Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media at Martinsville Speedway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Talk about your trophy setup at home and the addition of your Daytona 500-winning Toyota Camry.
“Yeah, it’s cool. I knew eventually I’d want something in there when I was designing the house, but really just worked out nice to where it had a nice little spotlight there under the trophy. Eventually one day I’d like to have a championship car and a championship trophy there. That might trump it, I don’t know.”
How much harder has the competition become at a track like Martinsville compared to a few years ago?
“Well, I think the competition in general at every single racetrack has tightened up because of data sharing. I think the gap between the great drivers and the good drivers is smaller than ever, simply because we share each other’s data, so there’s really no advantages to be had. All these drivers, I mean, anybody that does enough homework can drive the car like the lines tell you to drive it and get better. So I think that’s where the gap has gotten smaller over the years for sure. But you still ‑‑ in‑race situations, as tires wear out, you have to adapt, and that’s kind of where you still can get little advantages here and there.”
How many drivers do you think at Martinsville are at the level that you are?
How does Dave Rogers’ leave impact your team?
“Yeah, it’s tough for Dave and those guys, they’ve already had a few wrenches thrown their way before the season even started. But Daniel (Suárez) is with a guy who he’s had a lot of success with, and when we talked about having a guy come up, I thought it was a pretty easy answer to have Scott (Graves) come up and do it for him since he’d had so much success with him in the XFINITY Series. It would take a crew chief a long time just to kind of understand Daniel inside the car, so I think someone having that experience with him was a must.”
Talk about finding your groove here and why it takes time for younger drivers to find their groove here.
“Yeah, but like I say, they’ve closed the gap dramatically. You know, this is one of those tracks where, you know, you can be off on aero, you can be off on a few little things here and there, and the driver can kind of overcome any of those deficits with technique at this racetrack. You know, you really have to have a good setup, and I think that guys that sometimes hit it, even if they’re young and inexperienced, can run well here. Kyle (Larson) has actually ran up front here I think in the last few races, so I would expect his cars have gotten faster over the off‑season, so I would expect he’d be a challenger for sure.”
As an avid sports fan is do you think the All Star Race should find a way to truly showcase a driver’s talent and how should that be incorporated as opposed to whether you move it to a different facility or not?
“I think that’s a very valid question, and I think any time ‑‑ the bigger the racetrack gets, the less that it becomes about the driver. That’s just simple thinking there. Like I said, you can make up here at these racetracks, these small ones, the driver can make a difference. So yeah, I mean, I’d like to see it move around, and obviously for selfish reasons the shorter the better, but I also think from a fan’s perspective, you put us on a tight racetrack with big stakes like an All Star, you’re liable to see some tempers and some bad judgment moves in a lot of places. So I think that it wouldn’t hurt to move it around to some different places, and I think now that this track has lights, it’s an interesting venue. You can’t run it in October or February, but in the middle of the summer, nighttime would be pretty cool here.”
Has the driver’s council started discussing this year’s All Star race?
“Yeah. There’s still some talks about it. I think this year’s is done and we know what we’re going to do, but for sure in 2018, those discussions are still going on about when and where.”
Should there be a sense of alarm at all that two of the sport’s best teams, Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, haven’t won yet?
“Kinda, maybe. But we haven’t really hit the heart of the season yet. We’ve been to some very intricate type of racetracks that are a little different. Our season always starts off that way. But I think that really eight races in is when you can really look at the bigger picture and kind of figure out where you’re at. I think I know where we are at this point and the things that we need to work on, and by no means are we at the top. We as a company have a good idea of where we’re at, but I don’t think people from the outside looking can really make a judgment until probably eight to nine races.”
There’s been six different winners at Martinsville in the last six races, why are different drivers able to find success here now?
