Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Texas Motor Speedway – March 29, 2019
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media in Texas:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How was your Camry in the first practice?
“It wasn’t a great practice for us. Just trying to get a grip on our handling. We’re a little bit off, so hopefully get somewhere in that top 12 in qualifying and work on it tomorrow.”
How much does the PJ1 throw you off or are you getting used to it?
“It doesn’t affect us right now. We’re all running the bottom, so I haven’t really gone up there yet. I think most of the time we’re going to be watching other series first to see how they burn it in and whether it’s quicker or not.”
How do you think the new rules will change qualifying?
“I don’t think it will change a whole lot. We saw in practice everyone was really waiting for someone to go. Even in practice there were groups of cars. I think it’s still going to be a waiting game. You still don’t want to be first or second for that matter. It’s going to be about who’s willing to push it there at the end.”
Do you think we’ll still see people not making a lap in qualifying and having to start the race in the back?
“I think it’s possible. I think it’s more likely you’re going to see people log-jammed trying to get off of pit road and people trying to position themselves and other people trying to hurry up and get around to ensure that they have a lap. I still think it’s going to be mayhem in a sense of you want to be last in line, but make sure you have enough time. So, I think everyone is going to be trying to go at the same time.”
What did you think of the schedule changes for 2020?
“It was good. Certainly, more changes than what I thought was going to be on tap for us, but certainly happy that they’re making significant changes in our schedule.”
Which change to the 2020 schedule were you most surprised about?
“The biggest one was probably ISM Raceway being the finale. I like it. I think that ISM has spent the money to upgrade their facilities so like Steve O’Donnell says they deserve it based off of investing in our sport. Until other tracks step up to the plate and invest that kind of money you probably won’t have a finale.”
What do you like about being here at Texas?
“I don’t know. It’s a nice area. The track really is a challenge, because they tried to make it interesting but interesting is not always better when it comes to competition. Turns 1 and 2 is just super flat and one lane. They definitely tried to put some grip up top. I’m definitely in favor of that and would like to see how it all burns in once we get going this weekend. I think racing will potentially be better with it than without it, so we’ll see how it all turns out. I don’t know. I don’t like it more or less than any other track we go to.”
How do you look at whether the NASCAR season-finale should rotate every year or every couple of years?
“I think there’s only handfuls of tracks that are deserving enough to really hold the final event. The final event should be a premiere place and event. That’s why they host the NCAA championship game not in a basketball arena, they host it in huge football arenas now. It’s bigger and better. I think it’s all about facilities from my standpoint. That’s been the number one priority in my mind that needed to be the focal point of us moving forward, so ISM Raceway is an upgrade facilities-wise from Homestead so I’m all for it.”
Do you see Texas as a track where another race team can break through this year?
“It’s week to week. I think that everyone on the West coast was kind of tied in to however they built their cars it was done, and they were kind of stuck through the West coast. But I think now this is the first mile-and-a-half we’ve had back where people have learned from the West coast and made adjustments. Certainly, this weekend you can see a shift in cars that are fast that hadn’t been in the past.”
How do you feel this season has gone since the Daytona 500 win?
“We’re second in points, we’re doing well, we’ve scored the third most stage points and we’re 20 points behind Kyle (Busch), so we’re doing okay considering the tough year we’ve had on pit road and just lack of total execution. But, certainly, I believe that our speed is very, very good and competitive. We’re upfront pretty much every week.”
Do you think with the rules package that other teams are going to catch up to JGR and Team Penske?
“Yeah, certainly. I think that anytime there’s changes in rules packages there’s always a couple that hit it and others that struggle. The problem with that is that once the others catch up then everyone runs the same speed and then passing becomes even more difficult than what it is currently. Yeah, I certainly think that the Hendrick organization in general has always taken a longer time. We’ve seen in the past, even 10 years ago, you don’t hear anything from them until the summer months. Certainly, I don’t put any stock into how anyone is running right now.”
Is it important for you to bank stage points, wins and things like that before the Playoffs?
“Yeah, we’re trying to do everything we can to stay as high up as we can and get as many bonus points as we can. Playoff points, that’s the number one importance for us because we’ve gone into these playoffs with a lack of bonus points these last few years and it’s really bit us in the early rounds when we’ve had a bad race.”
What do you think of Daytona being the cutoff race before the Playoffs start?
