Toyota Racing – NCS Daytona Quotes – Denny Hamlin – 02.14.24

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media on Wednesday prior to the Daytona 500.

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

What would it mean to win your fourth Daytona 500 this year?

“I think with each win, it puts you in a different category, right? And certainly, with some of the numbers that Richard (Petty) put up, or Cale (Yarborough), it’s hard to duplicate even in today’s type racing where there’s more cars on the lead lap and more cars in the front pack. I think accomplishments like that certainly puts you in an upper echelon of drivers that were legends in this sport, so it would certainly mean a lot.”

Does it take pressure off you coming to Daytona after previously winning a Daytona 500 or does it add more pressure on you?

“Me personally, I’d say it takes it off. There are many great drivers, certainly better than I am, that have never won this race and they deem it as a hole in their career. I think it’s a different type of racing now than what it used to be. It was a little more predictable back then because the cars were on edge and the great drafters found their way and position. It’s just a little different with the Next Gen era for sure. But yeah, having multiple wins in this certainly takes the pressure off. There’s just more to gain, not much to lose if you don’t accomplish it this year.”

Does winning multiple Daytona 500’s take a backseat to winning a championship?

“I’m not sure. By the outside views, this is the pinnacle of our sport. The championship is decided in one race just like this is decided in one race. I’m not really sure, it just depends on whose perspective it might be. But certainly, with the championship getting a smaller and smaller sample size, I view them very similarly.”

Has the role of a spotter changed over the years?

“I think that with everything being more common and similar with the equipment you run and technology you share, really the only differentiator you have is your people – your drivers, the crew chiefs and spotters. They’re the ones on the radio on race day, so any time you can find an advantage in one of those positions, certainly you’re going to be in a much better spot. Those guys are probably getting to a level where it’s more fairly priced for the good ones.”

How much of a difference does it make to have nine Toyotas in the draft instead of six?

“I mean it’s yet to be seen. I touched on it a little bit this week, but really to have our own strategy, pitting strategy, is beneficial. I was just kind of torn on what exactly working together is beneficial, and this, that and another. I think it’s in my best interest in getting back to basics, and that’s doing what I feel is best to win the race for myself. While having teammates is great and are certainly assets to use in certain situations to win races, I think sometimes it’s those who are the most selfish, that make moves for themselves, are those who win the race. Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) had no teammates last year. He won the race. We’ve certainly had our fair share of moments when we’ve had to pick between a move a teammate made versus a move someone else made, and I deemed the other person made the right move. Those lead to what I argue a more successful result for the 11 car. Still, you want to help your teammates as much as you can as you’ll need those allies throughout the race and certainly during it. But I feel, I need to personally go back to the style I had a few years ago and we’ll see what the results say.” 

What has changed behind the scenes at Toyota and TRD with the addition of LEGACY MOTOR CLUB?

“Yeah, I mean all the teams are intertwined in different areas, for sure. We (23XI Racing) have an alliance with JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) in some technical stuff, some IP stuff. 23XI Racing has an alliance with LEGACY (MOTOR CLUB) with some pit crew stuff and some other efficiencies. I think they’re all kind of intertwined and certainly you would argue the Toyota teams intertwine with each other more so than teams with other manufacturers intertwine with each other. So, it certainly allows Toyota to zoom in, laser focus on the teams they have, and I think that’s resulted in some good benefits.” 

Where do you currently feel the drivers stand with NASCAR and what progress has been made?

“I think I overestimated how much the RTA (Race Team Alliance) has a seat at the table now that I’m a part of it. I think that this whole thing is such a monopoly that you kind of get shut down in different areas – you’re allowed in some places, but not in others, that it’s very different. I do think the drivers are in a better place now in the sense that they have an unofficial association. Again, it’s only a seat at the table if you’re allowed to be. It’s not an official seat at the table. Saying that the race teams and their agreement with NASCAR is why there’s butting heads there. So, there’s only a seat if you’re allowed a seat and they’re only going to allow a seat in a few certain situations, but I do think there’s avenues to the divers being more equitable in the sport in the future.” 

Are drivers in a better place than four years ago or a different place?

“A different place. I mean, it’s very different because I’ve been blessed with a very good situation my whole career. I didn’t have to go through the ranks like others had to go through. Nor big salary crunches over the course of my career like others have had to go through. But it’s just a different place. Not sure if it’s better or worse, it’s just a different place than it was, and I believe it still could be a lot better for sure.” 

What do you hope to see out of Ryan Blaney now that he’s a champion and has an opportunity to have his voice amplified?

