Toyota Racing - Denny Hamlin
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Playoff Media Day - Sept. 13, 2017
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media during NASCAR's Playoff Media Day:
DENNY HAMLIN, #11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What's your impressions about the whole pit crew change with Kyle Busch and Daniel Suárez?
"No, our pit crew's pretty good and solid. I think you always try to put the best people out there that you possibly can. I think that the 18 is a good pit crew, but I think they struggled with consistency like the 19 has had, so they made a change for that reason."
Do you still feel like you're trying to prove something or have something to prove at this point in your career?
"That's a tough question. I mean, you always race with a little bit of a chip on your shoulders. But obviously we've been close in years past. We've won races. That's been no shocker. But, yeah, it's been the championship that's been the hardest to come by, as it should be. Sometimes circumstances took us out. Sometimes it was performance. Most of the time it was circumstances. So I like with this format what we've done during the regular season has been rewarded. Even though we're not as high up in the points as what we would like to be, we at least have some bonus points to lean back on in case we have kind of a hiccup in the road. I think this format is made for a veteran to go out there and win."
Did you think you'd have a championship or more than one championship at this point in your career?
"Yeah, I mean, it just depends on the points format, right? Under a few formats, we'd have two by now. But you race the format that you've got in front of you. I'm confident that under any format we're good enough to win, at any racetrack we're good enough to win. That's something I'd say probably less than have of those Playoff drivers can say honestly. They hope to be consistent or they hope they 10th place their way through this thing. We feel like we can go through this and win any given week, and that's a huge advantage."
If you were going to handicap this field, what would you put on different drivers for making the championship?
"I think obviously (Martin) Truex is probably 80 percent chance of making Homestead. I think only two detrimental races in one round could possibly knock him out, but he's liable to win the third one. He's pretty high up there. I think Kyle (Busch) performs well at all the racetracks ahead of us. We perform well at all of them. Kevin Harvick obviously does, as well. That's three there. Then (Kyle) Larson's got enough bonus points that will carry him I think quite a ways. I think that they are a very high team when they're high. When they have issues, it can be bad. But I think he's built up enough cushion there in the regular season to earn himself a way to Homestead. I think it's going to be six or seven guys that are going to be very close to getting into that final four. Which one? It's just which one has the right break, which one gets the caution at the right time that they need it to either take him in or take him out."
Homestead, winner take all. What you did at Darlington, I've heard people say that's one of the most impressive things done by a driver. Do you feel you could draw back from knowing you can get it done?
"Yeah, absolutely. I think that's probably one of the biggest advantages that I have over other drivers, is I feel like I'm mentally tougher. I feel like I've gone through everything there is to go through in these Playoffs. I've been leading the points going into the final race at Talladega, and then my roof hatch falls off, I miss the Playoffs. I've gone through it all. There's nothing that will surprise me, nothing that will shock me. I think I've gone through it all, I should say that. But, you know, I think that experience helps you when you have adversity battle back from it. I think Darlington was a prime example of that. I thought I'd thrown away the race, then I found a way to get it back."
If you are going to write a book, How to Screw Up a Championship, what would be the top three things to avoid?
"Well, one would be panicking. That would be number one on my list. That would be number two on the list, that's not sticking to your routine. I went into Homestead 2010 not in my routine. I'd kind of took everything so seriously that I took myself out of it by taking myself too seriously, kind of not having fun, enjoying the moment. The other thing is, if you want to throw away championships, just don't have fast enough cars. Those three things are I think the keys to it. As far as the driver, you can't make mistakes. That's a big factor in all this. There's plenty of competition out there that are not going to make mistakes. There's a lot of veterans in this field that I see that are unlikely to make mistakes. I think this format favors veterans. I think we'll see how it all plays out, but my bet would be on someone older."
As the spokesperson for the drivers council, have you had discussions with NASCAR how to officiate races better so what happened Saturday night at Richmond does not happen again?
