Toyota Racing – Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Daytona International Speedway – July 6, 2018
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media at Daytona International Speedway:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Cares Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Tell us about your special paint scheme you have going on this weekend and some of the activities that took place this morning.
“This weekend FedEx Cares and Team Rubicon teamed up. Team Rubicon is a great disaster relief group that is mostly and largely formed the volunteers that perform all the work are ex‑military members that have spent a lot of time serving their country, and when they come back, they want to continue that and serve their community. So they’re at the forefront of natural disasters, either going to communities that they feel are in danger and preparing for that, or they’re one of the first responders. So it’s a great mix of people that are willing to give back and still serve this country and still come back and help out people that are in need of it in really distressed times. Proud to have them on the car, and this is another great thing that FedEx has done, and their FedEx Cares program that they pledged $200 million from I believe it was 2016 to 2020 is just a great thing, and they really help out Team Rubicon, as well, by supplying them the logistics to get them the equipment they need to help these people that are working on the ground level to get the job done.”
When you come here and you have a set schedule, you’re supposed to do this and this and this and all of a sudden it rains and gets canceled and moved around, how hard is it for you to deal with that ‑‑
“We weren’t doing anything anyway. I mean, we were done yesterday middle of the afternoon and were going to run one, maybe two laps today, and really in a 52‑hour period, we weren’t going to do but an hour of qualifying. It’s a little different schedule. You know, a lot of waiting around, things like that. But overall the rain doesn’t affect a whole lot for us today, about the Xfinity guys I’m sure it affects a whole lot more. But it’s frustrating sometimes when you get to the racetracks, and no matter what the schedule is, rain disrupts that. But looking at the alert, they just moved Cup qualifying back just a little bit.”
How do you implement how you interact on social media?
“I don’t know. You know, you just ‑‑ you know, I think that we get so caught up in social media stuff has gotten so negative over the last couple years or so, and it used to be Twitter was a great source for what people were doing, things like that, and really over the last couple years I feel like it’s turned into just ‑‑ it’s just a total judgment zone, right? It’s just a way for people to reach out and give their opinions or give negative opinions most of the time. There’s very few times that people are reaching out and saying something positive. So I just have just tried to stay a little bit more positive with the things that I put out there and replying to people that are more positive. I just think that sometimes you just ‑‑ when I watch and I see someone reacting to someone that’s on their feed that is negative, it’s like, I would have never saw that person if you didn’t respond to them, so don’t fill people’s timeline with negative energy. I’m not an energy kind of guy, but just ‑‑ keeping things more positive because I believe that there are a lot of positives going on within our sport right now, but people are only replying to the negatives, and that’s what people see is all those negative comments and interactions, and people start to believe that, and you believe what you see. But you don’t ‑‑ but it’s because you’re not replying to the people that are saying, man, that was a great race, can’t wait to come back. You’re replying to the people that say, man, that’s boring, NASCAR sucks. I think it’s ‑‑ people believe what they see, and so you try to keep it positive, and I think it’ll rise all ships.”
Are there positives with social media?
“Yeah, I think there’s a lot of positives that can be ‑‑ racing is still a very, very popular sport all over. It’s not just a U.S. thing, it’s popular everywhere, and people will always be fascinated with racing. But I think when you look at the on‑track product versus the fan experience, I think there’s got to be more shift into the fan experience than the actual product on the racetrack, and we tinkered for so long to try to give the fan the best racing possible on the racetrack. You’re not always going to have walk‑off moments every single weekend. Sometimes a baseball game is 8‑0. Sometimes it’s 1‑0. You know, you have those moments, but people are still intrigued and want to go to the stadiums to watch it for the atmosphere and the interaction and the fan interaction they get to have. I think NASCAR as a whole, we could really focus on that, not only with our facilities but maybe the noise of the car. I get it that we don’t want silence, but I do believe taking some of the sound down from deafening to just loud would be something that would be better for fans, as well.”
Does the playoffs get more intense for you every year the longer you keep trying to break through and get that championship, or is it just another year?
“You know, I’m not sure whether it gets more intense or not. I was probably more nervous earlier in my career than I am now about playoffs. With a certain format, I think it’s ‑‑ you know, this format you kind of see where you’re at going through the year, where it used to be a total reset that, hey, a bad race, it’s not such a big deal. But now when your competitors are kind of racking up points here and there, it gives you that playoff feel really throughout the entire regular season, and that’s what we aimed for, right? So I think that it’s overall working. With just a few guys logging a bunch of points right now, I think it makes more good cars in danger of missing the cut early on one of these cutoff races. You’ve got to be aware of that and make sure you don’t take these early rounds for granted, even though you know based on speed you should be fine.”
