Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Richmond Raceway – April 20, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media at Richmond Raceway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What does it mean to come and race close to home with the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown last night?
“Last night was a great success. We had such a great turnout. They were able to put in temporary grandstands, and that was a good thing, anytime you can fill up a race track like that. Obviously great competition with myself and Kyle (Busch) and some of the other Late Model stars. Great battle all night and had a fun night. Raised some good money for charity, going to continue to want to build that event to be a big one for those guys going forward.”
What happened during first practice and have you found a solution?
“I don’t think we got them worked out. I think that we have some issues for sure. We’re trying to work them out. Obviously, it’s super frustrating from my standpoint and it is for them, too. They don’t want to have to completely rebuild a car while they are at a race track. We are trying to figure it out. We’re trying to get between some teammates. We can get there here with some of our teammates, but we can’t on other things. I don’t know. It could be a really good race for us, it can also be really bad. I’m really not sure how it’s all going to turn out. I’m not sure with qualifying if it will be indicative of anything we have going on, but we’ll see how it all pans out. We’ll try everything we can to make the right decisions for tomorrow. We obviously didn’t get a whole lot of track time today.”
What did your car feel like in practice?
“One thing that I’ve noticed is that several times this year, we’ve gone back with what on paper they say is the same tire, but it reacts totally different on the race car. I know that sometimes with Goodyear, they can mix it in different plants and it can be a completely different feel, maybe that’s the case or something. It was certainly different this time around with the feel of the tire. We’re struggling with that amongst handling issues as well. We’re just trying to make it go around the track in a timely fashion.”
How bad was the handling?
“It was bad. I couldn’t hold it in the groove without sliding up the race track. It was pretty major. We haven’t had issues like that in years and years, for sure.”
What is behind the success Joe Gibbs Racing has had at Richmond Raceway?
“There’s definitely been some good success between us and when we really started sharing data between each other we finished one-two a lot. But, that’s been a few years ago. We’ve been more hit and miss, for us I think we won last in ’16. We were competitive one race here last year and the other one, not so much. It’s really feast or famine for us here at this race track. We just typically, two guys who grew up on short tracks – this is very much a short track and drives like it. That’s kind of where the success came from earlier, for sure.”
Is there any better place than Richmond to get your first victory of 2018?
“I was really optimistic coming here that we were going to start pretty quick and the way our cars ran at Phoenix, everything is fairly similar with the cars. Like I said, here today was a struggle, where Phoenix was pretty easy for us. A disappointing start to our weekend, for sure, but it doesn’t hamper what we expect for tomorrow night. I’m hoping we get it all figured out and we’re competitive enough as we should be here.”
What’s the difference between racing at Richmond in the Spring and the Fall?
“You could say that about a lot of race tracks for me. Every time they give us track facts like that, I’m terrible in the Spring, and great in the Fall. Just not sure it works out that way. I think that having a race under our belt and then going back just a few months later always seems to be a little bit better for myself as a learning process. Really there’s not enough rule changes I don’t think to make us struggle as much as we have today. I think typically I’ve been a driver who has gotten stronger as the year goes on. That hasn’t changed for 13 or 14 years I’ve been doing this and the stats will back this up. I’m trying to do everything I can to perform earlier in the year, because we knew last year we didn’t collect as many bonus points for the playoffs during the season as we needed. It’s on the radar for us. It’s not like we’re not trying, it’s just a tough go at it right now.”
Who do you think is better right now for the championship hunt, the 4 or 18?
“I think that it’s tough to say. I think it’s individual to the race track right now. I think that those guys, they’re really, really close. It would be hard for me to pinpoint one favorite. The championship in the Cup Series right now is about winning one race, and that’s Homestead. So I would favor the 18 (Kyle Busch) in that case.”
What was it like to have the race at Langley Speedway last night, and what has the local response been like?
