NASCAR Teleconference Transcript - Denny Hamlin July 28. 2009 An interview with: DENNY HAMLIN HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR cam video teleconference. I guess you could call it a doubleheader. Today for our...
NASCAR Teleconference Transcript - Denny Hamlin
July 28. 2009
An interview with:
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR cam video teleconference. I guess you could call it a doubleheader. Today for our first NASCAR cam, from Joe Gibbs Racing headquarters in Huntersville, North Carolina, we have the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Denny Hamlin. At 2:30 we'll move over to Hendrick Motorsports headquarters in Charlotte and talk to Jimmie Johnson. He's fresh off that big win Sunday in Indianapolis.
Like I said, first up we have Denny, who is sixth in the series standings. Denny, we'll start off with a question from a fan. We have this from NASCAR's Twitter feed. Chuck in Minneapolis is a fan, and Chuck wants to ask, What is it that drivers and teams have take away from Indianapolis and apply to Pocono that might help them get to Victory Lane this weekend?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, the two definitely have a lot of similarities. But for the most part a lot of times people take the same racecar back-to-back weeks between the two because the corners, corner entry speed, is about the same at Pocono as what it is at Indianapolis. Those are very similar.
The braking, how much brake pressure you use, is very similar. What you need out of your racecar to get through the short chutes is the same like the tunnel turn in Pocono.
There are a lot of similarities. I think that's why you always see the guys that run good at Pocono run good at Indianapolis and vice versa.
HERB BRANHAM: Excellent. Thanks for that opener. We'll now go to the media for questions for our first NASCAR cam guest, Denny Hamlin.
Q: Denny, can you describe for us and the fans exactly what happened with your shifter. I envision that thing being welded to the car. Can you talk about that a little bit.
DENNY HAMLIN: What looked like happened was the same thing that we had fail during the All-Star qualifying. When I left pit road, the drive shaft, the yolk of the drive shaft, broke off. That was the drive shaft we ran all of last year. When we had that problem at Charlotte, we decided not to run them any more. We switched to a new style. At Indianapolis we had a vibration during practice, so we went back to that old style. It snapped again.
Definitely haven't had very good luck with those. So what happened was the drive shaft came apart, came from underneath the racecar, went up, hit the shifter and broke it in half basically right where it fastens to the transmission.
Q: Before Daytona you said, It's my fourth year, it's time to be a champion, not a guy that contends. If you look at it from that standpoint, how do you feel about this year so far? Do you still feel you're contending or do you think you can make that next step in the next 16 weeks?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think we need to get to the second half of the season starting now and become what I was talking about in the off-season about being a guy that wins races instead of contends for race wins. Obviously at the beginning of this year we had a lot of issues finishing races where we should. We had the best car, and not actually winning.
Yeah, we need to still work on that. There's a lot of things that I need to do to help close at the end, and there's things, other things, pit road, make sure we have our best stops at the very last stop of the day. It just takes a lot of good things to happen to win these Cup races nowadays. Need to start qualifying better.
As hard as passing has been at Indianapolis, it was going to take us all race to pretty much come from where we were, we started right around Jimmie, to get to the front. We need to qualify better. There's a few odds and ends we need to work on. We're still not to that level where I think we need to be at.
Q: J.D. said after the race on Sunday, outside Kyle's hauler, We might not have the best stuff right now. He felt the over week there had been some progress. Are you getting the sense you're heading in the right direction?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yes, we're definitely heading in the right direction. We're getting closer. I mean, week in, week out, it's a Hendrick car winning one way, shape or form. Pretty much they're taking all the top five spots, to be honest with you. We feel like we've got a tall mountain to climb, but we're almost there. I feel like we're three-quarters of the way there right now. I feel like we're the closest competitors to those guys on a weekly basis.
So, I mean, even though we're a little behind, we're still not too far away. And we can get there by the end of the year.
Q: Denny, I wanted to ask you about your program where you give away the tickets to NASCAR fans. I wondered what inspired you to do that. Have you had any interaction with the winners during the season?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, actually this week, as a matter of fact, I got a letter back from the winning fans. They were just excited. You wouldn't believe after reading their letter, just seeing how excited they were. Their seats were great. They were just amazed at how good the seats were. They were very grateful for those tickets.
