NASCAR Media Conference
April 29, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Thank you and good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway, an event with the elite title, the "Crown Royal Presents the Dan Lowry 400." Dan Lowry is an avid NASCAR fan who won a promotional contest and, thus, also won the right to have the race named after him.
Our guest on today's teleconference is Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota. Denny's come to be 4th in Series points. The Chesterfield, Virginia, native is trying for an early season home state short track sweep by winning at Richmond. Last month Denny won at Martinsville Speedway's half-mile.
Now, Denny, before we get started with our Q&A, I know you were involved in a special event Southside Speedway in Richmond on Thursday night for your foundation. Can you just give us a brief overview about that.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it's the Denny Hamlin 175 at Southside Speedway, myself and Kyle Busch and Curtis Markham will all be racing at the Southside Speedway Thursday, I believe, 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. And what it is, is it's kicking off the Denny Hamlin Foundation. It's to benefit cystic fibrosis, obviously close to my family because my cousin has cystic fibrosis. And he's doing well now.
So definitely excited about getting that foundation kicked off finally and having a benefit race to help kick that off.
THE MODERATOR: Also on the subject of sweeping both spring short track races in your home state, how important will that be to you?
DENNY HAMLIN: Really special, especially Richmond in particular, Martinsville is right there. I've got more experience there than I do any track that we go to. But Richmond, I mean, that is in the woods of my hometown right there, 15 minutes away. And so, yeah, I'm going to have a lot of friends and family out there. So everyone knows that this is my Indy, I guess you could say, as far as Tony's concerned.
So we'll see how it turns out. We always seem to run well there. It's just come up a little shy of having a race win a car.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Have you noticed anything different about Kyle Busch this year, the way he's racing and is there anything about having him as a teammate that surprises you?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, nothing's really surprised me. Our equipment is really, really good this year. I think that we've definitely worked really hard at getting -- of having a small transition from Chevrolets to Toyotas. And it's really been good. And having Kyle there, he's -- for the first part of the season, we definitely know that he's going to go out there and feel like he has something to prove after leaving Hendrick's.
He's definitely pushing hard. We're definitely doing our best to try to keep up with the Hendrick's guys from last year. So I think we've definitely taken a couple of leaps as far as the gap's concerned.
And we just -- we know with Kyle's speed it's just going to push us to go faster and be better. So far it has.
Q. I want to ask you about, we saw something this past weekend that I don't think we've ever seen in the way of bump drafting, and with your car in particular when you got behind somebody, it seemed like you guys could just rocket past the rest of the pack eight, ten miles an hour faster. Is that something you knew ahead of time maybe from practice or did you discover that during the race?
DENNY HAMLIN: I found it out in practice. Actually, when we were second fastest in I believe the first practice, I pushed harder. And I think our lap time was a good half a second faster than the third place guy. And it was because I had latched onto his rear bumper and sent him for a ride.
So I discovered it in practice, and I just kind of learned different ways to make it work and make my car stay connected to the car in front of me. And it's just -- it's secrets that you don't care to tell people because you don't want to be the guy to give it all away. But eventually everyone is going to figure it out.
I just kind of latched onto it a little earlier.
Q. I just wanted to ask you about the Southside event. I know you did this last year. What's it like being back at Southside for you?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's going to be really fun. I've been keeping up with the local racing at Southside and other short tracks I used to race at. So as far as having a track that's your hometown track, I mean, that's it. It's on the street where I grew up. So to go back there and see all of the fans that I used to sit in the stands with is going to be pretty amazing. And last year we had a great turnout. I believe it was nearly sold out, if not, it was sold out. And it was the first time in years.
And that kind of -- it definitely helps with keeping that track alive and not only that, we're able to raise the money for good charity as well.
Q. How did you happen to choose Southside as the track to kick off your foundation?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, the good thing is it's Richmond weekend, they don't usually run on Richmond weekend. So we were trying to plan between mine and Curtis' and Kyle's schedule to come out a day early. I think everyone who likes to go to the races likes to go Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- or Friday and Saturday. So we decided to come out a day early and it's a track that I went to first.
It's the track that I went to every Friday night in the '80s and '90s and watched guys like Eddie Johnson and Bug Hairfield and Roy Hendrick and all those guys race for so many years. So it's fitting to have it at that track.
Q. What impact, if any, is the chatter about Tony's future having on the team at this point?
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, we definitely haven't heard much. JD's just basically told us the same thing he's told everyone, is that, Hey, people ask you, just tell them what exactly happened. And that's -- I think they've set out what -- they would like to have him retire here, and if he chooses to, that's great.
