DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing
If NASCAR hadn’t bailed the Hail Melon, would you consider doing it this weekend?
“You would almost have to do it, because others would. It kind of depends on your situation too. If you need a couple of points – which is what I think you are asking – yeah. It wouldn’t just be pretty, because everyone knows the big advantage that you get. You would just have 36 trashed cars at the end of the race. Maybe it would be exciting if everyone did it one time. But it needs to live in history and one year for sure.”
Is it worse to get eliminated by a mechanical issue or the Hail Melon move last season?
“I don’t know. They all feel about the same, honestly. It’s unfortunate – the circumstances are unfortunate, but I certainly would rather be in (Ryan) Blaney’s position, but also, I know, I can be on full offense for the full race this time around. I don’t have to play D. I don’t have to be a little more careful. It’s just one mode right from the get-go. It’s part of the format, that unfortunately is out of the driver’s hands when it comes to this type of racing. There is a lot of different factors that go into it, whether it is a Hail Melon move or a mechanical, or whatever it might be, it equally stings for sure.”
What are the some of the things NASCAR could do with the short track package?
“We probably need to be partners in everything, so when it comes to rule changes and things like that – I think it is a 50/50 things. It’s what I would like to see, we really didn’t fully design this car ourselves and if we have to go back and fix things, it certainly falls on us. I think the easiest lever, and I don’t know for sure why we haven’t done it – I think Doug Yates mentioned it – is we can go to 750 horsepower tomorrow. The parts and pieces won’t change if we just open up the tapered spacer to 750 like we had, year before last. I think that is the quickest thing and then work on the gearing – the gearing is not going to be an easy fix. I specifically harp on it quite a bit, but it’s not going to be an easy fix. NASCAR kind of presented us some options so we would not have shifting here at Martinsville, but there are too many other factors. There is always a cause and an effect. If you don’t shift our RPM’s would be so low in the middle of the corner. We would never wear out a tire. The horsepower and torque would be so low that by the time you got to the end of the straightaway and wound out the RPMs – that’s not an easy fix either. It’s not going to fix it by just dropping the gear. It would take time to figure it out, and certainly there is a lot of smart minds that are trying to figure it out. In my opinion, it’s not an aero situation. We are going to run quite a different tire this weekend that will undoubtably make it really hard to pass because of the speed it runs with the lack of fall off. I don’t know. It’s tough because we have cut 300 horsepower out and added grip. Anything that we do that, there is more on-throttle time. The key is to better short track racing is off-throttle time, and no one really has a great answer on how to do it.”
How great would it be to cross a win off the list here with Chris Gabehart?
“Short of the very first time we came here in the Next Gen car, Chris (Gabehart) has given me some really, really fast cars here at this track. Didn’t win for different circumstances that is so-called racing. That’s just part of racing. You can’t always dictate the outcome, but he’s done a great job of giving me cars and I would be more than happy to let him take that clock home and let him put it in his living room, bedroom – wherever he cares to put it. Absolutely.”
Is it kind of best case scenario for you to need to win at Martinsville with all your previous success?
“The ball is in our court. We can decide our own fate if we just win the race. I wish it was that easy. I wish it was just based off of speed, and things like that, but there are a lot of other factors, but certainly I can’t think of a better race track that fits me and my style and my team.”
How do you separate Denny the team owner and Denny the driver this weekend?
“The way I see it is I’ve got two shots to get into the final four. I certainly would rather do it on the driver’s side, because there are going to be far less opportunities to do that, than what it would be on the owner’s side, but also really happy that, that team has worked itself into a position that if it performs well, it could get in as well. But this weekend, they are unfortunately competitors, and I will treat them as that.”
How impressed are you with 23XI and what they’ve put together?
“I’m very impressed and that whole competition group over there, and what Billy (Scott) and Bootie (Barker) do week-in and week-out with Dave Rogers and Wheels (Mike Wheeler) – they do a fantastic job. With a few of the meetings – I don’t get a whole lot of invites too – but have set in on a couple of times, I was very, very impressed with what they do and their preparation and how they prepare for each and every weekend. I’m really happy to see how that team is progressing, and certainly think they are on the right timeline that I set out for them.”
How do you reward a guy that has had a great season, but also have the excitement of always having a championship available at the last race of the season?
“It’s a tough balance for sure. Don’t get it twisted – that’s our goal, every year, is to make the final four. We want to win a championship, but you have to win a race to do that. You’ve got to have a good series of events happen through the first 26, and really these three race seasons, we have leading up to it. It is tough. I certainly know a championship will not change how I view my career and what I’ve accomplished. It will only change, and probably not, change what others view of me. That’s the only difference that trophy would bring. I actually saw this week where someone asked Kyle Larson on how does a championship change you? He’s like nothing at all. Changes nothing. Mark Martin – you haven’t won one – what does it change? Nothing. It is what it is. Even on the local short track level, I always said I didn’t care about the accomplishments, I just wanted to be a threat that the competition saw every week. If we were going to win, we are going to have to beat him, and when you hit the race track, people grabbed the stopwatches. That’s the respect amongst the competitors that I hoped to gain throughout my career, and I feel like we’ve gotten that. Sure, I would love to have the accolades – I really would – but certainly, I’m not going to get too down on it. Racing has afforded me a great life, and a great retirement plan with 23XI. I love this sport, and whatever the outcome is, it is. I’m certainly going to give it my all, and not regret any one thing and any result that has happened because I know I’ve given it my best effort for sure.”
How do you assess the opportunity this weekend?
“There is an opportunity here. We’ve had our backs against the wall when we needed to win or really needed to gain a lot of points to make it to the final four. Historically, we’ve done really well in these situations, with the exception of Ross’ (Chastain) move last year. We were behind, and dominated and were well on our way. 2019 winning at Phoenix to get in. We’ve done well. I love those opportunities for sure. I wouldn’t choose it – over being ahead – but certainly there is an opportunity to kind of show what you are made of.”
How do approach what you might have to do to get in this weekend with you and Tyler Reddick for the final spot?
“You think about all that stuff, but that is so many what-ifs, that I would be losing focus on what I can control. Those are split second decisions, when they happen – like Chase Elliott in 2017 – that was a split second, panic mode that this is my only shot to make it, I’ve got to do it now. Things change when you get in the moment for sure and you don’t always thinks 100 percent clearly, but if you come up with a plan beforehand, it helps your IQ in that moment, because you have thought through it. I understand it both ways. The 45 (Tyler Reddick) and the 11 – if we are racing each other – and he knocks me out of the way, it would be hard for me to say you shouldn’t have done that because he’s racing and the other way around. Certainly, I wouldn’t expect us to wreck each other, but we are competitors and competing for what would be dreams for both of us.”
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