Transcripts: Denny Hamlin – Press Conference – Dover

LAT Images #11: Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Mavis Tire Toyota Camry

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Denny Hamlin. We’ll start with questions.

Q. Yesterday you mentioned how last week’s win with Tyler, it was great for between 23XI, but as a competitor, don’t always like to see it. Now being able to win yourself, what is that like being in Victory Lane?

DENNY HAMLIN: It’s been a good season. I don’t know how else to explain it. To be in five Victory Lanes in the first I don’t know how many races we’ve had, 11 or 12 or something. Half of ’em we’ve been in Victory Lane. The other ones I’ve been right there with a shot to win ’em. 

It feels good. In the groove right now for sure. Certainly feel like you want to celebrate these because you just never know if it’s your last or anything like that. I’m just so focused this season on getting a lot of wins, trying to move that tally up as high as I can. 

Certainly happy for the team last week. That kind of set in on Monday, Tuesday. Sunday it’s very, very hard to just flip a switch and be bummed about your day and all of a sudden be excited. It is just a little different. It is different when you win it yourself versus when you’re a car owner. It just feels different. Certainly we’re on a good run.

Q. How are you feeling about your chances next week at Kansas?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I expect to win every week. There’s no reason I shouldn’t expect to win. So I think I’ll focus on it tomorrow, but it’s been on the radar for a while.

This little stretch right here right before the All-Star break, between Dover, Kansas, Darlington, I mean, these are all kind of right in my wheelhouse. Certainly feel pretty good about it.

Q. Dover, one of the toughest tracks to pass at, Next Gen car difficult to pass with. You were able to jump Larson and Bowman on pit road. Take us through that moment, being able to hold off Kyle in the final stretch.

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I’m trying to think when that was. We had a few pit stops afterwards. I think Larson just did a much better job than I did. After that moment we gained some track position. That was a key moment, for sure.

We came out on pit road with the lead. At that point I can’t remember what happened after that. Oh, we led. We had another pit sequence under green. Kyle just beat me pretty bad coming to pit road. At that point he took back over the lead.

I just felt like my car was so good on the short run that I wasn’t really worried about when we came out behind Kyle, even though there was only 60, 70 laps left. That’s easy for me to say because I think he’s probably one of the best at defending his spot, but I just was confident in how fast my car was. 

The pit crew did a phenomenal job. They’re part of the reason why I expect to win every single week, is that I know I’ve got one of the best pit crews, one of the best teams, best engineers and crew chief. There’s no reason I shouldn’t expect to win. As long as I do my job, we’re going to be part of the conversation. 

It’s a fun time. This is certainly more of a team sport than it’s ever been. 

Q. How good are you at defending your spot, especially late in a run such as today?

DENNY HAMLIN: I don’t think I’m great at it. I think there’s certainly some that are better at defending their spot than others. I don’t put myself very high on that list. I’ve got so many other things. I’m trying to get faster week to week. Certainly defending is an important part of your finish week in, week out. I’m so focused on what I can do to be faster in general.

I think I’m probably pretty low on that list, which makes me a little worried when you’re going up against Kyle at the end of the race, someone that’s not afraid to move around the racetrack. He’s not stuck to one line. His car was really good in the long run. He kind of reeled us in a little bit in the previous green flag run. 

I was certainly nervous, but I also knew that as long as I just did my job, hit my marks, didn’t have any major blowup laps – that’s one where it pokes how high on the graph where I missed my line or got caught in traffic – then I was going to be able to hold him off. 

He certainly made it more interesting than what I really wanted. 

Q. Earlier in the week you predicted this. How does it feel to come through and be the Babe Ruth calling your home run shot?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I think we did it back in 2012, as well, at New Hampshire. We mentioned that we were going to win that week. I felt pretty confident of it. You better win if you’re going to open your mouth, that’s for sure (smiling).

Certainly the way the race was starting to play out at the end, I can’t give up the lead at this point after I said that. Hopefully some listeners of Actions Detrimental maybe cashed in on today.