“It was great. It was the first time I got cheers in Virginia in a really long time, so that was a welcome change. It’s cool. It’s a lot of fun when you get that kind of support, and especially the Hampton (Virginia) area. That was a big deal for that town. We just want to make it bigger and better every year. I keep increasing the purse at that race to give back to those guys. They work so hard – they’re probably at a track right now racing on their normal weekly racing series, so for them to have to prepare a car for Thursday night to accommodate our schedules is great. Then, the turnout – those are the people that are helping to give back to several different Children’s Foundations. This year with the whole Safe Kids Worldwide initiative we are doing with leading laps and paying $111 for every lap we lead in the Cup Series. I think we are already up to almost $25,000 the Denny Hamlin Foundation has given this year so far, and we haven’t even reached our peak yet. We need some funds in the foundation to pay the Safe Kids Worldwide and last night will help.”
What is your impression of the new garages at Richmond?
“I’ve always been a proponent of race tracks investing profits back into their facilities. Not just for the fan experience, but the team’s experience. These guys are working hard and it’s not necessarily good to have them working in a 20 by 20 space trying to work on a race car to put on a great show for these fans. They deserve better and Richmond has definitely stepped up and gotten much better facilities here for the teams, but not only that it’s going to be great for people who are coming here to see the cars in the garages. Anytime you go to an F1 race, they have some of the coolest things you can see right there in those pods that they’ve built at these race tracks. I wish we could have a standard like that at every NASCAR track and say, ‘Hey, your facility has to be up to a certain level when NASCAR comes to town.’ It’s slowly but surely getting there. ISM Raceway is doing major upgrades as well and it’s good to see these tracks putting the money back in the facilities because that is ultimately what brings the people. Fans don’t like sitting in 90 degree aluminum bleachers anymore. It’s a different world than what it used to be. They want to be in the Lexus stadium with concierge come bringing them beer every two minutes. Please are high maintenance now and you have to keep up with that.”
Are there any drivers who were in your race last night who would succeed in NASCAR’s top three levels?
“Right now? I don’t know. It’s tough. You can’t just jump to this level and be competitive. The short answer is no. But are they capable, yeah. I think it just takes time to work your way up through the series. I think that’s the good thing we do have in NASCAR, the feeder series whether it be the K&N (Pro) Series, the Trucks or Xfinity. You have to go through that process. You just can’t jump in the Cup cars and be competitive with the greats that are out there. It’s tough to go out there at someone’s home track or their home cars and beat them. That’s not as easy as you think. That’s why Kyle (Busch) and I went out and tested – we didn’t want to be embarrassed when we went out there. It’s important to us to run well. The process is there for a lot of those guys to be great. Looking at the driver intros last night, I was like, ‘Wow there’s a lot of young drivers competing in this race,’ and I’m pretty certain you’re going to see two or three in NASCAR’s top three series at some point. That process is there for a reason and they’re going to work their way up and be the future of this sport.”
Why is it be difficult to make it in NASCAR, even with talented drivers?
“I always thought that some of the greats in short track racing back in the day, if they ever just had an opportunity to be at this level they could probably make it. That’s probably the case. There’s probably so many great drivers we don’t know about and will never hear about because the process to get here is so difficult. You just can’t rely on natural talent to take you to the top anymore. It takes funds, and with the sponsorship model changing, those funds are even harder to come by. The chances of making it are slim, but it can happen. We’re seeing guys – Erik Jones – coming up through the ranks and winning and making it to the top level, so it can still be done. There’s a group still in the Truck Series and Xfinity Series – there’s three or four guys that I can point out, they’re going to be here eventually because they are going to perform at a high level, even if they don’t have the best equipment. People can see they have talent to do it.”
Do you feel like Virginia’s favorite driver?
“I don’t know, it’s tough to say. Fans live in the moment. That’s what I can say. I was here and I forget the year that Rusty (Wallace) wrecked Jeff Gordon off of turn two, but I remember sitting in my seat and the crowd went crazy. They hated Jeff so bad, they loved to see him crash. A few years later, Jeff is their favorite driver. Fans are fickle, and you can’t please them all the time. I found that out pretty quick. Doesn’t matter where you are from, if you wreck someone they like, they just don’t like you.”