DENNY HAMLIN, No.11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What does it mean to you to be wearing the Jordan brand? "I think it's a big deal for myself and really NASCAR. The Jordan brand has never been in NASCAR before. It was a dream come true for me. I mean, for me the Jordan brand represents excellence in sports and really it's good to have that partnership. It's a personal deal for myself to have a Jordan branded fire suit, obviously it will be on the gloves and we're working on shoes and things of that nature. I'd love to see it personally from my standpoint, to have an apparel line with those guys in the future so hopefully we'll get that done in the future to where some of the fans can have it as well."
How did your partnership with the Jordan brand come about? "Its funny how those things work up. Obviously, everyone knows me and Michael (Jordan) had a relationship through the Bobcats, have had some golf tournaments and stuff together. Michael is a bigger motorsports fan than what people give him credit for. He always used to talk to me last year about how the race went because he watched the races and he wanted to know questions of why did this happen? Why did that happen? I never really knew he kept track of racing that much until I looked and dug a little deeper and found that he's had his motorcycle race team since 2004. He's always been an avid motorsports fan, just never knew the right situation to get into NASCAR and he felt like I was the right representative for him."
Do you think the Jordan brand will get NASCAR out to a wider audience? "I personally think it's going to relate a lot to a lot of these sports athletes that come to these races each and every week they don't always recognize and understand with us. I feel like they're going to see that and recognize the brand. There's guys on the Yankees that are Jordan branded athletes. Obviously, I'm their first race car driver. For me, this is a huge stepping point and hopefully something that turns into something very big within our sport."
What do you think the chances are of all three Joe Gibbs Racing cars making the Chase this year? "I'd say it's probably 75 percent. Obviously, Joey (Logano) is going to have to get in there for the first time and being that this is his third year it's probably a good opportunity and a good chance for him to do that. He showed at the end of last year that he's got the speed and consistency to do it now so it's just going to be about him believing in himself that he can be part of the top-10."
Is momentum from last season harder to retrieve than it is to achieve? "It's tough. It's tough to get going. Trust me, we talk about it every beginning of the year and I'm sure we'll all be talking about it five to six races in that our cars were starting slow. We always do every single year and I really don't know why that is. I'm not trying to be middle of the pack, but it just seems to work that way. We just ease into a season. I don't know what it is with our race team, but we can't fake momentum. We can't go into Daytona and just fake the momentum like we had. Even in 2009 when we ended on such a high note and won Homestead, it took us a while to get going in 2010. So, hopefully the same works out for this year but I see our summer and fall months being different."
Has your relationship with Mike Ford changed after what happened at the end of last season? "It's no different. Our relationship really is the same as it was going into last year even though we had the fuel issues that we did at Phoenix, we still had the wreck that happened at Homestead. There were a lot of things that kept us from winning a championship, but I have no hard feelings towards him or him towards me either way for that. We gave ourselves a heck of a championship run and even though the last two weeks of the season didn't go the way we wanted it to we still had 34 weeks of a lot of celebrating to talk about. For us, it was a career year and for me I just take the things and the mistakes that I've made and move forward with it."
Do you feel more calm going into this season then in year's past? "I think this year, I'm more anxious than I was in any of the years in the past, but I'm more calm about it. Its two different things. I just have an understanding for how things work now. I understand that you can't panic in the first three or four races. You've got to just work your way into the season, and even though this is the first day of school for everyone and its new and everyone has the same goals and optimism at this point. We know when we leave Daytona reality sets in, and that's when you see what all of the hard work that you've done over these last two months whether the results were good or not."
Why do you think you are calmer going into this season? "I think it just happened as I got older. I think it's just you see it in all sports. Any veteran is obviously a lot more calm than the rookies and a little bit less intense than what the rookies are. I carried that same intensity and passion out on the race track, don't get me wrong, but how I get to that point and the way that I prepare myself is a little bit different."
Were you concerned with what Mike Ford said at Texas about your team being better than the 48 team? "Looking back at it, he (Mike Ford) was just showing a lot of confidence in our race team. He felt like our race team was better. And, in what instance was our race team not better? We had the same group of guys at Homestead that we had all year long. Those other couple teams switched people around and had to move people around to get a better race team. For us, we stuck with our guys no matter what, through thick and thin and at that point we had the best race team. We were on top of the standings. So, why not stick your chest out and have a little bit of confidence."
Does Mike Ford remind you of Rex Ryan? "I think he's the absolute, total 100 percent opposite of Rex Ryan. He never says anything, and talking with Mike (Ford, crew chief) in the offseason he said, `Now I know why I never said anything before that particular point.' That's because anything that you say kind of gets blown up and I know first hand that it definitely can be so you've got to be careful."
How frustrating was it for you to see the 48 team win the championship yet again? "It was very frustrating especially being that I felt like we outperformed those guys. Flat out, I feel like we performed better we just didn't execute as good if that makes any sense at all. I felt like the 29 (Kevin Harvick) had the best season as a whole. They put the whole season together. The 48 (Jimmie Johnson) performed good obviously and executed and capitalized on us and the 29s mistakes. As far as the speed and winning and all of that I felt like we outperformed everyone."
Is there something you can specifically point to that justifies your optimism this year? "One is coming off a career year you're going to feel like -- for me, since my rookie season and going into 2007 I've never taken a step back. It's always been, we had a great 2006, rookie season and had a chance to win a championship.2007 the driver just tried to make up too much, and then since then these last four years we have steadily marched -- more wins, higher in the points every single year and obviously there's only one more place to go. I don't consider myself stepping back at all and obviously anything less than what we did last year is going to be considered to myself a failure in the sense of that I took a step back. I didn't accomplish what I did before. Given, there's a lot of variables. Whether your cars are as good, pit crew is as good and things like that. We've never taken a step back with our FedEx team and that's something I'm proud of."
Would winning a championship and being the first person to beat the 48 team be double the excitement? "He (Jimmie Johnson) has won the championship ever since I've been in the sport in 2006 so for me a change at the top would be good. I felt like we very easily could be talking about me going for three in a row versus him going for six in a row. In 2009, I felt like we outperformed them in the Chase and just blown motors flat took us out. All those things that could've, would've, should've didn't happen and now it's on us that we have to execute. Not perform, but execute."
What did you think and where were you when you found out Dale Earnhardt passed away? "I didn't believe it personally. I remember watching the race obviously and seeing it and it's just like everyone else thought, it didn't look too bad. Then next thing you know you get a phone call and someone says they heard something and next thing you know you log onto the internet and there's rumors here and there on whether he has or hasn't passed. Then the next thing that you know it becomes reality when you see his face on TV. For me, I remember that for me as a race fan that was probably the first time I've ever cried because of something else outside of my life that has actually happened. It was a big event. Trust me, I'll say it right here, I wasn't the biggest Dale Earnhardt fan. I was a big Bill Elliott fan and he was the alpha. But still, everyone had a respect for him and obviously he touched a lot of people even though he might not have been your favorite."
-source: toyota motorsports