“Data sharing. Data sharing has changed the game in which drivers learn how to be fast and how to be good at certain racetracks. That really was kind of a turning point, I think, for myself, and really circumstances ‑‑ every time the field ‑‑ if the field gets closer to you, you have room for error to get a race win, and really I’ve had so many speeding penalties at this racetrack and I think I wrecked here in the spring last year wheel hopping, trying to come from the back from a speeding penalty. So when the field gets close like that, that just makes you have to be on your game every single time, where before I feel like I could have kind of overcome anything that kind of threw our way at any point in the race. There’s just ‑‑ you can’t do that now.”
Does that put the responsibility on you being a JGR guy who’s won here a bunch as the one your teammates are coming to now?
“Yeah, but I think that they’ve ‑‑ once they’ve seen it one time and they copy that and they use it to learn, they refine it for their own particular style, and they’ve started to make it work for them. I mean, Matt (Kenseth) and Kyle (Busch) really arguably probably have been maybe a little better than us in probably half of the last six races. The information has already been given. You can’t take it back. As a company it makes us better, and at least the company got a race win here in the spring.”
Do you keep anything to yourself in terms of breaking points and all that stuff, just kind of mental notes, or do you divulge that to your teammates, as well?
“I give every bit of information that I have. There’s been times in practice here where I’ve felt something that’s been better for me, and I will walk right next door and tell those guys what it was so that it would help them. I don’t know; it probably has lost me a few races here and there doing that, but I think in the grand scheme of things, I would want that same thing from them at most of the other racetracks. So I just feel like it makes you better overall, and I wouldn’t change it for that reason.”
How does the stage racing at Martinsville affect your race strategy?
“Yeah, I think the biggest thing that probably will affect strategy is we have two sets less tires this week, and I know that we’ve actually been close on sets of tires here in the past before. You know, races have been going green a little bit longer this year because of the stage races. You know when you’re going to have the yellows, the scheduled yellows. So it might not be as big of an issue, but I think that stages will be intense. You’re going to be going for every point. This is a race that I hope to be getting a lot of points through stages and through our finish. We haven’t really logged a whole lot of stage points this year. We’ve had ‑‑ every time we’ve finished good, it’s been at the end of the races, and that doesn’t pay off as good as it used to with the stages. I think that it makes you race more intense right from the very beginning, and what I talked about with the speeding penalty, if you have a speeding penalty at the beginning of this race, you might as well not even count on getting any stage points that first segment, so you just ‑‑ you’ve got to be flawless for all this entire race if you want to optimize it.”
Looking at drivers who excel in the 500‑ and 600‑mile races, is there something that you feel like those drivers all have in common that enables them to succeed in the longer events?
“Not really. I wouldn’t say that there’s anything physically that makes them better or worse. I think that when you pile enough statistics together, there’s always going to be a few people that are at the top. Why they’re up top, it might be a good racetrack for them, things like that. But I don’t think that ‑‑ in my opinion, I think that everyone is physically fit enough now that there is ‑‑ there’s very little fatigue at the end of these races. Nothing like it used to be.”
When you throw stage racing into the mix at road courses, to what extent do you expect the stages to perhaps make the racing on the road courses even crazier?
“Yeah, I think you could have a potential for ‑‑ the craziness of the road courses really comes at the end of the races, and I think that you have a potential for that to happen two or three times in the middle of that race. So I mean, you know, you can risk trying to get stage points or a stage win by making an aggressive move, but at the end of the day, it’s not going to pay off for you if you don’t finish, so you still have to be smart in that aspect.”
When you talk about data sharing, how much of that is sharing information that you as a driver have developed, like where your breaking points are and things like that out on the track, and how much of it is much more specific to the car setup‑wise?
“A lot of it is driver driven versus car setup. I mean, I think I look back to data from a long time ago when we tested here 10 years ago, and I still drive the same type of way that I do now, and that’s a total different car, different rules, different tire, everything. You know, once you find something that works at a given racetrack, no matter what you’re driving, you always try to emulate that because that’s what you were successful with. So I think that it’s more driver‑driven, the data that you see, than car setup.”
Would you give away any of your five clocks, and to whom would you give them?
