Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Kinko's Impala SS met with members of the media at Dover International Speedway to discuss racing at Dover, Pocono and short track racing, among other subjects. ON RACING THE IMPALA SS AT DOVER: "We're slowly but...
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Kinko's Impala SS met with members of the media at Dover International Speedway to discuss racing at Dover, Pocono and short track racing, among other subjects.
ON RACING THE IMPALA SS AT DOVER: "We're slowly but surely starting to work out all the other kinks that the car has but the aero part of it is one that we haven't changed yet. Eventually we're going to need to change something but we'll see how good or bad it is this weekend."
DID YOU LEARN ENOUGH AT A NON-SANCTIONED TEST TO PUT TO USE AT A TRACK LIKE THIS OR ARE YOU COMING IN BLIND? "You can learn a few things by going somewhere like Rockingham for a track like this. It's hard to try to find exactly what race track is similar to this one as far as your loading and unloading is concerned so Dover is one of a kind. I think you're going to see probably a big gap from the have and have nots probably for the first half hour or 45 minutes of practice."
THE NEW CAR DOESN'T REALLY DIFFER THAT MUCH FROM TRACK TO TRACK: "It seems like it's making the competition tighter as far as time is concerned but as far as the teams, I think it's very narrow right now. I think there's some teams that have it figured out and there are some teams that haven't. Eventually it's all coming together but right now it's going to spread out."
DO YOU THINK YOUR TEAM WILL FINALLY BREAK THROUGH ON ONE OF THESE RACES? "I hope so. We go into every Car of Tomorrow race with a lot of confidence. We're going to treat this one like any other one."
IS THIS A GOOD TRACK FOR YOU AND DO YOU LIKE IT? "Bad and hate. This has not been my best race track by any means. Over on the Busch side in practice we were one of the best cars by a long shot so I think I'm slowly but surely coming around to this race track."
YOU'RE THE KING OF POCONO. ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT GOING BACK THERE? "Yeah, we'll take the same car back and hopefully try to do the same thing and get a win one way or another. Who knows. Things change from one year to the next. That car has been wrecked and run really well since then so who knows what we've got when we go back."
WHY DO YOU LIKE QUIRKY RACE TRACKS? "I'm not sure why we took to that race track as fast as we did. I think a lot of it was race car more so than myself. I think just with Mike (Ford)'s experience at that race track, he knew how to set up a race car. He's had a lot of success will Bill there so I was able to take the reins from what he had already built."
DO YOU THINK YOU WILL DO WELL HERE WITH THE NEW CAR? "I think so. We've performed well every time we've been here. I think our worst finish is 11th or so. But we've lucked into some finishes and we ran well at times, I just have a tough time around this track. It really wears me down physically. I'm in a lot better shape than I was last year but I don't know what it is. 400 laps around this place is a long time and it's hard to keep your concentration. That's really the biggest element. It's challenging for me here."
DO YOU THINK IT WILL BE A CHALLENGE WITH THE NEW CARS' TURINING ISSUE? "I think it's going to be really tough here. Our cars bounce here anyway. When you add the new car which you're not really able to travel, I think it's going to add even more bounce and be even more physically demanding on you. Needless to say, I wasn't really wasn't looking forward to coming here. But you never know after the first practice."
HOW DO YOU APPROACH QUALIFIYNG HERE KNOWING THAT THE DRIVER WHO IS SLOWEST MAY HAVE TO SHARE A STALL? "I think Jimmie had to do it last year and it's tough. You've got us to lay down a solid lap and you don't want to be one of the guys sharing a stall but this is a race track that you have to get after it if you're going to run well. You've got to charge the corners as hard as you can. This track really rewards a guy who is really aggressive. That's usually not my style but for the most part you've got to bear it as much as you can around here for qualifying. So it's kind of a balancing act."
