NASCAR Media Conference
June 27, 2012
THE MODERATOR: We welcome to our NASCAR CAM video teleconference, Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Last week while in Anchorage, Alaska, Denny Hamlin had a meet‑and‑greet with FedEx team members at the facility on Monday, June 25. While there, Hamlin met current Iditarod champion, Dallas Seavey, and learned the sport of mushing and competed in a 100‑yard dogsled race against Seavey.
Heading into Saturday night's race at Kentucky Speedway where Hamlin finished 11th last season, he sits 8th in the NASCAR Spring Cup Series points standings with two wins.
Denny, you had a whirlwind, exciting trip to the FedEx facility in Anchorage Monday. Was this your first trip to Alaska and tell us about your day, everything from visiting the FedEx employees to competing and meeting dogleg Iditarod champion, Dallas Seavey.
DENNY HAMLIN: It was a great experience. I had never been to Alaska before up until this past weekend, but got a chance to visit the Anchorage hub and there's 1,300 FedEx employees at that hub and greeted all of them with smiles and they just had a great time.
Living in Anchorage, Alaska, they don't get to see a whole lot of racing, nor do they get to see their driver too often. So it was a very exciting time for them, and at the conclusion of that part of it, we went out in the parking lot and had some fun with some racing dogs and did some dog mushing.
It was a lot of fun. Dallas was great to us. It was amazing to hear the conditions they go through, being anywhere from 40 above zero to 50, 60 below zero during the Iditarod run, thousand‑mile run. It's amazing to see what they do on that side and what kind of racing they do, and obviously it was a great overall weekend as far as that's concerned. Made up for the on‑track stuff that didn't go too well.
Q. With all of the speculation floating around about Matt Kenseth's future, if you can talk about how he might appeal to any race team as a teammate perhaps or what a guy with his accomplishments and whatnot would add.
DENNY HAMLIN: His accomplishments kind of speak for themselves. I think being the current points leader, you know what he's capable of. But you know, if there was anyone I would consider myself closest to as far as driving style, I would have to say it would probably be Matt.
He just brings so many assets I think to a race team. Obviously he's got a lot of history over in the Roush organization and has had tons of success there. So he's going to be a valuable asset wherever he goes and anybody would be lucky to have him.
Q. Thinking back last year, the situation you were in last year going into the Chase and this year, what is your feelings like right now?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I feel really good about how our team is performing now. In the last couple of weeks, coming off two straight DNFs, we are not overly excited about, but we were just single digits from the points lead a few weeks ago. So that performance was good. We can't help getting spun out. Those are things we can't help ourselves. That part of it is just going to happen.
We are happy about where we are at. I think that we still need to be a little bit better on performance; if the Chase were to start right now. But I think that all of the teams that feel pretty secure as far as the Chase is concerned are kind of more than likely timing the Chase to where they are bringing their best race cars to the racetrack come September.
Q. If I could ask about Kentucky Speedway, last year was the first race in Kentucky for you guys in the Sprint Cup Series. Although I'm sure you and just about every driver in the field had tested this before; with that limited racing knowledge of this track, is it still kind of a wide open race, or do you feel it favors a particular team right now?
DENNY HAMLIN: I really don't think it favors anyone in particular. I think whoever has been running well in the mile‑and‑a‑half racetracks will continue to run well when we go to Kentucky. I think that the Michael Waltrip cars will be extremely strong. I think our cars will definitely have a shot at it.
I think you'll look at the same cast of characters and you'll look at the Top‑10 from this Kentucky weekend when it's all over and said and done, you'll see the same names that you see on a week‑in, week‑out basis. I don't thinkstill wild‑card, with the different tire, different surface you could have a surprise winner. I think the guys that are normally fighting for a win will be doing the same this weekend.
Q. We have ten to go until the Chase begins. During the summer months when you look at the racetracks each week, obviously you want to go out and win every week, but are there tracks coming up in the next ten races that you and Darian really look at and say, this is going to be similar to a Chase track, so let's try something different here?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, one X‑factor we will have this weekend in particular is I think that with the new size grip change, the new rear sway board change that NASCAR made to implement those rules, it's going to change your setups now, you know, how you tune your car.
Even talking to Darian and whatnot today about what kind of set up we are going to run this weekend, they are still in limbo not knowing exactly where we need to unload. So that part of it is going to be a challenge.
I think I knew this three‑, four‑week span between Sonoma, Daytona; the five‑week span that has been going on, and we are probably two, three weeks into it, are kind of big X‑factors in the sense of just get through these races, because then we start getting to Chase‑type racetracks after that. Then we get back to Pocono. It's not a Chase track, but you start to fine tune your setups and you go to Indy you and see who the contenders are that will be fighting for the Chase.
After Daytona you can look at pretty much any racetrack, other than somewhere like Watkins Glen and see who is starting to show their strength at the right time.
