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January 27, 2016

Denny Hamlin

Los Angeles, California

STEPHANIE ACKERMAN: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We're joined by Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The 2016 season is obviously just around the corner, and I know you're out in Los Angeles now taking part in several activities to preview NASCAR Goes West. Just talk a little bit about your expectations for this year and your team heading into the season, particularly at those three West Coast racetracks.

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, NASCAR Goes West is a pretty important part of our season, even though it's at the very beginning. It kind of gives us an idea of where we're at within our racing program. Obviously we spent the last month and a half to two months working on the 2016 downforce package, and it's kind of our first opportunity to kind of try those out to figure out, well, where are we as an organization and how hard have we worked to get to the top off this particular year. You usually kind of know where you're going to stand once these three racetracks are behind you, so I know as drivers we're anxious to get to these racetracks and kind of see where we're at.

Q. I wanted to ask you about your appearance on The Bachelor. How did that go? What was that experience like for you?
DENNY HAMLIN: (Laughing.)

Q. And also sort of in that same vein, once you talk about that, I was just curious if you could remind me of any other movies, TV shows, music videos you've done, ones that maybe stand out the most and what those experiences have kind of been like for you.
DENNY HAMLIN: You know, yeah, it was kind of an impromptu thing, calling into The Bachelor Live. Obviously it was a great experience for my girlfriend and all of her friends. They appreciated it. But yeah, I mean, when people ask if I really watch it, I always say, who doesn't want to watch 25 women scratch and claw their way to one guy.

It's interesting TV to say the least, so it was cool to be on there, and obviously see that those guys were fans. I know when we went through, Chris Harrison actually said, well, I know him, put him through right away, so it was cool that he's a fan. Obviously Allison Williams, as well, appears to be a pretty big fan. She was a fan of Mark Martin's in the day. We know her dad was always a huge race fan, so it obviously trickled down to the next generation.

Q. And as far as some of the other stuff you've done in your career, if you could remind me some of the bigger, more notable things you've done as far as movies or TV shows or music videos.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I haven't done a whole lot. Most of the stuff that I do nowadays is commercials. A small part of a thing that I got to do was really awesome was to kind of be a very small like extra in the last episode of Entourage. That was really fun to do that and kind of see all the creators of that while that was going on in LA. That's probably my coolest moment is being part of that -- small part of that show that has been my favorite for many years.

Q. When you do these kind of things, do you feel like that's important as far as getting NASCAR some extra exposure to an audience maybe that wouldn't otherwise be paying as much attention to NASCAR?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I mean, it's different because you're not -- obviously you're not branded in your sponsor's shirt or racing suit or anything like that. I think it's better to have us out without that stuff to kind of get people seeing your face in something other than your driving suit or your race car. I think it is cool. Obviously there's a great opportunity and maybe opens a few eyes here and there for people that have never seen a NASCAR race before.

Q. Saw you last week at the media tour, and you talked about the knee was probably only about 50 percent. What's the prognosis, and is it getting better this week?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it really has, even in the last week. It's been quite a bit better. The biggest thing is the range of motion has not been very good, and it's kind of behind. But we're catching up to being on schedule here, and just in the last seven days, I think it's amazing how far we've gotten in rehab to getting this thing better.

I'm very confident that in two weeks it's going to be a non-issue on track, and really for me it's more like when can I start running again. That's the biggest hurdle mentally that we fight through all this is not being able to do some of these activities that we use to kind of take racing off of our mind because once the racing season starts, any given Saturday I'm kind of looking for a golf course after practice is over to relax a little bit, and right now I'm not able to do any of that.

Q. I saw from making cameos on The Bachelor probably a little bit bigger of a house. How is the version of Denny Hamlin going into Speedweeks this year different than the version that went into this very big Bud Shootout about a decade ago?
DENNY HAMLIN: Different for sure. You know, I feel like as a person I'm pretty close to the same. I like doing all the same things I liked doing 10 plus years ago when I came into the sport. You know, just being a little bit more -- having an understanding of how our sport is run and how much more there is to it than actually driving a car is what I didn't understand back in 2006, you know, the business side of our sport.

