Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was made available to media via videoconference in advance of the race at the Talladega Superspeedway. He talked about the upcoming race as well as updates regarding the new team he is forming with Michael Jordan.
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
When Furniture Row was looking to sell their charter there was not many takers, but it seems like now there is several potential buyers for every charter. Why do you think that is?
“Well, I think for one, the Furniture Row charter was the highest ranked charter, so it was going to cost the most money. It accumulates probably double what some of these charters accumulate in revenue for some of the back charters. The price was going to be high, so you were going to have to have a big initial investment and then on top of that – there was also not a horizon of the business model being better in the near future. When the new car started getting announced and NASCAR really started taking initiatives to limit personnel, limit practice, things like that, that really helps the race teams. Ultimately, it’s the teams getting a little more revenue and keeping a little more revenue is what is making it more appealing.”
Were you surprised with how many people were interested in the charter you purchased?
“No, not really. I knew that they were going to be quite a few takers for that particular charter, but before we even became interested, we knew that there was a list of people that were bidding. I just was happy that it ended up the way that it did. Bob (Germain, team owner, Germain Racing) and his whole organization with Larry Rogers (General Manager, Germain Racing) was great to work with through it.”
How do you look at Talladega?
“Each race is individual and different. I think that we obviously know that we can win there, it’s just a lot of it is circumstances, a lot of it is kind of putting yourself in the right place, which you don’t always know what that place will be. It’s historically – the playoff race in Talladega – is pretty wild, because you have probably two-thirds of the field has been eliminated that’s really not racing for much except trying to win and you have some other ones that are going to be fighting tooth and nail for stage points. I suspect it will be pretty wild again, but I’m confident that all of our cars are good enough to win every time we go there. It’s just sometimes it is a number game. As Toyota as an organization, we are short on numbers from everyone else. We just kind of count on people getting selfish at the end and use them.”
Do you anticipate Talladega being super crazy or tamer?
“I don’t think it will be any different than – I mean we have seen crazy races at Talladega with a lot of wrecks, and we’ve seen some that don’t have a lot of wrecks. I just think that it depends. I don’t think anyone has a certain mode that they can switch to that will make them do something that they haven’t done before. I think that everyone kind of knows how everyone drives at this point and you kind of plan around that. You have to be aware of who you are racing around and how aggressive they typically are and just try to put yourself in the best spot. This race is unpredictable. It could be no cautions. It could be 12 cautions. We just don’t know.”
What are the differences between a ROVAL type course versus a purpose-built road course?
“The way the ROVAL is tough is I think they paved some parts of it, and they use previous asphalt from like parking lots and what not, or access roads for other parts of the track. That’s all fine and good, but the ROVAL doesn’t have as many passing zones, and typically good road courses have lots of passing zones. So, like the Daytona Road Course, I think it was six legit heavy braking, passing zones, where when you get going through the infield of the ROVAL, you are kind of just stuck there. There’s maybe one corner that you can kind of dive bomb into there and make it work, but it’s kind of follow the leader or follow the car that’s in front of you once you get to the infield of the ROVAL. It’s very narrow, off-camber, bumpy. Challenging, yes. I’m great with challenging race tracks. It’s just that you want to have passing zones and the ROVAL struggles a little bit with passing zones.”
How much will starting on the pole make a difference on Sunday? How much does patience come into play?
“I just try to manage my risk as much as possible. Obviously, by starting on the pole, we will be up front for the first portion of the race, and hopefully, I can set the tone, set the line from where I want to run, but it’s likely, especially with this package that we have at the superspeedways, where there is a big pocket of air, we are going to get passed. We are going to get passed pretty early in the race and hopefully we can make that pass back and keep control of the race. I think that keeping yourself in the top-four spots, although not safe, is a safer place to be. When you find yourself getting shuffled beyond that and getting boxed out where you can’t really go high, can’t really go low, you just have to manage your risk and figure out where you need to put yourself in the safest spot. I think with our points position, we need to have a good solid day. We are going to try to lock ourselves in just as soon as possible, so that would be the first stage. If we don’t that is a good option for us once the racing gets going, we will alter that strategy and focus more towards the end of the race. I don’t know how it will play it out. It is kind of a wait and see based on how the pack is reacting.”
Where are you with leadership on your team?
“We have someone working. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say or not. We have someone working, former team president, who is kind of facilitating everything. He’s working on an interim basis, helping things get going, taking the load of me for the next six to seven weeks. There’s a lot of work that needs to get done, but obviously, we are kind of leaning on him to get the laundry list of things done over the next six to seven weeks while I’m continuing to focus on winning a championship. We are getting the parts and the pieces together. I believe that we have the person in charge on the competition side that I want. Obviously, we have this other guy that’s working on all of the executive stuff. He’s working really hard on that right now, so it’s coming together. The list is long, but they are knocking out things each and every day. I don’t know if I can or can’t share, so just probably not right now.”
Looking at the new 2021 schedule, do you think your team has an opportunity to win?
“I think we will have opportunities to win, no doubt about it. I think there are things that I can work with Bubba (Wallace) on, on the driver’s side of things to improve some parts of his game, I guess you could say. I think that our cars will be good, but with new teams, it’s very hard. It’s very hard to win. I’ve said this before, but my teammate Kyle (Busch) is one of the best out there and hasn’t won yet in 2020. You need things to fall your way. You need to be good. You’ve got to have every piece of the puzzle right to win these races, but I don’t think that when we go to a race track next year that there will be any track where we will say that we can’t win here. The equipment will be good enough, I believe. We are putting the people in place that are good. I just do things the right way. I won’t ever doing anything halfway, and I feel like we are going to build this thing from the ground up. It’s not going to happen in three months. We are not going to build an empire in three months, but certainly we have visions in the years to come to build this into a big organization like Joe Gibbs Racing. I learned a lot from him. I think Tony (Stewart) learned a lot from him, when he moved over to Haas and kind of took over, over there and ran it. We want to kind of do that same thing and business philosophy that I’ve learned from Coach (Joe) Gibbs.”
Is it going to be a Toyota team? Do you have a team name?
“Again, that’s on the list of stuff to do. We’ve not finished any manufacturer or alliance contracts. Everything is up in the air at this point.”
How would you describe the reach of the news of your new team?
“I think there has been a lot of people reach out, whether that be companies or employee that are interested. This is obviously very, very big. It’s very ground breaking in our sport to have this new team come in here and be at the caliber that Michael (Jordan) is, and how big of an icon he is worldwide. It certainly brings a lot of attention. Certainly, I see a lot of articles get written by outlets that never cover NASCAR at all, so it’s been big. I know I got the stats from Jill (Gregory) and her team at NASCAR about the reach and I think it was 3.3 billion, which is an incredible number. I’m very proud of that and what we’ve been able to do in such a short time has been pretty amazing.”
Can you further explain what that 3.3 billion means?
“It’s basically kind of the reach of who has seen it, who this story has – I guess seen it. It’s a very, very big number and obviously, I’m really excited that we’ve had some really great opportunities and partner up with some great companies and hopefully build this into something from the ground up. It’s going to take some time. We are going to have to put ourselves in temporary spots before we go to a permanent spot. I feel like we are set-up pretty good right now.
— Toyota Racing —