An Interview With: DENNY HAMLIN, BRAD KESELOWSKI, JOEY LOGANO
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Questions, please.
Denny, can you talk about your day and what you’re feeling right now. You’ve said before making the Championship 4 was what it was about, and it comes down to one race. But can you just talk about what kind of disappointment you’re feeling right now.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, certainly disappointed. But you know, you’ve got to make sure you put your expectations kind of in check in the sense of, you know, we didn’t ‑‑ our organization hasn’t really been very good on the short tracks this year. It’s kind of a learning period for us.
But we put our best effort forward. We had no mistakes today, did everything I possibly could, just I had nothing there to go.
I think with our best teammate running 10th and the other guys having two teammates ahead of our best one, just our car didn’t have enough speed to go out there and compete.
THE MODERATOR: We are now also joined by Brad Keselowski, who is utilizing our chat, I believe, and Joey Logano, as well.
Brad, did you get any explanation on why the pit stops were slow? And do you think that pretty much cost you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, I haven’t had a chance to look at that. You know, obviously at the end of Stage 2 I was right where I wanted to be, in the lead, and we lost a spot, which is not fun. But it’s a team effort, and just was tough to fight back through.
We got up to second there at the end, and I feel like we were pretty equal. The 9 car and I would have loved to have had a chance to race it out, but that’s not the way it played out.
For anybody who wishes to answer this one. We’ve just completed one of the most unusual seasons, if not the most unusual, in NASCAR history. After a year like this, how excited are you guys for the future?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: If you can get through a year like this and you’re NASCAR, certainly it bodes well. The only thing left was an asteroid strike.
No, I thought it was really amazing what the sport was able to achieve, that we were able to get all the races in. To be here today and have a great race for a championship, I think that’s really impressive. And NASCAR maybe doesn’t get enough credit for being able to pull all that off, considering the landscape.
I think there’s no shortage of us, including myself, that are quick to criticize, but I think we should also be quick to applaud for everything that’s happened this year and then to be able to pull all this off, run all the races and do it at a high level.
Brad, with the speed in your car today and everything, does it feel like this one maybe got away?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yes and no. I feel like I did all I could do. You know, with that in mind, you try to shake it off and move on. I mean, I can’t change anything about what happened, and I hate it for my guys that that’s the way it played out, but so it goes.
Denny, at what point over the course of the race did you begin to maybe realize your car wasn’t going to have what you needed to be able to challenge for the top spot?
DENNY HAMLIN: I don’t know. I mean, up until the last stage, the leader was always 12 lengths in front of me, but there was always a car or two between. I don’t know, I mean, we just ‑‑ you know, I thought early on in the race we were pretty good. I think we caught the 22 late in the run, but then I saw the 9 coming through the field and then I saw even on the long run he was reeling us all in.
We just didn’t have enough car potential for us. Our balance was not bad, maybe a little bit off, but just not enough in reserve.
I think Penske and Hendrick both had two teammates inside the top 10 before we even got to our next best two other teammates. Our organization has got to get a little bit better on these types of tracks, and especially it being ‑‑ it going to be the deciding factor in the championship.
We’ve just overall got to get a little bit better. I knew for me probably around lap 200 that we needed some special circumstances to kind of go our way.
Joey, what effect did the PJ1 have on this race today? I noticed at times it was hard to even pass, especially for the lead there.
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, I mean, it was. I mean, similar to what it was here in the spring. The width of it was a little bit different, but not much different than what we had.
I thought the racing was actually pretty good because of it. I’m pretty certain, almost 100 percent certain, that it would not be as good without the PJ1. We’ve raced this racetrack for years without it, and it wasn’t the best of races.
I feel like it’s helped the passing some. It at least helps the car behind you be able to stay close to you enough to maybe free the car up in front of you. You saw a lot of passes made that way, where cars were packing there on each other to free them up and a lot of passes were made like that. PJ1 helps that.
It still makes it very challenging to pass. It’s not an easy track to pass. It’s not easy to pass anyone in the Cup Series. The best drivers in stock cars are right here. Everybody knows what they’re doing. It’s going to make passing a lot harder than other series.
