DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing
How are you feeling?
“Feeling better, getting there for sure. Everyday is just a little bit better. Just went through a period there on Monday and Tuesday where a lot of soreness started to set in and then yesterday started to get better for sure.”
Have your conversations with NASCAR changed at all with this being your first big accident with this race car?
“No, it’s too early in the process I think. They’re compiling all the data and the video that they see from the wreck and there were about 30 cars in that one wreck so there’s a lot to go through for sure, for them. We haven’t had any dialogue as far as what we could do to change anything. I would think that if we were going to implement any changes for next year that they would have already been started on, but I’m not really sure. I haven’t been briefed on any of that.”
How does it feel that this wreck happened going into the Playoffs?
“Well, it’s Daytona and you know you have a pretty good shot of getting crashed at one of those races, but I’ve been pretty lucky. Atlanta was the only one that I kind of had a little bit of a hit in this car, but certainly Daytona was on a whole other level for sure. But that’s part of the schedule and part of the risk you take.”
Do you know if you’ve had an accident similar to this with respect to the angle or speed that you hit the wall?
“I don’t know, that’s something that I will certainly ask. I’m sure they have a log of hits that I’ve taken over the years and so certainly from my standpoint, body-wise it was a much harder hit than what I’ve had in the past than any other wreck. I’ll have to look at the numbers and the numbers might say that my body is lying and I shouldn’t feel that way.”
Is it your back or your entire body that hurts because you’ve previously had back issues?
“The best way I can describe it is like I got beat up at a bar and somebody was kicking me in the ribs while I was on the ground. That’s really all I can equate it to is that the whole right side just felt smashed. It was one when I hit the wall for sure, that initial hit to the wall and then somebody came and hit me on the left side. That was another pretty heavy spike as well. I’m not really sure which one did the most damage.”
Previously, if you had an accident like this, the race team could look at the parts and pieces and make adjustments, but now with these race cars and parts coming from vendors, can you have conversations with the vendors to try to make safety enhancements?
“It’s all in the hands of NASCAR. It’s up to them to make sure that all of the drivers are safe and whatever the product they hand us, we didn’t design the Next Gen car. We left it in their hands to design it and they farmed it out to these companies to build and certainly in the old days, we would do things in our own race shop to make them a little better based off the feedback we have, but we just have to wait and see what they hand us.”
Do you feel like this race car is as safe as it could be?
“I’m not really sure. I think this car is a very general term of if you’re talking about the body, talking about the chassis, so many parts and pieces to it. Certainly it could be better, but anytime you build something that’s more rigid and built to last longer, the softest part, which is your body, is going to take the brunt of it. Right now, that’s where we’re getting beat up.”
How much does it smooth out the Playoffs when you can win Darlington right out of the gate?
“It doesn’t make it any easier this year because we’ve been pretty good at tracks like that. I felt like the first Darlington race, we were kind of hit or miss, but we actually drove from the back to the front. Last year’s results, last year’s car doesn’t give us anymore confidence this year. It really seems like our car is track specific on tracks that we seem to be good at and Darlington is just a hybrid in between that we’re good at.”
Where do you see yourself as a favorite for the championship this season?
“I’m really not sure. We’re just kind of one in the crowd this year. We’re somewhere in the middle. You’ve got probably three or four favorites that you talk about, but we’ve been too inconsistent to be in that conversation.”
Are you still sure of what your organization is capable of going into the Playoffs or are there more questions this year than previous years?
“I know what we’re capable of for sure, but the issue is can we fix it. We identified issues with our car and where we need to get better. Certainly on the road courses and short tracks, but can we do anything about it. We talked about it, this is an off-the-shelf car that we buy and we submitted all the parts for Toyota and can we go back and fix any of that, I’m not really sure. We just have to make sure we optimize and do the best we can to execute on those days that we’re probably going to run 15th or 20th.”
Would you say you have less control this season going into the Playoffs?
“Yes, I would say that you have less control this year. You can control your execution. There’s no excuse for us to have race-winning cars and blowing it through some other way, shape or form that you find a way to do, but we have to makes sure we do our best job to execute on our good days and our bad days. That’s what’s going to keep us going through these Playoffs. We don’t have enough Playoff points to have one or two bad races. We’re going to be out pretty soon if that happens.”
Does Playoff experience matter?
“I think it matters and I’ve been doing this forever. And I know the anticipation and excitement that I had the first couple times is a lot different than what I have now 17 years later or whatever it is. I do think it matters, I think managing races matters, managing points and Playoffs standings, knowing what competition you’re racing against in a given day. It all matters in how you advance in these Playoffs. Sometimes you’re not racing to win, I hate to say it. You have to race to move on.”
You’ve been in this position to contend for the championship so many times, does it add pressure to you knowing how close you’ve been previously?
“I just try to control what I can control and not get too emotional with the things that I can’t. That doesn’t keep me from getting frustrated when things don’t go my way or we don’t have the speed that I know we should have. You just try to optimize and quietly sneak our way through this deal. I think that’s going to be the way that it works this year. We’re just going to have to quietly, under the radar, find a way to make it to the next round.”
