Denny Hamlin to drive No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet JOE GIBBS RACING (JGR) ANNOUNCED DENNY HAMLIN AS DRIVER OF NO. 11 FEDEX CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO FOR THE REMAINDER OF 2005 AND ALL OF 2006. Note: Hamlin will campaign for '06 Rookie of the Year honors...
Denny Hamlin to drive No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet
JOE GIBBS RACING (JGR) ANNOUNCED DENNY HAMLIN AS DRIVER OF NO. 11 FEDEX CHEVROLET MONTE CARLO FOR THE REMAINDER OF 2005 AND ALL OF 2006.
Note: Hamlin will campaign for '06 Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series and will also continue to drive the No. 20 Chevrolet in the Busch Series full-time in '06.
PRESS CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS
J.D. GIBBS , JGR Team President: "We're here to announce Denny Hamlin as our new Cup driver in the No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet. Before we do that, we want to share some of our background over the past couple of years. It's a pretty amazing story. We first met Denny Hamlin through Curtis Markham. When we started our diversity program with Reggie White, we brought some guys to try out at Hickory Motor Speedway. The cars we were taking to do that with were cars that Denny drove running Late Model races around the Virginia and North Carolina region. Denny got in the car and was freakishly fast at Hickory. We watched that. And we said let's just bring Denny on board and hopefully do some Truck races with him throughout the year and work with him on our Late Model program and it was kind of a special relationship that begin during that time. He did a few Truck races and every time he'd get in the Truck race, he'd do something special. It wasn't in our equipment -- it was in another team's -- and it probably wasn't the best equipment out there. But I think what you saw was a spark every time he got in that truck. You saw that passion for driving.
"We were making a tough decision this time last year. We had Mike Bliss in our Busch car, and Mike was a great representative for us and we were most likely going to keep him and come back next year. We took Denny to Darlington and had a good test. I talked to some of the guys there and said to some of the guys there if Denny runs well -- a top 10 or something -- we'll put him in the car for next year. He didn't know this, but that's what we said to ourselves. The reality was that I thought there wasn't a chance. I raced Darlington and I never even finished it. Of course, that's probably a bad example (laughs). So took a group of guys there -- a part time team -- and he finished eighth. It was pretty phenomenal. Everyone was excited. Denny's family was there. The happiest guy in the whole group was Denny's dad, who realized he didn't have to pay for this anymore (laughs).
J.D. GIBBS "I just want to give a big appreciation to everyone the FedEx group. It was a hard, hard year for us at Joe Gibbs Racing. We'd never been through anything like that before. It's a humbling sport and we know that, but we were humbled this year with our No. 11 car and the FedEx group. They've been super-supportive the whole way. So I'm excited to make this announcement and let them be a part of it and we really look forward to a great future with Denny. My dad (Joe Gibbs) is excited about this. He's got his part-time job today. He couldn't make it here. Everyone along the way is looking forward to a unique partnership and relationship and a great future."
JIMMY MAKAR , senior vice-president of racing: "From my standpoint, I'm coming from it as a competitor and looking at Denny coming into our group as strictly a performance based issue. At that Darlington test, we were testing a Cup car at the time and I didn't know Denny from Adam's apple. He went out there and was up to speed on about the third lap -- running up there against the wall just like he'd been there all his life. When you see something like that, you realize there's something special there. It's not your normal everyday average thing. They went back for the race and qualifying got cancelled or rained out or something, but Denny had a shot at the pole but had to start at the end of the field. He came back to eighth and that was very impressive. I spent a lot of time on top of the truck watching what he can do with a race car. The car control, speed, and ability to pass seem to come natural to him in a car he'd never been in, in his life. So that was another thing that really caught everybody's eye.
"But the biggest thing I worried about was experience. He'd lacked experience. Two years ago he was in a Late Model stock car and we were talking about putting him in a NEXTEL Cup car right now. I thought we may ruin this kid if we're not careful and rush him along too fast. We knew he had the talent and knew he'd be a Cup star some day, but I really worried about it happening too quickly. But he has seemed to be able to step up to the occasion every time. He's been able to get in the Trucks and the Busch cars and he's stepped into this FedEx Chevrolet and just carried on like he's been here forever. With the lack of experience, I've been impressed by the amount of car control and adaptation he's shown in whatever car we put him in. That, to me, says volumes about what kind of race car driver he's going to be."
DENNY HAMLIN , No. 11 FEDEX CHEVROLT MONTE CARLO: "This is just a great opportunity for me. Just one year ago, I never dreamed I'd be in this situation. At best, I was hoping for just a part time Truck ride or something like that. It seems I'm timing my performances really good (laughs). But the passion is there each and every week. It's something I was born and raised to do. I don't think I could do it nine to five. We tried that at our family business and I always came in 10 minutes, not 10 minutes early. It's just a great opportunity for me at an age to get in this sport as quickly as I can to have a long career. The age just seems like it's getting younger and younger. I was kind of feeling down about being 22 years old and not signing a deal year. A lot has happened in a short amount of time. I've had a great experience in a short amount of time. Hopefully this is our last announcement for many years. The next one, hopefully, will be about retirement. I feel at home here. These guys have given me everything it takes to win. Our performance gets a little bit better every week. I just can't say enough for the chance they're giving me. I'm pretty happy and excited."