It's definitely reached the right group that I was trying to reach at the beginning of the season with this whole ticket program. We've been able to give away a lot, a lot of seats, at least four a weekend, sometimes eight, sometimes more than that, if the tracks participating chip in as well.
But it's definitely working. It's a program I plan to keep working for years to come.
Q: As long as you come back to Pocono, you'll be asked about your rookie year there, winning both races. Can you reflect on that a little bit. I don't know how often you think about it when you come back to Pocono. Pretty remarkable thing.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, when we went to the Car of Tomorrow, we kind of lost our edge at that racetrack it seemed like we had with the older car. We've always been competitive there. Never got a shot, it seemed. The very first lap, had fuel pump issues this year. But really we always just run well there. I think it's a racetrack that just kind of tends to my style a little bit. We go there, Mike has a good feel for what we need in a racecar at that racetrack. So I think it's no matter what the car, we're always going to be competitive. It's just hard to repeat what you did in your rookie season when we had a car as phenomenal as it was.
Q: Looking back at Sunday, I don't think anybody questions now that Montoya was speeding. From a driver's perspective, do you wish the pit road speeding penalties weren't so punitive? Other sports, you lose 15 yards, two points, where Juan was taken completely out of the race by that. Do you wish there was another penalty system in that situation so you weren't completely taken out of the running like he was?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think it took him out of the running because of where we were. We weren't at a racetrack where he could make up that. Indy is the toughest place to pass that we go to on our circuit. With the speeds what they are, it's a one-groove racetrack. There's no doubt about that. These cars don't have any downforce. When you get behind someone, you just can't go anywhere. It's been proven.
You look at the lead changes, probably green-flag passes at Indianapolis, it's less than any other racetrack. It's just so tough there.
But any other racetrack he wouldn't have been taken out of the race. No matter what you do, if you have a penalty with 30 laps to go, you've made your day right there. If you did it 30 laps into the race, probably still could have made it up and have been a contender for a race win. But it happened so late in the race, no matter what you do, what kind of rule you try to implement, you're gonna get taken out. It doesn't matter whether they penalize you five spots, 10 spots, whatever.
I think the penalty is fair. They've got to set up black-and-white marks which you can't go. The problem is our racecars are so equal right now that nobody can pass so they're trying to get every inch on pit road that they can to maybe beat one guy out of pit lane.
He had a two-second lead or five-second lead, whatever he had, that don't mean the other car didn't beat him to pit road. I understand why he was pushing the limit. You always have to push the limit because we're trying to get everything we can. Because on the racetrack, we can only do so much. We don't have a car that can pass really well right now at that racetrack.
But I think it's getting better. NASCAR is definitely looking at what they can do to make it better, and eventually it's going to be better than what it was. When you have a penalty that late in the race, you choose your own fate.
Q: You were talking earlier about how Hendrick right now is so strong in the Cup Series. Joe Gibbs is super strong in the Nationwide Series. I know Kyle said the Toyota motor in the Truck and Nationwide Series is the dominant motor, but not able to be in the Cup Series. With the motors being so similar, why is that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I don't know because I don't have a lot of experience. I'm probably not the best guy to ask. Those guys have been through several different motor changes since I've run Nationwide last early in the year.
I feel like our cars are just pretty good over there in the Nationwide Series. I don't think it's our motors that are better than everyone else. I think our cars are good. Dave and Jason over there, you look at those cars, look under the hood, look inside, it looks like a Cup car. They really spend a lot of time on the details of those racecars. That's why they run so well.
The problem with that is everyone has that stuff in the Cup Series because there's so much money in the Cup Series as far as the teams and sponsors are concerned. We're pretty fortunate with what we have as far as our sponsors in the Nationwide, so ultimately we're able to build new racecars, better racecars, lighter racecars. I think that's the edge we have over there. I don't necessarily think it's the motor. I have run some Toyota stuff for Billy in the Truck Series. I didn't think the motors were that much better than anyone else's.
Q: Right now you're pretty comfortable in points being sixth. Kyle got bounced out of the top 12. Is there anything at all as a teammate that you can possibly do to help your teammate get in during these next six races?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think Kyle right now is figuring out the things that he needs to do to finish races. I think he's trying. He has stepped it down. He's not going all out like he did I think before. He's trying to finish as good as he can.
