Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
ISM Raceway – March 8, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media at ISM Raceway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Tell us about the hole-in-one.
“Yeah, it was awesome. At Whisper Rock. I hadn’t had one since I was about a 25 handicap and it was 15 years ago. The first one was total luck. I didn’t hit it very good. I just luckily hit the pin but this one was true the whole way.”
What did you hit yardage-wise and all that.
“It was 178 – 7 iron. Pretty high draw and it just went straight in.”
Is that a good omen for the weekend?
“That’s the plan. It’s hard to believe you can have a bad weekend after starting it off like that.”
Arizona has great weather and year-round golf weather. How does the state rate in terms of places you visit?
“It’s the top of the list for me. It’s certainly a place that I’d like to have a place to live at some point. It’s just a great place. Love the weather for about eight months of the year. It’s great overall. We always come out here early and spend a lot of time out here simply because it is. There’s so many fun things to do. My kids got to go to the Butterfly Museum. They loved that.”
What do you think about heading into this weekend and does the new package affect the progress you’ve made over the years here?
“It’s the same for everyone and we did come out here and test, but certainly it’s a lot different. We were a little bit off in practice. More so than what I was comfortable with. We changed everything around to hopefully qualify better because I think that this will be one of the major track position races of the entire year.”
How good are you on restarts here? Drivers will have to be good on restarts here.
“Yeah, you certainly are. You’re going to have to qualify well and have good restarts because after that it’s going to be extremely tough to make up a lot of positions. You’ve got to be on your game right here starting on Friday and that’s where I think the race could be won.”
Did you test on these particular tires?
“I tested on so many different tires, but I’m not sure if it was actually this one or not. It’s tough for me to say whether I tested this one, but it certainly feels a lot different than what I’ve tested.”
Are you on the short list of drivers to do well here and beat Kevin Harvick?
“We’ve had good success here. We won here in ’12. We continually run here pretty well. Definitely had a winning car just a few races ago here at this race track. Certainly it’s a track I’ve got a good feel for knowing what I need, it’s just a matter of knowing whether you can get it all done in such a short amount of time during practices.”
What do you expect at Fontana with the new package?
“That’s probably going to be one of the biggest drafting tracks that we have all year long. I certainly think with the straightaways being that long, it certainly could be a big factor. The potential for a great race is liable to happen at that race track. Simply too because it’s wide enough to where you’re able to go out and get clean air in a different line than what you are at tracks like this where it’s kind of one groove. Certainly looking forward to it and hopefully we have a fast Toyota when we get there.”
Does what you know at regular short tracks apply to a track like this?
“It does. This is a short track for all intents and purposes. Anywhere where you have substantial braking and off throttle time, you consider a short track and this one certainly falls under that. You use some of the same techniques.”
Does the extra downforce change your marks and things like that in terms of how far you can go into the corner?
“It’s a lot different. I think the problem if you ask most of the drivers – the first run out here today they said they under drove it. You carry way more throttle into the corner. You have the spoiler slow you down so you don’t need as much brake and you get back in the gas quicker. Everything happens a lot quicker, but with these faster speeds, it means that big hole gets punched in the air and you’ve got to make sure you’re out in front of it.”
What’s the hardest part about this track?
“If you get behind a little bit, the frustration of trying to get back to the front. Even if you have a faster car, if someone sticks to the bottom, it will make it really difficult to get around them. You’ve got to move around, but with what this track is – in terms of turns of 1 and 2, it’ll widen out a little bit. Just the frustration of getting back to the front, it’ll take a long time for the guys that qualify bad to get up there.”
Do you think maybe less would be more in terms of how many races we have each year?
“Maybe. Who knows. That’d be a big experiment for sure. It would probably have to be weaned that way to be honest with you. We all know that the sport is a long one. It’s nine, ten months of the year so it can be a grind. It’s longer than any other sport other than golf that kind of ends one year and starts another in two weeks, but that’s different because they can choose their own schedule. It’s long. It’s tough on the guys more so than the drivers because they’re the ones that work in the shop as well as come out here and work on the weekends. Certainly there’s something to be said about something that is shorter and you have more anticipation that goes into it. The only thing that’s different though is that you don’t see a lot of people moving around. What makes other sports exciting is the free agency and the people moving from one to the next. You don’t really celebrate that or even let that be known in NASCAR. You don’t know when the fastest jack man on pit road moves from Jimmie’s (Johnson) car to Ryan Blaney’s car. That’s stuff you don’t know. I’m not sure you can really fill it with enough content in the off season unless you start seeing those margins.”
It seems like there’s been more of a buzz and positive vibe to start this season.
“I agree. There definitely has been and certainly when you’re looking to the tracks – Atlanta certainly is one that I noticed where it seemed like there were more people than what it had been in the last few years. Yeah, there certainly is a buzz to it. I think a lot of it is because the fans know that this is a new type of NASCAR racing that is being put in front of you here and so they want to see what it’s all about.”
Has Rockingham Speedway had its best day or is there enough they could do where we could see it back on the NASCAR schedule?
“I loved watching that race track. I never got to actually race in it in any series. We’re in an age where they are really updating these facilities. Look at Phoenix here where we’re at and that’s just what fans expect nowadays. If we go back to somewhere, it’s really got to be a really good fan experience and the facilities need to be nice. They need to be held to a certain standard that even the garages and what not for the teams to work in and the space that you need to have, you can’t just go back there and think that rewinding the clock twenty years is going to make things better. You have to evolve just like every other sport has. I love the race track and the pavement and all that stuff, but certainly I would think it would need substantial investment put in it.”
Because of the location of Rockingham, is it a place where you could do a one-day show since it’s so close to Charlotte? It could shorten the season because you don’t have to travel far and race in the middle for the week.
“I like where you’re going with it. It’s certainly close enough to Charlotte to where you could go up there and start the day early, have practice, qualify in the afternoon, race at night, something like that. I don’t even know if it has lights. It is a track where you could do a lot in one day. There’s a lot of tracks on our schedule where we could do something like that. It’s going to take a lot of buy in from stakeholders. It’s also going to be – it’s going to take some people willing to make sacrifices and changes.”
What’s the expectation when you come up on lap cars?
“Basically what my spotter tries to do is tell me where they’ve been running and you just hope that they stay in that lane in the sense that they don’t change their mind. As long as I think a lap car, especially one that is off the pace, decides that okay, everyone is going to kind of run below me, I think that’s fine. They can run their own race and everything will be fine. It’s when you kind of get the ones that actually have great intentions of letting, okay this guy has been running here, I’ll let him have the bottom and this guy has been running the top, let me move down – that’s where things kind of get bad because it ends up being a moving target and you don’t really know where they are. As long as they pick one side or the other and they want to let the field go, it’s good.”
Are you guys experimenting with the car at all since you’ve won Daytona?
“No, it’s all out for us. We’re trying everything we can to run and finish as good as we can. The first two weeks have been tough because we have top-five cars, ran top five in the last two weeks and we had tough pit stops that set us back at the end of the race that have hampered our finish. Other than that, no. We’re trying to get all the bonus points and regular-season points that we can.”