DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 Acumatica Toyota Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing
What is it about this race track that suits you?
“We really kind of have a great baseline for a setup. Even though we switched cars, it seems like we kind of figured out what I like at this track and the team has brought fast cars each time. It should be in our wheelhouse this weekend.”
Do you feel 23XI Racing still has any chance of getting Kyle Busch?
“I’m not really sure.”
How would you evaluate Ty Gibbs’ performance in the Cup car?
“He’s been good, he’s done what we’ve asked him to do. It’s a learning process and he’s still 19. He’s still learning as he goes. Certainly, he realizes the fence between the Cup garage and the Xfinity garage is a very tall one and these guys are really, really good. He’s learning and he’s not tearing up equipment. He’s getting us in the top-20 so it’s good.”
What are your thoughts on racing the All-Star race at North Wilkesboro next season?
“I think it’s a great thing for our sport. It’s good news that the state is pitching in to help. I think it’s great for short track racing and grassroots racing. I think there’s certainly a place in our schedule for those sweetheart-type race tracks like there and Martinsville and whatnot. They don’t always have to have fancy suites and whatnot. You’ve got to have that in certain markets, but I would say North Wilkesboro is probably not that market. So I think it’s really nice and sounds like they’re going to keep the pavement the same. It’s just traffic, traffic, traffic. Can they work on the traffic and get that quite a bit better as I think that was a major problem in the past and even last week sounds like it was pretty bad.”
How precarious is Bristol as a Playoff cutoff race?
“It really depends on your situation. I think there’s going to be seven or eight guys that are going to be on edge going into Bristol as a cutoff race. There’s probably going to be four or five going to feel pretty good about it and won’t let it concern them and how they drive then you have the rest of the field who’s out of the Playoffs anyway so it’s really a small portion of the field that I think is going to be worried about the result or making sure they’re not making mistakes on a track like that.”
Can you bring everyone up to speed on what the NASCAR charter market looks like currently?
“There’s a lot of factors with Dale (Earnhardt) Jr.’s (decision on a charter), I think he wants to see the business model change also. It doesn’t matter the price of the charter, it’s an asset, but it’s really what it costs you to run your business. That’s probably what’s kept him on the sidelines more than anything. As far as the market, I don’t know what it is. We haven’t dug too deep into that. I think there’s too many unknowns that the teams need to know between now and 2025 to figure out what can we afford, one car, two cars or three cars. We don’t know.”
What has it been like being a two-car team and what is the latest update on Kurt Busch?
“I think it’s been good going to two. Certainly Kurt (Busch) did what we asked him to do coming into this year and he’s been a great teammate with Bubba (Wallace) and I think it helped us share some resources. Certainly, there has been some efficiencies gained from one to two with personnel. We would probably gain a little more with three, but four is just like adding another team. So I think that certainly there’s positives to it, I don’t see any negatives going to two from one, but we really like the addition of Kurt and that was really the catalyst for us starting a second is having someone like Kurt as a great veteran and mentor and really evaluate how is our team. He’s been part of successful teams before and I don’t see the road crew and the personnel that much on the weekend. I’m so focused on the 11 car and what I need to do to make my team better that I can’t really take time off to see how they’re operating over there so Kurt’s really been the person that’s really helped with that. I think it’s been really good and obviously, we really hope to have him back in the 45 car this year and next year and we plan on Kurt running unless he tells you all otherwise.”
Is there any chance the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown could come back?
“Certainly we would like to. We stopped during COVID for obvious reasons. No one could even go to a race during that time where we had it in ’18 or ’19 and then in ’20 it stopped. It’s got to be the right situation for sure. We did it to kind of bring people back to local short tracks. North Wilkesboro isn’t a track that has a weekly show so does that fit our mold or not, I’m not really sure. We did it at Richmond too and that wasn’t a weekly show. I would like to do it and I’ve reached out to Marcus (Smith) about doing it during the All-Star weekend. I think that I could probably get a bunch of my Cup drivers and Xfinity drivers out there to do it as well and I think it would be cool to see us race something other than what they see us in every week.”
What does it mean for the short track community to have tracks like North Wilkesboro coming back to the schedule?
“I think that for the longest time, short track racing has been the best type of racing that we have in NASCAR, especially those with old pavement and you have ones that have lap time variation. I’ve never gotten to race at that race track before. I think there’s a lot of excitement around it because it’s new and it happens. We have to temper our expectations that from now until the end of time, people are going to go to that race track and sell it out. They stopped going for a reason so we have to identify what are those reason and try to fix that so we can have a long term future at a track like North Wilkesboro. I think there’s a time and a place to have those types of tracks, but we also need to make sure that we continue to push towards the future as well and create nice amenities for our race fans and our teams that really take us to the next level. But certainly there’s a place in our schedule for tracks like that.”
What is the biggest difference between the spring race here and the race here tomorrow?
“I’m really not sure. I think the conditions are different. I’m thinking he (Daniel Suarez) means the setup. You can’t or not supposed to change anything on the overall body. I don’t know and I’m not really sure about that part of it. I do think the teams have gotten better over time. Kansas race wasn’t that long ago, but I think we continue to evolve, but it just seems that there’s certain manufacturers that run good on certain types of race tracks. This is one of the good ones for Toyota. I think that no matter what, whether it was three months ago or not that the 45 car will be strong this weekend. We continue to evolve, but we’re not continuing to make those big jumps that we were when we were building our own cars. Usually around Coke 600 weekend we would bring a new chassis and run it for the summer months, play with it and try to fine tune it for the Playoffs. Then we would come with our biggest and baddest wind tunnel number for the Playoffs. There’s no secret that the final four would always been the fastest four cars on the race track. I think this year probably it won’t be that way. I think those cars probably got through tech fairly easily compared to others. Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but they were the fastest four cars for a reason. I just don’t think with this car you have the ability to do that so I think this year it could potentially be the first time where the champion does not win the race. Potentially.”
How are you? Are you fully healed from Daytona?
“Yeah, I feel pretty good. Right shoulder stuff, but I’m okay.”
Is there any chance Tyler Reddick could be at 23XI Racing before 2024?
“I don’t think so. I think Tyler (Reddick) would like to play out his contract at RCR and that’s what he’s always intended. We’ve not planned for anything otherwise. Kurt’s (Busch) going to drive the 45 as far as we understand and unless he says differently and if he does say differently, then we have a couple options that we’re looking at. But we never intended on getting Tyler before 2024.”
Is the dialogue with NASCAR changing with regard to the safety of the race car or are the drivers more focused on the Playoffs?
“We met with NASCAR this week about it. And I think that they’re being proactive right now. Obviously, they made a bunch of changes this week. I think what the drivers and the teams are saying is that it shouldn’t take us yelling through the media to get it done. That doesn’t help anybody and it certainly doesn’t help them, but the proof has been that yelling through the media typically gets results. That’s just kind of the way that it’s been. This is the most powerful tool you can have and sometimes you have to use it to force change and I think that’s what (Kevin) Harvick did this week. He’s had enough of them saying they would get to it, they would get to it and we’re working on it. Instead, they made an immediate change. But we want to see it coming after the second fire, the first fire. There’s been many, many fires before that one.”
Do you feel better about the conversations you all had with NASCAR this week with regard to safety?
“Yes, I do feel better about it. I certainly feel that they’re working to help us with the hits on the chassis. All that stuff does take time. They can’t just knee-jerk reaction and start cutting bars out of the chassis, that’s very irresponsible. I think they’re doing things methodically to make sure that the next revision of car that comes out is one that is improved in the areas that we need improving on, but that does take time through design and testing.”