Q. This is 54 career victories. You’re now getting into some rarefied air. Tied with Lee Petty, one behind Rusty Wallace. What does it feel like?

DENNY HAMLIN: It doesn’t seem right. If you put all the names on the list in the orders of the wins that they have, I don’t know, I see my name as just an outlier, one that sticks out like it doesn’t really belong there.

I’ve been doing it a long time. You take for granted all the wins that you’ve had. All we think about is the ones that we didn’t win. I’m like, Man, I feel like I should have 80 or 90 realistically. But everyone has those stories.

It’s my personal goal, in my career I want to get to a number that puts me well inside that top 10 of race winners. I think that will speak for itself and the résumé.

Q. You have three wins in 11 points-paying races this season. What’s been some of the biggest improvements on this No. 11 team that’s led to the success early in the season?

DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I think me and Chris just keep getting better. He continues to challenge me and push me to get better. He holds me accountable. I hold him accountable. We’re year five now of working together and we just keep getting better. We’re starting to understand each other a little more. We kind of know where our deficits are and where we need to work to win more races.

If you would have asked me six, seven years ago winning at Dover, I would have said you’re crazy. It was by far my worst track. I just hated coming here each and every time.

He led me in a direction to get better. Really paid off over those last five years.

Q. Larson mentioned one reason the aero blocks is easy is because of the rear camera. Did you use it? If so, how does that assist you versus a rearview mirror?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I use it at times. I didn’t use it much today simply because Dover is just a track where things happen so fast. I feel like personally if I take my eyes off the road for a second, I take it to the camera, I’ll miss my line.

I kind of rely more on the spotter to defend than I do the actual camera just simply because I don’t think I’m good enough to drive and look backwards.

Q. He said he would be for it if the cameras were removed. Do you think it will be a small fix in the right direction?

DENNY HAMLIN: No, it wouldn’t change anything because the spotters would tell you where to drive. I’d rather fix the car or tire or something.

Q. In general the philosophy of learning how to defend on tracks like this, what has the evolution been? When did drivers started adding that to their toolbox?

DENNY HAMLIN: I think it was when we went to the 550 package on the mile-and-a-half’s in Gen-6 days. Is that 2019? We started running the big-ass spoilers, low horsepower. At that point is when it started for sure. Then it’s kind of ramped itself up a little bit since then. 

Honestly, we’re running a car that just hates being in traffic. It does not like being behind another car. That’s why it races really well on tracks that are really wide because the second-place guy can go whenever the leader is not.

It’s a cat-and-mouse game. Sometimes you start the corner here, you drive up when you see all you need to do is get him to cross your wake and you know you’re going to send his car off track.

It’s a product of the car. It just happens at all tracks now. I think it happened five years ago when we went to the intermediate package that we went to.

Q. This is the second time you’ve won three of the opening 11 races of the year. The Clash as well. Do you feel this is the best start you’ve had over your 19 years?

DENNY HAMLIN: I’ve had so many years, it’s hard for me. I’m sure ones have slipped past that you don’t pay attention to. I think we’ve led in every race this year, and not by accident or pit cycles. We legit lead.

Yeah, I would say this is the most competitive. It’s probably only our third top five though. We have three wins, three top fives. We either crash or we win. I really wish I could have Texas back and a few others.

Yeah, I would say it’s probably the most competitive that I’ve been to start a season, absolutely.

Q. You’ve now won four short track races this year. Does that make you the king of the short tracks? Kansas is coming up. Will you progress to win on the mile-and-a-half?

DENNY HAMLIN: I’m not going to call my shot just yet (smiling). I need to soak this victory up first.

I mean, I’m optimistic. I’ve said it a million times: every seven days I can win. That is so hard to come by. There’s probably legit four, maybe five people that can do that just because of the team they’re with, they’re good enough, they’re good at all types of tracks. We’re one of those. 

