Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
NASCAR Cup Series Quotes
DAYTONA BEACH (February 16, 2022) – Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to media prior to the Daytona 500 this Wednesday:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing
What is your secret to winning so many Daytona 500’s?
“I think ‘wild card’ is a bit gimmicky because it’s not really true, but it is to some extent. We’ve seen a lot of first-time winners here which has all been really legit. I wouldn’t say Michael McDowell was a wild card winner because if you look at previous races, he’d been in the top 10 or top five pretty consistently. It wasn’t really an out of the blue shot there. But, in general, I just think I have a good understanding of the air here and how it moves around the walls. Talladega is different. If you look at our results, we haven’t won as much at Talladega, but we’ve been pretty good. Here, there is just something about – whatever it is – the banking or the width of the track, height of the walls or something that I just kind of know where those little pockets of air are it seems like that are a little bit better. We have a new car now and it’s going to move around a little bit different and we will probably be learning just like everyone else will be this weekend. I don’t know that the advantage really will be as big as what it was in the past.”
Why will the new Driver Advisory Council be different than those in the past and why was now the right time to get it back together?
“I think it’s been a long time coming. Certainly, I think that it’s been worked on for a while. I think this just kind of gives us one uniform voice. I guess we’re going to be speaking through Jeff (Burton) and Kyle (Petty) a lot. What it allows us to do is internally talk about issues that we see or things that we think could help make the sport better, talk about that and then let them deliver that one voice. Where a lot of times what happens in the past is that – and sometimes you see this in the RTA meetings — where the kids get chasing around a soccer ball and the next thing you know we’re way off topic and things just don’t really get done. I think this, if you just have one person in the room kind of relaying messages that it certainly will let that group collaborate and make things better.”
As you look forward, what are the things that need to be done?
“I do think that we’ve definitely created a lot of excitement within our sport and there’s a lot of really good reason for the positive momentum that we’re seeing. Whether it be the Next Gen car and then just the hope that hey, this is something that could be better. That certainly brings hope and optimism. When you go to new markets, whether it be Road America or COTA, we saw fan enthusiasm that we didn’t see at the tracks we’d been to over and over and over. LA as well. I think that those are all very, very good things in our sport that we’re doing. As a driver, you love to see it. As an owner really, we just have one question and that’s what is the cost of it? Any time you do things that are out of the ordinary or adding things there is a cost associated with that. That’s really all I care about on that side, but as a driver you look at this in general and say all these moves are very good for our sport and certainly it looks like we’re gaining some very important traction for us this year.”
From the Clash, is it possible to have a points race on a track that small? From an owner’s perspective, is it better with the cost savings with no pit crew, etc.?
“I always have to think through my answer to make sure I’m not making anyone really mad. From a driver’s perspective, it very, very good. We absolutely could run a points race there. That was a very fun race. They did a fantastic job with that whole – whether it be track, entertainment – it all was absolutely fantastic. It was really good and would love to go back there at that particular track. And even thinking about other venues that would make for a track similar to that. On the ownership side, again all we think about is cost. When we look at where our teams net there it was bad. It was really, really bad because it was very expensive for us to go there with significant damage to the 45. When you look at what we win versus what we pay out it just didn’t add up.”
How has Bubba’s activism helped grow the McDonald’s partnership?
“I think it was very important for our team in general to just be different. Our team is organized differently, we operate differently within our four walls. We probably look a little differently with our cars. There’s just a lot of things that we like to do that is just a bit different. If you look at the Jordan brand in general, you would say that their style is different than the norm. I think they’re more likely to reach out and test the barriers. I remember when we were talking about branding and things like that with our team with Michael (Jordan), he’s like ‘I would like to push the boundaries but let me know when I’m getting outside the spectrum.’ I think those are things that certainly when we saw our audience in LA, they don’t wear the norm, but it’s something that I guarantee that this drop of this special collection will get eaten up very, very quickly probably by the younger demographic and next thing you know you have people wearing NASCAR gear again.”
How much do you expect to see new guys run up at the front during the first part of the season with the new car?
