Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Bristol Motor Speedway – April 5, 2019
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media in Bristol:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Do you have a benchmark of how you’d like to be performing in two months?
“We certainly have goals for the regular season. Personal goals that I have for the regular season that kind of can make your playoffs run much easier, much better. It’s going to take some work to get there, but ultimately we’re on track for that and I just feel like we’re definitely going to be better a few months from now than what we are now. I just feel confident in that and knowing that certainly with a little bit more execution and more learning with me and Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) we’ve continued to get better and better every race track we’ve gone to. Especially the 1.5-mile. The first one was Atlanta. We ran well, but by the end of the race we kind of let things slip away with the handling. Those are all learning things. We’re learning the package together and we’re really learning each other more and more and certainly I feel like we’re not even close to the level of relationship that like Kyle (Busch) and Adam (Stevens) are at. That’s where obviously you want to go with it. We’re miles apart from them as far as that aspect, but we’re not miles apart as far as how we’re running right now.”
What are your goals for the regular season?
“There’s a certain amount of playoff points that you’d like to have going into the playoffs. There’s a certain amount of wins you’d like to have. I don’t want to throw a bunch of numbers out, but we’re getting there.”
In first practice there were 13 guys who ran under 15-second laps. Do you think it’ll pick up for the pole award and is it about what you expected speed wise? Do you think it’ll be as demanding as everyone is predicting on Sunday?
“I hope whatever the pole is, it’s like a 14.61. It’s interesting because we have a harder left-side tire. We came here with a harder tire. I think that that’s going to offset a little bit of the extra downforce that we do have, so I’m not really sure. If it picks up, I don’t know about it picking up a couple tenths. The only way it picks up a couple tenths is if they really – I think our qualifying is so reliant on what happens this next hour in Xfinity practice. If they burn the bottom in, the pole will be won on the bottom. If they run the top, the top is going to win it. It’s tough because you have to set up your car so differently based off of those two things and we already had to get our qualifying changes in 10 minutes ago. Hopefully we guessed on which side is right when it comes. If it runs through the middle like this, I don’t think anyone will run past that 14.60.”
Do you think the cars will run lower than a 14.60?
“I didn’t think so. Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) asked me as soon as I came in the hauler, do you think they’ll run lower than a 60. I just said no. I just think – you know these cars in particular are so reliant on left-side grip for handling that it overcomes any time you harden up the tire, it just really slows us down and I think that that might be the case why you haven’t seen really fast speeds.”
What is your comfort level for your season going forward after people said you were on a hot seat this year?
“Who says I’m on a hot seat? What do they know that I don’t? That’s what I don’t understand. You all don’t know my relationship with my sponsor, the team or anything. It’s just someone looking to say something. That’s about it. I know what I’m capable of. I know that I’ve got a great relationship with the people that I’ve been partners with now for a really long time. Sometimes you just have off seasons and things just don’t happen for whatever reason. The sport’s greatest drivers have had those seasons before, but I never really let my confidence get down on the whole thing. I just have been patient and waiting on it to kind of turn. I think Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) has come in with a little bit different philosophy on how we do things. I think that that it certainly forced me to change a few things in the way that I do things and I think that some of those have been a positive thing for me. I’ve never once thought that someone could go out there and do a better job than I could in my own car. We obviously turned the corner this year. We had a good start. It is still very early. You can’t just say everything is great. Certainly last week was evidence of that. We won the race, but we had some shortfalls in the middle of that race that we’re still trying to work through. That’s why I’m confident that if we can still have those kind of results with those kind of shortfalls, that we’re a team that can battle back and once we do have clean races, we’re going to have dominant races. That’s what I really want.”
What’s your confidence level heading into Richmond?
