Interview with Hamlin before Richmond 400

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Denny Hamlin: "If everyone keeps getting these penalties, I'm going to be the points leader soon."

What is it like being here for your charity event and having more time to commit to the Showdown? "It's good. It's a different feel having today not driving and usually today is a very, very busy day -- similar to Tony (Stewart) his race that he's had over the last few years -- you're trying to drive and race and also put on a good show.

It's different. Have a little bit more time to check things out and help out guys here and there, but ultimately we're here for a cause -- it's not my cause -- it's a lot of kids that are going to benefit from the race that happens tonight, so we're excited about that part."

Denny Hamlin looks on from the pits
Denny Hamlin looks on from the pits

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

What do you think of the new FedEx paint scheme on the No. 11 Camry? "FedEx doesn't do a whole lot of paint schemes. Obviously, they keep things fairly simple, but you can customize your shipping options, so you can do that.

It's kind of letting people know you can go anytime you ship with FedEx you can customize how you want your delivery and this, that and the others, so it's important for us to get that message out and, obviously, bringing a new paint scheme to the race track will open eyes to that."

Are you in any way glad you have to clear a medical hurdle before returning to the car? "No. I'd rather just do it. Realistically -- honestly, I know everyone is trying to protect me from myself, but I would have raced at Martinsville weeks ago.

Obviously, doctors are more well informed nowadays and I understand risks more than what they used to, but it used to be off of driver feel and it's not that anymore with concussions and everything else.

They try to protect you from yourself, so it's tough. My standpoint, I think probably just like a concussion, if I had to imagine that you feel fine and instead you're not allowed to race."

What did the doctors see that is keeping you out of this race? "They were -- during our call yesterday they were speaking as much Chinese as I could understand.

I saw the scan and saw the healing that they were talking about. However, some kind of in-plate is not healing the way that they wanted it and that's what they wanted in order to clear me.

Really, that was their determining factor and, obviously, my injury is very, very hard because there is no exact science to the risk. They don't -- no one knows what the risk will be if I race this week or if I race two weeks from now. Bone healing is completely subjective.

It takes bone healing a year most times to be 100 percent, so how do you quantify how much more risk is there this week versus two weeks down the road or three weeks down the road or two months down the road, so that's the tough part of it -- everyone is erring on the cautious side because no one ultimately wants to be responsible and have their name on the line of clearing a driver and then he goes out and gets hurt."

Do you still feel like you can compete in a portion of the Talladega race? "They all came to the conclusion they were happy with me starting Talladega and getting out when it's a safe time to get out.

Ultimately, we even talked about doing that here at Richmond, but it's unfair to the team for me to get out and then go three or four laps down on pit road and really know that the team's not going to finish any better than 35th -- why would they even show up for that?

So, I think it's better for them to at least have a chance to win with one full-time driver and we decided not to do that this weekend and we'll start our process at Talladega and then rescan again and try to go to Darlington."

Is your schedule for healing on pace? "From what I understand is it's on pace and, obviously, coming back at Richmond was going to be an early return, so I think that they feel comfortable that the initial time that they set out was going to be -- is still in play. As far as I know, when we get to Darlington we'll be full-time and doing the whole race weekend.

Obviously, we were hoping to be optimistic by coming here and my thought was that being a shorter track the chances of you taking the same hit again was substantially less, but it's just all subjective and opinions."

Is there a possibility of surgery? "We talked briefly about the injury that I deal with every day and that was not the main focus of our conversation, but I think that it is going to be a possibility in the off-season.

If I get back to it in a timely fashion in the Cup Series this year then am still able to salvage some kind of season, then obviously it's not going to be an option until the off-season. So, either way, I'd like to get it fixed and get it over with."

Does being a new father give you a different perspective? "A little bit. A lot of it is like I talked about -- you can't roll around on the floor and do things that you want to because you're stuck in a certain position all the time.

There's a lot of people who have back pains that understand what I'm talking about and for me, it's gotten to the point that something needs to be done. I'm too young to have these kind of back pains."