WHAT WAS IT THAT YOU SAW IN HIM THAT YOU REALIZED HE COULD RACE A CUP CAR?
J.D. GIBBS: I think for us, really, it was a combination of week in and week out. We started at Kansas, and really if we didn't cut a tire down, that's another top 10 sitting there. What you see in testing is that he's just so consistent and smooth on the track. He doesn't get rattled. He takes the time the first part of the race. He learns the track, he's careful around guys, then he starts kind of picking up and moving. The reality of that is, that's really hard to do without having any experience with it. Again, there might have been some other guys in history; I don't know exactly who has done it that quickly. For us it was a combination of each race, each test, our guys watching him and really, we wanted to make it a no pressure deal for him. He's with us long-term. If it doesn't work out on the Cup side, he's got the Busch side. So, he was able to take it and focus on that race and not worry about the future. It sort of worked out.
HAMLIN: When we decided we were going to run four races and wait and see what we were going to do next year, I really didn't feel any pressure at all. Because I was happy with where I was at in the Busch Series. In my mind, I set out in the beginning of the season-and you always think big-but I said to myself, I'm going to race two years of Busch before I move up to Cup. It's a smart thing to do, but that was before I got in the Cup car and realized how well it fits my driving style. And now I'm really excited about it.
RE: TALK ABOUT BEING HUMBLED WITH THE #11 CAR PROGRAM, PRESSURE
GIBBS: I think for us it was that this is a hard sport to be in, period. The top guys in the world are doing it here in this series. I go back to my Dad's words of advice when he went to back to coaching-it was, don't screw it up. Here I am, we bring in FedEx, a phenomenal sponsor and we're struggling week in and week out. Again I want to reiterate the support we felt from FedEx. We knew we had good young drivers coming. What we didn't know was how quickly they'd progress. The hope was that, as you're going through the struggles on the Cup side, you kind of have the Busch Series. For us it kind of gives you hope and excitement. For us, really, we didn't know until you give the young guy a chance on the Cup car. Obviously with Denny in the Cup car, these past four races have been phenomenal. Obviously it gave us something to look forward to, gave FedEx something to look forward to and together it just gives you some hope that after a long, hard year, things are going to be okay.
FEDEX'S RIVAL (UPS) HAS GOTTEN A LOT OF MILEAGE OUT OF THEIR MARKETING WITH DALE JARRETT. DO THEY HAVE ANYTHING LIKE THAT IN STORE FOR YOU?
HAMLIN: Well, I definitely hope so. FedEx is really into sports. They're into the PGA. They're definitely an avid sports lover. They love sports. Now, I feel like they've got something to look forward to, in my mind anyway. I feel like we can be a legitimate contender every week. And we are. We're a top-15 car every week now, it seems like. Hopefully that doesn't stop today. Hopefully they see something long-term to where they can push out there some commercials and stuff and get my pretty face out there.
IS STEVE ADDINGTON GOING TO BE THE CREW CHIEF?
GIBBS: Right now, all we're announcing today is the #11 car and the driver is going to be Denny Hamlin. We're not quite ready to announce anything beyond that for next year. When the time is right, we'll go ahead. We've got a lot of decisions we need to make at JGR. Right now, this is kind of what we're focused on.
RE: BURNOUT FROM RUNNING BOTH CUP AND BUSCH IN 2006
HAMLIN: You know, that's tough to say. It definitely will take its toll. It's going to take a lot of effort on my part to do all the right things off the race track. You know, spend as much time relaxing as I can, instead of just running around crazy. It's going to take a lot of effort on my part to make this work for me. It's a very important year for me, both Busch and Cup. And I'm going to treat them equally with as much effort. I feel like it's a pivotal year for me to show what I can do. If we can do what Carl did this year, that would be great. And that's a great goal to set, and I don't see any reason why we can't accomplish it.
IS THIS THE NEW DRIVER MODEL, RUNNING BOTH BUSCH AND CUP? EXPERIENCE, TESTING, ETC?
MAKAR: I think it's definitely a model for the younger guys. Especially somebody like Denny where that is the one thing he does lack, is experience. Like I said earlier, a couple of years out of a late model stock car, it's hard for him to know the intricacies of running Cup on a regular basis. I think as long as you keep bringing young guys up that don't have a lot of experience, it's going to be very beneficial to run them in both series and get experience. But also, to your point, the testing rules the way they're going-it doesn't hurt a thing to run that race on Saturday. The Cup cars and the Busch cars are so similar. We can learn things, mechanically, from the car also. I think that will continue to happen, possibly, until the '07 car comes along-them being so different possibly it won't be so beneficial. But right now, I see that being the way to go.