Richmond: Hamlin - Friday media chat

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Express Impala SS, met with members of the media and talked about how testing here helped his team, the Virginia Tech tragedy, his thoughts on safety with NASCAR's new-generation race car and more. WHERE IN VIRGINA AE...

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Express Impala SS, met with members of the media and talked about how testing here helped his team, the Virginia Tech tragedy, his thoughts on safety with NASCAR's new-generation race car and more.

WHERE IN VIRGINA AE YOU FROM? "Actually, Chesterfield is the county I'm from but Midlothian is kind of like the city where I grew up in. Definitely a Chesterfield guy, for sure."

HOW DID THE CAR RUN DURING PRACTICE AND DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING ABOUT THE NEW CAR ON THIS TRACK? "Our car's really good. The Busch car is pretty fair. I feel like our Cup car is pretty good on race runs. This is a race that - even though we've lost on a couple races with the new car in the past - this is the one where we're going to reset everything and hopefully catch a break and get a win."

ELLIOTT SADLER SAID THAT HE'D RATHER WIN HERE THAN THE DAYTONA 500. HOW ABOUT YOU? "Without a doubt, I'm the same way. I'd definitely rather win this one than any other race and it means something different for everyone. Tony (Stewart) has his Indy and just as my Indy. It's a track where I've really spent a lot of time growing up and it'd be really special to get a win here."

WHY IS IT SO MUCH MORE SPECIAL? "I never felt any kind of emotion like I had just after I won the pole here. Even the wins I had at Pocono, nothing matched the pole that I got here so I couldn't imagine how I would feel after a win. When you see all the people that have your shirts on and all the people that you see around town and in the pits cheering you on, it makes a difference and it kind of gets to you."

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING TO KEEP MOTIVATED AND AVOID THE 'SOPHOMORE SLUMP'? "We're just staying focused. We've done everything this year that I hoped we'd do. We've improved on every finish other than one this year so far and we're way ahead of points where we were. You never know. When you hid bad luck streaks, things happen. We've had bad luck these last few weeks but it hasn't killed us. We've bounced back week in, week out and I'm looking forward to a race where nothing bad happens and we have to battle our way back to the front. Just a race that goes smooth and if that's the case then we could easily win."

DO YOU HAVE A LOT OF MOTIVATION? "We do. We definitely have the predictions for '07 stapled up there in the lounge and we look at it every single week. We hope to prove everyone wrong."

HAVE YOU FELT LIKE EVERY WEEKEND SO FAR WOULD BE YOUR WEEEKEND? "Every week now feels like it's our week to win. That's the feeling that a driver loves to have is to know he's with a very competitive race team and I know I have that right now and I feel like we have all the pieces to win week in and week out. We've just got to catch some of those breaks that we need to actually win. Last year we had winning cars on occasion; we had 10th-place cars on most occasions and sometimes we didn't run good at all. This year it seems like we're finding a whole lot more consistency in the way we're running throughout the race."

YOU'VE SAID YOU RAN LAST YEAR'S RACES CONSERVATIVELY. HAS THAT CHANGED? "No, I'm still of that same nature - being conservative; making sure I have something for the end. It's just my style of driving and I think I'll probably always be that way."

DO YOU FEEL PROUD ABOUT THE SUPPORT THE DRIVERS HAVE SHOWN FOR VIRGINIA TECH? "Definitely. Myself, Elliott, Jeff and a couple other guys. this is a big weekend for us and Virginia Tech really as a whole. Having this event in the state where it all happened, I'm sure there's going to be a lot of people here from Virginia Tech and hopefully we have them all on our side."

DO YOU THINK THAT NASCAR HAS MORE OF AN IMPACT WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE DEALING WITH THE TRAGEDY THAN OTHER SPORTS? "There's so much notoriety in NASCAR. We can help. A lot of people watch NASCAR. Any kind of contribution that we can give to someone in need, we're going to do it. Whether it's hurricane relief or what happened at Virginia Tech or anything. I'm glad NASCAR has stepped up and done the things that they have to help that school."

