Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Darlington Raceway – August 31, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media at Darlington Raceway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Throwback Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Your track record is spectacular here. How did you adapt so quickly to this track?
“I’m really not sure. I tested here when I was kind of auditioning for a ride at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) in 2003, I think it was. I was at a test here with Tony (Stewart) and really the first slap I killed the wall in Turn 2 and I think we ended up hitting the wall 19 or 20 or maybe even more times during that test – enough to where we didn’t have any sheet metal left on the right side of the car. It had worn completely through. Since that point, it just kind of clicked. I came here for my very first Xfinity start and finished eighth and just from that point on – I don’t know. It’s just something about the race track that fits my particular driving style.”
The family videos you released ahead of the throwback weekend – which one stood out to you?
“It’s awesome to kind of sit down with your parents and kind of reflect on old stories and things like that and the sacrifices that you went through. So many families go through that on a weekly basis that we don’t know about on the local short track level and also some drivers that are in the Cup Series today. Their families made the same sacrifices. It’s cool to kind of get here the way we got here just on performance. That’s all I really had to bring to the table when it came to getting to this series. When you hear the old stories and you get to see all the old crew guys and a lot of them will come here this weekend and watch the race, it’s very interesting how the whole story ended up. My favorite part about it was – as far as those stories was talking about the trailer business that we had and just kind of – that’s kind of how we got our car to the race track every week was having to do good selling trailers and things like that to keep going.”
How is it different here riding so close to the wall?
“It’s a little bit different you know with the – for whatever reason with these aero packages, running up by the wall hasn’t been as effective as it was probably four or five years ago when we had taller spoilers. At this race track, you still have to run up by the wall to really make good lap times. It’s just really the dynamics and the symmetry of the race track that makes you have to do that. It allows you to get a better angle for corner exits, especially at this track where the corners are really tight in Turns 3 and 4 as well – mostly Turns 3 and 4. It’s just part of the track dynamics that makes you have to run up there. If you try to run the bottom all the way through (Turns) 1 and 2, you’re going to go dead straight on exit and into the wall and that’s what I did in that first test that I talked about. You get right on it. You can essentially, with these cars having exhaust on the right side, you can kind of hear how close you are, even you can see it, but you also can hear it and that kind of tells you where you’re at on the race track.”
What is it about this style of racing at Darlington that makes it difficult year-to-year to maintain the success and consistency like what you’ve done?
“I think what makes it difficult is in the Southern 500, it’s such a long race. There’s a lot of attrition and things that can happen. That’s what makes it hardest to repeat or win multiple times. Just a lot of great drivers have run one race this year because it’s just a test of your mental state, your physical state – I’ve fainted in the shower I think twice after this race just because you just get so dehydrated. I’ve run the Xfinity race on Saturday for the last handful of years, so it really drains you after the Southern 500. You’ve got to prepare for that. I’ll tell you, it’s definitely one of the most physical race tracks that I can think of. Way more than the Coke 600 or any other race track. I consider this the endurance test of all and so you got to have it all put together. You have to have a car that you don’t make any mistakes. You’ve got to have a fast car when it’s dusk there towards the end and then when it goes full night at the end of the race, you’ve got to have a car that performs well. It’s just truly a test of a lot of different things and that’s why it’s hard to repeat.”
What will the racing at Indy next week be like? Will it be a wild race with drivers trying to make the playoff field or will it be a tame race?
“The restarts might be crazy, but essentially you can only battle it out if you can get to the person in front of you and that’s the challenge of that race track is that it’s a one-groove track. You can’t get to the person in front of you. You can only battle it out if you’re right there with them and the challenge there is getting to somebody.”
How do you look back on last year’s race after your car failed inspection and do you think NASCAR could take away the win, the trophy and the prize money as well?
“The infraction that we had, it was so small that it had no bearing on the finishes. Really previous wins that I had validated that. I didn’t feel bad about it at all. It had nothing to do with any of that. You hit the wall here so many times that things move around. In the future, I mean I’d like to see them take playoff points away and things like that. Not only not get playoff points, but perhaps take points that you’ve already earned away. I think that maybe that would perhaps deter teams from going to the next level.”
What’s your mindset heading into the playoffs?
“To win. That’s the only thing that we come here for. We haven’t been points racing for a long time now simply because we know based off just our average performance and what an average year it’s been, we’re going to be fine on points. We care about winning and that’s the only thing that I care about. Running better is very very important to us at this point, so we’re doing everything we can to work hard and get to that level that we want to be at. Winning one of these next two would for sure help with the momentum going into the playoffs, but momentum is only as good as that weekend. Just cause you win this week, on Monday it does nothing for you for next week. Sometimes momentum is overstated. It’s just about how you’re performing on any given week.”
What would a guy like Cole Pearn bring to Joe Gibbs Racing?
“I don’t know. He’s a great crew chief. We work with him every week, but I’m not sure.”
Do you think it’s imperative that NASCAR changes it schedule so that it’s not up against the NFL?
“I think a lot of leagues have changed their schedule in a lot of different ways. I’m of the opinion that you know mid-week summer when you’re essentially going up against baseball only is a primetime for us to be killing it in the ratings. This is when we should be killing it. It’s going to be a tough road, we know that, when football season starts. It’s a frenzy, right? People have not had football for seven, eight months, so they’re anxious for it. Racing, when the season’s over, you’re going to have it again in two months, three months. You don’t build a frenzy up is what football does. It’s a big sport, but NASCAR has been big for many many years and it can hold its own and it has for many years. I think that we should just continue to try to put on a good show on the race track and hopefully the fans want to come see it in person and on tv and we’ll do the best we can.”
How important is it to you to keep your winning streak intact since 2006?
“It’s important. I think that there’s only a handful of drivers that have won over 10 years straight. It’s important. I still believe that we will win a race before the season is over, if not multiple. It’s got to start this weekend. The countdown is on. 2013 we waited until the last race of the year to win. A little bit of an asterisk because I was hurt most of that year, but still it’s a streak for certain that is important to me.”
You have a shiner under your eye. How did you get that?
“My depth perception to someone’s elbow wasn’t very good in basketball. I caught an elbow.”
Knowing that Martin Truex Jr. hasn’t signed for next year, are you keeping an eye on that?
“I think he’s a great driver and brings a lot to the table. We use a lot of the information that he tells us on any given weekend. Yes, certainly any time you have a high-profile driver like that that’s on the market or whatever it might be, it peaks your interest. He’s a Toyota teammate as well, so all that is very intriguing, but we’ll just – I personally can’t control anything that he does or decisions that him or his team makes, so we’ll just kind of play it by ear until we hear something.”
Have you been told anything by Joe Gibbs Racing or Furniture Row Racing?
“No, I haven’t.”
How would it impact you and the team if you didn’t have Furniture Row Racing next year?
“I don’t know how it would directly impact us. They definitely bring some information to the table, like I said, for us on any given weekend and we share that information back with them, but we’ve been a four-car operation for a long time now and we just started the fifth here just a few years ago. I don’t know that it would make a huge impact one way or another, but certainly they’ve been really good partners of ours for the last few years.”
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