“Temper expectations on that. The quote of level playing field is probably overused. Certainly, probably a tighter box from front to back but again it’s just teams find ways. If you look at single car runs yesterday, the same guys that have been on all of the poles have been the fastest. While technically you’re able to put the same parts off of his car on my car and my car on his car, what really has changed? Well, nothing really except maybe the motor is different and the body is different but they’re significantly faster. You’re still going to have the team’s resources to find a way to make the car faster than the teams that just bolt it together.”
What’s the difference in winning as an owner versus winning as a driver? How significant was Bubba’s victory in Talladega?
“It’s very significant. The timing of it was very significant for us certainly. If you can win in your first year as a team it’s a huge accomplishment, so it was very important just on so many fronts. It renewed enthusiasm. McDonalds hasn’t been in victory lane as a primary sponsor in decades before that. It’s just reinvigorating their excitement within our sport and certainly that goes a long way. When they come to us and now, they’re looking to sponsor Kurt Busch that’s a good thing right. These are all really good things for us. We’ve done a great job on the partner front. The team is really doing well. I think that we’ve been able to really keep the momentum with our team going from when we initially said we were going to start this 16 months ago to this point I think the enthusiasm for our team has kind of remained the same and it hasn’t just fell off a cliff and you’re now just one of the cars out there running. That has allowed us to gain some enthusiasm with our partners and them expanding to new and better levels, and certainly helps us to do the things like what we did this offseason, which is expand to a champion driver and a crew chief that have worked together that will have great results this year.”
How far do you think Bubba Wallace is away from being a Playoff contender? Do you think you can get both cars in the Playoffs this season?
“I do. I do think it’s possible. I think a goal for us to have both cars in the Playoffs. I think Bubba (Wallace) isn’t far off from that. It’s one DNF away – when you look at the standings of who is a contender to beat. I remember last year we were talking with two races to go from the Playoffs – two or three races to go – and it was like ‘We’re 30 points behind. That’s not that much.’ It’s not that much. You can gain a couple spots a week and on average change a drivers finish from 20th to 18th and you’re there. It’s not that much and you really won’t see that much but yet you’ll see a big change in the standings. That’s just the way our sport works. I think in general the average finish of the field is going to go up this year. Maybe not for the guys in the back who ran in the back pretty much every week, but really, you’re top 10 I would say in average finish probably will go up at least a few points than where we’ve been in the past just because of mechanical failures, wrecks, all those things will be up dramatically this year. It will be important to finish races and finish to the best of your ability and not stretching for one point and then making a mistake and losing 20.”
How can your prior success be brought to this weekend?
“That was our practice ultimately and I think that we all kind of knew that going into the test and I was pushing Kurt (Busch) pretty heavily and Joey (Logano) and I were blocking pretty heavily and pushing each other which that is what we’re going to be doing in the 500. I don’t know that you’ll see that really in practice here or even in the 150s. Simply because the way my team explained it to me is that if we crash here in the test, we have time to overcome it, but on the race week it will be very, very tough to overcome any damage. I think that was the moment where okay if we’re going to push the limits let’s do it here, do it now. So, that’s why we spent two days here being as aggressive as we were because my crew chief said to enjoy while you can because you’re not going to be doing it again until the 500.”
How do you figure out who to answer to with all your roles now?
“That’s a good question and it’s a tough balance honestly. It’s not a tough balance when you’re talking about how can we grow this sport together and make it better together. But it is different at times because you’re wanting your messaging to be positive, but you also have to be realistic. On the ownership side I’m probably more on the realistic side because we see all aspects of it. The driver side, I’m optimistic and then on the NASCAR front side and management and all of that I’m optimistic as well. It’s just each portion has a different level of concern and some of it is high, and some is low, but I always just try to be honest with my answers and try not to put on the rose-colored glasses and say everything is okay, everything is okay while a dumpster fire is going on right behind my back. It’s a tough balance because you want to do your job to help promote and make the sport a very positive place which in the general scheme of things it definitely is. But then there are concerns and little dumpster fires here and there that you’ve just got to make sure that you keep an eye out on and it doesn’t expand into something bigger.”
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