And I think Tony's happy here. But, I mean, he's definitely going to listen to anything that people want to say to him as far as their options, because if someone just gives them a real crazy, extravagant option, maybe you want to think about it.
But if not, I definitely think he's welcome here, Jacobs Racing. He's got a great connection with Home Depot. I mean, it would take something really big for him to leave here.
Q. Given time factor involved here, I think it's 2009 or something, are you concerned that this thing is just going to hang over the team and be a constant question over and over?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I don't think so. I think JD and Joe will definitely have a time frame in which they want to have it done by. And I think it's going to be definitely before this year for sure that they're going to want to have it done. Because they're not going to want to go through an entire year of questions and rumors and whatnot.
So, I mean, I think there's a timetable out there. What it is, I don't know. But I know just through our contract negotiations, you know, there wasn't much negotiation. It was just, Hey, you want to come back for such and such years, and I agree.
But they want to get things done early. They don't want to wait around for the last minute, because ultimately they have to make out their future if it's not with them.
Q. This is kind of along the same lines that you and Richard were just talking about. But I'm wondering, when you're a part of a multi-car team where obviously you've got three hugely talented guys and three really fast cars, could you just talk about the dynamic of wondering if whether everybody has the same equipment and sort of how difficult I imagine it is to know that there can't be three top dogs, how you handle that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think it's a balance. I mean, you ultimately look at a team and everyone from the outside will say: Well, Tony Stewart's the team leader. Was it because he's the senior member, he's been here the longest, or is it because of the championships or the race wins, what have you.
No matter what, you're going to have a leader within a team. Even if maybe some guys are performing better at some time or another, you're going to have someone that performs a little better at times but you ultimately still have a team leader. And I think Tony is that for us. And I'll play whatever role people want me to play.
But ultimately we're going go out there and try to win races every week. Doesn't matter if I'm a leader or a follower. I'll take it either way. So as long as I still have a ride I'm going to be happy. So it's tough to say what it is a team leader does. But kind of gives us that guidance. And I think Tony's done that for me. And I've been here a little bit longer than Kyle has. So I've kind of seen what Tony can do for a team.
So right now I continue to say no matter what based on performance he's our guy.
Q. If he's in fact the leader and you express that really well, what do you think would turn his head, or what would the deal look like that could be better?
DENNY HAMLIN: Ultimately his future. I don't think he wants to race in Sprint Cup when he's 45 years old. I think he wants to get out as soon as he can. But still maintain a good lifestyle. And in order to do that, he's going to have to make some money other ways, whether it's in team ownership or team -- earning a racetrack or what have you.
I think really he's looking out for his future. If he can have a deal, one last deal to finish off his career, he'll do it. He'll take it. I think he'll go back to racing the short tracks on a local level. There's no doubt in my mind about it.
Q. Could you tell me what has been the difference for you in the last four to five races that you finished so well in that period and if there's something that's different from the earlier part of the season?
DENNY HAMLIN: Really, just the luck side of things. I mean, Daytona 500, I felt we had a race-winning car, ran up front and had an incident on pit road. In California we hit the water and were the first ones out. After that, we really ran well. In Atlanta I felt we had a shot to win, Kyle won that one, which is good, but we lost power steering. And then after that we haven't finished outside of the top six.
So really for us we've been performing really well, just haven't had that luck until these last four to five weeks. And we're really showing how strong of a team we are in showing all three teams are equal.
Q. If I could follow up, what sort of things make you a better driver today than maybe two or three years ago?
DENNY HAMLIN: Just kind of getting a feel for the edge in these cars. Not only the car, just getting used to the horsepower.
There are a lot of things in this Cup Series that make you better. A lot of it is patience and the how the way you race guys and how they race you. The more experience you have, the different they race you.
For me, I've gotten better but I think a lot of it has to be with just being out there for track time and getting used to the guys I race against each week.
Q. With the media spotlights constantly around you for Tony Stewart's contract talk and Kyle Busch's stellar start this year, does that distract your mission?
DENNY HAMLIN: No. It's just motivation. When we don't get the press that I feel like we deserve. I mean, yeah, Kyle, he's definitely won a couple of races this year. We've won a race. And the last five races we've been the hottest team. I mean, we've never finished out of the top six.
So I'm fine with it. Write about somebody else, because if you're not writing about us, we're able to stay focused and keep our job at hand. So I'm fine with taking a back seat to those guys and showing up on the racetrack.
