NASCAR Teleconference: Denny Hamlin - March 22, 2011
An interview with: DENNY HAMLIN
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR cam video teleconference in advance of Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. Our guest today is Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Denny joins us live from Joe Gibbs Racing. Denny is currently 17th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings and has four top-10 finishes in 10 starts at Auto Club Speedway.
You just announced your late-model race that benefits the Denny Hamlin Foundation will be held at Richmond International Raceway in April. Talk a little bit about that event and what it means to you.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, we're really excited about the announcement today with Doug Fritz from Richmond International. With all the difficulties that Southside Speedway is having this year, really the size of this event that just keeps growing, we decided we would expand it to the Richmond International Raceway. This year it will be on April 28th with the K&N Pro Series on Thursday leading up to the Richmond International Raceway weekend.
When you buy a ticket, they're $25, it's going to be for both races, for the K&N race, followed by the Short Track Showdown to follow after.
Right now on tap for sure we have myself, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano, Michael Waltrip, Tony Stewart, Trevor Bayne, Clint Campbell, amongst others that are going to be participating in this event. We're really looking forward to it again. This event keeps growing in size. No better fit than to run it at Richmond International now.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Denny. We will now go to the media for questions for Denny Hamlin.
Q. Denny, I spoke with J.D. Gibbs, he was talking about how you and your team and your crew chief sort of just work it out quietly under the radar and are doing good, got your heads together. Talk about where you are at at this time of the season.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think it's very typical to where we're at most seasons to this point, actually probably a little bit better.
Bristol was obviously a missed opportunity for us. We never really got to show what we had at that race. It was just a few laps into the race where we got caught up in that incident. While it didn't look too bad from the TV, it really messed up things inside the car that we couldn't overcome. There was just not enough time.
That's a little disappointing because we actually felt we had one of the better racecars going into this weekend. At this point of the season, it's really about just trying to get consistency right now. We've had some up-and-down finishes, pretty typical for us early in the season.
But hopefully with this new points system, you can't have a whole lot of bad races. We have to buckle down and get some top 5s and 10s like we're accustomed to.
We have to buckle down and get some top 5s and 10s like we're accustomed to.
Q. Are you looking optimistically towards California? You do pretty well there.
DENNY HAMLIN: I do. I'm definitely focused on this weekend quite a bit. Going to spend most of my flight out to California studying previous races, different qualifying trends, things like that, to try to optimize the best-case scenario for this weekend. Sitting 17th in points, it's not where we want to be by any means. There's still a lot of work to be done.
Obviously we're trying to set ourselves up for a mid-season run like we had last year.
Q. Looking back at last weekend's race where Carl Edwards could have possibly knocked your teammate Kyle Busch out of the way to get the win, do you think he should have gone ahead and done that? Carl kind of backed away and took the more gentleman-like manner.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I was watching that race. Really the only opportunity he had was about 30 laps left in the race. Honestly, it's just too early at that point. You really only want to make those moves in the last closing laps of the race, where the guy can't catch you to get back at you.
I think it was just too early. Obviously he felt like he was going to try to pass him clean at that point of the race. That's usually the strategy guys have. When they're that close to the lead with 30 to go, you're going to work as hard as you can to clean the guy as clean as possible, not get into him.
If it's the closing lap, that's your only shot to win, that's when guys kind of go for it. I think it was just too early. 30 laps to go, it's just too early in the day for him to try to make that bump-n-run type move.
Q. Do you think a year after the 'have at it' edict, you guys are policing each other, there's going to be more respect on the track, that through this NASCAR kind of loosening the reins, you have tightened them up on each other?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, that's the thing, it is self-policing. Carl knows with any kind of move he makes that's not necessarily ethical, it's going to come back to him. It's just too early in the season to stir the pot, I guess you could say. It's not worth it. Especially the way he's running, he's been so competitive really week in, week out, I'm sure at this point he figures, Hey, I'll just go out and win next week.
It's a little bit different when guys don't have as many opportunities to win races, they're a little bit more aggressive.
