here?
“We’ve seen so far this year there’s probably four to five cars that are fast every single week at every type of different track that we’ve been at, so I would suspect that they’ll be in the mix no matter what their history is at this race track of being good or bad. I just think sometimes when you have a really fast car, you become good at that race track because your car’s really fast. I think on tracks like this where aero is not as big of a deal, motors are not as big of a deal, you can look at some of the older, veteran drivers that have had good success at this race track and throw them into the mix of the guys that have been competitive all year.”
Do you feel you’re taking a right step after Bristol and as we get closer and closer to the Chase?
“Honestly, I’ve never lost a race, never lost a race, because I’ve always left the race with more knowledge than what I did entering it, so there’s always something to be gained whether you’re running good or running bad. Sometimes you don’t always gain as much when you win. I think we are slowly getting better, we’re gaining more knowledge trying to figure out what it is that we need to work on. I think we’ve identified some areas where we need to work. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen this week, it won’t happen in a month. Some things are going to take a long time for us to get better at, but I’m very confident that when push comes to shove, we’re in September starting the Chase, we should be hopefully back where we were, if not better.”
What are the factors behind some of the struggles your team has encountered this season, such as a new body and rules changes, among others?
“Yeah, I think that’s some of it. I think the rules change is some of it as well. I think our competition also did a phenomenal job over the off‑season of getting better. The four or five cars that I talked about, they just showed up this year with just more raw speed than what they had at the end of last year. It’s the same drivers, same crew chiefs, but their cars are faster. That makes their job a whole lot easier. But these are the trying times, you could say, that defines your character. It makes you work hard. We were on top for probably a year and a half, every week having four out of five of the fastest cars each week. Sometimes we won, sometimes we didn’t. But we’re going to get better. We’re not on top right now, so we’ve got to work extra hard to get there.”
What is your take on that on the style of racing at Bristol?
“I was a huge fan of the old Bristol, but I was also a fan of the new Bristol. I think it’s something that changes out. I thought that the track continually changed throughout the entire race, which made us adapt, which I think made for great racing. I would love to see them apply something like that at the middle to top of Dover. I think Dover, you look at the old races way back in the day, they had cars all over the racetrack, the high line, the low line. Now it seems like it’s buried itself to the low line. The problem is that what we’re aiming for at Bristol, we all want to run around the bottom to make the bump‑n‑run legitimate. You can’t do it at Dover because the speeds are too high. You need to apply it high at Dover to then create side‑by‑side racing, which we haven’t had there for a very, very long time. When everybody runs the bottom at Dover, aero is such a big deal, you can’t pass. I’d love to see it used at other concrete tracks. I think it was a success. Even though they applied it a little bit wider at Bristol, it still wore off to where the top was pretty good at the end of the race. I think it’s a variable that I don’t mind them throwing at us every now and then.”
Should Richmond seal the track like they did 15 years ago and back?
“I don’t know. If you ask the drivers, this is the perfect racetrack. To the fans, sometimes it’s not because they do get strung out. I think the reason the drivers and the teams like it the best is because if they hit their setup, they can just dominate a race here. It’s not always the best thing for TV, but it’s a good thing for the competitors. So it’s kind of a balance of what’s good for the competitors and what’s good for putting on a fantastic race. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know what you can do here. We’ve had races where we were running the wall and we were running the line, some guy led almost every lap. I don’t know whether spreading out the cars or making them run one line here is the best thing to do. It’s kind of a hybrid track between Dover and Bristol where aero matters, you just can’t follow someone and knock them out of the way because you can’t get close enough. It’s kind of a hybrid track. It’s a tough track to really change.”
What are the odds, in your opinion, that your former teammate Carl Edwards would come back next year?
“I would just be guessing, but I would say 50 percent. I think that Carl is a competitor. At his age, I’d find it hard to believe that he would just step away and not do it ever again. I think him leaving the window open in his press conference to say he’s not retiring, he’s just stepping away, I think it depends. I don’t know. Has anyone found out whether he’s having a good time right now or not? I think that would tell the story about whether he’s interested in coming back or not. From what I hear from all the retired drivers, it’s awesome for like a few months – then you kind of get bored a little bit.”
Why is success in NASCAR cyclical?
“It’s happened forever. NASCAR used to fix that. They used to cut spoilers off of certain makes and models to help them, then they would help another manufacturer when they were behind. It’s just been an evolution. It’s because obviously we’re sitting in garage stalls six foot from each other. Someone’s running faster, you can just eventually find enough pictures out there to figure out why you’re slow, then you go to work. Sometimes while you’re doing that work you hit on something that makes you even better than them. You’re faster, they’re checking out your stuff. It’s a cycle. That’s what racing is. It’s just a matter of who hits it at the right time and really has the luck to go with it that makes you a champion.”
Have this year’s penalties on pit road been tight?
“I haven’t had any speeding penalties. How about that?”
How have you done that?
“Well, we won the first race of the season last year in the 500, so my objective from that point forward was to find every limit of pit road that I could. Anyplace that I hadn’t sped, I needed to push it more and eventually speed to find where my limit is. This year statistics show I’m the fastest driver on pit road – still to have no penalties is pretty amazing. I think we were trying to work to find the edge last year, since we were already locked into the Chase after the first race. But under this format, I couldn’t have done that because you can’t afford to give up regular‑season points this year like you could last year. I think I’ve just kind of honed in on all the targets. That’s where I’m riding right now.”
Do you think this track a good slump buster for Joe Gibbs Racing?
“I hope so. For me, the 12 years of my career, it’s always taken me a long time to get over winter break. For whatever reason, it’s taking 10 races or whatever into the season to kind of hit my stride. I’m not really sure what it is. I try just as hard at the beginning as I do at the end. It just seems like that break in the off‑season, it takes myself a little while to get over that hump, get in the flow of things. I’m not really sure. I think this is the typical part of the season when we do get better. We start to get to the short tracks of Bristol and Richmond, and Talladega is coming up where we’ve been pretty good. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know whether it’s the schedule that favors me later in the season. But, yeah, certainly I come here always with the expectations of winning. When I don’t, it’s a pretty disappointing weekend.”