Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to media prior to the Richmond Raceway race this Saturday:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing
Has everything that can be learned about this race car been learned before we get into the Playoffs?
“I think we've learned quite a bit in the first you know, two thirds of the season or whatever the number might be, but I think certainly we know a lot more and certainly after we've gone through all these different track types. You know, we've seen trends from certain types of tracks. We've got a good understanding of it. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we can always kind of fix what we want to fix because of, you know, the rules and the tolerances being so tight.”
How concerned are you about Kurt Busch?
“I mean, it's concerning for sure. You know, mostly concerned for his health. And not really for the race team. Just, you know, we want to give him all the time he needs and, you know, this is proof that he's doing his doing right by his body and making sure he's back to 100%. I think that other drivers maybe in the past probably maybe would have just kind of been able to get some tests passed and gone out there and race but he wants to be 100% Because it's just, you know, no one race or season or whatever it might be as important as your overall health and long term.”
How does having Kimi Raikkonen in the Watkins Glen race change your approach to next week’s road course race?
“It doesn't change the dynamic of the race. I don't think you no unless it does. I mean, I think that you know, it's a a great opportunity for him and track house and whatnot. But as far as like, being a contender to like brace for the winner, I don't think that's a possibility. Just simply because it does take time just you know, you know, it's just do look at the people that have been successful in stock cars coming from an open wheel background. It takes a long time other than you got these anomalies like Tony Stewart and a few others want. Montoya took a little bit of time but it's just it's just really difficult because everyone has gotten so much better. And especially with the information, the data they've gotten nowadays, all those all the drivers that are in the field now have really stepped up dramatically. So I think it's a good thing for our sport to get some good publicity. But other than that, I'm not really sure that it changes dynamic of the race too much.”
Is there any concern that Kurt Busch may not come back and are you thinking ahead to 2023 contingency plans?
“I mean, we're always thinking about it. We're as forward thinking as you can possibly be as a race team. But you know, ultimately we are not and we can't rush current self but we always are. Trying to come up with contingency plans based off of any other scenario that might get thrown our way.”
Can you evaluate Ty Gibbs’ performance in the No. 45 Camry as a fill-in driver for Kurt Busch?
“I think he's done a good job for sure. I think that I think he certainly realizes this you know the difference between explaining and cup is a big old tall one. You know, these guys over here, don't mess around too much. And so it's, it's tough. And so, you know, Ty (Gibbs), I think he's done really good considering of what we've asked him to do and that's keep his nose clean, keep that 45 car in a good position. In the owner’s playoffs, you know, that's really important for us financially. So it's, it's important and he's really done a good job for us to do that. And then he took a fast car last week obviously made a mistake late in that race, but he took it and he maximized his day. So I think he did a really good job and certainly, we're happy with the job he's been doing for us thus far.”
Can you use a similar strategy for this race that you did from the spring with relation to number of pit stops and tire wear?
“Just depends whether the fall off is the same. You know, ultimately, computer programs are going to say, tell the true story and whether it's the right thing to do or not, but you've it's if the fall off is less this time, then two stops won't work because there'll be farther out. They won't drop off as far in the long run. It just kind of depends on what the how the race is playing out. With the strategy is who's up front when that's happening? All that is part of a program that makes it so hard for us to do with pen and paper nowadays, like we used to do. There's so many factors that play into it. Certainly there was a time where in that last stage if a caution comes at any point, either they would have been in big trouble or we would have been in big trouble. So it's kind of a double edged sword there. What's the right strategy? It just worked out the way it did didn't necessarily mean that the one stop strategy was the wrong one.”
Why does Richmond seem to favor veteran drivers over first-time winners?
“Just knowing what you need to feel here in practice versus what you race is something that knowledge certainly plays a factor in an experience plays a factor in I know specifically when I go out there today, I'm going to look for a certain type of field my car needs to work a certain way in the certain part of the corner for me to know that whether it's a race winning car or not. Those are things that you know younger guys would not next experience don't necessarily have but sometimes you have a young driver with an experienced team that gives them the foresight to look for those things. And that's where you see some of the young guys like Byron, even though he's not a rookie, by any means, you know, latches right on and is a contender for to win like he was in the spring.”
Would you want Kurt Busch to be in the race car for Daytona if he was cleared for that race?
“I mean, I'm not really sure what the protocols will be on that once he's cleared. Whether he continues to get waivers. Even if he is clear, I'm really not sure to be honest with you.”
What did you think about Bubba’s Block Party that was held in Richmond?
