DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Why have you been so successful at Richmond Raceway?
“Yeah, it’s definitely been a good track. We finished really well. We ran really well the last couple times here. Really looking forward to it. It’s been one that’s kind of been circled for a while. We like trying to win this race before the Playoffs start, trying to get the momentum where I feel like we have momentum. Everything is going good. Cars are good. I don’t see any reason why we can’t contend this time around also.”
How did you hear your win was encumbered?
“I heard something on Monday or so – I think later on Monday or early Tuesday – that it was questionable, that it needed further review. As far as I understand, my crew chief went and saw it for himself on Wednesday. He deemed it not right. So I would agree with the assessment.”
What are the emotions of going from a win to a penalty?
“Well, it sucks. I know personally, it had nothing to do with winning the races. I’d won five other races at that track well before that. I’d love to line ’em up again. That track is special to me. It was a special weekend all in all. It took something that was super positive and turned it into a negative pretty quick.”
Do you feel the penalty kind of fits the violation?
“Yeah, I think it fits. I think we can talk about taking wins away in the future. I think it’s definitely a possibility. As long as it’s the same for everyone, I think that’s key. Make sure that when someone else is in there with the same violation, it gets the same penalty and treatment even if it’s in the Playoffs. I think that’s what makes me nervous – is that in the Playoffs? Is NASCAR going to do the same things when so much is on the line? Obviously, it’s negative publicity for everyone involved. so I just hope that it’s the same. I’m fine with taking wins away. Nothing wrong with that.”
Is the penalty the same when a win is encumbered for someone who has a win versus someone who does not?
“I think it’s different on how you perform throughout the regular season. If I didn’t have a win, if you took away Darlington, I’d still have my New Hampshire win. If you took away my New Hampshire win, I’m still in on points, so what is the difference? I ran good enough through the regular season to get in in the Playoffs. The 22 hadn’t performed high enough in the entire regular season, so, yeah, it’s a tougher penalty for those guys, no doubt about it. Trust me, we feel their pain. Their XFINITY car didn’t pass either. That was the challenging part is that you look at all the cars that went through tech and over 50 percent of them never made it through the tech center from Darlington. My opinion is we build in tolerances and that track ate up those tolerances. That process had never been done at that race track ever before, so now we have a data point that we got to build in a bigger tolerance for that race track because you hit walls, you get sand and dirt in all your joints, it loosens them up. We got to do a better job going back. Now that we know what we built in was not enough, we’ll fix it and go forward, so we got to take responsibility for last week. If the shoe was on the other foot, it was one of my competitors, I would expect the same kind of penalty. We’ll move on and we’ll try to win this week. But, yeah, it’s tough when it’s harsher. It’s not a harsher penalty – it’s the same penalty – it just affects teams differently whether they had a win or did not.”
How did your crew chief feel about the penalty?
“He (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) agreed it was worthy of a penalty. I asked him what his honest opinion – was this a judgment call, what? He said, “It wasn’t right, so.” To be fair, it wasn’t right at that moment. We didn’t start the race with an illegal car. It worked its way that way. When I say, ‘It worked its way,’ it was so close, but so close doesn’t matter. It was still over the line. I hate the position I’m put in. I hate the position he’s put in. We just didn’t allow for running into the wall with five laps to go. We didn’t allow for the dirt and the grime to get in there and loosen those things up as bad as it did. It’s unfortunate.”
How much of this is dancing on the line and trying to get it right up to the point where it’s cool or going over?
“I think you’re willing to dance on it no matter whether you’re in or not. I think that probably if you tech every car in the field, I’m willing to bet that it would be many, many, many, many cars that were not going to get through there. It’s just we finished up front, so we got the treatment, as we should have. So, you know, I think the reason people work in those areas is because there’s speed there. That’s why we always fight for every inch and every quarter and every thousandth of an inch on every part of the car, whether it be under the car or above it. We fight for every inch because there’s speed there. So it’s a tough game and you got to be willing to take the consequences when you pass over that line that gets drawn in the sand.”
What is your reception or response to fans who say this is cheating?
“How many wins does Richard Petty have? 200? One of those was with a big block, so does he really have 199? I mean, listen, my advice to those who say this or that is all the old school fans have been watching NASCAR forever, your driver cheated at some point in their career and they got away with it. The difference is is it was inches, not thousandths. They didn’t measure that stuff back then. It’s just a tighter box that we live in today. The engineers and the crew chiefs are so smart, they fight for that little bit because they know it can make the difference in the smallest of deficits on the race track. I’m going to tell my crew chief to keep fighting for every inch, square inch of that car to be the best. But, you know, it makes no difference to me. I know I could line up with IROC cars at Darlington and I’m going to have an advantage there.”
When you say ‘take away wins,’ can you define in what situations you view it that way?
“Yeah, for sure, and I think we brought something up maybe in the off season I thought that was really a good idea is taking away points that you’ve already earned for the Playoffs above and beyond not getting the points for that particular race. Say you’ve got a win, that win now goes away, so those five points go away. I’m all for harsher penalties for parole violators, you know what I mean? If you do it on a constant basis, you definitely should be penalized for it. As far as whether you should take away wins, black or white, be subjective, it’s tough because this particular part of the car, I don’t know if it’s really black and white. There’s been others that have been very gray, and they’ve said, ‘Okay, that’s good.’ Then ours is not good. Now given my crew chief said it was enough to where he was satisfied with the penalty. I think it’s a very tough line. I don’t know what the line is, where you take wins away, but obviously I think there should be parts of the car maybe that they distinguish, your motor, your tires, maybe rear suspension, stuff like that, major items that, you know, maybe wins get taken away, or aero advantages that probably should be taken away as well.”
Should they take away Playoff points?
“Yeah, there’s things you can do. There’s things you can do to make it harsher. Listen, it’s tough for me up here. I’m up here advocating for harsher penalties. We’ll see where it goes.”
What does a penalty do for your psychology going into this week?
“It’s a ton of motivation, for sure. Trust me, this is not what I wanted to talk about coming to my home track, for sure, especially after our weekend that was fantastic. That part of it stinks, but also there’s tons and tons of motivation that will be behind us this week to go out there and perform well. So far through the practices, I think we’re in pretty good shape.”