HOW DO YOU LOOK AT YOUR SEASON SO FAR? "It's full for me. We're running better at every race track than what we did last year. At this point last year we hadn't got a win yet and we haven't got a win yet this year. Next week, if we don't start doing something then maybe something needs to be worked on but I think for the most part, we're more competitive every race track we go to; we're finishing better at every race track. I'm pretty happy about the way our season is going. I know as a driver I'm slowly but surely getting to where I need to be and still haven't reached my full potential yet so it's going to take a little bit of time. I think if Tony (Stewart) is not winning races right now he knows he's probably at his peak as a driver right now. I feel like I've got a lot of things still to learn."
ARE WINS A BIGGER DEAL THAN THEY SHOULD BE? "I think you've got to make a big deal out of them because they reward you. If I don't have any wins when it comes time for the Chase I might as well be twelfth. It doesn't matter whether I'm leading the points or not. If I don't have any wins to show for it then we're going to be set back at a disadvantage when it comes to the Chase. We've got to start getting wins but if we get wins in the Chase, that's going to pay pretty good too."
ARE YOU GOING TO DO THE SONOMA/MILWAUKEE DOUBLE? "That's going to be tough. That was one of the worst weekends that we had last year, doing the Milwaukee/Sonoma deal. We didn't get in until about 5:00 a.m. the day of the Sonoma race and had to be up at 7:00 a.m. to do different hospitality. So it's going to be really, really tough. It is a big race for Rockwell - their home - and it's a good race track for me. We're going to try to get as much rest as we can in between the two."
HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HAVING DALE EARNHARDT, JR. AS A TEAMMATE? "I've thought about it but I'm not losing any sleep over it by any means. I know what he could bring to our organization, I know what we could offer him. It would be a good deal for him. He's got a lot of things he has to work out other than the driving and the racing part. There's so much more that goes into it nowadays than just getting behind the wheel and choosing the best race car for you. There's a lot of other things that play into it. He's got a lot of thinking to do."
HAVE YOU GOTTEN TO KNOW HIM OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS? "Yeah, I know him pretty well. I think I do anyway. More off the race track than on. I think our personalities get along well. I know him and Tony get along well. From the outside looking in it would be a great fit but the No. 18 car is really running well now and it's tough to say where he would fit in."
HAVE YOU LOBBIED FOR HIM OR TALKED TO HIM MUCH ABOUT IT? "No, I've chatted with him briefly in his motor home about it but he's got a lot of questions he wants answered of how things run at each race team. I try to do my best to answer them but J.D. (Gibbs) is going to have to answer them, not me. I think he's really looking to find a place where he gets a little more time to himself. I think that's going to be very important to him and wherever he goes he's going to want that time. Whoever suits him best is where he's going to go."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DRIVING THE IMPALA SS FULL-TIME NEXT YEAR. IS IT TOO SOON? "No, I think it's good for the sport. I think it's good for the teams and good for the drivers, not having to go back and forth. The teams not to have to work on two cars. for the most part I think as long as they're open to changes in the race cars it's going to be better for everyone."
HOW DID SHORT-TRACK RACING SHAPE YOU AS A DRIVER? "The commercial kind of sounds exactly the way it is. Short tracks are where you learned to race. When you come to a bigger race track, you use those short-track characteristics to help you. For me, having short-track experience is priceless in this sport. You can use it everywhere you go. A lot of the guys who grew up on the bigger tracks have a tough time adapting to the short race tracks but the guys who have been racing short tracks all their lives can go to a big race track and perform well. I think that has to do with a lot of my success. As much as I ran on the small race tracks, when we go to these short tracks on the Cup series, I run well because it's all the same. It's just you're in a different machine."
WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE FRIDAY/SATURDAY NIGHT SHORT TRACK RACES THAT IS SO EXCITING? "It's the beating and banging aspect. It's the guys, your local heroes out there, racing. I ran an 175-lap late model race last night in Virginia and it was just like old times. Seeing all the guys that I used to race against and just that atmosphere of packing the local short track, your local hot dog stand, everything is just different than what it is out here on the Cup series. The people really support the local short tracks, they'll be there for years to come."
