Toyota Racing – NCS Richmond Quotes – Denny Hamlin – 07.29.23

DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 Mavis Tires & Brakes Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing  

When did the rules of going for the win change?

“I think it has become accepted, certainly. It has been more lenient from a media standpoint and from a fan standpoint, within reason, as long as it’s not something crazy. It changes depending on how severe – if you look at the Ty Gibbs, Brandon Jones thing – that is certainly way over the top, things like that. I think normal racing, hard racing, at the end of races for wins, that’s kind of been the mantra that has come about the last 10 years or so. It’s definitely different, over the last 30 years, it hasn’t happened, but win at all costs type of mantra for sure.”


When NASCAR gave Playoff points for wins, did that affect how people race for victories?

“Certainly, I think when they started giving Playoff points and stage points – that is what it was geared to do – give us the sense of urgency to ramp up and that regular season performance matters to get to the final four with a shot. The system is doing what it was designed to do.”


Is it easier to do the move that you made in the Next Gen car?

“It is so different with the Next Gen because with the other car, the guy on the outside would use the air to make the guy on the inside loose. You’ll see in the Xfinity Series or the Truck Series, the guys on the outside want to get closer to the inside guy and get him loose, and sometimes they spin, sometimes they don’t, but that is them manipulating the air to make it tough on that guy. In the Cup car, it’s the other way around. The power for the position is actually on the bottom, not the top. It certainly is a lot different than the other one.”


Have you and Kyle Larson talked?

“We have communicated.”


How did that go?

“I thought it went good.”


Would you do anything different if you had to do it all over again?

“I mean, it’s really hard to say that you would do anything different. It is so split second. The win meant so much to me at that time. So many different records that we could accomplish with that one win – with the track, with Toyota, with myself personally – it’s hard to say in that moment that I would do anything different for sure. Certainly, I didn’t like the outcome for him. I wish he could have finished second, but it was just one of those things where we flat ran out of room and I made a split-second decision to try to clear him instantly, and you can see from my on-board that I don’t see him. I see him go up the track, and I don’t know where he’s at when I start to throttle up and I’m saying ‘alright, I’m going to clear him.’ But when I didn’t, I knew we were going to be in a bad spot.”


Did you and Kyle Larson come to the race together?

“No, not this time.”


Can you tell us more about what you discussed?

“Not really. Similarly, to the Chase Elliott incident, he reached out to me, I just prefer to keep it private and between us. If they care to elaborate on it, that’s totally fine, but I’ll leave it up to them.”


Did you have to change how you drive and be more selfish with this system and car?

“I think it’s just different now. The cars are closer together. Passing is more difficult than it’s ever been. Even Mark Martin would have to adjust his style in this type of car, because the days of the gentleman letting the guys go and you will just go and get them later – it’s just a different game these days. I wish we could go back to those days, but that is not where we are at. You have to adapt to where you are at. You adapt or you die. Certainly, I feel like over the last few years, I’ve decided to be more aggressive because I’ve got used up by aggressive and it is hard to blame them at the time – especially in a race winning situation. Certainly, you are upset when someone right rear hooks you or runs right in the back of you in stage one and spins you out and puts you in the wall. That’s one thing, racing for the win is certainly a lot different than it has been in the past. If you have one person willing to be aggressive and one person not, aggressive will win every time. It’s just the facts of it. Usually, you are not going to find two guys that are the nice guy at the end of these races anymore. Someone has to take it the next level to want it, and then if you have two guys that really want it, you have what you had at Darlington where this person is squeezed, well next restart, now that person is squeezed. That is just what happens. I’m adamant that is when the race fans win. That is when they get to see the action and the passion they want to see.”


When did you decide that you needed to be more aggressive?