Q. Denny, I want to ask you, looking ahead to Martinsville, winning three in a row, the success you've had there, what challenges are left there? You seem to have that place so figured out, what is there left to do? Can anybody beat you there?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, we know the 48 can. He's beat us there a few times. I don't know how many years in a row now it's either been us or the 48 that's won at Martinsville. But we hope to keep that trend going.
Martinsville spring race always seems to be the springboard for our season. Whenever we have struggles for the first five races or so, Martinsville falls that fifth or sixth race of the season for us, and that's when we hit our momentum, as soon as we get there.
For us, we're looking to, at that racetrack in particular, be the one that kind of sets our season in motion. Hopefully it's no different this year. Because Martinsville, regardless of how many grandfather clocks you have there, how many wins, it's a track you love to win at, it's got so much history at that track. I can remember how hard I fought to get my first win there. I'm going to just try to keep on winning.
Q. Like you said, you and Jimmie have won the last nine races at Martinsville. For as close as competition is supposed to be in the sport, how is it that two guys have dominated one racetrack? Why is it that there isn't that diversity of winners? How have you and Jimmie managed to dominate a racetrack over a four-and-a-half, five-year period?
DENNY HAMLIN: I just think that we have got something figured out that really no one else has figured out at this point. That's all you can really pinpoint it, because the competition is so close. Each and every week, even qualifying, you know, racing, everyone runs essentially the same speed once they kind of get it all ironed out.
How can two guys seem to win? It's no different than Kyle Busch at Bristol, to be honest with you. They can just win with inferior cars sometimes. They can find ways to win when they don't have the best car because of their technique at that one given particular racetrack.
So for me, obviously Richmond, Pocono, Martinsville, those are three racetracks for me where I feel I can get the most out of what I don't necessarily have sitting under me.
I think it's part of racing. There's certain tracks where guys click. We'll see it this weekend with Jimmie at California. You know, every driver will tell you, he just has his favorite two or three racetracks where they seem that drivers can make up for what they don't have.
Q. Is the typical slow start easier to take when you know you have Martinsville and Texas coming up, the two places you swept last year?
Until we get to probably six or seven races before the Chase starts, that's when you got to really analyze where you're at in your points position.
DENNY HAMLIN: It is. I mean, you know, we're in no way, shape or form panicking or anything like that at this point. You know, really it is a little different because, you know, I look at I'm 40 some points back, I think. Essentially I look back and I say, Okay, we're about 140 points back from the points lead right now in the old system. So, you know, I kind of relate that, that's how I kind of gauge where I need to be, what I need to do to perform to get myself in a Chase position.
Really, you know, essentially being one race back, we can make that up, especially with a string of about three top 10s in a row, top 5s, top 3, a win hopefully in the next few weeks, we can make that up relatively easy.
The good part about it and the reason I don't panic is I know I've got a really strong race team. Obviously we've been contenders over these last five years for a reason: that's because of the core group of guys working on this team, and they continue to give me good racecars every weekend. So I know when I have a bad weekend like I had last weekend, I'm just seven days away from the opportunity to win again.
For me, it's pretty encouraging. Until we get to probably six or seven races before the Chase starts, that's when you got to really analyze where you're at in your points position.
Q. I assume with this new wild card situation, I guess you never say you're definitely going to have a certain number of wins, but you have to feel you'll have enough wins by the 26th race to have a good chance at the wild card if for some reason you can't get out of the hole?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, and that's the good part about it. Honestly for us, we feel like, yeah, we've got several opportunities to win races now until the Chase starts. If for some reason we do have bad races here and there, we can't get ourselves into the top 10, hopefully the wins will carry us into the Chase. Yeah, that is the positive part about it.
The negative is everyone has that same mentality. What's going to happen when there's five races to go before the Chase and, you know, you got several guys with one win needing just one more win to lock in that wild card spot. You're going to have crazy strategies going on I feel like right before the Chase starts, guys going out and trying everything they can to get a win to lock themselves in the Chase because they know they can't make up the points to get into the top 10.