And this is year three with Wheels (Mike Wheeler) as your crew chief. Why will he be the guy that hopefully leads you to a championship?
“Well, I think it’s our communication. I think the fact that we can be honest with each other at times, we just really work well together, and I think that he has an understanding for what I’m looking for. He’s worked with me now for over 10 years. So we just have that relationship that we’re comfortable with each other and I have faith that he’s the guy that can get it done in a crunch situation.”
Do you have a prediction for Saturday night in terms of how things are going to go?
“I think that the pack will be tighter. I think the bubble behind the cars with the spoiler change is a little bit smaller. You can get closer to the driver in front of you. So with that, I think that the cars are going to be closer together, less room for error, most likely more wrecks. And I think this race always lends itself to being more of a wreck‑fest than ones in the past, which makes it very exciting. I mean, this is obviously a big chance for a lot of cars that normally wouldn’t have a chance to win on a normal weekend to go out there and make some noise. We’ll do the best we can to do the same things we’ve been doing to put ourselves in position to win at this racetrack. This is definitely by far the Victory Lane I’ve visited most in my career through exhibition races and twins and duels and all that stuff. So we know what we need to get the job done, it’s just whether we can survive it and be in the right position when the wrecks start happening.”
How would you assess your season to date and how did the Supra announcement go?
“Yeah, I mean, we’re really excited with the Toyota brand to bring the Supra to Xfinity. I think it’s a perfect car for the Xfinity Series, slightly smaller car than what the Camry is, and the Xfinity car feels smaller with the wheel base. So I think it’s a great car for that, and obviously love the styling of it. There was a lot of collaboration between Gibbs Racing, once again, and Toyota to help develop that race car. So I’m excited to run it next year at some point. But as far as our season goes, I think we just don’t have the wins that we were hoping for. We don’t have the stage wins that we were hoping for, just not enough of them. So I think at this point of the season, I would like to have had 15, 20 points by now, playoff points, but I think it’s maybe fortunate or unfortunate it’s just a few guys racking up points right now. The negative to that is if it goes that way and it keeps going that way, then you’re almost battling for one spot in that second to last round, and that’s what creates that urgency, sense of urgency that we had at Martinsville and some of those other crazy races towards the end of the year. We need to win a couple races before the playoffs start to make me feel a little bit more comfortable about going to a racetrack and knowing that, hey, we can afford an okay day here, we don’t have to have one where we have to hit it out of the park. But we always go to the racetrack thinking we can win, and we know our cars are fast enough to win, and I’ll drive that way.”
Do you guys as a team or an organization, now that you’re at the halfway point, do you meet and look over the first half of the season to see what you can do to improve?
“Yeah, I mean, I think that we always have team meetings, and that’s very important, but we always have breakout sessions between the individual crew chiefs and drivers to talk about what we can do better and things like that. Last week was ultra frustrating from my standpoint, as many times as I passed Kyle on the racetrack during that race, and he wins and I finish seventh. How did that happen? We just had circumstances, we had a couple bad pit stops, and then we spun, and just there were a lot of things that came out to being the difference between winning and being in seventh. We know the speed is there, it’s just a little bit about execution for us that’s going to make the difference in the long run. But we’re close. We’re really close to where we need to be to be one of the guys that you can talk about in the Final Four.”
Your thoughts on going into Kentucky and that track, another night race up there? And you said something I’ve been thinking about, reducing the sound of the car from deafening to loud, I’ve actually heard that from fans before. Did you guys come up with that, or how did it come about?
“Well, I just think that it just goes in ‑‑ to me it goes in the basket with fan experience. When you talk to first‑time people that come to the race for the first time, not everyone has access or can afford headphones. When you go to an NFL game or any other game, you don’t have to have that, you can talk right next to the person beside you, and that’s a difficult thing, especially if it’s a short track in NASCAR. I think that it could in the long run be a better thing to help with that fan experience, be able to talk to the person beside you, be a little bit more social, but it’s been on the table for a little while, and hopefully it gets implemented at some point. But still, it’s racing. It’s about loud cars and motors. It always has been. We enjoy it either way. Kentucky, it’s a track that I really do like. It’s been a little bit difficult since the repave as far as being able to run two wide there. Any repave is usually just right around the yellow line, and that’s the way that track has been for quite some time now. It’s a difficult racetrack to be able to battle with side by side with someone, but it’s a super track position important racetrack. For us the focus has got to be Friday or ‑‑ yeah, Friday, qualifying well, and making sure we put ourselves up front early.”