WHY DO YOU THINK YOU'VE BEEN SO GOOD IN THE NEW CAR? "I think it's just our team is on top of it right now and that doesn't last forever, by any means. We've got to get wins while we're still on top of this game. Each week the competition is getting closer and closer. Hendrick's there, obviously. The other teams are starting to figure it out. We want to get those wins before we're back on a level playing field, so to speak. This is a good weekend to get that started."

HOW MUCH DID THE TEST SESSION HERE HELP YOU? "It always helps. We always run good on tracks where we test. We don't always test that well but it seems like we get a lot of information to learn to bring back. We're definitely a better car than what we were during the test and that's just a lot of hard work back at the shop. I'm just the lucky guy that gets to drive it."

DO YOU HAVE EXTRA CONFIDENCE KNOWING THAT YOU ALMOST WON HERE? "Yeah, that one I play back in my mind quite a bit. It's frustrating but that was kind of the point of the season where everything kind of turned around and we started running well. Given that situation this year it may be a little bit different outcome and driving style but I've just finished second and third so many times it's time for us to be in the winner's circle and my guys especially. It means more probably to them and it ever would to me."

DOES THAT MOTIVATE YOU EVEN MORE? "Yeah. A huge motivational factor is coming into play. We know how close we were last year and we know how strong we are at races with the new car. We're back home and we've got the track and the car together. It should work out to be good for us but we'll see."

THIS WEEKEND YOU ARE WEARING A HELMET DESIGNED BY A CHILD. HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO MEET HIM AND WHAT'S IT FEEL LIKE TO WEAR THAT? "FedEx has a 'Wear Your Heart on Your Helmet' campaign that they're doing this year. We're doing 11 different children's hospitals and Richmond, this is the first one for this year. (Patient) Justin (Griffith) actually designed the paint scheme which I'm running on my helmet. That's another great thing about my job is we get to give away money to these children's hospitals because these kids can't always go to the race track. So we take the race track to them and hopefully get Justin a win."

TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH J.D. GIBBS AND WHAT SETS HIM APART AS A MANAGER? "I'm not really sure what it is about J.D. A lot of it is because he's younger, like I am, but we always seem to end up living somewhere near each other or whatever. We just kind of have a relationship where he used to be a driver so he knows how I feel and we've raced at all the same race tracks so we've got a lot in common. It's one of those guys when you see the boss you're happy to see him instead of kind of wondering what he's going to say."

CAN YOU TELL IT'S TOUGH FOR HIM TO GET OUT OF THE SHADOW OF HIS DAD? "He's doing such a good job of running that company right now. He's been running it the last two years. They got a championship under him with Tony (Stewart) a couple of years ago. J.D. has really done a good job of stepping up while his dad's away. I'm sure his dad's behind him, telling him the right and wrong things to do."

ON YOUR HERITAGE HERE AND HOW YOU GOT INTO THE SPORT: "I grew up in Chesterfield where everyone loved racing. We always used to go to the local short tracks. We always watched the races on Sunday. That's just what we did as a family. That's just what we did as a family. I just kind of latched on to it as a child and it seemed like we just excelled at every division we've ever come across. Finally when the parents' money runs out you've got to rely on someone else to help you out and we had those lucky breaks. We got here so fast. I'm happy that I'm actually being competitive while I'm at the top level of our sport."

ON THE PRESENTATION TOMORROW WITH BURTON AND SADLER: "We're going to try to get together and present Virginia Tech a contribution to the school and the families and everything. That means a lot to us to help them out because that's our home team right there for most Virginians. I have a lot of friends and family that have gone there. It's definitely going to be special if we can keep the Virginia trophy back here in Virginia and hopefully if I do win that trophy I can present it to Virginia Tech."

DO YOU FEEL SAFER IN THE NEW CAR? "You don't feel any safer but you know it's there. It's kind of like an airbag. You never really notice it until it comes out and hits you. I think it's a step in the right direction to have these cars safer. They're doing everything they can to progress week in and week out to make them better. It's going to be years and years down the road before we get these cars where they need to be but eventually it's going to be a change for the good."