Q. Denny, you mentioned something earlier that many people really don't understand when you say you have to study your notes about the track and the last couple of races you ran there. People think you just walk onto a track, crew has your car ready for you to go out and race. Can you explain to the people how much driver study goes into each race at each track?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, really, the best I can think of it is just like anything else, you watch film. After I go back, I always watch a race directly after I race in it. I'll go home and sit on the couch for four hours and watch a race over again to keep things fresh in my mind of when do lines come in, what strategies worked, which didn't work. I study my line compared to other guys' to see where I can make up time.
I feel like that's kind of a critical part of getting better because these cars are so close nowadays. The talent level really has gone up. I think it's because everyone is studying, everyone is honing their driving skills. It's not just about raw talent anymore.
I think that's just one of the things that I do to try to get better.
Q. Denny, can you tell us more about your Denny Hamlin charity race. I think it's awesome. It's going to be at the big track with a lot of attendance possibility. I wonder, you are so competitive, what you foresee the racing will be like, and the officiating of it. As it gets bigger, more eyes on it, how it will change. I'm sure it will be intense.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, absolutely. Every year it's gotten bigger. I mean, we've gotten to the point where these last couple years, you know, we have no more tickets to sell. The capacity of Southside Speedway was only so big. For us it's great to have it at the big track, stands are unlimited. For us it's good because, you know, you've got so many race fans right there in Richmond that know about the Speedway, don't necessarily know where all the short tracks are, but they know where Richmond International is, so it's a great location for them. All the amenities that Richmond has. That's what is going to make the fan experience I feel like even better than what it's been like in years past. I'm looking forward to that part of it, as well as trying to finally win in my own race. Tony wins at his all the time. I can't seem to break through. Last year I led on the last lap, kind of got booted out of the way. That's part of racing, you know. That's what's so exciting for me and drives me, is the willingness to want to win at Richmond in a late model.
I look forward to it. We obviously got a lot of big names back this year. Can't thank all those guys enough, willing to put themselves in the bee's nest.
Q. With you being at your race, are you like Tony at Eldora, overseeing it, getting there early? How is it officiated? Are you like the Mike Helton of the whole deal?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, until we actually have this, it's now NASCAR sanctioned and everything, I didn't realize how much NASCAR played a role in how the formats go, how they want to run the race. It's interesting to me, you kind of turn over the reins to NASCAR, say, This is the race we want to run, how do you want to run it? That part of it's interesting to me now.
It's very different. I won't be actually officiating because I don't want to have anything to do with any bad calls, good calls, anything like that. I just want to go out there, be a competitor, try to win.
Q. I want to say it was 10 days ago where Southside announced they weren't going to have any racing for the season. I assume even though it's good you get your event at Richmond on the big track, there's got to be part of you that is either going to miss Southside or would want it there.
I didn't realize how much NASCAR played a role in how the formats go, how they want to run the race.
DENNY HAMLIN: It is. And for me that's really the sad part. Southside, it's a landmark in Chesterfield, Virginia. It's an area in Chesterfield that people went for years and years. It was a tradition Friday night for my family. I couldn't wait to get to the racetrack and watch guys like Bugs Hairfield, Roy Hendrick, Wayne Patterson, all those guys race. That's what I lived for. That's what fueled me into being a racecar driver, sitting as a fan watching those races. For me I'm as much excited as I am sad about Southside having its difficulties. Our thoughts and prayers are obviously with the families of them there.
You know, it is a shame, but it's part of it. We want to make this event bigger, obviously. We want to accommodate all the people that want to come watch all these Cup guys kind of race worry-free and have a good time.
It is, it's definitely a 50/50.
Q. Were you going to try to have it at Southside on the same night as the K&N race at Richmond? Were you thinking about trying to go head-to-head with that or were you going to have to move the date if you were going to do it?
DENNY HAMLIN: I would say we probably would have moved the date. Obviously you don't want to compete with Richmond in that sense. So it kind of worked out good in some factors to where we could pair 'em up and run 'em together to give the fans obviously more racing in one night.
Yeah, we were probably going to move it. Not sure whether we were going to move it to maybe the race before the Chase weekend or just move it to a different night. It actually worked out good to where it did right now.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody, for participating in today's call. We appreciate your coverage. Denny, best of luck this weekend at California.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you.