“We’re going to debrief as a team on it next Wednesday, but you know, being part of the NASCAR Diversity Council, I'm on that board as well. You know, that's something that they've been planning for quite a quite a long time and certainly, certainly something that we've had our hands in and I it sounds like that went really, really well. I know that it had to cap the amount of people that were coming at a certain amount, which is a very good thing that there was an increased interest there. It's all about just trying to broaden our audience in at this race track on television, everything and open up our sport to some that may not know anything about it. So anytime you can kind of mix you know, NASCAR racing, and pop culture. It's all really a good thing for us. And I think that we've see it week in week out in our stands nowadays, that our fans and our audiences more diverse than it's ever been.”
Is there emotion from you about racing at your home track in Richmond?
“It's a good question. I mean, I think that certainly I feel it from within when I run back here, I feel it a little bit harder than I do on any other type of racetrack because, like I've talked about it, I know what I really need to feel this track and it's very frustrating when I can't get my car to do those things. And so it's just part of it. So certainly, I would say I always feel more pressure coming to this race track in general. Martinsville is probably a very, very close number two, but it doesn't always mean you're going to have success even though you know what you need. Sometimes it depends on where your race teams at the time. There's a lot of factors that goes into it, but certainly the emotion is very high at a race track like this versus others.”
Is there anything you’re seeing with Bubba Wallace as to how or why he’s really progressed on the race track in recent weeks?
“Certainly we live and breathe it every day at 23X1, we see where he's progressed even though results. You know, typically, you guys have to hyper focus on 36 different drivers, right we focused on our two, so we know where they are getting better and whether or not and so we try to put those numbers and analytics in front of our drivers to see how they can improve in certain positions. And I think that certainly Bubba (Wallace) has taken a giant step and even though at the beginning of the year results, you know we honestly it's well documented that I said that we I felt we were holding Bubba back at the beginning of the year. With kind of mistakes on pit road. I think that we've gotten that better target. Joe Gibbs Racing has helped us get that better. And then on top of that he's continued to work on his game. Because ultimately, you know, it is sometimes convenient when you always have an out that you know, it's the pit crew or a certain part of the team is what's holding me back from performing. Well, you always have to be as professionally prepared for the moment that nothing else is holding you back and are you ready to step up to the plate when everything is going your way and your cars are fast pit crews great. You have to be ready for those moments. And I think that he continued to work even though publicly he didn't handle things the way I loved it, but he continued to put his nose down and continue to work on his craft. And that's what's showing up now.”
Is there truth to learning how to race up front?
“That's kind of why it's tough, you know, with kind of the emotions he showed last week and that, you know, he felt like he let the team down he should have won. It's hard to beat these guys each and every week and he is racing against a crop of drivers that he hasn't raced with the first handful of years in his career. So it is more difficult to execute and beat them and so nothing's a given you have to have all the pieces of the puzzle put together to win these races. The 14 (Kevin Harvick) proved that great. They've just been chipping away over the last month or so their performance has been getting better. And then bam, they had one good break with that caution and then they capitalize and so that's all of it that you had to put together. And, to their credit, they put themselves in position to do that they're running up front when that happens. So that's the things that you know, it's not always a given just because we have a fast car that you're going to win races. You still have to have it all and so that's why it's, you know, we view last week is certainly a success because it was, you know, like Loudon, one of the more, you know, put together weekends that the 23 cars had from top to bottom from practice, qualifying and race and so that's what we're hoping to see we've seen it twice now at least in the last couple of months. So those are all good trends that are heading our direction. And I believe that this is probably the Bubba Wallace that is here to stay for sure.”
Did the timing matter to announce Bubba Wallace re-signing with him coming off four consecutive top-10 finishes?
“Of course it matters for me. I want to win. I don't you know I'm heavily invested in the sport because I want to win and be competitive and build a top tier elite racing team. So if I didn't think Bubba (Wallace) had the capability of winning I doesn't matter about any other factors. I wouldn't be part of this team but he is part of this team because I believe he can win. I think that he's showing that he's racing our cars to full potential right now. And so that's all I can ask. You know, hopefully we just continue on this trend because it's certainly what I want to see and what I what I expected last year, but you know, it's probably was a little much to ask in year one, not only from him, but from our race team. These things take time you can't just you it doesn't matter how much money you can throw at this. You cannot just you know buy wins. You have to put the right people together. That's Joe's (Gibbs) slogan is dealing with people and that takes time to get all those things put together. And it's now starting to come together and I believe that of his contract and extension with us was definitely well warranted from what I've seen this season. Not just including the last four weeks.”