"Yeah, I've talked to them for sure. They deemed it just like what happens when a driver has a bad race - hey, they're moving on to the next race. Short of, like, an NBA ref tripping a player, then that player getting injured, I don't know how it relates. It was just bizarre to me. I feel like, I don't know, it's frustrating because there should be one constant in NASCAR, and that's how the races are called and officiated."
Last week you didn't have your crew chief, again this week. Was it helpful to work through anything, get used to it?
"Yeah, I think so. I think not having Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) hurt us last week. We were late to two practices. We started 10 minutes late to both practices because our car wasn't ready. In between changes, we didn't have the sense of urgency, getting out there, getting it done, getting back on the track, where Wheels is usually pushing them to get it done. I think our track time was cut down. Obviously there's strategy things that he can't do that hurts us. I don't think it's business as usual. I don't think it's next man up. Next man up really for us was Sam, who is in his 20s. He's very young, very inexperienced. The next engineer, I don't know how old he is, but he can't be far out of high school. Our team is so young, it hurt us losing our leader there. I think the good news is we're going to lose Wheels for one more race, which is the first race of the Chase, but we should be able to perform pretty well no matter what based off of our speed. We've got a little buffer there that we can just survive this week and move on."
What more do you have to do, is it unfair to ask the driver to do more to create that sense of urgency?
"Yeah, possibly. I think his role is more on race day, calling the race. The two days leading up to it is more the responsibility of the engineers. I think the responsibility I carry is I have to give information a little bit quicker to them because Wheels, I tell him what it's doing, bam, he comes up with a change right away. I think they want to be more methodical so they don't make mistakes. They have to enter into it computer. Let's change this. You have to just do things a little bit give them a little more advanced notice when things aren't going well."
You can win the race on Sunday, but the first two days can put you back.
"Whether you have a car that's good enough to win, that happens before you get to the racetrack. You can finish fifth with a winning car, or sometimes you can turn a fifth place car in practice to a winning car. Yeah, there's quite a few finishing positions at stake on Friday and Saturday."
Don't you have an iPad with FaceTime?
"In the hauler, yes, but it's still not the same as having him there. That part is difficult. He can't get ahold of my emotions. He doesn't feel the emotion. He doesn't see the hand gestures, things like that. It makes it more difficult even though you can visibly just see him."
There's been a lot of talk about the ambulance, but also response time in general this season, some guys getting lost on the way to the care center. Has that happened to you? Have you talked about it on the council?
"We have brought it up. I think one example was Aric Almirola. His ambulance got lost inside the racetrack. I mean, he had a serious injury. That was an issue for sure. I know they're trying to do the best they can. I mean, they're not doing it every week, they're just doing it when we come to town. Some argue it should be the same team everywhere. Others think the ambulance crew or the EMS crew should be familiar with just that racetrack. I don't know what the correct answer is, but we for sure can get better because we're not good right now."
Travel teams seem to work well for other major racing series. Do you think NASCAR might look at that?
"Yeah, it's been brought up. They counter it with I'm not sure legally people are allowed to practice medicine from state to state. I don't know what all the rules are. If someone's, like, choking on an airplane, there's a doctor there, they're in a different state, is that doctor not supposed to help? Let's be real."
How does an ambulance get lost at a track when taking a driver to the care center?
"I'm not sure. I'm not sure if it's a procedural thing that they don't actually drive the route. If they do, does that route get blocked when all the fans come in? Again, I'm so uneducated when it comes to speaking about this. But do they practice once all the campers get in there. Everything is blocked up like it would normally would be, do they do practice routes or not. I'm not sure. I think it's important. I don't know whether it's the same ambulance driver every single time or is it just the first person to get in the seat. I don't know who decides who drives the ambulance or who decides they're going to help the driver. I need to know more about it to really speak on it, for sure."
Which non-Playoff driver do you look at as one to go out and get a win, upset you guys?
