Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Sonoma Raceway – June 22, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media at Sonoma Raceway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
You’ve come close to winning at Sonoma and you’ve won at Watkins Glen. How do those experiences impact your approach for Sunday?
“You have good notes. You have good information that you’ve had over the years that you’ve raced at these courses. I’d love to win at this race track. It’s such a fun course to run on. Obviously, coming real close over the last couple of years, so I’m looking forward to the challenge and hopefully if we can qualify well, I think we’ll have a really good day.”
How would you assess your season to date?
“I think at worst any weekend, we’ve been an eighth place car and at best, we’ve been a second or third place car. Certainly the results I don’t think show the speed we actually do have. I’m pretty confident the second half of the year we are going to be pretty strong. I feel like we’ve really made gains over the last month or so. I’d like to get inside the top five in points before the end of the regular season and win a couple races – that’s a goal that we have that is achievable in the next 10 weeks or so.”
Are you surprised by the dominance of Stewart-Haas Racing this season so far?
“Not really. They definitely – with the whole splitter change and things like that, that really helped the Fords and it seems like their engine package is significantly better than the field at this point. Those two things together is really tough to overcome, but I feel like we’re closing that gap, us especially. I think the 18 (Kyle Busch) and 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) have always been just a little bit behind, but they’re right there with them and I feel like we’re chasing their tails as well. We’re right there behind it. Confident we can be a team that can be pretty tough from here on out.”
What did you think of NASCAR’s recent announcement regarding the All-Star race rules package not being used this year?
“Well, I think that was initially the intent was to just run it in the All-Star and then analyze it for next year, so not surprised by the decision. I think that the race teams, probably, and the engine builders were in favor of kind of letting things be as planned – sticking with the current package. With that, it allows NASCAR to take more time to do some aero testing and figure out how they can make that package better. I did think it was a very good race in the All-Star Race. I personally had a lot of fun, but it’s not for every race track. There’s only, maybe two or three tracks that I think it really could spice up the racing at. I think being patient with it and making sure you get it right the first time is a good move by them.”
Will Chicago feel unusual next week not being the Playoff opener and how different will the track be in July versus the Fall?
“It certainly will be a lot different. Like that race track. I like that you can run all the way from the wall to the inside apron there at that race track, so it’s a fun one. I think we’ll probably go back with the same notes and the same setup that we had last year and work from there, but certainly with the schedule change, it definitely will have a different feel for sure.”
What is so difficult for drivers at Sonoma Raceway and why does the track have so many different winners?
“Well there’s so many variables and most of it is strategy driven. I think that, you know when cautions fly the crew chiefs are trying to make a strategy to put their driver up front, but over the last two years tires have fallen off so much that tires have meant something as well. I think the strategy aspect is the reason we’ve had so many different winners at this race track and really when someone can get out there, out front and run their own pace, run their own line, it’s hard to overcome that. I think that that’s the reason why we’ve had so many winners here and you’ll probably continue to see that on Sunday.”
Kyle Larson said earlier drivers were more conservative in the Chicago race because it was opening the Chase, but now they will be more aggressive because it’s in the middle of the season. What do you think?
“I agree with that. I definitely do because the restarts there can be really wild anyway, but they do seem a little tamer because you’ve got 16 guys with green windshields and spoilers. I think that being that it’s middle of the year, you’ll certainly – there’s more likelihood of chaos for sure, so I definitely agree with that.”
From a driver’s perspective, how much do the tires change here and in what ways do you feel that?
“It’s really hard to accelerate out of the corners is the biggest thing that I notice when the tires start to wear out. You just can’t put the throttle down nearly as hard as you can early in the run. As drivers, any time we have a race track that has – will have close to a four-second fall off, that is going to make for really fun racing. Really, it makes it fun without needing restarts. There’s going to be so many different strategies. I remember that the 2 car (Brad Keselowski) came and put tires on, made an extra pit stop and kind of motored through the field and as a race fan, that’s fun to watch – knowing that you have so many different variables and things that you can try to win this race. I personally like it.”
How much does the percentage of what matters more, car versus driver, change at this track?
“I think driver means more than car at this particular race track. I would say it’s probably 65–35, if I had to put a number on it. Driver more important. Probably on other race tracks, more 50-50. In that range. Certainly on tracks like this where it’s as technical as it is and the driver has so many inputs from the wheel to the brake, clutch and gas and everything. We’re doing so much within the lap, different driver’s techniques come to the forefront and that’s why you see the winners here have really been the best of the best.”
Will drivers and the garage give what Dale Earnhardt Jr. says in the tv booth more weight than what others say during a broadcast?
“Certainly. I think that he’s very inquisitive and still wants to be part of what’s going on currently. I see him as being a lot like Jeff Burton – those guys who will text the drivers mid-week and ask questions about ‘hey what’s going on here?’ – really staying in tune with what is going on right now. Not what was happening in 1975. I think that he’ll be good about doing that. I’m sure – from what I hear in the auditions and practices they’ve done, they’re really happy with how it’s turning out.”
If Dale Jr. criticizes you during the race, how much will that blow up your Twitter feed?
“I’ve been very good this year about not replying to mean people and you all should do the same. When you see negative – I am making a ploy right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member, stop replying to people that make nonsense comments. They have 16 followers, don’t give them your 100,000. Do not give them your 100,000 as their stage. No one will ever see their comment, just brush it by. Talk about the positives and I’m not a positive guy.”
How do you ignore the mean people on Twitter?
“You just scroll by it. Forget it. That person doesn’t exist. They’re an admirer that has lost their way.”