An interview with: DENNY HAMLIN
THE MODERATOR: Now we are joined by the winner of tonight’s Toyota 500, Denny Hamlin, who had his happy face on at the end of the race.
Talk about that race winning run tonight.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it was good. We were really good all day, all night, whatever. We made really good adjustments between the two races, really worked hard to get our car a little bit better than what it was here on Sunday. Really things just kind of worked out.
We got that long green flag run where we made up a lot of track position. I don’t know where we restarted but we certainly made up a lot of spots, got pretty close there to Chase before the caution came out. It was just going to be a few laps before we overtook him.
At that point Brad stays out, four cars on the lead lap. I thought the right strategy, since the 15 was in the mix, I thought the strategy you wanted to be on the outside on restarts anyway, so I wanted to come out from pit road last, that way we had fresh tires over Chase, who stayed out there and had two lap tires.
At that point, another caution comes. We decide to stay out because we had just taken tires. We didn’t have enough tires left. We were trying to re glue those tires that had two laps on them. Wasn’t able to get them glued up in time for us to pit. We decided to stay out, and it was the right call.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open the floor for questions.
Q. You came up in an era of late model racing where you’d race around the region weeknights, weekends. We’ve been talking about midweek NASCAR races for the last couple of years. Now that we have them out of necessity, would you like to see them move forward in future schedules, as many races in a more condensed period of time?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, everything needs to copy and paste. Certainly I think, especially during the summer months, there’s an opportunity for us to own the summer where there’s less sports going on.
I mean, NASCAR has a great fan base as it is, no matter what’s on TV. We got a very avid fan base. Certainly believe that we can make it work. I think the fans and a lot of people have spoken about midweek races. It’s unfortunate that we’re in the position that we are, that it’s forced our hand to do it.
I’m really happy that we’ve got the opportunity now to be on a bigger stage on our own during primetime on a weeknight.
Q. Have you developed into a routine with the shorter days in between races? Showing up at the venue with the social distancing, precautions, are you developing a routine with all that?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I’m getting there. Things are different. I mean, throw a kink in it, you got rain, pouring down rain the whole way down this afternoon, not knowing whether you’re going to race or not. It’s going to take a while. As soon as we kind of get used to it, there probably won’t be any weekday races.
I wish it was something we could keep for an extended period of time. I definitely like that we’re doing it now. We did it at such a great racetrack. That racetrack has always put on great races. Glad to see Darlington is being put on the stage like they should be.
Q. Whose idea was the mask?
DENNY HAMLIN: It was mine. I texted my guy that helps me out with some social stuff. It covers my face, covers everyone’s face. You’re kind of like, you really don’t get any sense of any emotion. Man, you need to find someone that can paint me a happy face and a sad face. Depends how the race finishes.
We only had happy masks today, so I guess it was a sign that we didn’t need the sad one.
Q. Third career win at Darlington. You said this place means a lot to you. What does it mean to get a third win here?
DENNY HAMLIN: I just love the racetrack. It’s one of my favorites, certainly in my top two or three. I think it’s a driver’s racetrack. I think the driver can make up a little bit of maybe what his car doesn’t have with moving around the racetrack, different lines, throttle and brake application. There’s a lot of things that can a driver can do to make his performance better at this type of racetrack. That’s why I like it so much.
Really from my very first start here in the Xfinity Series back in 2004, I just took to it quickly. We’ve had a ton of success ever since. It’s been a lot of fun.
Q. Did you see Chase gesturing to Kyle? Did you have any thoughts when you saw it?
DENNY HAMLIN: No, I didn’t see it. I didn’t see anything with the wreck. It’s hard for me to really say, to be honest with you. I’ll watch the race later on tonight. No, they said somebody got clipped. Obviously Chase I guess got clipped.
No one’s giving each other any room. This race, although it didn’t finish, barely, seemed like just the perfect distance of making us have to really push the entire race to fight for all we had. Really the right cars were up front at the end anyway. I think it just made that intensity ramp up. It’s probably some of the emotion you saw.
