Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday.

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 Express Oil Change Toyota Camry XSE, Joe Gibbs Racing

What makes a superstar to you?

“It’s the age old question of what do you want? Do you want to see drivers do what other drivers cannot? You have to make things different. You have to make things harder to drive, all of that stuff. Right now, if you put 20 cars in the lead with 10 to go, they are going to win – the star in that is the track position, because the cars are all the same, they are just not as difficult to drive. I think it is all relative. It’s less likely. You can have those big seasons in NASCAR, as long as you have a really good pit crew, good team – you do still have to setup the cars and the drivers do have to have a skillset and execute – all of those things, so I do think eight-to-nine win seasons are still possible, but I don’t know if you are going to grow any superstars the way that it is going. It’s just really, really tough for sure.”

What is a talent that you were able to display 10 to 15 years ago that a fan today wouldn’t appreciate in this era’s racing?

“I think just the ability to control pace throughout the runs. That was really my specialty growing up – the ability to let cars go earlier in runs, and to save something for the later parts of the runs. There would be multiple passes through a run for me and other cars. So, maybe there would be four cars, five cars pass me in Martinsville, and then later in that run I would pass them back, so that is double the passing that would happen. Now, you are going hard the first few laps after a restart and then you are just staying from that point on, so that’s why when you get into green flag passes, it’s all really dependent on how many cautions there are. Every caution is 600 green flag passes, just because we are lined up two-by-two. That’s kind of what I was really good at in the short track days, but as tire wear started to reduce and power started to reduce, it’s all become – just run as fast as you can every lap and then hang on from that point on. It’s just different, and I’ve had to evolve my skill set with each car and each change that we’ve had.”

Could you see an opportunity to race in Japan? Is there a market for it?

“I think internationally certainly opens up opportunities for brand awareness and team awareness. The problem is the schedule. There is just nowhere to fit it in. Especially, going that far across the world. I think it would be very, very difficult to make that happen. I think there is a market for it, but I don’t know if it is feasible or not.”

Can what you had success with in the fall be utilized in the spring?

“I think so. I think a lot of it – is nothing has changed since last fall, other than the bodies of the Toyotas – nothing else has changed. We probably will stay in our home base, where we feel comfortable, but I don’t think there is any relation to – Daytona is the same way. I’ve won the 500, and I’ve never won the other race. I’ve won the Bristol night race, but I’ve never won the other race. I think it is more circumstances and things like that. I believe that its’ only been 12-to-14 weeks since the last time we’ve been here, I think not a lot has changed so we can lean on that.”

When do you start thinking about when you start needing to get Playoff points?

“We are trying. I don’t know where we are usually at, at this point in the season. I would say that we are as good as we’ve been – not since a few years ago, just generally speaking, the gap to the lead in points, we’ve been as close as we’ve been here this year. No stage wins to show for it, just been close – just haven’t closed it, but we’ve only really run two tracks that I feel like myself and my team can control, really outright control, winning those stages – we’ve been close. We’ve got some good stage points. There is also a zero in the top-10 column, if we are really looking at it. But we know we are running well. It will come for sure.”

For whatever reason horsepower is not going to work, would the size of tire be a possible change?

“Just the cost, and then you have to redevelop another tire again, which means you have to do testing – tire testing – along with that, so I would rather not do that for sure.”

Do we need to have more power then?

“We do. Yes. The answer is the same. For sure.”

Do you feel like Bristol as a destination has gotten back to closer its historic significance?

“I hope so, for sure. It always puts on good racing, as long as you are willing to look around. There are always passes going on. With it being such a small race track, there is always side-by-side, some sort of overtaking going on, so there is a lot to take in that is very positive, but it’s just delusion at some point. You’ve got here, Martinsville, Richmond all really close proximately – and all with multiple dates. If we were just fans, we would all be guilty of it. If we lived in this area, maybe we have something going – no problem, we will catch the next one. Or we will just go to Martinsville instead, or we will just go to Richmond. When you have that many options, you are always just going to put off and not really capitalize on the actual moment, so it’s really hard, unless you are the Phoenixs, Daytonas to do really well with their two dates, for whatever reason. It’s just hard when you have this many tracks in the same area, when you run multiple times.”

Do you think the excitement for the spring Bristol race because the concrete is back?

“I think there is. We have seen in this sport. We change from one thing, and then we go back and then we go back. We just keep flipping back and forth, a lot of it is to create a storyline that hey this is different this week. I think that keeps things from getting stale, but when you don’t have it as much, you always tend to want it more, so that goes back to the delusion.”

Does it affect you to get booed at your home track?

“I just used to beat up their favorite drivers in short track days too, that’s why. (laughter) I just don’t mind it. I really don’t because it’s just noise. There was many moments mid-career where there was just claps – that’s just not a needle mover, one way or the other. A lot of it comes with success as well. If you are a contender each and every week, you are going to get more noise typically. I have had so many altercations with so many popular drivers, and that just kind of fuels it as well. I’ve checked all of the boxes of the things that fans despise of. We’ve seen a previous driver at Joe Gibbs Racing – he just changes teams and he’s more liked. When you’ve got all the things that I’ve got in that box in the negativity checked, you are just going to have to live that life.”

Are we to the point of the season that we are starting to see trends?

“I think so. After this weekend, you will be able to draw some sort of comparison on who is good to start the season, because we’ve gone to these tracks that are different but if you have cars that are consistently running up front, no matter what the track, than clearly their team has some sort of process that is really, really good, and bringing fast cars to the race track, so after this weekend, I think you will be able to write some of those headlines on who is looking good the first part of the season, and then we will go through the summer and we will see some teams start to pick up their performance from there and start to peak right at the right time at the Playoffs. You will definitely see some conclusions, but it doesn’t mean anything till the very end of the season.”

Does anyone or anything stand out for you?

“If I was a media member, yeah, I would say that there are some teams struggling that you don’t really see, but I’m not going to give them any posterboard material. Not today.”

Do you notice anything different from your crew chief coming into Bristol?

“Yeah, he’s certainly motivated – really at a lot of the short tracks – because that is where he grew up doing as well – the oval short tracks. This is what he feels like is his super bowl. When we win the Bristol night race, it is always really, really big for him, and we have just been really good here the last couple of years. I don’t know if he puts more emphasis on this race, but he certainly wants it more, so he’s probably a little more critical of my driving on weekends like this compared to others.”

Can you speak to your evolution on the road courses?

“I think there has been a lot of factors. I think this is kind of the benefit of having one of the strongest road course drivers in the Toyota family. I think there are many other Toyota drivers that are up-and-coming that are going to be challengers as well, and I use any information that I can to try to get better. I know that I’m one of the lower talent guys on the road courses, so I just try to do everything I can to learn from them and try to use the resources that I have.”

Toyota Racing PR