You know, I feel like I've come a long way as far as that's concerned, but really I enjoy all the same things, and you know, the Denny in 2016 is very similar to the one in '06 that came in as a rookie. It seems like it hasn't been that long ago, but 10 years is obviously a long time in our sport, and hopefully I'm here for another 10.

Q. I'm down in Daytona for the Rolex and talking to Joie Chitwood, he said he did complete having SAFER barriers on all the outside and inside walls with the exception of pit road. As a driver when you drive around in practice, do you notice if there are SAFER barriers in places or if they're not, and does it ever cross your mind, like man, there really needs to be some in a certain spot?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yes, it does cross our mind, and it's something that we talk about more openly now than ever. You know, a lot of it comes through our Driver Council meetings. We talk about safety, and that's something as the drivers themselves, that's something that we like to have a large influence in is driver safety and what we can do to make our sport safer.

NASCAR has assured us that they have a well-thought-out plan when it comes to SAFER barriers. I know that they're putting tens of millions of dollars into SAFER barriers over the next 20 months or so. Most of that has been completed, about 60 to 70 percent of the work has already been done, and so there's just a few places left at some of these racetracks that isn't covered. But they all have a plan to get covered, so it's not falling on deaf ears by any means, and I feel like part of the Council has helped us get this done.

Q. Could you compare this rehabilitation to your previous one?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, this one is extensively worse than the first. The best explanation that I get is that the first one I used the cadaver and I needed to get back in the race car right away, so we did a cadaver and we didn't use any parts of my hamstring or any other parts of my leg simply for recovery purposes. It would recover faster, and we didn't think we'd have any injuries to that same leg going forward.

But this is kind of a new latest way that they're doing these surgeries. Obviously when players are out in football or basketball, they're out for one year on an ACL, where we don't have that time to recover as race car drivers. Since this has happened in the off-season, they chose to do it this way, which is a little bit longer recovery process, but it should be stronger in the long run.

Even if I gain one to two percent more reliability with it, it was worth it to me to go through that extra rehab process to know that it's just going to be a little bit stronger than if I would have done it the other way.

Q. Gibbs organization has shown plenty of speed during Speedweeks the last several years leading up to the 500 but haven't had much success in the 500 itself. The speed with the restrictor plate package is clearly there, but how does the team go about figuring out the right strategy to bring home the 500 this year?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it seems like we've won just about everything under the sun when it comes to those exhibition races or the duel races or the unlimiteds, and we just haven't won the 500. It's coming. I mean, we know that it's bound to happen. We've had a lot of guys in position to win over the last 10 years since I've been there. I think we've finished in the top 5 three of the last four or five races, something like that.

We've been getting closer, getting closer, and it's going to happen. I don't know when. But hopefully it's this year, and obviously we have more teammates, we have more affiliations now with Martin Truex, so we increase our odds the more cars we put out there. It gives us an ability to lean on some of our teammates for help when we need it to push each other for a win when it really counts, and I think that that's something we struggled with in years past is not having as many cars in our organization as others and affiliations, and that definitely hurts you when it comes down to who's going to get pushed to the win at the end.

Q. As far as your knee surgery and coming off of that, and like Kyle came off of his surgery and look how great he did, sometimes -- it's hard to say you guys try harder, but it seems like when you're down, there's just something about your ability to -- for a driver that just seems to come back so much stronger mentally, even working physically to make sure you get it done. Do you have a feeling like that going into this year?
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, I believe so. There's something to it for sure. I mean, every time that something has happened with myself, it seems like the races that proceed at your level are just raised slightly and your performance seems to be a little bit better. You know, what it is I'm not sure. I don't know if it's determination or what have you, but Kyle was another prime example of that. Once again, another one I can think about is when Brad, when he busted his foot up a few years ago at a road course during testing, he won his first race not too long after that.

It's just whatever it may be that we find within us to perform at a high level, it always seems to happen when we're injured. A lot of it probably is because we don't want to be the weak link. We don't want to be the one that is responsible for our team running bad, so we make sure we do all it takes to run good.

STEPHANIE ACKERMAN: Thank you for joining us. We know you have a busy day of activities in LA, so thank you again for the time.

DENNY HAMLIN: All right, appreciate it.

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