Friday, February 13, 2015

Daytona Media Day with Denny Hamlin

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Does everyone have a chance in the Daytona 500?

“Everyone says, ‘Everyone has a shot here,’ but realistically you’ve got to have half sense to win these superspeedway races and it took me like eight years to figure out how to win one. Realistically, there’s probably 20 guys that have the mental capacity to probably win the race. Anyone can do it if things work out perfectly for you, but if all 43 cars are still on the race track at the end of the race, 20 are smart enough to put themselves in the position to actually win the race I believe.”

Is strategy more important than the equipment or engines?
“It’s more the chess game if you’re going to have it all work for winning these races than it is the equipment. I think it’s a cliché when everyone says, ‘Anyone can win here,’ and anyone can if it’s just handed to you in your lap and everyone else crashes. If they don’t, you’ve got to figure out – you’ve got to be smarter than the rest of the guys.”

Is qualifying unpredictable at Daytona?
“It is. It is going to be about timing and you’re liable to see a front row that you would never see on any other front row in any other NASCAR race simply because you just don’t know how it’s all going to work out. This group qualifying for the 500 is going to be extremely hard to figure out. No one figured it out at Talladega. It just was by chance that some guys made time and other guys didn’t. Hopefully, everyone is a little bit smarter now because of it, but really your front row guys are just going to be the ones that get in a lucky spot and put themselves in a good spot and hopefully the cars around them work with them.”

Has the Daytona 500 become a series of races?
“It’s a bunch of races. It really is. Now that single-car qualifying is gone, you’re probably going to see more wrecks in practice because people are going to be trying that strategy of running a fast lap and seeing what it takes to run that fast lap, so you’re going to have guys running caution speed and real speed all on the same track in a green condition. I don’t know. Somebody is going to make a mistake for sure.”

Should we expect incidents during practice?
“No question. I think it’s definitely a possibility. They are breaking us up into two groups, which is at least a little bit more reasonable, but we’ll find a way to mess up for sure.”

Did you dwell on your finish in the finale?
“I thought about it for probably like two weeks and then it was an immediate shift to break time, time to put racing out of your mind, but really as a driver I felt like there was nothing else I could have done different to change the outcome. We put it together and I feel like I put together my best race of the year in the final race and whether it be strategy or cautions, it just didn’t work out for me. I’ve got to move on and try to get back to that final four again, because as long as that final race is in Homestead (Miami Speedway), I’m always going to have a shot knowing how well I race at that race track.”

Do the new format change the pressure of the final race?
“It was different. You’re not thinking about points. You’re just constantly looking at the cars around you and knowing who you’ve got to race, but I thought it was very exciting to see the four cars that we’re in the final four step up and be one, two, three, four at one point in the race. That’s really all you could ask from NASCAR’s standpoint and a fan’s. It worked it well and obviously you saw a very dramatic finish.”

Is there irony that all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have had run-ins over the years?
“I’ve had incidents with just about everyone too, so we all figure ways to run into each other and get pissed off at each other. You move on and for us, we’ve been looking to move to a fourth team for a very long time, but wanted to make sure it was the right driver and the right team and the right circumstance and when you look at the available drivers that were out there coming into this year, Carl (Edwards) was by far the highest on that list. He is a driver that I feel like elevates our race team and he’s going to elevate me as a driver. He’s going to push me to be better and he’s going to show my weaknesses and I’m going to have to step up when it really counts to get to his level and Matt’s (Kenseth) level and Kyle’s (Busch) level at particular race tracks. When Kyle came in, he pushed me. When Matt came in, he pushed me. I’m expecting that same thing with Carl.”

Are the Joe Gibbs Racing team meetings light-hearted as Carl Edwards described them?
“It is, but there is business that needs to be done and he understands that. Obviousl,y he doesn’t live in the same area that we live at, but he’s been at every one and it’s all about chemistry. With our race teams, the driver and crew chief relationships – that’s where success really comes from at Joe Gibbs Racing is those relationships and he’s building that now with Darian (Grubb, crew chief).”

What have the crew chief changes been like for you over your career?
“All of them have been completely different styles and this is the first total revamp that I’ve had to go through as a driver. When I came in it was Mike Wheeler and Mike Ford, and Mike Wheeler has stayed on through all the changes whether it be the move to Darian (Grubb) and now I lose Mike to the Xfinity Series, so I’m driving the 18 car. They really just decaled the 18 to 11 and I brought my pit crew with me. They all have very different styles and they all work hard and they just do it a different way. I can’t really explain what way that is, but they get there in a different way and I know I will have success with Dave (Rogers, crew chief) because I’ve driven for him before. We’ve had success before and our communication has been great ever since we worked together eight years ago. I’m confident that the changes that were made are all changes for the better.”

- Toyota Racing

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