Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, has learned plenty of lessons from last season as well as the off season. And he intends to take every bit of that new learning right into the 2013 season.
One of the biggest lessons that Hamlin learned last season was the need for consistency as a race team. And Hamlin definitely wants to banish any inconsistency to the past and focus so that he can focus on that coveted championship prize.
“We’ve won a lot of races year after year,” Hamlin said. “We’re always in the hunt and then something mechanical happens to our cars and it takes us out of the championship.”
“You can’t have any DNFs,” Hamlin continued. “There are no mulligans.”
“Our key in the offseason has been reliability and coming up with a system to make sure our cars are bullet proof when they hit the race track.”
“Things that went wrong with our cars or things that fell off or got loose or whatever, it was human error,” Hamlin said. “You need to take that out of the equation.”
“Hopefully those bugs have been fixed,” Hamlin continued. “We’re working on a new process to make our cars more tough and rigid and making sure they don’t fall apart.”
“To do that, you have to have more than one set of eyes working on your cars,” Hamlin said “We’re hopefully working on some things to make sure that our cars are reliable as the planes you fly in the air.”
Another lesson Hamlin learned, perhaps the hard way last year, is the need to do a better job in his qualifying efforts.
“I always have to learn and keep up with what I need to do,” Hamlin said. “One thing I know I have to work on is qualifying.”
“We greatly improved that last year and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) helped with that a bit,” Hamlin continued. “I’m getting better but the results haven’t always shown that.”
“It’s just a matter of time before we are in the number one spot.”
Hamlin is also hoping to learn some lessons from both of his new teammates, including current teammate Kyle Busch and especially his new teammate Matt Kenseth, in the upcoming season.
“When I knew Matt was coming to Gibbs, we started talking and chatting through text messages quite a bit,” Hamlin said. “I’m so excited to have us on the same track together.”
“I think he’s going to bring a ton of experience,” Hamlin said of his new teammate. “I can’t wait to compare data.”
One other area that Hamlin acknowledged that he needed to pay attention to was learning how to better handle his emotions. And he definitely wants to take that lesson into the new season.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned would have to be not letting my emotions get to me when something bad happens that I cannot control,” Hamlin said. “I think it’s very important to let your emotions be kept at an even keel and not let things get to you.”
“It’s very hard, especially when I wear my emotions on my sleeve as to my performance,” Hamlin continued. “When I run well, I’m happy and when I don’t, I’m not.”
“That’s tough for all of us as competitors when you have a bad day and not letting it affect you when you are on the race track,” Hamlin said. “I wear my performance on my sleeve.”
“It will be all about managing those emotions and not to get down on the bad days,” Hamlin continued. “That’s another thing that Matt Kenseth will bring because he doesn’t let the bad things get to him.”
In addition to handling the emotions on the track, Hamlin has a whole new set of emotions to deal with in his newest role, parenthood. And Hamlin intends to take those lessons with him on race day as well.
Hamlin and his girlfriend Jordan Fish welcomed daughter Taylor James Hamlin to their world last month. Baby Hamlin, weighing in at six pounds, five ounces, made her arrival during Hamlin’s Daytona testing.
“The experience has been great,” Hamlin said of being a new daddy. “Your outlook changes when you have to leave home and when you have to get home and how excited you are to pull in the drive knowing that you get to see your daughter.”
“So that part of it is cool.”
“She’s sleeping most all the time and in between feedings,” Hamlin said. ““It actually hasn’t been too bad.”
Hamlin, however, admitted that it will definitely be a difficult lesson to bear when he leaves this week to head to Daytona International Speedway for Speedweeks and the start of the 2013 season.
“Leaving the house for sure will be hard,” Hamlin said. “I have solace in knowing in just a few months I’ll get to see her all the time every day.”
Hamlin’s last lesson learned is his strong desire to carry his charitable and philanthropic endeavors into the new season. For the third time in a row, Hamlin will be organizing the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown during the Richmond race weekend.
The race raises funds for the Denny Hamlin Cystic Fibrosis Research Lab at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.
Last year, Hamlin, through the Foundation that bears his name, gave a multi-year grant of $150,000 for the Children’s Hospital. Funds raised at this year’s race will help train the next generation of CF research scientists.
“The Showdown has had some of the best late model racing in the past,” Hamlin said. “This year will be no different.”
“We’ve invited the region’s finest drivers to compete against some of my Sprint Cup Series friends,” Hamlin continued. “It’s going to be wild.”
“Every dollar we give to cystic fibrosis makes a different,” Hamlin said. “You never know. This could be the year we find a cure.”
So, how does Hamlin sum up all of his life lessons learned as he heads into the brand spanking new season?
“My life is very different now,” Hamlin said. “It’s one of the most gratifying times.”