Q. Kyle Busch said he misjudged it, apologized for getting into Chase. Can you describe how close is the line? You’re so good, but you can misjudge something.
DENNY HAMLIN: We have to make moves to get in holes that will close in a matter of a half a second. More than likely there was somebody on the high side, I’m just guessing here, and Kyle was trying to fit back in line on the high side, try to time when the 9 was going to clear him, and just miss timed it.
What was going to happen is Kyle didn’t get up there, I’m just assuming.
Q. It’s the other way around. Chase was trying to come up and Kyle clipped him.
DENNY HAMLIN: Got you.
Everyone is trying to come up. If you get stuck on the bottom, you’re screwed, going to lose a bunch of positions. This racetrack is one of the more favored as far as you have to be in a specific line or else you’re just going to lose a ton of spots on restarts.
You have to be on the top or else you’re screwed, unless somebody messes up. It’s just a tough track when it comes to the restarts.
Q. Talking about the guys that were around you, you were engaged in quite a battle fending off Kyle and Chase when that incident happened, put us under caution. Any sense of how you were positioned to play out the last 20 laps if they went green?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. We had just run a pretty fast lap up to green right there. I was able to hold it wide open through one and two, of course. But three and four, we carried a ton of speed. I thought we did clear Kyle there on the exit even though he was beside us.
I thought our tires were good. We had seen Truex I think early in the race stay out on eight lap tires, which is the same amount. He was able to hold the lead for an extended period of time.
I think it was the right call for us. I think it was the only call for us because we had just pitted and taken our last set of tires, which he warned me about. We weren’t able to reglue those two lap tires back on yet. We had no choice but to stay out, and it was the right call anyway.
Q. How do you feel JGR after these couple races at Darlington is positioned? Better than you were the first four races or making improvement?
DENNY HAMLIN: This was by far the best race that we had as far as being competitive on speed. So I don’t know what that says because it was a night race. There was more on throttle time. I think we’re still behind. I don’t think we can sugarcoat it in any kind of way and say we’re in good shape now.
I think the Hendrick cars in particular are the class of the field right now. Throw in the Fords. The Fords are always fast. We saw the 14 very strong today.
I think we still have a lot of work to do. I saw some improvement from Sunday to today, and that was just setup. The cars weren’t a big difference. It was just getting your car right for the racetrack.
Maybe putting more emphasis on the actual setup and having the car actually drive good is something that’s going to be better for success for us.
Q. Two top fives coming back after a big break. What’s the biggest challenge having so close races like this, having it be a night race and a day race?
DENNY HAMLIN: I like that it is different. They’re different lengths. One is day, one is night. I think it gives an opportunity for you to make adjustments. I personally love the invert, even though it was not good for me. I had to start 16th.
I thought it really mixed up the very beginning of the race. Had some guys that were able to go up there and lead some laps early that you don’t necessarily always see up front. I really like what NASCAR did with making the second event a little shorter, different time of day.
You’re not going to have just someone who dominated on Sunday go out with the same racecar and same conditions and dominate again. I don’t think anybody wants that. It could happen. They mixed up the conditions enough to where there were some different players in it. Luckily for us we were a top five car in both.
Q. There’s so many new eyeballs on NASCAR being one of the first sports back. Sunday had more people watching the race than The Last Dance. With all these extra people watching, any added responsibility pressure to showcase the sport?
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, certainly. There’s pressure. I mean, I think I read that 30% of the people that watched on Sunday never watched a NASCAR race before or they didn’t watch one of the first four races. We’re getting to a bigger audience.
This is kind of what our sport was built on back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, we were such a huge sport in the U.S. People were passionate about cars. They’re not as passionate about cars now as what they used to be.
The competition is real. You see we’re able to put on a great show. I think it’s a good time for us right now. We’re on a big stage. I think everyone is stepping up to the plate and really doing a good job to make sure we’re giving a good product, a real product, not just putting things together just to get on TV.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on the win. Congratulations on having an awesome facemask ready to go in the car. Good luck as you head into Charlotte. We’ll be talking to you tomorrow.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you. Appreciate it.
— NASCAR —