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR NASCAR TO SHOW THEIR SUPPORT? "It's big for NASCAR to help keep those local short tracks going because honestly, those guys lose money just about every year on these local short track deals. They're trying to pay us the purse to show up but keep fans in the stands. It's a balancing act that really tough but I tell you, it's really where NASCAR's next generation is going to come from. I just think the local late model guys are the guys that will soon be champions here are our late."
TELL US ABOUT YOUR SPECIAL PAINT THEME ON YOUR HELMET: "Jonathan from Make-a-Wish did the helmet for us this weekend and we're very excited about that. It's part of the 'Wear your heart on your helmet' campaign from FedEx. Really every time I get to run one of these paint schemes it means a little bit more to us that weekend so hopefully we can get Jonathan a win."
DO YOU GET TO MEET THE KIDS? "Most of the time we do. We meet the kids and usually present the hospital with the check but we've been a huge supporter of the Make-a-Wish for the last couple of years and this is where we're showing our respects to those kids."
IS THAT A GOOD FEELING FOR YOU? "All the hospitals that I go to throughout the whole year, St. Jude or the Children's hospitals, you're making a difference in those kids' lives one way or another. It means a lot to be able to do those things for those kids and bring the race track to them instead of them coming to the race track."
HAVING NOT TESTED THE NEW CAR HERE, WHAT ARE YOUR CONCERNS? "One of my biggest concerns is knocking the splitter off. You never know how much travel you're able to have with these race cars. So we're obviously on the conservative end. This race track really demands a lot of your front suspension so we really have to be aware the first half hour, 45 minutes to make sure we don't damage our car too much."
RUNNING THE NEW CAR, DOES THAT MAKE THIS TRACK EVEN MORE CHALLENGING NOW? "It's a challenge for sure, especially since our test got cancelled here. We've got to be on our toes not to damage our car and use every minute of this practice wisely."
DO YOU THINK THAT THIS TRACK IS IMPORTANT IN THE FACT THAT YOU COME BACK HERE DURING THE CHASE? "It's going to be very important. That's what it's going to be about is learn as much as we can and make sure we perform well in the Chase because ultimately that's what matters. None of these races matter unless you win them. We feel like we're a good enough team to make the Chase so we need to rack up wins right now and that's all we're concerned about."
DO YOU SEE DEBRIS WHEN THEY CALL DEBRIS CAUTIONS? "Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. My spotter usually tells me where it's at and I look for it but sometimes he doesn't know where it's at. I like NASCAR's approach. They're trying to do the right thing by keeping safety in mind and still make the racing good. So you really can't fault them either way on when they throw them."
ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO ELDORA? "Yeah, I'm really looking forward to Eldora. I'm really excited for Tony to get 20 or so drivers to participate in that and a lot of them have never been on dirt before. I was the virgin to dirt last year so it's going to be interesting to watch some of these guys up here on dirt, especially Juan (Pablo Montoya) for the first time."
HAVE YOU PRACTICED AT ALL FOR THAT? "I haven't practiced this year, I'm just going to go out there and wing it this year."
IS THERE A LOT OF COMPETITION AND PRESSURE TO NOT EMBARRASS YOURSELF IN THIS? "If you put us out on a little go kart track then we're going to be trying as hard as we can to beat each other. I think we take more pride in beating each other in an environment in which we're not in every single week than we are out here racing every Sunday. If you take us out of our environment and then see who is best, I think the winner is going to take more pride than they do here."
IS THAT BECAUSE IT'S MORE OF A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD? "It's a little more level for sure. I think that's why we take so much pride."
WHAT'S THE BEST PART OF RACING ON DIRT? "To me it's the sliding. Finding the cushion and going around and finding different grooves. You do that a little bit in these cars but you're not doing it sideways so probably the sideways aspect."
-credit: gm racing