Joey, you led for the first 119 laps. How well did that bode for you, did you think? And did you figure something was going to happen after that? To get off to that start, were you feeling good?
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, we had good track position. Our pit crew was on it just like they’ve been through this whole Playoffs. Like I said it before, they’re a pressure team. They love the pressure and they truly rise to the occasion.
They did that the whole race. They did it even the last stop under green. Was able to get ourselves out in front of the 9 by a pretty good distance. And like I said, the 9 just kind of fired off a lot faster and kept going.
Then we had another tire vibration there towards the end, last 25 laps, 30 laps of the run. Yeah, I thought we were in a good spot. We were right with the 9 right before the green flag cycle and was able to come out in front of him. And then, like I said, he just had a lot of speed that last run. They really found something.
To be so close, performance‑wise, you guys were there. How disappointing is it to have the car potential to win and then not, to have it just kind of slip away there at the end?
JOEY LOGANO: Well, obviously when you don’t win it, it hurts. It definitely stings. Yeah, I told the guys before the race started, I said in these races when you get to the Championship 4, you can’t lose. You either win or you become stronger. Unfortunately we got stronger today.
We learned a lot about ourselves and learned that we are capable. We’re capable of executing when we needed to. We just need to go faster. That was one thing.
But I think overall there’s a lot to be proud of throughout the season, where we’ve come from, how much we’ve grown as a team, especially with the crew chief swap in the beginning of the season this year and without practice. That was a pretty big hurdle we had to jump.
I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job through the Playoffs to really come into our own. That makes me really excited about 2021 because we’re starting way further ahead than where we did this year with the schedule being somewhat similar with limited practice sessions. I feel a lot better going into next year than what we did this year.
Yeah, a lot to be proud of. You need to look at the silver linings, you need to look at your mistakes and where you can be better. It still doesn’t take the pain away, but that’s how you get by at least.
Brad, sometimes you get in these situations and you don’t have a chance. You guys had a chance. What’s the disappointment level knowing that you had a chance and it got away as opposed to getting blown out?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Oh, shoot. I thought all the tough questions were only for Joey (smiling).
No, hey, I felt like I did all I could do today. I’m disappointed, but I’m also proud at the same time. My team brought a great car and we ran a hell of a race. You know, won Stage 2 and made a convincing case that we probably could have won the race today, but it just didn’t come together with the track position.
I can be disappointed in that. I think I’m probably more focused on the positives. We were really fast. I felt like I ran a great race, and I’m proud of that.
Brad, I asked you earlier in the week what you thought the effect of having the choose line rule here for the first time would be. How did that play out based on your anticipation? And also, it didn’t seem like we saw as much aggressive dive‑bombing down onto the apron as maybe we’ve seen in the past. Could you tell me why? And for all three, when you heard that Chase was going to have to start at the back today, what went through your mind?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, first off on the choose rule, I think it would have been a bigger deal if we got a late‑race yellow. We didn’t get any yellows at the end of the race. The Truck race, Xfinity race, there was a bunch of yellows at the end, and we didn’t see a yellow I think the entire last stage, if I remember right.
It’s hard for that to be a factor, the choose rule, when you don’t have a lot of restarts. I think that’s why you didn’t see any of those moves and things like that in the Cup race.
What was the other question?
For you or whoever else would want to comment, when you heard Chase was going to have to start at the back, what did you think?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Oh, just for me personally, Cup races are so long, it’s really not a big deal, and stage points didn’t really matter for this race. Just didn’t feel like it was a big deal.
Obviously not the outcome any of you wanted today, but are you glad to put 2020 behind you? What do you take away for the 2021 season going into this off‑season?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, I had a lot of fun this year. I can’t speak for everyone else, but we fought through everybody. The industry fought through a lot of stuff and we ran great races and put on some great shows.
Missed not having the fans, but also enjoyed being able to spend more time at home with my family on Thursdays and Fridays that we would have never had before.
Yeah, it’s a bizarre year, but the obstacles kind of were in the way and we made the most of it.
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think when you look at what the sport was able to do together, working together, the guys that are out there trying to win every week, do anything for a win, was able to all come together as one. I think everyone should be very proud of that. The sport should be proud of that, that every partner that’s involved had some kind of idea of how to go back racing.