“Honestly, I think it was after the (Ross) Chastain thing for sure. Certainly, I was very vocal that I need to do something, I need to do something. At the time, the scales were like three to nothing. I was very frustrated. My team was very frustrated at me for not doing anything. The mindset has just changed. You have to put it out there that you are going to be aggressive. I think if a guy is going to run into you, you are going to run right back into him. That’s the way I’ve got to change things from this point forward because for the most part it has been tough results for us at the end of races, especially the last three years. I’ve been spun out of the lead three times. That’s really, really tough, so I just said it’s time to be more aggressive. Certainly, hate that it came at Kyle’s (Larson) expense, for sure. If there is anyone that I should protect, it’s those guys and my teammates. The win just met a lot to me at the time. I made an attempt to pass him, and it didn’t happen the way I intended for sure.”


Did you have a goal when you had the conversation with Kyle Larson, and did you accomplish that goal?

“There is always going to be a difference of opinion and sometimes you have to agree to disagree. That’s okay, but the biggest thing is I think hearing the other person out and understanding why they are frustrated. Sometimes you get caught up in your own world, thinking about your own team and how important it is to them, and you have an incident like that, you need to sit down and take a second to hear the other side. I totally understand that for sure. On why I wanted to have it in person, I did because I thought that we should have that type of relationship, but the details of it won’t come from my end.”


How do you walk the fine line on aggression as you head towards the Playoffs?

“I think you are typically going to have these incidents with guys that are up front, that’s because you are racing next to each other all of the time. They are going to be competitive every week; we are going to be competitive every week. That is just part of it. I think both sides understand there is a bigger prize. Certainly, it probably meant as much to him at the time because he knows he’s just trying to get to Phoenix with a shot. Same as we are. It just is so different, and it’s a dog-eat-dog mentality. It seems like it has grown on some of the older guys. It really is, short of maybe Martin (Truex Jr.) – he is probably the cleanest guy in the garage. He wins them, but he usually doesn’t have anyone close to him when he wins. It is a little different for sure.”


Are you able to enjoy the milestones in the moment or do you have to wait till the end of the season when there is a break?

“I don’t know. It is very tough. When you lose, you have another chance to win in seven days, but when you win, the team is ready to turn the corner and focus on the next track and you don’t get a lot of time to enjoy it. Like I mentioned in last weeks after the race, the conversation with Matt Kenseth was like, you don’t understand what you’ve accomplished. We will look back on it one day, but the job at hand is to keep putting stats in the stat column to try to have a conversation at the end of the career about. I’m very happy even if I didn’t have another top-five, top-10 or another win, I’m very happy with my career.”


Do you expect to be raced differently in the upcoming races because of the Pocono incident or is this how people race now?

“I think the field is like this. You will see it in turn one on a restart – no one really cares about what others have done for you or what you’ve done to others. They are just trying to get it all for themselves. It’s the nature of racing in the Cup Series now. I don’t expect any different because stuff like that happens many times during the race that we don’t even see.”


Do you remember when the ‘Boys Have It’ mantra kind of went away?

“I think that was during the (Matt) Kenseth incident, honestly. With him and (Joey) Logano. That was the point that they stepped in and for the first time in a long time, someone got suspended for something on-track. From that point, they deemed it as anything super egregious that puts someone in danger – they are going to do something about it. The two suspensions we have seen have been egregious and have put people in danger.”


Are you referencing the Martinsville incident?

“That was the point that I think they said unless you are racing for position, they are not going to tolerate someone slowing down – the (Clint) Bowyer, Jeff Gordon incident where Jeff slowed down and waited for him and then took out Bowyer and (Joey) Logano at the time. Those were just really over the top stuff that they thought that was essentially not racing.”


Do you think that because you are willing to race a good friend like that establish how people race you going forward?

“It is how I’m going to be. That’s for sure. I’m not going to backdown. I’m having to adapt my style to this. It is not the same as it was 10 years ago. Certainly, the game has changed for sure. I think the fan should like that two people were willing to put any personal friendship aside when they go and compete on the race track on Sunday. That is when they win. They don’t want to see someone go. That is less entertaining, and we are in an entertainment business. I think the fans win in that instance, but it is just certainly – in me and Kyle’s (Larson) instance – he’s gotten the worst end of it a few times and so I probably need to be more aware and be more cautious around him, simply because the scales are in my favor in that instance.”