An Interview with: Denny Hamlin and Bootie Barker
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for taking some time to join us, Denny. Congratulations on your first win as a team owner. Talk about your emotions right now, how you’re feeling, what the talk was like with Bubba.
DENNY HAMLIN: I mean, emotions obviously super high. I didn’t realize it would be this high at this moment. I understand the process in which it takes to get to this point, winning in NASCAR’s highest level. I’m in every meeting, I’m hands on with the team. I know how hard they work.
I certainly am more emotional, more happy with someone else’s victory than mine on this day.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll take some questions.
What do you think this win means for the sport? You’ve been in all these meetings with sponsors who specifically wanted Bubba. Especially with it coming here at Talladega…
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, again, there were so many dots that are crossing here, makes this win more special. I mean, there’s something about it’s Talladega, his home state, everything that happened at Talladega last year, things that Bubba didn’t ask to happen, but he had to go through it. A lot of the pushback, things that happened afterwards in the aftermath.
Then we have McDonald’s who has been a big part of our sport for many, many years, decades, and they haven’t won in decades. To have them in Victory Lane as one of the founding partners of 23XI. Toyota, I mean, they’re supporting my crazy dream.
There’s been so many different partners that believed in my vision and my dreams that helped finance this thing, like, I just can’t believe it’s all come together and we got a win.
THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by our race crew chief Bootie Barker with his first Cup Series win.
We’ll continue with questions.
Denny, obviously there will be a lot of talk about how this race ended. You have raced many times with Bubba even before he joined 23XI in superspeedway races. Talk about what kind of racer he is, and this shouldn’t be thought of as a surprise.
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, just look at the results, right? A lot of times he got into incidents, but a lot of times he was up front when he got into them. He’s just got a knack for it.
I just think he needed to refine. We had those discussions of how he could get better with it. He made some big changes from Daytona one and Talladega one to Daytona two. I mentioned to him this week, I was like, That’s the right way to do it. That’s how you maintain your track position up front. That’s how you work the lanes.
I’ve just seen a transition with him, his willingness to take in information and apply it. I think this is not going to be the last time you’re going to be hearing about his name on a superspeedway. He’s very gifted at ’em. He has very, very good instincts.
Like early on in his career, early 20-year-olds, mid 20-year-old, he gets excited at times. How can you regulate that not to get too high or low when things don’t pan out exactly how you want? I think he’s working on that tremendously. This is obviously going to go a long way with him emotionally and for his self-confidence.
Bubba has had a lot of weight on his shoulders. How do you feel like he’s handled this season in general?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, it’s been an eye-opening experience for him I’m sure. It’s probably a better question for him.
At the race team we’re trying to provide him the best race cars that we can possibly provide him. I walk from my shop to my other shop, and the cars are the same. I make sure that if those guys feel like they need anything, any part, piece to go faster, I go out and I get it. That’s the attitude that Joe Gibbs has always taught me. It will drive you broke if you don’t eventually have results. But I’m too much of a competitor to be just okay with mediocrity.
I think this is just a stepping point that I’m sure you’re going to see in performance in the last part of this year and into next year. What the media doesn’t see is the work that he’s putting in behind the scenes to be a better race car driver. It just takes time to apply it.
As soon as the race went red and it was raining, the Internet blew up with a lot of negative things being said about Bubba, the race being fixed. How do you think he handles that? Winning here in Alabama, which is not only technically his birth state, but where he had a bad year last year in terms of the social justice stuff, what do you think all this means to him?
DENNY HAMLIN: We talked about, and he got off social media for a while, and I think that was the best decision ever. Ultimately I get hate tweets as well because I hired him. Those people just need to grow up honestly, appreciate the accomplishment that the kid just had. He drove it to the front, and the caution came out. There’s not much else you can do.
I was busy trying to push the 20 car as hard as I could to keep him up front. He just played the lines just right and got around us there, obviously got the win. It’s still pouring here.
I think people just have a microscope on him because they want to be critical. They just are a hater. That’s all you can really say about it. I try to say to him, Don’t get your motivation trying to prove haters wrong. Instead get your motivation from trying to do the people that support you proud. That’s where the motivation is going to come from, is the people that are going to support you through the good times and the bad times.
I’m sure today is a big day for them because when they wear their Bubba Wallace shirt, they know I’m putting myself out there, right? Those people deserve a great day today.
How do you answer people that say a race is fixed?
DENNY HAMLIN: It’s silly. I spend way too much money and these teams spend too much money to fix it. I’m not sure how you fix it. It’s just silly. Anytime there’s unique circumstances, it’s fixed. When a team is close to winning a football game, they fumble on the one yard line, it’s fixed. It’s just someone that’s having a bad day.
Bootie, four years on the sidelines, and they call you back into the battle. Here you are race 484 of your career and you finally win.
BOOTIE BARKER: I mean, it’s great. When Denny spoke to me, I was excited. I told him, I mean, I’m a competitor, I’ve always been a competitor, and I knew the resources. I knew the team we had. I knew the people we had. I know the resources we had. I know the leadership that Denny provided. I knew what we were capable of.
I was really excited about getting another opportunity. But I didn’t plan on it this way. I just planned on doing a good job in whatever my role was.
It takes a lot of things to win a race. It’s a million ways to lose one and one way to win one. So, I mean, I did what I had to do to get this far, so I appreciate with Denny giving me a shot.
Denny, I wanted to know if you could kind of describe what the difference is to winning as an owner compared to a driver.