“They’re spread out now a little bit. There’s one at Fuel Sports Management, the agency that represents me. There’s my buddy has one at his house. At the time I was in between houses, so I let him borrow one. My parents have one, and the others are in my house and garage now. They’re all spread out. Eventually I’ll have them all come back to home, but yeah, I would not mind ‑‑ I don’t mind sharing.”
Five races in, the aero package is not what anybody expected. As the active voice of the Drivers’ Council, how would you approach making changes to make the racing even better in the future?
“Well, I think we’ve had a relatively small sample size. I think that we’ve had probably fewer cautions than what we’ve had in the past, and that doesn’t help the passes, the green flag passes, because you have jumbling up on pit road, faster cars have a bad pit stop, they’ve got to come back through the field, so that part of it hampers passing a little bit. It would be interesting to revisit that probably mid to later in the season. But I think overall, the racing itself has been very, very good. We’ve seen battles for the lead every single week. So overall, we’ve been pretty happy with it. Corner speeds are down, which is good. That’s something that we wanted. There’s been more tire falloff this year, which has been good. That’s what we wanted. So I think we’re heading in a good direction. But early in seasons, there’s some teams that are on top right now that are very hot and their cars are fast, and it’s going to take a while for the competition to catch up. When they catch up, fields get tighter, more passing happens.”
Are we now at the point where the cars are more reliant on mechanical grip than aero compared to say years past?
“More so than years past, but still, they still have too much aero for sure. We’ve cut the spoiler off as much as you can cut it off. We would have to do it in different ways now. One thing that I really think that we should try is getting our quarter panels off the ground. I think that the air that comes around that back tire has no choice but to just stay really wide because it can’t wrap around and go underneath the bumper and allow the second car to get air. I would like for them to cut those quarter panels up. I think it would reduce side force, reduce corner speed, and probably give the second car even more air and a bigger advantage. There’s always work that can be done, but yeah, it was good to see a beat‑up car that was able to do it, and he did it through circumstances. There were some good cautions that came at the right time. I think me and him were about eighth or ninth for most of the day until they made the right pit call strategy at the end, and it really worked out well for him. But still, it’s good to see some beat‑up cars able to run well.”
Would you be in favor of a ‘cone rule’ here for the Cup race?
“Yeah, it’s an interesting topic. I can’t say that it has not come up before. It has come up, especially for racetracks like these where people were playing games on pit road to try to get an inside position. You see the restarts, sometimes there’s a lot of games being played between teammates trying to let each other in. So yeah, it definitely would be interesting to try it one time and see how it turns out.”
Do you think we’ll be racing here 70 years from now?
“I sure hope so or hope somebody is. I won’t be here, but no, it’s just a great short track. When you come in here and you come through the tunnel, you feel like you’re at your old track from way back when. Love short tracks like these. We definitely could use more of them. Everyone always said that, more short tracks. It’s a great racetrack. Clay (Campbell) and his whole family has done a great job keeping it up and keeping it up with the times and the fan experience is always great here. They always see a great race. I wouldn’t see why it would ever leave here.”
What are your thoughts heading into Texas next week, and who do you have in the Final Four this weekend?
“Well, I’ve got three of the Final Four right, which is amazing. I didn’t have South Carolina. Obviously that was a dark horse. But I actually have ‑‑ I had Gonzaga winning the whole thing actually beating Oregon in the final. So we’ll see how that turns out. I think I’ve about won my pool because everybody else had Duke or somebody like that in there. That part of it’s good. Texas is going to be interesting. It’s hard to say what that track is going to be like. I know they tried some different asphalt on there, ones that will hopefully wear tires, but I’ve never seen a new pavement wear tires before. The configurations change where it’s flatter in 1 and 2, even flatter than it was, so I don’t know, it’s going to be a racetrack that will be different than any mile‑and‑a‑half that we run at. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it’s ‑‑ I just hope the groove widens out to where we can race there side by side. That will be the challenge, and that’s always the challenge with new paved racetracks is side‑by‑side racing.”