I think Steve O’Donnell and NASCAR and everybody at NASCAR should be very proud and deserves a lot of credit for getting everyone to work together, put working groups together during the pandemic when we were not racing at least, and being able to come together.
In a year where everyone feels so separated, in ways I feel like we were united more than ever. I think there’s a lot to be proud of there.
Kind of following up on that, after what we’ve been through in the pandemic, are there any recommendations ‑ I ask this because you both are champions and well respected in the sport ‑ are there any recommendations from the lessons learned this year that you would take to Daytona as far as voicing opinions as to what could make the sport more productive in the future?
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, I mean, I think personally, it proves to us that the craziest things you could think of and things we would never be open to do before this year is possible. Nothing is ever as crazy as you think it is, right?
If you told us we were going to a road course and never have practice and we’re just going to line up and race, and you told us that in January or February, we’d think you were nuts, that would never happen. We have to have a test session, we have to have a bunch of practice. It’s not possible. We did it, and it was a great race, right, down in Daytona.
I think the biggest thing that we can all take away from this is that we can be more open‑minded to change and know that as different as things feel, eventually it becomes a new normal. I think that was a big challenge for everybody.
Change isn’t easy for anybody, but I think overall everybody really was open to it and had to, right, you were forced to do it. And now we know what we’re capable of as a sport.
Yeah, there’s a lot of key learning from this year, whether it’s from scheduling, cost savings, still being able to put on a great race, which is the most important piece for our fans.
Looking forward to next year when we can get some fans back to the racetrack and hopefully get through this pandemic soon because it’s nice to be able to have a packed‑out house like we used to have.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, lessons? We can do a lot more with a lot less than we ever thought we could I think is what Joey was trying to say.
You know, I was really encouraged by our ability to stay safe, not that we were perfect as an industry. I mean, certainly we had a few people get sick, but all in all I think it went pretty well.
Hopeful that we can bring our fans back for Daytona, Speedweeks. I know a lot of people are pushing hard for that. Sign me up with the club.
And then we’ve got huge initiatives for the sport with the new car and all of that. We have a lot going on. All in all, like I said at the beginning, I think this year showed that if we can make it through this, then we can make it through a lot of different things. I’m optimistic to see how that’ll play out.
I just wanted to get everyone’s thoughts on having Phoenix as the championship track versus having Homestead now, and would you like to see Phoenix be the track that hosts it for years to come?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I thought it was great. Shoot, the racing was really good, the cars were really hard to drive, like they should be. That’s not the case on the 550 tracks. In general, I thought it was great for the sport.
If you had a fast car you probably like it more than if you didn’t. But in general, I think NASCAR was built on the smaller tracks and the championship being awarded on them feels right to me.
JOEY LOGANO: I think it was a great racetrack for today. I thought the racing was pretty good. I’m a fan of movement around like the Super Bowl moves around. I kind of think we should be open to doing things like that.
But I think overall it’s going to be an interesting race no matter what. When there’s so much on the line and so much pressure, no matter where you go it’s going to be an interesting race. The top four cars are going to be the top four cars because they’re the best of the year and they’re going to bring the most to the table when it matters the most.
I thought the racing was good. There wasn’t a late‑race caution like there was in the other two races this weekend. I was hoping for it. I wanted to come down pit road one more time and see if we could come out in front and get a win, but it was not in the cards today. So overall I’d say that the racing was good.
DENNY HAMLIN: I think that I’m good with it moving around. I’m good with it staying here for a little bit. I certainly think that Phoenix Raceway invested money into the fan experience, and any track that does that deserves to have a big race.
To me facilities is a big hitter in my mind for the fan experience, and they invested money in it. The city is a sports town. A lot of stuff goes on in this city beyond racing, other sports. We always have had great crowds here no matter what’s gone on, whether we’ve raced two races a year here. If it was a Playoff race or not, it was a packed crowd.
This place deserves the race that it got. But I’m also like Joey. I agree that you should move it around a little bit. We want to make sure that it’s a town and a city and a track that is up to par for what a place like this is.
THE MODERATOR: Denny, Brad and Joey, congrats on really great seasons, and have a great off‑season and we’ll see you next year.
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