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE VIRGINIA TECH TRAGEDY THAT AFFECTS YOU SO MUCH? "Just the fact that I have a lot of friends that still go there and have gone there. Obviously my relationship with (football coach) Frank Beamer and there's just a lot of different played into that factor but I always wondered, Saturdays on the radio: what's the score of the Tech game. I think a lot of people feel that way every each and every week. It's bad that the school gets recognition that way but hopefully it will be better in the long run."

SEEING THE BAD WRECKS, DO YOU FEEL AS SAFE AS YOU CAN BE? "You just never know what can happen. We've seen wrecks in the past where it doesn't look like anything; next thing you know we find out the weak spot of our race cars. I think they've done a really good job of trying to cover every aspect but not every wreck is the same. There's some that hit different spots than others. Each one of us drivers have different headrests or different helmets. We're not mandated in that cockpit of what we do to protect ourselves. With the right hit on the right person with the wrong equipment, will it be bad sometime? You never know. That's why we continue to try to take steps to make it better."

DO YOU THINK ABOUT KYLE BUSCH'S HANS DEVICE CRACKING? "No. Our teams try to keep up with it quite a bit. Whether it cracked in that wreck or it had been through other wrecks before and that was the straw that broke its back, you never know. But hopefully I'm sure that's going to be an issue now that they're going to look over a lot closer."

DO YOU HAVE INFORMATION ON THAT? "Just what we hear through the media. I know personally every time I've been in a wreck that they've checked out the HANS and helmet and everything pretty thorough. Will they be even more thorough? Probably."

DO YOU LIKE YOUR NEW NICKNAME, 'CHESTERFIELD'S OWN'? "I really do. That means a lot to me to know that I'm representing my little part of Virginia. I love going there and going to all the same places that I used to go. This is home for me. It's right up the road and this race definitely means a lot more to me than probably most guys out there."

YOU FINISHED SECOND HERE LAST YEAR: "If nothing, just break through and get a win this year. Whether it's here or anyplace, we really want it but I told (crew chief) Mike (Ford) that I forgive him for Talladega if he gets me a win here at Richmond."

HOW WAS PRACTICE? "Our car was really good. I feel like we have a race-winning car. It depends on where we qualify. We have a good draw for qualifying so that's going to be a benefit for us but I think we've got a shot at it."

IS JEFF GORDON THE ONE TO BEAT RIGHT NOW? "Sure. The roll that that team is on, it's hard to say that they're not favorites for anything or any race track. They're the guys that we are chasing but I have a feeling that a lot of those guys are looking back at our car."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT MOTHER'S DAY AND YOUR MOM? WHAT'S HER NAME? "Mary Lou. Actually, my mom was not really into my racing that much until one time, there was a Powder Puff race in Amelia, Va. at a go-kart track. So I got my mom to get on my go-kart and she finished second. Ever since then she's been absolutely hooked. More than my father. She was the one really pressing behind me to keep going and keep this racing career going. She's definitely the driving force behind our family in this whole racing deal and I've got to give a lot of thanks to her."

HOW DO YOU HARNESS MOMENTUM AND MAINTAIN IT AS OPPOSED TO FALLING OFF THE PACE? "Constantly working. You can't just sit back and thing that just because you're good this week, you're going to be good next week. It's constantly trying to come up with new ways to be better. I think each week, each one of these teams - especially with the new car - keeps getting better and better with every single race we go to. Luckily, we're kind of taking strides with them trying to stay on top of it. How long that wave is going to last, you'll never know. But we're going to ride it as long as we can."

WHERE WOULD WINNING THIS RACE RANK FOR YOU? "I've made no two bits about it that I would rather win here than at Daytona or any other race track that I go to. It's very special to me just because my parents still have their season tickets to this race track. It's kind of surreal to me when I go up in the stands and I go up in the suites and look down on my race car in the pit area and realize that that's the car I drive. Each week it's becoming a reality; it's just not quite sunk in yet."

-credit: gm racing

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Denny Hamlin