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

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota Camry XSE, Joe Gibbs Racing

Have you reflected on your win here a year ago and your battle with Kyle Larson?

”I haven’t reflected on it much this week other than highlights. Yeah, it was a fierce battle. The best two guys. He got out to a lead there and I was just chasing him down there towards the end when I saw he was getting loose. It’s so race-to-race, I can’t just go back. We got a different car, especially a different Camry these days and certainly, we have a new tire coming into this race, so there’s not much I can really put together besides thinking ‘how can I attack this track to get speed?’”

In holding longevity over the course of your career, is the key staying healthy throughout each season?

”Yeah it certainly is the biggest obstacle to longevity of my career for sure. But I feel like I’m in a decent spot, for sure. Even when I don’t feel great out of the car, I do in the car which is the most important thing to keeping this thing going. Age stinks like all of us in this room know, so it’s just part of it. Sometimes, you just need to suck it up. But otherwise, I’ve put in a lot of work to keep this thing going as long as I can.

As far as Chris Gabehart (crew chief, Joe Gibbs Racing), what would you say is the reason you guys have had so much success?

”Yeah, I think constant communication is part of it. He does a really good job, in my opinion, of asking the right questions and thought-provoking questions that maybe I can bounce back off of him. So I think we’re asking each other the right things and that’s equaling working on the right stuff because of that. I think it’s really easy nowadays to kind of get off track and next thing you know, you’ve kind of lost the ball if you don’t find it. Once we get a home base of where we feel comfortable at a certain track, we stay pretty close to that and we make sure we continue to prepare the way we prepare each and every week. Chris (Gabehart) does a great job going to get the next bit of speed, wherever it might be. And then, for me personally, it’s continuing to work on all of the flaws I got.”

Are you calling your shot again this weekend like you did for Dover?

”I thought Chris (Gabehart) gave me the task of winning one of the next three races before we had the All Star break, and we got the first week. Now, from here on out, I think we can be in a good mood once we get to the All Star break. Certainly, these next two tracks, are set up really nicely for us. So, I’m certainly encouraged by it. You don’t want to use up all of your promises too early on in the season, so I’ll try to save a few.”

How do the owners stay united through the charter negotiations?

”I feel like we have been. I think it’s just a tough situation. Every team does want a little different things here and there. There’s four basics we all feel like we deserve. But, each team, and how they prioritize those top four, might be different. But the four things really encapsulate what all the teams want and what would make all the teams happy. But I think, you know why this is such an important thing is we’ve had 11 teams go out of business since 2016. That’s not good. And certainly, if we continue on the trend on a couple stakeholders doing really well and one not, that will continue and that’s not good for our sport.”

Where would you say is NASCAR’s most difficult oval?

”Darlington is probably the most difficult oval. Just because of how much focus it takes to run fast there and the conditions are always changing. The grip level and track changes, how close you need to run to the wall to make you car run quick. Just all those things. The difference between turns one and two to three and four. All those things are just really difficult to wrap your head around. That’s why it takes some guys a long time to be good there.”

Carl Edwards is a finalist for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. What makes him worthy of a selection?

”Yeah, I think what makes him a Hall of Famer is his results, statistics, the amount of wins he has across multiple series. He was a champion in the Xfinity Series. He was just always fast. When I think of Carl (Edwards), I think of Kurt Busch. Someone who got to the next level, just performed really well really quickly. It didn’t take them time to get it, they just got it right away. So I just think he was one of the most gifted drivers that you could put in any type of car and he would adapt ultra quick. As far as talent level, I think his talent level far exceeds what his win total was. In my mind, I regard him really high.”

Speaking of Darlington, what makes you so good there?

”I think it suits my style. I think typically how I approach a race weekend at that track, it fits how I finesse a car around a track. It’s hard to place it into words, but it’s a track where I can manipulate the car by taking a different line, I feel good at the track. And that’s a track where if you move down a lane, you move up a lane or two, you really car change the way your car reacts and I like the task of those conditions. Every lap, those conditions are changing, the heat is changing and how fast can you adapt to that to make the lap time. I think it’s just something I’ve been good at for a while.”

Can you see 23XI Racing expanding or are you comfortable as a two-car team?

”I think it would have to align perfectly, but certainly with the climate that ownership is in right now, with the uncertainties of what Jim (France, chairman & CEO, NASCAR) decides to do, it’s way too early for that.”

Regarding Erik Jones’ injury, and with your back injury in the past, are there any tracks it hurts worse than others?

”Yeah, I think we went through the toughest one at Dover. That one seems to be the one where the driver goes through a serious amount of load. But each injury seems to be a little different between mine, Alex (Bowman)’s and his and some others that have had that type of injury. Looks like Erik (Jones) is going to be back quicker than what I was. I think they’re all different, but I just really fought the feel of the race car for quite some time. Obviously if I was out for a longer period of time, mine probably was a little more extensive than his, so hopefully he’s able to come back and have that same feel he had a few weeks ago.”

With shorter weekends, would you want them to make starts in feeder series on weekends like this?

”I would say that I lean more towards it doesn’t matter, although I feel like the Trucks are a better indication of what the Cup car is like than what the Xfinity car would. And then the dynamic is just so different now. The Xfinity races were filled with 20-some Cup guys at one point. I think it’s really hard to evaluate talent nowadays in the lower series because it’s just really hard to tell until they really make the jump into Cup. But all the track time you can get is certainly going to be an advantage, especially if you’re green and don’t have a whole lot of NASCAR starts in general. So, certainly learning how to race craft in whatever series it might be is a valuable tool before you get to Cup for sure.”

What are some of the things you’ve learned with the new Toyota Camry XSE?

”I think that it’s adapted well. I’m really encouraged by the new Toyota so far this year. It’s been good at all types of race tracks. Speedways is the one where we haven’t qualified well. That’s the only thing that, I wouldn’t even say worrisome, as I was like dead last in Daytona qualifying and thought I had a race-winning car. So, I’m really happy with overall performance of it for sure. It’s doing everything we hoped it would do for sure and a lot of that is because this is the first time we’ve been able to design a Camry around a rules package we knew was not going to be changing in the offseason. When we designed the Camry for the first Next Gen, it was designed for a big spoiler on the back, then in the offseason, they cut the spoiler down. That really changed the characteristics of the car. We knew that the package we had this year, we designed the car around that and we’re seeing optimized results around that.”

Toyota Racing PR