"Well, I think a driver like Joey Logano is very dangerous, could win any given week. Erik Jones is getting closer and closer every single week. Those are guys that you think could threaten to take a win away. But they're trying to win for their teams. Honestly, there might be weeks we hope that they win. Trust me, if it's not us winning, we want someone like them to win."
What is the biggest handicap for the Toyota drivers?
"The biggest handicap I think is high expectations. It's tough to go into the Chase, the Playoffs, the favorites. We've been on both sides of it. When the expectations are high, you got a big lead like you see out there on that board, you tend to play defensive a little bit. I think the challenge is having the lead and keeping it."
Some guys are coming in with a points deficit. Compared to the Playoffs in the past, does that change the mindset a little bit?
"A little bit, for sure. But I also look at we've got a pretty decent lead over some other guys, as well. I think 10 points, which is what you can get in one stage by being up front, can move us from wherever we're at to, like, second. We're right there. We're close. I'm not worried about it too much. I think we're good enough, fast enough to make it through. Ultimately, I think in the third round we'll have to win."
Are the JGR cars close that close to what Furniture Row Racing is running? Is some of Martin's advantage execution?
"I don't know that it's execution. I think they do an amazing job making adjustments from overnight to the race. We're still trying to catch up on that a little bit. I mean, procedurally we give them the parts and pieces, most of the parts and pieces. But they also do their own bodies at times, too. Like not everything is the same. Even though it's a Toyota, it's a JGR chassis, it's no different than Stewart Haas was with Hendrick. They were beating Hendrick for the longest time. I think they just have taken the best of what we've got and made it better."
What is the weirdest thing you've seen that's impeded or stopped a race, had an effect on the outcome of a race?
"I can tell you firsthand for me it was when Kevin (Harvick), he wrecked the field to make it to the next round a few years ago. It took me out. I mean, he did what he had to do. I was upset with him at the time. I mean, we had to make new rules to stop that from happening. That was the biggest thing I've seen change an outcome. I mean, it took us out of a round, for sure."
Did you talk to Martin Truex Jr. after Saturday?
"Yeah, I talked to (Martin) Truex. We were both fine. He was really upset with NASCAR. I think I was a mere side bar to him. But we talked about it. He knew it was all an accident. I messed up."
How often has something like that happened?
"Not very often. I actually very rarely wreck anyone, especially a teammate. I can't remember. Maybe Kyle (Busch), even though I didn't wreck him, I was ahead of him in the All Star Race years and years ago. I can't remember the last time I really, like, totally just crashed somebody. It's been a while."
Do you think NASCAR needs to get on the same page as far as what constitutes the caution?
"Listen, I was leading the race with nine laps to go at Homestead two years ago, three years ago. Nine laps from a championship, and somebody wiggled in the corner, a caution came out, we lost the championship. Yeah, I'm all for consistency. We need to find where that consistency is."
Does there need to be a scale, this is what we drop the yellow for?
"It is judgment. The challenge I have is, you know, when you hear there's parts flying off the cars. I'm on the racetrack, I don't see a thing, any parts. I watch it back on TV, I can't find any parts. So who saw something fly off? Are they just going on assumption? Do they actually see something? I think, yeah, it's a challenge. It's a tough job to have. Listen, whoever is calling races up there, that's a tough job. I mean, it's like NBA refs, right? Everything could be a foul. Every lap could be a caution. It's always a danger out there. There's always something laying around. It's a matter of whether they choose to call it or not."
Or do you let them play because it's the Playoffs?
"I think NASCAR has really done a good job of letting the races play out for the most part. For the last 10 or 12 weeks, they've let green flag runs happen, which has been good. Heck, it created an amazing finish at Darlington for us. A caution would have just ruined that whole thing. But they deemed Richmond a caution with Kenseth smoking a tire and Derrike Cope tagging the wall. I don't know. I just wish it was more consistent. Hey, a contact with the wall is an automatic caution, but then you have teammates going up and tagging the wall. It's a tough job to have. I don't envy anyone that has to call it."
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