“Just hope that he (Ryan Blaney) embraces it, right? He certainly has the opportunity to be the next big star if he so chooses. You have to want to choose that life and there’s a lot of responsibility that comes along with it. I think he’s certainly enough of a veteran and enough of a young guy that’s got a runway ahead of him that he has that voice and can be very powerful within our sport if he chooses to do that. I hope he does. I think he’s going to be a huge asset to this sport. Kevin’s (Harvick) gone, I’ll be gone in a few years and Martin (Truex Jr.) will be gone in a few years. You’ve got to have that next group be willing to step up. I think Ryan definitely could be that guy if he so chooses, but if not, there’s others that maybe don’t have the stature of accomplishments that could potentially do it as well.”

Do you ever feel like it would be better for the championship to be chosen from a driver’s success throughout the entire year instead of just one race?

“It would be hard to argue the latter is correct. I would say that I do like the Playoffs. I really thought when they first implemented it you had 10 drivers over 10 weeks. Like it was the 10 best and in order to be the 10 best it was a really super elite group. Then, you’d let those guys figure it out for the next 10 weeks. Every race had such big importance. Now, there’s a win and you’re in. You can win and just go to the next round. It doesn’t matter about the performances in the Playoffs. It’s just different now. I do like the Playoffs, I just wish, if I had to change it, I think there should be a championship round. Not tie it down to one race where it could fit a potential manufacturer, driver or team. Make them work at some different types of race tracks to crown a championship. And, in my opinion, I think it could be a bump in the rating as well because you have three championship races, and they all mean the same amount. No one is going to run off and win the championship between three guys after two races. You’re still going to have that element, but it’s probably a little bit more of a fair way to do it.”

How important is the NASCAR Netflix series for new fans to learn about the personalities of the sport?

“I felt that they did a really good job of kind of encapsulating who I am as a person. I thought it was very fair to me. Personally, I thought that how the other drivers were portrayed was fair, because it’s how I see them as well and I probably know them a little bit more than the casual race fan. I thought it was all very fair and you always worry about that stuff when you don’t have any editing rights, or you don’t know how it’s going to get produced or anything like that. I thought it was a very good introduction for new fans because they also were kind of teaching you some stuff on here’s how it works, right? I think that’s the toughest part for our casual fan to latch on is that they see the cars going around in circles, they just have no idea what gets them to that point. So, there’s an even bigger element that can be told about what makes this car maybe a little bit faster than the next or this driver a little bit more talented than the other or whatever it might be. There’s still lots of stories to be told amongst a bunch of drivers that hopefully you’ll get to see in the future.”

What are your thoughts on having two speedway races to start the season this year?

“I think, to me, the points counting, stages and all of that stuff start to matter for me next week. You’re willing to lay out on the line a little bit more at Daytona because of the stakes of the Daytona 500. I won’t pay attention to any kind of stage points. I won’t be going for any of that stuff. It’s just about how can I get to the 500 mile mark first and what strategy I choose to take to get there. Sure, this race pays the same amount of points as Atlanta next week, but just from a mentality standpoint for me I will treat it differently. In how I choose to be aggressive in this race is different than what I will do at Atlanta. Because while these two races won’t give you any indication of who’s going to be good at Vegas or Martinsville or Richmond – the tracks that really are the bread and butter of the regular season championship. You certainly don’t want to get yourself in a hole over these next two races where you start to kind of panic and so you start chasing stage points and you start chasing things because you think you’re behind. There’s many more innings of this thing to be played.”

Are you worried about having two races in a row where you could potentially crash out?

“Yeah, that’s always a concern. I know that I could get unlucky. I could end up causing a wreck that I get in. It’s just part of the racing that we know. I know that we’re going to be good when we go to all those other tracks. I know what our result is going to be if we just do what we’ve always done. Yeah, there’s an element of chance in these first two that you just hope that you’re on the good end of.”

Will your take on the strategy for the 500 conflict with what you expect to hear from Toyota?

“I don’t think so. I think we’re all on the same page if I had to guess. I think that when you look at kind of history of superspeedway results, I think that Bubba Wallace has always been one that’s been contending and I have as well on these types of tracks. If we happen to be behind someone that doesn’t have the history or that kind of success, yet my result is dictated by the person that I have to push, I don’t necessarily think that’s a great strategy. So, I think that while there’s going to be plenty of opportunities for us to all work together – pitting, pushing each other by a competitor manufacturer or team – in the end you have to be selfish to win these races and certainly we realize that through results more than anything else. I think all of us will probably be on the same page as far as that’s concerned to do what we have to do to get a win. And, if we win, then Toyota wins and Joe Gibbs Racing wins.”

Toyota Racing PR