Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to media following NASCAR Cup Series qualifying on Saturday morning at Talladega Superspeedway after earning the pole position to start Sunday’s race:
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Camry TRD, Joe Gibbs Racing
How does it feel to get your first superspeedway pole through on-track qualifying? You earned one during COVID through metrics.
“This was the first one for sure. I was well aware this was my first speedway pole. I think that last year was a great opportunity because I think all the Toyotas qualified really well on the speedways. Kind of nature of the bodies that we submitted to NASCAR so we knew we were going to be fast on these types of race tracks. The body that we submitted this year, I think we got more of a balance and we knew it was going to slow us up on these types of race tracks. But Toyota and those guys continue to make advancements and we get a little faster.”
How different is the Talladega race compared to Daytona?
“It’s not much different. We build the fastest cars we can and I talked about it earlier that back in the day, it used to be was the car built for qualifying or built for the race? That’s not been the case for a very long time. Everyone is building the very fastest car they can and qualifying exactly what they’re racing. I think it’s a good sign of things to come.”
What is the state of NASCAR right now in your opinion?
“Certainly I think that there’s a lot of negative talk in a short amount of time. Obviously, the penalties got the biggest talk of it. That was just unfortunate circumstances and NASCAR got caught in the middle of something that was right and then it looked wrong by the ruling so they tried to make it right with Kaulig at the end. It’s very tough from the competition standpoint. I think we can continue to make it better and as long as we’re open to new ideas, which it sounds like we are, we can make this better and we need to make it better.”
What needs to happen in tomorrow’s race for Monday to consist of positive conversations?
“Just talk about the race. That’s it. They were talking about Martinsville on Monday, but not all in a positive way. I think a lot of it was that we saw a race there that was very challenging from a passing perspective. What we’re going to see here tomorrow is going to be a lot of what we saw at the Daytona 500 – two-by-two racing. That’s just the product of the car, but we’ve got some bigger fish to fry on competition than speedways. It will get it’s attention in due time I’m sure.”
What is the advantage of having the pole at Talladega?
“Honestly, I don’t know that there is one. If I would have qualified 18th, I would have been just as optimistic. Qualifying on the pole means that my car is fast and my car will be fast leading. I haven’t been fast in Next Gen era while leading superspeedways so that gives me the confidence that I should be able to lead the pack quickly, which will make it harder to pass us.”
What do you believe is the most feasible to fix on short tracks?
“I think I left that meeting very optimistic with what I heard. The changes in the car and Goodyear stepping up and saying that they had to be very conservative the first year Next Gen and we’ve been very common with our tires. We feel like we’re comfortable enough now to start mixing that up and really start getting more aggressive with our tire compounds. That’s all fantastic news for us and hopefully for competition here in the next few months.”
What was your reaction to being included in the 75 Best Drivers for NASCAR?
“Well, I saw Jim France called and my first thought was, ‘Oh shit, here we go again.’ (laughter) PTSD for sure on that one. It was a good phone call and him just being very appreciative for what I do for the sport and for the industry. It was good to hear certainly and he said this was a very high honor and I acknowledged it and said, ‘I appreciate this accomplishment.’ It’s big obviously and hopefully there is one more big one that we can go.”
When NASCAR announced they were doing the 75 drivers list, did you allow yourself to think you would make the list?
“Of course you think about it for sure. I thought I had a place in there for sure, but you just never know until you know.”
How does your strategy for this race change by starting from the pole?
“I struggle because this type of racing does not fit my skill set at superspeedways. It’s two-by-two and I want to be the Dale Earnhardt who can go from 18th to first in three laps or whatever it is. With it being such a teammate type of race or manufacturer type race, I’ve always pushed to just let me do my own thing or be on my own, but it’s very hard in this climate and this type of racing for that to be successful. You have to have people behind you that you know are committed to going wherever you’re going. At times, if you get told that you have to run with this car or that car, you just put handcuffs on my skill set, but it’s a different type of racing and I have to convert my type of racing into working with teammates and that type of strategy because it’s been what’s most successful.”
Do you have to be less selfish to control a superspeedway race now compared to how you had to be in the past?
“Being selfish was beneficial until Next Gen – for sure, absolutely. My independence and not wanting to work with teammates, not because I didn’t want to, but they made moves I didn’t necessarily agree with so I just would go rogue and go on my own. I just feel like this Next Gen air in two-by-two racing, you can’t pull out and pass like you used to, by yourself so you have to rely on teammates. We’ve converted our style and I’ve had to change my style.”
Have you successfully converted your style of racing on superspeedways?
“I haven’t won in Next Gen. I’m working on it. I wish I could go back in time to when you would see three and four wide. All I needed was air disturbed, any kind of air disturbed, I could find any little pocket of air to make my car go. This, you really have to just continue to push whoever is in front and make sure someone’s in line behind you.”
How do you change your style as a driver?
“You just have to start over. Really, I’m having to do it on road courses now. At 42, I just have to relearn and figure out the best way to do things. Just can’t stop learning, that’s the biggest key.”
How do you work with your Toyota teammates?
“I think you just have to be able to commit to each other, for good or for bad, you’re either all going to be in the same wreck or you’re going to be battling six cars for the win. It will get thinned out through wrecks, we all know that, but for the most part I think you have to have the mindset of how we can work together. It is power in numbers, especially in Next Gen. Whatever line has the most cars, if one line has nine and one has 10, the line with 10 is going to be faster. You’re going to want to be in that line. In the old days, you could make seven cars beat 10 if you worked it right.”
How do you feel about Corey LaJoie’s argument that you should not be able to drive from the back to the front in these race cars?
“If you have to be perfect, it means you have to start on the pole, have the best pit crew and you have to lead every lap. That’s perfect. We saw what we thought was the best car go to the back and never to be seen ever again. That’s not what we’re looking for. I disagree with that 100 percent. We want tire fall-off and we want it because, the reason is that you’re not letting the stars show their skill set. Any time you put a star at the back, it should be a show watching them go to the front. Now it’s just, ‘see ya,’ you screwed up and I’ll never see you again. That’s not what we want. We want people watching on TV who don’t know much about NASCAR watching and saying, ‘that guy is clearly better than the rest.’ Not that car has better track position than that one.”
Toyota Racing PR