Q. With the new points system, can you describe the strategies now for Top‑10 drivers, which you're one of them, and the next ten to 20 spots going into the summer stretch, ten races out before the field is set?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, you know, our strategy has changed a little bit. I think that if you had asked me two weeks ago, I'd say let's Hail Mary and go for every win we can.
At this point we fell back to eighth in points which is not too exciting, but we do have those two wins to lean back on. Our approach is going to be, we need to solidify ourselves a little bit more inside that Top‑10, get a gap over 11th place in points, and then we can start being a little bit more aggressive like we were these past few weeks.
You know, I think that the wild card race is going to be‑‑ I think it's going to be down to the wire. It's going to be the last ten laps of Richmond will decide who is going to be racing in the Chase. And so with that many cars, between tenth and 20th with one win, that's something we have not seen with our series, yet, before.
So the whole wildcard thing is really putting a wild element into our race for the Chase. Last year when we got the wildcard, there was only two of us with a win outside the Top‑10. Now you've got four or five guys, and who knows how many more you're going to have before the actual Chase starts.
So I would not want to be in those positions. I know that I go to the racetrack a lot more relaxed than probably what those guys do at this point.
Q. If I can ask you about Alaska, I've been there twice; what was your first impression of the mountains, the air, the water when you arrived in Anchorage.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it was different for sure. It almost feels like a different country that you're in. You know, the conditions were not optimum when we were up there. It was kind of 50 degrees and drizzling and kind of gloomy. But we were only up there for 24 hours and whatnot. So I didn't get to see all of the things that I would love to see about it.
So have to make another trip up there to get to experience it, because Alaska, the wilderness and the glaciers and all is what makes Alaska what it is.
Q. What are impressions of the track? Do you like it? Do you not like racing there? And with limited experience this weekend‑‑ are you concerned about falling back more than any other track?
DENNY HAMLIN: A little bit. I do like racing at Kentucky. It's a very fun racetrack. It's great racing. The fans love us there. I mean, any time you have a problem with traffic and tickets, that's a good thing. That's a good problem that that track has.
I think that they have gotten most of that sorted out, so we are excited about that. You want to race anywhere that the race fans would love to have you and that's one of the key places on our schedule for that. But the racing itself there has always been really good.
As far as data is concerned, we have as much data from that track as we do anywhere because that was the key test point for our race team about four or five years ago. With the car changing so much since then, you throw a lot of that out. The bumps have become bigger than what they were. Every year you go back there, they are a little bit more larger in size.
So running the Nationwide race I think will be a benefit for us, and myself, personally, going into the weekend. Kind of getting a jump start on what the track is like this time around.
Q. You mentioned track problems that the track had last year. You conceded last year that you actually had difficulty getting to the track; does your way of getting to the race this weekend change at all?
DENNY HAMLIN: Quite a bit. I'll be staying at the racetrack this time instead of staying at a racetrack outside of it. It was fun for me, even though‑‑ I knew I was going to make it on time. It was somewhat getting close to the driver's meeting time, but it was fun for me to drive through the traffic.
It was almost like I was sitting in the traffic like I was in Richmond years ago as a race fan driving in. So that's what it used to be like at all these tracks. I didn't mind seeing all of the scenery that there was out there.
Q. You were talking about the stretch of races coming up; a track you didn't touch on was Loudon. What are your thoughts on that track, and is that a track that your team looks at as one that you can really get a lot of points on and move up in the standings?
DENNY HAMLIN: My personal goal would be to win two of the next ten races. I feel like that's a feasible goal. Four wins going into the Chase would be a good amount of bonus points; if you had 12 points over the guys with no wins.
I think that Loudon is one of those places that we definitely could do that. My crew chief has had a tremendous amount of success there with Tony in the past.
So between myself and Darian, I would look at Loudon and say that that would be one that we have circled on the calendar that we could really be a threat at that particular racetrack.
Q. Many fans have been in discussions on Twitter the last couple of weeks that many fans want a road course in the Chase. As a driver, would you like that?
DENNY HAMLIN: I'm 50/50 on it. We run really well at road courses. An unbiased opinion, it would be hard to say that road courses would be very fair in the sense of deciding a champion, because as we saw at the end of the race when a melee breaks out, it's just so easy to get taken out of your undoing; you have nothing to do with it, but yet your day can be absolutely ruined by someone else.
It's hard for me to say being that it should be one‑tenth of our deciding factor of our champion. I think that the way they have it right now is good and probably should stay that way.
Q. And my next question is, this weekend is supposed to be really hot. What might you do differently going into a weekend where it's supposed to be really hot like this weekend in Kentucky?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, we are supposed to work on the inside cooling of the car this weekend than we would normally. Any time the temperature is below about 80, we'll have the team pull all of the driver cooling components out just to try to safe some weight and stuff like that.
But we'll keep all that stuff in this weekend for sure, and just trying to work on hydration as much as possible. We have some different things that we are working on within our team to try to work with hydration levels. And so we'll continue to monitor that. But you've got to really monitor your diet and drinking water as much as you can three or four days before the event.