“I was in a couple meetings about a year and a half ago when we were talking about the schedule and it was on the table about maybe Talladega or one of those tracks – a true wild card track – being the final race before the Playoffs start. So, I think certainly Daytona is a good one. That race is always wild and a crash fest anyways, so I think this will add to that excitement and truly you could find someone that is off the radar winning that race and putting their place in the Playoffs. Certainly, from an excitement standpoint it’s definitely a good move.”
Where is the balance between entertainment and competition in the NASCAR schedule?
“It seems like there has been a shift in entertainment style racing or qualifying or whatever in the last year or so. I think that’s been a shift, but I also believe everyone’s trying to do the right thing. I certainly believe the NASCAR executives that we have now in place, there’s more confidence in them than what there’s ever been since I’ve been here. All the way from the top of Jim (France) to Steve Phelps and Steve O’Donnell, the whole group I think is doing a really good job. It’s not always about what we want, but certainly I think keeping the integrity and making sure the right cars are winning poles and the right cars are winning races certainly should be at the forefront. But they also have to put on a product that’s exciting for the fans to see on TV, so it is a balance. I don’t know the right balance to that. I think certainly from a competitor’s standpoint we want it to be where if we are better than the person in front of us, we should be able to pass them.”
Do you feel this year you’re being overlooked in a sense?
“I don’t know. They always have. It doesn’t matter to me. We’re going to quietly just keep digging along and try to win more races and that’s what it’s about. We’ve been upfront every week, so I’m happy with the way we’re running right now.”
Do you feel the pressure will be on drivers more with the new cutoff races for 2020?
“Yeah, it is. The only negative to that is you work all season to earn your position and try to get in a good spot and if you end up having a bad wild card race, you draw the wrong card and is that fair? You just try to do everything you can during the regular season to make sure you’ve got that buffer. That’s what we’re trying to do now and make sure that once we get to the tracks that it’s more skill-based and driver skill-based and that’s where we’ll shine. I think that we’ve just got to get past those wild card races and make sure we’re in a safe spot.”
Do you think the existence of Playoff points has changed the ways that drivers have accepted these changes?
“It wouldn’t be good for sure. It would be certainly — I would say by chance than ever. So, yeah, I think the gift of the Playoff points and rewarding you for the regular season has lessened the blow to bringing in more wild car races.”
Did you get up into the traction compound during the first practice?
“Just getting up to speed I tried to drive up there, but I didn’t feel any difference. It will be really tomorrow where I think we’ll start venturing up there. And, really, it’s a wait and see for us. We’re going to see how the Truck race plays out. I guarantee you 99 percent of the Cup drivers will be watching the Truck race to see if the groove widens out and everyone will be watching lap times to see if the guys that are running up higher can up time or not. And, once they do, and we see that hey it’s good and okay, that’s our sign of it’s good up there. We don’t want to be the first ones that go up there and try it, so we’ll let the truckers go up there and do it. We’ll watch it from there and then once again we’ll be watching Xfinity to see the same thing and our confidence will grow once we see that.”
Has the new package been more physically grueling than in the past?
“Yeah, there’s more load. Even this weekend I looked, and the corner speeds will probably be up 15 miles an hour or so over what they’ve been in the past. The only thing that worries me is there were blown tires last year and we’re going in there with higher corner speeds this year, so hopefully everything stays together and we’re able to have a clean and safe race. Certainly, you could just feel more load in your body this year because of the higher corner speeds.”
What kind of toll does it take on your body as the race goes on?
“Just more achy. That’s the only thing I’ve noticed. It’s an extra half a day worth of achiness that you have. I’ve actually felt pretty okay this year. I’ve kind of worked on my insert to make sure comfort is more of a thing that I focus on. I’ve actually felt level from where I was last year, but I think I’ve made the inside of the car better. Certainly, you’re more tense because of the load. You’re trying to keep your body up.”
How long does it usually take you to shake off a race?
“A day usually. When I say a day, I feel like I’m back to pretty much 100 percent within one day. Really, the gap for me is from getting out of the car for the next five hours that’s when I really make the biggest strides. You’re re-hydrating and to me I become a cookie monster and I eat everything in site after the race. To me, it’s just putting all of that stuff back in your body. For me, it’s not as long as it used to be when I was kind of out of shape, but certainly now it’s about a day.”
Can you pay championship contenders back at Phoenix if you get knocked out of the way at Martinsville?
“I don’t know. I think that when everyone kind of talked about the whole Matt (Kenseth) and Joey (Logano) thing, I think they came out and said if you’re racing for a position, they don’t care what you do. It’s when you’re laps down and you’re not racing for a physical position that they take retaliation seriously. So, I think it’s a free reign to wreck a person as long as you’re racing for whatever position.”