Denny Hamlin - Daytona 400 Thursday Media Visit

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By Toyota Motorsports

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Are you looking forward to racing at Daytona on the Fourth of July weekend? “It’s pretty much become a tradition. I haven’t been around that long, but you always kind of relate Michigan with Father’s Day, Daytona with the Fourth of July and obviously the All-Star race with Memorial Day. It always seems to be a good race. Obviously, a little shorter in distance. The intensity is a little bit tougher than what the 500 is, so it always makes for a great race.”

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

What is it like to be on the losing end of having another driver win on the final laps of a race? “It’s frustrating, but that’s part of racing. Some guys don’t show their hands until the end of races. Sometimes races just kind of fall your way. Sometimes when they fall your way they fall out of the hands of somebody else. That’s just part of the racing and that’s why they don’t hand out checkered flags at halfway or mile 350. It’s a 400 or 500 mile race for a reason and that’s what a lot of these teams base their strategies off -- being in the right place at the end of the race, not necessarily in the middle.”

Are you hoping for a better weekend at Daytona after having a tough time during ‘Speed Weeks’ in February? “Yeah. We actually had a great 500 up until three laps to go. We were in a position to win. Me and the 39 (Ryan Newman) hooked up again. We were leading with three (laps) to go and just got in a bad position and ended up getting in a wreck somehow. It was a crazy 500 in that sense and it always seems to be that way. We always seem to get a little bit better finishes when it comes to the 400 mile race here in July. Don’t know what it is, but yeah, I look forward to it. I love the type of racing that we have with superspeedway racing or the two-car drafts -- either one is fine with me. And, I obviously look to improve my superspeedway record because obviously the finishes that we have on superspeedways is definitely not indicative of how strong we’ve been.”

Do you prefer the two-car racing or racing in packs at Daytona? “Somewhere in the middle. I like the two-car packs that we have now. Obviously, they provided for some unbelievable finishes. Talladega being one of them -- when you have three (two-car) packs all together. The other is the packs makes for very exciting racing throughout the race. To me, I’m kind of indifferent about it.”

Do you make ‘friends’ with people at restrictor-plate races that you wouldn’t normally be friends with? “Yeah. It just seems to work out that way. Everytime I see guys from the 39 (Ryan Newman) crew they’re like, ‘What’s up teammate?’ It just seems that some cars work better than others and things like that. It’s tough to say. It seems like you really had to have your partner ironed out in the first 10 laps of the race of the Daytona 500, and those guys worked together all day no matter what. Even if someone got into trouble or got in a wreck, the other would just literally lose all of his track position just to get back to that person and that’s something that’s very unusual, especially when you’re not actual teammates. So, it is very, very different and you do find yourself racing with different guys that normally maybe you don’t even get along with on other tracks, that you think you all never really raced that well together. It seems like you have odd groups and when you have odd number teams such as ours at (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) and things like that, you have to find yourself looking for those guys.”

Do you think Kyle Busch’s handshake with Kevin Harvick after the race at Sonoma was genuine? “I didn’t even see it to be honest with you. They did? I would consider it genuine. I wouldn’t think that -- Kyle (Busch) is just not a ‘head games’ type of guy, I don’t believe. I believe in 2008 when he was winning a lot of races, I remember a race throughout the season where a lot of emphasis was being put on Kyle and different things that he was doing and I remember a lot of teams going after them as far as trying to play ‘head games’ and stuff with them. But, Kyle never really kind of responds to that, I don’t feel like. He never really does anything on-track to instigate it. I feel like he’s one of the most fair racers really out there. Even though he’s aggressive at times, he does a pretty good job of keeping it relatively safe for the other drivers. I would consider it something that is sincere.”

What did you learn from dealing with some of Kevin Harvick’s mind games last season? “As far as (Kevin) Harvick, that’s just kind of the team’s make-up I believe. Whether it’s back to the old 3 car or anything like that, that team has always kind of been in those situations and stuff. When they’re racing for championships, that’s part of their game that they play. It’s different strokes for different folks. Some people respond to it, like I did with Kevin (Harvick) last year. Or some people just kind of wean away from it and things like that. Every team has its own make-up and drivers have their own personalities. A lot of times they don’t mesh well together and we saw that with the 29 (Kevin Harvick) and the 18 (Kyle Busch) this year. In general, everyone is going to work it out in time. Even though you consider yourself the toughest of rivals we still do a lot of things together that kind of patch that up at times.”

Are you referring to the incident at Dover last year with you and Kevin Harvick? “Sometimes you’ll make a verbal jab back if a guy does that to you or you’ll do something on-track to aggravate him because he’s said or done something. Some people, like I said, respond back to it and some don’t. I think it’s just the makeup of the race team and the make-up of the driver that handles different situations.”

Do you think the FedEx sponsorship in NASCAR gives you an edge over other sponsorships in the sport? “I can tell you that I feel like FedEx’s sponsorship is a lot employee-driven in the sense that the employees love the racing program and if it wasn’t for the employees we probably wouldn’t have this racing program at FedEx. They love racing. Thank goodness for me they love racing, and they’re not out there trying to sell more packages or things like that. They do this for team moral, they do it for their employees and that says a big statement. Most of the hospitality and chalets that I go to every weekend carry big customers and employees. That’s the biggest thing -- FedEx is such a tight family when it comes to them taking care of the employees. That’s why you see they’re one of the best companies to work for year in and year out, is that they take care of the needs of their employees and when they want a race team, they give it to them. So, hopefully that drive continues on for years and years.”

How will the new marketing initiatives that NASCAR has change your approach as a driver? “We just need to wait to hear back more specific detail of what they need and require of us and where they’re going to go with the sport. In my opinion, I think that they’re going to break us down into a little bit smaller groups and go to the direct teams and drivers and say, ‘Okay, this is what we need from you. This is what our fans are looking for.’ Really, we’re kind of at the mercy of NASCAR in the sense that they know all of the information at this point and until we’re informed fully of what our responsibilities are it’s going to be tough for us to change anything. Because, I feel like our on-track performance has been good, but there’s more to it than that. We’ve got to attract new, young fans and those are the people that are going to be coming to the races, bringing their families ten years from now. And, obviously, what little we’ve seen is that our fan base is aging a little bit and obviously we need to get a little bit younger.”

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Series NASCAR-CUP
Tags daytona international speedway, denny hamlin, joe gibbs, nascar, nscs, sprint cup, toyota