“I love the race track. It’s just because I’ve watched so many laps around that track. It’s just a track that I know what I’m looking for when I get there. Certainly last year was a little tough in the playoff race not running well. That probably was the spiral that ended everything. It’s just a track that I go there confident in. I know exactly what I need. It doesn’t mean I always get it, but when it’s right we can really, really be on at that particular race track. It’s always rewarded my driving style no matter what. When we hit it there we can really do crazy good things. It’s literally tied with Martinsville with like my favorite race track simply because it’s a track that I believe the driver can really make a big difference.”
How surprised were you at the way you did run at Richmond last fall?
“I was really surprised and the reason that we were surprised the way we struggled there in the fall was that we went there and tested. I can tell you leaving that test, I was not confident at all in that we were going to run good. I didn’t feel it. It was just one of those tests where it just didn’t feel good leaving there. When we got there for the race, it just wasn’t good as well. It was tough to take that race because it’s one that all the pre-race hype goes to you and you know that you are most likely not going to live up to that. That part stinks. Hopefully with kind of how we’re doing this season, this rules package, wherever it might be, it seems like we’ve gone everywhere and had speed so I would suspect next week will be no different.”
What is it about your crew chief Chris Gabehart that’s going to make the difference this season and get you to the championship?
“That’s the end goal, right? Everyone can tell you a championship is there goal, but really their goal is to get in the Championship 4 and then let circumstances go from there. They’ll try to get as prepared as they can. You just can’t say you’re going to win the championship – heck and even the 20th race of the season because it all boils down to one race. We’ve seen guys that dominant that race and not even win and finish terrible in the points. You’ve got to get to Homestead and to do that you have to run good through the whole regular season or else you’re going to have to win in those last three races. I would say what Chris has brought is just a different way of doing things. I don’t know how to explain it without just telling people what he does. He’s really prepared. He gets me ready.”
Have you not seen crew chiefs prepared before?
“I’ve seen prepared crew chiefs before. All of my crew chiefs have been very, very prepared. (Mike) “Wheels” (Wheeler) did a great job of preparing, but sometimes someone who has a different way of doing things adapts better to you or your race team or maybe we just got our cars faster. I don’t know what it is exactly, but certainly when I go into a race weekend I’m confident that the plan (Chris Gabehart) puts out – I need to go out there and execute that plan and he does a good job of getting all that stuff together. I’d say that that’s been the biggest thing is that we’re more ready now for things to get thrown our way than what we’ve probably ever have been.”
How much of an influence did your dad have on your racing career?
“If you ask any of the drivers most of them will say their dad was a driving force behind them being here. It wasn’t because it was what my dad wanted to do. It was what I wanted to do. He was just there to support it. Obviously having a regular job at a trailer shop, his means could only take us so far. The thing that I’m just so in awe of is that the love for his son took him way beyond his financial means. If things wouldn’t have worked out, we would have been in major financial trouble just as a family. You can only take out so many mortgages and only default so many times before you have nothing. They took major, major risk and really they took a path to my success that I would never encourage anyone to ever, ever take because the risk is just too big. But they took it. They spent every nickel that they had in savings and said he’s not winning in the junk equipment he’s got so we’ve got to spend everything in our savings to get him a new race car, a new late model car. That just sets off the chain of the events. You start winning in your own equipment and the bigger owners see that. They’re like wow, we thought he stunk and actually maybe he’s okay and then they give me an opportunity in their car and you go out and win 25 out of 35 races in a year. It just sets off the chain of events. Then you get noticed by some Short Track Scene magazine and the next thing you know the Gibbs family kind of sees it and people within the Gibbs family that are in short track racing know about you. It gets you that opportunity at the test. It really sets off a chain of events that I think every day like if one thing wouldn’t have happened in this process, I would be working at my dad’s trailer shop right now. I was okay with that. I liked going to work there. It’s something that I really enjoyed doing because I got to do it with my dad. We showed up every day and we would raise hell at each other, but we ran a business together and that was really, really fun for me. When I got to this level, I would say it split us apart a little bit because you don’t like traveling as much and things like that. My biggest hurdle has been keeping that relationships as good as it has knowing that he risked it all for me to get here.”