Q. Did you learn fast to focus more with all the activity around you at this level?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, you definitely have -- you definitely learn with experience and the more years that you're in the sport how to stay focused. And I think we did a good job of that the first year, but I don't necessarily think I did a good job of that in the second year. I think I was going too much for race wins and didn't have the big picture in mind. And now I've kind of shifted that back over to my goals and I think it's making me perform better on the racetrack and giving us the finishes that we're having.
Q. You were talking right there about they get the press; you're able to focus more. With your personality, does that kind of go with your approach and your driving approach as well?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it does. I mean, I'm definitely probably the least outspoken of, say, my two teammates. But it's a lot like my crew chief, though. He's (indiscernible) and I'm quiet. That may sound standoffish, but we're so focused and so competitive, it doesn't really matter what somebody else is saying or whether our teammates are in a big contract negotiations or winning races or what have you. We still have our job at hand and know what our goals are. And right now we're reaching them. We're just not doing it in kind of a flashy way.
Q. When Kyle Hendrick came over to you guys, a lot of people questioned his maturity: He's still young, I think he turns 23 later this week. With that kind of talk before he got there, what's the relationship been like and the experience been like working more closely with him since he came to work with you guys?
DENNY HAMLIN: It's been good. Me and Kyle have a good relationship off the racetrack last year even before we were teammates. So I think it's definitely -- he's the first guy that will come up to my window and ask how my car is doing and kind of react to what his car's doing.
So that's something that Tony doesn't do a whole lot of. If you go to him, he's going to give you all the advice you can get or take in, but Kyle's kind of the guy that initiates it, which is really good. Because I don't always initiate things either.
So I think that's why at times mine and Tony's relationship kind of got stale last year, was just because we didn't talk that much. And I think Kyle's been that guy that kept us going this year as far as that whole relationship is concerned.
Q. So you're still obviously early in your career as well. Is Kyle somebody that you're able to relate to as well, because of where you guys both are in your careers?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah. We came into this sport one year apart. So we're kind of both in it together, I guess you could say, and have the same experience level. So, I mean, we're going through a lot of the same things. We're both at the same kind of parts of our lives right now. So, yeah, it's a guy I can definitely relate a lot more to.
Q. It seems like everyone has had some type of a problem with this new car. Heck, you're having a great year so far. But does this new car, the small problems, does the frustration get to you and, if so, how the heck do you handle that frustration when you're out there on the track with 43 other guys?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, the car's definitely frustrating at times especially on the flatter racetracks, especially to try to pass. And it's just part of the race car. It was hard to pass with the old cars. But it seems a little bit more hard with these. And just gotta -- qualifying means more now than it ever has. Pit selection means more than it ever has.
You've just got to maintain focus throughout the race. There's many times where we all get frustrated because we feel like we have a better car than the guy in front of us but just can't pass them. And we feel we're like the best drivers out there. So who could do it?
So it's a product of the car, but I think the more we learn with these cars the better off we're going to be, the better they're going to handle, the more we're going to understand them, the better the racing is going to be.
That's why you're seeing the racing slowly start to be better and better through the course of this season.
Q. Can you take anything from the car last year at Richmond and apply it to this year? Is this a completely different animal that you just kind of start from scratch on?
DENNY HAMLIN: I would say some things from last year. But we're learning so much in such a short amount of time. I mean, we really don't take much from even the spring to fall race. We just learn so much and find new things to work on this car that there's very little that we'll take from one race to another.
I think once we hit a stale spot where, okay, we've had these cars three or four years and there's not much to learn, that's when you can really use a lot of information. But right now, we're just learning so much through testing that when we go back, we're going back with something totally better, because it's something that we find out in testing is better.
So I think right now it's just -- if you stay with what you've got, you're going to be way behind. And I think we've done a good job of keeping up so far.
Q. As a follow-up, looking at Martinsville and that breakthrough and everything, when you come to Richmond, do you see that more as a matter of time race, matter of time in terms of winning a race there?
DENNY HAMLIN: Definitely, because I feel shorter tracks are my strong suit anyway. So Richmond, it's definitely going to be a track -- hopefully I will win that. I feel like I will win there eventually, just got to wait on the right time.
I thought I had it in my rookie year when I was racing Dale Jr. there for the win. That ended up being his last win. We were right there. We had it and lost it at the end. Eventually it's going to happen, just have to be patient and don't let it get to you, because if you let it get to you, it will definitely eat away at you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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