Would it be ironic if you won this season by being under the radar and maybe not a favorite?
“For sure. Again, I think we’re going to have All-Star type races on the bigger tracks where we’re running really fast and those are the ones that we need to win to move onto the next round. It’s those other tracks, going by the data this year, that we haven’t been very good at. We just need to go and have a nice, solid day and finish eighth when we should have finished 15th.”
Can you explain the thinking behind the number adjustment to give Bubba Wallace a chance to contend for the owner’s championship and experience a Playoff scenario?
“So for the first time, an organization is going to be going for an owner’s championship and that’s 23XI. There’s no particular driver associated with that. We felt like the best odds for us to kind of stack the deck and put our best foot forward whether it be driver and pit crew and crew members. We’re going to try to do the best we can and we’ve seen it in year past. People remember when Jimmie Johnson’s team got kicked off pit road and they brought the 24 team in, that was the team coming in and saying that they were going to come in and put their best people forward to try to win a championship here. 23XI is doing the same thing only it’s including the driver and what not because with Kurt (Busch) out, it’s a lot of heavy lifting to ask Ty (Gibbs) at 19 years old to keep it off the fence for 500 miles at Darlington. It’s probably going to be a tough ask so we wanted to put our best and most experienced guy out there to give us a chance to continue to move on and up in the standings.”
How is Kurt Busch feeling and how is his recovery going?
“He’s (Kurt Busch) getting better and he’s kind of plateaued, which is something he wouldn’t think would happen. He’s gotten to about 80 percent and it’s kind of stayed there. I think the rest is just going to take quite a bit of time.”
Have you spoken with Kurt Busch about possibly sitting out the rest of the year?
“We leave it up to him. He’s welcome to come back next week or 10 weeks from now at the final race if he wants to. The 23 will be open for him whenever he wants to come back. But you know, he’ll have to weigh those decisions, not us.”
Do you expect there to be any impact on the Playoffs inside the Joe Gibbs Racing organization with the uncertainty of Kyle Busch and the No. 18 for 2023?
“I haven’t thought about that. I don’t think so. I think he’s (Kyle Busch) going to drive as hard as he possibly can. It’s in his DNA. I just don’t foresee anything changing with Kyle, especially in the last 10.”
Do you feel you’ll be okay for Sunday’s race?
“Yeah, certainly. If I had to do it (Saturday’s NXS race), I probably could, but there was just no reason, even if it takes five percent out of me for Sunday, there’s just no reason that I should do it. It just doesn’t make any sense. Especially since, we don’t have 40 bonus points like we’ve had in years past where we feel good about the first couple rounds no matter what. The 11 team really has to go out and perform at a top notch every single week so we just can’t take that risk.”
Will you change any of your safety equipment?
“No, I think we’ve done a really good job at Joe Gibbs Racing of making sure I’ve got a safe compartment to work in. I don’t know that really we could do anything different. I’ve got my head wedged into the headrest as it is. There’s no loose shaking around there. I know they want us wedged in there. They had us add foam for this year knowing that the hits were probably going to be more significant. I think we’re doing everything we can from the driver and team side.”
As someone who has been in the Playoffs so many times, do you still have the excitement level of thinking that you can be a champion in 10 weeks or do you look more day-by-day or week-by-week?
“I forward think a little bit when it comes to the Playoffs. Certainly I know that my biggest dream, my biggest goal of all time is to win a Cup championship and that can be achieved 10 weeks from now. I’ve done everything I can to align what I work on from now to the next 10 weeks to try to accomplish that goal because that’s the one I can achieve the soonest, the quickest. So it’s going to take all my concentration and focus to do that so I think that’s where I’ll be shifted here in the next few months.”
How do you juggle all of your responsibilities during this Playoff timeframe to ensure your focus is on winning the championship?
“It’s just part of what I do. I like staying busy. If I skip things, it’s not because I want to just sit out back and sip pina coladas, it’s because I would get bored. I need something to work on. But I will shift a heavy percentage of my time and focus to the on-track performance of the 11 here in the next 10 weeks to be sure I’m doing everything I can and that I’m not making any mistakes to hinder us from winning a championship.”
Can you describe why the crashes look different this season with the new car?
“What’s different is that this car is stiffer and anytime to hit the wall with the same rate of speed, the energy usually goes somewhere and right now, what I feel like, it’s coming through us.”
Is the safety of the Next Gen car a major concern right now?
“I mean, it’s a major concern for the drivers, but it needs to be a major concern for everyone to really get a big change.”
What do you think needs to be done to fix the safety issues drivers are feeling with the race car?
“I mean, really you would have to redesign the whole car I believe, I think, but I’m not an engineer that is smart enough to know that it needs fixing. We just know what we feel, that’s it.”
Is it frustrating that so much time was spent on the design of this new car and you might have to start over in some respects to correct some of these issues?
“Certainly, we would imagine that we wouldn’t be fighting this at this point. Anytime you have something new, you always hope that it’s better. I think it’s just different right now. You just hope that over time it continues to get better in certain areas, but we did have a lot of time to develop it. This is the product we’ve got right now.”