I mean, I feel good about every track that we go to. The only thing that frustrates me is I’m not getting results at superspeedways where I used to have a big influence on the finish, but now simply because of how the draft works.

Everywhere we go, short of kind of road courses, I still got some work to do there. But if we’re turning left, I like my chances.

Q. When you think about what defines a championship-winning season, you have to make those plays during the regular season. When you look at the overall work today, how satisfying is this win?

DENNY HAMLIN: It’s very satisfying because I was really looking forward to Texas. When Kyle Larson was dominating the first half. I knew what kind of car I was going to have in the second half. He had a wheel problem. Man, I can’t race him straight up. 

We’ve had a lot of late-race battles. So to get the better end of it certainly feels good on my end. I mean, he’s one of the best. The record proves it. The amount of wins he’s got since being over there, it speaks for itself.

I mean, as old as I am, I’m just happy I can keep up at this point. But then to be a challenger to those guys who are half my age, it’s fun.

Q. Do you think this is a good litmus test when you battle again later in the season?

DENNY HAMLIN: Listen, I know that I’m a championship-caliber driver. I’ll just say it. I think there’s been worse drivers win a championship than me. I just feel that way just because of things that have worked out.

It’s different. Find one driver saying that championships are the same as they were 10 years ago, it’s just not. I care about wins and winning every single week because in the end I absolutely would take 60-some wins and no championship over 20 and one. It’s just not even close. 

I just think it’s fun to be able to do it. When you can do it against someone that you really consider a big challenger in Kyle Larson, he’s a champion, not a challenger. I’m probably the challenger. I think it certainly helps your ego a little bit. Like I need that (smiling). 

Q. You’ve had plenty of battles with Kyle over the years, last laps. Does having all those battles, does that familiarity help, maybe knowing what he might try to do?

DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, I just know that the pressure that it puts on me. I know that he’s willing to take chances to reel me in. It’s why you see some of these Next Gen races come down to a pretty close finish.

If you’re not willing to push it to the absolute edge, you’re not optimizing lap time. I know that when he’s chasing, he is pushing it to the edge. I am just trying not to screw up. I am not running to the car’s probably full potential because what would really look silly is me going in the corner and losing it, getting sideways, he gets an easy pass on me.

It’s really, really hard as a leader to just say, This lap time is good, and if I can run this lap time, he’s not going to get around me.

It certainly got tricky when we got around lap cars because I didn’t know where they were going to go. It’s hard. It really is hard. It affected my psyche more than it did anything. I just tried to stay calm.

I’m interested to kind of look at the lap times. I feel like I was uber consistent every lap, even when we were in traffic. That’s kind of a test on me, is am I executing, am I doing the best job that I can to hold him off.

He had the long run speed on me for most of the day. It just kind of worked out timing-wise where I would stretch it out, then he would reel me back in.

I mean, it’s hard. It’s hard when you’re racing against a guy who’s willing to wreck to win.

Q. I hate to continue along that line, but the battle you had to start the second stage was just epic. The best racing of the day. We’ve seen this with you two before. He’s trying to get you to the raw edge of hitting the wall. You got to be giving everything to keep it in line, hold onto it with that pressure lap after lap. How do you do that? Will we see a rematch at Kansas next week?

DENNY HAMLIN: As long as the result is the same, sure (smiling). 

He’s just a hard competitor. I can answer all of your questions, but Kyle Larson is just a hard guy to beat, period. He really is.

I know when I’m on the outside of him, I trust him, probably more than he trusts me when I’m on the inside of him, and for a good reason.

It does take a lot of trust because I can feel air he’s putting on my car at certain times. It’s pushing me up the track. It tells you how hard we were pushing for track position at that time.

I mean, neither one of us wanted to give that spot up at all. Finally I just waved the white flag because I felt like we weren’t making any progress. Here comes Bowman, he’s going to fill the hole, I’m going to go back more.

It was certainly a precursor to what the end of the race was going to be like, and that was a head-to-head battle.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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