DENNY HAMLIN: It’s like watching your kid succeed at whatever they’re doing, whether it be baseball, musical theater, whatever, right? I have no relation to anyone on this team, but they are family. We spend a lot of time together, we work hard together. I know the people within the shop work very, very hard. They had to work their tails off to get this team off the ground just 10, 12 months ago.
I can understand and I appreciate this win more as a car owner because I know how hard the last 10 to 12 months have been putting this thing together and trying to take it up to NASCAR’s highest level, which is not easy obviously.
We’re still again in the building stage, we’re still in the growing stages of our team. This is just a huge morale boost, a huge confidence boost for Bubba. There’s a lot of positives that will come out of this that will linger for a very, very long time.
Right now everyone is focused on the win from Bubba, what an awesome accomplishment that is. You and Michael Jordan have invested heavily in this team. What will that mean when the dust settles and you get back to the shop?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I’m not sure. I’ve talked to Michael. He’s as excited as I am. Even though I probably do most of the work on the ownership side, he’s emotionally invested in this team as much as I am.
This would not be possible without him. This would not be possible without the support of Toyota. There’s so many different people that said, Okay, you want to do this, all right, we’re going to stand behind you.
That to me is what makes it so gratifying, is that when you have crazy dreams and you want to build something, that you have people that believe in your vision.
These team guys, they work hard for me and Michael every single day. Bootie has been part of this race team from the very beginning working in the shop. It’s great that these guys get to enjoy a victory. I hope they spend this next week or whatever just really soaking it in and enjoying it and celebrate.
Bootie, could you replay the finish of the race. Obviously everyone was looking for this rain delay, whether it was a factor. Were you saying, Hey, Bubba, get to the front as quickly as possible?
BOOTIE BARKER: We had an awareness of the weather. It looked like there was potential weather about halfway. How can I say this? When that didn’t pan out, then I came and we got four tires. We got four tires. I told him at a certain point, Look, we need to get this far, this many laps in, then I’m going to turn you loose.
That’s pretty much what I said. I said, You’ve done what I asked you to do, you’ve been smart, now go after it. That’s when he flew. It worked out. He and Freddy have a great relationship. To win these races, not only does Bubba have to make all the right moves, but the spotter is huge, too. He and Freddy both, they turned it up a notch. That’s what you got to have.
Everything kind of went to plan. We knew. When I said go, they went. It worked out nice.
What has it been like working as Bubba’s crew chief?
BOOTIE BARKER: Bubba and I were friends. I mean, we got along already before this. I don’t know how to say it. I’ve never had this many resources. With Denny and Michael, from the top down, never had this many resources.
Bubba and I just needed to — my main focus was to make sure the team, the strength of the team, was brought to bear. In other words, I didn’t do anything to inhibit us, make no mistakes, put us in position to succeed has been my main focus.
I knew Bubba could get it done. I knew we had the stuff and the people to support him to knock it out. Not saying it was anybody’s fault, per se, but we had had troubles early this the year, fluke things, whatever. It’s been my focus always with him and us to just don’t beat ourselves.
THE MODERATOR: We will cut Denny loose as he takes over some other team owner obligations. Thank you for taking time with us. Congratulations on the victory.
DENNY HAMLIN: Thank you. Cheers.
THE MODERATOR: We will now continue with questions for Bootie.
It’s been almost 20 years since you were last in Victory Lane, won four races with Scott Wimmer in the Busch Series. Long road since then. From a crew chief standpoint, technology advances in the sport, was there any point where you started saying can I still do this, still crew chief a race-winning car? How validating is it to be able to get a win at this level?
BOOTIE BARKER: Because, see, I work as an engineer in the shop now. As far as all of my jobs and everything else, from a technical standpoint I’m not trying to sound arrogant at all, I hadn’t fallen behind at all because this is what my job is or was.
As far as the crew chief aspect, I mean, I feel like that’s kind of what I do best. I’m not saying I’m doing good at it, but it is what I do best, I feel like (laughter). It’s what I enjoy the most, working with all the guys. I think it’s what I belong to be doing.
I said it before: I’ve never been with a team, and this is no disparagement to any of the teams I’ve been with before, but I’ve never been with a team or in this position as a crew chief with this many resources behind me. That’s a huge factor, as well.
I wasn’t trying to suggest anything. I was trying to find words to put into context what this was.
BOOTIE BARKER: And you didn’t. You didn’t.
I’ll say this. I didn’t let the losses define me. I’m not going to let this win define me. I felt I was good before. I feel like I’m good now.
But I think you got to work. I think the competition is excellent. You got to have so much support. You got to have everything right to do it. It’s not a one-person thing.
I’m fortunate, though. Very fortunate to be in this position.
In listening to you over the last three weeks on the radio, you are a positive, uplifting personality. That’s really something that Bubba has really relished. Talk about the chemistry between the two of you.
BOOTIE BARKER: I mean, the way I look at things is we’re in the peak series of racing. I say it sometimes, Boys, we got cake. What I mean by that is we got it good. It’s not like something I have. I don’t really have to generate a false positive. I mean, I feel positive. I feel like we got a great shot. I really enjoy the people I work with. I enjoy the situation I’m in. I enjoy working with Bubba. I feel like he has a lot of upside, a lot of potential.
I don’t think it comes across as disingenuous, because it’s not. How I come across is how I feel. I’m happy for him, too, though. I want to say that. I’m more happy for Bubba than anybody. That’s great.
THE MODERATOR: Bootie, thank you for taking time with us. Congratulations. We will let you go to take care of some other obligations.
BOOTIE BARKER: Yeah, got to go back (smiling).
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