Last week in particular, the right front just wore out. Whether it's our cars or what have you, we're not sure what it is. There's not really much I can tell him. He does a really good job. He has more raw speed than what I have. That's maybe why I don't get in as much trouble as what he does, because I go a little bit slower and take things a little bit easier, especially on corner entry I think. I think he runs a little bit harder into the corners than what I do.
I think it's just tough to say. Those guys are as deadly as anyone on the racetrack each and every week, as far as being able to contend for a win. But I think first they've got to get into the Chase and it's going to have to start with consistency and finishing races. The same goes for us. On paper it looks good that we're sixth. I'm not comfortable at all with where we're at.
Q: I wanted to ask you about Hendrick Motorsports. People are talking about Hendrick's dominance. Why do you think they're so strong? Is it management? Is it the satellite teams they've added to provide more information? From your perspective, what do you see that they've got?
DENNY HAMLIN: That's probably the best perspective I've seen someone have. That's pretty good work. Really, yeah, I think it's the satellite teams. They made their satellite team better in Stewart-Haas. Ultimately they're getting better feedback. I can almost guarantee you they use zero notes from the 66 and 70 from last year or previous years. But now we hear on the radio the 14 struggles or the 39 struggles, they just say over the radio, Hey, go get the notes from the 5, find out what he's running. That is big.
For us, all I have is Joey and Kyle to kind of lean on. Our setups are basically driver tuned and whatnot. But it seems like whatever they have over there, it's working for them everywhere, whether it be a front end setting or how they have their spring combination, something like that.
Their motors are very good. I feel like they're the best in the garage as far as the motors are concerned. I feel like their aerodynamics is a little bit better than everyone else right now. And their chassis, their aero platform is better than everyone else's right now. You put those three things together in a series where a 10th makes a difference between 10th and 30th, that's why you see those guys running top five every single week. The pick up most of the top five positions. Every now and then you get a Roush car sprinkled in there, me or Kyle in there, but for the most part every week you're fighting those same five or six racecars for a race win.
It's frustrating for the rest of the 36 or 7 of us, but it's up to us to work at it and get better.
Q: Can you do that? Can you beat them if you don't have the satellite teams? Is that rule then not fair because you can't compete against them if they have the satellite teams that are that strong?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, originally NASCAR set a rule on how many cars you could have. But I think with like Roush and that whole Yates thing, that's a link together. When we have the Hall of Fame deal, that was a little bit of that.
But those teams, the Hendrick teams, and Stewart-Haas, seem to be working better together than any satellite time I've really seen. Believe me, Tony has done a good job of doing it all on his own now, too. They're developing stuff just as quick as Hendrick is because they got just as good of drivers now. They got a lot of their personnel from there to come over.
Yeah, ultimately, Hendrick has a six-car team and all of 'em run competitively pretty much. When they do that, one finds a little advantage, they all get it, then you are chasing every single one of 'em. With no testing, I think it's going to be hard for any teams to really catch up to them until we figure it out on the racetrack, hit on something at a tire test or something.
Q: On the lighter side, I was wondering what your thoughts are on being the elder statesman at Joe Gibbs Racing? Has that changed anything regarding your overall role with the team?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's changed a little bit. I think I've taken more of an approach of trying to make our cars better meeting with department heads or what have you to make more of a forward role in figuring out what we need to do to get better. Because, believe me, I don't want to go to the racetrack every single week and say, Man, I know we can run top five, but are we going to have the best car? I doubt it. Probably a Hendrick car will have the best car. Probably one of those guys are going to hit it and we're going to be chasing them. I don't like that attitude and feeling that way when we go to the racetrack. I want to feel like we can win every single week we step in the car.
It takes me and Kyle and Joey to step up and kind of fill the gap that Tony left here as far as doing the hard work of going and doing some testing at these racetracks, figuring out what we need to get better. It's really on all of our shoulders, not just mine because I've been here the longest.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to Denny Hamlin, appreciate you taking time out to join us. Best of luck at Pocono.
DENNY HAMLIN: Appreciate it.