What is your role this weekend? "Unfortunately, I wish I could do more. My job this weekend with Joe Gibbs Racing is communicating with my teammates about what they can do to do their job better this weekend.

I'll give them all the information that I see on the outside looking in. I know that our debriefs at Kansas -- they were all wondering, 'What do you see?

What's going on out there that we don't see from a driver's perspective?' I can give that analysis and they can take it and use it and do what they want with it.

Obviously, Matt (Kenseth) has not always run that well here so I probably shift more focus towards him other than of course, our organization that of course I will be with. Kyle (Busch) obviously has had plenty of success here.

I think we have to just get our whole team stronger. Really everyone has faced adversity through this year in one way, shape or form.

It's been a tough start to the season even though the team as a whole has four wins, it's been a tough four wins for Joe Gibbs Racing.

We've got to get some momentum back and it seems like every time we get momentum it gets taken away. You have to fight through these things."

At what point will you consider not returning this season? "I think if this goes past Darlington then I don't know what the chances of us making the Chase are even if we were to race this weekend, race next weekend or the one after -- I don't know the chances.

There's a lot of good teams that you have to beat to guarantee you're going to win the races. Obviously, if it goes past Darlington our chances are crushed even harder.

Eventually you have to have a shut down point of not going out there and racing for nothing at a point. I think a recovery on the kind of surgery that I would like to have is about a month-and-a-half or so -- I could potentially come back maybe for the tail end of the year.

It wouldn't be a season-ending -- I don't think anything would be season-ending I guess you could say. Eventually you have to know the point at which you're looking at improbabilities of making the Chase and just being smart about it. If everyone keeps getting these penalties, I'm going to be the points leader soon."

How much pain are you in everyday? "You always go to the doctor and they talk about pain from one to 10 -- what is it? I believe every day I live with about a seven -- a 10 is where you are on bed rest. I deal with it every day. The part that bothers me is it does affect my daily life.

I can't lift the baby in or out of the crib because I can't lean over and things like that. That is stuff that does affect your daily life and really other than my back I am physically able to do a lot of things outside of racing, but I can't because I'm so limited on what I can do because of back issues.

I just want to get that part over with. I'm willing to take the risk to get better and take the time off to get better because I feel like mentally it will put me in a better place. Other than that, it's just everyday life and you deal with it."

How gratifying is it to see your charity race grow year to year? "Really, just as much as two years ago we would send out invitations to all the drivers -- certain drivers that we knew would want to participate or maybe were free this particular day, but really it has gone from that to drivers approach me in the garage telling me they would like to run if we can find a spot.

It's become way easier for us to put this event on, as far as the Cup stars and other racing stars, because they love participating in the event.

The cars run around this track great and it's a great show that gets put on every year. Really, it's more of an opportunity for the local guys to race up against the guys that they see every Sunday and stack up themselves compared to them.

I think it's a great mix of that. We've got 44 cars or so here today so just a few are going to have to go home. It's going to be a great show and I think it's really an opportunity for the local guys to shine."

Have you enjoyed mentoring other drivers? "A little bit. What I am most satisfied of and happy about is that some of the guys that have won a lot of races are looking at me for advice on this, that and the other, and I never thought that they would respect the opinion as much.

My teammates and really drivers from the outside world are asking for help on this track or that track, and it's kind of cool for me to know that my knowledge is appreciated and people are taking it and using it. That part is interesting and it's a lot different when you participate than it is when you're sitting on the outside looking in.

It is a different world in which we live in when we're inside that race car. We are so single-minded on what we are trying to accomplish that you don't see the bigger picture at times. Until you look at it from the outside, you don't see it, but it's there."

How difficult would it be for you to climb through the window of a race car? "I could do it pretty easy. Really, I am physically capable of doing the same things other than running -- I can't do that yet.

Getting up and down, I can do just as easy as I could before the injury. I really only had about a week and a half of severe pain from the actual spine itself. All I feel now is the continued disc issues that I've had."

Toyota Motorsports

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About this article
Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Previews
Tags camry, hamlin, nascar-cup, richmond 400, toyota