Q. So many people don't really understand how much time and work between you and the pit crew go into racing at different tracks. Let's go back a few weeks where you raced at a new paved track at Michigan. There's another race at Michigan in August. Do you feel that you and your team learned how to run that track, or will it just be more hours of you and the team trying to figure it out?
DENNY HAMLIN: I think we learned quite a bit at the track. You know, we ran so many test days there and really now the cars are run so much by simulation that once we have data on our cars for just a few laps, and the teams are good enough that they can make setups and come up with different setups just off of that couple of laps that you have on the track in that simulation. So I think that we have had plenty of time on the practice and when we go back, we should be better.
I thought our car was exceptionally well before they changed the tire and when they changed it to the harder surface tire, our car didn't react quite as well. So I think Goodyear will go back and NASCAR is going to go back a little bit with the tires to try to get something in between, and if they do that, we should be better.
Q. Got a question about your golfing skills. I was over at Disney with Jimmie Johnson, he was hitting a couple of balls off the tee, just a promotional thing for Daytona, and he really struck the ball well. I know you're an avid golfer, as well, whenever you can. Is there hand‑eye coordination with NASCAR drivers that you have the ability, obviously you have tons of skills in various different ways for you to be able to do what you do in a race car; do you think that almost automatically translates to other sports like golf?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's tough to say if it automatically does, because I know a lot of terrible golfers that are race car drivers (laughing).
But you know, it's tough to say. I think that we are all just competitive athletes who will figure out away with enough time to be successful at something. So golfing is something that just takes up a tremendous amount of time. To be good at it, you have to commit that time. And so if Jimmie is good as you say, it means he has too much free time on his hands.
Q. When a driver like Matt is out there and know that he's available to come to your team, do you take any active role in trying to recruit him, and have you talked to him?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, my talks with Matt have been pretty brief. We always speak to each other when we see each other, say, in the motor home lot or driver intros. I talk to him as much as I would anyone, probably a little bit more these last couple of years. You always want someone like that on your team and drivers are not going to convince other drivers to do certain things. It's going to be what they feel is best for them; where they feel like they can win races.
And so, you know, my role is limited. But you know someone like that obviously has the potential to bring a whole lot of talent and a whole lot of information to your race team, and you just hope that if the opportunity comes available, then he would be a great guy to fill a seat.
Q. I know Joey came over and talked to you after the Sonoma race; can you tell us what he said, and were you upset with the way that had played out on the track?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, upset would be a good term. Just so disappointed. We had spent most of the race hanging around the Top‑10, outside of it a little bit, and we were making a huge charge at the end of that race towards the front.
We had got to, I think seventh or eighth or something like that. We were right behind Tony and we know where he finished. We were gaining ground on Tony at the end and I just passed Joey a lap before and then I got right on Kyle the following lap.
So we were going for it, and I think that Joey was battling with 18, the 22 and whatnot, and any time you have a hairpin corner, guys brake at different spots. Just brakes are not as good as the end of the day, and he had said that he would have hopped getting in the corner, and there was pretty much nothing he could do. Looking back at the tape, I look and I say he probably couldn't have; he would chosen to take either me or Kyle out, because Kyle was my outside.
So once you wheel out, and I said this before, that extra 50 feet that you drive in that gets you to wheel hop that your car was not capable of doing, there's nothing you can do to take it back. And so you just hope that you don't take anyone out in the process, and unfortunately we were the a car in front of him.
I knew it was nothing that he did on purpose. When you're racing around teammates, you race cautious just for that reason that you don't want to run into them, because these are the guys that you talk to and see and rely on the most.
So I knew it was nothing on purpose. He just made a small mistake and it was just magnified because we were the one in front of him.
Q. Two weeks ago, the world of NASCAR made a really big deal out of Junior getting the win at Michigan, and ticket sales spiked for upcoming races and stuff. What was the reaction among the drivers? Was it a relief it finally happened or was it just a non‑factor?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, you would think after the streak, I guess you could say, is over, that they would talk about this less. But there's nothing that you can do that's going to keep the media from talking about deal Junior every single week. Obviously that's what sells newspapers and that's what the race fans read is anything about him.
But I think it was great for him and his race team. I'm a fan of his. I've known him for a really long time and I know that it was a huge win for himself. So you know, I think the previous wins that he's had were somewhat tainted in the fact that there was fuel mileage or tire strategy or something. But he just flat‑out beat everyone when it came to the race in Michigan. I think that that was good.
I think it just adds another car that you're going to have to fight for the championship. He's been up front every single race. When you look around, there's been no weaknesses on that race team or him. So right now, I consider them right at the top level of championship guys that you're going to have to beat in November.
So as far as inside the garage, I think everyone was happy for him. You know, it's been a long time coming and they have had a lot of close calls, and so it was good for them.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today, Denny, and best of luck this weekend at Kentucky.
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